“Learn What that Meaneth”
“And he entered into a ship, and passed over, and came into his own city. 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 multitude 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.”
The Gadarenes, resenting the loss of their hogs, were disgusted with the Son of God and urged him to “depart from their coasts.” So he did. He entered into a ship and crossed over the Sea of Galilee, and came into the city of Capernaum. Capernaum is here designated “his own city,” because, at present it was the principle place of his residence and the principle city of his ministry. All that is recorded in this chapter took place in Capernaum. In just the opening verse of this instructive chapter we see a clear display both of our Lord’s justice and of his mercy.
Here is his justice. – When the Gadarenes bid him depart from their coasts, he did! Not only did he depart, he departed never to return! The Son of God will not tarry where he is not wanted. In righteous judgment he forsakes those places and those people where he is neglected. Those who become weary of him will not be bothered by him.
Here is his mercy. – The Gadarenes who spurned him, by their hardness of heart and unbelief, sent the Savior of the world to Capernaum, where he performed all the mighty works described in this chapter upon chosen sinners for the glory of God. The miracles performed by Christ and the events recorded in this chapter are designed to teach us who Jesus Christ is, and what he came to do. Let me show you five things in verses 1-13. May God the Holy Spirit be our teacher. I pray that he will take the things of Christ and show them to us.
The first thing clearly demonstrated in this ninth chapter is the fact that the man Christ Jesus is the God of grace, forgiveness, and everlasting salvation. — “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” (v. 2). Here the Lord Jesus publicly declares himself to be God by absolving the sins of the paralyzed man who lay before him.
“They brought to him a man sick of the palsy, lying on a bed.” — Here is a sick man with caring friends. They could not heal their friend. But they knew he could be healed. So they brought him to the Master in hopes that he would heal him. And he did what they hoped he would do (Mark 2:3). What an encouragement this should be to us to bring sinners to hear the gospel. With regard to the souls of men, the sphere of our ability is the sphere of our responsibility. We cannot save anyone; but we can bring sinners to the place where the gospel is preached and Christ is worshipped, laying them at the Savior’s feet, praying for him to have mercy upon them.
Those standing by Lazarus’ tomb could not raise Lazarus from the dead; but they could take the stone away from the tomb. Therefore, the Lord Jesus graciously commanded them to do so, and gave them the privilege of doing so (John 11:39). So it is with us. We cannot perform the miracle of grace. Yet, the Lord commands us to proclaim his grace to poor, needy sinners, and gives us the privilege of being instruments in his hands, by which he calls out his own elect.
Faith and Forgiveness
“Jesus seeing their faith said unto the sick of the palsy; Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee.” — I find that statement remarkable. God honors faith. When the Lord Jesus saw their faith, the faith of those four friends and of the man who lay before him, he granted forgiveness. Wherever there is faith in Christ, there is assurance of adoption. The Savior called this man “Son.” It is a word that implies sonship. Here, the Master publicly owned this sinner as his own child (Gal. 4:6; 1 John 3:1; Rom. 8:16-17). Wherever there is assurance of sonship, there is cause for cheer.
The Savior said, “Son, be of good cheer.” Even before healing him, before giving any indication that he would heal him, the Savior said, “Be of good cheer!” If I am a child of God I have reason to be of good cheer, no matter what my earthly condition is (Phil. 4:4).
Wherever there is faith, there is forgiveness. — “Thy sins be forgiven thee.” All who trust Christ are forgiven of all their sins. And this forgiveness is complete, immutable (Rom. 8:10), just (1 John 1:9), and perpetual (1 John 2:1-2). The Lord God will never charge the believing sinner with his sins (Rom. 4:8).
He who forgives sin is God our Savior. The Jews said, “This man blasphemeth.” And any mere man who pronounces the forgiveness and absolution of sin is a blasphemer. It matters not whether that man is a pope, an imaginary priest, or a Baptist preacher. But this man is God! He forgave the sins of men while on this earth; and he still forgives the sins of men on earth from his lofty throne in heaven.
