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Newtown Bible Church

The Compassionate Authority of Jesus Christ (Matthew 8:1-4)

2 displays of Jesus’ compassionate authority so that we would be drawn to Him in true faith. (1) Compassionate Authority by healing disease; (2) Compassionate authority by concealing His identity.

 

(1) Display of Jesus’ Compassionate Authority over Disease

(8:1) “when He came down from the mountain and large crowds followed Him” - He went up from the crowds in 5:1, He now comes back down to them. From teaching the disciples, to encountering the world.

There are few matters to state up front regarding Matthew’s presentation.

First, the following events are not in chronological order, but are arranged thematically. Matthew’s purpose is not to present a detailed and exact chronology of the life of Christ, but to present Jesus irrefutably Christ to the Jews.

Second, some have the seen a parallel between the 10 recorded miracles in chapters 8-9 with the 10 plagues of Moses, however, there is no basis for it.

Third, he has just presented to us the the overwhelming reaction to the authoritative teaching of the Lord; he now moves to show that same authority through His works.

Yet, as he does this we are confronted the entirely unique character of the power and authority of Jesus Christ; it is not the overbearing and tyrannical authority of Gentile despots, but the power of Almighty God and the gentleness and compassion of the Savior. Let’s look at this more closely.

 

(A) Cry of Desperate Hope

(8:2) “Behold, a leper came and fell down before Him saying, ‘Lord, if you are willing you are able to make me clean” - “Behold” is a common term by Matthew to introduce a change in topic, an important dialogue, or a significant event. The last one is in view here. Incredibly intense scene, which is only to be expected with God incarnate.

Immediately, our minds and hearts are taken from the overwhelming astonishment and fervor of the crowds to a lepers desperate cry of hope.

Who was this man? Text does not say; could have been a Gentile, or an Israelite. However, he is most likely a Jew since that comprised most of the crowds, and no mention is made of his nationality.

In either case, the point is not to draw attention to his nationality, but to his condition: he was a leper!

“leper” - (Luke 5:12 adds that he was “full of leprosy”, drawing attention to the seriousness of his condition). A horrible disease prevalent in the ancient world. The term comes from the verb leprw, which means “to scale or peel off,” as an adjective “scaly,” “scabby,” or “not smooth on the surface.” One has noted: it can also be used to speak of “uneven and stony ground, but also of leprosy, in which the skin becomes rough and scabby.”

It has been noted that: “Leprosy appears in two principal forms. The first, and by far the more dangerous, is called ‘le-prom-a-tous’; and the other, more benign type, is designated as ‘tuberculoid.’”

This latter type, tuberculoid, could have identified a variety of forms of skin disease in the OT ([p]soriasis [red, itchy, scaly patches], ec-ze-ma, etc.), which would eventually clear up.

Leviticus 13-14 gives the detailed account within the context of Levitical law, of distinguishing types of leprosy from other kinds of skin disease. In helping determine the type of skin disease a person was affected with, a temporary quarantine lasting from 3-14 days, or some cases even up to 3 years.

If it did not clear up or bore other symptoms, it was determined to be the former type, le-prom-a-tous, which would correspond to what is commonly referred to as Hansen’s Disease today. Describing this he goes on to note:

 

“Both start with discoloration of the a patch of skin. This patch may be white or pink. It is most likely to appear on the brow, nose, ear, cheek, or chin …. In the lepromatous type of leprosy the patch may spread widely in all directions. Portions of the eyebrows may disappear. Spongy, tumor like swellings grow on the face and body … Marked deformity of hands and feet occur when the tissues between the bones deteriorate and disappear. Often the sensory nerve endings no longer respond to heat or injury and the unwary patient may be subject to further destruction of his limbs before he realizes his danger.”

 

One outbreak of the type of leprosy on the island of Guadeloupe around 1730, is described in the following manner by an eyewitness:

 

“Its commencement is imperceptible. There appear only some few white spots on the skin. At first they are attended with no pain or inconvenience; but no means whatever will remove them. The disease imperceptibly increases for many years. The spots become larger, and spread over the whole body. When the disease advances, the upper part of the nose swells, the nostrils become enlarged, and the nose itself soft. Tumours appear on the jaws; the eyebrows swell; the ears become thick; the points of the fingers, as also the feet and the toes, swell; the nails become scaly; the joints of the hands and feet separate, and drop off. In the last stage of the disease the patient becomes a hideous spectacle, and falls to pieces.’”

