Welcome to day 8! Today we see Jesus healing: a man with leprosy, a centurion’s servant, Peter’s mother in law, and many more with demons or diseases. He teaches about the cost of following him and calms the storm.
Matthew arranged the following accounts topically, not chronologically. Mark and Luke recorded some of the following events, but placed them in different locations, probably in the chronological sequence of events. The following section features a series of miracles (chapters 8 and 9 have ten). Jesus’ miracles demonstrated the power of the kingdom in action. This first miracle involved a man who had been estranged from the Jews because of a dreaded disease.
8:1 When he came down from the mountainside, large crowds followed him.NIV In 5:1 we read that Jesus “saw the crowds . . . [and] went up on a mountainside” in order to teach them. After finishing his “Sermon on the Mount” (recorded in chapters 5-7), Jesus came down from the mountainside. Whenever we see Jesus, we usually see large crowds following him. The people were astonished at Jesus’ authority in his teaching (7:28-29); it captivated them, so they followed him to see and hear more.
8:2 A man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.”NIV Leprosy, like AIDS today, was a terrifying disease because there was no known cure. In Jesus’ day, the Greek word for “leprosy” was used for a variety of similar skin diseases, and some forms were contagious. If a person contracted the contagious type, a priest declared him a leper and banished him from his home and city. This also excluded him from participating in any social or religious activities (according to the law in Leviticus 13-14). The leper went to live in a community with other lepers until he either got better or died. This was the only way the people knew to contain the spread of the contagious forms of leprosy.
This man took a great risk when he came and knelt before Jesus. The word for “knelt” can also mean “worshiped.” His kneeling reveals his desperation, humility, and recognition of Jesus’ authority. His words to Jesus reveal his faith. If his disease were to disappear, a priest could declare him clean (or cured), but only Jesus could make him clean.
The words “if you are willing” reveal the man’s faith in Jesus’ authority in this matter of healing; Jesus’ ability was never in question. This man wanted to be clean—a huge request. The man wanted to become a person again, to be reunited with his family and community. He knew Jesus could do it. He apparently had heard of Jesus’ healing power (see 4:24). The question was, would Jesus heal him?
|LIFE APPLICATION – POINT OF NEED|
|The leper’s actions and words expressed his complete reliance upon Christ. This leper was a broken person. He may not have fully understood who Jesus was, but he regarded Jesus as his source of hope. Perhaps the leper had just stood at a distance, straining to listen to parts of the Sermon on the Mount. He must have thought that surely a man with such powerful words from God might also wield God’s power to heal. The leper wanted so badly to be clean.|
|This desperate man had a point of need; a part of his life was clearly beyond his control. God often uses our point of need as the place in which to make himself known. Until we honestly cry, “Help,” any knowledge we have about God will be incomplete. Our point of need may be physical illness, loneliness, or the defeat of recurring sin. God can use that need to make us aware of our deeper need for him.|
|Has God used your need to draw your attention to himself? Have you turned to him? Let your trust in God deepen as you honestly confess your need to him.|
8:3 Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!”NIV Jesus’ love and power work together. Matthew revealed Jesus’ heart of compassion. All people shunned lepers, but Jesus reached out his hand and touched this man covered with a dreaded, contagious disease. That Jesus’ touch precedes his pronouncement of healing indicates his sovereignty over the Jewish law not to touch a leper (Leviticus 5:3; 13:1-46; Numbers 5:2). In touching the leper, Jesus became “unclean.” He did not worry about becoming ritually unclean when there was a genuine need.
When Jesus answered the man, I am willing, he showed his willingness and ability to meet this social outcast’s most basic need. With the words “Be clean,” the leprosy immediately disappeared. The words and the touch were simple but effective, revealing Jesus’ divine authority over sickness.
Immediately he was cured of his leprosy.NIV When Jesus spoke the words, the leper was cured immediately. We do not know the stage of this man’s leprosy—he may have already lost portions of his body to the disease. But when Jesus spoke, the man’s health was restored completely and instantly. The man had his life back; he could return to his community, to his family, and to the synagogue.
|LIFE APPLICATION – TELL AND SHOW|
|Jesus’ touch communicated both to the leper and to the watching people. What communicates with people? What gets through? What cracks the crust and reaches a person beneath the surface?|
|If all we do is speak (preach or witness), many people will wonder if our words carry much weight. Having words without work seems cheap. Most people prefer the words of someone whose life they trust, and trust requires a tangible demonstration of a person’s values.|
|If all we do is work (touch people with good deeds), many will wonder what all the effort means. Works accomplished but never celebrated may add health or comfort to a person’s life (and this is important), but in the end, for what higher purpose?|
|Jesus speaks and touches, and so should we. In your actions, you show the love of God. In your words, you celebrate God by answering the how and the why questions connected with your service. For Jesus’ sake, tell others about him, and show others how much you care.|
8:4 Then Jesus said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.”NRSV Jesus healed the man, but also gave him two warnings: First, see that you say nothing to anyone. The warning was an earnest and forceful admonition—words that Jesus commanded the man to obey. But why would Jesus ask this man not to tell anyone about his healing? Wouldn’t this have been great advertising for Jesus, bringing more people to hear his message? While we might think so, Jesus knew better (John 2:24-25). Jesus’ mission was to preach the Good News of the kingdom of God. He did not want the crowds descending on him to see miracles or to benefit from his power. Such people would not be receptive to hear and to respond to the gospel. Jesus did not want to be a miracle worker in a sideshow; he wanted to be the Savior of their souls. This verse and others in Matthew (9:30; 12:16; 16:20; 17:9) have been referred to as the “messianic secret,” meaning that Jesus wished to keep his full messiahship hidden until after the Resurrection. Different reasons have been given, such as that Jesus did not want to arouse political messianic expectations or that Jesus wouldn’t accept the full acclamation until he finished his saving work on the cross. Most likely, there were several and different reasons for each situation. Here perhaps the obvious meaning is that the cleansed man would not be distracted by talking to people until he followed the law and went to the priest.
