Sunday, 27 August 2017

The Presence of God (Psalm 46)  

Psalm 46 is frequently called Martin Luther’s psalm. During the initial years of the Reformation when there was much hostility to him and his colleagues, he would often suggest to his friend Melanchthon that they should sing Psalm 46 because it assured them of divine help. Luther’s hymn, based on this psalm is translated into English under the title, ‘A Mighty Fortress is our God.’ 

This psalm is about the presence of God. We can see that is the case from the refrain in verses 7 and 11. His presence is described in two ways. In verses 1-7, it is his presence among his people (note the pronouns) and in verses 8-11 it is his presence everywhere else. Of course, many things can be said about the divine presence and it would not be possible to say everything in one short psalm.

In order to show the wonder of God’s presence, the psalmist considers what would happen in the worst possible scenario. So he mentions an earthquake in verses 2 and 3. We have all seen on the television and elsewhere the devastation that an earthquake causes. Of course, there is more than one kind of earthquake: there are political earthquakes, there are economic earthquakes, and there are social earthquakes in which powerful forces bring about changes that seem so powerful and threatening. We may be going through political and economic changes at present and we are certainly going through a social one.

How should we respond? This psalm tells us how we can do so. First, we need to see what it meant for the author and his contemporaries and then we can take lessons from it for ourselves. Regarding the time when this psalm was composed, no one knows, although that does not stop people making suggestions. It was obviously a time of potential crisis, as we can see from some the things mentioned by the psalmist.

God was with his people
The first response that the psalmist mentions is the bigness of God. He does not say that God is his refuge and strength. Instead, he says that he is capable of looking after all the people of God simultaneously. We are so used to saying such comments that we fail to see the wonder of this amazing reality. Yet this is the amazing fact about God. He can treat each of his people as if he or she was the only one who needed God.

Connected to the bigness of God is the nearness of God. The psalmist points out in verse 1 that God is there in difficult situations. Indeed, the author says that his presence is very certain – he does not say that God is a present help, but a very present help. We should not be surprised at this. The psalmist knew that God was the shepherd who never left his people, but was always there.

Third, we can see that the author focuses on the graciousness of God. It would not be comforting to know that a big God was near, if he was there to punish us for our faults. The psalmist would be aware of his own faults and he would be know that all the people of God had numerous personal faults. Yet to such, the Lord is their refuge and strength. A refuge provides safety and security, and strength gives energy for the situation. God says to them at all times, ‘Come to me to hide in the storm and come to me for power to endure the situation.’ This refuge and strength is not merely physical, it is also spiritual. It is not like hiding in a cave, in darkness, hoping that the enemy cannot see us. Instead, in his presence, we come into the light and we see things as they really are, like the author of Psalm 73 who discovered how insecure the opponents of God always are.

Fourth, the psalmist urges his readers, or fellow singers, to remind themselves of the serenity of the capital city. Jerusalem did not have a major river, instead it had the stream of Siloam. Yet it was a reminder that there was an ongoing source of refreshing water. More importantly, he knew that God was present with them in a special way in the temple. As long as they remained faithful to God, they would be protected by him, even from seemingly powerful enemies. His help could be known all day long, from the dawn of any day. And he could easily deal with any who attacked them.

Fifth, the psalmist noted that God was present with them in two ways. He describes him as the Lord of hosts and as the God of Jacob. The first title reminds us that he is the powerful Commander of the heavenly armies and the second title states that he is the gracious Friend of the individual believer. Israel had known supernatural help from the heavenly armies on numerous occasions. When we think of Jacob, we see a man whom God changed from being self-centred and manipulative into a man who walked with God through many unusual circumstances and trouble. And he still was the God of Jacob when this psalm was written even although Jacob had been dead for centuries.

