COURIERS OF TRUSTWORTHINESS OF JESUS:
MATTHEW 9. 18-34
In our journey along the way of Jesus’ confrontation with the world, one thing stands out whenever the confrontation occurs--the sheer trustworthiness of Jesus. There is in Jesus a center, an integrity, a fidelity that makes Him utterly trustworthy. I suggest at least four facets of Jesus’ profound trustworthiness.
I. Jesus is trustworthy with respect to the purposes for which He came (“He came to seek and save the lost”). There cannot be trustworthiness in the abstract. One can only be trustworthy with respect to an assignment, a mission, a responsibility or an obligation. Jesus was trustworthy regarding His mission. The sequences of miracles (in chps. 8-9) are topically arranged. (Compare parallel reports in the other gospels) Jesus’ miracles underline Jesus’ mission and authority. The miracles reported in chapter 9.18-19; 23-31 tell of the healing of the blind man and the woman with a hemorrhage. The third miracle is the exorcism and the consequences of the exorcism and the healing of the mute (9.32-34). These were three types of miracles--raising the dead, healing the blind and the dumb made to speak. Just two chapters later, John the Baptist, languishing in prison and troubled that Jesus is not taking strong action to bring about justice in the land, sends envoys to Jesus to ask Him if He is the one who was to come or if they should expect someone else (11.2). Jesus replies with words evocative of Isaiah 35.5-6 and 61.1 - “Go back and report to John what you hear and see. . .” “Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.” (Matthew 11.4-6)
Clearly Jesus’ miracles have prepared the way for Jesus’ response. Jesus’ miracles are His messianic credentials. His miracles are performed and recorded to demonstrate that Jesus is indeed the one predicted by the Old Testament prophets. Jesus must prove the structures of His messianic role. He emphatically credentials His trustworthiness. Here we see the simple truth that Jesus truly is the promised Messiah and is trustworthy to accomplish the purpose of His mission (“e.g. He came to save His people from their sin (1.21). He is utterly trustworthy in meeting the purpose for which He came and those purposes are bound up with the good of His people.
II. Jesus is Trustworthy Even in the Face of Scorn and Slander. The scorn is heard in the laughter of the crowd when Jesus tells them to “Go away, the girl is not dead but only asleep” (9.24) (sleep is often a medical euphemism for death (John 11.11; Acts 7.60; I Cor. 15.6,18; I Thess. 4.13-15). Jesus is not making a diagnosis but a Christological claim. Part of His mission was to be rejected (e.g. The Suffering Servant in Isaiah 53). His perseverance under attack becomes a microcosm of the suffering of the cross that lay ahead.
We must note the results from the slanderous attacks after Jesus had driven the demons out of the mute, “the crowd was amazed and said, ‘Nothing like this has ever been seen in Israel (9.33). The Pharisees said, “It is by the prince of demons that He drives out demons (9.34). Satan often directly misrepresented His motives and maligned His miracles. He came to fulfil the Scriptures; they believed He was perverting Scriptures. It is hard to persevere with calm integrity when we are so thoroughly misunderstood, so systematically slandered. Jesus proved trustworthy in the face of scorn and slander, but this was precisely because it was part of His Mission. The movement is towards The Cross.
In this drama, Satan plays a major part. It is very problematic for post moderns in 2000 to pay positive attention to Satan and Evil Spirits, but it would be a serious error for Christians to prematurely dismiss evil’s supernatural power at work in our lives and the social fabric of our natural and global life (e.g. note the charge of the Pharisees in 12.23). Jesus’ reply is that Satan would not destroy his own kingdom. Jesus reply, “If I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the Kingdom of God come upon you” (12.28). Only Jesus’ reply is adequate to the challenge. God’s kingdom is operating among the people. It “has come upon you.”
Jesus’ opponents often misrepresented His motives and maligned His miracles; without real miracles there could be no counterfeit miracles. Part of our ability to handle opposition, scorn and slander is the same way that Jesus did.
III. Jesus is Trustworthy; even the faith of others to appreciate Him, as long as it issues from needs and is focused in Christ.
