True Healing Comes From Christ

Introduction

As we enter a new section of the gospel of Matthew I think it would be helpful to zoom out to 30,000 feet and see the biblical narrative afresh.

Douglas Wilson has a great summary of the Bible. As in, what is the whole thing about? What catechism answer could you teach a child so that they could understand the whole thing?

What is the story the Bible? Kill the dragon. Get the girl.

So what does he mean? Genesis 3:15:

Genesis 3:15 (ESV) — 15 I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”

There is an offspring of Eve who would come and crush the head of the dragon. In so doing, he would redeem God’s people, his bride.

All of the Old Testament we are looking for this offspring of Eve who will accomplish this. Abraham? Nope. Jacob? Nope. Joseph? Nope. Moses? Nope. David? Nope. All of them look like it could be them but they fail. By the end of the OT, the reader is left wondering if this king is ever going to come.

Then as we have been studying in Matthew. He is come. He has the credentials to fulfill all of the prophecies. He is of the tribe of Judah. He is of the line of David. He is born in Bethlehem and of a virgin.

But the real test comes when His ministry begins. After His baptism, Jesus goes into the wilderness for forty days. There He faces the temptation of that very serpent. He is a new and better Adam whose test is far more difficult. While Adam fell in the cool of the garden, Jesus defeated the serpent in the desert. Adam had one temptation. Jesus had three. Adam was not lacking anything. Jesus had had nothing to eat for forty days.

But Jesus triumphed. At this point there was nothing for the serpent to do. He could not stop Jesus from going to the cross. So he fled. Jesus turns the serpent’s kingdom upside down.

Evil in Retreat

Then we entered into the Sermon on the Mount. Now that the serpent was on the run, Jesus revealed what His kingdom would be like and who would be a part of it. He is on the march and there is nothing his enemy can do about.

As we just heard last Sunday, the sermon ends with a very clear choice given. The road of the serpent, which is easy and broad, and leads to destruction along with him. Or the narrow and difficult road of the True King which leads to everlasting life.

Background

Now we enter a section of ten miracles that Matthew weaves into his narrative. The kingdom that Jesus was preaching about just a little while ago will now begin to come in power. Decay is turned backwards. Illness is undone. Even death has no power over this King and His kingdom. Jesus just finished teaching with authority and now he will act with authority as the Divine Messiah.

Matthew 7:28–29 (ESV) — 28 And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, 29 for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.

Just as this authority was shown in his teaching, the Messiah also came to heal. Later on in Matthew, John the Baptist wants confirmation that Jesus is in fact the Messiah:

Matthew 11:4–5 (ESV) — 4 And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5 the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.

Matthew seeks to show Jesus’ divinity not only as a teacher but as a healer as well. He underpins this section with a quotation from Isaiah 53.

Matthew 8:16–17 (ESV) — 16 That evening they brought to him many who were oppressed by demons, and he cast out the spirits with a word and healed all who were sick. 17 This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: “He took our illnesses and bore our diseases.”

Jesus is the Suffering Servant who would come and heal God’s broken and rebellious people.

1. Jesus Heals the Outcast

Matthew 8:1–4 (ESV) — 1 When he came down from the mountain, great crowds followed him. 2 And behold, a leper came to him and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” 3 And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. 4 And Jesus said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a proof to them.”

Right after coming off the mountain, Jesus is greeted by a leper. This would have been an incredibly unusual situation. The crowds that followed Jesus would have expected him to pass right by the man. A leper belonged to a community of outcasts. Having contracted a disease that literally ate away at his flesh, he would have been designated as unclean within the Jewish society as mandated in Leviticus 13. This means they were bared from fellowship with healthy Jews and bared from worship at the temple. Such was their condition, that the law even forbade them to be touched (Lev. 5:3).

Now, we should feel compassion for this man, but we ought not to hate God’s law. The standard of God’s holiness is perfection. Just like it was grace that cast out Adam and Eve from the garden to prevent them from, in a state of sin, eating from the Tree of Life, so too was God’s law for the leper. If the leper were to approach God in his state he would be utterly destroyed by His perfect goodness. If the leper were to exist around others in the community his disease would spread. God’s law constrains sin.

What we should hate is our sin. It was the sin of our father Adam who opened the door for leprosy to exist in God’s good world. He open the door and you and I have contributed to keeping it open. Leprosy is to remind us of the absolutely devastating effects of sin. It is our lying, cheating, stealing, lusting, and anger made manifest.

Yet this man, hearing of Jesus coming, goes out to meet him. One could imagine this might be he last hope of healing. He’s heard of the power and fame of Jesus and he now risks everything in the hopes of being healed. He is literally a deadman walking.

