OVERVIEW OF MATTHEW 8:1-9:34
The entire passage which runs from Mtw 8:1-9:34 seems to be a good summary of the Galilean ‘Greatest Hits’ of healing (with short narratives between John the Baptist’s followers and Jesus - Mtw 8:14-17 - and a few short words directed at people such as the would-be followers of 8:19-22 and the call of Matthew in 9:9-13) and the contrast with the previous three chapters (the Sermon on the Mount of Mtw 5:3-7:27) is striking.
Although there is teaching here, it is not in the form of a teacher standing before his listeners and imparting to them knowledge but of speaking to all who were near as and when circumstances caused Him to give instruction.
The writer of Matthew is demonstrating that Jesus was both mighty in word and in deed and places the evidence before us in one five chapter chunk that underpins everything that Jesus did amongst Israel. What the crowds were able to confess in Mtw 7:28-29 - that Jesus spoke with authority - is now demonstrated in action when He comes down from the mountain to meet those who have deep needs that only He can solve.
The crowds’ reaction in Mtw 9:33 that
‘...Never was anything like this seen in Israel’
is probably a similar reaction in content to that which has been recorded for us previously after the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount.
These five chapters (Mtw 5-9) are significantly bracketed together by the threefold description of Jesus’ ministry (teach-preach-heal) which occur in 4:23 and 9:35 and this seems to have been a deliberate intention of the writer. In these five chapters, then, we see a demonstration of how Jesus taught, preached and healed.
At the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount (here) - and also at certain points in the subsequent sections - we noted that, although some commentators try to assert that the one discourse was, in fact, gathered from many different points in Jesus’ life and put together and presented as one concise unit to the reader, it was better understood as having been delivered at one time, in one place and not, as the old Martini advert used to say at
‘anytime, any place, anywhere’
When we come to these miracles, however, there do not appear to be the same constraints for us to expect that the Gospel writer meant for these to be taken as events which followed very closely on from one another - it does not seem necessary, even, to see in the arrangement of the miracles the chronological order in which they occurred.
The words connecting each of the incidents is sometimes very loose so that, although they naturally read as immediately subsequent events, they could just as well stand alone independently of what goes both before and after them with some exceptions where they are held together quite closely (for instance, the journey over the Sea of Galilee and the meeting with the demoniac on the other side - Mtw 8:18-27 and 8:28-34 - appear to be connected in time).
Mattask sees this entire section which runs 8:1-9:34 as being divided carefully into three sections which each contain three miracles (making nine in all), the natural divisions being 8:18-22 where the two would-be followers are included and 9:9-17 where the meal and the questions of John the Baptist’s disciples is recorded.
Mattask comments concerning this first division that
‘The result is that a bridge is formed between the first and second groups of miracle-stories by a narrative which has all the appearances of being strictly chronological’
Although the divisions are not necessarily deliberate (Mathag comments that ‘...the material is really of a mixed character...and the various themes are intertwined...’), they do give the reader an easier way to remember the structure and form of the passage, something which our modern divisions into chapters tends to obscure.
As noted, Mattask counts just nine miracles whereas Matfran and others count ten and it is the latter who’s correct. The miracle of the raising of the ruler’s daughter from the dead and the healing of the woman with the flow of blood are normally rolled into one to make the two chapters yield just the nine but, if we are honest, there should be ten.
This number is not without significance in the Mishnah amongst the rabbis, for they note that (Aboth 5:4)
‘Ten wonders were wrought for our fathers in Egypt and ten at the Sea’
‘Ten wonders were wrought for our fathers in the Temple’
Although the number ten is associated with the miraculous, it is not exclusively used as such and the number is also reserved for temptation (Aboth 5:3-4) and the number of generations in which is demonstrated the patience of God (Aboth 5:2). It may be, therefore, that there is a deliberate significance in the writer’s inclusion of ten miracles in this section but the case is far from watertight. If, however, a rabbinical convert was reading the passage, you can be assured that the significance of the number of miracles wouldn’t be lost on him!
More interesting seems to be the reaction of certain people to the miracles of Jesus - and which we will deal with when we discuss the relevant passages. To the disciples, the miraculous causes them to marvel (Mtw 8:27 Cp 8:23), to the men who witness the deeds, they want to instantly follow the glory trail (8:18-22), to the crowds, they acknowledge that God is moving in their midst (9:8) and, to the Pharisees, it all comes from satan (9:34)!
Is it any wonder, therefore, that when God starts to do the miraculous in the midst of the Church there is such a wealth of people both affirming it’s God on the move and denying that it’s got anything to do with Him?
This passage deals predominantly with healing and the list of the ten incidents below is different to the ten ‘miracles’ which occurred in this passage for I’ve removed the calming of the storm (8:23-27) which represents no physical healing and inserted the summation of an evening of healing and deliverance which took place (8:16-17).
