Jesus Cleanses the Leper (Matthew 8:1-4)
Having listened to the instruction of the King as He proclaimed the laws of His kingdom, we are now called on to consider His works. We may think of these as His royal credentials, proving Him to be in very truth the promised Messiah who was to bring healing and plenty to Israel, reigning in righteousness and peace (Psalm 72:7). John wrote of the first miracle performed by the Lord Jesus Christ at the wedding in Cana; he said that in doing it He “manifested forth his glory” (John 2:11). This was true of all the marvelous signs He performed. Each one spoke in some special way of the mystery of the incarnation, “that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself (2 Corinthians 5:19).
In all His works of power Jesus Christ was but revealing His personal glory. They were the evidences of His messiahship, for He wrought them all, not merely of His own volition as the eternal God veiled in humanity, but as the obedient Son, controlled by the Holy Spirit (Acts 10:38). He chose in all things to be subject to the Father, and by the Spirit the Father accomplished all His works in and through the Son (John 5:17-19). For the time being, during “the days of His flesh,” Jesus Christ was the active servant of the godhead here on earth and as such we need not wonder at the mighty deeds that characterized His ministry. It would have been far stranger had it been otherwise. It would be difficult to imagine that God, who came down to earth and took our flesh-and-blood humanity into union with His deity, could go through the world unmoved by human suffering and do nothing to relieve it. Jesus was greater than anything He ever did. When He acted in power, performing what we, with our limited understanding, call miracles, He was but doing that which was perfectly in keeping with His divine-human personality.
Let us consider first the cleansing of the leper. Had Israel been right with God, disease would have had no place among them (Exodus 15:26). Every sick person in Palestine was a sad testimony to the fallen condition of the favored nation. Everywhere Jesus went He found men and women suffering from illnesses of various kinds. Each one pictured the consequences of sin in one form or another.
Leprosy speaks of the uncleanness and loathsomeness of sin. It is a constitutional disease that produced fearful havoc in the bodies of its victims, even as sin works havoc in the souls of those who are under its power. A man was not a leper because he was disfigured by horrible ulcers and painful sores. These things were but the witness to the disease that was working within. Even so, one is not a sinner because he sins; he sins because he is a sinner.
Here we read of a poor leper who came to the Lord Jesus and worshipped or did homage to Him, pleading for deliverance, though uncertain as to the readiness of Jesus to grant it. He said, “Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean.” At once the answer came, as Jesus reached forth His hand and touched him: “I will; be thou clean.” Immediately the man was freed from his uncleanness. The Lord then commanded him to go to the priest at the temple and offer the gift that Moses commanded, as recorded in Leviticus 14. This was for a testimony to the priest that God was working in Israel.
Jesus Heals the Centurion’s Servant (Matthew 8:5-13)
Here we find a Roman centurion who had come to know the God of Israel. His servant was sick of the palsy. In this paralyzed man we have a picture of the helplessness of the sinner. And such was the condition of all of us until grace saved us. It was while we were yet without strength that Christ’s death availed for us.
Yearning over his helpless servant, the centurion came pleading that Jesus might heal the sick man. The response of Jesus was immediate. “I will come and heal him,” He said. But the centurion protested, declaring that he was not worthy to be so honored. “Speak the word only,” he said, “and my servant shall be healed.” The people said of the centurion, “He is worthy” (Luke 7:4); but he said, “I am not worthy,” for he knew his own heart too well to claim any personal merit.
His was a sublime manifestation of implicit faith in the power of the Lord. Even as he, an officer in the Roman army, could speak with authority to those in subjection to him, he was sure Jesus could command the sickness to depart and He would be obeyed. Such confidence rejoiced the heart of Jesus. In Israel He had not found such trustfulness. He saw in this an earnest of the great Gentile harvest yet to be gathered in, when believing sinners out of all nations would join with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in giving glory to God. But many of “the children of the kingdom”—those who by national birth were the seed of Abraham but lacked Abraham’s faith—would be rejected and would go into the outer darkness, to be shut out of the joys of the kingdom for which they had waited so long. For them there would be weeping and gnashing of teeth: the one speaking of the grief they would suffer, and the other speaking of the resentful-ness of their hearts, indicating that they would remain unrepentant.
The Lord then gave a message of assurance to the centurion, bidding him go his way, for as he had believed so it was done to him. He returned to find his servant healed, for “Where the word of a king is, there is power” (Ecclesiastes 8:4), and God’s anointed King was in the midst of Israel.
Jesus Heals Many (Matthew 8:14-17)
In this section we have an illustration of the restlessness of sin which is like a fever in the soul, but which responds at once to the healing touch of the Savior. Peter was a married man, and the mother of his wife seems to have formed part of the family group. This lady was stricken with a fever and was tossing upon her couch in distress; but when Jesus came, all was changed. He touched her hand, and there was healing in that touch of power. Disease fled before it, for He was the Lord of life.
