Posts Tagged 'Just say yes'

Just Say Yes, Part 3

Doing the will of God is saying “yes” to Jesus. Obedience is the “yes” of faith to God’s Word. The more we say “yes” to the Lord, the more prayers He will answer. Don’t believe me? It’s true. Here’s just one example:

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. (Matthew 7:7, 8 | TNIV)

Many of the blessings of God are conditional – some aren’t, but most of what God promises to do for believers depends on them doing something to receive them. Being obedient is the very least condition we should be fulfilling.

We’ve looked at the case of the two blind men who were following Jesus. They asked for mercy; they responded “yes” when Jesus asked them if they believed He could show them mercy, and in a moment their eyes were opened and they could see (Matthew 9:28).

Jesus had been teaching a group of His followers some things about the Kingdom of Heaven. He asked them if they understood His teachings, and some of them answered, “yes.” It’s incumbent on all believers to accept the teachings of Scripture. You may or may not understand them all the time, but by faith you need to accept them and practice them.

Those first two examples of saying “yes” to Jesus are pretty easy to accept. This third example is a little more difficult to swallow. It’s found in Matthew 15:27 –

“Yes, Lord,” she said, “but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” (NIV84)

The part that’s difficult to swallow is that she was saying “yes” to being a dog! What’s worse is that it was Jesus who called her a dog! Don’t believe me? Here’s the proof:

He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.” (Matthew 15:26 | NIV84)

Our Lord would probably be sued today for calling a woman a dog! It would be headline news on CNN: Jesus Calls Foreign Woman Dog. But, as usual, something else is going on behind the scenes, so let’s take a closer look as just why Jesus called this woman a “dog” and why she agreed with Him.

The context

The key to understanding Matthew 15 is a verse back in the Old Testament:

The Lord says: “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men. (Isaiah 29:13 | NIV84)

It all began with a conflict between Jesus and some religious leaders who had come to see and hear Jesus. They weren’t fans, they were on a fact-finding mission to check out this popular rabbi – His teachings and His activities. Here’s how they began their investigation:

“Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!” (Matthew 15:2 | NIV84)

It’s not that these religious teachers were concerned about personal hygiene. They weren’t. They were perplexed that Jesus’ followers seemed to ignore the ritual hand-washing before eating. Jesus’ answer to their criticism was nothing less than breathtaking:

“And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition?” (Matthew 15:3 | NIV84)

Jesus accused them – these stalwart religious leaders; these guardians of tradition and decorum – of breaking the law of God with their tradition; their made up rule about hand-washing. Is it possible to make up religious laws that actually go against the teachings of Scripture? According to Jesus, it is! Religion is man’s way to reach God. Obedience to the Bible is God’s way for man to reach Him.

To help them understand where He’s going with His accusation, Jesus gives an illustration about how honoring one’s parents, which is a Biblical admonition as old as the earliest teachings of the Old Testament, includes financially supporting them:

For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother’ and ‘Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.’ But you say that if a man says to his father or mother, ‘Whatever help you might otherwise have received from me is a gift devoted to God,’ he is not to ‘honor his father’ with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition.” (Matthew 15:4 – 6 | NIV84)

These clever religious folks got around God’s Word by concocting a “work-around.” To get out helping out their parents financially, all they had to do was deem their money as a “gift to God.” That’s despicable. They invented a pious way out of honoring their God-given responsibility of taking care of their parents.

In case you think that doesn’t happen in the Church, you’d be wrong. It happens all the time. Not just with money, but Christians are experts at justifying doing things contrary to what they know God wants. We invent all kinds of clever ways to get out of doing God’s will, all while claiming to love Him. For example: How many Christian students use “studying for an exam” as an excuse to get of going to church? How many Christian parents obsess over getting their kids to football practice or dance class but can’t be bothered to get them to Sunday School?

If that’s the way you live your Christian life, Jesus’ estimation of you is about as bad as it gets: You’re a hypocrite. That’s a terrifying word in the Bible. There’s no appellation equal to it. In Jesus’ day it was used to describe somebody pretending to be somebody else. We’d use the word “actor.” So people that invent clever ways around obeying God’s Word are actors – people playing at being a Christian.

