An Overlooked Miracle - Matthew Chapter 8
Do you like mysteries?
By definition, a mystery is something that is difficult or impossible to understand or explain, and to my slightly OCD inclined brain, with its love towards things predictable and controllable, and its aversion to anything ambiguous and uncertain, encountering a mystery is, as the Proverb says, “as vinegar on soda.”
Never the less, there are certain mysteries that my brain doesn’t mind at all and even gets quite excited about - I am talking about mysteries we often see on the pages of the Bible.
And today I will set out on a journey of solving such a mystery on the pages of Chapter 8 of the Gospel of Matthew.
Did you know that the Gospel of Matthew stands out among the other three Gospels as the one that is meticulously logical and orderly?
Being written in the age when printing has not been invented yet, Matthew does a marvelous job at collecting and systematizing the teachings of Jesus into well-defined blocks or themes that are easy to understand and to memorize.
To make the task of memorization even easier for his readers Matthew never sets out his material haphazardly. In Matthew, one thing follows another in a certain sequence and there is always a reason for that sequence.
For example, some scholars identify five major sections in the gospel of Matthew where he synthesizes the teaching of Jesus regarding five different aspects of the Kingdom of God.
The Sermon on the Mountain, The Law of The Kingdom - Chapters 5 to 7
The Duties of the Leaders of The Kingdom - Chapter 10
The Parable of The Kingdom - Chapter 13
Greatness and Forgiveness in The Kingdom - Chapter 18
The Coming of the King - Chapters 25 and 26
And that is what I love about the Gospel of Matthew. My order loving brain finds a special kind of joy in its thorough, systematic and logical approach.
That is until you stumble on something that does not belong!!!!!
But before we dive into that, just for a second, admire with me one more time the topical nature of the Gospel of Matthew.
In chapters 6 and 7 Matthew gives us the Sermon on the Mountain, Jesus's divine wisdom expressed in His Words. And now in Chapter 8, we see the divine love of Jesus expressed in His actions. Thus, Chapter 8 is rightfully called by many scholars a chapter of miracles.
Let’s look at these miracles:
There is a healing of a lapper where Jesus touches the untouchable.
There is a healing of a centurion's servant, who was not only a gentile but also a Roman official and thus was an arch enemy of any Jew. Here we see Jesus helping a man whom all men hated and the slave whom all men despised.
There is a healing of Peter’s wife’s mother. This miracle took place in a humble house in Palestine. There was no publicity, there was no admiring audience, It was a miracle in a family circle. Here we see the infinite love of the God of all the universe displaying all its power when there's none but the circle of the family to witness it.
There was the healing of ALL sick who were brought to his doors in the evening time. Here we see the universality of the love of God in Action. For Jesus, no one is a nuisance. All men could come to him for help.
There is a miracle of calming of the storm. Here we see the love of God bringing peace and serenity into the tumult of confusion.
And then there is a healing of the Gerasene Demoniac and we see the goodness and the love of God which save men overcoming the evil and the hatred.
And then somewhere in the middle of the chapter, we stumble on a couple of verses that first seem to be out of place in this chapter of miracles because. At least on the first appearance, these verses do not speak of any miracles.
But why then Matthew, so famous for his topical arrangement of materials, would include into this section of the gospel, the verses not related to any miracles????? Are you curious which verses I am talking about?
I am talking about Matthew 8:18-22
“When Jesus saw the crowd around him, he gave orders to cross to the other side of the lake. Then a teacher of the law came to him and said, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” Another disciple said to him, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” But Jesus told him, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.”
On the face value there is no miracle in these verses, but why are they then were included in the chapter of the miracles?
THAT IS because Mathew clearly saw a miracle in this passage. Matthew saw something in these verses that we do not see.
He saw a MIRACLE OF PERSONALITY!
Did you notice that it was a scribe who wished to follow Jesus?
A scribe! Someone whose theology was based on the very legalism that Christ came to confront and destroy! And this very scribe gave Jesus the highest title of honor that he knew - he called him a “Teacher”.
When we look at these verses from this new angle the miracle is clear - a personal encounter with Jesus produced a “Miracle of Personality.”
I want to argue that this Miracle of Personality is the one that we most often witness in our lives today, but the one that we most often discount and overlook as a true miracle.
And here is another thought!
Knowing the powerful effect personality of Jesus had on the scribe in Chapter 8 would it not be fair to say that what is needed the most for this “Miracle of Personality” to happen more often today is not so much to talk to others about Jesus as to confront them with Jesus Himself and to allow the personality of Jesus to do the rest.
