From: Busy Person’s Guide to Matthew 1 to 14 Return to Home
By Roland H. Worth, Jr. © 2018
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Busy Person’s Guide to the New Testament:
Quickly Understanding Matthew
(Volume 1: Chapters 8-10)
Healing a Leper of His Disease (Matthew 8:1-4): 1 After he came down from the mountain, large crowds followed him. 2 And a leper approached, and bowed low before him, saying, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” 3 He stretched out his hand and touched him saying, “I am willing. Be clean!” Immediately his leprosy was cleansed. 4 Then Jesus said to him, “See that you do not speak to anyone, but go, show yourself to a priest, and bring the offering that Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.” --New English Translation (for comparison)
8:1 When He had come down from the mountain, great multitudes followed Him. Just as there had been a multitude that wanted to hear Jesus when He spoke on the mountain (5:1), a large number of them followed Him afterwards. To hear what else He would have to say? To see what else He would do? We don’t know. But His words clearly had a tremendous impact upon them and they recognized that He was in a completely different category of teacher than any which they had previously experienced (-29). Hence it was natural for them to be anticipating something. What it might be they waited to see.
8:2 And behold, a leper came and worshiped Him, saying, “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.” Lepers stayed a distance away from others. This was both because the Jewish Law required it and because of fear of contagion and violent reaction from anyone they approached too closely. But in front of this crowd (8:1) a leper dared to approach the Lord and treated Him with profound honor (“worshipped Him”). He publicly proclaimed his confidence that if Jesus wished, that He was capable of curing him of his disease.
Where he gained this confidence we don’t know. Had he heard about the earlier healings (-25)? Had he stood on the edge of the crowd and heard the Sermon on the Mount and calculated that any man this blessed with insight would surely have God’s power in other areas as well? Whatever the source of his confidence, he did not keep the belief to himself but expressed it.
Sidebar on leprosy in ancient
Jewish society: “Confining ourselves to the Biblical form of the disease, we note (1) its
probable origin in the squalor and wretchedness of the Egyptian bondage. It was the ‘botch,’
or plague ‘of
8:3 Then Jesus put out His hand and touched him, saying, “I am willing; be cleansed.” Immediately his leprosy was cleansed. Jesus did not rebuke the man or shrink away in horror. Instead He responded to the request by affirming His willingness to fulfill the request--touched the man and the affliction was “immediately” removed. This is in public and this is an unanticipated request. It is in front of a mixed bag of individuals rather than just those who could be counted on to “see” only what they wanted to see. There was no room for fakery.
Sidebar: Was Jesus a violator of the Jewish law by touching the leper? “According to the Law (Leviticus [reportedly blended together] with Leviticus ), our Lord by this action would become unclean until the evening. But of this there is no hint. That indeed He could not by it contract any real impurity, or even any ceremonial impurity in the eyes of God, is self-evident. But how could He himself justify his exemption from the Law? and how could the people justify it? Probably both He and they felt that as ‘the priests, in their contact with the leper to be adjudged, were exempted from the law of defilement,’ much more was the One who ‘cleansed’ him,” i.e. Jesus. (Pulpit Commentary)
Or as a different commentator deals with this matter, “possibly under the law the priest was exempted from that uncleanness, for he came very near the leper in his office about him, [as] expressed [in] Leviticus 13:1-14:57. Nor do we read of any uncleanness contracted by Aaron in his performance of his office to Miriam under her leprosy, nor by the priests, 2 Chronicles 26:20, though it be said they thrust out Uzziah. Christ, by putting forth His hand, showed his kindness to this miserable creature; by healing him with a touch, He showed his Divine power.” (Matthew Poole’s Commentary)
8:4 And Jesus said to him, “See that you tell no one; but go your way, show yourself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.” Jesus did not want the healing publicized by the leper. The presence of the crowd guaranteed the word would get around, however. But so far as the leper was concerned he wanted him to do one thing: go and have the priest confirm the leprosy is gone and, in joy, offer the sacrifice that the law of Moses commanded in such cases. Indeed, the Law had commanded both steps. Anyone in the crowd could easily talk about the healing—and surely would because of the astounding nature of it!—but these steps only the affected man himself could carry out.
Sidebar: Why the command to be silent? “The command may have been given (1) to save the man from temptation to self-importance; or (2) to prevent any rumor of the miracle coming to the ears of the recognized authorities, and thus prejudicing them in their verdict upon his case; or, and more probably, (3) for the Lord's sake, for this seems to be the reason for the command in all the other occasions when it is given (Matthew 9:30; Matthew 12:16; Matthew 17:9; Mark 5:43; Mark 7:36; Mark 8:26; cf. Mark 1:34; Mark 3:12). The Lord did not desire to be thronged with multitudes who came only to see his miracles [rather than hear His teaching]. . . .” (Pulpit Commentary)
Paralyzed Servant of a Roman Centurion (Matthew 8:5-13): 5 When he entered
10 When Jesus heard this he
was amazed and said to those who followed him, “I tell you the truth, I have
not found such faith in anyone in
when Jesus had entered
If he’s serving in Herod Antipas’ army, however, there would be a mild possibility of the situation being different. Yet even there the probabilities would remain extremely high that he was a Gentile. He was possibly a proselyte. However he unquestionably was one who thought well of the Jews--as evidenced from his generosity in building a synagogue (referred to in the parallel account of this in Luke 7:1-5).
And he was coming to seek assistance from a citizen of the country he occupied. The fact that he was willing to do this shows (1) how great a confidence he had in Jesus’ healing power and (2) his willingness to strip himself of the pretensions of power and control that came with his military position. This fell into the category of something he could only ask for rather than demand.
8:6 saying, “Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, dreadfully tormented.” This servant clearly needed help and this could be verified by anyone with eyes to see. The servant was besieged by a combination of paralysis of the flesh and bodily anguish. The first might well be enough to produce the second. If they were two separate phenomena, the sense of overwhelming catastrophe would have been even worse.
8:7 And Jesus said to him, “I will come and heal him.” Jesus did not dodge or give a negative response. Due to resentment at the Roman occupation forces, doubtless many rabbis would have declined—politely if not emphatically. Jesus’ response was the opposite, a positive one: I will go where the person is and perform the healing requested. Note that He has not yet seen what the servant’s problem is, but He knows that God has so blessed Him with miraculous power that the healing is inevitable.
centurion answered and said, “Lord, I am not worthy that You should come under
my roof. But only speak a word, and my
servant will be healed. Going into a
Gentile household could be a “ticklish” situation for many first century Jews;
as pagans it would be easy to assume that their very presence in such a place
could be borderline polluting—if not outright crossing the line. Peter alludes to this when he first meets the
Gentile centurion Cornelius in
Surely realizing that entering his home might be rejected as inappropriate, the centurion demonstrates how deep is his faith: he recognizes that entering it is not even essential for Jesus’ success. He is convinced that the healing power is so overwhelming within the Lord that even without His physical presence, all He needed to do was to say the healing words—and it would promptly be turned into reality.
8:9 For I also am a man under authority, having soldiers under me. And I say to this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” The centurion explains that his reasoning is based upon personal experience: the ability to heal at a distance is quite logical for it grows out of and is inherent within the nature of having the genuine power to restore to health in the first place. Just as the centurion does not have to be physically present to have his orders carried out, neither does Jesus.
When Jesus heard it, He marveled, and said to those
who followed, “Assuredly, I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not
He wanted His fellow Jews to understand that a non-Jew could have faith even more profound than their own. And, though it was not the subject of the moment, that reality carried the most profound of implications. For if they could have equal or greater faith, surely that opened the possibility for their acceptance as part of God’s kingdom!
And I say to you that many will come from east and west, and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. Verses 11 and 12 carry an implicit warning that the natural/physical “sons of the kingdom” will fare badly in the time of judgment—due to their lack of faith in Jesus--while those who had once been outsiders will receive the reward that they themselves had been expecting. In that celestial “kingdom of heaven” there would not only be ancient Jewish worthies like Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob but also Gentiles from throughout the world (“from east and west”).
They would be “sitting down,” an expression carrying the connotation of sitting down and feasting with the ancient patriarchs (“will take their places at the feast,” NIV): that should not be overlooked. It was a mark of honor. Eating together was a way of showing respect to others and acceptance of each other. To do so in the presence of such famous men represented the highest honor a Jew could share in. Yet there would be many Gentiles sharing in the very same thing!
These kind of principles aren’t developed much during Jesus’ own preaching and teaching, but when we look at the active ministry to the Gentiles in the book of Acts we can easily see how they would have functioned as precedent for a generous, accepting attitude toward outsiders. Because the “outsiders” were now going to be part of the “insiders”--the two would become one.
But the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” The flip side of the coin of Gentile acceptance is threatening: just as those one would expect to be disregarded as reprobates will be accepted as equals, many of those we expect to receive honor will be rejected and cast out. No wonder there is “weeping and gnashing of teeth!” Those who were so full of themselves discover that it’s gained them nothing. Not only has their pride been crushed; they are humiliated.
Then Jesus said to the centurion, “Go your way; and as you have believed, so let it be done for you.” And his servant was healed that same hour. Returning to the immediate situation, Jesus throws back at the centurion his own claims: if you really have this kind and degree of faith, may your servant be healed! Although in some cases (such as raising the dead), faith was not required for healing, in this case it was--though it is highly intriguing that it isn’t the faith of the man being healed but of the person who is asking for the healing to occur.
Jesus Did Not Exclude His Healing Power from the Kin of the Apostles (Matthew -15): 14 Now when Jesus entered Peter’s house, he saw his mother-in-law lying down, sick with a fever. 15 He touched her hand, and the fever left her. Then she got up and began to serve them.
