Matthew 9:1 – And getting into the boat he crossed over and came to his own city.

At the close of chapter 8, after Jesus set the demon possessed men free, the people of the town asked him to depart from their city.  What a sad commentary!  In other towns the people flocked to see demonstrations of the power of God.  In this one, they wanted nothing to do with it.  They wanted to remain bound in their sin.  They were satisfied with the status quo.   

So Jesus departed, as requested; he crossed the lake to Capernaum where he was currently staying.

It is the same with us today.  God does not force himself into the life of anyone.  If a person wants Jesus to leave him alone, Jesus will do so.  But be assured that He desires to be a part of your life.

Revelation 3:20 – Behold, I [Jesus] stand at the door and knock.  If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.

Jesus is knocking on your door right now…will you open to Him or send him away?

Matthew 9:2 –And behold, some people brought to him a paralytic, lying on a bed.  And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.”

This passage seems a bit confusing, doesn’t it?  There can be no doubt that the man and his friends were looking for physical healing.  So at first glance, Jesus’ response to the paralytic seems to be something different than what the man was requesting.  But what He is really doing is using this situation as a teaching moment for mankind.

In this instance, Jesus begins the man’s healing by revealing its root cause – sin.  The sorrows and sufferings of human life are the consequence of sin.  People who don’t know God often blame him for the suffering they see in the world. But God is not the author of the terrible suffering and injustices we see in this generation. Man brought these situations on himself when he rejected God and allowed Satan to have spiritual authority over the world.

When Jesus came to earth, he came to destroy Satan’s hold on mankind by providing atonement for sin.  Because of his death and resurrection, we are reunited to God and the works of the devil, such as sickness and disease, can be destroyed.

1 John 3:8 – … For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil.

Jesus used this man’s healing to reveal a spiritual principle to us:  Because sin is the root cause of all evil, our first step towards relief is to restore our relationship to God by asking Him to forgive our sins.   We must be in right relationship to God before we can seek relief from the bondages of Satan.  Once we are a child of God, we have the right to ask our Father to intervene in our lives and destroy/remove the effects of sin which include sickness and disease.  This is a lesson the world does not understand.

The paralytic and his friends demonstrate a second spiritual principle for us:  Faith and works go hand in hand.  Both are required to see a miracle.

The men had faith to believe that Jesus could heal, but faith is only part of the key to unlocking a miracle.  You also need action.

James 2:17 – So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

What action did they take?  They packed up their friend, left home, and went to find Jesus.  They could have given up when the saw how big the crowd was, but they didn’t.  Instead, they took their friend to the roof and lowered him down in front of Jesus (see Mark 2:3-12 and Luke 5:18-26).  Their faith and actions worked together to ignite the miracle.

Look at other miracles from the Bible and you will clearly see this principle:

Assuming that faith was present, what action did the people take when Lazarus was raised from the dead?  They rolled the stone away from his tomb, even though logic told them his body was already rotting.

Assuming faith was present, what action did the disciples take when Jesus multiplied the loaves and fishes to feed 5K?  They organized the people to sit down in groups and they set the food before them, even though it was still just one lunch at that point.

Assuming faith was present, what actions did people take when Jesus turned the water into wine?  They had to fill the jars with water and take a cup to the master of ceremonies, even though it was still just water at that point.

Assuming faith was present, how did Naamen get healed of his leprosy?  He had to physically go and dip himself 7 times in the Jordan.

Take a moment to recall some of your own spiritual experiences.  Start with your own salvation.  Remember when you felt the powerful draw and conviction of the Holy Spirit?  Isn’t it true that you took some action to receive Jesus?  It might have been raising your hand in a church service, or standing to your feet to show your commitment, or praying with an evangelist who was giving an altar call on TV.

Whatever the situation, it was your faith mixed with action that produced the miracle of your salvation.  What other examples can you give?

Matthew 9:3 – And behold, some of the scribes said to themselves, “This man is blaspheming.”

One of the definitions of blasphemy is the application of divine attributes and prerogatives to anyone other than God.  (This was the basis for most of the charges of blasphemy that the Jews brought against Jesus).

For example, the Jews correctly believed that only God could grant people eternal life.  So in John 10:28-33, when Jesus tells the Jews that he will give his sheep eternal life, he was revealing himself as the Son of God.  Since the Jews believed he was just a man, they accused him of blasphemy.

The Jews also correctly believed that only God can forgive sins.  So in our current study, when Jesus forgave the sins of the paralytic man, he was in essence saying he was God.  Since the Jews completely rejected the idea that he was God in any way, shape or form, they once again accused him of blasphemy.