 

Recent work has shown that much of the physical damage is due to damage done to the nerve endings, which results in grotesque disfigurement and severe injuries that can often go untreated and lead to death.

Thus, this has rightly been referred to as the “dreadful disease.” Now, to have leprosy was not a moral sin, however, it did make one ceremonially unclean and therefore place the person outside the fellowship of the covenant community. Those with malignant leprosy were permanently removed from association with the rest of the people, and even commanded to cry out: “Unclean, Unclean” when approached by another (Lev. 13:45).

Leprosy is mentioned several times in the OT in relation to judgement, or as a curse (Numbers 12:9-16 “Miriam”; 2 Kings 5 “Naaman” “Gehazi”; 2 Sam. 3:28-29; Uzziah in 2 Chr. 26:19-21).

There really is no way to know which type of leprosy this man had, though due to his desperate actions and desire to be cleansed, it was most likely HD. Thus he not only endured physical suffering, but also the emotional suffering of being cut off from family, relationships, opportunities in life; it was to be rejected, ostracized, and cut off from ones family and community.

This leper approaches Christ: “fell down” - could also be translated worship (2:2, 8, 4:9-10), and may rightly be done in this situation (*9:18; 14:33; *15:25; 18:26; 20:20; 28:9, 17). The term is best translated with its most literal meaning of “to fall down” “to prostrate oneself” “to kneel before.” Mk. 1:40 “falling on his knees”; Lk. 5:12 “falling on his face.”

A vivid picture of him falling on his knees before the Lord in an expression of reverence, submission, dependence.

There is no clear indication of the level of the man’s faith, however, by the very act of his coming and falling before Him, he obviously recognized the power and authority of Jesus over the disease which ravished his body; therefore, it could be translated as ‘worship,’ but that may assume too much at this point.

“Lord” - common address to Jesus (8:6, 8, 21,25) is most likely not to be taken in its fullest sense of Deity since no one really understood this until after the ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit. Even the disciples were slow to come to this, though they clearly understood Him to be more than a mere man (8:27; 16:18; etc.).

In either case, the man comes and addresses Him as Lord very akin to a strong “Sir,” with a recognition of His power and that He was from God, or else he would not be there.

“If you are willing You can make me clean!” - Mk. 1:40 “kept beseeching / imploring [ESV]” desperate, submissive plea that appeals not to the Lord’s power, but to His willingness! This is striking! The man assumes the power to heal him, what he is not sure of is the willingness of this great teacher from God: “Men more easily believe in miraculous power than in miraculous love.”

This man is desperate; he has not other hope; there is not one else to go to;. How overwhelmed he st have been, and driven by this compelling desire to be cleansed; a desire that consumed him to make the journey to the feet of Christ.

The man has long lay bound in his disease, suffering daily, unable to find relief; an outcast of society having no hope in this world, being cut off from the comforts enjoyed by most, and the acceptance even of family and friends. The man is desperate, he knows his need, he sees his hopelessness, he has nothing to lose and everything to gain. Jesus is his only hope. Desperate he comes to him unconcerned with the opinions, the scorn, the disgusted looks of the crowds and he falls down before the Lord, the Savior his pleading words: “Lord, if you are willing.”

We shouldn’t miss what a beautiful picture this is of the convicted sinner coming to Christ. Weak in faith, and yet trusting and seeking the only One who can save and cleanse and restore.

So it is with every sinner that comes to Christ. He is a picture of you and me. Desperate, one who feels deeply your sin and alienation from God; who feels the hopeless despair of spiritual pollution and longs to be cleansed, but has a deep awareness of inability to do anything about it. With longing for help the sinner looks to the Savior, looks to Christ and pleads, “If you are willing,” “will you please,” “Oh Lord please make me clean I cannot bear the misery of the pollution of my sin any longer. I don’t care what it takes, only make me clean, restore me to fellowship with You.” (Lk. 18:13).

 

“So every sinner must come. He must feel that Jesus can save him. He must also feel that he has no claim on him; that it depends on his sovereign will; and must cast himself at his feet with the feelings of the leper:— ‘I can but perish if I go; I am resolved to try: For if I stay away, I know I shall forever die.’ Happily, no one ever came to Jesus with this feeling who was not received, and pardoned.” (cf. Matt. 11:28).

