32 As they were going away, behold, a demon-oppressed man who was mute was brought to him. 33 And when the demon had been cast out, the mute man spoke. And the crowds marveled, saying, “Never was anything like this seen in Israel.” 34 But the Pharisees said, “He casts out demons by the prince of demons.”
Pastor Mason Beecroft has described an interesting Sunday called “Oculi Sunday” and how it was observed in the earlier years of the church.
…[T]he third Sunday in Lent…is known as Oculi Sunday. Oculi, the Latin for “My eyes” comes from Psalm 25, the appointed Introit, the Entrance Psalm of the day: “My eyes are ever toward the Lord, for He shall pluck my feet out of the net. Turn Yourself to me and have mercy on me, for I am desolate and afflicted.
Approximately 1,500 years ago, on Oculi Sunday, if you found yourself in Rome, you would witness a large procession winding its way through the city. The procession would be led by catechumens, people who were preparing for Holy Baptism at the Easter Vigil. Before this day these candidates would have gone through instruction in the faith and been subject to a series of exorcisms. A late fifth-century letter from John the Deacon offers some insight into the faith of this community: “There is no doubt that, until born again in Christ, one is held bound by the power of the devil. Indeed, one thus bound should not approach the grace of the saving bath, unless, renouncing the devil as part of the early rudiments of faith, one is extricated from his snares.” So on Oculi Sunday, as they entered into the sanctuary after the procession, they would pray, “My eyes are ever toward the Lord, for He shall pluck my feet out of the net. Turn Yourself to me and have mercy on me, for I am desolate and afflicted.” The catechumens, along with all the faithful, were confessing that their hope and salvation was in Jesus Christ. They were turning their eyes to the Lord and seeking His mercy for they were desolate and afflicted by sin and death and the power of Satan. So they confessed the faith of the church and renounced Satan and all his works and all his ways. This then marked the beginning of a series of tests for the catechumens called scrutinies to determine their desire to remain faithful to Christ. John the Deacon continues, “For we thoroughly test their hearts concerning faith to determine whether, since the renunciation of the devil, the sacred words of the creed have become fixed in their minds.” The intensity of their preparation heightened in anticipation of entering the waters of Holy Baptism at the Easter Vigil, which was the transfer of their citizenship from the realm of Satan, with its sin and death, into the Kingdom of Jesus Christ, where Christ rules with forgiveness, eternal life, and salvation.
What strikes me as interesting about this is the vivid understanding these earlier Christians had that entry into the Christian life meant rejecting the life of the devil in which they were previously mired. One still gets the feeling that many modern Christians are a bit squeamish about their belief in the devil…which is odd, given how much evidence we see daily for his existence. But these earlier Christians knew and saw that the devil exists, that he is powerful, and that he is seeking to hold us in his murderous clutches. Furthermore, they saw that coming to Christ meant making a definitive break with the devil’s kingdom of darkness.
I found myself twice in the last two days speaking to people who were seeking counsel. In both cases I found myself encouraging them to remember that the devil is real and is out to hurt and wound them but that Christ is greater, stronger, and has defeated the devil. I believe this. I believe it is a powerful truth we must hold to, for if we do not understand the power of the devil we will be stunted in our understanding of the victory of God in Christ.
Our text is a brief one that reveals much about the attacks of the devil and the power of Jesus Christ. The occasion is the healing of a mute possessed man.
The Victim: A Pitiful Demonstration of Demonic Attack
There are four portraits in our text: the victim, the Savior, the crowd, and the Pharisees. Each portrait brings something important to the table. Let us first consider the victim of demonic attack.
32 As they were going away, behold, a demon-oppressed man who was mute was brought to him.
The man is described as “mute.” The word is kophos (“dull”) “which can be used of dull of hearing (i.e., deaf, 11:1) or dull of speech (i.e., mute, as here).” It should be noted, however, that there were early interpreters of scripture who interpreted the word to mean that the man was both deaf and mute. The primary focus seems to be on his being mute, however, since, after being delivered from the demons, the man speaks. The extent of the man’s incapacitation is heightened by the fact that he “was brought to” Jesus. He needed assistance to get to the Lord. Was more happening here? A.T. Robertson points out that kophos means literally “blunted” and that whereas “Homer used it of a blunted dart” in the Iliad, “[o]thers applied it to mental dullness,” though that does not seem to be how the New Testament writers used it.
