photo ‘Sermon on the mount’ by James Tissot
Matthew 8:1-17 (this follows immediately after the sermon on the mount.
We become so used to thinking about Jesus, that we sometimes fail to recognize how utterly different Jesus and the world are. They’re thinking in different categories. They’re on different planes. The world is essentially self focused. Jesus is self emptying. SO much so, that He goes to the cross on our behalf. The world is time bound, and it’s temporary. Jesus enter time. The eternal Son enters time, but, one with God, He inhabits eternity. And, even now, at the Father’s right hand He upholds all things in heaven and on earth, by His powerful word.
The world needs saving. Jesus doesn’t need saving, He comes as the Savior. And so, we cold press on, and on, and on. But, one of the dimensions is which there is a perennial clash between the world and Jesus is in the dimension of authority. Who is boss? Who reigns? Who has the last say? What is authority? It’s actually quite a slippery word. In the verses I just read, Jesus demonstrates His authority, and these verses are linked to the verses in the sermon on the mount, which focus again on Jesus’s authority. At the end of the sermon on the mount, we read, in 7:28 “When Jesus finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at His teaching, because He taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.
The authority to judge
The way Jesus manifested His authority when He was speaking was on several levels. On the one hand, He didn’t use lesser authorities and footnotes. It was not uncommon in the day for someone to say, “Well, rabbi so and so says that rabbi so and so…says such and such”. And, you’ve got a string of authorities to enhance your authority. Jesus comes along and says, “You have heard that it was said, but I tell you,” with matchless, self conscious authority. He is the expert.. on everything on which He cares to speak. And, it’s more than that. It’s not simply that He’s more credible, because He’s more knowledgable, but He actually determines, Himself, who does not enter the Kingdom. A few verses earlier, in 7:21 “not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom, but only the one who does the will of my Father, who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons, and in your name perform many miracles?’ And I will tell you plainly ‘I never knew you, away from me you evildoers.’”
This is stunning. Jesus claims to have the authority of God Himself on the last day. He ultimately decides who enters the consummated kingdom and who does not. So, this is more than mere credibility because of superior knowledge. It’s the authority to judge, the authority of God Himself on the last day.
Earlier, in the sermon on the mount, He claims that He did not come to abolish the law of the prophets, but to fulfill them. That is, the law and the prophets point to Him, and He actually brings them to fulfillment. Or, again, in chapter 5, right at the beginning of the sermon on the mount, where He’s talking about persecution, He says, “Blessed are you when people insult you, accuse you, and say all kinds of evil against you BECAUSE OF ME. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven..” In other words, He is at the center of the conflict with the world. And, His followers will either side with Him and be persecuted, or they’ll side with the world and do the persecution the other way.
Now, that’s all the sermon on the mount. Then, we turn to Matthew 8, and following. And what we discover is that Jesus now demonstrates His authority, not simply by his teaching, but by His actions. And what is displayed is stunning. He has the power to heal, to cast out demons. He has the power to command nature. He has the power to bring in the consummated kingdom. He has the power to even delegate some of His authority to His followers in chapter 10. He gives to His disciples certain authority to cast out demons, to preach and teach themselves.
He has a genuine authority which entails both a moral center, and the power to make His word effective. In these first 17 verses, we learn 5 things about the authority of Jesus. (12:36) Transcript continues under the video.
1. The authority of Jesus to heal and transform
is implicit in His purpose, in His person, His mission.
Jesus’s authority is absolutely unconstrained. It’s implicit in His person, in His majesty, His mission. The first three verses-Jesus comes down from the mountainside, where He has been teaching, which shows that in Matthew’s mind, he’s still connecting what He’s doing to the sermon on the mount, which He had preached up on the mountain. Large crowds follow Him. The man with leprosy, some kind of skin disease came and knelt before Him and said, “Lord, is you are willing, you can make me clean.” And Jesus heals the man. Now, this is bound up with prophesies from the Old Testament. When the Messiah ultimately comes, all of the brokenness of this world order will be itself broken. So, in Isaiah 11, which looks forward to a time when a shoot will come from the stump of Jesse. That is, a Davidic king will rise again from Jesse’s line. Amongst the things we read, then, are these: Righteousness will be His belt, faithfulness the sash around His waist, the wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat. The calf and the lion, and the yearling together. And the child will lead them. The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together and the lion will eat straw like the ox. The infant will play near the cobra’s den. The child will put his hand into the viper’s nest, they will neither harm nor destroy. On all my holy mountain, the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.”
