Sheep Without a Shepherd

(Matthew 9:27-38)

In the previous post we saw Jesus showing that faith was a key requirement for the people to receive healing. On several occasions he made the point that the healings they received was done according to their faith. We see now in this section that as Jesus continued his work he began to get opposition from the Pharisees and he made the point that the people were not being cared for as they were like sheep without a shepherd.

In the first section of this scripture (verses 27-31) we again see the position taken by Jesus that faith is a key to healing. Two blind men came crying aloud after him saying, “Have mercy on us, Son of David.” When Jesus went into the house where he was staying he asked them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” to which the men answered, “Yes, Lord.” Jesus then touched their eyes and they received their sight.

Now the key in this section is that the men first confessed their faith and that they had the faith to be made well. It was evident they knew who Jesus was for they referred to him as the Son of David. They had no doubt heard of the miracles he had previously done, and so believed that Jesus was able to heal them of their blindness.

Jesus was not looking for glory from all the healings he was doing. He was not seeking fame or self-glorification or the praise of men, for after doing this healing he charged the men sternly to tell no-one. Jesus did this a number of times, but it was impossible to hide these wondrous things. For when these men went back to their homes and families and could now see, the people would immediately ask and wonder how such a miraculous thing could occur. And in this case the men went away and spread his fame throughout all the district. Jesus on other occasions instead said for the people to give the glory to God and that si what we should do too when we receive his gifts today.

There is a twist too that we see in the next part of this scripture. A dumb demoniac was brought to him and Jesus cast out the dumb demon and the man spoke. The people marvelled at such a thing having never seen anything like it before. But what we see also is that the Pharisees become jealous of his growing fame and reputation and they begin to stand against and accuse him. What they do not realise is that they commit the unpardonable sin in their comments saying, “He casts out demons by the prince of demons.” The one sin that will not be forgiven is to blaspheme the Holy Spirit as Jesus showed in Matthew 12:31-32. What is blasphemy of the Holy Spirit? In this case it is calling the wondrous works of the Holy Spirit or attributing the work of the Spirit to the devil. These Pharisees were saying is that Jesus was casting out demons, not by the power of the Holy Spirit but by the power of Satan…and this is blasphemy. In Matthew 12 this topic will be covered in more depth for the scriptures there are more revealing and we can begin to understand why this is the unforgivable sin.

In the final paragraph of this text we see Jesus moving about the villages amongst the people, preaching and teaching the word of God and the Gospel of the Kingdom of God. The truth and the power of his words were confirmed by the signs attending him as he healed all sicknesses, diseases and infirmities. Matthew wrote that Jesus had great compassion for the people for they were like sheep without a shepherd and he said to his disciples to pray that the Lord would send out people to minister to the people.

Is this any different today? There is today still a great need for the Lord to send out ministers to preach and teach the truth of the gospel. There have been many people today hurt by the church and those who should have been helping and protecting the flock, but instead used then for their own gain. There are preachers today who distort the words of God and the Bible to justify their own ends and to seek advantage over others. This should not be so and the Lord will judge those people accordingly. Are all the teachers and preachers today like that? No they are not, but it is often difficult to tell the good from the bad. For as the apostle Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 11:13-15, “For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is not strange if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds.”

If Satan disguises himself to look good, so do his people. Jesus said you would know them by their fruits and so it is important not to blindly accept what anyone says purely at face value. We must study and learn the words of God in the Bible and ask for the Holy Spirit to come to us and teach us so that we can discern truth from error and see deceitful men for what they are. If we come to the Lord in humility and ask him to lead us, he will do so and will expose impostors and take us to where his people can be nurtured in the truth. As Jesus promised, “Seek and you WILL find.”

Your Faith has Made You Well

(Matthew 9:18-26)

At this point in the book of Matthew we begin to see Jesus teaching on the power of faith. In the next few scriptures Jesus performed several healings and miracles, and in each case pointed out that it was through the person’s faith that they were made well.

The first of these was when the woman suffering a haemorrhage came and touched the fringe of his garment. She believed and had faith that the power of Jesus was such that if she only touched him she would be made well. In another version of this section (Mark 5:25-34) we see that Jesus was not even aware who the woman was when she had touched his garment. He perceived that power had gone forth from him to do a healing, but did not know who it went forth to and asked, “Who touched me?” When the woman realised she could not hide she fell at his feet in fear and trembling, explaining her situation before him. Jesus again said, “Your faith has made you well,” showing that it was on the basis of her belief that she received this healing.

