The Jewish religious leaders were beginning to feel the heat. Jesus was becoming a threat, and they knew this all too well. Actually, Jesus had been a threat to them from the very beginning. Remember the response of Jerusalem (which is where many of the Jewish religious leaders would be) to the news of the birth of the “King of the Jews”:
1 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, in the time of King Herod, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem 2 saying, “Where is the one who is born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” 3 When King Herod heard this he was alarmed, and all Jerusalem with him (Matthew 2:1-3).2
Later, in John’s Gospel, we find the reason for the uneasiness of the Jerusalemites. It is exposed by their own words:
47 So the chief priests and the Pharisees called the council together and said, “What are we doing? For this man is performing many miraculous signs. 48 If we allow him to go on in this way, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away our sanctuary and our nation” (John 11:47-48, emphasis mine).
The religious leaders had a very good thing going for themselves. They held positions of power and prestige, and this certainly meant they could use their power for financial gain. For example, the money changing and sacrificial animal concession at the temple probably belonged to the high priest.3 They had much to lose, if Messiah were to appear. His agenda could hardly be the same as theirs, and thus they had feared Jesus from the manger to the mountain from which He gave his great sermon in Matthew 5-7.
John the Baptist did nothing to allay their fears. He publicly identified Jesus as the promised Messiah:
29 On the next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is the one about whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who is greater than I am, because he existed before me.’ 31 I did not recognize him, but I came baptizing with water so that he could be revealed to Israel.” 32 Then John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending like a dove from heaven, and it remained on him. 33 And I did not recognize him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘The one on whom you see the Spirit descending and remaining—this is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 I have both seen and testified that this man is the Chosen One of God” (John 1:29-34).
People came from far and wide to hear John preach and to be baptized by him. The priests and Levites recognized John’s influence and sent a delegation to check him out:
19 Now this was John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20 He confessed—he did not deny but confessed—“I am not the Christ!” 21 So they asked him, “Then who are you? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not!” “Are you the Prophet?” He answered, “No!” 22 Then they said to him, “Who are you? Tell us so that we can give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 23 John said, “I am the voice of one shouting in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord,’ as Isaiah the prophet said” (John 1:19-23).
John had never been a part of the religious system, as his father had been (Luke 1:5-25). He lived in the wilderness, not in Jerusalem. People had to come to him to hear him. And when the Pharisees and Sadducees came to John to be baptized, John refused, in the strongest of terms:
7 But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You offspring of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8 Therefore produce fruit that proves your repentance, 9 and don’t think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that God can raise up children for Abraham from these stones! 10 Even now the ax is laid at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. 11 “I baptize you with water, for repentance, but the one coming after me is more powerful than I am—I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clean out his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the storehouse, but the chaff he will burn up with inextinguishable fire” (Matthew 3:7-12).
When John passed off the scene, Jesus took up where he left off:
From that time Jesus began to preach this message: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” (Matthew 4:17; compare 3:2).
Like John, Jesus refused to conform to the religious system of the day. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus agreed with John that the religious leaders of the day were not going to have a part in the Kingdom of Heaven (not without true repentance and faith in Jesus, at least):
“For I tell you, unless your righteousness goes beyond that of the experts in the law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20).
From here, Jesus went on to correct the teachings of the Jewish religious leaders. In the very next verse in Matthew, Jesus begins to set the record straight regarding the proper interpretation of the Old Testament:
21 “You have heard that it was said to an older generation, ‘Do not murder,’ and ‘whoever murders will be subjected to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that anyone who is angry with a brother will be subjected to judgment. And whoever insults a brother will be brought before the council, and whoever says ‘Fool’ will be sent to fiery hell” (Matthew 5:21-22).
Again and again Jesus corrects popular Jewish misconceptions with the formula, “You have heard … , but I say … .” The errors He exposed were the teachings of the Jewish religious leaders.
But Jesus posed a much greater threat than John – His authority was underscored by the miracles He performed:
40 Jesus went back across the Jordan River again to the place where John had been baptizing at an earlier time, and he stayed there. 41 Many came to him and began to say, “John performed no miraculous sign, but everything John said about this man was true!” 42 And many believed in Jesus there (John 10:40-42).
Jesus buttressed His teaching with miracle after miracle. Matthew has already indicated that Jesus punctuated His teaching with numerous miracles, miracles of all kinds, resulting in a large following:
23 Jesus went throughout all of Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all kinds of disease and sickness among the people. 24 So a report about him spread throughout Syria. People brought to him all who suffered with various illnesses and afflictions, those who had seizures, paralytics, and those possessed by demons, and he healed them. 25 And large crowds followed him from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and beyond the Jordan River (Matthew 4:23-25).
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” (Matthew 8:16-17).
Matthew does not provide the backdrop to our text that Luke does. It would be well to keep Luke’s words in mind as we consider our text:
17 Now on one of those days, while he was teaching, there were Pharisees and teachers of the law sitting nearby (who had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem), and the power of the Lord was with him to heal. 18 Just then some men showed up, carrying a paralyzed man on a stretcher. They were trying to bring him in and place him before Jesus (Luke 5:17-18).
It looks as though a whole lot of conversation had been taking place among the Jewish religious leaders – behind closed doors. They suspected that Jesus could pose a very serious threat to their leadership. They needed to check Him out. And so scribes and Pharisees arrived on the scene from all over Israel. These folks did not come with an open mind, seeking to discern whether or not Jesus was the true Messiah. I don’t think they ever asked themselves, “Could this be true? Could Jesus be the Messiah?” Their fear was, “What will happen if we do nothing, and everyone chooses to follow Jesus, rather than us?” They had to check Jesus out and figure out how to contain the damage before it was too late.
