Lincoln Park UBF

Lincoln Park UBF is a non-denominational Christian church ministry comprised of college students and young adults from the Lincoln Park neighborhood in Chicago. We are a local chapter of University Bible Fellowship (UBF), which is an international ministry at college campuses throughout the world. 

We welcome students and young adults from all faiths and backgrounds to come and learn with us what Christian spirituality is and what it means to follow Jesus.

The Holy City

Revelation 19:11–22:5

Key Verse: 21:2

holy city.jpg

 

“I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.”

 

          Hope. It’s so important to have hope. This world has many false hopes. Everything in this world perishes, spoils and fades away (1Pe1:4). But Revelation tells us about the most glorious hope for the people of God. It’s the Holy City. It’s the climax of the book of Revelation, what all the visions, all the struggles, all the battles are really about. In today’s study we want to learn more of Jesus, what he will do, and what hope he wants to give each one of us. May God open our hearts and speak to us personally through his living words today.

          Look at 19:11–16. Here we see a detailed description of Jesus. He’s the “rider on a horse” (11,19,21). In contrast to the deception of the beast and the prostitute, Jesus is called “Faithful and True” (cf. 3:14). This description of Jesus is similar to the one back in 1:12–16. Again, his eyes are like blazing fire. Again, there’s a sword coming out of his mouth. Again, he’s dressed in a robe, but this time, it’s “dipped in blood.” This time, he’s riding a white horse, and the armies of heaven are following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. This time, he’s coming with justice and waging war.

Revelation often mentions war. There’s a war in heaven between the archangel Michael and the dragon (12:7). Later, after being kicked out of heaven, the dragon goes off to wage war against God’s people on earth (12:17). The beast, endorsed by the dragon, is given power to wage war against God’s holy people and to conquer them (13:7). Revelation tells us that in the end the kings of the earth and the beast will wage war against the Lamb (17:14). This final battle is called “Armageddon” (16:16). But Satan is at war with God right now, and to do that, he attacks his people in this world. His weapons are persecution, compromise and the temptations of wealth and pleasure. But in the end, Jesus will come with the armies of heaven, with justice, and with the sword of the word of God, to wage war and win the final victory (cf. Ex15:3; Isa31:4; 42:13; 59:16–18; Hab3:11–13; Zech14:3). No one will be able to stop him.

Look at verse 12b. It says, “He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself.” It may mean simply that no one has power over him. But the importance of a “name” is repeated often in Revelation. Revelation emphasizes the beast’s “name,” the blasphemous “names” on each of its heads, and the blasphemous “names” on the prostitute. Many people receive the “mark,” or “name,” of the beast (13:17; 14:9,11; 16:2; 19:20; 20:4). Revelation tells us it’s vital whether or not a person’s “name” is written in the book of life (3:5; 13:8; 17:8; 20:15; 21:27). But it also repeatedly mentions a “new name.” Back in 2:17 Jesus promises to give a “new name” to those who are victorious in their spiritual struggle. In 3:12 he repeats that he will write on those who are victorious his “new name.” In 14:1 the 144,000 have the Lamb’s name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads. Later, in 22:4, all who are in heaven will see God’s face and have his name on their foreheads. This “new name” is first mentioned in the prophecy of Isaiah. When God saves his people, in a sense he marries them and gives them a new name (Isa62:2,4,12). This new name shows not only that they belong to God, but also, their final destiny. Jesus comes with this name not only for himself, but to give it to the people he redeems. Look at verse 13. It says that “his name is the Word of God.” Now look at verse 15a. The sharp sword coming out of his mouth is another reference to the word of God (Isa11:4; 49:2; 66:16; Hos6:5; Heb4:12; cf. 2Th2:8). Satan battles with deception and lies; but Jesus does battle with the truth, the word of God. The sword of the word of God is still our weapon to fight against the devil and his schemes (Eph6:17).

Revelation repeats three times about Jesus: “He will rule them with an iron scepter” (2:27; 12:5; 19:15). This quote is from Psalm 2. There, the kings of the earth rise up against the Lord and against his anointed (Ps2:1,2). But God’s King is his Son, and it says he will rule them with an iron scepter, or “break them with a rod of iron” (Ps2:9). It tells us that rebellion against God is futile. God’s Messiah will crush all the pride and rebellion against God in this world. The sinful world is basically in rebellion against God. It’s in the devil himself, and the devil also plants it in people. But when Jesus comes again, he will finally defeat and root out all forms of this rebellious spirit.

Verse 15b says: “He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty.” It’s a vivid image taken from the ancient world. To make wine, people used to put large amounts of grapes into something called a winepress. It was a space dug into the ground where people would go in with bare feet to stomp on the grapes to get the juice out. Revelation takes this image and applies it to Jesus when he comes to bring God’s wrath. In this winepress, not wine, but blood flows out (14:20). The bottom of Jesus’ robe is stained with this blood (19:13a). Again, it fulfills the prophecy of Isaiah of what the Messiah would do (Isa63:2–6). As we’ve seen in Revelation, the fury of God’s wrath is based on his great love, as well as his great justice. We need to repent of our sins and believe that Jesus really is going to come again as the agent of God’s wrath against all the wicked. The final description of Jesus here is in verse 16. Again it’s repeated that he’s King of kings and Lord of lords (17:14). It means no one is higher than Jesus. He’s got the name that is above every name, and in the end, everyone, including even his worst enemies, will have to submit to him (Php2:9ff.).

In verses 17–21 John sees a vision of the final outcome of the battle. An angel calls all the birds to come and eat at “the great supper of God.” It’s a grotesque image of the carnage God will bring against all those who refused to repent and rebelled against him to the end. The beast and the kings of the earth and their armies waged war against the rider on the white horse and his army, but the beast and the false prophet were captured, and the two of them were thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulfur. The rest were killed with the sword, and the birds gorged themselves on their flesh. This vivid imagery is a powerful message that rebellion against God brings people to a horrible end.

In 20:1–3 John sees a vision of the dragon, who is the devil, or Satan, bound for a thousand years in the Abyss. There, he can’t deceive the nations anymore. Ancient people thought the Abyss was a large underground cave where disobedient spirits were sent (cf. Jude 6; Lk8:31). Many Jews thought there would be an intermediate kingdom before the end of the world. Here in his vision John sees it lasting a thousand years, also known as the millennium—symbolizing a very long time. The point is, God is able to stop the devil from deceiving people. Next, in verses 4–6, during this same thousand years Christ will reign on earth with his martyrs. Again, it says these people had died for their testimony about Jesus and because of the word of God (20:4; cf. 1:2,9; 12:11). They refused to compromise their worship for their own benefit. The point is that these people who had suffered so much for their faith under the devil’s rule will finally reign with Christ. In verse 4, emphasizing this rule, John sees “thrones” (Mt19:28; Rev3:21; cf. Da7:9). Those who died for their faith came to life and reigned with Christ (20:4b). Verse 6 says they will be “priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years.”

The point here is not to figure out details of a literal thousand-year reign of Christ on earth, or to try to be in an elite group of people who get to be in the first resurrection, like getting into the first-class section on the flight to heaven. No, God gave John this vision to inspire believers who were suffering so much for their faith. Many people try to be comfortable Christians. But we Christians are all called to suffer, following in the beautiful footsteps of our Lord Jesus (1Pe2:21; 3:9). In the world it always seems that Christians lose. We’re taught to turn the other cheek, to sacrifice ourselves for Jesus and for others, to imitate Jesus’ humility, who made himself nothing. It looks foolish. But in the end, when we live out our faith in Jesus, we’re promised God’s justice, God’s reward, God’s total vindication. 2 Timothy 2:11,12a says, “Here is a trustworthy saying: ‘If we died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him.’”

