KINGLY POWER Matthew 8–9
” ‘But so that you may know that the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins. . . . ’ Then He said to the paralytic, ‘Get up, take your mat and go home’ ” (Matt. 9:6).Jesus had called for citizens to populate His kingdom. Now He displayed a royal power over all forces in natural and supernatural worlds.
Definition of Key Terms
The Greek word for “authority” is exousia. Its basic meaning is “freedom of action.” A person with total authority has total freedom of action. No human being has total freedom of action. All of us are limited by others who act in ways that limit our freedom, as a slave is limited by his master, a soldier by his commander, a student by his teacher, or a citizen by his ruler. We are also limited by circumstances: our state of health, our financial condition, sex, size, etc. Yet in Matthew 8–9 Jesus demonstrated an authority that is total! He is not limited by natural laws, by the sicknesses or sin that bind humanity, or by the demonic forces that attack us. His freedom to act is not even limited by death! In the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5–7) Jesus laid down principles by which to live. His miracles of healing remind us that we can trust ourselves totally to Him, for He is Lord of all.
King Jesus, willing and able to heal (8:1–17), expects total allegiance (vv. 18–22). His authority to overcome nature (vv. 23–27), demons (vv. 28–34), and even human sin (9:1–13), shows that God was doing a new work among men (vv. 14–17). Jesus raised a dead girl (vv. 18–26) and continued to heal and cast out demons (vv. 27–34), providing a ministry model for workers in His kingdom (vv. 35–38).
Understanding the Text
“Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean” Matt. 8:1–4. The old argument raised by skeptics states that if God has power to correct the evils that torment mankind, He must not be good, for He has not done so. On the other hand, if He does not have that power, He must not be God. The argument breaks down as soon as we introduce the element of free will. A good and all-powerful God has given human beings freedom of choice, even though the choices men have made introduced pain and evil into our world. The argument also breaks down when we read these chapters of Matthew’s Gospel. Here we see a Jesus who is both good and all-powerful. Again and again Jesus exercised His power as God, and each time it was to help or heal a human being in need. Christ is willing. And He is able too. “I do not deserve to have You come under my roof” Matt. 8:5–8.The centurion was a Roman army officer, not a Jew. Yet when one of his servants was stricken, he himself hurried to Jesus. Christ was willing to go with the centurion and heal his sick servant. But the Roman officer, one of the conquering race that dominated Judea and most of the world, humbly replied, “I am not worthy” (KJV). What an example this is. At the feet of Jesus all human distinctions are lost, and every man becomes a supplicant no matter how high his worldly position. At our local church we often serve Communion at the altar rail. Each person comes and kneels there, to receive the bread and wine. The wealthy and poor, the young and the old, the men and the women, the sick and the well, kneel together to worship and receive the elements that remind us of the price Jesus paid for our redemption. Kneeling there each of us is nothing more than a sinner saved by grace, yet nothing less than a citizen of Jesus’ kingdom and a member of God’s forever family. In bowing before a mere Jew the Roman centurion affirmed a great truth. The most important rank a human being can carry is that of subject to the King of kings. “I myself am a man under authority” Matt. 8:9–13. There is more in the story of the centurion for us. He felt unworthy to entertain Jesus under his roof. But he also knew that Jesus’ authority over sickness was not limited by distance. When he said, “I myself am a man under authority,” the centurion meant that his authority in the Roman army did not depend on him, but was granted him by his commanders in a chain leading ultimately to the Emperor himself. The centurion’s orders were obeyed because the full weight of mighty Rome lay behind each command. In asking Jesus to “just say the word,” and in affirming his faith that “my servant will be healed,” the centurion confessed his belief that Christ too was one “under authority.” When Jesus spoke, the full weight of God’s sovereign power was available to enforce Christ’s decree. The centurion’s faith was honored. Christ did speak the word, and the power of God, which neither distance nor evil forces can limit, flowed. Let’s remember the centurion’s faith when we pray. Jesus has the power to meet any