Authority Over Disease and Sickness

by Paul George

Matthew 8:1-4, 14-17

In the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew chapters 5 through 7, Jesus turned the Jewish religious world upside down by saying that its teachings, attitudes, and actions were wrong. Much of what they believed in and hoped for was wrong. Unlike other teachers, Jesus never bothered to quote any rabbis or any of their well- known sources of authority. He affirmed the truth by repeatedly saying, “You have heard that the ancients were told” or “You have heard that it was said” “but I say.” In Matthew 7:28-29 it is written, “When Jesus had finished these words, the crowds were amazed at His teaching; for He was teaching them as one having authority, and not as their scribes.” The scribes had to rely on tradition for their authority, but Jesus merely spoke without quoting any source.

This brings up some very important questions; by what authority does He speak? Why should we believe what He’s saying?” Chapters 8 and 9 provide the answers to those questions. The fact that Jesus Christ is God and can perform miracles is proof that He had the right to speak as He did. In the person of Jesus, we see God at work.

Authority over Diseases

The Leper

“When He was come down from the mountain, large crowds followed Him. And a leper came to Him and bowed down before Him, and said, ‘Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.’ Jesus stretched out His hand and touched him, saying, I am willing; be cleaned.’ And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. And Jesus said to him, ‘See that you tell no one; but go show yourself to the priest and present the offering that Moses commanded; as a testimony to them’” (Matthew 8:1-4).

Jesus came down from a mountain near the village of Capernaum after He had finished preaching His sermon. Many people continued to follow Him, but not because they loved Him or believed in Him; they were curious about His unique authority. They had never heard anybody speak in such a manner or heal people so miraculously. As a result, a huge crowd followed Him to see what other things He would do.

What is unusual about the incident is that a leper would not normally dare to approach someone; but this one did, and no one would touch a leper, but Jesus did.

A leper had to cover his face and make an announcement of his presence so that no one would get near him, the Talmud forbade a Jew from getting any closer than six feet to a leper, and if there was a wind blowing, one hundred fifty feet. Of the sixty-one defilements in Judaism, the most serious encountering a dead body and next to that was being infected with leprosy. Consequently, people did not go near lepers, let alone touch them.

The act of bowing down before Jesus as the leper did and Jesus touching him was unthinkable, shameful, and contrary to Old Testament law. The fact that this leper approached Jesus shows us that he came with confidence.

What we see here is a desperate man and he did not care what others thought. Normally, people in his condition would be so socially devastated that they would not show up in a crowd, but this leper lost all sense of shame and social stigma. That is how deep his need was. Josephus, the ancient historian, tells us that lepers were treated like dead men. However, that was not going to stop this man. His peers may treat him as a dead man but he came and bowed before Jesus because he recognized that his need was beyond his power or anyone else to remedy and he wanted help more than he wanted to save his reputation.

In stark contrast to the Pharisees, who were arrayed in their fancy robes and had their beards perfectly trimmed, but were spiritually wretched on the inside (Matthew 23:27-28), is the leper. He was wretched and filthy on the outside, yet reverent on the inside. When he said, “Lord,” he was not using it in the sense of “Sir”; rather, he acknowledged that he was in the presence of God. We do not know where or how the leper heard about the miraculous power of Jesus, but there had been enough healings going on in his area for him to know that Jesus was not just a man. He came and bowed before Jesus in a way men come before kings and God. He came and bowed before Jesus because he knew he was in the presence of God.

What a great example for the church.

When the leper came and bowed before Jesus he did not demand anything, he did not ask his will be done expecting Jesus to comply to his will. He did not list the reasons why he had to be healed. He did not try to affirm his own worthiness or complain because he had a disease that other folks did not. He did not talk about his rights or even about his desires, saying, only, “If You want to heal me, You can. I am not telling You what You ought to do, because You are the Lord.” That is very different from what you hear today when people are told to demand healing from God by “claiming” it. This man, however, made no such claim, he was willing to accept Jesus’ choice to heal him or not heal him.

The response of Jesus, He touched the leper and said, “be cleansed.” The crowd was probably stunned when Jesus touched the leper.

Jesus touched the leper though He did not have to. He could have stood six feet away, as required by law or a hundred feet away and shouted, “Be cleansed.” However, he chooses to touch the leper and immediately the leper was cleansed.

Essentially all of Jesus’ miracles were immediate. When people say, “I went to the healer and was healed, and have been getting better ever since.” That is not healing. Jesus put forth His hand and touched the diseased and sick and immediately, not days, weeks, months, years later the healing occurred. Even though leprosy had left his skin scaly and bloody, destroyed his nose, throat, fingers and toes Jesus was able to restore him instantly to his former health. In comparison, you can line up all the so-called healers in the world and they can pick out any leper they want, but none of them will be able to do what Jesus did. Let those healers be silent, for their claims are folly in comparison to the power of Christ, who alone is able to recreate parts of the body that have been destroyed.

What is truly amazing is Jesus can do the same to a sinful heart.

