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Healing & Hope

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Our resting place as we ask for healing is faith, trusting that the heart of Jesus is compassionate, loving, and good, no matter what transpires.

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Matthew 8:1–17 ESV
When he came down from the mountain, great crowds followed him. And behold, a leper came to him and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. 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.” When he had entered Capernaum, a centurion came forward to him, appealing to him, “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, suffering terribly.” And he said to him, “I will come and heal him.” 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. 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.” 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. I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” 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. And when Jesus entered Peter’s house, he saw his mother-in-law lying sick with a fever. He touched her hand, and the fever left her, and she rose and began to serve him. 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. This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: “He took our illnesses and bore our diseases.”
Every one of us in here knows what it’s like to be sick. Many of us also know what it’s like to live with the permanent presence of a disease or a disability. In her book of prayer Kari Kristina Reeves wisely writes,
Broken hearts are part of this life. Pain, injury, loss, and death are components of any earthly existence, regardless of a person’s spiritual orientation, financial status, nationality, or social influence. Every human being is vulnerable to heartache.
When encounter the vulnerability of sickness, disease, and disability, we want to get better. We want to be healed. Yet, healing is inherently mysterious.
A few years ago, I was privileged to sit and hear a phenomenal sermon. It wasn’t because it was the most exegetically sound message I’ve ever heard. Even though it was exegetically sound. It wasn’t because the preacher was animated and dynamic. He wasn’t that. He actually couldn’t be that way. The reason the sermon was phenomenal is because it was a sermon that I both heard and saw. The preacher was a living witness to the message he was preaching. I was watching and listening to a man who was enduring duress, but was at peace with death. Who believed what the psalmist says in , “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his holy ones.”
This brother preached to us out of . Jesus’ words,
Luke 9:23–24 ESV
And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.
“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.”
“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.”
This pastor had not been able to make our presbytery meetings for the two years because of how cancer was wrecking his body. When he was diagnosed, the doctor told him, in cases like yours we don’t talk about remission, we only talk expectancy. 18-24 months was the life expectancy, with the most outlying cases being 4-5 years. At that point, he was in year 4. His diagnosis came at a time of excitement and expectation at the church he served. They had just renewed their vision, and had a plan to move forward in ministry that had people excited. And in an instant it was gone. He had a terminal disease. There were elders and members who left the church and it became a shell of what it was.
He said this to us that day,
What sanctification looks like is the loss, difficulty, betrayal, the constant thwarting of your plans, desires, the loss of what you think life looks like and should be. It is the taking away of dreams, visions, strategic plans, and realizing that God has not abandoned you; realizing in all of that loss that Jesus didn’t lie.”
He said,
The reason that Christianity doesn’t work for many is because that’s not what they signed up for. They signed up for a triumphant Christianity.
This is a message and a passage about healing. What are we to make of that pastor’s words and experience in light of what we see Jesus doing here in ? Isn’t Matthew setting us up to expect the triumphant life of faith in Jesus means healing of our diseases? No. The pastor was right about what it means to give up everything to follow Jesus, and at the same time Jesus is still a healer. Let me tell you what’s going on. We have come to the end of the Sermon on the Mount. Matthew says in v. 1, after Jesus came down from the mountain great crowds followed him. Chapters 5-7 was a mind-blowing experience for the crowds. The concluding word of the Sermon on the Mount was
Matthew 7:28–29 ESV
And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.
“And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.” ( ESV)
“And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.” ( ESV)
He has been preaching the good news of the kingdom of heaven with authority. The kingdom has invaded the world. Now his authority over creation is going to be put on display. This display is going to be full of compassion, grace, and mercy as he heals diseases, casts out demons, and makes people whole. This section starts with three wonderful healings. We’re going to see healing and hope for The Outcast, The Oppressor, and The Ordinary.