But Jesus isn’t finished with this bunch yet. He goes even further:

Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen and understand. What goes into a man’s mouth does not make him ‘unclean,’ but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him ‘unclean.’ ” (Matthew 15:10, 11 | NIV84)

This is a spiritual principle here that a lot of people miss completely. The disciples did, so Jesus continues to push the knife of offence in even further:

He replied, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots. Leave them; they are blind guides. If a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into a pit.” (Matthew 15:13, 14 | NIV84)

Of course Jesus isn’t talking about botany here any more than He’s been talking about washing your hands and eating the right foods. The word “plant” here means “system,” as in “religious system.” So what Jesus told His followers, including the religious leaders listening, is that every religion or religious system not founded upon the Word of God will be exposed for what it is, and destroyed as one would destroy a weed.

And to twist the knife one more time, Jesus referred to the religious leaders as “blind guides.” They weren’t just “actors,” but “blind guides.” In other words, these religious leaders were not only useless but dangerous.

Did Jesus really insult a foreigner?

The disciples were dull people. That’s not my assessment, it’s what Jesus called them. They just didn’t get what their Lord was getting to. Giving it one more go, Jesus said this:

For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what make a man ‘unclean’; but eating with unwashed hands does not make him ‘unclean.’ ” (Matthew 15:19, 20 | NIV84)

That’s why the key to understanding this part of Matthew is an ancient verse from Isaiah:

The Lord says: “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men. (Isaiah 29:13 | NIV84)

This was what those religious leaders were doing and what they were encouraging religious people to do. And it’s what religious people do to this very day. Their worship and devotion to God is a show – it’s a drama they perform for public consumption. Like the second of our “Just Say Yes” messages and our brief look at the Kingdom parables of Matthew 13, not everybody in the Kingdom of Heaven or not everybody who goes to church is what they claim to be. Anybody can call themselves a Christian; anybody can hold a hymnal and sing a hymn; anybody can bow their head in an appearance of humble prayer and contrition, but those are not the things that a believer genuine. Going to the right church or reading the right books does not make the Christian. Jesus is teaching here that a person is not defiled by what he puts in his mouth. He’s not defiled by the music he listens to or the clothes he wears. The primary source of evil is what’s in the human heart. A man may “do” all the right things; obey all the right man-made rules of his church, but moral purity and spiritual soundness begins with the state of his heart, which determines the state of his thoughts and will, which leads to his actions, which are, as we are discovering, manifestations of his faith.

After His go-around with the religious folks, Jesus traveled northward to the region of Tyre and Sidon. These two cities were in Phoenicia, which is now Lebanon, which was purely Gentile territory. Ostensibly He took His disciples up there to get a little privacy to teach them some more, but in reality a woman there needed His help.

A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is suffering terribly from demon-possession.” (Matthew 15:22 | NIV84)

Mark, in his account of the story adds little bit more detail about this woman: The woman was a Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia. (Mark 7:24a | NIV84)

So this woman was not only a Gentile but a foreigner and a heathen. Yet she came to Christ for help, addressing Him by His Messianic title, “Son of David.” Quite a contrast to the religious folk who came to Jesus, not having a clue who He was; who didn’t think they needed His help at all; and who only wanted trap Him by twisting His words around.

Even if you don’t, Matthew’s intended readers would have immediately recalled another Gentile woman in that very area whose child was healed by God through the prophet Elijah in 1 Kings 17. But Jesus’ disciples were simply annoyed by this woman’s persistence. He, apparently, didn’t want anything to do with her and they wanted rid of her. What they didn’t know was this whole thing was a set up; an encounter designed by God to drive home a point these thick-headed, dull-witted followers of Jesus needed to learn. Carr correctly observed,

Jesus, by His refusal, tries the woman’s faith, that He may purify it and strengthen it.

Amazingly, this woman does the unthinkable:

The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said. (Matthew 15:25 | niv84)

In the face of the disciple’s arrogance and Jesus’ seeming indifference, she went beyond merely asking Jesus for help. She worshipped Him. She took the position of humility and worshipped this Son of David.

