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Bible ancient-futurenetThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Matthew 11:1

When Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and preach in their cities.


The intervening verses between our Lord’s healing of the deaf men, covered in last week’s post, and the beginning of Matthew 11 recount His appointment and training of the Twelve Apostles.

All of those verses are included in the three-year Lectionary. I’ll look at Matthew 10 tomorrow apart from this series.

Matthew prepares us for Chapter 10 at the end of Chapter 9 (Matthew 9:35-38):

35 And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; 38 therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

At the beginning of Matthew 11, we find that as the Twelve go to preach, teach and heal, Jesus goes ‘to teach and preach in their cities’.

John MacArthur says (emphases mine):

that means the cities of the disciples, which were the cities of Galilee. Eleven of the twelve of them, with the exception of Judas, were from Galilee. So He continued His Galilean ministry.

He adds that Christ’s ministry was two-fold:

teaching and preaching, and they are different. The synagogue was a place where the Scripture was read and exposited. Philo, the historian, says the synagogue’s main feature was to read and give a detailed exposition of Scripture. So the Lord would go into the synagogue, and since any resident expert who happened to be there could speak, He would take the occasion to speak, and He would take the Old Testament and give them the meaning of the Old Testament and apply it to Himself. He was an expository teacher.

He was also a preacher. The word means ‘to proclaim,’ and He would go from the synagogue to the streets and the hillsides, and the highways and byways, and the corners, and anywhere. He would preach and proclaim His Kingdom. So He continued doing this. We may also assume, based on verse 5, that He continued the miracles of healing, casting out demons, raising the dead, and forgiving sin. So the Lord goes on about His work.

So, Jesus did not take a break whilst the Twelve were invested with the same divinely-bestowed gifts. He continued His ministry.

Matthew Henry says the Apostles were performing miracles while Jesus was preaching and teaching. Which was more important?

Observe, When Christ empowered them to work miracles, he employed himself in teaching and preaching, as if that were the more honourable of the two … Healing the sick was the saving of bodies, but preaching the gospel was to the saving of souls.

Church leaders and clergy can draw upon His example by keeping just as busy as His Apostles. Serving Christ does not allow for directing from the top and remaining idle. All should be equally occupied in spreading the Gospel message:

Note, the increase and multitude of labourers in the Lord’s work should be made not an excuse for our negligence, but an encouragement to our diligence. The more busy others are, the more busy we should be, and all little enough, so much work is there to be done.

Matthew’s message through Chapter 9 establishes Jesus as the Messiah and the Anointed One. Then he changes tack. In Chapters 11 and 12 he tells us about people’s reactions to Jesus. MacArthur explains:

In fact, he lists for us the various kinds of reactions to the claims of Christ. Through giving us brief narrative events in these chapters, he gives us categories of response to Jesus Christ. These chapters are filled with very common reactions to the claims of Christ, which were true then and are true today as much as they were then.

For example, in Matthew 11:1-15 is the response of doubt. From verses 16-19, we see the response of criticism. From verses 20-24, there is the response of indifference. Going to chapter 12, the first 21 verses deal with the response of rejection. Verses 22-23 are the response of amazement, and verses 24-37, the response of blasphemy. Verses 38-45 show the response of fascination.

Those are all the negative responses: doubt, criticism, indifference, amazement, rejection, blasphemy, and fascination. Each of them, in a sense, is kind of a unique response all its own, although there is some overlapping as well. But you’ll notice that I said nothing about the last section of chapter 11 and the last section of chapter 12, because both of those deal with positive responses; the response of faith, the right response.

So by the time you have covered these two chapters, you have run the gamut of possible reactions to the claims of Christ and crystallized the categories. That is very helpful, because you’ll find out as we move through these two chapters, we’ll be able to see the varying responses that are just as true today as they were then, and understand, perhaps a little better, where people are coming from when they react to Jesus Christ.

More to follow next week.

Next time: Matthew 11:12-14


Bible boy_reading_bibleThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur (here and here).

Matthew 9:32-34

Jesus Heals a Man Unable to Speak

32 As they were going away, behold, a demon-oppressed man who was mute was brought to him. 33 And when the demon had been cast out, the mute man spoke. And the crowds marveled, saying, “Never was anything like this seen in Israel.” 34 But the Pharisees said, “He casts out demons by the prince of demons.”


Last week’s post discussed Jesus’s healing of the two blind men who followed Him into the house where He was staying in Capernaum.

His healing the deaf mute took place immediately afterward at the end of a very long day which involved raising Jairus’s daughter from the dead and healing the woman who had the 12-year blood flow. Before that, He condemned the pharisaical method of fasting and cured a paralytic. He was surrounded by crowds the whole time that day, except for brief periods: inside Jairus’s house and at Peter’s house when He healed the blind men.

The blind men with fully restored sight no sooner went away (verse 32) than a demon-possessed deaf mute stood before Him. He might have been someone in the crowd and was presented to Him. However, John MacArthur thinks he was a companion of the two blind men:

Now, this would have been one of their friends.  They were blind, he was deaf and dumb; and together they made a whole person …  And they immediately went out, and they got hold of their friend, “possessed with a demon, and they brought him in.”  This is the commitment of the men.  One of their fellow beggars.

He tells us that the word in Greek for the man’s affliction is

koufos.  It is translated in Matthew 11:5 as deaf.  It probably means deaf and dumb.

If one cannot hear, one cannot speak.

Matthew Henry says that the fact that a demon rendered this man deaf and mute illustrates that Satan is no friend of mankind (emphases mine):

His case, which was very sad. He was under the power of the devil in this particular instance, that he was disabled from speaking, Matthew 9:32. See the calamitous state of this world, and how various the afflictions of the afflicted are! We have no sooner dismissed two blind men, but we meet with a dumb man. How thankful should we be to God for our sight and speech! See the malice of Satan against mankind, and in how many ways he shows it.

That said:

Of the two, better a dumb devil than a blaspheming one.


When the devil gets possession of a soul, it is made silent as to any thing that is good [,] dumb in prayers and praises, which the devil is a sworn enemy to.

Therefore, this state of being can be compared in our time to becoming a slave to the devil and sin, where we forsake a close relationship with the Lord for pleasure, greed, depravity and self-sufficiency.

As soon as Jesus cast out the demon, the man — now fully healed — spoke, causing the crowd to marvel (verse 33). They exclaimed that nothing like this had ever occurred in Israel.

Should we then deduce that the crowd converted that day and followed our Lord ever afterward? Only in the sense that they were curious and amazed.

Henry says that the crowd might have recalled Psalm 98:1:

Oh sing to the Lord a new song,
    for he has done marvelous things!
His right hand and his holy arm
    have worked salvation for him.

However, he makes this observation:

The multitudes marvelled and well they might[,] though few believed, many wondered.

They followed Jesus to see miracles.

MacArthur likens the crowd to today’s cinema goers who go for a thrill and then leave it behind. At the time he preached his sermons on Matthew in the 1970s, The Exorcist was showing on the big screen:

I’m amazed at people today, you know.  They, they may, they go see these movies that scare them to death; scare them out of their wits and just sit there and let themselves be scared into a frenzy, sweat.  Some of them have to run out into the lobby at the scary times.  Why would people line up for blocks to see The Exorcist?  Well, you know, there’s a certain funny fascination about that.  As long as you’re sitting in a soft seat shoving popcorn in your mouth and you can leave when it’s over.  See, you, you don’t want to get in the situation.  You just don’t mind watching somebody else in it.  There’s a certain thing about that.  And I believe there was something of this fascination in these people who were terrorized by Christ, but also astounded and amazed at the supernatural.  But they wanted to make sure it was just at arm’s length; and when it began to crowd their status quo, that was the end of it: They wanted Him dead.

Jesus’s miracles were entertainment for the vast majority in the crowd, nothing more.

Another aspect of their fascination was that they expected a temporal Messiah, not a spiritual one.

They were not ready to leave Judaism under the manmade laws of the Pharisees. They were not ready to devote their lives to Jesus. They had what they needed in their lives. He was, sadly, for them, an exciting phenomenon, not the Son of God.

When Jesus became too threatening to the status quo, He had to go:

in Matthew chapter 21, they could make only one conclusion: “And the multitude,” it says, the same multitude that marveled.  That’s a broad word.  The multitude said, “Hosanna to the Son of David:  Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest.'”  They threw palm branches at His feet.  That’s the marveling multitude: “Isn’t He wonderful?  Oh, He’s the Messiah.”  The next thing you know, they got the word that He was going against the establishment; that He was preaching a message that they didn’t want to hear; that He was a threat to their security, a threat to their life.  But it says in Matthew 27 that the same multitude screamed at Him to be crucified, that Barabbas should be released, and Jesus should be executed.  But that’s how it is with fickle mobs, you see.  Marveling multitudes eventually screamed for His death.  The fickleness of that superficial fascination; it’s like John 6.  They followed Him for the free food, you know?  They really weren’t interested in what He said.  They liked Him at a distance.  They liked Him doing His miracles.  They were fascinated.  There was a certain awe.  Even though there was a certain terror involved, if you could keep it at arm’s length, it was okay.