Sixth, we are asked to observe God’s providence throughout the world. The point that is made in verses 8 and 9 is that God is active all over the earth. Sometimes, he brings judgements and at other times he brings an end to hostilities. Of course, he does much more than those two options. It is the case that God’s people often get so wrapped up in their situations that they fail to take notice of what he is doing elsewhere. They are reminded here that their God is the Lord of the world.

Probably, news was coming to Jerusalem that powerful empires were developing in other parts of the world. For most of their history, Egypt had been a threat, and towards the north there was Syria. The Assyrian empire perhaps had come to the fore by this time. What match did little Jerusalem seem to be in comparison to those powerful alternatives? How should the inhabitants of the city deal with this? By sitting down and thinking about God. They are to think of his purpose which is that he will be exalted in the earth, and they are to remind themselves of who he is, the Commander of the heavenly armies and the God of the individual believer.

It is possible that the command to be still is addressed to the nations who are scheming things and attempting to overturn the plans of God. If that is the correct interpretation, then the words of the psalmist could be regarded as a prayer for enemies rather than an exhortation to the faithful.

God is with his people

As mentioned earlier, we are going through a time of social earthquake in our society, with numerous changes having taken place in the last couple of decades. If all we did was look at the world through the eyes of merely human commentators we would get depressed and disillusioned, fearful and afraid. But we should want to be like this unknown psalmist, and we should be thankful that he has told us what to do.

First, we are to think of the bigness of God. We thought of how the psalmist stressed that God could be with all his people simultaneously. It is still the same today except to say that there are a lot more believers on earth today that actually existed in Israel or Judah at that time. There are probably more of his people in our country today that there were in Israel in the psalmist’s time. And when we add to our total the vast number of believers all over the world, and how each of them is under the care of God, then we sense something of his bigness. Jesus knows the name of each of his sheep.

Second, there is the nearness of God. We don’t know that much about the experience of believers in Old Testament times, mainly because we have never lived as such. The psalmist affirms that God was near them. The application for us is to ask how near he can be to us. When a sinner believes in Jesus, the Holy Spirit comes and lives in that person’s inner life, in his or her heart. That is very close. Moreover, the Holy Spirit comes to bring the Father close to his children and to bring Jesus close to his people. He is never far away from any of them.

Third, the gracious God is with us as our refuge and strength. Jesus said about his disciples that no one could snatch them out of his hand, which is a very secure situation; he then said that no one could pluck them out of his Father’s hand, which means that they are doubly secure. Paul reminded the Colossians that their lives were hidden with Christ in God. Moreover, as Paul wrote, a believer can do all things through Christ who gives them strength, which he does by the Holy Spirit. One amazing feature of this divine provision is that none of those millions who benefit from it deserve it.

Fourth, every believer today is a member of the capital city, the New Jerusalem, and they receive from it heavenly sources of spiritual refreshment. From the throne of God in that city a constant supply of grace comes down from the heavenly storehouse. Of course, the means of this supply is invisible, although the effects are not. The water supply of the earthly Jerusalem brought refreshment to a few thousand. In a far greater way, the water of life reaches its membership of millions wherever they are. And other forms of help also come from the heavenly city to its members. When they obey the Lord, there is serenity and security usually for them.

Fifth, God relates to his people today in both ways mentioned by the psalmist. As the Commander of the heavenly armies he arranges for the protection of his people. People laugh at the notion of a guardian angel and I have heard Christians dismiss this as possible. The only problem I have with the suggestion is why have it in the singular. The writer to the Hebrews informs us that all the angels are ministering spirits who constantly serve God by taking care of the heirs of salvation. And part of that care is protection. In addition, they have the tender care and life-transforming experience of being handled by the God of Jacob. If we want to know how God deals with his people, we should read often the story of Jacob. It gives hope for us all as we watch the Lord changing a swindler and a deceiver into a spiritual giant.

Sixth, the people of Israel were urged to take time and consider what God was doing throughout the world. Sometimes he sent judgements and at other times he sent blessings connected to common grace. We know an amazing secret, not that it is hidden, but since people don’t read the Bible they are in ignorance about it. The secret we know is that Jesus is head over all things for the sake of his body the church.