and every need. “First let me go and bury my father” Matt. 8:18–22. The first flurry of healings stimulated great excitement. Many were eager to join the “Jesus Brigade,” undoubtedly supposing that Christ would use His powers to break the grip of Rome and usher in the Messianic Age. Two incidents cooled the early ardor. One “teacher of the Law” offered to follow Jesus wherever He went. Such persons were highly respected in first-century Judaism, and typically were relatively well off. When Christ answered that “the Son of man has no place to lay His head,” the man’s fervor faded away! A follower of Jesus must be willing to live as He did, and abandon hope of worldly gain. Another man promised to follow, but “first” he must go and “bury my father.” In Judaism the corpse was buried the very day of death. This man’s father was not yet dead. What his words meant was, “First let me fulfill my obligation to stay with my father until he dies.” Jesus’ answer, “Follow Me, and let the dead bury their own dead,” was clearly understood. No competing loyalty must outweigh our allegiance to Christ the King. These words of Jesus are spoken to us too. God gives us many material blessings, and many fulfilling relationships. But neither possessions nor relationships can be more important to us than serving Christ. In Jesus’ time some 300 small fishing boats like this one were operated on the Sea of Galilee. The preserved remains of one of these boats was recently found buried under the lake bottom, telling us how the boat was constructed and its inner frame designed. Jesus undoubtedly was in just this kind of boat when He stilled the storm that threatened Him and His disciples (vv. 23–27). “Why are you so afraid?” Matt. 8:23–27 Those who were already committed followers of Jesus were privileged to see Him display His power over nature. A furious storm came up as the little company traveled by boat on the Sea of Galilee, terrifying even Christ’s fishermen disciples. Christ’s question after He had stilled the storm is one we can ask ourselves when we face trials or danger today: “Why are you so afraid?” The question seems a foolish one if we look only at the tossing waves and hear only the shrieking winds. If we stop to realize that we are never alone, but Christ Himself is with us, the question is prudent indeed. Jesus has all power, and He can use it to deliver those who are His. Nothing can touch us that He does not permit. We have no need to go through life “so afraid.” “They pleaded with Him to leave their region” Matt. 8:28–34. Jesus’ healing of two demon-possessed men in a Gentile district brought an unexpected reaction. It seems the demons Christ released went into a herd of pigs, and “the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and died in the water.” The local folk were terribly upset. Maybe two men were delivered from demonic possession. But their pigs were gone! Wherever human beings place more value on possessions than people, Jesus will be unwelcome. Let’s be sure that we never drive Him away by caring more for our “pigs” than for our fellow human beings. “The Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” Matt. 9:1–7. Christ had demonstrated His authority as King—over sickness, over nature, and even over evil spirits. But how could Christ demonstrate His authority over man’s greatest antagonist, sin? The answer is contained in this story and the one that follows it. When Jesus told a paralytic that his sins were forgiven, some “teachers of [biblical] Law” thought He was speaking blasphemy. After all, God alone can forgive sin. So Jesus proposed a test. It would be easy for anyone to say, “You’re forgiven.” After all, there’s no way to prove forgiveness one way or another! But Jesus could prove that He spoke with God’s own authority. He could tell the paralytic, “Get up and walk.” Then everyone could see whether or not the paralyzed man walked. This is exactly what Jesus did, and the Bible says that all who saw were “filled with awe.” It adds “and they praised God, who had given such authority to men.” Jesus’ works proved that He did speak with God’s own authority. His works in the physical realm were conclusive proof that His promise of forgiveness was valid indeed. God still gives us physical proof of inner forgiveness—a truth we discover in the calling of Matthew (vv. 9–13). (See DEVOTIONAL.) “Pour new wine into new wineskins” Matt. 9:14–17. Jesus puzzled nearly all who watched Him heal and listened to Him speak. Neither His actions nor His teachings seemed to fit the religion they knew so well. Even John’s disciples were puzzled, and so asked Him questions about His practices. Jesus responded with two illustrations from ordinary life. A person doesn’t patch an old garment with