The King's Authority (Part 2)
The King's Authority (Part 2)117
The King's Authority (Part 2)
Main Idea: Jesus meets our greatest need by providing for the forgiveness of our sins and by defeating death on our behalf.
- The Portrait of Jesus in Matthew 9
- Jesus has authority over sin.
- Jesus' authority penetrates to the root of all suffering, which is sin.
- Our ultimate need is never physical; it's always spiritual.
- The good news of the kingdom: Jesus will forgive you of all your sins.
- Forgiveness is God's greatest gift because it meets our greatest need.
- Jesus has authority to save.
- The call of Matthew
- The question about fasting
- Jesus has authority over death.
- He gives hope in the midst of despair.
- He brings life in the midst of death.
- Jesus has authority over disability.
- He is gently merciful.
- He is the promised Messiah.
- Jesus has authority over the Devil.
- Jesus' ministry on earth: Satan has been defeated.
- Jesus' promise for eternity: Satan will be destroyed.
- Jesus has authority over sin.
- The Bottom Line of Matthew 8-9
- Jesus possesses absolute authority in the world.
- Jesus warrants absolute allegiance from the world.
- The crowds revere him.
- The proud reject him.
- The faithful renounce everything to follow him.
- The Personal Question from Matthew 8-9118
The King's Authority (Part 2)
In the previous chapter, we saw that Matthew has arranged chapters 8-9 to work together. By seeing this relationship, we can understand better what Matthew is trying to tell us. There are three sections containing three miracle stories each (8:1-17; 8:23-9:8; 9:18-34) and two sections that each contain two descriptions of discipleship (8:18-22; 9:9-17). Chapter 8 ends two-thirds of the way through the second section of miracle stories.
Matthew has already shown us in chapter 8 that Jesus has authority over disease—leprosy, paralysis, and fevers are all His servants. He also has authority over disciples, disasters, and demons. And all this is good news for followers of Christ. We trust in His authority over all these things and we rejoice in it. Now in chapter 9, this portrait gets more beautiful, for we realize that we have only been touching on the surface of the real problem. The real problem of the human condition is much deeper and much more severe than a cancer diagnosis or a tornado coming through your neighborhood. And the magnitude of this fundamental problem serves to magnify our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.
The Portrait of Jesus in Matthew 9
Matthew begins his third miracle story cycle in 9:1-8. This story is the only record we have in the entire Gospel of Matthew where Jesus forgives a specific individual, and it happens to a man who didn't ask for forgiveness! The man was paralyzed, so his friends brought him to Jesus for healing, but we don't hear anything about a request for forgiveness. Try to put yourself in this man's shoes (or on his mat) and imagine what would be going through your mind if the first thing Jesus said to you was, "Have courage, son, yours sins are forgiven" (v. 2). Forgiveness may not have been what he was looking for, and therein may be the key to the whole story. The text doesn't specifically say, but it seems as if this man and his friends were hoping that Jesus would heal his paralysis. Jesus astounds everyone when He says, in effect, that the man had a much deeper issue than paralysis.119
Jesus has authority over sin
Matthew makes plain that Jesus has authority over sin. A lot of people in the first century would have equated this man's disability with sin. In John 9 people basically assumed a certain man was blind due to either his sin or his parents' sin; therefore, it is likely here that people, maybe even the paralytic himself, thought he was paralyzed due to sin. To be fair, that's a possible explanation, since the Bible does give us pictures of physical penalties for sin in our lives (see 1 Cor 11:29-30). However, the text doesn't tell us whether or not this man's sickness was due to a particular sin in his life. Nevertheless, the point still stands: all suffering is ultimately caused by sin in the world.
This miracle story teaches us that Jesus' authority penetrates to the root of all suffering, which is sin. As we saw in the previous section (8:16-17, pp. 108-12 above), all of our spiritual and physical struggles, including suffering and pain, can be traced back to sin and separation from our Creator. This sin can be either in your life, as in sins that you have committed and are suffering for, or in the world. This latter category refers to sins that occur as a result of living in a fallen, diseased, decaying world. Unlike sin in your own life, which can bring suffering and other negative consequences, including God's fatherly discipline (Heb 12:5-11), sin in the world leads to suffering that is not necessarily connected to a particular wrongdoing. The point of this passage is that Jesus came to deal with the root of all suffering: sin.