And we know that the sovereign Lord has not changed his purpose to be exalted in the earth. At times, we are too often in a hurry to consider and reflect, to absorb into our souls the promises in the Bible and the providences we are aware of. Why is the gospel flourishing in South America and Africa? Africa used to be called the dark continent, but things have changed. God is at work to increase his glory, and when we take time to think about or read about what he is doing, it gives confidence and joy to discover what is taking place.

Saturday, 26 August 2017

The Millennium (Rev 20)  

The meaning of the thousand years is very much discussed today. Probably, the most popular idea about it is that it refers to a thousand-year reign of Jesus on earth. This period is regarded as commencing after Jesus returns and then reigns in Jerusalem for a millennium. Many devout believers have held and do hold to this idea. Indeed, most of the ones I have known, and I was converted in a Brethren assembly, were convinced that such an interpretation of Revelation 20 is obvious.

In addition to that premillennial interpretation, there are two other views. The post-millennial view, as the name implies, is advocated by those who believe Christ will come after the millennium. In their case, the millennium is a long period of gospel prosperity that will be followed by a brief period of worldwide departure from the gospel. This idea puts the second coming of Jesus far into the future. Many people in the past held this view, but it is not so common today.

The third view is the amillennial view and its endorsers regard the millennium as symbolic of the present age which covers the period between the two comings of Jesus.

How should we interpret the passage? Here are some suggestions.

First, we should recognise that it may be inappropriate to take the thousand years as a literal period of time. After all, many if not most of the numbers mentioned in this book are not literal. It is better to take the thousand years as representing two things. First, it refers to a long time and, second, it refers to a fixed time. Since the Lord is the controller of time, we can see in this description a reference to his patience and his sovereignty. His patience is seen in the length and his sovereignty is seen in that he decides how long the period will be.

Second, who is affected by the thousand years? The devil is affected by it and those who had died for Jesus had been affected by it. During this period, the influence of the devil is curtailed and the martyrs reign for the thousand years.

Third, it helps us to see what is happening when we realise that four different events are described in the chapter and we will focus on each of them briefly. They are (1) the binding of the devil, (2) the reign of the martyrs, (3) the defeat of God’s enemies and (4) the day of judgement.

The binding of the devil

What is meant by the curtailing of the devil? In the account, he is chained and thrown into a bottomless pit and a secure lid is placed over it. The imagery of this pit suggests that devil finds it impossible to get out of this curtailment. He is always falling down the pit, and even if he managed to reverse this he cannot get past the lid. The reason why he is placed within this pit is to prevent him from deceiving the nations for the period of the thousand years.

We should ask a couple of questions at this stage. First, when was the period when the devil deceived the nations? One answer would be that he did so during the centuries before Jesus came to the cross. Since Jesus ascended to heaven and began to build his worldwide church, it cannot be said that all the nations are deceived. So we can deduce that during that period the devil is prevented from hindering the complete spread of the gospel.

A second question concerns the nature of the binding. If the period of the church is the same as the thousand years, we can see lots of places where the devil seems to hold millions in spiritual blindness. The binding does not mean that he is inactive. Instead it means that he cannot do what he used to do. God limits the range of the devil’s influence.

It is possible that the angel who imprisons the devil is the Saviour. After all, in Jude when the archangel Michael was involved in a dispute with the devil, he won the victory with divine help and not by his angelic strength. It takes a divine being to limit the activities of the devil, and Jesus is divine. Jesus spoke in Luke 11:21-22 of binding the devil.

Here, the devil is said to be the ancient serpent mentioned in Genesis 3 as the creature who tempted Adam and Eve to disobey God in the Garden of Eden. On that occasion, the Lord announced that a Champion would come and defeat the serpent. That prophecy was fulfilled when Jesus defeated the devil at the cross.

