[July 6, 2008] At Jesus’ baptism it was revealed that He is the Son of God, the Beloved of the Father, the place where the rule (kingdom) of God is unlimited and free. In the wilderness Jesus confronts the devil, the world-ruler, and overcomes the world and its opposition to God by renouncing His own soul. He comes out of the wilderness and at once announces that the kingdom of the heavens has drawn near to Israel in His own person.
He does two things: He calls disciples to Himself. They drop everything and give Him their faith and allegiance. By His calling them and eliciting their response, they enter the sphere of His own Person, the place of grace. They belong to Him and come under the government of God as their Father. The Sermon on the Mount is Jesus’ teaching them about what they have gotten themselves into. The Sermon on the Mount was not something Jesus delivered all at once, but piece by piece, repeatedly; Matthew organized it.
The second thing is: He demonstrated the nearness of the kingdom by a ministry of signs, signs that anticipated the coming of the kingdom. He healed diseases and cast out demons (4:23-24). After giving us the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew now turns our attention to these signs in chapters 8 and 9.
The kingdom draws near to the world through Jesus. And the kingdom is in the church because Jesus dwells in us, in our spirits, and among us, in our midst, in our connection to each other. So what do these signs tell us about this kingdom?
Just as 4:18-22 anticipated the Sermon on the Mount, 8:2—9:34 anticipate Jesus’ sermon in chapter 10. There Jesus sends His disciples out to proclaim that the kingdom has drawn near. The Sermon on the Mount describes our LIFE and the sermon in chapter 10 describes our WORK. Our work is to proclaim the coming of Jesus as Savior and Lord, and to call people to faith in and allegiance to Him.
The signs in chapters 8-9 tell us not only about the kingdom of God with respect to Jesus—that He is the Savior of Israel and the Gentiles, that He is the Savior of sinners and the Savior of all who call on Him. They also are signs of the kingdom with respect to us—that Jesus continues His ministry through the church as we proclaim Him.
Thus everything in Matthew chapters 8–9 is in view of the teaching in chapter 10. Chapter 10 is about our mission to bring the Gospel to others. Matthew was concerned about justifying the church’s mission to the Gentiles and showing how it fitted in to God’s deliverance of Israel. The acts of Jesus in chapters 8–9 are testimonies to His actual deeds but they are also arranged to serve as signs.
This section of Matthew has four sections which we will cover in the next four weeks.
- 8:2-17 Jesus is everyone’s Savior: the unclean leper (Israel), the ungodly Gentile, Peter’s mother-in-law, and the “many.”
- 8:18—9:1 Jesus steps into a boat and crosses the sea, but even before the boat launches out, Jesus calls disciples (in Israel). Launching out into the sea is met with opposition (the storm), and when they reach the Gentile shore, Jesus is met by the demon-possessed. His ministry as Savior and Lord (He frees people from the devil and calls them into discipleship) disrupts their life and they beg Him to leave.
- 9:2-17 Jesus disrupts business as usual by being the sinner’s friend: the paralytic and the tax-collector (and non-observant Jews). We like to put people into categories, and we also allow ourselves to get stuck in particular roles. Jesus’ direct and personal address to each of us breaks all this down. The new wine of the life-changing message of the Gospel destroys it all. It creates a new wineskin. This is the church in the midst of Israel and in the midst of Gentile nations.
- 9:18-34 The dead call on Jesus. (Ezekiel describes exiled Israel as a valley of dry bones, and Israel—even when back in the land—was still exiled, being under foreign rule. Jesus predicted that Jerusalem would be destroyed—which it was in 70 AD—and the nation exiled (which happened in 135.) [This might be a “myth” promulgated for the propaganda purposes of Gentile Christians. Historically, it is dubious. The Jewish occupants of the city were exiled.] Jesus makes the journey to raise the dead and an ostracized “unclean” woman touches Him and her faith heals her. Jesus raises the dead girl. Two blind men call on Him as the Son of David. He goes inside a house and opens their eyes. Then He casts out a demon and opens the mouth of the mute. All this suggests the final salvation of Israel and their restoration to the land. (The land of Israel is mentioned in 9:26, 31 and 33.)
How these stories speak to us personally! Jesus is our Savior and calls us as our Lord, no matter who we are. Can we put ourselves in the place of the leper? The Gentile? Peter and his mother-in-law? The anonymous “many”?
Jesus acts as Savior. Physical healing is a sign, and when Jesus walked in Galilee it was a sign of the presence of the kingdom of God on earth. The record in Acts and the Epistles show that it is not always God’s will to heal us of our diseases. God sometimes uses them to work out His purpose in us. But it is always His will to save us. Let these stories speak to us on this level.
The Leper (Matthew 8:2-4)
The leper is an untouchable. He makes everyone else unclean—even Jesus. People judge him as sinful because of his sickness. He can have no contact with anyone except his fellow lepers. He feels as though God has abandoned him. Yet something about Jesus Himself summons his courage. He comes to Jesus—he is in His presence—and he falls on his face and calls on Him. “Lord,” he says. But when he calls on Jesus, his heart opens and he expresses his fear. “If you are willing …” he says.
Jesus responds in a completely unexpected way. He TOUCHES him. That touch makes Jesus unclean, yet Jesus allows it in order to communicate His love. “I AM willing,” He says, and in saying it He declares that God is willing. This is God—One who condescends to where we are and touches us in our uncleanness. Think of the cross that way. Jesus says to you, “I am willing.”
