What do you make of Jesus?
He’s a fascinating character.
Most people today don’t want to dismiss him too quickly. He’s a big figure in history. He’s impacted the world in more ways than you could list.
But at the same time, many people want to keep him at arm’s length. Jesus may be interesting. He did some amazing things. But let’s not get too involved!
Of course, it all depends who Jesus is.
Matthew has been showing us Jesus’ authority. In chapters 8 and 9 of his gospel, we’ve had a string of pretty amazing miracles. Last week, we saw the most dramatic of them all. We watched Jesus bring the dead back to life!
And peppered in between those miracles are some very powerful stories where Jesus calls people to follow him. To give up being in control of their lives, and to let him take charge.
Well, now these chapters are drawing to a close. In today’s passage, Matthew wraps up. He’s got two final miracles for us. He only tells us the stories quickly. He’s not so much focussed on the miracles themselves as on the two questions he wants to ask us: Who do we think Jesus is? How are we going to respond to him?
So we’re going to have two headings as we look at these verses together, looking at those two searching questions. Who is Jesus? What is our response?
Jesus is the Messiah, not a magician
First, Jesus is the Messiah, not a magician. Jesus is the Messiah, not a magician.
As I started to study this passage, I thought this was going to be quite hard to preach on. How do you follow last week? We’ve had a lot of miracles in these chapters, and raising the dead was the climax. It feels like a bit of anti-climax to follow that with Jesus curing two blind men and one man who couldn’t talk. If Matthew’s trying to sell us Jesus’ authority, why didn’t he quit while he was ahead?
But then you look at what Matthew’s saying. He’s not really drawing our attention to the miracle itself. He’s not saying, “You’ve seen Jesus raise the dead. Now here’s something even more dramatic”.
His focus is now on who Jesus is. We’ve seen many miracles. “Take a step back,” he says. “Ask yourself what this tells you about him. And to help you think about that, here are two more stories.”
The first clue comes as the blind men call out for help. Verse 27: “Have mercy on us, Son of David.”
Son of David. It’s an unusual name for Jesus. It’s also highly loaded. David was the greatest king that Israel had ever known, reigning for 40 years around about 1000 b.c. God had promised David that he would raise up another king for his people. Descended from David. Like David. Only greater. This one would rule and bless the whole world. This one would reign forever.
The Jewish people were waiting for this promised Son of David.
Matthew opens his gospel in chapter 1 by telling us that Jesus is the one. First, he records Jesus’ family tree. He draws the line from David to Jesus. The angel addresses Joseph as “Joseph, Son of David”. Jesus is a Son of David. But is he the Son of David? We have to wait to find out.
Until at least, Matthew chapter 9, verse 27, the blind men call out: Have mercy on us, Son of David.
How do we know if they’re right? As the years passed from the great King David, God told his people more and more what this great Son of David would do.
For example, turn to Isaiah chapter 35. It’s on page 720. Verse 5: “Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy.”
Come back to Matthew’s gospel. In fact to chapter 11. Page 976. There, we find John the Baptist wondering exactly this: Is Jesus the promised one who was coming. Verse 2: When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to ask him, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?’ Jesus replied, ‘Go back and report to John what you hear and see: the blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and good news is proclaimed to the poor.’
That list of miracles is pretty much exactly Matthew chapters 8 and 9. In other words, Jesus sends the messengers back to John’s prison cell. Go and tell John the miracles that Matthew will write down in chapters 8 and 9 of his gospel. That will answer his question. And it will answer his question because it lines up exactly with what Isaiah said the promised King would do.
The Jews gave a title to the Son of David they were waiting for. They called him the Messiah. These last two miracles complete the set. Isaiah had said what the Messiah would do. Now Matthew’s recorded these, he’s shown us that Jesus is the Messiah. These miracles do not just give us Jesus the magician. They give us Jesus the Messiah.
Jesus is the Messiah, not a magician.
This is not an anti-climax at all. It’s the final piece in the puzzle.
Imagine you’re doing a jigsaw puzzle. You have one last piece or section to put in. It’s a little bit of blue sky. Not terribly dramatic. But it’s a great feeling once it’s done. The whole picture is there. It’s finished. You can see the whole thing. Some scenes in that picture were quite dramatic details. A fire blazing here. A 10 foot wave there. They were fun parts of the puzzle to put together. But nothing beats the satisfaction of putting in that last piece. Now you can see what you’re looking at.
These last two miracles are not the most dramatic miracles in Matthew chapters 8 and 9. But they do complete the picture. Now, we can see what we’re looking at. Jesus the Messiah.
And this is so exciting because the Messiah would come and fix the whole world. So much in this world is sad or spoilt. The book of Isaiah ends with the Messiah bringing this world to a perfect state with no crying and no death. If the Messiah has come, then so will that.
I have a faint childhood memory of waiting to see someone famous. It wasn’t the queen. I can’t remember who it was, or what they were coming to do. But some smart car drives past, and we all cheer and wave. Only for us all to realise that it wasn’t, and we’d just cheered on a complete stranger.
Of course, if the Queen were to come to open a new hospital, a new school, a new swimming pool even, it’s exciting when she’s there. It means the building can open. The hospital can serve the community. The children can use the pool. Or whatever it is.
The Jewish people were waiting for their Messiah. Many of them still are. Matthew doesn’t want us waving and cheering at the wrong car. So he spends two chapters showing us a hand-picked set of miracles. All the things the Messiah would do when he came.
These miracles aren’t just random displays of power. Jesus is the one they were waiting for. Which means that everything he came to accomplish can now happen. And that’s good news for people of every age.
Jesus is the Messiah, not a magician.
Jesus is to be trusted as unique, not dismissed as a freak
That’s Matthew wrapping up who Jesus is.
