Good news! The cricket’s back on TV. Just in case you wives were worried about what your husbands were going to do with themselves this summer.
The first game of the season was on TV last week. And one of the players to feature was Adam Gilchrist.
He’s been my favourite cricket player for ages. A great sport. A real gentleman. And probably the most exciting hitter of a cricket ball the game’s ever seen.
He’s retired now. But he was back playing a charity game.
And he’d just kept wickets for a bit, and he’d gone off to have a rest. And the camera showed him sitting in the stands next to a little boy about 10 wearing a cricket shirt. He was talking to the boy, and watching the cricket. Like a thousand other dads in the crowd. Mind you, he was surrounded by about 50 people signing autographs and getting his picture taken.
But I reckon it summed up Gilly perfectly. With a cricket bat in his hand, there’s no one who exerts more authority over a game. But here he was, showing the common touch. Hanging out with the insignificant and everyday people who just WATCH stars like him.
And we see the same sort of picture of Jesus in Matthew Ch 8. The effortless power and authority of the Son of God, combined with the gentle compassion of a servant. Side by side. Wrapped up in the same body.
Just say the word
Let me show you what I mean. Have a look, firstly, at the AUTHORITY of Jesus. We’ve just finished the sermon on the mount, where Jesus TEACHES with authority. It’s the authority that comes from God himself. Authority the whole crowd recognises. See there at the end of Ch 7?
28 When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, 29 because he taught as one who had AUTHORITY, and not as their teachers of the law.
And into chapter 8, we’re going to see him using words with great authority. But this time to HEAL and RESTORE. And the crowds will be JUST as amazed. And all he has to do is JUST SAY THE WORD.
First up, we see his authority over UNCLEANNESS AND IMPURITY. He comes down from the mountain, and there’s a man with LEPROSY. People aren’t allowed to come NEAR this guy, let alone TOUCH him, because they thought leprosy was so contagious.
But a word from Jesus. BE CLEAN! And v3 tells us, he was IMMEDIATELY cured of his leprosy. It literally says he was CLEANSED.
A powerful word from Jesus. And what’s UN-clean becomes CLEAN.
Next up, Jesus meets a Roman centurion. V6.
6 “Lord,” he said, “my servant lies at home paralyzed and in terrible suffering.”
When Jesus offers to come to his home, the centurion shows his trust in the power of Jesus’ WORDS. V8.
JUST SAY THE WORD, and my servant will be healed.
This is a man who knows what it is/ to do as he’s told. AND to give orders. His whole life is about recognising authority. And he SEES it in Jesus.
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.”
If Jesus says the word, his servant will be healed. He doesn’t even need to SEE him. And Jesus is amazed at his faith. Down in v13. He says the word. Doesn’t need to do anything else. Just as the Roman believed.
“GO! It will be done just as you believed it would.” And his servant was healed at that very hour.
Authority over UNCLEANNESS and PARALYSIS. Next up authority over FEVER. Peter’s mother-in-law. V14. A touch from Jesus, and she’s up, getting dinner ready.
Jesus NEEDS to keep his strength up, because after dinner there’s MORE people to be healed. Demon-possessed, and sick. All healed (v16) WITH A WORD.
Jump down to v23. So many people crowding around to be healed, Jesus decides to cross to the other side of the lake. Probably at the end of that same long night of healing people.
But, with Jesus sleeping in the back of the boat, a huge storm whips up without warning. The disciples are scared they’re going to drown. They wake up Jesus, “Lord, save us, we’re going to drown!”
Instead he stands up, rebukes them for their fear, and lack of faith. Then he turns to the storm. And REBUKES the wind and the waves.
He SPEAKS to them. Tells them to pull their heads in, and just calm down. To stop being so hot and bothered. AND THEY DO AS THEY’RE TOLD!
At which point the disciples, who’ve seen everything else Jesus has done, recognise something EXTRA. Something they haven’t seen before. They’re AMAZED at the authority of his words. “WHAT KIND OF MAN IS THIS? Even the wind and the waves obey him!
But there’s still MORE to amaze them. They land on the shore on the other side of the lake. And they’re ambushed by two demon-possessed men. So violent, the whole neighbourhood steered clear of the area.
And the demons know they’re UNDER ATTACK from the one with REAL power. V29
29 “What do you want with us, Son of God?” they shouted. “Have you come here to us before the appointed time?”
They know they’re beaten, so they offer a tactical response.
30 Some distance from them a large herd of pigs was feeding. 31 The demons begged Jesus, “If you drive us out, send us into the herd of pigs.”