There are several comforts that we can take from this reality. First, the binding is evidence that God is in control. Second, the activity of Jesus on the cross included defeating the devil and the removal of his power over the nations. Jesus did defeat the powers of darkness when he was on the cross, as Paul states in Colossians 2:15. Third, during this long period represented by the thousand years, the gospel will triumph among the nations as the kingdom of Jesus progresses.  

The experience of the martyrs

John sees thrones but we are not told where they are located. Given that the description is similar to previous descriptions of the heavenly throne room, it is likely that John was shown what was taking place in heaven at that time. He saw rulers, which may be a reference to angels, but more likely refers to believers who have died. Then he mentions those who had been martyred for the sake of Jesus (including John’s own brother James). They reign with Jesus during the thousand years. Their coming to life is said to be the first resurrection, yet what is surprising about them is that John does not see their bodies. Instead he sees their souls. This also would suggest that the location of the thrones is heaven.

Here we have information about what the righteous dead are engaged in during this period of a thousand years. In heaven, they function as priests and kings. As priests, they participate in the worship of God and of Christ, and as kings they reign with Jesus. We don’t know what or how those contributions take place. Yet we can deduce several details from the description. First, they are conscious, involved in the life of heaven. Second, they are consecrated to divine service. Third, they will experience the work of the Spirit – this is implied in their roles as kings and priests because such were anointed for their tasks. Fourth, they have communion with God and with Jesus.

After the thousand years

Earlier John had been told that the devil would be released for a little while after the period represented by the thousand years was over. Within that brief period, the devil deceives the nations and leads them in an attack on the kingdom of Jesus. The imagery is taken from the book of Ezekiel where Gog and Magog attacked the holy land and were destroyed there by God. A similar outcome occurs here, with the devil’s army destroyed, and he is given special punishment, similar to how the beast and false prophet were dealt with. This is obviously not a literal battlefield. The people of God are not located in a literal camp and city.

Yet we can learn some important truths from this description. First, God is going to have complete victory. Second, large numbers of people will be willing to join an attempt to dethrone God. Third, however bad things are today from a spiritual point of view, they can get a lot worse.

The Great White Throne

John is given an awesome description of the final judgement day. It will be a day of cosmic upheaval. The description is of an ancient trial in which a king judges his enemies. Unlike our trials, there is not a jury. Everyone who is at it is described as dead – they have experienced the first death because they are about to experience the second death. They have undergone a physical resurrection, and all will be there no matter how their lives ended. Evidence will be presented about their lives – this is the point of the books – and each is judged for his or her own actions.

Some matters to observe are these. First, there is the awesomeness of the Judge – his presence causes disturbances. This is probably a description of Jesus, although it could be a reference to the Father. Second, there is the accuracy of the book of life – only those whose names are in it will not be punished by the Judge. Third, there is the size of the assembly – all those who have defied God.

Fourth, there is the complete triumph of God – as Paul says in 1 Corinthians, the last enemy that will be destroyed is death and here it and the temporary place of the dead are overthrown (tossed into the lake of fire). There will be found the beast (the political opponents), the false prophet (the religious opponents), the devil (the leader of the opponents), death (the consequence of the opponents’ practices) and the place of the dead (Hades) – all of them will experience the second death forever. Jesus will have defeated them all. 

Some thoughts

It looks to me that here John uses the word resurrection to describe heaven and the word ‘death’ to describe the places where sin will abound (whether on earth today or in the lake of fire). He does not say that the first resurrection is spiritual regeneration, which is how we often use it. Instead he uses it to describe what happens to the martyrs when their souls get to heaven and are crowned. Other believers also experience the first resurrection when their souls enter heaven.

The thousand years does not refer to a literal millennium – instead it covers the length of time between when Jesus bound the devil until shortly before he returns as judge. Nor does the thousand years refer to what happens in a restored holy land – instead it covers everything that happens anywhere between the binding and the final rebellion. Today we are living somewhere in the thousand years. It is not a literal number, but a symbolic one.

