“The King Who Heals”
September 29, 2013
We know he is the king because he heals.
I. The Will of the King (Matthew 8:1-4)
II. The Authority of the King (Matthew 8:5-13)
III. The Validation of the King (Matthew 8:14-17)
After we returned from Slovakia I posted about a prayer I’d seen answered there. It was our last Sunday in Trencin, and woke up that day with a vague discomfort in my lower abdomen. It wasn’t enough to stop me from preaching, but when we went to the Abrman’s house, I was still uncomfortable; I didn’t each much. After lunch we went to a place near the Vac River, west of Trencin, where the strong among us could do some rock climbing. By the time we got there my discomfort was increasing, and I wondered if I might have an intestinal bug.
I knew I wasn’t up for the rock climbing, but I did scramble up the back of the cliff, enjoyed the view, and slid back down. Now I was dirty, hot and in pain, especially on my right side. I couldn’t sit still, so I walked to the river and cleaned the dirt off my hands and arms. As I walked back, I was seriously considering asking Jozef to take me back to the house. Then I realized ‘I know what this is!’ Many years ago I had a couple of incidents with kidney stones, and I immediately knew that the pain I was feeling was exactly that pain.
“Lord,” I said, “I really don’t need a kidney stone right now. It would be a major disruption for Jozef and the team, and I’ll no use to you at all in the grip of this pain.” I went back to the group and sat on a log, continuing to pray “Lord, please heal me.” And He did. Over the course of five or ten minutes, I realized the discomfort was ebbing and then, gone. My pain level went from eight or nine to zero. Not many minutes later a group of ladies from Jozef’s church began to ask me questions: important questions, about spiritual depression. I prayed hard that the answers I gave would be helpful, and I saw some evidence that this prayer too was answered. But that conversation could not have taken place if I was in the grip of the kidney stone pain, or on the way to the ER.
Now it’s easy to explain away answered prayer: it was an intestinal thing, a cramped muscle, whatever. But I knew God had worked. When I got back, for several reasons, I went to a doctor, and when I told this story, he insisted I have a CAT scan. And as you can see, it showed kidney stones in both kidneys. I’m sure a similar stone was causing that pain until God moved it or removed it.
God still heals – and not just in physical ways, but also spiritually and emotionally. This morning we’re going look at Matthew 8. We skipped around a lot in the Sermon on the Mount, but I’m going to preach nearly every verse of Matthew 8 and 9 in the coming weeks; they contain wonderful truths, sometimes missed when Matthew is studied. They show Jesus living out the heart principles of the Sermon on the Mount, revealing himself as the promised Messiah King.
In verses 1-17 Jesus is revealed to be the king as he heals. Let’s begin with verses 1 to 4 which show that Jesus is willing to heal: When he came down from the mountain, great crowds followed him. 2And behold, a leper came to him and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” 3And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. 4And 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, for a proof to them.”
After the Sermon on the Mount, the crowds followed Jesus everywhere. At some point - ‘and behold’ doesn’t imply ‘immediately’ in Greek – a leper came for healing. In Scripture leprosy was not, in every case, what we call Hansen’s disease; it included a range of diseases that disfigured the skin or extremities. The Jews abhorred it, not only because of the illness, but because it made the sufferer and everyone he touched ceremonially unclean. Leprosy was seen as a curse from God, and healing it was held on a par with raising the dead. In the Naaman episode the king of Israel says “Am I God, to kill and to make alive, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of his leprosy?”
Here the man kneels before Jesus, but the verb can also mean ‘worship.’ Like the title "Lord" earlier, Matthew’s believing readers would see that this leper spoke and acted better than he knew. He was right to worship this Messiah King. ‘If you are willing’ reflects his faith: prompted by Jesus' earlier healing activities, he only feared that Jesus would not, not that he could not heal.
And in affirming his willingness to heal, Jesus proved that his will is decisive. He had the authority and power and only needed to decide and act. Don’t miss the implication. In saying ‘I am willing’ Jesus reveals that, well, he is willing to heal and to help the hurting. He is not willing to leave this leper, or us, trapped in our hurt and sickness, but he is willing to reach out and touch and heal. Most of the kings of this world have been less than willing to give themselves away for the sake of their subjects, but this king is.