The Pharisees were spiritually blind and deaf. Therefore, they accused our Lord of being in league with Satan in driving out demons (verse 34). Their reaction was as psychologically and spiritually complex as the crowd’s but for different reasons. They did not like His preaching, even though they should have recognised it, but they were spiritually bereft. They liked their privileged status and feared the crowd might reject their hold on them. They also did not think that Jesus had anything to say to them. They were the foremost among the self-sufficient. Furthermore, Jesus was not among their number. He did not mix in their circles nor did He have their training. He had to be derided, ridiculed and blasphemed then killed.

Ultimately, the Pharisees had to diminish His power among the people. For now, they shamefully lied about the source of His miracles. Henry says:

The Pharisees blasphemed, Matthew 9:34. When they could not gainsay the convincing evidence of these miracles, they fathered them upon the devil, as if they had been wrought by compact and collusion: he casteth out devils (say they) by the prince of the devilsa suggestion horrid beyond expression we shall hear more of it afterwards, and Christ’s answer to it (Matthew 12:25) only observe here, how evil men and seducers wax worse and worse (2 Timothy 3:13), and it is both their sin and their punishment.

In closing, the parallel account of this healing — creative — miracle and Jesus’s response to the Pharisees is in Luke 11:14-23, about which I wrote last year.

Next time: Matthew 11:1

Bible treehuggercomThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Matthew 9:27-31

Jesus Heals Two Blind Men

27 And as Jesus passed on from there, two blind men followed him, crying aloud, “Have mercy on us, Son of David.” 28 When he entered the house, the blind men came to him, and Jesus said to them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” They said to him, “Yes, Lord.” 29 Then he touched their eyes, saying, “According to your faith be it done to you.” 30 And their eyes were opened. And Jesus sternly warned them, “See that no one knows about it.” 31 But they went away and spread his fame through all that district.


This healing — creative — miracle took place after Jesus raised Jairus’s daughter from the dead. ‘There’ in verse 27 refers to his house.

Jairus was the ruler of the synagogue in Capernaum, so Jesus would have been on His way to retire for the evening. We do not know where the house in verse 28 was, but it is possible that it was Peter’s home, as Bible scholars say that Jesus stayed there often.

The two blind men had been following Him. No doubt there were crowds around Him, too, as John MacArthur says (emphases mine):

He has two crowds, really:  the crowd that’s been following Him all along, the crowd that pushed their way through the little narrow streets of Capernaum all the way to the house of Jairus, the crowd that was there when he healed the woman with the issue of blood, the crowd that is looking for His miracles, that is fascinated by Him.  And now another crowd has been added; and that’s the crowd of mourners and paid musicians, flute players, and weeping women who were holding the funeral service for the daughter.  The funeral was broken up when He raised her from the dead.  And now He has this whole collection of humanity; and He moves from that place back toward the house in which He was staying; and as He does, the story unfolds. 

The two blind men were persistent, to the point of boldly following Him into the house. He was not about to heal them in public and even told them to keep quiet about the restoration of their sight (verse 30).

However, our two commentaries tell us that Jesus wanted to test their faith before He performed the miracle.

No doubt He could hear their crying, which was actually shrieking. MacArthur explains:

It is a word that has a broad range of possible interpretation, but the word basically means to yell or to scream or to shriek; and in the Gospels it is used of an insane person who is just screaming and shrieking unintelligible babbling.  It is used of an epileptic.  It is used in Mark 5 of the maniac of Gadara who was demon-possessed and was screaming and shrieking and yelling.  It is used in Mark 15 of our Lord on the cross; and it says, “He cried out and gave up His Spirit.”  It is used in Revelation 12:2 of a woman who is screaming the pains of childbirth.  It is a word that doesn’t necessarily have to refer to intelligent speech, intelligent verbalization.  It may be the unintelligible crying in, in agony that we see in those illustrations. 

They were desperate. Their blindness had broken them in the biblical sense. They wanted healing. They needed relief. MacArthur continues:

And it interests me that it says they were not only shrieking and screaming and crying, but they were, interspersed with that, actually saying some intelligible things, such as, “Son of David, have mercy on us!”  But it wasn’t a, a calculated, cold, pedantic, academic kind of thing.  They were crying out in agony and desperation and deep need and shrieking, pleading, begging. That is the desperation of which regeneration is made.

They called Him ‘Son of David’, which was the universal Jewish way of referring to the Messiah.

He asked them whether they believed He could restore their sight (verse 28). They answered in the affirmative, calling Him ‘Lord’.

He healed them simply by touching their eyes and saying (verse 30):

According to your faith be it done to you.

He would have known they believed in Him and wanted to increase their faith, new and imperfect as it was. Matthew Henry says:

They followed Christ, and followed him crying, but the great question is, Do ye believe? Nature may work fervency, but it is only grace that can work faith spiritual blessings are obtained only by faith. They had intimated their faith in the office of Christ as Son of David, and in his mercy but Christ demands likewise a profession of faith in his power. Believe ye that I am able to do this to bestow this favour to give sight to the blind, as well as to cure the palsy and raise the dead? Note, It is good to be particular in the exercise of faith, to apply the general assurances of God’s power and good will, and the general promises, to our particular exigencies. All shall work for good, and if all, then this. “Believe ye that I am able, not only to prevail with God for it, as a prophet, but that I am able to do it by my own power?” This will amount to their belief of his being not only the Son of David, but the Son of God for it is God’s prerogative to open the eyes of the blind (Psalm 146:8) he makes the seeing eye, Exodus 4:11

Note, The treasures of mercy that are laid up in the power of Christ, are laid out and wrought for those that trust in him, Psalm 31:19.

As soon as Jesus touched their eyes, they were able to see fully (verse 30).

At that point, Jesus told them not to say anything about the miracle, even though they did (verse 31).

There were several reasons for this but part of it was because our Lord knew they would be zealous about their healing. Henry tells us:

This was more an act of zeal, than of prudence and though it may be excused as honestly meant for the honour of Christ, yet it cannot be justified, being done against a particular charge. Whenever we profess to direct our intention to the glory of God, we must see to it that the action be according to the will of God.

There were other reasons for Jesus’s request for silence, despite His many miracles recorded thus far in Matthew’s Gospel. It could be that silence was intended against the people of Capernaum, where our Lord based Himself. They knew and saw these miracles, yet did not believe. Another possibility was that the more miracles the people knew about, the further the ire among the Jewish leaders who feared He was becoming more popular than they. He also wanted to guard against an idea among the people that He would be a temporal Messiah.

Ultimately, what we learn from this miracle, that of Jairus’s daughter and the woman with the 12-year blood flow, is that they approached Jesus in their brokenness and desperation. In the case of the blind men, they had not only a physical disability but a spiritual one. They were given faith that they might believe. In their faith, Jesus healed them.

Today, with all its atheism and unbelief, this miracle has relevance with regard to personal desperation and need for redemption. As in Jesus’s time, the self-sufficient and self-righteous do not think they need His saving grace and ultimate sacrifice on the Cross. MacArthur explains:

You never find the self-sufficient people.  You never find the people who think they have the resources.  You never find the people who don’t really have any questions. I talked to a man this week, and I said to him, “You, I can introduce you to Christ.  I can talk to you about Christ.  I can tell you about Christ if you really want to know.”  He said, “I don’t want to know.  I don’t have any need for that.” The thing to do in that situation is pray that God’ll bring him to the place where he has a desperate need, because it’s only desperate people who come.

It’s useful knowing where blindness featured as a disability in our Lord’s era. MacArthur says that congenital blindness was common not only in Israel but other nations in the region. Much of it — though not all — was caused by gonorrhoea, difficult to detect in women:

In fact, the gospel records include more healings of blind people than any other type of healing.  That may indicate its commonness.  Poverty and the unsanitary conditions that went with it, brilliant sunlight, excessive heat, blowing sand, accidents, war, infectious organisms.  All of those things contributed to blindness.  Many of the people were blind from birth; and, very commonly, their blindness from birth was caused by a form of gonorrhea.  Sometimes it was not even known to be existing in the mother; and, yet, when the little baby passed from the uterus down, those particular germs that lodged in that mother’s womb would find their lodging in the conjunctiva of the eye; and, as they did, they would begin to multiply; and within only three days, the child would be permanently blind.  That is why, today, antiseptic drops are put in the eyes of a newborn baby; and for all intents and purposes, we have eliminated that problem.

Because of the link between venereal disease and blindness, the Jews connected it with parental sin that had been passed on to the child:

That may also have been what was in the mind of the question on the heart of the disciples in John 9:2, when they saw the man born blind and they said, “Who sinned?  Did this man or his parents?”  There may have been a theology in that question, but there also may have been a little bit of medicine in that question, or a little bit of the physical.  They may have been saying, “Is he blind because of his parents’ sin?”  Because very often venereal disease contracted in a sinful situation was the cause of a child’s blindness.  So that was a common thing for people born blind.  There were also infective organisms and viruses that were the common cause of trachoma.  Sulfa drugs have pretty well eliminated that nowadays.  But all of these things created the problem of blindness, and it seemed to be a, a major problem, and blind people hung around together.  It was not uncommon to see a couple of blind people hanging onto each other; and, thus, did our Lord say to the Pharisees on one occasion, “You’re like the blind leading the blind.  You both fall in the ditch.”

