Responding to Jesus - Matthew 9:14–26
Much of what we do in the course of a day is a response to something else. From the time we wake up, we respond to our hunger or our need for coffee. When we get dressed, we respond to the weather. As the day begins, we respond to the people around us, to our texts and emails, to our fears and worries, to our longings for things in life. Maybe you respond to the music you hear by singing along. We respond to problems that present themselves at work or at home. And without sounding clichéd or trite, I want to you consider this question: how do you respond to Jesus, to his claims about himself? If you believe in him and would say you follow him, how do you respond to what he has said and done for you, and that to which he calls you?
The four gospels of the New Testament are filled with examples of responses to him. Not all good ones! It seems that common responses to Jesus were either self-righteousness or skepticism. You and I display both at various times. We either underestimate our need for his saving work, or we doubt his divine power. Yet the Scriptures tell us that God works in his people so that instead of self-righteousness, we can respond to Jesus with true repentance, and instead of skepticism, we can respond to him with true faith.
We should desire true repentance and faith, not just at the time we are born again, but everyday. But how can we tell if those things are present in our lives? Well, here in Matthew 9, we receive insight from some responses to Jesus. And we learn two things: True repentance is marked by a joyful sense of freedom and true faith is marked by a humble sense of expectation. You’ll see those points outlined on page 6 in your worship guide to help you follow along. So, let’s look at both of these.
Starting with verse 14, Jesus encounters what Matthew calls some “disciples of John.” These were people who followed John the Baptist at one time, and they still existed as a group even after John was put in prison for speaking out against the evil king Herod. But in the gospel of John, chapter 3, John The Baptist stated that he must decrease and Jesus must increase. In other words, he urged his followers to follow Jesus and look to Jesus for direction. Many who followed John began to follow Jesus, but these people did not and they formed something of a rival group.
Evidently, they found a sort of kinship with the Pharisees, who adhered to additional religious practices which they treated as God’s Word. Those practices included many fasts that were performed in addition to the 24 hour fast prescribed in the Torah as the Day of Atonement. Their goal is all the fasting was to demonstrate grief over sin,
strong discipline of the body and soul, and general self-denial. As a result, they felt very devout and spiritual, others viewed them that way. Naturally, they took great pride in that – people looked up to them and looked down at others. Last week, we saw what this way of thinking produced in the Pharisees: they questioned Jesus’ time spent with so-called “sinners.”
Here we see more of that self-righteousness. Jesus responds, verse 15, by saying, “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? This wedding comparison is common in the New Testament for describing the relationship between him and his church: it’s like a groom and a bride. The presence of Jesus on earth at that time with his disciples was like a wedding reception. It was a happy time. A celebration, not time for grief. Wonderful, amazing things were taking place. In a way, heaven had come to earth. Why would they be mourning? Then, Jesus alludes to his own death, and probably also to the time after his ascension. He says, “The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.” They would grieve his absence – they would grieve his death. They would rejoice in his resurrection but then they would have to practice self-denial and self-discipline as they waited for his return. All followers of Christ must do that, even today.
But even that self-denial that we should practice as believers is different from what these rogue disciples of John The Baptist were doing. How so? Well, the attitude of these disciples of John did not fit with the coming of Jesus. So, in verses 16-17, Jesus gives two examples related to “fit.” Let’s look at these. First illustration: you have an old garment with a hole that needs a patch. You should patch it with a similar piece of cloth, one that has shrunk as cloth naturally does. Not a new, unshrunk piece. If you put on a new piece that is unshrunk like the old cloth, the new piece will eventually shrink and when it does, it will pull and tear the garment. The old cloth can’t handle the new patch.
you have old wineskins, these containers made from animal hide. When wine was poured in new skins, the wine would ferment and give off gases, but the animal skin would expand to contain the gases and the wine. However, if you emptied the old, already stretched-out wineskin, which had dried and become hard, and then poured in new, still-to-be-fermented wine, when the fermentation takes place, the container would need to stretch more, but couldn’t, and it would crack and burst. The old wineskin can’t handle the new wine. What does Jesus mean to say here? He means to say that the coming of his kingdom would not fit the old ways of Judaism.
The various ceremonial laws were no longer appropriate. For instance, in Christ, we don’t have extensive rituals to be made clean before God. We don’t shed animal blood to remember that blood is necessary to assuage the wrath of God. There are no prescribed fasts in the New Covenant, although Jesus says his disciples would fast at times. There are no foods to avoid that will make us unclean. Jesus makes us clean by his blood. His blood assuaged the wrath of God. Those old ways fit in the time of the Old Covenant. But they no longer fit. What fits God’s people in the New Covenant era is repentance marked by a sense of joyful freedom.
