MATTHEW CHAPTER 8.
The Healing of the Leper. Matt. 8, 1-4.
V. 1. When He was come down from the mountain, great multitudes followed Him. While He was coming down from the mountain, where He had delivered His great sermon, and especially when He had fully descended into the plain, when He had, in fact, reached one of the cities of the neighborhood, Luke 5, 12, the multitudes that had been swarming after Him from near and far, and who were more than ever impressed on account of His teaching, again followed after Him. Jesus at once performed a miracle: V. 2. And, behold, there came a leper, and worshiped Him, saying, Lord, if Thou wilt, Thou canst make me clean. The evangelist uses the formula for introducing a narrative, for stimulating interest. A leper came to Him, transgressing, in his eagerness and his earnest desire for help, the rules which had been made with regard to those afflicted with this disease. Leprosy is a particularly malignant contagious (not infectious) sickness, though it is not hereditary. It is wide-spread over the world, but it occurs frequently only in the East and along the shores of the Mediterranean Sea. Several varieties of the disease are recognized, since the germ that causes it has been found. In all cases, however, the sickness follows the same general course. Spots of various colors appear on the body, later on also blisters and tubercles. The face soon assumes a stupid appearance. Ulceration, atrophy, wasting away of the bone sets in, which may cause deep holes and even the loss of entire members. In some fortunate cases, death occurs within a short time, in others the disease lasts for many years. Among the Jews, lepers were considered unclean, Lev. 13,44-46, had to rend their garments, cover their faces, go with out the usual attention to cleanliness, and, upon the approach of people, utter the cry, "Unclean, unclean!" They were obliged to live outside of the camp or city, had a special section of the synagog reserved for them, and anything they touched, or any house into which they entered, was declared unclean. For their cleansing, a very elaborate ceremonial was prescribed in the Jewish law, Lev. 19. No wonder this poor man was so anxious to be healed. He hurries up to Jesus; he throws himself to the ground in the gesture of abject pleading, fully aware of his own unworthiness and of the great superiority of Him of whom he asks the favor; he calls Him Lord, giving Him divine honor as the promised Messiah. His prayer is short, but comprehensive, a model in form and content. "If Thou wilt"; he had no doubt about the power or ability of Christ, but he is not sure as to His willingness. The humility of his faith leaves the decision to Christ. But if there is to be a cleansing by healing, let it be at once. Insistent, yet humble; willing to leave manner and time of the fulfillment of his prayer to the love and mercy of the Lord. "That means, not only to believe right, but also to pray right; as these two are always together: he that has the right faith has the right form of prayer; he that does not believe rightly cannot pray rightly. For with prayer it must first be thus that the heart be certain; God is so merciful and gracious that He will gladly take away our trouble and help us.... That the leper here moderates his prayer and says: 'Lord, if Thou wilt, Thou canst make me clean,' is not to be understood as though he had doubts in regard to Christ's goodness and mercy. For faith would be nothing, though he believed that Christ is almighty, could perform, and knows all things. For that is the living faith which does not doubt: God has the good and gracious will to do what we pray. But it is to be understood thus: Faith does not doubt that God has a good will toward the person, does not begrudge him all that is good for him, but rather desires him to have it. Whether, however, that which faith begs and pleads for is good and useful, of that we have no knowledge; that God alone knows. Therefore faith prays thus that it leaves everything to the gracious will of God, whether it will be conducive to His honor and our need, and does not doubt that God will give it, or, if it is not to be given, that His divine will out of great mercy does not give it, since He sees it is best not given. But for all that the faith in God's gracious will remains certain and sure, whether He grants it or does not grant it." 71)
The miracle: V. 3. And Jesus put forth His hand, and touched him, saying, I will; be thou clean. And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. V. 4. 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. Jesus was touched with compassion, Mark 1, 41. His sympathy and willingness to help cause Him to stretch forth His hand and touch the leper, an .intimate gesture showing complete understanding and begetting confidence. And His almighty "I will" quietly assumed the sovereign authority for a clear demonstration of unlimited power. Not a mere pronouncing clean, as the rationalists will have it, but a miracle: The leprosy that had even now rendered the leper a hideous, misshapen travesty of God's creature disappeared at once, without delay. He was clean. Christ had reasons for avoiding a false popularity at this time. The people were wrought up to such a pitch of excitement on account of His teaching and because of His many miracles that they might have been prompted to hail Him, according to their false understanding of the Messianic kingdom, as their earthly king. This would have excited the hatred of the Jewish leaders too early and caused suspicion and jealousy on the part of the government, all of which would have hindered His ministry. Besides, a premature spreading of the news might reach the ears of the priests before the leper actually presented himself, and their enmity might cause them to refuse a recognition of cleanness. And Jesus wanted to observe the precepts of the official religion. Matt. 3, 15. See to it, look you! He says: a prompt, decisive, though cordial command. Lose no time in unnecessary and useless conversation by the way; .hurry is essential. Fulfill the injunctions prescribed in your case, Lev. 14, 10—32; sacrifice the gift which the Law demands, get a clean bill of health from the constituted authorities. This would be a testimony, not only for the legalists, but also for all men. In this way might the former leper spread the news of the miracle properly, as he probably also did, Mark 1, 45.
