Friday, May 5, 2017

Jesus the Son of David: Matthew 9:18-34

Pitchers in baseball often have only a few pitches that they can do really well.  Some are really good with the fastball, like Nolan Ryan, and others are known for other things, a good curve ball or slider.  But as we’ve been going through these miracles stories about Jesus, we are beginning to see that there is no realm that Jesus does not have authority over.  In a manner of speaking, we could say that there is no pitch that he cannot throw.  He is powerful over incurable diseases, over storms, over demons, over guilt and sin.  In our text, we see that he has authority even over death.  So amazing is such power that man of those who observed his miracles “marveled, saying, It was never so seen in Israel” (Mt. 9:33).
Unfortunately, this is not the only way that people responded.  I don’t think it is any coincidence that Matthew closes this section in the gospel narrative by reporting the response of the Pharisees: “But the Pharisees said, He casteth out devils through the prince of devils” (34).  After all the demonstrations of power, after all the proof for the reliability of his claims to be sent from God, some people still did not believe and remained unmoved in their hostility and opposition to Jesus. 
There are people like that, even today.  It may be true that some people do not believe because they have not heard the evidence laid out for the gospel and haven’t seen the reasons to believe.  But there are many who, despite the evidence, refuse to believe in Jesus.  Recently, one atheist told his audience during the closing arguments of a debate, that even if Jesus rose from the dead and there was a God, he still wouldn’t accept him as Lord.[1]  I myself have been told something similar to this by a professed agnostic.  You hear people say that even if the Biblical God existed, they would not want to worship him.  Which points to the fact that people ultimately need more than a changed mind to become followers of Jesus.  We not only need a changed mind, but a changed heart and will as well.  Commitment to Jesus is more than an intellectual commitment to certain truths, which is why we must never reduce the gospel, as some do, to reciting facts about Jesus and sin, and then saying a canned prayer at the end.  As Bonhoeffer put it, when Jesus calls a man, he bids him come and die.  He requires not only the mind but the heart and will.  He requires not only the acceptance of truth in the mind, but the grasp of truth in the heart so that it leads to worship and faith and obedience.  People who reject Jesus in spite of the arguments for him see this.  They recognize that Jesus is not calling them to a merely intellectual commitment to certain facts but to a whole-souled embrace of his Lordship.
This is why, I think, that this gospel not only give us evidence to believe the fact that Jesus is the Son of David, the Messiah, the Bridegroom and Savior of Israel, and the one who can forgive sins, but it also gives us reasons to love Jesus of Nazareth and to commit our lives to him.  In other words, in this gospel there is not only an appeal to the mind but to the heart and will, too.  This morning, I want to consider with you some of these reasons.  I want to argue that throughout chapters 8 and 9, and especially in the miracles we will consider in our text, there is an appeal to the mind, heart, and will for obedience, faith, and hope. 
However, what makes the unbelief of the ancient and modern Pharisee so reprehensible is that there is no reason not to believe that Jesus is the Son of God and Savior of the world.  There is no reason to reject him as Lord but every reason to embrace him with all our hearts and to love him and to commit our lives to him.  We see that in these miracle stories.  The proof of Jesus’ claims was so convincing that even the Pharisees had to admit that there was something supernatural going on with Jesus.  Remember Nicodemus, himself a Pharisee, who came to our Lord and admitted, “Rabbi, we know that hat art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him” (Jn. 3:2).  Nicodemus was at least willing to consider the evidence as pointing to Jesus as coming from God.  However, other Pharisees refused to go there.  But it wasn’t because of any lack of evidence.  They understood that Jesus did things that no one else could do.  So they came up with the explanation that he did his works in the power of Beelzebub, the prince of devils (cf. 12:24).
