When the season of Pentecost begins, you never know where you’re going to join up with Jesus. The whole thing depends on the date for Easter. So some years, we join up with Jesus earlier in His ministry than this and some years later than this.
Back in chapter 4 of his gospel, Matthew told us what Jesus set out from His baptism and temptation in the wilderness to do. “And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people.” (Mat.4:23)
By the time we join up with Jesus this year, He’s already ‘taught’ his disciples and the crowds about the Kingdom of God – most notably – in His ‘Sermon on the Mount.’ “And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.” (Mat. 7:28-29)
Already, Jesus has cleansed a leper of his leprosy, restored the paralyzed legs of a Centurion’s servant and a friend of some friends who brought him to Jesus on a stretcher. He’s cast out the demons from two men, given life back to the daughter of a local ruler and stopped a woman’s 12 year flow of blood. He’s given sight to two blind men and speech to a speech to a mute man.
All of this and more has already happened by the time we join up with Jesus. Now, at the end of chapter 8, Matthew affirms that what Jesus set out to do – He has done. In nearly identical words as we’ve already heard, “And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction.”
“Teaching…” “Proclaiming…” “Healing…” These are the HEADLINES that report what Jesus has been doing by the time we join Him today. And these HEADLINES form the outline of our consideration of this text.
He was ‘teaching in their synagogues.’ Synagogues were the places where the formal teaching and instruction in the Word of God happened in Jesus’ day. Whereas there was just one Temple where sacrifices of all kinds were made by the Priests, there were lots of Synagogues where men and women, boys and girls would gather together and listen to the Rabbis preach and teach the Word of God.
Some teaching also took place around the Temple, in the Porticoes, and we’ll see Jesus take His place among the other Rabbis and teach there also. But as we join up with Jesus here, He’s in the region of Galilee to the north while the Temple is in the region of Judea which is to the south, and He’s “teaching in their synagogues.”
But the fact that He has never had any formal training… He’d never been a Rabbi’s ‘disciple’ – that was something that raised some questions about Him. Later on this journey we’ll read, “…He taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished and said, ‘Where did this man get his wisdom and these mighty works? Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary… where did this man get all these things?’ And they took offense at Him.” (Mat.13:54-57) Hopefully these same people who took offense at Him would later come to believe that He’s the One who gave Moses and all the Prophets the Words to speak – and who would give the Apostles His Word to speak. He is THE TEACHER.
As we follow our Lord through this Pentecost season, we’ll see that His teaching is not limited to ‘formal instruction’ but He also taught by example. “Learn from me,” he’ll say. “For I am gentle and lowly in heart and you will find rest for your soul.” (Mat.11:29) In the Upper Room as He washes the disciple’s feet, He gives them a specific example of the ‘gentle’ and ‘lowly heart’ that they should learn from Him. “For I have given you an example that you should do just as I have done for you.” (John 13:15).
He was “teaching in their synagogues.”
Second, He was “proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom…” “Teaching” and “proclaiming” are two different things. “Teaching” is about helping people learn both the information and also the behavior and habits of whatever it is that the teacher is there to teach – in this case it’s the ‘Kingdom of God.’ Jesus will say repeatedly, “The Kingdom of God is like…” And then, by His own example, He shows us how to live in this “Kingdom of God” rightly. That’s ‘teaching.’
But for ‘teaching’ to be effective, the students must ‘listen.’ The best teacher in the world can teach the best lesson in the world. But if no one is ‘listening’ – it’s like talking to a wall. THE RESPONSE TO OUR LORD’S TEACHING IS – ‘LISTENING.’
“Proclaiming” however is different than ‘teaching.’ ‘Proclaiming’ is ‘ANNOUNCING.’ ‘Proclaiming’ is ‘DECLARING.’ “He was PROCLAIMING the gospel of the Kingdom…” He was DECLARING that the “Kingdom of God is at hand.” It’s here. It’s now. Whether you have learned about it and how to live in it or not, it’s here, it’s happening.
“Proclaiming” announces, not just that what the bible says, but that it’s happening right now. All of the ‘Promises’ that God has made through His Prophets are being fulfilled NOW. God’s promises that ‘threatened’ judgment and punishment on those who reject Him and His teaching are being carried out NOW. All of the ‘promises’ that He made in the past, and that men and women believed and set their hopes on, are being fulfilled NOW.
“Proclamation” isn’t so much about ‘learning’ and ‘understanding’ as it is about ‘believing.’ THE RESPONSE TO OUR LORD’S PROCLAMATION IS BELIEVING.
So, when you hear the pastor ‘announce’ the Absolution – “I forgive you all of your sins” – that’s ‘proclamation.’ It’s actually happening now. It’s not a lesson on the ‘forgiveness of sins.’ It’s the actually, real time forgiving of all of your sins – just as it says. The proper response is – Believe it.
