Fasting and the New Covenant (Exposition of Matthew 9:14-17)

I can think of no more appropriate topic for the Sunday after Thanksgiving message than fasting.  In God’s providence, this is where we are this morning.  God always knows exactly what we need, doesn’t He?

In this morning’s text, the disciples of John ask Jesus the question: “Why don’t your disciples fast?”  Jesus’ answer to this question provides important insights into the nature of His New Covenant ministry.

Then the disciples of John came to Him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but Your disciples do not fast?”  15 And Jesus said to them, “Can the friends of the bridegroom mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? But the days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast.  16 “No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; for the patch pulls away from the garment, and the tear is made worse.  17 “Nor do they put new wine into old wineskins, or else the wineskins break, the wine is spilled, and the wineskins are ruined. But they put new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.”  Matthew 9:14-17

The Question, v. 14.
The question is asked by the disciples of John in the same context of the previous question from the Pharisees.  In verse 11, the Pharisees had asked Jesus’ disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”  Now the disciples of John ask Jesus, “Why do your disciples eat at all?”  These two questions represent two views of holiness.  One view said that one could not eat with sinners, the other that one should not eat at all.

It is important to note that the fasting referred to by John’s disciples was not one which was commanded by the law.  Only one fast was commanded in the Mosaic law, that on the Day of Atonement.  Instead these fasting was a tradition practiced by the Pharisees, and apparently adopted by the disciples of John, of fasting two days a week: Monday and Thursday.  This was a source of pride among the Pharisees as is seen in Luke 18:12 where the Pharisee boasts of fasting twice a week in his prayer in the Temple.  It is interesting that when the early church fasted, church history informs us that they also fasted twice a week, but on Wednesdays and Fridays, in order that their fasting not be confused with the fasting of the Pharisees.

Jesus’ Answer, vv. 15-17.
Jesus’ answer was threefold.  Jesus uses three different images to explain why His disciples do not fast like the disciples of John and the Pharisees.  In so doing He reveals something of the radically new nature of His Kingdom.

The first image which Jesus uses is one which the disciples of John would have been familiar with because it was John Himself who applied the term “Bridegroom” to Jesus in John 3:29.  If Jesus is the Bridegroom, then His disciples are the “friends of the bridegroom.”  It is not fitting, says Jesus, for the friends of the bridegroom to mourn while the bridegroom is present with them.”  In employing this image, Jesus is making a startling claim to deity that we might miss if we’re not careful.  In the Old Testament, Jehovah God had used this exact same language to describe His relationship with the nation of Israel.  For example in Hosea 2:19-23, God declares to Israel:

“I will betroth you to Me forever; Yes, I will betroth you to Me In righteousness and justice, In lovingkindness and mercy; 20  I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness, And you shall know the LORD.” 21 “It shall come to pass in that day That I will answer,” says the LORD; “I will answer the heavens, And they shall answer the earth. 22  The earth shall answer With grain, With new wine, And with oil; They shall answer Jezreel. 23  Then I will sow her for Myself in the earth, And I will have mercy on her who had not obtained mercy; Then I will say to those who were not My people, ‘You are My people!’ And they shall say, ‘You are my God!’”

Now Jesus is using this language to declare that He is the Bridegroom who will call to Himself a bride, the true Israel, made up of both believing Jews and Gentiles.

The point is then, “How can my disciples fast when this long expected promise is now being fulfilled!?!?”  The reason that the Pharisees and disciples of John fasted was because they were longing for this day when God would again show His favor to Israel.  They were mourning waiting for the day when God would restore Israel from its rebellious present state.  Jesus is declaring that with His coming that day had now arrived!

But Jesus also says that there are days coming when His disciples will fast.  Those days are when their bridegroom is taken from them.  Some scholars understand this to refer to the three day period when Christ is taken from His disciples in death between the cross and resurrection.  But the early church apparently understood this to refer to the time after Christ ascended and before He comes again (Cf. Acts 13:3; 14:23; and 27:9).  This is the period in which we are now living.  This is a time for fasting, but not like the Pharisees and disciples of John.  Instead we are to fast as those who know that the Bridegroom has come and long for His coming again.  The Pharisees and disciples of John fasted in mourning because they didn’t believe that God’s promise had yet been fulfilled.  As New Covenant Believers, we fast because we do believe that God’s promise has been fulfilled and we are longing expectantly for those promises to be fully consummated at our Lord’s return!

Jesus now gives two more illustrations of the difference between the fasting of the Pharisees and His disciples by showing the radical difference between the Old and New Covenants.

In these two illustrations, Jesus goes to the heart of the question posed by the Pharisees and the disciples of John.  Their question about fasting assumed that Jesus’ teaching and ministry was only a slight alteration, or a patch upon the existing system of Judaism.  Jesus, however, informs them that fasting is different for His disciples precisely because with His coming into the world something completely new has come.  You cannot just pour the content of the New Covenant into the form of the Old Covenant.  Yes, there will be fasting, but it is a different kind of fasting.

  • Elaborate on the illustration of the new patch on old clothing in v. 16.
  • Elaborate on the illustration of the new wine in old wineskins in v. 17.

We could add a number of contemporary illustrations of this. The painting of an old building, remodeling, etc. The age of technology yields several good examples.  I.E., computer upgrades.

This is what the writer of Hebrews 8:13 means when he writes regarding the use of the adjective “new” to modify the word “covenant”:

In that He says, “A NEW COVENANT,” He has made the first obsolete. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.

Jesus did not come to put a new coat of paint on an old building, but to build a new building.  You can’t force me and my disciples into the same old categories of the old system.

This has numerous implications for our New Covenant worship.  There are similarities but key differences in the worship of the New Covenant.  New Covenant Baptism is different from the baptism of Gentile Proselytes.  The New Covenant day of worship is different than the Old Covenant day of worship.

What are the applications for us today?  We fast . . . because we live between the two comings of Christ.  But we don’t fast like the Pharisees and disciples of John did in Jesus’ day.  Nor do we fast like modern day Jews, Muslims, Mormons, or any other false religion.  We fast because we believe that the King who is our Bridegroom has come to inaugurate His kingdom and we eagerly anticipate His coming again to consummate that same kingdom.  In other words we fast with the words of the apostle John from Revelation 22:20 in response to Jesus’ promise to return quickly on our lips: “Even so, come, Lord Jesus!”

