Healing of the Palsied Man (Matthew 9:1-8)
The events recorded here and in the previous chapter did not follow one another in chronological sequence, but they are grouped together according to their moral order as testimonies to prove that Jesus Christ was the Messiah. They probably all occurred in the second year of His public ministry.
Upon returning from Galilee to the northwestern shore of the sea of Galilee, Jesus went to Capernaum where He healed a palsied man. Mark and Luke wrote that this miracle took place not in the open country, but in a house. Four friends assisting the sick man found it impossible to press through the crowd that thronged the door, so they went up onto the roof and opening up the tiles, or displacing the thatch, they let the palsied man down by cords to the feet of Jesus.
“Jesus seeing their faith.” It is evident that not only the palsied man but also the friends who brought him had fullest confidence that Jesus would grant healing in accordance with their plea. He responded at once, but in a way they had not expected, by saying, “Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee.” Thus He met the greater need first.
To certain of the scribes nearby this was blasphemy of the worst kind. A man was claiming for himself a divine prerogative. None but God could forgive sin. Who then was Jesus that He should presume to use such language?
He knew their thoughts and reproved them by asking, “Whether is easier, to say, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Arise, and walk?” So far as they were concerned one would be as impossible as the other.
Men are ever prone to consider physical ills as of greater importance than the sinfulness of their hearts, and so are far more concerned about bodily health than they are about being right with God. But our Lord placed the emphasis upon the state of the soul. He would have men realize the corruption of their hearts (Matthew 15:19) and their need of deliverance from the guilt and power of sin (John 8:34), that they might enter into a life of communion with God and be assured of His eternal favor (John 14:23). To Him physical illness was the evidence that sin is in the world. He was not content to deal only with the effect, but He ever sought to reach the cause.
But in order that they might know that the Son of man has power on earth to forgive sins He turned to the palsied man and commanded him to arise, take up his bed and walk. As the Lord’s critics looked on in wonder and amazement, the formerly helpless one sprang to his feet and walked off to his own house, healed and forgiven. The assembled multitude rejoiced and glorified God for so marvelous a display of His grace and power. This was what Jesus desired. He delighted to have men give honor to the Father, who was working in and through His Son.
Calling of Matthew (Matthew 9:9-13)
Matthew, also called Levi (Mark 2:14), was the tax collector of the port of Capernaum. Evidently he had heard and seen the Lord Jesus before. Now the time for decision had come. Obedient to the call of the Savior, he arranged immediately to close up his business and become a disciple of Christ in fulltime service. The Lord Jesus Christ and His disciples were invited to Matthew’s house where he gave a farewell dinner to his former associates before launching forth upon his new career. Later, under the Spirit’s inspiration, he became the author of this Gospel.
“Why eateth your Master with publicans and sinners?” The legalist can never understand the grace of God to the undeserving and utterly lost. Accustomed to think of human merit as commending men to the Lord, they were shocked to think of Jesus Christ as fellowshiping with sinners. Our Lord used an illustration that everyone could understand in answering the objection of these self-righteous critics. He said it is sick people who need a doctor, and He was the great physician who had come to minister to sin-sick souls. “I will have mercy, and not sacrifice.” Jesus directed the attention of these legalists to a declaration made by Jehovah in Hosea 6:6. It is far more to God to see mercy extended to the needy than to receive sacrifices and offerings. So Jesus had come not “to call the righteous”—that is, those who supposed they had no need of mercy—”but sinners to repentance.”
Defending His Disciples (Matthew 9:14-17)
These verses bring before us the drastic distinction between the principle of law, which we are told elsewhere prevailed until John the Baptist (Luke 16:16), and the grace and truth that came by Jesus Christ (John 1:17).
“Then came to him the disciples of John” with a question as to fasting. It is evident that many who had been baptized by John had not fully committed themselves to Jesus but were waiting for clearer proof that He was the promised Messiah. They were troubled because the abstinence taught by John, which was considered meritorious by the Pharisees, was not practiced by the disciples of Jesus.
In reply He made it clear that as long as He was with them in person there was no call for fasting. But in the coming day (as yet not understood by them) when He would be removed from them, fasting might well be in order. The bridegroom’s presence calls for joy and gladness. His absence would impress upon His followers the necessity of self-abnegation.
