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Bailey Sadler Class

SUNDAY SCHOOL LESSON STUDY GUIDE - 2014

 

Study Theme:  Let Hope In!

What This Lesson Is About:

Week of:

Lesson Title:

The focus of this lesson from Matthew (8:1-13) is centered on two men from completely different backgrounds and circumstances who both found hope when they demonstrated their faith in Jesus Christ. 

 

 

April 13

Hope Needed

 

April 20

Easter: But Now . . . Victory

X

April 27

Hope Found

 

May 04

Hope Personified

 

May 11

Hope Expressed

 

May 18

Hope Renewed

 

May 25

Hope Shared

 

LIFE IMPACT:

When we seek Christ, we find hope.

FOCAL PASSAGE:

Matthew 8:1-13

LESSON OUTLINE:

I.    

II.

III.  

Jesus Is Willing (Matt. 8:1-4)

Jesus Is Able (Matt. 8:5-9)

Hope is Activated By Faith (Matt. 8:10-13)

OVERVIEW OF BACKGROUND PASSAGE:  

Matthew 8 (Chapter Summary)

Jesus taught with authority.  Matthew now launches a report of a series of miracles which authenticates His right to speak for God.   Jesus is able to heal with a touch (8:1-4) or with a word that cannot be limited by distance (vv. 5-13).  He heals those who trust Him and those who are in the grip of demons (vv. 14-17).  Christ did not use His powers to win an easy life for Himself or for His disciples (vv. 18-22).  He committed Himself to serve, even though His powers enabled Him to exercise control over nature’s most awesome forces (vv. 23-27), and even though the supernatural world too was forced to submit to His will (vv. 28-34).  The incidents Matthew records show that Jesus did speak with divine authority—and that He lived by His teachings of servanthood and love.

SOURCE: The Bible Reader’s Companion; By Lawrence O. Richards; VICTOR BOOKS; A Division Of Scripture Press Publications Inc.; USA; Canada; England

INTRODUCTION:

We live in a culture that floods us with remedies.  At times, we try to mask our desperation with pharmaceutical remedies, religious practices, a change in lifestyle, or a calendar full of activities.  We can try to mask our need, but we can’t remove it.  The Bible points us to the only solution: Jesus meets us at our point of need and offers us what no one or nothing else can.

SOURCE: The Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study; by Robert J. Dean; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; 1 LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.

I.

Jesus Is Willing (Matt. 8:1-4)

1 When He came down from the mountain, large crowds followed Him. 2 Right away a man with a serious skin disease came up and knelt before Him, saying, “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.” 3 Reaching out His hand He touched him, saying, “I am willing; be made clean.” Immediately his disease was healed. 4 Then Jesus told him, “See that you don’t tell anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses prescribed, as a testimony to them.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1.        Have you ever been in a situation where you felt you were without hope?

2.        According to verse 2, who approached Jesus and what did the man want of Jesus?

3.        Why was the man’s coming near to Jesus an indication of the hopelessness of his situation (v. 2)?  (See Lev. 13:45-46.)

4.        What impact on the crowd do you think the leper’s approach to Jesus had on them?

5.        What is the significance of the man’s request to be made clean (v. 2)?

6.        What does this request tell us about the man’s awareness of Jesus?

7.        How did Jesus respond (v. 3)?

8.        In addition to the physical effects, why was leprosy so dreaded?

9.        What steps did Jesus take in this instance to bring about cleansing (v. 3)?

10.     Why do you think Jesus touched the leper as a part of His healing (v. 3)?

11.     What instructions did Jesus give the man following the cleansing (v. 4)?

12.     What instructions did Jesus give the man after his healing (v. 4)?

13.     Why do you think Jesus told the man not to tell anyone of his healing (v. 4)?

14.     Why did Jesus command the leper to go . . . to the priest and offer sacrifice following his healing (v. 4)?

15.     What was the requirement in the Law of Moses for a leper’s cleansing?  (See Lev. 14:1-32.)

16.     How might sin in one’s life make one feel like a leper?

17.     Who would you consider to be the lepers in your neighborhood or community today?

18.     What role do you think we, as believers, should play to meet their needs?

19.     How would you explain to one of the lepers in your community that there is hope in Jesus Christ?

20.     Are there some things in your life that you are reaching out to Jesus for help? 

 

Lasting Lessons in Matt. 8:1-4:

1.  Jesus is willing to touch those no one else will touch.

2.  Many modern-day lepers are hoping someone will touch them with God’s love.

3.  Believers should seek out people in need and offer them real hope through faith in Christ.

 

II.

Jesus Is Able (Matt. 8:5-9)

5 When He entered Capernaum, a centurion came to Him, pleading with Him,  6 “Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, in terrible agony!”  7 “I will come and heal him,” He told him.  8 “Lord,” the centurion replied, “I am not worthy to have You come under my roof. But only say the word, and my servant will be cured.  9 For I too am a man under authority, having soldiers under my command. I say to this one, ‘Go!’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come!’ and he comes; and to my slave, ‘Do this!’ and he does it.”

1.        What is a centurion (v. 5)?

2.        What did the centurion and the leper have in common?

3.        What do you think were some differences between them?

4.        What made the centurion’s approach to Jesus noteworthy?

5.        What impact do you think Jesus’ encounter with the centurion had on those who witnessed it?  Why?

6.        What does verse 5 tell you about those who seek out Jesus?

7.        Why did the centurion seek out Jesus (v. 6)?

8.        How urgent was the his need of Jesus (v. 6)? 

9.        Based on verse 6, how would you describe the relationship between the centurion and his servant?

10.     According to verse 7, what did Jesus offer to do?

11.     What was the centurion’s response to Jesus’ offer (v. 8)?

12.     What does this tell us about the centurion’s understanding of the relationship between Jews and Gentiles?

13.     Why do you think he felt unworthy for Jesus to come to His home (v. 8)?

14.     Based on verse 8, how did the centurion view Jesus’ authority to heal?

15.     According to verse 9, how did the centurion understand Jesus’ authority to heal?

16.     What can we learn from the centurion about requesting help from the Lord?

17.     Since Jesus’ authority is our only hope, why do you think we often look for hope in other things or people?

 

Lasting Lessons in Matt. 8:5-9:

1.  Jesus is always ready to help anyone who comes to Him in faith.

2.  Humility obtains requests from God but pride prevents us from obtaining what we need.

3.  All who are saved admit their unworthiness and the excellence of Jesus Christ.

4.  True faith makes requests of God and believes He will respond with what is best.

 

III.

Hope is Activated By Faith (Matt. 8:10-13)

10 Hearing this, Jesus was amazed and said to those following Him, “I assure you: I have not found anyone in Israel with so great a faith!  11 I tell you that many will come from east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.  12 But the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”  13 Then Jesus told the centurion, “Go. As you have believed, let it be done for you.” And his servant was cured that very moment.

1.        What was it that amazed Jesus? (See v. 9.)

2.        What is unique about the word amazed that Matthew used in verse 10 to describe Jesus’ reaction to the centurion’s faith?

3.        According to verse 10, why did the centurion’s statement amaze Jesus?

4.        Is the centurion’s statement amazing to you?  If so, why?

5.        What statements from Jesus would have been shocking to the Jews who heard Him, and why?

6.        Who are the many . . . from the east and west who will sit with the patriarchs in the kingdom of heaven (v. 11)?

7.        Who are the sons of the kingdom (v. 12)?

8.        Why would they be thrown into the outer darkness (v. 12)?

9.        How did Jesus describe the place of outer darkness (v. 12b)?

10.     What picture does Jesus’ description of the outer darkness paint for you (v. 12b)?

11.     What did Jesus tell the centurion (v. 13)?

12.     Why do you think Jesus told the centurion to “go”?

13.     What is the relationship to living in hope and having faith?

14.     In your daily life, what is the evidence that you have hope in Christ?

 

Lasting Lessons in Matt. 8:10-13:

1.  God is pleased when we believe and trust in His power and promises.

2.  Those who trust in religion and good works will not be saved.

3.  Faith in Jesus Christ alone brings salvation.

4.  Those who hope in Christ will never be disappointed.

 

CONCLUSION:

  Can you ever truly find hope?  Yes!  Not only can you find it but you can experience it every day in your relationship with Christ.  Call off the search party, you’ve found your true hope.  True hope is only found when you have a trusting relationship with Jesus Christ through faith, and faith alone.  All you have to do is accept Jesus Christ as your personal Savior—a free gift of grace from God, the Father. 

