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Verse-by-Verse Bible Commentary
New American Standard Version
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Nave's Topical Bible - Birds; Character; Fox; Instability; Jesus, the Christ; Self-Denial; Zeal, Religious; Scofield Reference Index - Christ; Faith; Son; Thompson Chain Reference - Animals; Birds; Christ; Divinity-Humanity; Foxes; Humanity, Christ's; Humility; Humility-Pride; Names; Poverty; Poverty-Riches; Son; Titles and Names; Torrey's Topical Textbook - Birds; Christ, Character of; Fox, the; Human Nature of Christ, the; Poor, the; Self-Denial;
Verse Matthew 8:20. The foxes have holes, c.] Reader! art thou a poor man? and dost thou fear God? Then, what comfort must thou derive from the thought, that thou so nearly resemblest the Lord Jesus! But how unlike is the rich man, who is the votary of pleasure and slave of sin, to this heavenly pattern!
Son of man — A Hebrew phrase, expressive of humiliation and debasement and, on that account, applied emphatically to himself, by the meek and lowly Jesus. Besides, it seems here to be used to point out the incarnation of the Son of God, according to the predictions of the prophets, Psalms 8:5; Daniel 7:13. And as our Lord was now showing forth his eternal Divinity in the miracles he wrought, he seems studious to prove to them the certainty of his incarnation, because on this depended the atonement for sin. Indeed our Lord seems more intent on giving the proofs of his humanity, than of his divinity, the latter being necessarily manifested by the miracles which he was continually working.
Clarke, Adam. "Commentary on Matthew 8:20". "The Adam Clarke Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/acc/matthew-8.html. 1832.
81. The cost of being a disciple (Matthew 8:18-22; Luke 9:57-62)
Three men came to Jesus saying they wanted to be disciples, but they did not realize the sacrifices they would have to make in following Jesus. The first man was told to think seriously about his professed intentions, because following Jesus would bring with it physical hardship and discomfort (Luke 9:57-58). The second was warned that responsibilities towards Jesus must come before ordinary worldly responsibilities. The spiritually dead, whose interests are only in this life, can look after the everyday matters of life; the disciples of Jesus have to attend to the more important business of the kingdom of God (Luke 9:59-60). The third man was warned that Jesus’ disciples must give themselves to him completely. There is no place for those whose real interests are elsewhere (Luke 9:61-62).
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Flemming, Donald C. "Commentary on Matthew 8:20". "Fleming's Bridgeway Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bbc/matthew-8.html. 2005.
And Jesus saith unto him, The foxes have holes, and the birds of the heaven have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head.
This shows the poverty of Jesus, from an earthly viewpoint; and yet we through his poverty are made rich (2 Corinthians 8:9). We are not told if the scribe followed Jesus after this, or not; but the strong implication is that he did not. Perhaps, like the rich young ruler, he found the conditions too rigorous.
The title "Son of man," as applied by Jesus to himself, is one of deep interest. It was his favorite designation of himself, and he used it no less than forty times; but only once (in Acts 7:56) is it ever found on anyone's lips except his own. Some believe our Lord took this title from Psalms 8:4, "What is man, that thou art mindful of him; And the son of man, that thou visitest him?" In the New Testament, Christ is called:
The Son of David .......................... Matthew 1:1
The Son of Abraham ........................ Matthew 1:1
The Son of God ............................ Matthew 16:16
The Son of Adam ........................... Luke 3:38
The Son of Joseph ......................... Luke 3:23
The Son of Mary ........................... Matthew 13:55
The Son of Man ............................ Matthew 8:20MONO>LINES>
Each one of these seven designations is true and proper in its own frame of reference. Why, then, did Jesus lean so heavily upon "Son of man" as a title for himself? First, it served to conceal his true identity during the period when he did not want it generally known that he was the Messiah, for there is every indication that the title was not recognized as a proper name for the Messiah until much later. Also, there is a universality in the title that does not pertain to any of the others. Thus, "the Son of David" indicated a legal relationship; "the Son of Abraham" had a racial limitation; "the Son of Joseph" and "the Son of Mary" stressed a family relationship; the Son of Adam identified him with the one who had brought ruin upon mankind; the Son of God during the early part of his ministry was premature. The choice of Son of man as his title removed all the limitations implicit in other titles and identified Jesus Christ, not as belonging to any race, family, nation, or kingdom exclusively, but to all the human race.Copyright Statement
Coffman's Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Matthew 8:20". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bcc/matthew-8.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
And a certain scribe came ... - It is not improbable that this man had seen the miracles of Jesus, and had formed an expectation that by following him he would obtain some considerable worldly advantage. Christ, in reply to his professed purpose to follow him, proclaimed his own poverty, and dashed the hopes of the avaricious scribe. The very foxes and birds, says he, have places of repose and shelter, but the Son of man has no home and no pillow. He is a stranger in his own world - a wanderer and an outcast from the homes of people. Compare John 1:11.
Son of man - This means, evidently, Jesus himself. No title is more frequently given to the Saviour than this, and yet there is much difficulty in explaining it. The word “son” is used in a great variety of significations. See the notes at Matthew 1:1. The name “Son of man” is given to Jesus only three times in the New Testament Acts 7:56; Revelation 1:13; Revelation 14:14, except by himself. When he speaks of himself, this is the most common appellation by which he is known. The phrase “Son of God,” given to Christ, denotes a unique connection with God, John 10:36. The name “Son of man” probably denotes a corresponding unique connection with man. Perhaps the Saviour used it to signify the interest he felt in man; his special love and friendship for him; and his willingness to devote himself to the best interests of the race. It is sometimes, however, used as synonymous with “Messiah,” Matthew 16:28; John 1:34; Acts 8:37; John 12:34.
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Matthew 8:20". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bnb/matthew-8.html. 1870.
20.Foxes have holes. The Son of God describes by these words what was his condition while he lived on the earth, but, at the same time, informs his disciples what sort of life they must be prepared to expect. And yet it is strange that Christ should say, that he had not a foot of earth on which he could lay his head, while there were many godly and benevolent persons, who would willingly receive him into their houses. But this was spoken, it ought to be observed, as a warning to the scribe, not to expect an abundant and rich hire, as if he had a wealthy master, while the master himself receives a precarious subsistence in borrowed houses.
Calvin, John. "Commentary on Matthew 8:20". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/cal/matthew-8.html. 1840-57.
Let's turn to Matthew's gospel chapter eight. The fifth chapter of Matthew begins "And seeing the multitude, he went into a mountain: and when he had sat down, his disciples came unto him: And he opened his mouth, and taught them, saying," ( Matthew 5:1-2 ). And so we have the great Sermon on the Mount in Matthew five, six and seven.
So in chapter eight it begins,
And when he would come down from the mountain ( Matthew 8:1 ),
And so having proclaimed the kingdom of God and those conditions of the kingdom, those that will dwell within the kingdom, having now come down from the mountain, He begins to show the activities of the kingdom of God, what it will be like during the kingdom age.
We read in Isaiah chapter thirty-five concerning the kingdom age, and it declares how that the deaf will hear, the dumb will be singing praises, the blind will behold the glory of the Lord and the lame shall leap for joy. The whole kingdom is a kingdom of a restored age. As you look around the world today you cannot see God's divine intention, when God created the world. When you look at man around you today, you do not see God's intent when he said "Let us make man in our image and after our likeness"( Genesis 1:26 ) because we look around at a fallen world and we see fallen man and we cannot understand God's original intent as we look at the world today. And that's why many people are confused concerning God.
How can a God of love allow the things to happen that are happening in our world today, you see. But in reality the world that you see is the world that is in rebellion against God's law, a rebellion against the kingdom of God, and it is a world that said "We will not have this man to rule over us". You see a world of men who thought that they knew better than God how to govern themselves. And we're looking now at the tragic byproducts of man's rejecting God's reign over their lives. But Jesus, when he came declared again the glorious aspects of the kingdom, and now He begins to demonstrate a foretaste of what it will be in the kingdom.
So when he was come down from the mountain, again the multitudes joined ( Matthew 8:1 ).
When He went to the mountain it was his disciples that came to Him and "He opened his mouth and He taught them saying". The Sermon on the Mount was not for the multitudes, it was for that infinite few; it was for the disciples. There is no broad worldly application at the present time to the Sermon on the Mount; there will be in the kingdom age. But there is definite application among His who already are citizens of His kingdom. In other words, there's an application to us because we are a part of His kingdom and we have already bowed our knee to the King.
But once again having come from the mountain those multitudes again surround Him and follow Him.
And, behold, there came a leper and worshipped him ( Matthew 8:2 ),
Now leprosy was a horrible, loathsome disease in those days. At that time there was absolutely no cure for leprosy. We now have medicine by which leprosy can be arrested; it cannot yet be cured but it can be arrested. They call it now Hansen's disease, in order to get away from the stigma of leprosy. But the word "leprosy" still sort of creates a revulsion, sort of, in our minds and, you know, ostracize and leprosy in almost a horror and a fear. So they no longer call it leprosy but Hansen's disease, naming it after Dr. Hansen who was first able to isolate the bacillus of leprosy.
So, um, this man was a man who had been ostracized from society. A leper had to cry out "Unclean! Unclean!" to cause people not to approach him too closely. If you were approaching a leper from say, a downwind position when you came within a hundred and fifty feet of him, he had to start crying out "unclean, unclean" so that you would not come any closer except at your own risk. If you were coming from an upwind position, then at three hundred feet he'd have to start crying to you "unclean, unclean" or other way around, but it was a man that was ostracized from society because of this disease.
He came and worshipped Jesus, saying, Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean ( Matthew 8:2 ).
Somehow recognizing the power of the King, "if You will, You can make me clean".
And Jesus put forth his hand, and touched him, and said, I will; be thou clean. And immediately his leprosy left him ( Matthew 8:3 ).
Now here's an interesting thing; number one, there are those who complain that Jesus violated the law for it was unlawful to touch a leper. And that is true. If you touched a leper you were ceremonially unclean. You could not then come into the temple of God. It would be like having touched a dead carcass until you had, first of all, gone through the ceremonial baths and so forth. But it wasn't you know, it wasn't that horrible in a violation of the law, but the thing is when Jesus touched him he was no longer a leper. So there is a matter of argument there too.
But the interesting thing to me is "if You will" and the response of Jesus was "I will". Now there are some people today who object to our praying "Lord, if You will, thy will be done". I find no problem praying that at all. In fact, I do believe that we make a tragic mistake in assuming or presuming to always know what the will of God is. And to presume that God does will healing in every case is not really scriptural. Evidently with Paul the apostle God did not will healing concerning that thorn in the flesh. A minister of Satan was buffeting him. For three times Paul prayed concerning that and the Lord finally said, "Paul, my grace is sufficient for you"( 2 Corinthians 12:9 ).
And thus, when I come to God concerning my own physical needs I do not see it as a lack of faith. I see it only as great wisdom and tremendous faith and complete commitment of myself to God when I say "Lord, your will be done". I have a difficult time with people who would, who would argue with that or, or would put that down. I'm not at all afraid of God's will. In fact, I am afraid of something, anything other than God's will for me. I really don't want to step out of the will of God. And Paul the apostle said, My desire is that Christ should be glorified in body whether by life or by death. I don't care. My main concern is Christ be glorified.
Now, I do believe that perhaps in most or majority of the cases the Lord will answer, "I will; be thou clean" but he may not and I must be willing to accept whatever He says, having committed myself completely in his hands. If He says, "I will; be thou clean" praise the Lord. If He says, "Well, this is for God's glory that you might just really develop in your own walk and relationship with God, coming to a total trust in Him.
There are areas that I want to reveal to you and glories that I want to reveal to you, and glories that I want to bring into your life and let you be exhalted above measure because of this glory that I'm gonna bestow upon you. It's, it's really necessary that you experience this weakness of your flesh to be constantly reminded of your human nature because I'm gonna bring you into a dimension and into a realm that is just, you know, so far beyond.
I say well, praise the Lord. Thy will be done, you know. And I find no problem with that at all. But to the leper Jesus said, "I will; be thou clean". And immediately his leprosy was cleansed.
Now Jesus commands him to,
tell no man; but go thy way, show thyself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a testimony unto them ( Matthew 8:4 ).
Now, that is interesting to me that even in the law of Mosses there was provision for the curing of an incurable disease. And in the law of Moses it declares, "Now this is the law of the leper in the day of his cleansing" ( Leviticus 14:2 ). So God made provision in the law for him to do a work that is contrary to nature; that is the healing of leprosy. And so even in the law, God made provision for the leper in the day of his cleansing for the miraculous work of God in his life.
And in the day of his cleansing he was to come and to bring this dove, two of them actually. And one was to be killed, the blood put in a basin and the other one dipped in the blood and then turned loose and it was to fly off. And the leper would go through this ceremony of cleansing, but it's a beautiful ceremony of just that, you know, whole new freedom in life that you have when God has worked his miraculous power in your life.
So the Lord said go ahead and follow the law. Go to the priest and go on through the right. Let the priest examine you, set you in this house for seven days, examine you again and then proclaim you clean and then bring the offering and all. And the Lord told him just go ahead and fulfill the law.
And when Jesus was entered into Capernaum ( Matthew 8:5 ),
Now Capernaum is a little later on called His city. Jesus headquartered in Capernaum on the Sea of Galilee. And uh, I can understand why, what a beautiful place. Oh, I love Capernaum just from an aesthetic, you know. I love water and I love blue skies and the whole thing and what, you know. It's just a pretty place. And I can understand why Jesus headquartered there in Capernaum.
He was entered in Capernaum,
and there came unto him a centurion, beseeching him ( Matthew 8:5 ),
Now a centurion was a Roman soldier. The first one that Jesus ministered to was a leper, a man who was outside of society, ostracized because of his disease. The second one he ministers to is a Gentile, one who is outside of the covenant to Israel. A Roman centurion who came unto him, begging him,
saying, Lord, my servant lies at home sick of the palsy, grievously tormented. And Jesus said unto him, I will come and heal him. And the centurion answered and said, O Lord, I'm not worthy that you should come under my roof: but speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed ( Matthew 8:6-8 ).
He probably figured if he took the Lord home his wife would kill him, you know. She hadn't had a chance to get the house ready. Uh, so no Lord, don't come, just you know, say the word and my servant will be healed. But notice now his understanding of authority.
for I am a man under authority, [let's see, having under] having soldiers under me: and I say to this man, Go, and he goes; and to another, Come, and he come; and to my servant, Do this, and he does it ( Matthew 8:9 ).
I understand what authority is about, Lord. I am a man under authority. I am under authority and I have soldiers under me. I understand authority; there's a chain of command in authority. I am under authority, yet I have men under me. No man can rule over man rightly who is not himself ruled. You see, if you get a man who does not have that sense of "I am under authority", be he the President of the United States, if you do not have a man who has that concept "I am under authority," then you've got a tragic situation and you'll have tyranny. But when I realize that though I have authority I am still under authority, I've got to be under that authority of God. No man can really rule who is not under authority and understands the principles of authority.
And so I am under authority but I have soldiers who are under me and understand what it's all about. I can say hey, go, and he goes; come, and he comes. Lord, I know that you have authority and all you have to do is speak the word and my servant will be healed. You don't have to come to my house. I'm not really worthy of that. You just speak the word.
And when Jesus heard that, he marvelled, and said unto them that followed, I tell you the truth, I have not found such great faith, no not in Israel ( Matthew 8:10 ).
I've never met an Israelite that as much -- here's a fellow coming from the Gentile kingdom, one who is coming from the Roman Empire, he's outside of the covenant of Israel, but here he is demonstrating tremendous faith in Jesus Christ. Hey, Lord, don't have to come, just speak the word. I know what authority is about. You can just speak the word. And Jesus went on then to predict the glorious work of God's spirit among the Gentiles.
And I say unto you, That many shall come from the east and the west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven ( Matthew 8:11 ).
The east and the west, referring to the Gentile nations. Many will come from out of the Gentiles, sitting down with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Now it's interesting that when I think about heaven, I usually think of Paul and John and more of the New Testament characters. I never really thought too much of sitting down with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. I'm sure that it will be a thrill indeed, but there are so many. I thought about David, that's gonna be a great one to get together with. Elijah and Elisha, I like those characters, Gideon. But the kingdom of heaven is gonna be comprised, Jesus said, of many Gentiles also.
Whereas the children of the kingdom [that is the Jews] will be cast out into outer darkness: and there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth ( Matthew 8:12 ).
Because of the Jew's rejection of Jesus Christ, the glorious good news of God will be carried to the Gentile world and many will come out of that Gentile world and will become a part of God's glorious kingdom, whereas the children of the kingdom, those natural seed of Abraham, because of their rejection of their Messiah, will not enter into the kingdom.
And Jesus said unto the centurion, Go thy way; as you have believed, so be it done unto you. And the servant was healed in that very hour [that time] ( Matthew 8:13 ).
Now the next miracle of Jesus was preformed upon a woman, who in that particular culture was not respected and esteemed as she is today. During those days if a woman was pregnant, when she would go into labor, everyone would gather at her home and they'd bring everything for a big party and a celebration. And when the midwife would come out and say, "It's a boy" they'd all start celebrating and have a big party and a great time, a celebration. If the midwife would come out and say, "It's a girl" they'd all pack up their stuff and go home.
The first one Jesus touches is a leper, the outcast of society. The second one is a Gentile, an outcast of the covenant. The third one is a woman who was looked down upon. You know Jesus never looked down on anyone, nor did he ever exclude anyone. The kingdom doesn't exclude.
So when Jesus was come into Peter's house, Peter's wife's mother was lying down, she had a fever. And he touched her hand, and the fever left her: and she arose, and ministered unto them ( Matthew 8:14-15 ).
That is she fixed them something to eat; ministered to him in a physical way, food and, and waited on Him.
And when the evening was come, they brought unto him many that were possessed with devils: and he cast out the spirits with his word, and he healed all that were sick: That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias [Isaiah] the prophet, when he said, Himself took our infirmities, and bare our weaknesses ( Matthew 8:16-17 ).
In the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah, as he is prophesying concerning God's servant the Messiah he said, "He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed" ( Isaiah 53:5 ).
Now, there are those Bible scholars today who want to make that apply only to spiritual healing, but really the finest commentary you have on the Old Testament is not always those who declare themselves to be Bible Scholars today. The finest commentary you have on the Old Testament is the inspired New Testament. And here Matthew, writing by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, declares that the physical healing upon all of these people that were brought to Jesus as he was there in Peter's house in the evening, and as Jesus healed them all, he was doing that, that the prophecy of Isaiah might be fulfilled. So, Matthew extends the prophecy of Isaiah to include physical healing as well as spiritual healing.
When we partake of communion, Jesus, when he took the bread he broke it and said, "Take, eat, this is my body which is broken for you. This do in remembrance of me". The question arises, When was his body broken? And we know from the gospel that it was, the body wasn't broken. That is, the bones were not broken. For though the Jews had sought Pilot that they might break the legs of the prisoners to hasten their death that their bodies would not be hanging on the cross on the Sabbath day. When they came to Jesus, he'd already dismissed his spirit, he was already dead. And they marvelled that he was already dead and they did not break his legs in order that the scriptures might be fulfilled: Psalm twenty-two "Not a bone of Him shall be broken".
So, the prophecy was "not a bone was to be broken". In fact, as a type of a sacrificial lamb he could not have broken bones. So, he thrust the spear in the side of Jesus and there came forth blood and water. But yet Jesus said, "This is my body broken for you". He must have been referring to the scourging that He was to receive when they would lay upon his back thirty-nine stripes. It was a form of inquisition whereby they elicited the confessions of the prisoner.
You remember when Paul, there on the steps of the Antonio fortress, asked the captain if he could speak to the Jews that had been trying to kill him and he said go ahead. And Paul began to say "Hey fellows, I know exactly how you feel. I felt just like you one time. Man I was really, you know, bent on destroying this new sect of Christianity. And I was actually on my way down to Damascus to imprison those that called upon the name of the Lord, when suddenly there came a light from heaven and I was uh, you know, lying there on the ground. And I heard the Lord saying, "Hey, why do you persecute me? I'm gonna call you to the Gentiles".