In closing, a thought on faith. MacArthur cites Richard Chevenix Trench, a devout Anglican of the Victorian Era. Trench served as Dean of Westminster Abbey and as the Archbishop of Dublin. He said:

The faith which, in itself, is nothing is yet the organ for receiving everything. It is the conducting link between man’s emptiness and God’s fullness; and herein lies all the value faith has. Faith is the bucket let down into the fountain of God’s grace without which the man could never draw water of life from the wells of salvation.  For the wells are deep and, of himself, man has nothing to draw with.  Faith is the purse which cannot of itself make its owner rich, and yet effectually enriches by the wealth which it contains.

May we remember this as we go about our daily responsibilities this week.

Next time: Matthew 9:32-34

Bible kevinroosecomThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur (‘Jesus’ Power over Death’, Parts 1 and 2).

Matthew 9:18-26

A Girl Restored to Life and a Woman Healed

18 While he was saying these things to them, behold, a ruler came in and knelt before him, saying, “My daughter has just died, but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live.” 19 And Jesus rose and followed him, with his disciples. 20 And behold, a woman who had suffered from a discharge of blood for twelve years came up behind him and touched the fringe of his garment, 21 for she said to herself, “If I only touch his garment, I will be made well.” 22 Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.” And instantly[a] the woman was made well. 23 And when Jesus came to the ruler’s house and saw the flute players and the crowd making a commotion, 24 he said, “Go away, for the girl is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him. 25 But when the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took her by the hand, and the girl arose. 26 And the report of this went through all that district.


Matthew structured his Gospel to show the Jews and us that Jesus is the Messiah and Saviour.

His accounts of our Lord’s miracles in chapters 8 and 9 demonstrate His divine power over disease, demons, nature and death.

Over the past few weeks, we have read of Jesus’s cleansing of the leper (Matthew 8:1-4), the healing of the centurion’s service from a distance (Matthew 8:5-13), restoring Peter’s mother-in-law to health (Matthew 8:14-17), stopping the storm (Matthew 8:23-27), driving demons into swine (Matthew 8:28-34) and the healing of the paralysed man (Matthew 9:1-8).

Today we have the healing of the woman issuing blood and raising Jairus’s daughter from the dead.

I wrote at length about Mark’s and Luke’s fuller accounts of these miracles in 2012 and 2013. This means that neither of these miracles appears in the three-year Lectionary, which is a crying shame. They are two creative miracles which occur at approximately the same time and bring much relief to all concerned.

For a fuller explanation of these miracles, please read my discussions of Mark 5:21-34, Mark 5:35-43, Luke 8:40-48 and Luke 8:49-56.

Incidentally, in reading these accounts, we see that one of the biblically perfect numbers — 12 — features prominently. Mark tells us that the girl is 12-years-old. The woman with the blood flow has suffered for 12 years.

Matthew does not name this man as Jairus, although both Mark and Luke do. Matthew merely refers to him as a ruler (verse 18). Jairus, as the other two Gospel writers tell us, was the ruler of the synagogue. This would have been the synagogue in Capernaum.

From this information we can deduce that he was powerful locally and that, in approaching Jesus, going against the norms of his hierarchy in Jerusalem. That said, Jairus had no problem in publicly kneeling before Him. He explained that his daughter has just died but if He were to come and lay His hand on her, she will live.

Matthew Henry tells us that Jairus’s appeal in this situation should be ours as well:

Note, In trouble we should visit God: the death of our relations should drive us to Christ, who is our life it is well if any thing will do it. When affliction is in our families, we must not sit down astonished, but, as Job, fall down and worship.

Jesus immediately followed Jairus to his home (verse 19). On the way, the woman with the blood flow touched the fringe of His garment in desperation (verse 20).

From the time of Moses, women were ritually unclean when they had their menses. They had to live away from the rest of the household and have a ritual bath once their monthly period had ended. (This is something orthodox Jewish women still do.) Anyone who touched a ritually unclean woman or anything of hers was also unclean and needed to be purified according to Jewish law.

Therefore, let us imagine her sense of isolation and loneliness over so many years. We do not know if she lived on her own or adjacent to the family home. In any event, she would have had no visitors or relatives to give her a hug, converse at length with her and share meals with her. If she had been married, it could be that her husband divorced her. She would no doubt have been pondering why she had such a blood flow and what she might have done spiritually to cause it.

To compound matters, Luke tells us that she had spent all her money in vain on physicians for a cure. Remember that, until the 19th century, medicine was largely a primitive affair. In this lady’s era, she was given potions, herbs and, possibly, animal parts wrapped in linen — all of which would have been in vain.

Even worse, this blood flow would have been odorous and painful. It is possible that the lady suffered from obstetric fistula, which is still common today in Africa. As I wrote when examining Luke’s account, Wikipedia describes it as follows (emphases mine):

The most direct consequence of an obstetric fistula is the constant leaking of urine, feces, and blood as a result of a hole that forms between the vagina and bladder or rectum.[11] This endless leaking has both physical and societal penalties. The acid in the urine, feces, and blood causes severe burn wounds on the legs from the continuous dripping.[12] Nerve damage that can result from the leaking can cause women to struggle with walking and eventually lose mobility. In an attempt to avoid the dripping, women limit their intake of water and liquid which can ultimately lead to dangerous cases of dehydration. Ulcerations and infections can persist as well as kidney disease and kidney failure which can each lead to death. Further, only a quarter of women who suffer a fistula in their first birth are able to have a living baby, and therefore have miniscule chances of conceiving a healthy baby later on.

These physical consequences of obstetric fistula lead to severe socio-cultural stigmatization. Most girls are divorced or abandoned by their husbands and partners, disowned by family, ridiculed by friends, and even isolated by health workers. Women with obstetric fistula become worthless in the eyes of society because they are no longer able to give birth and they secrete a harsh odor. [13] Now marginalized members of society, girls are pushed to the brims of their villages and towns, often to live in isolation in a hut where they will likely die from starvation or an infection in the birth canal. The unavoidable odor is viewed as offensive, thus their removal from society is seen as essential. Accounts of women who suffer obstetric fistula proclaim that their lives have been reduced to the leaking of urine, feces, and blood because they are no longer capable or allowed to participate in traditional activities, including the duties of wife and mother. Because such consequences highly stigmatize and marginalize the woman, the intense loneliness and shame can lead to clinical depression and suicidal thoughts. Further, women are sometimes forced to turn to commercial sex work as a means of survival because the extreme poverty and social isolation that results from obstetric fistula eliminates all other income opportunities. Because only 7.5% of women with fistula are able to access treatment (as found by the UNFPA in 2003), the vast majority of women are forced to suffer the consequences of obstructed and prolonged labor simply because options and access to help is so incredibly limited (there is one hospital dedicated to fistula treatment in the world, located in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia).[14]

We can better understand why this woman was desperate to touch the fringe of Jesus’s garment (verses 20, 21). Matthew and Luke specify ‘fringe’. John MacArthur explains:

Now, in the Old Testament, in Numbers 15:37-41, and Deuteronomy 22:12, the Jews were told that they were to mark their garments with a zizith.  It’s the Hebrew word.  Basically, it’s translated in the Old Testament fringeKraspedon is the Greek word, and it really means a tassel. And they did this: they wove blue thread through their garment; and they had four tassels of kind of a blue color, a bright blue color on their garment; and those tassels were woven in a certain configuration with certain kinds of thread, seven times around and eight times, and there were, there was the significance of various numbers. But the sum total, without going into detail, was that the threads were put together to represent the word of God, faithfulness, loyalty to the word of God, and holiness unto the Lord.  So that every time a Jew went anywhere, the world knew that he belonged to God.  And every time he took his clothes off or put his clothes on, he saw those things and it was a reminder to him.  We have some of that today.  Some people have a little cross, maybe, that they wear, or sign of a fish; and every time you put that on or you look at it, maybe you’re reminded who you belong to.  That’s what that was for them.

Of course, it was the sign then of being holy unto the Lord; and in Matthew 23:5, it says, “The Pharisees made theirs very big.”  See, the bigger your tassel, the more holy you were, they thought.  And you might be interested to know that in times in Europe when the Jews have been persecuted, they have still worn them, but they’ve worn them on their undergarments; and in contemporary times today, you’ll find them still on the prayer shawl of an orthodox Jew;  little blue tassels.

Mark and Luke record that Jesus felt power going out of Him at the moment the woman touched — actually, grabbed — His fringe. Jesus turned around and asked who had touched His garment. In Matthew’s account, He turns around and sees her.

They also record that she approached Him trembling and falling down at His feet, telling Him about her illness.

Jesus says that her faith has made her well (verse 22). MacArthur says that the word for ‘well’ was not just one denoting physical health but also salvation. All three Gospel accounts in Greek use the word sodzo:

it doesn’t use the word for healing, iaomai, the normal word for healing.  You know what it used?  Sodzo: The word means to be saved

She was fully healed — and saved — at that moment.

Jesus refers to her as ‘daughter’, an affectionate and familial term. She became one of His own at that moment. Earlier in Matthew 9, He called the healed paralytic ‘son’ (Matthew 9:2), and, in that case, the man’s sins were forgiven as well as his body made fully functional once again.