Jesus' approach to this paralytic teaches us that our ultimate need is never physical; it's always spiritual. This holds true no matter what type of suffering we are experiencing. If we are suffering as a result of our own sin, the need that we address is spiritual—we go to the core of where we are in our relationship with God. On the other hand, even if we are suffering simply as a result of living in a sinful world, our ultimate need is still spiritual. Like Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:9, we desperately need to know in the midst of our suffering that the Lord's grace is sufficient.
Jesus' authority over sin infuriated the scribes (the teachers of the law) because they knew only God can forgive sins. Jesus was thus claiming to be God, which brings us to the good news of the kingdom. Chapters 8-9 continue to put Jesus' deity on display. Only God is able to calm the wind and the waves. Only God is able to command disease. Only God can forgive sins. Therefore, since Jesus does all these things, we conclude that Jesus is God. In other words, the King is here.120
Recall from chapter 8 the error that many people fall into at this point. The great hope you have due to the King's arrival is not that Jesus will heal you of all your sicknesses. After all, we don't send missionaries across the globe and say, "Trust in Christ, and your cancer will be gone." The good news is not that you will instantly be given better health, but that Jesus will forgive you of all your sins.
This is what we need most. For when our sins are forgiven, the root problem is severed. All other struggles we have in this world are temporary. To use Paul's language in 2 Corinthians 4:16-17, "Even though our outer person is being destroyed, our inner person is being renewed day by day. For our momentary light affliction is producing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory."
God gives us many good things, but forgiveness is God's greatest gift because it meets our greatest need. The central message of Christianity is that God will forgive your sins through Jesus. There is no greater news in the whole world than this. The idea that by trusting in Jesus you will receive health and wealth is no gospel at all. The gospel is so much greater than that: Trust in Jesus, and you will be made right before God. That's the news we need to hear, and that's the news we need to spread around the world. No matter what you've done against God, no matter how sinful your past or present might be, God is gracious, and through Christ He will wipe your sins away.
Jesus has authority to save
Matthew recounts the story of his own call to discipleship in verses 9-13. Jesus has declared His authority over sin, and now He demonstrates that authority with a sinner named Matthew (or Levi, as he is referred to in Mark 2:14 and Luke 5:27). Jesus has authority to save, even in the case of tax collectors. This was Matthew's profession before becoming one of the 12 apostles and before recording this very Gospel. Tax collectors were constantly interacting with unclean Gentiles (non-Jews), and they were known for taking advantage of Jewish people for the sake of Rome and for the sake of their own pockets. Nevertheless, Jesus goes straight to this despised man.
The call of Matthew is a wonderful demonstration of the fact that Jesus pursues sinners. After all, why would He choose Matthew? Jesus was surrounded by tons of people, and His miracles were attracting quite a crowd. Yet, He pursues Matthew and calls him as a disciple. It is incredibly good news that Jesus summons sinners to Himself. His call121 to Matthew in verse 9—"Follow Me!"—is the same weighty call He gave to Peter, Andrew, James, and John earlier (4:18-22). Matthew was summoned to leave his post, his position, and his possessions. Tax collectors were usually fairly wealthy because there was so much room for profit in their business, so this was a significant financial and career sacrifice. If following Jesus didn't work out for Matthew, what job could a former tax collector get? Undoubtedly, this was a decisive moment in Matthew's life as he dropped everything to follow Jesus. May God help us to be done with casual discipleship—as if there were such a thing!
Notice that Matthew didn't leave his tax booth in a spirit of grim resignation. Immediately after stepping out to follow Jesus, he threw a banquet, a feast for sinners! We've already seen that Jesus pursues and summons sinners, and now we see that Jesus satisfies sinners. This upset the Pharisees, because they ignored sinners. They stayed away from the tax collectors and other people who weren't ceremonially and culturally clean like themselves.