And then it happened. In response to her simple worship, our Lord, full of compassion and mercy, said this:

“It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.” (Matthew 15:26 | NIV84)

On the surface, it sounds like Jesus is simply insulting this poor woman. But remember, He’s trying to teach something to His followers. In this verse, Jesus is saying that it wouldn’t be proper to take “the children’s bread,” referring to what He was bringing to His people, the Jews, and give it to “their dogs,” that is, to Gentiles. In other words, What Jesus was saying is this:

I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. (Romans 1:16 | NIV84)

That’s all Jesus was saying to this woman, and to His disciples, using the vernacular of His day. It was very common for Jews to call Gentiles dogs. Of course, Gentiles called Jews bad names too. But the point is, Jesus was behaving coolly toward this poor woman to prove a point to His disciples and to stretch this woman’s faith. Jesus DID come as “King of the Jews,” but that title meant nothing if there was no compassion behind it. Yes, He was the Messiah; He was the Messiah of all people. But He was so, not because this woman said it but because He acted like it.

This precious woman would not be put off. She seized on Jesus’ words. She didn’t deny them, she embraced them and turned them back upon Jesus. You have to admire what she did. What she did, in effect, was to take Jesus’ words and use them against Him to get what she needed. She did what the Pharisees and religious leaders could never do because her heart was right. Recall what Jesus had just said to His disciples:

Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? (Matthew 15:16 | NIV84)

He’s not talking biology here. Jesus is talking theology – theology of the highest order. Elsewhere our Lord put it this way:

The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks. (Luke 6:45 | NIV84)

Only evil spewed from the mouths of the so-called, self-proclaimed religious leaders. But this woman, who from all appearances was a lost soul, in fact, spoke the truth because that’s what was in her heart. Appearances could be so deceiving. The disciples needed to learn this: It’s what’s in the heart that counts.

In answer to her faith – her “yes,” our Lord said this:

Then Jesus answered, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed from that very hour. (Matthew 15:28 | NIV84)

She was a dog – a Gentile – and she knew it. But that didn’t stop her from practicing her tenacious faith; a faith that Jesus marveled at.

Just Say Yes, Part 2

Faith could be defined as just saying “yes” to Jesus. Put another way, obedience is the “yes” of faith to God’s Word. Previously, we noted that when Christians say “yes” in fulfilling the conditions of the Lord’s promises, He in turn says “yes” to our prayer requests. A prime example of this would be the two blind men of Matthew 9. Their encounter with our Lord went like this:

As Jesus went on from there, two blind men followed him, calling out, “Have mercy on us, Son of David!” When he had gone indoors, the blind men came to him, and he asked them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” “Yes, Lord,” they replied. Then he touched their eyes and said, “According to your faith let it be done to you”; and their sight was restored. Jesus warned them sternly, “See that no one knows about this.” But they went out and spread the news about him all over that region. (Matthew 9:27 – 31 | TNIV)

In essence, those two blind men were saying “yes” to Christ’s ability, not so much to heal them, although they certainly had faith for that, but in His ability to show mercy to those who simply ask for it.

Those two men had been followers of Jesus. At one point, still in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus turned to His disciples and asked them a very simple question:

Have you understood all these things?” Jesus asked. “Yes,” they replied. (Matthew 13:51 | TNIV)

Let’s take a closer look at what these followers of Jesus had said “yes” to.

The setting

For the most part, Matthew 13 is made up of seven parables of the Kingdom. The main topic in this Gospel is the Kingdom, so it’s no wonder Matthew as the author, gives us this chapter, which represents Jesus’ uninterrupted teaching on the subject. All but one of these parables is introduced by the phrase: “The kingdom of God is like.” So in each parable, we are supposed to learn something about some aspect of the Kingdom. And herein lies a problem.

Not everybody got it or gets it. Parables are by their nature simple stories that may be somewhat difficult to understand. We might call them riddles. The purpose of parables in general, and certainly the purpose of these parables in particular, was to both reveal and conceal. Among those who had gathered around Jesus were those who had been led to trust in Him to such an extent that they by faith believed in His. Some of those teachings they understood, some they did not, but by faith they accepted them and believed what Jesus was saying. But there were also those in the crowd who, by their constant refusal to accept Him as who He really was, had hardened their hearts. The whole life of Jesus – His words and His works – were all designed to show man who He was: The One whom the prophets foretold would come. Some accepted the truth, others did not. Jesus taught in parables, not to be cute, but in order to further reveal the truth to those who had already accepted Him, but also to conceal that truth from those who rejected it. That’s the point of what Jesus said in Matthew 13:10 – 17 –

He replied, “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. Those who have will be given more, and they will have an abundance. As for those who do not have, even what they have will be taken from them. This is why I speak to them in parables: “Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand.” (TNIV)

The parables

The parable of the sower, 13:1 – 9; 18 – 23

Even though most of us know this parable as “the parable of the sower,” the focus of the teaching isn’t on the sower at all, but rather on the various soils upon which the sower’s sees fall.

