Sheep without a Shepherd

Matthew 9:18-38

18 While He spoke these things to them, behold, a ruler came and worshiped Him, saying, “My daughter has just died, but come and lay Your hand on her and she will live.” 19 So Jesus arose and followed him, and so did His disciples.

20 And suddenly, a woman who had a flow of blood for twelve years came from behind and touched the hem of His garment. 21 For she said to herself, “If only I may touch His garment, I shall be made well.” 22 But Jesus turned around, and when He saw her He said, “Be of good cheer, daughter; your faith has made you well.” And the woman was made well from that hour.

23 When Jesus came into the ruler’s house, and saw the flute players and the noisy crowd wailing, 24 He said to them, “Make room, for the girl is not dead, but sleeping.” And they ridiculed Him. 25 But when the crowd was put outside, He went in and took her by the hand, and the girl arose. 26 And the report of this went out into all that land.

27 When Jesus departed from there, two blind men followed Him, crying out and saying, “Son of David, have mercy on us!”

28 And when He had come into the house, the blind men came to Him. And Jesus said to them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?”

They said to Him, “Yes, Lord.”

29 Then He touched their eyes, saying, “According to your faith let it be to you.” 30 And their eyes were opened. And Jesus sternly warned them, saying, “See that no one knows it.” 31 But when they had departed, they spread the news about Him in all that country.

32 As they went out, behold, they brought to Him a man, mute and demon-possessed. 33 And when the demon was cast out, the mute spoke. And the multitudes marveled, saying, “It was never seen like this in Israel!”

34 But the Pharisees said, “He casts out demons by the ruler of the demons.”

35 Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people. 36 But when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd. 37 Then He said to His disciples, “The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few. 38 Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.”

Introduction

I often ask people what the point of Jesus’s ministry in the gospels is. “He came to save His people from their sins” is probably the most common answer. It is not a bad answer, it is, of course, very true. But it is incomplete. If the point of Jesus’s ministry was hell avoidance, only the first couple chapters outlining His birth and then the last few chapters outlining His death and resurrection would really be necessary. So why all the stuff in the middle? Just so we have a good story? Or is salvation as much about what we are saved to as much as it is what we are saved from? These things should be on the front of our minds as we walk through this passage today.

Reversing death in two women (18-26)

As Jesus is speaking to the disciples of John (and His own disciples), an important synagogue ruler came to Him, and bowed down before Him to worship Him. Right off the bat, what gets neglected here is that the synagogue ruler worships Jesus. This man is making a claim through his actions about exactly who Jesus is. He recognizes Jesus in a way that even His own disciples do not. This man is desperate. His daughter has just died. But he is fully confident that if Jesus merely touches her, she will come back to life. He doesn’t know how this will work. As far as we can tell from what Matthew presents, Jesus has never done this before. The ruler just knows Jesus. He knows His power. And Jesus gets up and follows the man, and Jesus’s disciples come with Him.

As they are going, a woman appears. This is a woman who has been bleeding, presumably in a way that is like menstruation. As an aside, this is a point in which we see that the Bible is not a neat and tidy book; it is not a sanitary book, despite how we typically handle it. We want it to be gnostic, a book of spiritual truth only, with no reference or connection to the physical world, the world of matter, the world of flesh and blood. That’s not the way the Bible is. It sometimes deals in gross stuff. This is good! It is a reminder that God’s Word is connected intimately to the world we inhabit. This is one reason why I often say that Leviticus is my favorite Old Testament book. There is no book in the Bible more concerned with the things in our material world than Leviticus. And in Leviticus, God commanded through Moses the following:

25 ‘If a woman has a discharge of blood for many days, other than at the time of her customary impurity, or if it runs beyond her usual time of impurity, all the days of her unclean discharge shall be as the days of her customary impurity. She shall be unclean. 26 Every bed on which she lies all the days of her discharge shall be to her as the bed of her impurity; and whatever she sits on shall be unclean, as the uncleanness of her impurity. 27 Whoever touches those things shall be unclean; he shall wash his clothes and bathe in water, and be unclean until evening.

This is not just a story of a woman who had an illness and Jesus made well. There is far more going on here than that. For twelve years this woman could not go into the presence of God. She could not go to church. And anything she touched, if it is touched by someone, that person could not go into the presence of God without being first cleansed. You can imagine what this would do to someone. She is cut off from God. And she is cut off from most people. And she does something that is absolutely forbidden, she touches someone. She does it because she knows Jesus can heal her; somehow she knows that instead of making Jesus unclean, He will make her clean. Rather than spread symbolic death to Jesus, life flows out of Jesus to her. 

From there, Jesus arrives at the ruler’s house. The man is important, as evidenced by the professional mourners present at his household. This was common in the ancient world. Mourning was not a merely private affair, but one rooted in the entire community. And He tells them to get out of the way, the girl is sleeping not dead. And for this they mock and ridicule Him. Imagine this, mocking and ridiculing Jesus. It should not be hard, actually. That, after all, is the spirit of our age. But after the mockers leave, Jesus goes in and takes her hand.

