Matthew chapter 8 reads like a fast-paced action movie to me. The chapter moves swiftly from scene to scene with Jesus healing the sick, Jesus praising and challenging followers, and concludes with Jesus exercising authority over nature and demons. Jesus is in control. Jesus is all-powerful. What stands out to me in this chapter is how people respond differently to this all-powerful Jesus.
The leper and the Roman officer demonstrate great faith. “If you are willing, you can heal me and make me clean.” “Just say the word from where you are, and my servant will be healed.” Jesus heals the leper and praises the Roman officer for having a faith unlike any other in all of Israel. Can you imagine what the Pharisees and his disciples thought about that statement? Both of these outsiders demonstrated a deep faith and trust in Jesus and his power to heal, and for that they were rewarded.
A follower in verse 21 makes a seemingly innocent statement about returning home first to bury his father. The response from Jesus is startling - “Follow me now. Let the spiritually dead bury their own dead”. I find this response terrifying. Jesus doesn’t allow this disciple to set any conditions or limits on discipleship. Total commitment is the cost.
When things get rough out on the lake, the disciples react fearfully. Jesus responds – “Why are you afraid? You have so little faith!” – and then calms the storm. Having seen Jesus perform many powerful miracles, why are the disciples afraid? Don’t they know Jesus will take care of them in the storm?
At the end of the chapter, a whole town tells Jesus to go away and leave them alone. Jesus heals two violent men from demon possession. In the process, the demons are allowed to enter the pigs and the herd rushes down a hillside for a final swim in the lake. The herdsmen flee to a nearby town and tell everyone what happened. I guess they didn’t like what it cost to heal these two men.
I can relate to all these characters in this chapter. Sometimes I want Jesus to go away. The cost of following him seems too high. I’m often afraid when things get difficult, and sometimes my faith is strong. How can I be more often like the Roman officer and less often like the fearful disciples?
In the end, it is the beginning of the chapter that is most important to me. When the leper asks to be healed and clean, Jesus says “I am willing”. The all-powerful Jesus who can calm a storm is willing and able to heal and cleanse me. How can my faith be more like the Roman officer’s? Keep my eyes on this Jesus, his character, his authority, his power, his willingness to forgive and save, and keep them off myself and my performance.
Where do you see yourself in this chapter?