William Kelly Major Works Commentary
And he entered into a ship, and passed over, and came into his own city.Matthew Chapter 9
Whoever attentively examines this chapter with the following one, can hardly fail to see that the proper break is at the end of verse 35, the last three verses forming properly the introduction to chapter 10. What we have in chapter 9, as far as I have understood, is the effect of the presence of Jesus upon the religious leaders of Israel: I believe this is the great subject. Chapter 8 gave us the outline of the Lord's presence in Israel, and its results. That is, it was a general picture; and therefore we saw that the Holy Spirit entirely neglects the mere historical order, putting together passages in the life of Christ that were separated, in point of fact, by months or even a year. There is not here the slightest attempt on the part of the Spirit of God to present them as they happened; but on the contrary, the Holy Ghost goes out of His way for the purpose of culling from different times and places certain grand facts that illustrated the Messiah's presence amidst His people, His rejection by Israel, and what the results of this rejection would be. What we saw was that, first of all, He was proved to be God, the God of Israel - Jehovah; to whom the cleansing of leprosy was merely the question of His will; for even the leper did not doubt His power. "If Thou wilt, Thou canst make me clean." None but God could do this. Now none had so strong a feeling about this loathsome evil as a Jew, because God Himself had laid down so carefully the nature and proof of leprosy in His law. For it was a question of hopeless uncleanness - the solemn emphatic lesson of how horrible sin is, in its effects and in itself. God can cure and God can cleanse: nobody else can. It was not exactly a case of forgiving, but of cleansing and putting away defilement. The Spirit of God reserved the question of forgiveness (which is connected with the rights of God and with His judicial character, as the cleansing of leprosy is more particularly connected with His holiness) till the chapter we are about to look at now. In the first of these chapters (Matt. 8) there was the broad feature that Messiah was there - God Himself in grace, and not acting according to the law, which would have banished the leper outside of dwelling-place and people and His own presence. A most wonderful fact to realize on earth and in Israel that a person was there, as plainly God in His power as He was God in His love! The law merely laid down that which was right, but could give no power, and only condemn the unrighteous. It must make the case of a sinner hopeless, just because it is God's law, for the law can never mix with sin. But here was One who had given the law and yet was above the law. It is evident, indeed, that unless there be some principle in God paramount to the law, there eau be no rescue for the guilty. But grace is that principle. And here was One who showed in His acts and words that He was in nothing more manifestly God than in the fulness of His grace. He touched the leper and said, "I will; be thou clean." The state of this man was just the picture of the true condition of Israel; and what the Lord did for the solitary leper, He was equally willing to do for the whole nation; but "He came to His own, and His own received Him not." Would God then be baffled in His love? If the Jew refused Him, what of the Gentile? They should hear; and therefore we have immediately following the centurion and his servant. But I will not repeat the facts of chapter 8. In the chapter before us now we have, not the general picture of God's presence and its results in Israel, but its special bearings upon the religious leaders of the people.
We begin again with the Lord's giving a remarkable case of healing; not the obvious case of leprosy, which ought to have struck any Jew, but another equally illustrative. "He entered into a ship, and passed over, and came into His own city" (ver. 1) - that is, Capernaum. Thus we are upon narrower ground now. Capernaum was the place where the Lord lived and wrought His mightiest miracles, and which for that very reason afterwards comes in for the most fearful woe that He could pronounce. This is a most solemn principle. When the day of the Lord comes, the heaviest blow of judgment will fall, not upon the dark parts of the earth, but upon the favoured ones where there has been most light, but alas, most unfaithfulness. For my own part, I do not doubt our own land must suffer in a special measure; but, above all, Jerusalem, and Rome too, to which latter place the most remarkable of all the epistles was written, as laying down the foundations of Christianity, but where there has been the greatest departure. They will come under the judgment of God in a most emphatic manner, not only religiously but civilly. No matter who reigns, or who may be put down, this must be the case wherever, in spite of the special favours of God and the light of His word spread abroad, persons have remained unfaithful, and have even become more lax and superstitious or sceptical. The Lord will remove those that are His before the judgment, and the rest will remain to suffer His just retribution. "As it was in the days of Noah, so shall it be also in the days of the Son of Man."