A crowd of people had packed into a home in Capernaum to hear Jesus teach (Mark 2:1-2). The power of the Lord was also present, so that He performed healing (Luke 5:17). The place was so packed there was no way for anyone to get in the door, let alone four men carrying a stretcher. Many were eager to hear His teaching, hanging on every word. Some were probably hoping for a miraculous healing. And then there were the scribes and Pharisees, sitting there with their arms folded, checking out this newcomer, who had not sought their seal of approval (and who had, in fact, taken a very adversarial position).
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 saw their reaction4 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 (Matthew 9:1-8).
How interesting! Matthew seems to have left out the most interesting part, but Mark and Luke do not:
3 Some people came bringing to him a paralytic, carried by four of them. 4 When they were not able to bring him in because of the crowd, they removed the roof above Jesus. Then, after tearing it out, they lowered the stretcher the paralytic was lying on. 5 When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” 6 Now some of the experts in the law were sitting there, turning these things over in their minds: 7 “Why does this man speak this way? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” 8 Now immediately, when Jesus realized in his spirit that they were contemplating such thoughts, he said to them, “Why are you thinking such things in your hearts? 9 Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Stand up, take your stretcher, and walk’? 10 But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins,”—he said to the paralytic— 11 “I tell you, stand up, take your stretcher, and go home.” 12 And immediately the man stood up, took his stretcher, and went out in front of them all. They were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!” (Mark 2:3-12; see also Luke 5:18-26).
This paralytic didn’t approach Jesus like all the others; he was lowered to Jesus through the roof. I would have expected Matthew to include this human interest portion of the story, but he did not. Matthew is not just telling human interest stories; he is presenting the gospel. What is more important, knowing that a man was lowered through a roof, or knowing that Jesus has the authority to forgive sins? Matthew simply doesn’t have time for story telling, even a fascinating story. His goal is to present the gospel, the good news that Messiah has come to save sinners.
I want you to notice something special about this situation. The response of our Lord was one that took the faith of others into account. Jesus noted “their faith”:
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” (Matthew 9:2, emphasis mine).
I do not wish to ignore the fact that “their” may well refer to the faith of five men, not just four. I don’t want to suggest that the paralytic can be saved apart from personal faith. But I do wish to call attention to what Matthew is saying: the faith of these four men had something to do with his healing, and even with his being forgiven. Jesus responded to the faith of others when He granted this man healing, and the forgiveness of sins. What an encouragement this should be to us to pray more frequently and more fervently for others! The faith of these men, expressed by their intervention on this paralytic’s behalf, brought him not only the blessing of healing, but of forgiveness of sins. Our prayers on behalf of the lost really count! I can see no other way to understand what I read here.
But why does Jesus go beyond what all of these men sought? I would like to suggest three reasons. First, consider our text in the light of what Paul writes to the Ephesians:
20 Now to him who by the power that is working within us is able to do far beyond all that we ask or think, 21 to him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen (Ephesians 3:20-21, emphasis mine).
God brings glory to Himself by exceeding our requests and expectations in blessing us. We cannot doubt that God glorified Himself by what He did for this paralytic. It is right there in our text:
When the crowd saw this, they were afraid and honored [glorified, KJV, NASB] God who had given such authority to men (Matthew 9:8).
Second, I believe that our Lord forgave this man’s sins because it gave him the courage to be in God’s presence. I am inferring this from the Lord’s words, “Have courage, son! Your sins are forgiven” (Matthew 9:2). The expression is found three times in the Gospel of Matthew. It is found here and then later on in this same chapter:
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 (Matthew 9:20-22, emphasis mine).
This woman had the faith to believe she would be healed, if she but touched the garment of our Lord. Many were healed by touching the garment of our Lord, but they first asked permission to do so (Matthew 9:35-36). This woman seemed too afraid to ask, and so she “stole” a touch and was healed. Jesus was not content to leave it at that, and so He called her out. Now, she was really frightened. How could she, a woman who had stolen a healing, stand before Jesus, especially in this crowd? She had faith to be healed, but her fear was in approaching the Son of God. And so Jesus said, “Have courage, daughter! Your faith has made you well.”
The last time the words “take courage” are found in Matthew is in chapter 14:
26 When the disciples saw him walking on the water they were terrified and said, “It’s a ghost!” and cried out with fear. 27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them: “Have courage! It is I. Do not be afraid” (Matthew 14:26-27, emphasis mine).
The disciples were in a boat when Jesus approached them, walking on the sea. They did not know who it was, and they were scared to death. Can you blame them? Then Jesus spoke to them, “Have courage! It is I. Do not be afraid” (Matthew 14:27b). Hearing this, they no longer were afraid of the One who approached them, but welcomed Him.
I believe that this paralytic was genuinely fearful, like the woman with the hemorrhage, and like the disciples, who thought they were seeing a ghost. They were afraid to be in the presence of our Lord. This man must have had a measure of faith, enough to believe that he could be healed. His faith was in Jesus, and if he regarded Jesus as the Messiah, then it was good that he feared being in His presence. How could he, a guilty sinner, approach the Messiah?
Jesus knew the thoughts of the scribes, as we shall soon observe (verse 4). He also knew the hearts of the four stretcher-bearers (He “saw” their faith, verse 2). Why, then, would He not also know the thoughts and fears of the paralytic? If the paralytic had faith that Jesus could heal him, he must also have had a sense of who Jesus was. How could he, an unworthy sinner, approach the Son of God and hope to be healed? It is a very fine question indeed! Perceiving this, our Lord set this man’s fears aside, giving him courage in the knowledge that his sins were forgiven. Jesus’ words of comfort and assurance met this man’s spiritual need, just as His subsequent words would meet the paralytic’s physical needs.
Third, the Lord forgave this man’s sins because He knew how the scribes would interpret it. Jesus was claiming to be God, and publicly granting the paralytic forgiveness of his sins could not have stated this claim more boldly. The scribes could hardly miss the point. Immediately they were thinking in theological terms. They rightly reasoned, “No one can forgive sins but God alone” (Luke 5:21). Perhaps they recalled these words in Isaiah:
“I, I am the one who blots out your rebellious deeds for my sake;
your sins I do not remember” (Isaiah 43:25).