This claim makes no sense.  As Jesus himself would later argue, how can Satan cast out Satan?  Why would the Devil be committed to overthrowing his own kingdom?  Why would he work against himself?  But even today, the excuses that people give for refusing to believe in Jesus are often in the same category.  Any excuse will do.  To give just one example, one of the reasons often given for rejecting Jesus is because of things professed Christians have done in his name over the centuries.  But such people who use this excuse for their unbelief are usually inconsistent.  Ask them if they reject liberty because of what people have done in the name of liberty.  Some people will grasp at anything to remain in their unbelief.  I heard one preacher relate that a man told him that he could never believe the Bible because he could never believe that a man could swallow a whale, clearly confused over the story of Jonah.  It never occurred to him, evidently, to go look up the story and see if that’s really what it said.
So people reject Jesus for all sorts of wrong reasons.  But there is more than one way to reject him.  Some people reject him outright and openly, like the Pharisees.  Others reject him quietly while seeming to follow him, like Judas.  It is possible to be attached to Jesus in an external way, but to fail to really be a follower of Jesus.  There are many who through family ties and tradition remain nominally in the ranks of Christianity, but their heart is not there.  But the reality is that that is still a rejection of Jesus.  If he is not Lord of your heart, then he is not your Lord at all.  This was our Lord’s point in the parable that he gives in John 15 of the branches and vine.  Those who do not bear fruit (in keeping his commandments, verse 10) are purged from the vine (15:2).  These branches were only externally attached to the vine.  They were not receiving their life from the vine (15:4-5).  If they had, they would have borne fruit.  Instead, they are cut from the vine and burned (15:6).  Our Lord was teaching that it is not enough to be externally connected to him.  You have to be receiving your life from him, being sanctified through his word (15:3).  That is the evidence that you are truly his disciple.
The question then, for all of us is how will we respond to Jesus’ claims?  Will we embrace him heart, mind, and will?  Now God could, I suppose, have simply demanded this from us.  Instead, he comes to us and says, “Come now, and let us reason together” (Isa. 1:18).  Moreover, God not only gives us the cold, bare facts but he gives us great encouragements to believe on his Son.  In our text, we are given encouragements to obey Jesus, to trust in him, and to hope in him.
First of all, the miracles of our Lord are given to encourage you to trust in Jesus with all your heart and for every need.  And the way this encouragement comes to us in this text is by teaching us that Christ responds to faith, no matter how great or small, as long as it is true faith.  We should never allow our weakness to keep us from Christ.  Our faith may be mixed with superstition and unbelief; our faith may even need forgiveness.  And yet God rewards those who come to him, however mixed with weakness is our approach.  We should never allow our own spiritual frailty to keep us from Jesus.  He welcomes even the smallest faith in him.
We see this in at least two ways in our text.  We see it in the account of the healing of the woman who flow of blood was staunched (20-23).  Here was a woman whose hemorrhaging had caused her to be ceremonially unclean and to be considered in the same category as the lepers.  Not only was she unclean, but anyone who touched her was unclean.  She had therefore been excluded from the temple worship and was an outcast in society.  And she had endured this for 12 years.  We are told from the parallel account in Mark that she had spent all that she had on physicians in her pursuit to end this terrible condition but they had not helped her at all (Mk 5:26).  It’s not that they didn’t want to help her, but that they lacked they knowledge and skill to heal her.  By the standards of the day, this was an incurable disease.
But then this woman heard of Jesus.  And she was convinced that finally here was someone who could help her.  However, commentators note that she was probably moved in part by a superstitious view of Jesus, because she thought that touching the clothes of a healer would lead to her healing, as if something was made powerful just because it came into contact with a healer (21).  Even today you have these televangelists offer to send you an object that they have “blessed” if you send them some money.  And people respond to stuff like that.  People attach special value to a string of beads that the Pope has blessed as if they have some special kind of power because of that.
