Matthew 9:9-17: God Desires Mercy

Matthew 9:9-17: God Desires Mercy

Right after Jesus demonstrates his authority to forgive sin, Jesus does something else rather alarming: Jesus calls a “sinner” as one of his followers and then participates in a feast in his honor that is attended by more of these so called “sinners”. Jesus’ propensity for breaking social taboos was already known when he touched a leper. Tax collectors in the day of Jesus were one of the most despised members of society for a number of reasons. First, they were seen as traitors because often times they were indigenous members of a conquered who were hired by the conquering Romans to collect taxes for Rome. Second, tax collectors were also extortionist, wringing more money out of taxpayers than the taxpayer owed. Tax collectors got to pocket this extra as profit. Matthew was a tax collector, nevertheless Jesus saw it fit to call Matthew as his disciple. Matthew would go on to write the Gospel of Matthew. Matthew abandoned everything and followed Jesus when Jesus called him, just like Peter, James, and John (Matthew 4:18-22). He had almost certainly heard of Jesus and was nearby at the healing of the lame man. By implication, Matthew like Peter was confronted with the awesomeness and holiness of God and repented of his sins. His natural response was obedience, so that when Jesus did call him he obeyed and obeyed immediately just as Peter did.

The Pharisees grumbled against Jesus because he, being a righteous man, associated with sinner which is something that a Pharisee would never do. Jesus replies with a metaphor pertaining to a physician coming to heel the sick, and he relates to his mission to calling the sinner to repentance. The Pharisees were zealous about following the law and for that reason did not, at least outwardly, appear as one of the “sinner”. Jesus on other occasions though does point out their sin (Matthew 6:1-2, Matthew 22:18, Matthew 23:11-31). But Jesus and the disciples were not breaking any part of the law. The fast of John his disciples was entire voluntary. The Pharisees though were not ones to be out done by another in terms of piety, and any one who they saw as less pious than themselves – especially one that was seen righteous such as Jesus or John. Jesus, however, tells a parable about a wedding feast and a bridegroom, and saying that people don’t fast when they are at a wedding feast. Jesus describes himself as the bridegroom, saying that while he was with his disciples, they would feast and that a time for fasting was coming. This was partially prophetic, knowing that that one day Jesus would be taken away from them and during that time they would fast. He adds another parable describing how old things and new things do not mix. An new patch cannot be sown on old clothes because the new patch will shrink making the tear worse. New wine cannot be put into old wineskin because wine causes wineskins to expand and stretch as it releases gas. New wine would cause old wineskin to burst. Lastly, no one drinks new wine when they desire old wine, because it is perceived to be better.

When Jesus quotes from Micah 6:8-9, he is getting at the heart of the matter. God isn’t concerned about pious acts themselves, rather the heart in which pious acts were done. The Pharisees wanted to add more religion on top of the already religious system to make them look even more pious than the law required. Likewise, they saw religion as a means of penitence too. When Jesus came on the scene though, he did not preach a message that compelled people to layer on more religion than they already had, rather he came preaching a message of repentance, wanting people to change their hearts. The job of Christians is to call the world to repentance, not to more religion. In doing so, sinners can experience the mercy of God and be saved by it.

Lord, help me to desire mercy, not sacrifice!

Matthew 9:1-8: Authority Over Sin

Read: Matthew 9:1-8

There are many unequivocal declaration of the deity of Jesus in scripture, and the healing of the paralytic would be among them. When Jesus came across the Sea of Galilee, they brought him to the paralytic. The text doesn’t say that the man ask for healing or otherwise, but the first thing that Jesus does forgive his sins. Immediately, Jesus is accuse of blasphemy man could not forgive sin. Nevertheless, Jesus uses the opportunity to do a physical demonstration of power to show that he indeed had authority to forgive sin, and when he did people were amazed by him.

