Life-Changing Encounters

 

When people meet Jesus, their lives are never the same again. We see this clearly displayed in the various case studies presented in the gospel of Matthew. As we move to Matthew 8:1-17 we see illustrations of how lives are changed by the Master.

Before we look at the accounts of some great healings let me remind you that Matthew records these miracles not so we can “learn to do miracles.” The point of the miracles is to show us the unique nature of Jesus. Matthew wants us to recognize Jesus as the true Redeemer or Rescuer.

I am not saying miracles don’t happen today. I believe they do. But at the same time, miracles are not commonplace (or they wouldn’t be extraordinary acts,) and they are not formulas or methods we need to learn. The point of these miracles is to direct us to the Lord who effects those miracles. With that reminder, let’s look at these accounts.

A Man with Leprosy

Large crowds followed Jesus as he came down the mountainside. Suddenly, a man with leprosy approached him and knelt before him. “Lord,” the man said, “if you are willing, you can heal me and make me clean.”

Jesus reached out and touched him. “I am willing,” he said. “Be healed!” And instantly the leprosy disappeared. Then Jesus said to him, “Don’t tell anyone about this. Instead, go to the priest and let him examine you. Take along the offering required in the law of Moses for those who have been healed of leprosy. This will be a public testimony that you have been cleansed.”

I think this is one of the most touching stories in the Bible.

Leprosy when used in the Bible, is not always the leprosy we think of today. Sometimes translators use the phrase “infectious skin disease.” However, the words can also refer to true leprosy or “Hansen’s Disease.” Leprosy was and is a devastating illness. One day you might wake up and your skin would be burned or bruised. If the discoloration continued you would have to go to see the priest. He might declare you to be a leper.

We understand more about leprosy now. A person with full-blown leprosy has their nerves die in their extremities. As a result, you were unable to tell when you were over-exerting or hurting yourself. People with leprosy were subject to infection and the subsequent degeneration of limbs, tissues, and organs. Where others have pain as an alarm system, those with leprosy did not. You might put on a pair of shoes two sizes too small. You would not know this until you saw your feet were  raw . . . because you could not feel the warning signs. You could grab a hot pan and not realize it. It was devastating in its effects.

It was a horrible physical disease but it was more. Once you were diagnosed with leprosy you were removed from your family and all interaction with other humans other than other lepers. If you dared to come to town you had to call out, “Unclean! Unclean” so others would not bump into you and become defiled. You could not worship or be part of the religious community. You were a social outcast. You felt distant from God.

Somehow the Leper in this account had heard about Jesus. He found a way to get near to the Lord. The word “suddenly” is probably appropriate because if others had seen him they would have made him stay away. His words to Jesus are simple, “If you are willing, you can heal me and make me clean.”

We may say the same thing. We know the Lord is ABLE to heal us, but at times He seems to not be WILLING to heal us. In the case of Paul, the Lord said “no” to Paul’s request in order to keep him from becoming proud and as a way of reminding him that God’s grace is sufficient for every circumstance and God’s power works best when we are at the end of our strength.

God doesn’t always heal. I believe this is because there is a bigger purpose that we do not see or perhaps understand. This leper seemed to know this. However, he desperately wants the Lord to heal him.

Jesus did something startling and wonderful at the same time. Jesus reached out and touched him! Stop there and reflect on this! Jesus touched the man who was untouchable. We cannot begin to comprehend how compelling that touch was to that man. Someone saw him . . . not as plague or as someone who was diseased. He saw him as a human being. And I believe that if Jesus had not healed that man in that moment, it would have still been a moment that changed the man’s life.

Jesus did heal him. He told him to go to the priest and let the priest verify that he had been healed. Jesus knew the man was going to tell everyone. Wouldn’t you? However, Jesus was pleading for the man to understand that Jesus did not come to be the healer . . . He came to be the one to reconcile lost people to their Father.

This is a great account and I hope it touches you deeply. Most of us have things in our lives, either in the past or present, that make us feel unclean or untouchable. It could be our appearance, our reputation, our failures, our lack of social standing, our meager income, or perhaps we have a physical or mental challenge that people seem to view as a deficiency. Whatever the case, we feel “unseen” and we long for someone to just see us for who we are.

This one account reminds us that our Lord does see us. He sees someone who is created as a treasure sent from God. He SEES us. And . . . in spite of the sin that stains us, He sees someone that is worth dying for. And that realization will change your life and mine almost as much as this healing changed the life of that former leper.

