When he was come down from the mountain, great multitudes followed him.…
The miracles of our Lord are an integral and necessary part of God's revelation of himself to men. Christ came not so much to reveal God's power as to reveal God's disposition to use that power for us; not so much to show God's holiness as to show his desire and purpose to make us also holy. Miracles, therefore, lay as naturally and inevitably in the way of Christ's work as his teaching with authority did.
I. THE HEALING OF THE LEPER is the first miracle recorded by Matthew, and it probably struck him more than it would at first sight strike us, by appealing to his Jewish ideas and sentiments.
1. For, in the first place, leprosy was not an ordinary, though a common, disease. It had a religious aspect, and was as symbolic as sacrifice or any other of the Jewish ordinances. It was, in the eye of the Jew, a frightful symbol of the condition of the outcast from God; he saw in it the true representation of the consuming and polluting nature of sin. For the sinner, too, is forced to cry, "Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" To cut off one member brings no relief; the diseased blood strikes out in some other part. You may make one sin impossible, but another takes possession of you. The disease, you find, is yourself; you are full of it. What can you do but what the leper did - come worshipping and beseeching to him who has power to heal?
2. It was partly because leprosy was symbolical of inward disease that Matthew saw in this healing of the leper the fulfilment of the prophetic words, "Himself took our infirmities, and bare our sicknesses." But partly, no doubt, because the prompt reply of the Lord, "I will; be thou clean," and his touching the man, disclosed the deep sympathy he had with men. Somehow the man had been brought to know that what nothing else could do for him Christ could. It is true of us all that we are dependent on Christ's will. Obviously one who pro-losses to have all power in heaven and on earth can do many things which you need and which no one else professes to be able to do for you. Will Christ listen to the cry of bodily disease and be unmoved by the poor wretch that cries for deliverance from moral defilement? With what may we not fill up the leper's form of petition, "If thou wilt, thou canst"? Very appropriately does Matthew put this "I will" of Christ's in the forefront of all the miracles he records. It is this word that opens the gate and lets in upon us supernatural forces. Will is, indeed, the only supernatural force we know. Our own wills are in a certain sense supernatural. And when our Lord utters the words, "I will; be thou clean," he is merely exerting in a higher degree this same inscrutable spiritual force. We know not how his will is exerted upon the sufferer, but the effect is immediate and undeniable. From the number of miracles our Lord wrought at this time Matthew selects these two, of the leper and the centurion's servant, that we may see the readiness and the potency of the will of Christ to heal.
II. IN THE CENTURION we meet with a high type of man; a kindly, generous, devout nature; a humility not to be expected in one accustomed to command and to represent a ruling race. But, as our Lord reminds us, there are humble, unselfish, right-minded men in all ages and in all countries. In the centurion he saw promise of a far richer harvest than Israel could afford - myriads of earnest men pressing from every quarter of the globe to hear the words of his kingdom. The exhilarating prospect has, however, its dark background. The earnest and humble devoutness cf spirit which spring up, one cannot tell how, in those outside the kingdom may be lacking to those within. These men glorified Christ, showed him in a right light and reflected honour upon him by their conduct. We have known more about him, have clearer views of his Person and methods; but, were our dealings with him recorded, would there be the same fair record of simple, unmurmuring faith, of humble dependence on Christ's will, and undoubting worship? But the distinctive feature of the centurion's application to our Lord is his persuasion that Christ's will can work at a distance as easily as at hand. He reasons from his own experience. He had but to give the word of command, and his whole troop obeyed him; and he could not suppose the word of Christ was in his peculiar sphere less potent and authoritative. Perhaps this idea had been suggested to him by his feeling the contrast between his own power on the battle-field and helplessness at the bedside of his servant. Was there not some one who had power even here - some one whose will could quicken even that inert body? The soldier, the law-abiding Roman, felt there must be. Two injunctions were laid upon the healed leper.
1. To tell no man. This is an instance of what our Lord very commonly did, enjoining the healed person to keep silence about his cure, partly from regard to the person's own best interests, partly from a regard to the proper work of Christ. If this man went and published his cure, many would come merely by way of experiment, as they would try a new doctor. But what was our Lord to do with such people, who merely wished for the physical benefit, and had no regard for his Person and no serious faith in him? And it would seem not improbable that this is the reason why we ourselves, even when we pray, get so little from Christ. Our faith is not serious enough; it is not the deeply rooted conviction that grows up in a man's self by the working of his own mind and the course of his own experience; it is second-hand faith. We ask from him not because we are sure we shall receive, but because other people think it right to do so.
2. The man is sent to the priest that his cure might be verified. The cure was real and substantial, and our Lord shrank from no official examination, but rather courted it. Another reason was simply because this was commanded. This man was not to suppose that, because his cure was extraordinary, he was to be exempt from the customary regulations. Now, the significance of this for all who derive benefits from Christ is obvious. They must approve themselves healed and sound-hearted persons before that court that tries us all, and in which the judges are the ordinary duties of life, and the persons with whom or for whom we work. The character formed by Christ is fit for all the practical work and service of life; and he who fancies that because his cure has been wrought in a miraculous, supramundane, heavenly fashion, it is to be followed only by an ethereal, supramundane goodness that can do none of the rough work of the world, may well suspect he has not been cured at all. But the main impression of these incidents is meant, no doubt, to be a deep conviction of the quick response our Lord ever shows to true dependence on him. - D.
Parallel VersesKJV: When he was come down from the mountain, great multitudes followed him.