Thursday, July 19, 2012

Our Mighty Healer - Matthew 8:1-17

The Leper

1 When Jesus came down from the mountain, large crowds followed Him.

2 And a leper came to Him and bowed down before Him, and said, "Lord, if you are willing, You can make me clean."

3 Jesus stretched out His hand and touched him, saying, "I am willing, be cleansed."  And immediately his leprosy was cleansed.

4 And Jesus said to him, "See that you tell no one; but go, show yourself to the priest and present the offering that Moses commanded, as a testimony to them."

Let's start by looking at what the leper had to go through to get to Jesus in the first place.  Lepers were supposed to live outside of the cities, and only have contact with other lepers - when travelling near to non-lepers, they had to cover their faces and shout, "Unclean!" to warn them to stay away (Leviticus 13:45-46).  People would shriek in horror and scatter from their presence - lepers were completely ostracized.  So think of the courage it took for this man to brave the scorn of the crowd to approach Jesus.  He had radical faith.  He ignored everything going on around him and focused on Jesus alone.  And he trusted in God's love.

Also notice the line about "Lord, if you are willing..."  This is truly incredible!  He never doubted for a moment that God could not perform the miracle, but he was also completely willing to accept it if God said "no."  If the answer had been no, the leper would have continued to die a slow, painful death in solitude - yet He submitted to God's sovereignty so much that he was willing to accept even that.

Also consider that the leper came to Jesus, and Jesus did the rest.  I see two meanings here for us: (1) All we have to do is trust God, and He will take care of us; and (2) we still do have to come to Him first - so many people today think that if God existed, there wouldn't be so many horrible things happening in the world, but the fact of the matter is, God will not force Himself on us...He allows us to screw up if that's what we choose, but He is also willing to fix things if we just ask Him.

Furthermore, Jesus touched the man.  It is correct theology to say that God cannot allow sin in His perfect presence, so He has to cleanse us of it first.  BUT, that is only half of the picture.  The other half is that in order to bring this about, God took that sin upon Himself on the cross.  Jesus wasn't afraid to touch the leper, and neither is He unwilling to touch you while you feel sinful and "unclean."  When you are at your worst, that is when you most need Him - and that is when is yearns the most for you to come to Him and ask Him to touch you.  He seeks to change you, yes, but He accepts you just as you are, right now.

Also, recall that under the Mosaic Law, a leper was cut off from all contact with God until he was healed (Leviticus 14:1-32).  Bear that in mind and take another look at the above passage...  Now, in the big picture, under the Law, you would never have continual access to God because you'd constantly keep getting unclean over and over, but through Jesus, we are clean permanently.  We can now approach God's throne of grace with confidence (Hebrews 4:16).

One final note of clarification: Why did Jesus instruct the healed leper to not tell anyone about his miraculous encounter?  Because Jesus was still trying to lay low as much as possible while still minstering, because the time for Him to give up His life had not yet come.

The Centurion

5 And when Jesus entered Capernaum, a centurion came to Him, imploring Him,

6 and saying, "Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, fearully tormented."

7 Jesus said to him, "I will come and heal him."

8 But the centurion said, "Lord, I am not worthy for You to come under my roof, but just say the word, and my servant will be healed.

9 "For I also am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to this one, 'Go!' and he goes, and to another, 'Come!' and he comes, and to my slave, 'Do this!' and he does it."

10 "Now when Jesus heard this, He marveled and said to those who were following, "Truly I say to you, I have not found such great faith with anyone in Israel.

11 "I say to you that many will come from east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, Issac and Jacob in the kindom of heaven;

12 but the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth."

13 And Jesus said to the centurion, "Go; it shall be done for you as you have believed."  And the servant was healed that very moment.