Incidentally, according to Old Testament law, the punishment for blasphemy was death (see Leviticus 24:16).  This is the law the Jews referred to when Jesus was before Pilate:

John 19:7 – The Jews answered him [Pilate], ‘We have a law, and by our law he ought to die, because he made himself the Son of God’.

Essentially, it was the charge of blasphemy that the Jews stood upon to have Jesus crucified.

Matthew 9:4 – But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts?”

In order to know a man’s thoughts, you would need the ability to search his heart.  These are things that only God has the power to do.  So simply by asking this question, Jesus once again reveals to the Jewish leaders that he is indeed the Son of God.  This second revelation of his person seems to have completely gone over their heads.

The Jews had already made up their minds about who the Messiah should be and how he should act.  Since Jesus did not fit their preconceived ideas, they rejected him despite all the evidence he presented to them, which proved that he was God.

What about you and me?  Do we have preconceived ideas about how God should act or move in our midst?  If the Holy Spirit moves in a way that is new to us, will we embrace His divinity and yield to him?  Or will we be modern day Pharisees and reject him despite the evidence that He loves us and wants to do a good work in our lives?

Matthew 9:5 – “For which is easier to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven’, or to say ‘Rise and walk’”? 

Jesus’ authority in the physical realm demonstrates or bears witness to his authority in the spiritual realm.  Since he is God, it is equally simple to forgive sin and to heal.

Matthew 9:6-7 – “But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” – he then said to the paralytic – “Rise, pick up your bed and go home.” And he rose and went home.

As we look at this encounter between Jesus, the paralytic and the religious leaders, it is easy to perceive that there is more going on than just a physical healing.

Why did Jesus heal the paralytic in this manner?  Because he wanted to do more than just heal this man’s physical ailment.  He wanted to teach us all that the greatest and most amazing miracle is the forgiveness of sins.  It trumps every other miracle.  As amazing as healing is, it only lasts until we die, but forgiveness of sin has eternal ramifications.  It’s a miracle that God has prepared for each and every one of us!

Also, keep in mind that restoration of our relationship with God is the first step in breaking all other bondages and attacks of the enemy.

Matthew 9:8 – When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men.

Take another look at the miracle of your salvation.  Then take a few moments this week to give God glory for it!

Matthew 9:9 – As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him.

I don’t know about you, but the Internal Revenue Service is not one of my favorite government branches.  However, it is possible to dislike the IRS as a nameless, faceless government entity without attacking anyone who works there on a personal level.

This was not the case back in the time of Matthew.  Back then, the Romans would levy taxes against all people, including the Jews.  But you didn’t just send them a check in the mail or give them your debit card.  There were real people who collected the taxes.

Most unfortunately, some of these people were very unscrupulous.  They would extract taxes that were over and above what was really owed, and then they would keep the extra for themselves.

So tax collectors had a reputation of being greedy cheaters.  People didn’t like them.  To make matters worse, the Romans would often employ Jews to be tax collectors.  It was bad enough paying taxes to the overlords you despised, but to have one of your fellow countrymen cheat you as well was adding insult to injury.  The Jewish tax collectors irritated the other Jews just by existing!

So here we find Matthew, the writer of this gospel, being employed as a tax collector.  Now to be fair, he may very well have been an honest one; we don’t know.  However, just by being a tax collector, he would have been despised and outcast by his fellow Jews.

The scripture says he was sitting at his tax booth.  This indicates that he was probably located on the road between Damascus and the seaport of Phoenicia.  So in addition to personal taxes, he probably collected custom taxes from imports and exports.

Now let’s take a look at the really important part of this verse.  Jesus passes by his tax booth and calls Matthew to follow after him.  So Matthew got up and went.

Did you see the important part?

Matthew did not hesitate; he simply went where he was led.  He did not ask Jesus for all the details about where they were going and what was going to happen.  He didn’t tell Jesus that he wanted to think about it first.  He did not stop and call his friends together to discuss it with them.  He didn’t worry about what others might think.  He simply got up and followed Jesus.

Sometimes when God calls us to do something, we hesitate.  We want to know how it will work, who will help and where the money will come from.  We want make long term plans and discuss them with other people.  When all the while, Jesus just wants us to step out in faith and follow where he leads.

Oftentimes when we hesitate we suddenly find hundreds of reasons why things won’t work out.  We invent many excuses for not doing what Jesus asked us to do.  Soon fear sets in.  Next, we begin to look at how unqualified we are to do the work.  At this point, we talk ourselves out of doing whatever it was.  We question whether we heard God’s voice at all! 