The Centurion of Capernaum. Matt. 8, 5-13.
V. 5. And when Jesus was entered into Capernaum, there came unto Him a centurion, beseeching Him, v. 6. and saying, Lord, my servant lieth at home sick of the palsy, grievously tormented. The incident here narrated may have taken place immediately after the cleansing of the leper or after some time, when Jesus had made one of His Galilean journeys. Jesus had entered into Capernaum, the city which He chose for His home during His ministry in that region. Here He comes into contact with a centurion. It is immaterial whether the centurion attended to the matter here related personally, or whether he made use of the good services of others, the latter being the more probable, Luke 7, 1-10. "Therefore he sends a message to Him on account of his servant, whom he loved, a delegation of the most learned and respected in the city.... And as they go and present their message in a fine manner that He should come, since the centurion is well worthy of it, and Christ is willing to come and goes with them: when he hears that Christ Himself is coming, he sends other messengers on the way, pleads and wards off: O no! Who am I that He troubles to come Himself? It is sufficient that He but say some word, then I am fully satisfied." 72) It was a centurion with whom Jesus dealt, the captain of one hundred men, very likely the Roman garrison in the city. He was a foreigner, not a member of the Jewish nation or church. But he had learned to know the true God and had undoubtedly studied the Scriptures, thus gaining a knowledge of the coming of the Messiah. In his earnest devotion, he had even built the synagog for the Jews, Luke 7, 4. 5. He had an urgent, pleading message to the Lord for his servant, his house-boy, who had been lying now for some time and thus been reduced to a state of great weakness, ill with a sickness which caused grievous torments, a form of paralysis. The disease of the nerves was, in this case, accompanied with unusual pains, which even hindered the sick man's being carried out on a stretcher.
The offer of Jesus and the centurion's answer: V. 7. And Jesus saith unto him, I will come and heal him. V. 8. 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. Christ's sympathy is aroused, though an actual prayer for help has not been made, a mere statement of need and trouble being sufficient. He expressly declares His willingness to come and help: Coming I shall heal him. Christ's sovereignty decides sickness and health, death and life. An astonishing answer: I am not worthy, I am not fit; not merely on account of his being a Gentile, but because his humility forbade his receiving the Lord on terms of equality. Cp. Matt. 3, 11. Deprecatingly he speaks of his roof, a mere hut when the Lord is coming. A bare word will suffice. He both acknowledges the necessity of Christ's mercy and his own total unworthiness. A sublime faith: My body-servant will be healed, a conviction born of absolute trust in His almighty and merciful power. On the other hand, unbelief, presumption, ignorance will hinder any kind of communion between God and man.
An argument from his own experience: V. 9. 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. No self-important boasting here, but a modesty which makes his argument all the stronger, since it gives to Christ the honor which fitly belongs to Him. The centurion, for his own person, held a subordinate position, he was bound by his oath to the government and by all that this implied. And yet he had enough authority, in his official position, to give commands to his men, and in his station as head of the household, to demand work from his slave. "The argument of the centurion seems to run thus: if I, who am a person subject to the control of others, yet have some so completely subject to myself, that I can say to one, Come, and he cometh; to another, Go, and he goeth; and to my slave, Do this, and he doeth it, how much more, then, canst Thou accomplish whatsoever Thou willest, being subject to no one, and having all things under Thy command." 73) Always there is the reference to the almighty power of Christ's word.
