I believe Matthew 9 gives us an excellent glimpse into the heart of Christ. Let’s start at the end of the chapter. Matthew 9:36 tells us, “When he [Jesus] saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”
Remember these crowds were filled with tax collectors and sinners – people rejected by polite society – people rejected by the religious leaders of the day. And yet Jesus’ first instinct was that of compassion. To understand the significance of this, let’s remember that Jesus was the only sinless person ever to walk the face of the earth. One would naturally think that whatever sins cause us (sinful people) to cringe, would cause Jesus to be horrified. And yet Jesus had compassion because the people coming to him were harassed and helpless.
If we now back up to Matthew 9:35, we see what he did because of his compassion, “Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness.” Jesus was interested in helping these people who were helpless in and of themselves. He first met their most basic need – their spiritual need – the need to be reconciled with God – by preaching the good news of the kingdom of God. If all Jesus cared about was people’s salvation, I suspect he would have stopped there. But in addition to preaching and teaching, he healed every disease and sickness. This again points out that Jesus was deeply concerned with the people themselves, and cared about what the people cared about – and solved the problems they faced. The only explanation is that Jesus genuinely loved these “unlovable” people.
Let’s look at some of the other stories in this chapter. The chapter begins with some men bringing a paralytic to Jesus. Jesus was so eager to help the man, he didn’t wait for anyone else to even speak, and just jumped in with, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.” – almost as if Jesus just couldn’t wait to help the man. Jesus jumped right to the most important problem – reconciling this man to God. Then, to prove he had authority to forgive sins, he demonstrated his power again by completely healing the man. The crowds were in awe, and praised God.
The next section talks about Jesus’ calling Matthew, a tax collector, to follow him. Jesus didn’t only tolerate those society rejected, he actively sought them out. It was at Matthew’s house that Jesus’ enemies accused him of eating (coming in close fellowship with) tax collectors and sinners. Jesus’ response, in Matthew 9:12-13 was, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” Mercy. God desires mercy, and Jesus was demonstrating it. And I would argue that one cannot really demonstrate mercy without first loving the target of that mercy.
The chapter goes on to detail other miracles, including raising a dead girl back to life, healing a woman who had been subject to bleeding for 12 years, and healing two blind men. All in addition to the summary at the end, saying that he healed every disease and sickness throughout all their towns and villages.
For me, if I had to define Jesus with a single word, based on this chapter, that word would be Love. Love we can’t even fully comprehend. God-like love.
1 John 4:16 says, “… God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in Him.”
John 5:19 tells us, “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can only do what he sees his father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.”
Questions for reflection & Discussion
- Does Jesus care about the things that concern you? (Hint: read Matthew 11:28-30)
- If Jesus loved the people of his day, how much must he love you?
- How has he demonstrated his love to you?
- What is your response?
- If Christians are supposed to “imitate Christ” what would that look like in your life? (Hint: read John 13:34, Philippians 2:3-8, 1 John 2:6)
- How are you measuring up?