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Saturday, July 20th, 2024
the Week of Proper 10 / Ordinary 15
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Bible Commentaries
Matthew 9

Contending for the FaithContending for the Faith

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Verse 1

And he entered into a ship, and passed over, and came into his own city.

As noted in verse 28 of the previous chapter, Jesus probably arrives in Gergesene territory on the morning after the storm (8:23-27). Immediately upon His arrival, Jesus meets the demoniacs and heals them without delay. Shortly thereafter, the villagers ask Jesus to leave. It is possible that Jesus’ departure occurs on the same day He arrives and on the same boat from whence He had stepped earlier.

After crossing the Sea of Galilee, Jesus and His disciples come from the northwest shore to the city of Capernaum. Matthew calls this Jesus’ "own city." Although Jesus is raised in Nazareth (Matthew 2:23), He leaves at the beginning of His ministry and makes his home in Capernaum (Matthew 4:13).

Verse 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.

Parallel accounts indicate Jesus is welcomed by a great multitude (Mark 5:21; Luke 8:40). Matthew, however, proceeds with his narrative by telling of yet another miracle. Mark 2:1-2 says that this event occurs some days later when Jesus is teaching in the house.

Because Matthew’s intent is thematic he does not elaborate on the chronology of the event. His account gives only the basic facts of this miracle. Mark records that great crowds have followed Jesus and fill the dwelling to maximum capacity. Those who are anxious to hear His words block the entrances and the room where Jesus is teaching.

Luke makes a special point of detailing who is in Jesus’ audience. He says, "There were Pharisees and doctors of the law sitting by, which were come out of every town of Galilee, and Judaea, and Jerusalem" (5:17). This detail is important because such a concentration of Pharisees and doctors of the Law in the quiet fishing village of Capernaum is not only unusual but also suspect. No doubt many of these rabbis have traveled a distance of 75-100 miles up from Jerusalem to spy on Jesus. Fowler says, "Considering the distance we may conclude that they were not merely dropping in on Jesus after a Sunday afternoon jaunt! This was a congressional investigation" (Vol. II 132).

These leaders have heard of "the miracle worker" who is busy transforming hearts and minds. Perhaps thinking that a revolution is in the works, these "authorities" come to pass their judgment on Jesus. They come to hear the things He teaches and to discover by what authority He teaches them (see also Matthew 21:23).

And, behold, they brought to him a man sick of the palsy, lying on a bed: Jesus does not spend His time with the Pharisees but rather turns his eyes to a sick paralytic (paralytikon).

The synoptic writers again fill in the details of this event. The sick man is severely paralyzed as is indicated by the way four men carry him on a portable pallet bed. As these men approach the house, they find every entrance blocked by throngs of people. Mark says that they cannot even come near the Master (2:4). Not to be deterred, they climb onto the flat roof of the house, tear away the tiles, and lower the man through to Jesus.

The homes of Palestine have flat roofs that are accessible for relaxation and for enjoying the cool of the day. Access is usually gained via an outer staircase.

and Jesus seeing their faith said unto the sick of the palsy: The writer highlights the faith of both the paralytic and those who bring him. Theirs is an active faith that drives them to unconventional means in order to accomplish their goal. This is the type of faith that James commends when he says, "Faith without works is dead" (James 2:26). Could he have been in the crowd that day?

Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee: Jesus does not immediately address the paralysis that plagues this man; instead, He addresses the condition of the man’s soul by forgiving his sins. By addressing the man as "son," Jesus extends friendship. Fowler remarks that Jesus speaks kindly as a Father ("son") and as an acquitting judge ("your sins are forgiven").

In attempting to determine why Jesus addresses the man’s sins before healing him, several factors should be considered.

1. Jesus’ audience is primarily composed of Pharisees and doctors of the Law, men who are self-righteous and feel little need for forgiveness themselves. By pronouncing forgiveness on this man, Jesus not only demonstrates the fact that all are sinners, but also reminds these hard-hearted scribes that He is the source of all true forgiveness.

2. It is very possible that these scribes have heard of or even seen the miracles that Jesus has accomplished elsewhere. Lest they think that miracles are all that Jesus does, He shows them that His chief aim is to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10).

3. A man who has been forgiven and knows that he stands in a correct relationship with God can bear anything in life. The soul who is at peace with the Father finds peace in each daily circumstance (2 Corinthians 12:5-10; Philippians 4:11-13). Jesus obviously has every intention of healing this man, but first things must come first. Jesus rewards this man’s faith with spiritual healing before focusing on the more trivial physical healing.

4. By forgiving this man’s sins, Jesus is not suggesting that there is a direct connection between sin and physical infirmities. The man is not instantly whole after Jesus forgives him. It is not until after the objection by the Pharisees and the charge of blasphemy that Jesus gives the command to "Arise and walk" (verse 6).

Woods offers the following comments on this issue:

The doctrine, that sickness and physical disabilities are the result of specific sins, and are the penalties administered for this reason, is false; it is true that people often suffer the consequences of the sins of their ancestors in weakened bodies and premature deaths; and parents may, by improper physical habits, pass on to their children impaired constitutions, but these are consequences and not penalties of punishment for sins, and ought not so to be classified" (John 183).

The Jews seem to have a strong tradition of attributing ailment to sin. Barclay quotes several rabbis who hold to such a view. Rabbi Ami says, "There is no death without sin, and no pains without some transgression." Rabbi Alexander says, "The sick arises not from his sickness, until his sins are forgiven." Finally, Rabbi Chija ben Abba comments, "No sick person is cured from sickness, until all his sins are forgiven him" (327). Barclay concludes, therefore, that the paralytic would have attributed his illness to personal sins and that without the assurance of forgiveness first, the man never would have been satisfied (327).

Verse 3

And, behold, certain of the scribes said within themselves, This [man] blasphemeth.

And, behold, certain of the scribes said within themselves: Jesus’ statement shocks and angers the scribes. This is probably the first time He openly pronounces forgiveness of sins (Luke 7:48; Luke 23:43). Under their breath they begin to find fault.

This [man] blasphemeth: Jewish leaders know that only God forgives sins; thus, Jesus’ statement is a claim of deity (Mark 2:6; Luke 5:21). Later in Jesus’ ministry such will be the essence of the charge that leads to His crucifixion. John 5:18 states the Jews’ charge: "He made himself equal with God." No amount of miracles or fulfillment of prophecy seems to change the minds of these self-righteous rulers.

Verse 4

And Jesus knowing their thoughts said, Wherefore think ye evil in your hearts?

Jesus knows these men’s hearts and thoughts. Two important ideas can be learned from this incident:

1. All evil proceeds from the heart. The heart, like the root of a tree, determines the kind of fruit that will be produced (see Matthew 12:34-35; Matthew 15:18-19; James 3:11-12).

2. Jesus’ immediate acknowledgement of their thoughts should have been proof enough that He is Deity (John 2:25).

Jesus does not accuse the scribes of having "faulty" reasoning, but rather that they have "evil" reasoning. They are correct in holding that only God can forgive sins. The problem is, however, that these evil men, even after seeing the miracles, will not so much as entertain the idea that Jesus is Deity. Had Jesus not demonstrated time and again His divinity, their objection might be justified.

Verse 5

For whether is easier, to say, [Thy] sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Arise, and walk?

Jesus’ point is that both forgiveness of sins and miraculous healing are from God; man can do neither. Therefore, it makes little difference which ailment Jesus addresses first with the paralytic, for He will heal both.

The contrast between Jesus’ two statements is their verifiability. Anyone can claim to forgive sins yet offer no proof. To raise a paralytic to his feet, however, is an outward miracle that cannot be denied. Jesus not only gives the paralytic a double benefit of spiritual cleansing and physical healing, He also gives the onlookers objective proof that He is the Son of God.

Verse 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.

This is a continuation of Jesus’ question in verse 5. Here He proves that He can forgive sins by demonstrating a physical miracle. Jesus is saying, "In case you think that I am just pretending to forgive sins, take a look as I now heal this paralytic."

