Matthew – Part 4 – (Chapter 8)

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PART FOUR


Jesus Heals Many
and Sends Out the Twelve

(chapter 8, verse 1 through chapter 10, verse 42)

The man with leprosy

Matthew chapter 8, verses 1-4
When he came down from the mountainside, large crowds followed him. A man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately he was cured of his leprosy. Then Jesus said to him, “See that you don’t tell anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.”

Commentary

Just before Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, Matthew tells us that large crowds were following Jesus (chapter 4, verse 25). Here he speaks of large crowds following Jesus when he came down from the mountain. When the people heard Jesus speak, they recognized that he spoke with authority, and now his words will be further validated by the mighty works he will perform. In the following narrative, Matthew will recount three groups of three miracles together with the people’s response to each of them.

The first of these miracles was the healing of a man with leprosy. The word Matthew uses for leprosy may sometimes refer to less severe skin diseases, but in this case Luke tells us that this man was “covered with leprosy.” It evidently was that dread disease in an advanced stage. This man may have had fingers or toes missing, wholly or partially, and the skin all over his body may have been lumpy and scarred. Such a person would not be permitted to live with his family, and he would have to warn other people to stay away from him. So it took great courage for this man to approach Jesus in the presence of a large crowd. But he had nothing to lose. His disease was regarded as incurable, and he did not have long to live. No one else could possibly help him, but he believed that Jesus could.

His words to Jesus are a model prayer: “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” He did not ask directly for anything. He simply expressed his confidence in the Lord Jesus and was willing to submit to Jesus’ will. He knew Jesus could heal him if he wanted to, but he did not know how Jesus would answer his prayer. He was willing to take no for an answer if that should be Jesus’ response.

Jesus immediately revealed his will in this matter and said to the leper, “Be clean!” Those powerful words healed the man instantaneously and completely. The Lord’s power is always inherent in his words. Everything he says is true, and whatever he promises must come to pass. It cannot be otherwise. He who created the universe and established the laws of nature is still Lord over everything he has made. He is able to grant any request we may bring before him, and he will answer all our prayers in the ways he knows to be best.

Mark chapter 1, verse 45 tells us that the healed leper then disobeyed Jesus’ clear command not to tell anyone about this miracle. This may seem like a strange command since it appears that many people witnessed this mighty work of Jesus. We can only speculate about Jesus’ reason for giving this command. Perhaps he did not want the report to reach the ears of the priests at Jerusalem until after they had seen the man and the priest had pronounced him cured. When we consider the hostile attitude that most of the priests had toward Jesus, we realize that a priest might be reluctant to verify a miracle performed by Jesus, but that problem would not exist if the priest was not aware of Jesus’ involvement in the case.

This healed leper may have thought he could honor Jesus by telling others about the miracle, but the fact remains that the Lord thought otherwise. Good intentions do not make an act of disobedience God-pleasing—even though God is still in control and can make everything work out for good. We honor our Lord best by implicit trust in his promises and unquestioning obedience to his commandments.

The faith of the centurion

Matthew chapter 8, verses 5-13
When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help. “Lord,” he said, “my servant lies at home paralyzed and in terrible suffering.” Jesus said to him, “I will go and heal him.” The centurion replied, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard this, he was astonished and said to those following him, “I tell you the truth, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Then Jesus said to the centurion, “Go! It will be done just as you believed it would.” And his servant was healed at that very hour.

Commentary

A centurion, by definition, was the commander of one hundred men in the Roman army. Several centurions are mentioned in the New Testament, and all of them are honorable men. Jesus commends this man as a model of faith for all Christians to emulate. His strong, humble faith is evident in this account. Luke chapter 7, verses 1-10 gives us a few more details. The centurion did not approach Jesus directly. He sent some of the elders of the Jews to bring his request to Jesus. They were happy to do so, because they recognized this centurion as a special friend of the Jewish people. They emphasized this man’s worthiness by telling Jesus that the centurion had built a synagogue at Capernaum for the Jewish people.

