Matthew 8

Jesus Begins His Galilean Ministry

Jesus came down off the mountain where He had given His "Kingdom Seminar" and large crowds began to follow or accompany Him. The point Matthew is seeking to make is that He did not begin to do a series of miracles immediately at the end of His seminar, but the emphasis is on the post-seminar crowd which started accompanying His ministry (1).

Healing of the Leper (2-4)

Leprosy was a dreaded disease, and it included more than just what is today known as Hansen's disease. In Bible days, there were many skin diseases—some curable, some not—but they all fell under the ancient label of leprosy. In Old Testament times, a leper was considered unclean (a word used to describe someone unqualified for sacred experience) and someone cut off from the community. So you could say they were cut off from social life and sacred community life (Leviticus 13:45-46).

Oddly, a leper came to Jesus and violated the social and sacred distance lepers were to keep. He worshiped Jesus, making a request not for healing but cleansing, recognizing that being cleansed from leprosy was a matter of Jesus’ willingness, not a matter of whether He possessed the power or had the sovereignty to do so.  

We must take note that there was something in Jesus' social interaction with all people which made this leper sense he could approach Jesus without being rejected (2).

Jesus continued to shock everyone—not only did He receive the leper, accept his worship, and answer the prayer, but He touched the leper, confirming His love and willingness to heal. Jesus then said, "I will; be clean." Of course the man was immediately cleansed and the leprosy disappeared (3).

Jesus then went on to direct the leper to be restored to society. Jesus sent him to the priest to show himself cleansed and to make an offering as a proof of his healing so he could be restored to society by being officially declared clean by the priest (Leviticus 14:1-2, 10, 21-22).

Jesus also forbade the leper from publicly broadcasting his healing to anyone which would bring undue notice to Jesus, reducing Him to a miracle-worker. Jesus understood the leper's witness would not be full or true. Jesus had come not as a miracle-worker but as Yahweh's promised Messiah (4).

The Healing of the Centurion's Servant (5-13)

Jesus finally made it back to His ministry base, Capernaum. Once Jesus entered the city, a Roman Centurion appealed to Jesus in a respectful tone to come and heal one of his slaves who had been thrown down (lying) and was lying paralyzed on a bed suffering terribly from whatever accident he had experienced (5-6).

Jesus, again shocking the culture of His day, told the Centurion that He would personally enter his home to heal his slave. Jews would never enter a Gentile's home. The Centurion would have been fully aware of the social disorder it would have caused in their city for Jesus to enter his home, so he posed another solution (7).

In the solution, the Centurion revealed his understanding of Jesus' real power. He told Jesus He need not come under his roof, the Centurion not being a worthy host to royalty or emperor. He told Jesus His physical presence was unnecessary in his home for healing; a command could come with a “WORD,” and, for the Centurion, the "WORD" was all that was essential. The "WORD" merely needed to be spoken to have healing power (8).

The Centurion's logic was simple; he possessed authority because it was granted him on the word of the emperor, so he could give word to his men to come and go and they would follow his orders because the power was in the words. He had authority based on words, he used authority based on words, and he recognized Jesus' authority rested in His word (9).

Jesus marveled, shocked that someone, particularly a Gentile, had figured out where God's authority rested. Jesus had found no understanding like the Centurion's concerning faith among the Jews (10).

Jesus then told the crowd that many Gentiles would come from every direction seeking to party at the great Messianic Gala at the end of the age. The sons of the Kingdom (Israel), however, would be thrown out into darkness where they would experience great distress and misery. Why? Because they failed to comprehend and put faith in God's words (11-12).

Jesus then told the Centurion to go and it would be done as he had believed. Of course, at that very moment, the "WORD" of healing entered the slave's body (13).

Jesus Heals Many (14-17)

This is the only time Matthew records a healing of Jesus that was not preceded by a request. Once Jesus entered the house, He went straight to Peter's mother-in-law, touched her hand, and the fever lifted. Her body was so miraculously energized that she immediately arose and began to serve Jesus (14-15). The city heard of the miracle, and by evening the demons, oppressed and sick, came to Him, and Matthew records the "WORD" healed them. Matthew mentions all of this was a fulfillment of the prophet Isaiah (53:4) and Psalm 103:3 which predicted the Messiah was also the suffering Servant who came to heal diseases (16-17).

Encounter with the Scribe (18-21)

Jesus, oddly enough, was not seeking fame, nor did He wish His celebrity to be worshiped, so He took off for the other side of the lake. Once on the other side of the lake, a teacher of religion was so taken by Jesus that he came and made his commitment known. He too wanted to follow Jesus closely, and everywhere Jesus and His twelve disciples went, He wanted to follow along with them (18-19).