And when Paul said that word "Gentiles", man, the Jews got upset. They started throwing dirt in the air, they started screaming and ranting and tearing their clothes and trying to mob Paul again. And the captain says, "Get him inside". He'd been talking to the people in the Hebrew tongue. The captain couldn't understand it and he said, "What did you say to those people that got them so upset?" He said, "Examine them by scourging. Find out what he said." Paul said, "Wait a minute. Is it lawful to scourge a Roman citizen who is not condemned?" He said, "Are you a Roman citizen?" He said, "You bet I am." The guy said, "I bought my citizenship. It cost me quite a bit of money. How did you become a citizen?" He said, "I was free born".
But, that was the policy of the Roman government. The third degree you might say. They lay upon the prisoner thirty-nine stripes upon his back in order to get him to confess his sins, his crimes, his guilt. But as a lamb before her shearers is done, so he open not his mouth but there his body was broken. Now it was not just some capricious act of man it was a part of God's divine plan. And so we must ask, Why would God allow his son to endure such torture and suffering? Isaiah tells us prophetically "with his stripes you are healed". Peter quoting Isaiah said, "By his stripes you were healed"( 1 Peter 2:24 ).
Now, as Paul is writing to the Corinthian church concerning the Lord's supper and their particular abuse of the Lord's supper, He said unto them that many of them were weak and sick because they did not understand the Lord's body. In other words, he is saying, you did not understand what the broken bread really symbolizes. "You are eating and drinking of the body of Christ unworthily. For this cause many of you are weak and sick because you don't understand the Lord's body" ( 1 Corinthians 11:29 ). You don't really understand the full significance of the scourging that Jesus received where He bore our sufferings and our sickness. And so people are taking the broken bread not really fully understanding the Lord's body and thus not receiving the full benefits of the work of Jesus Christ for us.
So, Matthew broadens that suffering of Christ to include the physical healing and relates it to physical healing, whereas so many today seek to narrow it and isolate it just to spiritual healing. I'm afraid that you do not have a solid, strong scriptural basis to try to just make it apply to spiritual healing only, the healing of sin and so forth. But there is also the application for the physical needs of the body.
Now when Jesus saw the great multitudes that were about him, he gave a commandment to depart to the other side. And there was a certain scribe who came, and he said unto him, Master, I will follow you wherever you go ( Matthew 8:18-19 ).
He's getting ready to leave and go over to the other side of the lake. He said, I'll follow you wherever you go.
And Jesus said unto him, The foxes have holes, the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man doesn't have anywhere to lay his head ( Matthew 8:20 ).
In other words, he is saying to this fella that's coming up on an impulse, and there're a lot of people who impulsively say, "Oh, oh I wanna give my life to the Lord." The Lord says count the cost. Follow me wherever I go, just count the cost. "The foxes have their holes, the birds of the air have their nest but I don't have anyplace to lay my head", now count the cost. He's not saying, you know, don't follow me; he's just saying before you jump on board just consider the cost. Count the cost of discipleship.
Another of his disciples said unto him, Lord, suffer me first ( Matthew 8:21 )
Now we talked to you about the inconsistencies of speech last week as we were studying the subject of the Lordship of Jesus Christ when many will come saying, "Lord, Lord" remember that? How Peter said, "Not so Lord" and we said that was a perfect inconsistency of speech. Here again, an inconsistency of speech, "Lord, me first". Uh, it can't be that way. He's got to be first. "Lord, allow me first", nope, you've got the wrong idea of the kingdom.
to go and bury my father ( Matthew 8:21 ),
You say, "Oh, wait a minute. That's legitimate isn't it?"
Jesus said unto him, Follow me; and let the dead bury their dead ( Matthew 8:22 ).
Put me first, you see. Now, the chances are as the fellow's father was in perfect health; this is a common term for procrastination. Hey I want to do it but I'm not ready yet, but one of these days, you know, allow me first to bury my father. Wait awhile until my dad dies, you know. And it's a term of procrastination. And they use that, even though the dad was in perfect health and probably had another twenty years, but one of these days I'm gonna get, you know, I'm gonna get on board. Just suffer me first, take a little time. The Lord is speaking against procrastination. The idea of putting Him first; "Follow me, let the dead bury their dead".
So when he had entered into the ship, and his disciples followed him. Behold, there arose a great tempest in the sea, insomuch that the ship was covered with waves: but he was asleep ( Matthew 8:23-24 ).
Now this isn't the first time and the only experience of a tremendous storm that arose on the Sea of Galilee when Jesus got in this little boat. And up at that north end of the lake these common -- it is a common thing to have these storms, these squalls come up. Through the valley there, that comes from the area of Haifa, there is this, there is this, a valley that comes through there and you'll get these tremendous winds that will just come up suddenly. And I've watched the Sea of Galilee go from just a glassy calm; wow, what great water skiing, to a tremendous waves that will just -- waves can get nine, ten feet high there in the Sea of Galilee in these sudden squalls that'll arise as the wind comes whistling up the Chinnereth Valley there. And so this isn't the only occasion that this happened.
Now it would seem that Satan is perhaps behind the whole thing trying to destroy Jesus. There arose a great tempest in the sea, and so much the ship was covered with waves, but He was a sleep. And Jesus had a common practice of sleeping when he got on the boat.
And his disciples came unto him, and awoke him, saying, Lord, save us: we perish. And he said unto them, Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith? Then he arose, and he rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a great calm. But the men marvelled, saying, What manner of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him! ( Matthew 8:25-27 )
So Jesus showed his mastery over the elements. One of the other gospels in telling us this story, tells us that Jesus said to his disciples, "Let us go over to Gennesaret". Now uh, that's probably why He rebuked him for having a little faith; that they were fearful they were gonna go under. He said, "Let's go over", when Jesus said let's go over, there's no way you can go under. So when they woke him up and said Lord, don't you care if we perish? He rebuked them, said, "Where's your faith?" Did you hear me say, Let's go over to Gennesaret? "Why are you fearful, O ye of little faith?"
And so when he was come to the other side into the country of the Gergesenes, there met him two that were possessed with devils ( Matthew 8:28 ),
The other gospels tell us of the one who was probably more prominent than the other.
And they were coming out of the tombs, and they were exceeding fierce, so that no man dared to pass by that way ( Matthew 8:28 ).
Incidentally, just recently the archeologist have discovered that city over there on the other side of Gennesaret And it's quite exciting that as they were building a new road to go up the Golan, they began to uncover this city. And so they actually moved the road up a little ways so that they could then go into their archeological exploration of this city. So now we can point with pretty much certainty the very cliff that the swine ran down into the sea because we have now discovered a city of Gennesaret over there on the other side.
And so these men possessed with devils, plural, were living there, in there, in the tombs.
And they cried out, saying, What have we to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of God? art thou come hither to torment us before the time? ( Matthew 8:29 )
Number one, the demons possessing these men recognized who Jesus was and acknowledged who He was; "What have we to do with you, Jesus, thou Son of God?" You remember James, you say you believe God and you think that's something big. Hey the devils believe. And notice hear they are sort of fear and trembling in the presence of Jesus they said, "Are you come here to torment us before our time?"
Now they know that their time is coming, they're aware of that. They know that he has authority and power over them; they recognized that and it's important that we also recognize "greater is He that is in us than he that is in the world"( 1 John 4:4 ). We are in the spiritual battle but we need not to be fearful of the enemy because of that greater power of God's spirit resident within us.
And so there was a good way off from them a herd of many swine feeding ( Matthew 8:30 ).
Now that was an illegal occupation and industry in Israel. It was unlawful for them, according to the law of Moses to be raising swine, to have swine, to eat pork.
So the devils besought him, saying, If you cast us out, allow us to go away into the heard of swine. And he said unto them, Go. And when they were come out, they went into the herd of swine: and, behold, the whole heard of swine ran violently down a steep place into the sea, and they perished in the waters ( Matthew 8:31-32 ).
There's only about one steep place that leads into the Sea of Galilee and it's a few miles away from the city of Gennesaret that has been discovered.
Now there are evil spirits that can take possession of human bodies and can control the motor functions of a human body. Jesus himself set free many people who were possessed by these evil entities, spirits. When He sent his disciples out, which we will get to, He gave them power to cast out these devils. When a person's body is invaded by one of these evil spirits, they often lose control of their own faculties and these evil spirits are able to actually speak right through that individual.
This is not something that is just superstition, and a part of a superstition of an ancient culture, but there are quite a few documented experiences of the activity of these types of spirits even today. There are, there is a book by Moody Press entitled "Demon Experiences in Many Lands" which is a compilation of the witness of missionaries from different parts of the world and experiences that they have had with these evil spirit entities.
Perhaps one of the most classic modern day experiences, that of the girl whose name was Clarissa who back in 1947, there in the Philippines had the unusual phenomenon of going into these fits where, when she would come out of them would have these bite marks all over her body. Places where it was impossible for her to bite herself; on the back of the shoulder, upon the back of her neck and all, and blood would be drawn. They put her in the Bellevue Prison there for her own protection. And the greatest psychiatrists of the Philippines were brought by the mayor of Manila to psychoanalyze and to find out what was going on. And they came up with, you know, no explanation and no help.
Finally they called for a couple of missionaries; Bob McAllister and Lester Sumrall. And Lester Sumrall has written a book entitled "Bitten by Demons" of the story of Clarissa. Actually Life Magazine got hold of the thing and did a special on it, showing pictures of her and all, of these bite marks on her. And it was quite an interesting thing to the world of psychology and all at that time. But nonetheless, through the ministry of Bob McAllister and Lester Sumrall the girl was delivered from these demons and Clarissa accepted Jesus Christ. And it's quite an interesting story; it's one that you don't want to read before you go to bed.
They recognized Jesus, they acknowledged his authority over them, they acknowledged their day is coming. It would appear that they do take some comfort in inhabiting a body that they do not like to be unembodied spirits, but they do like to take residence in a body. Now Jesus said when an evil spirit is cast out of a man it goes through wilderness places looking for a place to inhabit; a house to inhabit. And if it finds none, it'll come back to the house from which it was driven. And if it finds it all clean, swept and garnished, it'll go out and get seven others and say hey, got a neat place to live, you know, and bring them in. And thus the state of a person becomes worse than his first.
Um, it's an area that I don't relish, I don't like. I keep as far away from it as I can, but there are times when we have had to exorcise these evil spirits. And it's a very difficult and uncomfortable ministry of which I really have no real liking at all.
So they begged Jesus permission to go into these swine. And when they had entered the herd of swine, they ran down this steep place and perished in the waters.
So that those that were keeping the swine fled, and they went their way to the city, and they told everything, that was befallen to those men that were possessed by these devils. And, behold, the whole city came out to meet Jesus ( Matthew 8:33-34 ):
To hear Him? To receive Him? No.
When they saw him, they begged him that he would leave their coast ( Matthew 8:34 ).
Hey, you're upsetting our industry. You just wiped out our profit. Get out of here. They were more interested in their own profit than they were the sad welfare of these two men. But it's a sad thing that people would ask the Lord to depart, but such is often the case today. You upset my plans.
Copyright © 2014, Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa, Ca.
Smith, Charles Ward. "Commentary on Matthew 8:20". "Smith's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/csc/matthew-8.html. 2014.
And Jesus saith unto him, The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air [have] nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay [his] head.
And Jesus saith unto him: As in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus returns to a favorite way of expressing spiritual truths by again pointing to nature.
The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air [have] nests: Foxes have holes (pholeous) or burrows in which they can rest. Likewise birds have their roosts (kataskenoseis). This word is a compound word from "kata" (down) and "skene" (tent) and means the birds have a place to tent down for the night (Earle 8). Unlike these, however, Jesus has no place to lay his head.
but the Son of man hath not where to lay [his] head: The question arises as to how this statement should be interpreted. Literally speaking, Capernaum is Jesus’ home; and Mark 2:1 seems to indicate He has a regular place of stay. In addition, He often visits the homes of disciples, such as Mary and Martha, Peter, and others. Furthermore, Oriental hospitality demands that a place be provided for travelers even if they are strangers.
Most likely Jesus is exaggerating His case in order to impress upon this scribe the spiritual nature of His ministry. While the scribe is accustomed to the physical comforts of a fine home and security, Jesus knows none of these. Jesus is an itinerant preacher without earthly luxuries. Broadus says Jesus does not so much intend to indicate His extreme poverty and discomfort as He wishes to emphasize a ministry that frequently takes Him far and wide with no permanence (184).
The term "Son of man" is used more than eighty times in the gospels to describe the humanity of Jesus’ Messiahship. As "the Son of man," Jesus is fully human; but as the "Son of God," He is fully divine. Luke 22:69-70 shows that "son of man" and "son of God" are sometimes used interchangeably. The Jews readily recognize "Son of man" as an Old Testament epitaph for the Messiah (John 12:33). The prophet Daniel first uses the term in Daniel 7:13-14. When Jesus stands before the high priest in Matthew 26:63, He affirms He is the Son of God and makes reference to Daniel 7:13-14. Here Jesus fully acknowledges His deity and authority and affirms to this skilled student of Old Testament prophecy that He fulfills the Mosaic Law.
By using this term, Jesus illustrates that as the Messiah He is not above the physical discomforts of humanity. As with any human, Jesus knows sorrow, pain, loneliness, and suffering. John indicates that Jesus, the incarnate Logos, becomes flesh and tabernacles among men (John 1:14). What poignancy is found in the fact that He through whom the world was made has no place to call His own. Fowler notes, however,
"Before we feel too much pity for Jesus who had no comfortable, permanent home on earth, we must ask ourselves who is really to be pitied: Him who knew how to detach Himself from home so as to be free to prepare Himself and men for God’s eternity, or us who are so attached to the loved and known, to home and family that we cannot respond to Jesus’ call to service as we ought?" (Vol. 2 67).
Contending for the Faith reproduced by permission of Contending for the Faith Publications, 4216 Abigale Drive, Yukon, OK 73099. All other rights reserved.
Editor Charles Baily, "Commentary on Matthew 8:20". "Contending for the Faith". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/ctf/matthew-8.html. 1993-2022.
Jesus’ demands regarding possessions 8:18-20
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2. Jesus’ authority over His disciples 8:18-22 (cf. Luke 9:57-62)
Matthew evidently inserted these teachings about Jesus’ authority because they show the nature of Jesus’ ministry and the kind of disciples He requires. The King has power over people, not just sickness. He can direct others as His servants, and they need to respond to Him as their King.
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Jesus’ reply did not encourage or discourage the scribe. It simply helped him count the cost of following Him as a disciple. Jesus was very busy traveling from one place to another as an itinerant preacher and teacher. His healing ministry complicated His life because it attracted crowds that placed additional demands on Him. He had no regular home, as most people did, but traveled all over the region. The scribe needed to understand this if he wanted to keep up with Jesus. We should not interpret Jesus’ statement to mean that He was penniless and could not afford shelter at night (cf. Luke 8:1-3). His ministry simply kept Him on the move.
Jesus called Himself "the Son of Man." This expression occurs 81 times in the Gospels, 69 times in the Synoptics, and 30 times in Matthew. [Note: For a good introduction to the meaning of this term, see Hagner’s excursus, pp. 214-15, or Carson’s excursus in "Matthew," pp. 209-13.] In every instance except two it was a term Jesus used of Himself. In those two instances it is a term others who were quoting Jesus used (Luke 24:7; John 12:34). Though it occurs in several Old Testament passages, as well as in apocryphal Jewish literature, its use in Daniel 7:13-14 is messianic. There "one like a son of man" approaches the Ancient of Days and receives "authority, glory, and sovereign power." He also receives "an everlasting dominion that will not pass away" in which "all peoples, nations, and men of every language" worship Him. By using this title Jesus was claiming to be the divine Messiah.
"It is His name as the representative Man, in the sense of 1 Corinthians 15:45-47, as Son of David is distinctively His Jewish name, and Son of God His divine name. Our Lord constantly uses this term as implying that His mission (e.g. Matthew 11:19; Luke 19:10), His death and resurrection (e.g. Matthew 12:40; Matthew 20:18; Matthew 26:2), and His second coming (e.g. Matthew 24:37-44; Luke 12:40) transcend in scope and result all merely Jewish limitations." [Note: The New Scofield . . ., p. 1004.]
However most of Jesus’ hearers probably did not associate this title with a messianic claim when they first heard it. Many of them were probably not well enough acquainted with Daniel 7:13-14 to understand its meaning. Many who did understand its significance held a concept of Messiah that the rabbis had distorted. Furthermore other Old Testament references to the son of man were not messianic. For example, David used the term to refer to man generically (Psalms 8:4). Asaph used it to describe Israel (Psalms 80:17). In the Book of Ezekiel it is a favorite term God used when He addressed Ezekiel to stress the prophet’s humanity.
God used this term many times in the Old Testament to stress the difference between frail mortal man and God Himself. [Note: John Bowker, "The Son of Man," Journal of Theological Studies 28 (1977):19-48.] Jesus’ use of the title combined both the messianic and mortal ideas. He was both the Messiah King and the Suffering Servant of the Lord. Some who heard Him use this title probably did not know what it meant. Others understood Jesus’ claim to messiahship, and others thought He was simply referring to Himself in a humble way.
". . . ’the Son of man’ is not of the nature of a Christological title the purpose of which is to inform the reader of ’who Jesus is.’ Instead, it is a self-designation that is also a technical term, and it describes Jesus as ’the man,’ or ’the human being’ (’this man,’ or ’this human being’) (earthly, suffering, vindicated). It is ’in public’ or with a view to the ’public,’ or ’world’ (Jews and Gentiles but especially opponents), that Jesus refers to himself as ’the Son of man’ (’this man’). Through his use of this self-reference, Jesus calls attention, for one thing, to the divine authority that he (’this man’) exercises now and will also exercise in the future and, for another thing, to the opposition that he (’this man’) must face. And should the question be raised as to who ’this man’ Jesus is, the answer is, as Peter correctly confesses, that he is the Son of God (Matthew 16:13; Matthew 16:16)." [Note: Kingsbury, Matthew as . . ., p. 103. This author wrote a lucid chapter on "Jesus’ Use of ’the Son of Man,’" pp. 95-103.]
"It seems that the reason why Jesus found this title convenient is that, having no ready-made titular connotations in current usage, it could be applied across the whole range of his uniquely paradoxical mission of humiliation and vindication, of death and glory, which could not be fitted into any preexisting model. Like his parables, the title ’the Son of Man’ came with an air of enigma, challenging the hearer to think new thoughts rather than to slot Jesus into a ready-made pigeonhole." [Note: France, The Gospel . . ., p. 327.]
In Matthew 8:20 "the Son of Man" occurs in a context that stresses Jesus’ humanity. The scribe would have understood Jesus to mean that if he followed Jesus he could anticipate a humble, even uncomfortable, existence. He should also have understood, since he was a teacher of the Old Testament, that Jesus was claiming to be Israel’s Messiah.
Anyone who wants to follow Jesus closely as a disciple must be willing to give up many of the normal comforts of life. Following Him involves embarking on a God-given mission in life. Going where He directs and doing what he commands must take precedence over enjoying the normal comforts of life when these conflict. Discipleship is difficult.
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LOVE IN ACTION ( Matthew 8:1-34 )
Of all the gospel writers Matthew is the most orderly. He never sets out his material haphazardly. If in Matthew one thing follows another in a certain sequence, there is always a reason for that sequence; and it is so here. In Matthew 5:1-48; Matthew 6:1-34; Matthew 7:1-29 Matthew has given us the Sermon on the Mount. That is to say, in these chapters he has given us his account of the words of Jesus; and now in Matthew 8:1-34 he gives us an account of the deeds of Jesus. Matthew 5:1-48; Matthew 6:1-34; Matthew 7:1-29 show us the divine wisdom in speech; Matthew 8:1-34 shows us the divine love in action.
Matthew 8:1-34 is a chapter of miracles. Let us look at these miracles as a whole, before we proceed to deal with them in detail. In the chapter there are seven miraculous happenings.
(i) There is the healing of the leper ( Matthew 8:1-4). Here we see Jesus touching the untouchable. The leper was banished from the society of men; to touch him, and even to approach him, was to break the Law. Here we see the man who was kept at arm's length by all men wrapped around with pity and the compassion of the love of God.
