1 When he came down from the mountain, great crowds followed him. 2 And behold, a leper came to him and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” 3 And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. 4 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.”
5 When he had entered Capernaum, a centurion came forward to him, appealing to him, 6 “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, suffering terribly.” 7 And he said to him, “I will come and heal him.” 8 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. 9 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.” 10 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. 11 I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, 12 while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” 13 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.
14 And when Jesus entered Peter’s house, he saw his mother-in-law lying sick with a fever. 15 He touched her hand, and the fever left her, and she rose and began to serve him. 16 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. 17 This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: “He took our illnesses and bore our diseases.” – Matthew 8:1-17 ESV
Jesus followed up His words with action. Once He had delivered His message, He didn’t seek a quiet place to rest and enjoy some alone-time. He immediately began to do what God had sent Him to do.
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.” – Luke 4:18-19 NLT
Jesus was a man on a mission. He knew His time on earth was limited, and all His time and energy were focused on fulfilling His Father’s will. And it did not take long before Jesus’ empathy for the down-and-out, and the down-trodden began to reveal itself. Matthew records three distinctively different encounters between Jesus and a person in need. The first was a leper. The second was a Roman Centurion. And the third was the mother-in-law of one of His own disciples.
The leper, who was most likely a Jew, was a social outcast and a pariah. Because of his disease, he was required by law to announce himself by the words, “Unclean, unclean!” He was to be avoided and shunned at all costs. He was even refused access to the Temple grounds, making it impossible for him to receive atonement for his sins. And in the Jewish mindset, his disease was viewed as a curse from God, the outcome of some heinous sin in his life.
The second man Jesus encounters was a Roman Centurion, and most likely a Gentile. He was an officer in the Roman army with responsibility for 100 battle-hardened soldiers. To the Jews, he would have been a painful and daily reminder of the oppressive regime that had occupied Israel and forced its people into subjugation. He would have been despised and seen as an oppressor whose presence in their land was unwanted and unappreciated.
The final individual was the mother-in-law of Peter, one of the Lord’s recently recruited disciples. Because it is safe to assume that Peter’s wife was a Jew, we can conclude that his mother-in-law would be as well. And all we know from the text is that she had come down with a fever that had left her bedridden. She was helpless and in need of healing.
Three very different individuals whose circumstances could not have been more disparate: A Jewish man with a disfiguring and life-threatening disease, a Roman Centurion with an ailing servant, and a Jewish woman with a fever. And yet, each of them has an encounter with Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and the Messiah of the Jewish people.
It’s important to remember that Matthew wrote his gospel with the goal of proving Jesus’ claim to be the King of the Jews and their long-awaited Messiah. In His just-completed sermon on the mount, Jesus had discussed the nature of life in His Kingdom. Now, Matthew reveals three encounters that provide proof of Jesus’ power and His rightful claim to be the heir to the throne of David.
Back in chapter four, Matthew provided a summary of Jesus’ earthly ministry.
And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people. – Matthew 4:23 ESV
Now, in chapter eight, we see the healing aspect of that ministry displayed in three separate scenes. Matthew does not allow himself to be restricted by the chronology behind these events. Instead, he arranges them in such a way that they create a comprehensive picture of who Jesus was and what He came to do. Matthew seems to be much more interested in developing a theme than in trying to provide a reliable timeline of events. These three encounters are grouped together for a reason and provide us with a somewhat 3-dimensional image of the Savior.
The leper was the disease-riddled outcast who had no place within the faith community of Israel because of what was believed to be his obvious sin. He was unwanted. He was considered untouchable and unredeemable by every other Jew. Yet, he called out to Jesus, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean” (Matthew 8:2 ESV). At this point, it is interesting to consider the words of Jesus when He was confronted by the self-righteous Pharisees because of His association with tax-collectors and sinners. He simply stated: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick” (Matthew 9:12 ESV).
This leper had no problem acknowledging his need. He was sick and in need of cleansing – both physically and spiritually. His disease had left him ceremonially impure and incapable of receiving atonement for his sins. He desperately longed to be clean and whole again. And he saw in Jesus a source of hope and help. So, he called out in faith, and “Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him” (Matthew 8:3 ESV). Don’t miss the significance of that statement. Jesus touched him. In doing so, Jesus defiled himself. He became impure and took on the disqualifying nature of that man’s condition. An audible gasp must have leaped from the throats of all those who witnessed this scene. And yet, Matthew states that the man’s leprosy was immediately cleansed. He was made whole – in an instance. Jesus could have spoken a word and the man would have received the healing he desired. But Jesus went out of His way to touch him. He associated with an outcast. He showed love and mercy to undesirable and undeserving.
In the case of the Centurion, Jesus met a man who was just as despised by the Jews, but for different reasons. He was an outsider or alien. He had no place in Israel. He was the enemy and a pagan oppressor of the Jewish people whose very presence made their lives a living hell. Yet, this man approached Jesus with dignity and respect, pleading that He come to the aid of his ailing servant.
The leper had said, “if you will, you can make me clean,” and Jesus had responded, “I will.” The Centurion made no request, but simply stated the need, and Jesus responded, “I will come and heal him” (Matthew 8:7 ESV). Jesus was just as willing to heal the servant of a Roman soldier than He was to cleanse the disease of a Jewish leper.
And when the Centurion heard the words of Jesus, he was blown away, declaring that he saw no need for Jesus to go out of His way or trouble Himself. Embarrassed to think of Jesus visiting his humble home, he declared, “only say the word, and my servant will be healed” (Matthew 8:8 ESV). This Gentile soldier expressed faith that Jesus could simply speak a word and his servant would be healed. And Jesus, blown away by this foreigner’s faith, stated, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith” (Matthew 8:10 ESV). And Matthew matter-of-factly reports, “the servant was healed at that very moment” (Matthew 8:13 ESV).
Then, Matthew records the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law. It is a simple recounting of what appears to be a much-less perilous problem. She had a fever. But there was no indication that her life was in danger. And in this case, Matthew tells us that Jesus saw, He touched, and she was healed. No request for healing was made. No faith was exhibited. Jesus simply saw a need, and graciously provided a solution.
An outcast, an alien, and a sick woman. Three different individuals with three different needs and three distinctively different backgrounds. But all sharing a common trait. They were helpless to do anything about their condition. They each had a need they could not meet: A devastating skin disease, a desperately ill servant, and a demobilizing fever. And Jesus, the King, provided healing and help.
And it didn’t stop there. These three were just the beginning of many more who would find their way to the feet of Jesus in the hopes of finding a solution to their problems. And Matthew records that Jesus “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” (Matthew 8:16-17 ESV).
Matthew is telegraphing a message regarding Jesus’ real intentions. The physical healings He performed were a visible sign of the spiritual renovation He had come to bring to a fallen world. The leper, the servant, and the mother-in-law each received healing from their diseases, but the day would come when each of them would experience another disease or illness, and eventually, each would succumb to the inevitability of death. When Jesus later said, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10 ESV), He was speaking of far more than a life free from disease, sickness, or pain. He was talking about eternal life that begins with a saving relationship with Him, a lifelong process of Spirit-empowered sanctification, and that ends with the believer’s ultimate glorification.
The primary ailment plaguing mankind that Jesus came to deal with is the penalty of sin. With His death on the cross, Jesus conquered both sin and the grave. He paid the penalty for the sins of mankind, offering His sinless life as the sacrificial substitute for sinful men and women. As the prophet Isaiah so beautifully stated:
But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. – Isaiah 53:5 ESV
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.