Notice that Matthew’s account does not contain the words, “No one can forgive sins but God alone.” It isn’t really necessary. On the one hand, we find these words in both Mark and Luke. On the other hand, Matthew does include the indictment, “This man is blaspheming!” (Matthew 9:3). Jesus was accused of blasphemy because He was claiming to be God.
33 The Jewish leaders replied, “We are not going to stone you for a good deed but for blasphemy, because you, a man, are claiming to be God” (John 10:33; see also John 5:18; 19:7).
It should be noted that these scribes did not publicly protest, or challenge Jesus in front of the crowd. Why not? I think it is because Jesus did not give them time to do so. He caught them off guard by exposing their thoughts, before they could protest. This became just one more proof that He is the Son of God.
The scribes’ logic is flawless. They could not be more right in the inference they have drawn. But will they go where the evidence takes them? First, He indirectly claims to have the authority to forgive sins, by forgiving the paralytic of his sins. Then, He exposes the inner thoughts of the scribes, who objected to this claim as blasphemous. Then, He sets down a test of His authority. “Which is easier to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven’ or ‘Take up your bed and walk’?”
Today, we use the expression, “Put up or shut up!” By this we mean either prove that your words work, or stop talking. Here, Jesus is not talking about the ability to merely utter certain words. Jesus is asking, “Who can speak these words and show that His words actually accomplished what was said?” In that sense, it is easier to say, “Your sins are forgiven”, than it is to say, “Stand up and walk.” You cannot immediately see the results of the forgiveness of sins, because that takes place in a person’s heart, and the fruits are evident over time.5 Thus, it is easy to make this statement, because it can be put to the empirical test. But if Jesus were to say, “Stand up and walk,” He must either validate this by healing the man instantly, or He will have shown that His words are empty.
Jesus puts Himself to the test by what He says. But He has done so in an ingenious way. He has linked His ability to heal with His authority to forgive sins. Logic led the scribes to reason that no one but God can forgive sins. Logic should thus lead them to conclude that Jesus is God, if He can forgive sins. And now, Jesus has added a further logical link: if He is able to heal a paralytic (the harder thing to do), then surely He can forgive sins (the easier thing to do). If Jesus can heal the paralytic, then He must be God.
And so Jesus turns to the paralytic and says to him, “Stand up, take your stretcher, and go home” (verse 7). The man stood up and went home, just as Jesus commanded. There can be but one conclusion: Jesus must be God. But no one seemed to get it. The scribes are silent. The crowd is greatly impressed, but their conclusion falls short of acknowledging Jesus to be God:
When the crowd saw this, they were afraid and honored God who had given such authority to men (Matthew 9:8).
The crowd saw this as a work of God. They seemed to recognize Jesus was a “man of God.” But they didn’t recognize Jesus as God. They honored God (not Jesus, as God), for giving such authority “to men.” Thus, Jesus is not seen as anything more than a man, with some kind of connection to God. I suppose that this means that they saw Jesus as a prophet, something like the man born blind (until Jesus informed him otherwise):
17 So again they asked the man who used to be blind, “What do you say about him, since he caused you to see?” “He is a prophet,” the man replied… . 30 The man replied, “This is a remarkable thing, that you don’t know where he comes from, and yet he caused me to see! 31 We know that God doesn’t listen to sinners, but if anyone is devout and does his will, God listens to him. 32 Never before has anyone heard of someone causing a man born blind to see. 33 If this man were not from God, he could do nothing” (John 9:17, 30-33).
We should not find fault or point fingers here. I don’t believe that the disciples grasped the significance of this healing yet, either. After all, Peter’s “great confession” is not until chapter 16 in Matthew.
I want to say one more thing about the paralytic, before we move along to the next paragraph in our text. Jesus didn’t use this paralytic; He cared for him. It is true that Jesus used this situation to make the point that He not only had the authority to heal, but to save men from their sins by forgiving their sins. But Jesus did not “use” this man the way the religious leaders did. Contrast our text in Matthew with this story in Mark’s Gospel:
1 Then Jesus entered the synagogue again, and a man was there who had a withered hand. 2 They watched Jesus closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they could accuse him. 3 So he said to the man who had the withered hand, “Stand up among all these people.” 4 Then he said to them, “Is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath, or evil, to save a life or destroy it?” But they were silent. 5 After looking around at them in anger, grieved by the hardness of their hearts, he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. 6 So the Pharisees went out immediately and began plotting with the Herodians, as to how they could assassinate him (Mark 3:1-6).
The scribes and Pharisees did not care about people; they lacked compassion (which is the point our Lord makes in Matthew 9:13). Look at the calloused way the scribes looked on the afflicted:
10 Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath, 11 and a woman was there who had been disabled by a spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not straighten herself up completely. 12 When Jesus saw her, he called her to him and said, “Woman, you are freed from your infirmity.” 13 Then he placed his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God. 14 But the president of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, said to the crowd, “There are six days on which work should be done! So come and be healed on those days, and not on the Sabbath day.” 15 Then the Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from its stall, and lead it to water? 16 Then shouldn’t this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be released from this imprisonment on the Sabbath day?” 17 When he said this all his adversaries were humiliated, but the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things he was doing (Luke 13:10-17).
Our Lord had compassion on the paralytic. He not only healed his malady, He forgave his sins. While Jesus used the situation to make the point that He had the authority to forgive sins, He did not do this at the man’s expense. It was a win-win situation.
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” (Matthew 9:9-13).
