Matthew 9: 1-17: Forgiving Sins
Capernaum was the city where the Lord lived after leaving Nazareth, and it was now "His own. city." It stood probably at the northern end of the plain of Gennesaret, a rich meadow watered by springs and sheltered by the hills. In those days it was filled with gardens and orchards which were famous for their early fruits. There were busy towns here where the farmers lived who kept the gardens, and fishermen who sailed and fished on the lake. Capernaum was one of these.
We have learned already how the Lord healed in Capernaum the centurion's servant, and Peter's wife's mother, and many more who were sick and possessed by devils.
The Lord came again to Capernaum from across the sea, and the boat drew to land. Other people were waiting to be healed.
One was a man sick of the palsy. The Lord was teaching in a house, perhaps speaking from a porch or balcony to people crowding into the courtyard below and about the door. (The story is more fully told in Mark 2:1-12; Luke 5:18-26.) Four friends came carrying the helpless man on his light bed or mat. They could not come near, not even to the door, the crowd was so great, but they climbed to the roof, perhaps by outside stairs, and tearing up the part of the roof above where the Lord was standing, let down the sick man before the Lord.
All the people watched and listened! The Lord said to the man, " Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee." His friends perhaps hoped only to see his body healed, but the Lord cared even more to heal his soul, and spoke first of that: " Be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee." And the Lord wished also to make his body strong, and presently said, " Arise, take up thy bed, and go unto thine house." At once he was strong and arose and went to his house. The people wondered and praised God. Let me read the story: verses 1-8.
Let me read on a little: Verse 9: " A man, named Matthew." Do you know that name? Have you heard it before? It is the name of the disciple who wrote this Gospel, this story of the Lord's life. We learn now how he was first called to be a disciple. He was not a fisherman like some, of the disciples who were called from their nets, but a publican, one of those who received the taxes collected at Capernaum, and was sitting at the place where taxes were paid. " Follow Me," the Lord said. " And he arose, and followed Him." Then Matthew made a dinner at his house (Luke 5:27-29) for the Lord, and many other publicans were there. The proud Pharisees thought it was strange that the Lord should eat with publicans and sinners. By sinners they meant persons who did not keep the strict laws of the Jews as the Pharisees did. The Lord often ate with these people and taught them. They were more ready to listen and to be helped than the Pharisees who thought that they were good. Read verses 9-13.
I want to ask someone of the class a few questions about the first verse of the chapter. It is speaking of the Lord. What water did He cross? In what direction? What was " His own city? " (Matt. 4:13.)
Someone else read verse 2. Have you heard of the palsy in another lesson? Find and read to us Mark 2:1-5 and Luke 5:18-20. The roofs of the houses were usually flat, made of earth laid on sticks and rolled hard. The roof here may have been some lighter cover above a balcony or porch. The first words of the Lord to the sick man show us that He cares first of all for the healing of our souls. The bodily sicknesses were pictures of the more serious sicknesses within. The Lord made the outward healing a sign of His power and desire to do the inward healing and make the spirit strong. That the physical diseases which the Lord cured pictured spiritual diseases is made plain in verse 6, and also in verses 12, 13 below. This was true of all the Lord's miracles of healing. You, may sometimes make a study of the diseases mentioned in the Bible, and learn what spiritual disorders they represent.
Another member of the class must help us. Read verse 9. From Mark and Luke what other name do you learn by which Matthew was known? When you read in Luke that Levi made the feast in his own house, you see how naturally there were publicans in the company with the Lord. How did the Pharisees feel toward publicans and sinners? How did the Lord feel toward them?
There were other ways in which the Lord's conduct and that of His disciples was new and different from what the Pharisees had taught, or even John the Baptist. One difference was in regard to fasting. With the Pharisees. this was a mere empty form, with the Lord's disciples it must be deep and genuine. (Matt. 6:16-18.) And even genuine fasting does not belong to the perfect Christian life. It belongs to John the Baptist and to states of repentance and self-sacrifice in preparation for Christian life. The perfect Christian life is strong and joyful. (John 15:11.)
