Week of April 24

 He Will Forgive, But Are You Willing?

Read; 1 Samuel 24; Psalms 57-58; 1 Chronicles 8; Matthew 8
“And behold, a leper came to him and knelt before him, saying, ‘Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.’ And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, ‘I will; be clean.’ And immediately his leprosy was cleansed.”
Matthew 8:2-3, ESV


What sin cannot be forgiven? The answer when viewed through the lens of Matthew 8 is “None!” These words are true, but many people are reluctant to come to Christ for forgiveness. Francis Chan has said, “The irony is that while God doesn’t need us but still wants us, we desperately need God but don’t really want Him most of the time” (italics mine). All of life’s brokenness may be restored by Christ, so His “repent for the kingdom of God is at hand” takes on fresh personal urgency in our lives this day (Matthew 4:17).

Understanding the Bible Context

Matthew’s goal in this section of the Gospel
Matthew emphasized the authority of Jesus’ teaching in chapters 5-7 and now we see His healing authority in Matthew 8-9. He has turned his focus in this section of the Gospel to draw attention to “Christological” concerns—showing that Jesus is the Messiah. Recall that Jesus’ ministry involved preaching, teaching, and healing, the latter demonstrating His power to forgive sins and to restore people to a right relationship with their Heavenly Father (Matthew 4:23).

Matthew 8 will show us that Jesus’ call to repentance was not punitive or His actions toward people would have been different. Matthew shows that Jesus is God’s anointed one who calls us back to the Father! We will discover perhaps that our view of God has been too narrow once we examine all that Jesus said and did.
Jesus’ divine authority to heal and forgive
Jesus demonstrates His divine authority in the various miracles that He performs: power over the demonic (8:1-4; 28-34); over human sickness, blindness, and paralysis (8:5-17; 9:1-8, 27-31 & 32-34); over nature (8:23-27); and over death itself (9:18-26). You and I will see parallel accounts in Mark and Luke (cf. Mark 1:29-34; 40-45 and Luke 8:22-56).

He and His traveling party are confronted in our focal passage by a leper who represents physical and spiritual uncleanness (8:4). We all know that lepers were ostracized from mainstream society and resided together in colonies. I, like many of you, have visited a residential home for lepers on a mission journey that I took. They are typically reserved. This occurrence provides us with a different view. The leper uncharacteristically displays great “audacity” when he confronts the crowd (cf. Leviticus 13:46). His behavior begs an important question for us: How desperate are we, like the leper, for Jesus to intervene in our life situations?
A demonstration in how we should approach Jesus Christ
Jesus is God. Notice that the leper treats Jesus with great respect because he first kneels, which indicates adoration, then he refers to Jesus as “Lord.” Here is where my earlier comment about Christology ties into the text. Matthew uses the man’s words to demonstrate Jesus’ divinity. Surely, the man did not know that Jesus was God in the way that later Christians would, but Matthew’s statement would take on deeper meaning when Christians later read his Gospel. This declaration of lordship would be helpful for discipleship. It also helps to illuminate the full meaning behind my earlier claim that there is no sin that cannot be forgiven.

Jesus has the power to radically transform our lives. Cures of lepers were thought to be as difficult as raising the dead (cf. 2 Kings 5:7; NAC). It would take God to do such a thing, so the leper’s “if you are willing” shows the man’s belief in and submission to Jesus’ sovereignty. Let me explain it this way. The leper takes two essential steps toward healing: confidence in Jesus’ power to heal and deference to Jesus’ authority. Notice, too, that while lepers were abhorred by people because they believed that such a condition was a sign of God’s curse, Jesus engaged and touched the man (8:3; cf. Number 12:10, 12; Job 18:13). I am not overstating the event when I say that we are shown to what extent God has gone to bring healing and forgiveness into our lives! This entire scene begs a key question for us to consider by way of application.

Applying the Passage to Our Lives

I recall an event that happened several decades ago because it is imprinted on my memory. Three of us, two men and one woman, rang the doorbell of a woman’s house. We had been given her name as someone with whom we should share the gospel. I remember her receptivity for forty-five minutes as I carefully shared the Scriptures with her. I asked her if she was assured of eternal life, and she answered that she was not. Then, I asked her if she would pray to receive the gift of salvation and she declined. I was amazed. I asked why she would refuse such a wonderful gift when she obviously knew that she needed it. She told us of a relationship with a man that she was unwilling to give up. She knew that he was not good for her, but she chose him instead of new life in Christ. Like the leper above, she was respectful of Christ, but unlike him, she was unrepentant.

Here is a critical point of application for our lives. We dare not miss the deeper truth that Matthew wishes for us to grasp. Jesus is the Son of God, not simply because of His acts of power, but also because of His Person. “He,” God-in-flesh, directly confronts our sin and brokenness. He demonstrates, by so doing, His authority over evil in the present and in the future (Jude 6; Revelation 20:10). The point? Matthew wants readers like us to know that Jesus is fully God, and it does matter immediately and ultimately how we respond to Him. Jesus was proving that God’s kingdom was dawning, and that a choice had to be made (Matthew 12:28).

Reflecting Upon and Discussing the Passage

1. We often carry unnecessarily for years our brokenness when the Savior stands ready to heal, forgive, and restore us. Write down that which has rendered you as a “leper” (outcast from others and God), then ask the Lord to erase it with His love and forgiveness.

2. Write down the ways that your church fellowship ostracizes the fallen and broken. Ask God to help you to be a witness of and a bridge to His forgiveness. Pray that your church will be recognized as a “healing place” for those with broken lives.

3. For Families: Some evening this week, tell your children that you learned something wonderful from the Bible and wanted to to tell them a splendid story. Relate the story of the leper who came to Jesus. Find images of modern day leprosy on your computer and show your children how terrible this disease was, and how hopeless and helpless the man must have felt when everyone, even his own family, kept away from him. He even had to cry out, “Leper, Leper!” when he was within range of people, who quickly scurried out of the way in alarm.

Then tell them how Jesus touched the man, told him to be healed, and how the man’s skin became as smooth as a baby’s. In this way, Jesus showed everyone that He was God Himself. How glad the former leper’s family must have been to have him back home again! Your children may enjoy acting out this story several times, trading parts and allowing each one to be the leper (with bandages) and Jesus, the Healer. What a magnificent God we serve!  

May your paths be straight,
Larry C. Ashlock