Matthew 8:1-4 I Am Willing, Be Clean WC McCarter
My favorite hymn, Victory in Jesus, has a second verse which states, “I heard about His healing, of His cleansing pow'r revealing; how He made the lame to walk again and caused the blind to see; and then I cried, ‘Dear Jesus, Come and heal my broken spirit,’ and somehow Jesus came and bro't to me the victory.” This is the subject of today’s sermon and many of the passages we will encounter next as we enter a new section in the Gospel of Matthew. I have entitled this series, “The Dominion and Demands of the King,” Matthew 8-9.
Today, we encounter a story that is recorded in all three synoptic Gospels, i.e. Matthew, Mark, and Luke. They are called synoptic because they cover much of the same material. They each tell this story in their own way, which gives us different perspectives. Apparently this was a famous incident between the Lord and a leper. In these four verses, Matthew points our attention to Christ.
READ Scripture- This is the Word of God
Multitudes Followed (1)
The Scripture says, “When He had come down from the mountain, great multitudes followed Him.” The mountain that He came down from must have been the one that he went up on in 5:1 and the multitudes that followed Him must have been the ones that prompted the occasion for the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus’ fame had spread over the entire region and great crowds followed Him everywhere He went. Instead of giving the people what they wanted (i.e. a miracle), Jesus sat down and began to teach them. He gave them what they needed. Do you see the pattern that Jesus has set for us? From time to time He will heal individuals and perform miracles, but His main objective is to teach all of His followers. For the most part, the Christian life is one of slow and quiet progress in Christ which provides great joy.
Now, why were they following Him? There may have been many in the crowds that followed Him because they wanted to see a miracle, but for a direct answer we can go back to 7:28-29. Many are probably caught up in the excitement surrounding Jesus’ ministry, and there are certainly some folks who are intrigued by His teaching ministry. What a lesson for us to consider. Two questions may be asked: first, are you following Jesus, and second, why are you following Jesus? I hope that you answer “yes” to the first, and “I trust Him” to the second. What is so special about Jesus’ teaching? He speaks like no one else! His words are spirit, and they are life! To whom else shall we go? Jesus Christ has the words of eternal life, and He offers true atonement.
There is a difference in being intrigued by the message and actually submitting to the demands of Jesus’ teaching. The response to Jesus' teaching was amazement, but the proper response is obedience. Now we see in verse one that the crowds followed Him, but we are about to learn in chapters 8-9 what it really means to follow Jesus. Jesus will complement His terrific teaching with marvelous miracles as signs of His all-encompassing dominion. He will show His power over disease, demons, and death (to keep my D’s, we can include “da earth”) and also declare the demands of true discipleship. Matthew shares some of these wonders with us beginning with three acts of healing. The first of these healing miracles is what we are considering today, and it is actually couched in terms of ceremonial cleansing.
Leper: If You Are Willing (2)
The word "behold" (ἰδοὺ) is used often in narrative sections in the Bible, especially in the Gospels. It is meant to grab the reader’s attention and to add interest and emphasis. Also, the word is used to mark a scene change. Apparently, the crowds are not present for the cleansing of the leper (based on the command to not tell anyone).
We cannot be sure what kind of “leprosy” this was. The ancient term for leprosy covers a wider array of conditions than what we call leprosy today. It certainly was an itchy or powdery thickening of the skin most prevalent in the spring and likely refers to a disease that causes the outer layer of skin to die and flake off, especially when scratched. A leper was totally ostracized from society until he was declared cured (Lev 13:45-46). So, the word is used of all sorts of skin diseases, but it most certainly was something that was considered incurable and horrific to the people. In any case, it made this man ceremonially unclean in the eyes of all Jews. He would not have been able to worship in the Temple or really have any kind of social interaction with others. He was an outcast. He came and knelt down before the Lord to seek mercy. He knew that Christ had the authority and power to do a great miracle for him. He only feared that he would be passed by. Have you ever felt that way? You knew that Christ could forgive you of your sins, but for some reason you felt like you may be passed by? If so, listen closely to the rest of the story. For this man to come to Jesus would have been bold and the normal response for a Jewish man like Jesus would have been to steer clear of him. Anything but that reaction would have been extraordinary.
The leper shows great respect for Jesus, he first kneels and then calls Him Lord, and Matthew only uses "Lord" of those who believe in Jesus; cf. 15:22; 17:15; 20:30–31). He asserts Jesus’ power in the first place with “you can,” and then, in the second place, he asserts Jesus’ sovereignty “if you are willing.”
Application: All of us suffer with a variety of ailments; some worse than others; some earlier in life; some later in life. If you live long enough on this earth, you will suffer at the hands of a fallen world. God, according to His sovereign purposes, permits us to suffer these things for a time. We may not know the reason, after all, we are not God, but we will experience the end results of His reasoning. He will ultimately work through everything for our good. And, it is precious to know the one who does have the power to cleanse the leper’s spots. We may not experience relief now, but we will after a little while. We must pray the words of the leper, “Lord, if you are willing, You can make me clean.” These are words of bold faith and great confidence. There is not a shadow of doubt in that statement as to the power of Christ for healing. The only question was the willingness of Christ. Christ may have withheld healing, not because He is stingy and hateful, but because, in His divine purposes, He may have had need to allow the suffering to continue for a while to bring about a greater good. On this occasion, the man is “cleansed” of his leprosy.