All who see the man rise, roll up his pallet, and walk out of the room must admit that Jesus is someone special. What Jesus has claimed in regards to sins is unmistakably proven!

Verse 7

And he arose, and departed to his house.

The man before them, who a few moments earlier had to be carried by four friends, now pushes his way through the crowd and makes his joyful way home. Mark, in characteristic fashion, says that the man arises "immediately." Luke adds that he goes away "glorifying" God. It is easy to imagine the man’s cheerfulness. Never since birth has he been so perfect. Spiritually he has been cleansed; physically he is whole. He is a walking testimony to the grace of the Lord.

The power that Jesus demonstrates toward this paralytic is still available today for all who seek His forgiveness. Like the paralytic, the forgiven sinner becomes a walking testimony to God’s love.

Verse 8

But when the multitudes saw [it], they marvelled, and glorified God, which had given such power unto men.

But when the multitudes saw [it]: It is noteworthy that Matthew focuses his attention on the multitudes instead of the scribes. The scribes and Pharisees have obviously rejected the Lord. Not even in the face of evidence will they change their minds. Their hearts are hardened. The multitudes, on the other hand, are at least willing to objectively acknowledge the facts.

they marvelled, and glorified God: As the reality of what they have seen now soaks in, the people are seized with amazement and awe. Luke indicates they are filled with fear (phobeo). Lenski says, "The fear was the reaction of hearts that felt their sinfulness in their almost tangible presence of God; and the words of glorifying praise were uttered because of the wondrous benefactions this mighty presence had bestowed" (360).

which had given such power unto men: "Men" in this context refers to Jesus. Though the Son of God, Jesus is also human. The audience glorifies God that such power has been given to one of their own. McGarvey says, "It was to the man Jesus, that the power was given, and to men only as he was contemplated as one of the race" (82).

Verse 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.

And as Jesus passed forth from thence: The parallel accounts indicate that Jesus leaves the crowded house in which He has healed the paralytic and goes down to the seashore where He once again resumes His teaching (Mark 2:13; Luke 5:27).

he saw a man, named Matthew: Mark uses the name "Levi" and identifies him as the son of Alphaeus (Mark 2:14; Luke 5:27). Having two names at this time is not uncommon. Some believe, however, that Jesus changes the man’s name from Levi to Matthew after calling him, in the same way He changes Simon’s name to Peter (John 1:42).

sitting at the receipt of custom: As Jesus makes His way toward the Sea of Galilee, He travels past the toll office (telonion) where Matthew sits. Broadus indicates that the tax office is probably near the lakeshore because boats loaded with goods arrive there (198).

Because Matthew, himself, writes this narrative, we see his modesty and candor in describing himself as a tax collector. Tax collectors (publicans) are men who collect taxes from their own people on behalf of Rome. Jewish citizens could buy tax franchises that entitle them to levy certain taxes on the populace and on travelers. The franchise requires that a certain amount of the tax proceeds be given to Rome, but any excess collected may be kept as personal profit. MacArthur notes that because such power of taxation has few limits and is upheld by the Roman military, the owner of the tax franchise, in effect, has a license for extortion (Vol. II 60). Furthermore, many tax collectors are immoral and accept bribes from the wealthy while overtaxing the poor. Many publicans become rich at the expense of their own countrymen.

According to Edersheim (Life 515), the Talmud distinguishes between two classes of publicans. There are "tax gatherer in general" called "gabbai." These men collect the regular dues, which consist of ground, income, and poll-taxes. The ground tax is one-tenth of all grain grown and one-fifth of the wine and fruit. The income tax is one percent of a citizen’s earnings. The poll tax goes as high as sixty-five percent.

The second type of tax gatherer is called "mokhes." This person collects a wide variety of taxes and has the greatest opportunity to inflict hardship on the poor. Mokhes collect taxes on everything from imports to bridge tolls. Furthermore, they sometimes creatively invent taxes such as levying taxes on axles, wheels, pack-animals, and even foot traffic. Such taxation is not only outrageously high, but is an inconvenience to travelers who are constantly stopped on their journey to have their goods rummaged through. Edersheim says that every bale and package might be opened with the contents tumbled about and even private letters read (Life, Vol. III 517). Thus, the very name "mokhes" is associated with injustice.

Among the mokhes, however, there are two classes. The "great mokhes" hire others to collect taxes for them and are thus protected by a degree of anonymity from the scorn of their countrymen. The "small mokhes," however, do their own assessing and collecting and are well known by all who pass their way. Matthew is a small mokhes.

There is no indication, however, that Matthew, himself, is dishonest. Bruce says:

This only we may safely say, that if the publican disciple had been covetous, the spirit of greed was now exorcised; if he had ever been guilty of oppressing the poor, he now abhorred such work…He was glad to follow One who had come to take burdens off instead of laying them on, to remit debts instead of exacting them with rigor (Training, 24).

and he saith unto him, Follow me: With the simple phrase "Follow me," Jesus calls Matthew. Luke says that Matthew leaves everything and follows Him (5:28). Mark simply says, "He rose and followed" (2:14). Because the second gospel writer omits his common word "immediately," some conjecture that Matthew first responsibly sets his books in order before he actually follows Jesus. Although this is might be the case, no delay is directly indicated by the gospel writers. It is safe to say, however, Matthew realizes that once he leaves his Roman-appointed post he will never be able to return to it again.

We cannot say with certainty if this is the first encounter Matthew has with Jesus. It is likely they have previously met since they are both from Capernaum and are both in the public eye. Bruce says:

No one could live in that town in those days without hearing of mighty works done in and around it. Heaven had been opened right above Capernaum, in view of all, and the angels had been thronging down upon the Son of man. . . Think then what a powerful effect that …would have in preparing the tax-gatherer for recognizing, in the solemnly uttered word, "Follow men," the command of One who was Lord both of the dead and of the living, and for yielding to His bidding, prompt, unhesitating obedience! (Training 22-23).

And he arose, and followed him: Matthew does not seem to hesitate, but rather arises and obeys the Lord’s command.

Although there might not be a particular reason Jesus chooses this man, his background makes him a suitable candidate for discipleship. A man of this background is already accustomed to ridicule, for tax collectors are some of the most despised men of all Palestine. It might be that Jesus calls Matthew knowing that such fortitude will be useful as his own ministry grows more difficult.

It might be, however, that the Lord calls this tax collector as a walking signpost. Jesus comes to save sinners, and publicans are considered to be some of the worst. Everywhere Matthew goes, the message will be clear, "Jesus cares about sinners!"

Whatever the reason, Jesus calls Matthew because He sees in him a man of dedication. As in the case of Peter, Andrew, James, and John, who are called while casting nets (Matthew 4:18-22), so Matthew is hard at work when Jesus beckons. It is clear that the Lord wants those who are industrious. Even the apostle Paul, called out of due season, is hard at work persecuting the saints when he is called (Acts 9:1-9).

Verse 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.

And it came to pass, as Jesus sat at meat: "Sat at meat" means "to recline at a meal." Oriental custom is to recline around low tables on pillows and cushions and eat while propped up on one arm.

in the house: Once again Matthew shows his modesty by saying "the house." Mark 2:15 and Luke 5:29 explain that this is Matthew’s own home and the occasion is a great feast given in Jesus’ honor. This feast demonstrates Matthew’s wealth and social status. Not only is this a great banquet, but also it is one to which many other rich tax-collectors are invited. As we shall note, the Pharisees, upon seeing the festivities, contemptuously hold the event to be little more than a parley of thieves and sinners. It becomes fuel for their fires of scorn.

