Our reading begins today with Matthew chapter 8. After preaching His sermon, Jesus comes down from the mountain and is met by a leper (8:2). Note that “great crowds” are still following Jesus (v. 1). Jesus heals the leper and gives Him two commands. First, Jesus tells him to tell no one who healed him. Jesus is looking to keep the crowds from getting any larger at this point. Too much attention will hinder His ministry at this point. Second, Jesus tells him to follow the Law regarding leprosy (see Lev 14:1-32). This is more significant than we realize. Jesus just preached the Sermon on the Mount, and then tells this man to follow the Law of Moses. There is no contradiction between what Jesus just preached and the Law, rightly understood. At that point in time, Jesus had not yet “fulfilled all righteousness” (3:15) and was yet to accomplish the Law (5:18). God’s people were still under the guardianship of the Law (see Gal 3:24-25).
Next, se wee that Jesus ministers to a Roman Centurion (8:5-13). Gentiles were included in His ministry. And note that though He just commanded the leper to follow the Law, He tells those who followed Him (Jews) that this Centurion had faith greater than theirs and would be in the kingdom of heaven while the Jews would be judged. There is, again, no contradiction. Matthew is showing how faith was always the point (see Gal 3:5-9). True obedience to the Law was the outward response to inward faith. In the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law (v. 15), Jesus fulfilled Isaiah 53:4 This is a physical fulfillment that points to the reality of the spiritual fulfillment of that prophecy.
In the calming of the sea, Matthew shows the limited understanding of the few Apostles at this point. Jesus had performed miraculous healings and had performed exorcisms, but others in Jewish history did these things. Even in the first century, there were reports of other miraculous healings and exorcisms. Jews understood the spiritual realm far better than modern Christians do! But a miracle over the powers of nature? That was something unheard of! And the Apostles wonder what sort of man Jesus is (v. 27). They still have much to learn…
Then, Jesus comes upon two demoniacs. The parallel account in Mark (Mk 5:3-4) seems to intimate that no one was able to help these men (or at least one of them) through exorcism. Jesus now sets Himself apart from other exorcists. And note that this is in Gentile territory. Manuscripts of Matthew differ (as do both manuscripts of Mark and Luke) on where this took place, Gadara or Gergesa. Both were on the eastern side of the Jordan, but Gergesa was on the Sea of Galilee. Note that the demons recognize Jesus as the Son of God (v. 29). Matthew is drawing a contrast between the Apostles who regarded Jesus as a man, and the demons who knew He was the Son of God (see Jas 2:19).
Chapter 9 begins with the healing of a paralytic (9:1-8). Here we see that the miracles (physical healing) point to the truth of Who Jesus is and the spiritual healing He provides. He alone can forgive sins. The physical healing points to that truth. And note in verse 8 that the crowds glorify God Who gave this authority to a man. They have much to learn…
Verse 9 records the calling of Matthew. Note that in the parallel accounts in Mark (Mk 2:14) and Luke (Lk 5:27), his Hebrew name Levi is used. Here, Matthew uses the name Christ gave him. This reveals Matthew’s humility. He is not denying the sinner he was. In verses 12-13, Jesus is speaking of the difference between self-righteous men like the Pharisees, and those who recognize their spiritual poverty (5:3) and who seek righteousness they don’t have on their own (5:6).
In Jesus’s answer about fasting (vv. 14-17), He is saying quite a bit. That His disciples do not mourn while “the bridegroom” is with them is a reference to Old Testament prophecy about God being the bridegroom of Israel (see Jer 2:2 and the imagery of Hosea 1-3). Jesus is claiming to be God. What’s more, that the disciples do not “mourn” (v. 15) in the context of fasting is a reference to the “affliction” commanded by God on the Day of Atonement in Leviticus 16:29-31. Jesus’s “being taken away” (His death) will be the time for fasting, i.e., the Day of Atonement.
Verses 18-32 record various healings by Jesus. If we keep in mind that the miracles are a means of proving the words of Jesus, then we see what Matthew is showing us. The miracle of the woman who touched His garment (v. 20) being healed show that it is faith that heals (v. 22). The raising to life of the little girl show that those who die in faith are but sleeping (see John 11:11, 1 Cor 15:6) awaiting our awakening at the resurrection. The miracle of healing the blindmen shows how our eyes are opened by faith.
In verse 35, we see that Jesus was a teacher and preacher of the Gospel first, and a healer second. So in verse 36, when Jesus sees the crowds and has compassion on them because they were helpless like sheep without a shepherd, this is referring to their need of the Gospel. These are the laborers He needs: people that share the Gospel. The harvest is not physically healed people, it is spiritually healed people.
In chapter 10, Jesus calls the twelve Apostles1 and sends them out. It is not an accident that He chooses twelve. He parallels the twelve tribe of Israel because the church is the Israel of God (see Gal 6:16). Note that Jesus sends them only to Jews (v. 5). Christianity is the natural end of Judaism. In a way, it is incorrect to say that Jews “convert” to Christianity. They really just wind up where Judaism points them – they continue to follow God and heed His revelation. And the Jews’ rejection of Jesus was necessary for His ministry to expand to the Gentiles (we will see this in Romans 9-11). But note that even here, their mission will result in the Gospel coming to the Gentiles (v. 18).