--New English Translation (for comparison)
Now when Jesus had come into Peter’s house, He saw his wife’s mother lying sick with a fever. The apostles represented typical Galileans. They worked. They had a religious life. And in this verse we find of Peter that--like the vast bulk of adult males in his day--he was married. And like so often still happens, there was a problem with a sick relative.
One of the oddities of Roman Catholic theology is their insistence that their leaders be unmarried while their supposed first “pope” unquestionably was married. If this clear cut a contradiction with what Peter believed and practiced is evident, is it any surprise that rejection of what the apostle Paul taught also occurs within their theology?
So He touched her hand, and the fever
left her. And she arose and served them. Jesus saw the situation and when He
touched the hand of Peter’s mother-in-law, the fever broke and vanished. This enabled her to return to her normal
household duties and whatever else was on her personal agenda for that day. “The
completeness and suddenness of the cure prove the miraculous nature of
The Prophetic Roots of Jesus Engaging in a Healing Ministry (Matthew -17): 16 When it was evening, many demon-possessed people were brought to him. He drove out the spirits with a word, and healed all who were sick. 17 In this way what was spoken by Isaiah the prophet was fulfilled: “He took our weaknesses and carried our diseases.” --New English Translation (for comparison)
When evening had come, they brought to Him many who were demon-possessed. And He cast out the spirits with a word, and healed all who were sick. It is not surprising that what now happens transpires in the “evening.” The workday would be over. There would be opportunity to bring those needing healing without having to choose between working and (often literally) “earning their daily bread” and seeking the healing that was clearly needed.
Furthermore, if this is a Sabbath day that is just ended and a new day begun--and it is commonly so concluded--we now have the new day beginning at sunset in their mode of calculating such matters (Leviticus 23:32). Hence the hurting and sick could be safely brought out without any danger of violating Pharasaic prohibitions of “improper work” on the Sabbath day.
Also note that once again we see that a distinction is maintained between healing those who were “demon possessed” and those who were merely “sick.” Both represented a challenge to Jesus’ power but of different kinds.
that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying: “He Himself took our infirmities / And bore our sicknesses.” It was right for Jesus to be performing these healings, argues Matthew, because the prophet Isaiah spoke of how God would remove the curse of such afflictions. There was more than mere humanitarianism and good will involved. There was the carrying out of prophecy as well.
Matthew quotes only the first half of Isaiah 53:4, leaving out the second half which refers to the Lord’s unjust death. That has direct reference to the ending of Matthew, while this has direct reference to what is currently happening.
Personally Following in Jesus’ Traveling Party Carried Not Only Blessings, But Also Difficulties (-22): 18 Now when Jesus saw a large crowd around him, he gave orders to go to the other side of the lake. 19 Then an expert in the law came to him and said, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” 20 Jesus said to him, “Foxes have dens, and the birds in the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” 21 Another of the disciples said to him, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” 22 But Jesus said to him, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.” --New English Translation (for comparison)
And when Jesus saw great multitudes about Him, He gave a command to depart to the other side. There was a potential problem in performing so numerous healings (verses 16-17): so many people would come that there would be no time for the teaching so central to Jesus’ ministry. Or anything else for that matter. And just such a loss of adequate control occurs at this point and He feels it essential to seek out a place that gives him more freedom of choice in what He will do next--either rest a little (note verse 25) . . . or select a different place to teach . . . or both.
Then a certain scribe came and said to Him, “Teacher, I will follow You wherever You go.” One problem Jesus will have--as does any charismatic and popular teacher--is that He will attract far more potential disciples who want to be an intimate part of the ministry than have the necessary talent or who are temperamentally fitted for such a role of travel and sacrifice. Hence there will be times when Jesus actually discourages following Him in that sense. It is not that He ever frowned upon discipleship by anyone, only upon that form of discipleship that we today might call “full time service.” And this man wants to be that type, to go “wherever You go.” How will Jesus react? Will the man measure up to what is needed?
And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” Jesus discourages him: Even foxes and birds always know they will have a place to dwell, but I can’t even be sure of that! And the person unable to handle that kind of on-going uncertainty was not needed in Jesus’ traveling party of disciples. We don’t know what this man decided, but Jesus had provided the needed caution that was required against making a commitment he would be embarrassed to break.
Sidebar: “Son of Man,” with only three exceptions (Acts ; Revelation , ), is exclusively used in the New Testament as a title/description of Jesus by the Lord Himself. In the Old Testament it is used as a synonym for human beings (Psalms 8:4; 146:3)--which would identify Jesus with His human roots (cf. John 1 for the Divine side of His nature). In Ezekiel it is used dozens of times as a description of the prophet (Ezekiel 2:1, 3; 33:2; etc.) who has so “consumed” God’s message that He is fully prepared to reliably present it to all others (3:1-4)--which is exactly what Jesus did in His teaching.
“Son of Man” is also used as a description of the coming Messiah as well. Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges suggests: “The origin of this expression as a Messianic title is found in Daniel 7:13: ‘I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with (in) the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him before him.’ Hence to the Jews it would be a familiar designation of the Messiah—the King whose ‘everlasting dominion’ is described in the next verse (Daniel ). . . .
“The Hebraism may be considered in the light of similar expressions, ‘sons of light,’ ‘son of perdition,’ ‘son of peace,’ &c., in all of which the genitive denotes a quality inherent in the subject. Sons of light = the spiritually enlightened, sons of wisdom = the wise. By the Son of man then is meant He who is essentially man, who took man’s nature upon Him, who is man’s representative before God, showing the possibilities of purified human nature, and so making atonement practicable.”
Then another of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” In that ancient society, burial was on the same day as death. Why hasn’t he already taken care of that basic duty and then sought out Jesus? Life is full of multiple duties and opportunities. Why couldn’t he have taken care of the burial and then pursued Jesus wherever He had gone--proving His zeal, enthusiasm, and dedication by doing so?
Something is clearly wrong in the man’s thinking. Is he, for some reason, trying to shirk the burial responsibility—and blame Jesus for it? Or is he one of those impetuous individuals whose “mouth runs faster than their brain” and wants to join Jesus’ traveling party--and just before saying so realizes that he has a different situation that needs to be handled as well? If he has that kind of mind frame, why would Jesus wish to encourage a potential “problem disciple” rather than someone He could rely upon?
But Jesus said to him, “Follow Me, and let the dead bury their own dead.” Since the son has not thought it essential to take care of the burial already, Jesus throws at him the challenge: then follow me and let the (spiritually) dead bury the (physically) dead. Implicit: Being My disciple will bring both praise and heavy censure: if you can’t handle the latter for letting others take care of the burial, how in the world will you handle the character assassination for being My close disciple?
“Observe that there was no danger of his father remaining unburied. Christ means that there are times when his service admits of no postponement, however sacred the conflicting duty. His followers must on such occasions be [like] Nazarites (Numbers 6:7[: ‘He shall not make himself unclean even for his father or his mother, for his brother or his sister, when they die’]) or high priests (Leviticus [: ‘nor shall he go near any dead body, nor defile himself for his father or his mother’]).” (Pulpit Commentary)
Jesus Sleeps Through a Treacherous Storm that Terrifies His Apostles (Matthew -27): 23 As he got into the boat, his disciples followed him. 24 And a great storm developed on the sea so that the waves began to swamp the boat. But he was asleep. 25 So they came and woke him up saying, “Lord, save us! We are about to die!”
26 But he said to them, “Why are you cowardly, you people of little faith?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the sea, and it was dead calm. 27 And the men were amazed and said, “What sort of person is this? Even the winds and the sea obey him!” --New English Translation (for comparison)
Now when He got into a boat, His disciples followed Him. When Jesus entered the fishing boat, the traveling party of disciples/apostles naturally joined Him as well. So far as this account goes--and that of Luke as well ()--we are left under the impression that it was the only vessel that made the trip since no other is mentioned. Looking at the gospel of Mark, however (), we discover that there were additional ones--presumably with those who were not of the inner group of disciples: “and other little boats were also with Him.” Hence there were additional non-apostolic witnesses of what was about to occur--not to mention additional lives saved from the tumult.
Sidebar: Fishing craft naturally varied in size but as
we are talking about a boat from the local commercial fishing business,
obviously the locals wanted as large a craft as they could realistically afford
and crew. These could be quite
substantial. The remains of one found in
1985 on the
And suddenly a great tempest arose on
the sea, so that the boat was covered with the waves. But He was asleep. The “suddenly” in describing the
“tempest” is quite real to life. The
Sidebar: The fact that the water did not awaken Him argues that He was in the covered end of the boat where various things could be stored. He is described as sleeping on a “pillow” (Mark ), which may be a leather cushion used by the steersman or even a bag of the ship’s ballast that would give Him something to rest His head upon. Jesus not being awakened by the rocking of the boat may also seem odd--unless one has gone through such an intense period of work that “nothing can wake me up.”
Then His disciples came to Him and awoke Him, saying, “Lord, save us! We are perishing!” We are not explicitly told why Jesus had left the other side of the lake. We suggested back in that the crowds seeking miracles were diverting Him for too long from doing His necessary teaching work. Here, though, it seems clear that over-work was also involved, as demonstrated by the fact that He is so exhausted that He is sleeping through a storm that is terrifying the others! No small accomplishment when the waters were splashing over the entire boat (verse 24)!
Sidebar: This is the only place in the gospels that refers to Jesus as sleeping, but being in a body of flesh and blood it was just as necessary as for the rest of us.