(This was) brought about by David’s greater son. Brought about by what He does. So that the healings that Jesus does during His earthly ministry are a kind of foretaste, an anticipation of all the authority of God, mediated through Him, to reverse all the effects of sin, finally brought about in the consummation itself. In fact, it’s deeply hinted at in verses 2 and 3. We focus on the wrong thing in verse 2. “You are willing,” the man says, “You can make me clean.” So, we scratch our heads, “What does he mean ‘if Jesus is willing?’” Surely Jesus is willing. Wouldn’t He be willing? That’s not the point. The point is that the only thing that stops Him from doing it is His will. It’s not a question of His power. This man assumes that Jesus has the authority. He can do it, He can speak a word and it will be done. The only question is whether Jesus, at this point in redemptive history is going to do it in this particular case.
The authority, however, is matchless, unrestrained. Jesus says, “I am willing. BE CLEAN!”. This is of a piece of passage after passage in the New Testament.
- He speaks to the storms on Galilee: Peace. BE STILL!” And immediately there was a great calm.
- “I charge you, come out of him!” And the man is released.
- “Lazarus, come forth!” And Lazarus comes forth from the tomb. WAG has said, “If Jesus hadn’t specified ‘Lazarus’, every tomb in Jerusalem would have been empty. (16:00)
Jesus’s authority is absolutely unconstrained. It’s implicit in His person, in His majesty, His mission.
2. The authority of Jesus, formally submissive to the law of Moses
in fact transcends it and fulfills it
Jesus has this remarkable authority even to overturn all the ravages of sin. He is the healer that only needs to will for it to be done.Verse 4 – “After Jesus healed this man, He says to him, ‘See that you don’t tell anyone, but go and show yourself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, as a testimony to them,’” The reference, of course, is to Leviticus 14. Skin diseases were not all leprosy, as we know it today. But, some of them were, and in any case, they could be highly contagious and run right through a camp or a city. So, the laws were put in place that those with certain skin conditions, then had to be banned, outside the camp. And, if then, those skin conditions got better, somehow, then there was a prescribed sacrifice. A sacrifice to offer things up in the temple and to check things out with a priest, who would inspect the wound and then wait 7 days, and inspect it all again. So, what Jesus tells this man is, “Do what the law says. I healed you, go to the Temple, offer the sacrifice. Do what it says.”
“Do it as a testimony to them.” What does that mean? Some think it should be interpreted positively, that is: As a testimony to them of who I am. Some think it should be interpreted negatively, as a testimony against them. That’ll put them in their place. I suspect the expression is most probably neutral. The end result is startling: In submitting to the law, to what the law itself demands, the cured leper becomes the occasion for the law to confirm Jesus’s authority. It’s not just confirming that the man is better. But, it is confirming, on the standard set by the law itself, that Jesus has this remarkable authority, even to overturn all the ravages of sin, all the ravages of disease. He is the healer that only needs to will for it to be done. Indeed, one of the stunning things, under the law, Jesus was not supposed to touch anyone who was impure or skin diseased. But, Jesus is the sort of person who, in touching a diseased person, does not Himself become diseased, but Himself, overturns the disease. The authority if Jesus is matchless, and when He exercises it, it turns out that although it is formally submissive to the law of Moses, in fact it transcends the law of Moses and fulfills it. (21:00)
3. The authority of Jesus is so sweeping,
when Jesus speaks God speaks
Jesus comes up to a centurion, a Roman soldier. Roughly the rank, of perhaps the rank of a captain here, conceivably a major. He says to Jesus, “My servant is at home paralyzed, suffering terribly. Jesus says, “Shall I come and heal Him?” Be explicit in what you’re asking for. And the centurion replies, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof.” That’s already startling, isn’t it? He doesn’t say, “I am quite an important person. You know, I am part of the overlord party in this country.” The least you can do is show me a bit of respect. Rather, he approaches Jesus with amazing humility, for an officer in the Roman legions. “Just say the word and my servant will be healed. Because, you see Jesus, I understand how this works. Because, I am a man under authority.” He stresses that he is under authority, not just that he has authority over others. But, rather, he’s under authority, and that gives him authority over others. So, when he says to a foot soldier, “Go,” the foot soldier goes. And when he says, “Come,” the soldier comes.
