Matthew 4:23-25

THE METHODS OF THE MASTER

Matt. 4:23-25

Jesus made a circular tour of Galilee, teaching in the Synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom, and healing all kinds of diseases and ailments among the people: and the report of his activities went out all over Syria. So they brought to him an those who were ill, those who were in the grip of the most varied diseases and pains, those who were possessed by demons, those who were epileptics, and those who were paralysed; and he healed them. And great crowds followed him from Galilee, and from the Decapolis, and from Jerusalem, and from Judaea, and from beyond Jordan.

Jesus had chosen to begin his mission in Galilee, and we have seen how well-prepared Galilee was to receive the seed. Within Galilee Jesus chose to launch his campaign in the synagogues.

The synagogue was the most important institution in the life of any Jew. There was a difference between the synagogues and the Temple. There was only one Temple, the Temple in Jerusalem, but wherever there was the smallest colony of Jews there was a synagogue. The Temple existed solely for the offering of sacrifice; in it there was no preaching or teaching. The synagogue was essentially a teaching institution. The synagogues have been defined as “the popular religious universities of their day.” If a man had any religious teaching or religious ideas to disseminate, the synagogue was unquestionably the place to start.

Further, the synagogue service was such that it gave the new teacher his chance. In the synagogue service there were three parts. The first part consisted of prayers. The second part consisted of readings from the Law and from the Prophets, readings in which members of the congregation took part. The third part was the address. The important fact is that there was no one person to give the address. There was no such thing as a professional ministry. The president of the synagogue presided over the arrangements for the service. Any distinguished stranger could be asked to give the address, and anyone with a message to give might volunteer to give it; and, if the ruler or president of the synagogue judged him to be a fit person to speak, he was allowed to speak. Thus, at the beginning, the door of the synagogue and the pulpit of the synagogue were open to Jesus. He began in the synagogue because it was there he would find the most sincerely religious people of his day, and the way to speak to them was open to him. After the address there came a time for talk, and questions, and discussion. The synagogue was the ideal place in which to get a new teaching across to the people.

But not only did Jesus preach; he also healed the sick. It was little wonder that reports of what he was doing went out and people came crowding to hear him, and to see him, and to benefit from his pity.

They came from Syria. Syria was the great province of which Palestine was only a part. It stretched away to the north and the north-east with the great city of Damascus as its center. It so happens that one of the loveliest legends passed down to us by Eusebius (Ecclesiastical History 1: 13) goes back to this time. The story goes that there was a king called Abgar, in Edessa, and he was ill. So, it is said, he wrote to Jesus: “Abgar, ruler of Edessa, to Jesus, the most excellent Saviour, who has appeared in the country of Jerusalem–greeting. I have heard of you and of your cures, performed without medicine and without herb; for, it is said, you make the blind to see and the lame to walk, you cleanse the lepers, you cast out evil spirits and demons, you heal those afflicted with lingering diseases, and you raise the dead. Now, as I have heard all this about you, I have concluded that one of two things must be true; either, you are God, and having descended from heaven, you do these things, or else, you are a son of God by what you do. I write to you, therefore, to ask you to come and cure the disease from which I am suffering. For I have heard that the Jews murmur against you, and devise evil things against you. Now, I have a very small but an excellent city which is large enough for both of us.” Jesus was said to have written back: “Blessed are you for having believed in me without seeing me. For it is written concerning me that those who have seen me will not believe in me, while they who have not seen me will believe and be saved. But, as to your request that I should come to you, I must fulfil all things here for which I have been sent, and, after fulfilling them, be taken up again to him who sent me. Yet, after I am taken up, I will send you one of my disciples to cure your disease, and to give life to you and to yours.” So, the legend goes on, Thaddeus went to Edessa and cured Abgar. It is only a legend, but it does show how men believed that even in distant Syria men had heard of Jesus and longed with all their hearts for the help and the healing which he alone could give.

Very naturally they came from Galilee, and the word about Jesus had spread south to Jerusalem and Judaea also, and they came from there. They came from the land across the Jordan, which was known as Peraea, and which stretched from Pella in the north to Arabia Petra in the south. They came from the Decapolis. The Decapolis was a federation of ten independent Greek cities, all of which, except Scythopolis, were on the far side of the Jordan.

This list is symbolic, for in it we see not only the Jews but the Gentiles also coming to Jesus Christ for what he alone could give them. Already the ends of the earth are gathering to him.

THE ACTIVITIES OF JESUS

Matt. 4:23-25 (continued)

This passage is of great importance because it gives us in brief summary the three great activities of Jesus’ life.

(i) He came proclaiming the gospel, or, as the King James and Revised Standard Version have it, he came preaching. Now, as we have already seen, preaching is the proclamation of certainties. Therefore, Jesus came to defeat men’s ignorance. He came to tell them the truth about God, to tell them that which by themselves they could never have found out. He came to put an end to guessing and to groping, and to show men what God is like.

(ii) He came teaching in the synagogues. What is the difference between teaching and preaching? Preaching is the uncompromising proclamation of certainties; teaching is the explanation of the meaning and the significance of them. Therefore, Jesus came to defeat men’s misunderstandings. There are times when men know the truth and misinterpret it. They know the truth and draw the wrong conclusions from it. Jesus came to tell men the meaning of true religion.

(iii) He came healing all those who had need of healing. That is to say, Jesus came to defeat men’s pain. The important thing about Jesus is that he was not satisfied with simply telling men the truth in words; he came to turn that truth into deeds. Florence Allshorn, the great missionary teacher, said, “An ideal is never yours until it comes out of your finger tips.” The ideal is not yours until it is realized in action. Jesus realized his own teaching in deeds of help and healing.

Jesus came preaching that he might defeat all ignorance. he came teaching that he might defeat all misunderstandings. He came healing that he might defeat all pain. We, too, must proclaim our certainties; we, too, must be ready to explain our faith; we, too, must turn the ideal into action and into deeds.

Back to: THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW

Back to: Barclay’s Commentary

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