In verses 7–10 John sees the end of this vision. It’s a fulfillment of the prophecies of Ezekiel 38,39, where it says God will defeat his enemies and show his greatness and his holiness. Here, Satan is released from his prison to deceive all the nations, symbolized by the distant peoples of Gog and Magog, to gather together to fight against God. They’re huge in number, like the sand of the sea, and they surround God’s people to defeat them. Verse 9b says simply, “But fire came down from heaven and devoured them.” It’s based on the famous Bible story of how the prophet Elijah fought against the enemies of God’s people by calling down fire from heaven on them (2Ki1:10–14; cf. Lk9:54). Fire from heaven destroying God’s enemies also fulfills Ezekiel’s prophecy (Eze38:22; 39:6). But what does it mean to us? Right now, there’s nothing we can do against those who insist on being anti-God or anti-Jesus. They’re so strong, and they way outnumber us. We’re powerless. We shouldn’t try to fight them humanly. We should depend on God. Read verse 10. We’ll never see them again. All their evil influence will be totally gone. Here it seems God holds the devil, the beast and the false prophet most responsible for deceiving so many people.

In 20:11–15 John sees a vision of the final Judgment Day. The “great white throne” is the victorious throne and reign of God Almighty. And “him who is seated on it” is Jesus the Lamb who’s also the Lion (5:5). He’s the Judge of the living and the dead (Ac10:42; 2Ti4:1; 1Pe4:5). It says, “The earth and the heavens fled from his presence” (Rev20:11; cf. 6:14; 16:20; 2Pe3:10–12). He’s that holy, that powerful. The sea, and death and Hades had to give up all the dead, great and small. Every human being who ever lived will have to stand before the throne of Christ to give an account of the deeds done while in the body (2Co5:10). It’s God’s inevitable judgment: God will give to each person according to what they have done (Ro2:6; cf. Ps62:12; Pr24:12). It’s the ultimate expression of God’s justice, which is strongly emphasized in Revelation (15:3; 16:5,7; 19:2,11). It also says there are “books.” It’s another fulfillment of the prophecy of Daniel (7:10). People typically try to hide and cover up what they do, whether it’s small or big things. But God is like the most thorough auditor who keeps records of absolutely everything. Hebrews 4:13 says, “Nothing in all creation his hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” On Judgment Day, we first stand in line to get our turn with the first book, the book of accounting. It records everything we ever did, good or bad. Some people’s record is so bad, some, pretty good. But then, the book of life is opened. It’s another fulfillment of Daniel’s prophecy (Da12:1; cf. Ex32:32; Ps69:28; Lk10:20; Php4:3). Revelation repeatedly mentions the book of life (3:5; 13:8; 17:8; 21:27). Whose name gets written in the Lamb’s book of life? Only those who repented of their sins and put their faith in Jesus. In the world there are humanly good people, and, humanly really bad people. But by his grace God records in the book of life anyone’s name who has received the grace of Jesus. It’s only his grace that justifies us before God. The real question is, not what have we done in our lives, but rather, is our name written there? Have we personally received the grace of Jesus for all our sins? Or are we trying to live by our own righteousness? Read verses 14,15. It tells us that there’ll be a final end to death itself (1Co15:26). It also tells us that the lake of fire is the second death. Jesus called it “the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels,” and for all those who refused to repent (Mt25:41).

In 21:1–22:5 John describes the Holy City. Again, Revelation fulfills Ezekiel’s prophecies (Eze37,40–48). First of all, in 21:1 John quotes from the prophecy of Isaiah: “a new heaven and a new earth” (Isa65:17). God our Creator will create a new heaven and new earth. In this new heaven and new earth, there’s a focal point. Read 21:2. What is this Holy City? It’s called “the new Jerusalem.” Jesus first promised it in Revelation 3:12. The old city of Jerusalem used to be the holy city. It was because it was the one place where God chose to dwell among his people. It was where he said his temple should be built. In the temple was the Most Holy Place, where God’s presence dwelled. But after Jesus’ death and resurrection, Jerusalem and its temple became obsolete. Now, everything looks forward to the real Holy City, the new Jerusalem. It’s the place “where righteousness dwells” (2Pe3:13)—God’s righteousness.

What’s it like? It says it’s “like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.” It means it’s breathtaking, and stunning, and more moving than we can imagine. But it’s not just about obtaining something physical or material. Read 21:3,4. It’s a place where God himself will dwell among his people. There, we’ll glorify God and enjoy him forever. He’ll be so close to us. He’ll personally comfort each one of us. He’ll personally wipe away each one’s tears. There’ll be no more death or mourning or crying or pain. We’ll be like people coming out of a long journey through a hot desert, finally finding an oasis, or like soldiers badly wounded and traumatized in battle, finally going to a place of peace, rest and healing. No more sorrow, no more fear, no more suffering.

Read 21:5. God wants us to really believe this promise of the Holy City. Read 21:6. It’s amazing: no matter who we are or what we’ve done, through Jesus, God wants to invite all spiritually thirsty people to come to this wonderful place and find the deepest satisfaction for our souls in the spring of the water of life (Isa55:1; Jn4:10). The things and people of this world may seem really good, but they always leave us thirsty. On the other hand, the Holy City will totally satisfy our souls with the best God wants give us.

Read 21:7. Everyone is invited, but the key is, only those who are victorious get to inherit all this. How can we be victorious? In ourselves, we can’t. We’ll surely be defeated by Satan. But Jesus has triumphed (5:5). He told us, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (Jn16:33). 1 John 5:4,5 says, “…for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.” But to be victorious, we can’t just have head knowledge. We have to do God’s will to the end (2:26). We have to be faithful, even to the point of death (2:10b). Ultimately, we can triumph only by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of our testimony of his grace (12:11).

Read 21:8. This tells us that in the Holy City there will be no sin, no evildoers. All those who persisted in their sin to the end, ignoring all God’s warnings and invitations, will receive God’s true and just punishment. Jesus our Lord warned us about this. He said, “But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him” (Lk12:5).

In 21:9–14 the angel showed John a vision of the Holy City, the new Jerusalem. Again, it’s described as the bride—this time, it’s “the wife of the Lamb.” It means the city itself is not a building—it’s the community of all God’s people who had faith in Jesus. Read 21:11. Because of what God has done in his people’s lives through Christ, it will be the most beautiful, glorious place. The twelve gates and twelve foundations with the names of the tribes of Israel and of the apostles tells us it’s a place of all God’s people all throughout history. In 21:15–17 we see it’s a perfect cube. It’s the same in proportion as the Most Holy Place. It means the entire Holy City fulfills the Most Holy Place. The numbers 12, 144 and 12,000 symbolize the complete number of God’s people from all nations. Nobody will be missing. In 21:18–21 we see all kinds of precious stones, pearls and gold. It means the Holy City will be the most beautiful, valuable and eternal dwelling place for all God’s people to enjoy forever. Read 21:22,23. In the Holy City, we’ll enjoy the presence of the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb, and his glory will be our shining light. In 21:24–27 there will be no more night, and therefore nothing to fear, and nothing and no one impure, shameful or deceitful—nothing to disturb this amazing place.

Read 22:1,2. Here we see the river of the water of life, and the tree of life. They will supply God’s people with eternal life and satisfaction for our souls. It says that the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. So many have been wounded by sin and Satan. But in the Holy City God plans to heal all our wounds. The final picture of the Holy City is in 22:3–5. Let’s read it. So, what should we learn from all this? We have to live in this world where Satan still is trying to deceive us and tempt us and get us to go astray. In this world, there seems to be no justice and an overwhelming amount of rebellion. We need to see the vision of the Holy City. We need to let this vision fill our souls with its glory, brightness and beauty. We need to believe the good news that God wants to give us all this, and that he wants to comfort and heal us and dwell with us forever.

FIELDWORK TRAINING

Matthew 10:1–42

Key Verse: 10:1

“Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.”

          The famous rapper Willie D once said, “It’s easy to see why some people can’t seem to get where they want to go in life—they can’t follow instructions.” Many think it’s better to have their own ideas or be creative and to ditch the instructions. But later, they find they haven’t really learned or accomplished much. When we’re in some kind of training, following instructions is essential. In spiritual training, it’s even more crucial.