Likewise in this same scripture we see Jairus who was one of the rulers of the synagogue of the Jews who in desperation came to Jesus to heal his dying daughter. Now Jairus was taking quite a risk for the Jews had agreed that if anyone should confess that Jesus was the Christ they were to be put out of the synagogue (John 9:22). And yet here we see this ruler of the synagogue showing his faith in Jesus to be able to heal his daughter. It is evident from this and other scriptures that there were rulers of the synagogue who did believe Jesus in spite of the general opposition from the Pharisees and rulers (Note that Nicodemus in John 3:1-2 was also a ruler of the Jews and a Pharisee, but he too came to Jesus and confessed his faith to Jesus). Jairus’ daughter died and while others told him not to bother Jesus any further, Jesus said to Jairus to only have faith. When he had come to the house of Jairus he went into the girls room where she lay dead, and taking her hand he raised her back to life. Again this healing was performed because the father of the child had faith and called on the Lord to help.

Faith is fundamental to come to Jesus for anything, whether it be healing, learning or life. Without faith we cannot receive any of God’s gifts for they are all based upon faith. In order to receive anything from the Lord we must first believe and then go to him convinced that he can do what we desire. As it says in Hebrews 11:6, “Without faith it is impossible to please him. For whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” If we do not believe, how can we receive? The whole of that chapter in Hebrews 11 is devoted to the many men and women of God who through faith in God did and received many wonderful things. Faith is the key to coming to God as it was truly said by Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:7 that we, “Walk by faith, not by sight”

Fasting in the New Covenant

(Matthew 9:14-17)

Jesus is approached by the disciples of John the Baptist and asked why his disciples did not fast like they and the Pharisees did. Jesus then used this teaching to show that the New Covenant was a new teaching and fasting under the New Covenant was quite a different matter to the Old Covenant.

Fasting in the Old Covenant was a process employed for many reasons. There were four appointed fasts under the law of Moses that were strictly applied as well as a fifth fast that was less strictly applied. Typically fasting was a form of abstinence, usually from food or drink, for a period of time. Fasting was also not an end in itself, but was a purpose or means to an end. Often fasting was seen in the Old Testament as a mechanism for a person to draw near to God for a specific purpose. As an example we saw King David fast to come before God in the hope that God would heal his child and prevent his death. (2 Samuel 12:13-23) Esther also proclaimed a three day fast among the Jewish people to come before the Lord on her behalf before she went in to approach the King on behalf of the Jews. (Esther 4:10-17) There are other examples, but the key to these fasts, both individual and of the whole community, were that the fasts were targeted towards a specific purpose and to seek out God.

In addition to the appointed fasts, there was also a practice of personal fasting when an individual would abstain from food or some other pleasure so as to come before God. They would fast and bring their prayers to the Lord during the period of fasting. The practice of fasting twice a week arose and became a custom although there was no scriptural basis for this practice in either the Old or New Covenants.

Fasting in the New Covenant is only occasionally mentioned and does not appear to be a strict condition or requirement under the New Covenant, unlike the appointed fasts ordained in the law under the Old Covenant. A problem had arisen in the practice of fasting in the New Covenant period as Jesus mentioned this in several of his teachings. We see in Matthew 6:16-18 that some people would disfigure their faces and look dismal when they fasted so that people would see their situation and perhaps commend their abstinence or look upon them as being pious. Rather, Jesus counselled that they should clean themselves up when fasting so no-one knew of their fast so that when they brought their petition before God they would receive their commendation from Him and hopefully gain the answer to their prayers. We see Jesus also upbraided the Pharisees who saw themselves as better than other people for they fasted twice a week (Luke 18:9-14). But in this case the Pharisees were fasting as an end in itself. They fasted so that they could look good before others rather than trying to draw closer to God. Indeed the Pharisees on numerous occasions were upbraided by Jesus for doing the works of the law without applying the wisdom, justice, mercy and truth of the law. Their fasts were not to come closer to God but were done to look pious or religious in front of the people. It was a mark of their pride, arrogance and hypocrisy which Jesus disdained.