(ii) There is the healing of the centurion's servant ( Matthew 8:5-13). The centurion was a Gentile, and therefore the strict orthodox Jew would have said that he was merely fuel for the fires of hell; he was the servant of a foreign government and of an occupying power and therefore the nationalistic Jew would have said that he was a candidate for assassination and not for assistance; the servant was a slave and a slave was no more than a living tool. Here we see the love of God going out to help the man whom all men hated and the slave whom all men despised.
(iii) There is the healing of Peter's wife's mother ( Matthew 8:14-15). This miracle took place in a humble cottage in a humble home in Palestine. There was no publicity; there was no admiring audience; there was only Jesus and the family circle. Here we see the infinite love of the God of all the universe displaying all its power when there was none but the circle of the family to see.
(iv) There was the healing of all the sick who were brought to the doors at evening time ( Matthew 8:16-17). Here we see the sheer universality of the love of God in action. To Jesus no one was ever a nuisance; he had no hours when he was on duty and hours when he was off duty. Any man could come to him at any time and receive the willing, gracious help of the love of God.
(v) There was the reaction of the scribe ( Matthew 8:18-22). On the face of it this little section appears to be out of place in a chapter on miracles; but this is the miracle of personality. That any scribe should be moved to follow Jesus is nothing less than a miracle. Somehow this scribe had forgotten his devotion to the Scribal Law; somehow although Jesus contradicted all the things to which he had dedicated his life, he saw in Jesus not an enemy but a friend, not an opponent but a master.
It must have been an instinctive reaction. Negley Farson writes of his old grandfather. When Farson was a boy, he did not know his grandfather's history and all that he had done, but, he says, "All I knew was that he made other men around him look like mongrel dogs." That scribe saw in Jesus a splendour and a magnificence he had never seen in any other man. The miracle happened, and the scribe's heart ran out to Jesus Christ.
(vi) There is the miracle of the calming of the storm ( Matthew 8:23-27). Here we see Jesus dealing with the waves and the billows which threaten to engulf a man. As Pusey had it when his wife died, "All through that time it was as if there was a hand beneath my chin to bear me up." Here is the love of God bringing peace and serenity into tumult and confusion.
(vii) There is the healing of the Gerasene demoniac ( Matthew 8:28-34). In the ancient world people believed that all illness was due to the action of devils. Here we see the power of God dealing with the power of the devil; here we see God's goodness invading earth's evil, God's love going out against evil's malignancy and malevolence. Here we see the goodness and the love which save men triumphantly overcoming the evil and the hatred which ruin men.
The Living Death ( Matthew 8:1-4)
8:1-4 When Jesus had come down from the mountain, great crowds followed him; and, look you, a leper came to him, and remained kneeling before him. "Lord," he said, "you can cleanse me, if you are willing to do so." Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him. "I am willing," he said, "be cleansed." And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. And Jesus said to him: "See that you tell no one; but go, show yourself to the priest, and bring the gift which Moses ordered, so that they will be convinced that you are cured."
In the ancient world leprosy was the most terrible of all diseases. E. W. G. Masterman writes: "No other disease reduces a human being for so many years to so hideous a wreck."
It might bean with little nodules which go on to ulcerate. The ulcers develop a foul discharge; the eyebrows fall out; the eyes become staring; the vocal chords become ulcerated, and the voice becomes hoarse, and the breath wheezes. The hands and feet always ulcerate. Slowly the sufferer becomes a mass of ulcerated growths. The average course of that kind of leprosy is nine years, and it ends in mental decay, coma and ultimately death.
Leprosy might begin with the loss of all sensation in some part of the body; the nerve trunks are affected; the muscles waste away; the tendons contract until the hands are like claws. There follows ulceration of the hands and feet. Then comes the progressive loss of fingers and toes. until in the end a whole hand or a whole foot may drop off. The duration of that kind of leprosy is anything from twenty to thirty years. It is a kind of terrible progressive death in which a man dies by inches.
The physical condition of the leper was terrible; but there was something which made it worse. Josephus tells us that lepers were treated "as if they were, in effect, dead men." Immediately leprosy was diagnosed, the leper was absolutely and completely banished from human society. "He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease; he is unclean; he shall dwell alone in a habitation outside the camp" ( Leviticus 13:46). The leper had to go with rent clothes, dishevelled hair, with a covering upon his upper lip, and, as he went, he had to cry: "Unclean, unclean" ( Leviticus 13:45). In the middle ages, if a man became a leper, the priest donned his stole and took his crucifix, and brought the man into the church, and read the burial service over him. For all human purposes the man was dead.
In Palestine in the time of Jesus the leper was barred from Jerusalem and from all walled towns. In the synagogue there was provided for him a little isolated chamber, ten feet high and six feet wide, called the Mechitsah. The Law enumerated sixty-one different contacts which could defile, and the defilement involved in contact with a leper was second only to the defilement involved in contact with a dead body. If a leper so much as put his head into a house, that house became unclean even to the roof beams. Even in an open place it was illegal to greet a leper. No one might come nearer to a leper than four cubits--a cubit is eighteen inches. If the wind was blowing towards a person from a leper, the leper must stand at least one hundred cubits away. One Rabbi would not even eat an egg bought in a street where a leper had passed by. Another Rabbi actually boasted that he flung stones at lepers to keep them away. Other Rabbis hid themselves, or took to their heels, at the sight of a leper even in the distance.
There never has been any disease which so separated a man from his fellow-men as leprosy did. And this was the man whom Jesus touched. To a Jew there would be no more amazing sentence in the New Testament than the simple statement: "And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched the leper."
Compassion Beyond The Law ( Matthew 8:1-4 Continued)
In this story we must note two things--the leper's approach and Jesus' response. In the leper's approach there were three elements.
(i) The leper came with confidence. He had no doubt that, if Jesus willed, Jesus could make him clean.
No leper would ever have come near an orthodox scribe or Rabbi; he knew too well that he would be stoned away; but this man came to Jesus. He had perfect confidence in Jesus' willingness to welcome the man anyone else would have driven away. No man need ever feel himself too unclean to come to Jesus Christ.
He had perfect confidence in Jesus' power. Leprosy was the one disease for which there was no prescribed rabbinic remedy. But this man was sure that Jesus could do what no one else could do. No man need ever feel himself incurable in body or unforgivable in soul while Jesus Christ exists.
(ii) The leper came with humility. He did not demand healing; he only said, "If you will, you can cleanse me." It was as if he said, "I know I don't matter; I know that other men will flee from me and will have nothing to do with me; I know that I have no claim on you; but perhaps in your divine condescension you will give your power even to such as I am:" It is the humble heart which is conscious of nothing but its need that finds its way to Christ.
(iii) The leper came with reverence. The King James Version says that he worshipped Jesus. The Greek verb is proskunein ( G4352) , and that word is never used of anything but worship of the gods; it always describes a man's feeling and action in presence of the divine. That leper could never have told anyone what he thought Jesus was; but he knew that in the presence of Jesus he was in the presence of God. We do not need to put this into theological or philosophical terms; it is enough to be convinced that when we are confronted with Jesus Christ, we are confronted with the love and the power of Almighty God.
So to this approach of the leper there came the reaction of Jesus. First and foremost, that reaction was compassion. The Law said Jesus must avoid contact with that man and threatened him with terrible uncleanness if he allowed the leper to come within six feet of him; but Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him. The medical knowledge of the day would have said that Jesus was running a desperate risk of a ghastly infection; but Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him.
For Jesus there was only one obligation in life--and that was to help. There was only one law--and that law was love. The obligation of love took precedence over all other rules and laws and regulations; it made him defy all physical risks. To a good doctor a man sick of a loathsome disease is not a disgusting spectacle; he is a human being who needs his skill. To a doctor a child sick of an infectious disease is not a menace; he is a child who needs to be helped. Jesus was like that; God is like that; we must be like that. The true Christian will break any convention and will take any risk to help a fellow-man in need.
True Prudence ( Matthew 8:1-4 Continued)
But there remain two things in this incident which show that, while Jesus would defy the Law and risk any infection to help, he was not senselessly reckless, nor did he forget the demands of true prudence.
(i) He ordered the man to keep silence, and not to publish abroad what he had done for him. This injunction to silence is common on Jesus' lips ( Matthew 9:30; Matthew 12:16; Matthew 17:9; Mark 1:34; Mark 5:43; Mark 7:36; Mark 8:26). Why should Jesus command this silence?
Palestine was an occupied country, and the Jews were a proud race. They never forgot that they were God's chosen people. They dreamed of the day when their divine deliverer would come. But for the most part they dreamed of that day in terms of military conquest and political power. For that reason Palestine was the most inflammable country in the world. It lived amidst revolutions. Leader after leader arose, had his moment of glory and was then eliminated by the might of Rome. Now, if this leper had gone out and published abroad what Jesus had done for him, there would nave been a rush to install a man with powers such as Jesus possessed as a political leader and a military commander.
Jesus had to educate men's minds, he had to change their ideas; he had somehow to enable them to see that his power was love and not force of arms. He had to work almost in secrecy until men knew him for what he was, the lover and not the destroyer of the lives of men. Jesus enjoined silence upon those he helped lest men should use him to make their own dreams come true instead of waiting on the dream of God. They had to be silent until they had learned the right things to say about him.
(ii) Jesus sent the leper to the priests to make the correct offering and to receive a certificate that he was clean. The Jews were so terrified of the infection of leprosy that there was a prescribed ritual in the very unlikely event of a cure.
The ritual is described in Leviticus 14:1-57. The leper was examined by a priest. Two birds were taken, and one was killed over running water. In addition there were taken cedar, scarlet and hyssop. These things were taken, together with the living bird, and dipped in the blood of the dead bird, and then the living bird was allowed to go free. The man washed himself and his clothes, and shaved himself. Seven days were allowed to pass, and then he was re-examined. He must then shave his hair, his head and his eye-brows. Certain sacrifices were then made consisting of two mate lambs without blemish, and one ewe lamb; three-tenths of a deal of fine flour mingled with oil; and one log of oil. The restored leper was touched on the tip of the right ear, the right thumb, and the right great toe with blood and oil. He was finally examined for the last time, and, if the cure was real, he was allowed to go with a certificate that he was cleansed.
Jesus told this man to go through that process. There is guidance here. Jesus was telling that man not to neglect the treatment that was available for him in those days. We do not receive miracles by neglecting the medical and scientific treatment open to us. Men must do all men can do before God's power may cooperate with our efforts. A miracle does not come by a lazy waiting upon God to do it all; it comes from the co-operation of the faith-filled effort of man with the illimitable grace of God.
A Good Man's Plea ( Matthew 8:5-13)
8:5-13 When Jesus had come into Capernaum, a centurion came to him. "Lord," he appealed to him, "my servant lies at home, paralysed, suffering terribly" He said to him: "Am I to come and cure him?" "Lord," answered the centurion, "I am not worthy that you should enter my house; but, only speak a word, and my servant will be cured. For even I am a man under authority, and I have soldiers under me. I say to one soldier, 'Go!' and he goes, and to another, 'Do this!' and he does it." Jesus was amazed when he heard this, and said to those who were following him, "This is the truth I tell you--not even in Israel have I found so great a faith. I tell you that many will come from the cast and west and will sit down at table with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the Kingdom of Heaven; but the sons of the Kingdom will be cast into outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth there." And Jesus said to the centurion, "Go; let it be done for you as you have believed." And his servant was healed at that hour.
Even in the brief appearance that he makes on the stage of the New Testament story this centurion is one of the most attractive characters in the gospels. The centurions were the backbone of the Roman army. In a Roman legion there were 6,000 men; the legion was divided into sixty centuries, each containing 100 men, and in command of each century there was a centurion. These centurions were the long-service, regular soldiers of the Roman army. They were responsible for the discipline of the regiment, and they were the cement which held the army together. In peace and in war alike the morale of the Roman army depended on them. In his description of the Roman army Polybius describes what a centurion should be: "They must not be so much venturesome seekers after danger as men who can command, steady in action, and reliable; they ought not to be over-anxious to rush into the fight, but when hard pressed, they must be ready to hold their ground, and die at their posts." The centurions were the finest men in the Roman army.
It is interesting to note that every centurion mentioned in the New Testament is mentioned with honour. There was the centurion who recognized Jesus on the Cross as the Son of God; there was Cornelius, the first Gentile convert to the Christian Church; there was the centurion who suddenly discovered that Paul was a Roman citizen, and who rescued him from the fury of the rioting mob; there was the centurion who was informed that the Jews had planned to murder Paul between Jerusalem and Caesarea, and who took steps to foil their plans; there was the centurion whom Felix ordered to look after Paul; there was the centurion accompanying Paul on his last journey to Rome, who treated him with every courtesy, and accepted him as leader when the storm struck the ship ( Matthew 27:54; Acts 10:22; Acts 23:17; Acts 23:23; Acts 24:23; Acts 27:43).
But there was something very special about this centurion at Capernaum, and that was his attitude to his servant. This servant would be a slave, but the centurion was grieved that his servant was ill and was determined to do everything in his power to save him.
That was the reverse of the normal attitude of master to slave. In the Roman Empire slaves did not matter. It was of no importance to anyone if they suffered, and whether they lived or died. Aristotle, talking about the friendships which are possible in life, writes: "There can be no friendship nor justice towards inanimate things; indeed, not even towards a horse or an ox, nor yet towards a slave as a slave. For master and slave have nothing in common; a slave is a living tool, just as a tool is an inanimate slave."
A slave was no better than a thing. A slave had no legal rights whatsoever; his master was free to treat him, or maltreat him, as he liked. Gaius, the Roman legal expert. lays it down in his Institutes: "We may note that it is universally accepted that the master possesses the power of life and death over the slave." Varro, the Roman writer on agriculture, has a grim passage in which he divides the instruments of agriculture into three classes--the articulate, the inarticulate and the mute, "the articulate comprising the slaves, the inarticulate comprising the cattle, and the mute comprising the vehicles." The only difference between a slave and a beast or a cart was that the slave could speak.
Cato, another Roman writer on agriculture, has a passage which shows how unusual the attitude of this centurion was. He is giving advice to a man taking over a farm: "Look over the livestock, and hold a sale. Sell your oil, if the price is satisfactory, and sell the surplus of your wine and grain. Sell worn-out oxen, blemished cattle, blemishes sheep, wool, hides, an old wagon, old tools, an old slave, a sickly slave, and whatever else is superfluous." Cato's blunt advice is to throw out the slave who is sick. Peter Chrysologus sums the matter up: "Whatever a master does to a slave. undeservedly, in anger, willingly, unwillingly, in forgetfulness, after careful thought, Knowingly, unknowingly, is judgment, justice and law."
It is quite clear that this centurion was an extraordinary man. for he loved his slave. It may well be that it was his totally unusual and unexpected gentleness and love which so moved Jesus when the centurion first came to him. Love always covers a multitude of sins; the man who cares for men is always near to Jesus Christ.
The Passport Of Faith ( Matthew 8:5-13 Continued)
Not only was this centurion quite extraordinary in his attitude to his servant; he was also a man of a most extraordinary faith. He wished for Jesus' power to help and to heal his servant, but there was one problem. He was a Gentile and Jesus was a Jew, and, according to the Jewish law, a Jew could not enter the house of a Gentile for all Gentile dwelling-places were unclean. The Mishnah lays it down: "The dwelling-places of Gentiles are unclean." It is to that Jesus refers when he puts the question: "Am I to come and heal him?"
It was not that this law of uncleanness meant anything to Jesus; it was not that he would have refused to enter any man's dwelling; it was simply that he was testing the other's faith. It was then that the centurion's faith reached its peak. As a soldier he well knew what it was to give a command and to have that command instantly and unquestionably carried out; so he said to Jesus, "You don't need to come to my house; I am not fit for you to enter my house; all you have to do is to speak the word of command, and that command will be obeyed." There spoke the voice of faith, and Jesus laid it down that faith is the only passport to the blessedness of God.
Here Jesus uses a famous and vivid Jewish picture. The Jews believed that when the Messiah came there would be a great banquet at which all Jews would sit down to feast. Behemoth, the greatest of the land beasts, and leviathan, the greatest of the denizens of the sea, would provide the fare for the banqueters. "Thou has reserved them to be devoured by whom Thou wilt and when" (4Ezra 6:52). "And behemoth shall be revealed from his place, and leviathan shall ascend from the sea, those two great monsters which I created on the fifth day of creation, and shall have kept until that time; and then shall they be food for all that are left" (2 Baruch 29:4).
The Jews looked forward with all their hearts to this Messianic banquet; but it never for a moment crossed their minds that any Gentile would ever sit down at it. By that time the Gentiles would have been destroyed. "The nation and kingdom that will not serve you shall perish; those nations shall the utterly laid waste" ( Isaiah 60:12). Yet here is Jesus saying that many shall come from the east and from the west, and sit down at table at that banquet.
Still worse, he says that many of the sons of the kingdom will be shut out. A son is an heir; therefore the son of the kingdom is the man who is to inherit the kingdom, for the son is always heir; but the Jews are to lose their inheritance. Always in Jewish thought "the inheritance of sinners is darkness" ( Wis_15:11 ). The rabbis had a saying, "The sinners in Gehenna ( G1067) will be covered with darkness." To the Jew the extraordinary and the shattering thing about all this was that the Gentile, whom he expected to be absolutely shut out, was to be a guest at the Messianic banquet, and the Jew, whom he expected to be welcomed with open arms, is to be shut out in the outer darkness. The tables were to be turned, and all expectations were to be reversed.
The Jew had to learn that the passport to God's presence is not membership of any nation; it is faith. The Jew believed that he belonged to the chosen people and that because he was a Jew he was therefore dear to God. He belonged to God's herrenvolk, and that was enough automatically to gain him salvation. Jesus taught that the only aristocracy in the Kingdom of God is the aristocracy of faith. Jesus Christ is not the possession of any one race of men; Jesus Christ is the possession of every man in every race in whose heart there is faith.
The Power Which Annihilates Distance ( Matthew 8:5-13 Continued)
So Jesus spoke the word and the servant of the centurion was healed. Not so very long ago this would have been a miracle at which the minds of most people would have staggered. It is not so very difficult to think of Jesus heating when he and the sufferer were in actual contact; but to think of Jesus healing at a distance, healing with a word a man he had never seen and never touched, seemed a thing almost, if not completely, beyond belief. But the strange thing is that science itself has come to see that there are forces which are working in a way which is still mysterious, but which is undeniable.
Again and again men have been confronted by a power which does not travel by the ordinary contacts and the ordinary routes and the ordinary channels.
One of the classic instances of this comes from the life of Emanuel Swedenborg. In 1759 Swedenborg was in Gotenborg. He described a fire occurring in Stockholm 300 miles away. He gave an account of the fire to the city authorities. He told them when it began, where it began, the name of the owner of the house, and when it was put out, and subsequent research proved him correct in every detail. Knowledge had come to him by a route which was not any of the routes known to men.
W. B. Yeats, the famous Irish poet, had experiences like this. He had certain symbols for certain things, and he experimented, not so much scientifically, but in everyday life, in the transmission of these symbols to other people by what might be called the sheer power of thought. He had an uncle in Sligo, who was by no means a mystical or devotional or spiritual man. He used to visit him each summer. "There are some high sandhills and low cliffs, and I adopted the practice of walking by the seashore while he walked on the cliffs of sandhills; 1, without speaking, would imagine the symbol, and he would notice what passed before his mind's eye, and in a short time he would practically never fail of the appropriate vision." Yeats tells of an incident at a London dinner party, where all the guests were intimate friends: "I had written upon a piece of paper: 'In five minutes York Powell will talk of a burning house,' thrust the paper under my neighbours plate, and imagined my fire symbol, and waited in silence. Powell shifted the conversation from topic to topic, and within the five minutes was describing a fire he had seen as a young man."