          One of the major themes of Matthew’s Gospel is discipleship. In this book Jesus uniquely gives five major discourses on discipleship. Chapter 10 is the second one. Until now the disciples have been following, watching and listening. Now they’re sent out for fieldwork training, their first exercise in what ministry would be like. In these instructions Jesus teaches his disciples to do exactly what he was doing. It seems hard—even impossible. But if they really listen to his instructions and follow carefully what he said, God will work through them. At first it may seem Jesus wants to use them to build a bigger ministry, to bring in more people. But his real goal is not a larger ministry, but the disciples themselves. Their spiritual growth is most important. His instructions in this chapter can still change us to really be like Jesus, if we’re willing to accept them. May God open our hearts and speak to us through his living word today.

In chapters 8–9 Jesus was mainly healing people. He was overwhelmed by their needs. He saw them with compassion, as sheep without a shepherd. In his compassion, people were like a plentiful harvest; the problem was, there were too few workers. The same is true today. In this context, Jesus calls his twelve disciples to him and sends them out. He’s training them to be gospel workers.

How does he prepare them? Read verse 1. First, they’re called “to him.” It means he wants them to come and learn from what he’s about to say. Those not willing to learn from Jesus can’t be sent out by him. Second, he gives them “authority.” The Greek word is “exousian.” It means “permission, ability, strength or influence.” Jesus himself has God’s authority—God’s permission and God’s power—to minister to people, because he was sent by God. Now he gives his authority to his disciples. How could they have it? Only when they obeyed him. Third, he sends them out to heal. Read verse 1 again. To Jesus, people's real problems aren't human but spiritual; they're caused by “impure spirits.” They come from the devil. The human eye can’t see impure spirits, but this world is filled with them. They lead us to lust, or greed, or various kinds of rebellious, self-destructive behavior. Mere talk can’t help people under the influence of impure spirits. We need Jesus’ authority so that these spirits can really be driven out.

Read verse 1 once more. Jesus wants his disciples to focus on healing every disease and sickness. He wants them to be not wounders, but healers. Honestly most people are wounded--by their parents, teachers or coaches, by their classmates or peers or siblings; some are even wounded by their children. Usually wounded people wound others. Some people are like wounding machines; others are healers. As we’ve seen, in his ministry Jesus was a healer. 4:23 says, “Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness.” [emphasis added] Again, 9:35 says, “Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness.” [emphasis added] Matthew especially portrays Jesus as our spiritual healer. As a tax collector Matthew had become spiritually very sick. But Jesus invited him to be with him. The Pharisees couldn’t understand how Jesus could associate with such people. Jesus responded: “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick” (9:12). Among the Gospel writers Matthew uniquely describes Jesus: “He took up our infirmities and bore our diseases” (8:17; cf. Isa53:4). Jesus could heal not just with his power but because he was with the sick, taking up our infirmities and bearing our diseases. Now Jesus calls and sends his disciples to engage in healing ministry.

How can we be spiritual healers? We need to experience Jesus’ grace of healing. Apostle Paul was changed from a wounding machine into a healer when he experienced the grace of Jesus. In his famous book The Wounded Healer Henri Nouwen lamented that most Christian leaders are unprepared to help hurting people. Why? Because they only teach; they’re not willing to expose their own sins or share how the grace of Jesus has helped them. Frankly, many so-called Christians haven’t ever really opened themselves up to Jesus for his healing. So even though they work hard and seem good, they still have deep, unresolved life issues. Jesus doesn’t call us to go and force people to do certain things. He calls us to bring spiritual healing, by sharing his grace personally. In our own power we can’t heal anybody. But when we depend on Jesus’ authority and experience his healing grace, God can use us as a healer.

In verses 2–4 we find the names of the twelve. In some ways they were all similar. Unlike the Pharisees and teachers of the law, none of the twelve were like old wineskins, with fixed ideas, thinking they already knew the Bible. They all were like new wineskins, humble and ready to learn. On the other hand, they were all so different. Each had a unique personality. Simon Peter was passionate and outspoken; Andrew was simple and willing; James and John were quietly ambitious; Philip was a human calculator; Bartholomew was kind of just there; Thomas was a doubter; Matthew had been a public sinner; Simon the Zealot, a political radical; Judas Iscariot, a betrayer. Jesus chose all different kinds of people so that they might reach all kinds of people.

Verse 2 calls them “apostles.” Literally it means “sent ones,” meaning representatives, delegates, or ambassadors. As apostles they were sent by Jesus to represent Jesus. To really be his apostles, they had to represent Jesus well by doing and saying what Jesus would do or say. This again stresses how important it was to really be listening to Jesus and carefully following his instructions. The twelve apostles were special. They lived with Jesus and were personally trained by him. The church is built on them. But in a sense, all Christians are called to be Christ’s ambassadors (2Co5:20a). This is why we all need to be careful to be truly representing Jesus.

Look at verses 5–6. In this fieldwork training they were to go not to the Gentiles or the Samaritans, but only to the lost sheep of Israel. It was Jesus’ own mission while on earth (15:24). Later he would tell his apostles, “Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations” (28:19a). But at this time he tells them to share in his specific mission. God had a specific mission for Peter, and a specific mission for Paul (Gal2:8,9). God always has a specific mission for each believer. We need to pray and listen to God until we can discover it, then start doing it.

Read verse 7. Regardless of our specific mission, this always has to be our message. “The kingdom” was the message of John the Baptist (3:2), the message of Jesus (4:17), and the message of the apostles (10:7; cf. Ac8:12; 14:22; 19:8; 20:25; 28:23,31). In every generation and every local place, we need to be telling people, “The kingdom of heaven has come near.” It’s not a prediction of the end times; rather, it means the kingdom of heaven is near to everybody right now, through Jesus. How? He’ll give anybody the forgiveness of sins if only we repent and believe in him (Ac2:38; 10:43; 13:38; 26:18). “The kingdom of heaven has come near” means people can be reconciled to God through Jesus (2Co5:20b). When we’re forgiven and reconciled to God, we have a living hope in heaven (1Pe1:3,4). The hope of heaven fills our souls. People may seem to need many things—a better job or education, a good marriage, or wisdom. But what everybody really needs is the message of Jesus: “The kingdom of heaven has come near.” We should be sharing it. “Near” implies immediacy and urgency. When we hear his message, it’s time to repent, to turn away from our sin and our worldly pursuits, and really turn to God. If we don’t repent, we may miss it.

Look at verse 8. Jesus is calling his apostles to do the very work he did. Healing leprosy? Raising the dead? It was only by the miraculous power of God. Elsewhere he told his disciples, “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it” (Jn14:12–14). We can do such miraculous works of healing when we truly believe in Jesus and pray. We especially need to pray that Jesus may be glorified, not us. Jesus also said that since we have freely received, we should also freely give (8b). It meant not to charge any money. As we receive the grace of spiritual healing freely from Jesus, so we should also share his grace freely. We shouldn’t calculate about the results, or try to hold onto people as if ministry were a business. Just freely receive his grace, and freely give.

Look at verses 9,10. Basically, Jesus is training them not to depend on money in ministry, but to depend only on God. Some people try to use money or material benefit to get people to come to church. It never works. Some workers worry about their own finances too much, and this worry chokes out the word of God from their hearts (13:22). Then they become ineffective and unproductive (2Pe1:8), pierced by financial distractions (1Ti6:10). Jesus wants to train us to truly depend on God for our finances. He taught in 6:33, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” He also said, “You cannot serve both God and Money” (6:24b).

Read verses 11–15. Here Jesus mentions a “worthy person” and a “deserving” home. Who is a worthy person? Simply, they're people who welcome a servant of Jesus (40a). They’re not trying to use Jesus’ servant; they’re trying to listen and learn because they’re truly open. Jesus says, “If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words…” (14a) Jesus is training his apostles here to be clear. We should be spending our time with people who’re interested in the words of Jesus. If not, we should leave.

