Summary: Jesus heals a diverse group of people demonstrating His personal power and the inclusive nature of the gospel.
Matthew’s Gospel opens, as many biographies do, by telling us about the personal background of an individual – in this case Jesus. So in chapters 1-4 we meet His mom and dad, learn about His early life, and later His baptism and the beginning of His ministry.
And then we learn about His message. In Chapters 5-7 we read the Sermon on the Mount as a summary of Jesus’ teaching.
This morning we begin chapter 8 where we enter a section full of miracles Jesus performed. Half of the miracles Matthew records in this gospel are found in chapters 8 and 9.
So, if you want to trace an outline of what’s going on in the book, you might say chapters 1-4 show the person of Jesus, chapters 5-7 show the preaching of Jesus, and now chapters 8-9 show the power of Jesus.
We’ll look at three healing miracles this morning and see what we can learn about who was healed, how they were healed, why they were healed and what that means for us today.
We start in verse one of chapter eight as Matthew tells us how people responded to the Sermon on the Mount. So we read,
Matthew 8:1 When He had come down from the mountain, great multitudes followed Him.
It turns out a lot of people liked what He had to say and many of those people started bringing Him their problems as we see next.
2 And behold, a leper came and worshiped Him, saying, “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.”
In the Bible leprosy is a term used to cover a wide variety of diseases affecting the skin including, but not exclusively meaning, the condition we typically think of when we hear the word.
Listen to this description of one manifestation of the disease:
Leprosy might begin with the loss of all sensation in some part of the body; the nerve trunks are affected; the muscles waste away; the tendons contract until the hands are like claws. There follows ulceration of the hands and feet. Then comes the progressive loss of fingers and toes, until in the end a whole hand or a whole foot may drop off. The duration of that kind of leprosy is anything from twenty to thirty years. It is a kind of terrible progressive death in which a man dies by inches. (Barclay, commentary on Matthew, pg 295)
This form of leprosy is not a very common disease today, but it still exists and doctors are still investigating it right here and now in the United States where several hundred diagnoses occurred in 2016 and around 200,000 occurred globally.
It’s called Hansen’s disease now after the doctor who identified the bacteria that causes it. Today, if caught early enough, the disease is treatable with antibiotics, but we had a leper colony for 100 years in Louisiana that closed in 1999 – just under 20 years ago. And there is still a community of people living with the disease on a section of an island in Hawaii.
You don’t have to go very far back in time to return to the place where a diagnosis of leprosy changed your life forever. You suffered physically in terrible, irreversible, and essentially incurable ways. But that suffering was compounded by another fact: a diagnosis of leprosy cut you off socially from your family and community.
When this man approached Jesus, lepers were not allowed to enter the city of Jerusalem or any other walled town. They were forced to live out in the countryside, which is where this interaction occurs.
Imagine what it would be like to live with a disease described as a “terrible progressive death in which a man dies by inches” and being unable to have your spouse hold your hand. Unable to have your child sit in your lap. Unable to gather with your friends for a meal or conversation. Suffering is one thing, but to suffer alone is to amplify our pain. In the ancient world, that was the leper’s fate.
But He heard Jesus preach, and his faith was stirred. He knew: if Jesus is willing, He can heal me. And so, he called to Jesus. We have no idea how far away he was – lepers weren’t allowed to come close to those who were not sick, and if healthy people happened to be in the area they had to call out, “unclean, unclean” as a warning for others. So, it’s not likely that he just wandered up in the crowd, but somehow he got the attention of Jesus, and knelt down before Him like royalty, worshipping Him, making a bold request. “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.” He believed it was possible, but had no guarantee it would happen. Yes, Jesus could, but would He?
3 Then Jesus put out His hand and touched him, saying, “I am willing; be cleansed.” Immediately his leprosy was cleansed.
According to the religious tradition of the day, touching a leper was second only to touching a dead body, in terms of defilement. But Jesus reached out and conferred healing instead of contracting uncleanliness.
And that right there is worthy of our consideration: what direction does the influence flow in your life? You’re surrounded every day by things and people that are spiritual lepers, dead men, dead women walking. Some of the people in your life are toxic and terminally ill from a spiritual perspective. Some of the things in your life are full of death.
Which way does the influence flow? Are they contaminating, corrupting you, or are you being used to bring life to them? Jesus gave life, hope, and healing to a man who had nowhere else to turn.
4 And Jesus said to him, “See that you tell no one; but go your way, show yourself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.”