Men have always quoted things like that, but within our own generation Dr. J. B. Rhine began definite scientific experiments in what he called Extra-Sensory Perception, a phenomenon which has become so much discussed that it is commonly called by its initial letters, ESP. Dr. Rhine has carried out, in Duke University in America, thousands of experiments which go to show that men can become aware of things by other means than the ordinary senses. A pack of twenty-five cards marked with certain symbols is used. A person is asked to name the cards as they are dealt, without seeing them. One of the students who participated in these experiments was called Hubert Pearce. On the first five thousand trials--a trial is a run through the whole pack of cards--he averaged ten correct out of twenty-five, when the laws of chance would say that four correct could be expected. On one occasion, in conditions of special concentration, he named the whole twenty-five cards correctly. The mathematical odds against this feat being pure chance are 298,023,223,876,953,125 to 1.
An experimenter called Brugman carried out another experiment. He selected two subjects. He put the sender of the messages in an upstairs room and the receiver below. Between the rooms there was an opening covered by two layers of glass with an air space between, so that the sending of any message based on sound was quite impossible. Through the glass panel the sender looked at the hands of the receiver. In front of the receiver was a table with forty-eight squares. The receiver was blindfolded. Between him and the squared table was a thick curtain. He held a pointer which passed through the curtain on to the table. The experiment was that the sender had to will the receiver to move the pointer to a certain square. According to the laws of chance the receiver should have been right in four out of one hundred and eighty results. In point of fact he was right in sixty. It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the mind of the sender was influencing the mind of the receiver.
It is a definitely proven fact that a certain Dr. Janet in eighteen out of twenty-five cases was able to hypnotise subjects at a distance, and he was partially successful in four other cases.
There is no doubt that mind can act on mind across the distances in a way which we are beginning to see, although yet we are far from understanding. If human minds can get to this length, how much more the mind of Jesus? The strange thing about this miracle is that modern thought, instead of making it harder, has made it easier to believe it.
A Miracle In A Cottage ( Matthew 8:14-15)
8:14-15 And when Jesus had come into Peter's house, he saw Peter's mother-in-law lying in bed. ill with a fever. So lie touched her hand and the fever left her. And she rose, and busied herself serving them.
When we compare Mark's narrative of events with that of Matthew, we see that this incident happened in Capernaum, on the Sabbath day, after Jesus had worshipped in the synagogue. When Jesus was in Capernaum, his headquarters were in the house of Peter, for Jesus never had any home of his own. Peter was married, and legend has it that in the after days Peter's wife was his helper in the work of the gospel. Clement of Alexandria (Stromateis 7: 6) tells us that Peter and his wife were martyred together. Peter, so the story runs, had the grim ordeal of seeing, his wife suffer before he suffered himself. "On seeing his wife led to death, Peter rejoiced on account of her call and her conveyance home, and called very encouragingly and comfortingly, addressing her by name, 'Remember thou the Lord.'"
On this occasion Peter's wife's mother was ill with a fever. There were three kinds of fever which were common in Palestine. There was a fever which was called Malta fever, and which was marked by weakness, anaemia and wasting away, and which lasted for months, and often ended in a decline which finished in death. There was what was called intermittent fever, which may well have been very like typhoid fever. And above all there was malaria. In the regions where the Jordan River entered and left the Sea of Galilee there was marshy ground; there the malarial mosquitoes bred and flourished, and both Capernaum and Tiberias were areas where malaria was very prevalent. It was often accompanied by jaundice and ague, and was a most wretched and miserable experience for the sufferer from it. It was most likely malaria from which Peter's wife's mother was suffering.
This miracle tells us much about Jesus, and not a little about the woman whom he cured.
(i) Jesus had come from the synagogue; there he had dealt with and had cured the demon-possessed man ( Mark 1:21-28). As Matthew has it, he had healed the centurion's servant on the way home. Miracles did not cost Jesus nothing; virtue went out of him with every healing; and beyond a doubt he would be tired. It would be for rest that he came into Peter's house, and yet no sooner was he in it than there came still another demand on him for help and heating.
Here was no publicity; here there was no crowd to look and to admire and to be astonished. Here there was only a simple cottage and a poor woman tossing with a common fever. And yet in those circumstances Jesus put forth all his power.
Jesus was never too tired to help; the demands of human need never came to him as an intolerable nuisance. Jesus was not one of these people who are at their best in public and at their worst in private. No situation was too humble for him to help. He did not need an admiring audience to be at his best. In a crowd or in a cottage his love and his power were at the disposal of anyone who needed him.
(ii) But this miracle also tells us something about the woman whom Jesus healed. No sooner had he healed her than she busied herself in attending to his needs and to the needs of the other guests. She clearly regarded herself as "saved to serve." He had healed her; and her one desire was to use her new-found health to be of use and of service to him and to others.
How do we use the gifts of Christ? Once Oscar Wilde wrote what he himself called "the best short story in the world." W. B. Yeats quotes it in his autobiography in all of what he calls "its terrible beauty." Yeats quotes it in its original simplicity before it had been decorated and spoiled by the literary devices of its final form;
"Christ came from a white plain to a purple city, and, as he
passed through the first street, he heard voices overhead, and
saw a young man lying drunk upon a window-sill. 'Why do you
waste your soul in drunkenness?' he said. The man said, 'Lord,
I was a leper, and you healed me, what else can I do?' A little
farther through the town he saw a young man following a harlot,
and said, 'Why do you dissolve your soul in debauchery?' And the
young man answered, 'Lord, I was blind and you healed me,
what else can I do?' At last, in the middle of the city, he saw
an old man crouching, weeping on the ground, and, when he
asked why he wept, the old man answered, 'Lord, I was dead,
and you raised me into life, what else can I do but weep?'"
That is a terrible parable of how men use the gifts of Christ and the mercy of God. Peter's wife's mother used the gift of her health restored to serve Jesus and to serve others. That is the way in which we should use every gift of God.
Miracles In A Crowd ( Matthew 8:16-17)
8:16-17 And, when it was late in the day, they brought to him many who were in the power of evil spirits, and he cast out the spirits with a word, and healed all those who were ill. This happened that the saying spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: "He took our weaknesses and carried our sins."
As we have already seen, Mark's account of this series of incidents makes it clear that they happened on the Sabbath day ( Mark 1:21-34). That explains why this scene happened late in the day, at the evening time. According to the Sabbath Law, which forbade all work on the Sabbath day, it was illegal to heal on the Sabbath. Steps could be taken to prevent a person from getting any worse, but no steps might be taken to make him any better. The general law was that on the Sabbath medical attention might only be given to those whose lives were actually in danger. Further, it was illegal to carry a burden on the Sabbath day, and a burden was anything which weighed more than two dried figs. It was, therefore, illegal to carry a sick person from place to place on a stretcher or in one's arms or on one's shoulders, for to do so would have been to carry a burden. Officially the Sabbath ended when two stars could be seen in the sky, for there were no clocks to tell the time in those days. That is why the crowd in Capernaum waited until the evening time to come to Jesus for the healing which they knew he could give.
But we must think of what Jesus had been doing on that Sabbath day. He had been in the synagogue and had healed the demon-possessed man. He had sent healing to the centurion's servant. He had healed Peter's wife's mother. No doubt he had preached and taught all day; and no doubt he had encountered those who were bitter in their opposition to him. Now it was evening. God gave to men the day for work, and the evening for rest. The evening is the time of quiet when work is laid aside. But it was not so for Jesus. At the time when he might have expected rest, he was surrounded by the insistent demands of human need--and selflessly and uncomplainingly and with a divine generosity he met them all. So long as there was a soul in need there was no rest for Jesus Christ.
That scene called to Matthew's mind the saying of Isaiah ( Isaiah 53:4) where it is said of the servant of the Lord that he bore our weaknesses and carried our sins.
The follower of Christ cannot seek for rest while there are others to be helped and healed; and the strange thing is that he will find his own weariness refreshed and his own weakness strengthened in the service of others. Somehow he will find that as the demands come, strength also comes; and somehow he will find that he is able to go on for the sake of others when he feels that he cannot take another step for himself.
The Summons To Count The Cost ( Matthew 8:18-22)
8:18-22 When Jesus saw the great crowds surrounding him, he gave orders to go away, across to the other side. A scribe came to him. "Teacher," he said, "I will follow you wherever you may be going." Jesus said to him: "The foxes have lairs, and the birds of the sky have places where they may lodge, but the Son of Man has nowhere where he may lay his head." Another of his disciples said: "Lord, let me first go away and bury my father." Jesus said to him: "Follow me, and let the dead bury their dead."
At first sight this section seems out of place in this chapter. The chapter is a chapter of miracles, and at first sight these verses do not seem to fit into a chapter which tells of a series of miraculous events. Why then does Matthew put it here?
It has been suggested that Matthew inserted this passage here because his thoughts were running on Jesus as the Suffering Servant. He has just quoted Isaiah 53:4: "He took our infirmities and bore our diseases" ( Matthew 8:17), and very naturally, it is said, that picture led on in Matthew's thoughts to the picture of the one who had nowhere to lay his head. As Plummer has it, "Jesus' life began in a borrowed stable and ended in a borrowed tomb." So it is suggested that Matthew inserted this passage here because both it and the immediately preceding verses show Jesus as the Suffering Servant of God.
It may be so, but it is even more likely that Matthew inserted this passage in this chapter of miracles because he saw a miracle in it. It was a scribe who wished to follow Jesus. He gave Jesus the highest title of honour that he knew. "Teacher" he called him; the Greek is didaskalos ( G1320) , which is the normal translation of the Hebrew word Rabbi ( H7227) . To him Jesus was the greatest teacher to whom he had ever listened and whom he had ever seen.
It was indeed a miracle that any scribe should give to Jesus that title, and should wish to follow him. Jesus stood for the destruction and the end of all that narrow legalism on which scribal religion was built; and it was indeed a miracle that a scribe should come to see anything lovely or anything desirable in Jesus. This is the miracle of the impact of the personality of Jesus Christ on men.
The impact of one personality on another can indeed produce the most wonderful effects. Very often a man has been launched on a career of scholarship by the impact of the personality of a great teacher upon him; many a man has been moved to the Christian way and to a life of Christian service by the impact of a great Christian personality on his life. Preaching itself has been described and defined as "truth through personality."
W. H. Elliott in his autobiography, Undiscovered Ends, tells a thing about Edith Evans, the great actress: "When her husband died, she came to us, full of grief. . . . In our drawing room at Chester Square she poured out her feelings about it for an hour or so, and they were feelings that came from springs that were very deep. Her personality filled the room. The room was not big enough! ... For days that room of ours was 'electric,' as I expressed it then. The strong vibrations had not gone."
This story is the story of the impact of the personality of Jesus on the life of a Jewish scribe. It remains true that to this day what is needed most of all is not so much to talk to men about Jesus as to confront them with Jesus, and to allow the personality of Jesus to do the rest.
But there is more than that. No sooner had the scribe undergone this reaction than Jesus told him that the foxes have their lairs and the birds of the sky have a place in the trees to rest, but the Son of Man has no place on earth to lay his head. It is as if Jesus said to this man: "Before you follow me--think what you are doing. Before you follow me--count the cost."
Jesus did not want followers who, were swept away by a moment of emotion, which quickly blazed and just as quickly died. He did not want men who were carried away by a tide of mere feeling, which quickly flowed and just as quickly ebbed. He wanted men who knew what they were doing. He talked about taking up a cross ( Matthew 10:38). He talked about setting himself above the dearest relationships in life ( Luke 14:26); he talked about giving away everything to the poor ( Matthew 19:21). He was always saying to men: "Yes, I know that your heart is running out to me, but--do you love me enough for that?"
In any sphere of life men must be confronted with the facts. If a young man expresses a desire for scholarship, we must say to him: "Good, but are you prepared to scorn delights and live laborious days? "When an explorer is building up his team, he will be inundated with people offering their services, but he must weed out the romantics and the realists by saying, "Good, but are you prepared for the snow and the ice, for the swamps and the heat, for the exhaustion and the weariness of it all? "When a young person wishes to become an athlete, the trainer must say, "Good, but are you prepared for the self-denial and self-discipline that alone will win you the eminence of which you dream? "This is not to discourage enthusiasm, but it is to say that enthusiasm which has not faced the facts will soon be dead ashes instead of a flame.
No man could ever say that he followed Jesus on false pretences. Jesus was uncompromisingly honest. We do Jesus a grave disservice, if ever we lead people to believe that the Christian way is an easy way. There is no thrill like the way of Christ, and there is no glory like the end of that way; but Jesus never said it was an easy way. The way to glory always involved a cross.
The Tragedy Of The Unseized Moment ( Matthew 8:18-22 Continued)
But there was another man who wished to follow Jesus. He said he would follow Jesus, if he was first allowed to go and bury his father. Jesus' answer was: "Follow me and leave the dead to bury their own dead." At first sight that seems a hard saying. To the Jew it was a sacred duty to ensure decent burial for a dead parent. When Jacob died, Joseph asked permission from Pharaoh to go and bury his father: "My father made me swear, saying, 'I am about to die; in my tomb which I hewed out for myself in the land of Canaan, there shall you bury me.' Now therefore let me go up, I pray you, and bury my father; then I will return" ( Genesis 50:5). Because of the apparently stern and unsympathetic character of this saying different explanations have been given of it.
It has been suggested that in the translation into Greek of the Aramaic which Jesus used there has been a mistake; and Chat Jesus is saying that the man can well leave the burying of his father to the official buriers. There is a strange verse in Ezekiel 39:15: "And when these pass through the land and any one sees a man's bone, then he shall set up a sign by it, till the buriers have buried it in the valley of Hamon-gog." That seems to imply a kind of official called a burier; and it has been suggested that Jesus is saying that the man can leave the burial to these officials. That does not seem a very likely explanation.
It has been suggested that this is indeed a hard saying, and that Jesus is saying bluntly that the society in which this man is living is dead in sin, and he must get out of it as quickly as possible, even if it means leaving his father still unburied, that nothing, not even the most sacred duty, must delay his embarkation on the Christian way.
But the true explanation undoubtedly lies in the way in which the Jews used this phrase -- 'I must bury my father'! -- and in the way in which it is still used in the east.
Wendt quotes an incident related by a Syrian missionary, M. Waidmeier. This missionary was friendly with an intelligent and rich young Turk. He advised him to make a tour of Europe at the close of his education, so that his education would be completed and his mind broadened. The Turk answered, "I must first of all bury my father." The missionary expressed his sympathy and sorrow that the young man's father had died. But the young Turk explained that his father was still very much alive, and that what he meant was that he must fulfil all his duties to his parents and to his relatives, before he could leave them to go on the suggested tour, that, in fact, he could not leave home until after his father's death, which might not happen for many years.
That is undoubtedly what the man in this gospel incident meant. He meant, "I will follow you some day, when my father is dead, and when I am free to go." He was in fact putting off his following of Jesus for many years to come.
Jesus was wise: Jesus knew the human heart; and Jesus knew well that, if the man did not follow him on the moment, he never would. Again and again there come to us moments of impulse when we are moved to the higher things; and again and again we let them pass without acting upon them.
The tragedy of life is so often the tragedy of the unseized moment. We are moved to some fine action, we are moved to the abandoning of some weakness or habit, we are moved to say something to someone, some word of sympathy, or warning, or encouragement; but the moment passes, and the thing is never done, the evil thing is never conquered, the word is never spoken. In the best of us there is a certain lethargy and inertia; there is a certain habit of procrastination; there is a certain fear and indecision; and often the moment of fine impulse is never turned into action and into fact.
Jesus was saying to this man: "You are feeling at the moment that you must get out of that dead society in which you move; you say you will get out when the years have passed and your father has died; get out now -- or you will never get out at all."
In his autobiography H. G. Wells told of a crucial moment in his life. He was apprenticed to a draper, and there seemed to be little or no future for him. There came to him one day what he called "an inward and prophetic voice: 'Get out of this trade before it is too late; at any cost get out of it.'" He did not wait; he got out; and that is why he became H. G. Wells.
May God give to us that strength of decision which will save us from the tragedy of the unseized moment.
The Peace Of The Presence ( Matthew 8:23-27)
8:23-27 When he embarked on the boat, his disciples followed him. And, look you, a great upheaval arose on the sea, so that the boat was hidden by the waves; and he was sleeping. They came and wakened him. "Lord," they said, "save us; we are perishing." He said to them, "Why are you such cowards, you whose faith is little?" Then, when he had been roused from sleep, he rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. The men were amazed. "What kind of man is this," they said, "for the winds and the sea obey him?"
In one sense this was a very ordinary scene on the Sea of Galilee. The Sea of Galilee is small; it is only thirteen miles from north to south and eight miles from east to west at its widest. The Jordan valley makes a deep cleft in the surface of the earth, and the Sea of Galilee is part of that cleft. It is 680 feet below sea level. That gives it a climate which is warm and gracious, but it also creates dangers. On the west side there are hills with valleys and gullies; and, when a cold wind comes from the west, these valleys and gullies act like gigantic funnels. The wind, as it were, becomes compressed in them, and rushes down upon the lake with savage violence and with startling suddenness, so that the calm of one moment can become the raging storm of the next. The storms on the Sea of Galilee combine suddenness and violence in a unique way.
W. M. Thomson in The Land and the Book describes his experience on the shores of the Sea of Galilee:
On the occasion referred to, we subsequently pitched our tents
at the shore, and remained for three days and nights exposed to
this tremendous wind. We had to double-pin all the tent-ropes,
and frequently were obliged to hang with our whole weight
upon them to keep the quivering tabernacle from being carried
up bodily into the air. . . . The whole lake, as we had it, was
lashed into fury; the waves repeatedly rolled up to our tent
door, tumbling over the ropes with such violence as to carry away
the tent-pins. And, moreover, these winds are not only violent,
but they come down suddenly, and often when the sky is perfectly
clear. I once went to swim near the hot baths, and, before
I was aware, a wind came rushing over the cliffs with such force
that it was with great difficulty that I could regain the shore."
Dr. W. M. Christie, who spent many years in Galilee, says that during these storms the winds seem to blow from all the directions at the same time, for they rush down the narrow gorges in the hills and strike the water at an angle. He tells of one occasion:
A company of visitors were standing on the shore at Tiberias,
and, noting the glassy surface of the water and the smallness
of the lake, they expressed doubts as to the possibility of such
storms as those described in the gospels. Almost immediately
the wind sprang up. In twenty minutes the sea was white with
foam-crested waves. Great billows broke over the towers at the
corners of the city walls, and the visitors were compelled to
seek shelter from the blinding spray, though now two hundred
yards from the lakeside."
In less than half an hour the placid sunshine had become a raging storm.
That is what happened to Jesus and his disciples. The words in the Greek are very vivid. The storm is called a seismos ( G4578) , which is the word for an earthquake. The waves were so high that the boat was hidden (kaluplesthai, G2572) in the trough as the crest of the waves towered over them. Jesus was asleep. (If we read the narrative in Mark 4:1; Mark 4:35, we see that before they had set out he had been using the boat as a pulpit to address the people and no doubt he was exhausted.) In their moment of terror the disciples awoke him, and the storm became a calm.
Calm Amidst The Storm ( Matthew 8:23-27 Continued)
In this story there is something very much more than the calming of a storm at sea. Suppose that Jesus did in actual physical fact still a raging storm on the Sea of Galilee somewhere round about A.D. 28, that would in truth be a very wonderful thing; but it would have very little to do with us. It would be the story of an isolated wonder, which had no relevance for us in the twentieth century. If that is all the story means, we may well ask: "Why does he not do it now? Why does he allow those who love him nowadays to be drowned in the raging of the sea without intervening to save them?" If we take the story simply as the stilling of a weather storm, it actually produces problems which for some of us break the heart.
But the meaning of this story is far greater than that--the meaning of this story is not that Jesus stopped a storm in Galilee; the meaning is that wherever Jesus is the storms of life become a calm. It means that in the presence of Jesus the most terrible of tempests turns to peace.
When the cold, bleak wind of sorrow blows, there is calm and comfort in the presence of Jesus Christ. When the hot blast of passion blows, there is peace and security in the presence of Jesus Christ. When the storms of doubt seek to uproot the very foundations of the faith, there is a steady safety in the presence of Jesus Christ. In every storm that shakes the human heart there is peace with Jesus Christ.