The Faith of a Roman Officer

The second healing account starts in verse 5

When Jesus returned to Capernaum, a Roman officer came and pleaded with him, “Lord, my young servant lies in bed, paralyzed and in terrible pain.”

Jesus said, “I will come and heal him.”

But the officer said, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come into my home. Just say the word from where you are, and my servant will be healed. I know this because I am under the authority of my superior officers, and I have authority over my soldiers. I only need to say, ‘Go,’ and they go, or ‘Come,’ and they come. And if I say to my slaves, ‘Do this,’ they do it.”

10 When Jesus heard this, he was amazed. Turning to those who were following him, he said, “I tell you the truth, I haven’t seen faith like this in all Israel! 11 And I tell you this, that many Gentiles will come from all over the world—from east and west—and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob at the feast in the Kingdom of Heaven. 12 But many Israelites—those for whom the Kingdom was prepared—will be thrown into outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

13 Then Jesus said to the Roman officer, “Go back home. Because you believed, it has happened.” And the young servant was healed that same hour.

Capernaum was the city where Jesus lived and made his headquarters during his Galilean ministry. It was located along the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee. It was not a major Roman outpost but soldiers were stationed there. A centurion was one who had command over 100 soldiers. Because there was just a small contingent of soldiers in Capernaum it is very possible that the man who came to Jesus was the top Roman official in the city.

This powerful military man had a tender heart. His servant (or it could be translated “boy” which would change the intensity of the request), was very ill and obviously dying. The Centurion came to Jesus himself to request help.

Roman soldiers were not known for asking for help. They usually demanded help! But not this man. He came to Jesus in abject humility and requested a miracle.

The fact that this man was a Gentile was also significant. It is a reminder that the gospel is a message not merely for the Jews, but also for the Gentiles.

Jesus was moved by the appeal of the Centurion and told him that he would come and heal the boy. The Centurion said Jesus did not have to come to his home. He knew that Jesus was holy, and he was not. He also knew that Jesus possessed the authority of Heaven itself! The Centurion showed tremendous faith in saying, “Just say the word and my servant will be healed!”

This was not the way most people acted. They wanted Jesus to come with them – right now! They worked hard to get an audience with Jesus and they weren’t going to take a chance on missing out on a healing by letting Him get away.

Jesus marveled at the faith of the Centurion. It was a deeper faith, he said, than He had found in all of Israel! This man understood who Jesus really was. He recognized that Jesus had authority over disease. Instead of commanding, this soldier submitted.

We talked about this last week. To truly follow Jesus one has to submit to Him. We must stop trying to make things happen and put all our trust in Him.

This story raises some questions: “Do you believe that Jesus has authority and power over whatever it is that you face?” “Are you willing to submit to His authority, His timing, and His wisdom?” Will you trust Him whether or not He responds as you want Him to respond? This is real faith. It is not a matter of getting what we want; it is about trusting Him to give us what we need.

Jesus Heals Many People

The account ends this way,

14 When Jesus arrived at Peter’s house, Peter’s mother-in-law was sick in bed with a high fever. 15 But when Jesus touched her hand, the fever left her. Then she got up and prepared a meal for him.

16 That evening many demon-possessed people were brought to Jesus. He cast out the evil spirits with a simple command, and he healed all the sick. 17 This fulfilled the word of the Lord through the prophet Isaiah, who said,

“He took our sicknesses

and removed our diseases.”

When we read about Peter’s mother-in-law we are reminded that these men had normal lives. They had families. Following Jesus, in some cases, meant leaving home and making sacrifices . . . much like soldiers today.

When Jesus arrived, they discovered that Peter’s mother-in-law was sick. All Jesus had to do was touch her hand and she was well. She felt so good, in fact, that she got up and made a meal for the whole group.

After the meal, the crowds gathered. Need-filled people from all over came to see if they could get help from Jesus. The Bible says Jesus healed all the sick. Matthew sees this as a fulfillment of prophecy. When the Messiah came, according to Isaiah, He would heal the sick, demon-possessed, and diseased. And that is what was happening. Matthew’s point was this: Jesus was indeed the Messiah that they had been waiting for.

Verse 17 is a favorite of what is known as the “prosperity gospel”. This theology teaches that “healing is guaranteed when you come to Christ.” In one sense, that is absolutely true. Those who come to Christ are made new. They are healed from their scars, their wounds, their guilt, and their pain. On the final day every tear will be wiped away. Weakness will be abolished. Bodies will be renewed. I think we all agree on this truth.