It was so with the disciples when the Lord was with them and they felt every day the power of His works and His words. They were like "children of the bridechamber," which means friends of the bridegroom who escort the bride from her father's house to the marriage and to her future home where the marriage supper is prepared. Christian disciples, when they are strong and happy because they feel the Lord's presence, must rejoice.
The old forms of Jewish piety were garments which could not be patched to hold the new Christian spirit; they were old skins which would not hold new, wine, as for example, their keeping of the Sabbath. In many things the old forms must be wholly set aside for new forms which would hold the new spirit.
1. " His own city." What city? "Publicans." Who were they? " Bottles." What were they made of?
2. What words did the Lord speak to the man sick of the palsy?
3. When I have done wrong and my father " forgives " me, what does it mean? How must I feel about a wrong thing that I have done before the Lord can forgive me? How can I arise and walk?
4. What was the Lord's answer to those who objected that He ate with publicans and sinners?
5. For what do we especially remember the apostle Matthew?
Take up the thought made so plain in the story of healing the palsied man, that the physical diseases also represent spiritual diseases which the Lord also has power to heal. Can we see what spiritual disease is represented by palsy? It is a wholly helpless state in which one has no strength to rise and go forward in useful life. Do the Lord's first words to the palsied man suggest the cause of the helplessness? - It is from a sense of sinfulness which weighs one down and takes away all strength and courage. The Lord says to one in such discouragement who looks earnestly to Him for help, " Be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee." The words bring the same new strength to the spirit which the other words brought to the helpless body, " Arise, take up thy bed, and go "unto thine house."
What is the forgiveness which the Lord has power to give? Not mere remission of punishment; not forgetfulness of what has been; but a sense of the Lord's protection from the evil that we wish to leave, and of strength and courage from Him to begin to do better. " The Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins." The Lord brought the Divine protection, the Divine strength and courage down within our reach in all our helpless and discouraged states. When we begin life again in this new strength we do arise; we take up the principles of our faith which like a bed have supported us in our helplessness, and carry them into active service; we go to our house to fulfill the place and use which the Lord intends for us in this world and in heaven. (A. 9938, 10042.)
John's Gospel shows us plainly the element of Christian character for which John stands, a deep love for the Lord. We can see in Matthew's Gospel the element of character of which he is the type. This Gospel sets forth with greatest fullness the Christian law and the fulfillment of the law in the Lord's life. Matthew represents a faithful keeping of the Christian law. While he sits as a publican at the receipt of custom he represents such obedience for the sake of selfish gain, but called to be a disciple of the Lord all selfishness is left behind, and he is the type of obedience for the Lord's own sake. The feast in Matthew's house at which many publicans and sinners were present with the Lord represents the satisfaction which is found in keeping the commandments and in many external activities of life when they are turned from their selfishness and done for the Lord's sake. (E. 252, 617; A. 3596.)
The new strength and enjoyment in Christian life is further described in the Lord's words about the marriage and the happy children of the bridechamber. Often the relation of the church to the Lord is called a marriage, and the strength and happiness of it a marriage feast. The point emphasized here is the happiness of this living with the Lord and from Him. There are times of trial, of temptation, of repentance, which are times of fasting, but the Christian life is essentially one of joy in the heavenly marriage with the Lord. (H. 409, and on.)
The parables of the garments and the bottles show that Christian life and worship must be different from that of the Jews. How would you state the most vital difference between them? The Jewish life and worship was formal, and had a value in merely representing the things of heaven. Christian life and worship must be filled with spirit, and has value only as it is so filled. Read the Lord's words to the woman of Samaria. (John 4:20-24.) The Christian Church, and the New Church, must have forms, and new forms, not mere representative forms, but forms filled full with heavenly spirit. (E. 376; T. 784.)