The Outcast

Jesus comes down the mountain and we get a repeat of what happened before he went up the mountain at the end of ch. 4. Jesus went throughout all Galilee, Matthew says in 4:23, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people. Jesus’ fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, those having seizures, and paralytics, and he healed them. And great crowds followed him from Galilee and the Decapolis, and from Jerusalem and Judea, and from beyond the Jordan. When he saw the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down his disciples came to him. Now, he comes back down the mountain and we get a similar description to what we saw in ch. 4, except in reverse order. Great crowds are following him again. Jesus is only growing in fame and popularity. He’s healing again, but this time Matthew gives us detailed accounts of particular people and situations.
There is shock value to what we find in v. 2. The crowds are following him, and Matthew says, “Behold, a leper came to him, bowed before him, saying, “Lord, if you want to, you can make me clean.” This man was an outcast. Leprosy was a contagious skin disease. Certain forms of it had no known cure, and it could take you out. Lepers, by law among the people of Israel were unclean. The law on leprosy is detailed in . says,
The leprous person who has the disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head hang loose, and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, “Unclean, unclean.” He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease. He is unclean. He shall live along. His dwelling shall be outside the camp.
So, if you had this disease you had to make it publicly known by the way you dressed, by the carried yourself physically, and by what you said. Everything about you had to indicate your shameful condition. You even had to live by yourself. Others wouldn’t dare be around you. You were an outcast. That might be your condition for the rest of your life. A loss of dignity, a loss of community, a loss of hope. His identity is wrapped up in his disease. He’s not a man. He’s something less than that. The person healed in vv. 5-13 is a beloved servant. The person healed in vv. 14-15 is a mother-in-law. This guy’s title is “leper.” We always identify people by the thing that excludes them from community. The poor. The homeless. We dehumanize people by making their condition their definition.
For a contemporary example, this is how our society used to treat people who had HIV/AIDS. Do you remember when Magic Johnson announced that he was HIV positive? Part of the reason he had to retire wasn’t only because of the effects of the disease. It was also because a lot of other players didn’t want to play with or around him. When he made his comeback that was a big question. What happens if he gets cut and I get his blood on me? What happens if we’re banging bodies on the court and I get his sweat on me? I don’t want what he’s got. Keep him away. People were saying that about Magic even though the disease isn’t transferred like that.
How much worse must it have been for this leper who dares to come out of his isolation, with torn clothes indicating his uselessness, covering his lip and shouting, “Unclean! Unclean?” How quickly did the crowds part when they saw him? People must have been running away, staying as far away as they could. But he makes his way to Jesus and makes a confession and a declaration. He bows to the ground and calls Jesus “Lord.” That’s not just him saying, “Kind sir.” He’s saying, I know who you are. And he makes a declaration. “Because I know who you are, I know what you can do. If you want to, if you’re willing to, you can make me clean.” Notice that he’s specific. He’s got a disease, but he doesn’t say, “Lord, you can heal me if you want to.” He understands, “My issue is an uncleanness that separates me from the people.” The second thing to notice, and we’re going to see this in the other two cases as well, is he doesn’t ask Jesus to cleanse him. He says, “Lord, you can do it if you want to.”
What does Jesus do? He stretches out his hand and touches the leper. Did Jesus have to do that in order to cure this man? No. Do you see the compassion in Jesus’ action? I’m not afraid to touch you. Your leprosy is no barrier to being embraced by me. How long had it been since this man had experienced the physical touch of another human being? Jesus reaches out his hand, touches the leper to say, “I’m not defining you by your condition.” Then he simply says, “I will.” “I want to.” One word in the Greek text. Then he says, “Become clean.” And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. Jesus says to him, “See that you don’t say anything to anyone. But go show yourself to the priest and bring the offering that Moses commanded as a testimony to them.” We read about that in our Scripture reading from . Why does Jesus say, “Don’t say anything to anyone?” Let me remind you, Jesus isn’t interested in drawing larger and larger crowds, he’s interested in disciples. But, more importantly, he wants to see this outcast be restored to his community. Show yourself to the priest so they can declare that you’re clean. And you can take off those torn clothes. You can stop having to live alone.
Let me say this before moving from the outcast to the oppressor. What we see Jesus doing here is an aspect of what it means to be the church. It’s an aspect of what it means to follow Jesus. One of the things that made the church stand out at the beginning was the way Christians embraced the outcast. The way the church went after and welcomed and cared for those whom, because of their condition, were deemed by society as not deserving the dignity of community and fellowship. They were defined by the sickness. They were defined by their poverty. They were defined by their disability. They were defined by their gender (unwanted baby girls). Long before the Statue of Liberty poem declared, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” the church was saying it and doing it because she followed her Savior.