The astonishment of Jesus; V. 10. When Jesus heard it, He marveled, and said to them that followed, Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel. V. 11. 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; v. 12. but the children of the Kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Any evidence of implicit, trusting faith always affected Jesus very deeply, Matt. 15, 28. He was here filled with great surprise and wonder. Not even in Israel, where such faith, such remarkable trust in His power, ought to be the rule, Rom. 3,2; 9, 5, had He found such belief. This extraordinary situation causes Him to utter a prophecy concerning the conversion of the Gentiles, which reflected in a very uncomplimentary way upon His own countrymen. In the form of a parable He represents the kingdom of God as a great festival, or feast, where the riches of God's mercy would be dispensed with a full hand. The heathen centurion represents, as it were, the first-fruits of the great multitudes whom the Lord would call from all kindreds, and tongues, and peoples, and nations, to recline at His tables and partake of His gifts, with the patriarchs, the fathers of the faithful of all times. In the mean time, the children of the Kingdom, the sons of those to whom the promises were made, the Jews that were depending upon their earthly relationship to the fathers without their faith, would lose their heritage, because they will not accept Jesus as their Savior. Outer darkness instead of the light of heaven, weeping in a repentance that came too late, gnashing the teeth in impotent rage, that would be their lot. That is, to this day, the expectancy of all unbelievers.
The reward of faith: V. 13. 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. As was the faith, so was the cure. The trust in the power of the word brought the word with power to heal. Christ speaks under great emotion, granting the boon to which the captain's belief clung, bidding his messengers and himself go to witness the fulfillment of his prayer. In the self-same hour, at the identical time, the miracle was performed. Thus faith receives from Christ, to whom it clings, help, comfort, mercy, and every good thing.
Various Miracles of Healing. Matt. 8, 14-17.
Cure of a fever: V. 14. And when Jesus was come into Peter's house, He saw his wife's mother laid, and sick of a fever. V. 15. And He touched her hand, and the fever left her; and she arose and ministered unto them. Jesus had, on a certain Sabbath-day, attended the synagog. Returning from there, and coming into the house of Peter, who here bears his name as disciple, Jesus saw a sad condition of affairs, Mark 1, 29—31; Luke 4, 38. 39. Peter's mother-in-law lay bedridden with a fever. Note: Peter had a home at Capernaum, having moved there from Bethsaida, probably on account of the better market for fish, but still more probably because the Lord had chosen this city for His sojourn. And Peter was married; he was not given to a false holiness, a dangerous asceticism, as the Roman Catholic Church demands of its clergy, but made use of his right to have a sister as his wife, 1 Cor. 9, 5. Jesus was touched with sympathy. He rebuked the fever, He took hold of the sick woman's hand to raise her up, and at His miraculous touch the sickness vanished, with all its after-effects. She arose from her bed without a sign of weakness or unsteadiness. She could wait at the table and render all manner of services, singling out, in her gratitude, especially Him to whom she owed her perfect recovery. Any gift received from the Lord should prompt us to the most active individual service.
Events of that Sabbath-evening: V. 16. 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, v. 17. that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying, Himself took our infirmities, and bare our sicknesses. All Galilee was filled with the report concerning Christ, and a steady stream of sick people with their relatives was usually pouring in from every direction. It was after the close of the Sabbath-day, Lev. 23, 32; they need hesitate no longer for fear of transgressing the Law. The fame of the Lord's having cured a demoniac in the morning had spread like wild-fire. The majority of those brought to Him were afflicted with the same terrible disease, that of being possessed of evil spirits. With a word He cast out the demons who, like the entire spirit world, are subject to Him; with tender kindness He healed all the other sicknesses; there was none that could withstand His almighty mercy. The reference of Matthew to the prophecy, Is. 53, 4, is very appropriate. The prophet's reference is to griefs and sorrows, to diseases and pains of the soul, due to sin and its curse. But the evangelist rightly argues: He that bears the greater is master of the smaller. The diseases of man are connected with sin, on the one hand, and with death, on the other. And so our High Priest, touched with the feeling of our infirmities, had sympathy with the results and consequences of sin, knowing its curse, its destructive influence, upon body and soul, Heb. 4, 15; 5, 2. He bare, He took away, our sins and infirmities; they are no longer a curse for the believers.
The Discipleship of Christ. Matt. 8, 18-22.
