Having listened to the instruction of the King as He proclaimed the laws of His kingdom, we are now called upon 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 (Ps. 72:7). It is written of the first miracle performed by the Lord Jesus Christ that in doing it He “manifested forth his glory” (John 2:11). This was true of all the marvelous signs He wrought. Each one told out in some special way the mystery of the Incarnation, “that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself” (2 Cor. 5:19).
“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 that 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 which Scripture tells us He performed. Knowing Him, nothing He is said to have done is incredible.”
In all His works of power, Jesus Christ was but telling out 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 wrought all His works in and through the Son (John 5:17-19). For the time being, during “the days of his flesh” (Heb. 5:7), 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.
As we consider this chapter and those that follow, we are struck by the fact that one miraculous sign follows another in rapid succession, all alike testifying to the compassion as well as the power of Jesus. 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 were directly intended to relieve human suffering or to minister to the needs of mankind. In chapters 8-9, which are linked together very intimately, we see Him cleansing the leper (8:1-4); healing the centurion’s servant (vv. 5-13); raising Peter’s wife’s mother from her bed of sickness (vv. 14-15); calming the raging sea to save the lives of His disciples (vv. 23-27); delivering the demoniacs of Gadara (vv. 28-34); giving new strength to the palsied man (9:1-8); healing the afflicted woman who touched His robe, raising the ruler’s daughter, healing the two blind men, casting a demon out of the dumb man (vv. 18-34); and relieving the various ailments of the motley throng that sought His help (vv. 35-38). Interspersed between the accounts of these works of mercy we have important teaching as to discipleship (8:19-22), Matthew’s call (9:9), His solemn rebuke of hypocrisy in verses 10-15, and the parable of the new garment and the new bottle in verses 16-17.
Let us consider first the cleansing of the leper.
When he was come down from the mountain, great multitudes followed him. And, behold, there came a leper and worshipped him, saying, Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean. And Jesus put forth his hand and touched him, saying, I will; be thou clean. And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. And Jesus saith unto him, See thou tell no man; but go thy way, show thyself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a testimony unto them. (vv. 1-4)
Had Israel been right with God, disease would have had no place among them (Exod. 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 wrought 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 worshiped or did homage to Him, pleading for deliverance, yet 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 which Moses commanded, as recorded in Leviticus 14. This was for a testimony to the priest that God was working in Israel.
The second incident recorded is the healing of the centurion’s servant.
And when Jesus was entered into Capernaum, there came unto him a centurion, beseeching him, and saying, Lord, my servant lieth at home sick of the palsy, grievously tormented. And Jesus saith unto him, I will come and heal him. The centurion answered and said, Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof: but speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed. For I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me: and I say to this man, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it. When Jesus heard it, he marvelled, and said to them that followed, Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel. And I say unto you, That many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven. But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. And Jesus said unto the centurion, Go thy way; and as thou hast believed, so be it done unto thee. And his servant was healed in the selfsame hour. (vv. 5-13)
Here we find a Roman centurion, evidently one who had come to know the God of Israel, whose 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, so he was assured Jesus could command that the sickness 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 should 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 should 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 resentfulness 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 “in the word of a king there is power” (Eccl. 8:4), and God’s anointed King was in the midst of Israel.
We have an illustration in verses 14-15 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.
And when Jesus was come into Peter’s house. He saw his wife’s mother laid, and sick of a fever. And he touched her hand, and the fever left her: and she arose, and ministered unto them.
“His wife’s mother… sick of a fever.” 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 the fever left her.” 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. “She arose, and ministered unto them.” When Jesus rebukes the fever of sin, service becomes a joy and life a glad experience.
In all these instances 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” (Heb. 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 word as to these remarkable healings had gotten around that the people came from all the nearby districts, seeking deliverance from their many ailments. We next read:
When the even was come, they brought unto him many that were possessed with devils: and he cast out the spirits with his word, and healed all that were sick: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying, Himself took our infirmities, and bare our sicknesses. Now when Jesus saw great multitudes about him, he gave commandment to depart unto the other side. (vv. 16-18)
“He healed all that were sick.” No one applied to Him in vain. His heart was filled with compassion, so 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 His 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 refers to His atoning work on the cross. It was here on earth, as He moved about among suffering humanity, that He bore our infirmities, and took from men their diseases and pains. There is no such thought in Scripture as 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 own. Then “this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality” (1 Cor. 15:53). Until then, our bodies are just as subject to sickness and death as those of the unsaved.