But He said to them, “Why are you fearful, O you of little faith?” Then He arose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. If Jesus is willing to speak of the lack of faith when He sees it in outsiders, He is also willing to speak of it when He sees it among His inner cadre as well. He bluntly challenges them—even under these alarming conditions(!): there is no reason to be fearful; you have too little faith. Then He verbally rebukes the winds, our text says: speaking verbally doesn’t imply that the seas and winds had ears, only the need for the disciples to realize that Jesus is invoking His powers to right the situation.
So the men marveled, saying, “Who can this be, that even the winds and the sea obey Him?” What other response can they have than the one found here: What kind of person is this Jesus where even the storms stop upon His command? The gospel of John might go on and narrate a direct theological deduction about Jesus’ supernaturalness. Matthew’s narrative style is more indirect; he simply says: here is what He did; you come up with an explanation that fits it better than that of the Christian missionaries.
Two Dangerous Demon Possessed Men Are Healed (Matthew -34): 28 When he came to the other side, to the region of the Gadarenes, two demon-possessed men coming from the tombs met him. They were extremely violent, so that no one was able to pass by that way. 29 They cried out, “Son of God, leave us alone! Have you come here to torment us before the time?”
30 A large herd of pigs was feeding some distance from them. 31 Then the demons begged him, “If you drive us out, send us into the herd of pigs.” 3 2 And he said, “Go!” So they came out and went into the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep slope into the lake and drowned in the water.
33 The herdsmen ran off, went into the town, and told everything that had happened to the demon-possessed men. 34 Then the entire town came out to meet Jesus. And when they saw him, they begged him to leave their region. --New English Translation (for comparison)
When He had come to the other side, to the country of the Gergesenes, there met Him two demon-possessed men, coming out of the tombs, exceedingly fierce, so that no one could pass that way. Here we find that one characteristic of demoniacs was that of extraordinary violence . . . not necessarily just of self-harm but of outright endangering others. In the first case, you pitied the man and his family; in this kind of case you feared him.
We haven’t heard much about the nature of demon possession in the gospel so far and one of the fascinating things about the four gospels is how relatively little they elaborate upon its nature. To them it was a reality; the details that we find so intriguing are “throw away lines,” verbally fleshing out the text in modest detail and providing us with minimal detailed information. And if it had told us more, how would it have spiritually benefited us?
And suddenly they cried out, saying, “What have we to do with You, Jesus, You Son of God? Have You come here to torment us before the time?” The demons challenge Jesus on two grounds. First, it is improper: we have nothing in common, “what have we to do with you. . . ?” To use a modern example, Jesus’ presence with the likes of them was as strange as it would be to have a well known “temperance” advocate being spokeswoman for a hard liquor company. It would be incongruous and absurd. Likewise, Jesus’ presence seemed among demons.
Second, they are fearful and full of guilt: “Have You come here to torment us before the time.” They know they have punishment coming to them, just that now isn’t the time it’s supposed to happen. And, perhaps, like many moderns, if it isn’t happening now we can deceive ourselves into believing it somehow won’t ever happen if we can keep postponing it.
Now a good way off from them there was a herd of many swine feeding. The fact that there were “many swine” feeding themselves in the distance argues that the region had a large Gentile population. You would not expect a faithful Jew to be either eating meat from such an animal or raising it. Nor for a Jewish dominated community to be appreciative of the presence of such a herd.
be remembered, however, that there were a goodly number of Gentiles in
Sidebar: Although technically the Biblically prohibition was on the consumption rather than the raising of such animals, the temptation to eat it would be so obvious it seems inevitable that the narrower prohibition would be interpreted as almost requiring the broader application. When the Talmud outright condemns such raising, it conspicuously does not do so on the basis of this or any appeal to a Biblical text, but to a historical incident that occurred during an inter-Jewish civil war in the mid-60s B.C.
So the demons begged Him, saying, “If You cast us out, permit us to go away into the herd of swine.” This is their compromise: Don’t get rid of us entirely--don’t do to us immediately what is ultimately planned for us in the future. You want us out of these humans because we are plaguing them. Fine, let us go into those swine. (There were about 2,000 of them, according to Mark 5:13.) At least this way they would know they would still exist and would not be facing obvious punishment, the “torment” they had worried about back in verse 29.
And He said to them, “Go.” So when they had come out, they went into the herd of swine. And suddenly the whole herd of swine ran violently down the steep place into the sea, and perished in the water. It wasn’t Jesus’ idea, but He was agreeable. What the demons did not expect was that as soon as they entered the pigs, the animals would go into a panic and drown themselves in the Sea. They thought that if they could not have the bodies of humans, that the body of animals would be a satisfactory substitute—at least temporarily. As they died, they discovered that their analysis was thoroughly wrong and now landed up with no bodies at all to hide in.
8:33 Then those who kept them fled; and they went away into the city and told everything, including what had happened to the demon-possessed men. From the standpoint of those overseeing the swine, this is nothing short of a personal disaster. They did not want the blame for the catastrophe. They wanted the owners and everyone else to know promptly who was really behind it so they would not receive condemnation in something they had no control over. The fact that dangerous humans were now sane, was nice, of course, but it is the “dollars and cents” aspects that most concern them: note the “including what had happened” to the demon possessed, showing this was secondary to the destruction as to importance.
And behold, the whole city came out to meet Jesus. And when they saw Him, they begged Him to depart from their region. The people of the town came out en masse. It is interesting where their priorities lie. Not a word is said of how good it is that the demoniacs are now free of their violent affliction. All the locals are concerned with is the financial bottom line: please, Jesus, leave us alone; go elsewhere. You’ve just destroyed one or more major swine producers. What are you going to do next? Protect the profits; ignore the suffering human soul. A town good for business but not for humanity. Do times ever change that much?
When Healing and Forgiveness Went Hand-in-Hand (Matthew 9:1-8): 1 After getting into a boat he crossed to the other side and came to his own town. 2 Just then some people brought to him a paralytic lying on a stretcher. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Have courage, son! Your sins are forgiven.”
3 Then some of the experts in the law said to themselves, “This man is blaspheming!” 4 When Jesus perceived their thoughts he said, “Why do you respond with evil in your hearts? 5 Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven’ or to say, ‘Stand up and walk’? 6 But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—then he said to the paralytic—“Stand up, take your stretcher, and go home.”
7 And he stood up and went home. 8 When the crowd saw this, they were afraid and honored God who had given such authority to men.
--New English Translation (for comparison)
9:1 So He
got into a boat, crossed over, and came to His own city. Since He has been using
Sidebar: The city in which he was raised--
9:2 Then behold, they brought to Him a paralytic lying on a bed. When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, “Son, be of good cheer; your sins are forgiven you.” Until now in the account Jesus has only healed. He has made no deductions from His miracles. Implicitly they have conveyed the message that God has blessed Him with unique powers and rights. But what are they? How extensive are they?
Here He makes one such power explicit: He combines healing with the forgiveness of sins. The man’s sins may have been the cause of his physical affliction . . . or the need to be forgiven may simply have grown out of the “natural” sinfulness that so easily becomes a lifestyle . . . or the simple fact that no matter how upstanding a person may be there will always be lapses of some type. Jesus is not concerned with the nature or extent of the man’s sins, only His own right to forgive them.
9:3 And at once some of the scribes said within themselves, “This Man blasphemes!” The immediate indignation is quite understandable. The charge of “blasphemy” is not an illogical one if the claims are fraudulent, if He doesn’t have the ability. However, what if He does have that power and authority? In a connection of both healing and forgiving, does that not require that He be far more than a mere human . . . far more than a mere prophet?
Jesus here openly carries the Messianic Redeemer concept far beyond their assumption of national “redemption” (i.e., from foreign conquest) to personal redemption from sin. "No passage of the Old Testament affirms that the Messiah himself will forgive sins. Thus Jesus ascribes to himself what even the highest Old Testament prophecies of the Messianic time had reserved to God; e.g. Jeremiah 31:34; Isaiah 43:25." (Kubel, as quoted by the Pulpit Commentary) By doing this He makes His authority and role of pivotal importance in a truth ultimately applicable not only to the Jews but to all Gentiles as well.
9:4 But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? Jesus rebuts their accusation with the countercharge that they have misplaced the evil. The real “evil” is not in what He has said, but in their own hearts.
They had not verbalized their thoughts aloud (verse 3) for He rebukes what was “in your hearts” instead. On the other hand His claim was such an unusual one that it was sure to encourage skepticism and outright anger from men like these who were predisposed against Him in the first place. And this reaction was quite possibly echoed in facial expressions of shock and skepticism. (You don’t always have to hear spoken words to know what people are thinking!)
9:5 For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Arise and walk’? They had failed to use the brain God has given them to reason out the matter: It is just as easy to say arise and walk as it is to say your sins are forgiven. So if one can prove one statement is true--by the blessed one arising and walking again, when it had previously been impossible--one simultaneously has been given extremely good evidence that the claimed ability to forgive sin is equally genuine.
9:6 But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins”—then He said to the paralytic, “Arise, take up your bed, and go to your house.” Then Jesus drives the point home by telling the paralyzed man that to prove that his sins are forgiven he is to arise and carry his bed back home. In other words, to walk. If he can do the latter, which all can see, then both he and the witnesses can safely feel certain that the sins have been forgiven as well. It would be visible evidence and proof of the forgiveness that could not be visibly observed and one would be just as impossible as the other--except to Jesus.
9:7 And he arose and departed to his house. No one made the man rise. He did so voluntarily, from his own initiative. The very fact that he even tried argues for his faith, his confidence that there was substance in Jesus’ promise.
