Chapters 8-9 speak of the kingdom of God and how it is manifested with supernatural power. It reaches people who had been excluded from the blessing of God: Gentiles, lepers, the blind, sick women, demoniacs, tax collectors, those with chronic bleeding and the dead. Jesus shows compassion, but the religious leaders are provoked to opposition. Jesus calls His followers to faith and discipleship. Much of these two chapters deals with healing. Lepers were ceremonially unclean and they were shunned by society unless they became symptom free and were pronounced clean by a priest. People steered clear of lepers but Jesus touched them and healed them. Next was the slave of a Roman officer who was on his deathbed with sickness. This officer recognized Jesus authority and knew that if He gave an order it would be made so. The officer shared that with Jesus and Jesus healed the slave from a distance. Then He praised the faith of the officer, a Gentile. Jesus went to Peter’s house and his mother in law was sick. Jesus touched her hand and she was healed, got up and began to serve Him. When a crowd gathered there later in the evening, Jesus healed everyone, sometimes with a simple command. This proved that Jesus authority extended beyond His touch. His words brought healing and life.
Jesus confronted two would be followers with what it truly means to follow Him. The teachers of religious law had a prestigious vocation of preserving, learning, and interpreting the scriptures for the good of society. The way to God was thought to be through them. But following Jesus is not easy. It involves much more than Intellectual mastery. Following Jesus means to be willing to forgo life’s normal comforts. And Jesus requires a total commitment to Him. This passage most likely describes a follower whose father was still alive because if he had just died, the man would not have been out in public by levitical law. This follower wanted to go home and wait until his father passed and then he would come to follow Jesus. Jesus makes it clear that there are no excuses for following him. The storm at sea extended the theme of what true discipleship involves. The storm challenged the disciples to entrust their very lives to Jesus for protection and deliverance. Not only does Jesus take authority over diseases and sickness, but He has authority over nature, dangerous weather, and the sea. Squalls were and are common on the Sea of Galilee and many of the disciples fished there. This storm must have been furious for them to be so fearful. In their fear they woke Jesus up. He stood up in the boat, silenced the wind and calmed the waves and the sea became as smooth as glass. The disciples didn’t fully understand Jesus yet because they were amazed and wondered aloud who was this that He could control the wind and waves too.
Going to the other side of the lake Jesus came upon men who were demon possessed. The demons were violent and people kept their distance from the men. But the demons recognized Jesus and begged to be sent into a herd of pigs that were nearby rather than to imminent doom. With Jesus’ exorcisms the true power of the kingdom broke into human history. Perhaps you are wondering about pigs in this story since Jesus and the Israelites did not eat pork. The area around the Sea of Galilee was populated by many different kinds of people, Gentiles included. And they raised and ate pork. The demons, sent into the pigs went down into the water and all drowned. Jesus had begun to defeat the enemy. This caused the people great fear and they asked that He leave. The tragedy of this incident is that those who witnessed the Son of God’s power to give salvation feared having their world upset so they rejected Him.
We see controversy in today reading; among Jesus’ opponents, the teachers of religious law, the Pharisees, and among the disciples of John the Baptist. Jesus had moved to Capernaum after He had been rejected in Nazareth. People continued to bring the sick to Jesus for healing but He also forgave their sins. This put Him at odds with the religious leaders who called blasphemy. They knew only God can forgive sins and they either did not comprehend His mission or did not want to admit who He was. Jesus healed the paralytic to prove that He, the Son of Man had the authority on earth to forgive sins. Just like His birth upset the powerful, now His ministry upset both the powerful and the religious elite. But Jesus wasn’t even warmed up yet. He saw a tax collector sitting in his tax booth and called him to follow. Tax collectors were some of the most hated people in the Holy Land, not far behind the hated Roman soldiers . To celebrate his call, Matthew invited many of his fellow tax collectors to his house for a party…and he invited Jesus. This caused even more consternation and heartburn among the elite. Jesus responded that He came to those who were sick and not to those who were healthy. And He referred them to Hosea 6:6, telling them He wanted them to show mercy to others. Jesus’ mercy in Eating with sinners contrasted with the Pharisees separation from sinners. Jesus revealed their true spiritual condition. They think they are righteous but they failed to recognize they were in fact unrighteous and in need of the Messiah’s salvation.