“No man putteth apiece of new cloth unto an old garment.” Jesus had not come to add something to the legal dispensation but to supersede it with that which was entirely new. To attempt to amalgamate the two principles of law and grace would annul the true meaning of both (see Romans 11:6).
The new wine of grace was not to be poured into the skin-bottles of legalism. Such an attempt would only destroy both. It is all-important that we realize this, for we see in Christendom today many teachers of the law who try to impose legal principles upon those who are saved by grace. As Paul said, these teachers are without understanding as to what they affirm (1 Timothy 1:5-7).
Raising the Dead (Matthew 9:18-26)
Two miracles are interwoven in these verses. Both are designed to reveal the power and compassion of the King who was in the midst of Israel though unrecognized by the great majority.
“There came a certain ruler.” The name of this man was Jairus (Mark 5:22). He was a leader in the local synagogue at Capernaum. He evidently believed in the claims of Jesus Christ and so asked Him to come to his help. His little daughter was, as he put it, “even now dead”; that is, she was so ill he realized she was at the point of death unless there was divine intervention. Moved with tender compassion, the Savior at once started to the home of the ruler, and we are told that “so did his disciples.”
“A woman… touched the hem of his garment.” Afflicted with a constitutional disease, her very life ebbing away, this woman pressed through the crowd and touched the border of the Lord’s robe. That blue fringe was worn by all pious Israelites, in obedience to the Mosaic law (Numbers 15:38-41; Deuteronomy 22:12), and marked them out as the subjects of the holy One. She was confident that if she just touched Jesus’ garment she would be healed immediately.
“Daughter, be of good comfort; thy faith hath made thee whole.” The Lord recognized her faith and gave the assurance that because of this, all was as she had hoped. She was made perfectly whole.
In the meantime, the daughter of Jairus had apparently gotten beyond all hope of recovery. Life had left her body, and the visit of Jesus seemed now to be useless. Already preparations were being made for the burial, and the hired mourners were beginning their lamentations. The coming of the Lord Jesus Christ was to change all this, for He gives the oil of joy for mourning (Isaiah 61:3).
“The maid is not dead, but sleepeth.” Was the little girl just in a coma, or was she actually dead? The consensus of opinion among most Christian scholars is that this was the sleep of death. However, the Greek word translated here as “sleep” is different from that which is found in other passages where sleep and death are used synonymously. This difference has led some to conclude that she was simply in a state of suspended animation. At any rate, she was dead as far as human power to help is concerned.
“He… took her by the hand, and the maid arose.” Elsewhere we are told that He tenderly commanded her to arise, and as He took her hand she responded and came back to life, and was given food (Mark 5:41-43; Luke 8:54-55).
The story went from one to another and the people spoke with amazement of the wonderful event that had transpired. It was a testimony to the power of Jesus Christ, the great prophet who had risen up in the land.
Healing of the Blind and the Mute (Matthew 9:27-34)
Two other instances recorded in this section demonstrated the messiahship of Jesus. However, instead of convincing the stern, self-righteous Pharisees, these works of power only gave occasion for the blasphemous charge that Jesus Himself was in league with Beelzebub, the prince of the demons.
Recognizing Jesus as the promised Son of David, two blind men implored mercy. Testing their faith, Jesus asked, “Believe ye that I am able to do this?” Upon receiving an affirmative answer, He touched their eyes and replied, “According to your faith be it unto you.”
They immediately looked at Him with eyes that saw His blessed face. Their blindness was gone. We can understand how ready they would be to proclaim abroad the fame of Him who had healed them. But He instructed them, “See that no man know it.” He did not desire to be known as simply a wonder-worker. So exuberant were they that they could not contain themselves, but went throughout the district spreading the story of that which Jesus had done on their behalf.
We may wonder why Jesus bade them refrain from all this. The reason doubtless was that He desired people to be impressed by His message rather than His works. He was while on earth the express image of the divine person (Hebrews 1:3)—that is, the exact expression of the character of God. The compassion He demonstrated for distressed mankind shows the heart of God as He looks on the sorrow and suffering that sin has brought into the world. Wherever the Lord went He delivered men from these evidences of Satanic malice. His miracles witnessed to the truth of His deity and bore testimony to His messiahship. Faith in the miracles saved no one, however. But faith in Him who performed them was then, as it is now, the means of salvation from sin and deliverance from its effects.