Look at verses 16–25. In Jesus’ instructions this is the longest section. He predicts that many will not welcome or listen to his apostles. He also says many are like wolves, ready to use, even harm them. He predicts that his apostles will be arrested, tried, flogged, betrayed, sometimes put to death, and hated. The hatred and persecution will not really be for them, but for Jesus himself. Why is there so much resistance to Jesus and his gospel? It’s because he calls all people to repent, and people don’t want to repent. Instead, we get mad. If we don’t repent, we persecute. Persecution is so strong because, frankly, many are under devil's influence. We shouldn't be surprised when we’re not welcomed, but hated and persecuted because of our faith. We should prepare our hearts that when we make Jesus our Teacher and Master and follow him, we'll be persecuted as he was. In fact, God uses persecution to make us more like him.

Look at verses 26–33. Jesus repeatedly told his apostles in these verses, “Do not be afraid.” When facing hatred, persecution, or maybe even death, how easy it is to be afraid! But Jesus coaches us how to overcome this fear. It’s when we fear God. We need to remember that our souls are most important, and that only God determines our soul’s eternal destiny. Most of all, when we turn our thoughts to God and who he really is, fear of people evaporates. We can speak his word boldly, without fear. We also need to know how precious we are to God.

Look at verses 34–39. He goes even deeper here. How easy it is to love people close to us more than Jesus! How easy to love our lives in this world! But Jesus wants us to love him most, more than family and friends, more than the good life, even more than life itself. He wants us to love him, take our own cross and follow his footsteps. We can follow him and do his work when we have such love for him in our hearts. Again, gospel ministry isn’t a business; it’s a matter of love. In the last part Jesus promised God’s reward to those who welcome his servants (40–42). We, too, should welcome and help Jesus’ servants.

Today we learned that Jesus trained his disciples as gospel workers. For the training to work, they had to take his words seriously and actually follow his instructions. Jesus’ main focus was not on gathering crowds, but on his disciples’ growth as spiritual workers. May God humble our hearts to really follow the principles Jesus taught. Through his training may he grow us to be like Jesus, so that through us, people can be deeply healed by his grace and become members of his kingdom.

GOD’S CHOSEN SERVANT

Matthew 12:1–50

Key Verse: 12:20

Gods Servant

 

“A bruised reed he will not break and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out, till he has brought justice through to victory.”

          Abraham Lincoln said, “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” Power is a scary thing. People tend to use it to dominate and control others. Often, those who represent large institutions use their power over individuals who are vulnerable and have no connections. But, as Foucault said, “Power is everywhere,” and it “comes from everywhere.” In everyday life people use whatever power they have to force others to conform to what they want. And people can abuse power in all kinds of ways. The old use their power over the young, the young over the old, men over women, women over men, the rich over the poor and the poor over the rich. Whenever people abuse power over others, it hurts and wounds. But Jesus is so different. He has the most power, but he uses it not to crush, but to heal.

          In chapters 8–12 Matthew has been describing Jesus’ healing ministry. It illustrates that Jesus is the God of mercy. In his great mercy he invites all those who are weary and burdened to come to him and find rest for their souls (11:28, 29). But the religious legalists are critical, because Jesus isn’t doing things their way. Moreover, they see him as a threat to their positions, their power, their authority. Today Matthew quotes a prophecy to show that Jesus is God’s chosen servant, doing what the Messiah was supposed to do. In this world, when people are wounded, usually they’re ignored or run over by the strong. But to Jesus, wounded people are precious. He’s so patient with them. He works until they’re vindicated by God. As we reflect on today’s passage, let’s try to find in what ways we too may have been wounded. Let’s pray to experience Jesus’ gentle and tender healing. And let’s pray to grow in Jesus’ image, so that we won’t be hurting others, but healing.

          Look at verse 1. Here Matthew emphasizes how hungry the disciples were—so hungry they couldn’t help themselves. It might look like they were stealing. Actually, God had taught his people not to harvest everything but to leave some, so that the poor among them could come and have it (Dt23:25). The problem here was that the disciples were taking leftovers on the Sabbath. The Pharisees were strict about the Sabbath. God had said to do no work on that day, and the Pharisees created an entire system of rules about it. In their system there were 39 categories of work on the Sabbath, and each category had many sub-categories. So they had thousands of Sabbath rules. People could walk only a certain number of steps on the Sabbath, or write only a certain number of letters on the Sabbath. The Pharisees thought they were being zealous for God’s law, but in real life, their system was crushing people. Look at verse 2. They were so excited to catch Jesus’ disciples doing something wrong. What the disciples were doing made Jesus look bad, like he wasn’t training them properly, like he didn’t care about God or about his law or about being holy or about the Sabbath.

          How did he respond? Look at verses 3,4. Jesus said, “Haven’t you read…?” In Matthew’s Gospel Jesus says this often. These people thought they knew the Bible so well, but Jesus knew it better. The Bible story of David and his men eating the consecrated bread shows that God is not legalistic; God cares more for people than for rules. Look at verses 5,6. In the Bible even priests had to work on the Sabbath in serving the ministry at the temple. To the Pharisees, the temple was the holiest place. Jesus says now, something even greater than the temple is here—meaning Jesus himself, our true temple (Jn2:21). Read verse 7. Earlier, when they were criticizing him for eating with tax collectors and sinners, Jesus said, “But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice’” (9:13). He was quoting Hosea’s prophecy. “I desire mercy, not sacrifice—God himself said this. But these Pharisees, though they knew many rules and laws and were so zealous and strict, didn’t know the heart of God. God has a heart of mercy for weak and sinful human beings. He’s our loving heavenly Father who wants to give us good things. The religion God wants us to be learning is the religion of mercy. Micah 6:8 says, “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” We all have our own kinds of legalisms—what we think people should and shouldn’t be doing. When we don’t love God’s mercy, we tend to become hyper-critical and condemn innocent people with our nit-picky legalisms. On the other hand, Jesus defended his disciples at their moment of weakness in the strongest possible way.

Read verse 8. Jesus is making a powerful statement. He’s the Son of Man, the one who came to serve all human beings. He’s most humble, yet he’s Lord of the Sabbath. He owns the Sabbath. He created the Sabbath. He rules the Sabbath. He should be worshiped on the Sabbath, not criticized. As Lord, Sabbath rules can’t be used to control him or put him down.

          There was another incident on a Sabbath day. Look at verses 9,10. It shows how warped their minds were. They were always looking for a reason to accuse Jesus. When they saw a man with a shriveled hand, all they could think of was that it was an opportunity to get Jesus to do something wrong. Their hearts were shriveled and hardened by self-righteous legalism to the point that they had lost their basic humanity. How did Jesus respond? Read verses 11,12. These people took care of their sheep—meaning their property and their profit—so preciously that they’d bend all the Sabbath rules to justify it. But they could care less about weak people; they’d leave them in a pit on a Sabbath. Jesus taught: “It is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” We shouldn’t just legalistically go to church; on Sundays we should find ways to do good for the needy. This is what pleases God. Jesus could have asked the man with the shriveled hand to come back some other day to be healed. But he refused to be intimidated by legalistic people. Look at verses 13,14. Jesus practiced God’s mercy and healed the man, not when it was comfortable, but at the risk of his own life.

          Jesus was aware they were plotting to kill him, so he withdrew from that place (15a). Then what happened? It says, “A large crowd followed him, and he healed all who were ill” (15b). Jesus didn’t have to chase after people; people came to him, because they sensed he was a true shepherd. Instead of getting entangled in conflicts with religious people, Jesus quietly showed God’s mercy toward overlooked and hurting people. And he insisted that people not talk about it (16). What he was doing wasn’t for a show, to impress people; it was real ministry. Read verses 17–21. The prophet Isaiah was describing God’s Messiah who would someday come. We learn some important things here about Jesus. First, though he was so strongly hated, he is God’s chosen servant. The verses emphasize that God loves him and delights in him. We pay close attention to what people are thinking of us. Like Jesus, we should be paying more attention to what God thinks of us. We should be taking comfort in God’s personal love.

