Matthew 9:35-38: Prayer for the Harvest

Read: Matthew 9:35-38

Israel during the first century was time of political and religious uncertainty with many competing religious and political factions. For the common person, knowing where to lend ones allegiance was daunting task. Did they give it to the Pharisees? Sadducees? Romans? Zealots? None of the above? When Jesus surveyed the landscape though, he saw this and had compassion – the people were lost “like a sheep without a shepherd”. At some point in the midst of all this, the leaders of the community had lost their influence over the people and had become concerned with other things other than leading the people in godliness and right living. Ezekiel warned of such a time in Ezekiel 34, where God stands against the shepherd, yet promises that he himself will come and seek out the his sheep.

In light of this, Jesus declares that the harvest is plentiful but the workers are few and that one should pray that the Lord of the Harvest – Jesus – send out more workers. This motif is typically associated with a grain harvest, but here in the context it is probably talking about the time of year when the sheep would be gather for shearing, which required a lot of extra hired hands above and beyond the role of the shepherd to accomplish.

The motif of Jesus as shepherd is common in the New Testament. John 10 uses the same kind of metaphors talking about sheep, and therein Jesus declares that he us the “Good Shepherd”. Hebrews 13:20 calls him the “Great Shepherd” and 1 Peter 5:4 calls him the “Chief Shepherd”. This motif was obviously something that Jesus taught his disciples concerning the nature of those that lead and those that follow. In his disciple-making model, Jesus follows his exhortation to pray with the command to go in Matthew 10:1-5, wherein the disciples who had seen Jesus demonstrate his authority over all matters in chapters 7,8, and 9 are given the same authority, which culminates in the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20 when he declares that he has all authority, and he sends them out.

Christians today are among the workers that Jesus is sending. Like he said to the disciples, Christians are to be about the work of both praying and going. They pray to the Lord to send out workers and in some cases become workers themselves. In all cases though, every Christian plays a part in the fulfillment of the Great Commission.

Lord, send more workers into your harvest!

Matthew 9:27-34: Authority

Read: Matthew 9:27-34

The last two miracles Matthew records again demonstrate Jesus’ authority over matters of life when he heals blindness and authority over demons when he exorcises yet another demon. Jesus’ spreading fame had undoubtedly reached the ears of all the sick who could hear about him. The blind men that Jesus encountered after he raised the young girl back to life were certainly two of them. Blindness was incurable, and if these men wanted to receive their sight Jesus was their only hope. They cry out for the “Son of David” to have mercy on them, and Jesus does. But first be asks them if they are willing, and they said “yes” and Jesus heals according to their faith. Jesus however tells them not to tell anyone, but they did anyways.

The scribes and Pharisees criticized Jesus at every turn, but in every case the criticism fell on deaf ears because there was simply nothing they could say or do to discredit. Towards the end of Matthew though, their attempts start to get desperate – they accuse him of casting out demons in the name of the prince of demons. This same accusation was later leveled at Jesus later on when some people ask whether or not he is the “Son of David” (Matthew 12:22-28). The “prince of demons” line something that they continued to use. Jesus in chapter 12 point out the logical absurdity of this claim though – he notes that if he casts out a demons in the name of a demon, then his house is divided, and it cannot stand. In other words, if the prince of demons was trying to establish his authority by casting out demons, his methods are self-defeating. However if he casts out demons in the Spirit of God, then it vindicates that he is of God and the kingdom of God had come. The Pharisees did not want to accept this truth.

It’s peculiar that Jesus wouldn’t want people to spread the news about the miracles that he was performing. The people obviously wanted to tell everyone because it was truly amazing. There are a couple of reasons why: Jesus did not want to miracles to distract people from his message, which was to proclaim the kingdom of God, he wanted the priests to declare a person healed so that the Jews would believe rather than demonize the priests, and lastly too much fame made it difficult for Jesus to move about freely in the villages proclaiming the gospel (Mark 1:45). Yet in even so, Jesus still had compassion on people had healed them anyways. All in all, the people still managed to see Jesus as someone of significance: the Son of David. This was a title that was given to the one they believed to be the Messiah – a theme in Matthew. With Jesus position firmly established as the “Son of David” and with authority over all things, he is able to do what he does next, which is send out the disciples to do the same. For Christians today, Jesus still has the same authority. It is up to those that claim Jesus to act in his authority to boldly proclaim his truth and do so in a way that puts the emphasis on the message and show that Jesus does have authority over all things!

Lord, you reign! Help me to proclaim this to everyone everywhere!

Matthew 9:18-31: Power Over Death

Read: Matthew 9:18-31

Raising the dead was an extraordinary miracle to say the least. Of all the miracles that Jesus does in the context of his ministry, this one would have certainly vindicated his authority over all matters, and in particularly life. But in the midst of this resurrection, a woman made a desperate attempt to get healing that she so dearly wanted. She reasons that touching the edge of Jesus’ garment is all she needs to do. This is probably talking about the edge of his prayer shawl that was worn by Jewish men (Numbers 15:38-41). This particular woman had had discharge of blood for 12 years, so according to the Law (Leviticus 15:25-33) she would have been unclean for 12 years, and unable to participate in many of the community activities that required ceremonial cleanliness. Even touching them would have made someone else unclean. Interestingly, Jesus is touched by the woman and he himself touches a dead corpse.

These two miracles undoubtedly reminiscent of the miracles performed by Elijah (1 Kings 17:17-24) and Elisha (2 Kings 4:32-36), both of whom were involved with resurrections of dead children. In Elisha’s case, the son of the Shunammite and Elijah’s the son of the widow with whom he resided. In the case of Elijah, the woman used the resurrection as affirmation of Elijah’s status when she acknowledges that the words that came from his mouth were “truth”. When Jesus came to the house, the mourners though laughed at him when he said the girl was “asleep.” Jesus’ expression here is interesting. By saying she was merely asleep, he was alluding to what he was about to do. She was temporarily dead, not permanently so.