• Some seed fell on the hard pathways in the field. The birds came quickly to gobble up that seed.
• Some seed fell on a very thin layer of soil covering rocky ground. The heat of the noonday sun caused the seeds to both sprout quickly and to wither and die since they could not take root.
• Some seed fell on soil contaminated with weeds and thorns. The seeds grew for a while but the weeds and thorns choked them out.
• But some of the seeds fell on good, healthy soil. Those seeds grew and the harvest of grain was abundant.

That’s the parable. Jesus gives us the interpretation a few verses on:

When people hear the message about the kingdom and do not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their hearts. This is the seed sown along the path. The seed falling on rocky ground refers to people who hear the word and at once receive it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. The seed falling among the thorns refers to people who hear the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. But the seed falling on good soil refers to people who hear the word and understand it. They produce a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.” (Matthew 13:19 – 23 | TNIV)

Jesus is describing the four types of people, with four different kinds of hearts, who hear the Gospel.  What was true back in His day is absolutely true today.

• The first heart is the stolid heart – the heart that has been made hard by either indifference or the pressures of life, that doesn’t even notice the Word of life when it hears it.
• The second heart is the shallow heart – that hears the Gospel, gets all excited about it, but fails to let that Word put down roots. These are shallow believers at best who live shallow, “thin” lives. When the hard times hit, they wither and die. These kinds of people are easily offended (skandalizetai) by things and just let the Word fade away.
• The third heart is the strangled heart. These people’s lives are so full of things and stuff and people and activities that God gets strangled out.
• The fourth heart is steady heart. These people hear the Gospel and the understand it. They bear good fruit, in varying degrees. The challenge to those with the steady hearts is to bear even more fruit and better fruit.

Now, soil is passive but the human heart isn’t. Jesus isn’t being fatalistic or preaching some kind of determinism; there are plenty of Scriptures that speak of our responsibility in hearing the Word and becoming doers of the Word.

This is what the Lord says to the people of Judah and to Jerusalem: “Break up your unplowed ground and do not sow among thorns.” (Jeremiah 4:3 | NIV)

In other words, Judah and Jerusalem and all of God’s people need to remove the stoniness of self-will and spiritual hardness, and receive the Word of God and do something productive with it.

And it’s a very fluid situation. Christians need to be constantly making sure the soil of their hearts is tilled and read to receive the seeds the Lord sows there. This parable doesn’t apply to just “those people over there.” It applies to all of us with steady hearts. Whenever you think your heart is in good condition and you’re tempted to relax and coast a little, remember this little ditty:

When you get to heave
You will likely view,
Many folk there
Who’ll be a shock to you.
But don’t act surprised,
Or even show a care,
For they might be a little shocked
To see you there.

The parable of the wheat and the weeds, 13:24 – 30

This is actually a terrifying parable when you stop and think about it. It speaks of two different kinds of seeds sown by two different people: a farmer and his enemy. The weeds, at first, are often indistinguishable from wheat. When the farmer discovers the weeds among the grain, he doesn’t panic, but he remains patient. The wise farmer doesn’t want to risk losing any of his grain by pulling up the weeds before the harvest. When that time comes, he will have his reapers gather up and destroy the weeds.

The reason I say this parable is terrifying is that what Jesus is describing here is the true state of the Kingdom of God today. It’s also the true state the visible side of the Kingdom of God: the Church. The Church is full of both wheat – true believers, and weeds – believers in name only. And Satan is the one placing the weeds among the grain – unbelievers among the true believers.

The Devil is famous for using counterfeits for the things of God. For example, he uses weeds – counterfeit Christians to cause problems among genuine Christians (2 Corinthians 11:26). Satan has his very own counterfeit Gospel (Galatians 1:6 – 9). He tries to pawn off a counterfeit righteousness on the unsuspecting (Romans 10:1 – 3), and even has his very own counterfeit church (Revelation 2:9). Ultimately, at the end of the age, Satan will produce a counterfeit Christ (2 Thessalonians 2:1 – 12).

The point Jesus is getting across here is that all these things are happening, yet God know about it and He is allowing it. The righteous and the wicked will continue to coexist in this age, but there will come a day when He will separate the wicked from the righteous, judging them and destroying them.