MacArthur analyses her faith:

She had faith, didn’t she?  She said, “If I can just touch that thing.”  You say, “Well, it’s not exactly a perfected mature thing.”  No, it’s almost like superstition, isn’t it?  It’s almost kind of magical.  Say, “Well, the Lord certainly isn’t going to respond to that.”  Listen, faith as the grain of a mustard seed would move a mountain.  The Lord will take, the Lord will take an inadequate faith like the man’s that is somewhat selfish, and He’ll take an inadequate faith like the lady’s that is somewhat superstitious, and He’ll move it from there to the saving faith.  He couldn’t let that lady go or the, or all she would’ve remembered maybe was the superstition.  He had to pull her into the fullness of a relationship. I don’t really believe she was healed by her faith.  I think she was healed by the sovereignty of God.  God chose to heal her.  Jesus just said He’d felt power go out of Him

I think there’s a redemptive element in her faith.  Oh, she wanted to just grab on; and it was kind of a, kind of a superstitious thing, in a way.  Jesus wouldn’t leave it at that.  He drew her out, and He saved her.

Matthew Henry has a similar, but slightly fuller take:

She believed she should be healed if she did but touch the very hem of his garment, the very extremity of it. Note, There is virtue in every thing that belongs to Christ. The holy oil with which the high priest was anointed, ran down to the skirts of his garments, Psalm 133:2. Such a fulness of grace is there in Christ, that from it we may all receive, John 1:16.

… he will not only have his power magnified in her cure, but his grace magnified in her comfort and commendation: the triumphs of her faith must be to her praise and honour. He turned about to see for her (Matthew 9:22), and soon discovered her. Note, It is great encouragement to humble Christians, that they who hide themselves from men are known to Christ, who sees in secret their applications to heaven when most private. Now here,

(1.) He puts gladness into her heart, by that word, Daughter, be of good comfort. She feared being chidden for coming clandestinely, but she is encouraged …

(2.) He puts honour upon her faith. That grace of all others gives most honour to Christ, and therefore he puts most honour upon it Thy faith has made thee whole. Thus by faith she obtained a good report. And as of all graces Christ puts the greatest honour upon faith, so of all believers he puts the greatest honour upon those that are most humble as here on this woman, who had more faith than she thought she had. She had reason to be of good comfort, not only because she was made whole, but because her faith had made her whole

Now we turn to Jairus. When we read of Jesus’s creative miracles, we find people approaching Him in different ways and with various sentiments. Whereas the centurion told Jesus that a word from Him at a distance could heal his servant, Jairus says that if only He lay His hand on his daughter she would come back to life.

Regardless, Jesus knew what was in the heart of everyone He healed. In addition to being restored, their sins were forgiven or He told them they had saving faith. He accepted them whether their faith was lesser or greater, imperfect as it was.

When Jesus reached Jairus’s house, the group of mourners and flute players were already there (verse 23), as Jewish law directed. MacArthur explains:

The Talmud says this, “The husband is bound to bury his dead wife and to make lamentations in mourning for her according to the custom of all countries; and also the very poorest among the Israelites will not allow her less than two flutes and one wailing woman.”  I mean even if you were in abject poverty, you had to hire one wailing woman and two flutes.  Now, if you’re wealthy, the Talmud said, it should be in accord with your wealth.

So here is a man who probably had a lot of means, and the place was filled with flutes, and you could imagine what a mess:  Ripping and tearing, screaming and shrieking and wailing, and guys all over the place playing flutes.  In fact, they did this in the Roman world, too, and they said, and Seneca wrote that there were so many flute players playing, and there was so much screaming at the death of Emperor Claudius that they felt that Claudius himself probably heard it, even though he was dead. So you can see what a funeral was like in those times.

Jesus told the group that the girl was sleeping, not dead (verse 24). Those gathered laughed at Him in their disbelief, even though He was based in Capernaum, so, surely they would have heard of His  restorative miracles.

Henry explains why Jesus used the word ‘sleep’. Briefly, when we die, our souls go to be with the Lord whilst our bodies are at rest in a short death, awaiting the Last Day when we shall be brought together whole in perfection — body and soul — to spend eternity with Him:

They sleep in Jesus (1 Thessalonians 4:14) they not only rest from the toils and labours of the day, but rest in hope of a joyful waking again in the morning of the resurrection, when they shall wake refreshed, wake to a new life, wake to be richly dressed and crowned, and wake to sleep no more. (2.) The consideration of this should moderate our grief at the death of our dear relations: “say not, They are lost no, they are but gone before: say not, They are slain no, they are but fallen asleep and the apostle speaks of it as an absurd thing to imagine that they that are fallen asleep in Christ are perished (1 Corinthians 15:18) give place, therefore, to those comforts which the covenant of grace ministers, fetched from the future state, and the glory to be revealed.

The crowd were told to leave the house and wait outside. Jesus entered Jairus’s home, took the girl by the hand and, through His power, she rose from the dead (verse 25).

Matthew’s account tells us that news of this resurrection spread throughout the district (verse 26). By contrast, Mark’s and Luke’s tell us that He told the parents not to speak of it.

Mark’s version has Jesus calling the girl talitha cumi (Mark 5:41), a term of affection which is a warmer way of saying ‘little girl’.

In closing, MacArthur has interesting quotes on life and death with regard to Jesus. They help us to reflect more on Him as Saviour and Redeemer.

The first comes from Mahatma Gandhi:

Fifteen years before Gandhi’s death, he wrote this.  “I must tell you in all humility that Hinduism as I know it entirely satisfies my soul.  It fills my whole being, and I find a solace in the Bhagavad and Upanishads that I miss even in the Sermon on the Mount.”  Utterly at peace, utterly comfortable with his Hinduism.  Just before his death, he wrote this.  “My days are numbered.  I am not likely to live very long, perhaps a year or a little more.  For the first time in 50 years, I find myself in the slough of despond.”  Footnote:  It was interesting; he must have been reading Pilgrim’s Progress.  Then he said this.  “All about me is darkness, and I am desperately praying for light.”  Even Mahatma Gandhi, who seemed to have it all together as he began to face the inevitability of death, saw it all falling apart.

The second — much more encouraging — is from G B Hardy, a Canadian scientist:

When I looked at religion, I said I have two questions.  Question No. 1:  Has anybody ever conquered death?  Question No. 2: If they did, did they make a way for me to conquer, too?”  He said, “I checked the tomb of Buddha, and it was occupied; and I checked the tomb of Confucius, and it was occupied; and I checked the tomb of Mohammed, and it was occupied; and I came to the tomb of Jesus, and it was emptyAnd I said, ‘There is One who conquered death.’  And I asked the second question, ‘Did He make a way for me to do it?’  And I opened the Bible, and He said, ‘Because I live, ye shall live also.'”

May those who continue to doubt be filled with divine grace that they may believe and live for evermore.

Next time: Matthew 9:27-31

Bible boy_reading_bibleThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Matthew 9:14-17

A Question About Fasting

14 Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast,[a] but your disciples do not fast?” 15 And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast. 16 No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch tears away from the garment, and a worse tear is made. 17 Neither is new wine put into old wineskins. If it is, the skins burst and the wine is spilled and the skins are destroyed. But new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.”


In 2013, I wrote an extensive post about Luke’s account of this encounter (Luke 5:33-39) which explains every aspect of understanding what John the Baptist’s followers were asking and why.

Mark’s version (Mark 2:18-22) is included in the three-year Lectionary.

That said, I never heard an adequate explanation of this episode in Christ’s ministry until I read John MacArthur’s sermon and Matthew Henry’s commentary two years ago.

To summarise, John the Baptist was in prison when his followers asked Jesus about fasting (verse 14). John the Baptist told them earlier to follow Christ (John 3:28-30):

28 You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’ 29 The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. 30 He must increase, but I must decrease.”[j]

However, not everyone heeded that message.

One reason was their desire to imitate John the Baptist, who fasted. Yet, he fasted because he took special Nazirite vows, which only two other men in the Bible took: Samson and Samuel. My post on Luke 1:5-17 explains more about the austere way of life they adopted with regard to appearance, food and drink. Therefore, fasting was not meant for everyone.

Another reason for John’s followers to fast was that a number of them took on a more legalistic lifestyle, following the Pharisees’ instruction to fast twice a week, even though Mosaic Law specified only one day of fasting a year — on Yom Kippur, the day of atonement. John’s people thought they were doing the right thing.

A third reason is that not all of his followers believed Jesus was the Messiah. This was true even when Paul was evangelising. Acts 19:1-7 tells of his journey to Ephesus, where John the Baptist’s followers had evangelised. Ephesus is in modern-day Turkey, so their message had travelled far and wide:

Paul in Ephesus

 1And it happened that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the inland country and came to Ephesus. There he found some disciples. 2And he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” 3And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They said, “Into John’s baptism.” 4And Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus.” 5On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying. 7There were about twelve men in all.

Returning to Matthew, Jesus asked whether wedding guests mourn at a wedding feast where the bridegroom is present (verse 15). He added that there would be time to fast when He was no longer among them — His crucifixion. In that response, He used John the Baptist’s words in the aforementioned passage from John’s Gospel so that they could better understand it.

The reason a wedding feast and bridegroom were used here is that the Jews would have understood that no one fasted during such a happy occasion.

Jesus went on to employ two more well known analogies, those of cloth and wineskins (verses 16, 17). If you have ever tried to patch old cloth with unshrunk cloth, you’ll see it doesn’t work very well and tears along the stitching. The same held true for leather, which was the ancient receptacle for wine.

New wine had to go into new wineskins. And so it is with following Christ. He came to abolish the old system of legalism. This is what He was telling John the Baptist’s followers.  It is a pity that millions of Christians insist on following their own man made rules of behaviour which go far beyond the New Testament. There is much similarity between them and John’s people.