As far as the binding of Satan is concerned, Jesus gave foretastes of it during his years of public ministry. He showed he could the devil during the temptations in the wilderness and every time he delivered someone from demon possession. When his disciples were used to deliver someone from demon possession, it was evidence of the Saviour’s ability to bind the devil. Paul says in Colossians 2:15 that when Jesus was on the cross he made a public display of the devil’s defeat.

I would suggest that the aim of this chapter is twofold. One is to show the completeness of the victory of God illustrated by the binding of the devil, the defeat of the rebellious army, and the verdicts from the great white throne. The other is the glory enjoyed in heaven by departed saints, whether or not they were martyrs. They are blessed beyond words. They are perfect in holiness and they function as priests and kings in the presence of Jesus.

Saturday, 19 August 2017

The King’s War (Rev. 19:11-21)

John is given another vision of the war that is taking place between Jesus and his opponents. It is not a literal war – after all Jesus does not ride into battle sitting on a horse. Nor do believers or angels, depending on who his army is composed of. If we interpret this passage literally, we will have to imagine a literal battlefield at which all the opponents are slain by a sword that comes out of the mouth of Jesus. Instead what we have here is a description of Jesus and his eventual victory over all his enemies.

Several interpreters regard this passage as focussing entirely on the second coming of Jesus, with the Saviour being presented as marching out to the Battle of Armageddon or to the Day of Judgement. It is obvious that the passage ends with a description of a final conflict, but it seems to me that the previous part of the passage is concerned with the age-long spiritual war that Jesus had been engaged in since his ascension and enthronement.

The description of Jesus mentions four names that he has, the cause for which he fights, and the outcome of his campaign. There are clear references to several Old Testament prophecies of the reign and activities of the Messiah. Some of the activities are connected to what he does for his people and others to what he does to his enemies.

The description of Jesus
John observes that Jesus is seated on a white horse and this posture is a threatening one. Military commanders often rode on white horses into battle. Jesus is not described as about to take part in a ceremonial parade. Rather he is on the march in a war. When did this war begin? It commenced with his ascension and will last until all his enemies are defeated.

What is he called? Earlier we mentioned that four names are given to him in this passage. The first one is ‘Faithful and True’ and this name reveals his character. He is also called Faithful and True in the description of him in chapter 3:14, in the message to the church in Laodicea, a church that he had threatened with judgement for their lukewarmness. Since he is called Faithful and True, we need to ask to what or whom he is faithful and true. The answer is that he is faithful and true to his Father and his will, which means that he is also faithful to his people, because their deliverance is his cause. Therefore, the war in which he engages follows the Father’s plan for their salvation, which involves the defeat of his enemies. His character is revealed in his righteous actions. We should note the order of his actions – first, he judges and, second, he deals with the enemies. Therefore those whom he punishes deserve it.

What would a commander need in ancient warfare? He would need good eyesight to observe everything that his opponents were planning and to see what would be the best positions to fight from. Moreover, he would need to have authority from his king or emperor to engage in whatever strategy he chose to implement. When it comes to the leader of God’s army, Jesus has unusual vision because not only does see all things visible he can also see all things invisible. Therefore his enemies can hide nothing from him. Indeed, he knows all possible responses by them as well as all actual activities in which they engage.

How much authority does Jesus have? In the vision, he has many crowns on his head. Of course, in real life, a king can only wear one crown at a time. Yet it is possible to be the ruler of more than one kingdom, and some monarchs have a list of countries over which they rule. Jesus having many crowns in the vision is a way of saying that he has full authority, and he has received this authority from his Father. The Saviour is not like the beast who wore temporary crowns, with temporary describing a very brief period in contrast to the permanence of the reign of Jesus.