You can go back to Leviticus 13 and 14 and find the offering Moses commanded for a person healed from a disease like leprosy. We could go through that, but I’ll leave it to you to dig out on your own. Instead, I want to make this point: Jesus encouraged the man to worship God in response to being healed.
This man suffered from a life-dominating disease. It touched and flavored every aspect of his daily life. How often had he wished things could change, and now, suddenly, everything did change.
How often do things come along in our lives, things that feel like they take over, things that dominate our lives, our thoughts, our conversations, and our prayers? We pray and pray for an answer to our question, for provision for our need, for a breakthrough, perhaps even for healing. And then the answer comes, we receive the thing we prayed for so desperately, and what happens next? We’re prone to run off and enjoy what we’ve been desiring.
And yes, perhaps we say praise God, perhaps we even tell some people we know how awesome the answer to our prayer is, but it’s still very, very easy to run off and enjoy what God has provided instead of taking time to worship.
I often wonder what it would be like if we worshipped for as long afterward as we worried beforehand? It seems, in my own life, life I give God only a fraction of praise in response to the hours of prayer I put in before hand. And I say that to my shame. Perhaps you know what I’m talking about.
So, Jesus encourages this man to worship God as the first act of his newly restored life – and to share what has happened with the priest, so that the priest can verify it, welcome the man back into the community legitimately, and be provoked to worship too.
Matthew 8:5 Now when Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to Him, pleading with Him, 6 saying, “Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, dreadfully tormented.”
Centurions appear at least seven times in the gospels and the book of Acts, and they always appear in a good light. These military officers of the Roman Army are always portrayed as men of high character with a strong sense of duty. You have to understand they were men of rank, representatives of Rome, and typically commanded between 60-100 soldiers. They were commanding officers, commanding not only their men, but also respect from those around them.
And yet, this man seeks out Jesus – the son of a carpenter, from a small village in the sticks of Israel, who had no formal education or academic pedigree, no social standing or rank at all to speak of. This centurion whose entire life is built on the ability to command others, to exude and project strength, seeks out Jesus and pleads – note that word, pleads – for an intervention for his sick servant.
Now, we could say much here about the concern this man demonstrates for others, and we will, but first, let’s pull back and notice the bigger picture of what is happening when the centurion approaches Jesus. The fact that he would approach Jesus in the first place is remarkable. But notice too that he doesn’t command Jesus to come. He pleads. This powerful man, this man of rank, and title, and position comes to Jesus in need.
Friends, you need to see this. You need to see the power of this example and so do many, many, other men and women in this city. You need to know that it’s OK to humble yourself and come to Jesus. You need to know that other people have done that before you. You need to know that there are things that come up in life that your rank and your privileges and your connections can’t cure. There are things that you’re not going to be able to fix no matter how high you climb. This man who can order men to come and go is facing a problem he can’t order to be solved.
And you need to know that there are plenty of other people of rank and position and title who have pain in their lives. You’re not the only one. Don’t think that promotion or position will insulate you from pain or grief. Don’t buy into the lie that if you could only climb a little higher on the ladder of success that somehow all of your difficulties would fade away. It’s not true. Pain and grief, sorrow and difficulty enter into all households. And when it comes to you, there is nothing wrong with coming to Jesus. In fact, it’s the best thing you can do.
As the old song goes,
Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face
And things of the earth,
Will grow strangely dim,
in the light of His glory and grace.
This centurion looks to Jesus in hope for his servant.
7 And Jesus said to him, “I will come and heal him.”
8 The centurion answered and said, “Lord, I am not worthy that You should come under my roof. But only speak a word, and my servant will be healed. 9 For I also am a man under authority, having soldiers under me. And I say to this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”
10 When Jesus heard it, He marveled [take note of that – it’s one of only two times Jesus marveled], and said to those who followed, “Assuredly, I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel! 11 And I say to you that many will come from east and west, and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob [those are the fathers of the nation of Israel] in the kingdom of heaven. 12 But the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” 13 Then Jesus said to the centurion, “Go your way; and as you have believed, so let it be done for you.” And his servant was healed that same hour.
The first thing we saw this morning was Jesus healing a man who sought out his own healing. But notice now that Jesus heals the servant because the centurion asked for it to be done.
Christian, I want you to notice that, and I want you to make a big deal about it. God hears your prayers for others. Your prayers for other people can have an actual impact on them. This is an amazing privilege of God. And I want to encourage our youth especially to consider this – you can have an impact on your friend’s lives by praying for them.
