[July 13, 2008] 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 is concerned about justifying the church’s mission to the Gentiles. The acts of Jesus in chapters 8–9 are testimonies to His actual deeds but they are arranged to serve also as signs.
About to Set out Across the Sea (Matthew 8:18)
What is the significance of the sea, the other side, and the boat? I think the sea signifies the chaotic Gentile world outside the land of Israel. The other side signifies the mission field among the Gentiles. And the boat signifies the mission itself.
For us, though, the sea speaks of our world, which is a world under chaos and disorder. The other side speaks of our neighbors, our coworkers, and all those whom it is our responsibility to reach with the Gospel of Christ. The boat speaks of our going out to them and sharing the Gospel.
Call to Discipleship (8:19-22)
In order to do this, the call was first issued to Israel. Jesus issues the call of discipleship to the people of Israel so that they would join Him in His work. We too must hear the call to discipleship if we would reach others for Christ.
The scribe wants to stay at home and study Jesus’ teachings, but Jesus warns that a disciple is as homeless as He is in this world and must be on the road. While the term “Son of Man,” of course, signifies Christ’s humanity, it also signifies His role as the judge and ruler of the coming kingdom. In this world, here and now, before the second advent, the Judge must bear patiently with rejection, and so must His followers. That the Son of Man should have no place to lay His head is ironic.
That someone wants to “bury his father” seems to mean that he would stay home until his aging father died. It was an excuse—family “obligation”—to delay discipleship. Jesus speaks of the spiritually dead. He words are harsh. Again we see that Jesus makes an absolute claim on our life—our whole life, and accepts no excuses, no delays.
A Storm at Sea (8:23-27)
The disciples get into the boat with Jesus and head out into the sea. Remember the sea is the Gentile world, chaotic and disorderly, and true to the disciples’ fears, a storm breaks out. The storm seems to be a reaction to the demonic fear of Jesus’ coming on the farther shore, because Jesus “rebukes” the storm and it stops. This shows that the chaos and disorder of the idolatrous Gentile world is actually under Satan’s dominion—he is the prince of this world. When he feels that his dominion is threatened, he will attack.
The boat that is under attack, of course, is the church, the church as the vehicle to bring the Gospel to the Gentiles. In the 30s and 40s AD (the first couple of decades after Jesus’ ascension), the church was violently persecuted in many places for bringing the Gospel to Gentiles without first requiring that they fully convert into Jews (by circumcision). Many believers were tempted to give up or give in. We can imagine that this story also describes our own attempt to bring the Gospel to others.
But Jesus is the Lord and is unafraid. In fact, He sleeps. The disciples have “little faith” in contrast to the Roman centurion with his great faith. They still think Jesus is a “man” like the rest of us and so they are terrified. Jesus calls them cowardly and of little faith. If we are going to engage in sharing the Gospel with the idolatrous Gentiles, we must have a strong faith in the real-world Lordship of Jesus and be courageous.
The Mission Field (8:28—9:1)
The “other side” represents Gentile lands. Not surprisingly, since the Gentile world is idolatrous, two men who are possessed by Jesus come out to meet him. They are violent and crazy. They represent one aspect of the world (its insanity), and Jesus threatens their “life” (this is why they recognize Him), so they at once try to get Him to leave. They are, in fact, self-destructive in their violence, proven by the fact that the pigs at once drowned themselves. But when Jesus saves the demon-possessed men, that fact ruins the unclean business of the Gentile world, another aspect of the world—its greed. While some of the world suffers under demonic influences, other people of the world exploit their “insanity” for their financial gain (the story does not reveal this connection—I’m making it myself). Delivering people from Satan’s influence takes profits away from others who have been exploiting them. This is like when Paul in Acts 16 cast the demon out of the slave-girl in Philippi and ruined the business of those who would capitalize on her possession. Their profits went down the drain. As a result of the exorcism that Jesus performed, all the town’s people wanted Jesus (and the church) to leave them alone, so business could go on as usual. Likewise, when Paul and Silas were released from prison, the city magistrates begged them to leave. Matthew may well have heard this story from the seafaring apostles. The Gentiles reject Jesus as much as Israel did.
We need to deliver people from their idols and demons, even if it disrupts “business as usual.” Sharing the Gospel delivers people. It is very powerful. It does disrupt “business.”
Jesus does not force Himself on people. When someone says no, He moves on. We also should not push the issue, but let people be.
When Jesus (and implicitly the church on its age-long mission of sharing the Gospel and delivering people from the dominion of Satan) leaves the Gentile shore, a picture of when the fulness of the Gentiles has come in, He returns to Israel (see Romans 11:25-27).