Topic: Expository Scripture: Matthew 8:1–9:38
Synopsis: At the conclusion of Jesus’ sermon, the crowds were astonished at his teaching because he taught “With Authority”. That is the title for this sermon, taken from Matthew 8 and 9 as Matthew shows how Jesus demonstrated his authority with a series of miracles. Join the disciples for ringside seat as the King demonstrates his power. But not everyone was impressed. We also look at the variety of responses of the people who witnessed Jesus’ miracles. People today still respond to Jesus in a wide variety of ways. Maybe you will find yourself in one of these descriptions!
As Jesus concluded his teaching in the Sermon on the Mount, we are told that the crowds were astonished, because he taught with authority. In the next two chapters, (Matthew 8 and 9) Matthew moves from narrating Jesus’ words and teachings to describing Jesus’ works and actions. As he does so, this theme of authority continues to resonate from the pages of his Gospel. We move from considering Jesus’ teaching with authority about the kingdom of heaven to a demonstration of his authority and his credentials as the king of the kingdom he has come to proclaim. Matthew does this by describing for us a number of Jesus’ miracles.
We are biting off a big chunk of the text today, as I am attempting to cover all of chapters 8 and 9. To do this, I am going to have to paint with a very broad brush. There are ten individual miracles described in these chapters, arranged editorially by Matthew according to theme, rather than according to chronology.Stylistically, of all the gospel writers, Matthew is the most succinct and sparing of detail in his narration of the miracle accounts.
The stories he tells are familiar to most of us. We read the account of the first three miracles in the Scripture reading as Jesus cleansed a leper, healed the servant of a Roman officer and raised Peter’s mother-in-law up from her sick-bed. Matthew follows this with another cluster of three miracles: Jesus’ calming the storm on the Sea of Galilee, delivering the Gedarene demoniacs by casting the demons into the herd of pigs, and then the story of the healing of the paralytic who was carried to Jesus on a stretcher. This is then followed by another set of miracles, as Jesus raised a young girl from the dead, healed the woman with the issue of blood, restored sight to the eyes of two blind men, and restored speech to a demon-possessed man whose affliction caused him to be mute. These accounts of individual miracles are interspersed with more general statements that Jesus’ healed all who came to him and freed many from demonic oppression.
What I want to do in this message is to step back from the details of each individual miracle, and instead examine some of the common themes that run through the accounts. The first theme is one I have already referred to: that of Jesus’ authority.
This theme is brought up numerous times in these verses in different ways. It is raised, for example, by the centurion who sought healing for his servant. When Jesus offers to come to his home to heal the young man, the Roman officer demurs, suggesting that he is not worthy to have Jesus enter his home. He was no doubt painfully aware of the Jews and their refusal to enter Gentile homes which they considered ceremonially unclean. Instead he expresses great faith in Jesus’ authority: 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.
This is a man who understood authority. He recognized Jesus as One who had supernatural authority over the natural world, who could heal even at a distance, just by speaking. In response to his faith, Jesus did just that. He spoke words of command (“Let it be done…”) and the young man was healed at that very moment.
Jesus’ authority over nature was dramatically demonstrated in the boat on the Sea of Galilee. A fierce storm sprang up as they were crossing the lake. It was so violent that even the experienced fishermen who were piloting the craft feared for their lives. We are told that Jesus rose and rebuked the winds and the sea. That is authority. Who can, not only command but actually rebuke, the creation? Only the Creator! We are told that immediately a great calm fell over the lake. This stunned Jesus’ companions in the boat. They marveled, saying “What sort of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him? (v.27)
Jesus’ authority over the spirit world is demonstrated in the encounter with the two demon-possessed men in the east bank of the Sea of Galilee. It is interesting to note that Matthew records two such men, while the other gospel writers only tell of one; indicating that one was probably more notorious and his story better known. But Jesus’ authority is clear as he commands the demons to leave the men, and they obey.
But probably the story in which the issue of authority is most clearly emphasized is that of the paralyzed man. There are a number of surprises in this story. Once again, Matthew leaves out a number of the details we know from the parallel accounts in Mark and Luke, but the core issue is clear. When Jesus is confronted with this man, lying helpless on his bed, his first words are a shock. “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.” (9:3)We should not conclude from Jesus’ words that all illness is necessarily a direct result of sin in the life of the sufferer. But there was clearly a cause and effect in the life of this particular young man. And Jesus recognized that the sin problem was a bigger and more threatening problem than that of physical illness.
Jesus’ words, however, provoked a strong reaction from the Pharisees. Forgiving sins does not lie within the domain of human authority. Only God can forgive sins. “This man is blaspheming,” they said among themselves. Jesus does not disagree with their premise (that only God can forgive sins) but he does challenge their conclusion (that he was blaspheming). And he proceeds to demonstrate his authority. “For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? 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.” And the man did exactly that.
Authority – over disease, over nature, over the spiritual forces of darkness; authority to forgive sins, and finally even authority over death as Jesus raised a young girl who had died. It is one thing to claim authority. It is another thing to demonstrate it. And Jesus did both, again and again in front of audiences both large and small.
