As we come to the first eight verses of Matthew 9 we have another story of an encounter of the Lord Jesus Christ with one of the people of his day. In the context of the story it actually involves more than the one individual. It was something that took place in public. There was a large crowd around, and in the conversation that transpired Jesus dealt specifically not merely with this paralyzed man, but with the teachers of the law who were present. So as we look at it we have to look at a number of reactions. It’s interesting to review some of those that we’ve already had to Jesus Christ in this Gospel. It’s one of the themes that we’re going to be looking at as this series unfolds, and we’re going to see many more of these reactions as we go on. But already we’ve got quite a variety of them.
The most common, perhaps, and also the first one that’s mentioned in Matthew, is a reaction of amazement on the part of the people who either heard him or saw what he did. We find that early on, because at the very end of the Sermon on the Mount, which occupies chapters five, six, and seven, we’re told that this was the reaction of the people. Jesus had not done anything spectacular at this point. All he’s doing is teaching, but the teaching made such an impression on them that we read in verse 28 of that chapter, “When Jesus had finished saying all these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching.” Nobody taught like that. They had never heard anything like that before. And so they found themselves asking, “Who is this? Where does he get this kind of authority, speaking as he does?”
This was not only the reaction of the crowds or masses; it was also the reaction of the disciples in how they responded to Jesus’ calming of the storm in chapter eight. “The men [that is, the disciples] who were with him in the boat, were amazed, and they asked, ‘What kind of a man is this since even the wind and the waves obey him?’” Now let me suggest if you don’t have any other reaction to the Lord Jesus Christ, that at least is a place to start. At least it shows that you recognize that he’s somebody extraordinary. It’s not an adequate reaction because it’s not a saving reaction, but at least it’s a place to begin. If you can read about Jesus Christ and find out what he said and what he did without being amazed by it in any way, you’re in pretty bad shape. And so that at least is a starting point. At least it shows you’re not spiritually dead or intellectually dead, but at least you recognize the extraordinary nature of Jesus.
Then there was another reaction, and of course this one was better. We saw it when we were studying the Roman centurion. In terms of the social climate of the day he had everything against him. Jesus was a Jew. He was the Messiah of the Jews, and was therefore sent to the Jews. He spoke on the basis of the Jewish religion in the Old Testament. But this centurion was a Gentile, a soldier, a stranger in the land, and furthermore, he was a member of the occupying powers.
And yet when he heard about Jesus, instead of merely being amazed at him, though of course he undoubtedly was, he concluded that what Jesus was doing is extraordinary. He knew this is not something that a mere man can do. Jesus, whoever he might be, is able to do what only God can do. And since he had a sick servant, he thought Jesus could heal him. And he went and he had such faith that even Jesus was amazed at it and praised him saying, “I haven’t seen such faith in all of Israel.” Israel is where we should see the faith. They are the ones who have all the benefits of the Old Testament and the promises and the Law and all of that, but here is this Gentile who really does believe. And so Jesus was amazed, and faith was the reaction.
There was a third reaction a little further on. We were looking at the story of the two demon possessed men that Jesus healed, and we saw there was a reaction there on the part of the people who were from the town nearby. This reaction was rejection, obviously, as we read the story, because they have suffered the loss of their pigs. When Jesus cast the demons out of the two men, the demons, who said their name was legion, that is “many,” went into these pigs, 2000 of them, and they proceeded to go down the edge of the hill and were drowned.
Now, it was a great economic loss, of course. And I suppose because we are so economically oriented our natural tendency is to sympathize with the poor people who lost their pigs. We say, after all, how would you feel if your factory burned down, or if you lost your job, and suffered great financial loss? But the interesting part of the story is that Jesus cared for the people rather than the pigs, while they cared for the pigs rather than the people. Of these two preferences, who was right? Obviously Jesus. The people were afraid that if Jesus stayed in their area, perhaps they might experience more loss. They asked him to leave their land, and he did. There you have a simple case of rejection.