In the early days of his earthly ministry, Jesus made many bold claims. He said he was going to make fishers of men (4:19). He declared himself humanity’s final Judge (7:22–23) and the ultimate fulfiller of the law (5:17), a law he asserted had been mishandled and mis-taught by Israel’s religious leaders (5:20–48).
Yet, perhaps Jesus’s boldest claim was that he was the God-promised King they’d been waiting centuries for and that, if they repented as a nation, he would establish the anticipated eternal reign of peace and prosperity. That’s big talk! But why would Israel believe him? How could they tell if Jesus actually was who he was claiming to be and could do what he was claiming to do? They’d need proof and, that’s exactly what Jesus gives them in Matthew 8 and 9 as he demonstrates his authority over people, diseases, demons, and even nature itself.
The early days of Jesus’s earthly ministry were characterized by bold claims. He said he was going to make fishers of men. He declared himself to be humanity’s final Judge, the rewarder of faithfulness, and the ultimate fulfiller of the law. Speaking of the law, he also stated that Israel’s religious leaders had mishandled, misapplied, and mis-taught it to the nation. Bold claims from an unassuming rabbi from Nazareth.
And yet, none of those were even his biggest, boldest claim. On top of all that, Jesus announced to Israel that he was the King they’d been waiting centuries for and, if they’d just turn back to God as a nation, he would immediately establish that eternal reign of peace and prosperity.
That’s big talk! The question is: Why would they believe him? How could they know this isn’t just some guy seeking attention? How could they tell if Jesus actually was who he was claiming to be and could do what he was claiming to do?
They’d need proof. And that’s exactly what Jesus gives them—and us—in chapters 8 and 9. In fact, looking at the two chapters as a whole we find that Matthew includes nine claim-authenticating miracles divided into three groups and separated by lessons on discipleship. (Three miracles, discipleship, three miracles, discipleship, three miracles.) In these two chapters, Jesus demonstrates his authority over people, diseases, demons, and even nature itself.
Israel asks: “How can we believe your claims?” Jesus responds: “I’ll show you I have the authority to do all I’m saying and more.”
The Authority of the King
Starting at the end of Matthew 7, we’re going to see in this passage today the authority of the King first on display in his teachings.
… in his teachings
When Jesus had finished these words, the crowds were amazed at His teaching; for He was teaching them as one having authority, and not as their scribes.Matthew 7:28–29
The way Jesus taught astounded his listeners. It, all at once, showed the inadequacies of even their religious leaders and the magnificence of the Scriptures. His teaching carried with it a divine authority they didn’t know what to make of.
But it’s one thing to talk the talk—even if authoritatively. It’s another to walk the walk. It’s one thing for me to claim I can read minds; it’s another to tell you something about yourself you’ve never told anyone. The action legitimizes the claim no matter how unbelievable.
… in his healings
That’s where we come to next. We move from Jesus’s authority on display in his teachings to it on display in his healings. There’s three of them so let’s look at them in order starting with his healing of leprosy.
When Jesus came down from the mountain, large crowds followed Him. And a leper came to Him and bowed down before Him, and said, “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.”Matthew 8:1–2
Notice the acknowledgement Jesus’s authority in those verses.
Jesus stretched out His hand and touched him, saying, “I am willing; be cleansed.” And immediately his leprosy was cleansed.Matthew 8:3
If you’ve heard anything about leprosy you know it was a feared, contagious skin disease. Those infected in the first century were isolated from society, quarantined until death. They were, literally, untouchable.
That’s why it’s so moving an image that Jesus, to heal this man, “touched him.” As we’ll see in the second healing, physical contact wasn’t necessary for Jesus which means this one was intentional. In the presence of the crowds, Jesus touches a man considered “unclean” and, instead of the uncleanliness spreading to Jesus (which is how the Jewish culture understood it to spread), his cleanliness spreads to the man and “immediately” his leprosy vanished.
And Jesus said to him, “See that you tell no one; but go, show yourself to the priest and present the offering that Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.”Matthew 8:4
Remember, Jesus is calling for Israel’s repentance so as to receive the kingdom. For this to happen, their leaders had to lead. Who is it that Jesus wants to especially take notice of this demonstration of his claim-authenticating authority? The temple priests. Israel’s leadership.
