Pastor Scott L. Harris
February 7, 1993
Jesus’ Authority Over Disease
Influenza, arthritis, asthma, ulcers, emphysema, diverticulitis, glaucoma, aneurysms, cataracts, AIDS, cerebral palsy, bronchitis, hemophilia, mono-nucleosis, phlebitis, mumps, measles, coma, multiple sclerosis, cystic fibrosis, pneumonia, diabetes, sinusitis, chicken pox, pulmonary embolism, polio, endometriosis, tuberculosis, meningitis, epilepsy, diphtheria, leukemia, arterio-sclerosis, lupus, SIDS, croup, gangrene, gall stones, myeloma, eczema, myopia, lymphoma, kidney stones, jaundice, psoriasis, hypo & hyper thyroidism, deafness, blindness, melanoma, appendicitis, rickets, scurvy, cholera, pertussis, scarlet fever, yellow fever, rocky mountain spotted fever, encephalitis, the plague, leprosy, typhoid fever, hepatitis, lyme, rabies, cancer.
Disease. This is only a very short list of the diseases that afflict mankind. Some are a nuisance, some painful, some debilitating, some lethal. One of the tragic results of Adam’s sin and its resulting curse on the world is disease. Mankind has always feared it, and always sought to battle it. Our own societies fear and battle with disease is seen in just the amount of our incomes – personal and national – that go into health care (14% of GDP).
At the time when Jesus was walking on the earth, disease had an even greater hold upon mankind than now. There was little in terms of medical understanding, technology, and even basic preventive measures. Diseases we now consider of little threat due to antibiotics and drugs were often fatal then. Life spans were short, and life itself was often filled with disease caused pain from which there was little to no relief.
Into this wretched world came Jesus, perfect God becoming perfect man in order to take upon Himself the curse of mankind’s sin. Part of that curse of sin are the diseases afflicting mankind.
This week we begin a new section of the book of Matthew. A section that demonstrates beyond all doubt the authority Jesus carried as the Messiah. In the passages we will examine this morning in Matthew 8, we will find that Jesus has authority over disease, but before we examine these passages let’s backup and set the context.
Recall from last week that the response of the people to Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount was that they were “amazed . . . because He taught as one having authority, and not as the Scribes and Pharisees” (Matthew 7:28, 29) (See: The Amazing Teaching of Jesus). Matthew 8 & 9 document the reasons that Jesus could teach with such authority. He has authority over disease (Matthew 8:1-17), nature (Matthew 8:23-27), the supernatural (Matthew 8:28-34), sin (Matthew 9:1-8), and even death (Matthew 9:18-26). Matthew also documents the response of the people to all of these signs and miracles showing that the unbelieving heart is not moved by what it can see, hear, feel, and touch.
Matthew 8 & 9 pick up the narrative from Matthew 4 where we were told in verses 23-25 that Jesus was “going about in all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness among the people.” and “great multitudes followed Him from Galilee and Decapolis and Jerusalem and Judea and from beyond the Jordan.” Matthew 8:1 tells us that “when He had come down from the mountain, great multitudes followed Him.” The multitudes are still present after the Sermon.
What Matthew 8 & 9 tells us are only illustrative of what Jesus was doing. They contain a few examples taken from the life of Jesus to prove His authority. In this morning’s passage, we find only three representative examples from the thousands of healings Jesus performed during His three years of public ministry. These examples are not in chronological order because Matthew’s purpose is to prove Jesus’ authority, not give a sequential history of the life of Christ. Some, like the healing of the leper and of Peter’s mother-in-law, take place prior to the Sermon on the Mount being given, and others after.
These three examples are significant not only in the disease that was cured, but in who received the healing. All three demonstrate the compassion of God toward outcasts, those people down upon by the religious community including a leper, a gentile servant of a gentile centurion, and a woman. As we shall see, all three were considered either incurably unclean, outside the community of faith, or a person of second rate value.
Healing of the Leper
Let’s begin with the healing of the leper in Matthew 8:2-4. “And behold, a leper came to Him, and bowed down to Him, saying, ‘Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.’ And He stretched out His hand and touched him, saying, ‘I am willing; 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 present the offering that Moses commanded, for a testimony to them.”
