Lectionary Calendar
Monday, July 22nd, 2024
the Week of Proper 11 / Ordinary 16
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Bible Commentaries
Matthew 8

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Verse 1

Large Crowds Follow Him

In the previous chapters (Matthew 5-7) the Lord has preached which principles govern the coming kingdom. He presented to His disciples – and over their heads to the crowds (Matthew 5:1-Exodus :) – the constitution of that kingdom. In it He exposed the heart of man in his inner motives and called upon His followers to show the features of the King in their lives. This has amazed the crowds (Matthew 7:28) and now they follow Him. In the next two chapters (Matthew 8-9) we see the signs of the King or the kingdom in which He shows works of His power.

The stories in these chapters are not in chronological order. Mark gives that order in his Gospel. Here the events are ordered in a way that show that the promised Messiah is present. The people must be able to recognize Him through this. He is Immanuel, God with us, Who does good to His people. In Him a God of grace and mercy makes Himself known. In all of the events we learn more and more about the Lord Jesus Himself. In every event the glory of His Person shines.

From the ranking of the first three events we learn the layout of God’s plan with Him and His people. The cleansing of the leper (Matthew 8:2-Numbers :) represents the faithful remnant of Israel that believes in Him now that He is on earth, however weak that faith may be. Because His people reject Him, we see in the Roman centurion that the way is open for the introduction of the Gentiles (Matthew 8:5-1 Chronicles :). In the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law, we see that He has returned again to Israel, which is seen in the house, and the remnant is able to serve Him (Matthew 8:14-Ezra :).

Verses 2-4

Cleansing of a leper

The first work of His power that Matthew describes is the cleansing of a leper. While the crowd will have shrunk back in horror as the leper approached, the Lord does not walk away in horror. The man is convinced of the power of the Lord Jesus, but not so much of His grace. However, the Lord receives him full of grace. He acts directly by stretching out His hand, touching Him and speaking the word of power to cleanse. On His word of power, the leper is cleansed. Someone who touches a leper becomes himself unclean, but the blessed Redeemer comes so close to man, that He can remove the uncleanness without being defiled.

In Leviticus we have ceremonies for cleansing (Leviticus 14:1-Jonah :), but not for healing. Leprosy can only be healed by God (cf. 2 Kings 5:7). The Lord Jesus is God.

He is also the Lawgiver. Therefore, He tells the cleansed one to go to the priest to fulfil the cleansing regulations written down by Moses. The deeper reason for this is that for the religious class the cleansing of the man must be a clear indication that God is present among them. The priest who had previously declared him unclean will now see that the man has been healed, and only God can have done that. Since the Lord Jesus did the cleansing, the priest should come to the conclusion that God is present in Him among his people.

As it is with leprosy so it is with sin. Leprosy is a picture of the outwardly breaking out, pernicious power of sin that is also contagious for others. Leprosy, like sin, makes someone repulsive, unfit to live for God’s glory and the blessing of others. Miriam, Gehazi and Uzziah (or Azariah) became lepers as a visible proof of the pride and greed that was in their hearts (Numbers 12:10-Ezra :; 2 Kings 5:27; 2 Kings 15:5; 2 Chronicles 26:16-Ecclesiastes :).

No one can take away sin except the Son of God (1 John 3:5). Sin is an obstacle to functioning as a disciple. The Lord wants to take away every hindrance with us, so that we can follow Him.

Verses 5-13

The Centurion of Capernaum

The main character in this event is a Gentile centurion who appears to have a remarkable faith in the Lord Jesus. His faith became public because one of his servants was lying paralyzed at home in severe pain. The centurion seeks the Lord and pleads with Him for his servant. The servant’s situation illustrates that sin can totally paralyze someone and cause him enormous pain. As in the previous event, here too there is no man who can offer a solution. The centurion realizes that only the Lord Jesus can help. The servant can’t do anything at all. In this way, we can also run to Christ and implore Him for the benefit of others who are unable to do so themselves.