Margaret Avery tells a wonderful story. In a little village school in the hill country a teacher had been telling the children of the stilling of the storm at sea. Shortly afterwards there came a terrible blizzard. When school closed for the day, the teacher had almost to drag the children bodily through the tempest. They were in very real danger. In the midst of it all she heard a little boy say as if to himself: "We could be doing with that chap Jesus here now." The child had got it right; that teacher must have been a wonderful teacher. The lesson of this story is that when the storms of life shake our souls Jesus Christ is there. and in his presence the raging of the storm turns to the peace that no storm can ever take away.
The Demon-haunted Universe ( Matthew 8:28-34)
8:28-34 And, when he had come to the other side, to the territory of the Gadarenes, two demon-possessed men met him, as they emerged from the tombs. They were very fierce, so that no one was able to pass by that road. And, look you, they shouted: "What have we to do with you, you Son of God? Have you come to torture us before the proper time? "A good distance away from them a herd of many pigs was grazing. The devils urged Jesus: "If you cast us out, send us into the herd of pigs." He said to them: "Begone." They came out and went into the herd of pigs. And, look you, the whole herd rushed down the cliff into the sea, and died in the waters. Those who were herding them fled, and went away into the town and related the whole story, and told of the things which had happened to the demon-possessed men. And, look you, the whole town came out to meet Jesus: and when they saw him, they urged him to depart from their districts.
Before we begin to study this passage in detail, we may try to clear up one difficulty which meets the student of the gospels. There was clearly some uncertainty in the mind of the gospel writers as to where this incident actually happened. That uncertainty is reflected in the differences between the three gospels. In the King James Version Matthew says that this happened in the country of the Gergesenes ( Matthew 8:28); Mark and Luke say that it happened in the country of the Gadarenes ( Mark 5:1; Luke 8:26). There are even very considerable differences between the different manuscripts of each gospel. In the Revised Standard Version, which follows the best manuscripts, and which makes use of the most up-to-date scholarship, Matthew places the incident in the country of the Gadarenes; Mark and Luke in the country of the Gerasenes.
The difficulty is that no one has ever really succeeded in identifying this place beyond doubt. Gerasa can hardly be right, for the only Gerasa of which we have any information was thirty-six miles inland, south-east of the lake, in Gilead; and it is certain that Jesus did not voyage thirty-six miles inland. Gadara is almost certainly right, because Gadara was a town six miles inland from the shores of the lake, and it would be very natural for the town burying-place and the town grazing-place to be some distance outside the town. Gergesa is very likely due to the conjecture of Origen, the great third century Alexandrian scholar. He knew that Gerasa was impossible; he doubted that Gadara was possible; and he actually knew of a village called Gergesa which was on the eastern shores of the lake, and so he conjectured that Gergesa must be the place. The differences are simply due to the fact that those who copied the manuscripts did not know Palestine well enough to be sure where this incident actually happened.
This miracle confronts us with the idea of demon-possession which is so common in the gospels. The ancient world believed unquestioningly and intensely in evil spirits. The air was so full of these spirits that it was not even possible to insert into it the point of a needle without coming against one. Some said that there were seven and a half million of them; there were ten thousand of them on a man's right hand and ten thousand on his left; and all were waiting to work men harm. They lived in unclean places such as tombs, and places where no cleansing water was to be found. They lived in the deserts where their howling could be heard. (We still speak of a howling desert.) They were specially dangerous to the lonely traveller, to the woman in childbirth, to the newly married bride and bridegroom, to children who were out after dark, and to voyagers by night. They were specially dangerous in the midday heat, and between sunset and sunrise. The male demons were called shedim ( H7700) , and the female liliyn after lilith ( H3917) . The female demons had long hair, and were specially dangerous to children; that was why children had their guardian angels (compare Matthew 18:10).
As to the origin of the demons different views were held. Some held that they had been there since the beginning of the world. Some held that they were the spirits of wicked, malignant people, who had died, and who even after their death still carried on their evil work. Most commonly of all they were connected with the strange old story in Genesis 6:1-8. That story tells how the sinning angels came to earth and seduced mortal women. The demons were held to be the descendants of the children produced by that evil union.
To these demons all illness was ascribed. They were held to be responsible, not only for diseases like epilepsy and mental illness, but also for physical illness. The Egyptians held that the body had thirty-six different parts, and that every one could be occupied by a demon. One of their favourite ways of gaining an entry into a man's body was to lurk beside him while he ate, and so to settle on his food.
It may seem fantastic to us; but the ancient peoples believed implicitly in demons. If a man gained the idea that he was possessed by a demon, he would easily go on to produce all the symptoms of demon-possession. He could genuinely convince himself that there was a demon inside him. To this day anyone can think himself into having a pain or into the idea that he is ill; that could happen even more easily in days when there was much of what we would call superstition, and when men's knowledge was much more primitive than it is now. Even if there are no such things as demons, a man could be cured only by the assumption that for him at least the demons were the realest of all things.
The Defeat Of The Demons ( Matthew 8:28-34 Continued)
When Jesus came to the other side of the lake, he was confronted by two demon-possessed men, who dwelt in the tombs, for the tombs were the natural place for the demons to inhabit. These men were so fierce that they were a danger to passers-by, and the prudent traveller would give them a very wide berth indeed.
W. M. Thomson in The Land and the Book tells us that he himself, in the nineteenth century, saw men who were exactly like these two demon-possessed men in the tombs at Gadara:
There are some very similar cases at the present day--furious
and dangerous maniacs, who wander about the mountains and
sleep in eaves and tombs. In their worst paroxysms they are quite
unmanageable, and prodigiously strong.... And it is one of the
most common traits of this madness that the victims refuse to
wear clothes. I have often seen them absolutely naked in the
crowded streets of Beirut and Sidon. There are also cases in
which they run wildly about the country and frighten the
Apart from anything else, Jesus showed a most unusual courage in stopping to speak to these two men at all.
If we really want the details of this story we have to go to Mark. Mark's narrative ( Mark 5:1-19) is much longer, and what Matthew gives us is only a summary. This is a miracle story which has caused much discussion, and the discussion has centered round the destruction of the herd of pigs. Many have found it strange and have considered it heartless that Jesus should destroy a herd of animals like this. But it is almost certain that Jesus did not in fact deliberately destroy the pigs.
We must try to visualize what happened. The men were shouting and shrieking ( Mark 5:7; Luke 8:28). We must remember that they were completely convinced that they were occupied by demons. Now it was normal and orthodox belief, shared by everyone, that when the Messiah and the time of judgment came, the demons would be destroyed. That is what the men meant when they asked Jesus why he had come to torture them before the proper time. They were so convinced that they were possessed by demons that nothing could have rid them of that conviction other than visible demonstration that the demons had gone out of them.
Something had to be done which to them would be unanswerable proof. Almost certainly what happened was that their shouting and shrieking alarmed the herd of pigs; and in their terror the pigs took to flight and plunged into the lake. Water was fatal to demons. Thereupon Jesus seized the chance which had come to him. "Look," he said. "Look at these swine; they are gone into the depths of the lake and your demons are gone with them for ever." Jesus knew that in no other way could he ever convince these two men that they were in fact cured. If that be so, Jesus did not deliberately destroy the herd of swine. He used their stampede to help two poor sufferers believe in their cure.
Even if Jesus did deliberately work the destruction of this herd of pigs, it could surely never be held against him. There is such a thing as being over-fastidious. T. R. Glover spoke of people who think they are being religious when in fact they are being fastidious.
We could never compare the value of a herd of swine with the value of a man's immortal soul. It is unlikely that we refuse to eat bacon for breakfast or pork for dinner. Our sympathy with pigs does not extend far enough to prevent our eating them; are we then to complain if Jesus restored sanity to two men's minds at the cost of a herd of pigs? This is not to say that we encourage or even condone cruelty to animals. It is simply to say that we must preserve a sense of proportion in life.
The supreme tragedy of this story lies in its conclusion. Those who were herding the pigs ran back to the town and told what had happened; and the result was that the people of the town besought Jesus to leave their territory at once.
Here is human selfishness at its worst. It did not matter to these people that two men had been given back their reason; all that mattered to them was that their pigs had perished. It is so often the case that people in effect say, "I don't care what happens to anyone else, if my profits and my comfort and my ease are preserved." We may be amazed at the callousness of these people of Gadara, but we must have a care that we too do not resent any helping of others which reduces our own privileges.
-Barclay's Daily Study Bible (NT)
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Barclay, William. "Commentary on Matthew 8:20". "William Barclay's Daily Study Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dsb/matthew-8.html. 1956-1959.
▣ "the Son of Man" This was Jesus’ self-chosen designation. It was an Hebraic phrase referring to a human being (cf. Psalms 8:4; Ezekiel 2:1). But because of its use in Daniel 7:13, it took on divine qualities. Therefore, this term combines the humanity and Deity of Jesus. - Utley
It uniquely describes the Messiah as fully human and fully God (cf. John 1:1, John 1:14; 1 John 4:1-3).
The people were unfamiliar with the designation since it was not used by the rabbis, (John 12:34) and had no nationalistic or militaristic overtones; and it’s probably for this reason that Jesus chose to use it of Himself as a pure Messianic term. - WG
Here is a quote from Utley on Daniel 7:13.
" a son of man was coming" The Aramaic phrase (" ben enosh," construct BDB 1085 and 1081) "son of man" is different from the similar Hebrew phrase ("ben adam") found in Psalms and Ezekiel. Both phrases are used in parallel in Job 25:6; Psalms 8:4; Psalms 90:3; Psalms 144:3; Isaiah 13:12. This obviously refers to the Messiah and it links his humanity (cf. Daniel 8:17; Job 25:6; Psalms 8:4; Ezekiel 2:1), which is the meaning of the Aramaic and Hebrew phrases, "son of man" with his deity because the clouds are the transportation of Deity (cf. Matthew 24:30; Matthew 26:64; Mark 13:26; Mark 14:62; Revelation 1:7; Revelation 14:14).
Jesus uses the phrase to refer to Himself in the NT. It was not used of the Messiah in rabbinical Judaism. It had no exclusivistic, nationalistic, militaristic connotations. It uniquely describes the Messiah as fully human and fully God (cf. 1 John 4:1-3). Daniel’s usage is the first which focuses on its divine aspect! - Utley
the Son of Man -- Jesus used this phrase for Himself in four senses.
1. His authority, see comments at Luke 5:24, etc. WG.
2. His suffering and death (e.g., Mark 8:31; Mark 10:45; Mark 14:21; Luke 9:22; Luke 9:44)
3. His coming as Judge (e.g., Matthew 16:27; Matthew 25:31; John 5:27)
4. His coming in glory to set up His kingdom (e.g., Matthew 16:28; Matthew 19:28; Mark 13:26-27; Mark 14:62) - (Utley)
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Gann, Windell. "Commentary on Matthew 8:20". Gann's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/gbc/matthew-8.html. 2021.
And Jesus saith unto him,.... Knowing his heart, and the carnal and worldly views with which he acted;
the foxes have holes in the earth, where they hide themselves from danger, take their rest, and secure their whelps;
and the birds of the air have nests, where they sit, lay, and hatch their eggs, and bring up their young;
but the son of man has not where to lay his head, when he is weary, and wants rest and sleep, as he did at this time. So that though he was Lord of all, as being the mighty God; yet as "the son of man", a phrase, expressive both of the truth and meanness of his human nature, the most despicable of creatures in the earth and air, were richer than he. This he said, to convince the Scribe of his mistake; who expected much worldly grandeur and wealth, by becoming his disciple. When Christ styles himself "the son of man", it is no contradiction to his being God; nor any objection to trust and confidence in him, as the Jew z suggests; for he is truly and properly God, as well as really man, having two natures, human and divine, united in his person; so that he is, as was prophesied of him, Emmanuel, God with us, in our nature, God manifested in the flesh: and since he is so, it cannot be unlawful to trust in him; which it would be indeed, was he a mere man. The Jews ought not to object to this name and title of the "Messiah, the son of man": since he is so called, as their own writers and commentators acknowledge, in a Psalms 80:17 and b Daniel 7:13. And whereas it is further urged against these words of Christ, that if he was God, why does he complain of want of place? Is not the whole world his, according to Psalms 24:1? It may be replied, that it is very true, that the whole world is his, nor could he be in want of anything, as God; but yet, as man, for our sakes he became "poor", that we "might be rich": nor should this be any difficulty with a Jew, when they themselves say, as some have thought, if he (the Messiah) should come, לי דוכתא דיתיבנא ביה, "there's no place in which he can sit down" c. Unless it be understood of Nebuchadnezzar, as the gloss explains it; let the learned inspect the place, and judge: the coming of the Messiah is immediately spoken of.
z R. Isaac Chizzuk Emuna, par. 2. c. 12. p. 403. a Targum & Aben Ezra in loc, Abarbinel Mashmia Jeshua, fol. 81. 2. b R. Jeshua in Aben Ezra in loc. & Saadiah Gaon & Jarchi in loc. Zohar in Gen. fol. 85. 4. c T. Bab. Sanhedrim, fol. 96. 2.
The New John Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible Modernised and adapted for the computer by Larry Pierce of Online Bible. All Rights Reserved, Larry Pierce, Winterbourne, Ontario.
A printed copy of this work can be ordered from: The Baptist Standard Bearer, 1 Iron Oaks Dr, Paris, AR, 72855
Gill, John. "Commentary on Matthew 8:20". "Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/matthew-8.html. 1999.
|Christ's Answer to a Scribe and Another.|
18 Now when Jesus saw great multitudes about him, he gave commandment to depart unto the other side. 19 And a certain scribe came, and said unto him, Master, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest. 20 And Jesus saith unto him, The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head. 21 And another of his disciples said unto him, Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father. 22 But Jesus said unto him, Follow me; and let the dead bury their dead.
Here is, I. Christ's removing to the other side of the sea of Tiberias, and his ordering his disciples, whose boats attended him, to get their transport-vessels ready, in order to it, Matthew 8:18; Matthew 8:18. The influences of this Sun of righteousness were not to be confined to one place, but diffused all the country over; he must go about to do good; the necessities of souls called to him, Come over, and help us (Acts 16:9); he removed when he saw great multitudes about him. Though by this it appeared that they were desirous to have him there, he knew there were others as desirous to have him with them, and they must have their share of him: his being acceptable and useful in one place was no objection against, but a reason for, his going to another. Thus he would try the multitudes that were about him, whether their zeal would carry them to follow him, and attend on him, when his preaching was removed to some distance. Many would be glad of such helps, if they could have them at next door, who will not be at the pains to follow them to the other side; and thus Christ shook off those who were less zealous, and the perfect were made manifest.
II. Christ's communication with two, who, upon his remove to the other side, were loth to stay behind, and had a mind to follow him, not as others, who were his followers at large, but to come into close discipleship, which the most were shy of; for it carried such a face of strictness as they could not like, nor be well reconciled to; but here is an account of two who seemed desirous to come into communion, and yet were not right; which is here given as a specimen of the hindrances by which many are kept from closing with Christ, and cleaving to him; and a warning to us, to set out in following Christ, so as that we may not come short; to lay such a foundation, as that our building may stand.
We have here Christ's managing of two different tempers, one quick and eager, the other dull and heavy; and his instructions are adapted to each of them, and designed for our use.
1. Here is one that was too hasty in promising; and he was a certain scribe (Matthew 8:19; Matthew 8:19), a scholar, a learned man, one of those that studied and expounded the law; generally we find them in the gospels to be men of no good character; usually coupled with the Pharisees, as enemies to Christ and his doctrine. Where is the scribe?1 Corinthians 1:20. He is very seldom following Christ; yet here was one that bid pretty fair for discipleship, a Saul among the prophets. Now observe,
(1.) How he expressed his forwardness; Master, I will follow thee, whithersoever thou goest. I know not how any man could have spoken better. His profession of a self-dedication to Christ is, [1.] Very ready, and seems to be ex mero motu--from his unbiased inclination: he is not called to it by Christ, nor urged by any of the disciples, but, of his own accord, he proffers himself to be a close follower of Christ; he is not a pressed man, but a volunteer. [2.] Very resolute; he seems to be at a point in this matter; he does not say, "I have a mind to follow thee;" but, "I am determined, I will do it." [3.] It was unlimited and without reserve; "I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest; not only to the other side of the country, but if it were to the utmost regions of the world." Now we should think ourselves sure of such a man as this; and yet it appears, by Christ's answer, that his resolution was rash, his ends low and carnal: either he did not consider at all, or not that which was to be considered; he saw the miracles Christ wrought, and hoped he would set up a temporal kingdom, and he wished to apply betimes for a share in it. Note, There are many resolutions for religion, produced by some sudden pangs of conviction, and taken up without due consideration, that prove abortive, and come to nothing: soon ripe, soon rotten.
(2.) How Christ tried his forwardness, whether it were sincere or not, Matthew 8:20; Matthew 8:20. He let him know that this Son of man, whom he is so eager to follow, has not where to lay his head,Matthew 8:20; Matthew 8:20. Now from this account of Christ's deep poverty, we observe,
[1.] That it is strange in itself, that the Son of God, when he came into the world, should put himself into such a very low condition, as to want the convenience of a certain resting-place, which the meanest of the creatures have. If he would take our nature upon him, one would think, he should have taken it in its best estate and circumstances: no, he takes it in its worst. See here, First, How well provided for the inferior creatures are: The foxes have holes; though they are not only not useful, but hurtful, to man, yet God provides holes for them in which they are earthed: man endeavours to destroy them, but thus they are sheltered; their holes are their castles. The birds of the air, though they take no care for themselves, yet are taken care of, and have nests (Psalms 104:17); nests in the field; some of them nests in the house; in God's courts, Psalms 84:3. Secondly, How poorly the Lord Jesus was provided for. It may encourage us to trust God for necessaries, that the beasts and birds have such good provision; and may comfort us, if we want necessaries, that our Master did so before us. Note, Our Lord Jesus, when he was here in the world, submitted to the disgraces and distresses of extreme poverty; for our sakes he became poor, very poor. He had not a settlement, had not a place of repose, not a house of his own, to put his head in, not a pillow of his own, to lay his head on. He and his disciples lived upon the charity of well-disposed people, that ministered to him of their substance,Luke 8:2. Christ submitted to this, not only that he might in all respects humble himself, and fulfil the scriptures, which spake of him as poor and needy, but that he might show us the vanity of worldly wealth, and teach us to look upon it with a holy contempt; that he might purchase better things for us, and so make us rich,2 Corinthians 8:9.
[2.] It is strange that such a declaration should be made on this occasion. When a scribe offered to follow Christ, one would think he would have encouraged him, and said, Come, and I will take care of thee; one scribe might be capable of doing him more credit and service than twelve fishermen: but Christ saw his heart, and answered to the thoughts of that, and therein teaches us all how to come to Christ. First, The scribe's resolve seems to have been sudden; and Christ would have us, when we take upon us a profession of religion, to sit down and count the cost (Luke 14:28), to do it intelligently, and with consideration, and choose the way of godliness, not because we know no other, but because we know no better. It is no advantage to religion, to take men by surprise, ere they are aware. They that take up a profession in a pang, will throw it off again in a fret; let them, therefore, take time, and they will have done the sooner: let him that will follow Christ know the worst of it, and expect to lie hard, and fare hard. Secondly, His resolve seems to have been from a worldly, covetous principle. He saw what abundance of cures Christ wrought, and concluded that he had large fees, and would get an estate quickly, and therefore he would follow him in hopes of growing rich with him; but Christ rectifies his mistake, and tells him, he was so far from growing rich, that he had not a place to lay his head on; and that if he follow him, he cannot expect to fare better than he fared. Note, Christ will accept none for his followers that aim at worldly advantages in following him, or design to make any thing but heaven of their religion. We have reason to think that this scribe, hereupon, went away sorrowful, being disappointed in a bargain which he thought would turn to account; he is not for following Christ, unless he can get by him.