The first thing we note is that a leper comes out to Jesus. The parallel passage in Luke 5 tells us that this man was “full of leprosy.” Now recall what I said just a few minutes ago. The Mosaic law had many regulations concerning those that had leprosy, including that a leper had to live away from everyone else (Numbers 5:2, 3). Leviticus 13:45 tells us that when they walked around they had to wear clothes that were torn, they had to cover their head, cover their mouths and cry, “unclean, unclean.” It was not just a law to restrict the spread of an infectious disease, but to also keep the people from being contaminated by a person who was ceremonially unclean. Anyone who was unclean could not participate in the religious activities of the community which were a central part of life, and anything a leper touched became unclean. In addition, leprosy would result in gross deformities so that a person with it would look hideous. These things added together produced a great fear from the ugliness of the disease and fear from being made unclean. People would often throw rocks at lepers who came too close. Most lepers stayed at a distance (i.e. Luke 17:12). It was a bold move on the part of this leper to approach Jesus.
Sometimes we have a hard time understanding why Scripture speaks so much about this one disease, especially since we rarely even hear of it in this country even by its more benign name, Hansen’s Disease. It is caused by a bacterial infection (Mycobacterium leprae) and is now successfully treated with antibiotics. At that time it was considered incurable as in the case of 2 Kings 5 when the King or Aram sent his servant Naaman to the King of Israel saying, “. . . behold, I have sent my servant Naaman to you, that you may cure him of his leprosy.” The King of Israel responded, “Am I God, to kill and to make alive, that this man is sending to me to cure a man of his leprosy?” It was considered only something that God could cure. In this case, God did cure the leper Naaman through Elisha the prophet.
There are two forms of the disease. The more serious lepromatous form of the disease would run its course in 10-20 years with death caused by the disease itself or by other opportunistic disease attacking the weakened body. This type would start with skin discoloration, and then spread and progress to both external and internal tumors, lesions, and atrophy. All this would result in a physical appearance that would be revolting. The disease also attacks the nerves and leaves the extremities numb – they feel no pain. I know none of us like pain, but pain is a God given response to keep us from harming ourselves. Because of the absence of pain, lepers have been known to stick their hands directly into fire to retrieve something dropped, with no sense of the severe damage they just suffered. They lacerate themselves and are unaware, until they notice parts of their hands or feet are missing. They sprain joints, tear ligaments and muscles, and never know until they find their legs and arms do not function properly. Philip Yancey, in his book, Where are you God When it Hurts?, records the case of author Stanley Stein who would wash his face every morning, but due to his inability to sense the temperature of the water did not realize that the water he was using was scalding hot. Gradually, he destroyed his eyes with his daily washing and went blind.
This form of leprosy is a picture of sin. Sin causes direct damage itself and it is contagious. It leaves the person whom God has created deformed and grotesque in moral depravity. But sin also damages the ability to sense right and wrong, and soon the self inflicted damage is as great as or greater than the damage from the disease itself.
Another more mild form of leprosy, the tuberculoid type, would be localized on the body, causing little damage and would, on occasion, clear up in 1-3 years by itself. Thus, the reason for the laws in Leviticus 13, 14 concerning being pronounced clean by a priest.
In Matthew 8:2 we find this leper boldly coming to Jesus and then humbly bowing down to Him. This is not just a sign of respect, for the word is often used to describe worship as well, and then tells Jesus his request. “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean,” or more literally, “you have power to cleanse me.” The grammar here is interesting because it indicates that the man had no doubt that Jesus could cure him from his leprosy. Quite a statement of faith on his part, since the only known case at that time of such a healing was that of Naaman the Aramean at the time of Elisha. The leper did not doubt Jesus’ power to heal, he just did not know if Jesus would be willing, and so he humbly requests it of Jesus.
What a statement and example to all who come demanding from Christ. We do not come demanding. We do not come believing that He will. We come with faith that He is able, and request that He will according to His will, not our own, even as this leper did.
Jesus’ answer is thrilling. Jesus does not just say “Okay,” and zap him from a distance. Jesus said, “I am willing; be cleansed” and He reached out His hand and touched Him. Do you get the picture? The man of righteousness reaching out to touch a person who was the epitome of being unclean. The word for touch here is not touch like a tap on the shoulder, but a touch as in a firm grip. The word means “to lay hold of, to adhere to.” It is also in the middle tense suggesting that as Jesus reached out to this leper, the leper responded and reached out to Jesus. And the text says that “immediately his leprosy was cleansed.”