He also wants to draw together his challenge to us to respond to Jesus. Here’s our second heading: Jesus is to be trusted as unique, not dismissed as a freak. Jesus is to be trusted as unique, not dismissed as a freak.
Matthew often records how people responded to Jesus. It’s one way he invites us to consider how we respond.
And in this passage, we see both good and bad responses.
Take the good responses first.
We have the blind men. Verse 28: When he had gone indoors, the blind men came to him, and he asked them, ‘Do you believe that I am able to do this?’ ‘Yes, Lord,’ they replied.
We’ve seen people’s trust shine through before. The dead girl’s father believed Jesus could raise her to life. Jesus said he’d never seen anyone in Israel with faith like the Centurion.
But Jesus expects even more from these blind men, and they step up to the plate. He won’t heal them until they tell him that they believe he can. There are no other miracles in Matthew where Jesus requires faith before he will heal.
And they do.
There’s one positive response. The crowd gives us another.
Verse 33: The crowd was amazed and said, ‘Nothing like this has ever been seen in Israel.’
“This is absolutely unique,” they say. And they’re quite right. God had promised only one Messiah, and that’s Jesus. Of course these kinds of things have not been seen before. They’ve never been seen before, or indeed since.
Some animals in the world are perilously close to extinction. In January of this year, a northern white rhino died at a zoo in San Diego. That leaves just 5 of them. The only hope to save the entire species rests with rhinoceros IVF.
If you were in the wild, and you knew your stuff, just imagine if you spotted a rhino. You know how to tell black and white rhinos apart, that’s easy. But you manage to get closer and you discover that every single one of the distinguishing marks of the northern white rhino are present. That must mean there is one left in the wild after all. And this must be it. You get help to make sure it’s given the very best care. You certainly don’t write it off as just a con, a southern white rhino in disguise to get special treatment, and kill it.
Here’s Jesus. Here’s the Messiah.
The crowd are amazed. “We’ve never seen anything like it!”
Here is the unique one that God had promised to rescue the world. Wow! He’s utterly unique.
Good responses. But not everyone responds to Jesus as they should do. That’s the case today, and it was the case in Jesus’ own day.
Meet the Pharisees. Verse 34: But the Pharisees said, ‘It is by the prince of demons that he drives out demons.’
Notice how the Pharisees are in no doubt whatsoever that Jesus had miraculous power. They make no attempt to disprove or discredit Jesus’ miracles. It’s striking that in modern times, some sceptics, and even a few theologians, try to argue away some of Jesus’ miracles. “They didn’t really happen!”
Back in Jesus’ day, even Jesus’ opponents didn’t try that one. Everyone could see that the miracles of Jesus were absolutely extraordinary, and beyond dispute.
No, the issue is where Jesus’ power came from. What was behind the miracles? What do the miracles say about Jesus, as a person?
Many people today say: “If only I’d been there to see Jesus perform his miracles! I’d believe in Jesus for sure!” The trouble is, that doesn’t work. Plenty of people who were there saw everything. They knew Jesus had raised the dead and healed the blind. But did they believe? No. They found other ways to explain what they saw.
The Pharisees dismissed Jesus as demonic. As outright evil. “Jesus has some amazing super powers, and those powers come from the devil.” Jesus gets to reply to that when they accuse him again in chapter 12.
People today don’t dismiss Jesus in quite the same way. I don’t hear people saying that he’s evil. But people do still want to find some way to explain his miracles – other than him being the historically unique rescuer of the whole world.
Perhaps the most common thing I hear is that Jesus was “just a good teacher”. Some of Jesus’ teachings were pretty memorable. “Turn the other cheek,” that sort of thing. Oh, and he also did a few miracles.
That won’t wash. He’s much, much more than a miracle-working teacher. He’s the unique Son of God. He’s the one who lived, died and rose again to save the world. And to rescue everyone in the world who will trust and follow him.
At one point, UNICEF was well on the way to eradicating polio worldwide. They had to stop in 2005 because of so many new cases of Polio in Nigeria. The rumour was spreading that the Polio vaccine was a deliberate western ploy: the vaccine would sterilise every child who was inoculated. In Pakistan, nurses were chased out of villages by angry mobs, who thought the vaccine as a way to stem Islam. In Kenya, some parents thought that the devil was behind this vaccine; any children who received the oral vaccine would magically lose their tongues.
So sad. Here’s a vaccine that clearly works. And yet what’s the agenda behind it? Why does it work? What are you saying yes to if you allow your children to be vaccinated?
Here’s Jesus. Amazing miracles. Everything the Scriptures said the Messiah would do. Nobody could deny the things that were happening. And yet many did not believe in Jesus. “It’s a ploy of the devil,” they said. “There’s amazing power at work here, that’s for sure, but how do you know it’s good.”
And in the same way, many people today see the wonderful things Jesus did on earth. But they’re far too suspicious to follow him. They won’t trust him.
We’re nearly at the end of Matthew chapters 8 and 9. One more little section to come on May 10th.
Matthew’s drawn together this wonderful demonstration of Jesus’ authority. He’s asking us: Who do you say Jesus is? And what is your response.
Jesus did amazing miracles. He gave the blind their sight. That is beyond dispute.
The question is: What does this show us about him?
He’s not a magician. He’s the Messiah.
Many people dismiss him. Some say these miracles never happened, although that’s obviously not the case. Others just draw back from making any big conclusions about Jesus. Dismiss him as a freak.
But there is another possibility. We can trust him as utterly unique and totally wonderful. These miracles show Jesus to be the one and only rescuer of the whole world. There has never been anyone like him, and there never will.
And seeing that, we come to Jesus. We follow him. And he makes us whole again. He starts that now. And he will finish the job when he returns to make the whole world new.