Bruce points out that Matthew’s feast is probably made with some specific purposes in mind. First, this is a farewell feast. No longer will Matthew’s closest companions be publicans. No longer will he gather tribute. Now he will harvest souls. He is no longer a tax man but is now a "fisherman." Second, this is a feast to honor Jesus. What better way to introduce the Master to his friends than to have a dinner? No doubt Matthew realizes that they also need Jesus (Training 25). Jesus commands the healed demoniac to share the good news with his friends first (Mark 5:19). Here, Matthew does just that.

behold, many publicans and sinners came: The text indicates that Jesus reclines at the feast with tax collectors and "many sinners" (hamartoloi). Some scholars believe that robbers, murderers, drunkards, prostitutes, and many other kinds of sinners are there. This may be where Jesus first gains the reputation among His opponents as a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax-gatherers and sinners (Matthew 11:19; Luke 15:2) (Fowler, Vol. II 62).

The phrase "publicans and sinners" might be a colloquialism—a common expression springing from contempt for both. Thus, "sinners" might be included even though only publicans are present. It could also be that Matthew is making a statement about the condition of his own heart—he is the particular sinner mentioned (Fowler, Vol. II 155). In any event, Matthew’s call creates a stir in Capernaum. Fowler says, "After all, here is a wealthy but notorious publican suddenly called away from his occupation to leave everything to enter the companionship of the most truly holy Rabbi people in Capernaum had ever known" (155).

Verse 11

And when the Pharisees saw [it], they said unto his disciples, Why eateth your Master with publicans and sinners?

And when the Pharisees saw [it]: The perspective of the Pharisees stands in stark contrast to the publicans. While the publicans inside enjoy the banquet, the Pharisees outside see it as dreadful.

they said unto his disciples: It is important to note that the Pharisees approach the disciples rather than directly approaching the Lord. Such an approach is not because Jesus is too busy to talk to them. The Lord is willing to discuss the issue (verse 12). Their motivation seems, rather, to be to catch the disciples off guard and spread doubt in their minds. Knowing that they have no chance against the Master Teacher, the Pharisees instead pick on His students. Their choices of battleground and prey seem deliberate. Edersheim says, "Had they been able to lodge this cavil in their minds, it would have fatally shaken the confidence of the disciples in the Master; and, if they could have been turned aside, the cause of the new Christ would have been grievously injured, if not destroyed" (Life, Vol. III 520).

Why eateth your Master with publicans and sinners: The Pharisees’ statement indicates they are not present at the feast. Had they been there, they would have no cause to condemn Jesus for what they themselves were doing. The Pharisees are appalled at Jesus’ fraternizing with sinners. To eat with such a class puts one at risk for ceremonial uncleanness. Furthermore, to "break bread" with someone in this culture shows a solemn friendship and solidarity. Few Jews want such a relationship with Gentiles and sinners. Though Jesus needs no justification, He will address the issue in the next verse.

Verse 12

But when Jesus heard [that], he said unto them, They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick.

But when Jesus heard [that]: There are three ways Jesus could hear the Pharisee’s complaint. First, the Pharisees might have cornered the disciples deliberately within His hearing in order to draw Him into a confrontation. If this is the reason, we again see the vindictive cowardice of Jesus’ rivals.

Another possibility is that they might have attacked the disciples without realizing the Lord is nearby. If this is the case, the Pharisees will surely be embarrassed at having been caught, thus adding to their spiteful indignation.

The third possibility is that Jesus might have learned of the incident later. The context, however, seems to put the discovery in the heat of the moment while the question still burns in the disciples’ minds. Regardless of the actual scenario, Jesus gives the perfect answer to their objection.

he said unto them, They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick: This statement is the first in a series of three proofs in which Jesus demonstrates His rightness of being in the company of sinners. The simple logic of Jesus’ statement must stun the Pharisees. Robertson suggests that Jesus’ statement is a common proverb of the time (73). By quoting the proverb, Jesus identifies with a major theme of His opponents’ own tradition. As leaders, the Pharisees view themselves as the "healers of Israel." If a doctor spends time only with the well, however, neither the doctor nor the sick is benefited. Nevertheless, this method is the approach the Pharisees take. They only associate with those of their own brand of hypocrisy while ignoring those with the deepest needs. MacArthur says that they go about diagnosing but have no desire to cure those who are really sick (64).

"They that are whole" does not refer to the actual state of the Pharisees. Though they view themselves as spiritually healthy, they need as much healing as the publicans and sinner. It is ironic that though blinded by their own self-righteousness, the Pharisees stand confidently before the "Great Physician."

Lenski says, "Could they really be righteous when they knew no mercy for sinners, were blind to the prophets’ words demanding that they have mercy, and railed at the merciful Physician who labored among those who, according to these Pharisees themselves, so sorely needed his help?" (366).

Verse 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.

But go ye and learn what [that] meaneth: In this verse Jesus gives two more proofs that He has the right to be in the company of sinners. He begins this second argument with an approach that is familiar and fundamental to Pharisaic logic. As teachers of the Law, the Pharisees often instruct their students to "go and learn" what a particular passage means. Jesus now tells them, the teachers, to go and learn more about the very law in which they are "experts."

Jesus is not suggesting their problem is a lack of knowledge, but rather is an issue of their hearts. They know the principle to which Jesus refers but refuse to implement the grander and deeper truth. The remedy, therefore, is not more study; instead, they should open their eyes to the needs of others.

Jesus’ command obviously galls these leaders who view Him as no more than the uneducated son of a carpenter. Furthermore, His statement suggests that in all their schooling they have missed the point of God’s message.

I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: Jesus quotes from Hosea 6:6 where God instructs, "For I desire mercy (loyalty) and not sacrifice, and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings" (NKJV). God does not mean for His people to circumvent sacrificial offerings, but rather that He wants more than ritual obedience. The scribes are good at rituals but are slow to learn their deeper meaning. They fail to grasp that God gives "ritual" as an avenue to developing a closer relationship with Him. Ritual is not an end in and of itself and is not a way to absolve one of social responsibility. Had the Pharisees understood the concept of mercy, they would not have criticized Jesus for eating with sinners.

Today the lesson remains the same. Christianity is not valuable merely because it gives a person spiritual knowledge, and ritual piety is empty, even when doctrinally correct, if it does not fill the heart with concern for others. God’s system trains us to live for both Him and our fellow man. Only when we understand God’s message and do it will God be glorified. Fowler says, "Much of God’s will is not to be learned by pondering and intellectual perception but rather by obedience" (Vol. II 160).

for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance: This is the third justification Jesus gives for eating with sinners.

The word "call" (kaleo) is often used of inviting a guest to one’s home for food and lodging (McArthur 66). Ironically, while the Lord is being criticized for eating with tax collectors and sinners, He says that He, Himself, comes to host such a crowd. His statement is a universal invitation (Matthew 28:19). The poignant truth is that none are truly righteous; thus, Jesus comes to call all mankind (Romans 3:10; Ephesians 2:8; 2 Timothy 1:9; Titus 3:5; Romans 5:6-11).

Since the Pharisees imagine themselves fit to stand before God, Jesus’ statement could mean that His power will not be wasted on them. He comes to call those who will listen. The Pharisees’ ears are closed. McArthur paraphrases the Lord: "Because you consider yourselves already righteous…I have not come to call you. Because you are satisfied with yourselves, I will leave you to yourselves" (Vol. II 66).

Like his predecessor, John the Baptist, Jesus makes repentance an integral part of His ministry (Luke 13:3). Repentance literally means a change of mind. It is a decision to turn away from sin and to begin to see it as God sees it. Repentance is that important step that strips away one’s filthy rags of self-righteousness, preparing him to be clothed in God’s splendor (Isaiah 64:6).

Verse 14

Then came to him the disciples of John, saying, Why do we and the Pharisees fast oft, but thy disciples fast not?

Then came to him the disciples of John: This verse shows again the popularity of John the Baptist. Even though Jesus’ ministry is growing and is replacing John’s, some dedicated disciples of the wilderness preacher still remain.

Why do we and the Pharisees fast oft: Notice how the question connects John’s disciples with the Pharisees. Although John has previously called the Pharisees a "bunch of snakes," there are certain practices, such as ritual fasting, that he and the Pharisees have in common.

