Jesus carries on his ministry after the sermon where he left off, healing and doing miracles. As I’ve said, we are so familiar with these stories that they fail to amaze us. Also, skeptics want us to believe that ancient pre-modern people were gullible folk who would believe anything, but if you read the text carefully that’s clearly not the case. These are stories told by eyewitnesses, and it’s difficult for me to believe, especially knowing how stories and teachings in the ancient world were transmitted, that this is all made up. Maybe, though, they are embellished stories where the supernatural gets added on in the telling? Not possible because large numbers of people not only witnessed the things Jesus did, but so many were affected by it. The New Testament writers would have had a very difficult time lying about what Jesus did because any number of people could have said, wait! Jesus didn’t do that!
Matthew starts the chapter telling how Jesus heals a man with leprosy. Jesus’ reputation has preceded him, so the man gets up the courage to approach him and asks to be healed, if he “is willing.” Than something significant happens that is missed by the modern reader: “Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man.” What? He can’t do that! The man has leprosy; he is an “untouchable.” Not to Jesus. Jesus doing things like this is as astounding, and unexpected, in it’s time as the miracles. In this upside down kingdom Jesus is ushering in, there would be no such thing as “untouchable” people. None of the “religious professionals” would ever do such a thing, but Jesus is clearly not like them, and not only in his teaching as we saw the as last chapter ended, but in his acting and doing.
Then Jesus does something that might even be more shocking: he consorts with a Roman Centurion to heal his servant. What? Rome is the enemy, and here is Jesus helping one of their army’s officers? Remember that to the Jews, the Messiah was supposed to throw off Roman oppression and usher in a new Davidic kingdom. And Jesus adds insult to injury by not only acceding to the Centurion’s request, but he praises the man’s faith as greater than “anyone in Israel.” Okay, Jesus, now you’ve really gone too far. Then Jesus piles on by insulting those who are supposedly guarding the law, the prophets, and the ancient faith:
11 I say to you that many will come from the east and the west,and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. 12 But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
We know from the gospels that Jesus had an antagonistic relationship with the religious professionals of the day, the Pharisees and Sadducees. Here he is telling everyone that the gentiles will be welcome in heaven, and they will be kicked out. I think part of what’s going on here is that those who thought they were guarding the ancient faith were doing what they could to constrict it and keep people out. The Old Testament is clear that the ultimate goal of the faith of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob was universal in scope in that people from every tribe, and language, and nation would be blessed through them. Yahweh tells Abram that “all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” Jesus came to turn the Jewish faith into a worldwide faith that would transcend all cultures, and without him that could have never have happened.
And I’ll bring up an apologetic point again because the skeptical secular culture tells us that we can’t trust our Bible as accurate history. We can, and stories like this build it’s credibility. The last thing Jew’s awaiting their Messiah, the deliverer from Roman oppression, would do to enhance their Messiah’s credibility is to make up a story of him helping and praising men in their military. People must have been shocked, but Jesus was all about upending expectations people had of him. He was a Messiah they could not make up.
The final healing of the chapter Matthew tells us about is Peter’s mother-in-law. They go to Peter’s house, she has a fever, Jesus touches her and she’s instantly healed. Simple as that. Then he adds the detail that “she got up and began to wait on him.” Can you imagine these people trying to process all this? Before modern medicine people didn’t get healed. Either they somehow got better, or they died, and who knew which one it would be. And doctors often made things worse. Now along comes this itinerant preacher and just by a touch or word people are instantly healed. That evening more demon-possessed and sick people come, and he drives out spirits with a word and heals “all the sick.” And the Hebrew Matthew tells his Hebrew audience why all this is happening:
17 This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah:
“He took up our infirmities
and bore our diseases.”
These words come from Isaiah 53, and Matthew is telling us that this Jesus who heals will one day be pierced, crushed, and punished for our sin. His creation has been marred by sin, and his healing and miracles are temporary measures pointing to the ultimate cure for the disease that caused death.