Jesus replies with ONE WORD. Go! That’s all that’s needed.
The demons come out of the men, and go into the pigs. At which point, the whole herd rush headlong down the steep bank into the lake and drown.
That’s a POWERFUL WORD!
The guys looking after the pigs run into town. And when they come back they’ve brought the whole town. To see the person who spoke with authority over demonic forces. And, v34, when they see him, they plead with him to leave their region.
There’s a new force in town. They USED TO be scared of the two demon-possessed guys. Now, they’ve found someone with greater power than that. More authority. And they’re scared witless.
Jesus doesn’t just TALK about power. His word IS power.
How do YOU respond to this Jesus? Whose word has the power to control all these things.
The compassionate touch
That’s ONE side of Jesus. But there’s another theme running through these verses. Side by side with Jesus’ incredible POWER is astonishing COMPASSION. Let me show you what I mean. Back to the leper at the start of the chapter.
Now, leprosy was a very PUBLIC disease. Obvious to anyone who looked at him, or smelt him. There’s no hiding it.
So this guy’s SUFFERING, not just from the illness, but from the anguish of being permanently ritually-UNCLEAN. Of people wrinkling up their noses, crossing to the other side of the street, as he walks by.
And he’s SO used to rejection, his appeal to Jesus is heart-breaking (v2). “Lord, IF you are willing, you can make me clean.” He trusts Jesus has got the POWER to help him, he’s just not sure of his MOTIVATION.
But Jesus IS willing. He’s willing AND able. And, even though he could have just spoken the word. Look what ELSE he does v3, he REACHES OUT HIS HAND and TOUCHES the man. Risks becoming unclean himself. But instead of the clean becoming unclean, it’s CLEANNESS that’s contagious. A word and a touch, and he’s healed.
This is the common touch from the compassionate Saviour.
And then, to COMPLETE the restoration, Jesus tells him to go and show the priest. To make sure he gets a clean bill of health. And fits back into normal society.
It’s a bit like Princess Diana. One of the reasons everyone LOVED her was because she had the common touch. Just as happy sitting in a corner reading a story to a pre-schooler, or talking to a war veteran in a secluded hospital ward as walking the red carpet in a glamorous gown.
She’s perhaps BEST remembered for a visit she made to an AIDS hospice. When concerns were greatest about how contagious it was. And there was a mixture of fear and admiration when she was photographed holding the hand of a dying AIDS sufferer. A Princess, actually touching someone with the world’s most feared and shunned disease.
The common touch. Getting down and dirty with the lowest of the low. And it’s what Jesus has got.
But it’s not just the leper. The Roman centurion tells him about his paralysed servant at home. A Gentile home was definitely off-limits to Jews. It would make you UNCLEAN.
But, once again, it doesn’t bother Jesus. V7. He offers to go and heal him. To go to the Gentile home. Not afraid to get his hands dirty.
Lepers, and Gentiles. Jesus doesn’t turn his nose up at ANYONE.
And the word gets out. To people who’ve given up hope. V16. And Peter’s house gets surrounded by crowds of desperate people. Sick, demon-possessed, lame, and blind. And Jesus heals them ALL.
Which Matthew points out (v17) is exactly what you’d expect God’s servant to do. Promised long ago by the prophet Isaiah. The one Isaiah said would come to take up our infirmities. And carry our diseases. And JOIN US IN OUR WEAKNESS. And ultimately, in the words of Isaiah 53, be bruised for our transgressions. And wounded for our iniquities.
That’s the ULTIMATE common touch. Dying in the place of sinners.
This is him. And so you’d expect when God’s servant came… that he WOULDN’T be aloof. And distant. And uncaring. But that he’d GET HIS HANDS DIRTY. And connect… with the unclean world. Even with the ones that people like the Pharisees consider right out of the ballpark. Like a leper. Or a Roman. Or a woman with a fever.
That’s the portrait of Jesus Matthew gives us in this chapter. The authoritative word of power over everything on the ONE hand. And the gentle compassionate touch for the weak on the OTHER.
So what do we DO with a Jesus like that? How do we RESPOND?
Just consider for a moment what a privilege it is that we actually have a CHOICE about how we respond. Did you notice that everything else in the chapter MUST submit to Jesus’ word.
Sickness, storms, Satan.
Disease, demons and downpours.
Jesus SPEAKS and they HAVE TO obey. They don’t get a choice. Everything is FORCED to submit to the One with ultimate authority. Everything that is except for PEOPLE. God’s granted us the DIGNITY of having a choice.
You can see it from v18. Different people who make different CHOICES about how they respond to Jesus. A teacher of the law who CHOOSES to follow Jesus anywhere.
