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Matthew

Two Men's Faith

Matthew 8:1-17

Lesson audio

Authority, and its response of Faith, cannot truly be separated by the Christian. Here we see through Matthew’s eyes some examples of great faith.

The Leper

When Jesus came down from the mountain, large crowds followed Him. And a leper came to Him and bowed down before Him, and said, "Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean." Jesus stretched out His hand and touched him, saying, "I am willing; be cleansed." And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. And Jesus *said to him, "See that you tell no one; but go, show yourself to the priest and present the offering that Moses commanded, as a testimony to them."

(Mat 8:1-4 NASB)

If you will

Take a comparison here between this leper and Martha, the sister of Lazarus, whom Jesus raised from the dead. Martha knew that whatever He asked, the Father would grant. This man knew that it would take only the will of Jesus. Do you see the difference in their perceptions? Martha, who knew Jesus well, believes that He is close to God. This man, who is a stranger, has concluded that God need not be referred to – as the Christ was here. Martha sees Him being close to God, and Jesus rebukes her faith for it. This man sees things more clearly.

“If you will” is the request, but the compassion of Jesus is greater than that. The Son of God wills; the Son of Man touches. It is the human gesture of concern; it is also a sign that the man is now ceremonially clean.

Go

Tell no one, he says. What? What do I say to the curious (“Say, aren’t you the guy who…”)? What do I say to my family? (“You think my wife is going to take silence for an answer?”) What do I say to the priest?

Why did Christ command this? The usual explanation is that it is not yet time for this to come out. Christ can gather a big crowd without something like this. Perhaps, though, it was the great humility of our Lord, who never sought His own honor, but that of the Father. It may be that Christ knew that under the Law of Moses the man would be obliged to make the offering[1], and therefore gave him this command. It is a reminder to us, though: with the gifts of God come the obedience of His children.

Leprosy, a picture of sin

We need to see that leprosy, in the thinking of the time, would be regarded as a sign of sin. The leper was required to stay outside the village; he was to warn off anyone who came near with “Unclean, unclean.” We see it as a disease, they saw it as Divine Judgment.

It is no surprise then, that some form of ritual cleansing was involved. In the ritual itself, the offering is described as a guilt offering, a sin offering and most importantly atonement. The Law stops short of making leprosy itself a sin – but you can see why they considered it God’s judgment.

There is a curious picture in the law about this. In addition to the animal sacrifice, the cleansed one was to bring (for the ritual) hyssop, some cedar wood and a scarlet cord. Hindsight shows us the truth: the hyssop was used to dispense blood in purification rituals – and also vinegar to Christ on the Cross. It is the implement of purification. Cedar wood – very aromatic – would become the wood used in the Temple. The scarlet cord would soon be the sign of the sinner saved – as Rahab was at the battle of Jericho. Purification, the house of God and a sinner saved. It is a powerful image.

The Centurion

And when Jesus entered Capernaum, a centurion came to Him, imploring Him, and saying, "Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, fearfully tormented." Jesus *said to him, "I will come and heal him." But the centurion said, "Lord, I am not worthy for You to come under my roof, but just say the word, and my servant will be healed. "For I also am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to this one, 'Go!' and he goes, and to another, 'Come!' and he comes, and to my slave, 'Do this!' and he does it." Now when Jesus heard this, He marveled and said to those who were following, "Truly I say to you, I have not found such great faith with anyone in Israel. "I say to you that many will come from east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven; but the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth." And Jesus said to the centurion, "Go; it shall be done for you as you have believed." And the servant was healed that very moment.

(Mat 8:5-13 NASB)

(It should be noted that Luke’s account differs significantly. It may be that Luke’s account is simply filling in the blanks. It may also be that Luke is actually portraying obsequiousness in the Jews – which Matthew, writing for the Jews, left out as being gratuitously insulting.)

Recognition of authority

The centurion is of remarkable faith for at least one reason. How much harder it must have been in those days to believe when you are a Gentile, and by definition cut off from the favor of God? But this does not deter him. We can see how much the centurion respects the authority of Christ in two ways:

  • He calls Him “Lord” – when the centurion is of the army which conquered this land.
  • He does not bring the man with him. This is a matter of kindness to the servant; it is also a sign of faith. This Jesus doesn’t need to touch him.

Sometimes, what we call faith is simply a trust in the authority of the God of the universe.

Christ’s response

There is something unusual about Christ’s response in this. The man has simply stated the problem; he does not ask (yet). As if in anticipation, he offers to go to the man. It is unusual in that Christ usually waits to be asked. Perhaps He simply wanted to make it easier for the Gentile.

The response is a shock: I am not worthy.

  • Have you not heard what a great aid to conquering faith is found in the virtue of humility?
  • It is also a reply of a considerate man. A Jew entering a Gentile house became ceremonially unclean.

Then comes the real shocker: I am a man under authority also. It is not that the centurion recognizes the authority of Christ – it is that he recognizes the obedience to authority in Christ. He lives under authority every day; he recognizes another such under the authority of God. If you are to please God, you must believe that He exists, and rewards those who seek Him.[2]

Jesus now turns to the crowd to teach them. It is stated that Jesus marveled at the man. As Son of Man well He might. It is His desire to teach all who will learn, and this lesson is worth the stop in the day. Here indeed is faith; the confidence that God can act – and that He will.

The faith is rightly placed. He acts with all speed, and the man is immediately healed.

Christ did not enter this man’s house. But He certainly lived in this man’s heart. Thus shall He separate the sheep and the goats.

Saved to Serve

When Jesus came into Peter's home, He saw his mother-in-law lying sick in bed with a fever. He touched her hand, and the fever left her; and she got up and waited on Him. When evening came, they brought to Him many who were demon-possessed; and He cast out the spirits with a word, and healed all who were ill. This was to fulfill what was spoken through Isaiah the prophet: "HE HIMSELF TOOK OUR INFIRMITIES AND CARRIED AWAY OUR DISEASES."

(Mat 8:14-17 NASB)

(This passage excites much commentary because it contradicts the Roman Catholic view of Peter as the first pope (who, by definition, is celibate)).

It is almost unnoticed that Peter’s mother-in-law is in his home. See here the ordinary righteousness of this man, Peter. He is a fisherman by trade, so the house is rather small. That she happens to be ill this day is not the point; the point is that Peter cares for her. It is an example for the rest of us.

Peter also demonstrates another virtue. It appears they have been heading toward Peter’s house all along. But there is no sense of Peter hurrying the Lord along. If we look at Christ’s entry into the house, we can learn why.

Do you not see that His entry is accompanied by His humility? The ancient ones considered hosting any traveler to be an honor, a sign of favor and wealth. Christ and the Apostles enter with a sense of humility, then, as being the recipients of hospitality.

Christ heals the woman; He also does so that she immediately regains her strength. She then turns to what she understands to be her task, her service.

If the exact site of Peter’s house were truly known, it would be a shrine. It would be a shrine because Christ went there, and Christ healed there. Would we respond in like fashion if he enters the heart? Consider just what her response was:

  • She is “saved to serve.” It is humble service, but service to God nonetheless.
  • She waited on Him. Her service has one object: Jesus, the Christ.
  • But the servant King replies in kind: He serves us, bearing our burdens.

The pictures are simple and easy to understand. They point to one thing: the authority of Christ. The leper is given to beg and then obey. The centurion is given faith and then act upon it. Peter’s mother-in-law is given healing, and she rises, saved to serve.

We might then well ask: just what is my response to the authority of the Living Christ?


[1] Leviticus 13-14; a remarkably long passage for this.

[2] Hebrews 11:6

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