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Bible Commentaries
Matthew 8

Layman's Bible CommentaryLayman's Bible Commentary

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The Kingdom of God Manifested in Acts (8:1-9:35)

The evangelist has shown us how the unique authority of Jesus was manifested in his teaching. He now goes on to show how this same authority was manifested in his deeds. By a series of healings, Jesus reveals himself as the Lord of life and of death. Each healing is a sign of the coming Kingdom which, in Jesus, is already present

Verses 1-4

The Healing of the Leper (8:1-4)

This healing is recorded also by both Mark (Mark 1:40-45) and Luke (Luke 5:12-16). Matthew places it immediately after the Sermon on the Mount. He doubtless sees in this episode a concrete illustration of the attitude of Jesus toward the Mosaic Law, which has just been the theme of his teaching.

Leprosy was dreaded as a contagious disease; it also rendered ritually impure those who were struck by it and condemned them to flee the society of their fellow men. It was considered to be an incurable disease. Nevertheless, when the leper was "whitened" that is to say, when his flesh was entirely dead he ceased to be contagious and the interdict could be lifted by the priest, who fulfilled the rites of purification (Leviticus 13; Leviticus 14:1-7; see 2 Kings 5 and (2 Chronicles 26:16-21).

The leper’s act of throwing himself at the feet of Jesus is a defiance of the Law. He recognized in Jesus a power which belonged only to God. Jesus, "moved with pity" as Mark tells us, touched him and said: "I will; be clean." There was more at stake than the written Law. It was the life and the salvation of a man. Jesus is thus revealed as master of the Law and as above all "defilement." On the other hand, he shows his respect for the Law in sending the healed man to the priest and in commanding him to fulfill all that Moses had prescribed, "for a proof to the people." The purpose of this may have been to enable them to see that the power of God was at work in what Jesus had done; or it may have been to show them the respect which Jesus had for the authority of the priests in their own domain.

Verses 5-13

The Faith of a Gentile (8:5-13)

The second act of faith related by Matthew (see Luke 7:1-10) is that of a Roman officer. This man had heard reports of Jesus as a great healer, so he came to beg him to heal his servant (the word is "young man"). Jesus declared himself ready to go to the house of this man, who was evidently a "Gentile." But the centurion felt himself unworthy to receive Jesus into his home and made an astonishing reply. With the logic of a soldier who knows what it is to obey and to command, he recognized in Jesus an authentic authority which came to him from the highest source from God himself. Jesus is master of sickness and master of spirits, as he the centurion is of his soldiers. A word is sufficient for them to obey him! Jesus marveled. The faith of this man surpassed anything that he had met with "in Israel," that is, among the people of the Covenant and of the promises!

The story, placed here at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, is an announcement of the response which the gospel will one day find among the Gentiles. It is a warning to the "children of Abraham." This thought is developed in the verses that follow (vss. 11-12; see Luke 13:28-30). The Gentiles will come from the east and the west to be seated at the banquet of the Kingdom, while those who believe themselves to be the legitimate children of Abraham by their birth and their traditions the "sons of the kingdom" will be "thrown into the outer darkness."

This warning is addressed not only to Jews. It is addressed also to Christians. Does not the faith and love of people who have just discovered the gospel and scarcely yet dare to call themselves Christians often put to shame the inertia and the indifference of those who have nominally belonged to the Church from their infancy?

Verses 14-17

"He Took Our Infirmities" (8:14-17)

The third healing related in this chapter is that of the mother-in-law of Simon Peter. Jesus "touched her hand" and the fever left her (see Mark 1:29-31).

In verse 16, on the other hand, with regard to the demon-possessed, it is expressly said that Jesus cast them out "with a word." Of the numerous cases of possession cited in the Gospels, some suggest the psychic malady which today we call "split personality." The sick one identified himself with the evil spirit with which he felt possessed. There is no question that for Jesus and his contemporaries these were genuine cases of evil spirits who had seized men. It was the power of God which cast them out; hence the fright of the demoniacs at the approach of Jesus, for they immediately recognized who it was with whom they had to do (see Mark 1:23-24; Mark 5:6-9; Matthew 8:29).