It is my hope that the church I am a part of will not be like the Pharisees as we consider the people around us. I want the church I pastor to be a people who come alongside and minister to prostitutes and drug pushers, to homosexual men and women, and to the outcasts. This doesn't mean we join them in their sin, but we do reach out to them because we love sinners. We realize what these Pharisees didn't realize—that we are all sinners in need of God's grace and mercy. We take seriously the words of Jesus: "Those who are well don't need a doctor, but the sick do" (v. 12). Sick people clearly need a doctor, but sinful people desperately need a Redeemer. This is why Jesus came. He quotes from Hosea 6:6, "I desire mercy and not sacrifice" (Matt 9:13), to make clear that He has come to change sinners' hearts, not to prop up people who think they are righteous through their religious traditions and ritualistic worship.
Jesus' interaction with the Pharisees in verses 9-13 leads directly into the question about fasting in verses 14-17. We can split this section up into two parts. First, we need to understand why Jesus' disciples didn't fast then, in the time of Jesus' earthly ministry. That's the big question posed by John's disciples, to which Jesus replies, "Can the wedding guests be sad while the groom is with them?" (v. 15). This loaded statement from Jesus is worth reflecting on.
Fasting is related to sadness or mourning. Fasting is a picture of mourning, of broken-heartedness. Oftentimes, people fast when things aren't going the way they are supposed to. But Jesus here uses122 the imagery of a wedding feast with wedding guests and a bridegroom. Throughout the Old Testament, God had pictured Himself as the husband, the groom, of His bride Israel. For instance, Hosea says,
In that day—this is the Lord's declaration—you will call Me, 'My husband.'... I will take you to be My wife forever. I will take you to be My wife in righteousness, justice, love, and compassion. I will take you to be My wife in faithfulness, and you will know Yahweh. (Hos 2:16, 19-20)19
These were promises that God would draw His people to Himself like a groom seeks after a bride. With this beautiful imagery, Jesus is making the incredible claim, "The groom is with you!" In other words, "I am the groom!" Jesus is saying that He is God, and that He has come to betroth His people to Him forever.
In light of the fact that Jesus is claiming to be present as the groom, it makes sense that His disciples would not be fasting. You don't sit around at a wedding mourning and fasting. This is a time for feasting, not fasting. For generations God's people longed for the groom to come, for God to come and save them. They had prayed and mourned and fasted, waiting for that day. And now, Jesus says, the day is here. After a thousand years of waiting, the King had finally come! And that changed everything.
In verses 16-17, Jesus uses two more illustrations to make a similar point. You don't put an unshrunk patch on an old garment, He says, for it will make a tear worse. And you don't put new wine into old wineskins, for the old containers can't hold the new wine. God was also doing something new with the coming of Jesus, and this was not just a revision or an update of the Jewish religious system. Christ's coming was a transformation of everything. This royal bridegroom was making a way for people to come to God. This was a time for celebration.
Although the present hour was a time for celebration, Jesus spoke of a time when fasting would be appropriate. He says in verse 15, "The time will come when the groom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast." We see here why Jesus' disciples do fast now. The time for fasting began immediately after Jesus died on the cross, rose from the grave, and ascended into heaven. The bridegroom was gone, so there's a sense in which we would expect to see disciples of Jesus fasting in the123 book of Acts (Acts 13:2; 14:23).20 However, in light of His death and triumphant resurrection, what reason did they still have to mourn?
It's crucial that we understand the difference between Old Testament fasting and New Testament fasting. Old Testament fasting was a longing and a waiting for the King to come. It was purely a future hope. New Testament fasting, on the other hand, has both a past and a future element to it. The past element has to do with looking back to the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, believing firmly that the King has come. Followers of Christ have tasted the new wine of His presence. We have been forgiven of our sins, and we have been satisfied by our Savior. So in that sense, there is not mourning; there is rejoicing.
