Matthew 9:27-31

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Matthew 9

27 And as Jesus passed on from there, two blind men followed him, crying aloud, “Have mercy on us, Son of David.” 28 When he entered 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 be it done to you.” 30 And their eyes were opened. And Jesus sternly warned them, “See that no one knows about it.” 31 But they went away and spread his fame through all that district.

The word “Evangelical” has come under fire a great deal recently and is the subject of a lot of misunderstanding. It was originally a word that described a type of Christian. Nowadays it seems to describe a type of voter. Some of us still want to hold to the old form of the word but suspect we may be losing it to politics. Who knows?

One of the better descriptions of an Evangelical is the 1989 thesis put forward by David Bebbington, a British historian, that has come to be known as “the Bebbington quadrilateral.” The quadrilateral refers to four distinguishing marks of Evangelicals. They are, according to Bebbington (as summarized here in the Wikipedia article about him):

  • Biblicism: a particular regard for the Bible (e.g. all essential spiritual truth is to be found in its pages)
  • Crucicentrism: a focus on the atoning work of Christ on the cross
  • Conversionism: the belief that human beings need to be converted
  • Activism: the belief that the gospel needs to be expressed in effort[1]

I oddly enough thought of the Bebbington quadrilateral when considering the two blind men Jesus healed in Matthew 9:31. Now, please do not misunderstand. I am truly not trying to force these brothers anachronistically into some sort of American Evangelical template. I mean the structuring of this message somewhat tongue-in-cheek (the structuring of the message, not the content). But only somewhat tongue-in-cheek. In fact, it is uncanny to me how this episode reveals the four points of the Bebbington quadrilateral. Let us see how.

Biblicism

We do indeed see within these two men an understanding of and high view of scripture. This is evident in their usage of the title, “Son of David.”

27 And as Jesus passed on from there, two blind men followed him, crying aloud, “Have mercy on us, Son of David.”

This is a title rich in meaning. Craig Blomberg writes that “‘Son of David’ points to the Messiah’s necessary lineage and royal role (see 2 Sam 7:llb-16). The classic intertestamental illustration of the messianic Son of David appears in Pss Sol 17:21-18:7—a righteous warrior—king who establishes God’s rule in Israel.”[2] In other words, by calling Jesus “Son of David” these men were saying that Jesus was the promised one, that the promises made by God to David in the Davidic covenant had found their fulfillment in Jesus. And what were the promises made to David? In 2 Samuel 7 the word of the Lord comes to David through Nathan the prophet.

11c  Moreover, the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house. 12 When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, 15 but my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. 16 And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.’”

A house and a kingdom and a throne that will never end. Again, in Isaiah 9, we see the promises:

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone. You have multiplied the nation; you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as they are glad when they divide the spoil. For the yoke of his burden, and the staff for his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult and every garment rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for the fire. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

The promises made concerning the house of David therefore pointed beyond David to a greater David to come, one who would come in David’s line would bear eternal authority and a throne that will never diminish. A Savior would emerge from the Davidic line.

When these men call Jesus “Son of David” they reveal not only that they were aware of the contents of the Hebrew scriptures but that they were able to apply them rightly in their own day. Specifically, they saw the fulfillment of these promises made to David in Jesus.

Conversionism

And what of Bebbington’s idea of “conversionism”? Did these two men possess a conviction that they needed a personal encounter with Jesus, that Jesus could change them, heal them, save them? Watch:

27 And as Jesus passed on from there, two blind men followed him, crying aloud, “Have mercy on us, Son of David.” 28 When he entered 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 be it done to you.” 30 And their eyes were opened. And Jesus sternly warned them, “See that no one knows about it.” 31 But they went away and spread his fame through all that district.

This is one of the easiest of the four evangelical marks to identify in these men. Consider their actions toward Jesus:

  • They followed Him.
  • They cried aloud.
  • They followed Him into a house.
  • They professed their faith in Him.
  • Jesus healed them.

These men knew that they needed Jesus. They knew they had a need that was beyond them. They saw in Jesus the hope of Israel, the hope of the world. They were passionate in their pursuit of Christ. They cried out to Him for help! And He saved them.

And what of you? Have you been converted? Have you been born again?

It cannot be assumed that all who claim the title “Christian” have this understanding. My mother, who herself helped lead me to the Lord, has shared with me that though she grew up in church and her family actively attended, she never heard the idea of being converted, of “asking Jesus into your heart,” of the need for a personal relationship with Jesus Christ until later in life.

It does give one pause. If one believes that one is a Christian and that one will live in glory with the Lord after death, surely one must have some notion of why and how that can be. If it is not through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, by what means do people think it happens? By being a member of the church? By being baptized? By being the children of Christian parents?

Whatever else these two men knew, they knew that they needed Jesus Christ! They knew that they needed a personal touch with Him.

So do we! We too must call out to Him to be saved. He is eager to grant this request.

Activism

Bebbington’s notion of “Activism,” the belief that the gospel needs to be expressed through evangelistic and missionary efforts, is also abundantly clear in our text.

30 And their eyes were opened. And Jesus sternly warned them, “See that no one knows about it.” 31 But they went away and spread his fame through all that district.

Notice what they do. They (1) go away, (2) spread his fame, and (3) spread it through all that district. This is a tremendous model of mission! What makes it all the more amazing is the fact that they did so after “Jesus sternly warned them, ‘See that no one knows about it.’”