What is his second name? Connected to his authority is a special name that he possesses. His name is a secret of some kind. John cannot mean that the Father and the Holy Spirit don’t know what the name means. Instead he must mean that no creature knows about it. Moreover, what is meant by knowing here? Does it mean lack of information about the name or does it mean a lack of understanding of the name? Maybe it is the name ‘Son of God’, and no creature knows the full meaning of that divine name. Perhaps the name is Lord, and who apart from God can fully grasp what that name means for Jesus? If it is the name Lord, then we are reminded also of the place Jesus was given at his ascension when he was enthroned at the Father’s right hand. Whatever this second name is, it reminds us of the supremacy of Jesus because there are aspects to his person that are beyond human discovery.

What is he wearing? John sees that the royal robe of Jesus is bloodstained and is connected to the prophecy of the Messiah in Isaiah 63 where the prophet predicts that he would defeat the enemies of his kingdom. This would suggest that the war had started, and what John sees is a king already engaged in battle, with the blood of his opponents already on his garments. From an external viewpoint, the persecution that was affecting John and other believers at that time did not seem as if Jesus was doing much to prevent what was happening. But that assessment would only be made by those who could not see the full situation. In contrast, the king was at war already defeating some of his opponents.

What is his third name? John is then told that Jesus is also called The Word of God. This could be a reminder of who Jesus is as the eternal God. In John 1:1-14, Jesus is called by this name. As the Word, Jesus spoke the universe into existence and as the Word he maintains everything in existence. And he did not cease to be the Word when he became a man. He is the almighty God. This is a reminder of the incredible power that he possesses, and later on in this passage we will see that he can defeat his opponents by the power of what he says. All he will have to do to ensure judgement will be to announce it.

What about his army? We are told that his soldiers are holy and pure, riding on white horses. It is difficult to work out if these soldiers are angels or saints. Elsewhere in the book, angels are depicted as riding on horses. Recorded in the Bible are numerous occasions when angels dealt with the enemies of God’s people. Yet the description of the army is similar to how believers are described in the preceding section about those called to the marriage supper of the Lamb. So I would say that here we have a picture of the justified people of God engaged in righteous activities, because that is how they engage the enemy. They do so by following their King and imitating his love of righteousness.

What is his weapon? His weapon is unusual because it is said to be a sword that comes from his mouth, in other words, his powerful pronouncements. Through the use of this weapon, Jesus will bring judgements to his opponents because of their behaviour. He does this to implement God’s just anger against the behaviour of those who oppose him.

What is his fourth name? Jesus is King of kings and Lord of lords. Here we are reminded of a truth about Jesus that was once prominent in our outlook, which is that he is King of the nations as well as the King of his church. So from this position or power he executes judgments on those who disobey his will.

It is important that we have this reality before our minds when we see all the injustices taking place on the earth, whether in the past or in the present. We are not to imagine that the only activity that Jesus supervises as King is the spread of the gospel. In addition, he functions as a Judge, and sometimes before the final day of judgement he brings strong judgements to bear on governments and others that oppose him. This would have been a powerful message for the persecuted Christians of the first century as they faced the might of the Roman Empire. It would have been hard for them to believe that one day the powerful empire would be gone. But it did, and so will all forms of opposition to the King. He does it at his own timing and when he does nothing can stop him because he rules with a rod of iron.

The Final Battle
John hears a second invitation to a supper, this time a very different supper from the marriage supper of the Lamb, and this time a call to birds of carrion to have a very large meal. It is pictured by use of a description of an ancient battlefield. We are told the outcome in terms of that kind of situation, not the processes of the battle. John mentions the gathering together of the enemy forces, and then describes their destruction. He may want to stress how weak they were against Jesus even when gathered together. The leaders of the enemy are captured alive and then given a special punishment and the troops that followed them are all slain. We have a description of what will be the state of things regarding his opponents once Jesus has finished his campaign for righteousness.