The restored woman at once sought to show her gratitude by service. When Jesus rebukes the fever of sin, service becomes a joy, and life a glad experience.
In all these instances of healing we see the proof that our Lord Jesus is the all-sufficient One, in whom are infinite resources to meet every emergency. Nothing ever takes Him by surprise, and no need is too great to bring to His attention. His life on earth was the manifestation of divine love and compassion, giving to men an altogether new understanding of the goodness of God and His care for His children. And what He was on earth, He is in the glory: “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and for ever” (Hebrews 13:8). He does not always exert His power in the same manner, but nothing ever alters His concern for His own. His was unlimited power. No case was too hard for Him. Unlike some who have founded religious cults upon the effort to relieve physical ailments, He made no distinction between cases brought to Him for relief. No matter what the disease or form of infirmity, He healed them all. In this way He demonstrated His creatorial power, and His compassion for mankind.
No doubt it was because the news of these remarkable healings had gotten around that the people came from all the nearby districts, seeking deliverance from their many ailments. No one applied to Him in vain. His heart was filled with compassion. He delivered all who came, no matter what the illness might be that was causing pain and suffering.
“Spoken by Esaias.” The prediction of Isaiah 53:4 was literally fulfilled in Jesus’ daily ministry as He bore away the sicknesses and carried the infirmities of the people in His deep sympathies. It is a mistake to suppose that this prophecy refers to His atoning work on the cross. It was here on earth, as He moved among suffering humanity, that He bore our infirmities, and took from men their diseases and pains. There is no such thought in Scripture that Christ made an atonement for sickness, as He did for sin. Sickness is a judicial result of sin and does not call for atonement. It is true, however, that as a result of the work of the cross, the believer’s body will be redeemed and glorified when the Lord returns for His people. Then “this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality” (1 Corinthians 15:53). Until then our bodies are just as subject to sickness and death as those of the unsaved.
Jesus Explains the Cost of Discipleship (Matthew 8:18-22)
Having accomplished so many mighty works in Capernaum and its vicinity, “he gave commandment to depart.” His was a ministry not to a favored few but to all who were distressed. So He passed on to other needy groups.
As they walked toward the seashore to take the boat that was to carry them to the country of Gadara and the region of Decapolis, He evidently discoursed with those who thronged about Him concerning discipleship. As a result two men spoke up expressing their interest.
First a scribe glibly said, “Master, I will follow thee.” He little realized what following the Master would really mean. He was moved by enthusiastic admiration of Jesus, but had no conception of the rejection He was to undergo. Jesus would have no man make a sudden decision without counting the cost, for he who would follow Christ must be prepared to tread His path of loneliness and rejection. He who had created all things was homeless in His own world and among His own people. To follow Him was to share His sorrows.
Then a young man said, “Suffer me first to go and bury my father.” We need not suppose that the father was dead, but the young man pleaded the claims of natural ties as an excuse for not at once following Jesus. Note our Lord’s reply to this man: “Let the dead bury their dead.” That is, let those who are dead spiritually attend to the disposal of the remains of the physically dead. The paramount thing in life is to follow Him. To speak of following Jesus on our own terms is to fail to realize that He is Lord of all. Are we seeking to make a bargain with Him, or have we yielded ourselves unreservedly to His authority?
Jesus Demonstrates His Power over Creation (Matthew 8:23-27)
Jesus wanted to cross the sea to the eastern side, His disciples accompanying Him, to go from Capernaum to Gadara. Capernaum was on the northwest shore.
“A great tempest.” Was it the prince of the power of the air who sought thus to destroy Him before His hour was come? No storm could sink the ship in which He sailed.
Although the sea of Galilee is but a small body, yet because of its position deep down between high hills, it is subject to sudden storms of great intensity, caused by shifting air and heavy winds coming through the passes with tremendous velocity. These storms come up very quickly and often with scarcely any warning.
“Lord, save us: we perish.” Fear engendered by unbelief led the disciples to cry out. Faith would have enabled them to rest in the fact of His presence with them. In another Gospel we are told that Jesus said to His disciples, “Let us pass over unto the other side” (Mark 4:35). This should have been the ground of their confidence. He did not bid them enter the ship to be drowned in the lake, but to go with Him to the other side. Had they remembered these words, their faith would not have failed.
First He rebuked their unbelief. Then He rebuked the elements. Mark told us that He gave a direct command to the boisterous winds and waves—literally, “Peace, be muzzled,” as one might address an angry dog. Immediately the elements were calmed and the raging storm ceased. The winds and the sea recognized the voice of their Master when Jesus rebuked them, for He who had been sleeping in physical weariness was the Creator of the universe.
“What manner of man is this!” As yet they did not understand the mystery of the incarnation. It was as He worked in power among them that their understanding was opened to know who He really was. Awed and relieved, they looked upon their Master in amazement, wondering at the manifestation of authority they had witnessed. Realizing they were in the presence of One whom even the winds and waves obeyed, they marveled as they considered His mysterious power and personality.
