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Matthew 8-9 “Authority Proven”

The miracles recorded in these next chapters following the SM never cease to amaze readers as it becomes obvious to all that the Jesus who preached the SM is exactly who He claimed to be and is capable of doing exactly what He promises. Yet, we often lose sight of the forest through the trees at this point, failing to see the larger point that Matthew is working overtime to make. Before jumping directly into a verse-by-verse exposition of Matthew chapters 8 & 9, it is necessary that we first take several steps to wrap our heads around this next section of Matthew’s gospel.


Remind Ourselves of the Context


As we have long before argued, Matthew arranges his gospel based on five major discourses by Jesus (chapters 5-7, 10, 13, 18, 23-25). Each of these discourses are followed by an accompanying narrative that is closely connected thematically, linguistically, and logically to the discourse that precedes. Given the size and content of each discourse, Matthew’s gospel begins to take on a chiastic appearance. Once Matthew’s introduction and conclusion are added, a broad outline for Matthew appears something like this:



Chapters 5-9, here entitled “The King’s Authority”, can easily be divided into two portions consisting of the discourse (5-7) and the following narrative (8-9). The macro-syntactical marker utilized by Matthew to signal the transition between discourse and narrative (καὶ ἐγένετο ὅτε ἐτέλεσον ὁ Ἰησοῦς τοὺς λόγους – and it was when Jesus finished these words) has already been discussed in the comments on 7:28.


The point is that we now find ourselves in the back half of Matthew’s first major theme. Therefore, we must assume (1) that there is some kind of correlation between the SM and these chapters and (2) this section is a cohesive unit. Jesus’ authority has been proclaimed in His SM and is now about to be proven via His actions. As such, we should expect and even look for connections between His teaching (5-7) and His works (8-9) and that those works are presented in an intelligent and purposeful manner. To become engrossed in the wonder of Jesus’ miracles to the extent that we lose sight of Matthew’s argument is to achieve nothing in the way of understanding. Authorial intention remains the chief priority.


Examining Developing Themes


After reading and rereading these chapters (as every good bible student should do) there are several themes that become evident. These themes are not necessarily exclusive to these two chapters, and yet they work to help the unity of these chapters become clear.


Miracles

It is a mistake to ignore the obvious. That this portion of Matthew is dominated by the miraculous works of Jesus goes without saying. A miracle or wonder is defined biblically speaking as something that defies explanation as only something that God can achieve. Winning the lottery, sinking a full-court granny shot, or beating a far superior Soviet hockey team (while highly unlikely) are not miracles. A miracle would be something like causing the earth to stop spinning without any adverse effects (Josh. 10:12-14), turning the Nile River to blood (Ex. 7:14-25), or raining down bread from heaven (Ex. 16:13-15). What Jesus does in these chapters is nothing short of miraculous.


Of the 20[1] specific and individual miracles performed by Jesus as recorded in Matthew, 10 are found in these two chapters. To phrase it a different way, 50% of Jesus’ miracles are recorded in what amounts to 7% of Matthew’s material. Matthew heavily emphasizes Jesus’ miraculous power or authority in these chapters.


“Authority”Ἐξουσία

Matthew has already set up this theme of Jesus’ authority in his record of the crowds’ response to Jesus’ teaching. Jesus taught as one having authority (ἐξουσία). Of Matthew’s ten uses of this term, half of them are within this section or near proximity to its context (7:29; 8:9; 9:6, 8; 10:1).[2] It is necessary that Jesus’ actions and deeds support His claims. After Jesus’ authoritative discourse (5-7), Matthew records Jesus acting in like manner.[3] This authority is recognized by some, questioned by others, and proved time and again through Jesus’ mighty works. Even when not explicitly used, this section reveals the extent of Jesus’ authority on earth.


“Behold!”/Ἰδού

The interjection ἰδοὺ (behold!) is a favorite of Matthew’s, appearing 62 times throughout his gospel. The term indicates that something strange or exciting has occurred and Matthew does not want the reader to miss it. That a leper would approach Jesus is a strange occurrence (8:2). The rapid descent of a violent storm requires an interjection (8:29). The unexpected mass suicide of a herd of swine is totally unexpected (8:32). With so many miracles and unexpected events occurring far outside the bounds of normality, it is of little wonder that 11 of Matthew’s 62 uses of “behold!” are found in these two chapters. When we read “behold” we know something marvelous or astonishing is about to happen.