Preparations for departure: V. 18. Now when Jesus saw great multitudes about Him, He gave commandment to depart unto the other side. It was getting late in the evening. Jesus had spent a very busy day teaching and healing. And still great multitudes pressed about Him. He was now on the shore of Lake Gennesaret. To escape the importunity of the crowd and to avoid an outburst of false enthusiasm which might spoil the work of His ministry, John 6, 3. 15, He ordered departure unto the other side. An interruption: V. 19. And a certain scribe came, and said unto Him, Master, I will follow Thee whithersoever Thou goest. V. 20. 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. There were others besides His disciples in His immediate vicinity. One of these, a scribe, plucked up enough courage to speak to Him. A strong testimony for the power of Christ's preaching and of the magnetism of His personality that one of the scribes, who, as a class, were utterly opposed to the ways of Jesus, could be carried away by his enthusiasm and ask to be admitted to the inner circle of the apostles. But it is ignorant presumption to think of being able to follow Christ in any way which he should choose or be obliged to go. He had no conception of the cost of being a disciple of Christ. So the Lord shows him the true meaning of discipleship, what it implies and what it demands. The foxes have dens, where they may rest in safety, the birds of the heaven have roosts, most of them resorting to the same tree night after night for shelter, but the Son of Man, Jesus, in His state of humiliation, is burdened with a poverty, with a homelessness, which to Him is a willing burden, but which might become a galling irritation to one that does not realize what might be demanded of the followers of the lowly Nazarene. Under certain circumstances poverty, privations, persecutions may, by God's permission, be the lot of the Christians. "So all true Christians do: They use their goods, they have nests and dens; but when necessity demands leaving them for the sake of Christ, they do it, and gladly even move from the place where they may lay their head, as on their possession. And they are glad to be foreigners in the world and say: I am a guest upon earth; and again: I am a pilgrim, as were all my fathers." 74)
Another lesson: V. 21. And another of His disciples said unto Him, Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father. V. 22. But Jesus said unto him, Follow Me, and let the dead bury their dead. Here was a man that had belonged to the larger circle of disciples, that had made it a point to remain in the neighborhood of Christ. But his was a vacillating nature, he was still undecided. Jesus called him, Luke 9, 59. Hesitatingly he asks for leave to bury his father, which may have been a mere pretense in order to gain time. Jesus gives him what sounds like a harsh answer. If Christ was here merely quoting a Jewish proverb, His meaning may have been: Let the spiritually dead, those that are dead to the call of the Kingdom, bury the naturally dead. But without such a supposition the words of Christ refer to an Aramaic use of the word "dead," a play on words, meaning to say: Let the dead be taken care of by those whose business it is to inter the earthly remains; do not concern yourself about the mortal shell of your father, that is the business of the undertaker; let your concern be the kingdom of God. The discipleship of Christ is far more important than all duties toward even the nearest relatives; if there is a conflict of interests, there can be but one choice, Matt, 10, 35-39.
The Storm on the Lake. Matt. 8, 23-27.
V. 23. And when He was entered into a ship, His disciples followed Him. V. 24. And, behold, there arose a great tempest in the sea, insomuch that the ship was covered with the waves. But He was asleep. The ship had been prepared by the disciples in accordance with previous instructions, and when He now entered, the men that stood nearest to Him, the inner circle of His followers, embarked with Him. Worn out by the intensity of the bodily and mental strain of a hard day's work, Jesus went off to sleep, soothed by the gliding motion of the vessel. All unexpectedly, with great suddenness, there burst down upon the little lake one of the storms which are so dreaded on account of their extreme violence. There was literally an earthquake of the sea, a hurricane with tornado-like force, before which the experienced fishermen were absolutely helpless. The waves lifted up on every side, rising high above the ship, hiding it, breaking over it, gradually filling it with water, whose amount defied all efforts at bailing out. All nature was in an uproar, wind and sea had conspired to destroy both vessel and travelers. Note the contrast: Christ was quietly sleeping, in the midst of all the turmoil, unaffected by an excitement which caused the strongest men to quake with fear. "But, now, natural sleep is the certain indication of a true, natural man. Since, then, the gospel says Christ slept in the ship, the evangelist wants to show us Christ as a real, natural man that has body and soul, and therefore had need of eating, drinking, sleeping, and other natural works that are done without sin, just as we have. In order that we do not fall into the error of the Manichaeans, who believed Christ to be a spirit, not a true man." 75)
The terror of the disciples and Christ's rebuke: V. 25. And His disciples came to Him and awoke Him, saying, Lord, save us; we perish! V. 26. 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. V. 27. But the men marveled, saying, What manner of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey Him! Coming to Him, the disciples woke Him. They may have hesitated for some time out of respect for their beloved Teacher. But their fear becomes so great that they are unable to control themselves; it is a cry rather than a report which they utter. In their last extremity He is their one thought. An important point: Christ's first thought is for the faith of the disciples, not for the alleviation of their fear. Why be filled with fear, why so little faith? The rebuke was harsh in tone, purposely, but with a hidden kindness. His own absolute fearlessness should calm their panic. Lack of faith always renders timid; trust in God, in His power and in His help, makes bold. This most important matter having been settled, He arose from His pillow and uttered a second rebuke, directed to the fierce winds, to the tumultuous waves. "Peace, be still!" He bade them, Mark 4, 30. With the sound of His voice an obedient hush fell upon the turbulence of the winds and the waves. The almighty Ruler of the universe had spoken. His human voice, by virtue of the divine power and majesty given to His humanity, controlled the forces of nature, Prov. 30, 4. "But that He rebukes the sea and the wind, and that the sea and the wind are obedient, therewith He proves His almighty deity, that He is a lord over wind and sea. For to be able with one word to quiet the sea and cause the wind to cease, that is not the work of a man; a divine power is necessary to stop the turbulence of the sea with one word. Therefore Christ is not only natural man, but also true God." 76) The effect of this miracle upon the disciples and upon all that afterwards heard of the story, since the sudden quieting of the sea must have been noticed from the shore, was to fill them with amazement: What kind of man and whence is He? They had further evidence for His divinity, as well as for His loving care for those whom He has enrolled as His disciples, whose every fear He is glad to dispel, whose every prayer, even in little faith, finds careful consideration before Him.