But there was another issue involved. Jesus was indirectly telling John’s followers that, unlike them, His disciples were unaccustomed to a strict Nazirite system and would not be able to follow it.

Matthew Henry explains:

Christ’s disciples were not able to bear these severe exercises so well as those of John and of the Pharisees, which the learned Dr. Whitby gives this reason for: There were among the Jews not only sects of the Pharisees and Essenes, who led an austere life, but also schools of the prophets, who frequently lived in mountains and deserts, and were many of them Nazarites they had also private academies to train men up in a strict discipline and possibly from these many of John’s disciples might come, and many of the Pharisees whereas Christ’s disciples, being taken immediately from their callings, had not been used to such religious austerities, and were unfit for them, and would by them be rather unfitted for their other work.

If our Lord had imposed such a system on the disciples, they would be unable to pay attention to His teachings and then evangelise.

Jesus showed a great deal of mercy to His disciples. He did not wish to put them — or us — off by instituting all manner of onerous tasks and habits. By exacting too much, they could have fallen prey to temptation. Henry adds:

… such is Christ’s care of the little ones of his family, and the lambs of his flock: he gently leads them. For want of this care, many times, the bottles break, and the wine is spilled the profession of many miscarries and comes to nothing, through indiscretion at first. Note, There may be over–doing even in well–doing, a being righteous over-much and such an over–doing as may prove an undoing through the subtlety of Satan.

This is why so many people from legalistic congregations fall away from the Church. They have grown up with a number of prohibitions. They end up rejecting not only those — and rightly — but then go on make the serious mistake of rejecting the Church and Jesus Christ altogether.

John MacArthur says:

… a true believer forsakes legalism.  Forsakes legalism.  We see that in the remaining part of the passage.  He says no to the…to trying to sew a new patch in an old robe, to try to fill up an old wineskin with new wine.  He sees there’s no connection.  He knows you’re not begun in the Spirit and perfected by the law or by some routine or some ritual.  He knows you don’t get entangled again with a yoke of bondage…

Let us pray that those escaping a legalistic upbringing do not reject the Bridegroom or His Bride. May they continue to pray, study the Bible and find a denomination which emphasises Christ’s infinite grace, mercy and love.

Next time: Matthew 9:18-26

Bible readingThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Matthew 9:1-8

Jesus Heals a Paralytic

And getting into a boat he crossed over and came to his own city. And behold, some people brought to him a paralytic, lying on a bed. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.” And behold, some of the scribes said to themselves, “This man is blaspheming.” But Jesus, knowing[a] their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he then said to the paralytic—“Rise, pick up your bed and go home.” And he rose and went home. When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men.


Accounts of this miracle also feature in Luke’s and Mark’s Gospels.

I wrote about Luke 5:17-26 two years ago. That post includes a discussion of all three accounts. Mark’s version — Mark 2:1-12 — is actually one of the readings in the three-year Lectionary.

Matthew’s account is somewhat abbreviated by comparison. In verse 1, we read that Jesus was in His own city. Matthew 8 ends with the healing miracle of the two men with demons in the Gadara region. That was on the other side of the Sea of Galilee. The townspeople were afraid of Jesus after He sent the demons into the pigs which then ran off a cliff into the sea. The people asked Him to leave. He and His disciples sailed back home. They were now in Capernaum — probably at Peter’s house — as we know from Mark 2:1:

1 And when he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home.

Matthew does not mention the setting for this miracle, but Mark and Luke do. Mark 2:2 tells us:

2 And many were gathered together, so that there was no more room, not even at the door. And he was preaching the word to them.

The first sentence of Luke 5:17 says:

17 On one of those days, as he was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there, who had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem.

Matthew tells us that Jesus saw the faith of those who brought the paralytic before Him and that He pronounced the man’s sins forgiven (verse 2). Luke and Mark describe the extent of this intense faith. Luke 5:18-19:

18 And behold, some men were bringing on a bed a man who was paralyzed, and they were seeking to bring him in and lay him before Jesus, 19 but finding no way to bring him in, because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the midst before Jesus.

Mark 2:4:

4 And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him, and when they had made an opening, they let down the bed on which the paralytic lay.

One can imagine the commotion that must have caused.

While the idea of climbing on to someone’s roof sounds alarming to us, the houses in Jesus’s time had ladders or some sort of staircase to the roof where people often gathered in warm weather.

As for the forgiveness of sins, the King James Version has a lovely wording of Jesus’s absolution in verse 2 (emphases mine below):

Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee.

As my post on Luke’s account says, not every illness was or is a result of sin, although this man’s paralysis was. John MacArthur says in his corresponding sermons for Luke and Matthew that it is possible this man had syphilis, which can result in paralysis.

That our Lord calls the man ‘son’ shows His true affection for and spiritual adoption of him. John MacArthur looks at the original Greek equivalent:

The word teknon could probably be translated child.  It’s a term of infinite tenderness.  Here is a man who is overwrought with his sin.  It’s been thrown at him from the social viewpoint, it’s bubbled up inside of him from the guilt of his own soul, he knows he is a sinful man, he believes that this man has the power of God, he has the faith as a sinner to put himself in the presence of a holy God and take his chances, and he is afraid.  That is why the Lord says to him, “Don’t be afraid.  Take courage.”  It simply means stop being afraid.  There’s nothing to fear.  The man is afraid because he’s a sinner.  But how wonderfully does the Lord say to him, “Child,” a word of tenderness.  How thrilling to face the Holy One, conscious of your sickness, conscious of your sin, in grief and terror and fear and hear Him say, “Child.”  That’s the tenderness of Christ, to love the sinner, even though He was offended by his sin.

Not surprisingly, the scribes accused Him of blasphemy (verse 3). Jesus replied by asking why they think in such an evil way and which would be the easier to utter: forgiveness or healing (verses 4 and 5). John MacArthur offers this analysis:

Which is easier?  Well they’re stuck.  You notice they don’t give any answer.  There is no answer because neither is easier.  Both are impossible to men; both are possible to God.  “Which is easier, to say, ‘Thy sins are forgiven thee’; or to say, ‘Arise and walk?’”  Well they knew they couldn’t say either one, but He could say both.  He can do either with the same divine ease.  They’re both just as easy to Him.  God doesn’t sweat doing anything.  Only God can heal.  Only God can forgive.  And they were the ones who taught that disease and sickness was the result of sin, so the two things were inseparable: One who could heal disease could forgive sin and one who could forgive sin could heal diseases.  If they thought about it, their own theology told them that.  So He says, “Which is easier, to forgive or to heal?”  And the answer is that neither is easier.  Both are impossible to them.  They’re impossible. So the Lord is saying, “Look.  You’re stuck.  If I can do them, if I can do one I can do the other.  And if I can do the other I’m not a blasphemer, I’m God.”  They were trapped.  They knew He could heal and when He said, “Is it easier to forgive?” they couldn’t say yes because it wasn’t.  Only God could do that and only God could do the other.  Just shows you that their rejection was a willful rejection against the truth.  If Jesus put away sickness, disease, and demons, and disasters, and death, He could certainly deal with sin.

Jesus then went on to say that He would show His divine authority not only by forgiving the man’s sins but also healing him (verse 6). The man picked up his bed and went home (verse 7).

Matthew Henry explains:

He that had power to remove the punishment, no doubt, had power to remit the sin. The scribes stood much upon a legal righteousness, and placed their confidence in that, and made no great matter of the forgiveness of sin, the doctrine upon which Christ hereby designed to put honour, and to show that his great errand to the world was to save his people from their sins.

When I was a child, I always wondered why Jesus told the man to pick up his bed and not hand it to him out of mercy. Henry says Jesus had a reason for this instruction:

Now, 1. Christ bid him take up his bed, to show that he was perfectly cured, and that not only he had no more occasion to be carried upon his bed, but that he had strength to carry it.

Unlike the Gadarenes, the crowd’s response was very different. Of course, this can be explained by the crowd’s religious knowledge and belief. Although only a handful of them probably ever believed that Christ was their Messiah, they knew this miracle came from God and felt a righteous awe (verse 8). Henry tells us:

Though few of this multitude were so convinced, as to be brought to believe in Christ, and to follow him, yet they admired him, not as God, or the Son of God, but as a man to whom God had given such power. Note, God must be glorified in all the power that is given to men to do good.

MacArthur makes this distinction about the onlookers:

This fear, this phobos, this reverential awe of God, is the substance out of which all Christian behavior is to come.  They glorify God and so should we, but they did it because they feared God, they reverenced, they were in awe of His presence.  That’s the right response.  I hope you have such awe of Christ.  So Jesus forgives sin; the greatest message we have to give.  All I can say to you is I hope you’ve had that forgiveness.  When the crowd was split there were those who were forgiven and those who were furious.  It doesn’t tell us about another group, but they were there too, those that were fickleThey just took it in and walked away

I can add nothing to the conclusion of his sermon:

Christ offers forgiveness, blocks out all the past, washes away all sins; plural is the word here, past, present, future.  The greatest news you’ll ever have.  It’s available to you.