The Lord answers sympathetically to the centurion’s appeal. He wants to come and heal him. Then it turns out that the centurion has a special view of himself and of the Lord. In comparison with the Lord, he feels unworthy of Him taking a step through his door. At the same time, he sees the great power of the Lord in His Word. He appeals to that. He does not need to come, because He is also able to heal through His word full of power (Psalms 107:20). He does not need to be physically present, for He is the Omnipresent. While He is talking to the centurion, He is also with his servant.

In what the centurion says of himself, it turns out that on the one hand he is subject to others and, on the other hand others are subject to him. Those others who are subject to him, he may command something to be done with a word and they obey Him. He also recognizes this with the Lord Jesus. He too is under the authority of Another, God, and He can command others and is obeyed.

What the centurion says impresses the Lord Jesus. This is a mystery that makes the glory of His Person greater and greater. This faith of the centurion is brought about in him by Christ Himself. At the same time, He sees the faith of the centurion as his. His amazement is mainly caused by the fact that he is a Gentile centurion and not someone from His own people. He even has to conclude that He has not found such great faith in Israel.

The faith of the Gentile centurion is characteristic of all those who believe and do not belong to Israel. Israel will only believe when they see the Messiah and He touches them. That touch is there with the leper (Matthew 8:3) and also in the next story, with Peter’s mother-in-law (Matthew 8:15). The faith of the gentiles is characterized by faith in His Word without Him being physically present. By this faith many from the ends of the earth will share in the glorious blessings of the kingdom of heaven, together with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The Lord personally guarantees this with the statement “truly I say to you”.

The same “truly I say to you” also applies to the reverse. As surely as the believing Gentiles will participate in the kingdom, so surely will those for whom it was originally meant have no part in it because of their unbelief. Many of the poor Gentiles will come into the kingdom of heaven to recline at the table with the fathers who are venerated by the Jewish people as the first fathers of the heirs of the promise.

The children of the kingdom, on the other hand, will be in outer darkness. Instead of being led into the light and the blessing they will be cast out into a totally opposite place. In the outer darkness, they will weep on account of the suffering and will gnash their teeth because of their remorse for the blessing they have forfeited.

Verses 14-15

Peter’s Mother-In-Law Healed

The third case of healing takes place in a house. It is the house of Peter. The Lord is a Guest there. Where He is, sickness and death cannot continue to exist. So shall it be when He reigns on earth (Isaiah 35:10). He sees the need. We do not read that He speaks a word, but that He touches her hand. The healing follows immediately and completely. A time of recovery is not necessary.

Matthew does not recount that the Lord is asked to heal. We do read that in the Gospel according to Mark (Mark 1:30). Here healing is an act that results from His presence. We have here again a proof that He is the Messiah “Who heals all your diseases” (Psalms 103:3).

Fever is a disease that makes someone restless. There is a lot of activity, but it is uncontrolled and the only result is that man is getting weaker and weaker. He is not able to give any help to others. If the Lord has healed her, that changes completely. She can stand up and serve Him.

He also wants to set us free from all meaningless pursuits that only consume our strength without anything happening that is to His honor. To do this, He must touch our hand, just like with her. The hand is the symbol of activity, of being busy. If He is the power behind our activities and not some or other consuming fire within us, we are able to serve Him.

Verses 16-17

Many Healed

The Lord remains busy until the evening for those in need. There are “many who were demon-possessed” and that in the land of God. The people must have greatly fallen away. At the word of His power the evil spirits depart. There is no resistance here. Besides the spiritual suffering through demons, there is also a lot of physical suffering. He also heals those who suffer in this way. All these things indicate that instead of being blessed through obedience, the people have brought a curse upon themselves through disobedience. But Christ is present to take away the consequences of the curse from people who come to Him in faith.