In this scene the Lord shows the moral necessity for such a judgment. Nor was it merely in the land of the Gergesenes, or of Nazareth. But take the people who ought to have known the Scriptures more than others, whose very profession it was to know and teach them - what was their estimate of Jesus? It is this which comes out in our chapter. "Behold, they brought to Him a man sick of the palsy, lying on a bed: and Jesus seeing their faith, said unto the sick of the palsy, Son, be of good cheer" - a most blessed word, meeting the whole case of the man; a word to touch his affections and meet his conscience. Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee. There was comfort for both his heart and conscience. His sins ought to have laid more heavily upon his heart than his palsy did upon his body; but this word met all his need. "And, behold, certain of the scribes said within themselves, This man blasphemeth" (ver. 3). In this chapter, it is not the scribe in his vain fleshly confidence professing to show honour to Jesus; but the scribes are judging and condemning Him. To their view Jesus was blaspheming when He said, "Thy sins be forgiven thee." Awful delusion of man's evil heart. "This man blasphemeth!" And these were not ignorant people, who said within themselves, "This man blasphemeth." "But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, Wherefore think ye evil in your hearts? For whether is easier, to say, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Arise and walk?" And now He brings out a word which ought at once to have told upon the scribes, who were familiar with the Scriptures, where it was said of Israel's God, "Who forgiveth all thine iniquities; who healeth all thy diseases," and of which they now had an exemplification before their eyes.
This is not the experience of a saint now, though we can take it up in a most blessed sense. But can we say that, "Who forgiveth all thine iniquities, who healeth all thy diseases," is the way the Lord deals now with Christians? Where He forgives a person's iniquities, does He necessarily heal all their diseases? Whereas, here it is evident that the Lord contemplated the union of the cure of bodily diseases with the forgiveness of sins in the same people and at the same time. When will this be? When God takes the government of the world into His own hands. When the One who was crucified will be glorified - not only in heaven, but here below; when that day comes, the outward world, the body of man, and particularly of God's own people Israel, will feel the immediate effect. While we can take the spirit of the Psalms, so far as they apply to our condition now, let us not forget there is much in the Psalms that is not applicable to ourselves.
The forgiveness of iniquities and the healing of bodily distempers, were both promised to Israel, and so the Lord accomplishes both here. He shows that, in His person and by His ministry now in the midst of Israel, there was the witness of the power to do both. That they might know that the Son of Man had "power on earth to forgive sins (then saith He to the sick of the palsy), Arise, take up thy bed, and go unto thy house. And he arose and departed to his house." There was a proof of the reality of the forgiveness in the fact that the disease was healed before their eyes. The union of these two things ought forcibly to have struck a scribe. In this miracle we have the strongest testimony of what the glory of His person was.
This then was the Lord's answer to the blasphemy of the scribes who charged Him with blasphemy. "But when the multitudes saw it, they marvelled, and glorified God, which had given such power unto men" (ver. 8). Alas, they did not know that it was the power of God exercised by one who Himself was God. They saw that He was the vessel of the power of God, and this was all. A man might be this, and not be God. He might be pleased to work miracles even by a bad man. So that, while they gave glory to God who had given such power to a man, there was no real faith in the person of Christ. But the great object of the miracle is the bringing out of the true state of heart in the ecclesiastical chiefs of the people. A solemn judgment, to apply any time, begins to dawn with this chapter; and before we have done with it, we shall find that the case is closed, as far as they are concerned. Jehovah-Jesus was intolerable to Israel.; but, most of all, to those who had the highest reputation for learning and sanctity.
The Lord passes from this scene, and sees "a man named Matthew, sitting at the receipt of custom: and He saith unto him, Follow Me; and he arose and followed Him." If we compare the Gospels of Mark and Luke, we find that both the palsied man's case and the call of Levi took place long before many of the circumstances that we have already had; but they are reserved for two special purposes in Matthew's account. They are given at the beginning of Mark 2 as they happened in order of time; but the Spirit of God, in Matthew, puts them out of that order for the purpose of giving large pictures, after a dispensational sort, of our Lord's presence upon earth and its consequences for Israel; and all the facts that would bear upon their blindness for a time and future restoration are grouped together.