Fasting expressed personal humility and repentance. It also called attention to the national need for repentance and they probably sought to hasten the arrival of the Messiah through purification. The fact that the disciples and Jesus did not fast points to the fact that the Messiah had already come. Jesus spoke of his not fasting in terms of a marriage feast, reminding them that while the bridegroom was present it was as a time for celebration and rejoicing. When the bridegroom leaves then there will be time and reason to fast. In verse 15 we see Jesus’ first prediction of His violent death. He would be taken away. After that His followers would feast. Verses 16-17 form two riddle like parables that contrast the new covenant that Jesus established with the old covenant, especially in regards to fasting. Jesus consummates but doesn’t not abolish the law. However, the new covenant requires new practices. We see that Jesus is the Messiah whose power knows no boundaries, and He calls people to have faith in Him. A synagogue leaders young daughter died and he came to Jesus, confident Jesus can bring her back to life if He would just lay His hand on her. The laying on of hands is a visible symbol of prayer for Gods power to flow into someone, often resulting in new life or ministries. The synagogue leader believed that Jesus had the power to raise the dead. The woman’s constant bleeding rendered her ceremonially unclean and she made anyone she touched unclean as well. But instead of rendering Jesus unclean, her touching Him made her clean. This was a stunning reversal that illustrated Jesus’ power to redeem and sanctify. She was sure touching even the hem of His garment would heal her. Jesus told her to go; her faith had made her well. Her physical healing demonstrated her spiritual salvation. Back to the synagogue leader. When they arrived at his house the professional mourners were already there but Jesus cautioned that the girl was not dead but sleeping. Everyone laughed at Him, until the girl got up and was walking around. News of the miracles Jesus was performing were beginning to spread like wildfire.
As Jesus traveled from place to place people brought people to be healed by Him, and sometimes they brought themselves. Jesus healed two blind men who believed He could give them their sight and a man who was demon possessed. When Jesus cast out the demons people were amazed, saying nothing like that had ever happened in Israel before. The Pharisees refused to believe Jesus was the Messiah and accused Him of being demon possessed Himself. As Jesus traveled He also announced the good news about the kingdom of God. Often He instructed the people He had healed to say nothing, but how could you possibly keep this amazing news to yourself?! After all, the Messiah’s acts invoke faith, astonishment, and…derisive rejection. Enabling the deaf to hear, the blind to see and the mute to speak is a sign of the kingdom of God. Starting in verse 35 Jesus extended His ministry to others within Israel through His disciples. Jesus instructions to His disciples focus on missionary activity and it’s consequent opposition and hardship. When Jesus saw the crowds they looked to Him like sheep without any shepherd. He lamented the Pharisees lack of pastoral leadership, and their hard hearted attacks on Jesus showed their rejection of the Lord. The people languished due to pastoral neglect and mistreatment. Jesus spoke to His disciples about the harvest being ready but He wasn’t speaking about a harvest of grain. He was speaking about the harvest of people, all of whom were looking for something more but many didn’t know what. But there weren’t enough people to complete the harvest. The command was to pray to the Lord, asking Him to send more workers for the harvest. Jesus called together His 12 disciples and gave them some of His authority. They were to go out and cast out evil spirits, and heal every kind of disease and illness. By doing these things in Jesus name and authority the disciples demonstrated Jesus’ status as the Messiah. Matthew lists the disciples by name. You will notice that every time the disciples are listed Judas is last and he is referred to as Judas, the one who betrayed Jesus. When Jesus sent out the disciples he gave them specific instructions. They were not to go to the Gentiles or the Samaritans. At this point in Jesus ministry His mission was limited to the lost sheep of Israel. It was through the Jews God would reach the Gentiles.