A. This is a very stabilizing factor in a Christian’s faith.
B. Great faith plays a vital role in the three preceding chapters.
1. Jesus stood between God and man in much the same way that a centurion stood between Rome and the common boot soldier, e.g., when the centurion spoke, Rome spoke; when Jesus spoke, God spoke. The chain of authority is vital in both examples. Jesus was surprised at his faith.
2. In contrast in 8.25,26 we saw an example of bankrupt faith. Could their belief in Jesus as the Messiah die in a storm?
3. God’s mission could not be destroyed by a storm. Their faith was poor, yet Jesus performed the miracle that calmed their fears.
4. There are two references to faith in 9.20ff. In the first we encounter the woman with the haemorrhage. Note the briefness which Jesus addresses her condition (“she has suffered for twelve long years”). Her bleeding would have made her unclean, according to Jewish law, yet she was in the crowd where she could have contaminated many. Certainly, she would not have touched Jesus. Her faith is mingled with superstition (e.g., she thinks even touching a piece of cloth can heal her, see also Acts 5, the power of Peter’s shadow).
5. Jesus transcends her superstition and honors her faith and she is healed--“take heart, daughter,” he says, “your faith has healed you.”
6. Finally, in the healing of the two blind men (9.27-31) Jesus asks if they really believe He is able to meet their request (9.28). They reply “yes” and Jesus heals them “according to your faith will this be done to you” (9.29); and their vision is restored. We must note that this miracle was not in proportion to their faith.
7. The diversity of these exhibitions of faith that heals, that saves, that transforms. The faith that saves is the faith whose objects is Jesus; and in reality it is Jesus who saves. In each of the above cases faith is directed toward Jesus and is the expression we need. Such faith is necessary to apprehend the blessings Jesus brings; at the end of the day, it is not so much the strength or purity of the faith that is at stake, but whether or not faith issues from self-acknowledged need and is directed to the one who has the power to meet that need, Lord Jesus Himself.
There is little virtue in faith in the abstract. If my faith has as its object Krishna or the Sacred Mushroom or the Marxist hope for a better world (our millennial hope of a brave new world) completely free of struggle and injustice, then by all biblical evidence my faith is worthless (James 1.22-25; 2.16-26; compare works in Romans, Galatians and James). “Faith without works is useless, barren! Faith must be founded on facts; the truthfulness of the revelation of Jesus Christ is everywhere presupposed to the Corinthians; Paul said that if you are right about denying the resurrection, then our Christian faith is futile or meaningless (I Cor. 15.17). On the other hand, as James 2.19 points out, if faith has a proper object but is merely credal, then the devils themselves can be said to believe but with no saving benefit to them. Faith not only must have a proper object but also must issue from need and be characterized by genuine trust and obedience.
Faith, not based in facts, and gratified by trust and obedience, is not presented anywhere in scripture, any more than mere sincerity is (e.g. contra Kierkegaard’s “Leap of Faith” and Freud’s reduction of faith to irrational neurosis (e.g. “Faith to Faith”).
Doubter sincerity is better than insincerity, but one maybe simultaneously sincere and entirely mistaken; the real virtue then is not in faith itself so much as in that which faith rightly apprehends. Our faith systems produce visible results. The ultimate difference between faith in any system of belief and faith in Jesus Christ is based in The Trustworthiness of Jesus. Here we focus on Jesus and human needs. A supreme example is the Passover memories. The Passover celebration stands or falls on the historical event of the succession of plagues that befell Egypt and had spilled over into the land of Goshen. How can keeping the ceremony affect such results? Because God said so and I believe Him. We learn this same lesson from Jesus in The Gospels. We do not wrench blessings from Jesus by somehow increasing the intensity of our faith. Our faith ultimately rests on Jesus’ faithfulness. True trustworthiness without God’s faithfulness is futile (see esp. Romans 1.17 and Habakkuk 2.4, “We are justified by God’s faithfulness” and our faith).