Here we see the effect of His presence upon the religious guides. Matthew's call was a most significant one. The Spirit of God led him to give his name here - the name by which he was afterwards known both on earth and in heaven. Matthew accordingly shows the grace of the Lord, spite of the animosities of those scribes against Him, and the form that His grace took in consequence of their unbelief. He goes out and calls Matthew as he was sitting at the receipt of custom. Other people had brought the palsied man, but Matthew does not seem to have manifested faith before the summons of Jesus. It was not Matthew who sought Jesus, but Jesus who called Matthew, busied about the tax, of which he was the licensed gatherer. The publicans were always classed with the sinners, and the Lord goes and calls the publican Matthew as he was in the performance of his office, sitting at the receipt of custom. Obedient to the Messiah's call, Matthew not only follows Him at once, but invites Jesus to sit at meat in the house. "And, behold, many publicans and sinners came and sat down with Him and His disciples. And when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto His disciples, Why eateth your Master with publicans and sinners?" It was a positive clear subversion of all propriety and order in the eyes of a Jew. To sit down at meat without the least feeling of contempt for these publicans and sinners was, indeed, strange in the eyes of the Pharisees. What was the Lord doing? He was displaying God's grace increasingly - all the more unbelief broke out from the merely outwardly-religious people: for persons can have thoughts of God, but not founded upon His word, and may be ever so earnest out of their own minds and hearts, but without either faith or light from God. On the one hand, these men proved their total unbelief in Jesus and His glory; but, on the other hand, God, in the person of Jesus, was going farther in His grace and more counter to the thoughts of these religious people in Israel. He calls Matthew, and He eats with these publicans and sinners; and when fault is found with it by the Pharisees to the disciples, the Lord at once produces that blessed word from the Old Testament, "I will have mercy, and not sacrifice" - for "I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." He vindicates this call and maintains it, not as an exceptional case, but as a principle.
It was what God was come down to make good upon earth. It was not the law, but grace now. This gives rise to something further, and a very instructive word from the Lord is brought before us here. The disciples were found fault with because they did not fast like the disciples of John and the Pharisees. And the Lord gives this reason for it: "Can the children of the bride-chamber mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them?" That is, He shows the absurdity of fasting when the source of all their joy was there. How utterly contrary would it have been to their faith in Him, the Messiah, to submit to this mark of sorrow and humiliation, in the presence of the spring of all their joy and gladness! But there was something deeper than that to be learned. There was not only the presence of One that the disciples understood, and that the others did not, but the Lord shows that you cannot mingle the prescriptions that flow from the law with the principles and power of divine grace (a most important principle, and the very one that Christendom has practically destroyed). For what has brought about the present state of Christendom? Christianity is the system of grace in Christ maintained in holiness by the Holy Ghost among those that believe. Christendom is the great house of profession, where there are unclean vessels mingled with those that are to honour where principles abound and reign that never came from Christ, and that are adopted, some of them from Judaism, others out of people's own wit, without respect to the Bible. But what the Lord shows is, that even if you take what God once sanctioned under the law, it will not do now. The same God who tried Israel by the law has sent the gospel; and it is the gospel that He is sending now, and not the law. It is grace that we have to do with. It is Christ risen and in heaven that I am in relationship with, and not with the law. I am dead to the, law if I am a Christian. Christendom has forgotten and departed from that; and, arguing from the premises that the law is good, and the gospel also, they say, Will it not be much surer to put them together? The result is, that what our Lord said should not be done, men have been aiming at with the utmost diligence. They have tried to put the new wine into old bottles: that is to say, put the joy-producing grace into the receptacles of legal principles. The Lord has brought in new wine, and He wants new bottles.
The inner virtue and power of Christianity must clothe itself with its own proper forms. The new garments are the due manifestation of the gospel, which totally differs from ways framed according to the law. Legalism is the old garb, and it is despising the goodness of God to merely patch up the old one. And after all, it will never succeed. The attempt will only make the old worse. This is what Christendom has done. It has tried to mend the old garment with the new piece - to bring a certain measure of Christian morals into the old garment as a sort of improvement upon Judaism. And what has been the result? Besides, there is the pouring of the new wine into old bottles. There is a certain measure of the preaching of Christ, but it is so much in connection with the old bottles! These verses embrace both the outward development and the inward power, and show that Christianity is entirely a new thing, and one that cannot be mingled with the law. If you find a man who thinks he has got some righteousness of his own, you can cut him down by the law. This is the legitimate use of the law. He is really ungodly, and you use the law to prove that he is so. But in the Christian we have one who is godly; and the law, as Paul expressly insists, is not for him. I am not to put the new wine into old bottles, nor the old into new. This leads the Lord to bring out the entire newness of the conduct and principles that flow from Himself and from His grace. And all this was strongly opposed to the thoughts and prejudices of the scribes and Pharisees, who came in afterwards with their questions about fasts. Not that fasting is not a Christian duty (we already looked at this in chapter 6); but then, it must be on Christian principles, and not on Jewish ones.