A Recipe for Thanksgiving (Exposition of Matthew 9:9-13)

This is the time of the year when ladies begin to exchange recipes for dishes for their Thanksgiving meal. Ladies’ magazines devote entire issues to the subject. In this morning’s text, there is an unfailing recipe for thanksgiving.

This week many will gather around dining room tables with their families to celebrate Thanksgiving. In this morning’s text Jesus is gathered around a table, not of His own family, but a table full of tax collectors and sinners. But Jesus’ presence at this table of tax collectors transforms it into a table of thanksgiving.

As Jesus passed on from there, He saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax office. And He said to him, “Follow Me.” So he arose and followed Him. (10) Now it happened, as Jesus sat at the table in the house, that behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Him and His disciples. (11) And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to His disciples, “Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” (12) When Jesus heard that, He said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. (13) But go and learn what this means: ‘I DESIRE MERCY AND NOT SACRIFICE.’ For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.” Matthew 9:9-13

The context of this story is the calling of the tax collector, Matthew, in verse 9. This is the Gospel of Matthew author’s own account of his calling by Jesus. Matthew was a tax collector. This was one of the worst professions imaginable in the eyes of the Jews. A tax collector was one who, though a Jew himself, collected taxes from his fellow Jews on behalf of the Romans. In addition, to charging the Roman’s tax, he would also charge an extra fee for himself, all under the authority of the Roman government. As you can imagine, he was not a popular man. For these reasons tax collectors were social outcasts who would not be considered “good company” for decent folk. They were ostracized by society.

But in verse 10 we see Jesus sitting at a table in a house with tax collectors and sinners. According to the parallel account in Luke 5:29, this meal event occurred in Matthew’s own house and the scene was a party which he has thrown apparently to introduce his friends to Jesus. Matthew’s first action after beginning to follow Jesus was to throw a party and invite all his friends to meet his Lord. This is a good example for us. When’s the last time you invited friends, family, neighbors, or co-workers over for a meal at your house in order to introduce them to Jesus? Have you ever taken anyone out for a meal, bought their lunch, in order to tell them about Jesus? We need to develop a Matthew ministry!

But not only do we see the crowd around the table, we also see the critics outside the house in verse 11. Nothing was done in secret in the ancient world. Ideas of privacy which we are accustomed to were not present in that day. Open windows and doors were the order of the day. Apparently word had gotten around that Jesus was in a tax collector’s house. A crowd of critics gathered outside and were shocked to see Jesus eating with tax collectors and sinners. One of them gets the attention of one of Jesus’ disciples and asks the question, “Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” These Pharisees would never expect such an action from one of their own esteemed Rabbis. It would have made them ceremonially unclean to associate with such sinners. But just as in His previous encounters with diseases, Jesus does not fear contamination. He cannot be contaminated by contact with sinners. Sinners can only be cleansed by contact with Him!

Here we see a clear contrast in the views of Jesus and the Pharisees. The Pharisees see sinners as contaminated and worthy of condemnation. Jesus sees sinners as needy and as candidates for forgiveness. Which of these views best represents your view of sinners? I confess that many times I have the view of the Pharisees when I see the poor, the homeless, the alcoholic, the drug addict, the homosexual, the AIDS victim. We need to see these people like Jesus does, not like the Pharisees.

Jesus heard what the Pharisees had said to His disciples and replied in verse 12, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.” Jesus is identifying Himself as the Great Physician of the ultimate sickness: sin. In other words, Jesus is saying that if you consider these people to be broken, it is fitting that I be among those who are broken people, not among the perfect people. Jesus is not implying that the Pharisees are well. They are sinners just like the rest of humanity. The problem with the Pharisees is that they are sick and don’t know it. They are like those of whom Christ speaks of in Revelation 3:17 who say, “‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’- and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked.” This is the condition of much of the world today. They are sick and don’t know it. It’s bad to be sick, but it is worse to be sick and not know it! Because then the sickness will never be treated. People who don’t realize that they are sinners will never call out to a Savior. This is why we must be faithful to declare that the Bible teaches that all humans are sinners before a holy God. Only when they know this will they call out to God for deliverance.

Jesus goes on in verse 13 to confront the Pharisees with a Rabbinic formula: “Go and learn”. This verse shows that Jesus does not consider the Pharisees to be well, but in need themselves of understanding and salvation. Jesus tells the Pharisees to “go and learn” Hosea 6:6, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice.” As one commentator put it, “Jesus’ ministry to the ceremonially unacceptable is an act of mercy, and this pleases God more than the Pharisees’ fastidious attention to sacrificial offerings.” (Mounce, 84). These Pharisees were guilty of what Jesus pronounces a woe upon them for in Matthew 23:23-24.

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone. (24) Blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!

God values merciful acts over legalistic rigor. So many times we turn our nose up at people we know to be in sin. We say, “That’s not right!” And we are correct in our assessment. But we need to reach out a hand of help instead of pointing a finger of condemnation. I’m not talking about enabling people to continue in their sin, but rather reaching out to them with the life-changing gospel of Jesus Christ. I’m talking about rescuing the perishing and caring for the dying because Jesus is merciful, Jesus will save! We want to see people saved as long as they look and smell just like us. But we need to be willing to reach the undesirables, the people which no other church is willing to reach.

Jesus’ last words in this context are a powerful description of His purpose in coming into the world. He first states His reason for coming in negative terms, then in positive. He did not come to call the righteous. This is directed at the Pharisees who consider themselves to be righteous and to have no need of a Savior. The problem is that if you consider yourself to be righteous, then you have shut yourself off from the benefits of the Messiah who came to call sinners to repentance. This purpose statement echoes the words of the angel to Joseph announcing the birth of Jesus in Matthew 1:21, “And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins.” Jesus said in Matthew 20:28, “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” This is Jesus’ own self-understanding of why He came into the world. As the apostle Paul stated his own understanding and experience of the coming of Christ into the world in 1 Timothy 1:15, “This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.” When people come to understand themselves as sinners and Christ as the Savior of sinners then they are ready, then they have a recipe for true thanksgiving. John Newton said that he knew two things, “I am a great sinner and Jesus is a great Savior.” Knowledge of these two things will produce the appropriate response of thanksgiving.

Likewise, I believe that those tax collectors and sinners who had come to understand why Jesus had come were transformed from sinners to saints. This table of tax collectors and sinners was transformed into a table of thanksgiving.
This table scene reminds me of another table to which all believers are invited to come. Last week we celebrated the Lord’s Supper. This is also a table of sinners saved by God’s amazing grace. This table looks forward to another table, where Christ will drink again of the fruit of the vine in His coming kingdom. There once again will be a table with Jesus and tax collectors and sinners of all kinds. Sinners like you and me. That will be a table of thanksgiving!

