Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 8:4a “And Jesus saith unto him, See thou tell no man;. . .”
Jesus had to be extremely careful. He lived in a time of political fanaticism. His country was extremely flammable, a powder keg ready to explode at any moment. Circumstances could have easily gotten out of hand.
The Jews, always mindful of being God’s chosen family, were a proud people who chafed at living under the humiliating yoke of Rome. Dreaming of a deliverer, they conceptualized Messiah in terms of military conquest and political power.
Their rabid desire for an earthly kingdom blurred their ability to reason, and caused them to misunderstand Jesus’ role. They tried to make Jesus their king (JN 6:15), but He sought to prevent rebellion. For fear the people would seek to mount an insurrection against Rome, Jesus often sought to calm their enthusiasm.
As Barclay notes, Jesus had to restrain people; otherwise they would have come to Him to make their dreams come true, rather than coming to make God’s dream come true. People are often tempted to come to Jesus for the wrong reasons.
Some still come for political reasons, seeing in Christ primarily a cause. We truly do need to be salt and light in our culture, and to make our communities better.
However, a local church must never become more a moral concerns committee than a soul saving station. In a previous pastorate, my church and I went too far in our civic statements. On a huge bulletin board in the front foyer we kept announcements about moral issues of the day. I was and am radically pro-life, but one day I was shocked by the extreme harshness of some anti-abortion fliers on the bulletin board. It dawned on me, a prechristian could enter our foyer, see those posters, and be so offended that they would turn and leave our building without ever hearing the Gospel. We have to stand unapologetically for morality, but also have to remember Jesus wants us to win souls more than He wants us to win arguments.
Some still come to Jesus primarily for physical reasons. Health is worthwhile as a secondary concern, but our first priority must be to yield our life to His sovereignty. Holiness is more important than health. I remember an incident which crystallized this truth for me. Years ago a lady asked Dad and me to come pray for her. She was a member of our church and was dying of cancer. Dad and I positioned ourselves on either side of her bed, and as I began to voice a prayer, Dad abruptly interrupted and asked her, “Have you quit smoking?” When she said no, Dad briefly told how helpful it would be to her health if she did away with her cigarettes. Dad and I then prayed for her. I initially thought Dad was rude, but as I later evaluated that event, I concluded he was correct in raising the question. Holiness outranks healing. Our pleasing God is more important than God pleasing us.
Jesus did not want His primary message of salvation to be lost in a medical shuffle. He knew many would come solely for physical benefits, but the healings were not His main life-work. They were only illustrations of His main life-work.
Matt. 8:4b “. . .but go thy way, shew thyself to the priest, and offer the gift
that Moses commanded,. . .”
Leprosy was considered a living death. To be healed of it was deemed a resurrection, a direct act of God. When Naaman came from Syria to be healed of his leprosy, the unbelieving king of Israel tore his clothes and cried out, “Am I God?” (2 K 5:7). Only God could cure this disease. Thus, the Bible commanded (LV 14), if a leper was healed, to verify the miracle, he would go to a priest, not a physician.
Going to the officiating priest offered three benefits. First, it forced the leper to give appropriate honor to God. By fulfilling the Bible-appointed method of publicly giving God thanks, the leper would render due glory unto God. The Lord is glad to bestow His benefits upon us. He merely wants to receive credit for them.
Second, it would enable the man to enjoy the full benefits of his healing. He could not be restored to society without verification from a priest. Jesus set Him free from leprosy, but a priest was needed to set him free from its curse and isolation. Only a priest could officially validate the cure and pronounce a healed leper clean. From a priest, this healed leper would receive an official certificate. Without this formal edict, he could not return to his home and synagogue. Jesus wants us to enjoy Him and His benefits. A constantly sullen, sad, depressed saint is abnormal.
Third, it would provide legal proof, and end all doubt. The healing would be verified by a reliable, impartial witness within the official religious establishment. Such a pronouncement would render unbelievers inexcusable. Ye who disbelieve, beware. You are dealing with One who acted in broad daylight, and whose miracles were well attested. Jesus, having nothing to hide, welcomed thorough scrutiny.
Matt. 8:4c “. . .for a testimony unto them.”
The healing was obvious. A priest would be forced to declare the man clean. Jesus intended this miracle to be a salvo, a loud and clear message to priests, giving them firsthand evidence and a chance to believe. Then through the priests, as representatives of the people, the truth of this miracle would be confirmed to the nation.
Jesus desired news of this miracle to be spread through official channels. He wanted the leper to be quiet, and the priest to speak. Each did exactly the opposite.
The leper, unable to contain his joy, disregarded the prohibition. Suddenly verbose and eloquent, he “began to publish it much, and to blaze abroad the matter” (MK 1:45). He headed off to Jerusalem and told everyone, “I’m healed. Oops! I’m not supposed to say that. Please don’t tell anyone. I’m healed. Keep it a secret. I’m healed. Don’t make a big deal of it. I’m healed. Don’t spread the word.”
His mouth singlehandedly created such a commotion that Jesus had to alter His ministry style. No longer able to enter cities, He had to stay in desert places, where people came to him from everywhere. He turned the wilderness into a mobile city. It’s like our Lake of the Ozarks, which on summer holiday weekends has a population larger than St. Louis, our state’s largest city. To Jesus, cities moved.
The officiating priest was silent, as if under a gag order. We never hear anything from or about him. The priest should have broken into praise. There should have been a wild yell from within the temple, “The Lord hath visited His people. The Sun of Righteousness has risen with healing in His wings.” A priest in full regalia should have been seen running to Galilee and falling at a Carpenter’s feet.
On this night, somewhere in Israel, a healed leper went to a synagogue and then came home to eat supper with his wife and children. They rejoiced, and talked of the Nazarene. Somewhere else in Israel, a priest came home from the temple to eat supper with his wife and children. He was preoccupied, deep in thought, and when his wife asked what was troubling him, he paused a moment. He looked at his family and knew what it would cost him and them to believe. Deciding against vocational and social suicide, he finally replied, “Oh, nothing. I just had a hard day at work. Please pass the salt.” A priest in Israel suppressed the truth. He couldn’t pull the trigger. He saw, but refused to believe. What keeps you from believing?
Somewhere in Israel, a priest knew, but did not tell. I fear too many of us believers are more like the unbelieving priest than like the believing leper. “Many of us, who profess to have been cleansed from a worse defilement, find no such impulse to speak welling up in ourselves. Alas, how superfluous is the injunction to hundreds of Christ’s disciples: “See thou say nothing to any man”!” (Maclaren).
We can all speak well when our hearts are in it. Thus, as we ponder our deafening silence, let us examine our hearts. What strangles our tongues? Do we not appreciate enough what Christ has done for us? Are we ashamed of this wonderful One? May we pray until we can say with the Psalmist, “Come and hear, all ye that fear God, and I will declare what he hath done for my soul” (PS 66:16).