Yet, at the same time, we have been promised that there is more to come; this is the future element to our fasting. Although the King has come, we know that our world is still full of sickness, disease, suffering, and pain. The effects of sin and the fall are all around us: paralysis, fevers, malaria, HIV/AIDS, cancer, tornadoes, hurricanes, etc. Based on the entire context of Matthew 9, we know that Jesus has authority over all these things; therefore, what we are longing and fasting for is the day when the King will put an end to these menaces once and for all. We'll live in a new heaven and a new earth where we will dwell forever with our King (Rev 21).
In Acts 1:11 those early disciples were told to look for Christ's coming. The angel said to them, "This Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come in the same way that you have seen Him going into heaven." This should continue to be our eager expectation—it's why we fast now. Those who celebrate the ascension of the King now crave the consummation of the kingdom. We fast and we pray and we crave the day when what we have tasted and seen in Christ will be complete.
Jesus has authority over death
In Matthew 9:18-26 the picture we get of Jesus' authority gets even better. Not only does Jesus have authority to save, but also Jesus has authority over death. Matthew gives us two miracle stories in one episode.124
Notice the faith of those who approach Jesus in this passage. First, you have a leader named Jairus who came and knelt before Jesus. Jairus confessed that Jesus had the authority to save His daughter (v. 18). Then, on the way to see Jairus's daughter, a woman who had been sick, unclean, and socially ostracized for 12 years touched Jesus. Matthew lets us in on what she was thinking: "If I can just touch His robe, I'll be made well!" (v. 21). Jesus' authority is comforting, then, because He gives hope in the midst of despair. Just picture this lady: for 12 years she had lived with this health problem and no one had been able to help her. To add insult to injury, this was not just a physical problem; it was also spiritual. According to Jewish law, this lady was ceremonially unclean, so she was not allowed to go to the temple and participate in Jewish religious life. It's all but certain that she couldn't have a social life, since people could not touch her for fear of defilement (Lev 15:19). Yet, she believed that she would be made well if only she could touch Jesus' garment, which is exactly what she did (Matt 9:20-21).
When Jesus was touched, He stopped immediately in the middle of a crowd of people. He looked at the woman and said, "Have courage, daughter.... Your faith has made you well" (v. 22). Even in a crowd, Jesus gives hope in the midst of despair. What good news to those who are hurting, to those who are walking through pain or struggling in some area of life. You are not lost in the crowd before Jesus. He is intimately aware of every single detail of your life. He knows your struggle, and His love for you is extremely personal. In the middle of the crowds, you have His attention, though not in some self-centered way, as if the world revolves around you. But because you are a child of God, Jesus is attentive to your deepest needs, and you have His affectionate attention.
After healing this unclean woman, Jesus demonstrated His authority over death by raising the daughter of Jairus (vv. 23-26). Jesus not only brings hope in the midst of despair, but He brings life in the midst of death. The traditional funeral had already begun, with the flute players brought in and the mourners assembled. But Jesus said, "Leave... because the girl isn't dead, but sleeping" (v. 24). Those present laughed at Jesus. Of course, He knew she was dead, but He also knew that her death was only temporary. Can you imagine being at a funeral with a body in a coffin and someone arriving and saying, "Stop the funeral," and then taking the corpse by the hand and saying, "Rise"? What boldness! And yet it was humble authority, as Jesus cleared the crowd125 outside, took the girl by the hand, and raised her up. With Jesus, death is temporary.
When we put Matthew 8-9 together, this life-giving miracle actually makes sense. The One who has authority over disease, natural disasters, and demons, and the One who has severed the root of all suffering with His authority over sin, has authority over death itself. This authority will ultimately be shown when Jesus dies on the cross. And make no mistake, as the One with power over death Jesus really died and was placed in a tomb. His heart flat-lined for three days before He walked out of the tomb on His own authority. Death does not have the last word; Jesus does. The Canadian scientist G. B. Hardy once said,
When I looked at religion, I said, I have two questions. One, has anybody ever conquered death, and two, if they have, did they make a way for me to conquer death? I checked the tomb of Buddha, and it was occupied, and I checked the tomb of Confucius and it was occupied, and I checked the tomb of Mohammed and it was occupied, and I came to the tomb of Jesus and it was empty. And I said, There is one who conquered death. And I asked the second question, Did he make a way for me to do it? And I opened the Bible and discovered that He said, Because I live, ye shall live also. (As cited in MacArthur, Matthew 8-15, 75)
In our superficial culture, we need to hear that death is real, that it's difficult and painful. But with Jesus, death is only temporary. So we say with Paul, "For me, living is Christ and dying is gain" (Phil 1:21). Dying is gain when you're with the One who has authority over death.