The compassion of Jesus reached out and touched the untouchable and cleansed the unclean. Jesus said He came to seek and to save that which was lost. He came to save sinful people. Salvation is offered to all who will seek it. The unclean can be made clean.
In Matthew 8:4 we find Jesus instructs this leper to fulfill the Mosaic law, “See that you tell no one; but go, show yourself to the priest, and present the offering that Moses commanded, for a testimony to them.” There are two main reasons for Jesus’ instruction. First, to demonstrate that He came to fulfill the law, not break it. Second, this man was to be a living testimony to the religious leaders that something significant was beginning to happen. It would seem that Jesus wanted positive testimony presented to them before large scale public ministry began which would raise the jealousy of the religious leaders. The parallel passages in Mark and Luke tell us that this man did not follow all the directions, but in his excitement proclaimed freely what had happened to him, with the result that the news of Jesus spread to such an extent that Jesus could no longer publicly enter a city (Mark 1:45). This even occurred prior to the Sermon on the Mount and would be one of the reasons for the large multitudes present when Jesus did give that sermon.
Healing the Centurion’s Servant
The next example of healing is also a demonstration of Jesus’ compassion on those that were looked down upon by the self righteous zealots of Judaism. In Matthew 8:8 we find that as Jesus enters Capernaum He is met by a centurion who entreats him concerning his young slave boy. The lad is in such bad shape that he cannot come himself, for he is both paralyzed and in great pain. The parallel passages give us some more information concerning this. Luke 7 tells us that this servant is so sick that he is about to die, and the centurion’s entreaty is for Jesus to come save the life of this slave. That in itself is quite a commendation of the Centurion, for most slaves were considered property like any animal or piece of equipment, but all the language used here shows that this Roman soldier genuinely cared for this slave boy, even using endearing terms for him.
Luke 1 also gives us some more insight into the centurion, for we find that it is not he himself who has come to Jesus, but some Jewish elders that have come to talk to Jesus on behalf of this Centurion, telling Jesus that, “he is worthy for You to grant this to him; for he loves our nation, and it was he who built us our synagogue.” Soldiers of the occupying force of the Roman Army were generally hated, yet this man had proven to be a man that loved Israel, and apparently the God of Israel as well. So it was that these Jewish elders came on behalf of this Gentile soldier who felt too unworthy to come to Jesus himself.
Jesus’ response to the request in verse 7 is that He would come and heal the lad. Jesus would show compassion on a slave boy considered by so many just so much property, and He would show compassion on the centurion who was part of the enemies occupation force. Jesus would come. In Luke 7:6 we find that when the centurion heard that Jesus would come to him, that he sent friends again to talk with Jesus, because of his awareness of his unworthiness for Jesus to come Himself (Luke 7:7). There is great humility on the part of this centurion. Though he was supposed to be the superior as part of the conquering army, yet he saw clearly his unworthiness before Christ. What this centurion says in verses 7 & 8 is truly remarkable for its insight into who Jesus is.
“But the centurion answered and said, “Lord, I am not worthy for You to come under my roof, but just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I too, am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to this one, ‘Go!’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come!’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this!’ and he does it.” Now when Jesus heard this, He marveled, and said to those who were following, ‘Truly I say to you, I have not found such a great faith with anyone in Israel.”
What great faith? The centurion understood the nature of authority and he recognized Jesus’ authority. We believe in a medical doctor them to the extant of their ability to diagnose the problem and give us something that will help cure the problem, or at least make the problem more tolerable. We see nothing supernatural in them. The centurion did not believe Jesus was like some doctor, but that Jesus had direct control over the cause of all disease. He did not believe that Jesus had to be physically present in order to heal, but could command the healing from a distance based simply upon His authority.
Jesus uses the opportunity to not only commend this centurion, but to teach an important truth about His kingdom. “And I say to you, that many shall come from east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven; but the sons of the kingdom shall be cast out into the outer darkness; in that place there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” There would be many gentiles included in the kingdom, which means most of us here today, while there would be those that were Jewish (sons of the kingdom) who trusted their ancestry rather than God and who would be cast out much to their dismay and sorrow.
Jesus then says to the centurion, “Go your way; let it be done to you as you have believed,” and Luke 7:10 tells us that when the centurions’ friends returned to the house, the slave was in good health.
