A LORD WHO CAN BE TRUSTED
Matthew 8, 9
July 10, 2005
Chapters 8 and 9 of the wonderful gospel of Matthew are like a bridge which takes us from the great teachings of the Sermon on the Mount in chapters 5, 6 and 7 to the mission that the Lord gave to his disciples beginning in chapter 10. The events that occur in these two chapters explain to us why we ought to take what Jesus taught seriously and why we need to be doing something about those things in our everyday lives. Recorded here are ten mighty works of Jesus – ten miracles worked by him. Interspersed in the telling of these stories are three passages which talk to us about what it means to follow Jesus.
The message of these two great chapters might be summed up by saying that that Jesus is Lord, that he can be trusted, and that he ought to be obeyed in our lives from day to day. Any of us who look into what Jesus does in this passage are moved to awe at his power, to appreciation for his love and to a sense of obligation toward him as we live from day to day.
There are several things which immediately strike a person as he reads this story and as he compares in his mind what happens here with what sometimes we see religious folks calling miracles today. In the first place, it is interesting to observe the universal type of power reflected by Jesus in these mighty works. He does not merely have the power to heal a person of a headache or to deal with some demon. The Lord’s power in these passages extends to a broader degree than that. McGarvey observed years ago that the demonstration of his power here “is manifold, including the miraculous cure of six diseases (and he names them) – leprosy, paralysis, fever, chronic hemorrhaging, blindness, and dumbness (or muteness),” and he says, “It includes also the expulsion of demons, the stilling of a tempest at sea and the raising of the dead.” That tells you that here is power that is broad based.
A second thing which strikes us immediately when we read these stories is the way Jesus goes about doing what he does without any showiness and without any intention of trying to gather a crowd or to take their money. What the Lord does here may happen quietly. It may happen privately. It may happen with him only extending a touch or saying a word. It may happen even at a distance. And when he has done the mighty work, he often told the person who received the blessing to not say anything about it. It is the opposite of trying to do a miracle in order to be seen and to have a following from people.
A third thing that strikes us as we read these stories is the immediateness and the completeness with which these works have their affect. God certainly does work in our lives through providence in which he uses natural means and time. God still heals in those ways. But these passages talk about healings, for example, that happen at that very minute or immediately, and the person is totally able to get up and to go about their daily lives. Those marks of a power that Jesus has are impressive indeed, and they are unmatched by the claims of anybody else who ever has lived at any time in history.
Now besides those outward characteristics of these miracles done by Jesus, implied also in the two passages all the way through are some purposes for them. The first purpose that you notice in reading this is to demonstrate the complete and total authority that Jesus possessed. In other words, when we say “He is Lord,” what we are meaning is that he has the right of ownership. He has the kind of power which requires recognition, and he can speak with the expectation that we will hear him and submit to him. Notice that when the Sermon on the Mount ends at the end of Matthew 7, “When Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching for he was teaching them as one who had authority and not as their scribes.” That is what is at stake in chapters 8 and 9.
One of the clearest demonstrations of this point happens in chapter 9 when he heals a man and tells that man that his sins are forgiven. To the scribes and Pharisees, that was blasphemy. Who but God would have the right to pronounce somebody’s sins forgiven? The answer, of course, is nobody. But that is the point! Jesus possessed divine authority! On earth he had the authority to forgive sins. By the way, if he had the authority to forgive to forgive sins on earth, what does he have now at the right hand of God in heaven? He has the right to tell us how forgiveness comes. We can’t merely claim it on our own or have somebody else tell us that we are forgiven unless we have the promise of Jesus in that way. In this case, though, Jesus said in Matt. 9:6, “But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins – he then said to the paralytic – Rise, pick up your bed and go home.” In other words, the miracle is done not only to help the man, but to demonstrate the divine authority of Jesus. Someone said of this passage that in this section “all the ills to which humanity is exposed, the diseases of the flesh, the dangers of land and sea, the dominion of demons and the power of death are proved to be alike under the control of Jesus and they are all controlled for the good of men.” Isn’t that a wonderful statement? The authority of Jesus means that is all under his control and it is controlled for our ultimate good.
The second great purpose of these might works demonstrated in this passage is Jesus’ assault on evil. These mighty works demonstrate that Jesus had come to bind the mighty man otherwise known as the evil one in chapter 12 and that he was going to destroy the works of the devil, as I John 3 claims. In this passage, one of the reasons that Jesus deals with all of the kinds of problems that he does is described for us in Matt. 8:16-17. Here Matthew says, “That evening they brought to him many who were oppressed by demons, and he cast out the spirits with the word and healed all who were sick. This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: ‘He took our illness and bore our diseases.’” That is an interesting application of Isaiah’s prophecy. It is quoting, as you may know, from Isaiah 53 – that great passage that talks about the one who bore our infirmities.