Jesus delivers the Demon-possessed (Matthew 8:28-34)
In the country of the Gadarenes a remarkable series of incidents occurred that demonstrated our Lord’s power over demons, but failed to impress the people of that community at the time. Later the attitude of many of them was changed through the testimony of the man out of whom the legion of demons was cast.
Only Matthew mentioned two demoniacs. Mark 5:2 and Luke 8:27 speak of but one. There is, of course, no contradiction here. There were two of these poor unfortunates, both of whom were freed by the Lord Jesus from the awful curse that had separated them from society and driven them out among the tombs. But there was one whose experience was particularly noticeable and whose healing made a very deep impression upon the Gadarenes, or Gergesenes, as they were called by Matthew.
While there is a great mystery about demon possession, it is evident that demons are fallen spirits under Satan’s domination. They have not yet been confined in Hell, but are able to control men and women to their ruin. They knew Jesus at once and recognized Him as the Judge who is to pronounce their final doom. From Him they shrank and recoiled with horror.
Is demon possession possible today? Unquestionably it is. There are many authentic cases of this terrible affliction related by servants of Christ who have come in contact with it. Particularly is this true in pagan lands where Satan holds supreme sway. When the gospel comes in, the powers of Hell rally to fight against the message of the cross. There are many instances of the casting out of demons and the complete deliverance of those who have been under their power.
In accordance with Mosaic law swine were considered unclean beasts not fit for food (Leviticus 11:7). They were apparently tended by degraded Jews who sought gain by selling them to the Gentiles. Tending swine became the occupation of the prodigal (Luke 15:15). According to the law, such a calling was absolutely illegal in the land of Israel.
It would seem that demons seek embodiment in some way. If driven from the men whom they controlled, they pleaded to be allowed to take possession of the bodies of unclean swine. It was a well-merited judgment upon the unprincipled owners of swine when their stock in trade was destroyed. It is not necessary to be able to explain the incident in Matthew 8:28-34, nor just what part the evil spirits had in it. What the passage emphasizes is the enormous capacity of mankind for evil. Two thousand swine (Mark 5:13) could not contain the demons who had found domiciles in two degraded men!
The swineherds hastened in surprise and terror back to the town, where they related the strange things that had occurred, dwelling on the deliverance of the demoniacs and the destruction of the swine. Angered because of pecuniary loss, and doubtless fearful of further ill effects if the Lord Jesus came to know more of their wickedness, the men of Gadara begged Him to leave at once. It was a pitiable thing to refuse the One who might have brought them untold blessing, but to the Gadarenes their swine were of far greater value than the souls of men.
Matthew did not mention that one of the healed demoniacs besought Jesus that he might be with Him; but the Lord had another plan for him. It was to bear witness to his friends at home of the mighty power of the Christ, who had set him free (Mark 5:19). This is the privilege and responsibility of all who are saved. If we know the Lord Jesus for ourselves, are we witnessing faithfully to others, that they too may experience His salvation? Mark and Luke gave us the information concerning the demoniac who became the disciple of Jesus, and told us of the way this man spread abroad the good news of the blessing Christ had brought to him. He carried the message throughout all Decapolis, the ten cities on the eastern side of the sea of Galilee (Mark 5:20). When Jesus returned to that district some time afterward He received a welcome that was in marked contrast to the opposition formerly encountered (Mark 6:53-56).
“Do you not have difficulty about the miracles?” one scientist asked another. The first was confessedly an agnostic. His friend had been but lately led to confess his personal faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. “Not since I know Jesus as the Son of God,” was the answer. “From the moment I was enabled to believe in Him as the supreme miracle—God become man for my redemption—it was easy to accept every other miracle that Scripture tells us He performed. Knowing Him, nothing He is said to have done is incredible.”
As we reflect on the various miracles recorded in this chapter and those that follow, our hearts may well be stirred to worship and praise while we dwell upon the compassion of Jesus for poor, afflicted humanity. He “went about doing good” (Acts 10:38). Never do we read of Him as working a miracle simply to excite the astonishment of those who followed Him. All His miracles were directly intended to relieve human suffering or to minister to the needs of mankind.
In the miracles we see God speaking and acting in His Son. God finds delight in ministering to the needs of His creatures, and in delivering them from the distressing circumstances that fill their souls with fear, and in freeing them from the enthrallment of Satan, whatever form it may take. Because Jesus is God manifest in the flesh, His works are the works of God, and ever reveal the divine interest in and attitude toward men.
We need to learn to confide in Him more fully, and as we do, we shall know by practical experience how real and how definite is His concern for those who trust His love and count upon the exercise of His power. Jesus is the exact expression of the divine character (Hebrews 1:3, literal rendering), and in His activities of grace we see God’s heart revealed.