Scripture speaks abundantly of the Divinely empowered healing abilities of the Messiah of Israel. Such passages from Isaiah and elsewhere (as we have seen in Ch. 8 in our study) reveal that the Messiah would make the lame man leap for joy, the blind to see, the deaf to hear, and the dumb to speak (ISAIAH 35:5-6). These miraculous signs would be evidence to prove who the Messiah-King would be. As mentioned before, it's very much like the story of The LORD of the RINGS where Aragorn the lowly Ranger from the North was identified as the King of Gondor because he was able to heal, which would be an attribute of a true King of that realm:
“Aragorn's humility and self-sacrifice gained him the hearts of the inhabitants of Gondor's capital city. His healing abilities were noted also by the people of Gondor; as Ioreth said, 'The hands of the King are the hands of a healer, and so shall the rightful king be known'. The people hailed Aragorn as King that same evening.” (Taken from wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aragorn).
The LORD Jesus busily healed those in need and began proclaiming the Gospel everywhere He traveled; we saw this in plenty in Chapter 8 and we see still more here in the 9th Chapter of Matthew:
And he entered into a ship, and passed over, and came into his own city.
2 And, behold, they brought to him a man sick of the palsy, lying on a bed: and Jesus seeing their faith said unto the sick of the palsy; Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee.
3 And, behold, certain of the scribes said within themselves, This man blasphemeth.
The Scribes aren't wrong about what they said, if applied generally to people; what they failed to recognize was that this was no ordinary person standing before them. It would be blasphemy for a human being to claim the ability to forgive, that is, to absolve another of their sin. The LORD Jesus taught us that we ought to forgive those who sin against us (MATT. 6:15; LUKE 17:4), but this is not in a judicious sense, but a vicarious sense: we forgive others who wrong us for the sake of rendering the right to judge to the “Judge of all the earth” (GEN. 18:25).
Also, its pertinent to note that when this man who was sick of the palsy was brought to Jesus, He didn't address his sickness, but rather his sin condition. Look at the priority that the LORD places on dealing with sin rather than sickness!
Of course the LORD is dealing with sicknesses in His ministry; we've already seen many healed by Him! Yet even today there seems to be a greater emphasis on 'healing ministries' than evangelization and the Gospel. Yet what happens to a healed sinner if they don't receive the Gospel? They may live out their lives in good health, once its restored to them, but end up forever in hell. Conversely another who has received salvation but never a healing, will escape the eternal consequences of sin, God's judgment, hellfire and enjoy eternity in a glorified body free of any weaknesses or sicknesses!
Yet the LORD is about to set the record straight regarding any supposed 'blasphemy' on His part:
4 And Jesus knowing their thoughts said, Wherefore think ye evil in your hearts?
5 For whether is easier, to say, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Arise, and walk?
6 But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins, (then saith he to the sick of the palsy,) Arise, take up thy bed, and go unto thine house.
The LORD knew their hearts; He knows all of our hearts and He tries them to see what resides there (JER. 17:10; 23:24; 1 CHRON. 28:9). On a side note, this is why we ought to be painfully honest and forthright in our prayers and confess to the LORD exactly what we are thinking and feeling, because He knows these things already – thus its only beneficial to 'get it out in the open' and repent of anything inappropriate or cry out to the LORD for help with fears or doubts. No one can surprise the Eternal One with their failings or weaknesses and it will only help to confess and petition His blessed ministry.
They were thinking that Jesus was committing blasphemy; the LORD turned around and declared that such thinking was “evil”! Evil in the sense of “hurtful in effect or influence rather than an essential in character; the Greek word is ponoros, and it can also mean: the active form of evil in thoughts, of speech, of acts; evil that causes labor, pain, sorrow, malignant evil; bad, worthless, wicked.”
In verse 5 the LORD asks a very logical question: "Which is easier to say? Your sins be forgiven you or to say to a cripple, Rise up and walk?"
Obviously it would be far easier to say the first rather than the second; anyone could say, “Your sins be forgiven you.” How could you tell if such a benediction came true merely by looking at the person 'forgiven'? Yet how many could say to a cripple, “Rise up and walk” and then see with their own eyes, a person who was unable to walk suddenly stand up and begin to walk? It would take a miracle – from Someone who had the authority to exercise such. The LORD Jesus aptly proved (time and time again) that He indeed had the authority to work miracles, and because of this, the scribes should have recognized that this was no ordinary person, or even merely a prophet of God, but the very “Son of man” - one of the titles of Jesus Christ, the Messiah of Israel. This is what the centurion from the previous chapter recognized and readily understood and by faith received: that Jesus is LORD (MATT. 8:8-9) with all power and authority!
