Introducing Matthew 8-9: Healing a leper

We begin a new series through Matthew chapters 8 and 9. In our last look at Matthew’s Gospel (chapter 5), Jesus was saying a lot of stuff. Here, he’s doing a lot. It’s the walk that backs up the talk. We see healings, exorcisms, provocative encounters, and even someone raised from the dead. Although this might seem to be just a random collection of cool stories involving Jesus, there’s a very deliberate point being made by the Gospel author throughout these chapters. Our task will be to work out what that is.

In the meantime, we’ll look through the stories one-by-one, to build up a picture of what Matthew is telling us. Keep this quest for the big picture in mind, as any application we find in each story will mostly be secondary to this larger point being made.

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The Centurion’s faith (Matt 8:5-13)

We began a series yesterday working through Matthew chapters 8 & 9. Following on from Jesus’ first public words in the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew narrates Jesus’ first public actions. Throughout this series we’ll be looking for the big picture Matthew is building up by arranging these stories together.

Yesterday, we saw Jesus’ first healing: of a man with leprosy, an Israelite who was an outcast in his own society. It was a story of Jesus meeting people’s needs in the here-and-now, as a sign that he was fulfilling the “suffering servant” role spoken of in Isaiah 53.

Today, we see Jesus’ second healing, which is equally significant: a non-Israelite, who nevertheless displays the key requirement for experiencing the blessing of the kingdom – faith.

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Jesus calms a storm (Matt 8:23-27)

(Continuing our series in Matthew chapter 8.)

8:23 Then he got into the boat and his disciples followed him. Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!” He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm. The men were amazed and asked, “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!” 

The power of nature is fearsome, unstoppable, and unforgiving. Even in this day and age with centuries of engineering and technological know-how, all we can do is observe it, make attempts at predicting it, and increase our odds of surviving it just a little.

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Devilled ham (Matt 8:28-34)

The next story in our look at Matthew chapter 8 looks like it’s unrelated to yesterday’s. But it’s basically the same story as the calming of the storm. In your Bibles it might be titled “the healing of two demon-possessed men”. Or in mine, “Jesus makes devilled ham.”* (I’m into boutique translations.) Either way, let’s read it now:

8:28-34 When he arrived at the other side in the region of the Gadarenes, two demon-possessed men coming from the tombs met him. They were so violent that no one could pass that way. 29 “What do you want with us, Son of God?” they shouted. “Have you come here to torture us before the appointed time?” 30 Some distance from them a large herd of pigs was feeding. 31 The demons begged Jesus, “If you drive us out, send us into the herd of pigs.” 32 He said to them, “Go!” So they came out and went into the pigs, and the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and died in the water. 33 Those tending the pigs ran off, went into the town and reported all this, including what had happened to the demon-possessed men. 34 Then the whole town went out to meet Jesus. And when they saw him, they pleaded with him to leave their region.

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Following Jesus (Matt 8:18-22)

Before we get to Matthew 9 next week, there’s one story we skipped over in chapter 8. As we’ve seen Jesus healing lepers, responding to the faith of outsiders, calming actual storms, and driving out demons – we’ve been asking how should we respond? That’s what today’s brief story is all about, nestled in amongst all these stories of Jesus doing miraculous things.

 8:18-22 When Jesus saw the crowd around him, he gave orders to cross to the other side of the lake. Then a teacher of the law came to him and said, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” Another disciple said to him, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” But Jesus told him, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.” 

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Trust Jesus (Matt 8 and 9)

At the end of last week, in our study of Matthew 8 & 9, we saw that the miracle stories in these chapters were intended to make a particular point. By arranging them together in this fashion, Matthew was telling us that Jesus was performing the actions of the Messiah, as envisioned by the prophet Isaiah 700 years prior: sight to the blind, mobility to the crippled, cleansing for lepers, and even the dead raised! It was the kingdom of God coming in action. (Just as the Sermon on the Mount we looked at a couple of months ago was the kingdom of God coming in words.)

But still, you’ve got to admit, the world didn’t change all that much, did it? Evil still exists, long after Jesus has been and gone. There’s still suffering and deformity and disease and death.  And even those people healed by Jesus – they all eventually died. What happened to this restoration of all things? Was that it?

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