Next time: Matthew 9:14-17

Bible ourhomewithgodcomThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Matthew 8:28-34

Jesus Heals Two Men with Demons

28 And when he came to the other side, to the country of the Gadarenes,[a] two demon-possessed[b] men met him, coming out of the tombs, so fierce that no one could pass that way. 29 And behold, they cried out, “What have you to do with us, O Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?” 30 Now a herd of many pigs was feeding at some distance from them. 31 And the demons begged him, saying, “If you cast us out, send us away into the herd of pigs.” 32 And he said to them, “Go.” So they came out and went into the pigs, and behold, the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea and drowned in the waters. 33 The herdsmen fled, and going into the city they told everything, especially what had happened to the demon-possessed men. 34 And behold, all the city came out to meet Jesus, and when they saw him, they begged him to leave their region.


Last week’s post described the storm on the Sea — lake — of Galilee that struck fear into the disciples. They woke Jesus who ‘rebuked the winds and the sea’ to restore immediate calm. He then asked the disciples why they had so little faith.

Now they have crossed the lake and are in another region, that of the Gadarenes (verse 28). I wrote about Luke’s account of this story in 2013 here and here. Both of those links explain more about the background to this story. Luke’s and Mark’s accounts (Mark 5:1-20 is in the three-year Lectionary) are much longer and record that the man — only one — wanted to become Jesus’s disciple. Jesus told him to go home and tell his friends what happened to him. No doubt he would do better among his own in being a living testament to Jesus’s healing power.

The Wikipedia map at the right shows Gadara and Gerasa. They are inland, but as my posts on Luke’s account explain, thanks to John MacArthur, those were probably the largest towns nearby. In any event, this region was known as the Decapolis, which also included what is now called Kersa. Kersa, MacArthur says, has many lakeside cliffs with tombs. What the Gospels describe is accurate.

Matthew says that there were two demon-possessed men, not one. They had extraordinary strength because of the demons working in them. They had to live away from everyone else, hence the tombs.

The demons spoke when they saw Jesus (verse 29), addressing Him as ‘the Son of God’, asking Him what His business was with them and why He was coming so early. That was a reference to the Second Coming.

Matthew Henry analyses the demons’ words (emphases mine):

Even the devils know, and believe, and confess Christ to be the Son of God, and yet they are devils still, which makes their enmity to Christ so much the more wicked, and indeed a perfect torment to themselves for how can it be otherwise, to oppose one they know to be the Son of God? Note, It is not knowledge, but love, that distinguishes saints from devils

Note, It is possible for me to call Jesus the Son of God, and yet have nothing to do with him. Secondly, It is as true, that the devils desire not to have any thing to do with Christ as a Ruler[;] they hate him, they are filled with enmity against him, they stand in opposition to him, and are in open rebellion against his crown and dignity.

A herd of pigs was feeding nearby (verse 30). How could this be in a Jewish region? Henry surmises:

Probably, lying in the outskirts of the land, there were many Gentiles among them, to whom this herd of swine belonged: or they kept them to be sold, or bartered, to the Romans, with whom they had now great dealings, and who were admirers of swine’s flesh.

He says that as a punishment to the people for breaking the Law in this manner, God allowed demon possession of these two men.

Demons don’t like the thought of dying. They assumed that Jesus would cast them out of the men. So they asked Him to let them continue their existence in the pigs (verse 31). He granted permission, they invaded the pigs and their incredible strength drove the herd into the sea (verse 32).

This should tell us how powerful Satan and his minions are. They bring nothing but destruction and death to souls:

See what an industrious enemy Satan is, and how expeditious he will lose no time in doing mischief …

Note, The possession which the devil gets is for destruction. Thus the devil hurries people to sin, hurries them to that which they have resolved against, and which they know will be shame and grief to them: with what a force doth the evil spirit work in the children of disobedience, when by so many foolish and hurtful lusts they are brought to act in direct contradiction, not only to religion, but to right reason, and their interest in this world!

The herdsmen rushed off to tell the townspeople what had happened to the men, now delivered (verse 33). The townspeople came to meet with Jesus and asked Him to leave (verse 34).

You would think they would be grateful and relieved, but they want nothing to do with Him.

John MacArthur explains:

By the way, this is the first recorded instance of open opposition to the Messiah and it all just mounts from here on.  He exposed them.  They despised him.  He was better than they, greater than they, purer than they, more powerful than they, more holy than they, and they resented that.  And they felt dirty and inadequate in His presence because He was so holy, and they felt impotent

To a believer, rejection of Christ for those reasons is an odd reaction to have. Yet, it is entirely normal. Even God-fearing people in Scripture responded likewise:

We’re right back to Isaiah 6.  “Woe is me.”  Woe, that’s the word of a curse.  Isaiah, the best man in the land, pronounced a curse on himself when he saw God because his unholiness was exposed.  Peter, when He saw Jesus Christ and the majesty of His power, said, “Depart from me for I’m a sinful man, O Lord.”  And last week I told you, when the storm came they were afraid, and when Jesus stilled the storm they were exceedingly afraid.  They were more afraid of the calm than they were of the storm because they knew God was in their boat and they were in awe of God. 

With the Gadarenes:

They saw the supernatural and it panicked them.  They saw One who could control the demons.  They saw One who could control animals.  They saw One who could take the soul of a man and give it back to him as white and pure as the driven snow, and they were scared to death.  They saw God, is what they saw.  I don’t know if they all understood that, but they knew it was supernatural, and men don’t like that.  It makes them uncomfortable: “Give us back our pigs and go away.”  Men can handle pigs; they can’t handle God. The mystery of the supernatural they can’t handle.

In the larger context of the Gospel story, MacArthur says that nearly everyone rejected Christ:

They couldn’t tolerate Jesus because of His perfection.  They couldn’t tolerate Him because of His absolute holiness.  He was so far beyond them that He unmasked them, that He showed the stupidity of their own lives.  That’s why they had to kill Him.  And here it all just begins to build.  They saw Him, they saw the power, they were absolutely panicked in awe of God.  Instead of falling at His feet in worship, they said, “Get out.  Go away.  We don’t want you.”

One would have thought that witnessing His miracles would have had an overwhelming power of conversion on more people. But that wasn’t the case:

… the people who saw the miracles didn’t believe.  They nailed Him to a cross and they’d seen miracle after miracle after miracle after miracle.  They still didn’t believe.  That just made them hate Him more and more and more and more.  People think today that if they can just show everybody a pile of miracles everybody will believe.  No, because some people, when exposed in the presence of the awesomeness of holy God, will literally run because they love their darkness. Have you ever picked up a rock and found a whole lot of little bugs under it that have been there for a long time, and as soon as you expose them to the light they just split, try to find a hole?  That’s the way men are.  You expose them to the light of God and they love their darkness.  They’ll go right back into the earth to find it again.  That’s where these were.

Loving darkness is the devil’s work.

May we follow the Light of the World today and always.

Next time: Matthew 9:1-8

Bible spine dwtx.orgThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Matthew 8:23-27

Jesus Calms a Storm

23 And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him. 24 And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. 25 And they went and woke him, saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing.” 26 And he said to them, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. 27 And the men marveled, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?”


The events in Matthew 8 occurred following our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount.

We have read of His cleansing of the leper, healing of the centurion’s servant from a distance, curing Peter’s mother-in-law of fever, followed by healing people of demon possession and disease.

Last week’s post looked at two of His notional disciples, both of whom He turned away. That passage began with this verse (Matthew 8:18):

Now when Jesus saw a crowd around him, he gave orders to go over to the other side.

Today’s reading sees Him and the disciples sail across the Sea of Galilee (verse 23), which is more like a large lake.

This storm also features in Mark 4:35-41 — included in the three-year Lectionary — and Luke 8:22-25, which I wrote about in 2013. That post provides detail about the Sea of Galilee, the nature of its storms and the type of boats used. Jesus and some of the disciples were in a larger, sturdier boat. The other followed along in smaller vessels.

Jesus was weary after having preached the Sermon on the Mount and then healing many people. He sought rest before reaching Gadara, which will be the subject of next week’s post. Whilst He slept, a great tempest arose (verse 24).

Fearing for their lives, the men in the boat roused Him, pleading for Him to save them (verse 25). Matthew Henry observes (emphases in bold mine):

Imminent and sensible dangers will drive people to him who alone can help in time of need. Their prayer has life in it, Lord, save us, we perish. (1.) Their petition is, Lord, save us. They believed he could save them they begged he would, Christ’s errand into the world was to save, but those only shall be saved that call on the name of the Lord, Acts 2:21. They who by faith are interested in the eternal salvation wrought out by Christ, may with a humble confidence apply themselves to him for temporal deliverances … Note, Christ will save none but those that are willing to take him for their Lord for he is a Prince and a Saviour. (2.) Their plea is, We perish which was, [1.] The language of their fear they looked upon their case as desperate, and gave up all for lost they had received a sentence of death within themselves, and this they plead, “We perish, if thou dost not save us look upon us therefore with pity.” [2.] It was the language of their fervency they pray as men in earnest, that beg for their lives it becomes us thus to strive and wrestle in prayer therefore Christ slept, that he might draw out this importunity.

Yes, our Lord could have made the situation such that the storm never arose. However, this is an exercise in faith for His disciples. They go to Him in desperation.

John MacArthur explains:

They’re not so much convinced that He is God at this point, as they are hoping that He is.  But they were right where God wanted them.  Sometimes God has to bring us to desperation to get our attention, doesn’t He?  They had run out of human solutions; they had run out of human answers; they wanted a divine answer.  That was their hope, that the miracle worker who could handle sickness maybe could handle the sea, and they had fear mixed with faith.  You see, if they had total faith they’d have been asleep like Him, confident in the Father’s care, because they were just as tired as Jesus was, perhaps.