2. Here is another that was too slow in performing. Delay in execution is as bad, on the one hand, as precipitancy in resolution is on the other hand; when we have taken time to consider, and then have determined, let it never be said, we left that to be done to-morrow, which we could do to-day. This candidate for the ministry was one of Christ's disciples already (Matthew 8:21; Matthew 8:21), a follower of him at large. Clemens Alexandrinus tells us, from an ancient tradition, that this was Philip; he seems to be better qualified and disposed than the former; because not so confident and presumptuous: a bold, eager, over-forward temper is not the most promising in religion; sometimes the last are first, and the first last. Now observe here,
(1.) The excuse that this disciple made, to defer an immediate attendance on Christ (Matthew 8:21; Matthew 8:21); "Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father. Before I come to be a close and constant follower of thee, let me be allowed to perform this last office of respect to my father; and in the mean time, let it suffice to be a hearer of thee now and then, when I can spare time." His father (some think) was now sick, or dying, or dead; others think, he was only aged, and not likely in a course of nature, to continue long; and he desired leave to attend upon him in his sickness, at his death, and to his grave, and then he would be at Christ's service. This seemed a reasonable request, and yet it was not right. He had not the zeal he should have had for the work, and therefore pleaded this, because it seemed a plausible plea. Note, An unwilling mind never wants an excuse. The meaning of Non vacat is, Non placet--The want of leisure is the want of inclination. We will suppose it to come from a true filial affection and respect for his father, yet still the preference should have been given to Christ. Note, Many are hindered from and in the way of serious godliness, by an over-concern for their families and relations; these lawful things undo us all, and our duty to God is neglected, and postponed, under colour of discharging our debts to the world; here therefore we have need to double our guard.
(2.) Christ's disallowing of this excuse (Matthew 8:22; Matthew 8:22); Jesus said to him, Follow me; and, no doubt, power accompanied this word to him, as to others, and he did follow Christ, and cleaved to him, as Ruth to Naomi, when the scribe, in the Matthew 8:19; Matthew 8:20, like Orpah, took leave of him. That said, I will follow thee; to this Christ said, Follow me; comparing them together, it is intimated that we are brought to Christ by the force of his call to us, not of our promises to him; it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy; he calls whom he will, Romans 9:16. And further, Note, Though chosen vessels may make excuses, and delay their compliance with divine calls a great while, yet Christ will at length answer their excuses, conquer their unwillingness, and bring them to his feet; when Christ calls, he will overcome, and make the call effectual, 1 Samuel 3:10. His excuse is laid aside as insufficient; Let the dead bury their dead. It is a proverbial expression; "Let one dead man bury another: rather let them lie unburied, than that the service of Christ should be neglected. Let the dead spiritually bury the dead corporally; let worldly offices be left to worldly people; do not thou encumber thyself with them. Burying the dead, and especially a dead father, is a good work, but it is not thy work at this time: it may be done as well by others, that are not called and qualified, as thou art, to be employed for Christ; thou hast something else to do, and must not defer that." Note, Piety to God must be preferred before piety to parents, though that is a great and needful part of our religion. The Nazarites, under the law, were not to mourn for their own parents, because they were holy to the Lord (Numbers 6:6-8); nor was the high priest to defile himself for the dead, no, not for his own father,Leviticus 21:11; Leviticus 21:12. And Christ requires of those who would follow him, that they hate father and mother (Luke 14:26); love them less than God; we must comparatively neglect and disesteem our nearest relations, when they come in competition with Christ, and either our doing for him, or our suffering for him.
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Henry, Matthew. "Complete Commentary on Matthew 8:20". "Henry's Complete Commentary on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mhm/matthew-8.html. 1706.
Chapter 8, which opens the portion that comes before us tonight, is a striking illustration as well as proof of the method which God has been pleased to employ in giving us the apostle Matthew's account of our Lord Jesus. The dispensational aim here leads to a more manifest disregard of the bare circumstance of time than in any other specimen of these gospels. This is the more to be noticed, inasmuch as the gospel of Matthew has been in general adopted as the standard of time, save by those who have rather inclined to Luke as supplying the desideratum. To me it is evident, from a careful comparison of them all, as I think it is capable of clear and adequate proof to an unprejudiced Christian mind, that neither Matthew nor Luke confines himself to such an order of events. Of course, both do preserve chronological order when it is compatible with the objects the Holy Spirit had in inspiring them; but in both the order of time is subordinated to still greater purposes which God had in view. If we compare the eighth chapter, for example, with the corresponding circumstances, as far as they appear, in the gospel of Mark, we shall find the latter gives us notes of time, which leave no doubt on my mind that Mark adheres to the scale of time: the design of the Holy Ghost required it, instead of dispensing with it in his case. The question fairly arises, Why it is that the Holy Ghost has been pleased so remarkably to leave time out of the question in this chapter, as well as in the next? The same indifference to the mere sequence of events is found occasionally in other parts of the gospel; but I have purposely dwelt upon this chapter 8, because here we have it throughout, and at the same time with evidence exceedingly simple and convincing.
The first thing to be remarked is, that the leper was an early incident in the manifestation of the healing power of our Lord. In his defilement he came to Jesus and sought to be cleansed, before the delivery of the sermon on the mount. Accordingly, notice that, in the manner in which the Holy Ghost introduces it, there is no statement of time whatever. No doubt the first verse says, that "when He was come down from the mount, great multitudes followed Him;" but then the second verse gives no intimation that the subject which follows is to be taken as chronologically subsequent. It does not say, that " then there came a leper," or " immediately there came a leper." No word whatever implies that the cleansing of the leper happened at that time. It says simply, "And, behold, there came a leper and worshipped him, saying, Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean." Verse 4 seems quite adverse to the idea that great multitudes were witnesses of the cure; for why "tell no man," if so many knew it already? Inattention to this has perplexed many. They have not seized the aim of each gospel. They have treated the Bible either with levity, or as too awful a book to be apprehended really; not with the reverence of faith, which waits on Him, and fails not in due time to understand His word. God does not permit Scripture to be thus used without losing its force, its beauty, and the grand object for which it was written.
If we turn toMark 1:1-45; Mark 1:1-45, the proof of what I have said will appear as to the leper. At its close we see the leper approaching the Lord, after He had been preaching throughout Galilee and casting out devils. In Mark 2:1-28 it says, "And again he entered into Capernaum." He had been there before. Then, in Mark 3:1-35, there are notes of time more or less strong. In verse 13 our Lord "goeth up into a mountain, and calleth unto him whom he would: and they came unto him. And he ordained twelve, that they should be with him, and that he might send them forth to preach." To him who compares this with Luke 6:1-49, there need not remain a question as to the identity of the scene. They are the circumstances that preceded the discourse upon the mount, as given in Matthew 5:1-48; Matthew 6:1-34; Matthew 7:1-29. It was after our Lord had called the twelve, and ordained them not after He had sent them forth, but after He had appointed them apostles that the Lord comes down to a plateau upon the mountain, instead of remaining upon the more elevated parts where He had been before. Descending then upon the plateau, He delivered what is commonly called the Sermon on the Mount.
Examine the Scripture, and you will see for yourselves. It is not a thing that can be settled by a mere assertion. On the other hand, it is not too much to say, that the same Scriptures which convince one unbiassed mind that pays heed to these notes of time, will produce no less effect on others. If I assume from the words "set forth in order," in the beginning of Luke's gospel, that therefore his is the chronological account, it will only lead me into confusion, both as to Luke and the other gospels; for proofs abound that the order of Luke, most methodical as he is, is by no means absolutely that of time. Of course, there is often the order of time, but through the central part, and not infrequently elsewhere, his setting forth in order turns on another principle, quite independent of mere succession of events. In other words, it is certain that in the gospel of Luke, in whose preface we have expressly the words "set in order," the Holy Ghost does in no way tie Himself to what, after all, is the most elementary form of arrangement; for it needs little observation to see, that the simple sequence of facts as they occurred is that which demands a faithful enumeration, and nothing more. Whereas, on the contrary, there are other kinds of order that call for more profound thought and enlarged views, if we may speak now after the manner of men; and, indeed, I deny not that these the Holy Ghost employed in His own wisdom, though it is hardly needful to say He could, if He pleased, demonstrate His superiority to any means or qualifications whatsoever. He could and did form His instruments according to His own sovereign will. It is a question, then, of internal evidence, what that particular order is which God has employed in each different gospel. Particular epochs in Luke are noted with great care; but, speaking now of the general course of the Lord's life, a little attention will discover, from the immensely greater preponderance paid to the consideration of time in the second gospel, that there we have events from first to last given to us in their consecutive order. It appears to me, that the nature or aim of Mark's gospel demands this. The grounds of such a judgment will naturally come before us ere long: I can merely refer to it now as my conviction.
If this be a sound judgment, the comparison of the first chapter of Mark affords decisive evidence that the Holy Ghost in Matthew has taken the leper out of the mere time and circumstances of actual occurrence, and has reserved his case for a wholly different service. It is true that in this particular instance Mark no more surrounds the leper with notes of time and place than do Matthew and Luke. We are dependent, therefore, for determining this case, on the fact that Mark does habitually adhere to the chain of events. But if Matthew here laid aside all question of time, it was in view of other and weightier considerations for his object. In other words, the leper is here introduced after the sermon on the mount, though, in fact, the circumstance took place long before it. The design is, I think, manifest: the Spirit of God is here giving a vivid picture of the manifestation of the Messiah, of His divine glory, of His grace and power, with the effect of this manifestation. Hence it is that He has grouped together circumstances which make this plain, without raising the question of when they occurred; in fact, they range over a large space, and, otherwise viewed, are in total disorder. Thus it is easy to see, that the reason for here putting together the leper and the centurion lies in the Lord's dealing with the Jew, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, in His deep grace working in the Gentile's heart, and forming his faith, as well as answering it, according to His own heart. The leper approaches the Lord with homage, but with a most inadequate belief in His love and readiness to meet his need. The Saviour, while He puts forth His hand, touching him as man, and yet as none but Jehovah might dare to do, dispels the hopeless disease at once. Thus, and after the tenderest sort, there is that which evidences the Messiah on earth present to heal His people who appeal to Him; and the Jew, above all counting upon His bodily presence demanding it, I may say, according to the warrant of prophecy, finds in Jesus not merely the man, but the God of Israel. Who but God could heal? Who could touch the leper save Emmanuel? A mere Jew would have been defiled. He who gave the law maintained its authority, and used it as an occasion for testifying His own power and presence. Would any man make of the Messiah a mere man and a mere subject of the law given by Moses? Let them read their error in One who was evidently superior to the condition and the ruin of man in Israel. Let them recognize the power that banished the leprosy, and the grace withal that touched the leper. It was true that He was made of woman, and made under the law; but He was Jehovah Himself, that lowly Nazarene. However suitable to the Jewish expectation that He should be found a man, undeniably there was that apparent which was infinitely above the Jew's thought; for the Jew showed his own degradation and unbelief in the low ideas he entertained of the Messiah. He was really God in man; and all these wonderful features are here presented and compressed in this most simple, but at the same time significant, action of the Saviour the fitting frontispiece to Matthew's manifestation of the Messiah to Israel.
In immediate juxtaposition to this stands the Gentile centurion, who seeks healing for his servant. Considerable time, it is true, elapsed between the two facts; but this only makes it the more sure and plain, that they are grouped together with a divine purpose. The Lord then had been shown such as He was towards Israel, had Israel in their leprosy come to Him, as did the leper, even with a faith exceedingly short of that which was due to His real glory and His love. But Israel had no sense of their leprosy; and they valued not, but despised, their Messiah, albeit divine I might almost say because divine. Next, we behold Him meeting the centurion after another manner altogether. If He offers to go to his house, it was to bring out the faith that He had created in the heart of the centurion. Gentile as he was, he was for that very, reason the less narrowed in his thoughts of the Saviour by the prevalent notions of Israel, yea, or even by Old Testament hopes, precious as they are. God had given his soul a deeper, fuller sight of Christ; for the Gentile's words prove that he had apprehended God in the man who was healing at that moment all sickness and disease in Galilee. I say not how fax he had realized this profound truth; I say not that he could have defined his thoughts; but he knew and declared His command of all as truly God. In him there was a spiritual force far beyond that found in the leper, to whom the hand that touched, as well as cleansed, him proclaimed Israel's need and state as truly as Emmanuel's grace.
As for the Gentile, the Lord's proffer to go and heal his servant brought out the singular strength of his faith. "Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof" He had only to say in a word, and his servant should be healed. The bodily presence of the Messiah was not needed. God could not be limited by a question of place; His word was enough. Disease must obey Him, as the soldier or the servant obeyed the centurion, their superior. What an anticipation of the walk by faith, not by sight, in which the Gentiles, when called, ought to have glorified God, when the rejection of the Messiah by His own ancient people gave occasion to the Gentile call as a distinct thing! It is evident that the bodily presence of the Messiah is the very essence of the former scene, as it ought to be in dealing with the leper, who is a kind of type of what Israel should have been in seeking cleansing at His hands. So, on the other hand, the centurion sets forth with no less aptness the characteristic faith that suits the Gentile, in a simplicity which looks for nothing but the word of His mouth, is perfectly content with it, knows that, whatever the disease may be, He has only to speak the word, and it is done according to His divine will. That blessed One was here whom he knew to be God, who was to him the impersonation of divine power and goodness His presence was uncalled for, His word more than enough. The Lord admired the faith superior to Israel's, and took that occasion to intimate the casting out of the sons or natural heirs of the kingdom, and the entrance of many from east and west to sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of the heavens. What can be conceived so perfectly to illustrate the great design of the gospel of Matthew?
Thus, in the scene of the leper, we have Jesus presented as "Jehovah that healeth Israel," as man here below, and in Jewish relationships, still maintaining the law. Next, we find Him confessed by the centurion, no longer as the Messiah, when actually with them, confessed according to a faith which saw the deeper glory of His person as supreme, competent to heal, no matter where, or whom, or what, by a word; and this the Lord Himself hails as the foreshadowing of a rich incoming of many multitudes to the praise of His name, when the Jews should be cast out. Evidently it is the change of dispensation that is in question and at hand, the cutting off of the fleshly seed for their unbelief, and the bringing in of numerous believers in the name of the Lord from among the Gentiles.
Then follows another incident, which equally proves that the Spirit of God is not here reciting the facts in their natural succession; for it is assuredly not at this moment historically that the Lord goes into the house of Peter, sees there his wife's mother laid sick of a fever, touches her hand, and raises her up, so that she ministers unto them at once. In this we have another striking illustration of the same principle, because this miracle, in point of fact, was wrought long before the healing of the centurion's servant, or even of the leper. This, too, we ascertain from Mark 1:1-45, where there are clear marks of the time. The Lord was in Capernaum, where Peter lived; and on a certain Sabbath-day, after the call of Peter, wrought in the synagogue mighty deeds, which are here recorded, and by Luke also. Verse 29 gives us strict time. "And forthwith when they were come out of the synagogue they entered into the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John; but Simon's wife's mother was sick of a fever, and anon they tell Him of her. And He came and took her by the hand, and lifted her up, and immediately the fever left her, and she ministered unto them." It would require the credulity of a sceptic to believe that this is not the self-same fact that we have before us inMatthew 8:1-34; Matthew 8:1-34. I feel sure that no Christian harbours a doubt about it. But if this be so, there is here absolute certainty that our Lord, on the very Sabbath in which He cast out the unclean spirit from the man in the synagogue of Capernaum, immediately after quitting the synagogue, entered the house of Peter, and that there and then He healed Peter's wife's mother of the fever. Subsequent, considerably, to this was the case of the centurion's servant, preceded a good while before by the cleansing of the leper.
How are we to account for a selection so marked, an elimination of time so complete? Surely not by inaccuracy; surely not by indifference to order, but contrariwise by divine wisdom that arranged the facts with a view to a purpose worthy of itself: God's arrangement of all things more particularly in this part of Matthew to give us an adequate manifestation of the Messiah; and, as we have seen, first, what He was to the appeal of the Jew; next, what He was and would be to Gentile faith, in still richer form and fulness. So now we have, in the healing of Peter's mother-in-law, another fact containing a principle of great value, that His grace towards the Gentile does not in the least degree blunt His heart to the claims of relationship after the flesh. It was clearly a question of connection with the apostle of the circumcision ( i.e., Peter's wife's mother). We have the natural tie here brought into prominence; and this was a claim that Christ slighted not. For He loved Peter felt for him, and his wife's mother was precious in His sight. This sets forth not at all the way in which the Christian stands related to Christ; for even though we had known Him after the flesh, henceforth know we Him no more. But it is expressly the pattern after which He was to deal, and will deal, with Israel. Zion may say of the Lord who laboured in vain, whom the nation abhorred, "The Lord hath forsaken me, and my Lord hath forgotten me." Not so. "Can a woman forget her sucking child? yea, they may forget, yet will not I forget thee. Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands." Thus it is shown that, though we have rich grace to the Gentile, there is the remembrance of natural relationship still.
In the evening multitudes are brought, taking advantage of the power that had so shown itself, publicly in the synagogue, and privately in the house of Peter; and the Lord accomplished the words ofIsaiah 53:4; Isaiah 53:4: "Himself," it is said, "took our infirmities, and bare our sicknesses," an oracle we might do well to consider in the limit of its application here. In what sense did Jesus, our Lord, take their infirmities, and bear their sicknesses? In this, as I believe, that He never employed the virtue that was in Him to meet sickness or infirmity as a matter of mere power, but in deep compassionate feeling He entered into the whole reality of the case. He healed, and bore its burden on His heart before God, as truly as He took it away from men. It was precisely because He was Himself untouchable by sickness and infirmity, that He was free so to take up each consequence of sin thus. Therefore it was not a mere simple fact that He banished sickness or infirmity, but He carried them in His spirit before God. To my mind, the depth of such grace only enhances the beauty of Jesus, and is the very last possible ground that justifies man in thinking lightly of the Saviour.
After this our Lord sees great multitudes following Him, and gives commandment to go to the other side. Here again is found a fresh case of the same remarkable principle of selection of events to form a complete picture, which I have maintained to be the true key of all. The Spirit of God has been pleased to cull and class facts otherwise unconnected; for here follow conversations that took place a long time after any of the events we have been occupied with. When do you suppose these conversations actually occurred, if we go to the question of their date? Take notice of the care with which the Spirit of God here omits all reference to this: "And a certain scribe came." There is no note of the time when he came, but simply the fact that he did come. It was really after the transfiguration recorded in chapter 17 of our gospel. Subsequently to that, the scribe offered to follow Jesus whithersoever He went. We know this by comparing it with the gospel of Luke. And so with the other conversation: "Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father;" it was after the glory of Christ had been witnessed on the holy mount, when man's selfishness of heart showed itself in contrast to the grace of God.
Next, the storm follows. "There arose a great tempest in the sea, insomuch, that the ship was covered with the waves; but he was asleep." When did this take place, if we enquire into it merely as a matter of historical fact? On the evening of the day when He delivered the seven parables given in Matthew 13:1-58. The truth of this is apparent, if we compare the gospel of Mark. Thus, the fourth chapter of Mark coincides, marked with such data as can leave no doubt. We have, first, the sower sowing the word. Then, after the parable of the mustard seed (ver. 33), it is added, "And with many such parables spake He the word unto them . . . . and when they were alone, He expounded all things to His disciples [in both the parables and the explanations alluding to what we possess in Matthew 13:1-58.]. And the same day, when the even was come, He saith unto them, let us pass over unto the other side. [There is what I call a clear, unmistakable note of time.] And when they had sent away the multitude, they took Him even as He was in the ship. And there were also with Him other little ships. And there arose a great storm of wind, and the waves beat into the ship, so that it was now full. And He was in the hinder part of the ship, asleep on a pillow: and they awake Him, and say unto Him, Master, carest thou not that we perish? And He arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace, be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. And He said unto them, Why are ye so fearful? how is it that ye have no faith? And they feared exceedingly, and said one to another, What manner of man is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?" After this (what makes it still more unquestionable) comes the case of the demoniac. It is true, we have only one in Mark, as in Luke; whereas in our gospel we have two. Nothing can be simpler. There were two; but the Spirit of God chose out, in Mark and Luke, the more remarkable of the two, and traces for us his history, a history of no small interest and importance, as we may feel when we come to Mark; but it was of equal moment for the gospel of Matthew that the two demoniacs should be mentioned here, although one of them was in himself, as I gather, a far more strikingly desperate case than the other. The reason I consider to be plain; and the same principle applies to various other parts of our gospel where we have two cases mentioned, where in the other gospels we have only one. The key to it is this, that Matthew was led by the Holy Ghost to keep in view adequate testimony to the Jewish people; it was the tender goodness of God that would meet them in a manner that was suitable under the law. Now, it was an established principle, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word should be established. This, then, I apprehend to be the reason why we End two demoniacs mentioned; whereas, in Mark or Luke for other purposes, the Spirit of God only draws attention to one of the two. A Gentile (indeed, any mind not under any kind of legal prejudice or difficulty) would be far more moved by a detailed account of what was more, conspicuous. The fact of two without the personal details would not powerfully tell upon mere Gentiles perhaps, though to a Jew it might be for some ends necessary. I do not pretend to say this was the only purpose served; far be it from me to think of restraining the Spirit of God within the narrow bounds of our vision. Let none suppose that, in giving my own convictions, I have the presumptuous thought of putting these forward as if they were the sole motives in God's mind. It is enough to meet a difficulty which many feel by the simple plea that the reason assigned is in my judgment a valid explanation, and in itself a sufficient solution of the apparent discrepancy. If it be so, it is surely a ground of thankfulness to God; for it turns a stumbling-block into an evidence of the perfection of Scripture.
