My friend’s basic premise was that because Jesus was teaching, preaching, and healing, then we as his disciples should do likewise. By his own admission, he said he didn’t have enough time to prepare the sermon and as such he only approached the text at face value. In doing so he made a common mistake that affected his interpretation and later his application. It is a mistake that I too have made. Simply put, my friend took a descriptive passage and made it prescriptive. That is to say, my friend took what Jesus did (descriptive) and preached that we should go and do likewise (because Jesus did it, so must we – prescriptive). In taking this path, my friend made the verses more about us than about Jesus! Let me be clear: application is important, indeed necessary, for sound preaching. A good preacher must answer the “So what?” question if his hearers are to be challenged and changed. But in this passage, what is it that Matthew wants us to see and where is the application? Let me offer my observations:
- In verse 23, Matthew places teaching and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom ahead of healing in terms of Jesus’ ministry. It is not that the healing was unimportant, but that here Matthew gives priority Jesus’ teaching and preaching ministry, not to the healing ministry.
- Verses 24-25 tell us that his fame spread dramatically, but notice why the people came. Was it to hear the gospel or wasit to be healed? The passage clearly says that they came for healing. Could it be that the people are concerned not with Jesus’ mission but with what he can give them? In short, are they are seeking the gifts, but not the Giver himself?
- To be sure, Jesus healed them. He gave grace because he is good to us, even if our own motives may at times be impure. But the same crowds that come for blessings are the same crowds that later shout “Crucify him!” These people are not true followers, but fair-weather fans who quickly turn their back when Jesus does not give them what they want (we see the same phenomenon in John 6:1-69).
If we take this text then as being about doing as Jesus did in terms of his preaching, teaching and healing ministry, we milk the passage for good advice but in so doing lose the Good News. On the other hand if the text is about Jesus, it challenges our heart and makes us aware of our need for the Gospel: are we fans of Jesus who only want him for his blessings? Or are we true followers seeking to trust, listen, and obey him faithfully no matter the cost because he paid the ultimate price to save us?