The penalty for a blasphemer was death (Leviticus 24:10-16) , and ultimately this is what they accused Jesus of before he was crucified (Matthew 26:65). The Pharisees accuse Jesus of blasphemy because they rightfully point out that only God can forgive sins (Luke 5:21). What they didn’t understand though was that Jesus is God. But Jesus asks a rhetorical question in response. The reality is that both saying “Your sins are forgiven” and “Rise up and walk” were both impossible for any mere man to say – only God could do these things. One was not easier than the other, and the Pharisees and scribes knew this. The difference is that they could not see that his sins were forgiven, but they could see a man get up and walk, so again, Jesus speaks and the man is healed.

Jesus, however, tags his demonstration of his authority to forgive sins with the title “Son of Man”. This is the first of 25 times that this title appears in the gospel of Luke. Why Jesus used this title is not certain, but it could be because of its twofold significance from the Old Testament that affairs his humanity and his divinity, which is the case here in Luke 5 where Jesus as a man is doing things that only God can do. “Son of man” as a reference to humanity is found all over the Old Testament, but a few examples are Psalm 8:4, Psalm 80:17, and 90 times in the book of Ezekiel. The reference to “son of man” as divine is found in Daniel 7:13-14, which was one “like a son of man” that was given kingship over the world. Jesus alludes to this text in Matthew 26:64 and Matthew 24:30. Both if these verses and the surrounding texts points to Jesus being the Son of Man that is spoken of in Daniel.

Often times, Christians come wanting something from God knows that they need most. God though, in his providence supplies what people need because he is able. The one universal thing that every person needs is forgiveness from sin, which Jesus is able to forgive because he is God. For this reason, no matter what one asks God for, he or she can always ask God for forgiveness. 1 John 1:9 says that God is faithful and will forgive all unrighteousness for that reason.

Lord, I need forgiveness!

Forgive me from my sins!

Matthew 8:23-34: Lord of All

Read: Matthew 8:23-34

The miracles at the end of Matthew 8 further establish Jesus’ authority. When Jesus pushes out into the boat, a storm arises on the Sea of Galilee, which wasn’t all that uncommon. The geography of the region causes the weather to shift rapidly and sometimes without much warning . This particular storm was rather violent and was pitching the boat up and down, yet Jesus was sleep. When the disciples wake Jesus, Jesus speaks to the storm and it stops, and the disciples were amazed even the storm “obeyed” him.

The second miracle puts Jesus among some of the most foul things that any Jew could encounter that would certainly make that Jew unclean. First, the man that Jesus heals is hanging out around tombs – the place of the dead. Jews typically avoided places such as this because encountering the dead made them ceremonially unclean. Second, this particular miracle happened in a region far outside the bounds of where the Jews lived in a place primarily inhabited by Gentiles, who the Jews avoided. Third, these Gentiles herded pigs which were unclean animals. There was herd of them nearby that the demons went into after Jesus cast them out of the man. Also of note, the particular man that was inhabited was not inhabited by one, rather by man demons that gave the man supernatural strength but also drove the man mad. This place to a Jew would have been a pagan, God forsaken land and a stronghold for evil and full of demonic influence. The demons however immediately recognize Jesus – they call him the “Son of God” and know that their judgment is coming. Jesus drove them out into the herd of swine which caused a great fear to come over the Gentiles in that reason. Gentiles in that day though were generally skeptical of miracle works and saw them as a bad omen while the Jews welcomed the miracles as a sign from God. This is why they asked Jesus to leave when he did come. The second miracle shows that Jesus has authority over demons even in their own strongholds like this man.

Jesus’ authority over natural and supernatural can only point to one truth: he commands the same kind of authority that only God has. The next incident that Matthew records also implies the same truth when Jesus forgives sins. Regardless though of clear demonstrations of power that Jesus had put on display, his own disciples lacked faith. This faith stands in contrast to the faith of the centurion whose servant was healed. For Christian today, faith the means to please God. Submitting to him in faith and believing that he has the power to do mighty acts demonstrates the not only the faith of the believer, but also the authority of God in all things. There is nothing in the natural or supernatural that can stand between God and his purposes!

Lord, you reign supreme! Help me trust you ways and will in all I do!

