Aug 30, 2015

“Jesus Heals!  What Do We Do?” 8-30-15

Matthew 8:1-17 & Isaiah 53
August 30, 2015

Over the spring and summer, ending with last week we looked at the Sermon on the Mount, and the kind of life that Jesus said his followers would live.  But his directions to us did not end with the end of the 7th chapter of Matthew.  In the 8th chapter, Matthew tells us about several people who were healed by Jesus. I think we can learn a lot about Jesus and about who we are supposed to be as followers of Jesus when we look at the details of Jesus’ miracles in this passage.
The recipient of the first of this series of miracles was a leper.  Leprosy was feared in the ancient world with such emotion that it still carries over into our language even though all forms of leprosy are treatable today.  In the ancient world, leprosy was feared as a communicable disease, so lepers were shunned.  They had to leave their homes and families and live apart from people.  Even the upper class, or nobles, while permitted to live in luxurious places, were segregated from others. 
Israel had its own regulations about lepers that are set forth in Leviticus and a few other places.  In those passages, some of the symptoms of leprosy are described and although no prescriptions for a cure are given, there are directions as to what a leper who was healed was to do in order to rejoin society. 
I think it is significant that the first person mentioned in this series of miracles was a leper.  I do not think this was necessarily the first person healed by Jesus, but he is first in importance or the importance of the point made by Jesus in healing this man.
This man, because of his disease, was untouchable.  The law set forth in the scriptures forbade anyone from touching a leper.  Jesus knew that an important part of this man’s disease had to do with his forced separation from all people, so when he healed him, he broke the law and touched him.  Now I do not think that this is an example that we should violate laws in general or break rules in order to interact with those with communicable diseases.  Strictly speaking, the man no longer had leprosy after Jesus touched him, so Jesus was not in danger of spreading the disease.
But Jesus was setting an example for us.  He teaches us to touch those who need to be touched, he teaches us to befriend the friendless; To reach out and help those who are in misery.  The first Christian missionaries to India were following the example of Jesus when they specifically reached out to the untouchables of that country with the good news of Jesus
There are two interesting footnotes to this healing.  1) Jesus told the leper not to inform the general public about this miracle, and 2) Jesus told the man to go through the ritual purification process set forth in Leviticus, which involved animal sacrifices.
The command to silence had to do with the awkwardness of Jesus’ time and mission.  He came to be the Messiah, prophesied by Isaiah and others.  The problem was that the people had unbiblical expectations of the Messiah.  They expected him to be a king and to drive out the occupying Romans and establish an earthly kingdom in Jerusalem.  In reality, he came to establish a much different kind of kingdom and although he was claiming to be the Messiah, he was not to be the kind of Messiah they were looking for.  Within a few years, Jerusalem would be destroyed and Israel would cease to be a political entity for almost 2000 years.  Then he could openly be called the messiah.
The command of Jesus to go through the procedure established in scripture for being declared free from disease in order to rejoin society teaches us that we too are to go through the established legal procedures as we work with and for God in our world.  We are not exempt from the rules of our nation just because we are doing God’s work.
The second healing in this series is the healing of the slave of a Centurion in the Roman Army.  Let me remind you that the nation of Israel was under the rule of the Roman Emperor.  This centurion was a non-commissioned officer of the occupying force of Galilee.  He was not someone whom the Jews would normally favor.  But another gospel tells us that this man worshipped the God of the Jews and had paid to have their synagogue built.  Nonetheless, he was a part of the occupying force and he was not a part of the covenant people of Israel.
Jesus was on his way to heal this man’s servant when the word came from the Centurion that Jesus presence in his home was not necessary.  The Centurion knew that Jews did not generally want to enter the home of a Gentile.  So he asked Jesus to heal the servant from where he was.  And in so doing, he gave a great statement about his understanding of whom or what Jesus was. 
Being in the army of the only Superpower of the world at that time. This man understood authority.  The signature of a Roman authority had power all its own.  It commanded the lesser powers of soldiers and others to do what the Emperor or other authority commanded.  The roman emperors could build cities or destroy cities by writing the orders and signing them.  No further exertion was required of them.
This gentile understood that Jesus, this Galilean peasant rabbi had equal authority in the spirit world.  He did not have to appear in person and touch the ailing slave, he could command that the servant be healed and the unseen spiritual powers would do it.
Jesus commented that the centurion had a better understanding of what Jesus was and of what he was capable of than the Jews did.  He also prophesied that there would be many other gentiles like this man, who would believe in Jesus and be participants in the kingdom of God which would begin with a big banquet with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and other great Jewish saints.
Then Jesus went to Peter’s house and observed that Peter’s mother-in-law was sick with a fever.  He healed her.  Now it may be that Jewish men did not touch Jewish women to whom they were not related and that is why Jesus touched her.  But I think the real lesson here is in the behavior of the mother-in-law.  She was healed from her fever and she got up and served Jesus.  She waited on him and his followers that evening.
I think this may be a word from the Lord of correction for some of us, myself included.  One of the many privileges I have as being Pastor of Faith Presbyterian Church is that I get to help people with money that you have given to this church.  I have a discretionary Account and a Jail ministry account that come from the deacons and other sources to help others in financial need.  Sometimes I am promised that the money will be paid back or that the recipient will come to church, or some other pay-back.  I just usually say, oh it is OK, it is a gift from God and you don’t have to pay it back. 
Peter’s mother-in-law has something to teach me.  Those who are helped by God are supposed to serve him with their new found health or blessings.  When someone asks how they can pay us back for some kind deed we have done in God’s name, I think our answer should be “Serve the Lord”.
Some of us have been healed or had God work in some way in our lives and we just take the gift and express our thanks and go on as we did before.  Maybe God acted to help us because he wants us to serve him.
There is one more healing here, or rather a group of healings.  That evening, the people who were in the vicinity brought to Jesus many who were possessed by demons and others who were sick and Jesus drove out the demons and healed those who were ill.
Now these were mighty miracles by which Jesus reclaimed from Satan those who were possessed by demons and demonstrated that his divine powers were able to make people well.
But Matthew, educated in the Old Testament Scriptures and inspired by the Holy Spirit, makes a very interesting observation on this occasion.  He summarized these healings as demonstrations of and fulfillments of what Isaiah wrote in the 53rd chapter of Isaiah.
In that chapter, Isaiah had spoken of one whom God would send to suffer for the redemption of his people.  He became known as the suffering servant.  It is a great passage of Scripture and because of its predictions of suffering and death of God’s servant for the sake of others, we often read this passage on Good Friday as a prophecy about Jesus’ death.
But Matthew uses it here and says that the healings that Jesus did in the early days of his ministry were fulfillments of what Isaiah wrote in 53:4, That the infirmities of people were borne or taken up by Jesus.  Now that phraseology in both the OT and the NT does not signify healings from the vast resources of God’s power that don’t really cost God anything that is noticeable to him.  It implies that Jesus took or illnesses and infirmities upon himself.  The scriptures teach us that God cares for us and 
Suffers with and for us.  The healings that we receive make a difference to him.  They are related to the sufferings of Jesus, who suffered and died for us.  Our healings and some other benefits of God may be free to us, but they were costly to Jesus, and we should be deeply appreciative and do all we can to serve him by serving others.

Pastor David L. Horner
Faith Presbyterian Church
West Lafayette, IN 47906