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 one 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 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. 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.
The answers from the crowd 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, like the Pharisees, who wilfully insult him.