Know this:  Hesitation is the crack that allows Satan to come in and derail our ministry before it even starts!  Don’t give him the chance – when Jesus calls you, remember Matthew and step out immediately!

Matthew 9:10 – And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. 

How much time elapses between verses 10 and 11?  While the biblical account appears as though the feast was on the same day that Matthew was called, this is probably not the case.  Then (as now) it took a lot of time and preparation to organize a large successful feast.  It may have been as long as 2-3 months between Matthew’s call and his banquet in honor of Jesus. 

If you have ever planned a wedding reception or a big graduation party, you can understand what was involved.

One possible (likely) scenario is that after Matthew’s conversion, he handed his business off to others.  It may have been the occasion of his ‘retirement’ which prompted this feast.  The party afforded him an opportunity to honor his new master Jesus, while at the same time introducing many other tax collectors and sinners to the savior.  Thus we see a desire to highly esteem Jesus and bring salvation to his friends.

Interestingly, the word ‘sinners’ is a generic term used to describe people of ill repute or low moral character; it probably included heathens/Gentiles as well as Jews.  To invite Jewish sinners to this feast was shocking enough for the Pharisees, but to have Gentiles present as well – it was unimaginable!

Matthew 9:11 – And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

To eat and drink with someone implies intimacy with them.  The Pharisees are accusing Jesus of seeking out the company of the wicked.  The inference is that since Jesus is a companion or friend of the wicked, he too was a wicked man and therefore not who he claimed to be.  They believed that Jesus should separate himself from the wicked, not have fellowship with them.

Their accusations were also a sneak attack on the new disciples.  By questioning the motives and actions of their master, the Pharisees were attempting to plant seeds of doubt in the mind of the disciples.  Since the Pharisees could not contradict or defeat Jesus, they may have been seeking to destroy his ministry by turning his disciples against him.

Matthew 9:12 – But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.

Jesus firmly and immediately put a stop to the Pharisees attempt to discredit him and drive a wedge between him and his disciples.

In the physical realm, a doctor is among sick people not because he himself is sick, but because he is ministering to the sick.  In the spiritual realm, Jesus is among the spiritually sick not because he himself is spiritually sick, but because he is ministering to the spiritually sick.

In fact, this was the supreme reason Jesus came to earth!  He came to rescue us from hell.  He came to take slaves and make them sons and daughters of the kingdom.  He came to take our scarlet sins and make them white as snow.  He came to give us beauty for ashes and the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness.  He came to bear our shame and reproach, clothing us in his righteousness.  He came to transform us into a new creation; old things having passed away and all things have become new!

Yes, the publicans and sinners at that party were spiritually disgusting, but no more so than you and I and the Pharisees!  All have sinned and come short of the glory of God; thanks be to God that Jesus came to die for the sins of us all!  Unfortunately, the Pharisees were so consumed by pride and hypocrisy they did not recognize that they themselves were also sick!

Matthew 9:13 – Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’  For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.

Jesus quotes Hosea 6:6, a scripture the religious leaders should have been very familiar with.  In this passage God reminds his people that he is more pleased with acts of kindness and benevolence than he is with the outward compliance of religious duty.   Throughout scripture we see that God is always more interested in what is in your heart (including your motivations), than your actions.

True, the Pharisees were outwardly holy/compliant.  They tithed and they fasted and they never missed a religious sacrifice or feast.  But for all that, they were still far from the kingdom of heaven because their hearts were not right before God.  They were full of hypocrisy and pride.  This was evident in their actions; they had no interest in helping other sinners become more righteous, in fact they did all they could to condemn those who were already lost. 

Sadly, by thinking themselves already righteous, they did not recognize that they too were in need of Jesus.  So while the sinners they scorned received eternal life, they lost it!  How do we react to the lost?  Do we have compassion for those who need the savior or do we distance ourselves from those who are spiritually sick because we don’t want to be associated with them?

Matthew 9:14 – Then the disciples of John came to him saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast but your disciples do not fast?”

At this time, John the Baptist was in prison.  That left his disciples in a state of transition.  Would John be released from prison or should they follow Jesus, whom John himself named as the Messiah?  It is most likely that at this vulnerable time the Pharisees approached the disciples of John in an effort to turn them against Jesus.  They are probably the ones who first approached John’s disciples asking why Jesus and his followers did not fast. 

Again, they were up to their old tricks – trying to sow seeds of doubt about Jesus into the hearts and minds of those who were truly seeking God.  They were probably attempting to have the disciples of John join their ‘side’ in their conflict with Jesus.