Jesus and the Gadarenes. Matt. 8, 28-34.
V. 28. 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. On the east side of the Sea of Galilee was the territory of the Gadarenes, the Gerasenes, and the Gergesenes, the southern part of Gaulanitis, so named after the chief cities of the region, one of which, Gergesa, was located on the lake shore. Two demoniacs here ran to meet the Lord. As an eye-witness, Matthew states the number, although only one of the sick men was so exceptionally violent that he drew the attention of all, and is therefore mentioned in the other accounts, Mark 1, 23-27; Luke 4, 31-37. Their home was in the limestone caves along the eastern shore, which were also used for tombs. A terrible picture: The naked, filthy, raving maniacs terrorizing the neighborhood, too strong to be bound with ropes or chains, associated with darkness and death, with grave and destruction, a fitting setting for the devil's power, under God's permission.
Their cry and confession: V. 29. 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? Jesus, having come to destroy the works of the devil, to redeem men from his sinister influence, from his destructive power, 1 John 3, 8, immediately commanded the evil spirits to leave the men, Luke 8, 29. But they, speaking with the tongue of one of the demoniacs, pleaded with Him not to torment them. Note: The devil knows the man Jesus to be the Son of God; the evil spirits recognize in Him the future Judge; they fear the last judgment with its condemnation. Even now hell is for them a place of torture, excruciating, incessant. But until the last day, and especially during the days preceding the final judgment, they have, in a measure, the power and the might to destroy and to torture God's creatures. But even so they are excluded from blessed communion with God. On the Day of Judgment they will be condemned into the abyss of hell, to be chained there forever with fetters of darkness. So they plead not to be tortured before that time.
The expulsion of the evil spirits: V. 30. And there was a good way off from them an herd of many swine feeding. V. 31. So the devils besought Him, saying, If Thou cast us out, suffer us to go away into the herd of swine. V. 32. 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. In the same neighborhood, at some distance from the place where Jesus was standing, and yet within sight. A great herd of swine, animals that were unclean to the Jewish people, by the Old Testament Law. It was a neighborhood in which the heathen element of the population predominated, where the strictness of the Law was no longer recognized. Knowing that their power over these two men was at an end, the evil spirits begged to be permitted to wreak their fiendishness on the swine, always with the purpose of destruction in mind. And having obtained the permission, their advent into the herd deprived the animals of even the instinct of self-preservation. Rushing down the declivity, they were drowned in the sea. The devil is a murderer from the beginning. If God hinders his work of destruction against human beings, he kills dumb animals. But he can do nothing without the permission of God. And this permission is granted sometimes in order to carry out some punishment of God.
The result: V. 33. And they that kept them fled, and went their ways into the city, and told everything, and what was befallen to the possessed of the devils. V. 34. 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. The swineherds fled. The disaster that befell their herds sent them back to the city in haste, superstitious terror filling their hearts. As much as they had seen and the conclusions they had drawn while they were out on the hills: their account may have been fanciful and garbled enough. All those that heard the story and were foot-loose turned out, probably with the idea of taking summary vengeance on whatever person proved guilty of the loss of their swine. They learned the truth. They were awed by the presence of Him whose power over the demons had been demonstrated beyond a doubt. And so their vindictive attitude gave way to a respectful pleading. They besought Him to go away from their coasts, to leave their country. They feared that they might be compelled to sustain still greater damage. The loss of the swine was to them a calamity. And they felt uncomfortable in the presence of the Holy One of God. They much preferred their swine and their sinful life to His pure presence. They repudiated this opportunity for grace.
Summary. Christ heals a leper, restores the sick servant of the centurion whose faith amazed Him, performs a number of other miracles, gives a lesson in discipleship, stills the tempest, and drives out the devils from two Gadarene demoniacs.