He wanted them to be the first to confirm healing (“tell no one; but go, show yourself to the priest”). Jesus also told the former-leper to bring to the temple the required offering for the cleansing of leprosy prescribed by Moses in Leviticus 14. Why? This was to be a “testimony” to the priests. Jesus wants the leaders of Israel to see the evidence that he’s not just blowing smoke with these claims of messiahship. He has the authority to back them all up.
After this case of leprosy, Jesus is confronted next with one of paralysis.
And when Jesus entered Capernaum, a centurion came to Him, imploring Him, and saying, “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, fearfully tormented.”Matthew 8:5–6
A centurion was a non-Jewish officer who commanded one hundred soldiers. He’s an important man, and yet, he recognizes the authority of Jesus and asks for his help.
Jesus said to him, “I will come and heal him.” But the centurion said, “Lord, I am not worthy for You to come under my roof, but just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I also am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to this one, ‘Go!’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come!’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this!’ and he does it.”Matthew 8:7–9
As a military man, the centurion knows how authority works. If you have it, you can wield it. If Jesus has authority over disease, being physically present is not necessary.
Now when Jesus heard this, He marveled and said to those who were following, “Truly I say to you, I have not found such great faith with anyone in Israel. I say to you that many will come from east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven; but the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” And Jesus said to the centurion, “Go; it shall be done for you as you have believed.” And the servant was healed that very moment.Matthew 8:10–13
We’ll come back to this passage later but, for now, notice this man was right: Jesus has the power to simply command health. Limits to his authority are being striped away by Matthew as he describes Jesus’s healing ministry. Touching a leper was one thing (still amazing!), but commanding an illness he can’t see to leave a person he’s never met? That’s authority.
Maybe—just maybe—this unassuming rabbi can actually do the other things he’s claiming to be able to do. Maybe he actually is the King.
Matthew highlights one final healing in this section, that of a fever.
When Jesus came into Peter’s home, He saw his mother-in-law lying sick in bed with a fever. He touched her hand, and the fever left her; and she got up and waited on Him.Matthew 8:14–15
This parallels the cleansing of the leper in that Jesus touches them both and both are immediately made well. In the case of Peter’s mother-in-law, it was so instant that she got up and started serving.
When evening came, they brought to Him many who were demon-possessed; and He cast out the spirits with a word, and healed all who were ill. This was to fulfill what was spoken through Isaiah the prophet: “He Himself took our infirmities and carried away our diseases.”Matthew 8:16–17
Matthew closes this first section of chapters 8 and 9 with the statement that these miracles are fulfillments of prophecy. These prophecies, that which Israel clung to, taught that the Messiah, when he came, would bring a kingdom characterized by healing and restoration. When the kingdom came, disease would be dealt with, death would be defeated.
You see, with these miracles, Jesus is not only proving to Israel here that he is the promised Messiah and that he has the authority to make good on his claim to bring the kingdom should they repent as a nation, but he’s also giving Israel a sneak-peak into kingdom life (see Psalm 72).
Israel knew the kingdom would be characterized by righteousness and restoration, peace and prosperity, help and healing (consider John the Baptists’s question and Jesus’s answer in 11:3–5). Jesus, in a gracious effort to prove he has the authority to bring that about, pulls back the curtain a bit to give Israel a glimpse of kingdom power.
Israel was asking, why should we believe this guy? Sometimes we ask the same question. Jesus makes bold claims: “No one comes to the Father except through me.” “My burden is easy, my yoke is light.” “Whoever believes in me will live even if they die.” Why should we believe him? Well, Matthew says because he has the authority to not only make those claims but to make good on them.
One such claim is highlighted in our passage today: there is coming a day when, as the King sits on his throne, there will be healing. That just as the leprosy, paralysis, and fever cowered before the authority of the pre-glorified Christ, so all diseases and ailments, aches and pains, internal and external, physical, emotional, and spiritual will all run screaming from the glorified Christ. There will be restoration, healing, cleansing, and freedom. Anyone looking forward to that? Jesus has the authority—and the power—to make good on that claim.
