Matthew 8:18—9:8, Moving in Grace

[May 13, 2012] We come now to the second cycle of stories, as Jesus manifests the goodness and grace of God in power to the world as He typifies by His acts the course of the apostolate of the church. There are, in the narrative portion before us, in 8:2—9:34, three cycles of stories that prepare us for the teaching portion on mission in 9:35—11:1. Each cycle takes us typologically through the administration or dispensation (economy) of God’s grace, from Israel to the Gentiles in the church, to Israel (and the land of Israel) at the Second Advent, and finally to the whole world in the age to come.

When Jesus rises from the dead, He commissions the disciples to disciple all the nations (Gentiles). In the gospels and the Acts of the Apostles—that is, in the life of Jesus and in the early church—the Gospel goes out first to Israel, both in the Land and in the Diaspora, and then to the Gentiles and all the nations. The church is made up of Jews and Gentiles (it is not a Gentile church, but a Jewish church that embraces the Gentiles), though after that initial beginning, the church and Israel have parted ways, Israel having rejected both Jesus as their Messiah and the church as the people of the Messiah. Yet, in the view of the church, Israel still waits for the coming of Jesus when they wait for the Messiah, and He will still be faithful to them as their Messiah, having purified the nation of their sins by His atoning sacrifice. When the fullness of the Gentiles comes in, when “Babylon” has fully ripened and human-caused ecological disaster imperils the planet, as the Second Advent draws near, Israel will see the sign of the Son of Man and will turn to Him and He will at last redeem them, gathering them from the four winds and establishing them in the Land. When that happens, the nations too will turn to the Lord and make pilgrimage to Zion to learn His ways, and He will begin to bless all the nations on earth. This last is the time of the Kingdom of the Heavens, when Satan is thrown down and God overcomes the collective soul of humanity, “abolishing all rule and authority and power” through the transformative power of the spiritual revelation of reality as it is revealed in Jesus.

At the time of the Second Advent, the church will be resurrected, though only the saints who are ready will participate as agents in the Kingdom of the Heavens; the others will be subjected to the Kingdom of the Heavens until their transformation is brought further along. Only after the long age of the Kingdom of the Heavens, when all things are headed up in Christ, will the general resurrection of the dead take place. Then those who are raised will be judged. This, however, is not directly the concern of Matthew in this section of His gospel (until we get to 9:34), for it does not concern the coming of God in goodness and grace to sinful and suffering humanity.

The three cycles of stories in the narrative portion before us, are:

  • 8:2-17, the healing of the leper, the centurion’s servant, Peter’s mother-in-law, and the many.
  • 8:18—9:8, the departure to the “other side” and the return, and the healing of the paralytic.
  • 9:9-34, the call of the sinful, new wineskins for the new wine, the healing of the woman with the twelve-year hemorrhage and the raising of the twelve year old girl, and the healing of the two blind men.

We have delineated the first cycle already. Now let us consider the second cycle.

The Second Cycle (Matthew 8:18)

“He gives orders to depart to the other side.” This marks the transition from the first cycle to the second. The “other side” represents a departure into the Gentile world, for the Sea represents the chaos of the world without God (hence the great tempest that threatens to swamp the boat), which is precisely what we find there in the tormented demoniac and the Gentile town-dwellers who prefer things the way they are. When Jesus returns, a paralytic is brought to Him who represents Israel at the time of His coming. He pronounces the child forgiven, and this has the power to raise the paralytic from his bed so that the paralytic can return home.  Let us consider this cycle a little more in detail.

Follow Me” (8:19-22)

Before Jesus sets out to the other side, that is, typologically, before the mission to the Gentiles can begin, He makes clear in the midst of Israel what is the demand and cost of discipleship.