Resurrection and the healing point to a greater reality concerning the power of Jesus. The promise of eternal life is available to all who will believe. 1 Corinthians 15:51-58 uses similar language to describe the temporary nature of death for those who do believe. Paul says that not all will “sleep” as some will be alive when Christ returns, however for those that don’t they will experience resurrection. Regardless though, death is powerless such that it has lost its sting and is swallowed in victory by Jesus who makes it possible. Believers will put on the imperishable and immortal. In the New Heaven and New Earth, such things will be done away with – no more crying, pain, or death (Revelation 21:4). The power of God is manifested here, and in this there is great hope!

Lord, you have power over death! Even life itself is under your dominion!

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 8:14-22: 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 5:1, Matthew 7:24-29: The Wise Builder

Read: Matthew 5:1, Matthew 7:24-29

The Sermon on the Mount is one of the most famous sermons of all times and the most well known texts in the Bible, chock full of nuggets and saying that are immediately identifiable with Jesus. Categorically speaking, the Sermon on the Mount is wisdom literature similar to the Old Testament genre exemplified by Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, or Job. Wisdom literature was seen as a commentary on the Old Testament law that helped one live out the Old Testament law “skillfully”. In fact, the Hebrew for wisdom mean just that: skillful. Jesus ends the Sermon with a parable concerning two men, one foolish and one wise. The wise man builds his house on the rock and it stands while the other builds his house on sand. Jesus likens the rock to his teachings, saying the one who puts into practice what he says is wise and his house (that is his life) will stand against the metaphorical storms.

Matthew notes that what got people’s attention in the sermon though was the way he taught. Traditionally, the scribes would make lengthy appeals to respected rabbis in their sermons to give authority to the message. Jesus was not appealing to anyone else, rather something entirely different. He says a number of times “You have heard…”, then follows it with “But I say…” (Matthew 5:21, Matthew 5:27, Matthew 5:33, Matthew 5:38, Matthew 5:43). Jesus was speaking against many of the traditions that had been given to the people by the scribes and he was doing so on his own authority.

One of the struggles in the Sermon though is the relationship of the Sermon to the Law. Some of what Jesus says seems to abrogate what the Law says while other things he says seems to uphold to the Law in its entirety. Knowing that this tension exists, it is probably best to handle each topic in the Sermon on a case-by-case basis with full understanding that Jesus himself says in the Sermon that he came, not to abolish the law, but to fulfill it (Matthew 5:17). A close examination will show each in light of this statement and how the it applies to the life of the believer today.

The Sermon and the closing remarks on the sermon echo the Old Testament of how righteousness leads to a fruitful life. Psalm 1 speaks to one who meditates on the Law being as one planted by a stream and all that he does prospering. Christians therefore do well to understand the Sermon and how it relates to the Law and apply to their lives so that they may prosper and be like the wise builder!

Lord, let me build my life on what you say!

Luke 4:31-44: Authority and the Gospel

Read: Luke 4:31-44

Wherever Jesus went, word about him spread quickly – and it was usually a good word. While Jesus was rejected in his home town of Nazareth, virtually everywhere else that Jesus went he was glorified by those he met because his authority in both his teaching and in his deeds. Verses 31 and 32 note that Jesus was teaching on the Sabbath, as was the custom of an itinerant rabbi and people were amazed by it. Matthew 7:28-29 compare Jesus’ teachings to those of the scribes without really expounding how it was different, but the traditional way of teaching in that day was to read a text and quote commentary from a respected religious authority either past or present. Jesus, however, would say “you have heard….” but then follow it with “but I say to you….”. In speaking this way, Jesus was drawing on his own authority, not the that of another.

In addition to authority in teaching, Jesus also demonstrates authority over demons too. The demons knew exactly who Jesus was, and they acknowledge him as such. But rather than let the demon clamor on, Jesus commands the demon to be silent and come out of the man as well. These two commands also cause people to be amazed, and word about him spread throughout the region concerning his authority. Jesus follows this exorcisms at the synagogue with the healing of Simon’s mother-in-law. Jesus in the same manner as casting out the demon, verbally rebukes the fever and it leaves her. These two miracles along with the authority of Jesus’ and serve as the archetype of a summary of many more miracles that Jesus performed in the same vein as these. He performed many more healing and exorcisms that definitively established his authority.

Interestingly, the people of Capernaum got what Nazareth asked for: a sign from God (Luke 4:20-30). The difference though is that Nazareth scoffed at his message rather than accepting his message. The demand for a sign was for the vindication of his authority, not the corroboration his authority. Jesus freely demonstrated his power, but not as a defense to prove he was the who he claimed to be, rather to support who he claimed to be. The people of Capernaum though wanted Jesus to stay and continue, but Jesus notes that he cannot, because his mission was to preach. Consequentially, he did not say his mission was to come to be a miracle worker, although he did do this.

When Jesus left the earth, he acknowledged that all authority had been given to him, and he then commands his disciples to make disciples of all nations, teaching them to obey the words that Jesus had commanded them to do (Matthew 28:19-20). Later on, the Holy Spirit came on the disciples and they went about preaching the gospel with authority (1 Thesolonians 1:5) and occasionally performing signs and wonders. In all things though, the emphasis was always on the message and they drew on the authority of the words of God. For Christians today, the command to make disciples still goes out and the command to preach the gospel still goes out (2 Timothy 2:2). While miracles may happen, the authority rests in preaching the word of God, not in miracles (2 Timothy 3:16-17, Titus 2:15).

Lord, authority comes from the power of your word!
Help me to boldly proclaim it!

1 2