Read the Passage: Matthew 8
A Leper is Cleansed (8:1–4)
As we’ve noted previously, in an attempt to draw parallelism with the Pentateuch, Matthew structures his Gospel around five discourse/narrative cycles. Matt. 5–7 contains the teaching portion of the first of the five discourse/narrative cycles in this Gospel. Matt. 8–9 contains the narrative portion of this cycle, which focuses on Jesus’ miracles. Jesus’ miracles can be divided into two broad categories: (1) miracles of restoration, which show Christ’s power over sickness/death and power over evil, and (2) miracles of creation, which show Jesus’ power over creation and His power of creation. Matt. 8–9, contains 12 miracles and 3 brief narratives, including: instructions regarding discipleship (Matt. 8:18–22), the calling of Levi (Matt. 9:9), and dialog about eating and fasting (Matt. 9:10–17). In our study of Matthew 8, we’ll cover two miracles and a brief narrative.
Matt. 8:1–4 reports that when Jesus descended from the mountain a leper approached him, admitting Jesus’ authority to make him clean. Jesus then healed the man and instructed him to keep the Old Testament laws concerning such healing (cf. Lev. 14:4–7). A few observations about this narrative are in order. First, leprosy—a skin ailment caused by the tuberculosis virus—was one of the most defiling things in Hebrew society. Lepers had to live in colonies separate from the populace, and cry out “Unclean! Unclean!” when coming in contact with others (cf. Lev. 13:45–46). Second, note that Matt. 8:3 reports Jesus “put out his hand and touched him.” This act of compassion would have made Jesus unclean according to the ceremonial law. Jesus was emphasizing that while the law was indeed valid (cf. Matt. 8:4), it was never meant to be only about the external.
The Disciples are Instructed (8:18–22)
In Matt. 8:18–22 we find one of the non-miracle narratives in this passage, as here Jesus discusses the demands of discipleship. Matthew notes that Jesus needed to depart from the area of Capernaum due to the crowds that had gathered. As He was departing, a scribe declared his desire to follow Christ. Jesus, however, responded by encouraging the man to consider the cost. Whereas there was excitement about Jesus’ healing ministry—even such that he was forced to retreat from Capernaum—following Christ would be materially costly. Another disciple, likewise, declared his intent to follow Jesus; but asked for Christ to wait for him to bury his father. This man was likely not requesting permission to participate in a funeral, but was asking for a delay in following Jesus until he received his inheritance. Jesus’ response communicated the need for detachment.
The Sea is Stilled (8:23–27)
Matt. 8:23–27 records the account of Jesus’ calming the storm on the Sea of Galilee. After leading his disciples into a boat, Matt. 8:24 reports Jesus fell asleep as a great storm arose. Given that the Sea of Galilee is bordered by mountains and is some 650 feet below the Mediterranean Sea, which was located 25 miles to the west, strong storms are not uncommon on the Sea of Galilee. At once, the disciples woke Jesus up with the request, “Lord save us! We are perishing!” (Matt. 8:25). Interestingly, the apostles understood that Jesus had power to save them, but seemed unaware of how (or perhaps if) Christ would do so. Note they did not ask Jesus to calm the storm, and were astonished when He stilled the wind and the waves (cf. Matt. 8:27). Indeed, the disciples’ question about Jesus’ identity in Matt. 8:27 shows that while they had a growing knowledge of Him, their faith was not yet fully mature.
- Why do you think most of Jesus’ miracles dealt with his power over sickness and death? In what area of your life do you find it most difficult to trust Christ?
- How would you define a miracle? Have you ever seen a miracle? What did Jesus mean in teaching we can move mountains (cf. Matt. 17:20)?
- Note that the leper’s query of Jesus indicated that he had no doubt about Jesus’ power, just Christ’s will. How ought this example to impact our prayer life?
- What has it cost you to follow Jesus? Is there anything that would cause you to stop following Christ? What about the Christian life has surprised you?
- How much knowledge of Jesus do you need in order to be saved? What can you deny and/or affirm and still be a believer?