Healing Peter’s Mother-in-law
Matthew 8:14 begins the third example. “And when Jesus had come to Peter’s home, He saw his mother-in-law lying sick in bed with a fever.” The common culture looked down upon women. A good religious Jewish man would pray in the morning and thank God that he was not a slave, a Gentile, or a woman. We find that Jesus has compassion on all three. As a footnote notice that Peter has a mother-in-law. For some strange reason some religious traditions teach strange things about Peter one of which is that he was single and therefore supposedly the example for the Pope and priests. Yet here we find that he has a mother-in-law. It is hard to have one of those without having a wife. In 1 Corinthians 9:5 we find that Paul comments about Peter traveling with a wife.
But in any case, we find here that Peter’s mother-in-law is sick in bed with a fever. People at that time did not have the luxury of lying down every time they felt a little under the weather. If you felt bad, you did the best you could and kept going. This lady was sick. Mark 1 and Luke 4 tell us that Jesus had gone to Peter’s home with Peter, Andrew, James, and John after they had come out of the synagogue, and that they had made request of Jesus on her behalf because she was suffering from a high fever (Luke 4:38). Jesus came to her, “touched her hand, and the fever left her; and she arose, and waited on (served) Him.”
Each of these examples demonstrates the compassion of Christ to those despised, rejected, or oppressed by society. What about us? Do we demonstrate that same compassion to those around us? How many of you are willing to give of your time and energy to minister to the unlovely, the rejected, the oppressed, and the forgotten that can give nothing in return? People in retirement and convalescent homes, patients in hospices preparing to die – yes, some with AIDS – would you be willing to befriend someone like that, hold their hand and share the hope of Christ with them in word and deed? Others are in hospitals, drug abuse programs, and psychiatric centers, and what about the thousands of inmates in the various jails located in our county? Do we have the compassion of Christ?
We also must ask if we have the faith and humility of those healed in these examples. The leper was bold in his belief that Jesus could heal, yet humble in his request for it. He left it completely up to Christ. Would we be like the centurion and intercede for a friend? Is our faith of the same nature and caliber as his? Don’t you wish you had a friend like either him or those of Peter’s mother-in-law who brought Jesus to her? Let us follow both Jesus’ example of compassion and the example of the people we have looked at this morning that had unwavering faith in Jesus’ ability and authority, but were humble in all their requests.
Matthew concludes this section with a final example of Jesus’ compassion and authority to heal in verse 16, and then says that this is the fulfillment of prophecy. “And when evening had come, they brought to Him many who were demon-possessed; and He cast out the spirits with a word, and healed all who were ill in order that what was spoken through Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled, saying, ‘He Himself took our infirmities, and carried away our diseases.”
When evening had come and the Sabbath had ended, the people were now freed up from the Sabbath restrictions, and so they brought the demon possessed and the sick, and Jesus cast out the demons and healed those who were ill. All of this was a fulfillment of Isaiah 53:4. We find throughout this section that Jesus does take upon Himself the infirmities of those around, not in the sense that he became leprous or paralyzed or received the high fever, but in the sense that in deep sympathy and compassion, He entered fully and personally into the sorrows of those He came to serve. A glimpse of His ultimate taking on Himself our infirmities on the cross when He would pay the price for all sin. And be sure that the curse of disease is a result of mankind’s fall into sin.
We also find that as God, Jesus had authority to take the diseases away. We find a wonderful glimpse of the kingdom to come. As Jesus walked upon the earth He banished disease from His presence, because He would heal the sick. The kingdom is present in part, but not in its fullness. We await the fullness of the kingdom yet to come when as Revelation 21:4 tells us, there will no longer be any more death, the ultimate consequence of both sin and disease, or mourning, or crying, or pain. This morning’s message is not about getting physical healing from Jesus, for until He returns, we will continue to suffer the consequences of the fall and that includes disease. This morning’s message has been about authority, example, and hope. Jesus’ authority over disease backs up His claim to be the Messiah. His example of compassion is for us to follow.
The purpose of our salvation is to be conformed into His image – to be a “Christian,” a “Christ one,” “one who is like Christ.” And finally, we find hope, not a hope so hope, but a confident hope, of the day that what occurred then will be reality for eternity when Christ returns and the new heaven and new earth are set up. A hope that is assured because of what Jesus has done for us on the Cross. In a moment we are going to observe communion as we remember His sacrifice for us.
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