The Requirement of the Kingdom
So, we’ve seen Matthew present examples of the authority of the King on display. I want us to return to the centre of our passage now and notice the requirement of the kingdom embedded therein.
The structure of the text funnels us toward the interaction of Jesus and the centurion. Healings one and three (the leper and the fever) were brief encounters in which Jesus touched and healed an ailing Jewish person. The middle healing is different. It’s a Gentile who, himself, is not ill but who is pleading on behalf of another who, ultimately, Jesus doesn’t touch but heals from a distance by the authority of his word.
Matthew is highlighting this miracle and, when we look closely at Jesus’s reaction to the centurion’s faith, we see why.
Now when Jesus heard this, He marveled and said to those who were following, “Truly I say to you, I have not found such great faith with anyone in Israel.Matthew 8:10
A staggering comment. Remember who Jesus is primarily after at this point of his ministry: Israel, God’s chosen people. But, so far, they haven’t responded to their King in faith. They haven’t responded to the authority of their Messiah in belief, at least not like this Gentile has done.
“I say to you that many will come from east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.”Matthew 8:11
Not only are Gentiles (like this centurion) going to be in the kingdom, but they’re going to dine with the patriarchs. Now, this shouldn’t have been all-together shocking. From Genesis 12 on, Israel was to be a blessing to the nations—a kingdom of priests mediating between God and the world. But by the time “the Word became flesh and dwelt among” them, Israel has become insular and self-focused.
It’s the next verse that really shocks.
… but the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”Matthew 8:12
“Sons of the kingdom” is being used ironically. Israel was to be the sons of the kingdom. They were called to it. But being born of Israel doesn’t guarantee a spot at the banquet table. Even those who have a genetic connection to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—these “sons of the kingdom”—if they don’t have the faith in the Messiah like was just demonstrated by this Gentile, they will be cast “into the outer darkness.”
While Jesus is showing he has the authority to make good on the claims he’s been making during his ministry, he’s also making another one: the entrance requirement to the kingdom is faith not fraternity. To avoid outer darkness and instead to feast in a kingdom characterized by total restoration and perfect healing one must believe in the Messiah, the King, and not rely on your cultural heritage or anything else. This is another huge claim but one Jesus is proving he has the authority to make.
Most people today reject the notion that faith is a worthy entrance requirement for something as great as heaven. The vast majority of people—including every single other religion or cult and, tragically, many people within the Christian church—believe something must be done to get a ticket and to keep that ticket.
Jesus’s original audience would have been offended by the idea that a devout Jew could be cast into darkness while a Gentile member of the occupying Roman army would dine with Abraham.
It’s the same for many today: It’s offensive to think that a life-long “good person” would be sent away from the presence of God for eternity while a life-long reprobate who, on his deathbed, puts his faith in Jesus Christ will experience eternal bliss. Why? Because faith can’t be a worthy entrance requirement, can it?
The problem is, those offended by that reality don’t have the authority to re-write the guest list. Jesus does. He’s the King and it’s his kingdom. And with that authority, the authority he’s demonstrated in this passage, he boldly claims that the entrance requirement is faith. It’s belief in who he is and what he did.
Faith in Jesus, no matter your heritage or background, guarantees you access to the coming kingdom, a kingdom that will never end and that is characterized by, among other things, healing and restoration.
Physical Freedom Comes Through Faith!
You see, physical freedom comes through faith!
For those of us who have trusted Christ for the forgiveness of our sins and the salvation of our souls, we look forward to this kingdom and the healing that comes with it.
Think for a moment right now or at least one physical ailment you currently struggle with. It could be diabetes, weight struggles, sleep troubles, blood pressure, dental issues, asthma, depression, memory loss, etc. Think about it right now.
Understand that, not only does Jesus have authority and power to rid you of that ailment, but he will. It may be in this lifetime as a gracious answer to prayer, it may not. But, in the kingdom to come, the one over which he will reign as the perfect Sovereign, it will be dealt with. And, by faith, not fraternity or anything else, we will enjoy that physical freedom.
Take those physical ailments to the Lord in faith this week; pray with specificity and hope, knowing that, when the King comes to set up his kingdom, we will be freed