It is not insignificant that the first act by which the Lord Jesus demonstrated his eternal power and Godhead was to pardon this man’s sins. The reasoning of the Scribes, though formed in malice, was well founded. None but God himself can forgive sins. “And,” Robert Hawker wrote, “the Lord Jesus, by the exercise of this authority, and in the cure of the body, which immediately followed, proved that he was God.”
Another demonstration of our Redeemer’s divinity was the fact that he knew their thoughts, and acted upon that knowledge, by telling them what they thought. Again, no one knows the thoughts of a man but God (Jer. 17:10. Rev. 2:23). The Lord Jesus Christ, the God of all grace and forgiveness, also demonstrated himself to be the God of perfect and total omniscience, from whom nothing can be hidden.
“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?” (vv. 3-4)
This is he of whom David in the Psalms spoke (Ps. 139:1-6). Jesus Christ is the omniscient, all-seeing, all-knowing God (Heb. 4:12-13). What do you think of in private, when no man sees you? What do you think of in Church, when you are most solemn in appearance? What are you thinking at this moment? The Son of God hears it all perfectly. So strict is his justice that God will judge the very thoughts of men (Rom. 2:16). To the unbeliever, the Lord’s omniscience is terrifying. To the believer, the Lord’s omniscience is most comforting (John 21:17). How we ought to thank God for the blood of Christ that “cleanseth us from all sin!” Let us ever pray for grace to reign even over the thoughts of our minds (Ps. 19:14).
“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 multitude saw it, they marvelled, and glorified God, which had given such power unto men.” (vv. 5-8)
Then, after speaking forgiveness to this man who was “sick of the palsy” and demonstrating that he knew the thoughts of the Pharisees, the Lord Jesus demonstrated his eternal Godhead by healing the man of the palsy. By performing this miracle, the Lord Jesus asserted plainly that he was and is the Messiah (the Christ) by calling himself “the Son of Man.” This was, perhaps, the most common title by which the Jews referred to the Messiah. When John sent his disciples to ask the Master whether he was the Christ who should come, the Lord Jesus referred John’s disciples to those things by which it was unquestionably demonstrated that he was and is the very Son of Man (Isa. 61:1; Matt. 2:2-6). When the Jews attacked him for healing on the sabbath day, our Savior declared that all authority was given to him to execute judgment, because he was the Son of Man. In all the miracles of mercy performed by our great Savior he acted both as our God and our Savior, as the God-man our Mediator, and thereby manifested both who he is and the great mission upon which he came into the world (Matt. 1:21). He who is our Savior is God and man in one person (John 5:17; 17:2-3; Matt. 26:62-65; Col. 2:9-10; 1 Tim. 3:16).
Take joyful notice of our Savior’s tenderness and compassion, as it is set before us here. Though unasked, he pardoned this man’s sins and healed his body. No one can be surprised that the astonished crowd expressed thankfulness to God. But this is, or should be, surprising to all who read this inspired record that after such a great, public demonstration of divine grace, omniscience, and power there appears to have been no saving faith in those who saw and heard these things. But those who are taught of God understand this, too. Faith in Christ is the gift and operation of God the Holy Spirit. Spiritually dead sinners cannot believe, except God the Holy Spirit give them life and faith in Christ (Isa. 6:9-10; Matt. 13:14; Mark 4:12; Luke 8:10; John 12:40; Acts 27:26; Rom. 11:8). Let us never read such passages as this without lifting our hearts in praise and thanksgiving to our great God for his great grace in giving us faith in his darling Son (Eph. 2:8-9; Phil. 1:29).
This man proved himself to be born of God by his unhesitating obedience to his Master’s word. He who was “justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:23), was like “Abraham our father, justified by works” (James 2:21). That is to say, he proved his faith by his works. Obedience is always the fruit of faith. Believers are men and women who are obedient to Christ. That is the tenor and character of their lives.
In the calling and conversion of Matthew we are given an illustration of the fact that our Savior’s call is the irresistible, effectual, saving call of almighty, invincible grace (vv. 8-10).
“But when the multitude 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.”
Matthew’s given name was Levi. But he is called Matthew throughout the New Testament, because he was given by God the Father to the Son. His name means, “gift of God!” He was given to Christ in the covenant of grace before the world began. He is now given to Christ in saving grace (John 6:37-45). And here the Holy Spirit tells us how he received that salvation, which is the gift of God.