Jesus and His followers perplex John’s disciples. Why does Jesus not emulate John if He is the long-awaited-for Messiah and John is His forerunner? The question is both logical and natural as John’s entire lifestyle has been one of asceticism. Jesus will address this in the following verses.

Fasting is important to Jewish piety. At least two days a week are set aside for ritual fasting, and every "good" Jewish male is expected to participate (Luke 18:12; see also notes on Matthew 6:16-18). Mark indicates that it is on one of these designated fast days that this question is raised (Mark 2:18). Such feasting while others are fasting makes Jesus and His disciples conspicuous.

but thy disciples fast not: Jesus will explain with three illustrations the difference between His program and John’s. The difference is not so much in the doctrine—although Jesus gives a new law—but in the approach. Unlike the old system with its rote ritualism, Jesus’ system teaches that action must come from the heart. Fasting is not wrong, but it must stem from an immediate concern. It is not a litmus test for piety. Fowler says that fasting does not reflect the present spiritual condition of Jesus’ disciples and should not be forced upon them artificially by some mechanical rule (Vol. II 168). McGuiggan says:

Fasting in a ritual way empties fasting of any real significance and when an occasion to fast arises, it is obscured also because of ritual. Nothing must empty Godward acts of significance, Jesus is saying. Everything must be given its setting—its own place and time. (The Bible, the Saint and the Liquor Industry 162).

Verse 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.

And Jesus said unto them: Jesus does not condemn John’s disciples, but rather gently turns their heads toward the truth. Contrast Jesus’ gentle approach here to His sterner rebuttal given to the Pharisees (verses 12-13). Jesus sees in these questioners a spirit of sincerity not evident in the Pharisees.

Can the children of the bridechamber mourn, as long as the bridegroom is with them: Jesus begins this first parable with a rhetorical question. Obviously no wedding guest is expected to fast while the bridegroom is present. "Friends of the bridegroom" (hoi huioi tou numphonos) literally means "sons of the bride-chamber" (Robertson 73). It is a Hebrew idiom referring to the best friends and intimate associates of the groom, who might even be responsible for the festivities (McArthur 69).

The typical Jewish wedding usually lasts seven days and involves great celebration and feasting, thus making fasting entirely inappropriate. Broadus says that the Talmud even declares the bridegroom, his personal friends, and the sons of the bride-chamber, free from the obligation to dwell in booths during The Feast of Tabernacles—such dwelling being unsuited to their festivities (202).

Here the "bridegroom" is Jesus. It is inappropriate, therefore, for His disciples to fast while He is with them on the earth. His presence demands a time of happiness and festivity. Things will drastically change, however, after His departure.

but the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken from them, and then shall they fast: No doubt this is a prophecy about the church age. After Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension, the church takes His message into all the world. With the spread of the gospel, however, come persecution and a longing for His return. Jesus says that when His followers encounter these kinds of circumstances, then it is appropriate to fast. For now, however, they should enjoy His presence.

Verse 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.

Jesus demonstrates in the next two illustrations the inappropriateness of mixing the old formalism with the new spontaneity—i.e., forcing His system into John’s. Lenski says:

The old robe is the Judaism of that period, namely, what the scribes and the Pharisees had made of it with their doctrine and their practice, all the old formalism, outward observance, and false righteousness (369).

"New cloth" refers to undressed or unfulled material. Clothing of Jesus’ day is usually made from wool or linen and shrinks when washed. Thus, to sew a new patch on a pre-shrunk garment is foolish because the first time the repaired garment is washed, the patch will shrink and make the rip (schisma) worse. Since cloth in ancient days is expensive, no one would be so unwise. Luke adds that the patch will not match the old garment (5:36). In other words, it will be unsightly. Robertson says, "The patch (pleroma, filling up) thus does more harm than good" (73).

Verse 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.

In this illustration Jesus switches from garments to wineskins. "Bottles" do not refer to glass containers but rather to "skin bottles" made from goatskins (see Genesis 21:14-15; Genesis 21:19; Job 38:37; Psalms 119:83). These are common vessels in the Near East in which to carry water or store grape juice. "Old bottles" refers to "old wineskins" which are worn-out and brittle with age and are already stretched to capacity. "New wine" refers to unfermented grape juice.

Many commentators understand Jesus’ statement to mean that when unfermented juice is put in aged skins the subsequent fermentation of the new juice expands the old skins beyond their capacity causing them to burst. The wine runs out, and both skins and beverage are lost (See McGarvey 84).

McGuiggan, however, disagrees and indicates that the above interpretation is based on the false notion that the ancients have no way to keep "new wine" from fermenting. He says:

Jesus has been understood to teach that new wine (unfermented grape juice) was put in new skins so that when it begins to expand the new skins will be able to allow for the expansion. It is said the old skins would have already been stretched to their limit and the new wine expanding would push them past it, thus they’d split and the wine would be lost. This is not the point at all. The new wine was put in the new skin to keep it from fermenting! Listen, if a skin of wine was closed up and sealed, and then permitted to ferment, a skin wouldn’t survive it—new or otherwise! The expansion power of carbonic gas is incredible—it has been estimated that a cubic inch of sugar transformed into carbonic gas takes up about 40 times more room (The Bible the Saint and the Liquor industry 113).

McGuiggan might be correct because Jesus indicates that it is possible for both juice and skins to be preserved. Contrary to popular belief, the ancients do have the capacity to keep fermentation from occurring. Furthermore, there is evidence that by the time a skin is made ready by the tanning process, it has acquired certain antiseptic qualities that actually aid in juice preservation. In his noted work, Bible Wines Patton notes several ways in which new wine (non-alcoholic grape juice) is preserved for many months. He also makes the strong case that the ancients view the pure blood of the grape as being superior in quality and taste to fermented beverages! Thus, this verse is not talking about fermentation and in no way bolsters the argument in favor of drinking alcohol.

Jesus is simply saying that if one wants to preserve "grape juice" he places it in a suitable container rather than taking the chance of it being spilled by putting it in a worn-out skin. The argument is much the same as the previous one relating to old and new clothes. In other words, one should not take Jesus’ program and force it into the "old skin" of Judaism.

Verse 18

While he spake these things unto them, behold, there came a certain ruler, and worshipped him, saying, My daughter is even now dead: but come and lay thy hand upon her, and she shall live.

While he spake these things unto them, behold, there came a certain ruler: Jesus has not even finished speaking with John’s disciples when a certain ruler interrupts Him. Mark informs us that the man’s name is Jairus and that he is a ruler the synagogue (Mark 5:22). As "ruler of the synagogue" he has the authority over the conduct of the public worship in Capernaum’s synagogue. Its very administration is under his care (Acts 13:15). Therefore, as a man of social position in the community, this ruler risks severe ridicule by coming to Jesus. Nevertheless, he knows Jesus is his only hope.

and worshipped him: The ruler worships (proskuneo) Jesus by bowing before Him and thus takes the chance of looking foolish to his peers and the very ones over whom rules in the synagogue. Fowler says, "If he is trusting his cause to a Nazarene Rabbi, with whose views his unbelieving colleagues violently differed, he has more than personal pride to forfeit" (Vol. II 183).

saying, My daughter is even now dead: There is some difficulty in harmonizing the request as it is found in Matthew and the other synoptics. Matthew says that the girl is already dead while Mark and Luke indicate that she lies at the point of death (Mark 5:23; Luke 8:42). Later, according to Mark, messengers come and report the actual death.

It is likely that the father makes both comments. Since his daughter is in such a bad condition when he leaves home, Jairus speaks the words recorded by Matthew to reflect the surety of her death. Barnes says:

The Greek word, rendered ’is even now dead,’ does not of necessity mean, as our translation would express, that she had actually expired, but only that she was dying or about to die. It is likely that a father in these circumstances, would use a word as nearly expressing actual death as would be consistent with the fact that she was alive. The passage may be expressed thus: "My daughter was so sick that she must be by this time dead" (102).