Notice the insight we are given into the devil’s role in the man’s muteness: “a demon-oppressed man.” Again, his being oppressed is linked to his being mute such that when, in verse 33, the demon is cast out, he speaks.
We have said earlier that we must be careful not to attribute all illness to sin though, in a broader sense, all sickness is in that it results from the Fall. So, too, the relationship of demonic attack to illness. Not all illness is a result of direct demonic attack though all illness, resulting ultimately from the Fall of humanity into sin, is desired by and can be used by Satan. What is more, our text would demonstrate that in some cases certain illnesses or infirmities might be a result of direct demonic attack.
The body and the soul are not radically differentiated into distinct spheres in scripture. Human beings seem to be treated as unified wholes in the Bible. Thus, the condition of the man’s soul (i.e., possessed by a demon) manifested itself in his body (i.e., muteness).
He is, in other words, being attacked in toto. We see in this the devil’s cruelty and humanity’s helplessness when we are in his grasp.
The Savior: An Astonishing Display of Sovereign Power
And yet the Savior is greater. We see this in Jesus’ healing of this man. Interestingly, in our text, no details concerning the man’s deliverance and healing are given.
32 As they were going away, behold, a demon-oppressed man who was mute was brought to him. 33a-b And when the demon had been cast out, the mute man spoke.
- a possessed mute man;
- a reference to his deliverance;
- him speaking.
In the traditional counting of the miracles of Matthew 8-9, this is the tenth miracle, there being five in Matthew 8 and five in Matthew 9. It is almost as if, at this point, in the recounting of the tenth miracle, Matthew does not feel the need to belabor the point that should be obvious by now: Jesus is mighty to heal and to save. Not much detail is given because the reality has now been firmly established: Jesus Christ exercises divine, sovereign authority over creation and is able to heal any sickness or infirmity or demonic attack.
The musician John Michael Talbot has written about the role that silence and the space between the notes plays in music. He writes:
Likewise, with meditational music: it is just as important to hear the space between the notes as it is to hear the notes played. Sometimes it is this space between the notes that actually makes the notes sound bigger. Consequently, the bigger sound is actually accomplished by playing less. Sometimes the silence and space communicate just as much as the sound.
So it is in Christ. Sometimes our silence says just as much, if not more, as our words. Sometimes silence is needed in order for words to really communicate.
I believe that is what Matthew is doing here. By not giving the details of the healing he was actually altering his method of communication and heightening the reader’s sense that this Jesus is so mighty and so powerful that words are not even necessary. Words inevitably fall short.
“And when the demon had been cast out…” That is all we need to know. Jesus is able to accomplish this!
This healing account is understated and, somehow, this makes it that much more powerful. This challenge is no problem for Jesus! He is the healing, powerful God of heaven and earth.
The Crowds: A Rightful Acknowledgement of the Uniqueness of Jesus
Many suggest that the understated reporting of the healing is because Matthew, in this case, is more interested in the contrasting reactions of the crowds and the Pharisees. We begin with the crowds.
33c And the crowds marveled, saying, “Never was anything like this seen in Israel.”
This is an amazing statement. After all, many miracles were worked through the Old Testament saints. Yet these miracles had about them a quality both unique and authoritative. John Chrysostom captured the mind behind these words well so many years ago when he said:
This statement especially bothered the Pharisees, because the crowds placed Jesus before everyone else—not merely before people who lived at that time but even before all who had ever lived. And they put him first, not because he was healing people but because he healed easily; he healed quickly; he healed countless cases of disease; he healed diseases that were incurable. Hence the people reacted in this way.
The people saw in Jesus a man of God that was above all others. One can sense the rising sun of illumination in their hearts. They were beginning to see and to understand the radical implications of these amazing works. This Jesus truly was something else!
I do so love John Stott’s great observation about Jesus:
So we may talk about Alexander the Great, Charles the Great and Napolean the Great, but not Jesus the Great. He is not the Great – he is the Only. There is nobody like him. He has no rival and no successor.
Dallas Willard wrote of Jesus, “He is, simply, the brightest spot in the human scene. There is no real competition.”
“The crowds,” as Matthew put it, saw this. They understood it, or were beginning to. And in this Matthew was likely drawing a contrast between “the crowds,” the common people, and the Pharisees, the religious elites.