Jesus has authority over disability
Matthew includes two more healing stories in chapter 9. The first occurs in verses 27-31 involving two blind men. This encounter teaches us that Jesus has authority over disability. Eager to see, these blind men cried out, "Have mercy on us, Son of David!" (v. 27). This brief plea tells us two things about Jesus. First, He is gently merciful, even in the midst of our suffering. Second, He is the promised Messiah. This is the first time in the book of Matthew that someone besides Matthew calls Jesus the "Son of David," a title that takes us all the way back to Matthew 1:1, where Matthew introduced Jesus as "the Son of David, the Son of Abraham." There is no question that these blind men realize who Jesus is.126 Isaiah 35:5 had promised that with the coming of the Messiah the "eyes of the blind will be opened." These men may well have known of such a prophecy and taken from it great hope in the Messiah. Notice that even in their blindness, these two men were able to see what all the Pharisees and scribes and teachers of the law around them could not see. May the Lord give us eyes to see Jesus as well.
Jesus has authority over the Devil
Finally, in verses 32-34 we see that Jesus has authority over the Devil. A demon-oppressed man who was mute was brought to Jesus. Many believe the man was deaf as well, being unable to speak and unable to hear specifically because of demonic oppression. We shouldn't conclude from this passage that anyone who is mute or deaf (or has any disability) is oppressed by a demon. Rather, Matthew is using this story as one piece of evidence that Jesus is indeed the Messiah. Jesus' response to John the Baptist in Matthew 11:2-5 is instructive here:
When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent a message by his disciples and asked Him, "Are You the One who is to come, or should we expect someone else?"
Jesus replied to them, "Go and report to John what you hear and see: the blind see, the lame walk, those with skin diseases are healed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor are told the good news."
The very things predicted of the Messiah in the Old Testament were being fulfilled in Jesus' ministry. We saw earlier from Isaiah 35:5 that the Messiah would open the eyes of the blind; here is the fuller context, which is extremely relevant for Jesus' healing in Matthew 9:
Strengthen the weak hands,
steady the shaking knees!
Say to the cowardly:
"Be strong; do not fear!
Here is your God; vengeance is coming.
God's retribution is coming; He will save you."
Then the eyes of the blind will be opened,
and the ears of the deaf unstopped.
Then the lame will leap like a deer,
and the tongue of the mute will sing for joy,127
for water will gush in the wilderness,
and streams in the desert. (Isa 35:3-6)
According to Isaiah, the Messiah would usher in a new day, and in the fullness of His kingdom (something which is still future) the blind will see, the deaf will hear, the lame will leap, and the mute will sing for joy.
How do we know this for sure? The response of the Pharisees in verse 34 gives us a clue. They say, "He drives out demons by the ruler of the demons!" They were claiming that Jesus was demonic, and that demonic power was the source behind His miracles. Jesus makes clear in Matthew 12 that that was not the case. Instead of being in league with Satan, there was another reality at work in Jesus' ministry on earth: Satan has been defeated. Jesus casts out demons, not because He is of the Devil, but because He has overcome the Devil. Jesus has authority over sin, death, and the Devil himself. Therefore, we can rejoice in Jesus' promise for eternity: Satan will be destroyed. The enemy will be cast down, and his sting will never be felt again, because Jesus has all authority over the enemy (1 Cor 15:56-57).