A Posture of Worship

When he confronts Jesus, he immediately falls to his knees:

Matthew 8:1–2 (ESV) — 1 When he came down from the mountain, great crowds followed him. 2 And behold, a leper came to him and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.”

There is some ambiguity by what Matthew means by “Lord” and “knelt” here. It could be that this man came to Jesus, knowing him as a miracle worker, and addressed him politely and in submission. It could also be, and more likely as I believe within the context, that this leper is confessing Jesus’ lordship as the Messiah. The NKJV translates “knelt” as worshipped. As in, this leper came to the feet of Jesus, calling him Lord and worshipping Him as the Son of God.

The case for the latter is made stronger by the incredible confidence the man has in Jesus’ power to heal him.

“Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.”

The leper has no doubts of Jesus’ power to heal him, but he is unsure of His willingness. How could the Messiah be willing to heal such an outcast as a leper? Here he is rotting away, a grotesque and visible reminder of destructive nature of sin, kneeling before the Holy One. Yet the man comes with open hands before Christ. There is no demand within him. He has placed himself at the complete mercy of Jesus.

Let us not miss the point. The leper submits to the Lordship of Christ. His life is completely in the hands of Christ. Healing cannot come unless we first bend our knees in submission to Christ the King. Our posture is to be one of a suppliant, one who begs for mercy before a mighty king. The haughty have no portion in such healing. For they are unwilling to bend the knee.

Let us also not miss the point that this man was created that Christ’s power might be made manifest in him for God’s glory. This isn’t random. This isn’t unknown. Jesus came to confront the Serpent and his power. He confronted his temptations in the wilderness and now he confronts him in his kingdom. This the Prince of the Universe marching upon the prince of the power of the air.

This is where we as Christians ought to be careful. There is no demand that we can make upon Christ to make Him heal us. He heals whom he wills and he will not be strong-armed. As we will see, healing the leper was of his will to do. Jesus chose to heal him. There were other lepers that Jesus never healed. This is grace. Once grace becomes demanded, it is no longer grace.

Romans 9:15 (ESV) — 15 For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”

So what ought a Christian to do when we are asking the Lord for healing? James tells us:

James 5:13–16 (ESV) — 13 Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. 14 Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. 16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.

We are commanded to call for the elders of the church and seek their prayers. We are called to pray as righteous people. We are called to trust in the will of God. We are called to confess our sins to one another. We must remember that God is far more compassionate than us and he is far more merciful than us.

In a certainly shocking reply to the crowds watching, Jesus replies:

Matthew 8:3 (ESV) — 3 And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately his leprosy was cleansed.

Jesus could have spoken a word and healed him, but He doesn’t do it that way. He touches him. This man would have gone years without feeling the touch of an another person. Jesus makes this incredibly compassionate gesture to demonstrate his divine authority over corruption of His creation.

Undoing the Effects of Sin

For anyone else, what Christ did by touching the leper would have brought corruption upon himself. As fallen sons and daughters of Adam and Eve we are unable to live outside of corruption. Sin permeates every part of our existence. What we touch, no matter how good and right our intentions, we always bring sin along with it. Every relationship, community, and institution is never without sinful people smuggling sin into it. We corrupt what we touch. We are lepers.

Yet in Christ, sin is cast away. Sin retreats. Christ stepping into the sin and corruption of our world causes it to run for the hills. He is undoing the Fall. He has his heel on the head of the Serpent.

The proof of Christ’s power is in His command for the leper go and be examined by the priest. This isn’t just a temporary healing but this man has been set free. He able to be in fellowship with his family and community once more. Even more importantly, he can go to the temple to worship.

Let us not pass over without seeing the deeper spiritual connection. You and I, apart from Christ’s work, are lepers. We dead men walking. We are unable to save ourselves. Everything we touch is corrupted by us. We are excluded from true fellowship and true worship because of our deadness.

Yet it is Christ who has the power to undo the curse of sin. Death has no domaine over Him. Sin has not grip on Him.

1 Corinthians 15:54–55 (ESV) — 54 When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” 55 “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”

2 Corinthians 5:17 (ESV) — 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. Through Christ we are reconciled back into right community with each other and with God our Father. We who were outcasts have been brought in to sit at His table.

2. The Great Faith of an Enemy

Another Unlikely Meeting

Matthew moves us to the scene of another healing, just as shocking to its original audience. As he enters Capernaum, another unlikely person comes to seek Jesus for healing, a centurion. This was a man who, at his basic rank, commanded at least one-hundred Roman legionaries. A centurion of a Roman cohort would have commanded up to 800 men.

Needless to say, they were men of authority within the Roman military, the most feared and powerful fighting force on the planet. That is what makes this meeting so extraordinary. Here is a visual member of Roman oppression of the Jewish people coming to a Jewish rabbi for a miracle.