What do we learn from this text?
1. God Values Merciful Acts over Legalistic Rigor.
2. Christ Receiveth Sinful Men.

Sinners Jesus will receive;
Sound this word of grace to all
Who the heavenly pathway leave,
All who linger, all who fall.

Sing it o’er and over again;
Christ receiveth sinful men;
Make the message clear and plain:
Christ receiveth sinful men.

Come, and He will give you rest;
Trust Him, for His Word is plain;
He will take the sinfulest;
Christ receiveth sinful men.

Now my heart condemns me not,
Pure before the law I stand;
He who cleansed me from all spot,
Satisfied its last demand.

Christ receiveth sinful men,
Even me with all my sin;
Purged from every spot and stain,
Heaven with Him I enter in.

This is a cause of thanksgiving! Are you looking for a good recipe for thanksgiving? Then, consider yourself as an undeserving sinner and consider the greatness of the mercy of the Savior. This is an unfailing recipe for thanksgiving!

Follow Me (Exposition of Matthew 9:9)

In yesterday’s Morning Worship we observed A Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church sponsored by the Voice of the Martyrs ministry. This sermon refers to a video which we watched at the beginning of the service showing the testimony of a young woman persecuted for her faith. For more information and to watch the video click here.

What does it mean to follow Jesus? We usually seem to interpret following Jesus in terms of moving to a particular location or taking a certain job. But Jesus is very clear about what it means to follow him. In this morning’s text we see the call issued to the author of this gospel, Matthew.

As Jesus passed on from there, He saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax office. And He said to him, “Follow Me.” So he arose and followed Him. Matthew 9:9

The Call of Matthew
Here we have the first mention of the author of the Gospel of Matthew. He recounts his call by Jesus in the third person. This was a common practice of the day. For example, John doesn’t refer to himself at all by name in his gospel.

In this account we see Matthew’s humility in identifying himself as a “tax collector”. This was the worse thing you could be in the eyes of the Jews. A tax collector was one who, though a Jew himself, collected taxes from his fellow Jews on behalf of the Romans. As you can imagine, he was not a popular man. We get an idea of the stigma of being a tax collector in that day in the next two verses (10-11). They were ostracized, identified with sinners, and Jesus’ eating with them was a cause of stumbling to the elite Jews. But Matthew tells us his background in order that we might understand the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ who reaches out to the outcasts of society. No one who society looks down upon is too low for Jesus to reach out to them!

Matthew’s custom station was probably located on the edge of the Sea of Galilee where commercial ships would arrive and Matthew would collect the custom duties from them.

The calling of Matthew is also recorded in Mark 2:14 and Luke 5:27-28, but they both call the disciple “Levi”. It was common for first century Jews to have two or three names.  Here Matthew uses the name with which he becomes known for later, otherwise we would have the Gospel of Levi.

Notice that Matthew’s obedience to Jesus’ call was immediate. Luke adds the detail that Matthew “left all” to follow Jesus. Again we see Matthew’s humility in not stating his own personal cost in following Jesus.
In this text we are only given the curt command by Jesus, “Follow Me.” All of what this means is not fleshed out in this context. But the other uses of this phrase in the gospels makes it clear what all is implied by these words.

Following Jesus is Not Optional for the Christian
First, let me say that following Jesus is not optional for the Christian. Some teach and others apparently believe that it is possible to be a Christian and not be a follower of Jesus. In other words, they can profess Jesus as their Savior but not obey Him as their Lord. This idea is foreign to the New Testament. Jesus said in John 10:27, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.” Who follows Jesus? Those sheep which are known by the Jesus and who hear His voice. The next verse says, “And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand.” The only ones who can claim the promise of eternal security are those who are following Jesus. This is not a promise for mere professors of Jesus, but for His followers. Following Jesus is not optional for Christ’s sheep.

Following Jesus is Costly
The call to follow Jesus is costly. One must be willing to forsake all to follow Jesus! We saw in Matthew 8:22 Jesus’ response to the man who pledged to follow Jesus, but with an exception. “But Jesus said to him, ‘Follow Me, and let the dead bury their own dead.’”

When Jesus called the two pairs of brothers: Peter and Andrew and James and John, they understood that they were to forsake all.

Then He said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” They immediately left their nets and followed Him. (21) Going on from there, He saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets. He called them, (22) and immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed Him. Matthew 4:19-22

This was also the experience of Matthew according to Luke 5:27-28 who records that when called by Jesus, Matthew “left all.”

Likewise Jesus told the Rich Young Ruler who came to Him asking what good thing he could do to inherit eternal life:

Jesus said to him, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” Matthew 19:21

But not only is it costly materially to follow Jesus, it can also cost you your life. This is what our brothers and sisters in the persecuted church around the world already know. It is costing them something to follow Jesus. They are shedding their blood for the privilege of following Jesus. According to the teaching of Jesus, this is to be expected.

Jesus told his disciples in Matthew 16:24,

Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.

What does it mean to take up one’s cross? It doesn’t mean to wear a golden cross on a necklace or as a lapel pin. It means to take up an instrument of death and carry it with you to the place of execution. As the German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer commented, “When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die.” Bonhoeffer was killed for his attempts to resist the Nazism of his day. Following Jesus is not for the faint of heart!

Are you a follower of Jesus? Are you willing to follow Jesus now that you know what it means? There are many professing Christians who have been sold a false bill of goods. Come to Jesus, the preachers say, and everything will be hunky-doory. You’ll get everything that you get when you play country music backwards: your wife back, your truck back, and your dog back. That’s not what Jesus is offering. Instead Jesus is offering hardship and death. Jesus is calling for absolute submission to His kingly authority, and nothing less.

We have trouble understanding this in America. But our brothers and sisters around the world who are being persecuted have no problem at all understanding the words of Jesus.

We need to be prepared for this type of persecution when it comes. I said when, not if, it comes. Persecution is coming. Maybe not in my lifetime, but soon. And if we keep preaching the same old cotton candy gospel, our children and grandchildren are not going to be prepared to stand in the day of trouble. I want our children and grandchildren to stand firm in the hour of persecution like we saw our sister today.

We need to pray for those who are being persecuted. Hebrews 13:3,

Remember the prisoners as if chained with them—those who are mistreated—since you yourselves are in the body also.