The parables of the mustard seed and the yeast, 13:31 – 33

Essentially, these two parables are one. The first part, the parable of the mustard seed, describes the strange state of the church today.

Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.” (Matthew 13:32 | NIV)

Contrary to what you might have been taught, this is not a good thing. The mustard plant does not grow into a tree. It’s a desert shrub; a simple herb. This tiny seed should have remained a shrubby plant, yet in this parable it grows into an gangly tree in which birds roost. What happened to make this shrub grow into a freakish tree? The answer is in the next parable:

He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.” (Matthew 13:33 | NIV)

Once again, this isn’t a good thing. The woman and the yeast are not good things. We’ve seen the woman before in an earlier parable: she’s the enemy of farmer! And the yeast in this parable is the same thing as the weeds in the other parable. What we’re reading about here is Satan, sowing the yeast of false teaching, which produces false believers, filling up the church (or the Kingdom of God), making it grow all out of proportion. Nowhere in the Bible is yeast, or leaven, a good thing. It’s used almost 100 times in both Testaments and it’s always something bad, never anything good.

So the true state of Christianity today, as it has been since the days of Jesus, is not necessarily as it appears. You can look at a great big mega-church and be impressed by all the Christians that attend it, but in fact, according to Jesus, they aren’t all genuine. Only a fraction of them are. It’s not up to you or I to make that determination, however. Only He can do that, and He will in His time.

The parables of the hidden treasure and the pear of great price, 13:44 – 45

These two parables describe the true nature of the Kingdom of God:

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it. (Matthew 13:44 – 46 | NIV)

Far from something huge and loud and glossy and spectacular, the Kingdom of God is precious – something that is hard to find and something that must be sought after and obtained at a great price. One who wants to live in the Kingdom must give his all. There’s a high price to pay to be part of the true Kingdom of God.

The parable of the net, 13:47 – 50

In this final parable, Jesus has one more kick at the can to make sure those with ears to hear, hear what they are supposed to hear.

Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish. When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets, but threw the bad away. This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 13:47 – 50 | NIV)

Almost all the parables in Matthew 13 teach the same thing. Today, the Kingdom God, as exemplified by the Church of Jesus Christ, is full both true and false believers – weeds and wheat, good fish and bad, false teaching and good. Many of the false believers have been duped by bad teaching. Some have been caught up in wanting the things of God without wanting God Himself. But Jesus’ teaching is so important, He asked His disciples the question that started this whole thing:

Have you understood all these things?” Jesus asked. “Yes,” they replied. (Matthew 13:51 | NIV)

Well, we only have their word that they understood what Jesus was teaching.  The question Jesus asked them, He asks to you:  Do you understand the parables of Matthew 13?  Hopefully now, you do.

Just Say Yes! Part 1

In his book “Yes Man,” Danny Wallace wrote this:

Probably some of the best things that have ever happened to you in life, happened because you said yes to something. Otherwise things just sort of stay the same.

That could be a true statement, depending on what you said “yes” to in the first place. For me, saying “yes” to a spicy Italian foot long sub at 11 pm is most definitely not a good thing, the consequences being dire, indeed. But for the Christian, faith could be defined as saying “yes” to the Lord. Or put another way, obedience is the “yes” of faith to God’s Word. When we say “yes” in fulfilling the conditions of the Lord’s promises, He in turn says “yes” to our prayer requests.

Of course, saying “yes” the Lord often involves some kind of risk; the risk of embarrassment, for example. Or the risk of being let down. Back to Danny Wallace, he did get one thing right:

maybe sometimes it’s riskier not to take a risk. Sometimes all you’re guaranteeing is that things will stay the same.

In the New Testament, there are several people who said “yes” to the Lord and they got exactly what they needed and wanted. In saying “yes” to Jesus, the lives of these individuals forever changed.

And maybe that’s your problem; maybe you haven’t said “yes” enough to the Lord and your Christian experience has grown stale. God never intended the life of a believer to be boring, and yet so many of us find it so. If that describes you, then maybe it’s time for you to say “yes” to the Lord and allow Him to make your life into something meaningful and, yes, even exciting. One more quote from “Yes Man” to set the table as we turn to the Word:

The fact is saying yes hadn’t been a pointless exercise at all. It had been pointful. It had the power to change lives and set people free… It had the power of adventure. Sometimes the little opportunities that fly at us each day can have the biggest impact.