 

- So, here he is: desperate, seeing his need and helplessness to do anything about it; his only hope is in Christ; so he cries out for mercy and the Lord does not disappoint (Rom. 10).

 

(B) Command of Divine Healing

“He stretched out His hand and grasped him” - intense scene; The grammar suggest a short interval of action; it was not a long protracted discussion, there was not a time or moment of reflection, nor was there the occasional public prayer of the Son to the Father (i.e. John 11), but an immediate response; there is not the casual motion of nonchalantness, but firm, determined, resolute action on the part of the Messiah.

“stretched out” - The same term is used to describe the woman “touch[ing] the fringe of His cloak,” (Matt. 9:20-21); His grasping the hand of a little girl just healed (Matt. 9:25); of His touching the eyes of the blind men (Matt. 9:29); His touching His disciples when they were in fear after the voice of the Father at the Mount of Transfiguration (Matt. 17:7). There is a gentle strength in the touch of the Lord.

That Jesus touched him is also a great display of compassion. He could have just spoken the word and kept His distance (8:5f).

To touch a leper was unthinkable. One old rabbi is reported as saying that whenever he would see a leper he would throw stones at him so that he would not come near. But not so with the Lord. His heart went out to him, thus Mk. 1:41 “moved with compassion.”

In the OT (Lev. 5:3) it would have made one unclean, however, the Lord knew His intention to cleanse him and make him whole. Certainly, the plea of the man included an awareness that no one would want to touch a leper - it may have been years since anyone even touched him.

Even still a tremendous picture of the Lord; His willingness to come near the sinner. The mere fact that He was there displays His mercy. Here is the Holy, the Righteous One, eternal Son of God: I AM clothed in flesh, walking among sinful men; among the black darkness of nature’s night.

Though among sinner’s; untouched by sin; though near a leprous man, untouched by His disease, but instead displays His power and authority to heal: merciful Lord.

Even more the testimony of the Lord’s gentleness comes forth: He wanted all to see His willingness to come so near to the man.

Raw power alone may intimidate and cause fear, but does not draw the heart to worship, trust, and joyful submission; but infinite power possessed by One with infinite and unfailing compassion & mercy does.

If He is willing to heal the physical disease of leprosy, ow much more the spiritual disease of sin! He did not become incarnate and suffer the cross simply to take away physical sickness; but to seek and to save the lost; to give His life a ransom for many; to save His people from their sin!

“I am willing be cleansed” - in the imperative, a command, because the matter on display here is His authority, that He is Lord, but precious, precious words falling from the lips of God incarnate.

The testimony here is to His power & authority as Lord over disease; but it is also, and even more powerful to the sinners heart, it is a portrait of His compassion; of His unfeigned and eager willingness to heal & restore.

“Immediately, his leprosy was cleansed” - there was not a time interval, no waiting to see if it worked, no checking to see if he had enough faith; it was immediate, complete; verifiable, and lasting: it was a real, legitimate display of the power of God. Throughout the ministry of the Lord there is no argument as to the reality of the Lord’s miracles, only their significance as they related to His claims of Deity. Here it is, however, with a word He cast it out; this is really no difficulty for the Lord; with a word He spoke untold worlds of unfathomable size, power, majesty, and beauty and complexity into existence in an instant. The banishment of disease the restoration of a body long held captive to disease was no more difficult for the Lord than it was to say the words. His is power infinite, unlimited.

It is the same word that brought forth Lazarus from the grave, where it has been said that if He were not specific that every grave and every departed spirit would have come alive at His command; and I suppose that is true. Here is the One who is given the Spirit without measure (John 3). A “miracle” is best defined as: “an unusually powerful work of God that amazes people, reveals God, and authenticates His revelation and revelation bearer.”

Miracles are referred to as “works of power” “signs” and designed to authenticate God’s true messengers (cf. Heb. 2; 1 Cor. 14; John 5; Ex. 3-4; etc.).

Contrary to popular understanding, miracles are not prevalent throughout the history of God’s people, but are primarily seen as significant points of redemptive history.