9:8 Now when the multitudes saw it, they marveled and glorified God, who had given such power to men. The crowd’s reaction was quite reasonable: for the paralyzed man to immediately arise and be cured, argued that the healer had been given special “power.” But the unspoken challenge to them was the one Jesus had earlier raised: If I can speak and a person be immediately healed--and you just saw it happen--then if I claim the power to forgive sins you have every reason to believe that I have that power as well. And the more they recognized the latter, the even more distinct and unique would Jesus stand out from all others.
Would their recognition of His “power” extend to forgiveness as well? He doesn’t force them to believe anything. Rather He challenges them.
Jesus Demonstrates Willingness to Accept as Disciples Even Social Outcasts Like Tax Collectors (Matthew 9:9-13): 9 As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax booth. “Follow me,” he said to him. And he got up and followed him. 10 As Jesus was having a meal in Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with Jesus and his disciples. 11 When the Pharisees saw this they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
12 When Jesus heard this he said, “Those who are healthy don’t need a physician, but those who are sick do. 13 Go and learn what this saying means: ‘I want mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” --New English Translation (for comparison)
9:9 As Jesus passed on from there, He saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax office. And He said to him, “Follow Me.” So he arose and followed Him. A tax collector was--barring evidence otherwise--dishonest, unscrupulous, unfair, and unjust. Yet there was some potential in the tax collector Matthew that others did not see and Jesus challenged him to “follow” in the course of discipleship.
Sidebar: Why was Matthew so receptive to Jesus and so
and Julian, two noted ancient enemies of Christianity, have blamed Matthew for
thus rashly, as they are pleased to call it, following one of whom he had so
little knowledge. But as it is evident
that this publican lived in
9:10 Now it happened, as Jesus sat at the table in the house, that behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Him and His disciples. Jesus accepted Matthew as a social equal for He eats with him. Not only that, you also have both disciples and yet unreformed tax collectors (“saints and sinners” so to speak) sharing food together. Jesus refused to allow the social prejudices against such intermingling to stop Him.
He did not do it just in order to be “nice” or “kind” but so that they would have a close up, personal and immediate opportunity to see that there were those interested in their spiritual welfare and were convinced that they were worthy of being dealt with regardless of hostile public opinion. Not to mention to hear the message He was sharing with the more openly religiously attuned. (It also offered the opportunity to show just how much He was willing to defy Pharisaic opinion which, until now, was the “gold standard” of what was ideal behavior.)
And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to His disciples, “Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” The Pharisees could only see what the tax collectors were and refused to consider that they might repent and change for the better. They want to know why Jesus dares violate religious etiquette and eat with such scum of the earth--with the implied undertone, of course, that “proper religious people like themselves would never think of such a self-insult.”
Sidebar: The fact that Jesus could hear the challenge
(verse 12) argues that they had access to within the place where the meal was
being held. It sounds as if something
akin to the social customs in 19th century
When Jesus heard that, He said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. An earthly analogy works quite well to explain what He is doing: Just like the physically sick need a physician, these people are spiritually sick and need ministering to on that level as well. Since He can provide it, He has every intention of doing so. After all, these complainers were never going to provide it, were they?
But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.” In other words, this is an extension of the Old Testament principle (Hosea 6:6) that God desires compassion rather than just ritual offerings. Not that Jehovah rejected the latter, but that when the two came in conflict mercy was always to have the priority.
For that reason Jesus was quite willing to spend time with those most standing in need of moral and spiritual reform (i.e., “repentance”) rather than just those who lacked the need. Not just the “respectable” sinners who were ambivalent in their faithfulness to God, but even these type folk who were openly rebellious.
Note that Jesus is still among the tax collectors. Just as the words rebuke the Pharisees, they also remind the tax collectors that they also have unresolved moral problems that need to be corrected . . . the Pharisees had things like pride and arrogance and the tax collectors had honesty and fairness. However we identify specific faults, they both had matters that needed to be attended to.
Jesus Is Challenged As to Why His Disciples Did Not Follow the Custom of Frequent Fasting (Matthew -17): 14 Then John’s disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples don’t fast?” 15 Jesus said to them, “The wedding guests cannot mourn while the bridegroom is with them, can they? But the days are coming when the bridegroom will be taken from them, and then they will fast.
16 No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, because the patch will pull away from the garment and the tear will be worse. 17 And no one pours new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the skins burst and the wine is spilled out and the skins are destroyed. Instead they put new wine into new wineskins and both are preserved.”
--New English Translation (for comparison)
Then the disciples of John came to Him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but Your disciples do not fast?” Eating with clear cut and open sinners was not the only point of approved religious etiquette on which Jesus dissented. The Pharisees and even John the Baptist were characterized by regular fasting; however such regular fasting was absent in the Jesus movement. (That does not necessarily mean that they never fasted but that, if they did, it was sporadic rather on any pre-set schedule. The point would be the same in either case.)
Sidebar: “In the law, we find only one fast-day enjoined, namely, the tenth of the seventh month, on which the national atonement was made. But the Jews, of their own accord, observed many other days of fasting (see Isaiah 58:3) and in our Lord’s time, days of this kind were more frequent than ever, especially among the Pharisees, who, it seems, generally fasted twice a week (Luke 18:12).” (Benson Commentary)
And Jesus said to them, “Can the friends of the bridegroom mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? But the days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast. Jesus’ points to the fact that there are times that everyone agrees should be characterized by festivity and joy. To fast with Jesus still with them would be like mourning in the middle of a bridal feast. Oh, true, there would come a time for fasting when the “bridegroom” (= Jesus) is no longer there. In those terrible days following the crucifixion, to “wine and dine” as in the happier days of the personal ministry would have been insulting to His memory. But that is not the situation that is now being faced.
No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; for the patch pulls away from the garment, and the tear is made worse. Merging the old Pharisaic customs and those of the Jesus movement was inherently dangerous. It would be like using a new and unshrunk piece of cloth to repair an old piece of clothing. When it is washed the tear will worsen. Merging Jesus faith and Pharisaic faith can only be destructive to one or both. Buried just below the surface is the obvious thought that the two movements are in fundamental opposition.
Nor do they put new wine into old wineskins, or else the wineskins break, the wine is spilled, and the wineskins are ruined. But they put new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.” In a similar vein to the treatment of the cloth, no wise person puts new wine into old wineskins because the fermentation would destroy it. Here we go beyond mere harm into complete destruction: If the Jesus movement is to be a mere duplicate of Pharisaic faith it will destroy the old movement of Pharasism--its purposes, goals, and intents. Did they really want this? (There was just so much above and beyond fasting in which they differed!)
Underlying both this and the preceding verse is the assumption that Jesus has a distinct agenda in mind for His disciples and He knowingly pushes for it even though it makes the membership stand out from the surrounding religious world. External observers might be tempted by the similarities of the Jesus movement with Pharasism (belief in the resurrection, acceptance of the entire Old Testament, etc.) and conclude that they are merely variants with the same basic agenda. They aren’t.
Close Together, Both a Dying Girl and a Long Sick Woman Are Healed (Matthew 9:18-26): 18 As he was saying these things, a ruler came, bowed low before him, and said, “My daughter has just died, but come and lay your hand on her and she will live.” 19 Jesus and his disciples got up and followed him. 20 But a woman who had been suffering from a hemorrhage for twelve years came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak. 21 For she kept saying to herself, “If only I touch his cloak, I will be healed.” 22 But when Jesus turned and saw her he said, “Have courage, daughter! Your faith has made you well.” And the woman was healed from that hour.
23 When Jesus entered the ruler’s house and saw the flute players and the disorderly crowd, 24 he said, “Go away, for the girl is not dead but asleep.” And they began making fun of him. 25 But when the crowd had been put outside, he went in and gently took her by the hand, and the girl got up. 26 And the news of this spread throughout that region. --New English Translation (for comparison)
While He spoke these things to them,
behold, a ruler came and worshiped Him, saying, “My daughter has just died, but
come and lay Your hand on her and she will live.” One of the grave dangers we can fall into
in reading the gospels is that all of the religious leaders were die-hard
enemies of Jesus. Many (especially near
Jesus could have been just as prejudiced as His foes. Some had just been criticizing Him for differing from the customs on fasting; in previous chapters for yet other reasons. In annoyance, Jesus could have flared back at the ruler: “Who should I believe you are any better than they are?” But Jesus, unlike His enemies, avoided guilt by association. Every person stood on his or her own feet and was treated on the basis of their own behavior rather than that of others.
Sidebar on the religious official and his daughter: He was one of several “rulers [note the plural] of the synagogue” (Mark ). The daughter was “twelve years of age” (Mark ).
So Jesus arose and followed him, and so did His disciples. The very fact that He follows the religious ruler carried with it an implied affirmative answer that He would grant the wish. Otherwise, why go at all?
And suddenly, a woman who had a flow of blood for twelve years came from behind and touched the hem of His garment. Life is not always “neat and tidy:” at the very time our minds are concentrating on one thing, something else happens to seize our attention. It happens to Jesus in this case. At the very moment when every one’s mind is on the condition of the dying daughter and what they will find when they reach the ruler’s house, an anonymous woman suddenly steps from the crowd to touch the edge of Jesus’ garment.
