Today’s Reading: Matthew Chapter 8
What sort of man is this? This question, asked by Jesus’ disciples in verse 27, is a fitting one to consider in looking at the entire chapter.
As chapter 7 ends, the people who heard Jesus’ teaching were absolutely astonished at what he had to say and with the authority in which he said it. In chapter 8 we see Jesus constantly surrounded by crowds, many of them wanting something from him. Not only does Jesus care enough to stop for them and provide for their needs, in doing so, he shows what sort of man he is, and that his authority extends far beyond his teaching.
He has power and authority over physical sickness.
In chapter four as Jesus’ began his ministry, his reputation for healing spread quickly, and was clearly part of what drew the crowds.
In this chapter, a leper asks Jesus to heal him. A man with a disease that was fatal in his day. A man driven out of his community. A man not allowed to worship. A man not allowed to touch or be touched by others. A man, though, who had the faith to ask Jesus to heal him – a faith that showed as he said to Jesus, “if you will, you can”. Jesus could heal, and did. He has that power over even the worst of sickness. As we see in the next story, he could have done it with a word. Jesus doesn’t just stop for this man. He doesn’t just heal him, He heals by touch – a touch which, in the eyes of the Law, made him “unclean” – and that touch probably heals more than just the leprosy.
Next, a centurion comes to Jesus, not looking for his own healing, but the healing of his servant. The man is a gentile. Jesus offers to go with him to the servant – again an act that would make him unclean as he entered the gentile’s home – but the centurion tells Jesus that he is unworthy, and that a simple word from Jesus will heal his servant. Marveling at his faith, Jesus gives that word, and the servant is immediately healed.
Jesus also heals Peter’s mother-in-law of a fever, and an untold number of people from the crowds – “he healed all who were sick” (v. 16). Physical sickness – fevers, paralysis, leprosy – none of these were a match for the power and authority of Jesus.
He has power and authority over the natural world.
Because of the crush of the crowds, Jesus decides to get into a boat with his disciples and cross over to the other side of the lake.While on the water a “great storm” comes up, threatening to swamp the boat. Jesus is sleeping in the boat, but the disciples – some of whom were fishermen from this lake, experienced on its waters, and probably had been through many storms – are afraid enough to wake him and ask for him to “save us, Lord; we are perishing”. At his command, the storm ceases and the calm returns. The winds, the waves, the storms, all of nature is at his command – he has power over the natural world, as you would expect of the One that was there at its creation.
He has power and authority over the spiritual world.
The crowds in Chapter 4 and and verse 16 of this chapter saw Jesus deal with people oppressed by demons, “and he cast out the spirits with a word”. The illustration at the end of this chapter is much more vivid in describing the authority that Jesus had in dealing with spiritual powers. After Jesus crosses the lake, he and the disciples are confronted by two fierce, demon-possessed men coming out of some tombs. The demons themselves speak to Jesus, and they immediately recognize who he is, calling him the “Son of God”. They recognize, too, his authority and power – there is no fight from them, no argument, just a request – “if you cast us out” – he can surely do so – “send us away into the herd of pigs”. Jesus says no more than the word “go”, and the demons obey.
What sort of man is this? He has complete power and authority over physical illness. He has complete power and authority over the natural world. He has complete power and authority over the spiritual world, even over the dark powers of that domain. Even with all that power, Jesus shows the Kingdom heart he’s just been teaching about throughout. A heart that cares for people – no matter how tired he is, no matter how much the crowd presses, he stops, he listens, he touches, he heals. He’s willing to take a detour to the centurion’s home if that’s what’s needed. He’s willing to break the rules about what is clean and unclean because the people in pain are more important than the rules. Faith in the man with the combination of this kind of heart and this kind of power got results then, and still does.
As Jesus displays his power over all these domains, it is interesting to see all the different reactions to him and his authority.
- The leper and the centurion display great faith in him.
- A scribe and a disciple who have things of this world to deal with are a little more hesitant, wanting to wait till they’d finished their personal business before following Jesus (in contrast to Peter, Andrew, James, and John who immediately dropped everything to follow Jesus in chapter four).
- The disciples, fearing for their lives in the peril of the storm, turn to him for salvation – but then marvel at what he was able to do about it and wonder how he did what he did.
- The demons simply and immediately obey him.
- The herdsmen watching over the pigs that Jesus sends the demons into flee.
- The people of the town near the scene of the confrontation with the demons, beg Jesus to leave.
A lot of different reactions to Jesus and his power and authority, the saddest being those that flee him, and ask him to leave. Which one(s) am I most like?