Summary: Jesus tweaks the argument of who is in control just a little bit to introduce the real sickness in mankind - sin. He is in control of that too. Are you willing to give Him control over your total cleansing from evil?
We’ve spent a couple of weeks in Matthew chapter 8 talking about control and authority. Matthew shows us that Jesus has it—over the seen and unseen universe—but that we as humans are loathe to give up control over our own lives and give it to Him. We saw a couple of notable examples in a Gentile Roman Centurion who recognized that Jesus could simply speak a word and healing would go forth—and an unclean Jewish leper who dared approach Jesus and ask for cleansing, which he got. Jesus showed his authority over sickness, and He demonstrated that authority over the creation—calming the stormy waters of the Sea of Galilee, and driving out invisible but powerful demons from two guys with one word “Go.”
Through all this, Jesus has not forgotten His mission—to be the King, and the Messiah, the Rescuer—restoring our broken relationship with God by revealing the true nature of God’s holiness and the true nature of man’s uncleanness. Then He Himself would bear the brunt of God’s wrath for our weaknesses and personally make a way back.
So first He tells it like it is, then He backs up those words with actions—by the healings and authority he showed in chapter 8. But now Jesus tweaks the argument just a little bit, like a person with a telescope who uses the little lens on the side to get in the general area of the sky, then focuses the bigger lens on a specific object. The general area is the state of man’s existence, and the specific object here is sin—and our need for healing from it.
In the first 17 verses of this chapter Jesus is saying three things:
1. The real sickness infecting mankind is sin and I have the authority to heal it.
2. The people that receive this healing are those who realize they are sick
3. In order to bring about this healing I am going to tear down one system that is stuck in self-justification in order to create a new one based on life that comes from Me.
1 – 8
Jesus has already healed many people, including the Centurion’s servant, the leper, Peter’s mother-in-law, the crowds at Peter’s house, and the demon possessed men. In none of those instances did the concept of sin come up. So why now?
Jesus is showing that the real sickness isn’t physical, it is in the heart—it is rebellion against God that leads to a break in fellowship and from the life of God. God told Adam and Eve that their rebellion would cause death—and it did—both physical (separation from the body) and spiritual (separation from God).
But Jesus here is proclaiming Himself master over both physical death (disease) and spiritual death (sin). The ability to forgive sins belongs to God alone. When David sinned with Bathsheba he said “against you and you alone have I sinned.” (Psalm 51:4). All sin is against God and only God can forgive those offenses.
It’s no wonder the religious experts who came to check Jesus out were thinking that He was taking the name of Yahweh—and charged Him (in their minds at least) of blaspheme. Even the accusation of blaspheme could lead to death. It was in fact why they ended up killing Jesus.
Notice His response—either saying “your sins are forgiven” or “be healed” are equally impossible for man—but not God. It really should have come as no surprise to people who lived their lives studying the Scriptures.
For instance: Micah 7:18-19 Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love. 19 He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities under foot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.
Also Isaiah 40:2, Joel 2:32, Zech 13:1 – all point to the Messiah forgiving sins—God forgiving sins. The problem was that they could not conceive that this prophet from the sticks, who wasn’t endorsed by anyone important, could be the Messiah—and God!
So now Jesus changes the focus from the source of forgiveness to the need of forgiveness.
9 – 13
Matthew was at the bottom of the Jewish community. Jesus came to him when he was doing that which ostracized him from that community—collecting taxes for the Romans. Matthew undoubtedly knew Jesus—this wasn’t the first time he’d laid eyes on him. Matthew’s tax collecting booth would have been an elevated platform near the sea—as he taxed goods going from land to sea and vice versa.
One day it was time for a decision, and Jesus gives Matthew an imperative command “Follow Me.” Matthew had been kept out of the community and spiritual life of his nation—much in the same way that sin keeps us from fellowship with God. He is a picture in the natural of someone who spiritually needs to be made alive—and that happens by following Jesus.