Jesus gives them authority to perform the same miracles He did (v. 8a). For them, like Jesus, the miracles are secondary to the message, which we see in Jesus’ initial instruction to proclaim the same message He (4:17) and John the Baptist (3:2) preached (v. 7). For this mission, they required nothing (v. 9-10), but rather were to give as they had received (v. 8b). And those who respond with faithlessness would be judged (v. 15).
Jesus then warns (promises?) of the life of a believer who shares the Gospel (vv. 16-23). Note what Jesus says in verses 17-20. First, this implies that the mission to Israel will necessarily expand at some point beyond Israel. Second, who is Jesus talking about? I believe that He is speaking primarily of the Apostles. We will not all be dragged before earthly rulers and be beaten. Neither will we be given words to speak like they will. However, this is programmatic for all who follow Christ. We will face opposition, and we should speak what the Holy Spirit gives us, which is the truth of the inscripturated Word.
What Jesus says in verse 23 should also grab our attention. What does Jesus mean by the message being taken throughout all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man (Jesus Himself) comes? There are many (I mean, MANY!) interpretations to this passage. I believe it is best to consider the imagery Jesus is invoking by using the Son of Man title. This is from the book of Daniel, chapter 7. In Daniel 7:13-14, we read:
I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.
This is a vision of the end times. But note that it speaks of the Son of Man “coming” to the Ancient of Days and Him being given a throne. This certainly speaks of the end times, but the end times begin at Jesus’s ascension. To put it plainly, Jesus in Matthew 23 is talking about His ascension and the inauguration of the end times. He is expressing the urgency of the mission to Israel, because His crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension (which results in the sending of the Spirit – see John 16:7) will usher in the end when the mission will expand to the ends of the earth (see Acts. 1:8).
Christ then encourages faith in the face of earthly persecution (vv. 26-33). God is in control, and nothing will befall the Apostles outside of His sovereignty (see Matt 6:25-34). Jesus then explains what will happen as the result of His work (vv. 34-39). There will be great division – even violence – because of His work. Household will be divided over Him. But if the Apostles (and the church) are going to fulfill their mission, we need to be willing to lose what we have on earth. Lose your life here for His sake, and gain life in the world to come (v. 39). Jesus then speaks of the rewards He promised in the Sermon on the Mount (5:47, 6:4, 6:18-21). The rubber of the Sermon on the Mount meets the road in the mission of the church.
Chapter 11 begins with the question by John the Baptist about whether or not Jesus is the Messiah. This is not necessarily unbelief on John’s part, but could be a way to instruct his followers to now follow Jesus. Jesus invokes the prophecy of Isaiah 35:5-6 in answer to the question. Jesus is explaining that there is more to the Messianic mission that the overthrow of the wicked. Jesus then expounds John and his ministry, calling him the greatest of all prophets (11:11). And yet, everyone in the Kingdom of Heaven is greater than he. Jesus is showing the superiority of the New Covenant. Jesus also identifies John as the promised messenger of Malachi 3:1 (v. 10, 14), which means that Jesus is claiming to be the Messiah.
Jesus then shows how the religious elite rejected Him and John not because of their deeds – their ministries could not have been any different! (vv. 18-19) – and then pronounces woe on those who did not believe in Him. The idea is that it wasn’t His (or John’s) works that were the issue, it was the rejection of their message (which we know was the same). Jesus pronounces judgment on the unbelievers, saying their unbelief is worse than some the worst sins of the Old Testament (vv. 23-24). Again, it isn’t works, it’s faith!
Jesus then thanks the Father that the “wise and understanding” (a little holy sarcasm) were not given ears to hear, but that the “little children” (this is talking about full trust and faith) were given ears to hear. It is clear here that Jesus speaks of faith as something granted by God out of His grace (v. 26). That we cannot “know” Father or Son unless Christ reveals them to us reinforces this idea. Yet, there is a universal call, offered to those laden with sin, to come to Jesus for rest. This would invoke Sabbath rest to His audience, a pointer to the security and provision God alone can provide. Jesus invites us to take off our burden of sin, and take on His yoke (salvation) by learning from Him. If we do, we will be granted not a physical Sabbath rest, but the spiritual rest to which the Sabbath points.
The chapter ends by Jesus telling us that His yoke (which He invites us to trade our own for – v. 29) is easy, and that His burden is light (v. 30).2 The yoke worn by animals signified their submission to their owner and the works that resulted from that submission. Apart from Christ, our submission is to sin. In addition, Jesus may have in view the burden of the Law as it was misunderstood by the Jewish leaders (which also leads to sin – see Gal 3:10-14). In either case, Jesus invites us to lay down that burden, and take on His. We can escape our submission to sin, through submission to Christ, and flee the works of sin for righteousness.
1 Please note that much more than the Twelve followed Jesus. We know from Acts 1:21-23 that there were two other men that followed Jesus from the very beginning of His ministry. There were more who joined Him during His ministry, including women.
2 If you’ve never heard it, Handel’s “His Yoke Is Easy” from his Messiah is an amazing composition. Here is a link if you’d like to take a listen: https://open.spotify.com/track/4o56GUDg6wn5RjAy38yNrl?si=6a53b44130fb4441