Reviewing, then, these closing incidents of the chapter (ver. Matthew 13:19-22), we find first of all the utter worthlessness of the flesh's readiness to follow Jesus. The motives of the natural heart are laid bare. Does this scribe offer to follow Jesus? He was not called. Such is the perversity of man, that he who is not called thinks he can follow Jesus whithersoever He goes. The Lord hints at what the man's real desires were not Christ, not heaven, not eternity, but present things. If he were willing to follow the Lord, it was for what he could get. The scribe had no heart for the hidden glory. Surely, had he seen this, everything was there; but he saw it not, and so the Lord spread out His actual portion, as it literally was, without one word about the unseen and eternal. "The foxes," says He, "have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of man hath not where to lay His head." He takes accordingly the title of the "Son of man" for the first time in this gospel. He has His rejection before His eyes, as well as the presumptuous unbelief of this sordid, and self-confident, would-be follower.
Again, when we listen to another (and now it is one of His disciples), at once faith shows its feebleness. "Suffer me first," he says, "to go and bury my father." The man that was not called promises to go anywhere, in his own strength; but the man that was called feels the difficulty, and pleads a natural duty before following Jesus. Oh, what a heart is ours! but what a heart was His!
In the next scene, then, we have the disciples as a whole tried by a sudden danger to which their sleeping Master paid no heed. This tested their thoughts of the glory of Jesus. No doubt the tempest was great; but what harm could it do to Jesus? No doubt the ship was covered with the waves; but how could that imperil the Lord of all? They forgot His glory in their own anxiety and selfishness. They measured Jesus by their own impotence. A great tempest. and a sinking ship are serious difficulties to a man. "Lord, save us; we perish," cried they, as they awoke Him; and He arose and rebuked the winds and the sea. Little faith leaves us as fearful for ourselves as dim witnesses of His glory whom the most unruly elements obey.
In what follows we have that which is necessary, to complete the picture of the other side. The Lord works in delivering power; but withal the power of Satan fills and carries away the unclean to their own destruction. Yet man, in face of all, is so deceived of the enemy, that he prefers to be left with the demons rather than enjoy the presence of the Deliverer. Such was and is man. But the future is in view also. The delivered demoniacs are, to my mind, clearly the foreshadow of the Lord's grace in the latter days, separating a remnant to Himself, and banishing the power of Satan from this small but sufficient witness of His salvation. The evil spirits asked leave to pass into the herd of swine, which thus typify the final condition of the defiled, apostate mass of Israel; their presumptuous and impenitent unbelief reduces them to that deep degradation not merely the unclean, but the unclean filled with the power of Satan, and carried down to swift destruction. It is a just prefiguration of what will be in the close of the age the mass of the unbelieving Jews, now impure, but then also given up to the devil, and so to evident perdition.
Thus, in the chapter before us, we have a very comprehensive sketch of the Lord's manifestation from that time, and in type going on to the end of the age. In the chapter that follows we have a companion picture, carrying on, no doubt, the lord's presentation to Israel, but from a different point of view; for inMatthew 9:1-38; Matthew 9:1-38 it is not merely the people tried, but more especially the religious leaders, till all closes in blasphemy against the Holy Ghost. This was testing matters more closely. Had there been a single thing good in Israel, their choicest guides would have stood that test. The people might have failed, but, surely, there were some differences surely those that were honoured and valued were not so depraved! Those that were priests in the house of God would not they at least receive their own Messiah? This question is accordingly put to the proof in the ninth chapter. To the end the events are put together, just as in Matthew 8:1-34, without regard to the point of time when they occurred.
"And He entered into a ship, and passed over, and came into His own city." Having left Nazareth, as we saw, He takes up His abode in Capernaum, which was henceforth "His own city." To the proud inhabitant of Jerusalem, both one and the other were but a choice and change within a land of darkness. But it was for a land of darkness and sin and death that Jesus came from heaven the Messiah, not according to their thoughts, but the Lord and Saviour, the God-man. So in this case there was brought to Him a paralytic man, lying upon a bed, "and Jesus, seeing their faith, said unto the sick of the palsy, Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee." Most clearly it is not so much a question of sin in the aspect of uncleanness (typifying deeper things, but still connected with the ceremonial requirements of Israel, as we find from what our Lord said in the chapter to the cleansed leper). It is more particularly sin, viewed as guilt, and consequently as that which absolutely breaks and destroys all power in the soul towards both God and man. Hence, here it is a question not merely of cleansing, but of forgiveness, and forgiveness, too, as that which precedes power, manifested before men. There never can be strength in the soul till forgiveness is known. There may be desires, there may be the working of the Spirit of God, but there can be no power to walk before men and to glorify God thus till there is forgiveness possessed and enjoyed in the heart. This was the very blessing that aroused, above all, the hatred of the scribes. The priest, in chap. 8, could not deny what was done in the case of the leper, who showed himself duly, and brought his offering, according to the law, to the altar. Though a testimony to them, still it was in the result a recognition of what Moses commanded. But here pardon dispensed on earth arouses the pride of the religious leaders to the quick, and implacably. Nevertheless, the Lord did not withhold the infinite boon, though He knew too well their thoughts; He spoke the word of forgiveness, though He read their evil heart that counted it blasphemy. This utter, growing rejection of Jesus was coming out now rejection, at first allowed and whispered in the heart, soon to be pronounced in words like drawn swords.
"And, behold, certain of the scribes said within themselves, This man blasphemeth." Jesus blessedly answered their thoughts, had there only been a conscience to hear the word of power and grace, which brings out His glory the more. "That ye may know," He says, "that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins," etc. He now takes His place of rejection; for Him it is manifest even now by their inmost thoughts of Him when revealed. "This man blasphemeth." Yet is He the Son of man who hath power on earth to forgive sins; and He uses His authority. "That ye may know it (then saith He to the sick of the palsy), Arise, take up thy bed, and go unto thy house." The man's walk before them testifies to the reality of his forgiveness before God. It ought to be so with every forgiven soul. This as yet draws out wonder, at least from the witnessing multitudes, that God had given such power unto men. They glorified God.
On this the Lord proceeds to take a step farther, and makes a deeper inroad, if possible, upon Jewish prejudice. He is not here sought as by the leper, the centurion, the friends of the palsied man; He Himself calls Matthew, a publican just the one to write the gospel of the despised Jesus of Nazareth. What instrument so suitable? It was a scorned Messiah who, when rejected of His own people, Israel, turned to the Gentiles by the will of God: it was One who could look upon publicans and sinners anywhere. Thus Matthew, called at the very receipt of custom, follows Jesus, and makes a feast for Him. This furnishes occasion to the Pharisees to vent their unbelief: to them nothing is so offensive as grace, either in doctrine or in practice. The scribes, at the beginning of the chapter, could not hide from the Lord their bitter rejection of His glory as man on earth entitled, as His humiliation and cross would prove, to forgive. Here, too, these Pharisees question and reproach His grace, when they see the Lord sitting at ease in the presence of publicans and sinners, who came and sat down with Him in Matthew's house. They said to His disciples, "Why eateth your Master with publicans and sinners?" The Lord shows that such unbelief justly and necessarily excludes itself, but not others, from blessing. To heal was the work for which He was come. it was not for the whole the Physician was needed. How little they had learnt the divine lesson of grace, not ordinances! "I will have mercy, and not sacrifice." Jesus was there to call, not righteous men, but sinners.
Nor was the unbelief confined to these religionists of letter and form; for next (verse 14) the question comes from John's disciples: "Why do we and the Pharisees fast oft, but thy disciples fast not?" Throughout it is the religious kind that are tested and found wanting. The Lord pleads the cause of the disciples. "Can the children of the bride-chamber mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them?" Fasting, indeed, would follow when the Bridegroom was taken from them. Thus He points out the utter moral incongruity of fasting at that moment, and intimates that it was not merely the fact that He was going to be rejected, but that to conciliate His teaching and His will with the old thing was hopeless. What He was introducing could not mix with Judaism. Thus it was not merely that there was an evil heart of unbelief in the Jew particularly, but law and grace cannot be yoked together. "No man putteth a piece of new cloth unto an old garment; for that which is put in to fill it up taketh from the garment, and the rent is made worse." Nor was it only a difference in the forms the truth took; but the vital principle which Christ was diffusing could not be so maintained. "Neither do men put new wine into old bottles, else the bottles break, and the wine runneth out, and the bottles perish; but they put new wine into new bottles, and both are preserved." The spirit, as well as the form, was alien.
But at the same time it is plain, although He bore the consciousness of the vast change He was introducing, and expressed it thus fully and early in the history, nothing turned away His heart from Israel. The very next scene, the case of Jairus, the ruler, shows it. "My daughter is even now dead, but come and lay thy hand upon her, and she shall live." The details, found elsewhere, of her being at the point of death then, before reaching the house, the news that she was dead, are not here. Whatever the time may have been, whatever the incidents added by others, the account is given here for the purpose of showing, that as Israel's case was desperate, even unto death, so He, the Messiah, was the giver of life, when all, humanly speaking, was over. He was then present, a man despised, yet with title to forgive sins, proved by immediate power to heal. If those who trusted in themselves that they were wise and righteous would not have Him, He would call even a publican on the spot to be among the most honoured of His followers, and would not disdain to be their joy when they desired His honour in the exercise of His grace. Sorrow would come full soon when He, the Bridegroom of His people, should be taken away; and then should they fast.
Nevertheless, His ear was open to the call on behalf of Israel perishing, dying, dead. He had been preparing them for the new things, and the impossibility of making them coalesce with the old. But none the less do we find His affections engaged for the help of the helpless. He goes to raise the dead, and the woman with the issue of blood touches Him by the way. No matter what the great purpose might be, He was there for faith. Far different this was from the errand on which He was intent; but He was there for faith. It was His meat to do the will of God. He was there for the express purpose of glorifying God. Power and love were come for any one to draw on. If there were, so to speak, a justification of circumcision by faith, undoubtedly there was also the justification of uncircumcision through their faith. The question was not who or what came in the way; whoever appealed to Him, there He was for them. And He was Jesus, Emmanuel. When He reaches the house, minstrels were there, and people, making a noise: the expression, if of woe, certainly of impotent despair. They mock the calm utterance of Him who chooses things that are not; and the Lord turns out the unbelievers, and demonstrates the glorious truth that the maid was not dead, but living.
Nor is this all. He gives sight to the blind. "And when Jesus departed thence, two blind men followed Him, crying and saying, Thou Son of David, have mercy on us." It was necessary to complete the picture. Life had been imparted to, the sleeping maid of Zion the blind men call on Him as the Son of David, and not in vain. They confess their faith, and He touches their eyes. Thus, whatever the peculiarity of the new blessings, the old thing could be taken up, though upon new grounds, and, of course, on the confession that Jesus is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. The two blind men called upon Him as the Son of David; a sample this of what will be in the end, when the heart of Israel turns to the Lord, and the veil is done away. "According to your faith be it done unto you."
It is not enough that Israel be awakened from the sleep of death, and see aright. There must be the mouth to praise the Lord, and speak of the glorious honour of His majesty, as well as eyes to wait on Him. So we have a farther scene. Israel must give full testimony in the bright day of His coming. Accordingly, here we have a witness of it, and a witness so much the sweeter, because the present total rejection that was filling the heart of the leaders surely testified to the Lord's heart of that which was at hand. But nothing turned aside the purpose of God, or the activity of His grace. "As they went out, behold, they brought to Him a dumb man possessed with a devil. And when the devil was come out, the dumb spake: and the multitudes marvelled, saying, It was never so seen in Israel." (SeeMatthew 9:32-33; Matthew 9:32-33.) The Pharisees were enraged at a power they could not deny, which rebuked themselves so much the more on account of its persistent grace; but Jesus passes by all blasphemy as yet, and goes on His way nothing hinders His course of love. He "went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people." The faithful and true witness, it was His to display that power in goodness which shall be put forth fully in the world to come, the great day when the Lord will manifest Himself to every eye as Son of David, and Son of man too.
At the close of this chapter 9, in His deep compassion He bids the disciples pray the Lord of the harvest to send forth labourers into His harvest. At the beginning of Matthew 10:1-42 He Himself sends forth themselves as labourers. He is the Lord of the harvest. It was a grave step this, and in view of His rejection now. In our gospel we have not seen the apostles called and ordained. Matthew gives no such details, but call and mission are together here. But, as I have stated, the choice and ordination of the twelve apostles had really taken place before the sermon on the mount, though not mentioned in Matthew, but in Mark and Luke. (Compare Mark 3:13-19, andMark 6:7-11; Mark 6:7-11; Luke 6:1-49; Luke 9:1-62) The mission of the apostles did not take place till afterwards. In Matthew we have no distinction of their call from their mission. But the mission is given here in strict accordance with what the gospel demands. It is a summons from the King to His people Israel. So thoroughly is it in view of Israel that our Lord does not say one word here about the Church, or the intervening condition of Christendom. He speaks of Israel then, and of Israel before He comes in glory, but He entirely omits any notice of the circumstances which were to come in by the way. He tells them that they should not have gone over (or finished) the cities of Israel till the Son of man be come. Not that His own rejection was not before His spirit, but here He looks not beyond that land and people; and, as far as the twelve were concerned, He sends them on a mission which goes on to the end of the an. Thus, the present dealings of God in grace, the actual shape taken by the kingdom of heaven, the calling of the Gentiles, the formation of the Church, are all passed completely over. We shall find something of these mysteries later on in this gospel; but here it is simply a Jewish testimony of Jehovah-Messiah in His unwearied love, through His twelve heralds, and in spite of rising unbelief, maintaining to the end what His grace had in view for Israel. He would send fit messengers, nor would the work be done till the rejected Messiah, the Son of man, came. The apostles were then sent thus, no doubt, forerunners of those whom the Lord will raise up for the latter day. Time would fail now to dwell on this chapter, interesting as it is. My object, of course, is to point out as clearly as possible the structure of the gospel, and to explain according to my measure why there are these strong differences between the gospels of Matthew and the rest, as compared with one another. The ignorance is wholly on our side: all they say or omit was owing to the far-reaching and gracious wisdom of Him who inspired them.
Matthew 11:1-30, exceedingly critical for Israel, and of surpassing beauty, as it is, must not be passed over without some few words. Here we find our Lord, after sending out the chosen witnesses of the truth (so momentous to Israel, above all) of His own Messiahship, realizing His utter rejection, yet rejoicing withal in God the Father's counsels of glory and grace, while the real secret in the chapter, as in fact, was His being not Messiah only, nor Son of man, but the Son of the Father, whose person none knows but Himself. But, from first to last, what a trial of spirit, and what triumph! Some consider that John the Baptist enquired solely for the sake of his disciples. But I see no sufficient reason to refuse the impression that John found it hard to reconcile his continued imprisonment with a present Messiah; nor do I discern a sound judgment of the case, or a profound knowledge of the heart, in those who thus raise doubts as to John's sincerity, any more than they appear to me to exalt the character of this honoured man of God, by supposing him to play a part which really belonged to others. What can be simpler than that John put the question through his disciples, because he (not they only) had a question in the mind? It probably was no more than a grave though passing difficulty, which he desired to have cleared up with all fulness for their sakes, as well as his own. In short, he had a question because he was a man. It is not for us surely to think this impossible. Have we, spite of superior privileges, such unwavering faith, that we can afford to treat the matter as incredible in John, and therefore only capable of solution in his staggering disciples? Let those who have so little experience of what man is, even in the regenerate, beware lest they impute to the Baptist such an acting of a part as shocks us, when Jerome imputed it to Peter and Paul in the censure of Galatians 2:1-21. The Lord, no doubt, knew the heart of His servant, and could feel for him in the effect that circumstances took upon him. When He uttered the words, "Blessed is he whosoever shall not be offended in me," it is to me evident that there was an allusion to the wavering let it be but for a moment of John's soul. The fact is, beloved brethren, there is but one Jesus; and whoever it may be, whether John the Baptist, or the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, after all it is divinely-given faith which alone sustains: else man has to learn painfully somewhat of himself; and what is he to be accounted of?
Our Lord then answers, with perfect dignity, as well as grace; He puts before the disciples of John the real state of the case; He furnishes them with plain, positive facts, that could leave nothing to be desired by John's mind when he weighed all as a testimony from God. This done, with a word for the conscience appended, He takes up and pleads the cause of John. It ought to have been John's place to have proclaimed the glory of Jesus; but all things in this world are the reverse of what they ought to be, and of what will be when Jesus takes the throne, coming in power and glory. But when the Lord was here, no matter what the unbelief of others, it was only an opportunity for the grace of Jesus to shine out. So it was here; and our Lord turns to eternal account, in His own goodness, the shortcoming of John the Baptist, the greatest of women-born. Far from lowering the position of His servant, He declares there was none greater among mortal men. The failure of this greatest of women-born only gives Him the just occasion to show the total change at hand, when it should not be a question of man, but of God, yea, of the kingdom of heaven, the least in which new state should be greater than John. And what makes this still more striking, is the certainty that the kingdom, bright as it is, is by no means the thing nearest to Jesus. The Church, which is His body and bride, has a far more intimate place, even though true of the same persons.
Next, He lays bare the capricious unbelief of man, only consistent in thwarting every thing and one that God employs for his good; then, His own entire rejection where He had most laboured. It was going on, then, to the bitter end, and surely not without such suffering and sorrow as holy, unselfish, obedient love alone can know. Wretched we, that we should need such proof of it; wretched, that we should be so slow of heart to answer to it, or even to feel its immensity!
"Then began he to upbraid the cities wherein most of his mighty works were done, because they repented not: Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works, which were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgment, than for you . . . . . At that time Jesus answered and said, I thank thee, O Father." What feelings at such a time! Oh, for grace so to bow and bless God, even when our little travail seems in vain! At that time Jesus answered, "I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and revealed them unto babes. Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in thy sight." We seem completely borne away from the ordinary level of our gospel to the higher region of the disciple whom Jesus loved. We are, in fact, in the presence of that which John so loves to dwell on Jesus viewed not merely as Son of David or Abraham, or Seed of the woman, but as the Father's Son, the Son as the Father gave, sent, appreciated, and loved Him. So, when more is added, He says, "All things are delivered unto me of my Father: and no man knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him. Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." This, of course, is not the moment to unfold it. I merely indicate by the way how the thorough increasing rejection of the Lord Jesus in His lower glory has but the effect of bringing out the revelation of His higher. So, I believe now, there is no attempt ever made on the Name of the Son of God, there is not a single shaft levelled at Him, but the Spirit turns to the holy, and true, and sweet task of asserting anew and more loudly His glory, which enlarges the expression of His grace to man. Only tradition will not do this work, nor will human thoughts or feelings.