The law required a priest to examine a healed leper (Leviticus 14). Then the healed leper was to give an offering at the temple, called the guilt offering in Leviticus 14:12. Jesus adhered to these laws by sending the man to the priest, thereby demonstrating high regard for God’s law. Jesus wanted this man to give his story firsthand to the priest to prove that his leprosy was completely gone so that he could be restored to his family and community. This would be a testimony to them.
Some think that “them” refers to the priests. Jesus would show the religious authorities that he was not anti-law, but the only one who could truly fulfill the law. If the priest declared that the healing had taken place but refused to accept the person and power of Christ who had done it, that priest would be condemned by the evidence. On the other hand, Jesus may have intended the testimony to be a positive one to the people who witnessed the healing. Jesus’ meaning would be, “Don’t you proclaim it. Instead, let the priest’s pronouncement witness for me and for the healing.” The priest’s words would testify to everyone that the man had recovered and that Jesus did not condemn the law. Most important, however, the testimony would reveal that the one who heals lepers had come. People believed that healing leprosy was a sign of the Messiah’s arrival (see 11:5).
Mark records that the man disobeyed Jesus’ warning and “went out and began to talk freely, spreading the news. As a result, Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places” (see Mark 1:45 niv).
A ROMAN CENTURION DEMONSTRATES FAITH / 8:5-13
This event is also recorded in Luke 7:1-10. This miracle occurred to a person who, because of his race and occupation, was not close to the Jewish faith. In this story and the previous one (the healed leper), Jesus willingly dealt with people the Jews shunned.
8:5-6 When he entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, appealing to him and saying, “Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, in terrible distress.”NRSV Capernaum, located on the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee, was the largest of the many fishing towns surrounding the lake. Jesus had recently moved to Capernaum from Nazareth (4:12-13). Capernaum was a thriving town with great wealth as well as great sin and decadence. Near a major trade route, it housed a contingent of Roman soldiers even though Galilee was not under Roman occupation until after the death of Herod Agrippa in a.d. 44. Because Capernaum had the headquarters for Roman troops, the city was filled with heathen influences from all over the Roman Empire. This was a needy place for Jesus to challenge both Jews and non-Jews with the gospel of God’s kingdom.
A centurion—a career military officer in the Roman army—had control over one hundred soldiers. Often the sons of Roman senators or powerful figures would begin their careers at this level. The Jews hated Roman soldiers for their oppression, control, and ridicule and considered them “unclean” because they were despised Gentiles.
|LIFE APPLICATION – CROSSING BARRIERS|
|The centurion asked Jesus for help, not for himself but for someone else. He crossed racial, social, and political barriers to present his servant’s plight. But he didn’t tell Jesus what he wanted. He simply described his servant’s condition: paralyzed and in excruciating pain. He allowed Jesus to decide if and how he would help. The centurion practiced wisdom in what he did and what he didn’t do.|
|God honors us with the gift of prayer. This privilege does not give us permission to make demands but freedom to express our needs, gratitude, and praise. Use the centurion as a model for prayer, and pray for those beyond your immediate circle of relatives and friends. Such praying will not only bring God’s resources to bear on that person’s life; it also will greatly help to deepen your own compassion.|
Why did this centurion come to Jesus? Luke records that the man himself didn’t come but that he sent “some elders of the Jews” (Luke 7:3). In those days, dealing with a person’s messengers was considered the same as dealing with the one who had sent them. Because of his Jewish audience, Matthew emphasized the man’s race and faith. This Roman centurion was apparently different from many other Roman soldiers who despised the Jews. He may have been a “God-fearer” who worshiped the God of Israel but was not circumcised (see Acts 2:5; 10:2). Luke also explains that the elders reported to Jesus that “this man deserves to have you do this [healing], because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue” (Luke 7:4-5 niv). This centurion had apparently heard about Jesus’ healing powers. He may have known about the healing of the Roman official’s son (which probably occurred earlier, see John 4:46-54). He knew that Jesus had the power to heal. While this soldier’s concern about a servant may seem unusual, the Jewish historian Josephus wrote that Roman soldiers had many servants who actually trained and fought with them. So this servant may have been the centurion’s personal attendant with whom he felt a close bond. This centurion made an appeal on behalf of his servant who had become paralyzed, was in pain (terrible distress), and was near death (Luke 7:2). The centurion, a military authority, addressed Jesus as Lord. This Roman officer showed respect for Jesus’ authority in this area of healing (see also 8:2).
8:7 And Jesus said to him, “I will come and heal him.”NKJV The Roman centurion may have been surprised at Jesus’ quick and willing response. Yet this was the same loving person who reached out and touched a leper. He would not hesitate to go to a Gentile’s home to heal a sick servant. The Gospels never record an incident of Jews entering a Gentile home. Jews generally did not do so because it made them ceremonially “unclean.” However, as Jesus willingly touched a leper (which was against the law) to heal him, so Jesus would willingly enter a Gentile home if needed (however, there is no record that he did). For Jesus, doing good always transcended both Levitical regulations and Sabbath tradition.
8:8-9 The centurion answered, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only speak the word, and my servant will be healed. For I also 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 slave, ‘Do this,’ and the slave does it.”NRSV The centurion surely knew of the Jewish insistence upon not entering Gentile homes, so he protested Jesus’ willingness to go right away to see the servant. The centurion’s protest, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof,” may refer to his being a Gentile. Luke 7:7 seems to show, however, that he was thinking more of his own moral unworthiness. He saw that Jesus’ authority was greater than his own and that Jesus need not personally visit his home. The centurion understood that Jesus need only speak the word to heal the servant. He understood the power of Jesus’ words.