Matthew 8:14-22: It’s Worth It

Read: Matthew 8:14-22

Following Jesus is not something one can do halfway. Jesus speaks pretty strong words for those who say they wanted to follow him. He says first that those that follow Jesus are basically homeless and second that those that follow Jesus have to prioritize him above even burying one’s own father. A candid read of these saying would seem to suggest that Jesus is calling Christians to be homeless and dishonor ones families, but this is not at all what Jesus is getting at. He’s using hyperbole to make a points – the first being that following Jesus isn’t safe. There’s no safe place one can go and not expect persecution or ridicule for being a Christian. In fact, scripture pretty much guarantees that persecution will come to those that want to follow Jesus (2 Timothy 3:12). The second is teaching that one must put Christ first above everything else. Jews would have two burials: the first that took place right after the death and a second that would happen a year later when the corpses had rotted and the bones were buried in a box again. This text is probably talking about the second burial wherein a son would bury his father again. He’s asking Jesus for permission to delay following him so he could take care of his other responsibilities. Jesus was demanding that he honor God first then take care of his other responsibilities.

These harsh words though come after Jesus performs many healings. Certainly, Jesus, healing ministry attracted many people from all over who wanted to be done with their infirmities yet even so they did not necessarily want to be his followers considering what it would cost them. Jesus though did not make distinctions between would be followers or otherwise. Matthew applies Isaiah 53 here to Jesus where it says that the Lord would take away infirmities and diseases. 1 Peter 2:21-25 applies this same text to the spiritual condition of man.

Jesus showed and still shows no partiality for those who will receive his healing – physically or spiritually. Matthew 9:5-6 teaches that Jesus used physical to show his authority in the spiritual realm. Physical healing though only lasts for a time while spiritual healing lasts forever for those that will accept it. While the healing is free, the demands of Christ are high: he expects that ones that call him Lord to accept his authority over their lives as they did when by faith they accepted that he had authority over diseases and demons. Following Christ isn’t easy, but the reward is eternal for those that will believe. One must first count the cost. But all those that have and counted it worthwhile have never regretted it!

Lord, following you is worth it! Help demonstrate that by making you the priority in my life!

Matthew 8:5-13: Faith Without Borders

Read: Matthew 8:5-13

The centurion’s faith impressed Jesus. A centurion was an officer in a Roman legion, and in command of around 80-200 men. They were paid handsomely compared to regular soldiers and command the respect of those in their legion. This particular centurion was nameless, but he was well liked among the Jews because he built their synagogue for them and he was apparently God-fearing too. Jesus healed the servant from afar, and remarked on the centurions faith, saying he had not seen such faith in all of Israel. In other words, those who were supposed to have faith apparently did not have faith that compared to this Gentile.

The centurion’s faith is remarkable for a number of reasons:

  • He recognized Jesus’ authority over matters of disease.
  • He believed that Jesus could exercise that authority from anywhere and it would be done. In other instances, the Jews either wanted Jesus to come to them or they went to Jesus, but the centurion believed location wasn’t important.
  • He recognized Jesus as having dominion over Jews and Gentiles. While Jesus came to save the world, the focus of Jesus’ ministry was on the Jews and later the apostles would take the gospel to the nations.

The global scope of God’s redemption from the beginning was intended to be for all the world (Genesis 12:2-3). Somewhere along the line though, the faith of the Jews had become fickle. They had come to trust in their heritage as descendants of Abraham more than they did on God himself. When centurion expresses faith that the Jews were supposed to have, Jesus uses this opportunity to remind the Jews that the family of God wasn’t limited to Jews. There would be a number of Gentiles present among the redeemed yet there would also be a number of Jews who were not present.

The bulk Christians today are not direct descendants of Abraham, rather are descendants of Abraham by faith. But many people also claim to be Christians because of their their family traditions or cultural heritage and are no better off than the Jews who will not be among the redeemed because they are not children of Abraham by faith. Kind of faith that God wants is not faith in name only, rather faith in Jesus who is able to save without boundaries. Trusting in Jesus for salvation is the only kind of faith that can save and ensure as seat at the table when Jesus does return!

Lord, your salvation knows no borders. Help the world to see and believe this!

Matthew 8:1-4: “I am willing!”