Just knowing this information alone doesn’t save you. You have to accept it into your life with all your heart.   Accept Christ as your Savior today, and the hope He offers is yours.  Will you trust Him as your personal Savior?

What are the implications of these truths for your life?  THE CHOICE IS YOURS, ISN’T IT!

REMEMBER, the safest place for a believer is in the center of God’s will.

 

Lesson Outline, Introduction, Discussion Questions, and Conclusion adapted from the following sources:

SOURCE: Life Ventures-Bible Studies for Life; Leader Guide; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN.

SOURCE: The Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study; by Robert J. Dean; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; 1 LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.

SOURCE: Advanced Bible Study; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; One LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.

 

COMMENTARY:

Hope Found — Lesson Outline & Commentary

Focal Passage from three different translations of God’s Word: Matt. 8:1-13

King James Version:

1 When he was come down from the mountain, great multitudes followed him. 2 And, behold, there came a leper and worshipped him, saying, Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean. 3 And Jesus put forth his hand, and touched him, saying, I will; be thou clean. And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. 4 And Jesus saith unto him, See thou tell no man; but go thy way, shew thyself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a testimony unto them. 5 And when Jesus was entered into Capernaum, there came unto him a centurion, beseeching him, 6 And saying, Lord, my servant lieth at home sick of the palsy, grievously tormented. 7 And Jesus saith unto him, I will come and heal him. 8 The centurion answered and said, Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof: but speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed. 9 For I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me: and I say to this man, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it. 10 When Jesus heard it, he marvelled, and said to them that followed, Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel. 11 And I say unto you, That many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven. 12 But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 13 And Jesus said unto the centurion, Go thy way; and as thou hast believed, so be it done unto thee. And his servant was healed in the selfsame hour. (KJV.)

New International Version:

1 When he came down from the mountainside, large crowds followed him. 2 A man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said, "Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean." 3 Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. "I am willing," he said. "Be clean!" Immediately he was cured of his leprosy. 4 Then Jesus said to him, "See that you don't tell anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift Moses commanded, as a testimony to them." 5 When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help. 6 "Lord," he said, "my servant lies at home paralyzed and in terrible suffering." 7 Jesus said to him, "I will go and heal him." 8 The centurion replied, "Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. 9 For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, 'Go,' and he goes; and that one, 'Come,' and he comes. I say to my servant, 'Do this,' and he does it." 10 When Jesus heard this, he was astonished and said to those following him, "I tell you the truth, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. 11 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. 12 But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth." 13 Then Jesus said to the centurion, "Go! It will be done just as you believed it would." And his servant was healed at that very hour.   (NIV.)

New Living Translation:

1 Large crowds followed Jesus as he came down the mountainside. 2 Suddenly, a man with leprosy approached him and knelt before him. “Lord,” the man said, “if you are willing, you can heal me and make me clean.” 3 Jesus reached out and touched him. “I am willing,” he said. “Be healed!” And instantly the leprosy disappeared. 4 Then Jesus said to him, “Don’t tell anyone about this. Instead, go to the priest and let him examine you. Take along the offering required in the law of Moses for those who have been healed of leprosy. This will be a public testimony that you have been cleansed.” 5 When Jesus returned to Capernaum, a Roman officer came and pleaded with him, 6 “Lord, my young servant lies in bed, paralyzed and in terrible pain.” 7 Jesus said, “I will come and heal him.” 8 But the officer said, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come into my home. Just say the word from where you are, and my servant will be healed. 9 I know this because I am under the authority of my superior officers, and I have authority over my soldiers. I only need to say, ‘Go,’ and they go, or ‘Come,’ and they come. And if I say to my slaves, ‘Do this,’ they do it.” 10 When Jesus heard this, he was amazed. Turning to those who were following him, he said, “I tell you the truth, I haven’t seen faith like this in all Israel! 11 And I tell you this, that many Gentiles will come from all over the world—from east and west—and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob at the feast in the Kingdom of Heaven. 12 But many Israelites—those for whom the Kingdom was prepared—will be thrown into outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” 13 Then Jesus said to the Roman officer, “Go back home. Because you believed, it has happened.” And the young servant was healed that same hour.   (NLT.)

I.

II.

III.

Jesus Is Willing (Matt. 8:1-4)

Jesus Is Able (Matt. 8:5-9)

Hope is Activated By Faith (Matt. 8:10-13)

(NOTE: Commentary for the focal passage comes from three sources: IVP New Testament Commentary,Believer’s Bible Commentary,” andThe Complete Biblical Library Commentary,” and is provided for your study.)

IVP New Testament Commentary:

Jesus' Authority over Sickness (Matthew 8:1-22)

Even the best of ancient historians were interested in the meaning of history, its moral, as well as its information; most biographers especially explored their characters as positive or negative examples. (Many ancient writers, unlike many modern ones, had a sense of responsibility to their society!) The Gospel writers are interested in more than listing all Jesus' deeds (as if that were possible anyway—see Jn 21:25); they select examples from their materials to emphasize relevant points for their own readers (compare Jn 20:30-31). In narrating events like Jesus' healings, Matthew encourages his audience that the Lord to whom they pray for their needs in the present demonstrated his ability to meet those needs during his earthly ministry. While Matthew addresses particularly the need to trust Jesus to heal, the principles can apply to other desperate needs in our lives.

Jesus' Willingness to Heal (Matthew 8:1-4)

One could draw a number of lessons from this narrative. Because this is Matthew's first extended healing miracle, I will treat some elements in greater detail here than in some subsequent narratives.

The Leper Does Not Beseech Cavalierly (Matthew 8:1-2)

This leper was in a desperate and apparently lifelong situation. Biblical leprosy (distinct from modern Hansen's disease) was an assortment of serious skin problems that isolated the leper from the rest of society (Trapnell 1982:459). Sometimes we pray passively, almost unconcerned as to whether God hears a particular prayer or not; the leper did not have this luxury. For another expression of desperate faith, see comment on Matthew 9:20-21.

The Leper Approaches Jesus with Humility (Matthew 8:2)

Bowing down before another person was a great act of respect for the other's dignity, especially for a Jewish person. The leper not only shows physical signs of respect toward Jesus; he acknowledges that Jesus has the right to decide whether to grant the request. To acknowledge that God has the right to grant or refuse a request is not lack of faith (Matthew 8:2; compare, for example, Gen 18:27, 30-32; 2 Sam 10:12; Dan 3:18); it is the ultimate act of dependence on God's compassion and takes great trust and commitment for a desperate person.

The Leper Has Perfect Trust in Jesus' Power (Matthew 8:2)

He knows Jesus is able to make him clean if he wants to; he is not using if you are willing as a religious way of saying, "I doubt that you can, but I would be happy if you might do something for me anyway." Yet the text demonstrates, as has been already noted, that his trust in Jesus' power is not presumption either.

Jesus Not Only Heals but Touches the Untouchable (Matthew 8:3)

Jewish law forbade touching lepers (Lev 5:3) and quarantined lepers from regular society (Lev 13:45-46); people avoided most contact with them (2 Kings 7:3; Jos. Ant. 9.74). Some ruled that the defilement of leprosy was one of the greatest defilements, for a leper could communicate it even by entering a house. It is thus no small matter for Jesus to compassionately touch the man. Yet by touching Jesus does not actually undermine the law of Moses, but fulfills its purpose by providing cleansing (Mt 5:17-48; compare Lev 13:3, 8, 10, 13, 17).

Some Christians today would fear to touch a Christian brother or sister who, through blood transfusion, past lifestyle or a spouse's infidelity, was HIV-positive, even though HIV is less contagious than many people thought leprosy was. As often happens today, some people in antiquity constructed theological rationalizations for others' misfortune perhaps to escape from the fear that they too were vulnerable; hence some later teachers decided that leprosy was divine punishment (m. Seqalim 5:3; Lev. Rab. 17:3).

Jesus Wants to Make the Man Whole (Matthew 8:3)

Verse Matthew 8:3 implies what is elsewhere explicit: Matthew views compassion as a primary motivation in Jesus' acts of healing (Matthew 9:36). Even if in some cases God has some higher purpose in mind than an immediate answer to our request (as in Matthew 26:39, Matthew 26:42), he is never sadistic. Jesus demonstrated his feeling toward our infirmities by bearing them with us and for us (Matthew 8:17) and by healing all who sought his help (Matthew 8:16). Matthew hardly expects us to suppose that Jesus has lost any of his power (Matthew 28:18) or compassion since the resurrection. Unfortunately, many of us Western Christians today feel more at home with the Enlightenment rationalism in which we were trained than we do with the desperate faith of Christians who dare to believe God for miracles. Those in desperate need cannot afford to rationalize away God's power and compassion.