After He accomplished so many mighty works in Capernaum and its vicinity, we read, “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 discipieship with the result that two men spoke up expressing their interest, one of whom offered an excuse for not deciding immediately to follow Jesus in full-time service. Of these we read in verses 19-22,
And a certain scribe came, and said unto him, Master, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest. And Jesus saith unto him, The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head. And another of his disciples said unto him, Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father. But Jesus said unto him, Follow me; and let the dead bury their dead.
“Master, I will follow thee.” The scribe who so glibly said this 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.
“Not where to lay his head.” 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. Jesus would have no man make a sudden decision without counting the cost, for he who would follow Him must be prepared to tread His path of loneliness and rejection.
“Suffer me first to go and bury my father.” We need not suppose that his father was dead, but this young man pleading the claims of natural ties as an excuse for not at once following Jesus. 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? 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.
In the following section, consisting of verses 23-27, we see the power of Christ manifested as Lord of creation. He who created the universe stills the winds and the waves. All nature is subject to His word.
And when he was entered into a ship, his disciples followed him. And, behold, there arose a great tempest in the sea, insomuch that the ship was covered with the waves: but he was asleep. And his disciples came to him, and awoke him, saying, Lord, save us: we perish. And he saith unto them, Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith? Then he arose, and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a great calm. But the men marvelled, saying, What manner of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him! (vv. 23-27)
“When he was entered into a ship.” That is, 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-strata 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.” It was the fear engendered by unbelief that led the disciples thus 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 4:36). This should have been the ground of their confidence. He did not bid them enter the ship possibly 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.
“He … rebuked the winds and the sea.” First He rebuked their unbelief. Then He rebuked the elements. Mark tells us that He gave a direct command to the boisterous winds and waves, “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 wrought 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 that they had witnessed. Realizing they were in the presence of One whom even the winds and the waves obeyed, they marveled as they considered His mysterious power and personality.
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, although later the attitude of many of them was changed through the testimony of the delivered man out of whom the Legion was cast. We quote verses 28-34:
And when he was come to the other side into the country of the Gergesenes, there met him two possessed with devils, coming out of the tombs, exceeding fierce, so that no man might pass by that way. And, behold, they cried out, saying, What have we to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of God? Art thou come hither to torment us before the time? And there was a good way off from them an herd of many swine feeding. So the devils besought him, saying, If thou cast us out, suffer us to go away into the herd of swine. And he said unto them, Go. And when they were come out, they went into the herd of swine: and, behold, the whole herd of swine ran violently down a steep place into the sea, and perished in the waters. And they that kept them fled, and went their ways into the city, and told every thing, and what was befallen to the possessed of the devils. And, behold, the whole city came out to meet Jesus: and when they saw him, they besought him that he would depart out of their coasts.
“There met him two possessed with devils [or demons], coming out of the tombs.” Only Matthew mentions 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 are called by Matthew.
“What have we to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of God? Art thou come hither to torment us before the time?” While there is a great mystery about demon possession, it is evident that these 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 this 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.
“An herd of many swine feeding.” These unclean beasts were not considered fit for food, in accordance with Mosaic Law (Lev. 11:7). But they were apparently tended by degraded Jews who sought gain by selling them to the Gentiles. Such became the occupation of the prodigal (Luke 15:15). According to the Law, such a calling was absolutely illegal in the land of Israel.
“If thou cast us out, suffer us to go away into the herd of swine.” It would seem that demons seek embodiment in some way. If driven from the men in whom they dwelled, they pleaded to be allowed to take possession of the bodies of the unclean swine.
“The whole herd of swine ran violently down a steep place into the sea.” It was a well-merited judgment upon the unprincipled owners of the swine when their stock-in-trade was thus destroyed. It is not necessary to be able to explain the incident itself, nor just what part the evil spirits had in it. What the message emphasizes is the enormous capacity of mankind for evil. Two thousand swine could not contain the demons who had found domiciles in two degraded men (Mark 5:13)!
“They that kept them fled, … and told every thing.” 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.
“They besought him that he would depart out of their coasts.” 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 does not mention that one of the healed demoniacs besought Jesus that he might be with Him, but the Lord had another plan for him: to bear witness to his friends at home of the mighty power of the Christ, who had set him free. 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 give us the information concerning the demoniac who became the disciple of Jesus, and tell 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. When Jesus returned to that district some time afterward, He received a welcome which was in marked contrast to the opposition formerly encountered (Mark 6:53-56).
As we reflect on the various miracles recorded in this chapter, our hearts may well be stirred to worship and praise while we dwell upon the compassion of Jesus for poor, afflicted humanity. And we remind ourselves that it was God speaking and acting in His Son throughout. God finds delight in ministering to the needs of His creatures, delivering them from the distressing circumstances that fill their souls with fear, and 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 manifest 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 (Heb. 1:3, literal rendering), and in His activities of grace we see God’s heart revealed.