Though I should not, I’m tempted to wonder what hasn’t been said here. How often had Jesus passed by Matthew’s tax booth? How many times had Matthew heard Jesus teach, and seen Him heal the sick? Had Matthew long considered following Jesus? We are not told. But we are told that Matthew was a tax collector. You couldn’t go much lower than that in those days.
“If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. If he refuses to listen to the church, treat him like a Gentile or a tax collector” (Matthew 18:17).
1 Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through it. 2 Now a man named Zacchaeus was there; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. 3 He was trying to get a look at Jesus, but being a short man he could not see over the crowd. 4 So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, because Jesus was going to pass that way. 5 And when Jesus came to that place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down quickly, because I must stay at your house today.” 6 So he came down quickly and welcomed Jesus joyfully. 7 And when the people saw it, they all complained, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” 8 But Zacchaeus stopped and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord, half of my possessions I now give to the poor, and if I have cheated anyone of anything, I am paying back four times as much!” 9 Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this household, because he too is a son of Abraham! 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:1-10, emphasis mine).
In each of the Synoptic Gospels,6 we are simply told that Jesus called Matthew to follow Him, and that this man immediately did so. Can you imagine the implications of such a decision? He certainly could have taken a risk by quitting his job so abruptly. I would hate to have been Matthew, going home to face Mrs. Matthew: “Honey, I’ve got some good news and some bad news! I’ve just quit my job to follow Jesus, and we have a large group of folks coming for dinner.” This was a lucrative job, with ample opportunity to “get ahead,” at the expense of the tax payers. Now, Matthew has entered the ranks of the unemployed and placed his future in the hands of a poor carpenter’s son.
I think Matthew tells the story for several reasons. First, it provides background for one of the Lord’s disciples.7 Second, it once again emphasizes the authority of our Lord Jesus. Jesus cast out demons by the mere speaking of a word (Matthew 8:16). And now, Jesus calls a disciple, who leaves his job, at the Master’s mere speaking of a word. Third, the calling of Matthew becomes the cause of great celebration on the part of sinners, but a cause of concern for the Pharisees (verses10-12).8 This becomes the occasion for Jesus to point out the primary purpose for His coming (verse 13).
Matthew’s career change is not done with gritted teeth or with great reluctance. It is an occasion of great joy. Luke makes it very clear that this celebration was not only for Matthew, but that it was put on by Matthew:
27 After this, Jesus went out and saw a tax collector named Levi sitting at the tax booth. “Follow me,” he said to him. 28 And he got up and followed him, leaving everything behind. 29 Then Levi gave a great banquet in his house for Jesus, and there was a large crowd of tax collectors and others sitting at the table with them (Luke 5:27-29).
Following Jesus was cause for rejoicing, and celebrate he did! He invited his friends to join with him in the celebration – fellow tax-gatherers and sinners. This greatly irritated some folks:
When the Pharisees saw this they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” (Matthew 9:11)
Several observations are in order. First, note that it is the Pharisees who object. In the case of Jesus forgiving the sins of the paralytic, it was the scribes who objected (at least in their thoughts). Now, in the case of the calling of Matthew, it is the Pharisees who object. This time they vocalize their concerns to Jesus’ disciples, but not to Jesus Himself (verse 11). The scribes were the theologians of that day, and thus we would expect them to express concern over the theological implications of Jesus’ words to the paralytic. The Pharisees were the purists, the separatists, of that day, and it is no wonder that they would be troubled by the fact that Jesus was associating with “sinners,” rather than with them (“the righteous”).
Second, this celebration would seem to have Jesus as the guest of honor. Tax collectors and sinners came to eat with Jesus and His disciples. It was one thing for a group of sinners to gather in celebration; it was quite another when Jesus was the guest of honor. These folks were celebrating His presence with them. This was, I believe, a little taste of heaven, when all the saints will be seated at the table with the Savior.
Third, we should observe that the Pharisees, like the scribes before them, were right – at least technically. The scribes were right to reason that no one could forgive sins but God alone. The Pharisees were right to conclude that those at the table with Jesus were sinners. It is Matthew himself who calls them “tax collectors and sinners” (verse 10). Jesus doesn’t seek to correct this assessment, either:
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” (Matthew 9:12-13).
This provided Jesus with the occasion to clarify, once again, His purpose for coming to earth. Although the Pharisees did not confront Jesus directly, Jesus heard their objections, and He confronted them directly. They had missed the point entirely. In Matthew 8:17, Jesus’ healing ministry was interpreted in the light of Isaiah 53:4. Healing diseases and, more importantly, forgiving sinners was the purpose of our Lord’s atoning death at Calvary. When Jesus forgave the sins of the paralytic in chapter 9, it was once again to show the connection between His healing ministry and His greater ministry of forgiving sinners. His opponents objected first to Jesus forgiving sinners, and then to His fellowship with sinners.
If Jesus was to fulfill the prophecies of Isaiah 53, how could He not forgive sinners? And why were the Pharisees so disturbed by the fact that Jesus associated with sinners? It was because they considered themselves righteous. These words from Luke’s Gospel are most relevant:
9 Jesus also told this parable to some who were confident that they were righteous and looked down on everyone else. 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood and prayed about himself like this: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: extortionists, unrighteous people, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of everything I get.’ 13 The tax collector, however, stood far off and would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, be merciful to me, sinner that I am!’ 14 I tell you that this man went down to his home justified rather than the Pharisee. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:9-14).
The Pharisees saw themselves as righteous, and they perceived that their righteousness was the result of law-keeping and keeping themselves free from defilement from sinners. Jesus was breaking all the rules, so far as they could see. But it was not Jesus who was wrong; the Pharisees were wrong. They needed to give further thought to the Old Testament, for Jesus was the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies pertaining to Messiah. This is a prominent theme in Matthew’s Gospel.