We should remember that the beast and the false prophet don’t refer to specific individuals but to the political and religious systems that opposed the reign of the King. Their being thrown into the lake of fire tells us that their influence will come to an end and will never reappear. Those who followed them will all be destroyed by the word of the King, which is a graphic way of him pronouncing judgement and experiencing total victory. We are not to deduce that the statement of them being slain suggest annihilation in the sense of avoiding conscious eternal punishment – that would be to take a detail of the illustration and make it contradict clear statements elsewhere in the Bible.

We can take a message of hope from this passage because Jesus is going to win. He is able to fulfil all the promises made about the conquering Messiah. Sometimes he conquers sinners graciously. The rest will be defeated by him. At the end of the day, or should we say the night, he will emerge totally triumphant.

Second, we should always remember too that all attempts to defeat Jesus will fail. It does not matter how strong they seem. This is one way we can look at history. Consider how powerful the enemies of Jesus seemed in the past at different times. Then consider how powerful his contemporary enemies appear to be. This passage shows how impotent they are against Jesus even when they are all gathered together.

Third, Jesus is going to win by himself. The description presents a group of powerful people ranged against the Saviour. Yet it does not matter how many of them there are. They may be mighty, but he is always almighty. He has defeated many and will defeat the rest through his divine authority.

Fourth, Jesus is going to associate his people with him in his victory. They are described as marching behind him. Yet they don’t contribute much to the victory and nothing apart from the King. Any involvement they have requires his power to implement it. This is how we are to understand this holy war.

Sunday, 13 August 2017

Evening in Capernaum (Matthew 9:27-34)

Matthew continues his record of what took place on the day when he was called by Jesus to leave the tax desk and follow him. Maybe one reason for all the activity was a desire of Jesus to show his new servant the amazing things he could expect to see as he was being prepared by Jesus to serve him.

It looks like Jesus was making his way home when the two blind men followed him. There is something ironic here because how could the blind men see the road to follow Jesus. Or maybe Matthew is pointing out that there is more than kind of following Jesus. There is a kind of following that gets you nowhere and there is a kind of following that gets you somewhere.

We have already seen examples of the kind of following that got people nowhere – the following performed by the Pharisees and the disciples of John when they set themselves up as the judges of Jesus. In reality, they were spiritually blind although they had physical sight. In contrast, the two blind men could see spiritually even although they were blind physically.

What the blind men saw
To put it simply, even although they had not seen Jesus they had discerned who he was. We can see that this was the case from the titles they used of him and the request they made to him. One of the titles they used was to address Jesus as the son of David. This was a royal title because David was the first in the official line of kings in Israel. But the title was more than an indication he was connected to David. In addition, it is very likely that they knew the prophecies about the Son of David, the One who would be the Messiah, who would come as the Saviour.

This is why they asked him for mercy. Although they were blind and deserving of sympathy they knew that they needed much more than a few alms that kind people would give to them. They knew that they needed something from God, and we should note that what they needed was not merely their sight, but also mercy. In asking for mercy, they said that Jesus was divine and confessed that they were depraved sinners. After all, only a divine being can give this kind of special mercy, and the only type of person who needs it is someone who has sinned against God.

What the blind men did
They revealed their priority when they cried aloud for mercy. As far as they were concerned, they did not have a list of benefits, such as if they could not get the one at the top they would accept a smaller benefit. So, if Jesus would not give them mercy, he would give them some alms. Imagine if we had asked them, ‘Would you prefer mercy or a million shekels?’ They would have replied that they wanted mercy. The awareness of their need and the awareness of what Jesus could provide made them totally earnest.

Moreover, they revealed the benefit of seeking Jesus with others. Sometimes, people get converted by themselves with no one else involved in the process. Obviously, that is a very good method. Yet, when you get converted, who do you tell? At that moment of great discovery, when you find riches incalculable, who can you share the experience with. In contrast, these two men sought mercy together, and found it together. Right away, they could share it with one another, even pointing out the details they now could see.