RC Sproul writes,

Jesus was under God’s curse for all our cosmic treason. But that’s not all. Not only was our sin laid on Jesus, so were all of our illnesses. God put cancer on Him. He put heart disease on Him. He put diabetes on Him. He put leprosy on Him. He put every disease that has been painful to the human race on Jesus. “He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.” It was not just our sin that was removed, but all the consequences of our sin.[1]

However, this movement goes further. They teach physical healing is guaranteed to us right now. They say, “if you have enough faith, you will be healed.” In other words, if you are really following the Lord, you will never be sick! Well-known pastor and author Joel Osteen is in this group of people. He illustrates the teaching with these words:

Maybe Alzheimer’s disease runs in your family genes, but don’t succumb to it. Instead, say every day, “My mind is alert. I have clarity of thought. I have a good memory. Every cell in my body is increasing and getting healthier.” If you’ll rise up in your authority, you can be the one to put a stop to the negative things in your family line. . . Start boldly declaring, “God is restoring health unto me. I am getting better every day in every way.” (Osteen, Becoming a Better You, 45, 114)

This is much closer to the teaching of the Christian Science Religion than Biblical Christianity. Christian Science is based on the teachings of Mary Baker Eddy. She taught that sin and sickness are problems of the mind, not the body. She proclaimed that when we learn to think correctly, we will experience healing. She believed God was everywhere and in everything (which is known as pantheism). She wrote a book called “Science and Health” that Christian Scientists believe is more authoritative than the Bible. They believe sick people must repent of wrong thinking, and that sin is an illusion that is the result of negative thinking. There is no reason for the sacrificial death of Jesus because they don’t believe in sin.

We believe God can and does heal. Every week we pray believing that God can heal any disease or problem. And we pray, understanding that for some reason, that only His Sovereign wisdom understands, some people are healed, and some are not. In some accidents people are miraculously saved, while others die. In 9/11 there were many amazing stories of God saving lives. But there were many other cases of heroic and faithful people who were killed in the falling towers. The ways of God are mysterious.

Dr. James Montgomery Boice was a well-respected scholar and Bible teacher. He was the Pastor of Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. In the spring of 2000, Boice was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Notice the contrast in attitude as I read his words when he told his congregation,

Should you pray for a miracle? Well, you’re free to do that, of course. My general impression is that the God who is able to do miracles— and he certainly can— is also able to keep you from getting the problem in the first place. So although miracles do happen, they’re rare by definition. A miracle has to be an unusual thing. Above all, I would say pray for the glory of God. If you think of God glorifying himself in history and you say, where in all of history has God most glorified himself? He did it at the cross of Jesus Christ, and it wasn’t by delivering Jesus from the cross, though he could have. Jesus said, “Don’t you think I could call down from my Father ten legions of angels for my defense?” But he didn’t do that. And yet that’s where God is most glorified. God is in charge. When things like this come into our lives, they are not accidental. It’s not as if God somehow forgot what was going on, and something bad slipped by. God is not only the one who is in charge; God is also good. Everything he does is good.

Boice had confidence in the sovereign power of God and trusted in the wisdom of God. He died eight weeks after making that announcement. In those eight weeks he finished writing articles, he met with leaders of the church, and he frequently called the elders to come and sing hymns with him. Some would say that James Montgomery Boice did not have enough faith. I believe there are few people who have as much faith as Dr. Boice.  To trust God even though you know you may die . . . is the kind of faith I want.

To tell someone who is reeling from bad news that they are suffering because they don’t have enough faith is to act heartlessly. Such people are like the friends of Job who told him that his suffering was because he was be doing something wrong. I hope you remember that at the end of book of Job God told Job that he needed to pray for his friends because they were hopelessly confused. I believe He would say the same to those who proclaim this gospel of prosperity.

Conclusions

Our God can handle any situation. We are to put our confidence not in our faith, but in our Lord. We trust that He can make us well. And if he does not, we know that there is a good reason. He is somehow using the pain to accomplish a greater purpose. The centurion was right: the Lord has supreme authority. Like this soldier, we must hang on to that truth.

Wherever you need healing: physically, emotionally, or perhaps financially, put your trust in Him. Turn to Him with hurts, the bitterness, the resentment and let Him heal you of those things too.

We have a great Savior. Though we do not make bold promises that God wants you to be healthy and wealthy; we do declare this: the Lord is over all. His power is supreme. His love is unequalled, and His salvation, if you welcome it, will change your life forever.

[1] Sproul, R. C. (2013-02-28). Matthew (St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary) (Kindle Locations 3486-3489). Crossway. Kindle Edition.

 

Scripture:

Matthew 8:1-17