Just as the woman with the flow of blood touching Jesus, Jesus makes contact with something, or rather, someone, who makes you unclean. You cannot touch dead bodies. But rather than death infecting Jesus, life flows from Him into this girl—literally. News of this spreads everywhere.

Healing the Blind Men (27-31)

Jesus leaves, and two blind men follow Him. They cry out to Him and call Him the Son of David. They recognize Jesus’s royal title. They recognize their king. And this King, they know, can make them see. Jesus asks them if they believe. To which they respond yes. And this third miracle, the third where Jesus touches someone, now life comes to dead eyes and light is brought to darkness. They can see. But then Jesus does something curious. He tells them not to tell anyone about it. I have mentioned this before as it has come up. Jesus wants to keep His ministry a secret. Nowhere does He command this of Gentiles, not just in Matthew but in any of the gospels. It is always to Jews. It is the very same reason he preaches in parables, rather than coming right out and saying what He means. He is keeping things hidden. He speaks openly to Gentiles and does not forbid them from spreading the news, because His ministry is not to them, but to Israel. And Israel must reject Him. This is essentially the point of the first half of Paul’s Epistle to the Romans. Israel had to reject Jesus so the world would be saved. And reject Jesus they will, as we see foreshadowed in the next few verses.

The Mute Speak, Pharisees Lie (32-34)

Jesus and His men continue on, and now a demon-possessed man who cannot speak was brought to Him. And Jesus casts out the demon, and the man’s ability to speak returns. The crowds that saw it were amazed by Him, but the Pharisees are not amazed. Their hearts are hardened. They accuse Jesus of being a servant of Satan. This is, of course, very ironic. In John, Jesus says outright who the servants of Satan are: the Pharisees! The Pharisees are projecting their loyalty to the Lord of Lies onto Jesus. This is all too common in human experience: those guilty of the most grave sins will project the guilt of those sins onto their opponents who are innocent.

The heat of this conflict with the Pharisees is continuing to rise, and the greater fame Jesus ministry receives, the more the heat will rise, as we shall see as we continue through Matthew.

Plentiful Harvest; Shepherdless Sheep (35-38)

Jesus continues marching on. He goes from city to city, from village to village, teaching in the synagogues. Preaching the victory of His kingdom. And healing the illness of Israel. He looked out and saw multitudes of people; and seeing His people He is moved with compassion. His heart aches for them. And why? They are weary and scattered. They are sheep without a shepherd. And Jesus speaks to His disciples changing the metaphor; these sheep without a shepherd are the harvest. And the harvest is plentiful. There are so many crops there for the taking, but there is almost no one around to do the work. So what do we do? We are to pray to the Lord of the Harvest to send out laborers.

Conclusion

And that is what we are to do. Our situation here is not so much different than Ancient Palestine 2000 years ago. Things have been better in the past, God’s kingdom has certainly been much stronger (and it will be again one day!), but where things are at today are not good. There are many, many people who recognize, in one sense or another, just how bad things are. At least 75 million people voted a few months ago, because at a minimum they recognize things are not as good for them as it was a generation ago, at least materially, but almost certainly spiritually also. When you look at tens of millions of people who seem to be desperate for things to get better, do you see them as sheep without a shepherd. Are you moved with compassion for them? Does your heart ache for them? In 2019, there were over 70,000 people who died from drug overdoses, the overwhelming majority from opioids. These numbers are not well-publicized, like the pandemic, and you don’t really have to wonder too hard why. To begin with, drug companies make a lot of money selling opiates. And the actual people who are dying are the people our system cares the least about, the people are system actively despises. People who, quite frankly, our system does not care if they die en masse. There is no Working Class White Lives Matter to riot over the tens of thousands in that group who are dying each year in small rural towns just like ours. What are these deaths, if not deaths of despair, deaths of people who are aimless and lost. People who no one seems to care about. People who are weary and scattered. People who have no hope. People who are sheep without a shepherd. There are millions of these people.

The harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few. There are millions of people like this, who have very little hope. And it is not as though many of them have not been introduced to Jesus. But the Jesus they have met, is not usually the Jesus we see here in our Bibles. He is a Jesus disconnected from the world they actually live in. A Jesus without Leviticus! A Jesus that is entirely otherworldly. A Jesus who, yes, saves you from your sins but does nothing else. A Jesus who might change where you spend eternity, but doesn’t change anything here and now. That is not the Jesus of the Bible. And that is not the Jesus of our passage today. The eternity that Jesus changes is here now. Your eternity that Jesus changes is here now. This Jesus changes our world. This world in which we live. This world is His new creation. The old world, with its flow of blood, with dead bodies, dead eyes, dead tongues, has been brought to life. And the life that Jesus brings us is His righteousness. In both big things and small; where there is hope that wicked rulers are cast down, and where our daily, small acts of obedience change our world. A world where there is Jesus’s righteousness is a world with hope. The victory of Christ’s kingdom is that—that right here and right now He reigns, and His reign puts things right. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit! Amen!