Notice too that he expresses that willingness by touch. He reaches out, not just as a gesture of authority, but to touch the untouchable, to cleanse a life that had descended into pain and shame. This is still how Jesus the king feels. He is so full of compassion that even though we’re miserable and unclean, diseased by sin and often paralyzed by shame, he still reaches out to us. As Carson says “By touching an unclean leper, Jesus would become ceremonially defiled himself. But at Jesus' touch nothing remains defiled. Far from becoming unclean, Jesus makes the unclean clean.” Jesus wants to touch us today, to reach to our uncleanness, to touch us in our misery, to comfort and heal.
Verse 4 says two classic things: “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a proof to them.” Jesus often prohibits those he heals from speaking of what he has done. Some see this as an attempt to keep secret the fact that he is the Messiah King, but his focus seems more subtle: he wants to keep the crowds from proclaiming him Messiah too soon, with a materialistic or political emphasis.
Jesus also commanded the cured man to follow the laws of Moses about lepers who claimed healing. This he said, was a witness or a testimony to the priests and others. For some it would be a positive testimony, a witness to Jesus. For others it would be negative, revealing their hardness of heart and lack of faith. The command is not given to prove that Jesus remains faithful to the law, so that Matthew's readers must do the same. Instead, Jesus fulfills and transcends the law; it now points to him. Carson again “In conforming to the law, the cured leper becomes the occasion for the law to confirm Jesus' authority as the healer who needs but to will the deed for it to be done.”
So Jesus heals. He heals lepers. He does so willingly, not only because he cares for the sick, but to show that his compassion embraces the unclean. Thus his healing extends from the physical to the spiritual. We’ll see in chapter 9 in a few weeks that Jesus has the power and authority to forgive sin, and he sees this as healing those he forgives. As the Messiah King, his ministry, his life, his death and his resurrection are really more about spiritual healing than about physical. This is not to say he doesn’t physically heal – praise God he does – but praise God even more that he cleanses the leprosy of our sins.
It is the king’s will to heal, and as king he has authority to heal. This is implied in the paragraph we just studied, but emphasized in verses 5-13: When he had entered Capernaum, a centurion came forward to him, appealing to him, 6“Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, suffering terribly.” 7And he said to him, “I will come and heal him.” 8But the centurion replied, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. 9For I too 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 servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” 10When Jesus heard this, he marveled and said to those who followed him, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith. 11I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, 12while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” 13And to the centurion Jesus said, “Go; let it be done for you as you have believed.” And the servant was healed at that very moment.
Capernaum, where Jesus made his ministry home, was an important garrison town for the Roman legions. These were not soldiers from Italy, but Gentile legions raised in the provinces, like Syria or Lebanon. And Centurions were the heart of the Roman military system, responsible for a hundred soldiers, and often entrusted as well with civic and administrative responsibility. This centurion seeks Jesus and addresses him as “Lord,” probably with the same overtones of significance we saw in chapter 7, or in the kneeling worship of the leper. And he seeks Jesus not on his own behalf, but because his servant is paralyzed and suffering. The wording doesn’t allow us to discern the exact nature of the malady, but does imply the Centurion’s deep concern for his underling.
Jesus responds by saying “I will come and heal him,” but many who have studied the Greek would see this as a question ‘Shall I come and heal him?” Jesus is not hesitating based on fears of ceremonial uncleanness; he has just touched a leper. Nor is he concerned here about limiting his ministry to the people of Israel; Matthew doesn’t emphasize that aspect of Jesus’s thinking. Instead, Matthew, here and in many other places, emphasizes faith, and it appears that Jesus makes the comment in order to find out exactly what the centurion was after and what degree of faith stood behind his ambiguous request.
And what he finds pleases him. The Centurion’s reply opens again with “Lord,” implying both reference and deference. As John the Baptist felt unworthy to baptize Jesus, so this centurion felt unworthy to entertain him in his home, unworthy to have Jesus make unneeded effort on his behalf. As one commentator says "Here was one who was in the state described in the first clauses of the Beatitudes, and to whom came the promise of the second clause; because Christ is the connecting link between the two."
The centurion believed that Jesus' word was sufficient to heal his servant. Now, up to this point we have no evidence that Jesus had performed a healing miracle at a distance and by word alone. But the centurion's faith makes his thinking profound: ‘I myself am a man under authority, but I too can say a word to get things done.’ In the Roman military all authority was delegated from the emperor. Therefore, the centurion spoke with the emperor's authority, and a soldier who disobeyed would not be defying a mere centurion but the emperor, Rome itself, with all its imperial majesty and might. This is the way the centurion was thinking about Jesus. Because Jesus was under God's authority, he was vested with God's authority, so that when Jesus spoke, God spoke. Jesus' word, he reasons, must therefore be more than able to heal sickness; even creation must obey God’s voice. It’s astonishing faith: he recognizes that Jesus needed neither touch, presence, nor any other help: his authority was God's authority; his word was God's effective word.
