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Miracles, Faith and Service: Grumbling Against Jesus’ Divinity

 

Exodus 34:1-7; Matthew 8:23-27; 9:1-38

September 30, 2018 • Download this sermon (PDF)

Dear Congregation of Christ: Last Sunday, in Matthew 8, we learned that Jesus performed miracles for several reasons. First, he announced that with his arrival, the kingdom of God has also arrived (Matt 10:7–8). A second purpose of the miracles is to demonstrate that faith is the instrument by which a person enters the kingdom of heaven. In the healing of the leper and the centurion’s servant, faith was instrumental. Here in Chapter 9, we read about four other miracles where Jesus says that faith demonstrated by four people were instrumental in their healing.

Third, we also saw that his signs and wonders authenticate his claim to divinity, that he is the Son of God, true God himself. Today, I will expand on this validation through the miracles in Matthew 9. These miracles are: (1) he controls nature; (2) he forgives sins; (3) he is the coming Bridegroom; and (4) he is the Lord of the harvest.

However, whenever Jesus performed signs and wonders and miracles, he was always condemned by the Pharisees and scribes. Or at the very least, his opponents receive them with much skepticism and grumbling.

He Controls Nature

Last Sunday, I skipped Matthew 8:23-27 so I can expound on this passage today in connection with the deity or divinity of Jesus. After a long day of healing and teaching, Jesus was tired, and wanted to get away from the crowds. So in these verses, Jesus and his twelve disciples got into a boat in the Sea of Galilee. Because Jesus is also a true human being, he was so tired that even a big, unexpected storm couldn’t wake him up. The storm was so great that Matthew uses the Greek word seismos, which means “earthquake. The boat was about to be engulfed by the waves and sink, so his disciples woke him up, exclaiming in fear, “Save us, Lord! We’re going to die!”

Jesus then rebuked them for their fear and lack of faith. The disciples were conflicted. After seeing Jesus heal many of the sick with a word or a touch, they believed Jesus can also save them from the storm. At the same time, they were panic-stricken. This is how we all are, even when we know that God is true to his promises. We all doubt, and only answered prayers can calm our hearts. But as Jesus previously promised, all those who build their lives on the foundation of faith in him will weather even the strongest spiritual storms. We fear, but our fear is tempered by confidence in God’s goodness, righteousness and faithfulness.

Then our Lord turned around and performed both an astonishing and fearful miracle: he “rebuked” the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. What does “rebuke” mean here? In the New Testament, it often means to censure, warn, speak seriously, to prevent an action or to bring an action to an end.[1] Jesus “rebuked” a demon (Matt 17:18). The disciples “rebuked” those who brought children to Jesus (Matt 19:13). Jesus “rebuked” Peter’s mother-in-law’s fever (Luke 4:39). Jesus “rebuked” the winds and the sea to prevent the boat from sinking and to end the storm.

Matthew, Mark and Luke all included Jesus rebuking the storm because they wanted their readers to see that Jesus is God himself who has sovereign power over creation. They were all alluding back to Psalm 104:7, a verse familiar to most Jews: “At your rebuke they fled; at the sound of your thunder they took to flight.” On the first day of creation, there was chaos: the world was unfilled and unformed, no content and no order. Psalm 104 is a song of praise to God the Creator and Providence. The waters covered the whole earth. But God “rebuked” the waters, so they were gathered in one place, and land appeared. In Psalm 65:7, God is he “who stills the roaring of the seas, the roaring of their waves.” Again, in Psalm 89:9, the psalmist is in awe of God, saying, “You rule the raging of the sea; when its waves rise, you still them.” If God alone is able to still the raging seas, and Jesus can command the waters and the wind to be calm, then he is the same God of the psalmists.

How can Jesus, a mere man, have power over nature? He can because he is true God himself. The Gospels of Mark and Luke fill us in with the reaction of his disciple. Mark 4:41 says, “And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, ‘What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?’” A minute ago, he was so exhausted that he was sleeping through the great storm. Now he commands nature to be still! The disciples did not grumble like the Pharisees and scribes, but they doubted, then feared Jesus, Ruler of all nature.

