LIFE MATTERS

 

Week of January 15, 2006

 

Bible Passages: Matthew 9:18-31, 36-38.

 

Biblical Truth: Following Jesus’ example, believers are to be involved in promoting human life, health, and wholeness.

 

Life is Important:  Matthew 9:18-19, 23-26.

 

[18] While He was saying these things to them, a synagogue official came and bowed down before Him, and said, “My daughter has just died; but come and lay Your hand on her, and she will live.” [19] Jesus got up and began to follow him, and so did His disciples. [23] When Jesus came into the official’s house, and saw the flute-players and the crowd in noisy disorder, [24] He said, “Leave; for the girl has not died, but is asleep.” And they began laughing at Him. [25] But when the crowd had been sent out, He entered and took her by the hand, and the girl got up. [26] This news spread throughout all that land.   [NASU]

 

This section in chapter 9 brings us to the end of a set of nine miracles in chapters 8 and 9: (1) the healing of a leper, (2) the healing of the sick servant of a Roman centurion, (3) the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law, (4) the quieting of the wind and waves on Galilee, (5) the deliverance of two demon-possessed men from Gadara, (6) the healing of a paralyzed man, (7) a double miracle involving the raising of a dead girl to life coupled with the healing of a woman who suffered from a flow of blood, (8) the healing of two blind men, and (9) the healing of a demon-possessed man who had been unable to speak. Matthew selected these specific miracles to show that Jesus came not so much to heal us of our physical diseases but to cure us of our sin, our far more serious malady, and to set us on the path of useful service for him. Matthew revealed what he was actually writing about when he quoted Isaiah 53:4: He himself took our infirmities and carried away our diseases, in 8:17. When he quotes Isaiah, he is saying that what is really disclosed in these healing stories is Jesus’ ability to take away our sin and restore us to spiritual health. The Old Testament prophets predicted that the Messiah would have power to bring back wholeness to life, [Isaiah 30:26; 35:5-6; 53:5; Mal. 4:2] and when Jesus came into the world He demonstrated that power. When John the Baptist was facing imminent death in Herod’s prison and sent his disciples to ask Jesus if He were truly the Messiah, Jesus told them, “Go and report to John what you hear and see: the blind receive sight and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up” [Matt. 11:4-5]. Jesus’ miracles were the verification of His divine might which He would reveal some day to reverse the curse and to restore righteousness, harmony, and peace in all of His creation. Although Jesus had great compassion on the suffering and afflicted people who came to Him [Mark 1:41; Matt. 9:36; 14:14], He did not heal and cleanse them and raise their dead simply for their own sakes. He performed those miracles to demonstrate His deity and to establish His credentials as the Messiah predicted by the Old Testament prophets [See Matt. 8:16-17; 9:35; 11:5] .

 

Significantly, chapters 8-9 end with Jesus emphasizing the importance of world evangelism, which is a way of saying that this is the work to which true discipleship leads. The three miracles that we are examining are also told in Mark and Luke, but Matthew’s account is the most condensed version. Matthew tells the incidents in nine verses, whereas Mark uses twenty-three verses [Mark 5:21-43] and Luke uses seventeen [Luke 8:40-56].

 

[18-19, 23-26]  Matthew says that while Jesus was teaching about fasting [14-17] a ruler asked him to come and raise his daughter from the dead. In the Gospels, “ruler” almost always means a ruler of the synagogue, but in any case, Mark makes this clear in his account, where we also learn that this man’s name is Jairus. So Jairus was from among those religious leaders who were jealous of Jesus and very quickly became hostile to him and tried to destroy him. What made Jairus appeal to a man most of his peers rejected? No doubt, it was utter desperation! His daughter was dying or was already dead, and he had nowhere else to turn. Desperation may not have been the best of motives, but it drove him to Jesus and that was all that really mattered. Within this text we not only see a miracle within a miracle but also a beautiful picture of Jesus’ response to people in need. We see the dual portrayal of His power and His sensitivity, His authority and His gentleness, His sovereignty and His openness, His majesty and His lovingkindness. We see in particular that Jesus was accessible, touchable, and impartial as well as powerful. Of the two principal characters in this account besides Jesus, one was an influential ruler and the other an outcast. The one was wealthy and the other poor. Yet in common they had great needs and a great Helper.

 

Health is Important:  Matthew 9:20-22.

