Did you notice yesterday, at the end of Matthew 7, that the crowds were astonished because Jesus was “teaching them as one who had authority”? Now Matthew is showing us how that authority was evidenced in Jesus’ ministry. Later, Jesus will further explain that “all authority in Heaven and on Earth” had been given to Him, but already, Matthew is putting His authority on full display. Healing deformities and disease, restoring sight, kicking out demons, restoring life to a dead girl… These all point to the authority of Christ to command even natural forces. If that wasn’t enough to convince people (it wasn’t, by the way), Jesus gets up out of the bottom of a boat in the middle of a storm, tells the wind and waves to knock it off ~ and they did!
What sort of man is this?!
Certainly, a man with this kind of power should be obeyed. Matthew seems to be saying “Look what Jesus can do. If He can do all that, we better side with Him. Don’t get in the way of what He’s doing, repent and follow this guy.” In the 1st Century Jewish setting, many in the crowds surrounding Jesus were hoping He’d put all that authority and power to work to get rid of the Romans and once again lead the nation of Israel to freedom. But Jesus was a different sort of man. He had something bigger than their national prosperity in mind. As he looked at the crowds, He wasn’t moved by a sense of national pride, but by compassion. His desire wasn’t to get rid of the nation that occupied Judea, but to get rid of the sin that separated His people from His Father.
And for that, there was no political solution. No diplomatic treaty that would return the hearts of the Jewish people to God. Not even their system of ritual and sacrifice would be sufficient. At this point in history, the Jewish system for dealing with sin had, for many, degenerated into little more than keeping lists and following a boat load of regulations. Then making some kind of sacrifice for each infraction. I wonder if much of our religious experience today is any different?
Is the heart missing, like it was for many in Jesus day?
Yes, Jesus has authority. Yes, we should do what He wants.
But what does He really want?
Twice in this section, Jesus aims the Pharisees (and us) at the words of God, delivered by the prophet Hosea.
I want you to be merciful; I don’t want your sacrifices. I want you to know God…
How often are we making our spiritual life all about what we’re sacrificing? What we’re giving up? What we don’t do? But Jesus was a different sort of man than all that. He compassionately wanted to move the people’s hearts back toward God ~ to stop their religious role playing, bring them into restful relationship with Him, and lead them to a real knowledge of the heart of their Father that would move them to compassion and mercy as well.
As we prepare to celebrate the Resurrection, take some time to consider Jesus. What sort of man is He? Can people see that sort of man in us, too?