The King’s Authority over Nature and Demons (Exposition of Matthew 8:23-34)

In this morning’s text Jesus confronts two great fears of the ancient Jews: the storms of the sea and the demonic.

Now when He got into a boat, His disciples followed Him.  (24)  And suddenly a great tempest arose on the sea, so that the boat was covered with the waves. But He was asleep.  (25)  Then His disciples came to Him and awoke Him, saying, “Lord, save us! We are perishing!”  (26)  But He said to them, “Why are you fearful, O you of little faith?” Then He arose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm.  (27)  So the men marveled, saying, “Who can this be, that even the winds and the sea obey Him?”  (28)  When He had come to the other side, to the country of the Gergesenes, there met Him two demon-possessed men, coming out of the tombs, exceedingly fierce, so that no one could pass that way.  (29)  And suddenly they cried out, saying, “What have we to do with You, Jesus, You Son of God? Have You come here to torment us before the time?”  (30)  Now a good way off from them there was a herd of many swine feeding.  (31)  So the demons begged Him, saying, “If You cast us out, permit us to go away into the herd of swine.”  (32)  And He said to them, “Go.” So when they had come out, they went into the herd of swine. And suddenly the whole herd of swine ran violently down the steep place into the sea, and perished in the water.  (33)  Then those who kept them fled; and they went away into the city and told everything, including what had happened to the demon-possessed men.  (34)  And behold, the whole city came out to meet Jesus. And when they saw Him, they begged Him to depart from their region.

I.    The King’s Authority over Nature, vv. 23-27.
In verses 18-22 we read of two encounters with potential disciples as Jesus made His way to the boat. In verse 23 He arrives at the boat and enters it along with His disciples (Mark 4:36 tells us that other boats were with them). The boat would have been a small fishing boat, not a ship, yet large enough to carry approx. 12 people. In other words, this boat was not an ocean liner. Jesus and His disciples enter this boat for a trip across the Sea of Galilee.  The Sea of Galilee was actually a large lake 8 miles wide and 13 miles long from North to South. It is located 680′ below sea level. Bible commentator Robert Mounce says that, “The high hills that surround it are cut with deep ravines that act like great funnels drawing violent winds from the heights down on to the lake without warning.” (78). This is exactly what happened on this occasion as the Bible describes “a great tempest” which suddenly arose on the sea. The Greek word is the word for earthquake, seismos, indicating the violent nature of this earth shaking storm. This storm shook the world of those on the boat that day. It was so bad the text says “the boat was covered with the waves.” This language has the picture of a boat surrounded by waves which are higher than the boat. This was a serious storm!

I can imagine the scene in the boat as everyone is panicking and doing whatever it is that sailors do when they get in the midst of a storm.  They instinctively begin to look around for Jesus only to find him sound asleep in the midst of this storm.  This speaks volumes about the level of human exhaustion that Jesus was experiencing at this point.  Have you ever been so exhausted that you could sleep through anything?  You wake up in the morning and there are trees and pieces of houses scattered throughout your community and you think, “There must have been a storm last night.”  Think about Jesus’ hectic schedule of teaching, traveling, and healing.  Jesus is fully human and His human body was fully exhausted.  Jesus was so much human that He needed sleep, but He was so much God that He could wake up, wipe the sleep from His eyes, and rebuke the storm and it would obey Him!

So the disciples awake Jesus saying, “Lord, save us!  We are perishing!”  But before Jesus rebukes the sea and wind, He first rebukes the lack of faith of His disciples.  He calls them “Cowards!” when He asks “Why are you fearful?”  Then He calls them “Little-faiths” oligopistis.  It’s important to note as Matthew Henry has, that Jesus “does not chide them for disturbing Him with their prayers, but for disturbing themselves with their lack of faith.”  Jesus wasn’t upset to be awakened, He was disappointed in their lack of confidence in the protection and providence of God.  This was not a discouragement to prayer, but to unbelief.

Then Jesus arose and speaks to the wind and sea as if to living beings.  He rebuked the winds and the sea.  He essentially says, “Sit down and shut up!” Here Jesus is asserting His Kingly and Divine authority!  Can you imagine standing and shouting into a storm, “Stop it!”?  You would be put in the looney bin.  But when Jesus rebuked the storm, it immediately stopped and “there was a great calm.”  What a contrast this must have been.  One moment the wind was howling, lightning was flashing, thunder was crashing, the rain was pounding.  Then Jesus speaks.  And everything stops immediately.  One commentator said that the image is of the sea becoming  as a “glassy-flat surface and not a breath of wind” (Nolland, NIGTC, 372).

This is the power and authority of Jesus Christ.  He has authority over disease, distance, and disciples, but here He is shown to have authority over the deep!  He is the ruler of the winds and waves.  There is nothing outside of His authority.

This event causes the disciples to be amazed and ask, “Who is this man, that even the winds and sea obey him?”  The answer of the Old Testament is that only the LORD God can calm the winds and waves.  We see this in Psalm 107:23-32 and in Psalm 89:8-9,

O LORD God of hosts, Who is mighty like You, O LORD?  Your faithfulness also surrounds You.  9 You rule the raging of the sea; When its waves rise, You still them.

Only Jehovah God rules the raging sea!  Only He can still the storm. This miracle of calming the storm is yet another proof that Jesus is no mere man.  He is the Son of the living God.  What the disciples only raise as a question, is answered by demons two verses later.  This brings us to the next incident recorded by Matthew . . .

II.    The King’s Authority over Demons, vv. 28-34.
In these verses Jesus demonstrates His authority over demons.  He is not only Sovereign over all disease, distance, disciples, and the deep.  He is also Sovereign over all demonic forces.  There are at least two kinds of people who have trouble with this story.  The anti-supernaturalists and the animal rights activists.  The anti-supernaturalists don’t believe in the reality of demons.  As a certain commentator named Filson stated it, “Obviously the story uses patterns of thought not satisfactory to modern men, who would call these demoniacs mentally deranged.”  In other words, men and women living in a modern age don’t believe in demons and certainly not demon-possession.  Instead we call mental illness what the uncivilized peoples of the past called demon-possession.
I don’t deny that there are certainly diseases that can be classified as mental illness and that people in the past may have characterized all mental illness wrongly as demon possession.  But there was and is such a thing as demon possession.  The devil is real, demons are real.  If you really believed this you wouldn’t play around with witchcraft and the occult.  You wouldn’t take so lightly the celebration of “Halloween” as a glorification of witches and the occult.  Demonic forces are not something to be trivialized or taken lightly.   And its all around us in our culture, television shows and movies which glamorize witchcraft and wizardry.  These are matters which Christians should not take lightly, since these are the very Demonic powers which brought sin and death into this world and which Jesus Christ came into the world to destroy!   We have a problem when a preacher seems over the top who is opposed to the devil and demons.  Christians ought to be able to agree that the devil is bad!  I know that we don’t like to be negative, but we should be able to come to a consensus on this point!