Point of all His healing’s and miracles was to authenticate His Person & message. In the NT the Lord’s healing ministry, including leprosy (*Matt. 11:5) is evidence that the Messiah and the Messianic age is upon them (cf. 8:17). “Judaism expected the removal of this affliction in the time of Messianic salvation.”

the prophets bear witness to His glory (1:1-18; 3:1f; 5:17-18); John the Baptist; God the Father and God the Holy Spirit; even Satan Himself (4:1-11). His teaching bears witness to His glory (7:28-29). Here His works bear unassailable testimony to His Person and glory; His compassionate authority thus making His next command even more striking.

 

(2) Compassionate Authority by Concealing His Identity.

(A) Concerned about wrong devotion

(8:4)“See that you tell no one” - An often repeated warning of the Lord. Sometimes referred to as the “Messianic Secret” by liberal scholars. First suggested in 1901 by Wilhelm Wrede, who said that this was a later addition by the gospel writers to explain why the Jews did not accept Christ as their Messiah.

However, Jesus already explained that, and it is the same reason they do not now (**John 12:37-40). Their rejection is a fulfillment of prophecy and was a product of their spiritual deadness & rebellion against God (cf. John 8:44); as it was throughout their history. This is always the issue of unbelief and rejection of Christ.

If that isn’t it, why did Jesus command the man to keep it secret?

One reason is that it was a long journey to Jerusalem (40-50 miles) and He did not want the man to delay in His obedience to the second command.

However, the real reason is that He did not want the wrong kind of publicity and therefore engender the wrong kind of crowds and devotion, which was a problem He would repeatedly deal with (12:28); and later in after the feeding of the 5k (John 6:15)

Jesus knew that the widespread news of His healing ministry, not tempered by a right understanding of His Messiahship would cause more damage than good . Jesus was not seeking popularity, but desired their understanding. He knew His mission, they did not (Matt. 16:21-23).

This accords well with the fact that every detail of the life of Christ (as well as ours) was a testimony to the sovereignty of God, Jesus’s awareness of that sovereignty, and submission to it (Matt. 26:28; *Lk. 13:31-33; John 7:6-8). This is no more dramatically demonstrated than in the Garden (*Mk 14:42; John 18:4).

Let’s note that HE works in the same way now, on His own time table, in a way that accords with His perfect wisdom and glory. He does not always act the way we want, or when we think He should, but it always the way that is best and exactly on time. He is not anxious, or rushed.

Now, whether the man’s faith was real is a legitimate question; He sure didn’t display it by obedience: Mark 1:45 [Read]; because of the man’s disobedience to this command and the subsequent consequence of Jesus no longer enjoying the same freedom of movement in His ministry; though this too is under the sovereign hand of God.

 

(B) Concerned about whole restoration

“Go show yourself to the priest … to witness to them” - Jesus was not hiding, even less was He unconcerned with the proper testimony of Himself, so He commands the man to do what is proper and to offer the sacrifice commanded in the Law when one has experienced a healing from God (Lev. 14:4-10).

Certainly, when offering his sacrifice the priests would have questioned him (cf. John 9:15f), which would have provided the opportunity to bear proper witness, in the proper manner, and at the proper time (cf. John 5:36). This furthers verifies the truth of 5:17, and becomes yet another testimony of the Word to Jesus as Messiah.

Also, this shows Jesus’ concern for the man’s social restoration by having his status as healed and cleansed confirmed before all. This concern is hinted at in the man’s request not simply to be healed but to be cleansed. The disease bore not only the physical pain but the social and religious stigma that marked him as one defiled and cut him off from social and religious interaction. Jesus’ concern for the man is comprehensive and includes both elements.

Furthermore, this shows Jesus’ confidence in the reality of the healing - unlike many false ‘healers’ today.

So, what are we to do with this?

There may be a thousand ways to apply, but the point is that it exalts the glory of the Jesus as sovereign Lord and gentle Savior; and a right view of God and a right glimpse of the glory of Christ at once also solves a thousand problems. Here Christ is presented and powerfully and irrefutably stands as Lord God, who is the Christ, who is the Savior.

His authority is absolute; His power infinite; His sovereignty in perfect control and operation; His glory in every way equal to the Father, such that One cannot be glorified apart from the other; His compassion never failing, always calling reaching out to the despised and diseased, and even to the most wretched sinner broken before Him; empty of personal resources or merit; longing for the healing touch of the Savior to the soul and the loving embrace of forgiving love and reconciliation wrapped in the omnipotent arms that hung on the cross.

This is Jesus Christ, the Lord, displayed in all His compassionate authority standing before us as King.

 

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