Jesus: I Am Willing (3)
Jesus did something extraordinary! He reached out! He actually touched this man, who apparently did not come too close to Jesus. This touch would have normally rendered Jesus ceremonially unclean (Lev 14:46; also Mishnah, m. Nega'im 3.1; 11.1; 12.1; 13.6-12), yet the man became clean when Jesus touched him. "According to rabbinical practices, it was illegal even to greet a leper in an open place. Priests often ran and hid themselves upon seeing a leper in the distance" (Mounce).
We know that He did not have to touch the man to heal him. So, He must have intentionally done this to make a point. Calvin said, “By His word alone He might have healed the leper; but He applied, at the same time, the touch of His hand, to express the feeling of compassion.” Jesus reaches, and He speaks. He says, “I am willing; be cleansed.” The love of Christ extended to even the most outcast of society. The mission of Jesus and the demands of love clearly took precedence, as one commentator put it (France).
I like this word that is used next: “immediately.” Immediately the man was cleansed. The word “immediately” (εὐθέως) is used frequently throughout Matthew to show the instantaneous and complete results of Jesus’ actions.
Go, Show, Offer (4)
Jesus wants the man to tell no one, most likely because it was not “His time.” I have said many times before, Jesus was always aware of time during His life and ministry. The man was not to tell anyone, but of course it would be made known to the priests who he presented himself before at the Temple. This idea of keeping Jesus’ identity at bay is often referred to in biblical studies as the “Messianic Secret” (see also 9:30, 12:16, 16:20, and 17:9). Part of this may also be Jesus’ precaution against the rapid rise of a movement that did not understand the nature of His Messiahship (Mounce).
To obey the command involved no small undertaking for the cleansed leper. He would need to make the journey from near the Sea of Galilee to Jerusalem (something like 70 miles), and there offer the sacrifice required by Moses (see Lev 14:4–32). Of course, another part of the reason for the command to tell no one may have been so that the healed person would first obey the Law before he became preoccupied with telling others about his healing (NKJVSB).
The last of verse four shows us that the Law points to Christ. How does it demonstrate this? What Jesus had just done would be confirmed by the priests who operated under the Law of Moses. This act will give public proof that the leper is cured and may return into society. Even those corrupt priests would not be able to deny or discount what Jesus had done for this man. So, Jesus does what the religious leaders cannot. He preaches and teaches with authority, and He heals those who are considered to be forever unclean.
Conclusion and Christian Application
One author has said that Matthew's account of Jesus' healing is so pruned of all auxiliary narrative details that the focus falls on the person's confidence in the power of Jesus and the words of Jesus in response. This economy of detail is not because the Evangelist eschewed vividness but because He has a "distaste for technical details of miracles as such" and does not want the reader to be distracted by the technique and miss the significance of the person of Jesus (Hull in Garland). Our focus is directed to Jesus.
The Lord is willing to cleanse you this morning. Not every person receives a miracle of physical relief, but all are invited to come to him for spiritual cleansing, and none will be passed by. He is more than willing to provide spiritual relief to those who are poor in spirit, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Calvin said that Christ did not only stretch out His arm to us, but He descended from heaven. His willingness took Him all the way to the cross of Calvary. We may need physical healing (after all, if we live long enough, we will suffer), but, first and foremost, we need spiritual healing.
As we conclude, let me remind you again of that second verse of Victory in Jesus. The hymn says, “I heard about His healing, of His cleansing pow'r revealing; how He made the lame to walk again and caused the blind to see; and then I cried, ‘Dear Jesus, Come and heal my broken spirit,’ and somehow Jesus came and bro't to me the victory.” Notice that the hymn writer says that it was reading about Jesus' healing ministry in the Gospels that caused him to cry out for salvation. The chorus goes on to say, “O victory in Jesus, my Savior, forever. He sought me and bought me with His redeeming blood. He loved me ere I knew Him, and all my love is due Him. He plunged me to victory, beneath the cleansing flood.” You see, the same Jesus who had the authority and power to cleanse the leper is the one who went to the cross to suffer the penalty for sin in your place. God the Father raised Him from the dead to show His approval of that atoning sacrifice. Through faith in Him, you can be plunged to victory, beneath the cleansing flood. You can be wrapped in His righteousness and saved from yourself, this present wicked age, and the wrath to come. You can “hear about His healing and His cleansing pow'r revealing,” and you can, like the leper, bow down and cry out to Him, “Lord, make me clean.” If you have already done this, then rejoice in this Good News, and remember that His cleansing work is both definite and ongoing. He is changing you from the inside-out. If you have never done this, then do so today. Call out to Him. The Scripture says in multiple places, “Whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”