As Jesus and His disciples disembark from the boat, they are met by two demon-possessed men.  In Mark and Luke’s account of this event only one demon-possessed man is mentioned.  But this is no contradiction because as I heard Hollie Miller say a couple of weeks ago, “If there was two, there had to be one.”  But seriously, we often speak of seeing one person of prominence when in fact we saw more than one person.  We say, “I saw the President today.” when in reality we saw the President, the Secret Service and a number of other dignitaries.  But we speak of seeing one.  Obviously, one of the demon-possessed men was more prominent than the other, the leader of the two.  These men were dangerously violent men.  Dangerous to themselves and society.  They lived among the tombs.  According to Mark and Luke, these men could not be bound, even with chains.  These demon-possessed came answer the question posed by the disciples on the boat.  They recognized Jesus and rightly address Him as the “Son of God.”  What the disciples wondered on the sea, these demons answer.  “Who is this?”  It is the “Son of God.” This is a powerful confession.  James tells us that the demons believe and tremble (James 2:19).  These demons are certainly trembling at the presence of the King.  They not only know who Jesus is, but they also know why He came.  1 John 3:8 says, “For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil.”  But this faith is insufficient for salvation.  More than knowledge of Jesus is required.  Complete trust in who He is and what He has done is required.  The demons ask the question, “Have you come to torment us before the time?”  They know that a day of judgment is coming for them.  But they thought they had more time.  They were expecting the judgement on the last day when the Son establishes His eternal Kingdom.  They now learn that with the coming of the Son of God into this world, the Kingdom has already come.  Jesus said in Matthew 12:28,”If I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you.”  He did and it had!  There was and is still a future day of judgment when the devil and all the demons will be cast into the Lake of Fire, but for these demons, judgment day had now arrived!

Jesus sends these demons out of these two men and into an entire herd of pigs.  He commanded the demons, “Go!” and they went.  This demonstrates Jesus’ authority over demons.  That with a single word He can dismiss them to judgment.  The demons enter the swine and we see their destructive power.  This is a powerful illustration of the destructive purposes of the devil and the demonic.  This should be another important caution against taking the demonic too lightly.  Demons will attempt to destroy you just as they destroyed these pigs.

These verses are what causes the animal rights activists to be upset.  They read this passage and all they can say is, “Poor piggies!”  They are more concerned about pigs than people.

In verse 33, the pig herders go and tell everyone in the town what happened and “the whole city came out to meet Jesus.”  Surely they are going to invite Him to set up a tent and hold a week long crusade!  No, they beg Him to leave!  These people were merely upset that they had lost money in the destruction of the pigs.  As D. A. Carson said, “They preferred pigs to persons, swine to the Savior.”

Cf.  Acts 16, demon-possessed girl and Acts 19, Demetrius the silversmith.

The Authority of the King: Jesus and Discipleship (Exposition of Matthew 8:18-22)

The September 2005 issue of Rev magazine has an article from Tim Stevens and Tony Morgan of Granger Community Church in Granger, Ind. adapted from their book Simply Strategic Growth. The article includes a number of ideas for drawing crowds to your church, including:

  • Address specific needs. Like marriages, raising families, money, fulfillment, etc.
  • Entertain people.
  • Make children a priority. Granger is well known for their incredible children’s ministry. Sponge Bob would be jealous.
  • Raise the energy level of worship. Turn up the volume.
  • Give people hope. Grace, not condemnation. People should leave challenged, but encouraged.
  • Offer multiple services regardless of how full your church is.


We live in a day when everything is being used to draw crowds to churches.  A quick internet search this week found churches using music, car shows, dramas, and even tigers to attract a crowd.

How did Jesus respond to the crowds?  What did Jesus do when a crowd gathered?

In this morning’s text, Jesus’ healing of the multitudes attracted large crowds.  What did Jesus do?  He left!  Then as He is leaving two potential converts chase him down and make professions of commitment to Him.  His responses to them seem to be attempts to scare them away.

And when Jesus saw great multitudes about Him, He gave a command to depart to the other side.  (19)  Then a certain scribe came and said to Him, “Teacher, I will follow You wherever You go.”  (20)  And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.”  (21)  Then another of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.”  (22)  But Jesus said to him, “Follow Me, and let the dead bury their own dead.”  Matthew 8:18-22

What did Jesus do when He “saw great multitudes about Him”?  He said, “Let’s get out of here!”  Apparently as Jesus made His way to a boat to sail to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, He was approached by two potential disciples.  Both of these men are confronted with a challenge from the King.  The first in regard to secure accommodations, the second in regard to social obligations.

I.    Jesus’ Authority Challenges Secure Accommodations, vv. 19-20.
The first potential convert was a scribe who comes to Jesus and calls him, “Teacher”. He calls Jesus by a title of respect and then makes a remarkable promise. This man comes up to Jesus singing, “Where He leads me I will follow.”

What do you expect Jesus to say?  “Oh boy!  Here’s a great prospect, let me make sure not to say anything to discourage him.”  No, instead Jesus asserts His kingly authority by challenging this potential follower by rejecting this man’s basic need for secure accommodations.

This man comes calling Jesus, “Teacher.” But as Bible commentator William Barclay told of someone who was talking to a great scholar about a younger man. He said, “So and so tells me that he was one of your students.” The teacher answered devastatingly, “He may have attended my lectures, but he was not one of my students.” There is a world of difference between attending lectures and being a student. And so it apparently was with this man who had not yet counted the cost which Jesus will warn him of in verse 20.

This man makes a remarkable promise: “I will follow you wherever You go.”  That is a wonderful thing to say, it’s a wonderful thing to sing, but Jesus knows if it is a lie.  I wonder how many liars we have in church every Sunday singing with enthusiasm, “Where He leads me I will follow!”?

Jesus challenges this man’s enthusiasm with these words, “Foxes have hole and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.”  With these words Jesus provides further instruction to this one who has attended his lectures, but was not yet a student.