Just like the leper in the previous verses, the centurion simply made his need known to Jesus and trusted Jesus to do the right thing for his servant. Jesus immediately promised to go to the centurion’s house and heal his servant. But the centurion realized that a pious Jew would never go into the home of a Gentile, and he wanted to spare Jesus any embarrassment. So he sent some friends to assure Jesus that he did not expect him to come into a gentile home. He was certain that Jesus could heal his servant without even seeing him. As an army officer, he understood how he could command the soldiers under him and they would obey immediately without question. Similarly, Jesus as the Son of God had power over every kind of disease and all the forces of nature. And he exercised that power by healing the centurion’s servant without even seeing him. He is able to heal all our diseases too.

Jesus commended the faith of this centurion and promised that many more Gentiles from all over the earth would be received into his kingdom. He also warned that many “subjects of the kingdom,” that is, physical descendants of Abraham who did not share Abraham’s faith in the Savior, would be cast into outer darkness. They would be permanently separated from the presence of their Lord and Savior and would suffer the pangs of eternal damnation in hell. Their “weeping and gnashing of teeth” would never end.

Jesus heals many

Matthew chapter 8, verses 14-17
When Jesus came into Peter’s house, he saw Peter’s mother-in-law lying in bed with a fever. He touched her hand and the fever left her, and she got up and began to wait on him. When evening came, many who were demon-possessed were brought to him, and he drove out the spirits with a word and healed all the sick. This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah: “He took up our infirmities and carried our diseases.”

Commentary

We don’t know the marital status of most of Jesus’ disciples, but it is evident that Peter was married. It was at his house that his mother-in-law was suffering from a fever. Luke chapter 4, verse 38 adds that it was a high fever. When Jesus healed her, the fever left her immediately. Sometimes a fever may break rather suddenly during the normal course of an illness, but under such circumstances the person would still need time to recover strength. In this case, Peter’s mother-in-law got out of bed immediately and waited on Jesus. So it is clear that this was a miraculous healing, not just a coincidence.

The following verse mentions in a general way that many more people who were demon-possessed or suffering from some bodily ailment were brought to Jesus that evening. Jesus drove out all the evil spirits and healed all the sick people. The accounts of Jesus’ life in all four gospels impress upon us that Jesus never turned anybody away who came or was brought to him to be healed. Some Bible commentators have suggested that the land of Israel was virtually free of illness and demon possession during the years of Jesus’ ministry since Jesus never turned anyone away. This may be an exaggeration, but it is certain that Jesus’ reputation as a healer spread throughout the land of Israel and beyond. All the miracles of healing Jesus performed identified him, not just as a great prophet of the Lord, but as the promised Messiah. He fulfilled the messianic prophecy of Isaiah chapter 53, verse 4.

The cost of following Jesus

Matthew chapter 8, verses 18-22
When Jesus saw the crowd around him, he gave orders to cross to the other side of the lake. Then a teacher of the law came to him and said, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus replied, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” Another disciple said to him, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” But Jesus told him, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.”

Commentary

Although Jesus never turned anyone away who came to him for help, he did occasionally withdraw from the crowds to get some rest and to spend time in prayer to his heavenly Father. At this time his strategy was to cross to the other side of the lake (the Sea of Galilee). Before he was able to get away, a teacher of the law volunteered to accompany Jesus wherever he might go. The teachers of the law (scribes) were, in most cases, bitter enemies of Jesus, for they regarded him as a threat to their authority among the people. They were right about that, because Jesus often denounced the scribes and Pharisees for the many man-made laws they added to the laws of Moses as well as for their hypocrisy and self-righteousness. He had made that very clear in the Sermon on the Mount. So this teacher of the law was obviously an exception.

