Picking up in Matthew 9, we see the Lord Jesus performing miracles at the front and end of the chapter. Matthew is called as an Apostle in Matthew 9:9 and even though he is the author, his story takes barely a verse. He immediately follows up the story of his own calling with reference to the multiple tax collectors and other generic “sinners” that Jesus spent time with. Whether these people came to Jesus because He called Matthew or they were already drawn to the Lord is not clear from this passage. What is clear is the compassion and grace of Jesus and His embrace of those who were outcast from society. Even for those who were outcast by their own choice.
From there, we see teaching about fasting in response to questions, and then more miracles of healing. Matthew 9:18-26 tells the story of healing two women. One a young girl, the other an adult who had suffered for as long as the young girl had been alive. The contrasts are worth noting. For example, the girl’s parents sought out and asked for healing while the woman’s effort was to be healed quietly without bothering Jesus. Jesus takes note of her, though, and does not allow Himself to be just a healer. He will bring Himself into a relationship with those who want to be close to Him.
The chapter wraps with the healing of two blind men, the casting out of demons, and the summary of the need for workers in the harvest. The command to pray for harvesters in Matthew 9:37-38 is often used to encourage evangelism. In context, it is also relevant to compassionate work and overall care for people, as it is a response to seeing the people as “sheep without a shepherd.” Jesus is the Good Shepherd, and our call is to bring people to Him.
Let’s take a closer look at Matthew 9:14-17. There are three key ideas in Jesus’ answer to the disciples of John. First, though, note that this is not a trap question like the Pharisees tended to ask. Instead, it is a reasonable assumption that the disciples of John had no interest in trapping Jesus. They simply needed to understand why Jesus was not requiring His disciples to do as they did.
Here are those three key ideas:
1. As in Ecclesiastes, there is a time for everything (Ecclesiastes 3.) That includes a time to celebrate. It would be wrong for the disciples to weep in the presences of Jesus as if He were not there.
2. That there is a time for everything is also reflected in v. 15 where Jesus highlights that the disciples will fast, when He is taken away from them.
3. The above two are the practical outworking of the major point: not everything follows the same path. Spiritually speaking, there is a time for new things which do not fit into the old ways. That does not allow disposing of what is right: wine still goes into wineskins. Jesus does not tell John’s disciples that God has abandoned everything, but rather uses a metaphor of refreshing and restoring.
How do we make these three keys practical?
1. There is a time in your life, in the lives of others, to celebrate and rejoice. There are times when God has shown grace so greatly that to weep would not only be odd, it would be wrong. And to expect others to weep in those times because their exuberance does not feel right to you? Be cautious you do not force others into your box.
2. There is now cause in the lives of believers for weeping and fasting. We do not do so enough, either privately and secretly or corporately and openly. The church-at-large would do well to recapture the idea of fasting.
3. As we look at what it means to put the new wine into the right receptacle, a key caution is this: the major change in God’s work in this world was effected at the Cross. If you have a “new thing” that is different from the change from Old to New (and it isn’t the Millennial Kingdom of Jesus,) then check it hard against the truth of Scripture. Not against your imagination.
And on the opening observation: some questions are traps and tricks. Most, though, are honest efforts to understand. Remember that.
1. Parallel passages for the healing of the woman and the girl are Mark 5:22-43 and Luke 8:41-56.
2. I find the difference in those two miracles most striking in the publicity. Notice that Jesus deliberately highlights the healing of the woman and speaks positively of her. (Calling her “daughter,” for example.) Everyone in the crowd would have known. But for the girl? He sends the crowd away and then raises her from the dead. Mark records an explicit command to keep this a secret (Mark 5:43.)
Why? Why attempt to keep one quiet and broadcast the other?
3. The Pharisaic complaint in 9:34 is similar to what launches the “House Divided” teaching in Luke 11:17-19.