          Second, God put his Spirit on Jesus (18). Jesus was empowered for ministry through the Spirit of God. He wasn’t working in his own strength or effort, but in reliance on God’s Spirit. When he was full of God’s Spirit, he was so humble and gentle in heart. He also was courageous and bold to speak about God’s truth and God’s justice, even in hostile situations. All over the world people get away with hurting others and leaving them damaged. The rich grind the faces of the poor. Wealthy countries suck all the natural resources out of poor countries and leave them ruined. The powerful oppress the weak. People do nothing about it. But Jesus is concerned about bringing justice to those who’ve been victimized and abused. Third, Jesus is quiet and peaceful. Read verse 19. Some pastors yell a lot when they preach. Some people involved in ministry are very noisy. Self-righteous people love to teach and argue and prove they're right. They easily snap and lose their temper. But Jesus is just the opposite. He’s so quiet. The Bible says that as his servants, we should not be quarrelsome, but kind to everyone, not resentful, and gentle in explaining (2Ti2:24,25).

          Fourth, Jesus is the most patient healer. Read verse 20. A reed was used for writing, like our pencil. A bruised reed lost its natural strength and would be easily broken, so it was kind of useless. But here, it’s being valued and preserved. A smoldering wick in a lamp is like a flickering light bulb about to go out. It isn’t working properly, so it needs to be replaced. Both the reed and the wick are beyond repair and should be thrown away. But God’s chosen servant refuses to throw them away; instead, he nurtures them back to usefulness. The bruised reed and smoldering wick represented the tax collectors and sinners in Jesus’ day. Matthew experienced this first-hand. Such people are wounded by their own sins, as well as by society’s treatment of them. Rich and powerful people call them “losers.” Yes, sin still makes us losers—so useless and so sick it’s almost impossible to be recovered. But Jesus never gives up on us. He’s so careful, so tender, so patient, so hopeful, even when there seems to be no hope. It seems like a foolish investment of resources. But to Jesus, ministry is not a business. Compared to Jesus, how quickly we dismiss certain people as if they were nothing but junk! How often we trample on others’ feelings! How easily we hurt others in even small ways! On the other hand, how hard it is to heal! How hard it is to value people who’ve been deeply wounded! How hard to be patient with them to the end! In the name of Christianity’s mission, so many people have been crushed and wounded. May God forgive us our sins that we’ve not been like Jesus. May he draw us close to Jesus and truly change us.

          Fifth, Jesus is our source of hope. Read verse 21. The Jews thought the Messiah was only for them. But God’s intention was to send the Messiah for all nations. In Jesus, God’s chosen servant, who does not break a bruised reed or snuff out a smoldering wick, all people on earth can find hope. People who’ve committed sin are wounded, but people who’re very legalistic are also wounded. Apostle Paul wanted to help the diverse Roman church, in which its Jewish and Gentile members were having various conflicts. Because of Jesus, he told them, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Ro15:13). He was encouraging them to have hope for one another in Christ. May God give us his hope for those among us who are wounded.

          Next, Jesus healed a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute. He was really like a bruised reed or smoldering wick. He seemed like such a lost cause. People were astonished when Jesus healed him, but the Pharisees accused Jesus of healing by the power of Satan (22–24). Jesus answered that Satan would never work against himself--he's too smart for that. Instead, Jesus was driving out demons by the Spirit of God, and it was evidence that God’s kingdom had come through Jesus (25–28). Jesus described his ministry as tying up a strong man, which involves intense wrestling. He was determined to rescue people from being kidnapped by Satan (29). He gave a dire warning about speaking against the work of the Holy Spirit (30–32). He also said people say evil things because their hearts are evil. So we really need our hearts to be changed, and that’s exactly what Jesus can still do for us. Only when our hearts are changed will we bear good fruit (33–35). Finally, Jesus gave another dire warning, this time about “empty words” (36,37). Here, "empty" in Greek is literally “lazy" or reckless. We can be reckless, saying whatever feels good to us, but our reckless words can wound. Jesus wants us to speak words that bring healing. We can do that only when the Holy Spirit changes our hearts (34).

          Some Pharisees and teachers of the law started liking Jesus; they said they just needed to see a sign from him to really commit. Jesus called them “wicked and adulterous” (38,39a). The only sign he would give was the sign of Jonah. As Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, Jesus would be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth—referring to his death and resurrection (39b–40). He's saying his death and resurrection are the only miracle we need in order to commit to him. In verses 41,42 he again used Bible stories to illustrate his point. The men of Nineveh were notoriously wicked, but even they repented at the preaching of Jonah. The Queen of the South, the queen of Sheba, was so proud, but even she repented when she heard Solomon’s wisdom. Jesus was greater than Jonah or Solomon, but his enemies were still too proud to repent. In verses 43–45 Jesus described the inner life of self-righteous, legalistic people. They work so hard to clean up their lives with their own efforts and their own control. But shockingly, such people become the dwelling of evil spirits, because they haven’t been relying on God.

          In the midst of resistance and criticism Jesus experienced God’s encouragement. Look at verses 46,47. Why did his mother and brothers suddenly show up? Mark’s Gospel tells us plainly: they thought Jesus was working so hard with sick people, he had lost his mind (Mk3:21,31ff.). When they were hostile to his ministry, Jesus didn’t go out to see them. Instead, he pointed to his disciples and called them his true family (48–50). Despite what his enemies were saying and how they were treating him, God was raising disciples through Jesus who were so eager to learn, so committed to doing God’s will. This tells us that no one can stop the good work God is doing through his chosen servant.

          Today we mainly thought about Jesus. He’s the God of mercy. He’s Lord of the Sabbath. He’s God’s chosen servant, filled with God’s Spirit. He’s our source of hope because he’s our gentle healer. Nobody is too damaged or too wounded for him to heal. May God help us find hope in him. And may God help us repent and let Jesus change our hearts until we become patient and quiet healers for wounded people.

I DESIRE MERCY, NOT SACRIFICE

Matthew 9:1–17

Key Verses: 9:12–13

I Desire Mercy

“On hearing this, Jesus said, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.’”

          Mercy. What is it? We use the word so much, we become numb to its meaning. People even have used it as an exclamation, to express surprise or fear: “Mercy!” But to appreciate what mercy truly is, let’s think about its opposite: hard-hearted, cruel, or ruthless. We may try to hide, but the real world we live in is tough. In his theory of evolution Charles Darwin coined the phrase “survival of the fittest.” It’s also been used to describe human societies. In our world it seems that only the strongest people are successful, while others fail and die. And in our human ambition we don’t care too much about those who don’t make it.

          But mercy is a key teaching in the Bible, and a core attribute of God. God is described as “rich in mercy” (Eph2:4). God’s mercy is his compassion, his forgiveness, and his willingness to alleviate pain and suffering. God is the God of justice who punishes those who do wrong, but his mercy triumphs over judgment (Jas2:13). God’s mercy is best seen in Jesus. Matthew tells us that Jesus our King came to save us from our sins (1:21) and bring us back to his kingdom (3:2; 4:17,23; 5:3; 9:35; 10:7; 24:14; 25:34) by his great mercy. In his Sermon on the Mount he taught us to live as his kingdom members, saying, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy” (5:7). Jesus is the King of mercy; his kingdom is a kingdom of mercy. Receiving and showing mercy are key to living as kingdom members. Today Jesus shows us how to do it. He shows mercy to a paralytic and a tax collector. Then he challenges us to go and learn what God’s mercy means in real life. May God help us accept his word this morning.