The Storm at Sea (8:23-27)

For the Jewish church to embark on the Messianic mission to the Gentiles, it will be at great peril. While Gentiles might readily embrace the Messiah of Israel as their Savior—as we see today in Africa and Asia—the disciples’ fellow Jews will oppose them and later reject them. At first they were opposed by the Shammaite Pharisees and the nascent Zealots (the Sadducees opposed them originally because they preached the resurrection of the dead), because they practiced unrestrained fellowship with Gentiles. Then, when the Gentiles embraced the Messiah in great numbers, Rabbinic Judaism rejected them—perhaps out of jealousy—and effectively stopped their own proselytism of the Gentiles. However, this opposition and rejection was small in comparison to the opposition the church received—and still receives—from the Gentile world itself. Persecution upon persecution came upon the church. The Gentile converts themselves often provoked the conflict by their bad, violent, intolerant, deceitful, and hypocritical behavior. Sometimes, however, the conflict rose from a contradiction of values, the church often being either overly radical (left) or conservative (right) in the eyes of the world. Ultimately, however, the root of the conflict between the church and the world is over the Person of Jesus. The world “loves” Jesus, but they do not love His radical rejection of civilization or the meaning of His death. The world loves to love Jesus, but they do not accept His Jewishness, or His radical acceptance of the poor and the outcasts (they only admire it from afar), or especially the radical claims of His Person, to be who He says He is. Yes they love their “image” of Jesus, but clearly, they hate Him. The storm at sea, which the boat of the church encounters, is driven by the powers (the archons) that have emerged from the gestalt of the world. Thus Jesus can “rebuke” the wind, and by His authority it ceases.

The Deliverance of the Demoniac (8:28-34)

The Gentile world is governed by radical powers of delusion that oppose their exposure by the light of reality. These powers act with the utmost animosity towards the creation, towards God, and towards the simple act of being human. On a grand scale these powers organize the world into what we see. It designs the great civilizations, and determines their self-destruction. In the past they managed the greed of human beings. Yet now human greed is practically unrestrained and the world uses this to further its purposes of its own self-destruction. In their loathing of creation the powers are resolved to ruin the realm of nature, destroy everything of beauty, drive the majority of species into extinction, and bring down as much of the created order as it can before they drive humanity itself into total ruin. On a smaller scale, these powers bring about the fragmentation of the human personality, terrible confusion and the loss of will. People are subject to internal personal forces over which they have no conscious control. In dramatic cases these can manifest as demons. In that particular grammar of the human personality, demonic influences are everywhere. This is the Gentile world, the world we live in.

For demons to leave a person and enter a herd of pigs requires that the demons be supernatural, extra-personal beings, to which even pigs can be subject, unless we are talking about a form of mass hysteria that overtook the pigs as a result of the exorcism. I am hard pressed to explain this scientifically, though maybe the explanation is along this line. But if demons are beings on their own, apart from the human (and animal) psyche, what kind of substance do they have? They are not angelic beings, which are far greater beings who manifest to our psyche but do not enter into them. Nor are they spirits in the sense that people and animals have spirits. For in our case, the spirit is the life of our bodies and when the spirit leaves, our bodies become lifeless. When our spirits leave, they return directly to God. We do not exist independently as spirits, that is, as disembodied spirits—unless demons are a manifestation of the “shades,” that is, the dead (Job 26:5; Psalm 88:10; etc.), who otherwise would be in Hades (Sheol). In such a case, why are they not in Hades? Unless, as G. H. Pember had speculated, they are the “shades” of a pre-adamic race of people. That is very speculative, since we know nothing about them and why they would be different than we are. In any case, what is a “shade” unless it is a residual memory of a life once lives. Perhaps this is scientifically possible. After all, the idea of morphogenetic fields—as proposed by the scientist Rupert Sheldrake—is that they are “memories” stored by the universe. In which case, these “memories” can wreck terrible havoc on the living, and even cross the boundary of species.

Here is a story of great suffering, caused by our world, and the deliverance that Jesus brings.