First, He lets him know that He is more than a mere teacher.  He is none other than the Messianic King, God in human flesh.  How does Jesus communicate this?  By use of the title “Son of Man.”  At first glance this title seems to emphasize the humanity of Jesus, not so.  Instead this title, which is Jesus’ favorite term of self-designation used over 80 times in the New Testament and 28/29 times in the Gospel of Matthew, is a strong claim to deity.  It is a reference to what Daniel prophesied in Daniel 7:13-14,

I was watching in the night visions, And behold, One like the Son of Man, Coming with the clouds of heaven! He came to the Ancient of Days, And they brought Him near before Him.  14 Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, That all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, Which shall not pass away, And His kingdom the one Which shall not be destroyed.

In other words, when Jesus uses the title “Son of Man”, He is claiming to be the mighty king seen by Daniel whose rule and reign will never end!  Jesus is more than a teacher!

C. S. Lewis’ famous quote is appropriate here:

I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic – on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg – or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. . . .

You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come up with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.
Mere Christianity (New York: The Macmillan Co., 1960). pp. 40-41.

So after confronting this man’s understanding of who He is, Jesus then confronts this man’s need of secure accommodations.  “Foxes have holes,” He says, “and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.”  In other words, if you are going to follow me wherever I go, you’re going to lose the guarantee of secure accommodations.  The call to discipleship is a call to step into insecurity from a human perspective.

The great Italian military leader, patriot and soldier, Garibaldi had an incredibly committed volunteer army. It is said that he would appeal for recruits in these terms: “I offer neither pay, nor quarters, nor provisions; I offer hunger, thirst, forced marches, battles and death. Let him who loves his country with his heart and not with his lips only, follow me!”
Similarly to be a solder in the army of the Lord, one must count the cost.  It’s not going to be easy.  Jesus places demands upon His followers!

By the way, this is not about a second level of Christianity, it’s real Christianity.

The following quote from D. A. Carson says it all:

Little has done more to harm the witness of the Christian church than the practice of filling its ranks with every volunteer who is willing to make a little profession, talk fluently of experience, but display little of perseverance.

This is what our churches and communities are full of, but they are not true disciples of Jesus Christ!

We have several attenders on Sunday morning, but how many disciples are there?  We have a lot of members on the church roll, but how many disciples are there?

II.    Jesus’ Authority Challenges Social Obligations, vv. 21-22.
This man is called “another disciple” of Jesus.  But as the remainder of verse 21 makes clear, he was not yet a true disciple.  The New Testament uses the term disciple in a variety of ways.  One way is to refer to the Twelve.  Another is to refer to a group of committed followers of Jesus.  The third way is to refer to those who are merely in the crowd.  Like many of you hear today who enjoy hearing Jesus teach occasionally and you like the good stuff that He does for you, but you have not committed your life to Him.  You are what the Puritans described as “The Almost Christian,” like King Agrippa in Acts 26.
The second man who comes to Jesus has been listening in and knows better than to call Jesus, “Teacher.”  Instead, he rightly calls Him “Lord.”  He acknowledges Jesus Lordship verbally, but with a reservation: “First, let me go and bury my father.”  But Jesus is either Lord of all, or not Lord at all!  He will allow no exceptions.  Jesus said elsewhere, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.” (Matt. 7:21).

It is this attitude that caused Jesus to ask on one occasion, “Why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do the things which I say?” (Luke 6:46).

This man calls Jesus Lord, but has not submitted to His Lordship.  What does it mean when this man attempts to make a deal with Jesus?   He says, “let me first go and bury my father.”  This could mean a variety of things.

  • To make burial arrangements for an already dead, or soon dying father.
  • To stay for a customary 7 days of mourning after a father’s death.
  • To stay for a second period of mourning that lasts for one year and culminates with the reburial of the father’s bones in a burial box.
  • To stay indefinitely and wait for a presently healthy, living father to die.

See Nolland, The Gospel of Matthew (NIGTC), 367.

But Jesus doesn’t play, “Let’s Make a Deal”.  He probably wouldn’t even watch it.  Instead, He says in words that seem harsh to our ears, “Follow Me, and let the dead bury their own dead.”

To care for one’s parents in their old age and prepare for their proper burial was considered to be an important part of how one obeyed God’s command to honor one’s father and mother.  But Jesus is here asserting His Divine and Kingly right to be honored above father and mother!  The Christian’s obligations to Jesus go beyond his or her obligations to family, friends, jobs, or government.

Let me ask you a question: When circumstances cause an extra demand to be made on your time that requires you to sacrifice one area of your life to meet that need, what do you sacrifice?

  • Do you sacrifice family obligations?
  • Do you sacrifice job obligations?
  • Do you sacrifice recreation time?
  • Or, do you sacrifice Christian responsibilities?

How does this account end?  We don’t know.  We don’t know if these two men get on the boat with Jesus or go away sorrowful like the rich young ruler of Luke 18.  We just don’t know.  These men could have surrendered to Jesus’ Lordship completely by forsaking both secure accommodations and social obligations, but we’ll never know in this life.  But you can know how your own story goes.  Will you unconditionally surrender to Christ’s kingly authority today?

Why Jesus Healed the Sick and Cast Out Demons (Exposition of Matthew 8:14-17)

They’re making a new Indiana Jones movie.  Harrison Ford is appearing for the fourth time as the professor/archaeologist/adventurer in a release scheduled for May 22, 2008.  Archeology has long been an interest of mine, perhaps because of the popularization of the science by the Indiana Jones films.

Although when the science of archeology first emerged in the nineteenth century it was thought that it would soon disprove many assertions of the Bible, in reality many of the historical facts of the Bible have been confirmed scientifically through archeology.  One example of this comes from the city of Capernaeum where most scholars agree that the home of Simon Peter has been uncovered.

During the fourth and fifth centuries it was common for churches to be built over “holy places.”  Underneath a church built during that time period was found a house that dated back to around 100 B.C.  The excavators could tell that the house was remodeled some time in the late first century A.D..    This remodeling probably indicates that it was converted from a private residence to a public meeting house.  134 fragments of plaster from the second century had writings with the name of Peter and references to Jesus on them.  The conclusion by archaeologists is that this was the home of Peter and was later converted into a church.  If this is the case, it is the home where the miracle of the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law occurred.  This is the miracle to which we now turn found in Matthew 8:14-17.