In I Peter 2:24, Peter takes that same statement and applies it to what Jesus did for us on the cross when he bore our sins – when he paid the price of our forgiveness. That is the ultimate way in which it applied, but notice here that that statement is applied to what Jesus did in relieving the infirmities and the illnesses and the terrible troubles of people that he found around him in his ministry. One writer observed, “The point is made that the healings are not just works of mercy but are a part of the all out attack of the Messiah on every kind of evil in God’s world.” In that way, what Jesus is doing here in his ministry is an illustration of what he wants to be true for us in our final home. He wants there to be no pain, no crying, no tears, and no death. In order for that to be the case, he has to deal with the malignant ill-will of the evil one who wants to see people have to go through that kind of suffering.
The third purpose of these mighty works of Jesus is not as hard to see – the simple fact of his compassion. It hurt him to see people hurting! Sometimes when we go through things that are hurtful to us (and they can range from the things that hurt us inwardly to the physical hurts that we deal with and we see loved ones deal with), we can wonder if the Lord has forgotten us, if he doesn’t care, if he can’t do anything about it. These things happen partly to show how deeply Jesus cared. Over in Matthew 9 beginning in verse 35, it says, “And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them because they were harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd.” It means they were fatigued and exhausted and helpless. He saw all the problems people were going through and it tore his heart out. The word “compassion” is a term that means “to spill out the bowels.” In the deepest depth of his being, Jesus was touched with the feeling of our infirmities. That is why he will take time when he is exhausted and someone who is blind follows him home to help that person. This is why he will listen to a poor woman or to a centurion. His compassion is illustrated here in these passages.
You and I are called upon to believe in or to trust in the fact that the Lord cares because faith comes by hearing. And when we read these stories of what he has already done, we are more convinced than we ever were that the Lord cares about us.
These points should mean something to us. One interesting way to kind of outline the mighty works of Jesus in this passage is to try to look at the way Matthew has grouped them and to look at big themes. Any one of these stories could be helpful and strengthening to faith, filled with lessons, by themselves. But when you look at all of them together and you look at the big themes that are here, it is even more impressive. So consider first of all that in doing these mighty works Jesus brought kindness to lonely people – people who would have been regarded as outcasts, or folks that you would have had nothing to do with ordinarily if you were a respectable Jewish teacher of the time. Notice in 8:1-4 that he helped a leper. A leper had to live outside the camp and cry out, “Unclean, unclean.” He couldn’t be around his family or his loved ones or his friends. This leper comes to him because he has heard of Jesus and he said, “Lord, if you will you can make me clean.” He believed the Lord could if he would. It would have been such a blessing to this man just to hear Jesus say, “I am interested; I would like to; I will.” How surprised he must have been when Jesus reached out and touched him and said, “I will; be clean.” And immediately this man was cleansed.
Next, Jesus expressed kindness and concern here to a centurion, a Gentile man. That he was a centurion meant that he was a Roman, he was a soldier, and he was the commander of a troop of 100 Roman soldiers. It meant that this was a man of war where Jesus was a man of peace. He was a Gentile while Jesus was Jewish. He was a man who believed in power while Jesus believed in service. This is not the kind of man that you would expect to be blessed by the Lord. Nobody would normally have had much to do with him. This man says to Jesus, “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home.” Notice that he comes wanting a blessing for somebody else. That tells you a lot about him, I think. He doesn’t even tell Jesus what to do. He just said that he was suffering terribly. Jesus said, “I will go to your house and heal him.” Look at the faith of this wonderful man. Out of his respect and understanding for Jesus and out of his view of himself, he says, “I am not worthy for you to come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” Look at that kind of faith. It astonished Jesus that somebody who was not from Israel could have that kind of faith. He says to the man, “Go, let it be done for you as you have believed. And the servant was healed at that very moment” (v.13).
So here is a leper, and here’s a Gentile and the third neglected group in Jesus’ day was women, even godly women were kind of relegated to places of secondary positions by people. In this case he comes to Peter’s house, and Peter’s mother-in-law is lying sick with a fever. Now Dr. Luke, over in chapter 4 of his book, tells us that she had a high fever. Luke says that Jesus rebuked the fever, just like he could tell it what to do. In this case, Matthew says he also touched her hand and the fever left her and she got up and began to serve. There is a blessing to a great woman. Look at these miracles. First, he brought kindness to the lonely and the outcast.
