If You Are Willing | Matthew 8:1-4
This account of Jesus’ compassion is amazing and beautiful, because in the first century, leprosy was a slow and painful killer that was almost always fatal. The few survivors that overcame the disease were often left with hideous and painful physical scars. They also had to deal with the emotional scars left by a superstitious public that believed that contracting the disease was to be put under God’s curse.
Not every miracle Jesus performed is recorded in the Gospel. No doubt, miracles were common and ordinary for the Son of God who always displayed mercy despite the crowds constantly pressing in on him and demanding his attention. God was also intentional and meticulous about the stories he chose to retell through his inspired writers, and we have to remember that the inclusion of this account not chosen randomly or haphazardly.
Notice that when Jesus encountered this leper, he first came down from the mountainside after finishing his Sermon on the Mount. In other words, Jesus condescended after his great sermon.
Also notice that this leper comes and bows before Jesus? The leper bowed and expressed his great faith when he said, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” And without hesitation the Lord reaches down to touch him and says those beautiful words, “I am willing. Be clean!” And the leper is immediately healed.
Matthew has given us not only a picture of our merciful God, but a real life allegory of repentance. When hearts become drawn they become willing. And once hearts become willing, God and the sinner simultaneously draw near like attracting magnets until finally the healing transaction between Redeemer and sinner is instant and total.
The leper’s outward disease is like the disease of our hearts. All of us are spiritual lepers with hopelessly incurable diseases. All of us are insufficient to save ourselves.
Like the leper, we only find true healing from the incurable illness if we humble ourselves before the Messiah, who demands nothing more of us but our trust in him. Only faith in Jesus, brings the joy and peace that give us the ability to genuinely praise and please God.
The great barrier between us and God does not lie with God, but with us. He is the One who is always willing to heal to us, but we are the ones who are stubborn. So few of us are willing to turn because we don’t think God can heal us.
And God will certainly heal us, but not unless we come to him and say: “If you are willing, you can make me clean.”
The Centurion | Matthew 8:5-13
Jesus’ hearers were likely offended over the praise he lavished on the centurion. If so, they were judging by outward appearances and didn’t fully appreciate why he was giving this Gentile soldier such high praise. After all, it would take years for even Jesus’ disciples grasped his love enough to spiritually detoxify from the legalism and superstition of their religious culture. On several occasions, we see the Gospels documenting their struggles with prejudice and racism as they asked fire to be called down on Samaritans, blocked children from coming to Jesus and tried to prevent the sick and needy from seeing Jesus for healing.
But here we see a reviled Roman, receiving the highest of all possible praises; and not for his heritage or his talents but for his act of faith.
The centurion’s humility is amazing and consistent with true faith. Here is a man of importance. Here is a decorated solider in charge of at least 60-100 other soldiers with all the privileges and wealth that come with the position. But despite his status, we find this soldier racing across the Israeli countryside in search for an obscure rabbi for sake of his servant. Here this master truly became a servant for his friend.
In the first century, servants were second class citizens in the Roman Empire. They were often exploited and mistreated for personal gain. But this man was so filled with compassion for his servant, that he set aside his status and reputation and rushed out to find the only cure for him. Here is a man who possessed such great faith in Jesus that he said he did not need to the witness the healing himself, he only needed the Lord’s word that his servant would be healed. This was a man who was so humbled before Jesus that he would not even let him approach his house. He was a man where it was simply good enough to hear his Lord command what needed to be done, and he was the content to submit and obey it.
Jesus is not just content to take up our sins in order to leave us to fend for ourselves. Jesus desires to take up our worries and fears and even our sickness as well. As Isaiah foretold, Jesus came to restore the sight of the blind and heal the lame and the prophet was not speaking about spiritual things but the physical as well.
Now a whole theological can of worms is opened up with these statements. The debate over cessation and continuation rages on today. But what’s important here is that Jesus healed, and he did so as a sign of his coming and as a sign of who he is. Though some claim that it is not normative that signs and wonders continue in the world today, it cannot be disputed that signs and wonders are normative with God. God is Supernatural and when he moves hearts and minds he does so in a supernatural way.
Our God is a God of mercy and here the Son of God displays the full mercy of his Father by lifting Peter’s mother-in-law’s fever. He set her free and once free she happily serves her Lord even though it was the Sabbath.
Though sickness and death are part of the natural order of a world we polluted, we serve a God who seeks to fully restore us no matther the time or date. And whether we leave this life in perfect health or with miserably broken bodies, Christ is there to restore his people on the other side of glory.
Let the Dead Bury Their Own Dead | Matthew 8:18-22
It seems harsh that Jesus would ask a son to forget about the burial of his dead father. Jewish society was a deeply patriarchal one, and an inheritance was often necessary for survival and maintaining the family’s good name. Almost as harsh was Jesus telling a teacher that in order to follow him he must forget about where he lived and leave behind the comforts of life.
Taking a deeper look into what Jesus is saying shows us that our Lord was actually being quite merciful. The path to life is through Christ and that path means dying to the world. Rather than asking would be followers to severely punish their bodies through starvation or some other grueling ritual, Jesus is instead asks these potential followers to forget about traditions and comforts and just follow him. He asks them to surrender their dreams, desires and life’s ambitions by parting with their old lives and ways for the sake of his ways.
