AFTER THESE THREE chapters filled with His teachings, Matthew gives us two chapters occupied with His works of power. It was not enough for Him to enunciate the principles of the kingdom, He displayed the power of the kingdom in a variety of striking ways. There are five main illustrations of that power in Matthew 8:1-34, and again in Matthew 9:1-38. In each case we may say that the miracle the Lord performed in connection with human bodies, or with visible and tangible things, was a proof of how He could deal with the deeper-seated things of the soul.
The first case is that of the leper; a picture of sin in its defiling, corrupting power. The poor man was convinced of the power of Jesus, but not fully persuaded of His grace. Yet the Lord instantly delivered him by His touch and His word of power. Only five words, “I will; be thou clean,” and the thing was done; a witness to the priests—if the man did as he was told— that the power of God was present amongst them.
The second case was that of the Gentile centurion and his servant; a case illustrating the impotence which is induced by sin. Here again is emphasized the power of His word. The centurion himself emphasized it, for he knew the power of an authoritative word as exemplified in the Roman military system. The rank of a centurion was not a high one, yet those under him at once obeyed his instructions, and his faith discovered in
Jesus One whose word could accomplish the miraculous. The Lord acknowledged his faith as great, and beyond anything He had found in Israel: He spoke the needed word and the servant was healed. He also prophesied that many a Gentile from a distance would enter the kingdom with the fathers of Israel while those who had considered it theirs by prescriptive right would be cast into outer darkness.
The third case is that of Peter’s mother-in-law. Here His touch instantly cured her; there is no record of His having spoken a word. It might be His touch and His word, as with the leper; or His word only, as with the centurion’s servant; or His touch only: the result in each case was the same— instantaneous deliverance. There was no convalescence from the results of the fever; she at once arose and served others. Sin induces a fevered state of mind and soul, but His touch dispels it.
In verses Matthew 8:16-17 we have first, a summary of His many works of power and mercy at eventide; and second, the quotation from Isaiah 53:1-12, which reveals to us the way and spirit in which He did these things. The words quoted have been used erroneously by some as though they meant that on the cross He bore our sicknesses, and thus the believer never ought to be ill. The right application is found here. He did not relieve men without feeling their sorrows and sicknesses. He bore in His spirit the weight of the very evils that He dismissed by His power.
The incidents recorded in verses Matthew 8:18-22 show us that not only our deliverance but our discipleship also must be at the call of His authoritative word. A certain scribe volunteered to follow without having received His call. The Lord at once showed him what would be involved in following such a One as Himself, for He was the homeless Son of Man. But conversely, His call is sufficient. It was one who was already a disciple who wished to put an earthly duty in the first place. The call and claim of the Master must be absolutely supreme. He had disciples who owned His claim and followed Him, as verse Matthew 8:23 shows, and they gave Him a place to lay His head in their ship. Yet, even so, following Him led them into trouble.
This brings us to the fourth of these striking cases—the storm on the lake; typical of how the power of the devil lashes into fury the unrestful sea of humanity. It was all nothing to Him and He peacefully slept. But at the cry of the disciples He arose and asserted His command of these mighty forces of nature. As a man commands his hound, and the obedient dog lies down at his feet, so did wind and sea lie down at the word of their Maker.
Arrived at the other side He was confronted by two men who were dominated by demonic servants of the devil. One of these was a special stronghold held by a whole legion of demons, as Mark and Luke show us; though evidently there were two, and thus a sufficient witness was borne to His power over the enemy. The demons knew Him, and also knew that they had no power to resist His word: hence they asked permission to enter the herd of unclean swine, that would never have been there had Israel been walking according to the law. As far as the record goes, Jesus spoke but one word— “Go!” In result the men were delivered and the swine destroyed.
Thus far we have considered the power of the Lord. before leaving the chapter let us notice the response on the side of men. There is a striking contrast between the “great faith” of the centurion and the “little faith” of the disciples in the storm. Great faith was marked by two things seen in verse Matthew 8:8. He said, “I am not worthy,” condemning himself, and thus ruling himself out of the question. He also said, “Speak the word only,” in addressing the Lord. He had no opinion of himself, but he had a great opinion of Him—so great that he was prepared to accredit His word without any support from without. Some folk want to have the word of the Lord supported by feelings, or by reason, or by experience, but great faith is produced by discovering in Jesus so great a Person that His naked word is enough.
With the disciples it was just the opposite. They were thinking altogether of themselves. It was, “Save US: WE perish.” When Jesus calmed the storm they were astounded, saying, “What manner of man is this?” Yes what manner indeed? Had they really known Him, they would have been surprised if He had not asserted His power. The fact was, they had big thoughts of themselves and but little thoughts of Him; and this is little faith. So they marvelled as He acted; whereas in the case of the centurion Jesus marvelled at his faith. In spite of their little faith, however, they loved and followed Him.
At the beginning of the chapter we see defective faith on the part of the leper. He clearly saw the power of Jesus, yet hardly apprehended His willingness. At the end of the chapter we see men with no faith at all.
It did not weigh with them that demons had been dispossessed, for a spiritual deliverance meant little to them. What mattered to them was the loss of their pigs. Jesus they did not understand, but pigs they did understand! Apt figure of men of the world who have an eye for any material gain, but no heart for Christ. They evidently got nothing, but all the others did. Do not miss the delightful fact that defective faith and little faith got the blessing just as really and fully as great faith. The blessing is not according to the quality or quantity of faith, but according to His heart of grace.
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Hole, Frank Binford. "Commentary on Matthew 8". "F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany