At the end of chapter 4, Matthew wrote that the Lord Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and healing every disease and sickness among the people. So, he taught and he healed. The Sermon on the Mount was therefore a sample of the kind of thing which the Lord Jesus was teaching in those days. And Matthew now spends chapters 8 and 9 telling us about the Lord’s healing ministry. So, in today’s passage, there’s the healing of a man with leprosy; and the healing of the centurion’s servant; and the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law. Then, after the miracle of the calming of the storm, there’s the healing of the demon-possessed man and the healing of a paralytic. And then there’s the raising of the ruler’s daughter who had died; and the healing of the woman who was subject to bleeding for twelve years. And chapter 9 ends with the healing of two blind men and a man who could not talk.
And so, it’s clear that the Lord Jesus not only came to preach, but to heal. And his preaching ministry and his healing ministry are connected because both demonstrate his authority. So, at the end of the Sermon on the Mount, the people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as the teachers of the law. So, he was able to preach with remarkable authority. And not only did he have authority to preach, but he also had authority to perform miracles and to heal with sick and to raise the dead. And this authority comes from the fact that he is God’s Anointed King who had come to establish his kingdom on the earth. Through his preaching ministry, he announced the coming of his kingdom. And every time he healed the sick and raised the dead he was showing what he will do for all the members of his kingdom when he comes again, because when he comes again he will raise the dead and will glorify us in his presence where there will be no more disease or death or sorrow or sadness but only perfect peace.
And so, let’s turn to today’s passage.
Verses 1 to 4
Matthew tells us that, after he finished the Sermon on the Mount, he came down from the mountain and large crowds followed him. Mathew then tell us about this man with leprosy. The word translated leprosy in the gospels was used to refer to any kind of skin disease. So, we don’t know exactly what was wrong with this man. However, the fact that he had some kind of skin disease would mean that he was cut off from society. Leviticus 13 records the laws concerning skin diseases in those days. If anyone had a swelling or rash or bright spot on their skin, they had to show it the priest who had to determine whether it was infectious and whether the person should be declared unclean. Those who were declared unclean had to tear their clothes, leave their hair unkempt or uncovered, and they had to cover their mouth and cry out, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ They had to cry out like that to warn people to stay away from them. And as long as they had the disease, they had to live alone. So, as well has having an unpleasant skin disease to deal with, these people were outcasts from society: cut off from friends and family. I suppose the Covid-19 pandemic has given us a sense of what that was like. But instead of having to social-distance for a week or so, they had to social-distance permanently.
And so, this man came to the Lord Jesus and said, ‘Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.’ So, presumably he’s heard something about the Lord’s ability to heal, because he knows the Lord can heal him. He knows the Lord is able to heal and has the authority to heal. But is he willing to heal? That’s the question. But he need not worry, because the Lord is always willing to help those who come to him, humbly and confessing their need. And so, the Lord reached out his hand and touched the man. Now, normally, no one was meant to touch someone who was unclean, because uncleanness was catching. If I was unclean and you touched me, you would become unclean too; and you’d remain unclean until you’d performed the correct cleansing ritual. However, in this case, the Lord Jesus did not become unclean. Instead, he was able to take away the man’s disease, which was the source of his uncleanness. And so, he said to the man, ‘I am willing to heal you. Be clean!’ And immediately, immediately the man was cured of his disease. The doctor gives us some ointment if we have a rash; and we apply it regularly for several days and eventually the rash begins to clear up. But it doesn’t happen immediately. However, all the Lord had to do was touch the man and speak; and he was healed immediately.
And having healed the man, the Lord instructed him not to tell anyone, but to show himself to the priest. It’s possible he means don’t tell anyone until you have first seen the priest. You see, according to Leviticus 14, seeing the priest was the first thing to do after someone had recovered from a skin disease. Before being re-admitted into society, you had to be inspected by the priest and perform a special cleansing ritual. This being the case, the Lord Jesus instructed the man to do what the law of Moses required.
Verses 5 to 13
In verse 5 Matthew tells us that, when the Lord entered Capernaum, a Roman centurion came to him to ask for his help. The centurion explained that he had a servant at home who was paralysed and who was suffering terribly.