Jesus told the teacher of religion that those who genuinely followed Him would need to do so through unimaginable difficulty. Their lives would be extraordinary, Jesus told him, for even foxes had holes and birds had nests but the Son of Man did not make His personal residence a priority over the mission of Yahweh (20). This was the heart of following Yahweh; personal comfort was not priority to following.

At the same time, another disciple told Jesus that before he could follow Him he would go home and bury his father, meaning he would go home and settle his estate so at the end of following Jesus he would have somewhere to come home to. Jesus told him having a plan B was not going to work. To follow Jesus meant to throw everything at the feet of Yahweh and make following Him the central priority. Jesus was not teaching a form of homelessness but rather placing even the seeming right of having a home and basic comforts subservient to Kingdom mission (21-22).

Calming the Storm (23-27)

To prove His point, Jesus got into a boat having his disciples leave their beds, pillows, and homes behind (23). Their boat became no safe haven for rest but was swamped as the waves from the fierce storm were breaking over the boat. The Sea of Galilee is about 700 feet below sea level, so the winds on the lake can develop quickly and become excessively turbulent. Jesus, oblivious to the circumstance, had made Himself at home in the water-filling vessel and was asleep (24). The disciples, being fishermen by trade and fearing they would die, went and woke up Jesus, a carpenter by trade, requesting He save them from the certain drowning (25).  

Jesus rebuked His disciples, asking them why they, being fishermen and used to the adversities of the sea, were acting so cowardly, aware the "WORD" of Yahweh was on board. Jesus arose and rebuked the wind, and there was not continued easing of the storm but an immediate ceasing of the tempest followed by a great and eerie calm (26).

Even His disciples marveled at the sovereignty of someone who did not pray for a continued easing of the winds but demanded they immediately cease (27).

The Healing of Two Demons (28-34)

Once on the other side of the Sea of Galilee, Jesus came to the area known as Gadarenes. This was an area along the Sea controlled by the city of Gadara some six miles away. In this area by the sea and under the control of the city of Gadara, two demon-possessed men met Jesus who was headed for the nearby cemetery. The men essentially lived in tombs. They were fiercely violent, so the townspeople who lived some six miles away had abandoned the tombs to the demon-possessed men and no longer even used the trail which passed by the tombs for fear of harm. Jesus headed right up the abandoned path toward the abandoned cemetery when the men came out to stop Jesus from entering their home and they began to scream, not nonsense but meaningful words.

First, they wanted to know what Jesus had in common with them—He being a Son of God. This may not have been an admission that they knew exactly who Jesus was, but they did know He was a great Man and they were assuming by the way He was coming to the tombs that He was coming to their home with a purpose. Again, Jesus was shocking the social senses by not only going to a home of demon-possessed men, but a home made within the tombs. The demons then wanted to know if this great Man Who was coming to their home in the tombs was coming to punish them (28-29). This is such an amazing story—Jesus heading not for a city or a populated area but the home of a couple of demon-possessed men who were out of their minds, living in some tombs, to bring healing to their lives.

Matthew makes note of some pigs feeding some distance away and then tells the story as it takes an unusual twist. The demons within the men began to talk to Jesus, sensing Jesus might be willing to send them into the pigs some distance away (30-31). There is so much we do not know about this request except to note demons wish, even long, not to be without the cloak of a body. Demons want to live within the body. My guess is they thrill to destroy life, any life created by God. It is how they satisfy their own lust so living in and destroying a body brings them some kind of gratification.  

It would seem the demons might have known enough about Jesus to assume that, instead of being thrown out into nothing, Jesus might give them permission to go do some mischief in the pigs. Pigs, of course, were an unacceptable food to the Jews before the resurrection of Jesus.

Jesus told them simply to "GO!" The demons left the men, entered the pigs, and drove them down an embankment into the sea (32).

The herdsmen fled to Gadara, some six miles away, to tell the city they wouldn't be enjoying the smell of bacon for some time (33).

The citizens of the city made the six-mile walk to Jesus Who had meanwhile restored their cemetery, and the path running by the cemetery, and two of their citizens back to them.

The city begged Jesus to leave. Having men out of their minds with hysterical violence was a preferred environment to Jesus Who did not seem to esteem their economic needs (34). The swine herd was likely city-owned and the herdsmen were tending the pigs for the city. The point is clear: they didn't want healing and helping if it affected their money.