In the healing of the mute we see demonstrated again the authority of Jesus over demons. Let us remember that in the Gospel where we have devils in the plural, it should always be demons.
A man was brought to Jesus possessed with a dumb demon, or a demon who so controlled the vocal powers of the poor abject wretch as to make speech impossible. Jesus immediately cast out the demon, and to the joy and delight of his friends, and the amazement of the multitudes, he who had been dumb spoke. The people cried, “It was never so seen in Israel.”
But the haughty religious leaders, determined to resist and refuse any and all evidence that Jesus was the Messiah, declared, “He casteth out [demons] through the prince of the [demons].” It was an ominous sign of that which the Lord of glory was to face: utter rejection by those who should have received Him. For the time being He did not rebuke these blasphemers but went on quietly with His great ministry.
Praying for More Laborers (Matthew 9:35-38)
These cities and villages into which Jesus went were all in Galilee. With His disciples He passed from town to town, teaching in the synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing diseases of every kind. This term, “the gospel of the kingdom,” is an important one. It was the proclamation of the good news that God was about to set up His kingdom in this world. The kingdom was offered to Israel by God, but only on condition of their repentance and acceptance of the King. As we know, they failed in this and the kingdom was taken from them and given to others who were ready to meet the proper requirements. There is, of course, a difference between “the gospel of the kingdom” and the gospel of the grace of God; yet they are not to be distinguished as two gospels, for we are told distinctly in Galatians 1:9 that to preach any other gospel than that which Paul himself carried through the world was to incur the curse of God. The gospel is God’s message concerning His Son. It takes on different aspects at different times, but it is all the gospel of Christ.
In Matthew Christ is presented as the King; the emphasis is on His royalty rather than His redemptive work. Yet the latter is not ignored, for at the very beginning of this Gospel the angels’ declaration was, “He shall save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). And we shall see more of His redemptive work in a later chapter. The different aspects of the gospel are to be distinguished, but they all have to do with the presentation of the Christ of God as the only remedy for the world’s great need.
The heart of our blessed Lord was deeply moved as He looked on the multitudes with no one in Israel to guide them aright. They were like unshepherded sheep until He, the Good Shepherd, came to feed and care for them.
He directed the attention of His disciples to the great harvestfields filled with precious souls needing to know the truth concerning Himself. Into this harvestfield they were to go forth and reap. He bid them pray the Lord of the harvest to send laborers to gather in the ripened grain. Read in connection with the Lord’s words at the well of Sychar, as recorded by John, we understand something of the deep concern that Jesus ever has for the salvation of lost men and women.
Say not ye, There are yet four months, and then cometh harvest? Behold, I say unto you, Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest. And he that reapeth receiveth wages, and gathereth fruit unto life eternal: that both he that soweth and he that reapeth may rejoice together. And herein is that saying true, One soweth, and another reapeth (John 4:35-37).
These words may well be taken to our own hearts. He would have us look on the fields and go out to sow and reap and pray, that many more may be raised up to carry on the great work of world evangelization (see Luke 10:1-2).
Both this and the preceding chapter present the credentials of the King. His works of power attested His Messianic claims. All His miracles were performed not for self-glorification, however, nor to have men hail Him as “some great one” (Acts 8:9), but to alleviate the ills of suffering humanity. It had been predicted long before that God’s anointed King would open the eyes of the blind, unstop the ears of the deaf, cause the lame to leap as an hart, and enable the tongue of the dumb to sing (Isaiah 35:5-6). All this the Lord Jesus did, and more, ministering to needy people out of the loving compassion of His heart. Peter reminded Cornelius that “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power: who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with him” (Acts 10:38).
Yet we need to remember that this ministry was confined, with very few exceptions, to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (Matthew 10:6) as a testimony to the chosen nation that their long-looked-for King was in their midst (Zephaniah 3:15). But though they witnessed so many evidences of His divine authority, the leaders of the people steadfastly resisted His claims and spurned His testimony (John 7:48). Though the common people heard Him gladly (Mark 12:37), even among these there were many who believed only in a superficial way because they saw the miracles that He did (John 2:23). Faith must be in Christ Himself, not in the signs and wonders He performs. To recognize in Him a great teacher, prophet, or miracle-worker is not the same as receiving Him as Savior and owning Him as Lord of one’s life.