Jesus wants all believers to be “yes men and women” when it comes to serving Him. The blind man in Matthew’s Gospel never regretted saying “yes” to Jesus, and you won’t either.

When he had gone indoors, the blind men came to him, and he asked them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” “Yes, Lord,” they replied. (Matthew 9:28 | TNIV)

Matthew and his Gospel

Nobody knows for sure when Matthew wrote his Gospel, but most scholars agree that it was written very soon after the destruction of the temple and the city of Jerusalem in 70 AD. Like the epistles in the New Testament, Matthew wrote this Gospel to somebody, or a bunch of some bodies, probably Greek-speaking, Jewish-Christians. Anybody who went to Sunday School knows that Matthew presents Jesus Christ as “the King of the Jews,” the legitimate heir to David’s throne. And yet, when we read Matthew, Jesus comes across, not as royalty but more of a teacher. No wonder Matthew’s Gospel became the most popular of the Gospels once all four of them went into circulation, and when the New Testament began to take form, the Gospel of Matthew found its place at the head of all the other Gospels and epistles.

Matthew himself was a tax collector, chosen specifically by Jesus to follow Him. Oddly enough, “Matthew” means “the gift of God,” an interesting name for one whose career was taking money from others. Here was a disciplined disciple if ever there was one. And, because he was a tax collector, he was also despised by his fellows. Yet Jesus saw something in Matthew that He needed for the Kingdom:

As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him. (Matthew 9:9 | TNIV)

As far as we know, Matthew had never met Jesus, although it’s hard to believe he wasn’t at least vaguely aware of this radical rabbi. What’s really interesting is that Jesus went to where this despised tax collector was. Nobody wanted to go near Matthew, sitting there in his toll-collecting office for fear that the few dollars they may have had in their wallets would be confiscated by this representative of Rome.

But Jesus walked right up to him and said two words: “Follow me.” Incredibly, without any hesitation at all, Matthew got up and simply followed Jesus. He did what Jesus wanted him to do. Bonhoeffer wrote about how big a step this was for this one-time tax collector:

The disciple is dragged out of his relative security into a life of absolute insecurity (that is, in truth, into the absolute security and safety of the fellowship of Jesus).

And in case you think Matthew leaped before he thought, the very next thing he did was throw a dinner party in honor of his new life:

While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”. (Matthew 9:10, 11 | TNIV)

Matthew wasn’t afraid to invite his shady friends to a party and introducing them to his new-found friend, Jesus Christ. Of course, the Pharisees weren’t impressed. Jesus’ fraternizing with “sinners” – people with reputation problems, may have caused the Pharisees to be critical, but for Jesus, this was an opportunity to teach His disciples something very important: Followers of Jesus need to go where they are needed most. People in the dark need the light and followers of Jesus are the light-bearers. People who are sick need healing and followers of Jesus are agents of healing. People who are lost need to be lead and followers of Jesus are those who find the lost and lead them to Jesus.

A series of miracles

That’s the first half of Matthew 9. The second half of Matthew 9 concerns a group of miracles, all designed to drive home the point our Lord was trying to make. Here we see Jesus going to where He was needed the most.  The first two miracles are connected even though they don’t seem to be.

While he was saying this, a synagogue leader came and knelt before him and said, “My daughter has just died. But come and put your hand on her, and she will live.” Jesus got up and went with him, and so did his disciples. (Matthew 9:18, 19 | TNIV)

Mark tells us the synagogue leader’s name was Jairus and that his daughter was almost dead – she was about to take her last breath. Mark and Luke, filling in the blanks, tell us that while the group was on its way to the house, it got the bad report that the girl had passed.

So now it’s up to Jesus, not to heal the girl, but to raise her from the dead. No pressure there! But, wait! On His way, this happened:

Just then a woman who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak. She said to herself, “If I only touch his cloak, I will be healed.”. (Matthew 9:20, 21 | TNIV)

On His way to perform one miracle, an opportunity presented itself to perform another. What she wanted from Jesus is barely expressed in the word “healed.” The verb used here is sozo, and the KJV gets closer to its meaning when it translated it, “be whole.” It is used frequently in the Gospels and Acts of “physical healing.” But in the epistles, it is used almost exclusively for salvation. Here’s the interesting bit: The Greek words for “Savior” and “salvation” are from the same the root as sozo, emphasizing “spiritual health” or “wholeness.” So just what was this wanting of Jesus? Maybe both; to be saved spiritually and, if He would do so, healed physically.