Because of his position, the centurion could delegate responsibility with a word and know that the job would be done. He himself was a man under authority because final authority rested with the Roman emperor. The emperor delegated responsibility to various officials, such as this centurion. Thus, when the centurion gave orders to soldiers under him, he spoke with the authority of the emperor. The centurion was accustomed both to obeying and to being obeyed. He may have applied his understanding of military orders to Jesus—realizing that Jesus’ power and authority came from God. When Jesus spoke, God spoke. Jesus did not need rituals or medicines or even his touch or presence to accomplish a healing. Whatever he understood, the centurion had absolutely no doubt that Jesus could merely speak the word and heal the servant.
|LIFE APPLICATION – WORDS’ WORTH|
|Spoken words were thought to carry much more power in ancient days than now. Most people dust off advertising messages as hype, and radio talk shows as trash. Today, much talk has made spoken words seem trivial.|
|We need to recover the power of words. Here are a few suggestions:|
|l On Sunday, listen to the preacher’s sermon, and talk about it afterward.|
|l At dinnertime on Monday, for even just a few minutes, direct the conversation away from casual chitchat toward some lesson on life or even toward this chapter of Scripture.|
|l Resist telling lies. Of course, don’t rehearse all your ailments whenever someone asks, “How are you?” But on the job, with kids, at church, and with your spouse, speak the truth as clearly as you can.|
|l Instead of losing your temper—saying things you’ll regret—control your anger, speaking what’s on your heart in a manner that will lead to healing and correction.|
|When your words begin to carry more weight than we typically give them today, you’ll begin to understand the faith this Roman officer had in Jesus’ words, which were filled with divine power, a power that Jesus gives to those who follow him.|
8:10 When Jesus heard this, he was astonished and said to those following him, “I tell you the truth, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith.”NIV This man’s genuine faith astonished Jesus. He said to those gathered around him (the disciples, as well as other onlookers and followers) that he had not found such great faith in anyone in Israel. In other words, this Gentile’s faith put to shame the stagnant piety that had blinded many of the Jewish religious leaders. Without the benefit of growing up to memorize the Old Testament Scriptures and to learn from esteemed Jewish leaders, this Gentile had understood the need to depend totally on Jesus’ power. He knew, without a doubt, that Jesus could do what seemed impossible. Such faith both astonished and pleased Jesus.
|LIFE APPLICATION – CHAIN OF COMMAND|
|What did Jesus find in this man’s life that astonished him? The centurion grasped the principle of authority—what he had learned from his own experience. Great leaders rarely accomplish all their work by hands-on effort. They direct others. Wise delegation transforms a leader’s plans and desires into action. The centurion knew how the chain of command worked. He was a link. He correctly concluded that the same laws applied to spiritual power. The greater Jesus’ authority, the less necessary his physical presence to accomplish his will. Jesus’ words indicated much more than his authority; they revealed his concern. Is your faith able to overcome your hesitation and doubt? Are you willing to act upon his words? If you appreciate his power and love, give him your full service and obedience.|
8:11-12 “I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”NIV Most Jews looked forward to the day when the diaspora Jews would return to Jerusalem—from the east and the west—to enjoy the company of the Messiah and the patriarchs in a great banquet (Psalm 107:3; Isaiah 25:6; 43:5-6). It was predicted that some Gentiles would also return to witness this great event and to partake of it vicariously (Isaiah 2:2-3). But Jesus speaks of the Gentiles’ direct participation, for the many who will come from the east and the west are the Gentiles who will come to believe in Jesus. These Gentiles will take their places at the feast. This “feast” is the banquet of celebration in the kingdom of heaven. Few Jews understood, however, that Gentiles would also take their places at the feast with the patriarchs of the Jewish nation—Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. A Jew who would sit at a table with a Gentile would become defiled. Yet Jesus pictured the patriarchs themselves sitting down with Gentiles at the great feast. No wonder Jesus’ teachings caused such a stir among the religious leaders of the day! In addition, Jesus explained that while many Jews believed that their lineage in the Jewish race assured their reservations at the banquet, this simply was not the case (see also John the Baptist’s words in 3:7-10). In fact, unbelieving subjects of the kingdom (referring to Jews), instead of having assured seats at the banquet, would find themselves thrown outside, into the darkness. In fact, Gentiles, not Jews, would sit at the head table (a seating arrangement denoting status, just like today). This passage is one of the strongest passages in Matthew on God’s rejection of the unbelieving Jewish people (see Romans 9-11). The “darkness” is a place where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth—a common biblical description of hell. These words do not mean that all the “subjects of the kingdom” (that is, all Jews) would be excluded—for Jesus’ disciples and many early believers were Jews. The point is that the central focus of God’s kingdom will not be only the Jewish race. Some Jews will not be included. Many religious Jews who should be in the kingdom will be excluded, however, because of their lack of faith. Entrenched in their religious traditions, they could not accept Jesus Christ and his new message.
|We must be careful not to become so set in our religious habits that we expect God to work only in specific ways. Don’t limit God by your mind-set and lack of faith.||Faith declares what the senses do not see.