Specifically, the Pharisees needed to consider what Hosea meant when he wrote, “I want mercy and not sacrifice” (Matthew 9:13). Jesus was citing Hosea 6:6. There is much to be learned from this passage in Hosea and its context, much more than we can deal with in this message. But let me point out several things. First, this is an indictment of both Israel (Ephraim) and Judah for their sins, and a warning of coming judgment:
8 Blow the ram’s horn in Gibeah!
Sound the trumpet in Ramah!
Sound the alarm in Beth-Aven!
Tremble in fear, O Benjamin!
9 Ephraim will be ruined in the day of judgment!
What I am declaring to the tribes of Israel will certainly take place!
10 The princes of Judah are like those who move boundary markers.
I will pour out my rage on them like a torrential flood! (Hosea 5:8-10)
Second, this indictment specifically includes the leaders of Israel and Judah:
1 Hear this, you priests!
Pay attention, you Israelites!
Listen up, O king!
For judgment is about to overtake you!
For you were like a trap to Mizpah,
like a net spread out to catch Tabor (Hosea 5:1, emphasis mine).
10 The princes of Judah are like those who move boundary markers.
I will pour out my rage on them like a torrential flood!
11 Ephraim will be oppressed, crushed under judgment,
because he was determined to pursue worthless idols (Hosea 5:10-11, emphasis mine).
9 The company of priests is like a gang of robbers,
lying in ambush to pounce on a victim.
They commit murder on the road to Shechem;
they have done heinous crimes! (Hosea 6:9, emphasis mine)
Third, this is a call to repentance, with the promise of restoration:
15 Then I will return again to my lair until they have suffered their punishment.
Then they will seek me; in their distress they will earnestly seek me.
1 “Come on! Let’s return to the Lord!
He himself has torn us to pieces, but he will heal us!
He has injured us, but he will bandage our wounds!
2 He will restore us in a very short time9;
he will heal us in a little while10,
so that we may live in his presence.
3 So let us acknowledge him!
Let us seek to acknowledge the Lord!
He will come to our rescue as certainly as the appearance of the dawn,
as certainly as the winter rain comes,
as certainly as the spring rain that waters the land” (Hosea 5:15; 6:1-3).
Fourth, Israel and Judah are indicted for a failure in covenant faithfulness, and for trusting in ceremonial righteousness:
4 What am I going to do with you, O Ephraim?
What am I going to do with you, O Judah?
For your faithfulness is as fleeting as the morning mist,
it disappears as quickly as dawn’s dew!
5 Therefore, I will certainly cut you into pieces at the hands of the prophets,
I will certainly kill you in fulfillment of my oracles of judgment;
for my judgment will come forth like the light of the dawn.
6 For I delight in faithfulness, not simply in sacrifice;
I delight in acknowledging God, not simply in whole burnt offerings (Hosea 6:4-6).
Would the scribes protest because Jesus forgives sinners, and the Pharisees because He would fellowship with them? Jesus cites this passage in Hosea to show why they are sinners. They are religious leaders, and they are abusing those they lead. Their “righteousness” is ritualistic, rather than seeking to know God and abide in covenant loyalty. They, the leaders of Israel and Judah, have missed the point. They have failed to grasp true religion. They are leading the people astray. They must confess their sin and trust in the Messiah who will come to save them. They should delight that He has come to save sinners. They should be like Saul, once a Pharisee and a Hebrew of the Hebrews, and forsake their claims to righteousness, clinging only to Christ:
15 This saying is trustworthy and deserves full acceptance: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”—and I am the worst of them! 16 But here is why I was treated with mercy: so that in me as the worst, Christ Jesus could demonstrate his utmost patience, as an example for those who are going to believe in him for eternal life (1 Timothy 1:15-16).
1 Finally, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord! To write this again is no trouble to me, and it is a safeguard for you. 2 Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of those who mutilate the flesh! 3 For we are the circumcision, the ones who worship by the Spirit of God, exult in Christ Jesus, and do not rely on human credentials 4 —though mine too are significant. If someone thinks he has good reasons to put confidence in human credentials, I have more: 5 I was circumcised on the eighth day, from the people of Israel and the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews. I lived according to the law as a Pharisee. 6 In my zeal for God I persecuted the church. According to the righteousness stipulated in the law I was blameless. 7 But these assets I have come to regard as liabilities because of Christ. 8 More than that, I now regard all things as liabilities compared to the far greater value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things—indeed, I regard them as dung!—that I may gain Christ, 9 and be found in him, not because I have my own righteousness derived from the law, but because I have the righteousness that comes by way of Christ’s faithfulness—a righteousness from God that is in fact based on Christ’s faithfulness (Philippians 3:1-9).
God delights in those who seek relationship with Him, not in those who keep their distance and trust in their ritualistic law-keeping. Jesus delights in the presence of these sinners, whose joy is to be in His presence. He does not delight in those who choose to keep their distance, from sinners and the Savior. If these Pharisees would enjoy salvation, they must desire fellowship with the Savior, along with sinners, like themselves.
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” (Matthew 9:14-17).
On the one hand, the question of John’s disciples flows from the earlier two paragraphs. Jesus forgives sinners, and then celebrates a feast with them. John’s disciples, on the other hand, were preaching that men should repent of their sins, and they were fasting. Perhaps this fasting was a sign of repentance. Now that John is in prison (Matthew 4:12; presumably not yet executed, see 11:2-6), John’s disciples have yet another reason to fast and pray.
The feast that Jesus and His disciples celebrated with Matthew and his “sinner” friends (Matthew 9:10) prompted the Pharisees to protest. It may have been this same feast that perplexed the disciples of John the Baptist. But the question posed by John’s disciples is different than the objections raised by the scribes (Matthew 9:3) and the Pharisees (Matthew 9:11). The question is not a protest, but a sincere desire to understand why Jesus and His disciples don’t observe the same practice of fasting that they and the Pharisees do. Instead of fasting, Jesus and His disciples are feasting. If Jesus is the fulfillment of John’s preparatory ministry, then how does He explain the difference between His actions and the fasting of the Pharisees and John’s disciples?