Jesus Does Not Seek Human Honor for Himself (Matthew 8:4)

This healing would be viewed as no small miracle; later Jewish teachers regarded leprosy as akin to death (compare Num 12:12; 2 Kings 5:7) and cleansing a leper as akin to raising the dead (b. Sanhedrin 47a). Yet not only does Jesus refuse to take advantage of the opportunity for publicity, he attempts to suppress it. Some other prominent biblical prophets at times worked clandestinely, endeavoring to accomplish their mission without seeking their own honor (for example, 1 Kings 11:29; 13:8-9; 21:18; 2 Kings 9:1-10), partly because they were investing their time especially in a small circle of disciples (1 Sam 19:20; 2 Kings 4:38; 6:1-3). There are also other important reasons for the messianic secret, but whatever the other reasons, Jesus is not interested in getting credit from others for everything he does (compare Mt 6:1-18).

Jesus Honors the Requirements of the Law of Moses (Matthew 8:4)

Jesus upholds the law (Mt 5:17-20): the law commanded lepers who thought they were cleansed to submit to priestly inspection and offer sacrifice (Lev 14:1-9; CD 13.6-7). Jesus may not seek credit for the miracle, but his faithfulness to the law takes precedence over his personal prohibition against announcing the work.

A Roman Exception (Matthew 8:5-13)

The Gentile mission was at most peripheral to Jesus' earthly ministry: he did not actively seek out Gentiles for ministry (Mt 10:5), and both occasions on which he heals Gentiles he does so from a distance (Matthew 8:13; Matthew 15:28). The Gentile mission became central to the early church, however, and early Christians naturally looked to accounts of Jesus' life for examples of ministry to the Gentiles (compare Matthew 1:3, Matthew 1:5-6; Matthew 2:1-2, Matthew 2:11; Matthew 3:9; Matthew 4:15). Matthew here draws from Q material to emphasize his theme favoring the Gentile mission.

The significance of the passage is clarified by some basic information about Roman centurions and what they represented to Jewish people in the first century. In this period soldiers in the Roman legions served twenty years. Unlike aristocrats, who could become tribunes or higher officials immediately, most centurions rose to their position from within the ranks and became members of the equestrian (knight) class when they retired. Roman soldiers participated in pagan religious oaths to the divine emperor.

Matthew here demonstrates that a call to missions work demands that disciples first abandon ethnic and cultural prejudice. His Jewish readers would be tempted to hate Romans, especially Roman soldiers, and perhaps their officers even more; this would be especially true after A.D. 70. Jesus' teaching about accommodating a Roman soldier's unjust request (Matthew 5:41), paying taxes to a pagan state that used the funds in part for armies (Matthew 22:21) or paying a temple tax that the Romans later confiscated for pagan worship (Matthew 17:24-27) would seem intolerable to anyone whose allegiance to Christ was not greater than his or her allegiance to family and community. But Jesus is not satisfied by our treating an enemy respectfully; he demands that we actually love that enemy (Matthew 5:44). No one challenges our prejudices—and sometimes provokes our antagonism—more than a "good" member of a group that has unjustly treated people we love. This narrative challenges prejudice in a number of ways.

The Centurion Humbles Himself on Behalf of a Servant (Matthew 8:5-6)

This Roman soldier was one that Jewish people would have to count as an exception (compare explicitly in Lk 7:4-5). The slave was probably the centurion's entire "family" (Roman soldiers were not permitted to have legal families during their two decades of military service; A. Jones 1970:155-56). (Matthew's audience may even think of Jewish relatives enslaved by the Romans after Jerusalem's fall in A.D. 70.)

The Centurion Acknowledges His Inferior Status as a Gentile (Matthew 8:7-8)

Matthew reports such self-humbling on the part of both Gentiles who entreat Jesus for help (here and Matthew 15:27). The centurion's initial announcement of the need (Matthew 8:6) is an oblique form of request; one rarely simply presumed on others' favor (compare Lk 24:28-29; Jn 1:38-39), and one of higher social status rarely would utter a direct request unless desperate (compare Jn 2:3). But Jesus forces the centurion to admit his status as a suppliant.

The emphatic Greek I in Matthew 8:7 suggests that Jesus' words there are probably better translated as a question: "Shall I come and heal him?" Most Palestinian Jews, after all, considered entering Gentile homes questionable (compare Acts 10:28). Here Jesus erects a barrier the Gentile must surmount, as in Matthew 15:24, Matthew 15:26: an outsider who would entreat his favor must first acknowledge the privilege of Israel, whom other peoples had oppressed or disregarded (compare Jn 4:22). Such initial rejection was a not uncommon ploy for demanding greater commitment. Rather than protesting, the centurion acknowledges his questionable merit before Jesus (compare Lk 7:4, 6), adopting the appropriate role of a suppliant totally dependent on a patron's benefaction—a role centurions themselves often filled for local populations.

The Centurion Recognizes Jesus' Unlimited Authority to Heal (Matthew 8:8-9)

The man shows faith not only by acknowledging his own unworthiness but also by recognizing that Jesus' power is so great that this request is small to him. Most of the centurion's contemporaries would have balked at such faith; even Jewish people considered long-distance miracles especially difficult and rare, the domain of only the most powerful holy men like Hanina ben Dosa. The centurion reasons, however, from what he knows: he himself can issue commands and receive obedience because he is under authority, that is, backed by the full authority of the Roman Empire, which he represents to his troops. In the same way, the authority of Israel's God backs Jesus, and a mere command from his lips banishes powers in subjection under him, such as sickness.

Do we have such faith to recognize the greatness of God's power? Those who are submitted to Jesus' will may act on it today, recognizing that the authority he provides to carry out his work is his and not our own (Matthew 10:8, Matthew 10:40).

Jesus Accepts This Attitude as Faith (Matthew 8:10)

Jesus accepts the centurion's recognition of Jesus' great authority as faith and heals the servant (Matthew 8:13). But the text also offers a second lesson, a lesson about our prejudices. Jesus "marvels" (NIV was astonished) only twice in the Gospel traditions, here at a Gentile's faith (v. Matthew 8:10) and in Mark 6:6 at his hometown's unbelief (France 1977:259). It is often those closest to the truth who most take it for granted and those who have had the least exposure to it who most recognize its power when it confronts them (Mt 2:1-12).

Many church workers focus on getting people saved in churches where new people rarely visit; we may need to focus more on sharing the faith by word and deed in our communities outside church walls, and across cultural barriers as well. As one missionary statesman put it, "I do not see why anyone should hear the gospel twice when so many people have never heard it once." Or as R. T. France muses:

The centurion's story has thus highlighted faith as the "one thing needful." It is a practical faith which expects and receives results. Such faith renders tradition and heredity meaningless, and "of such is the kingdom of God." Schweizer draws an appropriately uncomfortable moral: "The warning in this story may be especially urgent in an age when Africans and Asians in the community of Jesus may well be called on to show 'Christian' Europe what Christian life really is."

The Centurion Is a Promise of More Gentiles to Come (Matthew 8:11-12)

View note on 8:12

Evidence supports this as an authentic saying of Jesus. Matthew may draw Jesus' words here from another context (Lk 13:28-29) to reinforce the point that this story prefigures the Gentile mission, which Jesus endorsed in advance.

Subjects of the kingdom (literally "sons of the kingdom"; compare Mt 13:38; 23:15) refers to Jewish people—those who expected salvation based on their descent from Abraham (Matthew 3:9). The damnation of those who thought themselves destined for the kingdom sounded a sober warning to nationalist Jews of Matthew's day; it sounds a similar warning to complacent Christians today (compare Matthew 13:38).

Rome was the great power that lay to the west, and Matthew had earlier illustrated the coming of pagans from the east (Matthew 2:1). Pagans thus would recline at table (the standard posture for feasts and banquets) in the kingdom with the patriarchs—the messianic banquet Israel expected for itself (Matthew 5:6; Matthew 22:2; Lk 16:23; 4 Macc 13:17; 1 Enoch 70:4).

"Exceptions" can make a difference. When one white minister living in the U.S. South was experiencing the deepest trauma of his life, some African-American Christians took him under their wing and nursed him back to spiritual and emotional health. The white minister began to experience the spiritual resources and strength that the black American church had developed through slavery, segregation and contemporary urban crises and was eventually ordained in a black Baptist church. Subsequently he discovered slave narratives and other accounts that brought him face to face with what people who looked like him had done to the near ancestors of his closest friends. He became so ashamed of the color of his skin that he wanted to rip it off. But the love of his African-American friends and the good news of Christ's love restored him, and soon he began to feel part of the community that had embraced him.