Sidebar on her physical condition: “This disease was by the Jews reckoned unclean (Leviticus ), and the woman was therefore unwilling to make personal application to Jesus, or even to touch his person. The disease was regarded as incurable. She had expended all her property, and grew worse (Mark ).” (Barnes’ Commentary)
Sidebar on clothing: Jesus’ clothing reflected contemporary male attire among the Jews. “The incidental notice is interesting as making up, together with Matthew 14:36, John 19:23, all that we know as to our Lord’s outward garb. There was first, nearest the body, the coat or tunic (χίτων) without seam, woven from the top throughout; then, over that, the garment or cloak (ίμάτιον), flowing loosely after the manner of the East; and this had its ‘border or fringe,’ probably of a bright blue mingled with white, that on which the scribes and Pharisees laid stress as being in accordance with the Law (Numbers 15:38), and which they wore, therefore, of an ostentatious width (Matthew 23:5). Later tradition defined the very number of the threads or tassels of the fringe, so that they might represent the 613 precepts of the Law.” (Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers)
For she said to herself, “If only I may touch His garment, I shall be made well.” We have here an interesting reversal in anticipations. The ruler was convinced that if Jesus touched his daughter, restored health was a certainty. This woman’s anticipation is that if she does the touching--of Jesus--restored health is a certainty. She sees Jesus as so imbued with Divine healing power that even the feel of the garments as He wears them will assure restored well being. She views the power as, if you will, “radiating out” and accessible to all who will avail themselves of it.
But as to whether her deduction was valid that the anonymous touching alone would be enough—though it was far from an illogical conclusion in light of His many startling and amazing cures—we aren’t told. For Jesus avoids us having to come to a conclusion because we discover that He knows that this anonymous “nobody” mingled in with the crowd had done this trivial an act . . . and why she has done so. Hence He speaks to her. . . .
But Jesus turned around, and when He saw her He said, “Be of good cheer, daughter; your faith has made you well.” And the woman was made well from that hour. In this accounting a new and unprecedented element is introduced: Jesus is not asked for a healing but He knows it is wanted. And He assures the unknown woman that her “faith” had produced her cure. Note that He had recognized (1) the act, (2) what she wished, and (3) the depth of her faith—all without a word being spoken! This “rabbi” was not a normal rabbi of that day, was He?
When Jesus came into the ruler’s house, and saw the flute players and the noisy crowd wailing. In modern western society we place bodies in funeral homes and it is a time for quietness and soft words. In the society in which Jesus lived, the body would be in the family’s home. And it would be a time for loud lamentation and grief. Indeed, one hired “flute players” such as in this verse--and even mourners--in order to assure that there was no question that the departed would be missed. For example in regard to a dead spouse, the Jewish Mishnah (the first part of the Talmud) speaks of how “Even the poorest among the Israelites [his wife being dead] will afford her not less than two pipes, and one woman to make lamentation.”
He said to them, “Make room, for the girl is not dead, but sleeping.” And they ridiculed Him. These people are on the scene. They know that death has already happened. So they scoff at Him for suggesting that the girl is merely “sleeping” rather than dead. Actually both are right. She is dead, but since she will quickly be revived, the death will be remembered by her as if nothing more than if she had momentarily “fallen to sleep.”
But when the crowd was put outside, He went in and took her by the hand, and the girl arose. He had not insisted that they all leave, but simply “make room” (verse 24). The fact that they had to be “put outside” argues they weren’t willing to do so. This was “their” dead body to mourn over and for which they were likely being paid to be professional mourners as was the custom of the day. He was interfering with their job!
Harassment would not discourage Jesus and He simply waited for them to be “chased out” by the family. He then ignored the mourners’ cynical words, entered the room, reaching for the dead girl’s hand. . . . and promptly the girl arose. No hours or days of prayer. It immediately happened. Could rivals claiming to work miracles do so? Everyone would know that the answer to that would be, “no way!”
And the report of this went out into all that land. The unexpected and electrifying news of the resurrection promptly spread throughout the entire region. The mourners certainly knew death when they saw it. So there was no question what had happened. Furthermore, it was the daughter of a religious “ruler”--a man respected and admired. From the standpoint of the “religious establishment” of the day, this was the worst kind of witness to Jesus’ miracles humanly possible. They couldn’t laugh out of existence such a man’s testimony as if this had never happened or didn’t matter.
Obviously the mourners spread the word but how much came from the ruler himself? The other accounts tell us, in effect, that the ruler was to keep his mouth closed about what had happened--at least as much as circumstances permitted: “He charged them to tell no one what had happened” (Luke 8:56). “He commanded them strictly that no one should know it” (Mark ). Jesus was already controversial and would become even more so. He wanted no harm to come on this man because of his family being benefited by the Divine healing.
But that word would seep out “unofficially” to close kin and friends was, of course, inevitable. However there is a profound difference between such discretion and “rubbing it in the face” of the powerful clerics who were not friendly to the Lord. This took place in Galilee--Capernaum being the most likely location--and that was outside their most powerful center (in Jerusalem) but there were more than a few in this region who were skeptical or rejective as well (think Nazareth).
32 As they were going away, a
man who could not talk and was demon-possessed was brought to him. 33 After the demon was cast
out, the man who had been mute spoke.
The crowds were amazed and said, “Never has anything like this been seen
When Jesus departed from there, two blind men followed Him, crying out and saying, “Son of David, have mercy on us!” Although they lacked sight, they certainly did not lack hearing—and could deduce from what is being said the grandeur of the wonders Jesus was performing. If seeking alms from others would be regarded as seeking “merciful relief,” it is natural that they seek “mercy” from Him of the kind that others could not provide—healing surely being the thing in mind. Yet they leave the specific gift vague, letting Jesus have the initiative in doing something else if He thinks it best.
And when He had come into the house, the blind men came to Him. And Jesus said to them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” They said to Him, “Yes, Lord.” Jesus has no problem with the idea of healing. His only question is whether they really believe that He can accomplish the cure. They respond respectfully in the affirmative, “Yes, Lord.” Is it unjust to see here not only a sign of respect in the use of the title of “Lord” but also the suggestion that they are convinced that He is “Lord/master of disease” as well?
Then He touched their eyes, saying, “According to your faith let it be to you.” The symbolism of touching their eyes is obvious: the eyes are touched since that is the healing sought--and the sight is promptly restored. Yet such symbolisms can be pushed too far: Jesus touched the young girl’s hand and she revived from the dead () but the object touched (hand) and the result accomplished (restored life) have no obvious connection. But even there the action did stress that since Jesus had taken the initiative and since the healing had promptly occurred that credit must be given to Him for the result.
And their eyes were opened. And Jesus sternly warned them, saying, “See that no one knows it.” In the case of the synagogue leader we just studied, the motive for silence probably grew out of the desire to protect the man from negative repercussions. Since these folk were societal “nobodies,” that factor obviously was not at work--their healing could cavalierly be dismissed as unimportant and irrelevant.
Hence Jesus’ most likely motive is attempting to put a “damper” on the enthusiasm for Him as a healer. Wonderful and beneficial as these were on the personal level, how is He to have adequate time for the ministry of teaching--which would benefit one and all--if there is too great an obsession with the healings? So Jesus is doing what He can to calm the search for Him as a healer lest the lesser ability (healing) blot out interest in the greater ability (His role as spokesman of the Divine will).
But when they had departed, they spread the news about Him in all that country. It is impossible to believe that Jesus believed that there would be—could be—anything more than a short term silence. Human nature has a way of taking its own course. Excitement. Joy. To not share their good news was a task beyond their self-control and soon they spread word throughout the region. But notice that they only did so “when they had departed.” In other words, they honored His request so long as they were in the immediate neighborhood and community and this is likely all that Jesus had in mind.
Blind and surely poor as the result, they were far more vulnerable to retaliation than even the ruler was (-26). In contrast, the woman healed at the same time had the kind of health problem that male critics would likely have been embarrassed to even admit existed—much less criticize. The blind are something else again especially if they weren’t normally in that community. (The fact that they went elsewhere at the end of the verse can also be read as a possible indicator of that.)
As they went out, behold, they brought to Him a man, mute and demon-possessed. Jesus did not always get His wishes! Having tried to damper some of the enthusiasm that could reduce Him to a mere healer, what happens “as they went out” from Him? Yet someone else is brought to obtain healing! Sometimes when we wish for “a little piece and quiet” it might be useful to meditate upon this example of Jesus.
Sidebar: Standing by itself, this description of the man could be read either as he was both deaf and demon possessed or that the deafness was caused by the demon possession. When we read in the next verse that as soon as the demon was removed, hearing returned we are forced to the second interpretation. Although in this case the demon made the man’s life miserable by stripping him of his hearing, another way they could torment was by stripping one of eyesight as well as hearing (Matthew 12:22). Or those functions might be fine but he would have epileptic fits (Matthew -18).
when the demon was cast out, the mute spoke. And the multitudes marveled, saying, “It was
never seen like this in
We know only a modest amount about ancient exorcism but we do know it was typically long-winded and prolonged and that anything close to permanent relief would be rare. At least so far as the Biblical narratives go, all Jesus does is speak and the demon is forced out. Unprecedented, indeed!
But the Pharisees said, “He casts out demons by the ruler of the demons.” The healing is too much to tolerate for the Pharisees. Jesus is getting far too much honor and, worse yet, He is living in defiance of Pharisaic standards and, implicitly, approves of others doing so as well. Something has to be said to discredit Him.
One thing you learn from politics: there is nothing too innocent to distort and misrepresent. The same mentality is present in religious politics as well. If they must concede that Jesus can cast out demons, they will do so—but only because the healing is so obvious, public, and quick that there is no room for denial.
So one has to fall back on a secondary line of attack: Of course, He can do this: He does it by the power of the “ruler” of the demons! Turning an admission of power into character assassination at the same time. In the late twentieth century, politicians would invent the term “spin” to describe such distortions.