The Gospel is not: Give up your life so that you can follow Jesus. Instead it is: Giving up your life is following Jesus. This is a subtle distinction with massive eternal consequences. When Jesus warns that we must set aside our dependencies on the world, found when we cling to comfortable homes and cozy families, he means it. “Let the dead bury their own dead,” he says. Let the dead have this world because they behave as it behaves, and they worry about what it desires. So Jesus says to them: The world is dead. It does dead things, including the burying of its own. But you forget about all that now. You come and follow me, and when you forget the world and come to me, then you will know that you are truly my follower.
Now Jesus isn’t saying we must abandon civilization. We don’t need to live monastic lives and live in some remote corner of the world despising humanity from afar. Jesus also teaches us that we live in the world, even if we are not to be of it. He says that though we live in its borders, we do not practice its customs.
Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress is an allegory of an awakened sinner running from his doomed city to heaven. And when the man runs, he leaves behind his stubborn family and his friends who refuse to believe and go with him. But though the man leaves his family, the allegory is also clear that the fleeing Christian is still physically living among them. We find out that it is not his body that flees, but his heart. It’s not his legs that run from his home, but his desires as he runs from the life he had always lived.
When a Christian repents his interests, his hobbies, his free time and his disposable hours are now dominated by new desires. He begins have passions to soak up the Wisdom of God and the Spirit of God. Prayer, reading of Scripture, godly conversations are now their primary interests instead of the things the world seeks after and enjoys.
Paradoxically, a born again soul has left everyone around them, while remaining very near. These are souls who have gone after Jesus and left the dead to bury their own dead.
Little Faith | Matthew 8:23-27
When Jesus’ disciples rushed to him trembling and terrified over the ferocity of the storm, he did not say to them: Where is your obedience? or Where is your righteousness? He didn’t rebuke them for failing to navigate the ship better or for failing to prepare the boat for the weather. Instead he asked “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Or put another way, “Why has your faith fled away?” or “Where has your faith gone?”
The disciples had panicked and their faithless cry, “We are going drown!” not only signified that they did not believe that Jesus was capable of calming the storm, it signified that they did not understand that the very God who presides over all creation was right there with them.
Now having the benefit of hindsight, it’s tempting to mock the disciples for their lack of faith and for being so easily panicked when God himself was among them. But this is a place we should not go. Our evaluation of the disciples lack of faith needs to be checked against our own frailties. We need to remember that we too panic at the storms of life – storms that usually do not immediately threaten our lives like in this case.
The greatest lesson of this account is found in what Jesus wasn’t doing. Jesus was resting during the storm. Likely exhausted from several days worth of public preaching and healing, Jesus sought sleep at the first opportunity, an opportunity that presented itself at the cusp of a massive storm. The disciples, who were likely just as exhausted keeping up with Jesus’ schedule, weren’t resting. They were busy running all over the ship for hours trying to keep it afloat. So they wasted their energy worrying about a storm they had no control over and worried about their lives.
The disciples should have been resting with their Lord. They shouldn’t have been worrying about the wind and waves, but about faith in their Messiah and the righteousness that comes through him. The disciples should have smiled at the danger and laughed at the wind. But their faith failed. They lost confidence in Jesus because they thought he was unaware of the storm and their predicament. They though the was unable to do anything about the wind and the waves.
Jesus taught as he lived. He rested through the storm and when the disciples cried out to him, he came and helped them anyway. With two words word he rebuked the storm. With a single sentance he astonished the disciples when the storm collapsed in on itself. It was as if the atmosphere suddenly had gone from an angry madman to a kind father with a warm, gentle smile.
Long after this miracle, the disciples came to fully appreciate what they had witnessed. The man with them was God in human flesh and could command the wind and the waves with a wave of his hand. From this lesson they would learn that through faith in Christ, they could face the political and social storms that would threaten and even take their lives later in life. But until then, they had to learn to rest with their Master.
The Authority of Jesus | Matthew 8:28-34
It’s interesting that the violent, demon-possessed men who had stopped and terrorized everyone they came across ran and fell before Jesus as soon as they saw him. This says a great deal about the demon’s recognition of the power that Jesus exerted over them.
The demons were obviously terrified before Jesus. They knew that he could toss them out of their comfortable hosts with the flick of his wrist and they knew who he was. They knew something of his mission and they knew that a time was appointed for their destruction. But the demons could but taunt the One they knew would one day destroy them, and they could only beg him to be sent into some nearby pigs.
The end of Matthew 8 has shown us the progression of Jesus’ power. His conquests over sickness and the weather earlier in the chapter are now punctuated with his control even over the kingdom of darkness that rules this world. With a word, Jesus dispatched an entire legion of demons and allowed their request to become their undoing. The demons fled, but not safety as they imagined but to their doom.
The inspired author concludes by giving us a picture of faith and the goodness of the Gospel. Here are two lost souls, empty shells each ruled by by a host of demons, and yet Jesus comes and sets them free. Unwittingly they are teetering on the brink of hell one moment, captive to the violent and miserable whims of the demons, and then they are completely free the next.
The livelihood of the nearby town depended on the pigs that were destroyed in the sea. Instead of being amazed and overjoyed for the healing of miserable men, the people were alarmed over the loss of their property. The entire town came out not to see the evidence of a miracle and rejoice at the spiritual healing that had taken place, but to ask Jesus to leave for fear he might do more damage to their property.
It takes a special kind of faithlessness hatred to dismiss a miracle like this one and then despise such a healing for the sake of livestock. But this is exactly what we see happening here. The townspeople would rather have allowed two men to continue in their misery than to see a herd of pigs lost.
This kind of faithlessness is not isolated only reserved for ancient times, as people will always put their own survival ahead of others, unless Christ would dwell within them.