Immediately following the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew provides narration of a series of miracles. The miracles are meant to show two things—the authority of Christ and the power of Christ. Both authority and power are important aspects for accepting Christ as Messiah. Without authority, his message becomes untrustworthy. Without power, his message becomes pointless. Christ speaks of building his Kingdom. He is king. That is one of the overall concepts that Matthew is promoting in this Gospel. The Jews were familiar with the concept of Messiah, but they wrongly thought the Messiah would save Israel politically. Matthew is arguing that Christ is the Messiah and that the Messiah is King in every aspect of life. (Just who would be part of the Kingdom is a matter still to be developed by Matthew.)
Notice that although Matthew has shown Jesus to be our example of humility through the temptations, the Sermon on the Mount has provided a shift from Jesus as our example to Jesus as our teacher. He has shown us how to act in humility, but in the sermon, he tells to do so. And he speaks “as one who had authority, and not as their scribes” (7:29). The scribes taught using tradition as the authority for their interpretations of Scripture. Christ speaks on his own authority.
The miracles of Christ confirm this authority. In Matthew 9 we will see the healing of the paralytic. Christ first tells him that his sins are forgiven. Then in answer to the questioning crowd, Christ responds, “’But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins’—he then said to the paralytic—‘Rise, pick up your bed and go home’” (9:6). In this miracle Christ makes a pronouncement (about forgiveness of sin) and then shows his authority to make such a pronouncement by performing the healing miracle. Just so, in broader scope, do we see the teaching of the Sermon on the Mount followed by a demonstration of his authority in teaching by the miracles that he performs.
In the first miracle (8:1-4), a leper comes before Jesus and kneels, recognizing Christ’s authority and power. Jesus heals him and tells him not to spread the word about the healing. Why? Some have said that Jesus wanted the priests to declare him clean before they realized it was Jesus who cleansed him. They reason that the priests may not have declared him clean if they knew that Jesus had performed the healing since they were at odds with Jesus. But this reason seems trite, especially since this is very early in Christ’s ministry before the priests had conspired to oppose Jesus. Others believe that Christ told the leper to keep the healing quiet because too much fanfare about Christ as potential deliverer would have had authorities stop his ministry too early. But since the leper did spread the news and Christ’s ministry was not stopped “too early,” this reason is seemingly contradicted by the actual events. A third reason for Christ’s admonition not to tell is that it was not proper for Jesus, during the days of his humiliation, to encourage widespread acclaim. But this is just the opposite of the point of the miracle. The miracle was to show his authority and power.
I think that Christ warned the leper not to spread this news because the miracle was meant specifically for the people in the area that had heard the message of his mountain sermon. He was providing them with a display showing authority and power. He did not want news spread merely that he was a miracle worker. Notice that after word had spread and people began bringing all their sick and others came just to see him “perform,” that Jesus doesn’t feel compelled to heal, but rather “gave orders to go over to the other side (of the Sea of Galilee)” (8:18).
The next miracle (8:5-13) is quite different from the healing of the leper. In the leper healing, the leper requests healing and Christ is there with him and touches him. In the next miracle, a third party (the centurion) comes on behalf of the one needing healing. When Christ says he will come, the centurion objects wanting to save Christ the “unclean” labeling for entering a gentile’s house. Again, faith was demonstrated, but the appeal was made to Christ’s authority—exactly what these miracles are supposed to be demonstrating.
The healing of the centurion’s servant is especially significant for us in examining why Jesus was healing. He certainly was not using this physical healing as an example of the future spiritual healing he would perform. If he had, a third party coming to intercede and Jesus granting healing on the basis of the faith of this third party would make no sense. The miracle, rather, was specifically to show authority—especially (according to its position in Matthew) the authority for the teaching of the previous chapters.
Next, Peter’s mother-in-law is healed. Although we know from Luke that Peter, James, and John were all there in the home as the healing took place, Matthew indicates that Peter’s mother-in-law got up and served “him.” Why this emphasis on serving him and not the others? I think it again has to do with the picture of authority that Matthew is trying to show.
In the middle of chapter 8 (v.18-22), Matthew again points to the purpose of the miracles with the narration of some who were attracted to Jesus not because of his teaching, but simply because of the miracles. One comes wanting to follow this miracle-worker, but seems to become disillusioned when Jesus tells him that fame and glory are not part of the life he will lead. The next aspiring follower seems to say he would follow, but he has other obligations that are more important. Christ makes clear that following him is the necessity of life.
We are then presented with three miracles that go beyond the healing of disease or sickness and show Christ’s power and authority over all life. First, he calms the sea, showing power over creation (8:23-27). Then he casts out demons, indicating his power and authority over the spirit world (8:28-34). Third, he forgives the sins of the paralytic, showing his power over sin (and ultimately death) (9:1-8).
These miracles will be discussed in more depth as we continue.