Rome had annexed Judea around 60 B.C. and had been there ever since. They had installed Herod as their puppet governor. There were many Jewish uprisings and skirmishes in their attempt to expel the Romans from the Promise Land. A Jew who was actively fighting a guerrilla war against the Romans was known as a zealot. They were dirty fighters who often used underhanded tactics to achieve their means. This would often include the murder of Roman officials. Jesus had a disciple, who left all of that to follow Him, known as Simon the Zealot.

It was this oppressor that many, including Jesus’ own disciples, thought it was the messiah’s job to depose. When we read in the gospels that the people “went to make Him king” we can read that they saw Jesus as the one to overthrow Roman rule.

The centurion comes to Jesus because his servant is ill:

Matthew 8:5–6 (ESV) — 5 When he had entered Capernaum, a centurion came forward to him, appealing to him, 6 “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, suffering terribly.”

Surely this is going to be a hard-pass from Jesus right? At the very least he will walk right by? Also some quip about him being a gentile dog for good measure? Wouldn’t that be the way that the Pharisees would handle it?

Matthew 8:7 (ESV) — 7 And he said to him, “I will come and heal him.”

Let us pause here. Jesus just gave a sermon about his kingdom:

Matthew 5:38–42 (ESV) — 38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41 And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42 Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.

It is the Roman centurion who has the authority to take from the Jewish citizen his coat or to slap him. It is the centurion who was able to make the Jewish citizen carry his pack by compulsion for one Roman mile. This is exactly the situation where one would be tempted to act in retaliation for wrongs. This was the whole motivation for the zealot movement. But Jesus doesn’t. He isn’t merely the perfect Word of God spoken, but the perfect Word of God acted.

But this isn’t a normal centurion, there is more to the story, as there usually is with people we assume dislike or hate us. We learn from the parallel account of this miracle in Luke that this man was what is known as a “God Fearer.” That is, he is a gentile who come to love God and is doing as much as he can to honor Him. Specifically, he was well loved and had built the local synagogue for the people. He was a gentile man trying to obey God.

A Quick Digression on Reconciling the Gospels

A quick note here on reading the gospels. In our account in Matthew, it seems as if it is the centurion himself who approaches Jesus. We learn from the more detailed account in Luke that the centurion actually sent the Jewish elders of the town to beseech Jesus. This shows that this man was going through great lengths to honor Jesus knowing his position and that he was gentile.

Yet, why doesn’t Matthew say that? Isn’t this a contradiction? You must remember two hermeneutical principles when reading the gospels. One, each writer has a purpose for his telling of Jesus’ life. As we have mentioned, Matthew’s audience is focused on the Jews. Luke was written for gentiles. This means that these writers are going to modify these stories in order to communicate clearly to their audiences. Also they will, two, use those parts of the story that they intend to focus on. The two passages can be easily reconciled when we realize that it would not have been odd for the Jews to understand that a gentile such as a centurion would send for the elders of a city in order to seek Jesus in an honorable way. It would be an important piece of information for gentiles to read in Luke’s account who would not understand. In the end, a man speaks through his representatives and Matthew is simply truncating the story in order to get to his point. We do this all the time when we tell stories. Listen to both my wife and I tell the story of our engagement and you will see that I focus on specific things that she might leave out and vis versa. If we expect the gospels to be like video recorders of the events of Jesus we will be thrown for a loop.

Back to Centurion

Good centurion or not, Jesus’ actions are shocking. He immediately agrees to go and heal the servant. But the centurion refuses to have Jesus come and in an incredible act of faith he replies:

Matthew 8:8–9 (ESV) — 8 But the centurion replied, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. 9 For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”

The Roman centurion holds Jesus in such high honor that he forbids him to come under his roof because he is a gentile. It would make a Jew unclean to enter into the home of gentile. Shockingly, Jesus was willing! Even more shockingly the centurion was obedient to the law of God.

Instead, he merely asks Jesus to say the word, just like he does to his soldiers, and it will be done. This is man who had to first learn to take order before he rose to the rank in order to give them. He has complete trust that if Jesus gives the word his servant will be healed.

Jesus response rightly to this amazing interchange between supposed enemies:

Matthew 8:10–13 (ESV) — 10 When Jesus heard this, he marveled and said to those who followed him, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith. 11 I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, 12 while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” 13 And to the centurion Jesus said, “Go; let it be done for you as you have believed.” And the servant was healed at that very moment.

Faithful Obedience

Jesus is astonished at this man’s faith. Again, let that sink in. Jesus, the Messiah, God incarnate was blown away by this man’s full trust in his ability to heal his servant from afar. So impressed is He that He says there is no one with such faith in all of Israel.