Now when Jesus had come into Peter’s house, He saw his wife’s mother lying sick with a fever.  (15)  So He touched her hand, and the fever left her. And she arose and served them.  (16)  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 sick,  (17)  that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying: “HE HIMSELF TOOK OUR INFIRMITIES AND BORE OUR SICKNESSES.”

I.    The Healing of Peter’s Mother-in-Law, vv. 14-15.
The healing of Peter’s wife’s mother is the third in a series of three strung together by Matthew which shows Jesus concern for the outcasts of society.  In vv. 1-4, Jesus heals a leper.  In vv. 5-13, Jesus heals a Gentile, the servant of the centurion.  Here in vv. 14-15, Jesus heals a woman.

It’s interesting to note that in these three healings: the first was in answer to one’s own petition, the second was of another, and the third was not in response to any recorded petition.

Jesus “touched her hand” (v. 15).  In so doing, he broke three social taboos.  First, he was touching a woman.  Second, he was healing on the Sabbath (which we know from comparing the account in Mark 1:21-35).  Third, he was touching someone with a fever which was forbidden by the rabbis of the day.  But as in the case of the healing of the leper, in the words of D. A. Carson, Jesus’ “touch did not defile the healer, but healed the defiled” (Matthew, 204).

This fever was a serious one.  In ancient days, fevers were not understood as a symptom, but as a disease in and of itself.  Thus, Matthew simply calls it a fever.  However, it was probably a fever caused by malaria, which was common in the region at the time.  The language in the Greek for “lying sick with a fever” is much more graphic.  It is a form of ballo meaning “I throw.”  Peter’s mother-in-law was literally “thrown down” with a fever.  This fever had completely incapacitated her.

Then Jesus touched her hand . . . “and the fever left her.”  The disease in her body causing the fever immediately fled.  So complete was her healing that she immediately “arose and served them.”  This signifies the completeness of her healing.  There were no lingering effects.  There was none of the physical weakness normally associated with recovering from a fever.  Instead there was strength to serve.

II.    The Healing of the Many, v. 16
At sunset the crowds began to bring the demon-possessed to Jesus.  They had waited until the Jewish Sabbath day had ended at 6 pm before they brought  the people to Jesus (see Mark 1:21-35).  They brought the “demon-possessed.”  Jewish intertestamental writings linked illness with demons.  The crowd may have thought all which they brought to be possessed by demons.  But Jesus seems to have made a distinction by casting out demons of some and healing others who are merely sick.

He “cast out the spirits with a word.”  An example of this is seen in the story which ends this chapter.  Jesus caused the demons possessing the two men  to leave them and enter a herd of swine with the simple command: “Go!” (8:32).

III.    The Purpose of the Healings and Exorcisms, v. 17.
But what was the purpose of these healings and exorcisms?  In one sense we could say that Jesus healed the sick and cast out demons because of His compassion.  Matthew 14:14 says, “And when Jesus went out He saw a great multitude; and He was moved with compassion for them, and healed their sick.”  That is certainly one reason why Jesus healed.  But the main motivation in Scripture given for why Jesus healed the sick, cast out demons, or performed any kind of miracle was to reveal something about who He was.  In the Gospel of John the miracles are signs which point to the deity of Jesus.  In Matthew 9 Jesus heals a paralytic to show that He has the divine power to forgive sins.  And here in Matthew 8:17 we are told that Jesus healed the sick and cast out demons in order to fulfill Isaiah 53:4.  That is the text which is quoted here.  Matthew clearly sees the healings and exorcisms as Messianic miracles, miracles which revealed Jesus to be the promised Messiah of the Old Testament.

Whenever the New Testament writers wanted to reference a particular section of the Old Testament, they didn’t have the luxury of being able to cite chapter and verse (a relatively modern convention).  Instead they would cite a verse, with the understanding that the surrounding context be understood to also be in the mind of the author.  That’s why it is important when we see an Old Testament text cited in the New Testament that we go back and see that verse in its original context.
That is true in this case, because Matthew does not only want us to see Jesus as the Mighty Messiah, but also as the Suffering Servant.  Chapter 53 of Isaiah is one of the great prophetic descriptions of the sufferings and death of Christ upon Calvary.  Matthew uses Isaiah 53:4 not only to reveal the power of the Messiah over disease and demons, but also to reveal the Suffering Servant as a Sacrificial Substitute.

This is the way Isaiah 53 is used by Peter in 1 Peter 2:21-25,

For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps:  (22)  “WHO COMMITTED NO SIN, NOR WAS DECEIT FOUND IN HIS MOUTH”;  (23)  who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously;  (24)  who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness—by whose stripes you were healed.  (25)  For you were like sheep going astray, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

Isaiah 53 points forward to the death of Jesus who “bore our sins in His own body on the tree.”  Matthew himself understands it this way which is seen by at least three allusions to Isaiah 53 in his description of the Passion of Christ (Is. 53:7 in Matt. 27:12; Is. 53:9 in Matt. 27:57; and Is. 53:10-12 in Matt. 20:28).

By quoting Isaiah 53:4, Matthew is showing that Jesus is announcing to the principalities and powers of this world that the King has come to make things right.  This little house of a fisherman had become a battlefield in the war between the Seed of the Woman and the Seed of the Serpent.

The Scriptural storyline is clear:

  • Sickness and death were not a part of the original creation
  • Sickness and death will not be a part of the new creation.
  • Sickness and death are a result of sin which Satan brought into the world.
  • Jesus came to defeat Satan and thus break His power.

Therefore these healings are the shots over the bow of Satan’s ship announcing that the war is almost over.  These miracles point forward to Jesus’ death on the cross where sin, sickness, demons, and death will be finally defeated.  Richard Halverson explains why Jesus did not just stay on earth healing diseases, etc.:

Why did Jesus Christ not remain alive and eliminate, generation by generation, all the evils which harass humanity? Simply because He was the Great Physician, and in the finest tradition of medical science, He was unwilling to remain preoccupied with the symptoms when He could destroy the disease. Jesus Christ was unwilling to settle for anything less than elimination of the cause of all evil in history.  Christianity Today, Vol. 38, no. 2.

Jesus dealt with the root cause of sin, suffering and death when He defeated Satan on the cross!  As 1 John 3:8 says, “For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil.”  This reality is what the healing miracles and exorcisms were pointing forward to.

“The King’s Authority Over Disease: Jesus and a Centurion (Exposition of Matthew 8:5-13)

In Matthew 4:23 the ministry of Jesus is summarized as follows:

And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease among the people.