Now in this teaching back in Matthew 9:14-17 we see also that Jesus was showing that these were new teachings he was giving. Indeed he was teaching the New Covenant although at that time few would have been aware of this matter. And he showed that there was a challenge in giving this teaching for it involved a significant change. Humans as a species typically resist change because it requires effort and leads to the unknown. He gave two examples saying that you don’t put a new patch of unshrunk cloth into a garment that is already washed and old, and you don’t put new wine into old wineskins. In both cases if you do, more damage is done to both parts of the change. The wineskins are destroyed and the wine is lost and the patch shrinks and tears making a worse hole in the garment that was being repaired.

The old wineskins and the old garment in his examples are the people who have received the Old Covenant teachings. They are comfortable with the teachings and accepting of what they understand. The new wine and the new cloth patch represent the New Covenant teachings that Jesus was teaching the people. He was saying that to try and put these New Covenant teachings into the old people would be difficult and could even be damaging to them. The apostle Paul in his letters shows the anguish and heartache he went through in his walk as he had to reject the old Pharisee teachings he was steeped in from a young age, so that he could accept the New Covenant teaching he was receiving from Christ through the Holy Spirit. So it is possible to replace the old teachings, but Jesus was showing it would not be without difficulty and in some cases loss. In many cases it is better to leave the old people with their teachings and to seek new people to learn the new.

And so with fasting in the New Covenant, Jesus was saying that this is a new teaching too. Although it was mandated in the Old Covenant it is not as important in the New Covenant. The purpose of fasting in the Old Covenant was to come before God, but in the New Covenant we have direct access to God in Jesus Christ. Jesus himself said that he would be with us until the end of the age and we have access to him even today. The Holy Spirit he has given us has direct access to the Father to petition on our behalf, so we do not have the same need for fasting today as in former times.

The true fast that God sought from man was not an abstinence from food but rather to abstain from evil and to do good as shown in Isaiah 58:1-9. The fasts the Pharisees held were a sham but the true fast is consistent with the teachings that Jesus gave. There are times in the New Covenant where people did fast, however whether these are necessary now is questionable as we now have access to God through Jesus and the Holy Spirit directly. I would not suggest they either are or are not necessary and for the most part it is an individual matter. However they are not mandated in the New Covenant as they were under the Old Covenant.

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Jesus Came to Call the Sinners

(Matthew 9:9-13)

In this section of Matthew we begin to see a further expansion of Jesus’ work where he begins working not with just healing the sick, but teaching and healing sinners. When Jesus had begun his ministry he was called to account for his actions on many occasions by the scribes, Pharisees and the religious people of the day. They judged Jesus for the way he conducted himself and the things he did. On each occasion Jesus pointed out to them why he did what he did, and at the same time it showed up their hypocrisy, which is in part why they both hated and feared him.

On this occasion we see the call of Matthew who was a tax collector. Tax collectors of the day were a much disliked people for often they extorted and defrauded the people taking more than they should have. And nobody likes to pay taxes…even today. But Jesus did the contrary thing by going with the tax collectors and eating with them and other sinners. He often kept company with these kinds of people who were considered sinners and thus looked down upon by the religious people of the time.

But when questioned about this Jesus made the point saying, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.” These people were “sick” but not from illness and diseases, but from sin. They were not necessarily physically ill, but were suffering the effects of sin in their lives. Jesus was teaching that they needed to be “healed” of their sin as he had previously healed those who had physical ailments and infirmities. So in his response to the Pharisees he was saying that in order to heal and release the sinners, he needed to be with the sinners. He needed to go to the sinners so that they could hear his words and learn what was needed so they could be released from their sin. As an example, you cannot catch fish if you don’t go to the water, you cannot buy food if you don’t go to a shop or a market, and Jesus could not heal the sinners unless he went to them and they could receive his healing words.

The Pharisees on the other hand had no desire to even associate with the sinners. They felt they were a cut above the sinners and that the sinners were a low-class citizen, unworthy of their attention or presence. Their attitudes showed prejudice and pride, whereas Jesus showed no bias and humility. Yet these same Pharisees who were the keepers of the laws of God and responsible for teaching the law given to Moses, rejected that same law in their actions and attitudes. Thus they were so often called hypocrites by Jesus for in their hypocrisy they denied the very teachings and attention the sinners needed to be lifted up from their sins. They chose rather to condemn than to build up. They used the law as a weapon against the people rather than a tool of education so that the people could learn and understand the wisdom of the laws of God.