It is not necessary for us, in the name of science, to deny the reality of such powers at work in the world. We are still singularly ignorant of the relations between the spiritual world and the physical and psychological aspects of human nature. Jesus took very seriously the existence of hostile powers which were at work to destroy man. His ministry was a battle against these forces. In citing the word of Isaiah, "He took our infirmities and bore our diseases" (vs. 17; see Isaiah 53:4), Matthew shows us not only the Messiah victorious over sin and death, but also the Suffering Servant who conquers only by taking on himself the weight of our misery as well as the burden of our faults. Each healing is a battle of the One whom Peter called "the Author of life" (Acts 3:15) against the forces of death.

Verses 18-22

Necessary Choices (8:18-22)

Jesus withdrew far from the crowd to the eastern shore of the lake, in the semi-Greek province of Decapolis. Several times we see him thus fleeing from superficial popularity. At this point the evangelist places two brief dialogues which Luke situates much later, at the time when Jesus was proceeding to Jerusalem (see Luke 9:51; Luke 9:57-60). The words pronounced are practically the same in both stories, and at first glance they seem harsh. In the first instance, it seems that Jesus deliberately wanted to discourage the vocation of the one who offered himself to him. In the second, his demands superseded the most legitimate family obligations. Jesus desired that men engage in his service with full knowledge of what was involved, not with premature resolutions which lacked a realistic estimate of the cost involved (see also Luke 14:28-33). The Son of Man had chosen the way of poverty and insecurity. In this world, which belonged to him by right, he had nowhere to lay his head. The men who came to Jesus were faced with the question, Are you ready to follow on this way? Had he not, it may be replied, offered as an example to his disciples the lilies of the field and the birds of the air? (Matthew 6:25-34).

Had he not promised them that they would be protected? Yes, certainly, as he himself was protected, through all the shame and abandonment, even unto death. But this security does not spare one from struggle and suffering. It is given only to those who are ready to "leave all" for the love of God and his Kingdom. For Jesus, all those who are not born into the life of the Kingdom, into the life of God, are " the dead" who bury their dead (vs. 22). To follow him is to live. The hour of decision, when it comes, demands obedience which is immediate and without conditions.

In this passage, we find on the lips of Jesus for the first time the expression " Son of man." This expression in Hebrew ordinarily designated man (Ezekiel 2:3; Ezekiel 3:1; Ezekiel 3:4). Nevertheless, after Daniel (Daniel 7:13-14), throughout the Jewish apocalypses the term had taken on a Messianic meaning. It designated the pre-existent, heavenly Judge, who would be revealed in the last days to inaugurate the new humanity.

In choosing this term to the exclusion of all others to designate himself, Jesus affirmed both the fullness of his humanity and the meaning of his coming. He is the Heavenly Man who will inaugurate the New Age. It is this sovereign authority which permits him to demand that men leave everything to follow him.

Verses 23-34

A Storm and a Healing

(Matthew 8:23-34; see Mark 4:35-41; Mark 5:1-20; Luke 8:22-39)

These two episodes, told in Mark with more detail, engraved themselves deeply on the minds of the disciples. The raging storm, with Jesus sleeping unconscious of the danger; their fear and his calm; the sea canned by his voice as at that of God himself (see Psalms 107:23-30) gave rise to the question which came to their minds: Who is this man?

The next episode was at Gadara, where Jesus met two demoniacs (in Mark and Luke there is only one) whose raging madness terrified the country. In Jesus these recognize their enemy, the Son of God, whose coming is their condemnation and the precursor of the end of the age (the "time"). The rest of the story the demons taking refuge in the swine which plunge into the sea remains mysterious and we do not attempt to explain it. The people of the city begged Jesus to leave, doubtless because of the great loss which they had just experienced, the responsibility for which they attributed to him. Matthew does not reproduce the end of Mark’s story, where Jesus made the healed demoniac his witness in the midst of the pagans (Mark 5:18-20). He tells only of the rejection of Jesus by the Gadarenes, their herds being more important to them than the salvation of a man. (On demon possession, see comment on 8:16.)

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Matthew 8". "Layman's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lbc/matthew-8.html.
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