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Matthew 9:35-38 – Looking at Jesus our shepherd

Matthew 9:36 (translation by )
Seeing the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and thrown down like sheep with no shepherd.

Can you imagine how a flock sheep would behave when there is no leader around them or no shepherd?

The people listening to Jesus knew about harvesting. But we can wonder if the fishermen would have understood Jesus talking about a master of the harvest and a harvest truly being plenteous, but only having a few labourers. We can look forward to a rich harvest but still have to see that the workers are few.

People should come to see that the son of man, who is also the son of David and the son of God at the same time, as the sent one from God is next to the King also the Good Shepherd who wants all his sheep to be saved. Just as a shepherd looks after his flock when he finds himself among his scattered sheep, so Jesus also will look after his sheep, the people who God has given him. Though at his time like in our time they need rescue from all the places where they were or are scattered when it was or is cloudy and dark. (Ezechiel 34:11–12, 15–17) Like the Adonai Elohim will seek the lost, bring back the outcasts, bandage the broken, and strengthen the sick, He has given the world His only begotten beloved son to heal them and to gather them.

In this ninth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew we could see how Jesus takes care of those who are willing to belief in him and for those who put their hope in him. He is there for the needy and helpless people. Throughout the gospels we can see that Jesus was patient to listen to people and to answer their questions. He spoke to crowds, fed them, healed the sick and reached out to outcasts, even not to be afraid to mingle with them or to eat with them. Therefore he got criticized (Matthew 9 & 15)

In this world people could see many kings. But none of them managed to be as good as the king God would provide from the seed of king David.

Among the scattered sheep in exile, Ezekiel explained that God had to remove the bad kings; yet he also promised that God would raise up a son of David to rule over them again:

Ezekiel 34:10, 23 (NIV)
10 This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I am against the shepherds and will hold them accountable for my flock. I will remove them from tending the flock so that the shepherds can no longer feed themselves. …
23 I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd. {
Jesus our shepherd (Matthew 9:35-38)}

Jesus looked at the people around him and could feel their agony.


sheep harassed (skullō) and thrown down (rhiptō) under empire after empire (9:36).

But just as God had said, the promised king now stood among them in the person of Jesus. He was the ruler anointed to restore David’s kingship, the shepherd of Israel. Matthew has already used that language to describe Jesus as their king:

Matthew 2:6 (NIV)
But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.

When Matthew speaks of Jesus’ authority, this is what he means. He is Israel’s shepherd. That’s what Jesus was doing:

  • announcing the good news of the kingdom;
  • being the shepherd who restores his people (9:35).

That’s what he’s been doing since the start (compare 4:23).

The unshepherded sheep of Israel were scattered all over the ancient world in Jesus’ time. Drawing them back into the care of the Davidic shepherd would be a massive task.

For Jesus, it felt like standing in a field with a massive crop around him, and only a few workers to help bring them in (9:37). That’s why he asked his disciples to go and petition the Lord of the harvest to send out workers right across the harvest field, to every corner where the sheep were scattered (9:38).

The king will not complete this harvest alone. He appoints workers for his government, delegating his regal authority to those who ask him for help to harvest, to bring the earth back under his kingship (10:1).

We are not individual sheep, searching for existence in postmodern isolation for fear of being harassed and mistreated. We belong to the shepherd. He’s everyone’s shepherd. And the shepherd is drawing the scattered sheep together into a kingdom where we belong, a community where we care for each other the way the shepherd cares for us.


What others are saying

G. K. Beale, The Temple and the Church’s Mission: A Biblical Theology of the Dwelling Place of God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 174:

The miracles were a sign of the inbreaking new creation, where people would be completely healed.

Craig Blomberg, Matthew, New American Commentary (Nashville: B & H, 1992), 166:

The language of “sheep without a shepherd” echoes Num 27:17 and Ezek 34:5, in which the shepherd is most likely messianic (cf. Ezek 34:23). Similar sentiments will well up in Jesus again at the feeding of the five thousand (Mark 6:34). As in the days of the prophets, the rightful leadership of Israel had abdicated its responsibility, as demonstrated by its inability or unwillingness to recognize God’s true spokesmen. “Harassed and helpless” literally means torn and thrown down (cf. Berkeley, “mangled and thrown to the ground”). Predators, and possibly even unscrupulous shepherds (Zech 10:2–3; 11:16) have ravaged the sheep. Verse 36 provides a stinging rebuke to the Pharisees, scribes, and Sadducees.

Craig S. Keener, The Gospel of Matthew: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2009), 309:

The term Jesus uses for “workers” here recurs in 10:10 (cf. 20:1), indicating that the workers Jesus wished to send forth into the harvest were his own disciples. … After commissioning them to pray for “workers,” Jesus commissioned them as “workers” (10:10).



