Victorious Hope

| Matthew 8:1-13 | March 5, 2017

Week of March 12, 2017

The Point:  When we come to Jesus in faith, we find hope.

Jesus’ Healing Ministry:  Matthew 8:1-13.

[1] When he came down from the mountain, great crowds followed him. [2] And behold, a leper came to him and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” [3] And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. [4] And Jesus said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a proof to them.” [5] When he entered Capernaum, a centurion came forward to him, appealing to him, [6] “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, suffering terribly.” [7] And he said to him, “I will come and heal him.” [8] But the centurion replied, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. [9] For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” [10] When Jesus heard this, he marveled and said to those who followed him, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith. [11] I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, [12] while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” [13] And to the centurion Jesus said, “Go; let it be done for you as you have believed.” And the servant was healed at that very moment.  [ESV]

“Cleansing a Leper [1-4].  There is an account of this miracle in all three Synoptists [Mark 1:40-45; Luke 5:12-16], with an interesting mixture of resemblances and differences. Clearly the story was widely used, and the Synoptists have all told it in their own way. [1]  After Jesus had come down from the mountain (evidently the mountain he went up in 5:1), great crowds kept following Him. Matthew does not say why, but we are probably meant to see this as the continuance of the state of affairs he described previously [see 4:25]. In due course he will come to the opposition Jesus faced and His rejection by the Jewish leaders and others, but at this point he is describing happenings in the time of Jesus’ great popularity. Matthew uses his great crowds expression to bring out the fact that Jesus had a large following at this time. Following may be used of adherence to Jesus, following Him as a disciple, but in such a context as this it means no more than that the multitudes were accompanying Him. [2]  Behold is Matthew’s favorite way of introducing a note of vividness into his narrative. It does not point to strict chronology and specifically does not mean that the leper came to Him just as He came down from the mountain. Matthew’s arrangement is topical: he is bringing together a number of healing stories and not necessarily saying that they all happened after the Sermon or in the order in which he relates them. It is not known for certain what a leper meant. Nowadays leprosy denotes a specific ailment, Hansen’s disease, but in ancient times, when diagnostic facilities were considerably more limited than those we take for granted, leprosy meant not only Hansen’s disease but a number of other diseases as well. Some of them were curable, and thus a procedure was laid down so that when a cure took place the cured person would be inspected by a priest who certified the cure, after which the healed person was restored to the full life of the community. But leprosy as we know it was not curable, and the dreadful physical afflictions in the advanced state of the disease were such as to give the ancients horror at it all. Since no one knew how it could be cured and since its effects were so horrible, the only treatment was quarantine. Lepers were not allowed to live in towns or villages, but had to remain outside centers of habitation. They were required to keep their distance from people, and if they happened to approach anyone they were required to call out “Unclean” [Lev. 13:45]. Leprosy was not only a terrible disease, but it was defiling; anyone who had it was ceremonially unclean, cut off from the religious and social life of the community. On this occasion a leper approached Jesus, which must have been a fairly unusual procedure. This man came respectfully and knelt before him. It is uncertain what meaning we are to put into this action. Our problem is that it may be used of the worship of a deity or of a respectful approach to a man. If the man was recognizing Jesus as divine, then an act of worship is meant, whereas if his knowledge was more limited he is showing the respect due to a healer from whom he hoped to receive a cure. There is the same ambiguity about Lord. He may mean this as a polite form of address to a man, or he may be using it as the right term for one who was more than a man; this ambiguity is often present, for Jesus is frequently addressed by this word in this Gospel by people who believe in Him [e.g., 8:6; 15:22; 17:15]. Matthew does not tell us how the man had come to hear of Jesus, but plainly he knew enough to be impressed with His abilities to heal. He clearly had no doubts about Jesus’ healing powers, but he was not so sure whether the Lord would want to heal a person like him. Who would be interested in helping a poor leper? He does not even make a request, but contents himself with the statement, if you will, you can make me clean. The request is implied both in the man’s condition and in his confidence in Jesus’ power to heal. He does not speak of being cured but of being cleansed, and this is normally the case. Leprosy was a terrible disease, but it was also a defiling disease. Those who had it were “unclean.” Being freed from leprosy was different from being freed from, say, paralysis. It was spoken of in terms of cleansing, not simply of cure. [3]  Jesus could simply have spoken the healing words, but we should not miss the compassion implied in that Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him. Nobody would touch a leper, for such a touch brought uncleanness; people would also fear the possibility of contracting the disease. It must have been years since the man had experienced such contact with anyone who did not have the disease. Jesus’ answer is but two words in the Greek, but those two words say all that is necessary. The first clears up the matter of Jesus’ will; it assures the leper of His willingness: I will. The second removes the leprosy; it is a word of power, a command that the man be cleansed: be clean. The cure was instantaneous (immediately); the man was cleansed. [4]  Jesus moves on to the procedure that would be necessary to restore the healed man to a place in society. See is a verb used of ordinary sense perception with the eye, but it may also refer to taking care that something be done. Say nothing to anyone is a firm prohibition of making the miracle known. This motif is found elsewhere [9:30; 12:16; 16:20; 17:9] and is, of course, well known in Mark. It is unlikely that this is a device the Evangelists have adopted to account for the fact that a greater number did not respond to Jesus during His ministry. It is much more probable that Jesus did not wish people to misunderstand what He was about and to regard Him simply as a wonder-worker or the kind of person who would be expected to lead a revolt against the Romans in due course. He thus urged people to keep quiet about the wonderful things He had done for them. Instead (but) of such talk the man must go; he should not gossip. The sense of urgency is brought out by but go, show. Mark tells us that in fact the healed man did not obey this injunction, but spread abroad the fact of his cure, with the result that Jesus could no longer show Himself openly and His ministry was accordingly hindered. The healed man is to show himself to the priest [Lev. 14:1-2]; the article denotes the particular priest, the one who has the responsibility of certifying a cure. The man is also to offer a gift that Moses commanded. The word for offer a gift (offering) is used of gifts of various kinds, but here there can be no doubt that it is a sacrifice that is meant. This could be offered only in Jerusalem, so that the man had a journey before him. This may also be part of the reason Jesus urged him not to talk about what had happened but to go to the priest; there would be a strong temptation to put off the journey and perhaps never get around to it. The sacrifice is to be offered for a proof to them, but it is not clear to whom them refers. It might be the priests, or the authorities, or people in general. There is also some doubt about the significance of the proof. It will certainly be a public demonstration of the reality of the cure. It will also demonstrate the power of Jesus to heal and thus be a witness to Jesus’ messiahship. On any showing it means that the man would be known to be healed and would be able to resume his place in society without question.