The Gospel of Matthew emphasizes this universal theme—Jesus’ message is for everyone. The Old Testament prophets knew this (see Isaiah 56:3, 6-8; 66:12, 19; Malachi 1:11), but many New Testament Jewish leaders chose to ignore it. Each individual has to choose to accept or reject the gospel, and no one can become part of God’s kingdom on the basis of heritage or connections. Having a Christian family is a wonderful blessing, but it won’t guarantee our eternal life. Each person must believe in and follow Christ.
|LIFE APPLICATION – RSVP|
|The centurion’s faith astonished Jesus, who then used it as an opportunity to reaffirm the inclusion of many foreigners in the kingdom of God. Although both Matthew and Luke recorded this event, only Matthew added Jesus’ comment about the diverse crowds that would flock to the final banquet, while those who assume they are guests of honor would be turned away at the gate. Matthew directed his Jewish readers to two truths:|
|1. Jesus fulfilled all the foretold descriptions of the Messiah, and|
|2. Jesus was the Savior of the entire world, not just the Jews.|
|The first truth defines Jesus’ identity as Messiah; the second truth defines his relationship to us. The first states a fact; the second offers a personal invitation to us. Will we be among the varied multitudes celebrating with Abraham the triumph of Jesus? Your RSVP is required.|
8:13 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.NKJV Jesus then told the centurion to return home; Jesus would grant his request. The centurion believed that Jesus merely needed to speak the word to heal the servant (8:8). When Jesus spoke the word, the servant was healed that same hour (see also 9:22; 15:28; 17:18). “That same hour” means immediately.
JESUS HEALS PETER’S MOTHER-IN-LAW AND MANY OTHERS / 8:14-17
Jesus’ compassion reached out to a third category of people viewed as “second-class citizens”—women.
8:14-15 When Jesus entered Peter’s house, he saw his mother-in-law lying in bed with a fever; he touched her hand, and the fever left her, and she got up and began to serve him.NRSV Mark and Luke have this incident placed after the healing of a demon-possessed man in Capernaum (Mark 1:29-34; Luke 4:38-41). Mark recorded that Jesus, along with James, John, Simon Peter, and Andrew, arrived at Peter’s home, where he lived with his wife (mentioned in 1 Corinthians 9:5), his mother-in-law, and his brother Andrew. Peter and Andrew had lived in Bethsaida (John 1:44), but now lived in Capernaum where they were fishermen. Jesus and the disciples probably stayed in Peter’s home during their visits to Capernaum (see Mark 2:1; 3:20; 9:33; 10:10).
Simon Peter’s mother-in-law was lying in bed with a fever. A malaria-type fever was common to this region because of marshes near the mouth of the Jordan River. We don’t know for sure what this fever signified, but the Greek word for “fever” in the noun form is also the word for “fire”; thus, she was burning with a severe fever. Luke (the doctor) wrote in his Gospel that she “was suffering from a high fever” (Luke 4:38 niv).
Jesus went to the mother-in-law’s bedside and touched her hand. For a rabbi to touch a woman who was not his spouse was against Pharisaic regulations; for him to touch a person with a fever was prohibited by Jewish law. Jesus did both in order to heal a sick person, as well as to show his authority. Jesus’ touch on the woman’s hand brought complete healing. In fact, she got up and began to serve him, as protocol required a woman to serve food. Matthew recorded this detail to show that her healing was instant and complete. She didn’t need time to recuperate from her illness; she was immediately well enough to serve her guests.
The Gospel writers wrote from different perspectives; thus, the parallel accounts in the Gospels often highlight different details. In Matthew, Jesus touched the woman’s hand. In Mark, he helped her get up. In Luke, he spoke to the fever, and it left her. The accounts do not conflict. Each writer chose to emphasize different details of the story in order to emphasize a specific characteristic of Jesus.
8:16 When evening came, many who were demon-possessed were brought to him, and he drove out the spirits with a word and healed all the sick.NIV The people came to Jesus on Saturday evening after sunset. According to Mark 1:21 and Luke 4:31, the day had been the Sabbath, the Jews’ day of worship and rest, lasting from sunset Friday to sunset Saturday. Jewish law prohibited traveling and carrying burdens on the Sabbath, so they waited until evening, after the sun went down. When the Sabbath had ended, the people searched for Jesus.
News had spread quickly about Jesus’ healing powers, so the people brought to him all who were sick and many who were demon-possessed. The Greek word for “brought” is phero, meaning “to carry a burden or to move by carrying.” Since there were no ambulance services, many people literally carried the ill to Peter’s home so Jesus could heal them. The verb is in the imperfect tense, signifying continuous action. A steady stream of sick and demon-possessed people were being carried to Jesus. Jesus drove out the spirits with a word and healed all the sick, just as he had healed the centurion’s servant with a word (8:11-12). The “word” of Jesus stresses his authority over the demonic realm. With just a word, Jesus could eliminate sickness and evil spirits.
8:17 This was to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah, “He took our infirmities and bore our diseases.”NRSV While Mark 1:34 and Luke 4:41 stress the demons’ witness to Jesus’ authority, Matthew pointed again to Jesus’ fulfillment of prophecy. Quoting from Isaiah 53:4, Matthew used a text that followed the Hebrew closely, speaking of infirmities and diseases. The Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament), on the other hand, translates the Hebrew as “bears our sins and suffers anguish for our sake.” Isaiah 53 does deal with the suffering Servant bringing deliverance from sin, but Matthew was emphasizing Jesus’ healing activity.
Jesus has authority over all evil powers and all earthly disease. He also has power and authority to conquer sin. If we think of sickness as one of the painful and somewhat random side effects of sin in the world, then we can better appreciate Jesus’ power to heal. While Jesus was present in the world, he often chose to correct the symptoms that indicated the presence of sin even as he was preparing to defeat the root infection. Sickness is not always the punishment for sin. Rather, sickness can best be seen as a real and constant possibility of life in a fallen world. Physical healing in a fallen world is always temporary. Lazarus was revived from death (John 11:1-44), but later he died again. In the future, when God removes all sin, there will be no more sickness and death. Jesus’ healing miracles were a taste of what all believers will one day experience in God’s kingdom.
|LIFE APPLICATION – OUTCASTS|
|Notice who gets the help in these three miracles in Matthew 8: a leper, a Roman soldier, and a woman. All three were victims of social stigma and prejudice in their day. “Good people,” especially good religious leaders, avoided close contact with those types. Yet Jesus served them all.|
|Who are the outcasts in your community—the people least liked and most criticized? Inviting what kind of person to church would draw the most flack from the “good people” there? Those are the people Jesus would help and heal. You’d better be there, too.|
JESUS TEACHES ABOUT THE COST OF FOLLOWING HIM / 8:18-22
According to the Harmony of the Gospels (found at the back of this commentary), this crossing of the lake didn’t actually occur after the events just recounted. Matthew chose to include it here to set the stage for the events in the remainder of the chapter. Crossing to the other side and stilling the storm occurred after the second period in Capernaum, according to Mark (see Mark 4:35ff.). The testing of the followers is recorded in Luke 9:57-62 as being after Peter’s confession, part of the “road to Jerusalem” travel narrative. Matthew grouped the events thematically to show Jesus’ impact on people.
