Please turn in your Bibles to Matthew 12:15-21. In this passage Jesus’ character comes through clearly. Matthew is relating to us something of Jesus’ heart. He’s revealing Jesus’ character to you and He’s providing, for contrast, the religious leaders of Jesus’ day. The Pharisees have had a bad name for about 2000 years amongst Christians, but these were very well-respected religious leaders. These were lay people, part of a movement designed to revitalize religion in Israel. They were highly exalted in the eyes of the people, and yet Matthew contrasts their hearts and their desire to destroy the Lord Jesus Christ to the Lord Jesus’ compassion for the sick, for the downcast, and for the marginal. In calling attention to Jesus’ character, Matthew is not simply wanting us to stand back and admire Him; Matthew wants us to believe Him. Matthew is calling us to commitment to Christ. He is calling us to trust in Him, to love Him, to believe Him, to worship Him, to follow Him. We will see two things from this text. First, Jesus’ actions reveal His character. And second, Jesus’ character is revealed in Old Testament prophecy.
I. Jesus’ Actions Reveal His Character
In verses 14-16, Matthew shows us Jesus’ character. Jesus’ character, His heart, is revealed to us in His actions and in His ministry. First of all, we see a picture of the Pharisees’ unwavering opposition to Jesus Christ and, on the other hand, Jesus’ unwavering ministry. Look at verse 14: “The Pharisees went out and conspired against Him as to how they might destroy Him, but Jesus, aware of this, withdrew from there. Many followed Him, and He healed them all, and warned them not to tell who He was.” Jesus’ withdrawal was very deliberate. It was an act of prudence. Jesus was trying to keep from forcing the hand of the Pharisees. If He had continued right in their presence, He would have perhaps provoked an untimely culmination of their attacks on Him.
In verses 15-16 we’re told that three things ensued when Jesus withdrew. We read in these two verses, “But Jesus, aware of this, withdrew from there. Many followed Him, and He healed them all, and warned them not to tell who He was.” First, the crowds continued to follow Jesus. Notice secondly that Jesus continued to minister. Many, who would not have benefited from His ministry, benefited from His miracles because of the Pharisee’s opposition. Thirdly, notice that He warned these people who are following Him not to tell who He is. That is a very strange thing, it would seem, for the Lord Jesus to tell those who are following Him not to reveal His identity. But He did this for three reasons. First of all, Matthew is going to explain to us in verse 17 that He did that because that was in fulfillment of prophecy. Secondly, He told them not to reveal who He was because He was gradually revealing Himself. You remember He was only gradually explaining who He was, and what His mission was, to the disciples. Finally, Christ only wanted those who had accepted His lordship to testify to His name. Remember, Jesus knew that these very crowds who followed Him would desert Him in the last days of His ministry.
There are many truths that we learn in this passage, but even as we contemplate Jesus’ character revealed by His actions, we are taught the truth that actions reveal the heart. You can see the hearts of the Pharisees by the way they act in this passage. The heart, the meanness, the wickedness, the evil of the Pharisees is seen in their action. You can’t see through to their hearts, but you can see what they’re doing. So, also, you can see the heart of Jesus by His compassion. When He is obstructed by the Pharisees, He continues ministering to those in need. His heart of love, His heart of kindness, His heart of sympathy is so apparent.
II. Jesus’ Character Is Revealed in Old Testament Prophecy
We learn in verses 17-21 that Jesus’ character is not only revealed through His actions, but His character is revealed in the prophecy of the Old Testament. The Old Testament prophets prophesied of the suffering servant of the Lord who would come and of His character. In verses 17-21, Matthew takes us to Isaiah the prophet. He takes us to Isaiah 42:1-4, which is the first of four passages in which Isaiah tells us about the servant of the Lord who will come to deliver Israel. In that passage Matthew directly appeals to Isaiah’s words and applies them to the Lord Jesus Christ. Isaiah 42 can only be properly understood as fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Matthew uses this quote from Isaiah to draw a sharp contrast between the heart of the Pharisees and the heart of Jesus Christ.
First, see these words in verse 18: “Behold My servant whom I have chosen, My beloved in whom My soul is well pleased. I will put My spirit upon Him and He shall proclaim justice to the Gentiles.” In this verse, we are told of the pleasure of the heavenly Father in Jesus Christ. In verses 19-20, the character of the Messiah is given. And Matthew wants to contrast the character of the Messiah with the character of these people who claim to be followers of God. We see in verses 19-20: “He will not quarrel nor cry out, nor will anyone hear His voice in the streets. A battered reed He will not break off and a smoldering wick He will not put out, until He leads justice to victory.”
Matthew’s main point is that Jesus will treat with profound sympathy and tender concern the very people that the Pharisees despised. Jesus will show tender concern for those who are weak and will ask Him for help. He will help the sick. He does in verse 15. The Lord Jesus’ tenderness and compassion is designed to draw sick sinners to Himself. They fear that they will be judged by God because they know that they ought to be judged by God, and yet they are met with the visit of the Savior who is tender and compassionate and will hold them and build them up. Matthew tells us all of this for many reasons. For one thing, Matthew wants us to be like our Savior. He wants us to have that same type of tender compassion and concern that the Lord Jesus manifests. And for those who don’t know Christ, Matthew wants sinners to come to His Savior, because this Savior will treat with gentleness you in your condition, you in your wretchedness, you in hopelessness, and in your weakness, because He is compassionate and full of sympathy. Matthew is calling us to commit to this Savior. Why are you afraid to come to Him? Come to Him and He will give you rest
The Rev. Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III is Chancellor and CEO of Reformed Theological Seminary. He can be reached at 601-923-1600 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.