Trench explains:

When the father left his child, she was at the latest gasp; he knew not whether to regard her now as alive or dead; he only knew that life was ebbing so fast when he quitted her side, that she could scarcely be living still; and yet, having no certain notices of her death, he was perplexed whether to speak of her as departed or not, and thus at one moment would express himself in one language, at the next in another (Miracles 192).

but come and lay thy hand upon her, and she shall live: This man’s request emanates from a heart burdened by grief. His love as a parent supercedes any possible fear of ridicule, and he begs Jesus to come and raise his twelve-year-old daughter (Luke 8:42).

The ruler might have seen other cases where Jesus performs miracles with a simple touch. He might assume, therefore, that if the Master comes, He will follow the same procedure. This man’s faith is impressive. There seems to be no hesitancy in his words, "She shall live."

Verse 19

And Jesus arose, and followed him, and [so did] his disciples.

And Jesus arose, and followed him: No more beautiful statement is found than "And Jesus arose." Here we see the willingness of the Master to enter the lives of those who request His help.

As Jesus and His disciples follow Jairus to his house in Capernaum, a great throng begins to gather (Mark 5:24). Trench says they are no doubt curious to see if Jesus can actually perform such a request (Miracles 202). Robertson says the words Mark uses (sunethlibon auton, throng him) indicate that Jesus is so pressed that He can hardly move or breathe because of the jam (Mark, 298). Luke’s word (sunepnigon) means to press together and is the very same word found in Luke 8:14 where grain is described as being choked out by thorns.

Those who have traveled the land of Palestine can easily picture this scene. Even today many cities have such narrow streets that passage is difficult. Such congestion sets the stage for Jesus’ next miracle.

Verse 20

And, behold, a woman, which was diseased with an issue of blood twelve years, came behind [him], and touched the hem of his garment:

And, behold, a woman, which was diseased with an issue of blood twelve years: To appreciate the plight of this woman several details should be considered.

1. She is plagued with some type of hemorrhage. Some speculate that the bleeding results from a tumor or some other disease of the uterus. Luke, a physician himself, depicts her case as chronic. For twelve years she has pursued a cure that is never found. She has been to every doctor possible but they give her nothing but a bill (Luke 8:43).

2. Whatever the cause and nature of her ailment, she is unclean (Leviticus 15:19-31). The implication of this to any Jew is devastating because it puts those around her at risk of becoming unclean as well (Numbers 19:22). She cannot enter the Temple. She cannot go about the streets and markets with freedom. Strictly speaking, even her family must keep at a safe distance. If she is married, her husband is practically excluded from normal marital relations. Mosaic Law specifies that a woman with such a discharge is to be regarded as though in her menstrual impurity; she is unclean (Leviticus 15:25-27). Lenski notes that it is little wonder she quietly approaches from the back, for she is ashamed to expose her case (373).

3. Mark’s account says that she has suffered much from the hands of physicians (Mark 5:26). Some doctors are probably sincere in their prescriptions, but it is likely that others are nothing more than charlatans. Medical treatment of the first century is poor. At best, the methods are primitive; at worst, they are more "witch-doctoring" than medicinal. Edersheim records that one leaf of the Talmud prescribes at least eleven different remedies for such ailments as this woman has, five of which are nothing more than superstition. Among the remedies recommended is the carrying of the ashes of an ostrich egg in a linen bag in the summer and in a cotton rag in the winter. Another involves carrying around a kernel of barley corn that has been found in the dung of a white female donkey (Vol. III 620).

came behind [him]: As Jesus presses His way through the crowd, this woman follows and forces her way toward Jesus. For most of the people, a brush with the Lord is incidental, but her encounter with the Lord is planned. Deliberately she comes in faith for His divine healing.

Luke 8:45 notes that Jesus asks the question, "Who touched me?" Peter is amazed that Jesus would ask such a thing given the press of the throng. Nevertheless, with His question Jesus beautifully singles this woman out as an individual in the crowd (Luke 8:45).

One cannot imagine a more beautiful scene or lesson. Even in the bustle of today’s world Jesus comes in contact with the masses of humanity, but few come in contact with Him. Like the crowd in the story, their encounter is purely incidental as they go about their selfish existence. They neither plan nor seek the Lord’s healing touch in their lives. But just as beautiful is the thought that when we seek the Savior, He will pause and recognize us individually. No longer are we a part of the world’s crowd. We are His, and His touch can make us whole.

Matthew records that this woman "was saying to herself." McArthur explains that the phrase is more correctly rendered, "she kept on saying to herself," conveying the idea of repetition. She was saying over and over, "If I may only touch his hem" (Vol. II 81). Luke indicates that she seeks to touch the "boarder" of His clothes (8:44).

and touched the hem of his garment: Like all Jewish males, Jesus wears the "shimla." This is a square cloth with a hole in the middle for the head that is slipped on and worn as a robe. At the corners of the robe are tassels (tsitsith), attached by blue cords in accordance with Mosaic Law (Numbers 15:38; Deuteronomy 22:12). In order to flaunt their piety, the Pharisees often lengthen these tassels, but Jesus forbids such ostentation (Matthew 23:5). Ellicott says that later tradition defines the number of the threads or tassels of the fringe in order for them to represent the 613 precepts of the Law (129). Lenski notes that two of the corners of the shimla are thrown back over the shoulders so that the tassels hang down the back. It seems clear that this is what the woman touches.

Tradition holds that when the Messiah comes, even His clothing will exude power. We do not know if this is what the woman was thinking, but she certainly wants to experience His power. Nevertheless, there is nothing magical about Jesus’ garments. The healing comes from Him as she acts by faith.

Verse 22

But Jesus turned him about, and when he saw her, he said, Daughter, be of good comfort; thy faith hath made thee whole. And the woman was made whole from that hour.

But Jesus turned him about: As soon as the woman touches Jesus, her flow of blood is healed (Luke 8:44). At this miracle, Jesus turns around in the crowd and asks, "Who touched me?" Fearful at being discovered, she now comes forward trembling and declares what has happened. Fowler suggests she is afraid Jesus will be offended and take away her blessing for having done this in secret or for perhaps contaminating Him with her touch (Vol. II 190).

and when he saw her, he said, Daughter, be of good comfort; thy faith hath made thee whole: Jesus does not rebuke or humiliate the woman, but instead extends words of comfort. He commends her for her faith. By calling her "Daughter," Jesus demonstrates that He fully accepts her as one of God’s children and that her twelve-year plight is over. She is fully whole.

Verse 23

And when Jesus came into the ruler’s house, and saw the minstrels and the people making a noise,

And when Jesus came into the ruler’s house: The Western mind will have difficulty comprehending the scene that Jesus encounters as He finally enters Jairus’ home. The scene is common in Jewish culture.

and saw the minstrels and the people making a noise: Western mourners typically remember their dead in silence. Somber ceremony and quiet eulogy is often expected. Not so in Jesus’ day. Ancient ceremonies call for loud and boisterous mourning. Broadus notes that friends and family gather around the dying person, and as soon as he dies they break out into loud cries with every possible exclamation and sign of the most passionate grief (206). After the family and friends finally exhaust themselves, professional mourners, especially women, are called in to keep up the loud wailing throughout the day and night. Lenski says that these hired women are found with hair streaming, beating their breasts, and filling the air with loud moans and bursts of sobs. In the case of a wealthy household, such as Jairus’, minstrels (tous auletas, flute players) and singers would be hired to make music in praise of the dead (Robertson 74).

Thus, Jesus meets with carefully orchestrated chaos as He enters the house. Robertson describes the scene by saying, "Wild wailing and screaming had gathered in the outer court, brought together by various motives, sympathy, money, desire to share in the meat and drink going at such a time" (Matthew 74).

Verse 24

He said unto them, Give place: for the maid is not dead, but sleepeth. And they laughed him to scorn.

He said unto them, Give place: We can only imagine the ridicule Jesus encounters as He enters the house and begins to take over. In saying, "Give place," Jesus demands more than just a passage through the crowd; He is telling them to get out. Such a command must especially offend the professional mourners, whose motivation is no deeper than their next paycheck.

for the maid is not dead: If these mourners are offended by Jesus’ first statement, they are soon amused by His second. In fact, Matthew notes that they heap ridicule upon Jesus, laughing scornfully at Him. Robertson indicates this is a repeated guffaw or scorn (74).