He Forgives Sins

Another witness to the divinity of Jesus is found in the healing of the paralytic in Matthew 9:1-7). Jesus was in his own city of Capernaum, where he based his ministry. In this event, Jesus proves he is God in three ways. First, he knows the human heart, the evil in everyone’s thoughts. Verse 4 says that Jesus knew what the scribes were thinking. Only God knows everyone’s thoughts. In John 2:23-25, we read that after he performed signs and wonders, many believed in him. But Jesus knew that most of them were not true believers, “because he knew all people… for he himself knew what was in man.” Then in John 3 and 4, we also read that Jesus displayed his knowledge of what every person says, thinks and does in his encounters with Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman at the well.

Second, Jesus is God because God alone can forgive sins. In the Old Testament, we often read of God’s people asking forgiveness of sins from God. In Psalm 51, King David was contrite after he committed two heinous sins of adultery and murder, “Have mercy on me, O God… Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight… Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, O God of my salvation.” God declared to Israel, “I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins” (Isa 43:25), and “I have blotted out your transgressions like a cloud and your sins like mist; return to me, for I have redeemed you.” And in Daniel’s prayer for Israel, he confessed, “To the Lord our God belong mercy and forgiveness, for we have rebelled against him” (Dan 9:9).

So too, we pray, “Our Father who is in heaven… forgive us our debts” (Matt 6:12). What are our debts? Paul tells us that we who are dead in sin are now alive with Christ, “having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross” (Col 2:13-14). God forgives us only for the sake of his Son’s sacrifice on the cross. Our assurance and comfort is, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

Jesus is God who alone can heal instantaneously with a word. Jesus is God who alone can do both: forgiving sins and healing sicknesses. If the paralytic didn’t get up and walk, then the Pharisees would have been vindicated: he is a blasphemer and deserves death. All who believe in him, including all of us, are hopeless in our sins and will suffer God’s wrath on sinners. But because the paralytic walked, Jesus silenced the Pharisees’ grumbling that he was a blasphemer, one who claimed to be God. We who believe in him as Savior from all our sins are now safe in his hands for eternity.

He is the Coming Bridegroom

The third witness to Jesus’ divinity is in verses 14-17. Both the disciples of John the Baptizer and the Pharisees asked Jesus why his disciples do not observe fasting days. Jesus’ response is about a wedding feast, a joyous celebration, while the bridegroom is still with the guests. When the bridegroom is taken away from the wedding feast, then that is the time to fast. In Scripture, people fast as a sign of mourning over sin or death. A wedding feast then is a time of feasting, not fasting.

Jesus then adds the imagery of new garment and new wine. New cloths are not mixed with old garments, and new wine is not stored in old wineskins. In Scripture, a wedding (Isa 54:5; Rev 19:7-9), a new garment (Psa 102:26-28; Heb 1:10-12), and new wine (Joel 3:18; John 2:1-12) all point to the inbreaking of salvation in the new covenant of grace.

Jesus was referring to himself as the Bridegroom. In the Old Testament, the LORD God is often referred to as the Bridegroom or the Husband of his bride. In Isaiah 62:5, the LORD says, “as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.” In Isaiah 54:5, we also read, “For your Maker is your husband, the LORD of hosts is his name.” In Hosea 2:19–20, God tells his adulterous wife Israel, “And I will betroth you to me forever… And you shall know the LORD.”

So does Jesus call himself the Bridegroom in his Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids (Matt 25:1-10). Five of the ten bridesmaids were prepared with oil in their lamps, but the other five were not. So when Christ the Bridegroom arrives for the wedding feast, the five bridesmaids who did not have oil in their lamps were excluded. Jesus says that the consummation of the kingdom of heaven is a time of a joyful feasting when he, the Bridegroom, returns from heaven. At that time, there will be a great wedding feast of the Lamb where the Church, the Bride of Christ gathered from all nations, will celebrate the coming of the Bridegroom (Rev 19:6-9).