Look at verse 1. “His own town” refers to Capernaum, which Jesus made his base of operations in his Galilean ministry. Read verse 2. Matthew gives us a much shorter version of this event than Mark does. He focuses on what Jesus says to the paralytic. But he also tells us that Jesus did this because of the faith of the men who brought him. Why is their bringing the paralyzed man to Jesus called “faith”? It’s because when someone is paralyzed, they usually don’t get better; they just have to live with paralysis. But these men believed that Jesus could heal him. It isn’t just a story about physical healing. Like leprosy, paralysis is a metaphor for what sin does to us. Sin makes us paralyzed. Sin makes us powerless to do the things God wants. There are so many spiritually paralyzed people. We may feel burdened and want to run away from them, but Jesus wants us to have faith to bring such people to him for healing. And what heals spiritual paralysis? Read verse 2 again. Some people would rather scream at a spiritual paralytic: “Get up! You’re lazy! Work harder!” But it never works. Rules and lots of pushing don’t really help. But Jesus’ forgiveness works.

Jesus is intentionally teaching something else here. Our real problem isn’t our condition or situation; it’s the sin in our souls. Jesus isn’t saying that God struck this man with paralysis because he’d committed some sin. He is saying that the sin in his heart was a more serious problem than his physical problem. It’s an important truth: Jesus isn’t interested in merely solving the surface problems in our lives; he wants to get at our core problem, our sin problem. We may not think we have a sin problem. Our other problems in life may feel way more real and way more pressing to us. But to Jesus, our core problem is sin.

          Read verse 3. Why were these people being so critical? To them, only God could forgive sins: Jesus acting like he could forgive was like trying to take the place of God, which is blasphemy. But were they really just having a theological problem with Jesus? No. The real problem was they weren’t open-minded and willing to learn from Jesus. They thought they knew better. And it was even worse. Jesus said they were entertaining “evil thoughts” (4). Here, “evil thoughts” means looking at God’s servant with human eyes and criticizing. Such criticism is evil because it’s against what God is trying to do.

Read verse 5. At first it’s hard to understand what this means. To us, it seems easier to say, “Your sins are forgiven”; it’s hard to cure paralysis. But to Jesus, it was easy to cure paralysis; it was much harder to tell a paralyzed man, “Your sins are forgiven.” To forgive him Jesus would have to die in his place. It’s still hard to touch somebody’s sin problem; we’re likely to get a hostile reaction. It’s hard to help someone experience God’s grace, but it’s so important. It’s what our King Jesus came to do and what his kingdom is all about. People who don’t experience his forgiveness can’t get into his kingdom, no matter how hard they work or how good they seem. Personally, we need to humble ourselves to accept Jesus’ spiritual help. We need to know how sinful we are, yet how great his forgiveness is. We also need to have Jesus’ point in helping others. We need to be praying for people, most of all, to experience his forgiveness personally.

Read verse 6. Jesus healed the man only because he wanted to demonstrate his authority on earth to forgive sins. Our King Jesus has authority, but he uses his authority to forgive. And his forgiveness brings spiritual healing. It fills us with awe and praise to God (7,8). So many people think they’ve sinned so much, God could never forgive them. But that’s not true. Jesus has authority on earth to forgive the worst sins imaginable. Jesus really wants us to believe his authority on earth to forgive sins. When we truly believe it, we can get up from spiritual paralysis and start living for the glory of God. When we believe his forgiveness, we also can forgive others, even those who hurt us badly (6:12,14, 15). Jesus’ kingdom isn’t about rules and works—it’s about forgiveness.

Read verse 9. Again, Matthew tells the story so briefly, but it’s loaded with meaning. In those days, tax collectors were lumped together with public sinners (9:11) and godless pagans (5:46,47). It was because they sided with the Roman oppressors and were traitors to their own people. In fact, tax collectors used their authority to squeeze money out of poor people to make themselves rich. The stigma was as bad today as being a child molester. When most people saw a tax collector, they would get sick to their stomach. They would avoid them. No religious leader would associate with such scoundrels. But Jesus did. Why? No doubt he was still thinking about demonstrating his authority on earth to forgive sins. The forgiveness of sins is still this radical, radical enough to reach out to the most scandalous people. In this world, when people make a serious life mistake, their careers can be over. But Jesus’ kingdom is different. Jesus was working to build a kingdom of forgiven sinners, a kingdom that welcomes forgiven sinners.

          Read verse 9 again. What do Jesus’ words “Follow me” mean? He was calling Matthew to a completely new life. He was challenging him to repent. He was telling him to stop his selfish, cruel way of life and begin a new life like Christ, the compassionate Shepherd. He was calling him out of a life of chasing money into a life of seeking God and his kingdom (6:33). Jesus’ words “Follow me” are very personal. We all like to think we follow no one but ourselves. But whether we realize it or not, we’re all following someone or something. Sometimes it’s a conglomeration of many things and people, many social and cultural influences. The Bible challenges us, in view of God’s mercy, not to conform any longer to the pattern of this world (Ro12:1,2), but to offer ourselves to God as living sacrifices like Jesus did. Like Matthew, if we follow money, we’ll end up feeling lonely and despised. Following Jesus amidst the pressures and pulls of this world is hard. But we end up so blessed in his kingdom. Jesus is saying to each of us today, “Follow me.”

          How did Matthew respond? It says, “...and Matthew got up and followed him.” Wow! No hesitation, no calculation. In this Gospel we’ve seen Jesus’ authority over sicknesses, over evil spirits, over nature, and authority to forgive sins. Now we see his authority over human beings. Jesus has authority to claim anybody’s life for his use, for the work of his kingdom, because he is Lord. Matthew followed so quickly probably because he was sick and tired of his tax collector’s life. It's a powerful reminder that money or material things never makes people happy. Knowing Jesus personally makes us really happy.

Read verse 10. In going into his house and eating with him, Jesus was accepting Matthew and making friends with him. And he was going to be with him from now on (1:23; 28:20b). Many tax collectors and “sinners” came and ate with him and his disciples. In that strictly religious society, they were outcasts. The news that the rabbi Jesus had called Matthew to be one of his disciples surprised these tax collectors and sinners. It made them curious. It gave them hope. Most of them had lived rotten lives. But when they came, Jesus welcomed them and freely ate and drank with them. Jesus didn’t come to impose legalisms on people; he came to be with lost people. He came to make friends with sinners. He came to give sinners his forgiveness. This dinner at Matthew’s house turned into a party. There was food and drink enough for everybody. Matthew the selfish tax collector suddenly became generous. I'm sure it wasn’t a serious, heavy or gloomy meal; there was real joy and laughter. It was an exuberant celebration, a picture of the joy of God’s kingdom because of Jesus’ mercy.

          Unfortunately, some people were unhappy. Read verse 11. Why were the Pharisees even there? It certainly wasn’t to learn; it was to find fault with Jesus. They tried to poison the disciples’ minds against Jesus behind his back. How did Jesus respond? Read verse 12. Here Jesus compares people like tax collectors and sinners to “the sick.” He’s saying plainly that they’re spiritually sick. It’s a radically different way of looking at people. It’s looking at people with God’s mercy. When we view people with critical eyes, we see all their faults and can get angry or even disgusted, wondering how they could do such things. But when we view people through the eyes of God’s mercy, we can see that spiritually, they’re sick; they’re wounded. They don’t need a judge; they need a doctor. And not a doctor who comes in quickly for a few minutes then leaves, but a doctor willing to stay with them until they’re healed. Matthew wrote in 8:17: “This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah: ‘He took up our infirmities and carried our diseases.’” Jesus was willing to be with Matthew patiently, no matter how long it took, how much he would be criticized, until Matthew was completely healed spiritually. Learning God’s mercy involves learning to be with people who are spiritually sick. Those who truly follow Jesus don’t isolate themselves from the spiritually sick; they are with them closely, just as Jesus was. What spiritually sick person are we with right now?