In Matthew 12:1-50 we find not so much Jesus present and despised of men, as these men of Israel, the rejectors, in the presence of Jesus. Hence, the Lord Jesus is here disclosing throughout, that the doom of Israel was pronounced and impending. If it was His rejection, these scornful men were themselves rejected in the very act. The plucking of the corn, and the healing of the withered hand, had taken place long before. Mark gives them in the end of his second and the beginning of his third chapters. Why are they postponed here? Because Matthew's object is the display of the change of dispensation through, or consequent on, the rejection of Jesus by the Jews. Hence, he waits to present their rejection of the Messiah, as morally complete as possible in his statement of it, though necessarily not complete in outward accomplishment. Of course, the facts of the cross were necessary to give it an evident and literal fulfilment; but we have it first apparent in His life, and it is blessed to see it thus accomplished, as it were, in what passed with Himself; fully realized in His own spirit, and the results exposed before the external facts gave the fullest expression to Jewish unbelief. He was not taken by surprise; He knew it from the beginning Man's implacable hatred is brought about most manifestly in the ways and spirit of His rejectors. The Lord Jesus, even before He pronounced the sentence, for so it was, indicated what was at hand in these two instances of the Sabbath-day, though one may not now linger on them. The first is the defence of the disciples, grounded on analogies taken from that which had the sanction of God of old, as well as on His own glory now. Reject Him as the Messiah; in that rejection the moral glory of the Son of man would be laid as the foundation of His exaltation and manifestation another day; He was Lord of the Sabbath-day. In the next incident the force of the plea turns on God's goodness towards the wretchedness of man. It is not only the fact that God slighted matters of prescriptive ordinance because of the ruined state of Israel, who rejected His true anointed King, but there was this principle also, that certainly God was not going to bind Himself not to do good where abject need was. It might be well enough for a Pharisee; it might be worthy of a legal formalist, but it would never do for God; and the Lord Jesus was come here not to accommodate Himself to their thoughts, but, above all, to do God's will of holy love in an evil, wretched world. "Behold my servant, whom I have chosen, my beloved, in whom my soul is well pleased." In truth, this was Emmanuel, God with us. If God was there, what else could He, would He do? Lowly, noiseless grace now it was to be, according to the prophet, till the hour strikes for victory in judgment. So He meekly retires, healing, yet forbidding it to be blazed abroad. But still, it was His carrying on the great process of shewing out more and more the total rejection of His rejectors. Hence, lower down in the chapter, after the demon was cast out of the blind and dumb man before the amazed people, the Pharisees, irritated by their question, Is not this the Son of David? essayed to destroy the testimony with their utmost and blasphemous contempt. "This [fellow]," etc.
The English translators have thus given the sense well; for the expression really conveys this slight, though the word "fellow" is printed in italics. The Greek word is constantly so used as an expression of contempt, "This [fellow] doth not cast out devils, but by Beelzebub the prince of the devils." The Lord now lets them know their mad folly, and warns them that this blasphemy was about to culminate in a still deeper, deadlier form when the Holy Ghost should be spoken against as He had been. Men little weigh what their words will sound and prove in the day of judgment. He sets forth the sign of the prophet Jonah, the repentance of the men of Nineveh, the preaching of Jonah, and the earnest zeal of the queen of the South in Solomon's day, when an incomparably greater was there despised. But if He here does not go beyond a hint of that which the Gentiles were about to receive on the ruinous unbelief and judgment of the Jew, He does not keep back their own awful course and doom in the figure that follows. Their state had long been that of a man whom the unclean spirit had left, after a former dwelling in him. Outwardly it was a condition of comparative cleanness. Idols, abominations, no longer infected that dwelling as of old. Then says the unclean spirit, "I will return into my house from whence I came out; and when he is come, he findeth it empty, swept and garnished. Then goeth he, and taketh with himself seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter in and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first. Even so shall it be also unto this wicked generation." Thus He sets forth both the past, the present, and the awful future of Israel, before the day of His own coming from heaven, when there will be not only the return of idolatry, solemn to say, but the full power of Satan associated with it, as we see in Daniel 11:36-39; 2 Thessalonians 2:1-17; Revelation 13:11-15. It is clear that the unclean spirit, returning, brings idolatry back again. It is equally clear that the seven worse spirits mean the complete energy of the devil in the maintenance of Antichrist against the true Christ: and this, strange to say, along with idols. Thus the end is as the beginning, and even far, far worse. On this the Lord takes another step, when one said to Him, "Behold, thy mother and thy brethren stand without, desiring to speak with thee." A double action follows. "Who is my mother? and who are my brethren?" said the Lord; and then stretched forth His hand toward His disciples with the words, "Behold my mother and my brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother." Thus the old link with the flesh, with Israel, is now disowned; and the new relationships of faith, founded on doing the will of His Father (it is not a question of the law in any sort), are alone acknowledged. Hence the Lord would raise up a fresh testimony altogether, and do a new work suitable to it. This would not be a legal claim on man, but the scattering of good seed, life and fruit from God, and this in the unlimited field of the world, not in the land of Israel merely. In Matthew 13:1-58 we have the well-known sketch of these new ways of God. The kingdom of heaven assumes a form unknown to prophecy, and, in its successive mysteries, fills up the interval between the rejected Christ's going to heaven, and His returning again in glory.
Many words are not now required for that which is happily familiar to most here. Let me passingly notice a very few particulars. We have here not only our Lord's ministry in the first parable, but in the second parable that which He does by His servants. Then follows the rise of what was great in its littleness till it became little in its greatness in the earth; and the development and spread of doctrine, till the measured space assigned to it is brought under its assimilating influence. It is not here a question of life (as in the seed at first), but a system of christian doctrine; not life germinating and bearing fruit, but mere dogma natural mind which is exposed to it. Thus the great tree and the leavened mass are in fact the two sides of Christendom. Then inside the house we have not only the Lord explaining the parable, the history from first to last of the tares and wheat, the mingling of evil with the good which grace had sown, but more than that, we have the kingdom viewed according to divine thoughts and purposes. First of these comes the treasure hidden in the field, for which the man sells all he had, securing the field for the sake of the treasure. Next is the one pearl of great price, the unity and beauty of that which was so dear to the merchantman. Not merely were there many pieces of value, but one pearl of great price. Finally, we have all wound up, after the going forth of a testimony which was truly universal in its scope, by the judicial severance at the close, when it is not only the good put into vessels, but the bad dealt with by the due instruments of the power of God.
In Matthew 14:1-36 facts are narrated which manifest the great change of dispensation that the Lord, in setting forth the parables we have just noticed, had been preparing them for. The violent man, Herod, guilty of innocent blood, then reigned in the land, in contrast with whom goes Jesus into the wilderness, showing who and what He was the Shepherd of Israel, ready and able to care for the people. The disciples most inadequately perceive His glory; but the Lord acts according to His own mind. After this, dismissing the multitudes, He retires alone, to pray, on a mountain, as the disciples toil over the storm-tossed lake, the wind being contrary. It is a picture of what was about to take place when the Lord Jesus, quitting Israel and the earth, ascends on high, and all assumes another form not the reign upon earth, but intercession in heaven. But at the end, when His disciples are in the extremity of trouble, in the midst of the sea, the Lord walks on the sea toward them, and bids them not fear; for they were troubled and afraid. Peter asks a word from his Master, and leaves the ship to join Him on the water. There will be differences at the close. All will not be the wise that understand, nor those who instruct the mass in righteousness. But every Scripture that treats of that time proves what dread, what anxiety, what dark clouds will be ever and anon. So it was here. Peter goes forth, but losing sight of the Lord in the presence of the troubled waves, and yielding to his ordinary experience, he fears the strong wind, and is only saved by the outstretched hand of Jesus, who rebukes his doubt. Thereon, coming into the ship, the wind ceases, and the Lord exercises His gracious power in beneficent effects around. It was the little foreshadowing of what will be when the Lord has joined the remnant in the last days, and then fills with blessing the land that He touches.
In Matthew 15:1-39 we have another picture, and twofold. Jerusalem's proud, traditional hypocrisy is exposed, and grace fully blesses the tried Gentile. This finds its fitting place, not in Luke, but in Matthew, particularly as the details here (not in Mark, who only gives the general fact) cast great light upon God's dispensational ways. Accordingly, here we have, first, the Lord judging the wrong thoughts of "Scribes and Pharisees which were of Jerusalem." This gives an opportunity to teach what truly defiles not things that go into the man, but those things which, proceeding out of the mouth, come forth from the heart. To eat with unwashed hands defileth not a man. It is the death-blow to human tradition and ordinance in divine things, and in reality depends on the truth of the absolute ruin of man a truth which, as we see, the disciples were very slow to recognize. On the other side of the picture, behold the Lord leading on a soul to draw on divine grace in the most glorious manner. The woman of Canaan, out of the borders of Tyre and Sidon, appeals to Him; a Gentile of most ominous name and belongings a Gentile whose case was desperate; for she appeals on behalf of her daughter, grievously vexed with a devil. What could be said of her intelligence then? Had she not such confusion of thought that, if the Lord had heeded her words, it must have been destruction to her? "Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou Son of David!" she cried; but what had she to do with the Son of David? and what had the Son of David to do with a Canaanite? When He reigns as David's Son, there shall be no more the Canaanite in the house of the Lord of Hosts. Judgment will have early cut them off. But the Lord could not send her away without a blessing, and without a blessing reaching to His own glory. Instead of giving her at once a reply, He leads her on step by step; for so He can stoop. Such is His grace, such His wisdom. The woman at last meets the heart and mind of Jesus in the sense of all her utter nothingness before God; and then grace, which had wrought all up to this, though pent-up, can flow like a river; and the Lord can admire her faith, albeit from Himself, God's free gift.
In the end of this chapter (15) is another miracle of Christ's feeding a vast multitude. It does not seem exactly as a pictorial view of what the Lord was doing, or going to do, but rather the repeated pledge, that they were not to suppose that the evil He had judged in the elders of Jerusalem, or the grace freely going out to the Gentiles, in any way led Him. to forget His ancient people. What special mercy and tenderness, not only in the end, but also in the way the Lord deals with Israel!
In Matthew 16:1-28 we advance a great step, spite (yea, because) of unbelief, deep and manifest, now on every side. The Lord has nothing for them, or for Him, but to go right on to the end. He had brought out the kingdom before in view of that which betrayed to Him the unpardonable blasphemy of the Holy Ghost. The old people and work then closed in principle, and a new work of God in the kingdom of heaven was disclosed. Now He brings out not the kingdom merely, but His Church; and this not merely in view of hopeless unbelief in the mass, but of the confession of His own intrinsic glory as the Son of God by the chosen witness. No sooner had Peter pronounced to Jesus the truth of His person, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God," than Jesus holds the secret no longer. "Upon this rock," says He, "I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." He also gives Peter the keys of the kingdom, as we see afterwards. But first appears the new and great fact, that Christ was going to build a new building, His assembly, on the truth and confession of Himself, the Son of God. Doubtless, it was contingent upon the utter ruin of Israel through their unbelief; but the fall of the lesser thing opened the way for the gift of a better glory in answer to Peter's faith in the glory of His person. The Father and the Son have their appropriate part, even as we know from elsewhere the Spirit sent down from heaven in due time was to have His. Had Peter confessed who the Son of man really is? It was the Father's revelation of the Son; flesh and blood had not revealed it to Peter, but, "my Father, which is in heaven." Thereon the Lord also has His word to say, first reminding Peter of his new name suitably to what follows. He was going to build His Church "upon this rock" Himself, the Son of God. Henceforth, too, He forbids the disciples to proclaim Him as the Messiah. That was all over for the moment through Israel's blind sin; He was going to suffer, not yet reign, at Jerusalem. Then, alas! we have in Peter what man is, even after all this. He who had just confessed the glory of the Lord would not hear His Master speaking thus of His going to the cross (by which alone the Church, or even the kingdom, could be established), and sought to swerve Him from it. But the single eye of Jesus at once detects the snare of Satan into which natural thought led, or at least exposed, Peter to fall. And so, as savouring not divine but human things, he is bid to go behind (not from) the Lord as one ashamed of Him. He, on the contrary, insists not only that He was bound for the cross, but that its truth must be made good in any who will come after Him. The glory of Christ's person strengthens us, not only to understand His cross, but to take up ours.
In Matthew 17:1-27 another scene appears, promised in part to some standing there in Matthew 16:28, and connected, though as yet hiddenly, with the cross. It is the glory of Christ; not so much as Son of the living God, but as the exalted Son of man, who once suffered here below. Nevertheless, when there was the display of the glory of the kingdom, the Father's voice proclaimed Him as His own Son, and not merely as the man thus exalted. It was not more truly Christ's kingdom as man than He was God's own Son, His beloved Son, in whom He was well pleased, who was now to be heard, rather than Moses or Elias, who disappear, leaving Jesus alone with the chosen witnesses.
Then the pitiable condition of the disciples at the foot of the hill, where Satan reigned in fallen ruined man, is tested by the fact, that notwithstanding all the glory of Jesus, Son of God and Son of man, the disciples rendered it evident that they knew not how to bring His grace into action for others; yet was it precisely their place and proper function here below. The Lord, however, in the same chapter, shows that it was not a question alone of what was to be done, or to be suffered, or is to be by-and-by, but what He was, and is, and never can but be. This came out most blessedly through the disciples. Peter, the good confessor of chapter 16, cuts but a sorry figure in chapter 17; for when the demand was made upon him as to his Master's paying the tax, surely the Lord, he gave them to know, was much too good a Jew to omit it. But our Lord with dignity demands of Peter, "What thinkest thou, Simon?" He evinces, that at the very time when Peter forgot the vision and the Father's voice, virtually reducing Him to mere man, He was God manifest in the flesh. It is always thus. God proves what He is by the revelation of Jesus. "Of whom do the kings of the earth take custom? of their own children, or of strangers?" Peter answers, "Of strangers." "Then," said the Lord, "are the children free. Notwithstanding, lest we should offend them, go thou to the sea, and cast an hook, and take up the fish that first cometh up; and when thou hast opened his mouth, thou shalt find a piece of money. that take and give unto them for me and thee." Is it not most sweet to see, that He who proves His divine glory at once associates us with Himself? Who but God could command not only the waves, but the fish of the sea? As to any one else, even the most liberal gift that ever was given of God to fallen man on earth, to the golden head of the Gentiles, exempted the deep and its untamed inhabitants. IfPsalms 8:1-9; Psalms 8:1-9 goes farther, surely that was for the Son of man, who for the suffering of death was exalted. Yes, it was His to rule and command the sea, even as the land and all that in them is. Neither did He need to wait for His exaltation as man; for He was ever God, and God's Son, who therefore, if one may so say, waits for nothing, for no day of glory. The manner, too, was in itself remarkable. A hook is cast into the sea, and the fish that takes it produces the required money for Peter as for his gracious Master and Lord. A fish was the last being for man to make his banker of; with God all things are possible, who knew how to blend admirably in the same act divine glory, unanswerably vindicated, with the lowliest grace in man. And thus He, whose glory was so forgotten by His disciples Jesus, Himself thinks of that very disciple, and says, "For me and thee."
The next chapter (Matthew 18:1-35) takes up the double thought of the kingdom and the Church, showing the requisite for entrance into the kingdom, and displaying or calling forth divine grace in the most lovely manner, and that in practice. The pattern is the Son of man saving the lost. It is not a question of bringing in law to govern the kingdom or guide the Church. The unparalleled grace of the Saviour must form and fashion the saints henceforth. In the end of the chapter is set forth parabolically the unlimited forgiveness that suits the kingdom; here, I cannot but think, looking onward in strict fulness to the future, but with distinct application to the moral need of the disciples then and always. In the kingdom so much the less sparing is the retribution of those who despise or abuse grace. All turns on that which was suitable to such a God, the giver of His own Son. We need not dwell upon it.
Matthew 19:1-30 brings in another lesson of great weight. Whatever might be the Church or the kingdom, it is precisely when the Lord unfolds His new glory in both the kingdom and the Church that He maintains the proprieties of nature in their rights and integrity. There is no greater mistake than to suppose, because there is the richest development of God's grace in new things, that He abandons or weakens natural relationships and authority in their place. This, I believe, is a great lesson, and too often forgotten. Observe that it is at this point the chapter begins with vindicating the sanctity of marriage. No doubt it is a tie of nature for this life only. None the less does the Lord uphold it, purged of what accretions had come in to obscure its original and proper character. Thus the fresh revelations of grace in no way detract from that which God had of old established in nature; but, contrariwise, only impart a new and greater force in asserting the real value and wisdom of God's way even in these least things. A similar principle applies to the little children, who are next introduced; and the same thing is true substantially of natural or moral character here below. Parents, and the disciples, like the Pharisees, were shown that grace, just because it is the expression of what God is to a ruined world, takes notice of what man in his own imaginary dignity might count altogether petty. With God, as nothing is impossible, so no one, small or great, is despised: all is seen and put in its just place; and grace, which rebukes creature pride, can afford to deal divinely with the smallest as with the greatest.
If there be a privilege more manifest than another which has dawned on us, it is what we have found by and in Jesus, that now we can say nothing is too great for us, nothing too little for God. There is room also for the most thorough self-abnegation. Grace forms the hearts of those that understand it, according to the great manifestation of what God is, and what man is, too, given us in the person of Christ. In the reception of the little children this is plain; it is not so generally seen in what follows. The rich young ruler was not converted: far from being so, he could not stand the test applied by Christ out of His own love, and, as we are told, "went away sorrowful." He was ignorant of himself, because ignorant of God, and imagined that it was only a question of man's doing good for God. In this he had laboured, as he said, from his youth up: "What lack I yet?" There was the consciousness of good unattained, a void for which he appeals to Jesus that it might be filled up. To lose all for heavenly treasure, to come and follow the despised Nazarene here below what was it to compare with that which had brought Jesus to earth? but it was far too much for the young man. It was the creature doing his best, yet proving that he loved the creature more than the Creator. Jesus, nevertheless, owned all that could be owned in him. After this, in the chapter we have the positive hindrance asserted of what man counts good. "Verily, I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven." This made it to be plainly and only a difficulty for God to solve. Then comes the boast of Peter, though for others as well as himself. The Lord, while thoroughly proving that He forgot nothing, owned everything that was of grace in Peter or the rest, while opening the same door to "every one" who forsakes nature for His name's sake, solemnly adds, "But many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first." Thus the point that meets us in the conclusion of the chapter is, that while every character, every measure of giving up for His name's sake, will meet with the most worthy recompence and result, man can as little judge of this as he can accomplish salvation. Changes, to us inexplicable, occur: many first last, and last first.
The point in the beginning of the next chapter (Matthew 20:1-34) is not reward, but the right and title of God Himself to act according to His goodness. He is not going to lower Himself to a human measure. Not only shall the Judge of all the earth do right, but what will not He do who gives all good? "For the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which went out early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard. And when he had agreed with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard . . . . . And when they came that were hired about the eleventh hour, they received every man a penny. But when the first came, they supposed that they should have received more; and they likewise received every man a penny." He maintains His sovereign title to do good, to do as He will with His own. The first of these lessons is, "Many first shall be last, and last first." (Matthew 19:30.) It is clearly the failure of nature, the reversal of what might be expected. The second is, "So the last shall be first, and the first last; for many are called, but few are chosen." It is the power of grace. God's delight is to pick out the hindmost for the first place, to the disparagement of the foremost in their own strength.
Lastly, we have the Lord rebuking the ambition not only of the sons of Zebedee, but in truth also of the ten; for why was there such warmth of indignation against the two brethren? why not sorrow and shame that they should have so little understood their Master's mind? How often the heart shows itself, not merely by what we ask, but by the uncalled-for feelings we display against other people and their faults! The fact is, in judging others we judge ourselves.
Here I close tonight. It brings me to the real crisis; that is, the final presentation of our lord to Jerusalem. I have endeavoured, though, of course, cursorily, and I feel most imperfectly, to give thus far Matthew's sketch of the Saviour as the Holy Ghost enabled him to execute it. In the next discourse we may hope to have the rest of his gospel.
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Kelly, William. "Commentary on Matthew 8:20". Kelly Commentary on Books of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/wkc/matthew-8.html. 1860-1890.
the Fourth Week after Epiphany