Now we come to an incident of the deepest interest. A ruler of the synagogue sends for our Lord to heal his daughter, then comes and worships Him, saying, "My daughter is even now dead; but come and lay Thy hand upon her, and she shall live. And Jesus arose and followed him, and so did His disciples" (vers. 18, 19). That was exactly an illustration of the Lord's attitude towards Israel. He was there with life in Himself? Israel was like the maid that needed Him; she had no life in her: such was Israel's condition. But the Lord is at once roused, and goes at the call of the ruler. He owns the claim of faith, let it be ever so feeble. The centurion knew that a word would be enough; but this Jewish ruler, with the natural thought of a Jew, wants the Lord to come to his house and lay His hand upon his daughter that she might live. He connected the Lord's personal presence with the blessing that was to be conferred upon his sick child; whereas, we Gentiles walk by faith, and not by sight. We believe in and love one that we do not see. The Jews look for one whom they shall see; and they will have Him in this way. As Thomas, after eight days, was allowed to see the Lord, and bidden to thrust his hand into His side, and see in His hands the print of the nails, so will it be with Israel. "They shall look upon Me whom they have pierced." Whereas, we believe in Him on whom we have not looked. So that our position is a totally different one from that of Israel.
Now in this case the Lord hears the summons, and goes at once to raise up the dead daughter of the Jewish ruler. But while He is going, a woman touches Him. While the Lord's errand is to Israel - and so it was, and it only remains suspended - while He is on the way, whoever comes, whoever touches, gets the blessing. No unbelief of scribes, no self -righteousness of Pharisees, ever would or could hinder the Lord in His mission of love. He was about to bring in new principles which would not mix with the law - grace that would go out to all, and would meet the worst; which is plainly set forth by this woman who comes and touches Him. But first of all you have the pledge of the resurrection of Israel; for we have the warrant of the word of God for looking at the condition of Israel as one of death. Look, for instance, at Ezek. 37, where Israel is compared to dry bones. "Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel: behold, they say, Our bones are dried, and our hope is lost. . . . Behold, O My people, I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves. . . . And ye shall live, and I shall place you in your own land." So, I believe, in this miracle. It represents, not merely the conversion of dead sinners, but the raising of Israel as a nation. The Lord was refused by the people who had the deepest responsibility to receive Him; but most surely, as He raised up that young woman from the bed of death, so surely will He restore Israel in a day that is coming. But meanwhile, whoever comes gets the healing and the blessing. So it was with this poor woman. The Lord not only gives her the consciousness that she is healed, but lets her know that His affections were thoroughly with her. "Daughter" He says to her, "be of good comfort; thy faith hath made thee whole." There was at once the word of assurance. The Lord puts His seal upon what her faith had done, though she had done it tremblingly.* Then, in due time, we have the raising up of the one who was dead, in whom it was not a question of faith, but of the power of God and of His faithfulness to His own promise.
*Let us note this open confession of Christ unto salvation. In Mark 5:30-34 and Luke 8:45-48 we see how the Lord draws out and urges the timid soul to an open confession of grace received through the touch of faith. Then follow the Lord's blessed words of assurance and of relationship: "Daughter, . . . go in peace," which her confession brings out, to her lasting joy and comfort. Ed.
After this (ver. 27) we find that two blind men follow Him: elsewhere only one of them is mentioned; but I believe that both are mentioned here for the same reason as we had the two demoniacs. They cry and say to Him, "Thou Son of David, have mercy on us." It is the confession of Christ as connected with Israel. They address Him as Son of David. The Lord asked them, "Believe ye that I am able to do this? They said unto Him, Yea, Lord. Then touched He their eyes, saying, According to your faith be it unto you. And their eyes were opened" (vers. 28-30). Then came the dumb man possessed with a devil: "And when the devil was cast out, the dumb spake; and the multitudes marvelled, saying, It was never so seen in Israel" (ver. 33). I believe that all this is brought together for the same purpose. The Lord was giving type after type, and pledge upon pledge, that Israel would not be forgotten, that Israel would be raised out of death: let them be ever so blind, they would see; ever so dumb, they would speak. Let the Pharisees and scribes be utterly unbelieving and blasphemous, and ready to turn away all from Christ - let it be so now; but death would give way, blindness would be removed, speech would be given to Israel, in a day that was coming. The very confession of the multitude was, that it had never been so seen in Israel.
Let me repeat that in thus applying these miracles of our Lord I am not at all denying the blessing of any part of these for a soul now. But this is no reason to prove that the Lord has not an ulterior view which we ought not to forget. "But the Pharisees said, He casteth out devils through the prince of the devils" (ver. 34). What could be worse than this? Was it not in principle blasphemy against the Holy Ghost? Such is the form which that sin took then. There was the power of the Holy Ghost which wrought in Christ and through Him; and they attributed this power to Satan. There could not be anything more determined than such hostility. They were not able to deny the righteousness of the man, nor the facts of superhuman energy; but they might attribute the power that was entirely above man, not to God, but to the adversary; and they did so. Their ruin was complete and final. What more terrible! Nothing could convince a man where all these evidences and appeals had been lavished upon him; and the end of it all was that, not the ignorant only, but the wise, the religious, the Pharisee priding himself in the law, the choicest part to man's eye of the chosen nation - even they said, "He casteth out devils through the prince of the devils."