Faith

It must be realized that there is a connection between Jesus’ miracles and the faith of those who seek them. In these chapters the verb πιστεύω (to believe) is used twice (8:13; 9:28) and the noun πίστις (faith, trust, belief) is used four times (8:10; 9:2, 22, 29). In fact, these occurrences record the very first time this word group is used in Matthew’s gospel and correspond with the healing of the centurion’s slave, the forgiveness of the paralytic, the restoration of the bleeding woman, and the sight given to the blind men. Jesus’ miracles of restoration and reconciliation correspond with the subjects’ faith regarding Jesus’ identity, ability, and authority.


Gentiles

For being an obviously Jewish gospel, Matthew gives a lot of room to Jesus’ interactions with Gentiles in these chapters. The social ramifications of a righteous Jew entering the home of a Gentile are addressed during Jesus’ interview with the centurion. The interaction between the two would have certainly been frowned upon. Yet, the faith of this Gentile exceeds anything Jesus has witnessed in Israel up to this point (8:10). Great faith in Jesus’ identity, ability, and authority exists and abounds among the Gentiles! To this we must add that Jesus personally entered Gentile territory when landing in the country of the Gadarenes (8:28). As He proves His authority, Jesus determined to reveal Himself to the Gentiles as well as the Jews.


The Response of Those Present

The single consistent thread running through the people who witnessed Jesus’ miracles is that of amazement (8:27; 9:8, 33). While this amazement falls far short of faith and obedience, it at least acknowledges the miraculous authority possessed (or at least harnessed) by Jesus. Yet, there were some who urged Jesus to leave them (8:34) and flat out rejected His identity, ability, and authority (9:34). Jesus’ sermon demanded a decision, and His works leave little room for indecisive astonishment. These chapters reveal the establishment of Jesus’ opposition and leave the reader to wonder which side of the fence the majority will land.


Discipleship

While most of chapters 8-9 record various miracles of Jesus, Matthew also records several passages that address the issue of discipleship. One of these passages records Matthew’s personal call to follow Jesus (9:9). If this section is supposed to support and demonstrate the subject matter of Jesus’ sermon, then discipleship must be addressed. The climactic point of the SM is that all who hear these words must follow Jesus alone. This point is pressed home when Matthew records of two would-be followers who have not made Jesus their exclusive pursuit (8:18-22). These two fickle followers stand in stark contrast to Matthew who is not only personally called by Jesus but leaves everything to follow Jesus alone. The cost and commitment of discipleship is a main feature of this section.


Understanding the Present Structure


By recognizing the interjection of these discipleship passages, a structure begins to take shape. While there are admittedly a total of ten independent miracles recorded, Matthew presents them in nine specific scenes.[4] These nine miracles are arranged in three groups of threes: (1) The leper, the centurion’s slave, and Peter’s mother-in-law. (2) Calming the storm, casting out demons, restoring the paralytic. (3) Healing the girl/woman, restoring sight to the blind men, casting out the mute demon. What separates these groups are Matthew’s interjections of discipleship narratives. Matthew therefore presents three groups of three miracles (8:1-17; 8:23-9:8; 9:18-34) interrupted by two blocks of discipleship sections (8:18-22; 9:9-17). The final verse of this section (9:35) is a fitting conclusion and is strikingly akin to 4:23 which transitioned from Matthew’s introduction (The King’s Advent) to his first major argument to follow Jesus alone (The King’s Authority). The structure of these chapters appears to look something like this:

· Contextual Introduction (8:1)

· Three Miracles (8:2-17)

· Discipleship (8:18-22)

· Three Miracles (8:23-9:8)

· Discipleship (9:9-17)

· Three Miracles (9:18-34)

· Contextual Conclusion (9:35)


While this certainly is helpful, there remains more to discover. Now that we have identified the divisions of this section, we must carefully examine and compare the various sections. For example, of the three miraculous passages the first (8:2-17) and third (9:18-34) record healings and restorations while the second (8:23-9:8) demonstrates Jesus’ authority over creation, the demonic realm, and sin. This observation appears to bring the first and third groups into a close relationship. Regarding this relationship, David Garland made the following comparisons[5]:

· The leper (8:2) and the ruler (9:18) come worshipfully to Jesus

· Jesus touched the leper (8:3) and is asked to lay hands on the daughter (9:18)

· Both the leper (8:2) and the woman (9:20) are cultically impure

· The centurion (8:5) and the ruler (9:18) come on behalf of those whom they love

· Jesus refers to the faith of the centurion (8:13), the woman (9:22), & the blind men (9:29)

· His first (8:3) and last (9:30) healings are followed by commands to tell no one

· The first (8:16) and last (9:32) units close with demoniacs being brought to Him

· Both the first and final units close with commentary on Jesus’ ministry (8:17; 9:33-34)


This confirms our suspicions that Matthew presents the first and third group of miracles in similar light, yet similarity is not sameness. The commentary that closes the first group quotes Is. 53:4 to explain why Jesus is healing the masses. The commentary that concludes the final group of miracles records the mixed astonishment and rejection of those who witnessed these healings; corresponding with the preceding verse in Isaiah’s Servant Song: He was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him (Is. 53:3 NASB). In other words, the authority which Jesus demonstrates is the authority to redeem the afflicted and reverse the effects of the curse.


When examining the two blocks of discipleship passages, we find a comparable tension between similarity and sameness. The first block (8:18-22) records two men who approach Jesus, one of whom desires to delay following Jesus. The second block (9:9-17) begins with Jesus approaching and calling His disciple who then immediately leaves everything and begins to follow Jesus. While there is much more to be said, these observations are sufficient to recognize that Matthew arranges 8:1-9:35 in a chiastic structure[6] that begins to look something like this:




Identifying Matthew’s Purpose


Recognizing this arrangement helps to identify and understand Matthew’s purpose. That these chapters prove Jesus’ authority which He claimed in the SM is beyond discussion. The question is not “does Jesus possess authority?” but “what is Jesus’ authority for?” That Jesus is the undisputed seed of David and Messianic King has already been established by Matthew. Yet, we see nothing of the King’s authority to crush rebels with a rod of iron (Ps. 2), shake the earth with His victorious wrath (Ps. 18), nor enter His capital with glory (Ps. 24). What Matthew does display is Jesus’ authority to undo and reverse the effects of the curse right down to its very root: sin. The three cosmic miracles find their climax in Jesus’ forgiveness of sin (9:2). The healing of the paralytic serves only to confirm that the Son of Man has this authority on earth (9:6).


While the center of the chiasm makes this sin crushing authority apparent, the surrounding wings help to develop and drive home the point. The first block of miracles concludes by identifying Jesus as Yhwh’s Suffering Servant from Isaiah 53. The third block inadvertently confirms this by recording Israel’s growing rejection of the Servant. The point then is more specific than to prove Jesus’ authority but that this authority has a specific purpose: The King has come with authority to die for the redemption of His people. This is not the time of the kingdom, but the time to purchase citizens by the King’s authority to lay down His own life as a ransom for many.


[1] Matthew records several instances of Jesus healing in general. This number reflects only those specific instances which Matthew records in detail.

[2] The other five uses are confined to the final week of Jesus’ earthly ministry (21:23, 24, 27) and to Jesus’ final proclamation and commission to His disciples (28:18). Regarding Jesus’ public ministry, Matthew uses “authority” as book ends in his narrative.

[3] John Broadus, Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, An American Commentary on the New Testament (Forgotten Books, 2012), p. 174.

[4] The healing of the synagogue official’s daughter and the healing of the hemorrhaging woman (9:18-26) consist of a single scene. The second appearing amid the first.

[5] David Garland, Reading Matthew: A Literary and Theological Commentary on the First Gospel (New York, NY: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 1993), p. 91-2.

[6] One might wonder that the myriad of chiasms in Matthew as purposed by the author is a bit fanciful and even farfetched. Yet, it is important to remember that (1) chiasmus is a common Hebraic tool and (2) Matthew, though writing in Greek, wrote as a Hebrew to Hebrews just as Irenaeus claimed in his work Against Heresies (3.1:1).

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