Let's examine the centurion's astounding humility first.  (1) In Roman society, the true Roman citizens were the elite, and the Jews were the scum non-citizens to be oppressed.  The centurion was a very high-ranking Roman with great power, yet he came to not just any Jew, but a poor one, and a Nazarene (the people even the Jews looked down on) at that!  (2) He did not even consider himself worthy to have Jesus enter his house.  I am reminded of when Peter cried out, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!" (Luke 5:8 NKJV), and Isaiah's lament, "Woe is me, for I am ruined!  Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I live among a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts" (Isaiah 6:5).  He needed Jesus desperately, but openly acknowledged that he did not deserve Jesus' help...he still humbly asked for it, but only the bare minimum - he knew he was unworthy, as we all are.  (3) Also, notice that Jesus uses the opportunity to point out that the Gentiles would enter heaven, but the Jews who rejected Him would not.  We can never presume to just *expect* our salvation like these Jews did - He offers it to us freely, but we are still so utterly unworthy.  The centurion came in great humility, and he was honored for it.  "But many who are first will be last; and the last, first." (Matthew 19:30).

So, what is so singular about this man's faith?  He didn't put God in a box.  He believed that Jesus had power in the spiritual realm from across town - he didn't think that He had to come into physical contact with his servant like the magicians.  He knew that Jesus's power was not limited by anything.  This demonstrates that he acknowledged Yahweh as the true God, rejecting the Roman pantheon.  For this, Jesus marvelled.  The Greek word here is thumazo, and it means complete astonishment and wonder.  Jesus is only recorded as having such a reaction one other time, and that is to a great lack of faith (Mark 6:1-6).  For an idea of how big of a deal this reaction is, consider Matthew 15:31 "So the crowd marveled as they saw the mute speaking, the crippled restored, and the lame walking, and the blind seeing; and they glorified the God of Israel" and 2 Thessalonians 1:10 "when He comes to be glorified in His saints on that day, and to be marveled at among all who have believed - for our testimony to you was believed."

Two more quick things about this situation.  First, the centurion was also willing to go through all this for his servant.  Some may label this an economic concern, but considering what we've learned about his character so far, I would wager that he did it out of great love for another human being.  Second, his explanation to Jesus in verses 8-9 is, in all honestly, kind of rambling.  But it wasn't rambling to God, even when he was on earth and *did* have a time constraint.  He loves us that much.

Comparing the Two Men

Let's review a few quick similarities between the leper and the centurion before moving on.

1 - The both had shocking humility and were focused only on Him and not on the crowds around Him.

2 - They had complete faith in God's power and love.

3 - They were the worst of the worst - one an ostracized sinner, the other a feared foreigner - yet God accepted them both without a moment's hesitation.

Peter's Mother-in-Law and Us

14 When Jesus came into Peter's home, He saw his mother-in-law lying sick in bed with a fever.

15 He touched her hand, and the fever left her; and she got up and waited on Him.

16 When evening came, they brought to Him many who were demon-possessed; and He cast out the spirits with a word, and healed all who were ill.

17 This was to fulfill what was spoken through Isaiah the prophet: "HE HIMSELF TOOK OUR INFIRMITIES AND CARRIED AWAY OUR DISEASES."

This isn't some case of, "You're better?  Good.  Go make me a sandwich."  Jesus did not heal her just so she could wait on him.  Rather, this is a beautiful picture of how to respond to God's grace.  Whatever He blesses us with, let's turn that gift back into service for Him.
This passage doesn't really talk about Peter mcuh, but it actually reveals a lot about his character.  First off, it wasn't standard for a widow to move in with her son-in-law; she usually had to depend on actual sons or beg.  The fact that he, a mere fisherman, welcomed this added financial burden demonstrates that he had great love and compassion.  Second, he was now responsible for her, but he could not help her with this particular problem - only God could.  "Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you" (1 Peter 5:7 NLT).

In verses 16-17, all the crowds are doing just that.  He still works today.  Do you trust Him?

Discussion Starters

What has God done for you?  Have you ever witnessed a miraculous healing?  Did you notice anything else about the leper, centurion, Peter, or his mother-in-law that I missed?  Anything else you'd like to ask or mention?

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