Nothing more is needed. The Lord might send out a testimony through others; but as far as His own ministry was concerned, it was virtually at an end. He sends out the twelve immediately after; but it all comes to the same thing. The Lord is utterly rejected, as we see in Matthew 11. And then Matthew 12 gives the final pronouncing of the judgment on that generation. That sin of which they had been guilty would ripen into blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, and could not be forgiven them, either in this age or in that to come. The consequence is that the Lord turns from the unbelieving race, and introduces the kingdom of heaven, in connection with which He gives us all the parables in Matthew 13. He takes the place of a sower, no longer. looking to gather fruit from Israel, and addresses Himself to the new work in this world that He was about to undertake - which He still carries on to the present moment, though now through the instrumentality of others. So that the beauty of all this arrangement of the Gospel of Matthew cannot be surpassed, though the other Gospels are, for their own objects, equally perfect. Each presents the facts of our Lord's history so as to give a distinct view of Christ's person or service, with the effects of its display; and we ought to understand them all.
May the Lord grant that the effect of looking at these things may be, not only that we may know the Scriptures, but Jesus better! This is what we have most of all to cultivate - that we may understand the ways of God, the wonderful ways of His love, all expressed in Jesus.
And, behold, they brought to him a man sick of the palsy, lying on a bed: and Jesus seeing their faith said unto the sick of the palsy; Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee.
And, behold, certain of the scribes said within themselves, This man blasphemeth.
And Jesus knowing their thoughts said, Wherefore think ye evil in your hearts?
For whether is easier, to say, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Arise, and walk?
But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins, (then saith he to the sick of the palsy,) Arise, take up thy bed, and go unto thine house.
And he arose, and departed to his house.
But when the multitudes saw it, they marvelled, and glorified God, which had given such power unto men.
And as Jesus passed forth from thence, he saw a man, named Matthew, sitting at the receipt of custom: and he saith unto him, Follow me. And he arose, and followed him.
And it came to pass, as Jesus sat at meat in the house, behold, many publicans and sinners came and sat down with him and his disciples.
And when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto his disciples, Why eateth your Master with publicans and sinners?
But when Jesus heard that, he said unto them, They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick.
But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.
Then came to him the disciples of John, saying, Why do we and the Pharisees fast oft, but thy disciples fast not?
And Jesus said unto them, Can the children of the bridechamber mourn, as long as the bridegroom is with them? but the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken from them, and then shall they fast.
No man putteth a piece of new cloth unto an old garment, for that which is put in to fill it up taketh from the garment, and the rent is made worse.
Neither do men put new wine into old bottles: else the bottles break, and the wine runneth out, and the bottles perish: but they put new wine into new bottles, and both are preserved.
While he spake these things unto them, behold, there came a certain ruler, and worshipped him, saying, My daughter is even now dead: but come and lay thy hand upon her, and she shall live.
And Jesus arose, and followed him, and so did his disciples.
And, behold, a woman, which was diseased with an issue of blood twelve years, came behind him, and touched the hem of his garment:
For she said within herself, If I may but touch his garment, I shall be whole.
But Jesus turned him about, and when he saw her, he said, Daughter, be of good comfort; thy faith hath made thee whole. And the woman was made whole from that hour.
And when Jesus came into the ruler's house, and saw the minstrels and the people making a noise,
He said unto them, Give place: for the maid is not dead, but sleepeth. And they laughed him to scorn.
But when the people were put forth, he went in, and took her by the hand, and the maid arose.
And the fame hereof went abroad into all that land.
And when Jesus departed thence, two blind men followed him, crying, and saying, Thou Son of David, have mercy on us.
And when he was come into the house, the blind men came to him: and Jesus saith unto them, Believe ye that I am able to do this? They said unto him, Yea, Lord.
Then touched he their eyes, saying, According to your faith be it unto you.
And their eyes were opened; and Jesus straitly charged them, saying, See that no man know it.
But they, when they were departed, spread abroad his fame in all that country.
As they went out, behold, they brought to him a dumb man possessed with a devil.
And when the devil was cast out, the dumb spake: and the multitudes marvelled, saying, It was never so seen in Israel.
But the Pharisees said, He casteth out devils through the prince of the devils.
And Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people.
But when he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion on them, because they fainted, and were scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd.
Then saith he unto his disciples, The harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few;
Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth labourers into his harvest.