Matthew was a publican, tax-collector. He was thoroughly absorbed with his good career. He thought of nothing but money, how to get it, how to spend it, and how to get more. Matthew was not seeking the Lord. He appears not even to have any consciousness of need in his soul. There were no preparations that preceded the Savior’s call. Matthew did not first experience deep feelings of guilt, a great time of mourning and repentance, or even acquire great knowledge. The Savior called; and, as the result of the Savior’s call, Matthew followed him. What grace there is here, surprising, omnipotent, free grace! He who said, “I am found of them that sought me not” (Isa. 65:1), found Matthew, and graciously caused Matthew to find him by the effectual, distinguishing call of his omnipotent mercy.
Can you imagine how utterly surprised Matthew was on that day when grace overtook and conquered him? The fact is God’s saving grace is always surprising in the experience of it. Here is the blessed, sovereign, intervention of grace. The Lord Jesus passed by. He saw Matthew. And he called him. That is the way he works yet today.
Here is the blessed choice and decision of faith. – “He arose and followed him.” Because he followed Christ, this worthless, useless, hated man became a useful man of indescribable benefit to the souls of men. Effectual grace always produces effects in the lives of saved sinners. Matthew wrote this gospel narrative known the world over. He became a blessing to millions. He left a name never to be forgotten. He was a man used of God for much good to many. As soon as the Savior called, he obeyed. No sooner did the Lord Jesus open his heart to receive him than Matthew opened his house to the Savior; and this publican who obtained mercy from the Lord invited other publicans to come and find mercy also. Christ is all; and there is enough in Christ for all.
“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.” (vv. 10-13)
We are here told what the mission and message of Jesus Christ is. He came to save sinners. His message is mercy, grace, and salvation for sinners. He came to show mercy. He came to teach us to show mercy. Let us never forget who we are – Sinners! Let us never forget who Jesus Christ is – The Savior of Sinners!
How delightful it is to see our great Redeemer, encircled at Matthew’s table, with publicans and sinners! The grumbling of the Pharisees was exactly what might have been expected then, and expected today. Such is the activity of Pharisees in all ages. But our Lord’s response to their attempted slander is as delightful as it is instructive. The very character of Christ as the Physician of our souls, Robert Hawker wrote, “naturally led him to haunts of sickness for the exercise of his profession.” By quoting Hosea 6:6, when he said, “I will have mercy, and not sacrifice,” and applying the passage to himself and his great work of saving sinners, our blessed Savior declared himself to be Jehovah-Rophe, “The Lord that healeth thee” (Ex. 15:26).
“Go ye and learn what that meaneth.” — Charles Spurgeon wrote, “Our Lord, having gloriously defended himself from the insinuations of the proud Pharisees, now carries the war into the enemies’ territory. He says to them, ‘Go ye and learn.’” That alone would be galling to men who thought they knew everything already. The Pharisees were a crowd of snobbish, know-it-all, self-righteous religionists. Nothing could have been more offensive to the know-it-all crowd than for the Master to have said, “Go ye, and learn what that meaneth.” Like most, these men never shut up long enough to learn anything, because they presumed that they knew everything. The Lord Jesus told them that they did not even know the meaning of the Scriptures they claimed to believe and defend.
They were told to learn the meaning of Hosea 6:6. Then, the Lord Jesus told them the meaning. To have mercy upon sinners is a work more pleasing to God than the offering of sacrifices and the performance of religious duties. The Son of God prefers to be merciful himself and prefers for us to be merciful, for religion and religious activity without mercy is but a cloak of hypocrisy.
The Lord Jesus came into this world not to be served by the good, but to save the evil. He had come to call to repentance those who needed repentance, and not those who imagine that they are righteous and therefore need no repentance. The Son of God came to save sinners, real sinners. He calls sinners to repentance.
“Come, ye weary, heavy laden,
Bruised and mangled by the fall.
If you tarry ‘til you’re better,
You will never come at all.
Not the righteous, not the righteous,
Sinners Jesus came to call.”