7 And he arose, and departed to his house.
8 But when the multitudes saw it, they marvelled, and glorified God, which had given such power unto men.
This man arose from his crippled condition and with his own two feet made his way back home! And notice something that the LORD “saw” at the very beginning of this chapter:
“...they brought to him a man sick of the palsy, lying on a bed: and Jesus seeing their faith...” In LUKE 5:18-26 we have a parallel passage and in that account its stated that this healing took place in a house, and that the crowd filling that place, surrounding Jesus was so thick that there was no way the friends of this crippled man could enter the house and present him to the LORD. But these were true friends who were not at all deterred by such an obstacle! They merely climbed up to the roof, tore away at the tiles and lowered their lame friend down to the LORD!
The LORD saw their faith and as a result, said to the cripple “...thy sins be forgiven thee...”. Here we see demonstrated the profoundly precious ministry of intercessory prayer! As we bring others before the LORD in our prayers, we are performing a most noble and admirable ministry – often hidden and unnoticed: except by the Holy Eyes of our Abba Father (MATT. 6:6).
We seek no one other than the LORD Jesus, our beloved High Priest (HEB. 4:15) when we pray, for He is our blessed mediator (1 TIM. 2:5) Who is entirely approachable by His children as well as by the repentant sinner (LUKE 18:13); because of the LORD we are able to approach the “throne of grace” (HEB. 4:16) and address our Abba Father personally (ROM. 8:14-16; GAL. 4:5-7)! We must persevere and not quit, just as these men showed their determination by getting their friend to Jesus!
As we intercede for the needs of others we may encounter walls erected by the enemy, roof tops of rueful discouragement and crowds of confusion but we must push through by faith, and the LORD Who will see such faith will reward us (HEB. 11:6). And He rewards according to His grace, much more than we would think or ask (EPH. 3:20)! Not only did He heal this man, but declared that his sins would be forgiven him! And the scribes were right, no one can forgive sins but God alone (LUKE 5:21):
JEREMIAH 33:1, 7-9
1 Moreover the word of the Lord came unto Jeremiah the second time, while he was yet shut up in the court of the prison, saying,
7 And I will cause the captivity of Judah and the captivity of Israel to return, and will build them, as at the first.
8 And I will cleanse them from all their iniquity, whereby they have sinned against me; and I will pardon all their iniquities, whereby they have sinned, and whereby they have transgressed against me.
9 And it shall be to me a name of joy, a praise and an honour before all the nations of the earth, which shall hear all the good that I do unto them: and they shall fear and tremble for all the goodness and for all the prosperity that I procure unto it.
Since Jesus indeed has the power to forgive sins, this was able proof that He is in fact Deity, God made flesh (JOHN 1:14; 1 TIM. 3:16). Yet neither the scribes nor the people understood this, for they rejoiced simply that God had “given such power unto men.”
9 And as Jesus passed forth from thence, he saw a man, named Matthew, sitting at the receipt of custom: and he saith unto him, Follow me. And he arose, and followed him.
10 And it came to pass, as Jesus sat at meat in the house, behold, many publicans and sinners came and sat down with him and his disciples.
11 And when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto his disciples, Why eateth your Master with publicans and sinners?
This is Levi Matthias that the LORD called to follow Him, the very one whose name adorns the Gospel account that we are currently studying. Levi Matthias was of the lineage of Levi and as such was eligible for the priesthood and by rights should have been. Instead, he became a tax collector for the Roman Empire and so earned the scorn and disrespect of his fellow Jews. There were many in Israel in that day that desired to throw off the yoke of Rome, particularly such political movements as the Zealots, from which the LORD chose Simon (the Zealot; LUKE 6:15), so any that would collect taxes for the enemies of Israel would most certainly be seen as an outcast and someone spurned.
Yet the LORD approached this man, and invited him to follow Him! This is one of the things that I love about our LORD! No one can be such a reject and seen as the off-scouring of society but that the LORD will seek them out and receive them! Such is His grace to extend His hand of mercy and compassion to the weak, the despised, the lowly (1 COR. 1:25-27) rather than most (but not all!) of the noble and mighty of this world.
And we should take a note that both Levi Matthias and Simon Zelotes were both followers of Jesus; these men who were sworn enemies and no doubt would have had tremendous animosity towards each other became brethren by the LORD, by grace receiving one another in the love of God!
On a personal note: As some of you may be aware, Anne Kisly (co-writer and administrator for TTUF and associate sites) and I knew each other since grade school and as the years went by we became enemies, but the LORD was in heaven smiling, for He knew that I would one day become one of His followers, and Anne would also return to her First Love – and we two saints would not only become brother and sister in the LORD, but also yoke-fellows, the best of friends and have a deep and mutual respect for one another! JESUS is a wonder and so very amazing, isn't He?