8:18 When Jesus saw the crowd around him, he gave orders to cross to the other side of the lake.NIV Jesus healed many people in Capernaum, and his ministry attracted a lot of attention. Crowds continued to gather around him, but Jesus had ministry to do in other places as well. So he gave orders to cross to the other side of the lake. Capernaum sat on the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee (also called a “lake” because it is an inland body of water). So Jesus and the disciples got into a boat (perhaps Peter’s fishing boat) and began to cross to the eastern shore.
8:19-20 A scribe then approached and said, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.”NRSV That a scribe (also called a “teacher of the law”) approached Jesus would be unusual because the scribes were often Jesus’ opponents in the Gospels (see 7:29). The scribes were legal specialists and interpreters of the law. However, as part of his evangelistic purpose, Matthew showed that at least one scribe recognized Jesus’ authority and wanted to be a disciple.
This scribe addressed Jesus as teacher (or “rabbi”) and explained that he wanted to follow Jesus wherever he went. The words “I will follow you” were not just the words of a disciple to a rabbi. A rabbi’s disciples “followed” him by observing the rabbi in his daily tasks, as well as sitting under and living by his teachings.
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.”NRSV Jesus’ words to the scribe were more like a challenge than a rebuke or invitation. Jesus focused on the requirements of true discipleship. Jesus did not dash about the countryside attempting to get as many followers as possible. He wanted true followers who understood the cost of following him. People were certainly enthusiastic about Jesus’ miracle-working ability. Jesus did not want them following him without commitment. To be Jesus’ disciple, a person must willingly put aside worldly security. To follow Jesus wherever he would go (as this scribe said) would mean a willingness to give up home and security. In the context of Jesus’ present ministry, to follow him meant to be constantly on the move, bringing his message to people in many places. We do not know whether this scribe actually chose to follow. Matthew was focusing on Jesus’ words about radical discipleship.
Here, for the first time, Matthew recorded Jesus calling himself Son of Man. This was an Old Testament name for the Messiah and was Jesus’ favorite designation for himself. The expression occurs eighty-one times in the Gospels, always said by Jesus (twice others said it, but they were quoting Jesus). Calling himself the Son of Man, Jesus was pointing to himself as the Messiah (see Daniel 7:13), without using that term, which had become loaded with militaristic expectations in the minds of many Jews.
|LIFE APPLICATION – COUNT THE COST|
|Following Jesus is not always easy or comfortable. Often it involves great cost and sacrifice, with no earthly rewards or security. Jesus did not have a place to call home. You may find that following Christ costs you popularity, friendships, leisure time, or treasured habits. While the cost of following Christ is high, the value of being Christ’s disciple is even higher. If you desire to follow Christ, you must be willing to face hardship. Would you be willing to give up your home to follow Christ?|
8:21-22 Then another of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” But Jesus said to him, “Follow Me, and let the dead bury their own dead.”NKJV The scribe wanted to follow Jesus, but Jesus reminded him of the cost of discipleship (8:19-20). This man also expressed commitment (as he was called another disciple), but Jesus tested his level of commitment. This man apparently also wanted to follow Jesus (whom he called Lord, another polite way of addressing a leader or senior), but he wanted to first return home to bury his father. In ancient cultures, this was a sacred responsibility.
It is possible that this disciple was not asking permission to go to his father’s funeral, but rather to put off following Jesus until after his father had died.
|Perhaps he was the firstborn son and wanted to be sure to claim his inheritance. Perhaps he did not want to face his father’s wrath if he left the family business to follow an itinerant preacher. Whether his concern was fulfilling a duty, financial security, family approval, or something else, he did not want to commit himself to Jesus just yet.||Would you be a disciple of Jesus? Then count the cost, sense the urgency, make the effort to concentrate. And all of this actually comes down to following Jesus.
Jesus sensed this reluctance in his follower and challenged him to consider that his commitment had to be completely without reservation. If this man truly desired to follow Jesus, he would not wait until he had fulfilled all his traditional responsibilities. Jesus was not advising that children disregard family responsibilities. Rather, Jesus was responding to this disciple’s qualifying use of “first.” Jesus must always come “first,” then all other human loyalties. Jesus’ directive was not heartless, but it called the man to examine his primary loyalty.
Jesus’ response is part of the radical discipleship theme: Let the dead bury their own dead.
|Jesus made sure those who wanted to follow him counted the cost and set aside any conditions they might have. “The dead” in Aramaic can also mean “the dying.” So Jesus may have been saying “Let the dying bury the dead.” In other words, let those who are spiritually dying (those who have not responded to the call to commitment) stay home and handle responsibilities such as burying the dead. While to us this may sound heartless, it was not without precedent. A high priest and those who had taken the Nazirite vow were required by the law to avoid the corpse of even a parent (Leviticus 21:11; Numbers 6:6). A later Jewish precedent says that if there were enough||
Jesus’ Miraculous Power Displayed
Jesus finished the sermon he had given on a hillside near Galilee and returned to Capernaum. As he and his disciples crossed the Sea of Galilee, Jesus calmed a fierce storm. Then, in the Gentile Gadarene region, Jesus commanded demons to come out of two men.