Preceding articles

More than just a man with authority of speaking

Nazarene Commentary Matthew 4:23-25 – Kingdom Preaching and Healing Draws Crowds

Matthew 7:13-23 – The Nazarene’s Commentary: The True Disciple #5 Matthew 7:28-29 – The Crowd’s Reaction

Matthew 9:27-31 – Blind Men Healed

Matthew 9:27-31 – What others are saying about the blind men recognising the son of David

Matthew 9:32-34 – The Nazarene’s Commentary: Speechless Demoniac Healed

Matthew 9:32-34 – How others look at the blind, speechless and demoniac being healed

Matthew 9:35-38 – The Nazarene’s Commentary: A Preaching Tour in a Great Harvest

Authority from the One God to one mediator between God and men

Hebraic Roots Bible Matthew Chapter 28


Additional reading

  1. Written down in God’s Name for righteousness
  2. Bible, helmet of health, salvation and sword of the spirit
  3. Counterfeit Gospels
  4. Many forgot how Christ should be our anchor and our focus
  5. A birthday passed nearly unnoticed
  6. Missional hermeneutics 4/5
  7. Atonement And Fellowship 2/8
  8. Looking for a shepherd for the sheep and goats
  9. Others that hinder the message
  10. Learn how to go out into the world and proclaim the Good News of the coming Kingdom
  11. Which Christians Actually Evangelize
  12. Jesus … will come in the same way as you saw him go


Further related articles

  1. Jesus!
  2. Solemnity of Jesus Christ the king- (A): Jesus is King, Shepherd and Judge.
  3. Jesus-Shepherd for All Who Believe
  4. Names of Jesus – The Good Shepherd
  5. “Why Is Jesus the Good Shepherd?”
  6. Jesus: The Good Shepherd (ready writer)
  7. Jesus The Good Shepherd (by Grace Apocalypse)
  8. The Sheep of God’s Pasture
  9. The Good Shepherd
  10. Jesus – My Good Shepherd
  11. Jesus is for Kings and Shepherds
  12. The Compassionate Jesus
  13. Called by Jesus the shepherd of your soul
  14. How does Jesus meet our needs?
  15. Every Good Work
  16. What They Really Need
  17. All You Have to do is Follow Jesus!

Matthew 9:14-17 – What others are saying about feasting at the sinners’ table instead of fasting for God’s table

posted on Managing criticism (Matthew 9:14-17)

In his writing he looks at the disciples of John the baptist and the disciples of the king of the kingdom and how Jesus handled criticism.

He copped it from the scribes (9:3). He copped it from the Pharisees (9:11). Now he cops it from friends: John the Baptist’s disciples:

Mathew 9:14 (his translation) Then John’s students came to him saying, “How come we and the Pharisees fast often, but your students don’t fast?”

Browne writes

Jesus understands how disillusioned John’s disciples feel. His first reaction is empathy. They’re grieving. Their leader has been taken from them. When the day comes when Jesus is taken away, his disciples will be grieving and fasting too:

9:15 Jesus said to them,

“It’s not possible for the bridal party to grieve when the bridegroom is with them. The days will come when the bridegroom is taken from them, and they’ll fast then.

We may not miss the main point.

Like a people separated from their heavenly sovereign, Israel has lamented and fasted so long for the coming of the one who would restore the Davidic kingship. Now the son of David is among them! Jesus is the bridegroom they’ve been waiting for. The king is here. This is no time for mourning. You may have been grieving in the past, but you can’t attend a wedding dressed in black with sorrow written all over your brow! This is a day of celebration. God is at work among his people again. His Messiah is leading the nation in joyful feasting.

Browne looks at the people who find change difficult and feel nostalgic about the old ways, the familiar ways, things they’ve grown up with.

Israel had been fasting and grieving for so long that lament now defined their faith. They could not imagine a kingdom characterized by feasting rather than fasting.

So Jesus tells two stories to make the point that they cannot mix the old and the new. They must let go of the familiar to experience the kingdom being established in Jesus. If they try to hold onto the old, they’ll lose both the old and the new:

9 16 No one puts a patch of new cloth on an old garment; for the fullness of it pulls away from the garment and the tear becomes worse.
9 17 Neither to you put new wine into old wineskins; if you do, the wineskins break, the wine is spilled and the wineskins are ruined. You put new wine in new wineskins and both are preserved.

Jesus is re-establishing the reign of God over humanity. Their old mourning clothes seemed so appropriate to the kingdom that disintegrated in Old Testament times, but those old garments cannot hold the new cloth of the kingdom being establishing under his kingship. Try to patch them together, and you lose both. The old leather wine bottles they’ve used for so long cannot contain the fresh fermenting wine of the new kingdom. Jesus understands their nostalgia, but they can’t have it both ways.

Jesus extended genuine empathy to those who struggled to adapt, while at the same time being crystal clear that they must relinquish the familiar to experience life under his kingship.

What others are saying

R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2007), 356:

For John’s disciples that indicated a movement which did not take its religious commitment seriously, and the feasting in Matthew’s house only deepened their suspicion. In their different ways the Pharisees, John’s disciples and the Jesus circle were all renewal movements within first-century Judaism, and this brief encounter serves to draw out their distinctive approaches and priorities.

Craig S. Keener, The Gospel of Matthew: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2009), 300:

Weddings generally lasted seven days … Weddings were a matter of joy with which any signs of sorrow seemed conspicuously incongruent … The Gospels’ readers would probably catch an allusion that Jesus’ first hearers missed: Jesus is the groom of God’s people in the coming messianic banquet foreshadowed in their table fellowship (22:2; 25:10–13). The “taking” of the bridegroom, of course, is a veiled reference to the impending crucifixion.


Preceding article

Matthew 9:14-17 – The Nazarene’s Commentary: The Bridegroom and Fasting

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