What the soldier means by this is that when he commands a foot soldier, it is not just this centurion speaking out of his personal authority, he speaks now for Rome. He is in an entire chain of command. When the centurion speaks, he speaks with the authority of the tribune over him, and over the tribune, senior officers all the way back to Caesar himself. When this soldier gives a legitimate command to a foot soldier under him, when he speaks Caesar speaks. When he speaks, Rome speaks. And, that’s why there is no way a foot soldier is going to thumb his nose at his centurion officer. And this is what he applies to Jesus.
You must not think that this centurion has got the doctrine of the trinity sorted out yet. He couldn’t of expounded incarnation, but he has watched Jesus enough to know that when Jesus speaks, God speaks. He does the Father’s will so absolutely perfectly, that when Jesus speaks, God speaks. And that word is so effective that Jesus doesn’t have to show up in person, or lay His hands. He speaks with the authority of God. When God says something and wants it to be effected, it is effective.
Jesus said He has not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. The authority of Jesus is so sweeping, when Jesus speaks God speaks. And that, brothers and sisters, means that not to listen to Jesus is to defy almighty God.
4. The authority of Jesus is a great comfort to the eyes of faith
and a great terror to the merely religious
Jesus praises the faith of this centurion. A Roman, without al of the background of what we now call the Old Testament and Scripture. “Truly, I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. 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. But, the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside into the darkness, where there will be weeping and the gnashing of teeth.” Now, He says this, after having said, just a few verses earlier at the end of the sermon on the mount that He has the authority to determine who enters the consummated kingdom and who does not. He is the one that will say, “Depart from me, you workers of iniquity, I never knew you.” And He is the one who grants entrance. And now He says, “On the last day, there will be many people there who will exhibit the same faith this centurion exhibited,” even though this centurion is not an Israelite, he’s a gentile, part of the overlord party. But, he has this faith is Jesus that is so transparently submissive to the authority of God in this God man, that he understands that when God speaks, Jesus speaks. It’s the same faith of an Abraham, who heard the voice of God and went out, not knowing where he was going. And thus, in the consummated kingdom, such people will gather around Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. They will be part of this consummated glory, where elsewhere it is described as resurrection existence in the new heaven and the new earth- the home of righteousness.
And, meanwhile, many who have had the privilege of being part of that old covenant heritage, with all of its revelation and its sacrificial system, and its Godly prophets, and its wisdom literature, many who are absorbed into the kind of religiosity that really does not bow to the authority of Jesus, they will be cast out, we are told- where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Brothers and sisters in Christ, it is not popular today to talk about hell. Indeed, many Christians are trying to find ways of interpreting the Scripture in such a way that ‘hell becomes a little less embarrassing’: …maybe it doesn’t go on forever… maybe God’s love is so sweeping that somehow, eventually, everybody in hell will repent and hell will be emptied out.And God’s love will win.
Many, many voices like this are heard. It sounds so gentle, and so loving, but, it is very hard to square such notions with what Jesus Himself says. Most of the most startling metaphors for hell are first voiced in the Scripture by the Lord Jesus Himself. He is the one here, who speaks of outer darkness, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. Revelation 14 and Revelation 20 speak of hell as a place of ongoing terror. I think that one of the reasons why people will not face what Scripture plainly says is because we have talked ourselves into thinking that perhaps, that perhaps we should recognize that our sins can’t be eternal sins, or infinite sins. Our sins are finite, we’re finite people, who commit only finite sins, so, why should we be punished infinitely? And, if that’s the case, we must have some other explanation for infinite punishment. But, that presupposes that once we get to hell we all want to repent and we don’t want to sin anymore. But, I have ransacked Scripture and I cannot, for the life of me, find a single place anywhere in Scripture that suggests there’s a word of repentance in hell.