The Oppressor

Jesus heals the man infected with leprosy to restore him to community. But then Matthew’s readers, who were predominately Jewish, finds out that the presence of the kingdom of heaven brings indiscriminate wholeness. You have three verses dedicated to the restoration of an Israelite. But then Matthew gives us an extended account of Jesus’ compassion and mercy and care for this Gentile, a non-Israelite. What’s more, not only is this a Gentile, he works for “the man.” “The man,” is the Roman Empire. And “the man” is always keeping us down. We can’t be free. We can’t get ahead because “the man” is always breathing down our necks.
When Jesus entered Capernaum, his base of operations, Matthew says in v. 5 that a centurion came to him, appealing to him, exhorting him. We hear the same confession on the centurion’s lips that we heard from the man with leprosy. “Lord.” He understands who Jesus is. That’s going to be made even more clear in a few verses. The centurion appeals to Jesus, “My servant is lying at my home paralyzed, suffering terribly.” The word for servant here is not the normal word you find translated as servant in the NT. The normal word is at the end of v. 9 where the centurion says, “and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it. The word used in v. 6 primarily means youth, or boy, or young person. Some will translate it as the centurion saying, “My son is lying paralyzed at home, suffering terribly.” Whatever the case, what’s being indicated by the use of the word is that the person who is suffering is someone that the centurion cares about deeply. And like the leper, the centurion wants Jesus to heal, but he doesn’t ask Jesus directly. Instead, we find Jesus asking him a question. Verse 7 is better translated as a question. It’s Jesus responding to the centurion’s appeal by asking, “Shall I come and heal him?”
The centurion calls Jesus out as Lord again, saying,
Lord, I am not worthy that you would come under my roof. But only say a word, and my servant will be healed. Because I myself am also a man under authority, having soldiers under me. I say to this one, “Go,” and he goes. And to another, “Come,” and he comes. And to my servant, “Do this,” and he does it.
Do you hear what he’s saying to Jesus? I know who I am, and I know who you are. I’m a man under authority who also exercises authority, but I don’t have too high a view of myself. I know that I’m in the presence of real authority. Jesus, I’m under your authority. Your offer to come is unnecessary. You’re so fly that all you’ve got to do is say the word, and my beloved servant will be healed. I understand power, and you’ve got the power.
How does Jesus respond? He was amazed. When Jesus heard this, he marveled and said to those who followed him, “Truly I say to you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith.” When Jesus is amazed or marvels we should pay attention. Here is a centurion, a Roman soldier, “the man,” who gets it. He understood Jesus’ power and authority. When Jesus told the man cleansed of leprosy to show himself to the priest as a testimony to them, it wasn’t only because of what required. It was also a witness to them that, just like Jesus said in Sermon on the Mount, he did not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it. It was a testimony to the priests that Jesus heals by the finger of God, and that the kingdom of heaven has come upon them. This fact is in stark contrast to the centurion who already gets it! Here is a non-Israelite who clearly sees and embraces the fact that Jesus outranks him in authority. Jesus has already said and done enough for this man to recognize that he’s unworthy of Jesus coming under his roof. He is, in this respect, like John the Baptist who was a man with authority, but who said, “The one who’s coming after me, I’m unworthy to loosen the strap of his sandle.”
As Dan Doriani writes in his commentary, “The centurion’s reply amazed Jesus for he understood that Jesus did not heal by touch, but by a deeper authority, in his person.” Jesus says in v. 11, this is how it’s going to be. There are going to be many Gentiles who get it. They’re going to come to me from the east and the west and they’re going to have a seat at the dinner table in the kingdom of heaven. And the sons of the kingdom, those who are expected to be in the kingdom because of the Israelite heritage, and going to be kicked out. Then Jesus says to the centurion, “Go, let it be done for you as you have believed.” The beloved servant was healed that very moment.
Jesus doesn’t need to touch in order to heal, all he has to do is speak a word. The servant is healed, but the center of this story isn’t the healing. The center of this story is the centurion’s faith. His faith is what makes Jesus marvel. God used this man’s life experience to open his eyes and see Jesus for who he truly is! What this account speaks to is the fact that, from our perspective, God is indiscriminate, he doesn’t discriminate with who he touches, restores to wholeness, or grants the gift of faith. The centurion, in many respects, becomes a model of faith. Faith humbles itself under the mighty hand of God. Faith says, “Who am I, Lord, that you should come see about me? But I turn to you nonetheless, because I know that you are gracious and merciful, full of steadfast love and compassion.”