Nevertheless, whatever superstition may have been mixed in with her faith, her faith was real and genuine.  And our Lord responded to that: “But Jesus turned him about, and when he saw her, he said, Daughter, be of good comfort; thy faith hath made thee whole.  And the woman was made whole from that hour” (22).  Here Matthew condenses the account of the healing.  In the more full account in Mark, we are told that after she touched him and was healed (evidently trying to do it as secretly as possible), Jesus asked who had touched him.  When she realized she could not keep this a secret, she came to him “fearing and trembling . . . and told him the truth” (Mk. 5:33).  Even after she had received her healing, her faith was mixed with fear.  Probably she was afraid that Jesus was going to take back the healing.  To this our Lord replies, “Daughter, be of good comfort.”  This woman, who had for years been ostracized by her own people and family, is welcomed into the Savior’s family as a daughter.  This woman, who had had her hopes dashed again and again is given the promise of comfort.  He is not going to take back the healing, whatever fear and superstition may have been mixed with her faith.
We also see our Lord’s tender heart in the way he deals with Jairus.  Here was a ruler of the synagogue (cf Mark 5:22) who came with a very similar request as the centurion.  When he first came to Jesus, his twelve-year-old daughter was at the point of death (Mk. 5:23).  It wasn’t until after Jesus was already on his way to his home that word reached them that she was dead (Mk. 5:35).  Nevertheless, we see that there is a difference between this man and the centurion because the centurion, though he was a Gentile, believed that Jesus was able to heal Jesus by simply speaking a word.  This ruler, however, thought that Jesus had to be there to heal his daughter.  So he asks him to “come and lay thine hand upon her, and she shall live” (18).  Now though Jairus was a layman and not a Rabbi or priest, nevertheless, he was closely connected with the synagogue and a respected leader in the community of God’s people.  Jesus could have expected him to exercise at least as much faith as a Gentile centurion.   He could have looked at this weak faith and rejected it.  But he didn’t. 
And when they learned that Jairus’ daughter had died, our Lord responds by telling him, “Be not afraid, only believe” (Mk. 5:36).  No doubt, as soon as the father heard the report of his daughter’s death, his heart must have fell.  Perhaps he even entertained the doubt that Jesus could not have healed her now.  But our Lord meets his fear and doubt with the promise of his grace and power.  Our Lord, far from rejecting us when we waver, meets our fear with his faithfulness, our doubt with his promise.  Over and over again he proves to us that “a bruised reed shall he not break, and a smoking flax shall he not quench” (Mt. 12:20). 
We are needy people.  And we need to bring our needs to our loving Savior, not fearing that he will reject us because of our weak and wavering faith.  If you truly seek the Savior, he will receive you; he will not reject you.  We have no reason to abandon hope, as long as our hope is in him.
Second, the miracles of our Lord are given to encourage you to obey him.  In the next section of the narrative (26-31), we meet with two blind men.  Now it is important to remember that these men are blind.  They have never actually seen a single miracle of Jesus.  As they followed the crowd leaving Jairus’ house, they could have only heard what had happened.  They didn’t see the daughter restored to life.  And yet, they not only believed that Jesus had done that and that he could restore their sight, they also had real insight into who Jesus was.  We are told that “when Jesus departed thence, two blind men followed him, crying, Thou Son of David, have mercy on us” (27). 
Jesus didn’t heal them right away.  They persevered.  It wasn’t until he came into the house – with them following close behind – that our Lord ask them, “Believe ye that I am able to do this?  They said unto him, Yea, Lord.  Then he touched their eyes, saying, According to your faith be it unto you” (28-29).    They were healed; their faith in the Messiah was rewarded.  Like the leper, they didn’t heed Jesus’ instructions to not tell others.  Instead, they did the very opposite and told everyone (30-31).  Though it was not commendable for them to disobey Christ, yet there is no doubt that their misguided zeal had as its root the confidence that Jesus was indeed the Son of David, the Messiah.
What does this have to do with obedience?  Remember that Matthew is recording these miracles to shine a light on the person of Jesus Christ.  This is not so much about the people who are healed or about the healings themselves, but about Jesus.  They are meant to tell us who Jesus is and to convince us that he is the Messiah.  The fact that Matthew highlights the fact that they call Jesus the Son of David (this is the first instance of this in Matthew’s gospel) points to Matthew’s concern that we see that Jesus really is the Son of David.  The blind men called him that but the miracle proved it.
Jesus is the Son of David.  That is, I believe, the point of this miracle.  That is, Jesus is the one who has the right to rule over the people of God.  Indeed, he has the right to rule over the world.  All Jews understood the promise given to David in 2 Samuel 7 in terms of a Messiah who would conquer all their enemies and rule over the world in peace: “And thine house and thy kingdom shall be established forever before thee: thy throne shall be established forever” (16).  You see this Messianic hope in terms of the Son of David throughout the rest of the OT.  For example, in Psalm 2, we read of God speaking to the Son of David, “Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession.  Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel” (Ps. 2:8-9).  We are all familiar with the prophesy of Isaiah: “For unto us a child is born . . .  of the increase of his government there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it . . . forever” (Isa. 9:6-7).
Jesus is not only our high priest to mediate for us, he is not only the ultimate prophet to speak God’s truth to us, but he is also our King to rule over us.  This is the way he is announced to us, just as he was announced to Mary: “He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of this father David.  And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end” (Luke 1:32-33).  What this means is that you cannot have Jesus as your priest and prophet without having him as your king.  Which means that you cannot have him for your Savior unless you are also willing to bow the knee to him as your Lord.
And yet, what a King!  How is this Son of David introduced to us?  He is introduced to us as one who heals the blind.  He is the one who gives the mute the ability to speak (32-33).  He is the one who fulfills another prophesy of Isaiah: “Strengthen ye the weak hands, and confirm the feeble knees.  Say to them that are of a fearful heart, Be strong, fear not: behold, your God will come with vengeance, even God with a recompense; he will come and save you.  Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped.  Then shall the lame man leap as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing: for in the wilderness shall waters break out, and streams in the desert” (Isa. 35:3-6).  He does not come, as so many kings and conquerors, to cast away the weak, but to take the weak and make them strong.  Is not such a king worthy of our obedience?
Finally, the miracles of Jesus are given to encourage you to have hope.  All of those who received the mercy of Jesus here in our text were without hope, humanly speaking.  Dead people don’t come back to life.  Blind people didn’t receive their sight.  Mute people had no hope of ever speaking again.  And yet all who came to Jesus received life, sight, and speech.
Now this is not meant to encourage us to believe that God will take away any problem that we have and make it better right away.  We always must keep in mind that the purpose of Jesus was twofold: first, to prove that Jesus was who he claimed to be: the Son of God and Savior of the world; second, that as such he will one day restore all things.  Thus, though the miracles of Jesus shouldn’t lead us to seek heaven in the present age, they certainly are meant to point us to the kingdom that he will one day establish.  Each miracle is a window into the future kingdom of God, into the new heavens and new earth that our Lord will one day usher in. 
It is by keeping the promise of this future hope that we persevere.  We must live in light of eternity.  I recently read an article in which Hugh Hefner, the founder of the Playboy magazine, is quoted as saying, “I urge one and all to live this life as if there is no reward in the afterlife.”  Of course he would say that.  You basically have two options: you either live this life as if there is no reward in the age to come, or you live this live knowing that there is such a reward.  If you don’t, then it makes no sense to be a Christian, as the apostle Paul himself acknowledged.  But if there is a reward, then it makes absolutely no sense at all to live for the passing pleasures of sin which can end only in everlasting judgment when the other choice is eternal pleasures at God’s right hand forever.
However, that doesn’t mean that we are left simply to hold on until death.  God has not abandoned us upon the island of the present.  He is with us even now.  Our Lord, when he rose from the dead, told his disciples, “I am with you always, even unto the end of the world” (Mt. 28:20).  The powerful Christ is with us even now.  And that should also give us hope.  As Calvin put it, in his commentary on this passage, “We are taught by this passage, that we cannot go beyond the bounds in believing: because our faith, however large, will never embrace the hundredth part of the divine goodness.”
Amen!




[1] http://danielbwallace.com/2015/08/01/fact-checking-dan-barker-from-our-recent-debate-june-6-2015/#more-744

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