Jesus’ Success Created the Need for More Teachers of His Way (Matthew 9:35-38): 35 Then Jesus went throughout all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and sickness. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were bewildered and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. 38 Therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest.” --New English Translation (for comparison)
Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people. Jesus was not a “flash in the pan.” Wherever he went He engaged in His two-fold ministry of preaching and healing. And whatever the disease and whatever the community He entered, the healings were always successful. “Every disease”—nothing was beyond His ability.
This is the second time that Jesus’ ability to heal any and all physical afflictions is mentioned in this gospel, “And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease among the people. Then His fame went throughout all Syria; and they brought to Him all sick people who were afflicted with various diseases and torments, and those who were demon-possessed, epileptics, and paralytics; and He healed them” (Matthew 4:23-24). Not quite as comprehensive--but seeming to imply about the same thing--is Jesus’ later remark, “The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them” (Matthew 11:5).
But when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd. In the midst of tremendous healing success, Jesus is saddened: the masses need the spiritual guidance that they are lacking. At the moment they are like sheep who lack a shepherd. They have good religious instincts but they don’t have the kind of leaders and guides they need for it to grow and mature.
Then He said to His disciples, “The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Recognizing that there is such a need for spiritual shepherds to guide their learning and growth, Jesus bemoans the fact that the “laborers” needed to function in that role are so few in number. The horror is that though the harvest’s potential was tremendous (“plentiful”), there are so few to do the work. What was clearly needed were the workers to assure that the harvest did not go to waste in the fields, forgotten and abandoned. Is there that much difference between then and today?
Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.” Since there was a clear and obvious need, where better to start than asking God for help? Hence He urges the disciples to pray that there be more “laborers” to work in that role. In doing so, He is also conveying an important lesson in humility to them. It would be very easy for the existing disciples to think that they are the only ones that could do the job. Actually God could use anyone. Our own success never rules out God utilizing others to accomplish something even greater.
Jesus Provides His Apostles with Miracle Working Powers (Matthew 10:1-4): 1 Jesus called his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits so they could cast them out and heal every kind of disease and sickness. 2 Now these are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon (called Peter), and Andrew his brother; James son of Zebedee and John his brother; 3 Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; 4 Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him. --New English Translation (for comparison)
10:1 And when He had called His twelve disciples to Him, He gave them power over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease. Having just told the “disciples” to pray for “laborers” to harvest the spiritual crop before them (), Jesus then selects twelve of them to be His inner circle of workers. He does not explicitly say that in words, but in this narrative setting these appointments are clearly intended to convey to the reader that message.
10:2 Now the names of the twelve apostles are these: first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother. We meet once again the fisher brothers of the earlier chapters. Then they had been called to discipleship or to be part of a temporary traveling band of disciples to test their steadfastness and their ability to handle responsibility. They have passed their tests of behavior and of the Lord’s own observation. Now they are set apart as part of the inner group of “twelve disciples.”
the terminology used: “The only passage in this Gospel where the word
occurs. The Greek word literally = ‘sent
forth,’ ‘envoys.’ This sense, though
scarcely recognized by classical authors, was not new. It seems to have been a ‘title borne by those
who were dispatched from the mother city by the rulers of the place on any
foreign mission, especially such as were charged with collecting the tribute
paid to the temple service’ (Lightfoot, Galatians, page
90). The title of ‘apostles’ was given
in a special sense to the Twelve, but was not confined to them. Matthias was added to the number of the
twelve, Paul was ‘called to be an apostle,’ [1 Corinthians 1:1], James the
Lord’s brother [Galatians ],
and Barnabas [Acts ], are designated by the same title.” (
10:3 Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Lebbaeus, whose surname was Thaddaeus. If Jesus had offended traditionalists by table fellowship with a tax collector, He multiplied the insult a hundredfold by making this Matthew one of the inner circle. Clearly Jesus was not a person who held your irresponsible earlier life against you: if you proved by behavior and conduct that you were now a changed person, He accepted you as such rather than hold against you that past legacy of failure.
10:4 Simon the Cananite, and Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed Him. Of those twelve chosen there would be one conspicuous and total failure: Judas Iscariot. Yet the readers are forewarned that this will be the case for they are told that this man will ultimately betray Jesus. There is no effort to hide this brazenly obvious failure in the leadership. The fact that it could occur even at the highest level surely was intended to carry a warning caution to those on a congregational basis not to permit themselves to commit a similar folly: “If one of the ‘greatest’ in the kingdom could falter and fail and even betray, it’s not beyond the realm of possibility for you to fall into a parallel trap as well!” Paranoia is not necessary; humility and caution is.
the Apostles for Their First Teaching and Healing Journey Independent of Jesus’
Presence (Matthew 10:5-15): 5 Jesus sent out these
twelve, instructing them as follows: “Do
not go to Gentile regions and do not enter any Samaritan town. 6 Go instead to the lost sheep of the house of
9 Do not take gold, silver, or copper in your belts, 10 no bag for the journey, or an extra tunic, or sandals or staff, for the worker deserves his provisions.
11 Whenever you enter a town
or village, find out who is worthy there and stay with them until you
leave. 12 As you enter the house,
give it greetings. 13 And if the house is
worthy, let your peace come on it, but if it is not worthy, let your peace
return to you. 14 And if anyone will not
welcome you or listen to your message, shake the dust off your feet as you
leave that house or that town. 15 I tell you the truth, it will be more bearable for the region of
10:5 These twelve Jesus sent out and commanded them, saying: “Do not go into the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter a city of the Samaritans. What happens now once again ties in with the prayer for workers found in the closing verses of chapter 9: laborers are needed; so they are to go out and try their own hand at it. One major social prohibition is made: they were to avoid the Gentiles and the Samaritans. Jesus’ ministry would demonstrates exceptions to this blanket rule (in the previous chapter He had healed a centurion’s child), but Jesus had already stirred up enough trouble by defying the expectations of the Pharisees. Why stir up yet more? Especially if, without Jesus being there to guide them, they might mishandle the situation?
the Samaritans: “The Samaritans were foreigners descended from the alien population
introduced by the Assyrian king (probably Sargon), 2 Kings , to supply the place of the exiled Israelites. In Luke 17:18, our Lord calls a
Samaritan ‘this stranger,’ i.e. this man of alien or foreign race. The bitterest hostility existed between Jew
and Samaritan. . . . The origin of this
international ill-feeling is related Ezra 4:2-3. Their religion was a corrupt form of
Judaism. For being plagued with lions,
the Samaritans summoned a priest to instruct them in the religion of the
Jews. Soon, however, they lapsed from a
pure worship, and in consequence of their hatred to the Jews, purposely
introduced certain innovations. Their
rival temple on
“About twenty years previous to our Lord’s ministry the
Samaritans had intensified the national antipathy by a gross act of
profanation. During the celebration of
the Passover they stole into the Temple Courts when the doors were opened after
and strewed the sacred enclosure with dead men’s
bones (Jos. Antiquities. XVIII. 2, 2).” (
10:6 But go rather to the lost sheep of the
Sidebar: The image of the Israelites as sheep is best known to us from David’s use of the image in a positive sense in Psalms 23. However it is also used of the people as misled by their spiritual leaders: “My people have been lost sheep. Their shepherds have led them astray” (Jeremiah 50:6). In the context of a Messianic prediction of the redemptive role of Christ, the image is used of self-produced sin: “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way” (Isaiah 53:6).
10:7 And as you go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Since they were to be sent out among the people--that implies that they were to carry a message--but what was it to be? The same as that which Jesus had been preaching: the imminence of the “kingdom of heaven.” It had long been predicted. Not long in the future it would become an earthly reality. This makes perfect sense if the establishment of the church in Acts 2 is under consideration.
It makes no sense if it remains unfulfilled today. Or if anything the people could do--like rejecting the message--could keep the prophecy from being fulfilled. Jesus already knew He was going to be rejected and crucified; hence He knew that His message would not gain overall acceptance.
10:8 Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out demons. Freely you have received, freely give. They were not to claim the power to heal; rather, they were to actually go out and exercise it. This gift they had been given without charge. In a similar manner they were to heal without expecting or requesting anything temporal in return. Since it didn’t cost you anything to have this power, you’ve earned no right to expect “reimbursement” for exercising it!
Nor limit yourself to one type of healing: here are four different types you can do. Honest seekers for the truth will have no legitimate cause to dismiss your claims or teachings.
Sidebar: The Torah prohibited charging interest to poor fellow Jews and making a profit on selling them food (Leviticus 25:35-38). The apocryphal book of Wisdom applied the freely received/freely give principle to sharing wisdom and insight: “I learned without guile and I impart without grudging; I do not hide her wealth” (). In a similar generous manner, the apostles were to exercise their power to heal.
10:9 Provide neither gold nor silver nor copper in your money belts. Theirs was to be a ministry built upon personal faith. Faith deep enough that they were to go out without even carrying money with them and expecting that there would be enough receptive souls to make it possible.
Sidebar on the coinage of the period. “Of the
three metals named the brass or copper represents the native currency. The
coinage of Herod the Great was copper only.
But Greek and Roman money was also current. The Roman Denarius, a silver coin, is frequently
mentioned (Matthew ; 20:2). The farthing, Matthew , is the Roman as the
16th part of a denarius; the Greek drachma of nearly the same value as a denarius, and the stater (Matthew
) were also in circulation.” (
“The brass would
be the copper coinage of the Herods . . . which alone
might be struck by them; or some of the Greek imperial coins, especially those
nor bag for your journey, nor two tunics, nor sandals, nor staffs; for a worker is worthy of his food. Theirs was to be a ministry based upon such a strong faith that they were not even to carry extra sandals or clothing or walking sticks. A laborer is worthy of being paid and they were to count on the generosity of those they worked among to recognize this and to provide whatever they needed.