Secondly, Jesus brought peace to the troubled. He had given orders to his own disciples for them to depart and go to the other side of the Sea of Galilee (v.18). As they got into the boat and headed out (v.23), suddenly a great storm arose and it was swamping the boat. It was about to sink them and to cause them all to perish while Jesus lay there in the boat asleep. They woke him up in fright and said, “Lord, don’t you care that we are perishing?” Jesus first rebuked them, “Why are you afraid, oh ye of little faith?” They might have gotten the picture from what they had seen him do already that he could handle anything. Then he rebuked the winds and the waves and there was a great calm. It goes from a great storm to a great calm. People marveled, “Who is this that even winds and waves obey him?” They go from perishing to the peace of looking at his power.
Then Matthew describes two demon-possessed men, the same circumstance that apparently Mark describes in Mark 5 when he focuses on one of them. These two individuals were as troubled as you could be. They were dangerous to themselves; they were out of control; they cried out all the time; they were not able to be with people. Their actions and behavior had caused a large amount of alarm in the community. People were afraid of these fierce individuals. They had nothing to do with them, but just didn’t want to be disturbed by them. But Jesus leaves these two individuals free of that terrible problem of demon-possession. If you remember Mark’s account, it shows the man sitting, clothed, in his right mind. There is peace to troubled people in a troubled community.
Then next notice that Jesus brings peace to the conscience. In chapter 9 these friends bring this paralyzed man to Jesus. There is a fuller account of this in the other writings. In Mark 2 it says they let the man down through the roof. Jesus saw that while this man might have been brought with a weak body, he had bigger problems. Those problems involved his need for forgiveness. He is not saying that disease is brought by sin. He is dealing with the more urgent problem in this case – forgiveness, cleansing, release from those things that held him a prisoner in his heart.
Here’s kindness for the outcast, peace to the troubled, and then in the third place I want you to notice that Jesus brought mending to the broken. First we find a story of mending to a broken family. Jairus, an influential man and ruler of the synagogue, came to him saying that his daughter was lying at the point of death. “If you will come, you can raise her up.” Look at not only the urgency but also the faith in that statement. Jesus went. He was interrupted on the way. Before he got there they came to him and said the daughter had already died and not to trouble the teacher any more. Jesus said, “She is asleep, not dead.” When they got there, they found everyone mourning. They laughed at him. He put everybody out except two disciples and her parents and he too her by the hand and raised her up. Mending to a broken home!
Then there is mending to lost hopes. There is a woman in this story who had been suffering for twelve years. She had spent all of her money on doctors and had only gotten worse (Mark 4:26). But she believed that if she could just touch Jesus’ garment, his power and authority was such that he could restore her. She tried it and he healed her. Mending for broken hopes!
And then there is mending for broken bodies, and it shows up in two blind men who are blessed by Jesus (9:27 and following). And then there was a man who could not speak in 9:32 and following. “And the crowds marveled, saying, ‘Never was anything like this seen in Israel.’” Look at the power; look at the action; look at the compassion of our Lord.
That calls for something from us. The three passages which are in between these passages are enlightening. First, in 8:18 and following, we find out that Jesus ought to be followed no matter what. A man like this, someone with this power and love and concern, we ought to choose to follow him. Whether he has a place to lay his head or whether we have things we want to do or not, Jesus deserves the priority and we ought to be following him.
Secondly, in 9:9 and following, we need to understand from this that if Jesus came to do these things, then he deserves us to be concerned also for receiving sinners, for helping them find mercy, and for meeting the needs of human beings that trouble and destroy lives so much. You see that at the house of Matthew when Jesus sat down with the publicans and sinners and talked to them about the fact that he had come to call sinners to repentance.
Third, these passages tell us that we need hearts of that same kind of compassion that will cause us to pray to the Lord to send laborers into his harvest. When Jesus saw the crowds, you don’t find him saying, “Things are worse than they have ever been” and then drawing in to just protect himself. You find him saying, “The harvest is plentiful; the laborers are few; pray the Lord of harvest to send forth laborers into his harvest” (9:37-38). His heart becomes our heart. If we believe that he did those things, we see what they mean and we engage in the same battle he was fighting.
Maybe you are here today and you need sight of a Lord who can be trusted to have the authority and the compassion to be kind to the lonely, to put the troubled at peace, to mend the broken. If that is you, why don’t you choose to respond to his mercy by repenting, by confessing that you believe he is Lord, by being baptized into him for the forgiveness of your sins? If we can help you in that way, won’t you let it be known while we stand and sing together?