Follow Jesus Wholeheartedly (Matthew 8.1-27)
What sort of man is this, that even the winds and sea obey him?
Jesus’ authoritative words are immediately followed by authoritative deeds, demonstrating his power over sickness, diseases, demons and the natural elements.
In the light of his claim to fulfil the Law and the Prophets (5.17) it is significant that Jesus touches the leper (3), something forbidden under the Law because it made one unclean. Moreover the Law made lepers outcasts requiring them to be separated from the community (Lev 13.45-46).
The purpose of the Law was to ensure a safe buffer between fallen humanity and God’s holy presence, especially with regard to the cult (worship). Jesus, as God present on earth, now removes this buffer and the need for it: the leper is healed and made clean. He is restored both physically and socially, to God and the community.
The same principle applies to Jesus’ willingness to go into the house of a Gentile soldier (7), which would also have made him unclean, except that in this case it is the centurion’s faith in him which renders the Law redundant. God (in Christ) needs no protection from believing Gentiles (cf. Eph 2.8-22).
When it comes to healing today there tends to be great emphasis on discerning what is needed – either on the part of the one praying or the one prayed for - to gain healing. The problem for such an approach is that each one of Jesus’ healings is unique. There is no common denominator, no prescribed formula.
So those who say you must do this, or pray that, miss the point. There is simply Jesus and the needs of his children. Each miracle brings out different aspects of his grace and their character. What the leper and the centurion have in common, apart from their uncleanness, is an extraordinary faith and humility.
The leper has no doubt about Jesus’ ability to heal him, but humbly (kneeling before him) asks whether he wills to. The centurion likewise has absolute confidence in Jesus’ power to heal – he merely has to say the word - but is not worthy to have him come under his roof.
Such faith and humility deeply affect Jesus, who affirms his willingness to heal. Matthew, in turn, affirms that he is the suffering servant about whom Isaiah prophesied (Isa 52.13-53.12.)
While Jesus’ healings drew crowds there is no doubt that the calming of a storm-tossed sea was regarded as a greater miracle (27).
Moses, Elijah and Elisha had all performed miracles, but only the LORD could command the wind and the waves (see Ps 107.23-30; Jonah 1.11-16). The answer to the disciples’ question is, “Only a man who is God.”
Following such a man is not for the faint hearted or double minded. Those who would follow him must have the humble, unshakable faith of the leper and the centurion. They must be ready to have no security apart from him and to give greater priority to his mission than to any other task.
For what sort of man would one do this? Only the Son of God.
Is there anything or anyone holding you back from following Jesus? asks whether he wills to.
Almighty Father, you alone are the Creator of the universe; all things in heaven and earth are under your sway. Grant me a perfect trust in you that I may never be afraid, and a love for you that makes me quick and glad to surrender all. I ask these things in Jesus’ name. Amen
Michael Hewat is currently serving as the Senior Minister at West Hamilton Community Church, New Zealand
Photo by Jamie Street on Unsplash