- April 13, 2014
- By Carolyn Porterfield, Multicultural Consultant, Texas WMU, Dallas
• The Bible Studies for Life lesson for April 27 focuses on Matthew 8:1-13.
Who are those who are shunned by others and live without hope in our world? The homeless? The mentally ill? The poor? Someone of a different culture? The bullied?
In Matthew 8:1-13, you meet two people shunned for different reasons. One was physically and spiritually viewed as unclean. The second was ethnically and politically different. Both found themselves in need of hope. Both found what they needed in Jesus.
In Matthew 8, Jesus moves from the mountainside toward Capernaum. He had just delivered the Sermon on the Mount. What the crowds heard turned their religious world upside down. Jesus preached a different way of living. He now would show people what his words meant.
In verses 1-4, Jesus encounters a man with leprosy. This disease had no cure, was highly contagious and caused disfigurement. To keep the disease from spreading, people with leprosy were isolated. They were banished from family and friends. When they came near others, they had to call out, “Unclean, unclean,” so people could move away from them.
The isolation for people with leprosy wasn’t only physical. They also were isolated spiritually, because they were seen as spiritually unclean. Some said this disease was a result of sin. They were separated both from man and God.
It may have been a mixture of desperation and courage that drove the leprous man to kneel before Jesus. Where could someone like him find healing and hope? His statement was clear, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean” (Matthew 8:2). In faith he asked for what he could not receive anywhere else. He didn’t say, “If you are able,” but rather, “If you are willing.” This statement revealed his belief that Jesus could make him clean if Jesus desired.
His world changed with five words: “I am willing. Be clean.” Not only did Jesus speak the words, he actually touched the man. Sinless God touched the rejected man and made him clean.
Jesus came into the world for the outcast, the unloved and the shunned. Jesus not only is able but willing to touch all who come to him for cleansing. He is not a respecter of persons but freely gives grace and mercy to all. Just like the leper, those who come to Christ find hope and a new life free from the past that kept them in bondage.
Jesus continued on to Capernaum. Today, the city is an archeological site. In Jesus’ day, it was a large fishing village and busy trading center located on the great Via Maris highway between Damascus and Caesarea Maritima, Tyre and Egypt. Because of its location on an important trade route, Capernaum was a city where taxes were collected for Rome.
The centurion mentioned in Matthew 8:5-13 probably was in Capernaum to protect the interests of Caesar and keep the Jews in line. He had 100 soldiers in his command. He was an outcast of a different type.
The centurion represented the oppression of Rome. The Jews were tired of being under the thumb of Rome and longed for a messiah who would deliver them. Relating to the centurion would be like consorting with the enemy.
The centurion likely was not a Jew. He was a man of compassion, however, because he had concern for a servant who was paralyzed and suffering (Matthew 8:6). He must have heard of Jesus or he would not have come to him for help.
When Jesus heard the man’s request, he offered to go to his house to heal the servant. The centurion stopped him and said, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed” (Matthew 8:8).
This Roman officer had faith in Jesus’ ability to heal because he knew Jesus had the authority to heal his servant just by speaking a life-giving word. Jesus was astonished by the centurion’s words. You would think it would be the Jews who would have great faith, but it wasn’t. It was a Roman centurion.
In Christ alone
In verses 11-12, Jesus indicates who will be part of the kingdom of God: “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.”
The Jews were in for a rude awakening, because Jesus said, “The subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 8:12). The Jews relied on their lineage as sons of Abraham to enter the kingdom of God. Jesus is saying it is not works or lineage but faith that is the key to entering God’s kingdom.
In Christ alone we find hope. In Romans 4, Paul writes about the faith of Abraham and how it was “credited to him as righteousness” (v. 3). He goes on to state it wasn’t for Abraham alone, “but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness—for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead” (Romans 4:24).
Who in your world needs hope? Who feels outcast and different? Perhaps it is you or someone close to you. God may bring someone into your path this next week who has no one to turn to because of his or her situation. Introduce them to Jesus. He is willing to bring healing to those who ask. Through faith in him, they will find hope.