Read: Matthew 8-9
Matthew provides an incredible list of miracles by Jesus throughout the area and some unique ministry challenges in these two chapters. It’s hard to imagine how this news spread around the region, how it was received, etc. I’m sure they were skeptical of the fake-news of their day and I’m confident I would have been with the group that wanted to see proof. At the same time, loyalties are being tested: will you follow Jesus or John? Pharisees or this One they are calling the Messiah? Matthew quickly stirs the pot by introducing a wide range of characters and concerns. May God speak to you through one of these many examples.
In chapter 4, Matthew reports that Jesus’ ministry began and briefly said He was healing those with diseases, those who were sick, suffering, in pain, paralyzed, demon-possessed, and more (Matthew 4:23-24). Matthew provides specific examples of miracles that demonstrate the breadth of Jesus’ reach in these chapters.
Matthew wants us to know that Jesus was no ordinary prophet, rather, He was the one proclaimed by the prophets who would “took on our infirmities and bore our diseases” (Matthew 8:17; Isaiah 53:4). Here’s a quick list for reference:
- Man with Leprosy: Matthew 8:1-4
- Faith of a Centurion: Matthew 8:5-13
- Peter’s Mother-in-Law (and others): Matthew 8:14-17
- Calms the Storm: Matthew 8:23-27
- Two Demon-Possessed Men: Matthew 8:28-34
- Heals a Paralyzed Man: Matthew 9:1-8
- Restores Life to a Dead Girl and Heals a Sick Woman: Matthew 9:18-26
- Heals the Blind and Mute: Matthew 9:27-34
A quick scan of the outline above leaves us with the simple conclusion: there is no limit of Jesus’ authority. Men, women, servants, Romans, even children are considered important enough to Jesus that they would be healed of diseases and more. He even controls nature by rebuking the storm as if disciplining a child, “now stop that tantrum!” And it was calm.
It’s interesting that the example of one who has great faith is taken from a Roman Centurion, one who would have been seen as oppressive authority, yet he is the one that Jesus points out:
When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, “Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. Matthew 8:10
For just a moment look back at Matthew 2:16 where Herod gives orders to kill all of the males two and younger. Those orders were no doubt flawlessly executed by men who were under the rule of centurions, the military authority. What they represented was synonymous with the Gestapo in Hitler’s regime, brutally following orders. Somehow Jesus sees what no other person can see: he sees the heart. Lord, may we have eyes to see beyond that which the world honors or hates. You called us to love. Help us to do your will when it’s as difficult as this must have been for the disciples to witness.
Jesus is not bound by titles or positions. When a synagogue leader approached Jesus, He went and raised his daughter from death. Faith is rewarded in realtime in these stories. We know that’s not always the case, but it is heart-warming to read such stories and know that Jesus can heal anyone at any time. Lord, help us to have such faith!
The narrative on the demon-possessed men and the reaction of the town is somewhat strange and remarkable. These two men are completely out of their minds because of the demons that have taken residence within them–that alone is a lot to consider. I must confess that this is a difficult concept to appreciate, but I do believe we fight an enormous battle in the spiritual realm, it’s just impossible to explain in words. Jesus is confronted by the spirits through these men and a herd of pigs is lost as a result. Weird. Even stranger, the town tells Jesus to leave! As if to suggest they could deal with two crazed men, but the loss of their pigs was too much to handle, they plead with Jesus to leave their town.
Matthew seems to say, “It’s not all about miracles!” as he intersperses some important ministry topics in his narrative:
- The Cost of Following Jesus: Matthew 8:18-22
- Jesus Calls Matthew: Matthew 9:9-13
- Question About Fasting: Matthew 9:14-17
- Abundant Harvest — Few Workers: Matthew 9:35-38
It’s interesting how Matthew weaves these topics into the narrative, the cost to be a disciple is more than most were willing to consider, too much for the Pharisee here or the man who is more concerned about following procedures for burying a family member who has died. Jesus has no patience for people who simply refuse to look beyond the letter of the laws they have created, those trapped by their own misplaced loyalties. The call is far greater than such earthly matters.
Matthew’s own calling is somewhat of a footnote with an emphasis on his sinful nature rather than his qualifications to become a disciple. In contrast to the previous thought, Matthew heard the call and simple, “got up and followed” Jesus. Period.
The question about fasting is somewhat fascinating. John the Baptist’s disciples have to make a decision on who to follow–it must have been so confusing. They went out to the wilderness, heard John proclaim the gospel and were moved to the point that they become his disciples. John is in prison, so they’re fasting and praying, but Jesus has a whole different perspective. Can’t they see they are confronted with the One about whom he was preaching?
The narrative in today’s reading ends with a call to work:
Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” Matthew 9:37-38
Jesus had compassion on the people because they were like sheep without a shepherd: defenseless, unprotected, destined for death. Through His eyes there is so much pain, so many lost. I often speak about those who don’t even know they are lost, the guy who has a great job, happy wife and kids, discretionary income–success by worldly standards. All the trappings of success, but no sign of Jesus in his life. Perhaps he shows up on Sunday at a church. Check. Takes his family to Christmas Eve service or the special show during the Advent season. Check. Maybe even attends a special event and watches his children get baptized. Check. All the while, the Spirit is not within his heart.
Like sheep without a shepherd, this man will not be saved unless someone reaches him. How can we reach him if we are inwardly focused? How will we see him if we define the lost in terms of financially poor or destitute? Lord, help us to get beyond the exterior. There is so much work to do. Help us to be disciple makers that desire to enter the fields and harvest what others miss!