It is interesting the number of titles that are used to refer to Jesus in these chapters. He is repeatedly referred to as “Lord” or “Master”, a word that clearly denotes authority. One would-be disciple called him “Teacher”. The demons acknowledged him as “Son of God.” Jesus refers to himself as “Son of Man”. The blind men called out to him as “Son of David.” All of them are titles of authority, and it is an authority that Jesus demonstrated in every realm of life. His miracles demonstrated over and over again that he is exactly who he claimed to be: the Lord of all creation, God in human flesh.
The second theme and characteristic of Jesus that runs through these chapters is that of Jesus’ compassion. It is demonstrated so clearly in these stories again and again in the way he touched people. My favorite is the story of the man with leprosy. If you know anything about leprosy, it was one of the most dreaded diseases of the ancient world; a sure death sentence, but more than that. It was feared as being contagious. Someone who was diagnosed with leprosy immediately became a social outcast, forced to live separate from family, friends and society. If anyone approached, they were required to cry out “Unclean! Unclean!” If lepers were bold enough to venture into a village or town, the people would throw stones at them to drive them away. To touch a leper was to become unclean one’s self and at risk of the disease. Yet when this man defied the crowds and ran up to throw himself at Jesus’ feet, Jesus did something remarkable. Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him… It was probably the first time he had been touched by anyone since the man discovered the first white, leprous spots on his skin.
Jesus also touched others in these stories: He took Peter’s mother-in-law by the hand. He laid his hands on the corpse of the dead girl (another taboo in Jewish society) and raised her from the dead. He touched the eyes of the blind men. By his touch, Jesus demonstrated the depth of his compassion.
These stories also give evidence, not only of the depth of his compassion, but the extent of it as well. He kept reaching out beyond the normal social and ethnic boundaries of society to include people who were excluded by others. He was willing to go to the home of the Gentile centurion and commended him for his faith. He crossed into Gentile territory to meet with the demon-possessed men who had everyone living in terror. He not only stopped to talk to a despised tax collector – he called him to become one of his disciples and then sat down to a meal with the man’s friends. And when the woman with the issue of blood approached him surreptitiously in the crowd to touch the fringe of his garment, he turned and touched her with kind words of healing.
Jesus feelings toward these individuals and the crowds that pressed around him day after day are described clearly in Matthew 9:36: When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. The Greek word for “compassion” comes from the word for the deep inner organs, what we might call the “gut”. He felt a deep inner stirring of compassion for the people among whom he ministered. He saw them as harassed and helpless sheep with no shepherd, and he longed to wrap his arms of care around them.
This is the portrait of Jesus, the King of the kingdom of heaven, come down to earth, with all his authority intact and his infinite compassion on display. Jesus responded to the people he met with compassion. But there is another part of the story. How did the people Jesus met respond to him? This is another part of the story that Matthew records for us in these chapters. There is a wide spectrum of different kinds of responses as people encountered Jesus.
There were some who responded to him with unbelief.
Such unbelief came in different degrees. There was blatant unbelief and hostility.
This response is personified by the scribes and the Pharisees. They are the ones who sat back with their arms crossed when Jesus forgave the man for his sins, accusing Jesus of blasphemy. These are the ones who, after witnessing supernatural act after supernatural act, accused Jesus of being in league with the devil: He casts out demons by the prince of demons, was their conclusion in Matthew 9:34. There are still such people in our world today; people who react to the name of Jesus and the Gospel of his kingdom with hostility and who even think they are doing God a favor by persecuting and killing those who follow him.
There were others who responded with rejection motivated by fear. We see this reaction among the villagers of Gedara. When they heard the report of the deliverance of the demon-possessed men, we read: And behold, all the city came out to meet Jesus, and when they saw him, they begged him to leave their region. (8:34) Isn’t that an ironic response? Face to face with the Lord of the universe, and they beg him to leave! They knew they were in the presence of something, of Someone they did not understand and whom they could not control. And they voted for the status quo, to remain in their darkness and in their ignorance, simply because they were afraid of the changes that he might bring, that he would bring, if he remained among them.
This is not an uncommon reaction to Jesus. Maybe it’s your reaction. You recognize in Jesus someone different, someone powerful, someone who wants to change you. But you are afraid; afraid that changes will be too drastic, too painful, too upsetting and that you will have to give up too much. So you beg him to leave.
Of course the opposite of the response of unbelief is the response of belief. Another word for belief is faith.
But faith too comes in different degrees and in different stages of development. There is the response of faith which brings us to cry out to Jesus in our need. This was the type of faith we see exhibited most in these chapters. “If you will, you can make me clean,” the leper said. “Save us Lord; we are perishing,” the disciples cried out in their foundering boat. It is the faith that brought the four young men, carrying their friend to Jesus on his bed. It was the faith that brought the woman, trembling through the crowd to touch the fringe of his garment.“Have mercy on us, Son of David,” the blind men cried aloud. “Do you believe I am able to do this?” Jesus asked. When they responded, “Yes, Lord,” he touched their eyes, saying “According to your faith be it done for you.”