people in attendance, a student of the Torah should not stop his study to bury the dead. Jesus placed commitment to God even above these precedents. As God’s Son, Jesus did not hesitate to demand complete loyalty. Even family loyalty was not to take priority over the demands of obedience. His direct challenge forces us to ask ourselves about our priorities in following him. We must not put off the decision to follow Jesus, even though other loyalties compete for our attention.
|LIFE APPLICATION – DEATH, THE INTERRUPTER|
|The disciple’s conditional commitment appears reasonable to us. After all, the death of a parent ought to be given honor. Would God actually forbid a disciple to do something good? Would God say no to a sincere action or innocent pleasure? A closer look, however, helps us understand what Jesus heard. The disciple insisted on a delay. Jesus knew that where there’s a “first” there also lies a “second” and a “third.” Only an unconditional commitment meets the demands of Christ.|
|Most of us are guilty of using delay tactics with God. His will fits somewhere below the top of our agenda. But, if our assumption boils down to “I’ll do what God won’t let me do before I surrender,” we are revealing a lack of trust in God. We should acknowledge our Creator as our Lord and Savior today, or never. Discipleship means that God has veto power even over actions in our lives that are otherwise acceptable and good.|
JESUS CALMS THE STORM / 8:23-27
This miracle shows Jesus’ power over the natural world.
8:23-25 Then he got into the boat and his disciples followed him. Without warning, a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat.NIV Jesus and the disciples got into the boat to cross to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, as had been planned (8:18). Matthew emphasized that Jesus got into the boat and the disciples followed. This may have been a wordplay by Matthew to connect this miracle with the preceding episode and give it a discipleship focus. In other words, this is what discipleship might involve!
This boat probably was a fishing boat because many of Jesus’ disciples were fishermen. Josephus, an ancient historian, wrote that there were usually more than three hundred fishing boats on the Sea of Galilee at one time. This boat was large enough to hold Jesus and his twelve disciples.
Mark explained that it was evening when they finally set sail (Mark 4:35). The boat may have belonged to one of the fishermen among the group, most likely Peter. Setting sail in the evening was not unusual because Peter was used to fishing at night (see John 21:3). Fishing was best then; storms usually came in the afternoon.
The Sea of Galilee is an unusual body of water. It is relatively small (13 miles long, 7 miles wide), but it is 150 feet deep, and the shoreline is 680 feet below sea level. Storms can appear suddenly over the surrounding mountains, stirring the water into violent twenty-foot waves. The disciples had not foolishly set out in a storm. They usually did not encounter storms at night and did not see this one coming. Even though several of these men were expert fishermen and knew how to handle a boat, they had been caught without warning in this furious storm. Their danger was real as 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!”NIV While the waves swept over the boat, Jesus was sleeping. He probably had lain down on the low bench in the stern where the helmsman (or pilot) would sit and had fallen asleep on the leather cushion. That Jesus could sleep during this storm indicates his complete exhaustion and reveals his human nature. That the noise, the violent rocking of the boat, and the cold spray of the water did not awaken him gives us a glimpse of the physical drain on Jesus throughout his earthly ministry.
The disciples had embarked on this journey at Jesus’ request after a long day. Then, of all things, a storm blew in—and not just any storm, but a “furious” one that was threatening to sink the boat and drown them. Worst of all, Jesus was sleeping through it! Didn’t he realize that they all were going to drown? So they went and woke him. They cried above the crashing water, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!” The title “Lord” is used often in Matthew’s Gospel, stressing Jesus’ lordship over the physical and natural realms.
|LIFE APPLICATION – STORMY SEAS|
|Although the disciples had witnessed many miracles, they panicked in this storm. As experienced sailors, they knew its danger; what they did not know was that Jesus could control the forces of nature. Often our souls are troubled because we feel there is a problem where God can’t or won’t work. When we truly understand who God is, however, we will realize that he controls both the storms of nature and the storms of the troubled heart. Jesus’ power that calmed this storm can also help us deal with the problems we face. Jesus is willing to help if we only ask him. Never discount his power even in terrible trials.|
8:26 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.NIV Abruptly awakened from a deep sleep, Jesus arose and rebuked his frightened disciples. The disciples had seen Jesus do wonderful miracles, but they had not taken their knowledge of his power and applied it to every situation. So he asked them, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” They wanted him to do something; he wanted them to trust him! There is no place in true discipleship for fear—which itself arises out of lack of faith (disbelief). The Greek word for “afraid” (deiloi) means “cowardly fear.” The disciples were acting like cowards when they should have acted with faith in their teacher. Despite all that the disciples had seen and heard thus far, they still had not grasped that Jesus was himself God, with God’s power and authority over all of creation. In Mark, the miracle is recorded as occurring before Jesus rebuked the disciples; in reality, the miracle and the rebuke probably happened almost simultaneously. Matthew’s emphasis was on Jesus’ words more than the miracle.
Standing in the stern of the rocking ship, Jesus got up and rebuked the winds and the waves.
|This shows Jesus’ confidence in himself and his faith in the Father’s care. Just as Jesus had healed and cast out demons with only a word, so his words calmed the furious storm. The effect of Jesus’ words was that suddenly it was completely calm.|
Anyone who has been in a frightening storm at sea and has watched walls of water toss the ship can understand what an incredible sight it must have been to have the sea suddenly become calm. The forces of nature, when unleashed—whether as a tornado, hurricane, earthquake, or waves of water on a rough sea—can be terrifying because we are completely at their mercy. The power of the Teacher to speak and control the waves shocked the disciples. The storm was out of control, their fears were out of control, but Jesus was never out of control. He may have had no home and no place to lay his head (8:20), but he had power over all the forces of nature.