Another guy (v21) who chooses to put SOME CONDITIONS on it. “Let me go and bury my Dad first.” Jesus commands him, “Follow me and let the bury their own !”
And what happens?
We DON’T KNOW. We don’t know HOW the guy responds. Because Jesus gives him the dignity to CHOOSE. He MAY have followed. He may have buried his father, and followed LATER. He may NEVER have followed.
You’ve been given the dignity to CHOOSE how to respond to this Jesus with such authority.
And it all comes down to TRUST. Do you TRUST Jesus? Trust that he CAN help you. And that he WANTS to help you. Trust that he’s got the POWER to impact your situation. AND the concern.
The leper knew Jesus had THE POWER. He just wasn’t sure about the INCLINATION. V2. “IF you are willing, you can make me clean.”
The disciples in the boat weren’t even sure about the POWER. Petrified of drowning, while Jesus slept.
But it’s the Roman centurion’s response Jesus wants to draw our attention to. V8. “JUST SAY THE WORD, and he’ll be healed.” I’m the expert at recognising authority, and YOU’VE got it in spades.”
And Jesus is ASTOUNDED. Not one ISRAELITE has faith like that. God’s people who are SUPPOSED TO be expecting the Messiah. Supposed to RECOGNISE him. Recognise his power and his compassion. And follow him.
But they’ve MISSED him. And it’s THIS GENTILE who’s SEEN it. V10
“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.”
That’s the risk they’re running – that YOU’RE running – by failing to RECOGNISE the one with the authority and the compassion to rescue you.
But it’s more than just RECOGNISING it. That’s not faith. The DEMONS recognise Jesus’ authority. And are REPULSED by it. The TOWNSFOLK recognise Jesus’ authority. And they FLEE it. Tell him to leave town.
Faith is RECOGNISING it, then TRUSTING it.
Faith is heading off to the priest after Jesus has cleansed you.
Faith is heading home to your servant after Jesus has said the word.
Faith is following Jesus wherever he leads you. Putting him above EVERYTHING including family.
And when it comes to OUR greatest problem, our sin, and the judgment and and separation that flow from it. Faith is trusting that Jesus has both the concern AND the power to deal with it.
And in case you need a reinforcement beyond what you’ve seen in this chapter. Dwell on the cross, and the empty tomb.
The cross shouts to us of Jesus’ CONCERN. Jesus said it in John 15:13
13 Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.
1 John 3:16 says
16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.
When you doubt Jesus’ LOVE, look to the CROSS.
And when you doubt Jesus’ POWER, look to the empty tomb. He defeated . The greatest enemy of all. And he wins victory FOR US TOO. 1 Cor 15.20.
20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the , the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since came through a man, the resurrection of the comes also through a man. 22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.
Christ has the POWER / AND the CONCERN to help us in our greatest need. Faith LEANS on that. Leans on the picture here in Mt 8. It leans on the empty tomb. It leans on the cross.
And one final thing I want to say about faith. Faith means we FOLLOW him. IMITATE him. We show compassion for the sorts of people Jesus had a heart for.
Perhaps it begins with CHILDREN. Not just YOUR children, but OTHER people’s kids too. How much time are you willing to give children. Before you dismiss their opinions or insights. And move on to something more important.
Then there’s the uncomfortable people. The NEW ones. The QUIET ones. Or perhaps it’s the NOISY ones. The ones who are hard to talk to. Who rub you up the wrong way. At church. But not JUST here. In your street, or school, or workplace.
Jesus had compassion on them. And you should too.
Let’s think a bit wider. There’s the smelly. The rejects. The ones who’ll probably try to use you. The needy, the risky. The ones who soak up your time and your energy and your compassion. But Jesus still shows costly compassion to them. And calls us to as well.
What are you RISKING for Jesus’ sake?
What is it COSTING you?
We’re a fairly middle class church here. But we’re surrounded by great need. You don’t have to look over too many fences to find them.
Are your hands reaching out like Jesus, or reaching up to cover your eyes, and pretend you don’t see?
What do our priorities, or programs, say about us as a church? About how well we follow Jesus. The one with great power and authority. But also, the one with the common touch.
Would that be what people say about US. “They’ve got the common touch?”
(pause) And if we wonder whether we’ve got the ability to DO it. Just remember the Lord we follow in showing compassion. Is the Lord with the great authority over everything. Who can work his purposes through us, as we learn to trust him.
May our prayer be the prayer Paul prayed for the Ephesian church.
18 I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, 20 which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21 far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.