The Centurion’s Servant [5-13].  The story of the healing of the slave of the centurion is given at greater length in Luke 7:1-10. An important difference is that right at the beginning Matthew has the centurion meeting Jesus in person and urging Jesus not to come to his house, whereas in Luke he first sends the Jewish elders to make the request and later he sends friends to urge the Master not to come into his house. Matthew chooses to abbreviate the story leaving out details inessential to his purpose. Matthew was concerned primarily with the centurion’s faith and nationality, not the messengers. [5]  Matthew moves the story to Capernaum, the place that Jesus made the center of His ministry. There Jesus had contact with a centurion. As the name indicates, the centurion was originally the officer in charge of a hundred soldiers, but in course of time the number varied. The centurions were the actual working officers, the backbone of the army. The discipline and efficiency of the legion as a fighting unit depended on them. This centurion would have been in the army of Herod Antipas; he may not have been a Roman, but he was certainly a Gentile. Every centurion referred to in the New Testament appears to be a worthy man. This man came to Jesus appealing to him, which indicates a courteous approach. [6]  The centurion used the polite address Lord. The word translated servant means boy, and it may be used for a young male, a son, a servant, and in other ways. Luke speaks of a slave, and that is probably the way we should understand it here. Matthew uses two expressive terms, suffering terribly, to bring out the depths of the pain the boy was suffering. Like the leper, the centurion makes no request: he simply states the facts. [7]  Matthew says nothing about the Jewish elders and their commendation of the centurion. He moves straight from the soldier’s request to Jesus’ agreement to heal the sufferer. It is clear that Jesus was willing to enter the home of a Gentile which the Jews considered to be unclean. The centurion would know that Jews regarded Gentile dwellings as ceremonially unclean, and accordingly to ask a Jewish religious teacher to come into his home would put the teacher in a difficult position. If the teacher agreed, he would be open to harsh criticism from stricter Jews; if he did not, he could be accused of not caring about a sick person. Does the centurion want to place Jesus in this position? Or is he thinking of something else? It is perhaps worth noticing that the only time Jesus is recorded as actually going to a sick person is the case of the daughter of Jairus. On all other occasions the sick are brought to Him. He is never recorded as having entered a Gentile dwelling. [8]  The centurion replied, again using the polite form of address, then goes on humbly to disclaim worthiness to have Jesus enter his home. The word is used of sufficiency of various kinds, but here it is something like competency that is in mind; worthy gives us the sense of the Greek word. The centurion disclaims worthiness to have Jesus come under my roof; he was not great enough to have Jesus as his guest. Besides, what Jesus is suggesting he considers unnecessary; anyone in authority can issue orders knowing that what he says will be done even though he himself is not present at the scene of operations. But is the strong adversative; it introduces something very different from Jesus’ suggestion. All that is needed is for Jesus to say the word, where Jesus’ word is the instrument with which the servant will be healed. Until now there has been no example of Jesus healing at a distance, so the centurion’s faith was unusually strong. [9]  The centurion shows that he is familiar with the concept of authority. He does not emphasize his exalted status but speaks of himself as under authority. All authority in the army was vested in the emperor, so that the centurion was subject to imperial authority. But when a centurion gave orders he was obeyed because he spoke with the authority of the emperor. This man’s reply shows that he had an unusual understanding that Jesus spoke with the authority of God. He would accordingly be obeyed. Though he speaks humbly, the officer shows that he is well aware of what authority means. He goes on to illustrate. He himself has soldiers who are subordinate to him, and he knows that when he gives a command it will be obeyed. He instances three commands that he gives: Go … Come … Do this, and in each case he says that the command is obeyed. There is probably no great significance in his moving from soldiers to servant; in both cases the point is that the person receiving the order is a subordinate and the centurion knows that he will do what he is told. [10]  Matthew records Jesus’ astonishment, a very human trait. Faith like this was not to be expected of a Gentile. Jesus did not reply to the centurion immediately, but spoke to the people who were following Him. Truly indicates that the saying that follows is important and should be heeded carefully. Faith is one of the great Christian concepts, but it is found only 8 times in Matthew. It points to trust in Jesus and, in a context like this, in His ability and readiness to