Even in the account of the rich man and Lazarus- he doesn’t want to be there. But, he lifts his eyes up, being in torment, the Scripture says, and somehow sees Abraham and Lazarus a far distance off. What do you think he will say? “Oh, Lazarus, did I get that one wrong? I am so sorry, would you forgive me please? I really did abuse you. I didn’t show any generosity, compassion. I left you ill and broken, and poor outside my gate, even though I was filthy rich. I really am very sorry. I do want to repent, I am so sorry.” Is that what he says? No, what he says is, “Father Abraham,” playing the race card, “Father Abraham, why don’t you send Lazarus to dip his finger in some water, so that he can bring it to me?” Lazarus is still the ‘Joe’ boy, he’s still the menial. He doesn’t even address him. He’s gonna pull strings and get father Abraham… There’s not a hint of repentance anywhere. Hell is not filled with people who are deeply repentant and wanting to get out. It’s filled with broken rebels who still want to justify themselves and think of them selves as at the center of the universe for all of eternity- sinning and being punished, sinning and being punished, world without end. At the end of that conversation with Abraham, the rich man is actually contradicting Abraham, “No, father Abraham, your interpretation of things is wrong. Let me correct your theology.” This man, even in hell thinks he’s got a superior theology to Abraham in heaven. It’s unbelievable.
And, the person who is exclusively, finally responsible for making the decisions about who goes to heaven and who does not, and on what ground is Jesus Himself. The authority of Jesus is great comfort to the eyes of faith and a great terror to the merely religious. (32:00)
5. Jesus’s authority is in function of His work on the cross
verses 14-17 “When Jesus came into Peter’s house, He saw Peter’s mother in law lying in bed with a fever.” And so He heals her. Verse 16- When evening came, many who were demon possessed were brought to Him and He drove out the spirits with a word and healed all the sick. This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah: “He took up our infirmities and bore our diseases.” Now, many who are listening to me this morning will know that this quotation is from Isaiah 53, which New Testament writers, which Christians around the world tie to Jesus’s cross work. “He was wounded for our transgressions. He was bruised for our iniquities. He bore our sin on His own body on the tree,” the apostle Peter elsewhere writes.
But, here, we are told that when Jesus cast out demons and healed sick people, even before the cross, this was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah: ‘He took up our infirmities and bore our diseases.’ So, Jesus is fulfilling Isaiah 53, even as He’s healing people. And this before the cross. How does that make sense? How do you put all that together? And sometimes, in our theological discussions, we ask questions such as, “Is there healing in the atonement? By which we mean something like, “If Jesus paid for all the sin and its effects, including illness, if He paid for all of it, then shouldn’t it follow that we should be healed when we ask for it? There is healing in the atonement, in what Christ accomplished on the cross? Isn’t there? Doesn’t this text suggest the same? Well, yes and no.
Yes, of course there’s healing in the atonement. If you read the Bible as a whole, you discover that there’s resurrections existence in the atonement too. There is the new heaven and the new earth in the atonement. That is what assures resurrection existence for God’s people on the last day is the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus. What is at stake is a worldview consideration, that clashes massively with what this world thinks. That worldview consideration is this: Although God made all things good, with sin and the curse, there is not only guilt over moral defection, but there is death and suffering, and disease. Nature itself is out of order. There is disaster, there is war. For all that there is so many good things, the residue of the image of God still on us so that by common grace we can create art and perform music, and write books and work with our hands, and do skilled things.
Yet, the fact remains that we are a damned brood. And, biblically speaking, that means that every instance of disease and demon possession, and malice, and suffering, death itself is finally traceable to sin. I don’t mean that you get pancreatic cancer because you’ve committed a particular sin. It’s conceivable, but I have no way of demonstrating that. What I do know is that all kinds of people- good, bad and indifferent from a social perspective can succumb to the disease, and sometime decidedly wicked people can live to a ripe old age. The Psalmist observed the point himself. But, eventually, all of us end up dead. If you live long enough you will suffer. To suffer, all you’ve got to do is keep living. If you live long enough you will be bereaved. Your only options are to bereave someone else, or be bereaved yourself. That’s it. If you live long enough you’ll get cancer or alzheimer, or both. Because, not only morally are we a damned brood, but, we are under this curse which has to be lifted if we are to be reconciled to God. And the way it is lifted is by the visit from the God man who bore our sins in His own body on the tree.
