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Jesus Preaches and Teaches

Series: Matthew

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on Dec 7, 1997

Matthew 9:18-38

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If you have your Bibles, I would invite you to turn with me to Matthew chapter 9.  As we've studied Matthew chapter 5-9 together, we have stressed, over and again,  that Christ's word, His words of wisdom,  His teaching on the reality of the Christian life, is set side by side here with His deeds of power.  And so by word and deed, Matthew shows Him to be the Messiah,  the Son of the living God.  We have also said in our study of Matthew chapters 8 and 9, in particular,  that here we see an ascending progress of miracles wrought by the Lord Jesus.  In Matthew chapter 8, in the first seventeen verses we saw Christ's power over bodily diseases.  In Matthew 8:23-27,  we saw His power over the forces of nature, stilling the waters of the sea.  In verses 28-34 of that same chapter,  we saw Him show His power over the forces of evil casting out demons.  In chapter 9:1-8, we saw that He had even power over sin,  the power to forgive it, and in verses 9-17, we saw His love and his concern.  In this section, we're going to see that He has power even over death, as He raises a little girl from the dead.  And so, Matthew shows us the power of Christ through an ascending series of events in which He displays the evidences, His power over sickness, over nature, over demons, over sin, and even over death.  Let us hear, then, the word of God, beginning in Matthew 9:18. 

Matthew 9:18 - 38  

Our Father, we thank You for Your word,  and we ask that You would open our eyes that in it we might see the glory of the person of Your Son, that we might see the sovereignty of His power, and that we might know of the nature of faith, for we ask these things in Jesus' name.  Amen.   

This passage tells us much about the claims of Christ.  Matthew is clearly setting before us historical events which give us evidence as to who He was, the claims He made regarding his person.  This passage also tells us a lot about the power of Christ.  It is designed to remind us that there is nothing in this universe that is out with the power of Christ to effect.  The Lord Jesus is sovereign, and He displays that sovereign power even over death in this passage.  But this passage also tells us a lot about faith.  This passage gives us a description of important details of the nature of faith in all those ways this passage enriches us.  In fact, here we learn that because Jesus alone had the power of life and death, and because He longs to care for all who come to him, therefore we must firmly put our trust in Him.  I would like to point you to three or four important things that we find in this passage before us today.   

I.  The nature of faith.
The first one you'll see in vvs. 18 through 26.  In that section of this passage Jesus' power is clearly displayed, but simultaneously, as Christ's power is displayed we learn something about the nature of faith.  We learn that faith always involves saving faith, always involves trusting God.  Here in this passage, we learn that we must believe, we must trust in Jesus, as the One who has the power to restore life.  In the story, which is familiar to you all, we are told about an elder, a synagogue official.  The synagogues were ruled just like Presbyterian Churches are ruled today, by a board of elders, and one of the elders from the local synagogue at Capernaum, who apparently had had opportunity to hear Jesus preach,  or at least hear reports of it, apparently He had had opportunity to see Jesus' miracles, maybe only hearing reports of them,  whatever the case is, this elder comes to Christ, with an urgent situation.  Now, we're told by Matthew,  by Mark and by Luke,  that when the elder first came to Christ, his daughter was still alive, and that while He was in the midst of asking Jesus to come and heal his desperately sick daughter, news came that she died.  But He did not cease.  He did not desist.  He persisted, and he said to Christ, “Would you come and raise my daughter from the dead.”  He showed trust in Christ, this synagogue official.  What a contrast is this godly elder to the Pharisees who disdain Christ.  He shows respect to Christ.  Notice in the passage that he kneels before Christ, and he shows faith in Christ, for even when he hears word that his daughter has died, he says: “Lord if You will only put Your hand on her,  I know You'll raise her from the dead.”  By the way, I would mention in passing, that this is the first and only description that Matthew give us of Jesus raising someone from the dead.  The other gospels give us other descriptions, other incidents, but Matthew records only this as the singular example of Christ raising someone from the dead.