These ten incidents, therefore, can be listed chronologically as they occur as follows:
1. 8:1-4 - A leper
2. 8:5-13 - Paralysis
3. 8:14-15 - Fever
4. 8:16-17 - Demons and sicknesses
5. 8:28-34 - Two demoniacs
6. 9:1-8 - A paralytic
7. 9:18-19,23-26 - Death
8. 9:20-22 - A haemorrhage
9. 9:27-31 - Two blind men
10. 9:32-34 - A dumb demoniac
As we consider each of these ten incidents (including the parallel passages in the other Gospels which include other pieces of information not used by Matthew), we see certain ‘common denominators’ which need to be noticed (I shan’t give chapter and verse for any of these - the reader can look for them if he’s interested but it will probably be the ones that are missing from the list that will be most noticeable and worthy of reference).
Firstly, in only seven of the ten passages (1,2,5,6,7,8,9) is there a specific mention that faith was present and, in one of these (5), the faith appears to have been in the demons which cry out when they recognise Jesus rather than in the one being delivered (8:29). It’s quite true that faith is an important aspect in healing and that the recipient of the healing is often required to demonstrate it but it is not always the case and the insistence that a person who is prayed with and who does not receive healing cannot have faith brings more problems to the person prayed with than it solves!
As I said to a person I met on the Net recently who had been prayed for by many different denominations and who had not yet been healed, call for the elders of your local church and put the responsibility for faith on them as it says in James 5:14-15 - where it isn’t the faith of the sick person that is being demonstrated but the faith of the pray-ers!
We often do more harm than good by making it appear that if a person has faith they’ll be healed. While it is true to say that if a person does have real faith that God is about to deliver them from a spiritual or physical problem, faith in the recipient does not have to always be present for someone to be healed.
In an evangelistic outreach that I was working on many years ago (I was only a pleb helping out, not the speaker), a man and his wife came forward for healing. His story only emerged after he’d been prayed with but he told us how he knew that the healing part of the meeting was bogus and deceitful but that he’d only come to the meeting with his wife to prove it to her. After all, he had some vertebra fused in his neck which meant that his head was rock solid and, to move his face, he had to move his entire body.
In disbelief he came to the front to be prayed with...and was healed instantly.
Serves him right, I say...
So faith in the recipient guarantees the healing (if you’ll pardon the phraseology), though even faith starts as a move of God upon an individual that they believe and do something about (see my notes on faith here), but a lack of faith does not, on the other hand, guarantee the un-healing of the individual and, as we can see from these passages, faith was not always demonstrably present.
Secondly, in nine of the incidents (1,2,4,5,6,7,8,9,10), it’s recorded that the recipient of the healing or deliverance reached out, came to or was brought to Jesus and, in the one incident excluded from this summary (3), we are told in Mark 1:30 that they mentioned the incapacitated person’s situation to Jesus and, in Luke 4:38, that they
‘besought Him for her’
implying more than a casual
‘Oh, by the way, we’re gonna have to peel our own spuds tonight for the mother-in-law’s ill’
and which could certainly be taken as warranting inclusion with the others. In the incident that I cited from a few years ago, although the man with the fused vertebra didn’t have any faith that Jesus would heal him, he nevertheless came to Jesus - and that appears to be one of the most important aspects in divine healing and deliverance.
Thirdly, and finally, to continue the theme of whether faith is important, it is worthy of note that it is also recorded that healing occurred through the demonstration of the faith of someone other than the recipient of the healing on at least five occasions (2,3,6,7,10).
Therefore, to continue with the example I gave from my own experience, did the wife of the man who came forward have faith? I don’t know - we didn’t learn that much from them afterwards but I wish we’d asked the question! However, what is certain is that faith by proxy can be acceptable to God when it comes to healing and deliverance (though not in areas concerning personal salvation!) even though the almost universal criteria for the miraculous to happen is when the recipient of the healing comes to or is brought to Jesus.
As we go through these miracles, we’ll also notice that Jesus had no set way of healing - in each situation, he adapted the way He healed to the circumstances, noticeable more especially when a broad overview of demonic expulsion is examined throughout the Synoptic Gospels (see section 2a here). For example, many claim that one should never lay one’s hands on a demon possessed individual and the reasoning behind such statements does seem to be sound and contains a fair amount of wisdom - but Jesus did that very thing on one occasion which mucks up our nice theological methodology (Luke 13:10-13).
Jesus demonstrates Himself as the Lord over everything that is brought to or happens to Him but He doesn’t conform His own ministry to a series of calculated and predefined responses that are employed when He encounters similar situations. In every place, Jesus is original.
What does come through loud and clear, however, throughout this passage, is Jesus’ lordship, given to Him by God the Father - for we witness Him demonstrating His Lordship over sickness (Mtw 8:1-17), His Lordship over Creation (Mtw 8:23-27), His Lordship over demonic forces (Mtw 8:16,28-34), His Lordship over sin and its power (Mtw 9:1-8) and His Lordship over death (Mtw 9:18-26). Indeed, what is more surprising for modern man to grasp, perhaps, is that Jesus claims Lordship even over mankind (Mtw 8:4, 18-22) expecting that they will listen and obey Him just as He had taught previously (Mtw 7:24-27).
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