          Read verse 13. Jesus gives a challenge to the self-righteous Pharisees. They thought they knew the Bible so well, but they had only head knowledge; they didn’t really learn it. So Jesus quoted to them from the prophecy of Hosea. Hosea’s story in the Bible is famous. God wanted to teach him his mercy in a very personal way. He challenged him to go and marry a prostitute. And when she kept returning to her old life of prostitution, God told Hosea to go and take her back to be his wife again. God was using this painful experience to illustrate his mercy to his thoroughly corrupt people. God’s mercy embraces sinful people again and again until we can return to him with all our hearts. The Pharisees thought God was pleased with their sacrifices and strict adherence to religious rules. But God isn’t legalistic; God is merciful to people. God wants his people to experience and practice his mercy. Legalism stifles, but mercy heals. Jesus said, “But go and learn what this means.” He wants us not only to know his mercy in theory, but also to learn how to practice it. Learning God’s mercy is a life-long process. But we have to be intentional about it. And it’s got to be “real.” It has to affect how we treat our parents, siblings, spouse, children, people at work or school, even strangers, not to mention people at church.

Some other people also weren’t so happy with this dinner party. Read verse 14. These disciples of John the Baptist thought they were better than Jesus’ disciples because they fasted often. What did Jesus say to them? Read verse 15. Jesus compared himself to a bridegroom, and his kingdom, to a wedding celebration. Just as a bride finds joy in her husband, so Jesus our King is our true source of joy. When we experience his mercy and show it to others, we’re filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy (1Pe1:8). The imagery here also refers to his death on the cross, when he was “taken” from us. When we think about his death for our sins, it’s the time to mourn (5:4; 2Co7:10). Read verses 16–17. The old garment and the old wineskins symbolize self-righteous people with their own fixed ideas. The new garment and new wineskins symbolize people like Matthew. They know they’re sinners and are humble enough to listen to Jesus and learn from him, humble enough to accept his forgiveness. Jesus didn’t bother with self-righteous people; he invested himself in people humble enough to learn and receive his grace. We should, too.

Read verses 12,13 again. May God help us experience his mercy personally. And may he help us make a new decision to follow Jesus and go and learn how to practice his mercy.

HE TOOK UP OUR INFIRMITIES AND BORE OUR DISEASES

Matthew 8:1–17

Key Verse: 8:17

jesus christ1.png

          Have you ever been seriously sick but were not aware of it? It’s kind of scary: Some people have a deadly disease but are oblivious to it. Some intentionally live in denial about their illnesses and don’t want to face them. If we are aware of a disease we have, we may just try to cope with it ourselves—especially because medical care can be so expensive. We may not have just one, but multiple sicknesses at the same time, which overwhelms us. And, even if we believe in God and pray, there’s no guarantee that whatever sicknesses we have will be cured—we may just have to live with them. In chapters 5–7 Matthew has recorded Jesus’ famous Sermon on the Mount, which summarizes Jesus’ teaching ministry. Now in chapters 8,9 Matthew introduces us to Jesus’ healing ministry. He’s not just out to prove Jesus’ miraculous powers; he’s trying to show what Jesus wants to do for us. For Matthew, physical sickness can symbolize spiritual sickness. And he wants us to see that Jesus doesn’t just teach us; he wants to heal us—especially our souls. In today’s passage we can see how Jesus responded to the sick. And we can learn from two people how Jesus still heals today. Through this study may God open our hearts to come to Jesus and truly experience his healing.

          The first time Matthew describes Jesus’ healing ministry is back at the end of chapter 4; it’s a short description, just three verses. Now, beginning in chapter 8, Matthew gives an extended account of Jesus’ healings. The first specific healing Matthew records is of a man with leprosy. It’s a brief but shocking encounter, and it’s loaded with deep meaning for us.

First, let’s think about this man. Read verse 2. Most of us aren’t very familiar with leprosy. It’s a disease people get in tropical climates. In the 19th century in the U.S., people who got leprosy were put on trains, sent to California, then boarded boats to be taken to a leper colony in Hawaii—far away from everyone else. Over 100 years, about 8,000 people were sent there. Leprosy was considered a contagious, incurable disease. It starts out small, with a tiny white spot on the skin, but develops progressively until the extremities of fingers and toes rot off. It gradually disfigures a person, emits a bad odor and leads to numbness, isolation, depression, disorientation, and finally death. In Jesus’ time, leprosy made people “unclean,” meaning they were not allowed to join in worship. This disease of leprosy is a powerful metaphor for the characteristics of sin. Like leprosy, sin also starts out tiny but gets progressively worse. It disfigures, numbs, isolates, and kills. And just like leprosy, sin is incurable. Sin gives us all kinds of spiritual diseases. Some are obvious, such as lust, or depression, or anxiety. But other kinds of spiritual diseases in us we may not even be aware of. We can be sick with pride and not even know it. We can be sick with vanity and not even know it. We can be sick with selfishness and not even know it. We can be sick with fear or greed or cruelty. The power of sin can be growing in us, ruining our humanity and our conscience, making us like a spiritual monster, yet we can be pretending like everything is just fine.

This man had leprosy, yet Matthew wants us to learn from him. Read verse 2 again. The man wasn’t living in denial. He faced the fact that he was so sick and that his disease was incurable. They say that in helping people with physical diseases, the first challenge is to help them realize how sick they are, how serious their illness is, so that they really want help. Likewise, to be healed spiritually, we first have to acknowledge that we have a serious spiritual problem and really need God’s help. Those who are slaves of their own honor can’t admit it. But if we refuse to recognize our spiritual problem, or laugh it off as not serious, we won’t be coming to Jesus for his healing.

But there’s another side to this, too. Once we recognize our problem and how serious it is, it’s actually easy to fall into despair. The more we think about our problem, the more we can lose hope and give up on ourselves. We can think we’ve gone too far and can never turn back. The idea that there’s no hope for me is like a pair of spiritual shackles always dragging us down. This man with leprosy knew his reality. But he wasn’t sulking in a corner in despair. He came to Jesus. His coming to Jesus as a leper was truly a marvelous act of faith.

And there’s more. Read verse 2 once more. We notice that he knelt before him. He called him “Lord.” And he believed that he could make him clean. Each of these things shows his faith in Jesus. He wasn’t your everyday, run-of-the mill beggar habitually trying to get something. He believed in Jesus as the Sovereign Lord and the one who has power to cure anything, even the incurable. Matthew is showing us that the man's faith is totally focused on Jesus. The Bible doesn’t tell us where he got this faith. But 4:24 says that as soon as Jesus started his healing ministry, news about him spread everywhere. It must have even reached the place where lepers lived. News of Jesus stirred this man’s heart. When he heard about what Jesus could do, he found hope. He found strength to come out of his leper’s quarters. He found courage to face hostile people who might start throwing rocks at him. In his society, lepers were the worst of the worst. They were not supposed to come out and be among normal people. But because of his faith in Jesus this man came. Likewise, if we can turn our thoughts away from ourselves and our situation and from people to really meditate on who Jesus is, we can find the hope, the strength and the courage to come to him.

Next, we need to look at how Jesus responds to him. Read verse 3. Jesus responded to this man because of his faith. But we can notice several things here. First, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. In the Law God told his people not to touch lepers (Lev5:3). He was trying to prevent disease among his people from spreading. Then people used this law to totally isolate lepers. Today, too, people use God’s laws to isolate themselves from those who are sick with sin. They do it in the name of holiness. But Jesus wasn’t like that. He didn’t have to touch this man in order to heal him, but he did. He broke the rule. Why? Jesus touched him to show him that he loved him. Jesus touched him to show that he was unafraid of his illness. Jesus touched him to show that he respected him as a human being who was so lovely, so valuable, made in the image of God. By touching him, Jesus was taking up his infirmity and bearing his disease of leprosy. This tells us that ministry can’t be done from a safe distance. Ministry can’t be superficial. We have to get involved with people closely. We have to get our hands dirty. We have to patiently bear all kinds of diseases people have, out of God’s love. If we’re demanding, intolerant and impatient with people, God can’t use us to bring them to Jesus for healing.

To this man, being touched by Jesus was a crucial part of his healing. Years of isolation had scarred his soul. At last there was someone who reached out to him in love and touched him. In our busy, competitive, cruel society, so many wounded, spiritually sick people are longing for a simple, loving touch. They feel dirty and condemned and so alone, but if only someone would reach out and touch them, it would set them on a new path of spiritual healing.

