Matthew 8–9. A Bundle of Miracles.
Key Notes: A chart of faith and the sick. A brief history of healing.
In these two chapters, Matthew goes rapidly over nine healings by Jesus and one remarkable exhibit of control over nature. He spends less time on the details than the other Gospel writers. He compiles a set which may not be in strict chronological order but is assembled for its teaching value. Jesus has given us in the previous three chapters the epitome of His general doctrine. In these two chapters, we will have a tour of Jesus’ saving ministry for the sick of Israel—both physically and spiritually. In the next section, He will give his disciples special instructions and send them out to do what He has demonstrated—preaching and healing.
When we have a cluster of healings as here presented, we can try to derive some answers to questions that are common in Christian circles today.
Is healing a normal benefit of being a Christian?
Does God intend that we all are to be healed?
Does healing depend on the strength of the person’s faith?
You can construct a chart of the nine healings and check some questions.
Was faith stated or implied?
Was faith expressed by the sick person or others?
Was the healing a threat to Jesus personally, for example, to ceremonial purity?
Did Jesus encourage or suppress publicity?
You may note also whether the healing was expensive to the person or society.
8:1–4 Crowds followed Him from the Mount of Beatitudes. A leper knelt down. “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” It was a poignant plea. Jesus reached out and touched him: “I will; be clean”. It was a compassionate and gentle treatment. It also was ceremonially polluting to touch a leper, and carried the risk of infection. However, Hansen’s Disease is not highly contagious in the modern world, probably because of improved hygiene. The gesture added drama of the encounter. People still remember that Jesus touched a leper.
The quarantine of lepers was prescribed by law. It was social death. Healing was rebirth.
“The leper who has the disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head hang loose, and he shall cover his upper lip and cry ‘Unclean, unclean.” He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease. He is unclean; he shall dwell alone in a habitation outside the camp.” Lev.13:45–47
The ceremony for a healed leper is described In Lev.14:1–32. It was detailed and required eight days. Jesus sent the leper to the priest because that was the way to be restored to society, but it was also a potent witness to the priestly clan. Leprosy was an otherwise hopeless disease until modern times. Because of Jesus' example, Christians have traditionally undertaken special care of lepers. Father Damien is a now-famous Catholic priest who undertook the care of lepers in Hawaii in the‘60's and died of the disease.
8:5 Now a Roman centurion approached him for the healing of his servant. The word translated servant is “pais”, often translated “son.” So the paralyzed man could have been a son. Jesus said He would come, but the centurion stopped Him and made an analogy between himself and Jesus. Both were under authority; both had servants at their command that would do their bidding without question. Jesus only had to say the word of command. Jesus was delighted; he “regarded him with admiration”. Nobody in Israel had that kind of faith— not even the disciples. Later he would call them “oligopistoi” (oligo=little + pistoi=faith), those of little faith. 8:26
Then Jesus warned his followers that the Gentiles would sit at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of Heaven and the Jews would be left out—in outer darkness. They would be lost because of their rebellion and lack of faith. Weeping and gnashing of teeth indicates that there will be painful remorse in the outer darkness. Hell is nothing to joke about; it is to be avoided at all costs. Jesus repeats the phrase “weeping and gnashing of teeth” five other times in Matthew: 13:43,45; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30.
8:14 Jesus was in Peter’s house, probably in Capernaum, and Peter’s mother-in-law was down with a fever. With a touch on her hand, she was at once made so well that she fixed supper for Him.
That evening (Mark 1:21, 29 says it was a Sabbath), He healed all who came to the door.
Matthew quotes the fulfilled prophecy of Isa.53:4, the servant-poem which describes the Messiah suffering for the sins of Israel.: "He took our infirmities and bore our diseases.”The RSV reads Isaiah as “He has born our griefs and carried our sorrows." The LXX (Greek OT) is “He bears our sins and is pained for us.”
Diseases, grief, sorrow, sin and pain are all closely related. They are all borne by Christ; they are a load that He carried. No wonder He was exhausted by the work of healing. He had to leave and rest, but there was an appointment on the other side of the Lake.
After three miracles, the series is interrupted here (8:18–22) by eager but unrealistic seekers. The narrative is interrupted a second time (9:10–17) by His critics.
8:18–22 As He was heading for the boat and a trip across the Lake, He was stopped by would-be disciples.
A scribe said, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go,” Jesus said He had no permanent address. That was apparently enough to dissuade a romantic and impulsive man.