Matthew was so elated that the LORD would choose him to follow Him, that he invited Jesus to his home and made him a feast; he invited all of his “publican” (tax collectors) and sinful friends to join in the festivities, and the LORD sat down with them! What makes this so radical is that in such a Middle Eastern culture, to sit down and dine with others was more than merely sharing a meal, but constituted fellowship and communion (as all were dining from the same food and drink). So in the eyes of the Pharisees Jesus was committing a sin by joining such a throng and asked the disciples about it.
The LORD intervenes and speaks for Himself:
11 And when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto his disciples, Why eateth your Master with publicans and sinners?
12 But when Jesus heard that, he said unto them, They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick.
13 But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.
The Pharisees were quick to label and condemn those who were 'sinners', leaving themselves outside such a category, naturally! They were “white washed sepulchers” just as the LORD declared: that appear beautiful outwardly but inwardly were full of death and decay. They believed themselves to be above such mire of society and wondered why, if this Jesus was truly a prophet of God, He would be in such vulgar company. The same sort of situation occurred when a Pharisee invited Jesus to supper and a prostitute came in and knelt before the LORD's feet in LUKE 7:36-50, esp. vs. 37-39.
Before the disciples could reply to the charge against their LORD, Jesus Himself addressed the religious leaders with a piercing response: Who in fact would need to see a doctor but those who are sick? The LORD came not to call the righteous to repentance but sinners; the reason why the LORD didn't call the righteous is because there aren't any, according to ROM. 3:10! All have sinned (ROM. 3:23) and fallen short of God's glory and that would include the Pharisees, both those that lived in Jesus' day and those who live in ours.
The LORD declares that He would have mercy and not sacrifice – that is, a true heart that extends compassion towards sinners, in seeking to bring them to truth, to the Gospel and to salvation by faith, rather than an external show of religious activity (such as a sacrifice and worship from the lips and not the heart; see IS. 29:13). It's a shame that these religious leaders, who were highly esteemed among most of the people, had to go and learn such a simple and fundamental truth as the value of mercy towards sinners.
14 Then came to him the disciples of John, saying, Why do we and the Pharisees fast oft, but thy disciples fast not?
15 And Jesus said unto them, Can the children of the bridechamber mourn, as long as the bridegroom is with them? but the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken from them, and then shall they fast.
16 No man putteth a piece of new cloth unto an old garment, for that which is put in to fill it up taketh from the garment, and the rent is made worse.
17 Neither do men put new wine into old bottles: else the bottles break, and the wine runneth out, and the bottles perish: but they put new wine into new bottles, and both are preserved.
Fasting is something prescribed in the Old Testament in many various places; here is a partial list: 1 SAM. 31:10, 13; 2 SAM. 1:12; 12:16, 21-23; NEH. 9:1; ESTH. 4:3; 9:31; PS. 35:13; 69:10; 109:24; JER. 36:6l DAN. 6:18; 9:3; JOEL 2:12, among many others. Fasting was an expression of mourning over sin, over dire circumstances, of repentance and seeking God in earnest. It is very much the same in the New Testament and yet the LORD said that while the bridegroom (Himself) is with the “children of the bridechamber” (the saints of God) that such will not be necessary – for there is joy in the presence of the bridegroom, not mourning; there is the hope of deliverance from sin while He is here, and not the burden of its relentless presence in our lives; while dire circumstances and storms may be present, so is He and so we have nothing to fear! Repentance certainly is exhibited, but most especially in His presence, and seeking God while He may be found (IS. 55:6) is appropriate, especially since He is in the midst!
Fasting like so many other things can quickly turn into a religious practice, devoid of true meaning; its something that can be done mechanically with unthinking, unfelt religious devotion but it leaves the heart untouched and unchanged. Fasting in and of itself can profit nothing, but coupled together with a love and fervency for God, and appointed by the Holy Spirit can reap wonderful blessing according to the grace of God.
Without such, its little more than an 'old wine bottle' that cannot contain the work of the Holy Spirit (“new wine”) and so old dogma and religious practice must give way to the newness of life by the Spirit of God and His work in our lives, beginning with the new birth via the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (ROM. 7:5-6, 21-25). Even old understanding of the Old Testament must give way to new revelation as presented by the New Testament. As many of us know the observation so keenly observed before: “The New Testament is in the Old concealed; the Old Testament is in the New revealed.”
Here we shall end the first half of this study in Matthew Ch. 9. We shall resume this chapter soon, picking up at verse 18 and move on to the conclusion of this chapter! Until then, Keep your eyes on the skies and don't believe the lies: Jesus Returns Soon from on high!