All in a day’s work, it would seem! Everything in a frenetic Chapter 8 seems to have occurred within 24 hours. First a leper demonstrated the faith to ask for healing: “If you are willing, you can make me clean” (v2). That is all that is needed for healing to happen: faith that God is able and faith that he is willing at that time. Scripture tells us that faith itself is “a gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8), so let’s not beat ourselves up when we pray for someone and they are not healed!
The Centurion also had faith – great faith! A faith that was greater, in fact than anyone in Israel at that time. This is one of the two reported occasions when even Jesus was ‘amazed’. The Centurion was also aware of the heavenly principle of ‘chain of command’: If we are fully submitted to God, then created things become submitted to us. A lifetime spent in the Roman legions had ingrained that principle into the soldier too.
Peter’s mother-in-law was healed (Jesus’ faith this time?) and just in time to fix them dinner! The after-dinner activity was to set free many local people who were in captivity to demonic powers, and to heal yet more sick people, just by speaking a word. Matthew identifies a short quotation from the prophet Isaiah that he claimed Jesus had fulfilled by these healings. What makes it interesting is that the context of the Isaiah passage (53:4) is the healing of the soul from its diseases of sin and rebellion. Yet Matthew takes that verse literally too – a prerogative of the Holy Spirit. (Matthew did the same with 2:15, quoting Hosea 11:1.)
To get away from the crowds, they took a boat across a stormy Lake Galilee – so stormy that the expert fishermen were scared for their lives. Jesus slept. At that stage, their faith was too weak to know that it was impossible for them to be drowned with Jesus in that boat, so, to emphasise the point, he spoke to the wind and waves and told them to calm it a bit! Again, this was an object lesson in submission.
Matthew had double vision! On several occasions he identified two individuals rather than one. His account has two demon-possessed men on that other side of the lake; Mark and Luke mention only one man. If you believe in the inerrancy of the scriptures, you have to consider that Mark and Luke chose to feature only the more prominent man. Matthew was such a stickler for correct and orderly description that he would not have just miscounted!
It was actually the demons who were sent into the pigs that did the serious talking. They had a collective name of ‘Legion’, meaning ‘Many’. They also sensed the superior power and authority of Jesus and begged to be released into another body – even that of an animal. A disembodied spirit seems naked and wants to inhabit something. Jesus permitted them to enter that herd of pigs, which immediately went mad and jumped to their deaths in the lake. Pigs were forbidden animals to the Jews, so perhaps Jesus was making a point to the local population too!
The demonisation of humans clearly causes severe mental and emotional problems – and these symptoms were freely attributed to demonisation in biblical times, and since. These days we too readily seek a medical cause for every mental issue; perhaps we should be more discerning and be ready to identify demonic influence in individuals too. The ‘cure’ will then be radically different!
GENESIS 19 and 20
The angels, having lunched with Abraham, moved on to Sodom to dine safely behind solid doors in Lot’s house – which was just as well, given the alternative ‘appetites’ of the remainder of the population, and their debauched behaviour. Lot began by protecting his guests, but soon his guests were protecting him! They had seen enough and called down fire from heaven to bring judgment upon the city, its inhabitants, the surrounding cities and the entire plain. Notice that God did not need to keep his part of the bargain to spare the whole city for ten righteous people: there weren’t enough! He was, however, merciful to Abraham by sparing Job, Job’s wife (for a while) and his daughters.
Some points to ponder:
- How does the ferocity of God’s judgment sit with our 21st century sensitivities?
- What precisely was God judging, in any case (2 Peter 2:6-9; Jude 7; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10)
- Given that the Lord would have spared the city for just ten righteous people, what does that say about the influence of true believers in their local communities (i.e., us today)?
- For those who are currently caught up in sexual sins, what hope does 1 Corinthians 6:10 provide?
- Lot chose Sodom because it seemed to him like ‘heaven on earth’, like the garden of Eden. Do we fail to serve God effectively because we are expecting to find ‘heaven on earth’ rather too soon, and so get distracted from the work he has called us to, which is to bring heaven on earth?