 

[20] And a woman who had been suffering from a hemorrhage for twelve years, came up behind Him and touched the fringe of His cloak; [21] for she was saying to herself, “If I only touch His garment, I will get well.” [22] But Jesus turning and seeing her said, “Daughter, take courage; your faith has made you well.” At once the woman was made well.   [NASU]

 

In her embarrassment and shame the woman who followed Jesus in the crowd wanted to be unnoticed. She would simply touch His garment, confident that even that indirect contact with Him was enough. Her confidence was not in vain, and in the touching she was immediately cleansed of her defilement. Jesus turning and seeing her said, “Daughter, take courage; your faith has made you well.” Mark tells us that she was healed before Jesus spoke. As soon as she touched His cloak, immediately the flow of her blood was dried up; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her affliction [Mark 5:29]. His words of assurance, your faith has made you well, simply confirmed what had already happened. Jesus did not care that her touching even His clothing would make Him ceremonially unclean in the eyes of fellow Jews. He was touchable even by the untouchable. Throughout His earthly ministry thousands of people came in contact with Jesus, and many hundreds of them talked with Him and touched Him; but many of them were not touched by Him. Throughout the history of the church, countless others have also come in close contact with Jesus; and many of them, too, have remained untouched by Him. He knows the difference between the person who approaches Him out of mere religious curiosity or a sense of adventure and the one who comes to Him in desperation and genuine faith.

 

The woman’s expectations seem to have been almost superstitious, as she perhaps thought there was some power even in the clothing of this miracle worker. Yet Jesus spoke to her with words of tenderness, warmth, and intimacy: Daughter, take courage. Whatever else may have been in her mind, her faith was genuine and was acceptable to the Lord. It was enough to make her well. The common Greek word for physical healing was iaomai, the term used by Mark when he explains that this woman was healed of her affliction [Mark 5:29, cf. 34]. In saying that she could not be healed by anyone, Luke used another word for physical healing, therapeuo, [Luke 8:43] from which we get therapeutic. But the three references to being made well in Matthew 9:21-22, as well as those in the parallel passages of Mark 5:34 and Luke 8:48, use sozo; the usual New Testament term for being saved from sin. When the blind beggar Bartimaeus asked Jesus to restore his sight, Jesus replied, Go; your faith has made you well [Mark 10:52]. Here sozo  is also used in connection with the healed person’s faith. Bartimaeus had repeatedly called Jesus the Son of David, [Mark 10:47-48] a common messianic title. It therefore seems probable that his being made well, like that of the woman with the hemorrhage, included spiritual salvation as well as physical healing. After Jesus forgave the sins of the prostitute who washed His feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair, He spoke to her exactly the same words, your faith has made you well, that He spoke to the woman with the hemorrhage and to Bartimaeus although the English translations of that phrase are not always the same. In Luke 7:50 it is rendered, Your faith has saved you, clearly indicating that the restoration was entirely spiritual (because no physical healing was involved) and that it resulted from the forgiveness of sins based on trust in the Lord [7:48]. In his account of the ten lepers who pleaded with Jesus to cure them, Luke reports that all ten were cleansed (from katharizo; Luke 17:14) but that it was only to the one man who glorified God and returned to give thanks that Jesus said, Your faith has made you well (the same Greek word sozo: 17:19). Ten men were cleansed, but only one was saved. It is unfortunate that most English translations do not make clear that all of the renderings of made well and saved just mentioned—which in each case the Lord Himself specifically said resulted from the person’s faith—come from the same Greek verb (sozo). That fact strongly implies that a redemptive aspect was involved in each of those incidents.

 

In the gospel accounts we read of multitudes of people being healed completely apart from any faith on their part or the part of another person. Jesus performed His miracles of healing by His sovereign will, often in response to faith, but not conditioned by it. The centurion’s servant was healed without having any contact with Jesus and perhaps even without being aware that he might be healed. Jairus’ dead daughter obviously could not have had faith. But no one is ever saved apart from faith, and there seems reason to believe that the woman who touched Jesus’ garment that day trusted Him for spiritual as well as physical healing. The two things that bring men and women to Jesus Christ are deep-felt personal need and genuine faith, and the woman with the hemorrhage had both. The fact that Jesus ministered equally to the outcast woman and the leading elder of the synagogue certainly reveals His divine impartiality. He was not offended by the woman’s taking hold of His tassel with her unclean hands. He did not resent her presuming to seek His help while He was engulfed by a demanding multitude and on His way to raise a young girl from her deathbed. No person in need ever interfered with Jesus’ ministry, because the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give His life a ransom for many [Matt. 20:28]. And as He had just declared to the self-righteous Pharisees, He did not come to call the righteous, but sinners [Matt. 9:13]. He came to seek and save sinners who knew they were sinners.

 

Wholeness is Important:  Matthew 9:27-31.

 

[27] As Jesus went on from there, two blind men followed Him, crying out, “Have mercy on us, Son of David!” [28] When He entered the house, the blind men came up to Him, and Jesus said to them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” They said to Him, “Yes, Lord.” [29] Then He touched their eyes, saying, “It shall be done to you according to your faith.” [30] And their eyes were opened. And Jesus sternly warned them: “See that no one knows about this!” [31] But they went out and spread the news about Him throughout all that land.   [NASU]

 