A disciple said “Lord, Let me first go and bury my father” The custom was that the oldest son stayed by the family until the father had died and the estate was settled. That might be ten years away. We do not think the father had just then died. Burial would be within 24 hours because the Jews did not embalm as the Egyptians did.
“Let the dead buy their dead” is in line with Jesus’ general challenge that His followers must give up their unbelieving families.
8:23–27 A storm on the Lake swamped the boat. The geography around the Sea of Galilee lends itself to violent waves. (Matthew uses the word “seismos” for this storm—earthquake-like.) Jesus was so exhausted that He did not rouse until the disciples pled to be saved from drowning. Jesus woke and said they had no reason to be afraid: had He come into the world to die in the Lake? Had they been called by Him to drown in a boat? “Oligopistoi”, He said—men of little faith. Plainly they could not see the world as He did. Then He reprimanded the winds and sea. The disciples were amazed the Jesus had command even over the weather. Who can stop the wind? This is the only non-healing miracle (the tenth) of the passage, surely an eye-opening experience for the disciples.
8:28–34 Jesus had gone across the Lake to recover from the exhaustion of His healing ministry, but with a specific objective, the salvation of two crazed demon-possessed men. (Mark and Luke report one.) These wild men of Gadara had no faith and no interest in their salvation. Demons had control of them and had no desire for the “Son of God” to save them. They begged Christ not to torment them “before the time”, presumably the day of final judgment. They begged to be redirected instead into a herd of pigs. That led to the rapid death of the pigs!
The Gadarene citizens were now confronted with men miraculously healed, and a herd of dead pigs floating. The estimated value of 2000 pigs (Mk.5:13) would be some $100,000. Were these men worth the economic cost? It was all disconcerting and hard to fathom. It remains hard for us to fathom as well. They asked Jesus to leave. He could have healed many of their other sick, but they could not deal with their own confusion.
Nevertheless, He had done what He came to do. There are at least two other occasions when Jesus made excursions outside Israel to minister to Gentiles: a Greek woman, Syro-phoenician by birth (Mk.7:26) who had a demonized daughter, and the woman of Samaria at the well (Jn.4). These were appointments. We should pray God to be given appointments to minister to people. They are thrilling experiences.
9:1–8 Back in Capernaum, they brought Him a paralyzed man. Mark and Luke give us much more local color on this story, especially about removing tiles from the roof so that they could let him down in the middle of the crowd. Matthew stays with the bare essentials. Jesus saw the faith of the man’s friends and used the occasion to make a dramatic teaching statement:
“Take heart, My son, your sins are forgiven.”
Jesus was ready for the angry reaction of the Scribes and posed a riddle:
“Which is easier, to say ‘your sins are forgiven’, or to say ‘get up and walk’”?
It is easier to say your sins are forgiven, because no one can know for sure whether that happened or not. Getting up from paralysis on command is dramatic and visible, not likely to occur and therefore much harder to say.
So Jesus said “Rise, take up your bed and go home”. Thereby He proved that He, the Son of Man, had authority on earth to forgive sins (as well as to heal people). The crowds were amazed and glorified God. (More on “Son of Man” in Dan.7:13-)
9:9 Matthew was called: “Follow me.” He followed without question. Matthew was a tax-collector, and therefore one of the most despised of the Jews, a collaborator with Rome, getting rich in the process. The tax-men collected money on imports and exports, collected road tolls, poll taxes, income taxes, vehicle taxes, and sales taxes. (See Barclay’s commentary.) Because tax rates were not always posted, citizens were exposed to arbitrary fees and extortion.
On the other hand, Matthew would be a good manager of money, meticulous in detail and shrewd about human nature. We believe that as Jesus’ disciple he wrote this Gospel. We can perceive an attention to detail and organizing ability in the text.
Matthew 9:10–17 are the second pair of interruptions, this time by critics of Jesus’ work.
9:10–13 It appears that Matthew had Jesus, the disciples, and many of his old cronies to supper. Having found Christ himself, he wanted to share Him with others. The Pharisees were scandalized and asked the disciples why. It was wrong to associate with evil people. The Pharisees were right, in part.
“Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scoffers….” (Psa.1:1)
“I do not sit with false men., nor do I consort with dissemblers. I hate the company of evil doers and I will not sit with the wicked.” (Psa.26:4,5)
However, Jesus was there not to be dragged down to their level, but to lift them up to His. He was the physician and they were the sick, intent on being made well. The Pharisees were sick (sinners), too, but could not see themselves as they really were.