8:27 They were amazed, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him?”NRSV Jesus’ power amazed the disciples; however, they still did not completely understand, as their question betrayed: What sort of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him? They should have known because this miracle clearly displayed Jesus’ divine identity. Being with the human, compassionate Jesus was fine for these men; being with the powerful and supernatural Son of God terrified them.
|LIFE APPLICATION – BOAT MATES|
|Jesus’ disciples could certainly be described as a motley crew. They were a mixture of “landlubbers” and seasoned sailors. The storm had them all frightened. The fishermen, like Peter and John, knew those waters well, and their fear came from experience. They had probably lost friends to such storms. Nonsailors like Matthew were simply terrified. Perhaps the fear in the eyes of their mates frightened them as much as the storm itself.|
|In the storms of life, Jesus is still the master. He shares our boat. Sooner or later, the wind and waves will offer us several key lessons:|
|Sometimes, no one but Jesus can do anything.|
|No matter how bad the circumstances, God is in control.|
|When we reach the end of our resources, Jesus has not even started.|
|Hopeless situations make the clearest occasions to trust in God’s preserving power.|
|Jesus wants us to have a full picture of faith. That includes bravery under duress. We cannot learn to be brave in a classroom, but only as we get out and live in our broken world. The faith that Jesus admires is tested by crisis and struggle and emerges confident in God’s power. If you face a crisis today, pray for bravery and trust completely in God.
|Perhaps those near to you would be helped if you encouraged them to trust in Christ. This story might help you introduce them to Jesus.|
When Matthew recorded this event, persecution against Christians had begun. Thus, the story had become an analogy of the persecution and trials of the early church. The disciples were surrounded by a sea that threatened to sink them; the church was surrounded by enemies who threatened to destroy it (first the Jews who tried to undermine the Christian faith, then the Roman empire and its eventual widespread persecution of Christians). Storms will come. Our peace and faith come with the knowledge that Jesus has power over all storms, whatever their source or strength. He can quiet them if he chooses. Often the early Christians hoped for Jesus to quiet the storm of persecution, but he did not. So in the middle of the storm, they relied, instead, on their faith in the power of their Savior and the eternal rest promised to them.
When we become Christians, we enter a cosmic struggle because Satan hates for people to believe in Jesus. Satan launches his limited power against believers individually and the church in general, hoping to sink us to the depths of the sea. But we have the ultimate power on our side, and we will have the final victory. Jesus should not be a mystery to us, causing us to fearfully ask, “What sort of man is this?” He should be our Savior, to whom we turn with all our needs and fears because he cares for us and will help us.
JESUS SENDS THE DEMONS INTO A HERD OF PIGS / 8:28-34
Matthew recorded the following miracle to show Jesus’ power over the supernatural realm.
8:28 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.NIV The boat and its occupants arrived safely at the other side. The region of the Gadarenes is located southeast of the Sea of Galilee, near the town of Gadara, one of the most important cities of the region. The precise location is uncertain because this country (or region) is sometimes written as “Gerasenes,” “Gergesenes,” or “Gadarenes” in various manuscripts. However, some scholars cite evidence that favors “country of the Gerasenes,” probably referring to a small town called Gersa (modern-day Kersa or Kours). Others prefer “Gadarenes,” citing the town of Gadara, one of the most important cities of the region. Gadara was a member of the Decapolis, or Ten Cities. These ten cities with independent governments were largely inhabited by Gentiles. Whatever the exact location of their landing, the point is that Jesus had planned to go there. This was Gentile territory, revealing a new direction for his ministry.
Matthew says there were two demon-possessed men, while Mark and Luke refer to only one. Apparently Mark and Luke mention only the man who did the talking or the one who was the most severe (with a legion of demons, Mark 5:9). Mark’s account is more graphic than the others, emphasizing what the demons had done to the men. These men were bloody, out of control, and apparently strong and frightening (Mark 5:4-5). They were so violent that no one could pass that way. Demon-possessed people are controlled by one or more demons. Although we cannot be sure why demon possession occurs, we know that evil spirits can use the human body to distort and destroy a person’s relationship with God. Demons had entered these men’s bodies and were controlling them, trying to destroy or distort God’s image. Demons are fallen angels who joined Satan in his rebellion against God and are now evil spirits under Satan’s control. They help Satan tempt people to sin and have great destructive powers. These men were clearly hopeless without Christ.
These men came from the tombs; Mark explained that they lived there. In those days it was common for cemeteries to have many tombs carved into the hillside, making cavelike mausoleums. There was enough room for a person to live in such tombs. Tombs of wealthy people had more than one chamber for later family members to be buried, so there were empty chambers available for shelter. Such graveyards were often in remote areas. Tombs were unclean places and regarded by the Jews as fit only for lepers and the demon-possessed. People with hopeless conditions, such as these men, could find shelter in the caves.
These men met Jesus as he landed. They may have rushed out to see who was coming ashore, or perhaps even to apply for mercy. Most likely, however, the demons wanted to confront Jesus and scare him away, as they had already done to anyone else who had ventured into their territory.
|LIFE APPLICATION – UNCLEAN|
|According to Jewish ceremonial laws, the men Jesus encountered were unclean in three ways: They were Gentiles (non-Jews), they were demon-possessed, and they lived in a graveyard. Jesus helped them anyway. We should not turn our backs on people who are “unclean” or repulsive to us, or who violate our moral standards and religious beliefs. Instead, we must realize that every human individual is a unique creation of God, needing to be touched by his love.|
8:29 “What do you want with us, Son of God?” they shouted. “Have you come here to torture us before the appointed time?”NIV Though aware of who Jesus was and of his power over them, the demons still attempted to defend themselves by shouting and by calling Jesus by his divine name. The loud voice shows the demons’ fierce and violent nature.
