Expository Sermon on Matthew 8
Bellevue SDA Church 3/10/2018
©2018 by Maylan Schurch
(Sorry, due to technical difficulties the audio for this sermon isn’t available.)
Please open your Bibles again to Matthew chapter 8.
This is yet another sermon in our “Red Print” series, in which we are looking at the very words that Jesus spoke, and trying to find out what He is saying to us.
As I was reading through Matthew 8 this week, it seemed to me that this chapter is pretty much all about faith. And as I looked at each of the examples of faith, whether they showed strong faith or immature faith, it struck me that these people were doing what you might call a “faith dance.”
What do I mean by that? Well, I am not a dancer. And my parents, who were raised by godly Wesleyan Methodist parents, did not dance either. However, when I was in my late teens, my sisters discovered to their delight that back in her teens, Mom had actually learned a little tap-dance step called “Shuffle off to Buffalo.”
Immediately we gathered around Mom there in the kitchen and demanded that she demonstrate. So she shuffled her way through part of the steps, and we begged her to do it again, and she finally said she’d forgotten most of it.
I would read about dancing as a kid, and once in a while I would come across little diagrams which tried to show how certain dances were done. They would always start with the outline of a left shoe and a right shoe side-by-side, and then from the toe of one of the shoes a dotted line would go to where that foot needed to end up. And in the next set of diagrams, a dotted line would go from the other foot to where it needed to go.
All this looked pretty complicated, and since I had never had any practical use for anything those diagrams were teaching, I would turn my attention to other pursuits. But the bottom line with dancing was that you didn’t simply stand still. Your feet had to keep moving if you wanted to accomplish the dance.
This morning I’d like to go through Matthew eight as though we are watching dance steps, watching people move from where they were before to where they were supposed to go. Not all of the stories in this chapter fits this dance idea, but most of them do. So let’s see if we can find the first “faith dance” step.
Matthew 8:1 – 4 [NKJV]: When He had come down from the mountain, great multitudes followed Him. And behold, a leper came and worshiped Him, saying, “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.” Then Jesus put out His hand and touched him, saying, “I am willing; be cleansed.” Immediately his leprosy was cleansed. And Jesus said to him, “See that you tell no one; but go your way, show yourself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.”
If you know anything about Bible lepers, you remember that they were outcasts. Since lepers were contagious, they had to stay outside the town in little camps created especially for them. Often, the only way they could keep themselves alive was to beg, and passersby might toss coins, but never got too close to them. Not only was leprosy catching, but people also assumed that they were in this unfortunate condition because they or their parents had sinned against God, and this was God’s way of punishing them. And who wanted to hobnob with a despicable sinner?
Which, of course, didn’t do much for a leper’s self-esteem. Listen again to what the leper says.
Verse 2: And behold, a leper came and worshiped Him, saying, “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.”
In other words, it seems as though this leper is saying, “Lord, I know very well that I am the scum of the earth. But I know that for some reason, You are able to heal people like me. In fact, I am here worshiping You. But now, as You stand there looking at my vileness, do You really want to help? Am I worth it?”
Here’s a man whose faith-dance steps have brought him as close to Jesus as he dares to go. This leper longs to be close to Jesus, longs to experience what he has heard has happened to others. But he’s too hesitant to step any further.
So what is the first faith-dance step this chapter talks about?
This chapter’s first faith-dance step is to move to where you understand that yes, God loves you.
You’ve heard the saying, “God hates the sin but loves the sinner.” That’s true. And like any conscientious parent, the reason God hates the sin is not because He has an irate, frothing-at-the-mouth-angry personality, but because sin hurts His children.
So what does this have to do with me? Just remember that no matter who you are, no matter where you’ve come from, no matter how you may have damaged yourself with your sinfulness, you have Jesus’ earnest promise that He will accept you and heal you spiritually, if you ask Him.
Notice how He answers this leper. The leper said, “Lord, if You are willing.” The Greek word for “willing” is thelo, and as soon as the leper uses that word, Jesus tosses it right back at Him. In English, Jesus said, “I am willing.” In Greek, it’s thelo, that same word. Jesus doesn’t backpedal, He doesn’t say a lot of hedge-words which water down His response. The leper has asked him “Thelo”?, and Jesus immediately answers “Thelo.” “I want to, I wish to, I am willing to.”
So, whatever dilemma you might be going through, whether or not it’s caused by your own failure or selfishness or ignorance, you don’t even have to hesitantly ask “Thelo?” to Jesus. Because of this story, you already know His answer. Just ask Him for help.
For the next faith-dance story, let’s keep reading. A Roman centurion walks up to Jesus. Whole battalions of Roman soldiers were stationed in Jesus’ homeland, and they were there to keep the peace. A centurion was a commander of 100 soldiers, and it seems like he would be the last person to want to have anything to do with the latest Jewish messiah to come along, especially one who could draw such huge and potentially dangerous crowds.
But watch what happens.
Verses 5 – 7: Now when Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to Him, pleading with Him, saying, “Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, dreadfully tormented.” And Jesus said to him, “I will come and heal him.”