A good sermon does more than just ‘teach’ the Word of God. A good sermon always ‘proclaims’ that the Word of God that is put before us today is actually being ‘carried out’ on YOU and in YOU. Believe it.
The Lord’s Supper is not a demonstration or teaching aide to help you learn and remember what Jesus did for you by His cross and resurrection, it’s the ‘proclamation’ that He is doing it all for you as you ‘eat His body’ and ‘drink His blood’ for the forgiveness of your sins. Believe it.
Jesus was “proclaiming the gospel of the Kingdom…”
He was “…healing every disease and every affliction.” It might actually be more helpful if we translated this more personally. He was “…healing every diseased person and every afflicted person.”
“Diseases” and “afflictions” of ever kind were ‘healed.’ The source of the ‘disease,’ the cause of the ‘affliction’ was removed, cast out – not with surgery or medicine – but by the authority and power of His Word and His touch.
All of the threats of God against the powers and forces of evil that afflicted men and women, boys and girls – He cast out. It was His Word alone that did it. He delivered all of the promises and power of God to one diseased, one afflicted, one suffering soul at a time.
And most of the time, those whom He healed show no sign of ‘UNDERSTANDING’ of what He taught. And very often, there’s no sign of ‘belief’ in what He is proclaiming. Some do, but most don’t. And the point is, He’s not healing them because of anything in them. He’s not healing them because they ‘get it.’ He’s not even healing them because they ‘believe.’
He’s healing them because they’re diseased and afflicted and, whether they understand it or not, whether they believe it or not, they belong to Him. He loves them. He came into the world for them. He came to diseased and afflicted and even die for them.
In this journey we’re beginning, Matthew will sometimes want us to stop as Jesus ‘teaches’ and ‘proclaims’ and ‘heals’ individual people in particular. But today, it’s all about THE CROWDS.
“When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd…”
“He saw the crowds…” I don’t know how many it takes to make a ‘crowd,’ but it’s a lot – too many to number. Jesus “SAW” them.”
When He ‘saw the crowds’ He ‘saw’ the people whom He Himself created. Whether they have understanding and faith or not, they are His people by virtue of Creation. He “sees” that they are “harassed and helpless.” He compares them to “sheep without a shepherd.” Lost, vulnerable, defenseless.
Later, Jesus will ‘teach’ a lawyer about the Kingdom of God through a parable about a man who was beaten and left half dead beside the road. “A priest was going down the road, and when HE SAW HIM…” he wasn’t much moved to do anything but avoid him. The Priest had no connection to the half dead man. “He passed by on the other side.” Same story with a Levite. “But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when HE SAW HIM, he had compassion…” (Luke 10:29-35).
Matthew says, “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them…” Our Lord is showing us His own heart for the harassed and helpless.
One of the great themes running through the OLD TESTAMENT is the ‘compassion’ of God for the lowly and the afflicted. The prophet Isaiah ‘proclaimed,’ “Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth; break forth O mountains into singing! For the Lord has comforted his people and will have COMPASSON ON HIS AFFLICTED ONES.” (Is. 49:13).
Now, here in Jesus, we see the PROMISE of God being fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ. “The Kingdom of God is at hand.”
The vocabulary here is rich and raw. They were “harassed and helpless.” That’s the language of ‘victimization’ and ‘abuse.’ This is the language of ‘bullying’ and ‘weakness.’ There are forces that are too strong, too deceptive, too destructive to stand against.
So, if His TEACHING calls for LISTENING, and if His PROCLAIMING calls for BELIEVING, what does His “compassion” for the “harassed and helpless” call for? It calls for ‘PROPER IDENTITY.’ It calls for knowing who you are – “harassed and helpless” and in need of One who will SEE YOU and have COMPASSION on you and who will rescue you and treat you with a love like you have never known.
Whenever there is a false sense of identity, there is always a false understanding what God has sent His Son into this world to do and of our desperate need for a Savior. If we think that we are “self-sufficient” and “perfectly able to take care of ourselves” in all things both spiritual and physical, then the Lord is needed only to help me out of some trouble from time to time or and enhance my otherwise perfectly fine life with a bit of satisfaction or happiness from time to time.
Only those who know themselves as one of those “harassed and helpless” little lambs in the crowd, who cannot stand against the wolf from hell, know the Lord rightly. He is the one who SEES ME. And who had COMPASSION on me. He is the One who came into this world to rescue me and take me in His arms and bring me to His Father’s house to live with Him in perfect peace and safety forever.
Knowing who we are, we want to BELIEVE Jesus, who proclaims the gospel to us. Believing the gospel, we want to LISTEN to His Word all the more diligently.