It is an important and dangerous mission to attempt to work with alcoholics or dens of drug addicts, or prostitutes. Most of us are not strong enough to withstand the temptations. We need an accountability group if we intend to do such work. Jesus’ strength alone would rescue the tax collectors, prostitutes, and demon-possessed from the depths of their miserable lives.
Jesus then quoted Hosea to the Pharisees: ...“for I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God, rather than burnt offerings". (Hos.6:6). They were scrupulous in obedience to the commandments, but with little regard for human beings and their needs.
The Evangelical churches have been charged with the same failing. We are accused of being “mean-spirited” toward homosexuals, for instance. How can we walk the line of accepting people who need the Lord,while rejecting their unacceptable terms? Jesus did not denounce the sinners. He did not try to change the laws. But neither did He laccept the tax-collectors and sinners on their terms.
9:14–17 The second interruption was the disciples of John asking Jesus why His disciples did not fast as they and the Pharisees did. Plainly, John’s disciples were stuck in cultural Judaism. Jesus had two answers.
Jesus’ disciples were celebrating as guests of the bridegroom. (Jn.3:29). The marriage of the Christ with His Bride, the Church, was in the future.
“…as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.” (Isa.62:5)
“I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness; and you shall know the Lord. “ Hos.2:19 )
“Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.”(Rev.19:9).
In this way Jesus was proclaiming His deity, but in a way veiled to the critics.
After Jesus was gone there would be some brief mourning (Lk.24:15-) until they understood the Resurrection. Fasting in Acts (Acts 13:3, 14:23, 27:9) was for spiritual insight, not mourning.
The second answer was that the new ways cannot be confined by the old customs.
New wine in old skins will burst the skins.
New patches on old garments will shrink and tear the old fabric.
Judaism and Christianity were destined to go separate ways. Although the first Christians had no intention of leaving Judaism, the Lord brought persecution to blow them out of Jerusalem and into the world. (Acts 8:1–4). And God brought non-Jewish people into the kingdom in a deliberate series, often over the objections of believers.
Samaritans. Acts 8:4
An Ethiopian proselyte. Acts 8;26-
A devout Italian centurion. Acts 10
Jews of the Empire and when they refused, plain Gentiles. Acts13:44–48
The new wine of the Spirit burst the dried-up skins of Judaism.
9:18–26 A synagogue leader interrupted with a plea to save his daughter, who had just died.
Jesus got up and went with him.
On the way, a woman struggled through the crowd and touched a tassel of His robe. (On tassels, see Num.15:37; Deut.22:12). She believed that a touch would be enough for her healing. She had had chronic blood loss for 12 years, probably from the uterus (menorrhagia). The body compensates for slow bleeding, but she would be weak, and very pale. Jesus’ response was loving and confirming .
“Take courage, daughter. Your faith has made you well.”
And she was healed at once. (With modern medicine, she could be successfully treated, but it would take 2–3 months for full recovery.}
Jesus went on to the ruler’s house and ordered the flute players and mourners (professionals) out. He said the child was not dead but sleeping—a deep coma. They stopped crying for her and started laughing at Him. He took her by the hand, and she woke and was well. The news spread quickly.
9:27 Two blind men heard Him passing and pursued Him into the house “Have mercy on us, Son of David”. (They were using a Messianic name.) He asked if they believed in Him and they said “Yes, Lord”. He touched their eyes and they went away seeing. They told everybody in spite of Jesus stern charge not to make Him known. ( He did not want the Messianic name spread abroad.)
9:32 As they were leaving, a demon-possessed man who could not speak was brought. The evil spirit was cast out and the man spoke. The crowds have never seen anything like it. The Pharisees decided that Jesus was evil, casting out demons with satanic power. They proved instead that they were evil. They will repeat the charge later (Matt.12:34), but for now, Jesus did not reply but went on to His work.
9:35–38 He went on, teaching, preaching and healing every disease and infirmity. But the crowds kept coming, harassed and helpless, like sheep with no shepherd. He told his disciples to pray for workers. Then He sent them out to do the work.