Faith is what draws us to Jesus; faith in his identity, faith in his compassion, faith in his acceptance, faith in his authority and power. But I think that we can see from these encounters that faith is not an all or nothing commodity. It sometimes takes time and exposure to Jesus for faith to incubate and grow. Jesus rebuked his disciples in the boat during the storm because they had “little faith”. And after they had seen him calm the storm, they were still unsure of the implications of what they had seen and they questioned: “What sort of man is this?” So faith, real faith, may start small. But real faith perseveres and keeps on growing as it draws us into ever deeper trust and confidence in Jesus. This real faith will not only draw us Jesus to meet our needs, but will draw us to go beyond need to service and obedience to Jesus as the King and to his kingdom.
This is another thread that runs through these chapters. Jesus’ claims of authority and his demonstrations of that authority demand a verdict. And that verdict is clear. If Jesus is who he claims to be, then he deserves our allegiance and our obedience. He is the King and he is inviting us to join his kingdom and to follow him as his disciples.
There are three short vignettes or snap shots in this chapter of people who encountered Jesus and were faced with this challenge to follow him and become his disciple. These are common reactions to Jesus and the demands of his kingdom. Maybe you will see yourself in one of them.
We might refer to one as the“eager beaver” disciple. In Matthew 8:19 we read: And a scribe came up and said to him, ‘Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.’ That sounds promising, doesn’t it? Yet Jesus could read this man’s heart and he warned him: And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’ The eager beaver disciple is the kid in class who always has his hand in the air. He’s the one who will join any queue, even if he doesn’t know what it’s for. The problem with this kind of eager enthusiasm is that it tends to melt in the heat of the sun. It’s like an ice cream cone on a hot, Abu Dhabi summer day. It doesn’t last. This is the enthusiasm of the evangelistic crusade or the testimony meeting at summer youth camp.
When we lived in Alaska, I had many opportunities to minister to young people at the Victory Bible Camp. We had some wonderful times there. But as I conversed with the staff of the camp, this was their main frustration. Young people were quick to make commitments in the emotion of the moment at camp – but when they returned home to their schools and communities, all too often the commitment faded along with the emotions. Jesus never promised that following him would be easy. He is looking for disciples who are in it for the long haul.
The second snapshot we see is that of the“maybe later” disciple. We read his story in Matthew 8:22: Another of the disciples said to him, ‘Lord, let me first go and bury my father.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead.’
At first this story and Jesus’ words seem incredibly harsh; that Jesus would deny someone the time to attend his own father’s funeral. But students of the culture of Jesus’ day give us a different picture. In all probability, this man’s father had not died. He may not even have been particularly old or even ill. “To bury one’s father” was an idiom describing an enter phase of life – waiting until one’s father died and the inheritance was divided. It was an indefinite postponement of the commitment to follow Christ. “Maybe later!” Maybe that’s been your response to Jesus’ call on your life. Maybe later, after I finish school. Maybe later, after I get married. Maybe later, after my kids are grown. Maybe later, after I’ve made my money and can retire – then I will have time to really serve the Lord. But there will always be another excuse. Jesus is asking for your allegiance and obedience now.
Then there is the third example. This one is actually a personal testimony of a man named Matthew, the man who wrote the Gospel that we are studying. He was a tax collector, a Jew who worked for the Romans to collect the hated taxes from his own people, and who was no doubt hated in turn. We are not sure what kind of prior contact he had had with Jesus. He worked in Jesus own village of Capernaum – so he may have had opportunity to hear Jesus’ teach and to witness some of his miracles. At the very least, he had to know Jesus’ reputation. Jesus passed by one day, as he sat in the tax booth. Jesus stopped, looked him in the eyes, and said simply, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him. Not for a day, not for a month, or a season, but for the rest of his life. Everything changed for Matthew that day. Let’s call him the “now and forever” disciple.
I made a similar commitment to Christ when I was in high school. A speaker at a campfire service challenged us to make our lives out as a blank check to Christ and his kingdom: wherever you want me to go, whatever you want me to be, whatever you want me to do… I did it, and that decision and commitment has shaped the rest of my life.
Jesus is still looking for “now and forever” disciples today. How will you respond to his call?
- Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United States, once produced a version of the Gospels in which he eliminated all references to miracles and supernatural events. What would you say to him if he were a guest in your small group?
- There are ten miracles described in Matthew 8 and 9. (If you are all familiar with these stories, you can go straight to the discussion questions. If you are not, take the time to read the chapters together.) Which miracle story is your favorite? Why?
- Matthew selected which miracles he wanted to include and how he would describe them. What themes do you think were important to him and what points do you think he is trying to make?
- Why is the issue of Jesus’ authority important to Matthew’s Gospel? What is its relevance to us today?
- How many references can you find in these chapters to Jesus touching people? How does Jesus touch people today? How has he touched you?
- Discuss the different ways people responded to Jesus in these chapters. Share examples from your experience of people today responding in these same ways. Which ones most clearly reflect your experience (you may have responded differently in different stages of your spiritual journey).