Jesus saw physical and spiritual needs when others did not. He calls us to have the same compassion and to point people to him, their shepherd.
Kelly Minter said that the Christmas season intensifies whatever you are feeling at the time. If you are newly married or have a new grandchild the joy of Christmas is magnified. But if your life has been thrown off center, if you are mourning the loss of someone or struggling with any tragedy, the holidays can be unbearable. Perhaps this is what moved Kay Warren to share about her own experiences of celebrating Christmas for the first time after her son’s tragic death.
Transition – people reacted in different ways to Kay’s piece. But the question for us is how does this reflects the heart of Jesus? Jesus looked beyond the outward surface when he interacted with people, and told us to do the same. Let me show you what I mean.
Exegetical Context: Matthew 9 is a collection of scenes from the ministry of Jesus. The gospel of Matthew opens with an account of Jesus’ birth (the wise men appear in Matthew 2) and then jumps to John the Baptist and Jesus’ temptation. Matthew 5-7 is a section of Jesus’ teaching called the Sermon on the Mount and then in chapters 8 and 9 you have a collection of scenes from Jesus’ ministry. It is meant to show you how Jesus responded to the people he met.
What you begin to see is that Jesus always saw beneath the surface.
Jesus saw a man broken in spirit as well as body
In the first scene Jesus meets a paralyzed man who had been brought to him by his friends. He had a very real physical need and a less obvious spiritual need. When Jesus sees him he tells him that his sins have been forgiven. This would have been troubling to those watching on two fronts. The religious leaders did not think Jesus had the authority to forgive sins and everyone else thought he was avoided the more difficult diagnosis. The man was paralyzed. Of course Jesus knew everything that was happening and what people were thinking.
By addressing this man’s spiritual needs Jesus treats him as more than a paralytic. He is addressing him as a person with both physical and spiritual needs. How many of us would have only seen the obvious, physical need? How many of us would have treated this complex person as a one dimensional person – someone with a disability. Jesus sees more. Then, to prove that he has authority to forgive, he miraculously heals the man. Jesus’ interaction reveals two things: he reminds us that everyone has spiritual needs and that he is the only one who can meet them.
Lets look inward for a moment – what if you were talking to Jesus and you were ready to bring before him all of your current problems – undoubtedly some very real. What if he responded by saying that your sins are forgiven. Would you be tempted to say that you did not have a sin problem? Would you suggest that the problem is your boss, your mortgage, your kids or something else. We can miss the spiritual issues in other people. We can also miss the sin issues in ourselves.
Jesus is the answer to our sin problem, but the next interaction shows us that he doesn’t just want to forgive us and leave us. Forgiving is part of transforming us.
Jesus saw a rich corrupt man who deeply wanted meaning in his life.
Jesus went on from there and saw Matthew who was a tax collector. The tax collector was a notorious person in first century Jewish life because he was often rich and assumed to be corrupt. He was charged with collecting tolls and fees from his own Jewish people and giving them to the occupying Roman forces. They made their money by over charging; whatever they collected beyond the required amount was theirs to keep. It is safe to assume everyone hated tax collectors.
Everyone else saw a rich sinner, a corrupt business man but once again, Jesus saw something deeper. The gospel account says simply that Jesus called Matthew to follow him and he did. There is no more drama, but we know from other accounts of disciples that this meant leaving everything that he had known, his job, his security, but also his connection to the Roman government to followed this Rabbi. What did Jesus see that moved him to call Matthew?
Jesus saw someone who wanted more, someone who was ready leave everything to follow Jesus. He does not address his sin – he calls him to follow and in that came an understanding that he will change. Matthew must have wondered how this Teacher could use someone like him. It was in that moment that he would have explained the he had come to seek and save what was lost and that he had authority on earth to forgive sins. We don’t know when that conversation happened but we know that Matthew responded to the immediate call with joy.
In the next scene we see sharing a meal with Matthew and assorted other social outcasts and sinners. The religious authorities are confused by this behavior which they founds scandalous. Jesus explains that once again he does not see these people as others do. They see sinners, he sees sick people who could be made whole. They see people in rebellion to God. Jesus sees people ready for rescue.
There is an application here for us. So often we find that when we are part of a gathering of people who are not like us, specifically if there are obvious moral differences, we feel like we need to establish our opposition to these moral issues in some way before we can participate. We want to be sure people know that “we do not approve.” This has been the whole motivation behind “separating from the world.” What if someone saw you they would think that you accepted that lifestyle. Yet it seems clear that Jesus did not worry about such things. He went where he was invited. He was always willing to break bread with someone and if they were considered sinners, all the better. There is something here that we need to learn.
Jesus saw that the blind man and the mute man needed only physical healing not a spiritual conversation.
The final scene we will look at is important. In this section Jesus responds to the cries of a blind man who calls him the Son of David and casts a demon out of a mute man. These scenes act to balance the others because in this case Jesus simply heals these people. In the case of the blind man he does not ask him to follow or address sin. He only asks the man if he believe that Jesus can heal. In this case the physical need was the most important. There was no other agenda. In fact Jesus even asks the man not to tell anyone (which he does anyway). This account reminds us that sometime the Holy Spirit is telling us to seek a deeper spiritual need in a person. And sometimes He is calling us just to care about someone with no strings attached.
Transition: We are not called to solve every problem and not called to make people believe in Jesus. We are called to be Jesus in whatever situation he puts us in. That sounds radical but look at how Matthew closes this section. Look at what Jesus says.
Jesus had compassion on the crowds because he saw them as people who needed a shepherd. He calls us to see them the same way and have the same compassion.
Matthew makes a summary statement ending this section before he begins another teaching section in his gospel. He tells us that Jesus went about preaching and teaching and healing every disease and sickness. He tells us that his motivation was compassion. He saw the crowds as sheep without a shepherd. What they needed was people who would go out like workers at a harvest and connect them to Jesus the great shepherd. Jesus tells us that our motivation should be like his motivation. We should serve out of compassion.
Our challenge is to have the eyes of Jesus as we move through this life. Jesus saw people and he knew what God was doing in them. He saw physical needs but he also saw spiritual needs. He saw sinners but he also saw future disciples. He knew when to show love without any fanfare and he knew when a situation would teach others about himself. He reminds us that all people have spiritual and physical needs. We are not called to label people as sinners or outcasts or cripples. We are called to see people as people and to ask God for the eyes of Jesus when we share with them.
Application: the Relief Bus video
In the original sermon we closed by showing a video about Cornerstone Christian Church’s involved with NYC Relief’s Relief Bus ministry.