In some ways the reaction of these unbelieving Jews is natural and even expected. Some of these people have been here since the girl died. Some are professional mourners who know well the signs of death and know there is no natural way to bring her back to life. To these faithless mourners Jesus is a nuisance interrupting their event. Jesus will prove, however, that He is no ordinary man.

but sleepeth: Some commentators conjecture that this statement indicates she is not really dead but in a coma. This speculation, however, is negated by Luke 8:49 and by the obvious ridicule that Jesus receives. Jesus’ point is that this girl will not remain dead. She will be raised as if from sleep. As in the case of Lazarus, Jesus uses the term "sleep" to indicate that her death is temporary (John 11:11; John 11:14). McGarvey says that this remark will be easily understood by the Jews only after Jesus has raised her (85).

Verse 25

But when the people were put forth, he went in, and took her by the hand, and the maid arose.

But when the people were put forth, he went in: Mark 5:37 says that Jesus permits only Peter, James, and John to follow Him. Luke adds that the girl’s father and mother are also allowed to witness the miracle (8:51). Fowler calls these people five unimpeachable witnesses (Vol. II 198).

and took her by the hand, and the maid arose: Having achieved solitude from the noisy crowd, Jesus reaches down, takes the girl’s hand, and gives the order to arise.

Touching a corpse, like touching a leper, or being touched by the woman with a flow of blood, will produce the highest degree of ceremonial uncleanness (Broadus 206). Nevertheless, in all of these cases, Jesus administers healing instead of becoming defiled. His holiness transcends all impurity, and, in this case, His power to resurrect supersedes any uncleanness.

Mark 5:41 records the exact words of Jesus, "Talitah cumi," which is translated "Little girl, I say to you, arise." Immediately she gets up and walks. Jesus then commands that she be given something to eat (Luke 8:55). By ordering for her to eat, Jesus demonstrates beyond a doubt that the little girl is alive and is not an apparition (Luke 24:42). Fowler also observes that Jesus does not immediately order her parents to give her the Law and the Prophets after raising her, but rather He orders for food (Vol. II 198). Jesus’ concern is first for the natural body and the girl’s immediate needs. McGarvey says that having been ill, the girl has wasted away and needs sustenance (297).

Verse 26

And the fame hereof went abroad into all that land.

Matthew omits the command that Jesus gives to her astonished parents. Mark says, "And he charged them straightly that no man should know it" (5:43). Regardless of Jesus’ command, the word of this miracle begins to spread. There is no indication that Jairus and his wife disobey the order. It is likely that the multitudes who have previously witnessed the dead girl are those who tell the news.

Jesus commands silence to avoid being known only as a miracle worker. He does not want His ministry to become sidetracked with raising every corpse in Palestine. Allowing one as powerful as Jairus to publish the event could derail His ministry. Jesus comes to save souls with the gospel; miracles are primarily for the purpose of confirming that word.

Verse 27

And when Jesus departed thence, two blind men followed him, crying, and saying, [Thou] Son of David, have mercy on us.

And when Jesus departed thence: As Jesus leaves the house of Jairus in Capernaum, He encounters two blind men seeking His healing touch. Unlike others, they have not seen Jesus’ miracles, but they have surely heard of them. Verse 26 tells us that after the raising of Jairus’ daughter, the report of Jesus goes throughout the whole land.

two blind men followed him: Blindness is possibly one of the worst perils of life. Barclay indicates that in Palestine it is a distressingly common problem caused partly by the glare of the eastern sun and the lack of knowledge about hygiene (349).

Matthew does not tell us how long these men have been blind, and we can only imagine the hopelessness of their condition. They cannot experience the visions that whole people enjoy daily: the morning’s sunrise over the Judean hills, seeing friends, or even now looking into the eyes of the man to whom they cry for help.

Matthew gives no particular significance to the fact that there are two blind men, but it might be that they aid each other. MacArthur surmises that they have been companions in darkness for years (Vol. II 88). In this instance, however, someone in the crowd is probably helping them follow Jesus.

crying: Matthew indicates that they follow and continually cry out to Jesus. The word for "crying out" (krazo) carries the idea of shouting or screaming with great intensity (MacArthur, Vol. II 89). So intense is their desire to be healed that nothing can stop them. This is active faith that begs for the Savior’s mercy.

and saying, [Thou] Son of David, have mercy on us: "Son of David" is another way of acknowledging Jesus as the "Messiah." Barclay surmises that they may have simply taken the popular cry from the multitude without real belief themselves (349). This seems unlikely, however, since the narrative gives nothing to indicate that others are making this cry. The title they use is a Jewish designation carrying the concept of kingship and royal dominion (Lenski 377). All know that when the Messiah comes, He will be from the linage of the "great king" and will be the son of David. See Matthew 1:1; Matthew 12:23; Matthew 15:22; Matthew 20:30; Matthew 21:9; Matthew 21:15; Matthew 22:45; and Acts 2:29-34.

Verse 28

And when he was come into the house, the blind men came to him: and Jesus saith unto them, Believe ye that I am able to do this? They said unto him, Yea, Lord.

And when he was come into the house, the blind men came to him: The house Matthew mentions is probably Jesus’ regular place of stay in Capernaum. Matthew uses the Greek article with "house" suggesting a particular dwelling. Broadus says that it may have been Peter’s home or perhaps even Matthew’s (207).

It is of great interest that while on the road, Jesus seems to ignore the cries of these two men. Only after they follow Him into the house does He stop to talk with them. There are two possible explanations for Jesus’ behavior:

1. Jesus might be putting their faith to the test by forcing them to follow Him (see McGarvey 86). If this is the case, then Barclay’s comment is worth noting.

It is interesting to note that Jesus in effect compelled these people to see him alone. Because he did not answer them in the streets, they had to come to him in the house. It is the law of the spiritual life that sooner or later a man must confront Jesus alone. It is all very well to take a decision for Jesus on the flood tide of emotion at some great gathering, or in some little group which is charged with spiritual power. But after the crowd a man must go home and be alone; after the fellowship he must go back to the essential isolation of every human soul; and what really matters is not what a man does in the crowd, but what he does when he is alone with Christ. Jesus compelled these men to face him alone (350).

2. Jesus might be avoiding another public healing for the same reasons as noted in verses 25-26. If Jesus openly heals these men on the road, His publicity will spread even more quickly. Jesus’ stern warning of the men to "See that no one knows" (30) supports this idea.

and Jesus saith unto them, Believe ye that I am able to do this: Though Matthew records little about these two men, it is obvious that they have faith. Matthew emphasizes the necessity of faith in Jesus throughout his narrative. No doubt this inclusion is intentional since Matthew is writing to Jewish believers who have left Judaism to put their trust in the Messiah. Matthew wants to encourage the Jewish Christians to remain faithful to Jesus.

The question that Jesus asks these men is fundamental: "Believe ye that I am able to do this?" McGarvey holds that Jesus is testing their ability to believe with so little evidence since they are blind and have never seen the Lord’s miracles (85). Lenski, however, disagrees and says that the purpose of Jesus’ question is to turn their thoughts away from any political messianic expectations they might have and focus on His divine power and grace. He says, "One who is able to restore sight by means of a touch and a word is far greater than any national king, however grand his reign may be" (378).

They said unto him, Yea, Lord: Without hesitation they reply, "Yes Lord." Previously they follow Jesus acknowledging Him as the Messiah. Now they again express their faith in Him and His power to heal.

Verse 29

Then touched he their eyes, saying, According to your faith be it unto you.

Then touched he their eyes: Jesus touches their eyes, not because it is necessary for healing, but to demonstrate His love and concern (Robertson 75). As soon as He touches them, they receive their sight. Lenski says that the punctiliar force of the aorist verb shows that the miracle happens instantly (378).