He often joined his friends in lamenting the agony of racism and its effects. But one day after a Sunday-school lesson, a minister friend said something about white people in general that he suddenly took personally. "I didn't mean you," the black minister explained quickly. "You're like a brother to me." The black minister made an exception because he knew the white Christian, but the white Christian wondered about all the people who didn't know him. He had experienced a taste of what most of his black friends regularly encountered in predominantly white circles.

The next week the ministers were studying together the story of the centurion's servant in Luke, and they noted that the centurion's Jewish contemporaries viewed him as an exception to the rule that Gentiles were oppressors. They also noted that the Gospels tell this story because that exception in Jesus' ministry points to a huge number of Gentile converts pouring in at the time when the Gospels were being written.

If even a few people become exceptions and really care enough about their brothers and sisters of other races to listen, these exceptions can show us that the racial and cultural barriers that exist in our societies do not need to continue. If we are willing to pay the price—which will sometimes include hints of rejection from people we have come to love—we can begin to bring down those barriers.

SOURCE: IVP New Testament Commentary: Matthew; By Craig S. Keener; Parsons Technology, Inc., Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

   

Believer's Bible Commentary

The Messiah's Miracles of Power and Grace, and Varying Reactions to Them (8:1-9:34)

In chapters 8-12  the Lord Jesus presents conclusive evidence to the nation of Israel that He was indeed the Messiah of whom the prophets had written. Isaiah, for example, had foretold that Messiah would open the eyes of the blind, unstop the ears of the deaf, heal the lame, and make the mute sing (35:5, 6). Jesus, by fulfilling all these prophecies, proved that He was Messiah. Israel, by referring to her Scriptures, should have had no difficulty in identifying Him as the Christ. But none are so blind as those who will not see.

The events recorded in these chapters are presented according to a thematic scheme, rather than in strict chronological order. This is not a complete account of the Lord's ministry, but a presentation of events selected by the Holy Spirit to portray certain motifs in the Savior's life. Included in this presentation are the following:

1. Christ's absolute authority over disease, demons, death, and the elements of nature.

2. His claim to absolute lordship in the lives of those who would follow Him.

3. The mounting rejection of Jesus by the nation of Israel, particularly by the religious leaders.

4. The ready reception of the Savior by individual Gentiles.

A. Power Over Leprosy (8:1-4)

8:1.  Though the teaching of Jesus was radical and extreme, it had a drawing power—so much so that great multitudes followed Him. Truth is self-verifying and, though people may not like it, they can never forget it.

8:2.  A leper knelt before Jesus with a desperate appeal for healing. This leper had faith that the Lord could cure him, and true faith is never disappointed. Leprosy is an appropriate picture of sin because it is loathsome, destructive, infectious, and, in some forms, humanly incurable.

8:3. Lepers were untouchables. Physical contact with them might expose a person to infection. In the case of the Jews, this contact made the person ceremonially unclean, that is, unfit to worship with the congregation of Israel. But when Jesus touched the leper and spoke the healing words, the leprosy vanished immediately. Our Savior has power to cleanse from sin and to qualify the cleansed person to be a worshiper.

8:4.  This is the first instance in Matthew's Gospel where it is recorded that Jesus commanded someone to tell no one of the miracle done for them or of what they had seen (see also 9:30; 12:16; 17:9; Mark 5:43; 7:36; 8:26). This was probably because He was aware that many people, interested only in deliverance from the Roman yoke, wanted to make Him King. But He knew that Israel was still unrepentant, that the nation would reject His spiritual leadership, and that He must first go to the cross.

Under the Law of Moses, the priest also served as physician. When a leper was cleansed, he was obligated to bring an offering and to appear before the priest in order to be pronounced clean (Lev. 14:4-6). It was no doubt a rare event for a leper to be healed, so extraordinary, in fact, that it should have alerted this priest to investigate whether the Messiah had appeared at last. But we read of no such reaction. Jesus told the leper to obey the law in this matter.

The spiritual implications of the miracle are clear: The Messiah had come to Israel with power to heal the nation of its illness. He presented this miracle as one of His credentials. But the nation was not yet ready for her Deliverer.

B. Power Over Paralysis (8:5-13)

8:5,6. The faith of a Gentile centurion is introduced in striking contrast to the unreceptiveness of the Jews. If Israel will not acknowledge her King, the despised pagans will. The centurion was a Roman military officer in charge of about one hundred men, and was stationed in or near Capernaum. He came to Jesus to seek healing for his servant who had suffered a violent and painful paralysis. This was an unusual display of com passion—most officials would not have shown such concern for a servant.

8:7-9.  When the Lord Jesus offered to visit the sick servant, the centurion showed the reality and depth of his faith. He said, in effect, "I am not worthy that You should enter my house. Anyway, it isn't necessary, because You could easily heal him by saying the word. I know about authority. I take orders from my superiors, and give order to those under me. My commands are obeyed implicitly. How much more would Your words have power over my servant's illness!"

8:10-12.  Jesus marveled at the faith of this Gentile. This is one of two times when Jesus is said to have marveled; the other time was at the unbelief of the Jews (Mark 6:6). He had not found such great faith among God's chosen people, Israel. This led Him to point out that in His coming kingdom, Gentiles would flock from all over the world to enjoy fellowship with the Jewish patriarchs while the sons of the kingdom would be thrown into outer darkness where they would weep and gnash their teeth. Sons of the kingdom are those who were Jews by birth, who professed to acknowledge God as King, but who were never truly converted. But the principle applies today. Many children privileged to be born and raised in Christian families will perish in hell because they reject Christ, while jungle savages will enjoy the eternal glories of heaven because they believed the gospel message.

8:13  Jesus said to the centurion, "Go your way; and as you have believed, so let it be done for you." Faith is rewarded in proportion to its confidence in the character of God. The servant was healed instantly, even though Jesus was some distance away. We may see in this a picture of Christ's present ministry; healing the non-privileged Gentiles from the paralysis of sin, though He Himself is not bodily present.

SOURCE: Believer's Bible Commentary; by William MacDonald; Copyright © 1995, 1992, 1990, 1989 by William McDonald. Database © 2014 WORDsearch.

   

The Complete Biblical Library Commentary:

8:1. Matthew describes 10 miracles in chapters 8 and 9. Chapters 5-7 give teaching on the kingdom of God, whereas 8 and 9 reveal how the power of the Kingdom was revealed (cf. 4:23-25). Many people marveled at Jesus' teaching (7:28, 29); now they followed Him. They would have even more cause to marvel later (8:27; 9:33).

8:2. A leper came, worshiping Jesus and requesting healing. There is a contrast between verses 1 and 2—between the large crowds that followed Him on the one hand and the lone prostrate leper on the other. The word proskuneō means "to (fall down and) worship" (e.g., Luke 8:41; 17:16; Acts 5:10; 10:25). The term always used of healing leprosy is katharizō, "to make clean." This was especially appropriate because it signified being made "ritually" clean. The leper had no doubt that Jesus could heal; he wanted to know if He would ("if thou wilt"; cf. John 5:21; 17:24). Having the ability is one thing; doing it is another.

8:3. Just as God extended His hand to perform mighty deeds (e.g., Exodus 6:6; 14:16; 15:12; Acts 4:30), so too Jesus extended His hand to the leper. Unlike others who went out of their way to avoid touching the unclean leper, Jesus reached out and touched him. The normal ritual pattern was reversed; no longer would the clean become unclean by touching the ritually impure (as was commonly understood in Judaism on the basis of Leviticus 13:46; Numbers 5:2. Now the Messiah's words and deeds cleansed what was unclean. The healing power of Jesus' touch that changed this man appears throughout this Gospel (8:15; 9:18; 17:7; 20:34). The words "I will" are filled with grace, but "be thou clean" are words of creative authority. It was illegal to touch a leper, but as soon as Jesus touched him, the leper was clean.

8:4. Apparently Jesus instructed the man not to tell about the miracle because He did not want to attract attention. He repeatedly forbade the disclosure of His actions (Matthew 9:30; 12:16; 17:9; Mark 5:43; 7:36; 8:26). It is clear He wanted to discourage those who viewed His ministry as an attempt on His part to reign as king (John 6:15, 26; also see commentary on Matthew 9:30; 12:16; 17:9). Jesus knew also that the leaders were already plotting to kill Him, and it was not God's time for Him to die, nor was He to die away from Jerusalem (Luke 13:33).