Now, the centurion was obviously a Gentile. And presumably his servant was also a Gentile. And, as you know, the Jews and Gentiles did not mix, because the Jews regarded the Gentiles as unclean. And elsewhere in the gospels, the Lord Jesus made clear that the focus of his ministry was on the Jews and not the Gentiles. Of course, after his resurrection, he commanded the apostles to go to the nations. But while he was on the earth, the Lord focussed his ministry on the Jews. And so, some of the commentators think the Lord’s reply to the centurion is really a question and contains a note of incredulity or surprise. And so, instead of saying, ‘I will go and heal him’, he really said, ‘You want me to go and heal him?’ That is: ‘Really? You’re expecting me to go to your house?’ And that helps to explain the centurion’s response, where he says that he doesn’t deserve to have the Lord Jesus come under my roof. In other words, I wouldn’t dream of expecting you, a Jew, to come to my house. But just say the word; and my servant will be healed.
So, this man knows something of the Saviour’s authority and power. He’s heard from others what the Lord can do. And he believes the Lord is able to heal from a distance by merely issuing a command. I’m a man of authority, he says. I issue a command and it’s done. And therefore I believe it’s the same with you, but in a far, far greater way. All you have to do is issue the command, and it will be done. My servant will be cured.
And see how the Lord responds, because he’s amazed by this man’s faith. He says in verse 10 that he hasn’t found anyone in Israel with such great faith. And then he makes a statement which makes clear that even though the Lord Jesus restricted his earthly ministry to the Jews only, it was nevertheless God’s plan to include Gentiles in his kingdom, because the Lord says that many will come from the east and the west — in other words, many Gentiles from outside Israel will come — and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He’s referring to the great messianic feast in the age to come when all of God’s people will sit down and eat with the Saviour and enjoy fellowship with him forever. So, many Gentiles will be there. On the other hand, many of the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside. He’s now referring to the Jews. Many of the Gentiles will enter eternal life, whereas many Jews will be shut out of eternal life; and instead they’ll be thrown into the darkness, where there is weeping and the gnashing of teeth. He’s referring there to hell.
And so, whether a person is added to Christ’s kingdom or excluded from it, and whether a person will enter eternal life or be sent away to hell depends not on their nationality or ethnic background, but on whether or not they believe in the Saviour. Faith in Christ is what counts.
And having said that, the Lord said to the centurion that it will be done just as he believed it would. And his servant was healed at that very hour.
Verses 14 and 15
So, the Lord has healed a man with a skin disease and he’s healed the centurion’s servant. Next there’s Peter’s mother-in-law. When the Lord entered Peter’s house, he saw that this woman was lying down with a fever. And the Lord touched her hand and the fever left her. Now, if you’ve ever had a fever, or any kind of illness, it takes a while to recover, doesn’t it? You might be feeling weak for days, because you haven’t been eating or sleeping very well. But the Lord not only healed this woman of her fever, but he restored her energy as well so that she was able to get up and she had the strength to serve them.
Verses 16 and 18
And the passage ends with a brief report that many who were demon-possessed were brought to the Lord Jesus and he drove out the evil spirits with a word and he also healed the sick. And we’ve noticed before how Matthew likes to connect the things the Lord Jesus said and did to what happened in the Old Testament. He wants to show us that the Lord Jesus is the fulfilment of God’s promises to his people in the past. And so, in the past God promised that the Saviour would take our infirmities and carry our diseases. He’s quoting from Isaiah 53. And he means that the Saviour would take our infirmities away and he would carry our diseases away. And that’s what we’ve seen him do in this passage. Here was a man with a skin disease; and the Lord took it away. Here’s a centurion’s servant who was paralysed and suffering terribly. And whatever his complaint, the Lord took it away. Here’s Peter’s mother-in-law with a fever; and the Lord took it away. Here are many people who were demon-possessed; and the Lord sent the demons away. Here are many people with illnesses; and the Lord took them away.
And every time he took their diseases away, he demonstrated that he is indeed God’s Anointed King who was sent into the world to deliver his people from our sin and misery and to give us eternal life in the new heavens and earth. And so, every time he healed the sick it was a sign of what he will do for all his people when he comes again to renew all things.
Think back to the very beginning and how, when God made the heavens and the earth, it was all very good. It was all very good until Adam and Eve took the forbidden fruit. And then, everything was spoiled and our life here on earth became a life of sin and misery which ends in death. But God did not abandon the world he created or his people in it, but he sent his Only Begotten Son into the world to deliver his people from our sin and misery by his life and death and resurrection on our behalf. And while he was on the earth, he healed with sick and he cast out demons and he raised the dead as signs of what he will when he comes again, because when he comes again, he will renew all things and he will take away from us every disease and every infection and every trouble and every trial and every remnant of sin in us and we’ll live with him forever and forever in perfect peace and rest.
And so, the King has come. We enter his kingdom by faith. And by faith we wait for him to return to put right all that has gone wrong and to give us eternal life in the new heavens and earth.