According to your faith be it unto you: Although Jesus heals where faith is not present, it is significant to notice the times He heals according to a person’s faith.

Trench says:

The faith, which in itself is nothing, is yet the organ for receiving everything. It is the conducting link between man’s emptiness and God’s fullness; and herein is all the value which it has. It is the bucket let down into the fountain of God’s grace, without which the man could never draw water of life from wells of salvation; for the wells are deep, and of himself man has nothing to draw with. It is the purse, which cannot of itself make its owner rich, and yet effectually enriches by the wealth it contains (Miracles 212; see also Broadus 208).

Verse 30

And their eyes were opened; and Jesus straitly charged them, saying, See [that] no man know [it].

And their eyes were opened: The first person these men see is Jesus. The first words they hear are the Lord’s. It is beautiful to note that these men receive a double blessing of sight. First, they see the Lord through eyes of faith, and then they have their physical sight restored. By far the most important encounter is the spiritual one. These men might have lived all of their lives in physical darkness yet still have basked in the glorious light of salvation. But had their spiritual eyes been blinded, they would have enjoyed neither spiritual nor physical sight.

Today we cannot see the Lord with our physical eyes, yet through faith we witness His presence. Thomas feels blessed when he finally sees the risen Lord, but Jesus gently tells him, "Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed [are] they that have not seen, and [yet] have believed" (John 20:29).

and Jesus straitly charged them, saying, See [that] no man know [it]: Jesus warns these men to remain quiet about the event. The verb Matthew uses here (embrimaomai, strictly charge or warn) is extremely strong. Robertson says that it denotes the "snorting of horses" (75). Ellicott says that it implies panting or breathing with vehement emotion (131). It comes from a root that means "to be moved with anger" (Robertson 75) and carries with it the idea of scolding or rebuking. Thus, Jesus is not giving these men a suggestion, but rather the strongest command possible. Jesus might use such a severe command because of previous situations where people disobeyed His command for silence.

Verse 31

But they, when they were departed, spread abroad his fame in all that country.

These men flatly disobey the Lord’s command. Some excuse these men’s actions on the ground that their exuberance is natural. Some suggest that these men actually aid Jesus by telling others about Him. Regardless of the reasons and consequences, their proclamation is still disobedience. Fowler is probably correct, however, to suggest that the type of praise they spread abroad is shallow, ignorant praise in which neither Jesus nor those who truly understand Him can rejoice (Vol. II 210).

The real lesson is not found in the motive or the emotion of these two blind men’s action but in the fact that true discipleship compels men to obey. One may act in ways that seem good in his own eyes, yet if those efforts are contrary to the Lord’s command, then they are displeasing to Him. Jesus says, "Why do you call me Lord, Lord and do not the things that I say?" (Luke 6:46). Samuel reminds Saul, "To obey is better than sacrifice" (1 Samuel 15:22).

Verse 32

As they went out, behold, they brought to him a dumb man possessed with a devil.

It is unclear who brings this man to the Lord, but some believe that it may have been the "blind men" healed in the previous episode. Perhaps having been healed they go out and broadcast the news, thus leading others to Jesus. It might also be others in the multitude who bring the man to the Lord.

This man is possessed with a demon. It is clear from scripture that demon possession differs from individual to individual. In some cases demon possession deprives men of reason (Matthew 8:28), while in others the result is muteness (Mark 9:17) or some other malady (Luke 13:11; Luke 13:16).

In this case the possession has left the man "dumb." This is evidenced by the fact that as soon as Jesus casts out the demon, the man speaks (33). The word Matthew uses for "dumb" (kophon) literally means "blunted in tongue" (Robertson 75). MacArthur notes the word can also denote deafness; hence, the man’s inability to hear might be what inhibits his speech (Vol. II 95).

Although improper medical treatment, accidents, etc. make deafness and muteness somewhat common in the ancient world, the cause in this case is demon possession. There is no hint that natural circumstances are involved. Furthermore, the crowd seems to believe the man is demon possessed as evidenced by their reaction in verse 33. Even the Pharisees’ remark in verse 34 shows that these highly educated critics believe the man to be a victim of the demonic world.

The point is that demon possession in Jesus’ day is real. It is not, as some critics allege, the figment of overly superstitious, ignorant minds seeking to attribute the natural to the supernatural.

Verse 33

And when the devil was cast out, the dumb spake: and the multitudes marvelled, saying, It was never so seen in Israel.

And when the devil was cast out, the dumb spake: It is unclear exactly how Jesus casts out this demon. We do know the cure is complete, the demon is gone, and the man speaks. The man’s own words demonstrate to the crowd the validity of Jesus’ power.

and the multitudes marvelled, saying, It was never so seen in Israel: When the Lord performs a miracle it is complete and verifiable. Unlike modern-day "faith healers" who claim power over illnesses that can neither be seen, clinically diagnosed, or substantiated, Jesus heals in a way that leaves none in doubt. The whole crowd is awestruck. Not even the Pharisees can deny that something definitive has happened. While they are tempted to challenge the source of Jesus’ power, the Pharisees cannot refute the power itself.

Verse 34

But the Pharisees said, He casteth out devils through the prince of the devils.

But the Pharisees said: Having been out-taught and out-performed by Jesus, the Pharisees are unsure what to do. No doubt with angry jealously they hurl this insult at the Lord. Broadus indicates that their insults spew forth at the same time as the multitude’s praise (209).

He casteth out devils through the prince of the devils: In an attempt to disprove the Master’s authority, the Pharisees accuse Jesus of being in league with the very "prince of demons." Matthew 12:24 calls this prince, "Beelzebub." The Pharisees suggest that Satan "plays along" with Jesus, allowing Him to cast out demons while really conspiring with Him.

Fowler remarks that the Pharisees’ comment is almost humorous since it represents their best efforts to arrive at an explanation of Jesus’ miracles (Vol. II 213). After collectively putting their scholarly minds to work, the Pharisees can come up with no stronger accusation. They do not deny the miracle but instead discredit its source.

On this occasion Jesus makes no reply to the charge, but in 12:22-32 He directly refutes the accusation and exposes to these arrogant scholars the perils of their own logic. See notes on chapter 12.

Verse 35

And Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people.

And Jesus went about all the cities and villages: Chapters 5-9 are probably an overview of Jesus’ activities in these cities. In this verse Matthew seems to return to his comment of 4:23 to indicate the completion of the program outlined there. Some, however, see this verse as describing the beginning of another of Jesus’ tours through Galilee.

Whatever the case, the focus of Matthew’s narrative now changes. Throughout chapter nine the antagonism between Jesus and the Pharisees has been growing. This theme of messianic rejection will be seen further in the Lord’s commission to the twelve as He warns them of difficulty (10:16-17), in His comments on division (10:34), and in His curse of various cities (11:22). Hendricksen says that from here on, Jesus’ ministry becomes a bitter struggle as the cross gradually comes into view (439).

all the cities and villages: The cities and villages mentioned are those in Galilee. Such work is difficult since, according to Josephus, there are some 200 cities and villages in this region. Matthew makes a distinction between cities and villages probably based on their size. Also, many ancient cities often have walls about them whereas villages do not.

MacArthur quotes Josephus by saying:

The cities are numerous and the multitude of villages everywhere crowded with men owing to the fertility of the soil, so that the smallest of them contains above fifteen thousand inhabitants (Vol. II 103).

Based on Josephus’ statement, MacArthur suggests that there are about three million people in Galilee, most of whom have direct exposure to the Lord (Vol. II 103).

teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people: Three activities are recorded by Matthew: teaching, preaching, and healing. In each of these activities Jesus is in contact with the people. Whether in the town, the city, the synagogue, or the countryside, Jesus reaches out to those with spiritual and physical problems.

Matthew specifically mentions that Jesus teaches in the synagogue (Matthew 4:23; Matthew 13:54; Luke 4:15-21). The synagogue is the local place of worship in each city where Jews assemble for prayer, reading of the scriptures, and study. The synagogue is to the city what the Temple is to the nation.