“Now whatever city or town you enter, inquire who in it is worthy, and stay there till you go out. Even small towns offered a number of residences quite happy to receive visitors to their community. The apostles, however, were to determine where to seek lodging by inquiring who was counted as especially “worthy” in the community. Today we would speak of seeking “who has a specially respected reputation.” In that day’s society, such a person could be anticipated to be generous in having visitors to the community stay with them. Furthermore, their good reputation would make them more likely than many to pay careful attention to what they had to say. A good reputation was not gained by casually insulting, demeaning, or ignoring others!
And when you go into a household, greet it. They are to go into the family group and provide it the customary greetings of the period. Politeness is the first thing they are to hear from you—followed, surely, with a description of why you are there and what you intend to do. Since Jesus’ positive reputation was widespread, the fact that they were connected to His movement would make the locals even more receptive to having them as visitors.
If the household is worthy, let your peace come upon it. But if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. If it turns out that the household is, indeed, as “worthy” of respect and confidence as it is hoped, the apostolic blessing that “peace” might be granted to them would be the appropriate greeting. But if it turned out to be misplaced and they had no desire to accommodate the apostles or scoffed at their words, they were not to attempt to impose their blessing and message upon the residents. In the latter case the local advice as to who would be most receptive to being a host (verse 11) turns out to have been faulty.
And whoever will not receive you nor hear your words, when you depart from that house or city, shake off the dust from your feet. Not everywhere will be receptive; some will embrace the message while others reject it. If the individual family or community have no interest in the words of the messengers of Jesus, then they are to wash their hands of them and leave--the modern conceptual equivalent of the shaking the dust off the feet mentioned in the current verse. It is an acted out visual repudiation of them. In either case it would be the community’s loss and not that of the apostles.
Assuredly, I say to you, it will be
more tolerable for the
the ultimate judgment comes,
Both Short Term and Long Term, They and Those They Converted to the Cause of Jesus Would Face Potential Danger and Insult From the Surrounding World (Matthew 10:16-25): 16 “I am sending you out like sheep surrounded by wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. 17 Beware of people, because they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues. 18 And you will be brought before governors and kings because of me, as a witness to them and the Gentiles. 19 Whenever they hand you over for trial, do not worry about how to speak or what to say, for what you should say will be given to you at that time. 20 For it is not you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.
21 “Brother will hand over
brother to death, and a father his child. Children
will rise against parents and have them put to death. 22 And you will be hated by
everyone because of my name. But the one
who endures to the end will be saved. 23 Whenever they persecute
you in one place, flee to another. I
tell you the truth, you will not finish going through all the towns of
24 “A disciple is not greater than his teacher, nor a slave greater than his master. 25 It is enough for the disciple to become like his teacher, and the slave like his master. If they have called the head of the house ‘Beelzebul,’ how much more will they defame the members of his household!” --New English Translation (for comparison)
“Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves. The apostles are going to face the potential for danger. They are not to deal with it by becoming bitter and menacing themselves. They are to deal with it by being smarter than their foes (“wise as serpents”) and by retaining their determination to do no one injury in spite of the unjust opposition (“harmless as doves”).
Sidebar: The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges suggests that the first quality means “possessing such ‘practical wisdom’ as Paul had when he claimed the rights of Roman citizenship [Acts -28]. The wisdom of a serpent is to escape notice.” In other words it pays attention to its environment rather than being oblivious to dangers and obstacles. Not so much fearful as cautious.
But beware of men, for they will deliver you up to councils and scourge you in their synagogues. Betrayal will be an on-going danger. It is not just that you are arrested as in the modern world but, instead, that they will “deliver you up” to the tribunals that can inflict punishment upon you. This was typical of that age. Those with charges against you literally forced you to the judge. The scourgings are also literal; it was a right the religious and secular tribunals could exercise.
Part of the
future apostle Paul’s guilt came from doing exactly this,
“They know that in every synagogue I imprisoned
and beat those who believe on You” (Acts ). Or as he described at greater length, “Indeed, I myself thought I
must do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. 10 This I also did in
You will be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles. Though there will be profound danger for them, yet there will also be opportunity. As the very result of their adversity, rulers would get to hear their message when they would not normally have given them the courtesy of even a passing word. They might not believe it, but they would be alerted that there was a new religious force afloat in the monotheistic world significantly different than traditional Judaism. And a goodly number of those in their service would get to hear it too, thereby broadening the potential for conversion.
Sidebar: “Kings” would include those who were popularly known as such as well as those who officially held the title. “Governors” would include individuals with authority over a town or region regardless of title--think of the magistrates at Philippi who Paul faced (Acts 16:20) and those at Thessalonica who dealt with church members when the crowd could not lay its hands on Paul (Acts 17:6).
But when they deliver you up, do not worry about how or what you should speak. For it will be given to you in that hour what you should speak. Concern over what to say to a powerful ruler who has the power of life and death would be quite natural. Jesus assures the apostles that they should neither worry “what” they should say (i.e., the substance of it, the arguments, etc.) nor “how” they should say it (the style, tone of voice, manner of speaking, etc.). In their very hour of need they will receive supernatural assistance to do both the right way.
Sidebar: Through modern times this text has occasionally been invoked by certain preachers as justification for not working out their sermon in advance and relying on what comes to mind at the specific time of delivery instead. The context, of course, is actually about having an unfriendly and hostile audience who has the capacity to physically punish you, jail you, or--in some cases--even kill you. The worst these moderns face is the possibility that the audience will go to sleep on them!
for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you. Here is a fine example of how we must pay attention not only to what the words say but equally much to what they clearly mean: Of course it will be their own mouths that are speaking! But the words their mouths speak will provide the most appropriate message and it won’t be originating within themselves. Instead the Spirit, speaking through them, will provide what is best. This may not relieve all the anxiety they feel at the time, but it will surely remove the bulk of it: The fear of making a mistake that results in a worse outcome than would otherwise occur is removed.
“Now brother will
deliver up brother to death, and a father his child; and children will
rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death. Even the family bond would be compromised
by acceptance and opposition to the Jesus movement. Some of those opposed to it would be so
hostile that they would willingly betray--not merely to imprisonment, or
scourging, but even “to death” itself--both parents and children. The most fundamental of human
relationships—the family bond—would be ruptured in rage at the Messiah from
Note how broadly the potential threat is expressed. Since He is addressing His apostles in particular , Jesus thereby warns that this is a danger that they also could face. (Nor necessarily will but could.) It could occur at any level of importance in the church community.
And you will be hated by all for My name’s sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved. Hatred would be such a common result of following Jesus that it can reasonably be described as being not just widespread but universal: “by all.” It would not be hatred of them as individuals, at least not primarily, but “for My name’s sake,” i.e., due to loyalty to Jesus. You haven’t changed, but your loyalties have altered and that is enough to earn their undying ire. As Tertullian wrote a little later than 200 A.D., “We are tortured when we confess our guilt, we are set free if we deny it, for the battle is about a Name.”
When they persecute you in this city, flee to
another. For assuredly, I say to you,
you will not have gone through the cities of
Certainly “returns” is not the meaning of the word here for there had been no hint given to them of His death as of yet. “Comes” in the triumph of His kingdom fits far better; He will establish it before their preaching work is fully completed. (Which is what He did with the coming of the Spirit and the first converts on Pentecost in Acts 2.)
If we err
in judgment here, the next best approach is to consider the text referring to
Jesus coming in judgment in 70 A.D. upon national
“A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. The personal danger unquestionably exists and Jesus is not going to delude them into believing anything else. You, the apostles, are going to be treated in a manner just like Me: just as I have endured insult and opposition, so must you because a servant is not going to be treated better than the person being served. If the monarch is savaged, his lowly servant will surely be as well.
It is enough for a disciple that he be like his teacher, and a servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more will they call those of his household! If no form of insult has been spared Jesus--even accusing Him of being the devil--no form of insult and denigration will be spared them either. If the hostile critics have already claimed that His miracles were made possible by the ruler of the demons (), is it anything unexpected that annoyed critics would even transform the Lord into the Devil himself? And they will be castigated as if they are the Devil’s disciples, proselytizing on His behalf. It isn’t really “personal;” it’s a matter of whom they owe their loyalty to.
Sidebar on the name used of the Devil: “The Greek gives the form Beel-zebul. Its history illustrates some interesting phases of Jewish thought. (1.) It appears in the form Baal-zebub, the ‘Lord of flies’ (probably as sending or averting the swarms of flies or locusts that are one of the plagues of the East), as the name of a god worshipped by the Philistines at Ekron, and consulted as an oracle (2 Kings 1:2) in cases of disease. (2.) Later Jews, identifying all heathen deities with evil spirits, saw in the god of their nearest and most hated neighbors the chief or prince of those ‘demons,’ and in their scorn transformed the name into Baal-zebel, which would mean ‘Lord of dung,’ or Baal-zebul, ‘Lord of the dwelling ‘—i.e., of the house of the evil spirits who are the enemies of God. Our Lord’s connection of the name with ‘the master of the house’ seems to point to the latter meaning as that present to our Lord’s thoughts.” (Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers)
Earthly Foes May
Seem Frighteningly Strong, but the Heavenly Father Still Has the
29 “Aren’t two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will. 30 Even all the hairs on your head are numbered. 31 So do not be afraid; you are more valuable than many sparrows.
32 “Whoever, then, acknowledges me before people, I will acknowledge before my Father in heaven. 33 But whoever denies me before people, I will deny him also before my Father in heaven. --New English Translation (for comparison)
Therefore do not fear them. For there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known. Their true motives and reasons will ultimately be revealed. Their secret agenda--lurking behind their mask of piety--will be exposed for all to see. Not everyone will use their eyes to see what is in front of them—how many today don’t do so!—but the evidence will be in front of them if they just take time to consider it. Whether it is short-term or long-term, their evil will be exposed.