Do you want to know how to make Jesus’ day? The centurion opens his mouth, and out from between his lips come words that filled the Savior’s heart with delighted encouragement.
Verses 8 – 10: The centurion answered and said, “Lord, I am not worthy that You should come under my roof. But only speak a word, and my servant will be healed. For I also am a man under authority, having soldiers under me. And I say to this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard it, He marveled, and said to those who followed, “Assuredly, I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel!
As I read through this centurion’s story this week, I asked myself, “Okay. What faith-dance steps does the centurion need to take?” And I couldn’t find any. He has already made several breathtaking moves toward Jesus. He’s a Roman – not a Jew – yet he has sought help from a Jewish rabbi so popular that He might be tempted to turn into a revolutionary. And he seems to have also understood that Jesus was not going to snarl scornfully at this Roman representative and refuse his request.
I’ve read this story many times over the years, and this centurion’s comments have stunned me every time. How on earth could he have achieved such staggering faith?
I was wondering about this as I studied these verses this week, when I suddenly remembered that the last verse of Matthew seven says this:
Matthew 7:28 – 29: And so it was, when Jesus had ended these sayings, that the people were astonished at His teaching, for He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.
Do you see that? These people could tell that Jesus taught like someone who actually had authority. And while this centurion was probably not present at the Sermon on the Mount, he must have gained the same feeling about Jesus’ tremendous authority.
And notice something else interesting. I’ve always assumed that the centurion simply believed that Jesus Himself had authority. But notice what the centurion says:
Matthew 8:9: “For I also am a man under authority, having soldiers under me.”
Unless I’m reading this wrong – and all the major translations bear me out on this – this centurion is telling Jesus that he, the centurion, knows what is like to be under someone else’s authority, and that he also understands that Jesus Himself is under authority – the authority of God. The centurion knew that he himself had the entire authority of the Roman government behind him. So Jesus must be similarly positioned.
And that is truly the way Jesus positioned Himself all through the Gospels. He had the backing of Heaven’s King. When He healed someone, the people watching immediately glorified not Him but God. And maybe the centurion picked this up. Here was a Jewish rabbi who by some strange miracle was in the direct chain of command leading to the omnipotent God of the universe.
So as I say, I can’t find any faith-dance step that this centurion needs to take. He has arrived. The dance is done. He is in Jesus’ presence, and he has made his request, and he is so certain of Jesus’ authority and power that he insists that Jesus need not actually come to his house to heal that paralytic servant.
Let’s hear what else Jesus has to say about this faith-filled soldier. Let’s pick it up at verse 10.
Verses 10 – 13: When Jesus heard it, He marveled, and said to those who followed, “Assuredly, I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel! And I say to you that many will come from east and west, and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Then Jesus said to the centurion, “Go your way; and as you have believed, so let it be done for you.” And his servant was healed that same hour.
So, how do I get to where the centurion was? The same way he probably did—carefully listening to the words of Jesus. In fact, let’s make that another faith-dance step, maybe the most important one:
If this chapter’s first faith-dance step is to move to where you understand that God loves you, then a second faith-dance step is to listen to the words of Jesus.
You see, this centurion had watched Jesus closely enough, and listened to Him carefully enough (either personally or through hearing about Him from others), to recognize the Savior’s authority-ranking—under God and under orders to carry out God’s agenda.
And of course, listening to the words of Jesus is what we are doing week-to-week as we study the Bible’s red print. Let’s just make sure that the “red” (R-E-D) print is also the “read” (R-E-A-D) print!
Now we come to a few “short stories.”
Verses 14 – 15: Now when Jesus had come into Peter’s house, He saw his wife’s mother lying sick with a fever. So He touched her hand, and the fever left her. And she arose and served them.
Is there any “faith-dance” step here? Probably not, at least in the way we’ve defined it. Here we see Peter’s mother-in-law, his wife’s mother, maybe widowed because she seems to be living with them. She also seems to be someone who loved hospitality, and did it automatically, because when she was healed she simply got up and started serving them as though nothing had happened.
What I take away from this story is that even when we are so sick that we’re so helpless that maybe we can’t even think straight about spiritual things, Jesus is with us at that point as well. The Bible doesn’t say that this woman even whispered a request for Jesus’ help. But He just walked over, touched her on the hand, and she was healed.
If we did want to make a sermon point out of this, maybe it could go something like this.
If this chapter’s first faith-dance step is to understand that God loves you, and if a second step is to listen to the words of Jesus, then a third step could be to settle it in your mind that Jesus comes close no matter how ill or damaged you are.
And this includes mental illness as well. If you’re going through depression so deep that you feel you can’t even pray, remember Peter’s mother-in-law. Jesus came to be with her, right there where she was.
The next couple of verses tell how Jesus did a lot of powerful healing, and eventually decided to travel across the Sea of Galilee. Let’s pick up the story in verse 18.
Verses 18 – 20: And when Jesus saw great multitudes about Him, He gave a command to depart to the other side. Then a certain scribe came and said to Him, “Teacher, I will follow You wherever You go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.”