IV. Jesus is Trustworthy even when some seek to sidetrack His mission. There were (and are) always people around who were trying to sidetrack Jesus and His mission (e.g. Matt. 8.4 (the cure of the leper--“be quiet”; and the raising of Jarius’ daughter--the news spread through the whole region (9.26,28,30). Jesus did not allow anyone to sidetrack His mission that the Father had sent him on. The heart of The Temptations was the prospect of kingly rule without continuous submission to the Father’s plan, including the path of The Cross. Jesus’ response to Peter’s audacity to suggest that the cross should have no part in Jesus’ agenda was “Get thee behind me, Satan . . . You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” (Matt. 16.23ff.) Gethsemane was an agonizing desire to escape the cup He was committed to drink (Matt. 26.39). His response was, “Nevertheless, Thy will be done” even though the cross was the symbol of the most awful shame and rejection. He was tempted to escape the pain and ignominy and prove His credentials, by the jeers of the bystanders who “hurled insults at Him, shaking their heads and saying, ‘You who are going to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself! Come down from the cross if you are the Son of God!’ “ (Matt. 27.39-40).
But if popularity and the attendant acclaim of the masses could not seduce Jesus or veer him from His course, neither could shame, mockery and the self-conscious attempts to sidetrack Him from His mission. As His ministry progressed and opposition mounted, Jesus became more and more set on the course He was pursuing. There are few religious leaders who are not spoiled by acclaim and even fewer who keep their perspectives and integrity under intense fire. But Jesus proves utterly trustworthy even when some seek to sidetrack His mission. Note the disparity between our Lord’s mission and postmodern politicians who compromise their goals by “non-partisan positions,” which is impossible, even as neutrality is impossible.
Compromise for the sake of winning is the name of the game in our postmodern cultural/political wars. Here we see the “Ugly Side of Tolerance” where the trustworthiness and redemptive love of Jesus are most visible (Hebrews 3.1ff., Charles Colson’s article in Christianity Today, February issue, on the back page). In our postmodern culture, trustworthiness is not a virtue! In fact, we are faced with the Death of Outrage (Bill Bennett’s book). Jesus’ declaration that “I am The Door” - “I am The Life” - “I am The Way” - “I am The Truth” places Him in an intolerant mode.
In our culture, hard line Hindu leaders demanded that the Pope publicly disavow that Jesus is “the only way” to salvation. In media the term “bigoted” is a prefix for “Christian.” One Bible Belt columnist decried the “audacity of Southern Baptists” to condemn alternative views of access to salvation. Memories of the Holocaust and pogroms have strained Jewish and Christian relationships. Voices are diverse such as the Anti-Defamation League (to fight anti Christian bigotry) and Abraham Foxman have attacked our commitment to Jesus Christ as the only Lord as intolerable. The redefinition of tolerance from Mill and Locke and the great liberal vision of a society in which ideas arise from a plurality of interests, which would be freely exchanged.
But in our postmodern redactionist environment, pluralism no longer means tolerating competing ideas, but rather forced neutrality--no one should express any idea that could offend another. Author Gary Phillips writes that the object of today’s dialogue is “no longer a search for any kind of normative truth, but an exercise in social healing for marginalized groups.”
The redefinition of tolerance could have a serious effect on Christian witness. It is one thing to restrain religious activities in Church/State conflicts, but something else altogether when the cultural pressures stifle the practice of religious beliefs. To proclaim the “good news” is, after all, the core of evangelical belief.
How should Christians respond? (1) We are to remain loving; (2) We must stand in our convictions. Many evangelicals seem so bent on being acceptable to the culture that they avoid any practice that might put off the unsaved. John Paul II set a great example of standing firm in his visit to India. Despite the threats of rioting mobs, he exhorted his bishops to evangelize, emphasizing Jesus as the only way to salvation. (3) We must design and articulate an effective apologetic. The Gospel of The Cross is an “exclusive message.” All roads do not lead to heaven!
Post Modernism seeks to style truth claims with cultural pressure and speech codes. These attempts should only encourage us to press home our case lovingly but vigorously. Our postmodern culture is a direct attack on Jesus’ trustworthiness to His mission.
James Strauss, Lincoln, IL 62656