Sidebar: Oddly many commentators take this as words of warning to believers that their actions and motives will ultimately be known. But the text is clearly warning “do not fear them.” It is something about “them”--not “you”--that will become known.
“Whatever I tell you in the dark, speak in the light; and what you hear in the ear, preach on the housetops. Just as secrets can not be hidden (verse 26), neither should truth. Whatever they heard Jesus say in the “dark”--perhaps, literally, i.e., in the sense of the conversations they had with Him in private in the evening hours. Even these things they were to preach to others openly “in the light” of day. Similarly, what they had heard Him quietly teach in private (“hear in the ear”), this they should publicly proclaim (“preach on the housetops”) where one and all can hear it.
Sidebar: “In the dark” could also refer to parables where the points are probably far clearer to us than they sometimes were to those who first heard them. Even more so to those truths hidden behind strange sounding language--like common in the gospel of John--which they would only understand when they received the miraculous gift of the Spirit.
And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. There are fears and there are fears. Some are only in the mind and some are for real. And for those that are real the one that attention should be centered on is so angering God that the punishment of “hell” is the result. All our earthly foes can do is kill the body, but God has judgment over both body and the soul within. His judgment, therefore, is the one that carries with it the greatest danger.
God much prefers rewarding to punishing. But violate His moral standards long enough and what choice is left to Him? Shall He sheath the sword of vengeance and, effectively, reward us for our doing of wrong? Greater folly hath no person alive.
Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will. Jesus has gone out of His way to be candid, even grim. Difficulty and oppression is going to come their way. He will not hide it from them. Faced with such situations, a part of our mind wants to cry out, “Why is God unconcerned?” Such is the voice of despair. If God is concerned with the fate of a mere sparrow, surely He will be with His human (and, therefore, more important) disciples.
deductions may be drawn—(1) That human life is more precious in God’s sight
than the life of the lower animals (verse 31); (2) That kindness to animals is
part of God’s law.” (
But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. An implied argument from the lesser to the greater is made: If God knows what happens to a mere hair (of all things!), how much more does He know and is concerned with your general state in life. There is nothing about you that is beneath His concern.
Sidebar: For comparison, the language of “not a hair” lost is applied to one escaping the threat of the death penalty (1 Samuel ) and those surviving the tremendous dangers of shipwreck with the apostle Paul (Acts 27:34). In other words “not the least harm will be done.” In this context the point is reversed: No matter how little the harm done unjustly to you, God will remember it--and they will answer for it.
Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. There is no need to fear earthly foes for we are all counted as of greater importance than as many sparrows as a person might purchase. If God is concerned with even the birds of the animal creation, He is even more so with the human. Jesus had already used this parallel in the Sermon on the Mount, “Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” (Matthew 6:26).
“Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven. The “fear” of verse 31 can silence a person because of the consequences that grow out of speaking. But if disciples refuse to be silenced . . . if they persist in confessing their loyalty to Jesus before others . . . then they can rest assured that Jesus will be equally persistent in confessing their faithfulness before the Father in heaven. (Note here the first hint in this gospel that Jesus may not be remaining on earth--the reason left totally obscure for the time being, however.)
But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven. If confessing Jesus through adherence to His teaching assures acceptability to God (verse 32), denying Jesus will only please earthly persecutors. Jesus will have no choice but to bluntly repudiate us before God. Whatever we do either counts for us or counts against us. God leaves it up to us what those actions will be. He will coerce no one.
Loyalty to Christ
37 “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 And whoever does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life because of me will find it.” --New English Translation (for comparison)
“Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. Jesus was a great believer in peace (“the Prince of Peace,” in the words of Isaiah 9:6). The entire idea behind “repentance” and the importance of the imminence of the coming of the kingdom lay in the fact that reconciliation was now available between the human race (as individuals) and God. Likewise Jesus stressed principles of behavior that, if carried out, could not only help but actively encourage a peaceful relationship with others.
On the other hand, the Jesus message would be rejected by many. It was of such a nature that the bulk of the human race would not accept it or, if superficially accepting it, decline to practice major segments of it in their lives. This disparity between those who would practice the message and those who would not, meant the inevitability of conflict between the two groups.
Hence Jesus came to establish “war” on earth in this sense: the nature of Jesus’ message was such that one either had to embrace it or reject it. There was no middle road. And those who could not bear it would sometimes try to exterminate it. Then they wouldn’t even have to think about whether they are sinners or not.
For I have come to ‘set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.’ Sidebar: The determination to stay faithful to God when kin reject such efforts automatically creates tensions and pressures within the family unit. He had already referred to this danger in verse 21 and here in verses 35-36 He cites the words of an Old Testament passage that foreshadowed it:
“5 Do not trust in a friend; do not put your confidence in a companion; guard the doors of your mouth from her who lies in your bosom. 6 For son dishonors father, daughter rises against her mother, daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; a man’s enemies are the men of his own household. 7 Therefore I will look to the Lord; I will wait for the God of my salvation; my God will hear me” (Micah 7).
Before He had referred to
intra-family opposition as a fact; here He stresses that it has precedent
from prior Jewish history in which the people were split between doing things
God’s way and doing things the way they themselves desired. By appealing to such a passage, it is
implicitly argued that the phenomena was nothing new
and, therefore, Jesus’ movement was not to be blamed for what was to
happen. The blame belonged on those who
refused to do the right thing and not on those who became their victims.
and ‘a man’s enemies will be those of his own household.’ So intense would the division be in some families that the worst enemies they had were their own closest relatives. And any one who has lived through or observed a whole hearted family feud knows how treacherous things can become when families are divided on essential matters!
Sidebar: Although conjectural, Ellicott’s Commentary makes an interesting case that these conflicts already existed in some of their families: “Had Zebedee looked with displeasure on the calling of his two sons? or was there variance between the daughter-in-law and the mother-in-law in the household of Peter? Were the brethren of the Lord, who as yet believed not, as the foes of a man’s own household?”
He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. Love of family is--or should be--a fundamental principle of life. Nowadays it doesn’t seem to be as much so as it was in my youth 50-plus years ago, but even so, no one is likely to deny that it should be central to our lives. Working from this premise, Jesus argues that it can still be twisted into something that is outright harmful: if that family bond is to be preserved how can loyalty to Jesus be continued when other kin are furious at the very idea?
Jesus does not deny the pressure or the heart ache in having to make the decision. He simply stresses that if one’s love for parents is greater than one’s love for Him (i.e., if one is willing to give up faith to keep peace with them) then one is no longer “worthy” of Him. No longer “worthy” to be counted as His disciple. No longer “worthy” of the rewards promised to disciples. In other words—eternally lost.
And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. It is in this context of what may have to be sacrificed in regard to one’s family that Jesus makes His famous admonition about taking up one’s cross and following after Him. Every individual has his or her special difficulty or problem or burden that must be endured--a highly personal “cross.” But when it takes the form of family alienation few can be greater!
The apostle Paul walked such a road of hardship as well. “I have suffered the loss of all things,” wrote that apostle (Philippians 3:8), then referring to “the fellowship of His sufferings” which he had endured (verse 10). “The sufferings of Christ abound in us,” he reminded his readers (2 Corinthians 1:5).
He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it. Yes, there is a price. Even though one may find spiritual and eternal life, it may even cost one one’s temporal and earthly existence. That can’t help but be scary, just as it is when we face a physical disease that is potentially life-threatening. But when all is said and done . . . so what? In a very real sense one will “find” life in the very loss of life. The life of full discipleship and commitment to our Creator. The eternal life itself.
Loyalty to Others Who Also Follow the Lord, Will Be Rewarded (Matthew -42): 40 “Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me. 41 Whoever receives a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward. Whoever receives a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward. 42 And whoever gives only a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple, I tell you the truth, he will never lose his reward.” --New English Translation (for comparison)
“He who receives you receives Me, and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me. Those who do not reject us because of our discipleship are receiving the closest they will ever come to receiving Christ in this life: by receiving us cordially and with friendship it is the same as if they were extending the same courtesy and respect to the Lord personally. (Indeed, in Matthew 25’s judgment day scene the standard of judgment is how disciples are treated; Jesus regards Himself as receiving the identical good or bad treatment.) If one claims respect for Jesus then a high standard for the treatment of His disciples is automatically required.
He who receives a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet’s reward. And he who receives a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man’s reward. Since accepting a person as what they really are brings a reward, we should not blind ourselves to their true character. That means we pay enough attention to them that they are no longer some anonymous “somebody,” but a real, living human being with a distinct identity and characteristics.
The nature of the reward to be given is not spelled out. Only that it is a reward. If that is not enough to motivate an individual, then all the detail in the world would help none at all. For who can imagine that a true prophet’s reward in the next life will be anything short of abundant and glorious? For that matter, the reward of the truly “righteous man.”
And whoever gives one of these little ones only a cup of cold water in the name of a disciple, assuredly, I say to you, he shall by no means lose his reward.” Earthly status has nothing to do with it. Even giving the least prominent disciple (“these little ones”) such a small token of courtesy and help as a drink of cold water when they are thirsty--when you do so because you know they are a disciple--that is the kind of behavior that assures that the reward will never be lost. For if one goes out of the way to help in the “unimportant” things of life, the helper will surely be there for assistance in the “important” matters as well. Sadly there are many in the church who will do everything they can for its “leaders,” but who would not give the time of day to those who can not reciprocate abundantly.