Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 7:29b “. . .and not as the scribes.”
The religious leaders refused to express an opinion without bolstering it with some other authority. No Rabbi ever tried to win a hearing without basing his words on past leaders. To support every claim, they quoted famous teachers of past generations. “They spoke as those that were not themselves masters of what they preached; the word did not come from them with any life or force; they delivered it as a school-boy says his lessons” (Henry). Their words carried no power, no punch.
“Scribes drew stale water from closed cisterns, but the words of Jesus were like a spring, clear, fresh, with power to shake the soul’s thirst” (Buttrick). They quoted authorities, He was authority. He did not repeat lessons given to Him. He spoke in thunderbolts, as a king pronouncing an edict, as a judge passing sentence.
The religious leaders once sent officers to arrest Jesus, but they returned emptyhanded. When asked why they had not brought Him, the officers answered, “Never man spake like this man” (JN 7:46). The two on the road to Emmaus said Jesus “was a prophet mighty in deed and word” (LK 24:19). According to one of my dad’s favorite verses, “The common people heard Him gladly” (MK 12:37).
The religious leaders clung to tradition, and it choked the very life out of their teachings. Jesus broke through this crust, calling men solely to the Scriptures, to the Father, and to Himself. Unfortunately, He who two thousand years ago broke from old man-made traditions often cannot be found today due to new man-made traditions. This is why Baptists reject any creed and constantly return to Scripture.
A Bible and a heart yielded to the Holy Spirit is all we need. Let us ever be on guard lest our religious trappings hide the very Christ they are meant to reveal.
Matt. 8:1 “When he was come down from the mountain, great multitudes
It would have been wonderful to stay on the mount of contemplation and learning forever, but nitty gritty work needed to be done down in the valley of real human existence. Jesus did not stay on the summit. He came down to where people lived. Christ always seems to be coming down from the heights to the depths.
Words were good to a point, but not enough. People had to know, what can Jesus do? He projects a good vision, but can He produce some real life victories? Having no official credentials from the religious establishment, Jesus had to come down from the mount and make His own credentials, His own signs of credibility.
Matt. 8:2a “And, behold, there came a leper. . .”
The crowd’s exuberance suddenly ended. People started gasping and dropping back, opening the way for a repulsive intruder. Let me use, as did J. Vernon McGee, a fictional account to highlight the true agonies in this man’s tragedy.
One day a farmer noticed a sore rising up on his arm. His wife treated it with ointment that night, but in the next few days more sores appeared, and some began to ooze. Concerned, he went to see a priest, who took one look and said the farmer would have to be quarantined fourteen days. Two weeks later, wife and children return to learn what has become of their husband and father. The priest, standing between them, says their loved one is unclean, a leper. He can never again enter a city, hug his wife, or kiss his children. He is to be outcast, separate from humanity. He is to tear his clothes, and if anyone approaches, he is to cover his mouth, and cry aloud, “Unclean, unclean.” For the rest of his life, he will carry a blood-chilling empty circle around him everywhere. Leprosy truly was the disease of despair.
Even worse than the social stigma were the religious ramifications. The Jews considered leprosy a direct curse from Heaven. They called it “the finger of God.” Miriam spoke against Moses; God struck her with leprosy (NB 12:10). Gehazi bartered with the things of God; he was smitten with leprosy (2 K 5:27). King Uzziah violated the holy place; God smote him with leprosy (2 CH 26:20). Leprosy thus became to the Jews the ultimate picture of sin, a sign of God’s extreme displeasure.
Leprosy was the sacrament of death, whereby one died piecemeal. For it medicine had no healing, religion no comfort. Josephus said lepers were treated as if they were dead. The stigma of leprosy long continued. In the Middle Ages, if a person became a leper, the priest put on his stole, took his crucifix, brought the man into the church, and read over him the burial service. The British, when they took over India, had to enact and enforce a law forbidding the burying alive of lepers.
Our ex-farmer, a living corpse, was able to survive only by begging. This meant it was to his advantage to go where multitudes were, and of late, the biggest crowds had been in Galilee, where a healer-teacher was causing a stir. The leper had heard of the healings and may have even seen a few from afar. On this day he sat at the outskirts of the crowd, straining to hear the teacher. Hearing a man speak as no other man had ever spoken, the leper realized he had discovered a prophet mighty in word and deed. Being a common man, the ex-farmer heard Jesus gladly.
In that sermon, the leper, out at the edge of the crowd, began to wonder if the teacher and His teachings could help him. He was at the end of his rope. Luke says he was “full of leprosy.” As a goner, one massive oozing sore, he hadn’t thought of seeing his wife and children, or about going to the synagogue, for a long long time.
”Blessed are the poor in spirit” (MT 5:3a). That described him. No spiritual arrogance was left. Does someone on the edge of this crowd feel the same way?
“Blessed are they that mourn” (5:4a). That was him. Gladness left him forever long ago in a priest’s presence. Is someone here on the outskirts mourning?
“Blessed are the merciful” (5:7a). He needed this. “Jesus, if you are what you preach, here is misery incarnate, one needing mercy.” Are any here miserable?
“Love your enemies” (5:44). He had long been everybody’s enemy. People yelled and threw rocks at him. “Jesus, nobody loves me. Will you practice on me what you teach?” Casting to the wind his fear of rejection or reprisal, the leper somehow knew Jesus was not afraid of him or ashamed to be seen with him. “Because he realized Jesus was not ashamed of him, he was less ashamed of himself” (MacArthur). Do you need this? Are you on the periphery, feeling unloved and unlovable? The leper saw his chance to feel loved. Do you see your chance today?
“Deliver us from evil” (6:13). He believed he was evil itself. He needed deliverance from himself. Has sin taken hold on someone at the edge of our crowd today? Are you horrified at your own self, having done something you never thought you would do? Is a leprosy of guilt oozing from your moral and ethical pores?
“Ask, and it shall be given you” (7:7). He would humble himself enough to ask. Pride had long ceased to be his problem. What holds you back at the crowd’s edge? Worried what others will say, too proud to come, unwilling to humble self?
“Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them” (7:12). He knew what he wanted done to him. “Is Jesus just talking, or making a statement about what He wants to do for everyone of us?” The leper decided to find out. Are you willing to find out for yourself if Jesus meant what He said?
“He taught them as one having authority” (7:29). The leper needed authority in his life. He was down under heavy burdens and problems. He required more than teachings. This ex-farmer had to have a powerful touch. He needed authority to flow into his helplessness, to set him free. He had run out of himself. Have you?
The leper had hovered at the outskirts of the crowd, listening from a distance. As the crowd began to swell his direction, hope began to swell in him. Could this be for him? He was going to find out immediately. For the first time in years, he mustered his courage, and rather than retreating from people, began approaching.
He had heard of Jesus. He had heard Jesus. He had thought on Jesus. His eyes were now focused on Jesus. When you dwell on Jesus this long, there has to be hope. You feel it, don’t you? Like the leper, you’re at the end of your rope, but in his tale you see a spark of hope. You’re afraid to believe, but I urge you to do so.
Come. The leper came. No one else could come for him, and no one else can come for you. You have to come. Husband, wife, parents, children–they can’t do this for you. “Each soul is solitary in its relation to God” (Howson, in Bib. Ill.). I assure you, no one has ever come to Christ, and left disappointed. Jesus satisfies.