In chapters 5-7 we see Jesus “preaching the gospel of the kingdom”. In chapters 8-9 we see Jesus “healing all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease among the people”.

In chapters 5-7 we find the Sermon on the Mount in which Jesus asserts His Kingly authority by issuing the commands of His kingdom. In chapters 8-9, Jesus demonstrates His Kingly authority by healing the sick, casting out demons, and calming the sea.

In 8:1-17 Matthew records three miracles which Jesus performed on three different social outcasts of His day: a leper, a Gentile and a woman. Last week we looked at how Jesus demonstrated His authority over disease in healing a leper, today we will consider Jesus’ authority over disease in the healing of the Centurion’s servant in Matthew 8:5-13.

Now when Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to Him, pleading with Him, 6 saying, “Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, dreadfully tormented.” 7 And Jesus said to him, “I will come and heal him.” 8 The centurion answered and said, “Lord, I am not worthy that You should come under my roof. But only speak a word, and my servant will be healed. 9 For I also am a man under authority, having soldiers under me. And 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.” 10 When Jesus heard it, He marveled, and said to those who followed, “Assuredly, I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel! 11 And I say to you that many will come from east and west, and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. 12 But the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” 13 Then Jesus said to the centurion, “Go your way; and as you have believed, so let it be done for you.” And his servant was healed that same hour. Matthew 8:5-13

I.  The Setting, v. 5.
Let me begin by looking at something of the setting, specifically the place and the man.

Jesus has now returned to His home base of Capernaum in the northern province of Galilee. We normally associate Jesus with Bethlehem, Nazareth, and even Jerusalem, but Matthew tells us in 4:13 that Jesus left Nazareth and went to dwell in Capernaum.

And as Jesus returned to His home base of Capernaum, a man comes to meet Him. This man is called a centurion. In Jesus’ day, Capernaum was a garrison town which means that troops were stationed there. Herod Antipas had an auxiliary army made up of non-Jews/Gentiles from outside of Palestine.

This man was a centurion which means that he was a captain over 100 men. He was also under another’s authority. He was fairly low in the chain of command, but over 100 men.

Now that we’ve seen something of the setting, let us now turn to the dialogue that takes place between Jesus and this Gentile soldier.

II. The Dialogue, vv. 6-9.
This centurion comes to Jesus with a humble request. He recognizes Jesus’ lordship by calling Him “Lord.” His request is not directly for himself, but for the health of his servant who lies paralyzed, and if you compare Luke’s account of this event, at the point of death (Luke 7:2). After the centurion presents the problem Jesus responds with “I will come and heal him.” In the Greek, the personal pronoun for “I” is not necessary because it is understood in the verb itself. But here the pronoun ego is present which places an emphasis on “I”. This has caused some scholars to suggest that the statement of verse 7 could be best understood as a question: “Shall I come and heal him?” The centurion’s response once again expresses his humility. He is aware of his unworthiness as a Gentile to lay claims upon this Jewish Messiah: “I am not worthy that you should come under my roof.” Now comes his confession of faith: “But only speak a word, and my servant will be healed.” This centurion knows something about Jesus. He knows that he has the ability to speak things into existence. He believes that Jesus has the authority of the God who spoke this world into existence! Now the centurion explains the basis of his confidence in the authority of the words of Jesus. He appeals to his own experience as a soldier.

All authority in the army was a derived authority. In the Roman army, only the emperor had authority which was then delegated to his subordinates. Thus, whenever the centurion spoke, he spoke with the emperor’s authority. A soldier who disobeyed the centurion would actually be seen as defying the authority of the emperor himself.

When the centurion sees Jesus, he sees one who is both submissive to the authority of God His Father and who exercises the authority of God the Father. Isn’t this exactly what Jesus Himself said in John 5:19-30,

Then Jesus answered and said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner. 20 For the Father loves the Son, and shows Him all things that He Himself does; and He will show Him greater works than these, that you may marvel. 21 For as the Father raises the dead and gives life to them, even so the Son gives life to whom He will. 22 For the Father judges no one, but has committed all judgment to the Son, 23 that all should honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him. 24 “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life. 25 Most assuredly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear will live. 26 For as the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son to have life in Himself, 27 and has given Him authority to execute judgment also, because He is the Son of Man. 28 Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice 29 and come forth— those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation. 30 I can of Myself do nothing. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is righteous, because I do not seek My own will but the will of the Father who sent Me.

This Gentile soldier understood who Jesus was, didn’t he? It’s as if he’s saying, “If on the human level I can say, “Go,” “Come,” or “Do” and it happens, how much more will your words which are the very words of God accomplish whatever you command?!?!”

III. The Teaching, vv. 10-12.
This is a teachable moment! When Jesus hears this confession of faith by the centurion, He turns in amazement to the crowd who is following Him (see v. 1) and begins to instruct them regarding the make-up of the coming kingdom. Jesus is amazed at the faith of the centurion! The level of faith expressed by the centurion was unheard of among the Jews of Israel. Jesus begins with “assuredly,” “verily,” or “truly” which translates the Greek word amen. But Jesus sees this episode as a preview of the future kingdom and He uses this incident to point to that reality.

The reality is that just as this Gentile centurion has come to the right one and expressed faith in the right one, so too will many others come to faith in Jesus Christ in a saving way. The centurion comes to Jesus to receive healing, but these will come to receive salvation. Many Gentiles will come from the east and the west and sit down with faithful Jews like Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. This teaching by Jesus is a foreshadow of the scene in heaven described in Revelation 5:9-10 where the redeemed are singing a new song:

You are worthy to take the scroll, And to open its seals; For You were slain, And have redeemed us to God by Your blood Out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, 10 And have made us kings and priests to our God; And we shall reign on the earth.

But Jesus goes on to say that many who think they are ok will be cast out into the outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. This is a reference to the judgment of hell. Interestingly, Jesus is not here using the doctrine of hell as a doctrine to frighten blatant unbelievers, but to warn those who think they are true believers.

The important thing to note here is that the basis of who will be in the kingdom of heaven is faith and faith alone. Not national descent or ethnicity, but faith in the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ.

IV. The Healing, v. 13.
After ending the monologue, Jesus turns back to the centurion and in what seems like an afterthought (though we know it is not) he says to the centurion, “Are you still here? Off you go now. Your servant is healed!”

In this text Jesus has demonstrated His authority both over disease and distance! The centurion teaches us an important lesson about Jesus’ authority. Jesus teaches an important lesson about the ethnic makeup of His kingdom and the basis of entry into that kingdom.