What is the first evidence the Lord Jesus has entered your life, a feel good sensation, a feeling of peace and joy? The first evidence that Christ has entered your life is obedience. That is why Jesus told the cleansed leper, “See that you tell no one; but go show yourself to the priest and present the offering that Moses commanded.” He says, “Now that you’ve been healed, do what Moses commanded in the law of God.” In the unlikely event that a leper was healed, Leviticus 14 gave instructions about the ceremony for his cleansing at the Temple: First of all, he had to take two birds and kill one of them over running water. The other was dipped in the blood of the first bird along with cedar wood, a scarlet cord, and hyssop and then allowed to fly away. That pictured resurrection. Then the former leper washed himself and his clothes, shaved, and waited seven days to be re-examined. Afterwards, he shaved and sacrificed two male lambs without blemish, one ewe lamb, three tenths of a measure of fine flour mingled with oil, and about a pint of oil. Then the leper was touched on the tip of his right ear, thumb, and big toe with blood and oil. Upon final examination, if the cure was real, the man was given a certificate stating that he had been cleansed.

Why did Jesus instruct the man not to tell anyone? Some people believe that Jesus did not want to stir up a crowd that only followed Him because he was a miracle worker. That is very possible because large crowds made it difficult for Him to function. Others say Jesus said that because He did not want the people to see Him as someone who could throw off the yoke of Rome as a political leader. You may remember in John 6:15 that the people tried to do that very thing. Still others say that Jesus did not want to seek any exaltation during the time of His humiliation.

If you read the rest of the verse, you find that he was instructed to appear before the priests “for a testimony to them.” If the leper had gone down to the Temple to participate in the cleansing and eight-day examination required in the Mosaic law, the priests would had to have concluded he was cleansed, when they discoverer that Jesus of Nazareth was responsible for the leper’s healing; they would be trapped in their own conclusions. Their own examination would confirm the power of Christ. However, that all hinged on the leper’s hurrying to Jerusalem without spreading the news, or word would get around that Jesus healed him and the priests would not be interested in examining him. Unfortunately, the man did not follow Jesus’ instruction, as Mark 1:45 tells us. He became so excited that he failed to obey.

Authority over sickness – The healing of Peter’s mother-in-law

Mark and Luke tell us that Jesus entered the home during the Sabbath. As the Lord, James, and John walked through the door, they found Peter’s mother-in-law sick with a fever. The disciples asked Jesus to heal her. From this account, we know that Peter was married, as well as from 1 Corinthians 9:5, where Paul says, “Do we not have a right to take along a believing wife, even as the rest of the apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas?”

We do not know what the cause of the fever was, whether malaria or some other disease, but Luke indicates that it was so severe, she could have died from it. However, Jesus reached out His hand and touched her. Immediately the fever left her.

Why did Matthew include the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law with his account of the cleansing of the leper and the centurion’s servant?

First reason, the Pharisees believed slaves, Gentiles, and women were the lowest members of society. Because of their low view of women, Jesus’ healing of Peter’s mother-in-law was another cause for an indictment against Him. He was clearly showing His disapproval of their tradition when He cleansed the leper, the centurion’s servant, and Peter’s mother-in-law.

Second reason, healing Peter’s mother-in-law contributes additional evidence that Jesus has the power to heal any disease or sickness instantly.

Third reason, one that Matthew emphasizes in Matthew 8:16. Word of this woman’s healing quickly spread, so that by evening there was a large crowd gathered at the door of Peter’s home and Jesus healed all who were ill (Matthew 8:16). He even cast out demons “with a word” (Matthew 8:16).

Fourth reason, the cleansing of the leper, the healing of the centurion’s servant, and Peter’s mother-in-law were done in fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. Isaiah predicted, that when the Messiah comes He would heal men of their diseases, as well as of their sins. Is it any wonder, then, when Jesus comes to the earth and identifies Himself as the Messiah He cleanse lepers, heal the sick, diseased, the lame and blind?

Fifth reason, Matthew 8:1-17 dramatically demonstrates some of the major themes Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount, in particular, the relationship of Jesus to the law. The law was unable to save, just as it was unable to heal. The law could define diseases and sickness, but it could not produce a cure. It could only declare unclean the illness. Jesus, on the other hand, was able to heal diseases and sickness, just as He was able to forgive sins. This was His authority as the Son of God and His calling as Messiah. Yet He did not come to do away with the law, but to fulfill it.

This is like our sin. The law can define sin and expose it, but it cannot remove it. The law declares what righteousness is, but it does not provide the means to become righteous. The law declares us all sinners, but the law cannot do anything to save us from our sins (Romans 3:9-20). Only Jesus can remove the filth of our spiritual uncleanness.

The good news is of the gospel is about forgiveness not health and wealth. The gospel is the good news that Jesus was wounded for our transgressions, bruised for iniquities and by His scouring, we are healed; by His scouring is not referring specifically to physical healing, but to the spiritual healing of the disease of sin.

The question is how do we come to Jesus for spiritual healing?

The leper came with faith. He believed that Jesus could heal him. Therefore, with regard to salvation, you will be touched and cleansed when you come to Christ in faith. Once you are saved, do you know what the Lord asks? “Will you obey Me and let people discover for themselves that I have changed your life?” A living testimony can be more effective than a verbal one. It is better for you to say nothing and let the world see that Jesus changed your life by the way you live. A disobedient life in the midst of a testimony is meaningless; the testimony is rendered invalid. Be obedient, and in the midst of your obedience, God will manifest the transforming power of Christ. Your life speaks louder than words.

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