new cloth. And a person doesn’t pour new (unfermented) wine in an old wineskin. In biblical times some containers for liquid were made of animal skins, typically scraped clean of flesh and then sewn tightly at the legs and other openings. Freshly squeezed grape juice was poured into a new skin, which would stretch as the wine fermented. Old skins lost the capacity to stretch, and would split if “new wine” were poured in them. By these stories Jesus warned His listeners not to try to fit Him or His teachings in the categories in use in first-century Judaism. Jesus must be permitted to define a new way to think and to live in the kingdom He was even then about to establish. You and I too have to be careful. It’s so easy to force Jesus’ teachings into our old ways of thinking. Jesus is Lord, and He alone has the right to define our way of life. Never try to make a teaching of Jesus fit one of our prejudices. Let’s let Jesus’ words reveal His own fresh, new way to face life’s challenges. “My daughter has just died” Matt. 9:18–26. The New Testament pictures death as the “last enemy” (1 Cor. 15:26). When Jesus went to the home of a ruler and spoke to his dead daughter, she revived. What a foretaste of the victory we will experience when Christ raises us from the dead, gives us resurrection bodies, and welcomes us to an eternity with Him. “Nothing like this has ever been seen in Israel” Matt. 9:27–34. The evidence of King Jesus’ authority that Matthew presents is summed up here, in the report of many more healings and exorcisms. The evidence was conclusive: all who saw it acknowledged that even in the wonder-working ages of Moses or Elijah, no comparable miracles had been performed. Even the Pharisees could not deny the miracle, but muttered, “Well, He must be doing them in Satan’s power.” The evidence is in. And each person today too must determine for himself or herself whether to gladly submit to Jesus as Lord, or to reject Him and turn away. “The harvest is plentiful but the workers arefew” Matt. 9:35–38 How do we display a decision to submit to Jesus as Lord? Very simply. We take the burden of continuing His mission on ourselves. We become the workers who, moved by compassion for the lost, go out as Jesus did “preaching the Good News of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness.” Evangelicals have been accused of emphasizing evangelism and disregarding the physical and social needs of humanity. Let’s remember that Jesus in compassion sought to heal the whole person. We are to preach and teach, yes. But we are to model our ministry on Christ’s, and communicate the love of God as Jesus did by also feeding the hungry, caring for the sick, and doing justice to the oppressed.
That You May Know(Matt. 9:1–13)
Some folks scoff at Christianity as “pie in the sky by and by.” Others just shrug, and say they’ll wait and find out after they die. When Jesus was here He made sure no one had to wait to see. He told a paralytic, “Your sins are forgiven” (vv. 1–8). When some bystanders were upset by this claim, He offered proof. “So that you may know the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” He told the paralyzed man, “Get up, take your mat and go home.” When the man stood up, and walked, the authority of Jesus was proved. The men of that day knew that Jesus could forgive sins. But how about our day? The next story is for us. It’s the story of a man named Matthew who sat at a tax booth (vv. 9–13). In the first century such men were scorned as sinners, and most did extort more money than was due. Jesus came to Matthew’s booth and told him, “Follow Me.” And Matthew got up and followed. Matthew the tax collector. Matthew, whose friends were the outcasts of pious society, became a follower of Jesus. This is the proof we see all around us of the fact that when Jesus says, “Your sins are forgiven,” our sins truly are. Forgiveness makes just as dramatic a change in the moral life of the believer as Jesus’ healing did in the frozen limbs of the paralytic. A world that wants proof that Jesus saves can find it in the transformed lives of those who have accepted Him as Saviour.
Your life is to be presented to the world as evidence that Jesus saves.
“Non-Christians first need to detect the reality of genuine Christian experience in our lives. Then they will be attracted by our words about Jesus Christ and what it means to know Him personally. After I have spoken to a group, students often approach me with personal questions: ’How does it work?’ ’How can I have the kind of life you’ve been talking about?’ ’Is there any hope for me?’ It’s always a privilege to sit down and explain how forgiveness, cleansing, and power can be individually ours in and through the Lord Jesus Christ.”—Paul Little