I sense no rebuke in Jesus’ response. It was a fair question. But the answer to their question would only be grasped later, after our Lord’s death, burial, and resurrection. For now, Jesus would answer by analogy, an analogy based on John’s teaching. It was an answer that they would not, and could not, fully understand now, but because of what John had said earlier, it would make some sense to them:
25 Now a dispute came about between some of John’s disciples and a certain Jew concerning ceremonial washing. 26 So they came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, the one who was with you on the other side of the Jordan River, about whom you testified—see, he is baptizing, and everyone is flocking to him!” 27 John replied, “No one can receive anything unless it has been given to him from heaven. 28 You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Christ,’ but rather, ‘I have been sent before him.’ 29 The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands by and listens for him, rejoices greatly when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. This then is my joy, and it is complete. 30 He must become more important while I become less important” (John 3:25-30, emphasis mine).
By his own words to his disciples, John identified him as the “friend of the bridegroom,” and Jesus as the “bridegroom.” Based on this distinction between the bridegroom and the friend of the bridegroom, our Lord’s words make sense:
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” (Matthew 9:15-16).
Jesus’ disciples cannot mourn – indeed, should not mourn – while He is with them. But when He is gone (as our Lord’s words indicate), then it will be the time for His disciples to fast. But Jesus has come as the Messiah (as John himself bore witness – John 1:29). He has come to forgive sinners, as the Old Testament prophesied (Isaiah 52:13—53:12). He indeed has commenced to forgive sinners, as He did with the paralytic (Matthew 9:1-8). He has come to save sinners and to fellowship with them (Matthew 9:9-10). This is a time for celebration and rejoicing. How, then, can He or His disciples mourn, as symbolized by fasting? Joyful celebration is the proper response to the coming of Messiah. That is why John himself rejoiced greatly (John 3:29). John’s disciples (by inference) should do likewise.
The last two verses of our text go beyond this to explain the reason Jesus failed to conform to the expectations of men and to explain the relationship of His coming to the Old Testament and the Old Covenant:
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” (Matthew 9:16-17).
It might be helpful to consider this additional comment of our Lord in this context, cited by Luke:
“No one after drinking old wine wants the new, for he says, ‘The old is good enough’” (Luke 5:39).
The significance of this additional statement in Luke is that it informs us that people in Jesus’ day thought the old was better than the new. The reason they expected Jesus to “patch up” the old garment was that they regarded the old garment to be better than a new one. (I confess, I’ve had clothes like this, that I liked so much I wouldn’t throw them out and kept asking my wife to patch them.)
Our Lord is making a very significant point here, one that we need to understand if we are to grasp the gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus did not come to abolish the law and the prophets, but to fulfill them (Matthew 5:17). Matthew makes much of the fulfillment theme. But fulfilling the law is not the same as perpetuating the Old Covenant. Jesus fulfilled the Law and the Prophets so that He could implement the New Covenant:
19 Then he took bread, and after giving thanks he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 20 And in the same way he took the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:19-20).
As Paul and others indicate, the Old Covenant could not save anyone; it could only condemn us as sinners:
10 “So now why are you putting God to the test by placing on the neck of the disciples a yoke that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear? 11 On the contrary, we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they are” (Acts 15:10-11).
Here, Peter speaks at the Jerusalem Council. The issue being discussed is the insistence on the part of some Jews that Gentiles must be circumcised (and thereby place themselves under the Old Testament law) in order to be saved (see Acts 15:1). Peter acknowledges that no one has ever been able to bear this burden. With this, Paul heartily agrees:
19 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20 For no one is declared righteous before him by the works of the law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin. 21 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God (which is attested by the law and the prophets) has been disclosed— 22 namely, the righteousness of God through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. 24 But they are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus (Romans 3:19-24).
Meeting all the requirements of the Law qualified our Lord to die, under the law, in the sinner’s place, in order to procure the forgiveness of sins and the assurance of eternal life. In this sense, the Old Covenant was set aside, replaced by the new.
6 But now Jesus has obtained a superior ministry, since the covenant that he mediates is also better and is enacted on better promises. 7 For if that first covenant had been faultless, no one would have looked for a second one. 8 But showing its fault, God says to them, “Look, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will complete a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. 8:9 “It will not be like the covenant that I made with their fathers, on the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they did not continue in my covenant and I had no regard for them, says the Lord. 8:10 “For this is the covenant that I will establish with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and I will inscribe them on their hearts. And I will be their God and they will be my people. 8:11 “And there will be no need at all for each one to teach his countryman or each one to teach his brother saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ since they will all know me, from the least to the greatest. 8:12 “For I will be merciful toward their evil deeds, and their sins I will remember no longer.” 13 When he speaks of a new covenant, he makes the first obsolete. Now what is growing obsolete and aging is about to disappear (Hebrews 8:6-13).
This explains why Jesus does not conform to the Messianic expectations of the people of His day (even the disciples). While He came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets, He also came to inaugurate a New and better Covenant. He did not come to “patch up” the old, but to bring something entirely new. He came to bring “new wine,” as it were, and this wine must not be placed in the “old wineskins” of Old Testament Judaism. John the Baptist was the last of the Old Testament prophets, and was a truly great man, but Jesus brought something better, by fulfilling the prophecies and the hopes of the Old Testament Scriptures:
25 What did you go out to see? A man dressed in fancy clothes? Look, those who wear fancy clothes and live in luxury are in kings’ courts! 26 What did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 27 This is the one about whom it is written, ‘Look, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’ 28 I tell you, among those born of women no one is greater than John. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he is” (Luke 7:25-28).