It is also fair to say that in order to expose others to the personality of Jesus we MUST to experience this TRUE encounter with Jesus ourselves.
And this concept of encountering Jesus goes much further than our prayer of salvation. A TRUE encounter with Jesus is not an EVENT in the past but a continuous everyday PROCESS.
We encounter the personality of Jesus when we come into His presence during the worship. Never hesitate to invite a friend to come to church with you where God’s Presence can “speak” better than any words.
We encounter the personality of Jesus through reading His Word as the Holy Spirit works in our hearts and helps us to understand His personality.
We encounter His personality when we surround ourselves with like minded and like spirited believers. Do not underestimate the value of Christian fellowship.
And then there on the flip side of the coin - our own lives should display the personality of Jesus to those around us. While it is not always the reality, Bible teaches us that it is by our external behaviors people around us will know that we are followers of Christ. They see Him in the way we handle our finance, in the way we treat our spouses and children, in the way we cope with challenges, in the way we set out our priorities. Never discount the power of our personal testimonies. Is our everyday life is a good representation of our faith? Or are we giving Jesus a bed rap?
Ah!!! The Mystery solved! There are no inconsistencies in Matthew Chapter 8, the chapter of miracles, after all!
But just as we start to grasp the meaning of this miracle of personality, Mathew throws at us another mystery!
No sooner had the scribe undergone this miraculous transformation that Jesus tells him that “the foxes have their lairs and the birds of the sky have a place in the trees to rest, but The Son of Man has no place on earth to lay his head.”
Why Jusus!???!!! Everything was going so well. The scribe was “converted.” It was a prime time to invite him to church, to enroll him in Discipleship 101 class and to encourage him to attend a small group. Right?
What in the world is Jesus doing here? Were not we commanded to make disciples of all nations? It was a perfect opportunity to “win” another soul for the Kingdom. Why would Jesus talk about such a negative thing as what we now call The Cost of Following Christ?
Why is Jesus saying to this man: “Before you follow me - think what you are doing. Before you follow me - count the cost”.
And the answer is because Jesus is very aware of another effect that His presence, His personality, His power has on people’s lives. And we should be aware of it too - the effect of an emotional response.
Jesus did not want followers who were swept away by a moment’s emotion, which quickly blazed and just as quickly died.
He did not want men who were carried away on a tide of a mere feeling or an impulse. The decision to follow Jesus is not an impulsive decision. Jesus wanted his followers to know what they were doing, what they were signing up for.
These versed in Matthew Chapter 8 echo the words of Jesus in Matthew 16:24-26 when he urges his disciples to take up there cross daily and follow Him. He talks about setting Himself above the dearest relationships in life - above fathers and mothers, wife and children and even above the person’s own life.
And as we read through the various passages of all four gospels, again and again, either directly or implicitly, we can hear Jesus saying, “Yes, I know that in your heart you want to run towards me, but - do you love me enough to follow me?
But isn’t this principle of cost is true for other spheres of life? Every endeavor in our lives involves cost. Think about it.
Cost of having a child - sleepless nights, dirty diapers, “terrible two’s,” “I know it all” teens, followed by “I will never move out” young adulthood.
Cost of being an athlete - vigorous training, choosing between friends and your practices, the stress of competitions, injuries, the disappointment of losing.
Cost of being a scholar - years of studies, sleepless nights writing papers, exams, missing all that fun that your college friends have while you are locked up studying.
These are just a few examples. But wouldn’t you agree that if we made all the important decisions in our lives (like choosing the right person to marry, choosing the right college to go to, or which job to take), based on our emotional response to exciting circumstances and WITHOUT carefully considering the sacrifices involved, we would be bound to be disappointed.
When the excitement of our emotional state subsides, we are often left to deal with very rigid, unpoetical and not so exciting reality.
This is not to discourage enthusiasm, but it is to say that enthusiasm which has not faced the facts of real life, the fact of sacrifices, will soon be dead ashes instead of flames.
Jesus drives this point home here. No man should ever say that they followed Jesus because Christian life is easy.
Jesus was uncompromisingly honest about it. So should we. But how often, for the sake of bringing “numbers” to the Kingdom, we do Jesus a grave dis-serviece when we lead people to believe that the Christian way is an easy way.
Life with Christ can be a thrilling adventure. It can be immensely rewarding and fulfilling (it is always rewarding and fulfilling to live the life you have been created for). It is ultimately the only life that is worth living. But there is always a cost. The way to glory always involves a cross.
And can’t but ask myself, what is MY cost of following Christ?
What is YOUR cost of following Christ?
But, perhaps, it is a discussion for another blog post :)