This chart asks about the conditions for healing and the consequences.
|THE SICK||WHOSE FAITH?||UNCLEAN?||PUBLICITY?|
|Leper||His own||yes||To priests only|
|Centurion's servant||Centurion's||if Jesus went with Cent.|
|Gadarene demoniacs||Jesus'||yes||Adverse in Gadara|
|Paralytic||Friends||no||Glory to God. Awe|
|Girl in coma||Her father's||yes, if dead||Widespread|
|Blind men||Theirs||no||No! but widespread|
|Dumb demoniac||The crowd's||no||Mixed|
Returning to our question:
Q. Is there healing in the Atonement?
A. Certainly, It was a vital part of Jesus’ ministry.
Q. Does God intend that we all are healed?
A. Not all Jews present were healed, except on special occasions, such as the evening at Peter’s house.
Q. Does healing depend on the strength of the person’s faith?
A. From this analysis, we can see that in only three cases was the healing based on the sick person’s faith. Twice Jesus took the initiative and four other times it was friends or supporters who were instrumental in the miracle. So personal faith for healing is not always an issue and the sick may be helpless and have no faith at all, and nevertheless be cured. In none of these cases was healing prevented by a lack of personal faith.
However, people who resisted Jesus Himself were not likely to see His miraculous power. “And He did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief. “ Matt.13:58,
Moreover, the disciples could not heal a boy with epilepsy because of their lack of faith (Matt.17:20) and prayer. (Mk.9:29).
Q. What are the implications of Jesus taking risks, such as ceremonial pollution, when He touched the leper.
A. Jesus said, God desires mercy more than sacrifice (ritual observance).
Anyone in the healing professions takes risks of infection, injury, and legal liability.
Q. Was healing expensive? In the case of the Gadarenes, there was a major loss to the income of one or more people. The woman with bleeding had wasted a lot of money on doctors. (Mk.5:26). Matthew lost his income following Jesus.
Q. Were only believing Jews healed?
A. Three of the healed were Gentiles (the demoniacs and the Roman centurion’s son ).
Q. Did Jesus encourage publicity?
A, Jesus did not encourage publicity and on two occasions forbade it. We are not sure of the reasons, except that masses of people inhibited His work.
Q. Did any of the healings have a spiritual component, or were there purely spiritual healing?
A. Casting out demons was spiritual healing.
The paralytic had his sins forgiven as well as his legs restored.
Matthew and his friends responded to Jesus as the Physician of souls.
A brief history of healing.
Miracles cluster around Moses, Elijah and Elisha in the Old Testament, Christ and the Apostles in the New Testament, and recent times in Africa.
In the OT, there were legal rituals for incidental pollution, as well as for demonstrable cures. But there are few records of cures except infertility—a study in itself:
Miriam, sister of Moses, was healed of leprosy. Num.12:9–16
Naaman the Syrian was healed of leprosy. IIK.5:14
The widow’s son was revived ?from severe asthma by Elijah. IK.17:17–24
The widow’s son was revived from ?sun-stroke by Elisha .IIK.4:18–37
Hezekiah’s lethal boil (?anthrax) was cured by Isaiah with a poultice. IIK.20:1–7
The OT also speaks of spiritual healing, of Israel (Hos.7:1) including Jeremiah himself. “Heal me and I shall be healed”. Jer.17:14
In Jesus’ life there were many miracles of healing, some occurring in groups of people without specifics. In Acts, the miracles continued sporadically.
Peter and John healed a man lame since birth. Acts 3:2
The shadow of Peter was enough to heal to the sick. Acts.5:15
Peter raised Tabitha from the dead. Acts.9:4
Paul healed a man lame since birth. Acts.14:9
Handkerchiefs or aprons from Paul healed the sick in Ephesus. Acts’:11
Later, however, Paul did not heal Epaphroditus although he was grieved because of his illness. Phil.2:26
Healing by Christians largely disappeared by the Third Century.
“…Origin after speaking of the miracles performed by Jesus and the Apostles, writes that there were still preserved among the Christians only ‘traces of the Holy Spirit’ which expelled demons and effected many cures. Similarly, Tertullian cites the raising of the dead and the healing of disease as examples of miracles performed by the apostles, which are not (he implies) shared by their successors.”
(Caring and Curing. D.Amundsen, G.Ferngren. MacMillen,’86; p.7)
We are not sure why this happened. Had the Church become apostate? In part. It was a time of great persecution that split the Church between martyrs and defectors.
In the modern world, miracles of healing are again being reported in the Third World where God is at work among pagans. Wonderful, authenticated stories are coming out of Africa and China. I expect we will see more. But I think many of the miracles reported in meetings in this Country are not authenticated and create cynicism and despair. In my practice of medicine, I may have seen one miracle of healing in 45 years. But by God’s grace, many were healed with prayer and the treatments at hand.
May God in His grace heal you physically and spiritually.