Jesus instructed the man to go to the priest who could verify his healing and to offer a sacrifice as prescribed by the Law (Leviticus 14:1-32). He was not to tell others of his healing, as he wanted to, but was to do first what Jesus commanded (cf. Leviticus 14:4, 10, 21). The priest's examination of the healing would be a witness not only to the priest but to the people ("them") that the One who cleanses lepers, the Messiah, had indeed come. That lepers would be cleansed when Messiah came was an acknowledged understanding (cf. 11:5).

8:5. The centurion in Capernaum was in charge of 100 men. He probably belonged to the army of Herod Antipas, for there is no record of Roman armies being present in Galilee before A.D. 44. Although he was a Gentile (verse 10), he loved the Jewish people and had himself paid for the building of a synagogue in Capernaum (Luke 7:5). He sent several elders of the Jewish people to Jesus with a request (Luke 7:3). (Matthew's Gospel says the centurion himself went to Jesus.) A shift from acting through intermediaries to acting on behalf of one's self is found in many oral and written traditions (see Alford, The Greek Testament, 1:79). A Jewish proverb says, "A man's messenger is the man himself." Parakaleō primarily means "to call for help," but it can also mean "to entreat, urgently request" (BAGD).

8:6. The centurion addressed Jesus in a very humble manner. The words themselves are not a prayer, but there is little doubt that he was making a petition.

The term pais can mean both "child" and "servant." Luke indicates that "servant" is meant (doulos; Luke 7:2). The servant was paralyzed and in great pain. Luke relates that he was on the verge of dying (ibid.).

8:7. The Greek text can be taken one of two ways, as is reflected by the differences in translations. Some have translated it as a question, "Shall I come and heal him?" The force of that construction would fall on the "I": "So, do I have to come into an impure Gentile house and heal him?" (cf. 15:21-28). Others see the verse as a declaration: "I will come and heal him." Considering the centurion's reaction in verse 8 and the parallel text in Luke 7:6, the latter seems the best understanding. Whichever is the case, Jesus did heal the centurion's servant. That He did not go to the house was seemingly due to the centurion's tremendous faith (cf. 15:26-37).

8:8. According to rabbinic teaching, had Jesus entered the Gentile centurion's home He would have become ceremonially unclean (cf. John 18:28; Acts 10:28; 11:3; Galatians 2:12). The centurion did not want this to happen. His humility, however, was not simply because he was a Gentile and Jesus a Jew. Undoubtedly he felt personally unworthy to have Jesus enter his home. This did not mean he was a gross sinner. The Jewish elders spoke of his unselfishness, love, and generosity (Luke 7:5). In fact, they spoke to Jesus on his behalf and said this man was indeed worthy and deserved to have Jesus heal his servant. But neither was he an ordinary Roman. Usually the Romans considered themselves the superior, conquering race, but this centurion was not haughty. He showed a friendly spirit toward the Jews. Though he was an officer over 100 men, he was not filled with a sense of his own importance but was sobered by his responsibilities. But all this does not explain his feeling of unworthiness. It must have come from a recognition of the power and holiness of Jesus. Because of what he knew about Jesus he did not feel fit or qualified to be in His presence, and he did not feel it would be appropriate for Jesus to come. He had an instinctive sense of Jesus' person and supreme authority.

8:9. The centurion's humility did not hinder his faith. True humility never does. Yet his faith was not a blind, unintelligent thing. He had a reason for it. He knew the word of the Roman emperor was supreme over the Roman army, and his authority was felt throughout the organization of the empire under him. That is, on the emperor's authority, each member of the organization gave his commands, and those under him had to obey them. Even a subordinate officer like the centurion had but to give a command and it would be done. The centurion realized that Jesus was no subordinate officer. He was the Messiah, the Son of God, the Ruler of an invisible empire. If the emperor of Rome gave a command it would be obeyed in the farthest reaches of the empire. If the Ruler of heaven issued the command "Be healed!" all the devils of hell could not keep the servant under the power of sickness, no matter how far the distance was between Jesus and the servant who was suffering. All it would take would be a word from Him and the sickness would have to go.

8:10. When the centurion by his faith bore witness to the power of the Lord, the Lord bore witness to his faith and called it great faith, greater than any He had seen in Israel. Jesus marveled in a way that showed admiration. This centurion was amazing, in contrast to the Jews, for they had the covenants and the promises. They were the custodians of the Scriptures and had studied them from childhood. Yet the faith of this Roman, this Gentile, this man without the kind of heritage the Jews had, went beyond their faith. Finding this faith was like finding an unexpected treasure. It thrilled Jesus. Only twice in the New Testament does it say that Jesus "marveled" or "wondered." Here He was astonished at the great faith of the centurion (cf. Luke 7:9). The other occasion concerns the unbelief of the Jews in His hometown (Mark 6:6). Jesus was not amazed at the healing; He had done such miracles before. What was unusual was that someone should have such great faith in Him. The centurion trusted Jesus' power and authority to such an extent that he trusted Jesus to heal his servant, even though He was not physically present. He believed it would happen when Jesus simply spoke the word.

8:11. Jesus saw the centurion as the firstfruits of the future great harvest among the Gentiles. Jesus cited Old Testament prophecies when He spoke of Gentiles streaming into the kingdom of heaven from throughout the world (east and west; cf. Isaiah 2:2ff.; 25:6-9; Micah 4:1ff.; and elsewhere). The Old Testament call was, "Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else" (Isaiah 45:22). The Jews, however, usually looked on Gentile converts as inferior in the kingdom of heaven to those descended from Abraham. The 10th chapter of Acts relates how God had to deal with Peter in order for him to be willing to bring the message of the gospel to Cornelius and his household. Yet Jesus put these Gentiles with Abraham in a place of honor at the millennial banquet table.

The "kingdom of heaven" refers to the age to come in which the resurrected righteous of Old Testament times will celebrate the heavenly feast with Gentile believers (Mark 14:25; Revelation 19:9). Gentile believers are fellow citizens with the saints and heirs of the faith of Abraham (Ephesians 2:12, 13, 19; Romans 10:12; Galatians 3:28, 29).

8:12.  Verse 12 gives the dark side of the glorious picture painted in verse 11. Though the Old Testament faithful will enjoy the kingdom of heaven, those of Jesus' contemporaries who have rejected Him ("children of the kingdom") will be cast out (cf. John 1:11) at the resurrection and final judgment.

"Outer darkness," Gehenna, is the specific site of condemnation. Everything outside of the kingdom of God is darkness, for God is light (1 John 1:5). As a symbol of judgment, darkness has a literal aspect (cf. Jude 13; 2 Peter 2:17). "Weeping and gnashing of teeth" symbolize extreme suffering. The term klauthmos especially signifies the kind of sadness one experiences during times of tragic loss (Matthew 2:18; Acts 20:37). Gnashing of teeth suggests powerlessness and despair; at the same time it also implies that anger and wrath are its cause. This suffering will have no end (Daniel 12:2; Matthew 3:12; 18:8; 25:46; et al.).

8:13. Jesus did not go to the centurion's house, because it was unnecessary. He spoke the authoritative word asked by the centurion, and immediately the servant was healed. Jesus' words have power; He speaks and it happens.

Hōs ("just as") here does not mean "according to measure" but "according to substance" (see verses 8, 9). It can also connote cause: "on account of, because" (BAGD, "hōs"). Jesus' word, in response to the centurion's faith, resulted in the servant's healing.

SOURCE: The Complete Biblical Library Commentary - Matthew.  Copyright © 2009 WORDsearch Corp.; World Library Press, Inc.

 

DIGGING DEEPER:

Serious skin disease—The Greek noun lipros in Matthew 8:2 is the root of our word leprosy.  Hansen’s disease is the medical name for leprosy today, but the biblical word can refer to other skin diseases that rendered the sufferer unclean according to Mosaic law.  Individuals diagnosed by the priests with these skin diseases were not allowed to socialize with anyone, unless perhaps with others who shared a similar condition (Lev. 13:46).  These individuals lived lonely lives separated from normal human contact.

SOURCE: Advanced Bible Study; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; One LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.

Leper: In the Bible the word rendered leprosy (v. 3) was a broad term for a wide range of skin afflictions, especially those marked by oozing fluid.  Thus, a leper (v. 2) was considered ritually unclean.  Leviticus 13—14 presented details for diagnosing, managing, and being declared clean.  Next to touching the dead, nothing would be worse than touching a leper, both of which were forbidden by law.  Leprosy often was considered to be a divine judgment on spiritual corruption.

