Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Matthew 7:28–8:4

Matthew 7:28–8:4 (NIV): Jesus Cleanses a Leper


The last passage was the last part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. The last couple of verses of Chapter 7 sum up the crowd’s thoughts on it:
And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes. (7:28–29 (ESV))
As Jesus comes down from the mountain, followed by the crowds, a leper approaches him, and asks to be healed, because he knows that if Jesus wants to do it, he can. Jesus tells the man that he does want to; he touches the man, and he’s immediately healed of his leprosy.

Jesus tells the man not to tell anyone what has happened, but to go and show himself to the priest, and offer the appropriate gifts as commanded in the Old Testament.


It’s interesting that what the crowds pick out about Jesus’ teaching is that he seems to have authority. Some of the things he is saying are extensions of what they would already know, from Old Testament law and history, and some are probably radically different, but they don’t focus on what he’s teaching, but how he’s doing it. And if you think about it, it makes perfect sense. A priest can say “God says this,” and “God says that,” but Jesus is God; he can stand in front of the crowd and say, “I say this,” and “I say that.”

Jesus performed many miracles in the Gospels, and a large portion of those miracles were healings such as the leper in this passage. (Technically, the man might not have had leprosy; in Greek, at the time the New Testament was written, the word “leprosy” was a term that was used for various skin diseases. Any time you see the word “leprosy” in the NIV or ESV—and probably other translations as well—there will usually be a footnote saying as much.) Often, when Jesus healed someone, he would ask the person not to tell anyone that Jesus had healed him, and the usual reason I’ve seen given is that Jesus wasn’t ready to begin his public ministry yet. He had compassion on the people, and wanted them healed, but didn’t want the attention that would come along with doing public healings. (The people often disregarded him, and told everyone anyway, although in this instance the man doesn’t seem to have done so.) The ESV Study Bible also suggests that Jesus wants people to follow him for the right reasons, and that drawing attention to the miracles would attract crowds that would follow him for the wrong reasons.

It’s also interesting to me that Jesus tells the man to go and offer the appropriate gifts that would be required when being cleansed of a skin disease. For one thing, I guess since Jesus was still alive, and hadn’t yet made the ultimate sacrifice which would render the Old Testament sacrifices obsolete, the sacrificial system was still in place. And, of course, the intent of the offering here, which Jesus calls “gifts,” are really more to be a show of thanks to God, not an atoning sacrifice.

However, speaking of the sacrificial system, it should be noted that the man wasn’t just “sick,” he was actually “unclean” by Old Testament rules. (His actual request to Jesus in verse 8:2 (ESV) is not to be “healed,” but to be “made clean.”) If he had approached a normal priest, that priest would have had to be very careful how to treat the man, lest the priest become unclean as well. Any time a clean thing touched an unclean thing, according to Old Testament rules, the uncleanness would spread to the clean thing, and it would be unclean as well. And that applied to people, too; by touching the leprous person, the priest would also become unclean, and the Old Testament provided steps the priest would have to take to cleanse himself. But Jesus is able to touch the man with leprosy, and not become unclean. This is a testament to his power as God—uncleanness has no power over him—but also a picture of his sacrifice on our behalf, because he was able to heal us of our uncleanness (our sin) without himself being marred by it.

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