Moreover, their shared experience would help them in the future. Imagine one of them saying ten or twenty years later when his eyesight began to fade, ‘I wonder if Jesus did give me my sight because I don’t see everything clearly now.’ His friend could say to him, ‘I was there when your eyes were opened and I shared with you the joy of seeing Jesus and his gracious presence.’ And the friend could go on to relate what some of those things were. In a higher sense, those who have been converted together can remind one another of what they understood on the day they were born again.

It used to be quite common for people to be converted together. They would start seeking the Lord and find themselves attending the same means of grace. Then, perhaps in the same sermon, they heard the voice of the Son of God speaking life into their souls. And when the sermon was over, each of them knew what had happened. We do get converted as individuals, but it is precious for seekers together to find him together.

Again, we can observe that the blind men discerned the proper response to Jesus when he seemed not to be listening to them. Those with natural sight might have concluded that he did not want to speak to them. That thought does not seem to have entered the minds of the blind men. Instead they thought it was appropriate to follow him right into his house. They sensed that there would be the opportunity to have Jesus to themselves. And he did give them the opportunity.

When they started to speak with Jesus, they discovered that he already knew what they wanted. Yet although he knew what they desired, he wanted to hear them request it of him. Why did he follow this process? Because it was a form of spiritual communion in which two sinners and a great Saviour interacted. In a sense, they had no idea what they were asking for. But they would have heard from others about the great things they could see. And that is what discovering salvation is like for the first time.

Jesus asked them what they thought of him. What is faith? Faith is not an attitude merely based on desperation. Nor is it a response based only on emotion. Instead faith is based on knowledge of who the Lord is. Faith is not the discovery of how bad we are; instead it is the discovery of how great and how suitable Jesus is. If we don’t want to know about Jesus, it is questionable if we really want the salvation from sin that he provides. 

They knew that Jesus was the Messiah (the Son of David) who could perform miracles predicted of him. This does not mean that he will do such miracles today. Instead we are to search the Bible to discover what we should expect from the exalted Saviour and base our confidence on what is revealed about him.

The warning they received
Perhaps unexpectedly, the two men were sternly warned by Jesus. Why would Jesus speak in this way to those he had helped? It could have been because he knew that while he had given them a miracle he had not yet given to them the greater miracle of sinlessness. Although they had new eyes, they did not have a perfect heart.

From one point of view, we can understand why they told everyone about what had happened. Their actions may have come from a desire for Jesus to be acknowledged as great. What was wrong with their action? They listened to their own ideas rather than to the wisdom of Jesus. Of course, we know that every person whom Jesus has helped has made this response in one way or another. The outcome of their action would be to make Jesus popular in a way that he did not wish to be popular. He was the Messiah, not a miracle worker, and he was the Messiah who was on his way to the cross, a direction and intention that most people did not understand.

The mute man healed
Matthew then briefly refers to a man who could not speak because he was possessed by a demon. There is much about demon possession that we don’t understand except to say that often it mimics illnesses and disabilities that people have and which have nothing to do with demon possession. All that Matthew wants to tell us about is the response to the deliverance.

Surprisingly we are not given the information we may like to have been given – the first words that the mute man spoke. No doubt he said something to Jesus and this is a reminder that some things don’t need to be made public. Matthew informs us what the crowds affirmed and what the religious leaders concluded. Neither of the responses linked the activity of Jesus with God. The crowd merely said that the activities of Jesus were unique and the Pharisees concluded that Jesus was working for the devil. We could say that the crowds were guilty of the sin of omission and the Pharisees were guilty of the sin of commission. The crowd stated a half-truth and the Pharisees stated a lie.

Both answers reveal that the speakers were still spiritually blind. Saying something commendable about Jesus that does not reach the truth about him is not evidence of spiritual sight. They are still in the dark, although not as dark as those who wilfully insult him.