Imagine that you have to take a test. Let’s say it’s a math test. And you feel the pressure to do well. You worry about it, maybe lose sleep or lose your appetite when you think about it. You’re anxious. But then you find out, right before the exam, that it’s going to be an open-book test. In fact, because it’s open book, you’re being awarded with a perfect score. After all, you have all the answers. But still, you are required to take the test. You still must sit down and put in the labor. You’re kind of confused inwardly. But the teacher writes a reminder on the board that you can view anytime. It is a reminder that your test score is already settled. It’s already been recorded. Now, you’re not the only one in the classroom and some people choose to get up and leave. They figure, “why be here, I already passed.”
But in doing that, they miss something very important: the authority of the teacher. The authority of the one who gives the passing grade. The teacher didn’t just say “You have a passing grade. Class dismissed.” The teacher said, “You have a passing grade. Remain here and complete the test.” So, some leave, but you stay, and you dig in. And even with the open-book, the test is overwhelming at times. But periodically, you raise your head and view the board. And you remember that your grade is already recorded. That the work is complete.
And knowing this causes your heart to swell with joy and relief. You received an outstanding gift, and you experience real freedom. And rejoicing, you continue with the test. What is required of you is not to score perfectly by your own merit. Rather, what is required is that you respond with obedience and discipline, which you can do with a sense of joyful freedom. This is how believers approach repentance and the self-denial of the Christian life. Repentance and self-denial are not easy; but they are necessary. In fact, they are a blessing. It is a blessing to turn from death and turn to life, to turn from the emptiness of our naturally sinful ways to the wholeness of God’s righteous ways.
We are blessed to repent, both to God and to others, and to have our relationships restored. We are blessed to deny ourselves at certain times as the HS leads us to draw near to God. We are blessed to fast continually from things that don’t bring glory to God, yet to enjoy all the good things he’s made for his glory and our joy. To repent, we express grief over the sin in our lives, we admit that sin (either to God or to those we sin against) and we determine to turn from it and follow Jesus. So, we need repentance, but we also need faith. Look with me at these next verses.
In this section, the divine power of Jesus on display. He could not be tamed by Old Covenant ways. It’s no coincidence that both the Old Testament and New Testament refer to him as a lion – roaring. The miracles of Jesus demonstrate his divine authority and control. Here, a synagogue ruler comes to Jesus in faith, asking him to heal his daughter who was about to die. We learn in the gospel of Mark that while Jesus is in route, she did, in fact, pass away. Interestingly, in this next section we see a case of uncleanliness, which seems to connect it to the verse right before. On the way to heal the little girl, this woman approaches Jesus and she has an internal hemorrhage.
Matthew says she had been this way 12 years. Doctors could not help her. She was likely an outcast in society, because of the bleeding, rejection similar to the tax collectors and sinners we read of last week. She wanted to be healed by Jesus. And so strong was her faith that she felt she only needed to touch his clothing. There was likely some internal shame on her part. But notice what Jesus says in verse , Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.” This woman came to Jesus with a humble sense of expectation. And He speaks to her in a loving, kind way, and he makes her well. Jesus then goes on to the house of the synagogue ruler. There are professional mourners present: people hired to sing and grieve, which was customary. Notice their response to Jesus. Verse , he said, “Go away, for the girl is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him. No humble expectation of what Jesus might do. Instead, they scoffed. And Jesus raises the girl from the dead. These are simple examples of faith versus sight.
Are you comfortable with faith? You know, it can be a battle at times to walk by faith. But fighting the battle – that’s faith too. In Ephesians 6, the apostle Paul tells the early church that they need the full armor of God. It’s a war out there. We need to be covered and ready. Listen to his words. He says,
 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.  Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.  For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.  Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.  Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness,  and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace.  In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one.
Faith is like a shield. And who is the object of our faith as believers? We see it here in Matthew 9: Jesus Christ. The synagogue ruler and the bleeding woman had true faith in the eternal Son of God. True faith will trust and wait. It does not demand immediate results. That doesn’t make it a blind or illogical faith. Logical faith can trust and wait. In fact, that is the kind of faith that is demonstrated in the gospels, and throughout the Bible. True faith is humble because the person of faith understands with whom he or she is dealing. Not just some other person over whom we can exercise our influence. We are dealing with the one true God.
How do you respond to the living Christ each day? God offers joyful repentance and humble faith to those who seek him, who cry out to him. Like I said at the beginning, these are things that God gives. Surrender yourself to the Lord and receive these things. Receive him by repentance and faith in Jesus, and continue to walk in those each day.
Let’s bow in prayer.