Jesus responds by asking the men why they have so little faith that they are stricken by fear (verse 26). They are in His presence. How would or could He let them die? It wouldn’t happen.

Henry gives us the lessons we should learn from this episode:

Christ may sleep when his church is in a storm, but he will not outsleep himself: the time, the set time to favour his distressed church, will come, Psalm 102:13

Note, [1.] Christ’s disciples are apt to be disquieted with fears in a stormy day, to torment themselves with jealousies that things are bad with them, and dismal conclusions that they will be worse. [2.] The prevalence of our inordinate fears in a stormy day is owing to the weakness of our faith, which would be as an anchor to the soul, and would ply the oar of prayer. By faith we might see through the storm to the quiet shore, and encourage ourselves with hope that we shall weather our point. [3.] The fearfulness of Christ’s disciples in a storm, and their unbelief, the cause of it, are very displeasing to the Lord Jesus, for they reflect dishonour upon him, and create disturbance to themselves.

I put that last sentence in purple because it merits rereading and committing to memory. So often we are tempted to cry like Chicken Little: ‘The sky is falling, the sky is falling!’ The Chicken Little story teaches children not to be alarmist about life.

Some Christians continually panic about what is happening in our fallen world. To be sure, society is worse in many ways morally than in our childhood. However, Christians in most countries have no reason to fear these events or people. Continually banging on about such things in fear and alarm — and stirring up the same feeling in others — is, as Henry says, a sin. It reflects a deep lack of faith, as if our Lord is distant and powerless to defend us against men and situations.

Jesus calmed the storm immediately by rebuking the winds and the sea. All was calm at that moment, which Henry says differs from a usual aftermath following a storm, when:

there is such a fret of the waters, that it is a good while ere they can settle …


if Christ speak the word, not only the storm ceases, but all the effects of it, all the remains of it. Great storms of doubt, and fear in the soul, under the power of the spirit of bondage, sometimes end in a wonderful calm, created and spoken by the Spirit of adoption.

This was a great revelation to the disciples, who marvelled at His power (verse 27). MacArthur explains:

You see this is Matthew’s message to usThis is the one who can conquer disease.  This is the one who can handle nature and later He’ll tell us He is the one who controls the demons. He is the one who forgives sin.  He is the one who raises the dead.  Think about it, beloved, He is the one who lives in your life.

Fear not. Believe in Him, especially in adversity.

Mark’s and Luke’s accounts of this storm state that the men were afraid afterward. MacArthur analyses this fear:

You know what’s more fearful than being in a storm?  Realizing you’re standing in the presence of the living God.  That’s awesome.  What an experience to know that God is in your boat.  That was far more terrifying than any storm.

This storm did not give the disciples perfect faith, but it served two purposes: one, it exposed their doubt about our Lord’s omnipotence and, two, He was able to reveal that power to them so that they might believe in Him.

Next time: Matthew 8:28-34

Bible oldThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Matthew 8:18-22

The Cost of Following Jesus

18 Now when Jesus saw a crowd around him, he gave orders to go over to the other side. 19 And a scribe came up and said to him, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” 20 And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” 21 Another of the disciples said to him, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” 22 And Jesus said to him, “Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead.”


The events in Matthew 8 take place following our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount.

We have read of His cleansing of the leper, healing of the centurion’s servant from a distance, curing Peter’s mother-in-law of fever, followed by healing people of demon possession and disease.

It is difficult to imagine just how intense this time — indeed, the whole of Jesus’s ministry — was. Clamouring crowds, pleading, exclaiming and, among them, those who would profess to follow Him.

We have two such men in this passage.

First, Jesus was preparing to go ‘to the other side’ of what Matthew Henry calls the Sea of Tiberias (verse 18):

… his ordering his disciples, whose boats attended him, to get their transport-vessels ready, in order to it, Matthew 8:18. The influences of this Sun of righteousness were not to be confined to one place, but diffused all the country over he must go about to do good the necessities of souls called to him …

Then a scribe approached Him, pledging his unqualified allegiance (verse 19). Henry surmises the man was wrapped up in the moment or, possibly, thought this was the coming of the great temporal kingdom of Israel ruled by the Messiah (emphases mine below):

either he did not consider at all, or not that which was to be considered he saw the miracles Christ wrought, and hoped he would set up a temporal kingdom, and he wished to apply betimes for a share in it. Note, There are many resolutions for religion, produced by some sudden pangs of conviction, and taken up without due consideration, that prove abortive, and come to nothing: soon ripe, soon rotten.

Jesus saw through this man, attached to comforts, and gave him a fitting rebuke by describing His own way of life (verse 20): with nothing, not even a regular bed at night. Even nature had more shelter than He.

John MacArthur says the man only wanted to add Jesus as a bolt-on — as do many notional Christians, let’s be honest:

He could read his mind and He knew what the guy’s hang-up was.  The guy was saying, “Man, my life is full and rich and I got all I want and my lifestyle satisfies me and I just want to add you to my lifestyle.  I just want to take my whole gig and drag it along and follow you.”  Jesus refuses to cash in on a moment’s popularity.

As students of the New Testament know, Jesus did not need a fickle follower. He knew that He had many already. He also had Judas. With friends like that …

MacArthur paraphrases a quote from the Lutheran theologian Richard C H Lenski which describes the scribe’s state of mind:

He sees the soldiers on parade.  He sees the fine uniforms.  He sees the glittering arms and he’s eager to join; and he forgets the exhausting marches, the bloody battles, the graves, perhaps unmarked.

Afterward, a notional disciple asks Jesus for permission to bury his father (verse 21). This is a confusing verse, because we wonder why He would not allow that. However, MacArthur explains that ‘burying the father’ was a euphemism in the Middle East which meant staying at home until one’s father died and receiving the subsequent inheritance.

MacArthur says the expression is still used in some Arabic-speaking and Muslim societies:

Recently a Doctor Waldmeyer was conversing with a Turk— Waldmeyer is a missionary in the Middle East—and he was talking with a rich, young Turk and he advised this Turk to go on a certain trip to Europe, and along with him, the missionary. And he thought he could disciple him and accomplish certain things with him, and after he finished his education, to go along, to which the Turk replied, “I must first of all bury my father.”  And the missionary Waldmeyer said, “Oh, young man, I had no idea he’d died.  I just am so sorry.  I hope I wasn’t insensitive.”  He said, “Oh no.”  He said, “He isn’t dead.  He’s not dead.  That’s just a phrase we use.  My father is very much alive.  I just have to stick around and fulfill my responsibility till he passes on.  And then, of course, I will receive my inheritance.”  Oh, I see.  “I must first go and bury my father who isn’t even dead” means, “I’ve been waiting a long time for my inheritance.  Can I just hang around?  The guy is tottering at this point and [“]when I get it all, think of how I can be used in the movement.” See?  The guy had the money on his mind.  He was playing with trivia and it took the courage and commitment out of his discipleship.  His father wasn’t even dead.

This is why Jesus dismisses the young man with what appears to be a perfunctory statement: ‘Leave the dead to bury their own dead’ (verse 22). MacArthur explains that Jesus meant it was more important to follow Him than to worry about the eventuality of burying one’s own parent:

this is a proverb again just like the one about the foxes and birds.  The first one meant, “Look I don’t have any personal comforts.”  This one means, “Let spiritually dead people bury their dead.  Let the secular world take care of its own issues.  You have been called to the kingdom of God.”  See the difference?  What he’s saying is, “You are functioning on the wrong level.”  In other words let the system take care of itself.

He’s not saying Christians are forbidden to go to funerals.  He’s not saying if you’re a Christian you’re not supposed to make sure your father or mother gets buried.  It’s a proverb, and what he means is the world’s passing affairs, the coming and going of people, the passing of fortunes from one to another is all part of a dead system.  You are called to a living kingdom; go and preach the kingdom.  You see the man’s priorities are fouled up.  Secular matters belong to the people who are secular.  The human system takes care of itself. But this man, what does it say he did?  It’s not there either.  He left somewhere between verse 22 and 23.  He disappeared.  Why?  Personal possessions were the big thing to him.  He had waited a long time for his piece of the action.  He wasn’t bailing out now.  Hey, he liked the thrill and the charisma and the wonder and the miracles, and this was fabulous stuff and he wanted to get on the bandwagon, but there was no commitment there.  He wanted his money.

The New Testament has many references to the hardships that His true followers would encounter. MacArthur shares some of these verses and their meanings:

In Matthew 10:16, He said, “Now I’m going to send you forth.”  Later on He tells His apostles, “I’m going to send you forth.  I’m going to send you like sheep in the midst of wolves.”  Now that’s not a very inviting thing, is it?  You’re going to send us out like sheep in the midst of wolves?   “And just remember, beware of menThey’re going to deliver you up in councils, and scourge you in synagogues, you’ll be brought before governors and kings, and they’ll deliver you.  Don’t worry I’ll give you [the words] to say.” Verse 22: “You’ll be hated of all men for my name’s sake.”  Verse 23:  “You’ll be persecuted.”  Verse 24: “And don’t think you’re going to be above your teacher.  I’ve been getting it and you’re going to get it.”  In John 15, He said, “Don’t be surprised when men hate you.  They hate me.”  “Don’t be surprised when they kill you and think they’re doing God’s service.”  Persecution: “In this world you shall have tribulation.”  He said it to them:  “All that will live godly…” II Timothy 3:12: “All that will live godly in this present age will suffer persecution.” Matthew 5: “Blessed are you when men shall revile you and persecute you and say all manner of evil against you falsely for My sake.” Hebrews 11: They just suffered and suffered, all those heroes of the faith, and at the end it says, “of whom the world was not worthy.”