(This miracle is also a sign of Jesus’ ministry to Israel in the days of His visitation. By His physical presence He “touched” Israel and brought salvation to many. Israel, since the days of its apostasy and exile to Assyria and Babylon, had been declared “unclean” by the prophets. Its uncleanness would not be taken away until the Messiah came and purified it. Isaiah describes how the Servant of the Lord—the passage is quoted in verse 17— must first come and make Himself an offering for sin (Isaiah 53:10). “Surely He has borne our sicknesses and carried our sorrows, yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God and afflicted. But He was wounded because of our transgressions; He was crushed because of our iniquities; the chastening of our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we have been healed … the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him” (Isaiah 53:5-6). So Jesus took upon Himself the uncleanness of the leper by touching Him, not becoming a leper but acquiring his uncleanness. He is willing. By His self-offering, He purifies Israel (Leviticus 14:1-32). Thus Jesus became the Savior of Israel, and of us.)
The Gentile (8:5-13)
The Gentile soldier knows that he is not entitled to the blessings of Israel, that Jesus is not fit to come under his roof, yet he does not allow his own condition to minimize the power of Jesus’ word. How we make excuses! We put ourselves in a category and assume that Jesus is unable or unwilling to save us. Or we think, if only we were around when Jesus was on earth; if only He could have touched me. We pity ourselves. Yet this soldier ignores all these limitations and focuses only on Jesus. His word is enough. Jesus is amazed at him.
What about us? We are far away from Galilee in the first century. Do we think that Jesus can still speak the saving word today even though He has been “away” these two thousand years? Is His word as good now as His physical presence in a particular time and place was then? The soldier ignored his own handicap and simply believed the word of Jesus.
Can we stop pitying ourselves and making excuses and listen to the word of Jesus enough to believe that His word has the same power in my life that it had then? Will we call on Jesus with faith in His word?
(The soldier’s faith in Jesus’ word is a sign of the success of the church’s mission among the Gentiles—“with no one in Israel have I found such great faith … many will come from the east and the west and will recline at table with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of the heavens.” Gentiles, who do not see, yet believe (John 20:29). They believe from afar, when Jesus seems far off during the time of the church age (Ephesians 2:13), and through Jesus’ word they are healed.)
The Mother-in-Law (8:14-15)
Peter’s mother-in-law was too weak and sick to go to Jesus for healing, so Jesus came to her. If you were Peter, would you be willing to bother Jesus with your personal problems, with your relatives and the problems you have at home? Would you invite Jesus into your home?
Do not separate your personal life from Jesus. Some people only want to be private Christians; they may think they are humble and do not want to show off, but they may also be embarrassed and not want anyone to know that they actually believe this “stuff.” Other people are only public Christians. They will follow Jesus when they go to church or when other Christians are watching, but they want to keep their freedom. Their private life is their own.
Peter invited Jesus into His home and Jesus healed his relative who was burning with a fever, confined to a bed. We need to let Jesus into our homes so that our families can serve Him (as Peter’s mother-in-law did) and our homes be places of hospitality for Jesus’ ministry of salvation.
We also ought to bring Jesus to the housebound and those unable to get out. This is something the whole church should be engaged in, not just the pastor and serving ones (the deacons). You need to break out of the circle of your close friends in church and realize that Christ has given you a responsibility for those too weak or sick to get out.
(As a sign, we might notice that Peter was the “apostle to the circumcision” (Galatians 2:7-9). We may say that his house was the house of Israel, and his mother-in-law the people of Israel at the end of the age. When the “fullness of the Gentiles has come in” (Romans 11:25), Jesus will turn back to Israel, to the Jews, and “thus all Israel will be saved” (Romans 11:26) as the prophets foretold. Jesus Himself will return and “touch” and Israel with His actual presence, as He had touched the leper in the earlier sign, and raise her up.)
The Many (8:16-17)
Peter’s household now becomes a place of hospitality for the ministry of Jesus. His neighbors and even strangers come to meet Jesus. What about our homes? If we invite Jesus into the chaos and intimacy of our homes, the church can grow and Jesus’ ministry has somewhere to take place. Please notice the role of the home in the gospels. What about our homes?
The “many” are the nameless, anonymous crowd who are sick and demon possessed. They may be neighbors or they may be people who have simply heard of Jesus. We may think we are unimportant and that Jesus cannot be bothered with us. Or we are too “messed up.” It may be that others have to bring us to Jesus. Yet Jesus IS interested in each of us. None of us are anonymous to Him. Nor are our problems beyond His concern.
Sickness makes us weak and sometimes a burden on others. We can imagine demon-possession rather graphically, as possession by a personal spirit of a foreign supernatural being. I’m not so sure anyone knows very much about such things. Demons are foreign spirits that possess the mind—our minds are not our own, something else seems to possess them, we are split up and become foreign to ourselves. This can describe many forms of mental illness, including psychosis. The kingdom in Jesus heals our minds as well as our bodies through His word. Do not let your mind be your prison.
(This sign signifies the universal ministry of Jesus—He heals “all”—when He gradually heals the Gentile nations during the kingdom, after the restoration of Israel. For examples, see Matthew 25:31-40 or the many passages in the prophets, such as Isaiah 2).