The irony here is painful. Jesus told them not to say anything and they immediately did so. Jesus has commissioned us to intentionally spread the gospel and oftentimes we are reticent to do so.

This is not the place to argue for the ongoing applicability of the Great Commission, Jesus’ words at the end of Matthew 28. At this point I am content to say that I see it as so self-evident that the Great Commission was intended for the church throughout the ages—for us—that it is difficult for me to take arguments to the contrary seriously. Here is the Great Commission of Matthew 28:

18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

This is the call to Kingdom activism, to use Bebbington’s term. This is the call to mission. This is the call to be the body of Christ. It is all the more tragic, then, to see how often the church has missed this fact. Rick Warren observes thus:

The first phrase of the Great Commission is “Go, therefore.” Who is called to go, in the going described in the Great Commission? For nearly 1,000 years, from Augustine up to the Radical Reformers, the answer would have been “the apostles.” Nobody actually believed that the Great Commission applied to him personally. The idea that every believer is supposed to go is an Anabaptist idea. Calvin did not believe that. He maintained that the Great Commission was given to responsible Christian governments, not the church. Anabaptists went back to New Testament roots: The church is the best way for doing missions.[3]

Perhaps that “nobody” is a bit of an overstatement. Regardless, the church’s long seasons of neglect in the area of seeking to fulfill the Great Commission is a true indictment. May we thank God that these two blind me saw it not only as their duty but as their privilege to tell people about this Jesus! And who were they to do so? They had no great training and certainly no great experience in the area of mission. But what did they have? Simply this: they had a life-altering experience with Jesus Christ. That was enough.

Jim Elliot, on June 23, 1947, wrote the following in his journal:

Missionaries are very human folks, just doing what they are asked.  Simply a bunch of nobodies trying to exalt Somebody.[4]

Amen! And what an honor it is to be a nobody exalting a Somebody! May we go and do likewise.

Crucicentrism

But what of Bebbington’s attribute “Crucicentrism”? How could a focus on the cross be present in these men who bore witness before the cross had even happened? I simply observe at this point that the church has oftentimes in its interpretation of our text seen a kind of progression in the titles these men use to describe Jesus, and that this progression hints at a truth—admittedly a truth perhaps not fully grasped by these men—that will be central to our understanding of the cross. Watch the titles they use:

27 And as Jesus passed on from there, two blind men followed him, crying aloud, “Have mercy on us, Son of David.” 28 When he entered 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.”

They call Jesus:

  • Son of David
  • Lord

While “Lord” does not always carry the full connotation of deity in its usage in the New Testament (i.e., sometimes it is simply a title of honor or respect), it is noteworthy that these men use two terms that will come soon to be understood as fundamental to our understanding of Jesus.

  • Son of David: Jesus was fully man.
  • Lord: Jesus was fully God.

John Chrysostom saw the titles “Son of David” and “Lord” as a progression in these men’s understandings of Jesus. Chrysostom says of them calling Jesus “Lord”: “They no longer call him Son of David, but rise to a higher understanding and acknowledge his authority.”[5] And this higher understanding points to what will come to be the orthodox definition of the person of Christ: Jesus is fully God and fully man, having two natures in one person.

The implications of the titles used by these two men were seen by early interpreters. For instance, in the 4th/5th century Chromatius of Aquileia saw in the two titles—“Son of David” and “Lord”—evidence of the two natures of Christ: “Clearly, in these words they acknowledged him as God and man, Son of God and Son of Man; Son of God and our Lord according to the Spirit, Son of David because he had a body.”[6]

In other words, the two titles these men use are essential to our understanding of what Jesus was accomplishing on the cross. As the “Son of David” (i.e., as a man) Jesus was able to identify with us, overcome temptation as one of us, suffer in our stead, and die in our place. As “Lord” (i.e., as God) He was able to meet the divine standards of perfect holiness and offer Himself as the once-for-all sacrifice before the Father.

Did the two men understand this? Of course they could not have understood it fully at this point. But their words were saying more than they knew and their witness has resounded down through the ages. Christ Jesus is indeed “Son of David” and “Lord,” fully man and fully God, the fulfillment of the royal promises made to David and his house and the incarnation of God Himself. He is the hope of Israel and the Hallelujah of Heaven!

Were these men “Evangelicals”? Of course that is not the great takeaway from the text. Affixing a later label to these men is not the point of what is happening here. But did these men demonstrate the Evangelical markers: a high view of the scriptures, an understanding that they needed Jesus Christ in their lives, a desire to spread the gospel, and a high view of the importance of Christ’s atoning work at Calvary? As we have defined and qualified that last point, yes.

Our lives should be marked by these attributes because they seem to be accurate descriptors for followers of Jesus throughout God’s word. May they be present in our lives and demonstrated with conviction and joy!

 

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_W._Bebbington

[2] Blomberg, Craig L.. Matthew: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture (The New American Commentary) (p. 52). B&H Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

[3] Rick Warren, “The Anabaptists and the Great Commission: The Effect of the Radical Reformers on Church Planting.” The Anabaptists and Contemporary Baptists: Restoring New Testament Christianity (Kindle Location 2010-2014). B&H Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

[4] Daniel L. Akin, Five Who Changed the World (Wake Forest, NC: Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, 2008), 94.

[5] D.H. Williams, ed. and trans., Matthew. The Church’s Bible. (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2018), p.195.

[6] D.H. Williams, ed., p.196.

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