This is clearly the climax of the passage.  Matthew has been showing you a series of miracles from the first verse of chapter 8 all the way through the end of chapter 9, and here he is showing you this incredible display of Christ's power in raising someone from the dead.  The only other resurrection recorded in Matthew is Christ's own resurrection  and the resurrections of those who were raised in Jerusalem at the same time Christ was raised from the dead.  At any rate,  as Christ is on his way to perform this mighty miracle at the house of this elder, He is interrupted.  Ever notice how often Christ is interrupted in the gospels?  He's on the way to do something and someone interrupts Him, and I believe that His divinity is shown forth in how He takes advantage of those interruptions.  I think I would be completely flustered, set about doing the will of the Lord, knowing it's what the Lord wanted me to do and then suddenly being intersected by someone who has another wonderful plan for my life at that point in time.  My wife will tell you that I can't walk and chew gum at the same time.  I'm a pretty focused person, and when my mind is on that I have a hard time listening to other important things that are going on.  But the Lord Jesus really manifests His character and His divinity in the way that He takes advantage of these interruptions, and I believe there is a lesson for us in that.  We may be doing precisely what the Lord wants us to do.  We may be following out a plan that we have carefully spread before the Lord in prayer, and know that it is God's will for us to do, and yet, we may be interrupted in that well doing by something which God providentially brings into our way.  We, like the Lord, must look at that as an example of the providence of God, and take advantage of those interruptions to serve Him, even in the area of the unexpected.  Sometimes, our plans are good, but God's providence overrules those plans and brings other priorities in our experience that we can minister to.  The Lord Jesus certainly takes advantage of this interruption. 

A woman comes to Him who has had some sort of a hemorrhage for twelve years, we're told.   Mark tells us, tongue in cheek, that's she had spent all her money on physicians,  and none of them had been able to help.  Luke, who was a physician himself, takes up for the profession, and he reminds us quickly, that the reason those physicians had not be able to cure her was because it was an incurrable disease.   There was nothing physicians of their time could have done to have healed this woman.  But this woman knows that if she can just touch Christ's garment, she'll be healed instantaneously.  And so we see both the strength and the weakness of this woman's faith in this passage.  You see the strength of this woman's faith in that she doesn't even want to have an audience with the Lord Jesus.  She knows that if she can just touch the hem of his garment, the tassels that good orthodox Jews wore on the fringe of their garments to symbolize and remind them of God's law, if she could just touch one of those tassels, she would be healed.  There we see the strength of her faith.  But we see the weakness of her faith in that she thought she needed to touch something.  She thought she needed to touch the Lord Jesus in order to find that healing, and she thought she could do it without being noticed, and so in this passage we see both the strength and the weakness of her faith. 

And I want you to notice how faith itself is stressed throughout the passage.  The elder believes that the Lord Jesus Christ can raise his daughter from the dead.  The woman is commended by Christ with the words “Daughter, take courage, your faith has made you well.”  Faith is an important component of what Matthew is stressing in this passage.  He's been showing us a series of miracles; now he wants to stress that it's not enough to be astounded by Christ's miracles.  We must embrace Him by faith.  We must believe.  We must trust.  And so he reminds us of this in this passage. 

By the way, the Lord Jesus' words to the woman, “Daughter, take courage, your faith has made you well,” stress at least four things.  First of all, notice the affection of our Lord.  He calls her “daughter.”  This woman was clearly trembling.  She didn't think she could ask Jesus to do this great miracle for her, she didn't feel like she could speak to Him, she just wanted to touch Him in the crowd and let Him pass, and yet, the Lord Jesus turns to her and speaks to her affectionately:  “daughter.”  That in and of itself may be a testimony to His Lordship, too, for this woman had had this illness for twelve years.  She was probably older than the Lord Jesus.  And yet, He could call her “daughter” because she was; He made her.  He is the Lord.  And He speaks tenderly and affectionately to her.  And so we see His kindness and His love and His compassion in the very words that He speaks to this woman.         

Notice also that His words are a reward for her faith.  She had had the courage to seek healing, to seek restoration of fullness of life from the Lord Jesus.  And He rewards her for the faith, faith in Him that He could cure her instantly by pronouncing out loud “your faith has made you well.” 

Notice, also, thirdly, His words serve to stress that faith was the instrument which God used in her healing, not the robe.  Somehow this woman had the idea that she had to touch Jesus' garment, to touch Him in some way in order to be healed, and in order quell superstition, the Lord Jesus reminds her that it was not the robe that was the instrument of her healing: faith was the instrument which was used.  Christ purposes to heal His people were used by God to bring that display of grace into her experience. 

Finally, the Lord Jesus' words to this woman would be a blessed relief to her, for you know the Old Testament law did not allow a woman with the issue of blood to enter into the presence of the Lord in worship.  And by pronouncing her publicly to be healed, she would then be allowed to go back into corporate worship and praise the living God with His people for the first time in twelve years.  His words were words of mercy and grace, and they teach us much about the importance of faith. 

After the healing of this woman, the Lord continues on to the house of the elder, and when He gets there, the professional mourners are already there.  Some of them already have their flutes, and there is a din of noise going on in that place.  And He walks in and He announces  “Do not fret, do not be anxious, the little girl is not dead, she's only asleep.”  Now don't miss what the Lord Jesus is saying there.  He's not saying: “Actually she's in a coma, and you have not be able to detect that because of your medical technology in its weak form, and, therefore, I'm just going to raise her out of this coma.”  No.  The Lord Jesus' words are meant to remind them of His sovereignty over death.  To raise her from the dead is as easy for the Lord Jesus as for a parent to raise a child from slumber.  He is sovereign over life  and death.  And so, having moved the professional mourners out of the house, almost incidentally, Matthew records this girl's resurrection from the dead.  This is not the stuff of modern-day hucksters.  Why, He would be out setting up neon signs in the streets if He were some of the folks that are on the market today.  But the Lord Jesus, very simply touches the girl's hand, takes her, and says: “Arise, get up little girl.”  And, she does, and that is all that Matthew records for us.  And immediately the news spreads about.  There's nothing outside the scope of Christ's power.  All things are under His dominion, Paul reminds us in Colossians 1:16, and Matthew reminds us of that right here in Matthew chapter 9.  The Lord has the power of death.  All of us come to this place today facing certain fears and disappointments, and trials.  Every one of us has a different obstacle.  Some more severe.  Some less severe.  Some comprehensive, so comprehensive that we can hardly think of anything else.  Are you trusting in Christ today in the midst of that distress, in the midst of that tribulation?  Have you trusted in His power, His power to relive you and enable you to endure in your situation?  Matthew would remind you today that He is the one who restores life.  Trust in Him. 

II. Jesus is the proper object of faith.
There's another thing we learn in this passage in verses 27-31.   We see Jesus as the Messiah, as the proper object of faith.  First, Matthew stresses that we must trust in Christ, that is part of faith, but now the focus of faith is zeroed in on Christ Himself.  First, in the first story that Matthew gives us, he stresses the importance of faith on the part of both the elder of the synagogue and the woman with the hemorrhage, but there is nothing said about the object of that faith.  In the second story, in verses 27-31, the focus of faith is upon the Lord Jesus Himself, and that's why, though it may seem anticlimactic for Matthew to record a resurrection from the dead, and then go down to a mere healing of blindness, the point that Matthew wants to drive home is that the focus of faith of faith, is not in faith, it's not in ourselves, it's in Christ Himself.   He is the proper object of faith.  And so, as He heals the blind man, Christ's power is stressed, but also, our faith in Christ Himself is stressed. 

There are two high points you see in this passage: one is the resurrection of the dead showing Christ's power over everything.  But the other high point you find in verse 34.  That is where, after all these miracles, the Pharisees refuse to believe.  And so their refusal to believe is contrasted with faith in Christ throughout this passage.  And Matthew is giving us a warning there.  If we will not believe in Christ, we will be under judgment.  Jesus clearly fixes the attention of the blind man on Himself: “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” And they say “Yes, Lord.”  The blind men have already called him “Son of David.”  That's a messianic title, and the Lord Jesus accepts that.  ‘Yes, I am the Messiah.  I am the Son of David.  Do you believe that I am able to do this?”  And they respond, reverently, “Yes, Lord.”  After healing them, He tells them not to tell anyone about the miracle,  not to make public acknowledgement of it.  They ignore Hm.  They go out and do it anyway.  You can almost understand why.  The Lord Jesus wants to make sure that His deeds are interpreted in accordance with who He is and the words He says so that the people do not make improper deductions from His miracle power.  He does not want them to bring Him in as some sort of political messiah.  He wants to be able to interpret for them the meaning of His miracles in the context of His own wording.  So this is why He tells them not to tell others.  But this series of miracles is the culmination of this whole section of Matthew's gospel.  And the reason he stresses faith over and over in this passage is he wants us not simply to be amazed.  Matthew is saying to us “Don't just be amazed.  Believe in him.  Don't just say ‘this is amazing, I've never seen the like,’ believe in him.  Put your trust in Christ, and true faith in Christ always confesses Him to be just who He is.”  These blind men, though they had no physical sight, had the spiritual sight to see Jesus as He was, the Son of David, the Messiah, the Son of God.   

III. Our blessing is not in our faith but in the power of Christ.
We learn a third thing in this passage, in verses 32 and 34.  As the first section of the passage stresses the trust element of faith, as the second section of the passage stresses the focus of our faith on the Lord Jesus, so verses 32 through 34 stress that the source of God's blessings is not to be found in our faith, it's to be found in the power of Christ.  Here we see that Jesus' power is not dependent on the faith of those who have been healed.  Here we see also the hardness of the Pharisees' heart.  As Jesus is leaving, these blind men who He has healed, He is approached by people who bring to him a man who was demon possessed.  The physical effect of his demon possession was that he was unable to speak, he was mute, he was dumb.  And Jesus delivers this demon possessed mute, a man brought to him by others, and clearly in that circumstance the man's faith is not the ground of his healing.  The Lord Jesus heals of His own power. 