Read: Matthew 8:1-4

Jesus’ following was at this point growing. There is no indication of how many people followed him off the mountain, nevertheless upon leaving the mountain the people followed him and were watching him. Matthew shifts from the teachings of Jesus – which he did on his own authority – to a focus on establishing Jesus’ authority my the miracles he performed which demonstrate his power over various things in the world such as disease, demons, nature, sin, and even death. The Greek word for “authority” or “power” first appears in the book of Matthew in 7:29. In the following two chapters, it appears numerous times (Matthew 8:9, Matthew 9:6, Matthew 9:8) leading up to chapter 10:1 where Jesus give authority to his disciples to do just as he had done: cast out demons and heal the sick. Note, Jesus doesn’t give them authority to raise the dead or forgive sins.

In the midst of his miracles, Jesus did some things in his ministry that raised eyebrows, and healing the man with leprosy was one of them. Leprosy is a contagious skin disease. During the time of Jesus, there was no cure. Lepers were isolated from the community and considered ceremonially unclean. Lepers had to dress in rags and wear there hair down, and cry out “unclean, unclean” as they made their way about (Leviticus 13:45-46). While there was no law pertaining to touching a leper, doing so was certainly taboo and reviled. Nevertheless, Jesus reaches out his hand and touches the leper and heals him.

The leper himself exhibited great faith and humility when he came to Jesus. When he came to Jesus, he fell on his face, begging Jesus for healing and believing that Jesus was able. He doesn’t specifically ask for healing per se, rather to be “made clean” which is an interesting request. He wanted not to just be free of the disease, but free of the stigma associated with it – ceremonial uncleanliness. After Jesus heals him, Jesus tells him to present himself to the priest which was part of the requirement of the law to be pronounced clean after a leper was healed from the disease (Leviticus 14).

There are no details concerning the account, but given the nature of leprosy in that it was not curable, the ritual that was performed at the temple was certainly rare. The priests would have certainly be amazed to see this man free of the disease. For the leper, he was out of options. With leprosy though, he really didn’t have any options at all. He went to the one place he might find a cure – in Jesus. It demonstrates the mans faith in calling out to Jesus and he is made well for it. In the Christian faith, there seems to be a dissonance between believing that God can do miracles and being surprised when they do occur. Hebrews 11:6 says that without faith it is impossible to please God. What if Christians expected miracles in faith rather than being surprised by them? This would certainly change the way Christians pray and act. And who knows – maybe miracles might start happening!

Lord, you are willing to do miracles, so help me to ask and believe in faith!

Matthew 7:13-23: Two Roads, Two Gates

Read: Matthew 7:13-23

Two roads, two gates – one road is hard and leads to a narrow gate that when opened leads to life. The other road is easy that leads to a wide gate that when opened leads to death. This is the imagery that Jesus gives to describe the path that he is laying out for his followers to follow. Jesus’ path is the hard path that isn’t easy to follow, but to those that do they will have eternal life.

In light of this description of paths and gates, Jesus gives a staunch warning concerning false prophets and false teachers. The Jews in Jesus’ day already understood the consequences of false teachers and prophets. The law had rather harsh consequences for false prophets: death. Any one that made a false prophecy or turned the Israelites to false gods was to be put to death without prejudice (Deuteronomy 13). When Jesus is teaching here, he is warning against such teachers and tells his hearers to test them. By way of analogy he is telling his hearers to look at the fruits in their lives. A tree bears fruit in keeping with its kind and health. For the Christian, there are two kinds of fruit: spiritual progeny and fruits of the spirit (Galatians 5:22). One can tell what a teacher teaches based on the teacher’s students and based on the teacher’s own life. If one, the other, or both are bad, then it is indicative of the nature of the teacher and his teachings. In effect, just because somebody calls Jesus “Lord” and puts on a good show doesn’t mean that he himself is saved or teaching sound doctrine.

James 3 also gives a staunch warning about being eager to teach. In the same vein as Deuteronomy 13, to those who teach there will be a more strict judgment. In the discourse that follows, James talks about a destructive tongue, and such is the tongue of one who teaches false doctrine. It can cause a lot of harm and destruction. For the Christian to know this though it is imperative that he or she also be well grounded in the scriptures. In 2 Timothy 3:10-17, Paul reminds Timothy of the model that Paul had laid out for him and also warns him against imposters and evil doers. The antidote for false teaching was teaching from the Word of God, which is inspired by God for teaching, reproof, correction and training in righteousness.