How does this happen? How does a Roman have more faith than Jewish people of Jesus’ time?

The Small Steps of Obedience

No one develops such faith overnight. This Roman was a God honoring man. How could he best show his love and devotion for Yahweh, especially as a man cut off from access to the temple of God as a gentile? Simple obedience. This man revealed his devotion by daily being obedient to the law of God.

Jesus reminds us of the very principle in John’s gospel:

John 14:15 (ESV) — 15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.

True faith will always bear the fruit of loving obedience.

A husband cannot say he loves he is wife if his choices honor himself and not her. If he spends his money only considering himself. If he spends his time only considering himself. An employee cannot say he loves his job if he constantly breaks its policies. A child cannot say that he loves his mother if he constantly disrespects her commands. So too is it true for the Christian. Do not say you love God but hate his word. Do not say you love God but live your life breaking his rules. Do not say you love God but love the things he hates and hate the things he loves. True faith and love produce true obedience in a person.

John makes this even more clear for us in his first epistle:

1 John 2:3–6 (ESV) — 3 And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. 4 Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, 5 but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: 6 whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.

So how do we do this? We lovingly obey daily. This Roman didn’t have such faith over night.

Applications for husbands, wives, singles, seniors

A Stark Warning

Here, shockingly, is a Roman gentile who is willing to obey Jesus more than all of Jews in Israel. Jesus follows his astonishment with a shocking statement to his Jewish listeners:

Matthew 8:11–12 (ESV) — 11 I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, 12 while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Jesus reveals that true sons and daughters of the kingdom are not ethnicity chosen by God, they are chosen freely by God’s grace. Just because one is Jewish does not mean that their heart has been circumcised by the regeneration of the Spirit. God saves by faith alone, through grace alone, in Christ alone, unto His glory alone. And he does so freely. There is no compulsion that can be put upon Him. Once grace is demanded or expected it no longer is grace.

Let it be a stark warning for us today. There were many Jews who thought they had it all together because they were Jewish. There are many, so-called Christians, who think they have it all together but Christ will say on that day to them: “I never knew you.”

Why? Because there are fake Christians. There are wolves in sheep clothing. There are false prophets. There are those who would justify themselves by their works and not by faithful obedience to Christ.. “You will know them by their fruit.” Let’s be frank. There is no perfect church and therefore there will not be a church with perfect attendance in the New Heavens and Earth. There are some of us who sit here this morning who fall into that category and a plead with you. Be reconciled to God. Bend the knee to king Jesus. Confess him as Lord. Repent of your sins and you will find Him to be a powerful Savior.

3. The Real Point of the Miracles

Lastly, we have the last miracle of our text. After healing the centurion’s servant, Jesus heads to Peter’s house where his mother-in-law is ill.

Matthew 8:14–15 (ESV) — 14 And when Jesus entered Peter’s house, he saw his mother-in-law lying sick with a fever. 15 He touched her hand, and the fever left her, and she rose and began to serve him.

In another display of Jesus pushing back the kingdom of the serpent, Jesus completely heals Peter’s mother-in-law with a touch. And let us not miss what happens here. As soon as she is healed she begins serving Jesus. The miracles of God are for the kingdom of God. The natural response of someone who has been healed is gratitude for the healer.

Yet this cannot happen unless we are healed at a deeper level. As we mentioned earlier, Jesus’ miracles serve to show a deeper reality. We are in need of the resurrection of our souls. There were many who were healed by Christ, but they were not healed of their hearts of stone.

Luke 17:11–19 (ESV) — 11 On the way to Jerusalem he was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. 12 And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance 13 and lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” 14 When he saw them he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went they were cleansed. 15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; 16 and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. 17 Then Jesus answered, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? 18 Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”

Jesus heals these ten lepers of their illness but only one receives healing for the leprosy of his heart. Do you see? These miracles serve to show a far darker and deeper sickness is present in all of us. And this is why Matthew ties this section of his gospel back to the Old Testament.

Matthew 8:16–17 (ESV) — 16 That evening they brought to him many who were oppressed by demons, and he cast out the spirits with a word and healed all who were sick. 17 This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: “He took our illnesses and bore our diseases.”

Yes, Jesus came to heal the sick but he bore the illness and diseases most fully on the cross. Jesus didn’t come for temporary relief of the effects of sin and death, but instead he came to conquer them. To destroy them. He came to put his heel on the head of the serpent and crush him. And yet, he would be struck by that serpent and deadly blow.

Peter brings this out in is epistle:

1 Peter 2:21–25 (ESV) — 21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. 22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. 24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. 25 For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

So trust in the Healer. The Great Physician. Today is the day of salvation.

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