It is interesting that the Pharisees do not try and deny that the Lord Jesus has done these miracles.  They do something far more wicked, they say ‘Yes, He did those miracles, but He did it by the power of satan.’  They ascribe the work of the Holy Spirit to Satan.  And so they blaspheme.  Isn't it ironic that in verse 30 we have the spectacle of blind men seeing Christ by faith, and in verse 34 we have the spectacle of sighted men blind to Christ because of unbelief.  What an irony Matthew sets before us.  The religious leaders of the day, and yet they were blind to the Messiah. 

This passage reminds us that, contrary to modern faith healers, Jesus' power is not dependent on the faith of those who are seeking wholeness.  Not only does the story of the little girl remind us of that, she was dead, she could exercise no faith.  And the story of the blind man, or of the deaf man, also remind us of that.  The parallel passages like Luke 17:17 remind us that Christ's ability to heal was not dependent upon the faith of those that He was healing.  He intended, of course, to accentuate their faith, but His power to heal was not dependent upon their faith.  And that, of course, throws a kink into the theory of so many of the modern faith healers, who, if they are unable to heal someone, accuse that person of not having enough faith.  This was never the case with our Lord Jesus.  Faith was an instrument, but it was not the source of his ability to heal.  He had sovereign power by virtue of His person.  

IV. The warrant of faith.  The promise of the free offer to all.
Finally, I point you to verses 35-38.  There we see the heart, the compassion of our Lord Jesus revealed, and there, also, we see a focus on the warrant of faith.  The warrant of faith is a nice phrase that theologians use to stress the reasons why people ought to be motivated to come to Christ.  Well, why should you come to Christ if you expect to be condemned because of your sin, why should you have any motivation to come to Christ?  Verses 35-38 give us a warrant for faith, because there we see the compassion of our Lord revealed, and we, too, must seek the same compassionate spirit of our Lord. 

Let me say before we look at the passage itself, so far Matthew has been interested to record in his gospel the words of Jesus' wisdom and the display of His power.  He has shown us that the crowds enthusiastically respond to Christ, and that the Pharisees are antagonistic toward Him in their opposition of the Lord Jesus.  From this point on in Matthew,  Matthew is not only going to show you the outward results of Jesus' ministry, he going to start with revealing to you the heart motions, the heart motivations of those who were the central story of the gospel.  Here he is going to show you the heart of Jesus.  Why is it that Jesus is going about village to village healing?  Because He had a heart of compassion for these people who were like sheep without a shepherd.  But he's also going to start revealing to you the heart of the Pharisees, the heart of the disciples and the hearts of those who are following at the fringe.  In this passage, Matthew begins to show the emotional forces motivating the leading characters in the gospel story.  And so Christ's ministry is seen now as a bitter struggle, and gradually the cross is revealed more and more.  But Christ, here in this passage, looks at the ignorant multitudes and He responds not with derision but with love and compassion.  As He looks at these people who were in rebellion against God and their lives are a wreck, He looks upon them not with disdain but with love, and longing to see them restored to God. 

This passage is so important for us, because when we feel our sin as we ought, our natural tendency is to desire to run away from the judgment of God, but Christ here beckons those who feel themselves sinners to come to Him, for He has compassion, for He sees that we are sheep without a shepherd.  This passage is also so important for the free offer of the gospel, for here He calls on us to go into the field of harvest and call those to Him with a serious, well-intentioned offer that all those who will come to him will find rest.  This whole passage shows us that Christ is the proper object of faith, which is to trust into Him, and to believe His claims.  This passage shows us that faith is the instrument by which we receive the benefits of Christ's work, that is, it's not the source of the blessings which Christ gives us, it's the means, it's the vehicle whereby He gives us those blessings.   And this passage shows us that we have good warrant to trust in Him, for it reveals to us, and gives us confidence in Him because of the heart He shows to us here. 

Embrace Christ in all His fullness.  If you come today sorrowing and weak, embrace Him in His fullness.  If you come in an awareness of your sin, embrace Him, for He longs to restore the scattered sheep to the fold of the one true shepherd.  Let us look to him in prayer. 

Our heavenly Father, we thank You for Your word.  And we ask that You would bless it to our spiritual nourishment for Christ's sake, Amen.

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