The quotation from the prophet Isaiah shows how and in which spirit the Lord accomplishes the healing. While He helps the people, He feels all their needs and illnesses at their deepest. He carries the burden of them in His spirit, while He gets rid of them by His power. The miracle shows His Divine power, but there is also the Divine sympathy that enters into the depths of the need of those He comes to help.

Taking the weaknesses and carrying away the diseases does not refer to the cross, but to His life on earth. The quotation from Isaiah does not say that the Lord carried away the diseases on the cross and that a believer should therefore no longer be ill. Just as the Lord sympathizes with weaknesses, He sympathizes in cases of disease.

He cannot sympathize with sins. For that He had to go into death. He cannot identify himself with someone who sinned and thus support such a person in that path. He can identify himself with someone who is ill to support such a person in his suffering. He identifies Himself with someone who is ill in the same way as with someone who is imprisoned for His Name (Matthew 25:36-:).

Verses 18-22

Follow the Lord

A crowd gathers around the Lord. They are all attracted by His good works. But He knows their hearts and knows that they only want to benefit from His goodness. The proofs of His goodness have been provided and now it is time to leave that place. He orders His disciples to go to the other side the sea. There He must also do His work.

Then a scribe separates himself from the crowd. He enthusiastically enlists himself with the “Master” and indicates that he will follow Him wherever He goes. It shows that he values himself highly. Knowing the Scriptures – after all, he is a scribe – and the desire to follow the Lord is not sufficient to actually be able to follow Him. The Lord says what following Him means. In order to really follow Him it is necessary that one’s own interests and self-confidence are recognized and judged. He also says that to following Him not honor, but reproach is connected.

The Lord knows what is in his heart. This is a carnal Jew who thinks that by following Him he will get a good place with the Messiah. Someone who offers himself without being called, thinks that it is all equally beautiful, but it has no grip in his heart. Soon other circumstances will arise that pull his heart to other things and finally he sinks back to his own level.

Whoever offers himself to follow the Lord, that is to say, without being called, will be told what the portion of Him he wants to follow is. While He has given the foxes and the birds a place of rest, He is the homeless Son of Man. Foxes and birds of the air are not the sweetest animals of the creation. They symbolize cunning and wickedness, but as creatures they are still under God’s care.

Here the Lord calls Himself for the first time “Son of Man”. This title speaks either of His rejection or of His glory. Here this title speaks of His rejection.

A case other than that of the scribe is that of a disciple who “first” wants to do something else before he can follow the Lord. When the Lord calls, there appear to be immediate reservations against a direct and complete following of Him. This disciple first wants to do something that is right in itself. He shows respect for his father. But in this case, if the Lord has called, His claims must take precedence over everything, including that of family ties.

This doesn’t mean a denial of family ties. God wants us to respect them. The Lord’s call does not conflict with this either, but goes beyond it. His answer shows that this disciple used the obligation to his parents as an excuse not to follow Him straight away. This obligation forms a hindrance between Christ and his heart.

The word of the Lord “allow the dead to bury their own dead” means that this disciple can leave the burying of his father to others who are not in relationship with the Lord.

Verses 23-27

The Storm on the Sea

Now comes the portion of the Lord’s true followers. The disciples who follow Him on board the ship have acknowledged His claims. They have left everything and follow Him. Now it will turn out that this does not mean that everything is easy. Being with the Lord does not mean that we are exempt from all sorts of trials. The opposite is true. Whoever follows Him as a disciple will face enmity. The elements of nature do their best to frighten us, and in the following story (Matthew 8:28-Nahum :) we encounter the enmity of men. Both events merely serve to impress us as disciples of the power of the Lord, which He shows just then for us.

We recognize the great storm on the sea in our lives. We find ourselves in situations where it seems as if we perish. Then we cry: ‘Lord, there is a great storm and the ship is being covered with the waves. It seems as if You are sleeping. We know it is not the case, but please come to our aid. Please show us that You are concerned about us! Lord, we are about to die! There is no strength in us to cope with the difficulties and needs, the sin that has become manifest.’