What would Jesus do? How determined was He to get to Jairus’ home? Here’s the teachable moment:

Jesus turned and saw her. “Take heart, daughter,” he said, “your faith has healed you.” And the woman was healed from that moment. (Matthew 9:22 | TNIV)

Our Lord took the time to respond to her faith – He gave her exactly what she asked for: sozo. But it wasn’t the touching of Jesus’ robe that healed her, it was her faith. But it wasn’t her belief that resulted in her healing, it was her faith (her belief) expressed in action. She did two things that demonstrated her faith: she sought Jesus out and she reached out and touched Him. Her actions manifested her faith. Put another way, she did something to show our Lord that she had an inner belief in His abilities to give her what she needed.

Meanwhile, when He finally reached the home of Jairus, Jesus was faced with quite a display:

When Jesus entered the synagogue leader’s house and saw the noisy crowd and people playing pipes…. (Matthew 9:23 | TNIV)

It must have been quite a contrast: Calm, cool, and collected Jesus walking among a gaggle of hired mourners. They were sure it was all over except for the mourning, but Jesus viewed death as a temporary thing, and taking the girl’s hand, He lifted her up and restored her life.

News of this miracle spread like wildfire. And while most people view the miracle of a restored life as the main point of this story, the disciples are learning not only what Jesus can do, but how He viewed the human condition. Not only did Jesus go to those who needed Him, but the disciples also learned that He is greater than a long-term illness and that there is life after death – a life brought about by an act of the Lord. They are also learning something of this mysterious thing called faith. The bleeding lady had it. Jairus had it. And even Matthew had it. And now we’ll meet two blind men who followed Jesus. They had faith even though they, for the moment, had no sight.

As Jesus went on from there, two blind men followed him, calling out, “Have mercy on us, Son of David!” When he had gone indoors, the blind men came to him, and he asked them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” “Yes, Lord,” they replied. (Matthew 9:27, 28 | TNIV)

Right away I am struck by the faith these blind men had. Their faith, first of all, was in Jesus “the Son of David,” not Jesus the miracle-working rabbi. Somehow these two blind men saw something in Jesus that nobody else did at this time. The knew, somehow, His royal pedigree. And that is a very big deal, especially in this Gospel which presents our Lord as the King.

The other thing that strikes me is that they didn’t really ask for healing, they asked for mercy. Filsom commented,

They accept him as the expected Messiah leader who will do wonderful deeds of mercy mentioned in Isaiah 35:5.

In case you forgot what Isaiah 35:5 says, here it is:

Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. (Isaiah 35:5 | TNIV)

In crying out to Jesus for mercy, these unfortunate men were really asserting their faith, and in response, Jesus said this:

Then he touched their eyes and said, “According to your faith let it be done to you”; and their sight was restored. Jesus warned them sternly, “See that no one knows about this.” But they went out and spread the news about him all over that region. (Matthew 9:29 – 31 | TNIV)

“According to your faith, let it be done to you.” If Jesus were to come up and say that to you, what do you think would happen to you? Anything? Would anything at all happen to you? This simple statement made to these men stands as a challenge for all Christians today. Since we can have what we believe for as we learn to say “yes” to Jesus, what would happen if Jesus said, “According to your faith, let it be done to you?” Sadly, many Christians would receive exactly nothing because they don’t have faith that says “yes” to Jesus. They’re content with knowing, however vaguely, that they are going to Heaven after they die, but beyond that bit of faith, they have nothing for Jesus. How unfortunate for them; they are missing out on so much. Consider what we’ve learned about the people that said “yes,” implicitly or explicitly to Jesus in this chapter:

Matthew. He said “yes” to Jesus by getting up and following Him. He became one of the 12 apostles, lived a life of serving the Lord and wroteaa a piece of literature that has endured two millennia.

Jairus. He said “yes” by seeking out Jesus to heal and restore his daughter to health. Jesus raised her from the dead because of her father’s faith.

The bleeding woman. She said “yes” to Jesus by reaching out to touch His clothing. He restored her health.

The blind men. They said “yes” literally and figuratively and they received their sight.

There’s a pattern here, if you’d take the time notice it. Learn to say “yes” to Jesus and see what He will do for you!

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