Next, Jesus accompanied his touch by saying, “I am willing.” Sometimes the devil convinces us that God is not willing to help us. He gets us to think God is stern, that we don’t matter, that our problem is not God’s concern. But it is. God is deeply concerned for us as individual people. He’s our Creator who made us. He longs to be in a relationship with us. He longs for us to know his heart and to experience his love. Whatever our problems are, whether they happened to us by chance or we created them ourselves, God is willing to help us and to heal us.

Finally, Jesus said, “Be clean!” “Immediately” the man was cleansed of his incurable leprosy, by the sheer power of Jesus’ word. It tells us that Jesus’ word still has power to cure our problems, no matter how chronic or hopeless they are. The Bible says that the human heart is deceitful above all else and beyond cure (Jer17:9). But the word of Jesus has the power to clean out our hearts, no matter how ugly or dirty they get (Jn15:3). This is why we all need to be studying God’s word. We live in a world that is full of corruption due to evil human desires (2Pe1:4). In such an environment, we may think we’re okay, that we can handle it, but we easily can become ensnared and entangled by sin (Heb12:1). We constantly need the word of Jesus so that we can be growing not in our sinful nature but in God’s nature and in inner holiness.

The last part of this incident is also important. Read verse 4. We learn two things here. First of all, Jesus wasn’t trying to gain glory for himself through healing this man. Instead, Jesus strictly refused to gain glory through it. It’s very relevant today. Our own self-glory seeking desires can still ruin the good work God wants to do through us for the spiritually sick. Secondly, Jesus was thinking about this man’s whole life. He wasn’t trying to use him to show himself off in that moment; he was deeply concerned about this man’s social healing. He really wanted the man to be integrated back into normal society and be happy. A true shepherd isn’t thinking about using sheep for his or her own glory; he or she genuinely cares about the sheep’s entire life—personally, socially and spiritually.

The second healing Matthew records here is also shocking. Read verses 5,6. What’s a centurion? He was an officer in the Roman army in charge of 100 soldiers. To good Jews, such Roman oppressors were just as hideous as lepers. But Jesus didn’t pre-judge this man. This man, too, had faith in Jesus. If we read the story too quickly, we miss many things.

First of all, we notice that he wasn’t coming to Jesus for himself. Who was he there for? He says, “…my servant lies at home paralyzed, suffering terribly.” This is not your average Roman army officer. Most of them were so cruel they would use people up and throw them away like garbage. Because they were officers, they thought they were far above lowly servants who had problems. They didn’t think they could be bothered with such burdensome people. But this centurion deeply cared about his sick servant. He empathized with his condition; he knew he was suffering terribly. We don’t know what exactly paralyzed this man and was causing him so much suffering. But the point is not that; it’s that the centurion understood and cared for him so much. He cared so much that he was even willing to humble himself to go to Jesus and ask his help. His love for this other human being led him to faith in Jesus. We notice that, like the leper, he calls Jesus “Lord.” And he believes that Jesus would care even about a nameless suffering servant.

How does Jesus respond to him? Read verse 7. At first it’s hard to understand what Jesus is saying here. In Greek the emphasis is on the word “I.” It seems Jesus is drawing attention to the fact that the centurion is a high-ranking Roman officer, whereas Jesus is a lowly Jewish rabbi. It was well-known that Romans thoroughly despised Jews. Jesus wants to know if this man is really ready to cross the racial barrier to ask his help. With this question Jesus is gently testing his faith.

What does the man say? Read verses 8,9. In brief, the centurion is saying, “Don’t bother coming over—just say the word.” Again Matthew is emphasizing the healing power and authority of Jesus’ word. This centurion knew firsthand the power of words. If he gave any kind of order, his soldiers would immediately obey it. It seems he learned to think twice about the words he spoke and the suggestions he made. He wasn’t an overbearing and demanding commander, but a compassionate and thoughtful one, so he used his words carefully. Proverbs 12:18 also warns us about the power of words: “The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.”

Most of all, this man was thinking about Jesus. If his own words would be obeyed by his soldiers absolutely, how much more would the words of Jesus! He had “just say the word, and my servant will be healed” faith. Let’s skip ahead and look at verse 13. It tells us how God can use us to heal others. We can’t do it at all. We can’t force or manipulate people to be changed. But we can believe that even one word of Jesus can completely heal people from the inside out. Whatever is paralyzing people or causing them terrible suffering, we need to pray that Jesus will just say the word, and the person we love will be completely healed. This is the kind of faith that pleases Jesus.

So how does Jesus respond? Read verse 10. Usually Jesus isn’t amazed by anything. But he is truly amazed by this centurion’s great faith. Often Jesus rebuked his disciples for having so little faith. There were so many religious Jews around him, but their faith was only cultural, and they were spiritually complacent. It’s a kind of stinging rebuke that a Roman centurion had better faith than all the spiritually proud Jews in Israel. Jesus wants all his followers to learn from the great faith of the centurion.

And he doesn’t stop there; he goes on. Read verses 11,12. Jesus is warning the Jews that God’s kingdom is going to be filled with Gentiles from all around the world, whereas many Jews who feel entitled and superior are going to find themselves thrown out into the darkness. It reminds us of the Bible verse: “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble” (Jas4:6; Pr3:34). The man with leprosy and the centurion are examples of those who are social outcasts, but humble, humble enough to come to Jesus and ask his help. Jesus is also warning complacent Christians, people who assume that they’re good with God, even though they don’t really care about others or struggle to have faith in Jesus. In the end they’ll find out too late that they’ve made the worst mistake.

The third healing Matthew records is of another kind of overlooked person. Read verses 14,15. Again, Jesus is personal and uses his touch to heal. And the person he’s healing is Peter’s mother-in-law. She may have been in bed with a fever because she’d become so upset after Peter left his good-paying fishing job to follow Jesus, leaving her daughter so vulnerable. In any case, Jesus considers this woman important. He shows her his love and his healing power. Her fever leaves her, and she begins to serve Jesus. We can’t force people to serve Jesus, but when we experience Jesus’ love and healing, we want to serve him.

Jesus’ healing continues. Read verse 16. Demon-possessed people are another kind of impossible people to help. They’re scary. Nobody can control them. People run away from them. But Jesus didn’t. Even though it was evening, getting dark outside and Jesus was tired, he kept on healing. Again Matthew tells us that Jesus “drove out the spirits with a word.” The power of Jesus’ word can even drive out evil spirits from people. It says Jesus healed “all the sick,” missing no one. There was no disease Jesus could not heal. Jesus worked past his limitations. He showed his healing love even when it was inconvenient and intrusive to him. It showed his true colors: he really cared for people. He was willing to sacrifice himself and suffer to bring people God’s healing.

Read verse 17. Matthew often tells us how the details of Jesus’ life and ministry fulfill prophecy. In this case, it’s the prophecy of Isaiah 53:4. Jesus was like the best doctor who stays with an overwhelming number of sick people to heal them all, even to the point of his own exhaustion. Matthew wants us to know that Jesus is not indifferent to our suffering. He doesn’t run away from us, even though we can be so burdensome. Immanuel Jesus is willing to be with us until we are healed, just as a good mother or father is willing to be with a sick child all through the night.

What brings people healing? Yes, it’s the power of Jesus’ words. It’s the faith of someone who loves them. But most often, Jesus’ healing comes into a person’s life when someone is willing to take up their infirmities and bear their diseases. How? By just being with them. It takes time. It takes patience. Sadly, so few people are willing to take the time to just be with someone who’s spiritually sick—not really teaching or correcting, just bearing in love. It may seem like a waste of time. But slowly and steadily it brings healing.

Read verse 17 again. May God grant us the faith to come to Jesus honestly and humbly for his healing of our spiritual diseases. May God help us experience the healing power of his word. And may God help us learn how to touch and heal others by being with them and bearing their sicknesses patiently with God’s love.

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