He is the Lord of the Harvest

Finally, Jesus demonstrates his divinity by being the Lord of the Harvest. After Jesus healed the paralytic, he saw a man named Matthew sitting in his toll booth because he was a tax collector. In first-century Israel, tax collectors were despised and ostracized because of two evils. First, they were corrupt, overcharging the people to get rich. Second, they served the hated Roman oppressors. Rome imposed taxes on everything: crops, imports, exports, roads and bridges, and a head tax for every male resident. Sound familiar? But Matthew and other Jewish tax collectors were worse because they served a foreign invader.

Jesus commanded Matthew, “Follow me.” And Matthew rose and followed him. His response may seem so abrupt and unexpected, but it is not. He lived in Capernaum where Jesus also lived, so he must have heard of and seen Jesus healing the sick and casting out demons. Matthew left everything: his job, his riches, his social position, and even his own family when he traveled with Jesus. Jesus says we are to be willing to do the same to follow him (Matt 19:29). But he is not telling us to do exactly as the apostles did. We are to be faithful to him wherever God has placed us, and whatever job, family and local church he has given us. We are to pray for ourselves, our families, our church, our nation, and for all the churches in all nations. This is true discipleship.

Matthew also brought his friends to Jesus. He invited him to eat with his fellow hated tax collectors and other “sinners.” According to the Pharisees, “sinners” are all who failed to keep God’s law according to their own traditions and interpretations. Jesus rejected these traditions as additions to God’s law. The Pharisees criticized Jesus for associating with “low lifes” and outcasts. He became unclean because he touched lepers and Gentiles, and the dead daughter of Jairus, a high official, whom he raised from the dead.

But Jesus rejected their criticism by saying that he did not come to heal the healthy but the sick. He did not come to save the righteous, but sinners. The Pharisees were neither healthy or righteous. Like them, we are all spiritually sick and sinners. If Jesus did not come for sinners, he came for no one. If Jesus came to save the righteous, he would save no one, because all, no one excepted, are sinners. Paul affirms this: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God… no one does good, not even one” (Rom 3:10-12).

In the conclusion of Matthew Chapter 9, we read that Jesus went preaching the gospel of the kingdom and healing all the sick and demon-possessed brought to him or who came to him. So when he saw the crowds, he had pity on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd. They were harassed and helpless. By whom? By Satan the oppressor who “flayed” them until their skin and flesh were torn, and who threw them down the pit of hell. And Satan’s army were the Pharisees, Sadducees, scribes, teachers and rulers who deceived them for their own glory and gain.

Jesus couldn’t heal them all. So Jesus called his twelve disciples to send them out to continue what he began. The harvest is huge, but the disciples were few, so he commanded them to pray that the Lord of the harvest will send out many more laborers to gather his harvest. But when they were sent out, they were sent out to be hated, arrested, flogged and even martyred. He sent them out as sheep to be eaten by wolves.

But be comforted. The harvesters of the Lord of the Harvest will in the end succeed in harvesting a full harvest. Not one grain and fruit will be left from the field. Jesus promises, “I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day” (John 6:39). Isaiah 55:10-11 says that God sends rain and snow that come down from heaven to bring forth fruit from the earth. This rain and snow is the Word of God preached to the whole world, and “it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose.”

Beloved friends: Jesus, while a true Man of human flesh and blood, is also true God, with all the attributes of God. He is All-Knowing, All-Powerful, All-Present. He is the Ruler of all nature and creation. He forgives sins. He is the coming Bridegroom. And he is the Lord of the harvest.

May this be our comfort. In all our spiritual storms, when we are about to sink in despair and sin, he gives us peace in our hearts that only he can give. When we mourn over our multitudes of sins, he is there to forgive us because he is gracious, merciful, loving and patient with his people. When we think that our sufferings, pain, afflictions and loneliness will never end, he will fulfill his promise to return as our Bridegroom and bring us to a joyful heavenly feast forever. And when we think that we are oppressed and helpless in a world that hates God and his Son Jesus Christ, he promises that there will be a great harvest of souls he will bring to eternal glory.

[1] Walter Bauer, et. al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd ed., (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2000), .

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