We do not question this man’s sincerity, but he evidently did not realize all the implications of his promise. Jesus was very popular at the time, and this man might have thought this would be a good time to get on Jesus’ bandwagon. So Jesus reminded the man that the life of a disciple would not be pleasant and easy. He would have to expect hardships and deprivation, because Jesus did not even have a place to call his own. In that respect, he had less than animals like foxes or birds of the air.

We are not told how this teacher of the law then responded. Was he ready to commit himself to such a hard life? What do you think he did? What do you suppose you would have done if you had been in his place? What sacrifices do you make or are you willing to make to serve your Savior and to carry on the work of his kingdom?

Another man, who was already one of Jesus’ disciples (but not one of the Twelve), requested a delay in his following of Jesus. “Lord, first let me go and bury my father,” he requested. That seems like a reasonable request, and Jesus’ reply comes as something of a surprise, not to call it a shock. We do not know all the circumstances, so we have no right to be critical. Jesus was familiar with the whole situation and could even read the man’s mind and heart, and on that basis he told the man to come with him immediately. Some commentators are of the opinion that the man’s father was still alive, though perhaps along in years and in failing health. In that case, this would have involved an indefinite period of time, and it is easy to understand Jesus’ response. It seems more natural, however, to assume that the man had just gotten word of his father’s death, and we know that it was customary among the Jews to bury the dead within a matter of hours. So the man was asking for only a brief delay.

Jesus knew what was best for this particular man at this particular time and place. It was for his spiritual welfare that Jesus dealt with him as he did. The man’s father evidently died as an unbeliever, and Jesus correctly stated that the dead (spiritually dead, other unbelievers) could take care of the burial. Jesus and his disciples had much urgent work to do. They wanted to rescue as many people as possible from spiritual death and eternal condemnation. It was too late to rescue this disciple’s deceased father.

Jesus calms the storm

Matthew chapter 8, verses 23-27
Then he got into the boat and his disciples followed him. Without warning, a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!” He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm. The men were amazed and asked, “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!”

Commentary

Sudden, violent storms were not unusual on the Sea of Galilee. Most of Jesus’ 12 disciples had been professional fishermen, and they surely had experienced such storms and were capable of handling a boat in a storm. But this storm was especially violent, and the disciples soon realized that the situation was out of their control. Meanwhile, Jesus was sleeping peacefully in the stern of the boat. So the frightened disciples woke Jesus. First, Jesus rebuked the disciples for the littleness of their faith. After they had experienced the authority of Jesus’ teaching and had observed the many miracles he had just performed, they should have realized that they were perfectly safe as long as he was with them. He obviously was not frightened or worried, so why should they be?

It is easy for us to be critical of the disciples’ lack of faith in this situation, but how do you suppose you or I would have reacted? After all, we know that Jesus is also with us always, no matter where we are or what dangers may threaten us. Can we claim that our faith is never shaken in times of trouble and danger? We must also confess that our faith is sometimes pitifully weak. At such times we can learn even from Jesus’ weak disciples to come to our Lord in prayer and to rely on him for deliverance.

Second, Jesus rebuked the winds and the waves. When Jesus commanded the forces of nature to quiet down, that was certain to take place—without delay. Jesus’ almighty power as the Son of God attended the words that he spoke. Just as that centurion at Capernaum could expect immediate obedience when he gave an order to a soldier under his command, so even the wind and the waves had to obey the one who had created them and established all the laws of nature. That is true of all the promises our Lord gives us in the inspired Scriptures. Every threat he has made to punish wickedness and unbelief will most certainly be carried out; and every promise he has made to forgive and bless and save penitent sinners cannot fail to be fulfilled. So our salvation is sure, because we have Jesus’ word for it, and it depends entirely upon Jesus’ suffering and death as our substitute and not upon any merit or worthiness in us.

“The men” mentioned in verse 27 evidently included more than the twelve disciples. Mark’s account (chapter 4, verses 35-41) mentions people in other boats that set out at the same time as Jesus. They did not yet fully understand who Jesus was, but they were mightily impressed by this amazing miracle.