And, that means that every time Jesus heals someone in His ministry, even before He had gone to the cross, every single time it was in function of what He was about to do on the cross. Not yet done. But, it was not just an act of power. It was an act of power, of authority that issued from the cross, that still lay around the corner. In that sense, every healing was prophetic of what the cross would achieve. And, the way we knew that Matthew understood it that way is because he cites Isaiah 53. This was done in order to fulfill what God had said through the prophet Isaiah: “He took up our infirmities and bore our diseases.” This theme runs right through Matthew’s Gospel, and right through the New Testament. In chapter 1, Joseph is told, “You will give Him the name Jesus- “Yahweh saves” for He will save His people from their sins. To placard that in chapter 1 is the way of saying, “This is one of the controlling themes right through Matthew’s Gospel. This is the Gospel in which we show how Yahweh saves His people from their sins.
So that, when you read the sermon on the mount, one of the things that you should be reading is, one of the things you should be thinking is: Here is the word of the Messiah, whose name means “Yahweh saves”, who came to save people from their sins. This is what the new society in the consummated heaven and earth will look like . Already it is moving in that direction. The kingdom dawns. And here, He is fulfilling Scripture- Isaiah 53. In chapter 9 again, when a man is lowered to Him in a house. He says, “Take heart son, your sins are forgiven.” Who has the authority to forgive sins? But, He came to save His people form their sins.
And, when He overthrows the power of darkness, it shows what He is doing to save His people from their sins. It means more than just forgiving them. It means triumphing over these sins, thrashing down the death and decay, in anticipation of a time when sin and all of its effects , death itself will be utterly destroyed. All on the basis of the work on the cross of Christ Jesus. He will save His people from their sins, until, finally we find Him hanging on the cross, and over His head is the charge: “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.” This is meant to be deeply ironic, scandalously demeaning and belittling, when Pilate posts it up there. But, to the eyes of faith, we say: Yes indeed, this is Jesus, reigning from the cross, which was one of the churches great confessions during the first 3 centuries of its existence- Jesus reigning from the cross. He will save His people from their sins.
Do you want to know where the authority of Jesus is? Look at the cross. It is Jesus reigning from the cross. But, He doesn’t stay there. He rises again. And then, how does this Gospel end? “Al authority is given Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore, and make disciples. So that the authority of Jesus, thus is delegated. It is mandated. It is part of the elementary Christianity that we say “the Lord Jesus Christ”. We’re recognizing His authority. And we join with Christians across century, across ages, across nations. We share this common faith in, and submission to the Lord Jesus, whose authority enables us and authorizes us to preach the Gospel and throw back the powers of the darkness, by the preaching of the cross and the resurrection, in anticipation of the consummation on the last day. Lo, I am with you alway, even to the end of the age. It is this Gospel that finds Jesus saying in Matthew 16: I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. My friends Tim Keller likes to say: For Christians, optimism is naive. That’s because we really do see the power of sin in peoples lives. Pessimism is atheistic, because we serve a God with absolute authority. This God whose authority comes and shatters the spear and the sword. This God who reverses death in anticipation now, in His ministry, of what He Himself will accomplish in the resurrection. And in anticipation of the mission He gives to us under His authority. In anticipation of the consummation on the last day. And so, the church of Jesus Christ bows before the Lord Jesus Himself, and says, “Yes, yes, yes. Even so, come Lord Jesus.
Listen to other recent messages by Don Carson at the Gospel Coalition:
- When The Bible Is Silent
- When the Bible Is Silent Q&A
- Lessons from French Canadian Revivals
- Lessons from the French Canadian Revival Q&A
- The Implications of Complementarianism
- The Implications of Complementarianism Q&A
- Our Exalted Identity in a Holy Church
- Teach Us to Pray
- Our Exalted Relationship with Each Other