To end on possessions and money, some might draw the conclusion that all Christians should adopt our Lord’s way of life. MacArthur says that we should not make that assumption except in the sense where we might one day be required to do so:

You see the Lord may not want to take away your personal comforts.  He may not want to take away your personal possessions.  He may not want to take away your personal relationships.  But you have to be willing to let him if He wanted to, you see?  That’s the affirmation of His Lordship in your life.  If you come, saying, “I’ll come, but I’m hanging on to this, I’m hanging on to this, I’m hanging on to this,” and you give Him half a heart, you get nothing.  If you offer Him everything, He may allow you to keep the portion.  He may give you more than you have.  It’s the willingness that is the issue.

MacArthur also quoted the Anglican Archbishop of Liverpool, J C Ryle, who lived during the 19th century. What Ryle said then is every bit as true today:

The saddest road to hell is the one that runs under the pulpit, past the Bible, and through the middle of warnings and invitations.

Therefore, when we devote ourselves to Christ may we not do so half-heartedly with excessive ties to family or possessions, such that we cannot give them up. May we give Him — our Saviour, our only Mediator and Advocate — our full attention and obedience, come what may in this transient life.

Next time: Matthew 8:23-27

Bible evangewomanblogspotcomThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur (here and here).

Matthew 8:14-17

Jesus Heals Many

14 And when Jesus entered Peter’s house, he saw his mother-in-law lying sick with a fever. 15 He touched her hand, and the fever left her, and she rose and began to serve him. 16 That evening they brought to him many who were oppressed by demons, and he cast out the spirits with a word and healed all who were sick. 17 This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: “He took our illnesses and bore our diseases.”


The miracles recounted thus far in Matthew 8 took place just after Jesus gave His Sermon on the Mount.

We read about His cleansing of the leper and His healing of the centurion’s young servant from a distance. Both men exhibited great humility and faith. The leper said that Jesus had the power to cleanse him should He choose to do so. The centurion told Jesus that he was unworthy to have Him in his house but if He only said the word the servant would be healed.

Jesus then went to Simon Peter’s house and healed his mother-in-law of fever. Afterward, He healed many who had demons and diseases.

Mark’s and Luke’s Gospels carry the same accounts. I have highlighted differences to Matthew’s below. First, Mark 1:29-34, a three-year Lectionary reading:

Jesus Heals Many

29 And immediately he[f] left the synagogue and entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. 30 Now Simon’s mother-in-law lay ill with a fever, and immediately they told him about her. 31 And he came and took her by the hand and lifted her up, and the fever left her, and she began to serve them.

32 That evening at sundown they brought to him all who were sick or oppressed by demons. 33 And the whole city was gathered together at the door. 34 And he healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons. And he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.

Secondly, Luke’s verses, about which I wrote in June 2013 — Luke 4:38-39 and Luke 4:40-41:

38 And he arose and left the synagogue and entered Simon’s house. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was ill with a high fever, and they appealed to him on her behalf. 39And he stood over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her, and immediately she rose and began to serve them.

40Now when the sun was setting, all those who had any who were sick with various diseases brought them to him, and he laid his hands on every one of them and healed them. 41 And demons also came out of many, crying, “You are the Son of God!” But he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew that he was the Christ.

In Matthew’s account, it was Jesus who saw that Peter’s mother-in-law was stricken by fever (verse 14). It is not necessarily a contradiction. It could be that Matthew wanted to get straight to the nub of the miracle.

Then there is the greater controversy of what happened when. Why does this miracle appear in a seemingly different chronology in the Gospels? This was debated even in the 17th century, when Matthew Henry lived:

They who pretend to be critical in the Harmony of the evangelists, place this passage, and all that follows to the end of Matthew 8:14-9:38 before the sermon on the mount, according to the order which Mark and Luke observe in placing it. Dr. Lightfoot [Bible scholar] places only this passage before the sermon on the mount, and Matthew 8:18, &c. after.

Wherever it occurs, the important thing is that it happened.

As I explained in my commentary on Luke’s account, mentioning the synagogue meant that it was the Sabbath and a lunch would surely have followed. John MacArthur made that observation and said the same when he preached about Matthew’s verses (emphases mine):

the other gospels tell us it was on the Sabbath, and they had been to the synagogue.  In fact, all of these, as I said, may have happened the same day. And they went over to Peter’s house.  You know, they do what we do.  They go to synagogue or church, and then they go home and have dinner, but they were having a problem there.  The other writer, Mark it is, tells us that Andrew was there, and James was there, and John was there; so you got Peter, Peter’s wife, James, John, Andrew, and Jesus.  You got six people, and they got a real tragedy.  How can you have Sabbath dinner when mother-in-law is sick?  Right?  That’s what mother-in-law’s for, right? How can you possibly have a decent meal?  Plus it puts a damper on the whole operationSo the others come to Jesus, according to Mark’s account, and they say, “Come on home with us and heal her so we can have dinner.” So, you know: first things first.  You know, why not?  Nothing wrong with service; give her an opportunity to serve.  “When Jesus was coming into Peter’s house, He saw his wife’s mother lying and sick with a fever.”  Peter was married.  We know that, because 1 Corinthians 9, he says later on his ministry, Paul says, it’s not wrong for Peter in his ministry to lead about a wife, which means that she traveled with him in some of his ministry.  And so here is his mother-in-law.

Matthew says that Jesus touched the woman’s hand, she was healed and rose to serve Him (verse 15). The implication is that the healing was, as Luke says, ‘immediate’. We can assume lunch was a rather grand affair of relief and gratitude:

I’ll bet she whipped up bagels and gefilte fish or whatever … like they’d never had.  St. Peter’s fish, maybe, that comes out of that sea.  That’s what they call it now.  But they had a great time.

Not only did Jesus heal a relative of Peter’s, but that relative was also a woman — an inferior to the male. MacArthur explains that this miracle was a criticism of the thinking of that era, particularly among the Jewish leaders:

Now, the Jews used to get up, the Pharisees used to get up, and they said the same thing every morning.  This was their standard statement:  “I thank Thee that I am not a slave, a Gentile, or a woman.”  They believed that lepers and Gentiles and women, sort of in the same category.  They had a very low view of women; and for Jesus to throw in a healing of a woman, you see, is just another indictment.  And a mother-in-law, I mean, you know, that’s even going beyond. So He is, He is really slapping in the face … all their tradition.

Some Christian men do not seem to have understood this, either. They, too, view women as less than human. Do an online search on Paul’s verses and others. You can read for yourselves. I find it hard to pray for such men.

Then began a rather charged evening of healing the sick, including those afflicted with demons (verse 16). Jesus spoke to rid the afflicted of their demons and healed all those who were sick. Whilst Matthew and Luke do not state where this took place, Mark says that the whole city was gathered at the door! It must have been Simon Peter’s house.

Matthew mentions a verse from the prophet Isaiah to indicate that Jesus is indeed the Messiah (Isaiah 53:4):

Surely he has borne our griefs
    and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
    smitten by God, and afflicted.

Before I go into the first half of the verse, observe how even today the world — unbelievers, agnostics — considers Jesus ‘smitten by God, and afflicted’. Isaiah is telling us that this is wrong. Still, how do we convince people of that?

MacArthur says that if there were no original sin, there would be no continuing sin, disease or death. This leads mockers — unbelievers and agnostics — to conclude that if one believes in Christ, one should never be stricken with the common cold or cancer.

Yet, that, too, is an incorrect conclusion. MacArthur says:

Christ died for our sins, not our sicknesses.  The gospel is good news about forgiveness, not health … Christ took away our sin, not our sickness.  He died on the cross for our sin. 

That said, by restoring people’s physical or mental health our Lord was providing a preview of the kingdom to come when we shall all be made perfect:

Matthew opens up to us the fact that the statement, “He took our infirmities and bore our diseases,” extends from the sin problem to the sickness problem.  Yes, there’s healing in the atonement. Yes, there’s wholeness there, but only in so far as it comes to us in the fullness of salvation, the redemption of our bodies when we’re glorified in His eternal kingdom. And so we see here that what you have really is just a taste of the kingdom, just a preview of the kingdom.  Yes, someday He will bear our sicknesses away.  Someday He will carry our infirmities all away and this is a taste of that, which was said by the prophet IsaiahYou see?  The great Word!

However, as I have said before, our Lord also showed His infinite mercy in creative miracles. As He is all divine and all human, He knows how humanity suffers. MacArthur observes:

So there’s a sense in which He took our infirmities and took our diseases by feeling with us the pain that they bring.  Secondly, I think there’s a sense in which He took our infirmities and took our sicknesses in that He felt the root of them. 

I have highlighted MacArthur’s words on Christ’s miracles, faith and sin:

If you can deny that He’s God in the face of these things, it is not because there is no evidence.  It is because there is no faith in your heart, and there’s no faith there because your heart is bound by sin.

Enough said.

Next time: Matthew 8:18-22

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