In verse 10 we are told that Jesus marveled at this faith: “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith.” The centurion was a Gentile. He didn’t have the heritage of God’s revelation to help him understand Jesus. But this Gentile penetrated more deeply into the nature of Jesus' person and authority than any Jew of his time. Matthew's words stress the uniqueness of the this faith and underline the movement of the gospel from the Jews to the Gentiles, to all people regardless of race, a movement prophesied in the Old Testament, developed in Jesus' ministry and commanded by the Great Commission. Matthew rejoices that to the Gentiles God has granted repentance unto life.'
In verses 11 and 12 Jesus adds his own commentary to this observation: “I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Jesus probably used this kind of vivid imagery often, since warnings to the Jews and the prospect of Gentile admission to the fellowship of God's people were two of his major themes.
So he pictures a "messianic banquet," the consummation of the Messiah’s kingdom, taken from passages like Isaiah 25 and Isaiah 65. The Jews of Jesus’ day seemed to have no clue that Gentiles would be included in this feast. But Jesus insists that many will come from the whole world and join the patriarchs at the banquet. These "many" can only be Gentiles, contrasted as they are with those who should be ‘sons of the kingdom,’ Jews who think they belong to this kingdom by right. Jesus exchanges the idea of ‘rights’ for the truth of faith: those without the faith of the centurion, Jewish though they be, are left out of the future messianic banquet, consigned to darkness where there is suffering that leads to tears and despair express in gnashing of teeth. Notice, though, that the reversal is not absolute: the patriarchs themselves were Jews, as were the disciples. Jesus is simply reminding them of the shocking truth that God’s people would not be limited to the Jewish race.
In verse 13, almost as an intentional anti-climax, Jesus speaks the word and the centurion’s servant is healed. Jesus the king of the banquet has the authority to do this, he has the will to do this, and so it is done. When Jesus heals, physically, spiritually, or emotionally, it is effortless. There is nothing that afflicts us that is hard for Jesus. There are many things that in his wisdom he makes hard for us, and even lets us wrestle with for a long time. But when he chooses to heal, any way he chooses to heal, it is never too hard for him. Our Messiah King has the authority to do anything, has the power to do anything, and most astonishingly of all, he has the will, the desire to do good for us. Praise God.
Matthew says that this healing ministry is a fulfillment of prophecy and promise. Verses 14-17: And when Jesus entered Peter’s house, he saw his mother-in-law lying sick with a fever. 15He touched her hand, and the fever left her, and she rose and began to serve him. 16That evening they brought to him many who were oppressed by demons, and he cast out the spirits with a word and healed all who were sick. 17This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: “He took our illnesses and bore our diseases.”
Paul tells us in 1st Corinthians that Peter was married. His mother-in-law appears to have lived with his family in Capernaum. But when Jesus arrived, she was sick with a fever, which at the time was considered a disease not a symptom: it may have been malarial. Jewish custom forbade touching persons with many kinds of fever, but once again, Jesus healed with a touch: the touch did not defile the healer but healed the defiled. Immediately Peter’s mother-in-law began to serve him. Matthew mentions this not to imply that Jesus was self-serving in this healing, but to make it clear that the miracle was effective and instantaneous. Jesus' authority instantly accomplishes what he wills.
In verse 16 we learn that this is just one of many healings. By evening a crowd of people had arrived. Some are sick, some are possessed by demons. It may well be that some of the diseases had a primarily spiritual causes, while others were more exclusively physical. The Gospels don’t make this distinction, and in that they may be wiser than our culture. With experience we come to see that physical illness, mental illness, emotional stress and spiritual neediness are all related and we don’t do anyone any favors by trying to help them only in one arena of the complicated human condition.
Jesus again shows his willingness to heal by casting out the demons with a word and by healing all who were sick. It’s a comprehensive ministry, and Matthew reports it in a way that tells us it’s a characteristic ministry. This Messiah who we have already come to know as the promised king through his birth, baptism and teaching now reveals himself as king through his healing ministry.