[27-28]  Apparently Jesus was returning from the ruler’s house. We should probably envisage a large crowd after the dramatic raising of the ruler’s daughter. Attached to the crowd were two blind men who had faith enough to follow him indoors. This is the first time Jesus is called Son of David, and there can be no doubt that the blind men were confessing Jesus as Messiah. The Messianic Age was to be characterized as a time when the eyes of the blind would be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped, when the lame would leap like a deer, and the tongue of the dumb shout for joy [Isaiah 35:5-6]. If Jesus was really the Messiah, the blind reasoned, then he would have mercy on them; and they would have their sight. So their need drove them to faith. Perhaps this is what lies behind the fact in the Synoptics that Son of David is so often associated with the needy – those possessed by demons or in need of healing. Jesus did not deal with the blind men until they were indoors. This may have been to dampen messianic expectations on a day marked by two highly public and dramatic miracles. It may also have been a device to increase their faith. The latter is suggested by his question [Do you believe that I am able to do this?], which accomplished two other things: (1) it revealed that their cries were not merely those of desperation only but of faith; and (2) it showed that their faith was directed not to God alone but to Jesus’ person and to his power and authority.

 

[29-31] Jesus’ touching the blind men’s eyes – perhaps no more than a compassionate gesture to encourage faith – was not the sole means of this healing. It also depended on Jesus’ authoritative word. According to your faith does not mean in proportion to your faith but rather since you believe, your request is granted. The miracle accomplished, Jesus sternly warned them to tell no one. This very strong verb reveals Jesus’ intense desire to avoid a falsely based and ill-conceived acclaim that would not only impede but also endanger his true mission. But the men whose faith brought them to Christ for healing did not stay with him to learn obedience. So the news spread like wildfire throughout the region.

 

Involvement is Important:  Matthew 9:36-38.

 

[36] Seeing the people, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd. [37] Then He said to His disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. [38] Therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest.”  [NASU]

 

At this point Matthew has concluded the section on Jesus’ attestation of His divine authority and His messianic credentials [chapters 8-9]. In chapter 10, Matthew focuses on Jesus’ commissioning of the disciples and His initial instruction and training for their apostolic ministry. Verses 9:36-38 form a bridge between these two sections, as Jesus temporarily turns away from His public ministry to the multitudes and begins to concentrate exclusively on discipling the inner circle of twelve. This text marks a significant transition in Jesus’ ministry. Until this point His disciples have simply been listeners and onlookers, observing and learning. All of the actual ministry—teaching, preaching, and healing—has been performed by Jesus Himself. Now Jesus shows the reason and need to begin involving the disciples (compare 9:35 and 10:1, 7-8, 26). In the three verses of our text we are given a glimpse of Jesus’ motives and methods in preparing the disciples for their joint ministry with Him.

 

[36] Like Yahweh in the Old Testament, Jesus showed compassion on the shepherdless crowds and judgment on the false leaders. The sheep Jesus sees are harassed, i.e.,  bullied, oppressed; and in the face of such problems, they are helpless, unable to rescue themselves or escape their tormentors. The image of shepherdless sheep has strong Old Testament roots [see e.g., Ezekiel 34] and is fully developed in the New Testament. The interesting thing about these Old Testament passages is that in nearly every case the image is negative. The shepherds are false, selfish, or negligent, and the sheep are neglected. In the New Testament and the words of Jesus, however, we find the positive side of the image. In his parable of the lost sheep, Jesus compared the Father to a shepherd who searches until the lost sheep is found, even though ninety-nine are already safe [Matt. 18:10-14]. Best known of all are Jesus’ words about himself in John 10. After an exposure of men who pretended to be shepherds but were not and a description of the true nature of the sheep, Jesus reveals himself as the shepherd whom the sheep will follow.

 

[37-38] Here the metaphor changes from sheep farming to harvest, as Jesus sought to awaken similar compassion in his disciples. Jesus recognizes that the harvest was indeed great, but there were few workers. He then commands his disciples to pray. Of course, this is a command that all believers should take seriously and obey. Yet it is not just numbers that matter. If we look closely at this verse, we will see that it is also important that workers are the right kind. They must be people sent by God, not people who are self-appointed, because the harvest is God’s harvest, and God is its Lord. They must be people who are motivated by love for God and love for lost souls that flows out of the same kind of compassion that Jesus felt for these lost sheep [36].

 

Questions for Discussion:

 

1.     The common thread that runs through these miracles is the sense of hopelessness. The ruler, the woman and the two blind men all found themselves in a situation out of which no one could help them. But in desperation and in faith they come to Jesus. What can we learn here about the seemingly hopeless situations of life that confront all of us? What can we do to help others who are confronted with despair over their life situation?

 

2.     What examples of faith and unbelief do you find in these stories? How did one’s faith or unbelief affect what they received from Jesus?

 

3.     What do we learn about Jesus from these three stories? What does these stories teach us about how Jesus desires that we treat people?

 

4.     What do verses 36-38 teach us about the motivation we should have for ministry? What do they teach about where we get direction and help for ministry?

 

References:

The Gospel of Matthew, James Boice, Baker Books.

Matthew, D.A. Carson, EBC, Zondervan.

Gospel According to Matthew, William Hendriksen, Baker Books.

MacArthur’s New Testament Commentary: Matthew 8-15, John MacArthur, Moody.