Jesus came to fulfill the law, so that He, in perfect Old Testament righteousness, could die in the sinner’s place, and provide eternal salvation for sinners. But He also came to inaugurate a New Covenant through His shed blood. This is a covenant that does not condition our salvation on our works, but upon the sacrifice of Jesus Christ in our place. And it is based upon His fulfillment of the Old, and His inauguration of the New, that Jesus can forgive sinners and joyfully fellowship (feast) with them. Thank God He did not conform to man’s expectations!
As we conclude our study of these verses, we should take note of the fact that it is here that Matthew introduces the theme of Jewish opposition to Jesus. Granted, the pig farmers asked Jesus to leave in the verse just preceding our text (Matthew 8:34), but these may not have been Jews. They certainly were not the Jewish religious leaders. In our text, the Jews first begin to oppose Jesus. First it is the scribes who strongly resist our Lord’s implicit claim to be God. Then it is the Pharisees who object to Jesus feasting and fellowshipping with “sinners.” We should also note that the opposition arose because of our Lord’s claim to be God. Let those who would say that Jesus never claimed to be God look here and see that Jesus made a point, early in His earthly ministry, to establish His claim to be God.
Furthermore, the scribes and Pharisees opposed Jesus because He claimed authority to forgive sinners. This is something that no priest, no scribe, no Pharisee, no religious leader had ever done before. This was something that could not be found in the Old Testament. Sacrifices merely set aside the penalty of sin for a time, until the coming of the Messiah:
24 But they are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. 25 God publicly displayed him at his death as the mercy seat accessible through faith. This was to demonstrate his righteousness, because God in his forbearance had passed over the sins previously committed. 26 This was also to demonstrate his righteousness in the present time, so that he would be just and the justifier of the one who lives because of Jesus’ faithfulness (Romans 3:24-26).
This is what Jesus was talking about, when He spoke of bringing in something new, rather than patching up the old. Jesus came to inaugurate the New Covenant, while at the same time fulfilling the requirements of the Old. The writer to the Hebrews is emphatic about this:
8 The Holy Spirit is making clear that the way into the holy place had not yet appeared as long as the old tabernacle was standing. 9 This was a symbol for the time then present, when gifts and sacrifices were offered that could not perfect the conscience of the worshiper. 10 They served only for matters of food and drink and various washings; they are external regulations imposed until the new order came. 11 But now Christ has come as the high priest of the good things to come. He passed through the greater and more perfect tent not made with hands, that is, not of this creation, 12 and he entered once for all into the most holy place not by the blood of goats and calves but by his own blood, and so he himself secured eternal redemption. 13 For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a young cow sprinkled on those who are defiled consecrated them and provided ritual purity, 14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our consciences from dead works to worship the living God. 15 And so he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the eternal inheritance he has promised, since he died to set them free from the violations committed under the first covenant (Hebrews 9:8-15).
1 For the law possesses a shadow of the good things to come but not the reality itself, and is therefore completely unable, by the same sacrifices offered continually, year after year, to perfect those who come to worship. 2 For otherwise would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers would have been purified once for all and so have no further consciousness of sin? 3 But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins year after year. 4 For the blood of bulls and goats cannot take away sins. 5 So when he came into the world, he said, “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me. 6 “Whole burnt offerings and sin-offerings you took no delight in. 7 “Then I said, ‘Here I am: I have come—it is written of me in the scroll of the book—to do your will, O God.’” 8 When he says above, “Sacrifices and offerings and whole burnt offerings and sin-offerings you did not desire nor did you take delight in them” (which are offered according to the law), 9 then he says, “Here I am: I have come to do your will.” He does away with the first to establish the second. 10 By his will we have been made holy through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. 11 And every priest stands day after day serving and offering the same sacrifices again and again—sacrifices that can never take away sins. 12 But when this priest had offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13 where he is now waiting until his enemies are made a footstool for his feet. 14 For by one offering he has perfected for all time those who are made holy. 15 And the Holy Spirit also witnesses to us, for after saying, 16 “This is the covenant that I will establish with them after those days, says the Lord. I will put my laws on their hearts and I will inscribe them on their minds,” 17 then he says, “Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no longer.” 18 Now where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin (Hebrews 10:1-18).
Jesus did that which the Old Testament only looked forward to, that which the prophets spoke about when they wrote of the coming Messiah. Jesus fulfilled these prophecies, and by His death, burial, and resurrection in our place paid the penalty for our sins, thus providing for the forgiveness of sins. What better words could we read than these: “Take courage, your sins are forgiven!”? Have you experienced this forgiveness? Simply acknowledge that you are a sinner, and trust in Jesus, who has taken your sins upon Himself. The offer of forgiveness is for all who will receive it.
28 Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke on you and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy to bear, and my load is not hard to carry” (Matthew 11:28-30).
And the Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say: “Come!” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wants it take the water of life free of charge (Revelation 22:17).
8 But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we preach), 9 because if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and thus has righteousness and with the mouth one confesses and thus has salvation. 11 For the scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between the Jew and the Greek, for the same Lord is Lord of all, who richly blesses all who call on him. 13 For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved (Romans 10:8-13).
If I could capture the essence of our text in just two words, it would center on two key words: sin and God. In the story of the paralytic, Jesus healed this man, but in a way that demonstrated His authority to forgive sin. The problem was that the scribes could not accept Jesus’ claim to be God. The second story, that of the call of Matthew and the Lord’s celebration feast with sinners, revolved around the tension between sin (or sinners) and God. They could not conceive of God having fellowship with sinners. They could not conceive of a good man (which is the most they would be willing to say of Jesus) having fellowship with sinners. How could God fellowship with sinners? The answer to this dilemma is revealed, in part, in the third story, in which the disciples of John ask Jesus why His disciples did not fast. Under the Old Covenant there was no provision for sins, nor was there provision for fellowship with God.11 Assurances of sitting at a table in the presence of God was something one hoped for in eternity (see Psalm 23:4-6). It was not by means of the Old Covenant, but rather through the New Covenant – by the shedding of the blood of our Lord – that a sinner can be forgiven, and enter into eternal fellowship with God.
