Echoes of Isaiah (Matt 9:18-30)

Yesterday we looked at the background to today’s passage from Matthew 9. We saw how the people of God had been waiting expectantly for 700 years for Isaiah’s prophecy to be fulfilled:

Isa 35:3-6a Strengthen the feeble hands, steady the knees that give way; say to those with fearful hearts, “Be strong, do not fear; your God will come, he will come with vengeance; with divine retribution he will come to save you.” Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy.
Isa 26:1,19 In that day this song will be sung in the land of Judah… But your dead will live, LORD; their bodies will rise — let those who dwell in the dust wake up and shout for joy — your dew is like the dew of the morning; you will make it fall on the spirits of the dead.

Today, we focus on three short stories where Jesus heals people. Actually, they’re barely stories. Two of them are more like snapshots or summaries. Which gives us a bit of a clue that perhaps it’s not in the detail that we’re going to find the point, but in the overall effect. Keep that in mind as we read through them. The first story begins like this:

9:18a While he was saying this…

Jesus has just been giving wine storage lessons to some Pharisees; something about not putting old wine in new wineskins. But he gets interrupted.

9:18-19 While he was saying this, a synagogue leader came and knelt before him and said, “My daughter has just died. But come and put your hand on her, and she will live.” Jesus got up and went with him, and so did his disciples.

Now that’s pretty straightforward. I mean, if your daughter’s just died, your first thoughts are always: ‘I’ll just find some guy with a beard to touch her, and she’ll be fine.’ That’s pretty much how it works, isn’t it?

Don’t you find this guy’s trust in Jesus pretty confronting? Particularly because it’ll be a few years before he proves he’s the Son of God by rising from the dead. The jury’s still out on him. I mean curing a spot of leprosy, sure, but bringing someone back from the dead?? What faith! What confidence!

But before Jesus can get there, he gets another interruption:

9:20-21 Just then a woman who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak. She said to herself, “If I only touch his cloak, I will be healed.”

Again, perfectly understandable. A period that’s been going on for twelve years, all I need to do is touch a guy in a dress and I’ll be OK. Again, incredible trust in who Jesus is. In fact, Jesus comments on this.

9:22 Jesus turned and saw her. “Take heart, daughter,” he said, “your faith [your trust] has healed you.” And the woman was healed from that moment.

Just like that. The woman trusts that Jesus can heal her, and he does. Before pressing on to the synagogue leader’s house:

9:23 When Jesus entered the synagogue leader’s house and saw the noisy crowd and people playing the flute…

Flute players were kind of like the bagpipe players of the ancient world. Always showing up at funerals to make an already unpleasant experience just that little bit more irritating.

9:23-24 When Jesus entered the synagogue leader’s house and saw the noisy crowd and people playing the flute, he said, “Go away. The girl is not dead but asleep.” But they laughed at him.

Not because they thought he was performing his own version of the Monty Python parrot sketch. But because the crowd didn’t have faith. Unlike the girl’s father, they didn’t trust Jesus.

9:25-26a After the crowd had been put outside [bad crowd, stay], he went in and took the girl by the hand, and she got up.

Incredible. Someone trusts Jesus. Trusts that he is the son of God. And even death is undone.

Isa 26:1, 19a In that day this song was sung in the land of Judah… your dead will live, their bodies will rise.

Back to the story:

Matt 9:27 As Jesus went on from there, two blind men followed him, calling out, “Have mercy on us, Son of David!”

Clearly they were too blind to read Jesus’ birth certificate. Otherwise they would have known his father’s name was Joseph. Or did they know something more about Jesus? Did they have faith that he wasn’t just a regular guy? That maybe he was the Messiah, the promised one from the line of King David. Jesus wants to check:

9:28-30a When he had gone indoors, the blind men came to him, and he asked them, “Do you believe [trust, faith, belief – they’re the same word in Greek] that I am able to do this?” “Yes, Lord,” they replied. Then he touched their eyes and said, “According to your faith let it be done to you;” and their sight was restored.

Again, trust in Jesus leads to healing. This time the eyes of the blind were opened. And everyone said ‘what was that?’ And Jesus smiled and said, ‘oh, just the echoes of Isaiah’.

As they all left, we then get just the tiniest snapshot of another story. A demon-possessed man who was mute; unable to speak. Jesus casts the demon out, and, in the words of Isaiah, the mute tongue shouted for joy!

Do you get what’s happening? We’ve had the eyes of the blind opened. The mute tongue shouting for joy. And if you remember earlier in the week, we even had a lame guy – well, maybe not leaping like a deer, but he did pick up his mat and walk home. And of course, most impressively of all, a dead girl raised to life.

But just in case we weren’t paying attention, a chapter or so later Matthew makes it crystal clear. He tells the story of John the Baptist. In prison, waiting to be plated up*, John sends his disciples to ask Jesus a question. To check if he’s the one they’ve all been waiting for.

11:2-3 When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent his disciples to ask him, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?”

Are you who we think you are? Or are we putting our trust in the wrong person? Listen to Jesus’ answer:

11:4-5 Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.”

These aren’t just a few nice healing stories. They’re signs. Actions that say something. That point to something. And what they’re saying is this: you know that message of hope Isaiah gave 700 years ago? The promise that all things will be restored, that suffering will come to an end, that good news will come to the poor, that even death itself will be defeated? ‘I’m the one who’s going to do that’, says Jesus. ‘You’ve been waiting in hope all this time for me. Put your trust in me.

And that’s what the people in those stories did. They trusted in who Jesus was. Trusted that he was the fulfilment of that 700 year old hope. And that’s how they experienced God’s promised restoration. They put their faith in Jesus. And they were healed. It’s the pattern we see throughout the gospels. Trust in Jesus, experience the benefits of God’s kingdom.

To think about

We’ll look at this question more on Monday, but for now:

In what ways have Isaiah’s prophecies been fulfilled, in Jesus and since?

In what ways are we still waiting for them to be fulfilled?

Do you find it difficult to trust these promises? Why/why not?


* Too soon?

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