Jesus did the opposite to the Pharisees. He came and taught the people words of truth, and gave them an even better way forward than existed in the law. For Jesus did not just teach the people about the law, but taught them about repentance and the ways that would lead to life and God’s kingdom. And as he said, Jesus came to call not the righteous, but to call the sinners. His purpose was not to just come and spend time with those who were already righteous, but to seek out those who had need of righteousness and who were burdened with sin so that he could proclaim release and take away their burdens.

Finally Jesus pointed to the Pharisees the way they needed to go forward saying, “Go and learn what this means, I desire mercy and not sacrifice.” Under the law the Pharisees condemned the people for their sin. There was forgiveness of sin under the law through the process of the sacrificial offerings, but Jesus was saying that this was not what he nor God were seeking. Instead they were seeking mercy and came to give mercy to the people so they could be released from sin. God did not want burnt offerings continually from the people as a means of seeking forgiveness from sin. He wanted the people not to sin. He wanted the people to learn to live lives free from sin and to worship God. He wanted them to live with humility towards each other and in harmony with one another doing what was good and right. He did not want them to think they could do as they pleased and then come and offer their sacrifices and sin offerings as tokens of forgiveness. No, he wanted them to live “right” lives in full observance of all that is good, honourable and pleasing to God and not to please themselves.

Jesus came amongst other things to proclaim and teach the process of mercy. The Pharisees were teaching condemnation and damning the people under the law. But mercy overlooks the faults of others and recognises that as they have faults, so too do we. Mercy does not stand above people, overbearing and condemning, but it encourages and teaches people about what is good and right and true. Mercy is compassionate and loving. Condemnation is judgemental and places barriers between people. Jesus came to take away the barriers of condemnation through giving us his mercy by the grace of God, and it is only in God’s merciful grace that we can stand.

Jesus’ Power to Forgive Sins

(Matthew 9:1-8)

In the previous chapter of Matthew we saw that Jesus showed he had the power over all physical ailments, demon possession and the elements of this world. Now we begin to see the spiritual power he has to enable us to conquer and overcome the passions and weaknesses in our lives.

In this first section of chapter nine we see that a paralytic is brought to Jesus for healing. Previously we saw Jesus heal the sick and lame and so there is no question that he would have the power from God to do this healing as well. But we see now that Jesus takes a different approach to this healing than he had previously.

Instead of just saying to the man, “Rise and walk,” Jesus says to him, “Your sins are forgiven.” This is an unusual statement given that the man has come to be healed. But the lesson here is quite profound. The scribes who were there at the time said that Jesus was blaspheming by saying that the mans sins are forgiven. Their position was that only God can forgive sins, and to a degree they were correct. But they still did not understand that Jesus is both the Son of God and he IS God. So when Jesus said, “Your sins are forgiven” he was within his rights to do so and was not blaspheming at all.

He then upbraided the scribes for thinking such evil of him. It is clear that no man on earth, and certainly not a sinner or blasphemer can say to a paralytic to rise and walk. Man does not have the spiritual authority let alone the healing power to do such a thing and the scribes as well as the people at the time knew this too. So Jesus used the power of healing in this case to prove that he had the authority to forgive sin. He said to them, “Which is easier, to say ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk?'” (vs.5) He knew that they knew no man could say to a paralytic “Rise and walk” and see the man healed. So using this knowledge he then said to them, “But that you may know that the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins” — he then said to the paralytic — “Rise, take up your bed and go home.” And the man rose and went home, fully healed of the paralysis that had kept him bedridden.

The healing was done in this case to prove to the people that Jesus could forgive sins. The healing was not for the sake of the healing alone, but to prove Jesus had AUTHORITY to forgive sins. The testimony of John the Baptist when he bore witness to Jesus was, “”Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29) And in this section of Matthew we see Jesus proving he had the authority to do exactly that. In this healing he showed he could and would be able to take away the sins of mankind. This is an important point for without the removal of sin we cannot enter the Kingdom of God. No sinner will enter God’s Kingdom, but in Jesus our sins can be taken away for he has both the power and authority to do so. This matter will be discussed in greater detail in future posts or can be studied further on the website