We have the advantage over all the people who were in the boat with Jesus or in the attending boats, for we know that Jesus is the Son of God and that he willingly died for our sins, rose again on the third day, and ascended into heaven 40 days later. He has promised that one day he will come again and raise all the dead and take us and all believers to himself in heaven. Our arrival at our heavenly destination is just as certain as was the disciples’ safe arrival on the opposite shore of the Sea of Galilee. We also must expect to encounter storms on the way.

The healing of two demon-possessed men

Matthew chapter 8, verses 28-34
When he arrived at the other side in the region of the Gadarenes, two demon-possessed men coming from the tombs met him. They were so violent that no one could pass that way. “What do you want with us, Son of God?” they shouted. “Have you come here to torture us before the appointed time?” Some distance from them a large herd of pigs was feeding. The demons begged Jesus, “If you drive us out, send us into the herd of pigs.” He said to them, “Go!” So they came out and went into the pigs, and the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and died in the water. Those tending the pigs ran off, went into the town and reported all this, including what had happened to the demon-possessed men. Then the whole town went out to meet Jesus. And when they saw him, they pleaded with him to leave their region.

Commentary

On the other side of the lake, two demon-possessed men met Jesus. In their case, the demons gave them supernatural strength, so that these men could not be controlled even with chains. People were afraid even to go near them. They lived in tombs, which evidently were like caves carved into the side of a cliff. These two demon-possessed men recognized Jesus as the Son of God, and they realized that he was much more powerful than they. They could not resist his power; they could only beg for mercy. The men realized also that from judgment day on they would be confined to Satan’s domain, where they would suffer eternal torment. They were afraid that Jesus might commit them to that realm of outer darkness that very day.

Those who follow in the ways of Satan in this world, who refuse to repent of their sins, and who reject Jesus Christ as the only way of salvation ought to feel the same kind of fear. Their consciences tell them that they are guilty of many sins and deserve to be condemned by God to eternal torment in hell. They don’t seem to worry about the fact that their eternal punishment could come upon them anytime, suddenly and unexpectedly. They have no guarantee that they will survive for 70 years or even for another day, and they don’t seem to appreciate that their days upon earth are their time of grace, that God still calls them to repent of their sins and to trust in Jesus their Savior and to receive the blessings of eternal life in heaven despite their previous sinful lives. Satan and his evil angels will not have another chance to return to the kingdom of heaven, from which they have been cast out, but sinful people in this world have that opportunity until their dying day (unless God has already ended their time of grace and hardened their hearts and made repentance impossible for them because of their stubborn and persistent despising of his grace).

The demons mentioned here by Matthew begged Jesus to permit them to enter a herd of pigs grazing nearby. Their request may puzzle us, but it must have been the only solution or refuge that occurred to them in their desperation. We may be surprised too that Jesus granted their request. But their new abode was very temporary, for the pigs, about two thousand in number, rushed headlong down the bank into the water and drowned.

We don’t know who owned these pigs, but we do know that pigs were unclean animals for the Jews according to the Law of Moses, and we also know that this was Jewish territory. If the pigs’ owners were Jews, Jesus allowed a just judgment to befall them. We are reminded of the times when Jesus drove the merchants and money changers out of the temple compound. And no matter who owned the pigs, the Lord is still the real owner of everything in this world and beyond, and he has a right to do with his possessions as he pleases.

It is significant that no one faulted Jesus for what he allowed to happen to the pigs. After the swineherds went into the town and reported their loss, the whole town came out to meet Jesus. They did not demand that he make restitution for their loss. They just begged him to go away. As Jesus was leaving, one of the men who had been freed from the demons that had possessed him wanted to go along. In this case Jesus advised the man to remain with his family and testify to his own people concerning the mighty work Jesus had done for him.

We don’t know what the teacher of the law (verse 19) did about following Jesus nor what the disciple (verse 21) did, but this man did exactly what Jesus told him to do (see Luke chapter 8, verse 39).