SOURCE: The Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study; by Robert J. Dean; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; 1 LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.

Centurion—The Greek word in Matthew 8:5 refers to a rank in the Roman army, usually signifying a commander of 100 soldiers.  Centurions were Roman officers who had full authority over those under their command.

SOURCE: Advanced Bible Study; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; One LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.

Centurion: A centurion (v. 5) was an officer in the Roman army.  His title was derived from his having charge over a force of 100 men, though it was not uncommon for the force to be somewhat smaller.  Generally, centurions are spoken of positively in the New Testament.  They were not only men of strength but, considering Luke’s description of the centurion in his parallel account (Luke 7:1-10), as the primary Roman officer in a town, the centurion knew how to work with people to win their favor.  Even so, he still was a foreigner and suspect.

SOURCE: The Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study; by Robert J. Dean; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; 1 LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.

Other darkness—The Greek phrase occurs three times in Matthew (8:12; 22:13; 25:30).  The phrase describes the place of judgment and suffering in eternity and is a designation for hell.

SOURCE: Advanced Bible Study; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; One LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.

Outer darkness: Throughout the New Testament light is associated with God in Christ.  Therefore, darkness would be the opposite; a denial of the things of God, a rejection of Christ.  Outer darkness (v. 12) usually represented the damnation of separation or of having been cast out from God’s presence.  The place of outer darkness is also a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth, a figure of mournfulness and anguish.

SOURCE: The Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study; by Robert J. Dean; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; 1 LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.

LEPROSY:  A generic term applied to a variety of skin disorders from psoriasis to true leprosy. Its symptoms ranged from white patches on the skin to running sores to the loss of digits on the fingers and toes.

For the Hebrews it was a dreaded malady which rendered its victims ceremonially unclean—that is, unfit to worship God (Lev. 13:3). Anyone who came in contact with a leper was also considered unclean. Therefore, lepers were isolated from the rest of the community so that the members of the community could maintain their status as worshipers. Other physical disorders or the flow of certain bodily fluids also rendered one unclean (see Lev. 12:1-14:32; 15:1-33). Even houses and garments could have “leprosy” and, thus, be unclean (Lev. 14:33-57).

Jesus did not consider this distinction between clean and unclean valid. A person’s outward condition did not make one unclean; rather that which proceeds from the heart determines one’s standing before God (Mark 7:1-23; compare Acts 10:9-16). Therefore, Jesus did not hesitate about touching lepers (Mark 1:40-45) and even commanded His disciples to cleanse lepers (Matt. 10:8). Jesus even made a leper the hero of one of His parables (Luke 16:19-31).

SOURCE: Holman Bible Dictionary; General Editor, David S. Dockery; Holman Bible Publishers; Nashville, Tennessee.

DARKNESS:  The absence of light is used in both physical and figurative senses in both the Old and New Testaments. The darkness which covered the deep before God’s creation of light symbolizes chaos in opposition to God’s orderly creation (Gen. 1:2, 3). Elsewhere darkness, as well as light, is recognized as the creation of God (Isa. 45:7). Darkness is a place for evil doers to hide (Job 34:22); however, darkness does not hide one from God (Ps. 139:11-12; Dan. 2:22).

Darkness was thought of as a curse. Thus the Old Testament speaks of death as a land of darkness (Job 10:21-22; 17:13; Ps. 88:6). Darkness is frequently associated with supernatural events involving the judgment of God, such as the plagues of Egypt (Ex. 10:21), the coming of the Lord (Isa. 13:9-10; Joel 2:31; Matt. 24:29), and Christ’s crucifixion (Matt. 27:45). The day of God’s judgment is often described as a day of darkness (Joel 2:2; Amos 5:18-20). Elsewhere darkness forms part of God’s punishment on the disobedient (Deut. 28:29; 1 Sam. 2:9; Job 5:14; 15:30; 20:26; Ps. 107:10; Isa. 47:5; Jer. 13:16; Ezek. 32:8).

In the New Testament, the place of punishment for humans and sinful angels is designated “the outer darkness” (Matt. 8:12; 22:13; 25:30; compare 2 Pet. 2:4; Jude 6, 13). Darkness often has an ethical sense. Scripture speaks of ways of darkness (Prov. 2:13; 4:19), walking in darkness (John 8:12; 1 John 1:6; compare 2 Cor. 6:14; Eph. 5:8), and works of darkness (Rom. 13:12; Eph. 5:11). In this ethical sense God has no darkness in Himself (1 John 1:5). Powers hostile to God can be termed darkness. People thus face a choice of whether to yield allegiance to God or to darkness (Luke 22:53; John 1:5; 3:19; Col. 1:13; 1 Thess. 5:5). Darkness also symbolizes ignorance, especially of God and of God’s ways (Isa. 8:22; 9:2; John 12:46; Acts 26:18; 1 Thess. 5:4; 1 John 2:9). God’s deliverance (either from ignorance or hostile powers) is described as lighting the darkness (Isa. 9:2; 29:18; 42:7-16; Mic. 7:8; 1 Pet. 2:9).

SOURCE: International Standard Bible Encyclopedia; James Orr, M.A., D. D., General Editor; Parsons Technology, Inc.; Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

 

ADDITIONAL BACKGROUND READING:

 

Biblical Leprosy: Shedding Light on the Disease that Shuns

By Alan L. Gillen, Ed.D. 

Dr. Alan Gillen, a biology professor at Liberty University, is the author of Body by Design and The Genesis of Germs. He has also written more than 30 papers on topics in microbiology, zoology, and anatomy. Dr. Gillen is a regular contributor to various creation-based magazines, journals, and books.

D

ISEASE IS A CONSTANT REMINDER of just how much things have changed since God pronounced a curse on the earth. At first, everything was “very good,” but Adam’s sin brought death and decay into the world.

One of the most well-known examples of debilitating disease in this sin-cursed creation is Mycobacterium leprae, the infectious bacterial agent of leprosy. Leprosy is discussed quite often in the Bible. While its definition in modern times is different from biblical times, there is no doubt that the definitions overlap, and the modern form of the disease still illustrates important spiritual lessons today.

The term “leprosy” (including leper, lepers, leprosy, leprous) occurs 68 times in the Bible—55 times in the Old Testament (Hebrew = tsara’ath) and 13 times in the New Testament (Greek = lepros, lepra). In the Old Testament, the instances of leprosy most likely meant a variety of infectious skin diseases, and even mold and mildew on clothing and walls. The precise meaning of the leprosy in both the Old and New Testaments is still in dispute, but it probably includes the modern Hansen’s disease (especially in the New Testament) and infectious skin diseases.

The term “Hansen’s disease” was not given until 1873, when Gerhard Henrik Armauer Hansen described the leprosy bacillus (the lay term for the “bacterium”). Only at this point was a precise definition for leprosy made available.

The Origin of Hansen’s Disease (Leprosy)

Leprosy has terrified humanity since ancient times and was reported as early as 600 BC in India, China, and Egypt. Hansen’s disease is still a major health problem in many parts of Africa, Asia, and Latin America. For many centuries, leprosy was considered a curse of God, often associated with sin. It did not kill, but neither did it seem to end. Instead, it lingered for years, causing the tissues to degenerate and deforming the body.

Many have thought leprosy to be a disease of the skin. It is better classified, however, as a disease of the nervous system because the leprosy bacterium attacks the nerves. Leprosy’s agent M. leprae is a rod-shaped bacterium related to the tuberculosis bacterium. Leprosy is spread by multiple skin contacts, as well as by droplets from the upper respiratory tracts, such as nasal secretions that are transmitted from person to person.

Its symptoms start in the skin and peripheral nervous system (outside the brain and spinal cord), then spread to other parts, such as the hands, feet, face, and earlobes. Patients with leprosy experience disfigurement of the skin and bones, twisting of the limbs, and curling of the fingers to form the characteristic claw hand. Facial changes include thickening of the outer ear and collapsing of the nose.

Tumor-like growths called lepromas may form on the skin and in the respiratory tract, and the optic nerve may deteriorate. The largest number of deformities develop from loss of pain sensation due to extensive nerve damage. For instance, inattentive patients can pick up a cup of boiling water without flinching.

It was the work of Dr. Paul Brand (the late world-renowned orthopedic surgeon and leprosy physician) with leprosy patients that illustrated, in part, the value of sensing pain in this world. The leprosy bacillus destroys nerve endings that carry pain signals; therefore patients with advanced leprosy experience a total loss of physical pain. When these people cannot sense touch or pain, they tend to injure themselves or be unaware of injury caused by an outside agent.