give help in unexpected ways. In all Israel Jesus had seen no faith like that of the centurion. It is not without its interest that in the whole story nothing is said about whether the sufferer had faith or not; it is the faith of the centurion that is brought out. [11]  Jesus then contrasts Israel with the many who will come from a variety of places. We should not overlook Matthew’s interest in the place of the Gentiles. I tell you is another solemn introduction; what follows is important and is not to be overlooked. Many is not specific but makes it clear that Jesus is speaking of a large number of people. East in conjunction with west points to the whole world. The saved, in the end, will come from all over the earth, which clearly means that many Gentiles will be included. It may be significant that the words here used of Gentiles are similar to Old Testament passages referring to Jews [e.g., Ps. 107:3; Isa. 43:5-6; 49:12]. Not only will they be included in the number of the saved, but they will enter into bliss, here typified by recline at table with the patriarchs in God’s kingdom. One way first-century Jews had of referring to the coming bliss was to speak of the messianic banquet, an occasion of festivity in the world to come. To recline with the patriarchs was to feast in leisurely manner in the very best company. The patriarchs would undoubtedly be the recipients of God’s blessing in the coming world; therefore, to be associated with them was to share the blessing. This is what Jesus speaks of here, as His mention of leisure with the patriarchs and the reference to kingdom of heaven clearly show. [12]  But that is not the whole story. Another adversative but (while) brings us to the sons of the kingdom. In this unusual expression son denotes “one who shares in this thing or who is worthy of it, or who stands in some other close relation to it.” Jesus is speaking of Jews who, because of the nation’s relationship to God, would be expected to feature in the kingdom but whose lack of faith means that they forfeit their place. They will be thrown out, where the verb may have the notion of some force; at any rate the sons will not be able to resist the expulsion. Jesus does not say from whence they will be thrown out, but clearly the kingdom is in mind. Their destination is not left in doubt. They will go into the outer darkness, were outer points to the darkness farthest out, farthest removed from the joy and light of the kingdom, and darkness contrasts with the light of the kingdom. In that place there will be misery, which is described as weeping and gnashing of teeth, a proverbial expression for pain and distress. Matthew uses it a number of times [13:42,50; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30], but elsewhere in the New Testament it occurs only in Luke 13:28. It is not any old weeping that is meant, but the weeping that is associated with the final rejection. It will be accompanied by gnashing of teeth, another proverbial expression for distress and mostly used in the New Testament, as here, for grief at the final rejection. Some of those who might be expected to respond to Jesus with faith and commitment will not do so, and their failure is shown up by the centurion’s faith. The Master leaves His hearers in no doubt that this is a failure with dire and permanent consequences. [13]  From the crowds Jesus turns to the centurion. He invited him to return home and gives him the assurance that the boy will be healed. This is linked with the man’s faith (as you have believed), for trust in Christ is always of the utmost importance. Here the gift is expressly related to the faith: let it be done for you as you have believed. This does not mean that the gift is in proportion to the faith; Jesus does not work that way. We should see rather a causative meaning, “Because you have believed.” The result was that the servant was healed at that very moment. Matthew is describing a cure that took place as Jesus spoke the word,”  [Morris, pp. 187-196].

Questions for Discussion:

  1. What do we learn about Jesus by His touching the leper? Why does Jesus instruct the healed leper not to tell anyone of his healing, but to go to the priest?
  1. What was so remarkable in the centurion’s faith as to elicit Christ’s great commendation? Jesus complemented only two people on their faith [Matt. 8:10; 15:28]. In both cases, it is a Gentile whose faith is complemented. How is this significant? Contrast John 4:48. Note how the statement of verses 11,12 anticipates the revolutionary developments recorded in Acts 13:45-48.
  1. Who were the sons of the kingdom [12]? What prevented them from entering the kingdom of heaven? How does this apply to people today? There is only one way to enter the kingdom of heaven: growing up in a Christian home, having a religious background, worldly status, riches, etc. will not get someone into the kingdom. How does this teaching influence the way you witness to people concerning the gospel?

References:

Matthew, Craig Blomberg, NAC, B & H Publishing.

Matthew, vol. 1, Daniel M. Doriani, REC, P&R Publishing.

The Gospel According to Matthew, Leon Morris, Pillar Eerdmans.

Matthew, David Turner, ECNT, Baker.