Now, as we will discuss later, this doesn’t mean God is going to do everything you ask, in the way you want and with the timing you want – but you can’t miss this: things changed in the servant’s life, because the centurion brought the situation to God.
You can have an impact on your friends life, your teacher or coach’s life, your brother or sister or mom or dad’s life, by bringing their issue, their pain, their suffering to God.
And of course, that goes for everyone else in here too, but I especially want to make the point to our youth – you see things happening in the lives of your friends that no one else does. Things other people might not know about. You know about their pain, their struggles, their difficulties, and who knows what God might do if you bring all of that to Him?
For all of us – what does God want to do if we bring the situations we know about in the lives of others to Him? How do you know what God might do if you begin to ask? The church staff gathers for prayer every morning at 9 AM and we work our way through the list of members of this church – we pray for you, individually, by name and the things we know you’re going through or facing. And now there’s a small group of people gathering in the Nook before the service to pray too. We’re hoping to see God continue to do great things in our lives and the lives of others when we come to Him and ask Him to act.
It is a tremendous privilege to be able to see change in someone else’s life because we pray.
But God also takes action on His own at times, even when we don’t say a word. Look at what happens next.
Matthew 8:14 Now when Jesus had come into Peter’s house, He saw his wife’s mother lying sick with a fever. 15 So He touched her hand, and the fever left her. And she arose and served them.
The first point I want to make here is that no one brought Peter’s mother in law to Jesus. And, she didn’t ask for healing like the leper. But Jesus took notice, had compassion, and acted on His own.
Yes, we should come to Jesus believing He is able if He is willing. Yes, we should we should bring the needs of others to Jesus asking Him to work in their lives. But also know that Jesus sees the needs even if you don’t speak up, and sometimes, He takes action on His own.
And when He does, look at her response – she gets up and serves; she uses the strength she has been given for the glory of God and the good of others. And it’s a good thing too, because the crowds would be coming shortly.
Matthew 8:16 When evening had come, they brought to Him many who were demon-possessed. And He cast out the spirits with a word, and healed all who were sick, 17 that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying:
“He Himself took our infirmities
And bore our sicknesses.”
In the coming weeks we will see several more miracles in chapters 8 and 9, but let’s take a few minutes to consider what we’ve seen already and draw a few observations.
First of all – we have seen Jesus perform healing miracles. But who received the benefits? People outside the main stream of life. A leper. A servant. The mother in law of a fisherman from a small city.
We go straight from reading the Sermon on the Mount to reading the accounts of grace shown to outcasts. The leper was expelled from his community by his diagnosis. The servant and his master were Gentiles, people outside the covenant community of Israel. And the mother in law was an elderly woman in a society that did not elevate their status. They were people on the fringe of Jewish life. And yet, these are the people highlighted in the gospel. These are the people Jesus made a priority out of.
What does that say to you? It tells you, there is no reason why you can’t come to Jesus too. It tells you there is no reason why you can’t bring someone else and their situation to Jesus. It tells you there is no reason to think that Jesus won’t take notice of your condition even if you don’t say anything.
Friends, this passage tells us God notices, cares about, and listens to, people outside of the mainstream. This tells you nothing is keeping you from Him and nothing is keeping Him from you.
If you want to call out to Jesus, do it.
If you want to know if He is willing, He is.
If you want to know if He can change your situation from a distance, He can.
If you want to know if He sees you suffering, He does.
Anyone can come to Jesus and find that He is gentle, forgiving, and that He cares.
Let His love win you over.
And, take note of His tender touch. He touched the hand of Peter’s mother in law. He healed her with a gentle touch. And He touched the man with leprosy, showing compassion to a man who hadn’t felt another human body in who knows how long?
And right in the middle of the two, Jesus heals a servant from some unknown distance away. Which means Jesus touched this sick woman and this diseased man, and He didn’t have to. He could have healed them with a wave of His hand, but He used a touch instead.
This is my God. And I hope He is yours. A God who will touch you. It’s good enough that He hears you; it’s good enough that He does good for you, but we worship a God who will touch you.
Do you need Him to touch you today? If so, ask. Even if everyone and everything around you is saying stay away – like a leper told by society that you don’t belong here – come worship Jesus – bow down before Him and ask Him to make you clean. He is able and He is willing.
Do you need Him to touch someone you know? If so, ask. Bring Him the needs of the people you know. He actually cares more than you do about their condition and their suffering – He cares more than you do about their wandering hearts and their search for identity. And He can change their lives even from a distance, based simply on your prayer.
So let’s take a moment now and pray as we close.