This passage in Matthew’s Gospel assures us of more than the forgiveness of sins. Jesus not only forgives sinners, He calls sinners to be His disciples and to enjoy fellowship with Him. Matthew, the tax collector and sinner, is called to be a disciple, and we see him and his fellow sinners, seated at the table, celebrating the presence of Jesus Christ.
It is possible that some have resisted the offer of the forgiveness of sins because they assume that this will terminate any earthly joy or pleasure. Tell Matthew and his friends that! Trusting in Jesus is the means to following Him, and entering into the joy of His presence. There is no greater joy than this. Leave the tax office behind, and serve Him, in whose presence is eternal, boundless joy.
Our text has a number of applications for those who have trusted in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins. First of all, this text should serve as a great encouragement for us to intercede on behalf of others, especially the lost. The faith of the four stretcher-bearers was noted by our Lord. To some degree, their intercession was instrumental in the healing (and forgiveness!) of their friend. Let us take up the stretcher, for those who are lost need the forgiveness of sins.
Our text also serves to warn us that doing good does not always result in the praise of men; it may well result in persecution:
18 “If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me first. 19 If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own. However, because you do not belong to the world, but I chose you out of the world, for this reason the world hates you. 20 Remember what I told you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they obeyed my word, they will obey yours too. 21 But they will do all these things to you on account of my name, because they do not know the one who sent me” (John 15:18-21; see also 1 Peter 4:1-6, 12-16).
Jesus was opposed because He did good as God. When we serve in His name, we should expect that some will resist and oppose us, simply because of Jesus Christ.
Finally, we should learn from Matthew that Jesus did not come merely to “patch up” our lives, but rather to give us new life.
17 So then, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; what is old has passed away—look, what is new has come! (2 Corinthians 5:17).
Faith in Christ means that we die to our former life and that we are raised to a whole new life:
1 What shall we say then? Are we to remain in sin so that grace may increase? 2 Absolutely not! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 3 Or do you not know that as many as were baptized into Christ were baptized into his death? 4 Therefore we have been buried with him through baptism into death, in order that just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too may live a new life. 5 For if we have become united with him in the likeness of his death, we will certainly also be united in the likeness of his resurrection. 6 We know that our old man was crucified with him so that the body of sin would no longer dominate us, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. 7 (For someone who has died has been freed from sin.) 8 Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 We know that since Christ has been raised from the dead, he is never going to die again; death no longer has mastery over him. 10 For the death he died, he died to sin once for all, but the life he lives, he lives to God. 11 So you too consider yourselves dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus (Romans 6:1-11).
At times the gospel is presented as a kind of “add-on” matter. People are led to believe that they can continue to live pretty much as they have, but now with the assurance of eternal life. The gospel is not a patch; the gospel is new wine, put into new wineskins. When we are saved, we are saved to a radically new and different life. We not only enter into fellowship with God, but we also are to die to our former way of life:
17 So I say this, and insist in the Lord, that you no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. 18 They are darkened in their understanding, being alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardness of their hearts. 19 Because they are callous, they have given themselves over to indecency for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness. 20 But you did not learn about Christ like this, 21 if indeed you heard about him and were taught in him, just as the truth is in Jesus. 22 You were taught with reference to your former way of life to lay aside the old man who is being corrupted in accordance with deceitful desires, 23 to be renewed in the spirit of your mind, 24 and to put on the new man who has been created in God’s image—in righteousness and holiness that comes from truth (Ephesians 4:17-24).
May God take the words of Matthew and use them to cause us to embrace the Savior, who is the only means by which our sins can be forgiven, and by which we may enter into joyful fellowship with God.
1 Copyright 2004 by Community Bible Chapel, 418 E. Main Street, Richardson, TX 75081. This is the edited manuscript of Lesson 38 in the Studies in the Gospel of Matthew series prepared by Robert L. Deffinbaugh on May 30, 2004.
2 Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the NET Bible. The NEW ENGLISH TRANSLATION, also known as THE NET BIBLE, is a completely new translation of the Bible, not a revision or an update of a previous English version. It was completed by more than twenty biblical scholars who worked directly from the best currently available Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts. The translation project originally started as an attempt to provide an electronic version of a modern translation for electronic distribution over the Internet and on CD (compact disk). Anyone anywhere in the world with an Internet connection will be able to use and print out the NET Bible without cost for personal study. In addition, anyone who wants to share the Bible with others can print unlimited copies and give them away free to others. It is available on the Internet at: www.netbible.org.
3 See William Hendriksen, Exposition of the Gospel According to John, 2 vols. (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1953-1954), vol. 2, p. 122.
4 I don’t think this translation is justified. More literally, the text indicates that Jesus saw, or knew, their thinking or reasoning, as other translations convey. Both Mark 2:8 and Luke 5:22 make it very plain that Jesus discerned their inner thoughts. It is certainly possible that they whispered among themselves, but I hardly think that the very text where Jesus claims to be God is where we would find the author suggesting that Jesus was only reading their body language.
5 We know, of course, that true repentance and faith should produce “fruits worthy of repentance” (Matthew 3:8; also 7:15-20). But here Jesus is talking about instant, irrefutable, verification.
6 Matthew, Mark, and Luke.
7 In Matthew 10:3, Matthew is identified as “Matthew the tax collector.”
8 Is it possible that Luke 18:9-14 may be more than a parable? Could this tax collector have been Matthew? The story of Matthew’s call certainly gives credence to these verses, even if they are not specifically about Matthew.
9 Literally, “in two days.”
10 Literally, “on the third day.”
11 What we see in Exodus 24:9-11 is without parallel in the Old Testament, an exceedingly rare and unexpected event, which anticipates heaven.