The world, however, does not respond to this alleviation of suffering with joy. Rather, the people of the world always act out of blindness and self-interest. The farmer also suffers because of the loss of his pigs, and that blinds all the people of the town to the good that has happened. There were people who exploited the demoniac in Philippi (Acts 16:16-24) who were so upset by the loss of their profits that they had the apostles thrown into prison when she was delivered. Today people would rather endure the entire destruction of their environment than change their pattern of production and consumption and way of life dependent on the great amounts of energy that oil, natural gas, coal and nuclear fission can generate. In America, they are able to deny any responsibility for their own destruction by denying that the consequences, which they already suffer, has anything to do with them. The capacity that humans have to willingly make themselves blind is nothing new, but it will be the undoing of the species, as it is already the undoing of life on the planet. The town dwellers ask Jesus to leave—just as the modern town-dwellers do not welcome the church—because they are only concerned about the loss of financial revenues. Those who have cannot endure with less, even though those who have not have nothing with which to even pick themselves up. In the end, the Gentiles will reject Jesus, “entreating Him to depart from their borders.”

Nevertheless, Jesus is the help of the helpless, the hope of the hopeless. This is no less the case even in the idolatrous and blind world of the Gentiles, the world in which we live.

The Healing of the Paralytic (9:1-8)

Jesus, “stepping into a boat, He crossed over and came to His own town,” that is, Capernaum. Jesus returns home, back to the Jewish shore. When Jesus returns in glory, in the manifestation of His revelation, He will return to Israel to gather all the tribes of the Land. He will return home. This will take place after the “fullness of the Gentiles comes in” (Romans 11:25).

They bring Him a paralytic, and seeing their faith, He says to the paralytic, “Take courage, child; your sins are forgiven.” They must be the man’s family and friends. They represent, perhaps, the remnant of Israel that owns Jesus as Israel’s Messiah, that is, Messianic Jews, and perhaps they represent Gentiles believers too who still remember that Jesus is Israel’s Messiah.

“In that day … I will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and of supplications; and they will look upon Me, whom they have pierced; and they will wail over Him with wailing as for an only son and cry bitterly over Him with bitter crying as for a firstborn son … In that day there will be an opened fountain for the house of David and for the inhabitants of Jerusalem, for sin and for impurity” (Zechariah 12:10; 13:1). “And thus all Israel will be saved, as it is written, ‘The Deliverer will come out of Zion; He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob. And this is the covenant from me to them, when I take away their sins’” (Romans 11:26-27).

The forgiveness Israel experiences “in that day” will itself be enough to remove their paralysis and enable them to return home (the Land). What does their paralysis consist? If becoming freed from paralysis means that their exile is over and they can return to the Land with the blessing promised by Moses and the Prophets, then the length of their paralysis is the period of the exile, from the time of the Assyrians and Babylonians to the present. What does the paralysis consist? It was their discovery that they stand under God’s judgment and the sentence of His condemnation. All the Gentiles have always stood (and obviously still do) under the sentence of God’s condemnation. What was paralyzing for Israel was the discovery that they too stood under this judgment. Not only did they come under it when they fell into the idolatrous ways of the Gentiles, but they have always been under this judgment, just as all of humanity has. The great symbols under which they lived in the times of the Temple and Kingship were provisional. They were not the reality that they symbolized. Even when Israel thought it was in the good of the reality, it was not, for it was—unknown to it—under the judgment of God. Always that judgment, for Jew and Gentile, is suspended by the mercy of God. We live in His patience, under His mercy. All the signs and symbols that Israel has known point to the future, to the time of fulfillment, when the Messiah will at last come and they will be forgiven, and the promises will come to pass, and the blessing of God will finally come upon them.

“For God has shut up all in disobedience that He might show mercy to all” (Romans 11:32). In the end, as the crowd in the story saw and feared and glorified God, so all this—what we see here typologically—will be “to the praise of the glory of His grace, with which He graced us in the Beloved” (Ephesians 1:6) for He “works all things according to the counsel of His will, that we would be to the praise of His glory who have first hoped in Christ” (Ephesians 1:11-12). “O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and untraceable his ways! … Because out from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen” (Romans 11:33, 36).

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