In fact, some leprosy patients have had their fingers eaten by rats in their sleep because they were totally unaware of it happening; the lack of pain receptors could not warn them of the danger.

According to Dr. Brand, the best example in the Bible of a person with Hansen’s disease is the man with the withered hand (Mark 3:5; Matthew 12:13; Luke 6:10). He likely suffered from tuberculoid leprosy.

Biblical Leprosy and Hansen’s Disease

In addition to pain and disfiguration, biblical leprosy and Hansen’s disease are both dreaded, and people were shunned because of them. The noun tsara’ath appears about two dozen times in the Hebrew text.

As previously mentioned, biblical leprosy is a broader term than the leprosy (Hansen’s disease) that we know today. The Hebrew tsara’ath included a variety of ailments and is most frequently seen in Leviticus, where it referred primarily to uncleanness or imperfections according to biblical standards. A person with any scaly skin blemish was tsara’ath. The symbolism extended to rot or blemish on leather, the walls of a house, and woven cloth. Other Old Testament references to leprosy are associated with punishment or the consequences of sin.

In the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, tsara’ath was translated as aphe lepras. These words in Greek implied a skin condition that spread over the body.

Others have suggested that the translation of tsara’ath includes “molds.” The recent discovery of a highly toxic mold (Stachybotrys sp.), which contaminates buildings and causes respiratory distress, memory loss, and rash, lends support to the translation of tsara’ath to include “mold.” As noted, tsara’ath incorporates a collection of contemporary terms, including Hansen’s disease, infectious skin diseases, and mold (or even mildew) diseases.

References to leprosy have a different emphasis in the New Testament. They stress God’s desire to heal. Jesus freely touched people with leprosy. While people with leprosy traditionally suffered banishment from family and neighbors, Jesus broke from the tradition. He treated lepers with compassion, touching and healing them.

Although we can’t know all the reasons that God allows disease into our lives, biblical leprosy is a powerful symbol reminding us of sin’s spread and its horrible consequences. Like leprosy, sin starts out small but can then spread, leading to other sins and causing great damage to our relationship with God and others.

Studying leprosy helps us see why pain is a valuable “gift,” a survival mechanism to warn us of danger in this cursed world. Without pain and suffering, we might be like lepers, unable to recognize that something is terribly wrong and that we need the healing touch of God. As Dr. Brand said, “I cannot think of a greater gift that I could give my leprosy patients than pain.”

Let us not be too quick to remove pain in our lives (whether physical, emotional, social, or spiritual pain). It may be God’s megaphone to get our attention that something is seriously wrong and that we should flee to the One who created us.

(Condensed and adapted from the book, The Genesis of Germs, published by Master Books.)

SOURCE: Biblical Leprosy: Shedding Light on the Disease that Shuns; June 10, 2007, in Answers Magazine; ISSN: 1937-9056; © 2014 Answers in Genesis; accessed internet 04/23/2014 @ www.answersingenesis.org

 

The Roman Centurion

By Timothy L. Noel

Tim Noel is pastor, Hillcrest Baptist Church, Mobile, AL.

W

HO CAN COUNT up the rewards of a successful Army career?  If you do well during your service, the sky’s the limit, there’s nothing you can’t hope for.  Find me a lucky star to watch over my enlistment and I’d join up myself, walk in through those barrack-gates as a humble recruit . . .” (Juvenal, xvi.1-4).

As with today’s United States Marines, the Roman army looked for a few good men to lead their troops.  When they found them, men of good character and leadership ability, they marked them for promotion to the rank of centurion.

The centurion was the commander of one hundred foot soldiers, a group that was called a century.  Ten centuries constituted a cohort, and six cohorts made up one legion.  Thus, each legion consisted of about six thousand men.  Twenty-eight legions comprised the standing Roman army. 

Soldiers usually were promoted to the rank of centurion from among the legions.  Others, however, were people of some status in society who were appointed as centurions because of their previous careers in public service.  For those who moved up through the ranks, the promotions were recommended by the legionary legates and approved by the provincial governor.

The centurions who appear in the New Testament may or may not have been Roman citizens.  Some would have been promoted through the ranks, and therefore would have been provincial natives.  Others would have been transferred in from other legions, and therefore might have been Roman.1

The rank of centurion carried with it considerable benefits as compared to the lower ranks within the legions.  While the lower ranking officers were non-commissioned, a centurion was a commissioned officer.  The pay was better.  A centurion made as much as five times what a praetorian soldier made, and the highest ranking centurions could make even more.  After 20 years of service a centurion could retire (although many did not).  The retirement benefits of a centurion were generous; either a cash bonus or an allotment of land.

The centurion would be promoted from rank to rank, usually being transferred from legion to legion in the process.  Centurions, therefore, were well-educated and well-traveled.  The highest rank available to the centurion was that of primus pilus.  The fact is, however, that the chances of attaining that rank were slim for the ordinary centurion who had risen through the ranks.  It required a level of education and administrative ability that most common recruits did not have.

Being promoted to the rank of centurion was less dependent on fighting ability than on ability to work with people.  The centurions were people of solid character who could keep cool under adverse situations.  They were cautious men who would advance slowly in battle, but also men of bravery who would not retreat except under direct orders.

During the first half of the first century AD few Roman soldiers saw any real action.  Ramsay MacMullen comments, “Many a recruit need never have struck a blow in anger, outside a tavern.”2 Only in a few remote areas of the Roman Empire was any real fighting taking place.  During peacetime the army was used for duties other than external security.  It provided internal security, built roads and bridges, and escorted prisoners.  All of these activities were supervised by centurions.

As an officer, the centurion was accustomed to responsibility.  While the centurion technically was under one of the six legionary tribunes, for all practical purposes the centurions were the commanders of the legions.  In reality, “these formidable men combined the functions and prestige of a modern company commander and sergeant-major or top sergeant.”3

The authority of the centurion is reflected in Matthew 8:9, where a centurion told Jesus, “I am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and he does it” (RSV).  Obviously, centurions were used to giving orders and having them obeyed to the letter.  However, here in Matthew (compare Luke 7:6) we see a picture of a centurion who was wealthy (he owned slaves) and in a position of great authority, but who nevertheless exhibited humility nd respect in his dealing with Jesus.

The particular responsibilities of the centurion included maintaining discipline, such as the supervision of scourging and even executions; drilling and inspecting the troops; quartermaster duties; and commanding the troops in the field.4  The centurion also evidently received and held in trust monies from their recruits, money perhaps left unspent from the men’s bonus for enlisting.

As far as religion is concerned, centurions usually were pagans.  The primary religion of the Roman army was allegiance to the standards of the army.  Tertullian maintained that “the religious system of the Roman Army is entirely devoted to the worship of the standards; oaths are sworn by the standards, and the standards are preferred to all deities” (Apologies, 16).  This cult provided for the army its esprit de corps.  Christianity had little success relative to conversions in the Roman army.

What does this paganism say about the confessions of the Roman centurions in the New Testament?  We must read these confessioins in light of this paganism.  Some scholars suggest that when the centurion at Jesus’ crucifixion confessed, “Truly this was the Son of God,” he meant something entirely different than the modern Christian means, or even what Matthew meant.  Alfred Plummer comments that the centurion “cannot have meant very much by ‘son of God.’”5 William Lane adds,

By “Son of God” the centurion presumably meant that Jesus was a divine man or deified hero who accepted humiliation and death as an act of obedience to a higher mandate.  It can be expected that his words reflect a religious point of view shaped by popular Hellenism.6  

Obviously one cannot be dogmatic about the nature of the centurion’s confession.  If in fact the centurion was moved to a genuine confession about the deity of Christ, the paganism of his background made that confession all the more remarkable.

In Mark 15:39 and in Matthew 27:54, the centurion made his confession that Jesus is the Son of God.  In Luke 23:47 the confession reads, “Certainly this man was innocent!” (RSV).  In Mark’s Gospel, this is a singular confession.  God twice pronounced that Jesus was His Son (Mark 1:11; 9:7).  The demons knew that Jesus was the Son of God, but in the entire Gospel, the centurion is the only human to make this confession.  What ever this confession might have meant to that particular centurion (see above), for Mark this was an important event.

