A sermon on Matthew 9:18-34 preached at Covenant Presbyterian Church of Fort Smith, Arkansas on December 30, 2018.
While he was saying these things to them, behold, a ruler came in and knelt before him, saying, “My daughter has just died, but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live.” And Jesus rose and followed him, with his disciples. And behold, a woman who had suffered from a discharge of blood for twelve years came up behind him and touched the fringe of his garment, for she said to herself, “If I only touch his garment, I will be made well.” Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.” And instantly the woman was made well. And when Jesus came to the ruler’s house and saw the flute players and the crowd making a commotion, he said, “Go away, for the girl is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him. But when the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took her by the hand, and the girl arose. And the report of this went through all that district. And as Jesus passed on from there, two blind men followed him, crying aloud, “Have mercy on us, Son of David.” When he entered the house, the blind men came to him, and Jesus said to them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” They said to him, “Yes, Lord.” Then he touched their eyes, saying, “According to your faith be it done to you.” And their eyes were opened. And Jesus sternly warned them, “See that no one knows about it.” But they went away and spread his fame through all that district. As they were going away, behold, a demon-oppressed man who was mute was brought to him. And when the demon had been cast out, the mute man spoke. And the crowds marveled, saying, “Never was anything like this seen in Israel.” But the Pharisees said, “He casts out demons by the prince of demons.” (Matthew 9:18–34)
The writer of Hebrews defines faith as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1). For example, while we were not present when the universe was created, by faith we understand that it was created by the word of God (Heb. 11:3). Likewise, while we were not present for the incarnation and ministry of our Lord Jesus, we believe Scripture’s testimony of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, conviction of things not seen.
Such faith is not merely academic but active: “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved” (Rom. 10:9-10), assurance of things hoped for, indeed. So essential is faith to our eternal salvation, it can be helpful to consider it through metaphorical examples in life to better understand it: faith is like being dead and receiving life; faith is like being sick and receiving health; faith is like being blind and receiving sight; faith is like being spiritually oppressed and receiving deliverance.
In each of these similes the consistent theme is that faith is like receiving a gift. If you are dead, you cannot give yourself life. If you are sick, you cannot give yourself health. If you are blind, you cannot give yourself sight. If you are spiritually oppressed, you cannot give yourself deliverance. Faith is a gift from God, as are life, health, sight and deliverance. As the Apostle Paul explains it, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph. 2:8-9). Such is the theme of our passage in the Gospel of Matthew, in which we observe the gift of life, the gift of health, the gift of sight, and the gift of deliverance, all revealing to us the gift of faith.
The Gift of Life
While teaching, Jesus was interrupted by the urgent plea of a ruler of the synagogue, revealed in the Gospel of Mark as Jairus. While many of the scribes and Pharisees rejected Jesus, death tends to sober the prideful. Desperate, this ruler kneels in humility before the Creator and Sustainer of life with this extraordinary plea: “My daughter has just died, but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live.” Unlike the centurion’s faith which required not the presence of Jesus but only His word, the ruler requests Jesus’ physical presence and His healing hand upon his daughter.
Validating the little girl’s death, Jesus arrives to find the mourning commenced with music and commotion. Confronting the mourning party, Jesus demands that they leave, because “the girl is not dead but sleeping.” Such a statement was laughable. In a culture acquainted with the reality of death, they knew a corpse when they saw one. The child was not napping; she was dead. To be clear, Jesus is not an optimist hoping for the best, but to the Giver of life, death is but sleep. He who gave life to all of creation, took that dead little hand and brought her, body and soul, to life, giving the gift that only He could give, the gift of life.
The Gift of Health
On the way to raising the ruler’s daughter from the dead, Jesus is interrupted by a daughter in need of healing. Twelve long years she suffered from internal hemorrhaging, but now she saw the Healer, reaching out her hand for His healing touch. How timely are the providential interruptions of life! The discharge of blood likely rendered ordinary life unlivable. The constant flow of blood certainly rendered her ceremonially unclean.
Perhaps considering herself unworthy of His attention, she said to herself, “If I only touch his garment, I will be made well.” But what she sought in stealth, Jesus gave in health, healing twelve years of sickness in a moment. Healing her, Jesus said, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.”
We must be careful not to interrupt these words as glorifying the faith of a sick woman, as if there is power in faith itself. Unattached from the Lord Jesus, faith is powerless. Just as I do not believe in the “power of prayer” but rather in the power of the God to whom I pray, and the distinction is key, so it is not the woman’s faith that heals her but the One in whom she believes, Jesus Christ our Savior. He who heals all our diseases (Ps. 103:3), gave to her the gift of health.
The Gift of Sight
Having raised the ruler’s daughter from the dead, and healed the bleeding woman’s sickness, Jesus encounters not one but two blind men, quite literally the blind leading the blind. Unlike the dead daughter or the sick daughter, these blind men together cry aloud to the rightful heir of King David’s throne, “Have mercy on us, Son of David.” The presumed mercy they desire is not the sovereign reign of their King but their sight, but the King of Kings questions their faith: “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” Jesus does not place their desire to see or their blindness at the center of His question. Jesus’ question places Himself as the object of faith, Not merely “Do you believe,” but “Do you believe I am able?” Believing without seeing, they respond, “Yes, Lord.” As they believed in the Creator of the human eye, so “their eyes were opened.” For the first time they saw creation, standing before its Creator.
Yet, just as seeing is not always believing, so believing and seeing is not always obeying. Disregarding Jesus’ anti-seeker-sensitive admonition, “See that no one knows about it,” the formerly blind men went and told everyone. Perhaps they regarded the blessing of the Lord more valuable than His command, or perhaps they considered His promotion as greater than obedience. Regardless, they once were blind but now they see, a gift given through their faith-centered plea, recipients of the gift of sight.
The Gift of Deliverance
The last miracle in our passage introduces the healing of demon oppression. This man was not dead, or sick, or blind; he was mute, for a demon had his tongue. His greatest need lay not in his speech but in his spirit, and so, our Lord cast out the demon, delivering the man’s spirit, and in turn giving him speech.
We do not know the circumstances of the man’s life before or after. We witness only a gift received, the gift of deliverance. To which “the crowds marveled, saying, “Never was anything like this seen in Israel.” Of course, we could borrow such marvel responding similarly to each of these miracles, rejecting scoffing unbelievers, like the Pharisees, who would rather attribute life, health, sight, and deliverance to Satan rather than our Savior. As it was, so it is: “Claiming to be wise, they become fools” (Rom. 1:22). As we who are recipients of the gift of faith look back at each of these miracles, we see clearly the grace of God.
Just as the ruler’s daughter was raised from the dead, so we were dead in our trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1). “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved” (Eph. 2:4-5). You and I were as spiritually dead as that little girl and equally incapable of being born again. But while the wages of sin is death, “the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23), the gift of life.
Just as the bleeding woman was healed, so Christ “himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24), the gift of healing. Just as the blind men received their sight, our eyes have been opened, turning from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, receiving forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified in Christ (Acts 26:18).
It is the Lord who opens the eyes of the blind (Ps. 146:8), and we are recipients of the gift of sight. Just as the mute man was delivered from demonic oppression, “For freedom Christ has set us free” (Gal. 5:1) and delivered us from sin and death unto eternal life, not through our works but by God’s grace through faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, the gift of faith is, in a sense spiritually, a gift of life, health, sight, and deliverance, in which we are the blessed recipients of God’s grace, recipients who marvel at such gracious favor from today and forever.