Typically services are held in the synagogue every Sabbath, on the second and fifth days of the week, and on holy days and festivals. Regular services consist of songs of praise, prayers, and reading from the Torah (the Pentateuch or first five books of Moses) in Hebrew and a translation in Aramaic, the common speech of the day. Next is a reading and exposition from one of the prophets. On one occasion Jesus performs this part of the service at the synagogue in Nazareth (Luke 4). Because of the policy called "freedom of the synagogue," any qualified man of the congregation might give the exposition. Frequently this honor is extended to visiting rabbis or dignitaries. Both Jesus and Paul take advantage of the custom as they use it to spread the gospel (Acts 9:20; Acts 13:5; Acts 18:4; Acts 19:8).

In this verse we learn a great lesson: Christianity is not isolationistic. Jesus does not enter a monastery to impact society, but rather He mingles with the people. Christians are called to do the same today (5:13-16).

Verse 36

But when he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion on them, because they fainted, and were scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd.

But when he saw the multitudes: This verse provides a detailed description of the multitudes. As sheep without a shepherd is lost, so these people are without direction. Unclear as to what turn Jesus’ ministry will take, they follow Him aimlessly (McGarvey 87). To meet the need, Jesus will appoint twelve to aid Him in taking the gospel to the people (10:1-4).

he was moved with compassion on them: Jesus’ inner being is stirred when He sees the people. Lenksi says that of three Greek words that could be used to mean "being compassionate," the one used here is the strongest. It indicates not only a pained feeling at sight of suffering, but also a strong desire to relieve and to remove the sufferings (383).

All who care for God’s people must have this type of compassion. While Jesus is the Good Shepherd, church leaders are "under-shepherds." They must protect and care for the flock. The flock’s needs must become those of the leader as he encourages and protects via God’s word. The apostle Paul reminds the Ephesians’ elders of this in Acts 20:28-31.

because they fainted, and were scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd: These words vividly describe the multitude’s condition. Matthew says that the multitudes "fainted and were scattered abroad" (esan eskulmenoi kai erimmenoi). "Fainted" (eskulmenioi) literally means "having been flayed" or "having the skin torn." This condition might result from sheep wandering in the rambles and sharp rocks or from being mangled by wild beasts (Lenski 383; Robertson 76). "Scattered" (erimmenoi) carries the idea of being cast down and lying prostrate on the ground, helpless and exhausted from mortal wounds (Robertson 76). It is a word that is used to refer to corpses lying flat on the ground. Furthermore, the tense of these words indicates a present condition as resulting from a past action (Lenski 383).

It is a picture of abandoned sheep. Having been attacked by wild animals and having suffered the harsh conditions of rugged terrain, these "sheep" now fall exhausted to the ground, cut, bleeding, and bruised. All real hope is gone.

But Matthew is not describing sheep. He is describing people who have long suffered abuse at the hands of neglectful religious leaders. Thinking only of themselves and their own comforts, the Pharisees and other leaders have fleeced the flock and have driven them out to be destroyed in the wilderness of religious error (Matthew 23). This is the exact situation Ezekiel condemns in his day (34:1-10; see also Zechariah 11:5).

Lenski says:

Such shepherd as they had were no shepherds, were often worse than none. Their souls received no wholesome spiritual food and care, for, as far as that was concerned, they were left to shift for themselves (383).

Jesus does not rebuke or blame these wayward people for being in such condition. Instead, He looks out in compassion and love and offers them hope through His gospel.

Verse 37

Then saith he unto his disciples, The harvest truly [is] plenteous, but the labourers [are] few;

Then saith he unto his disciples: Jesus addresses His disciples because they will soon be the ones to take the gospel into the entire world. Until now Jesus has given them very little responsibility; now their task will be to go and proclaim "the kingdom of heaven" (10:7).

The harvest truly [is] plenteous, but the labourers [are] few: Jesus now changes His analogy from sheep to that of a harvest. This is not the first time Jesus uses such an illustration After speaking to the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well, perhaps a year earlier, Jesus uses this same illustration (John 4:35). Likewise, before sending out the seventy, He uses the harvest analogy (Luke 10:2). The focus of the analogy is the need for workers to go and gather in people for the kingdom.

Lenski says that the harvest mentioned here is not the multitudes Jesus sees coming to Him because some of these will not be gathered into the heavenly garner (384). Fowler, however, correctly observes that "gathering" is only half of the harvest process (Matthew 3:12). He says, "The announcement of those principles upon which the final judgment and separation will be made, is also evangelism" (Vol. II 224). It is therefore obvious that the multitudes Jesus has just described are at least part of the overall harvest He has in mind.

Verse 38

Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth labourers into his harvest.

Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest: All who are dedicated to the kingdom will pray for it. Here Jesus says that we should petition the Father to send workers into the harvest. It might even be that we are the laborers who are to proclaim the gospel message.

that he will send forth labourers: The word Jesus uses here for "send" (ekbalei) literally means "to drive or push out" (Robertson 76). Broadus indicates that it implies urgency, haste, or constraint. In other words, the laborers are to be sent out promptly (212). No commission demands more urgency than the Kings’ message. Souls are dying each day. All must be given a chance to hear and obey the gospel.

Notice that Jesus says to ask for "labourers." He does not ask for rulers, lords, or directors, but rather humble workers, one of the lowest classes known to ancient Palestine. Fowler says, "No princes arrayed in soft robes living in kings’ houses, not men with soft hands unaccustomed to the toil of harvest-hands laboring out in the harvest fields" (Vol. II 224). Thus, the Lord wants men and women who are willing to work.

into his harvest: The harvest belongs to the Lord ("his harvest"). The worker has no reason to boast about gleaning, for workers plant and water, but God gives the increase (1 Corinthians 3:6-7). How presumptuous for any preacher or laborer to assume credit for growth in the Lord’s kingdom. Believers are only instruments of His glory.

Some argue that they have no talent for spreading the gospel, yet everyone has the talent to spread the gospel to family and friends. The harvest field is all around us. It is true that not all can go to a foreign field to harvest lost souls, but all may work at home and all may pray. All may become active in sending men to distant harvest fields while still gleaning in their own backyards. "How shall they preach except they be sent?" asks the apostle Paul (Romans 10:15). Certainly there is an active role for all to play in bringing in the sheaves.

Barclay (356) says:

It is the dream of Christ that every man should be a missionary and a reaper. There are those who cannot do other than pray, for life has laid them helpless, and their prayers are indeed the strength of the labourers. But that is not the way for most of us, for those of us who have strength of body and health of mind. No, even the giving of our money is enough. If the harvest of men is ever to be reaped, then every one of us must be a reaper, for there is someone whom each one of us could—and must—bring to God.

Keys to Successful Evangelism

In these few verses (36-38) Jesus gives us four keys to successful evangelism. Without any one of these elements, our labors will be greatly hindered if not totally thwarted.

1. SEE. Jesus looks around Him and sees the needs of the multitudes. We must open our eyes to the needs of others before they can be saved.

2. SYMPATHIZE. Jesus is moved with compassion at what He sees. Today we must not only open our eyes, but also our hearts to the needs of others.

3. SUPPLICATE. Jesus says that we must pray that laborers will be sent into the harvest fields. Through intense prayer we align our will with God’s will and open ourselves to His bidding. By praying for others, we identify with them and are more readily motivated to do our part as well. As noted, our prayer that the Lord would send laborers might be answered by going ourselves. Even if we are not physically able to go, we can always pray. Every laborer in the Lord’s vineyard needs a prayer partner.

4. SEND. The Lord sends out the laborers, but often it is with our emotional and financial help. We play a role in accomplishing His purpose. It may be our hands, our time, and our money that the Lord needs to send workers into the field. When we spend our resources for His cause, it will become our cause as well.

Bibliographical Information
Editor Charles Baily, "Commentary on Matthew 9". "Contending for the Faith". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ctf/matthew-9.html. 1993-2022.
 
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