Thank goodness the disciples of John did not just accept the allegations of the Pharisees without an investigation.  Thank goodness they had the guts to approach Jesus and ask him this question to his face!

You know, there are no questions too hard to bring to God. If someone tells you that God is unjust or cruel for some reason, or you think he failed you for some reason, why not ask him about it?  If we approach him humbly and respectfully, earnestly seeking the truth, God will answer us just as Jesus took the time to answer John’s disciples.

Matthew 9:15 – And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them?  The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.”

Jesus gave an answer that was tailored specifically to John’s followers.  It builds on John’s words in chapter 3 verse 29:

John 3:28-29 – You yourselves bear me witness, that I [John] said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’  The one who has the bride is the bridegroom.  The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice.  Therefore this joy of mine is now complete.

Jesus is the bridegroom, while the church is his bride.  Since weddings are seasons of rejoicing, those who are with the bridegroom do not fast or mourn; that would be totally inappropriate actions for a wedding.  However, when the bridegroom is absent, then the wedding guests will mourn.

So, since Jesus was with his disciples, it was a period of rejoicing not mourning.  Once Jesus returned to heaven, there would be plenty of occasions for fasting.  Stated another way, the disciples of Jesus were not yet under a dispensation that called for fasting.  

Matthew 9:16 – “No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch tears away from the garment and a worse tear is made.”

This illustration demonstrates the difference between the Old covenant (the old garment) and the New covenant (the unshrunk cloth).  The Jews were happy with the old garment/covenant because it was familiar and comfortable. In fact, it was all they had known since their nation was formed.  Also, the Jews as a whole were under the false impression that religious life should always manifest itself in precisely the same way in every generation.  As a result, they were reluctant (to say the least) to accept the new and amazing blessings God had in store for them. 

But Jesus makes it plain that the two covenants could not be successfully combined.  Therefore, Jews and Gentiles alike needed to accept the new covenant and embrace the new move of God in their generation.

Matthew 9:17 – “Neither is new wine put into old wineskins.  If it is, the skins burst and the wine is spilled and the skins are destroyed.  But new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.”

Back in the day, wine containers were made of sheep or goat skins.  When new, they could stretch and expand with the fermentation process of the new wine.  But over time, they would lose this flexibility and become stiffened with age.  If you tried to contain new wine with old wineskins, the disaster would be total – the skins would burst and the wine would be lost.  

In the same way, the old wineskin of Judaism had become hardened and inflexible over time.  It was made even more narrow and stiff by the efforts of the Pharisees and rabbis.  There is no way that Judaism could contain or hold the fresh power of Christianity.  It was not pliable enough to hold unlimited quantities of grace and forgiveness.  It was not flexible enough to contain the power of the Holy Spirit being poured out into every man and woman who wanted it.  Total access to the presence of God by sinful man was enough to shatter it.  Only a new wineskin could hold all that God is doing in the church age!

So let me offer you a little encouragement:  God never contradicts his word. That is a fact.  However, that does not mean that he can never move or manifest himself in a new way.  The religious leaders back in Jesus day often missed the move of God because it was not the same as it had been in the past.  Like the healing of the paralytic, they rejected it because it was not what they expected.

Isaiah 43:19 – Behold, I [God] will do a new thing; now it shall spring forth; shall you not know it?

What about us?  Can we allow the Holy Spirit to move in a new way in our lives and church services?  I encourage you to yield to the move of the Spirit, even if it is new to you.  Release yourself to Him and experience the new things he desires to do for you and through you!

Let me offer you a little relief:  God has not changed; He is still in the miracle business.  The healing of the paralytic did not drain all his power!  Take a moment right now and remember the miracle of your salvation.  Then consider this:  If God was willing to give up his only Son for you, why would he withhold any other good thing from you?  If he has already given you his best and most precious thing, why would he refuse you something of less value?

Romans 8:32 – He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?

Psalms 84:11 – For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor.  No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly.

That thought should really strengthen your faith!  Now take that faith and add some action to it.  Expect God to move in your situation in miraculous ways!

Let me offer you some strength:  Jesus is our bridegroom and he has promised to return to earth and take us to himself.  Sometimes, in the course of life’s difficulties and disappointments, we forget this promise.  Sometimes we grow weary in the battle, but right now take a few minutes and strengthen yourself through praise and worship.  You are on the winning side!  One day, God will fulfill all the promises he made; one day he will take us to be with him where there is no more sin, struggle, pain or tears!  Hallelujah!

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