The Pharisees: The Blaspheming Madness of the Threatened Elites
The Pharisees, to put it mildly, had quite a different reaction.
34 But the Pharisees said, “He casts out demons by the prince of demons.”
What was going on in their heads? Why were the Pharisees so incensed? Undoubtedly part of it had to do with jealousy. After all, the “crowds” who were turning toward Jesus were ostensibly turning from the Pharisees. They were losing the people to Jesus and His message and His way.
I have a friend who works in a church planting ministry. He tells me that it is not unusual at all for his team to receive enraged phone calls from pastors in communities where they are planting churches. Mind you, these communities have more than enough unchurched people. And, mind you again, some of these churches have been plateaued for years. Regardless, these pastors will call enraged at the thought that a new church is being planted in their community. They seem to feel a kind of right or entitlement to the crowd, even the crowd that does not attend! They are irritated at the thought that the non-attending crowd might attend elsewhere.
I once spoke to a church planter who was planting a new church in a community. He received a phone call from a pastor in that community. When he answered the phone the pastor said, “So I hear you’re planting a church in my town?” The church planter responded that he was unaware that this pastor owned the town. It went downhill from there. Some religious leaders truly do resent seeing the crowd move away from them…even if the crowd was never moving toward them! And if, in the end, the crowd is moving toward a genuine work of Jesus, why should religious leaders feel threatened? Yes, jealousy was part of the Pharisees’ reaction.
Pride was part of this too. These were the Pharisees, after all, the upper echelon of the religious establishment. If miracles were to be worked, surely they should be worked through the religious professionals, right, not this rabble rouser Jesus?! But God was doing His work through Jesus, because Jesus was God. But the Pharisees could not see this. They were blinded by their anger.
In their anger, they dared to attribute the great works of Jesus to the devil! We will see Jesus’ response to this later. For our purposes let us simply note how blind and deluded we can be when our hearts are hardened. How dare they! “He casts our demons by the prince of demons”?! In saying this, they blasphemed against God.
These two groups—the amazed crowd and the incensed Pharisees—do represent a contrast. The one moves toward Jesus. The other moves away. Frederick Dale Bruner believes that these crowds also represent a choice for us today. Bruner argues that that “[t]he real focus of this last miracle is the division after it.” He explains:
Matthew, like all good evangelists, is asking at the end for the hearers’ decision. He presents this tenth miracle in order to fashion, as it were, an altar where those who have been attracted by Jesus through these stories may come and confess their readiness to believe. In this miracle it is we, the listeners, who, if mute or tongue-tied, are invited to speak up with a decision for Christ.
We surely are presented with a choice here. Will we move toward Jesus with the amazed crowd or will we resent the intrusive work of the Kingdom of God in Christ and move away and against Jesus? Do we celebrate God’s work in Christ or do we secretly resent it if we cannot control it or if we do not have a position of prominence in the organizational expressions of it?
Put another way, we might say that the reactions to this miracle present us with this choice: to be with Jesus or to be against Jesus.
I want to be with Jesus! I want to move toward Jesus! I do not want to miss the great works of God in Christ!
Lord God, help us to have eyes to see and ears to hear and hearts to celebrate and arms to embrace and feet to move toward the great work of God and Christ!
 https://www.firstthings.com/blogs/firstthoughts/2010/03/no-middle-ground (I am a bit confused as to whether the words I have quoted here are from Mason Beecroft or from the article’s author Paul T. McCain.)
 Michael J. Wilkins, “Matthew.” Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary. Gen ed. Clinton E. Arnold. Vol. 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002), p.66; Frederick Dale Bruner, Matthew. Vol.1. Revised & Expanded Edition. (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2004), p.439.
 A.T. Robertson, The Gospel According to Matthew, The Gospel According to Mark. Word Pictures in the New Testament. Vol. I (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1930), p.75.
 Talbot, John Michael. The Master Musician: Meditations on Jesus (Kindle Locations 495-499). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.
 Manlio Simonetti, ed. Matthew 1-13. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture. Gen. Ed., Thomas C. Oden. New Testament Ia (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001), p.188
 John Stott, The Radical Disciple (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2010), p.20.
 Dallas Willard, The Great Omission (New York, NY: HarperOne, 2006), ix.
 Frederick Dale Bruner, Matthew. Vol.1. Revised & Expanded Edition. (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2004), p.440.