Lord, help me to follow the narrow path found in your Word!

Matthew 7:7-12: The Law of Love

Read: Matthew 7:7-12

Matthew 7:12 has been called the “Golden Rule” and rightfully so because it is what Jesus says is the summation of the Law. He also calls it one of the Great Commandments too (Matthew 22:36-40). Paul calls this teaching the “Law of Love” (Romans 13:8-10) and James the “Royal Law” (James 2:8). The original manifestation was found in the Old Testament among a sundry of other laws related to interpersonal relationships (Leviticus 19:18). To the New Testament writers, this single command is given a number of special names which indicates that it is among one of the most important teachings that Jesus gave concerning the Law and the Prophets.

The position of this teaching in the Sermon on the Mount follows a short discourse on petitioning God. Jesus teaches that God is a good father who wants to give those that ask what they ask for. This text along with John 15:7 though are used by skeptics to discredit the Christian faith. They argue that the scripture teaches that whatever one asks for one will receive from God, no questions asked and without reservation. This thinking essentially reduces God to a cosmic genie that will grant any wish. The problem is that it fails to take into account what Jesus is saying. John 15:1-17 explains the context of this though. The context for the statement is that those who are asking are also abiding in Christ such that when they do ask they asking in accordance with God’s will. When one trust God, he directs them accordingly (Proverbs 3:5-6).

John also connects such asking to the Great Commandment. Jesus in John 15 gives the old commandment a fresh understanding when he says to the disciples that they should love others as he has loved them when they had been taught to love others in the manner that they would like to be loved. The Sermon parallels this. Jesus is showing that God gives graciously and abundantly to those who ask and should also be the same when one loves others as well. If God loves generously, then all those who call themselves followers of Christ ought to do the same.

The beauty of this “law” is that it is not a prohibition against an act, rather it is freedom to act. In Galatians 5:13-26, Paul connects that in serving others one is fulfilling the law, but says that those that live according to the Spirit are not under the law. Life in the Spirit manifests a number of “fruits”. There are not laws against these. This is perhaps the one thing that separates Christianity apart from all other faiths concerning works. Other faiths teach that one follow a moral code of conduct in order to gain enough merit to obtain some kind of salvation or avoid some kind of judgment. Christians though are saved by faith instead of works, so they are free to love without pretense and why they are not under any law at all. When Jesus commanded the disciples to love as he did, this is precisely what he was getting at. Jesus didn’t need to gain merit, rather he was doing it selflessly.

Lord, help me to love as you loved!

Matthew 7:1-6: “Judging” Others

Read: Matthew 7:1-6

“Judge not, lest you be judge” is one of the most quoted (and misquoted!) sayings of Jesus. In modern thought, it the saying is used by some as a defense to keep others from speaking against a particular vice or lifestyle. In Matthew 7 though, Jesus is using the saying in the context of speaking against hypocrisy, a common theme in the Sermon on the Mount. His argument is in essence saying that those who criticize or nitpick others will end up being on the receiving end of such judgments by his own standard, especially when one has a number of faults of his own. And it is almost always the case that those who exhibit such a critical attitude struggle with their own faults such that they attempt to minimize their own shortcomings by magnifying the shortcomings of others. The illustration of a plank in one’s eye compared to a speck in another’s eye speaks in the hyperbole of the situation.

There are a number of ways that people wrongly judge others:

  • Luke 6:27-38 is a parallel text to Matthew here, but puts the same statement concerning judging others in a different light. Luke argues that when shows partiality based on one’s own state that one is judging another. Jesus illustrates this with the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-36 where the Samaritan loves the fallen man in spite of not knowing where the fallen man was going or where he was coming from while the priests and Levites did nothing of the sort.
  • Ezekiel 16:52-56 speaks of the attitude of Israel towards Samara and Sodom who were looked down on by the Israelite because of past sins. Ezekiel, however, declares that Israel is more wicked than they are. This haughty attitude is precisely the kind of condition that Jesus is getting at in the the Sermon.
  • James 4:7-12 declares that evil to “speak evil” against one another. The context here has to do bashing people over the head with the law in a tit-for-tat fighting match concerning matters of the law. This is the sort of arguments children have when they are both trying to make the other look to be the the greater of two evils. In doing so, James says, one is calling himself one the others judge rather than letting Christ be the judge.
  • Romans 14 expounds on matters of Christian freedom and how some will make their personal opinions about matters to be matter of right and wrong for everyone, then condemn people according to these opinions. Paul says that one should not do this nor should one be a stumbling block to offend those who do have such opinions. Both extremes are in many ways judging others either in freedom or in weakness.

Jesus is not teaching that one shouldn’t speak against sin here. The difference between judging others in any context and preaching against sin has to do with the standard of judgment. When one “judges” like the hypocrites in the text do, he is subjectively comparing himself to another person. When one is preaching against sin, one is pointing out right and wrong action according to objective standards. This is critical distinction to make because and on a number of occasions the New Testament apostles called out people for sin, but it was done with the intent of calling people to repentance, salvation, and in some cases reconciliation after one has been saved. Interestingly, Jesus follows his teaching concerning the judgment of others with discernment concerning how one should treat that which is holy. Pigs and dogs (which were typically strays) were both unclean animals, and in ancient culture where known to eat just about anything thrown to them. And even when one fed them they would get defensive or even attack the one that fed. Concerning judgment, Jesus is teaching that one shouldn’t waste time with those who won’t repent. There comes a point where one has to move on. Paul calls it “redeeming the time” (Ephesians 5:15-17, Colossians 4:5-6) and cautions against engaging in quarrelsome discussions (2 Timothy 2:22-26).

The call to Christians is clear: speak the truth, but be careful not compare oneself to others. In doing so, one is not judging, rather letting Christ be the judge. It also clear that a Christian should use discernment in knowing when to speak and not to speak the truth. God wants the truth to be made known, but not dragged through the mud!

Lord, help me to speak truth and let you be judge!

Matthew 6:25-34: Don’t Worry, Be Joyful!

Read: Matthew 6:25-34

Bobby McFerrin’s Don’t Worry, Be Happy expresses in a simple tune profound truth that Jesus expressed many years ahead of him. The song practically embodies the truth in many ways: it’s simple, happy, and melodic, and such this the attitude that Jesus wants for his followers concerning money rather than becoming consumed about all of life’s troubles. Jesus draws attention to the those who toil away trying to prepare for the future. They store up food, clothing, money, and numerous other things to seemingly ward off evil or destitution that might come their way.

In all this though, Jesus’ is not tell one to live a carefree life such that one doesn’t prepare for the future. Proverbs offers much advice concerning planning for future (Proverbs 21:20, Proverbs 13:11, Proverbs 10:4-5, Proverbs 6:6-11, Proverbs 13:7, Proverbs 19:17, Proverbs 27:23-27, Proverbs 19:21) . Jesus is warning against obsessing over the matter. God does care for his people and he will take care of them and he does so by providing homes, food, clothing and most all of life’s essentials. He is also the one who provides the means to obtain these such as job.

Anxiety though is not limited to concerns for basic needs like food, shelter, and clothing. It can arise over health, loved ones, tests, jobs – practically anything in life. The Bible offers a few simple ways to stave off anxiety. Proverbs 12:25 says that a kind word can cheer one up when dealing with anxiety. Philippians 4:4-9 encourages believers to not worry, but to offer up the concerns of the world to God and think on things that are praise worthy. The positive thoughts that come from an encouraging word and from reflecting on the good things of God can help calm an anxious heart and help bring back the peace and joy one find in God and will “guard one’s heart”.

The solidarity that comes from knowing and trusting God in all things is blissfully simple. While life is uncertain, what is certain is that those that commit their ways to God and trust him fully will be directed by him (Proverbs 3:5-6). The key though is to put God first in all things as Jesus says to do when he says “seek first the Kingdom”. This doesn’t imply that life won’t have troubles, but it does imply that God will care those that trust him all along the way – which is how one can not worry and be joyful!

Lord, help me to trust you and not worry!

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