The demons’ first question, What do you want with us? is a request that Jesus leave them alone. A more literal translation would be “What to you and to me?” or “What do we have in common?” In other words, the demons asked Jesus to leave them alone, for they had nothing to do with each other. Such a question shows the demons’ ultimate rebellion. Jesus and the demons were as far separated as anything could be. Jesus’ purpose was to heal and give life; the demons’, to kill and destroy. But Jesus would not leave these men in such a condition.
Like the demon who had possessed the man in Capernaum (Mark 1:24), the demons tried using Jesus’ divine name to control him. At this time, people believed that to know an adversary’s full name was to be able to gain control over the person. The demon in the synagogue had called Jesus “the Holy One of God,” but this demon referred to him as Son of God. The demons recognized Jesus as God’s divine Son. How ironic that people in Jesus’ day were so blind, while the demons were so clear about Jesus’ true identity.
The demons asked if Jesus had come to torture them. The word for “torture” is graphic and correct. The Bible says that at the end of the world, the devil and his demons will be thrown into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:10). The demons’ question revealed that they knew their ultimate fate. The demons hoped that Jesus would not send them to their fate before the appointed time. Jewish literature written between the time of the Old and New Testaments taught that demons have permission to oppose mankind only until the Judgment Day. This statement by the demons shows God’s power over Satan’s forces.
8:30-31 Now a large herd of swine was feeding at some distance from them. The demons begged him, “If you cast us out, send us into the herd of swine.”NRSV According to Old Testament law (Leviticus 11:7), pigs were “unclean” animals. This meant that they could not be eaten or even touched by a Jew. This incident took place southeast of the Sea of Galilee in a Gentile area. This explains how there could be a large herd of swine. Mark tells us there were two thousand in this herd (Mark 5:13).
The demons recognized their ultimate doom (8:29), and they knew that Jesus could seal their fate by returning them to the abyss (the place of their confinement) or sending them far away (Mark 5:10). They evidently wanted a “home” and wanted to possess a living being. On the hillside were enough physical animal hosts for all these demons to inhabit. Pigs were unclean animals, so they provided a fitting habitation for the demons. So the demons asked to be sent into the herd of swine.
Why did the demons ask to enter the swine? We can only speculate. Perhaps the demons thought they could return to the tombs and caves later. Maybe they sought to delay their final destruction. Evidently they did not want to be without a physical body to torment, so they would rather enter the pigs than be idle. Their action seems to portray their ultimate destructive intent.
Why didn’t Jesus just destroy these demons—or send them away? Because the time for such work had not yet come. Jesus healed many people of the destructive effects of demon possession, but he did not yet destroy demons. In this situation, Jesus wanted to show Satan’s destructive power and intent. Many ask the same question today—why doesn’t Jesus stop all the evil in the world? His time for that has not yet come. But it will come. The book of Revelation portrays the future victory of Jesus over Satan, his demons, and all evil.
|LIFE APPLICATION – RECEIVE BY FAITH|
|Whenever demons were confronted by Jesus, they lost their power. These demons recognized Jesus as God’s Son (8:29), but they protested against the power that made them submit and would one day destroy them. Just believing is not enough (see James 2:19 for a discussion of belief and devils). Faith is more than belief. By faith, you must accept what Jesus has done for you, receive him as the only one who can save you from sin, and live out your faith by obeying his commands.|
8:32 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.NIV In every case when confronted by Jesus, demons lost their power. Jesus’ simple command, Go! showed the extent of his authority over the demons. One word was enough. He did not need to perform a lengthy exorcism. God limits what evil spirits can do; these demons could do nothing without Jesus’ permission. During Jesus’ life on earth, confrontations with demons were frequent, demonstrating his power and authority over them. Jesus did not command the demons to go into the swine; he gave them permission to go and do what they requested.
When the demons entered the pigs, the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and died in the water. Perhaps Jesus let the demons destroy the pigs to demonstrate his superiority over a very powerful yet destructive force. He could have sent the demons away, but he did not because the time for judgment had not yet come. In the end, the devil and all his angels will be sent into eternal fire (25:41). Jesus granted the demons’ request to enter the swine and destroy the herd, but he stopped their destructive work in people, particularly the men they had possessed.
Jesus also taught a lesson by giving the demons permission to enter the pigs. He showed his disciples, the townspeople, and even us who read these words today the absolute goal of Satan and his demons. They want total and complete destruction of their hosts.
The sight must have been amazing. A rather peaceful herd of pigs suddenly became a stampeding horde that ran straight to its destruction.
8:33-34 Those tending the pigs ran off, went into the town and reported all this, including what had happened to the demon-possessed men. Then the whole town went out to meet Jesus. And when they saw him, they pleaded with him to leave their region.NIV When Jesus performed this miracle, he again gained immediate publicity. Those tending the pigs, astonished and doubtless upset at what had happened, ran off and told the amazing story. Their story seemed unbelievable. Two thousand pigs floating on the edge of the lake would certainly be a sight, so the whole town went out to meet Jesus. Among these would have been the owner of the herd who, doubtless, was not pleased at the loss of the livestock.
The people could have responded in several ways. They could have been overjoyed to see Jesus on their own shore. They also could have responded with joy that Jesus had healed the demon-possessed men. They could have been thrilled to have seen a healing of such magnitude with their own eyes. Instead, they pleaded with him to leave their region. Mark tells us that they were afraid (Mark 5:14-20).
What were they afraid of? Perhaps such supernatural power as Jesus had displayed frightened them. Perhaps they thought that Jesus would be bad for their economy (losing two thousand pigs in one day certainly cost someone). Perhaps they did not want Jesus to change their status quo. Their fear caused them to make a terrible mistake in asking Jesus to leave them. How foolish and yet how easy it is to value possessions, investments, and even animals above human life. Unfortunately for them, Jesus did as they asked. And there is no biblical record that he ever returned. Sometimes the worst that can happen to us is for Jesus to answer one of our poorly considered requests.
Source: Life Application Bible Commentary – Matthew.