The other centurions appear in Acts.  Cornelius was presented as a centurion who feared God and became a Christian (see Acts 10).  In Acts 22:25,26 a centurion was about to scourge Paul, but deferred when he learned of Paul’s Roman citizenship.  Paul was placed in the custody of a centurion in Acts 24:23, and a centurion took Paul to Rome (Acts 27).  Acts 27:43 shows that this centurion was a man of courage and devotion to duty.  In Acts 28:16 a centurion guarded Paul while the apostle was under house arrest.

Obviously the centurions in the New Testament were presented in a very positive light.  They were people of wealth and authority, yet they had respect for the authority of Jesus and for the status of Paul.  One centurion confessed that Jesus was the Son of God, and another, Cornelius, became a Christian.  The conversion of these centurions stands in stark contrast to the unbelief of Jesus’ own people, and symbolized for the early community of faith the coming conversion of the Gentile nations.

1.  A. N. Sherwin-White, Roman Society and Roman Law in the New Testament  (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1963), 156.

2.  Ramsay MacMullen,  Soldier and Civilian in the Later Roman Empire (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1963).

3.  Michael Grant, The Army of the Caesars  (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1974), xxxiii.

4.  F. D. Gealy, “Centurions,” The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible,  5 vols. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1962-76), 1:548.

5.  Alfred Plummer, An Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel According to St. Matthew  (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1915), 404.

6.  William L. Lane, The Gospel of Mark  (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1974), 576.

SOURCE: Biblical Illustrator; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN 37234; Spring 1992.

 

The Roman Military In Jesus’ Day

By Gary Poulton

Gary M. Poulton is professor of history and president emeritus of Virginia Intermont College, Bristol, Virginia.

T

HE OPENING SCENES of the movie Gladiator depict the Roman army in action. The disciplined Roman legions marched into battle in formation supported by cavalry and auxiliary troops. The undisciplined barbarians, no matter how courageous, were usually no match for the legionnaires. The time frame of the movie was A.D. 180; still the Roman army at the time of Jesus was similar to the one Hollywood dramatized.

At the time of Jesus, the Romans had created a huge empire. It stretched in the north from the highlands of Scotland to the Middle East and westward to the Atlantic Ocean. Created largely through conquest, the empire would continue for several more centuries after Jesus’ crucifixion. The empire was the product of Rome’s powerful war machine. In truth, the history of Rome is the saga of its conflicts and conquests. This essay discusses the creators and protectors of the empire, the Roman army.

A Changing Force

The Roman army both grew and changed over time. The Roman Republic’s army was composed of citizen soldiers. Soldiers were property owners; most were farmers. The wealthier citizens served as the officer class. All male citizens from their teenage years to the age of 60 participated. The soldiers of the republic shared a sense of duty and patriotism that helps to explain their success. As time went on and the wars became longer in duration and more distant from home, this “citizen army” became inadequate.

During the wars of the first century B.C., General Marius undertook a major change in the Roman military, a change that had far-reaching effects. He found it necessary to replace the former citizen army with a professional force. These soldiers enlisted for a definite period of time and they received pay. Because Marius recruited unemployed men from the growing cities, soldiers were no longer always property owners. These soldiers swore allegiance to their general — not to the republic, and they depended on him for their pay. The new army became a powerful weapon for any general willing to use it to further his own political agenda.

When Augustus (31 B.C.-A.D. 14) became emperor, he recognized the need to reform the army and to bring it back under governmental control. He realized the previous emergency armies that had sworn allegiance to their generals had helped bring down the republic. Augustus decided to establish a standing army, which would eliminate the need to raise additional forces. His agents were also firmly in control of recruitment and retirement functions. “Troops took an oath of loyalty to the princeps rather than to the men who eventually exercised the actual command in the field.”1

Augustus established an army of 28 legions (this number varied somewhat later). A legion was composed of approximately 5,000- 6,000 men. So between 125 thousand and 150 thousand legionnaires served. The auxiliary army, made up of non-Italians, was about the same size. This represents a relatively small fighting force for such a large empire. Few legions were needed at the center of the empire that was enjoying the Pax Romana, and the legions on the frontier were effective in carrying out their duties.

Initially the legions were distributed as follows: 3 in Spain; 8 in Germany and along the Rhine: 6-7 along the Danube and Macedonia; 3-4 in Syria; 3 in Egypt and 1 in North Africa.

Service Expectations

Legionnaires enlisted for a period of 20 years and received 9 hundred sesterces annually as pay. They also received free equipment, rations, and the possibility of sharing some of the booty of their conquests. After his enlistment period, the soldier could expect a guaranteed gratuity of 12 thousand sesterces. Legionnaires were forbidden to marry since they might need to move quickly from one part of the empire to a distant trouble spot. Noncitizens could enlist in the auxiliary forces, but they received less pay and had to serve longer. Following their service they received Roman citizenship status, which was a major inducement for them to enlist.

The payment of gratuities to disbanded armies had caused numerous political crises in the days of the republic. Augustus fixed this. The regular length of service and the fixed size of the army made it easy to calculate the amount of money needed each year for discharge grants. The income from two new taxes was earmarked to produce the necessary funds. This revenue went to the “aerarium militare, a new treasury set up in A.D. 6.” This new treasury had the single responsibility of paying the military gratuities.2

The life of a legionnaire was not easy. In peacetime the men trained for war. “Their military exercises differ not at all from the real use of their arms, but every soldier is every day exercised, and that with great diligence, as if it were in time of war, which is the reason why they bear the fatigue of battles so easily; . . . nor would he be mistaken that should call those their exercises unbloody battles, and their battles bloody exercises.”3 Fear served as a motivator during military training, as even some trivial offenses resulted in a penalty of death for the aberrant soldier. Legionnaires took part in the construction of camps, fortifications, and roads. They were also involved in nonmilitary projects like the building of bridges, canals, and even temples. The Roman army was composed of men who were versatile, disciplined, well trained and led. For centuries this was enough to compensate for their inadequate numbers.

Military Organization

The Roman soldier proved his worth. The army was organized into legions. The legion was divided into 10 cohorts with 600 men each. Each cohort was divided into 3 maniples of 200 legionnaires. The maniple consisted of 2 centuries of 100 men each. A centurion led each century. This organization provided greater flexibility and maneuverability.

The legion marched into battle preceded by a line of lightly armed skirmishers. Next came a line of spearmen. The second battle line consisted of the prime warriors. The third line was made up of older veterans. “In battle, the lightarmed troops threw their missiles and then retired back through the ranks. The mainline heavy infantryman advanced . . . and then closed in to fight it out with the sword.”4 Each legionnaire, following his legion’s eagle standard into battle, wore a helmet and a breastplate and carried a shield. His main weapon was a short thrusting sword.

The Roman battle formation had greater flexibility than the Greek phalanx and had the advantage of being able to operate in rough terrain. Though never strong in number, the Roman cavalry was largely responsible for reconnaissance.

Still the form that the Roman army used was not without its limitations. Transitioning a legion from the marching lines to a battle formation took a considerable amount of time, time that could prove to be advantageous to the enemy. The Romans also had trouble adapting to an enemy that did not fight as they did. This explains the success of the Parthians over the Romans. Yet Rome’s military was a formidable fighting machine that conquered and maintained a huge empire for about 500 years. The military’s success was because of the quality and training of the individual legionnaire who had a real sense of purpose and duty. “They were warriors who believed the man who was afraid of death, feared life; and they bore themselves accordingly.”5

1. Henry Boren, Roman Society (Lexington, Mass: D.C. Heath and Co., 1977), 158.

2. J. P. Balsdon, Rome: The Story of an Empire (New York: McGraw-Hill Co., 1970), 81.

3. The Works of Flavius Josephus, The Wars of the Jews, trans. William Whiston (Philadelphia: The John C. Winston Co, n.d.), III. V. I.

4. Boren, Roman Society, 29.

5. Reginald Hargreaves, Beyond the Rubicon: History of Early Rome (New York: New American Library, 1967), 91.

SOURCE: Biblical Illustrator; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN 37234; Vol. 31, Number 1; Fall 2004

 

BIBLE CHARACTER TRIVIA

 

What Is The Answer To & Where In The Bible Is This Week’s Trivia Question Found? (04/27/14) Who was Og, what made him unique, and where is it found in the Bible?  (A 3-part question.) Answer next week:  (1) (2.) (3)

The answer to last week’s trivia question:  (04/20/14)  Which king was to rule the Kingdom of Israel, who told him, and where is the answer found in the Bible?  (A 3-part question.) Answer:  (1) King Jeroboam,  (2) Ahijah, the prophet  (3) 1 Kings 11:29-40. 

 

 

 

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