The Jews considered the Samaritans impure because of their intermarriage after the Assyrian and Babylonian exiles. The disciples were to announce that the kingdom was near. They were to give as freely as they received. They were to take nothing extra with them but to depend on the hospitality of the people of the towns. The people were lost because of the poor leadership of the religious elite. If people did not receive them, the disciples were to shake the dirt of that village off their feet as a sign of rejection of those opposed to the Lord. God had destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah for their wickedness but their fate wouldn’t be nearly as bad as those who rejected Jesus. Jesus reminded the disciples that just as God gave Moses Aaron, he would give the disciples the right words at the right time to preach and teach in Jesus name. Believing in Jesus would separate families to the point that one family member would be pitted against another. And every nation would hate them for following Jesus. The Jews regularly associated family strife with the end times. Even Jesus experienced family strife. In Jesus’ day the evil one was often called the prince of demons. He explains this by saying that students are to be like their teachers and slaves like their masters. Jesus has been called demonic and here He says He has been called the prince of demons. That means the members of His house will be called by even worse names. Those in His house refers to the disciples and others who follow Him. The disciples are to proclaim loudly what Jesus has told them in private. Things they learned in darkness they were to proclaim in the light. The disciples are not to fear those that would kill their bodies. What they should fear are those who try to kill their souls. And they are to fear God by obeying Him and testifying to Him. Human authorities have no power compared to the power God wields.
God cares about every sparrow and because the disciples are much more valuable to God they have nothing to fear.God will provide everything they might need. God accepts only those who acknowledge Him publicly in the context of trial and persecution. These verses pertain to ones pattern of life, not to one single confession or denial. Jesus also reminded the disciples that allegiance to Him has priority over allegiance to family. Jesus did bring peace but not the social or political kind. Instead He calls all of us to make a decision about Him. This will bring a sword, in other words…division. The cross was a Roman instrument of torture and execution. To take up your cross and follow Jesus involves loving Him above all other things and being ready to follow Him regardless of the physical or social consequences. The same reward as a prophet can mean what a prophet would receive or the benefit of a prophets ministry. Righteous people are those who conform their behavior to God’s law as taught by both Jesus and John the Baptist, and therefore are approved by God. The least of one of Jesus followers probably refers to the low social standing of most of Jesus followers.
Chapters 11-20 highlight the two primary responses to Jesus: acceptance or rejection. The first section features the rejection of Jesus by Jewish leaders while His disciples were trying to understand and accept Him. We start with John the Baptist’s doubt but it ends by exalting his faith and ministry. The people’s rejection of John foreshadows their rejection of Jesus later. John was arrested by Herod Antipas because he had denounced Herod’s immoral behavior concerning his relationship with his brothers wife. When John questioned if Jesus really was the One, Jesus responded with scripture…Isaiah 35, fulfilled by Jesus. Jesus had fulfilled what the prophet Isaiah had said. When John’s disciples were leaving Jesus began to speak of John and how he too was the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. Jesus said John the Baptist was the greatest person to ever have lived yet the least of Jesus followers are greater than John because they live under the new covenant of salvation in Jesus Christ. But from the time of John the Baptist the kingdom had endured violence. This may refer to those who imprisoned John the Baptist or persecuting its members, trying to thwart God’s plans.
John’s prophetic message is represented by funeral songs. He didn’t drink wine and he often fasted. Jesus message on the other hand is seen in wedding songs and in feasts and drinks. In both cases the people responded with indifference and rejection. The miracles Jesus performed confirmed Him as the Messiah and demanded repentance. Rejecting Him would result in terrible judgement because the identity of Jesus was crystal clear. As Jesus moved from village to village preaching, teaching, and sharing the good news…revealing more of Himself, the people continued to reject Him. The more the revelation and rejection, the more severe the punishment. Jesus even went so far as to reveal His relationship with the Father. Everything He did was rooted in the Father and Son unity. Lastly, Jesus issued an amazing invitation. “Come to me all you who are weary and carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest”. In this case the heavy burdens probably refer to the tax burdens placed on the people by both the Romans and the temple taxes. Rest here refers to spiritual refreshment, either in the present or the future.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W