The Bottom Line of Matthew 8-9
After seeing Jesus' miracles and His teaching on discipleship in chapters 8 and 9, several points of application are especially relevant. First and foremost, we must see that Jesus possesses absolute authority in the world. This means that He reigns over us supremely. Who are we to tell Him what He should do with our lives? Surely we don't think that we're wiser than the King? He is wise, He is good, and He is in control; therefore let us rest in the security of His supreme authority.
When we think of Jesus' authority, we should not imagine a raw, lifeless power, for that is not the picture the Bible gives us. Right here in Matthew 9 we've watched Jesus in action and we've seen that He loves us deeply. His showcase of authority is not self-ish; it's self-less. He even commands certain people that He heals not to tell anyone. He is doing what He's doing because He wants to save sinners from hell. This is why He came. It's why He pursues you, summons you to Himself, and then satisfies you—because He loves you deeply.
Next, we see that in light of His absolute authority in the world, Jesus warrants absolute allegiance from the world. Recall the three types of people who responded to the authority of Jesus in this passage. First, you have many people on the outside observing all these miracles,128 and the crowds revere Him. In the first miracle in chapter 9, the healing of the paralytic, the crowds were afraid (v. 8). In response to the last miracle, they marveled (v. 33). So there's a following attached to Jesus, and it consists largely of people who are amazed by His miracles; however, they only admire Him from a distance. The praise of man is passing, and the crowds are fickle. When Jesus walks a long, dusty, difficult road to the cross, few of them will still follow Him.
On the other hand, we see the proud reject Him. The scribes, the Pharisees, and the teachers of the law all thought they were counted among the righteous, yet they rejected the Righteous One. This same spirit is reflected all around the world today, even in our own conservative evangelical churches. It's a spirit of self-sufficiency, where we communicate (often implicitly) that we don't need Jesus. We refuse to humble ourselves before Him and trust in Him. That's a foolish response to Jesus, and it's ultimately dangerous. The only proper response is to bow before this glorious King and receive His mercy.
The appropriate response to Jesus in this passage can be seen as the faithful renounce everything to follow Him. This response is reflected in two main ways. First, we see those who believed that Jesus had merciful authority to meet their need: a leper (8:2), a centurion (8:5-9), a paralyzed man and his friends (9:2), a sick woman (9:20-21), a grieving dad (9:18-19), and blind men (9:27-28). These individuals renounced themselves and trusted in Christ. Second, in a similar way, we see Matthew abandon his livelihood to follow Jesus (9:9). The faith-full—those full of faith—gladly renounce themselves and the things of this world to follow Jesus. They trust in His mercy.
What about you—will you humbly and gladly submit to the authority of Jesus? Or will you instead revere Him from a distance like the crowds? Would you even dare to proudly reject Him like the Pharisees? May God give us the faith of the unclean woman who said to herself, "If I can just touch His robe, I'll be made well!" (9:21).
Reflect and Discuss
- What would you say if someone asked you, "What is your greatest need?" Explain your answer.
- Explain the difference between suffering that is directly related to your own sin and suffering that comes as a result of living in a fallen world.129
- If someone said that Jesus never claimed to be divine, how could you respond by using the account of the paralytic?
- How might Jesus' calling of Matthew give us hope for unbelievers we know who seem unreachable with the gospel?
- Why do disciples of Jesus fast now? What does this say about our ultimate hope?
- How does the account of the woman touching Jesus' robe speak against the idea of earning God's favor?
- How does the blindness of the two men in verses 27-31 serve as an indictment of the Jewish leadership?
- Explain the following statement: Satan's defeat is in the past, but his final destruction is in the future.
- What is the danger of merely admiring Jesus' supernatural abilities?
- What two or three aspects of Jesus' character stand out in this passage? Do these things come to mind when you think about Jesus?
Two other examples of similar language include Isa 62:5 and Jer 31:32.
On a similar note, Paul speaks of the new day that had arrived as a result of the Lord's coming in 2 Cor 6:2: "Look, now is the acceptable time; now is the day of salvation." He also picks up the wedding/marriage imagery in 2 Cor 11:2 in describing his ministry to the Corinthians: "For I am jealous over you with a godly jealousy, because I have promised you in marriage to one husband—to present a pure virgin to Christ."