This reminds me so much of Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings that I’m convinced Tolkien had Jesus in mind when he made the king a healer. For those few not familiar with the book, Aragorn is the heir of the two kingdoms of Arnor and Gondor, but appears as a scruffy and weatherworn ranger called Strider. He rescues Frodo and guides him across the wilderness to Bree, but Frodo is wounded. In caring for Frodo Strider reveals himself a master of the healing arts. Much later, after the epic battle of the Pelannor fields, many are wounded with both physical hurts and a spiritual sickness called ‘the Black Breath,’ a despair that came from contact with the enemy’s chief servants.
Gandalf the wizard is checking on these victims when the oldest of the women in the houses of healing says “Would that there were kings in Gondor, as there were once upon a time. For it is said in old lord ‘The hands of the king are the hands of a healer, and so the rightful king could ever be known.”
Just as Ioreth knew Aragorn to be king because he fulfilled the prophecy of a healer, so Matthew reminds us that Jesus’ healings reveal him to be the promised Messiah king, and the promised suffering Messiah. Like Ioreth he quotes a prophecy, giving a very literal translation of the Hebrew version of Isaiah 53:4 “He took our illnesses and bore our diseases.” Clearly Matthew intends us to understand that these healings we have been seeing are the fulfillment of what has been written. The healing of the leper, with its overtones of cleansing the unclean, and his healing of the Centurion’s servant, with its clear message of authority are, he’s saying, what we should have expected of the Messiah.
But is this all he’s saying? I doubt it. Matthew was a good student of Scripture, and undoubtedly knew the context of his quote. Isaiah 53 is the climax of the suffering servant prophecies: “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. 5But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. 6All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”
Some say that Matthew has missed or ignored the spiritual implications of this passage, but I don’t think so. First, Matthew alludes elsewhere to Isaiah 53, in contexts which clearly recognize its spiritual import. Second, both Scripture and Jewish tradition understand that all sickness is caused, directly or indirectly, by sin. Third, Jesus himself recognizes this connection in Matthew 9, as we’ve already mentioned. Fourth, Isaiah does see the servant taking both the physical and spiritual diseases of others on himself through his suffering and death. Isaiah would not make a distinction between the Servant’s ultimate physical healing of his people and his spiritual healing of his people.
Fifth, the verbs Matthew uses quite deliberately do not speak of healing, but of the fact that the Messiah would take up our illnesses and carry our diseases. Matthew sees a profound theological connection between Jesus' healing ministry and the cross. Sixth, Matthew has already emphasized that Jesus’ coming was to save his people from their sin and to establish the promised kingdom. The consummated kingdom, in which there is no sickness, is made possible by the suffering and sin-bearing of the Servant, and his resurrection.
So Matthew consciously does what he has already shown being unconsciously done several times. When the centurion says ‘Lord’ to Jesus, he’s saying a lot more than just ‘sir.’ When the leper kneels before Jesus, he’s close to worship. And when Jesus heals, he’s showing in earthly ways and relatively to mostly physical illness what he has come to do by divine substitution for all the illnesses of our sin: to rescue, heal and redeem by his own suffering death, so that we might receive forgiveness, renewal and eternal life, the ultimate restoration of all that has gone wrong physically, mentally, emotionally and especially spiritually. Jesus has the willingness to heal, the authority to heal, and his physical and even spiritual healings authenticate him as the one who will sacrifice himself to heal.
And does he heal? Yes! In this life we receive and we witness healing. Not complete yet, and certainly not always physical, but substantial healing especially emotionally and spiritually. I think of Joni Eareckson Tada, whose life of serving God with quadriplegia has been an example to this generation. God has not healed her physically, but if you know her story you know that lying in her bed after that initial accident, he did heal her spiritual and emotionally, bringing her from despair to hope. And over and over during the years he has touched her spirit and lifted her up, most recently in a battle with cancer, so that she continues to testify to the goodness of God.
I think also of Ravi Zacharias. As far as I know he’s never had any major physical illness, but spiritually he was an atheist until the age of 17, which led to emotional despair, mental depression. Ultimately he tried to commit suicide by swallowing poison. While in the hospital, a believer brought him a Bible and told his mother to read to him out of John 14. Zacharias says that it was John 14:19 that touched him and caused him to commit his life to Christ. And his life was transformed. He received mental, emotional, as well as spiritual healing over the course of time, and has become one of the most effective apologists of our day. Some of you may know that Jim Dutton and J P are in India with him right now, speaking to youth.
God does transform lives. At the cross an eternity of new and full life was made possible for all of us. Jesus the Messiah King showed his willingness and his authority to heal, and he offers you that healing today, and for eternity.