So a first step is to understand that God loves you. Second, listen to the words of Jesus. Third, remember that Jesus comes close no matter how ill or damaged you are. And here could be a fourth faith-step—keep in mind that when you follow Jesus, you become homeless.
And this would have been literally true for this scribe. A scribe was someone who made copies of Scripture, and was proficient in teaching God’s Word. But when he vowed to follow Jesus, Jesus reminded him that He –Jesus – was homeless, and so were His other followers. Peter had a home, and a wife and a mother-in-law, but Peter spent most of his time on the road with Jesus. Each day they probably had no idea where they’d be resting that night, and when they got there, Peter slept where Jesus and the rest of the disciples slept.
How about us? Since Jesus is not here, literally leading a group of people around, we don’t need to technically become homeless when we decide to follow Him.
But in a way, we do become homeless. This world is not my home, I’m just a-passing through, my treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue. I’m but a stranger here, heaven is my home. Earth’s but a desert drear, heaven is my home. I’m a pilgrim, I’m a stranger, I can tarry, I can tarry, but a night. Do not detain me, for I am going to where the fountain is ever flowing. I’m a pilgrim, I’m a stranger. I need to take the step from feeling secure and anchored to this earth, to knowing that I am homeless.
Right now, a local public radio station is having one of its pledge drives, and as one of its incentives, it is offering an earthquake preparedness kit, to use if lives are disrupted and homes destroyed. We just never know, from moment to moment, what may happen.
When the service is over today, you and I will go back to where we live, but we need to remember that we are still homeless. Earth’s but a desert drear, heaven is my home. Heaven is where Jesus is preparing a place for us, and from which He will return to take us there.
Verses 21 – 22: Then another of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” But Jesus said to him, “Follow Me, and let the dead bury their own dead.”
This sounds pretty brutal, but Jesus will every once in a while use dramatic language to get His point across. Jesus cared for His own family. When He hung on the cross, He made sure that His mother would have someone to live with after He was gone.
According to people who know about the culture at that time, what this disciple was probably saying was, “Lord, let me go live with my parents until my father is ready to die. Then I will bury him, settle the affairs of the estate, and come and join You.” In other words, “Lord, You will be my retirement hobby.”
And what Jesus’ reply was, “No. Follow Me now. Make learning from Me and spreading My gospel after I’m gone your first priority. If you are really My disciple, don’t hold back.”
Jesus said in another place that His disciples should be willing to leave father or mother for Him. In other words, we shouldn’t allow our parents’ authority, or the authority of our parents’ religious beliefs, to hold us back from Jesus’ best for us.
God loves you. Listen to the words of Jesus. Remember that Jesus comes close no matter how ill you are. Keep in mind that when you follow Jesus, you become homeless. And remember that Jesus takes priority over family—and that’s good, because through you, your family can become even more closely wrapped in His love.
Let’s look at just one more story in this chapter, one that was always a favorite of mine when I was a kid.
Verses 23 – 27: Now when He got into a boat, His disciples followed Him. And suddenly a great tempest arose on the sea, so that the boat was covered with the waves. But He was asleep. Then His disciples came to Him and awoke Him, saying, “Lord, save us! We are perishing!” But He said to them, “Why are you fearful, O you of little faith?” Then He arose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. So the men marveled, saying, “Who can this be, that even the winds and the sea obey Him?”
Isn’t this interesting? Here’s a story where faith is absolutely central. In verse 26, Jesus uses one Greek word to tell them His opinion of their faith. He says, “Why are you fearful, oligopistoi?” That Greek word literally means “little-faith.” So He’s saying, “Why are you afraid, little-faith-ers?”
I do not personally enjoy being out in deep water in a little boat. I took swimming in college, but still can’t swim. So in this story, I am on the side of the disciples. In that little boat, I would have probably been more fearful than they were, because I was not a Galilee fisherman to start with.
So when Jesus called them “little-faithers,” I always have felt sorry for them. And I also trembled to think of the faith Jesus was evidently hoping that they possessed. How could they have acquired that dozing-in-the-deluge kind of faith?
Well, I just have to look back at that centurion. It’s probably very possible that if the centurion had been in that same boat that same night, he might have been napping as well. The centurion, you’ll remember, understood that Jesus not only had authority and power, but that He was under authority – the authority of a God who had sent Him on a specific mission.
And maybe what Jesus was hoping was that His disciples so thoroughly understood His mission on earth, and His eventual death, that there was no way that this little boat was going down as long as Jesus was on board. Jesus would Himself eventually die, but not in a boat on a lake.
I can’t think of a really good sermon point for this story, except to point back to the centurion, who listened so closely to Jesus that he understood just who this Jewish rabbi was. According to Jesus, this centurion was the faith champion of the entire nation, and he wasn’t even Jewish.
And what I plan to do, as I study for these sermons, and I hope you will read ahead with me according to what the bulletin says is going to be the next passage each week, I’m planning to do my best to become so acquainted with what Jesus said and did that I can understand His mission well enough that I don’t need to fall prey to the usual human fears.
What about you? Will you join me in prayerfully immersing ourselves in Jesus’ words, and see within them the powerful, authoritative love He has for us? Will you do that? Raise your hand if that is your plan.