Then He intervenes in His grace for us. He does so with a soft reproach about our little faith. When we think about it, we understand it. How could a ship perish when He is on board? He is always in the Father’s path and He is the Lord of all things. With Him we are always and everywhere safe. Even if life is taken from us, the enemy cannot harm our soul. If the waves flood our lives, we may trust in this promise: “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they will not overflow you” (Isaiah 43:2).

After His soft reproach “He got up”. That is impressive. He, the Almighty God, gets up and takes action. We become afraid when we only look at the enemies, but when we look at Him, there is peace and confidence.

This fourth case of His power – after the healing of the leper, the servant of the centurion and the mother-in-law of Peter – shows His exaltedness over the power of satan who incites the nations to hatred against Him and His own. For Him that power means nothing. He can still the storm. Only when the disciples call to Him in fear He gets up and subject the forces of nature to His command. The winds and the sea become still at the word of their Creator (Psalms 65:7; Psalms 89:8-1 Samuel :Psalms 106:9; Psalms 107:23-Joel :).

Verses 28-34

Healing of Two Demoniacs

The Lord had ordered to depart to the other side (Matthew 8:18). So He arrives there, with His disciples. The trip was not a quiet one. The area they are now entering is not quiet either. Demons who have moved in to two people terrorize the area. The home of these people is the terrain of death. They come from there, as if attracted by the power of Christ.

They cannot remain hidden. The presence of the Lord Jesus calls them to reveal themselves. When other people came, they also appeared, but that was to frighten them. Now they themselves are frightened. They know the Son of God and acknowledge His power to judge them and throw them into eternal pain. Their fate is known to them. They also know that the time for this has not yet arrived, just as satan also knows that he still has time, even if it is short (Revelation 12:12).

To give a clear testimony of the Lord’s power over the enemy, there are two demoniacs, according to the principle that at the mouth of two or three witnesses every matter will be confirmed (2 Corinthians 13:1). Mark and Luke occupy themselves with one of them and tell more details of the work of the evil one and of the work of the Lord in that one demoniac (Mark 5:1-Proverbs :; Luke 8:26-Malachi :). Evil spirits want to frighten man for their power, but they can’t do anything if they are not feared. Only faith can take away this fear for his power from man.

The demons know His will. Without the Lord having said a word, they know that He will drive them out. They are illegal possessors of these people. The demons know Him and know that they have no power to resist His word. There is not one thought of any opposition against Him. When tempted in the wilderness He defeated their chief, satan.

They point out to Him a herd of many swine feeding at a distance from them. Just like demon-possession in the land of God, the presence of a herd of unclean animals is a reproach to the land of God. If Israel had walked in the ways of the law, that herd of unclean animals would not have been there. The swine are a picture of Israel.

The Lord says only one word, the command “Go!” Without any thought or expression of opposition to Him, the demons obey and go out of the men and into the swine. When they have entered the swine, they show how much they are after destruction. All the swine rush down the steep bank into the sea. The demons are used in this way to carry out God’s judgment on uncleanness and to cleanse His land.

The herdsmen were unable to save the herd. Powerless, they had to watch their herd perish. They have also seen the liberation of the demoniacs. Everything they have seen, they are going to report in the city. What follows is that the whole city comes out to the Lord Jesus. But when they see Him, … they implore Him to leave their region. If Divine power drives out the power of satan, the Divine presence that is revealed there is unbearable for man. Man does not want God revealed in goodness.

For them, the presence of demons and swine is more pleasant than the presence of the Son of God. He has no stately form or majesty for them to be attracted to Him (Isaiah 53:2). Through Him they have lost their source of income. Therefore they want Him to leave, out of their area, out of their life.

Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Matthew 8". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kng/matthew-8.html. 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.
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