The Ordinary

If the healing of the leper demonstrated the power and compassion of Jesus to embrace the outcast and restore them to wholeness, and the healing of the centurion’s servant demonstrated that even the oppressor isn’t beyond the reach of God, the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law demonstrates that Jesus is even interested in the ordinary. There’s no narrative in vv. 14 and 15. Nobody is coming to Jesus. Nobody is explaining their situation. Matthew doesn’t give us any details about why they went to Peter’s house. He simply says, “when Jesus entered Peter’s house, he saw Peter’s mother-in-law lying sick with a fever.” She’s not an untouchable. She’s not paralyzed. She just has a regular old fever. She doesn’t ask him to heal her. He sees her, touches her hand, doesn’t say a word. The fever leaves her. She gets up and begins to serve him.
This is about as ordinary as it gets. When we consider Jesus’ healings, we expect, fanfare, we expect amazement...
And there are two things that stand out. This is Jesus taking the initiative. His love is demonstrated here by the fact that his disciple doesn’t even need to ask for healing. Jesus can do what he wants to do. You don’t even have to ask him to help you. How much of the stuff that goes on in the ordinary day in and day out affairs of your life is the Lord helping you without you even asking for help or knowing that you ought to ask for help? This is how Christians approach prayer sometimes. “Jesus says, ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened to you; so I’d better make sure that I get my list down and cover every possible thing I can think of.” We forget that Jesus also said, “Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” So, ask away, but understand that the power of God is such that he doesn’t need your requests to act on your behalf! What these accounts do is blow up any formula we try to put together for how to get results from God. “I’ve gotta pray this way. I’ve gotta get my words right. I’ve gotta make sure I fast…” Jesus walks into the house, sees that she’s sick, touches her and she’s restored to full strength. There’s no formula for that.
The second thing that stands out in this is in those simple words, “she got up and began to serve him. Yes, she is showing Jesus hospitality, but this wording plays a significant role later in the gospel of Matthew, when he says in 27:55 that there were many women who had followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to him. That’s the same word translated as served here. It is her mark as a disciple, serving her Lord. It is the regular, ordinary life of serving Jesus.
So these three accounts of Jesus’ healings don’t give hope that every ailment and every disability will be healed in the here and now. As Kari Reeves rightly says in her book of prayer,
Suffering is inherently complicated, and healing is inherently mysterious. Some wounds will not be completely healed until we are in heaven with God. This is a challenging and perplexing dynamic of God’s ways in the world. However, there are many wounds that God will heal on this side of eternity, so it is appropriate to pray for healing, even as we leave the outcome in God’s hands. Our resting place as we ask for healing is faith, trusting that the heart of Jesus is compassionate, loving, and good, no matter what transpires.
What this passage screams to us is that our resting place as we desire healing is faith. This is true for the outcast, for the oppressor, and for those enduring the ordinary trials of life.
By faith, the outcast, the oppressor, and the ordinary are invited to this table by Jesus, our wounded healer, to eat and drink together as a foretaste of the banquet table we will sit at with him when all the wounds and will be behind us….
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