Department of Religious Education,
Brigham Young University - Idaho
Matthew concludes the powerful Sermon on the Mount in these words: "And it came to pass, when Jesus had ended these sayings, the people were astonished at his doctrine: For he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes" (7:28-29, emphasis added). In the narrative following the discourse given on the mountain, Matthew vividly demonstrates the Savior's authority and power through a series of miracles.
These miracle stories were designed to instill a higher quality of faith in the reader. In the early history of the Church, the prophet Joseph Smith had seven lectures on faith developed to help the members of the Church understand the doctrine of faith. These lectures are known as the Lectures on Faith. Understanding these lectures will better help us understand what Matthew was attempting to do in the second narrative.
In the Lectures on Faith the prophet Joseph Smith taught that faith is more than belief followed by action. Faith is power (Lectures on Faith 1:13-16, 24; 4:6). He taught that God's faith or power is independent of any other being and that man's faith is imperfect and is dependent upon the power of God or God's faith (Lectures on Faith 2:2).
Joseph Smith stated that "three things are necessary in order" for men to have "faith in God unto life and salvation." The lectures were built around these three things.
First, "the idea that (God) actually exists" (Lectures on Faith 3:3). The second lecture was developed to demonstrate how the idea of the existence of God has come to mankind.
Second, "a correct idea of (God's) character, perfections, and attributes" (Lectures on Faith 3:4). Lectures three, four, and five discuss the qualities of God's nature that must be understood in order to have faith "unto live and salvation." In these lectures the Prophet taught that God was God before the world was created and after it was created, that he is merciful, he does not change, he is no respecter of persons, he cannot lie but is a God of truth, that he is all-knowing, all-powerful, a God of love, and that his justice and judgment are true.
Third, "an actual knowledge that the course of life which he is pursuing is according to (God's) will" (Lectures on Faith, 3:5). The prophet taught that man's faith is dependent upon God's faith or power and that God's power is extended to man only if it is "agreeable to the will of God" (Lectures on Faith 1:24). Lectures six and seven demonstrate the necessity of knowing God's will to exercise faith.
The three things necessary to have faith are vividly portrayed in the miracles stories found in Matthew 8-9. The people already had an idea that God existed. However, the people needed to have a correct understanding of the nature of God. These stories show that Christ was a living demonstration of the perfect character and attribute of God. These stories also show that God's power was extended to the people through miracles but only because it was his will. As one reads these stories, note how each individual seeks the will of Christ to receive his power.
Consistent with Matthew's pattern of placing things in three, the miracle stories are divided into three groups with each group separated by an interlude consisting of non-miracle material. The miracle stories show forth the nature of God while the interludes discuss the cost of discipleship.
By placing the miracles stories into three groups Matthew is showing his reader a fundamental characteristic of God: he has complete power over all things. The miracles themselves suggest this. The Savior demonstrates his power over the natural man, the elements, devils, death, and sin. The fact that the Savior has complete power is one of the essential attributes of God man must understand in order to have faith.
The First Group of Miracle Stories
The first group of miracles (Matt. 8:1-17) portray two more characteristics of God. The characteristic of mercy is shown by the Savior who healed three unlikely candidates: a leper, who would have been considered ritually unclean by the law of Moses and therefore cast out of Jewish society; a Roman centurion (actually it was his servant who was healed but only after the petition of the centurion), who would have also been considered unclean by religious Jewery; and a woman (Peter's mother-in-law). Women were often considered lower class in Jewish society. These stories also demonstrate another characteristic of God: God is no respecter of persons (Acts 10:34) but is God of all humankind. His mercy is extended to all who come unto him through faith. Also shown in these stories is that God's will must be made known before his power is granted. This can be seen in the plea of the Leper to the Savior. Said he: "Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean." To which the Savior responded, "I will" (Matt. 8:2-3).
A comment should be made regarding the story of the Roman centurion. The story continues the theme that the Gentile's can be more faithful than blood Israel. When the centurion asked the Savior to heal his servant, the Savior responded that he would "come and heal him." However, the centurion, knowing that a Jew who entered the dwelling of a gentile would be considered ritually impure by pious Jews, said to the Savior: "I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof: but speak the word only, an my servant shall be healed." The centurion reasoned that just as he, himself, was a man with authority and power who commanded his men under him by word only to do this thing or that thing, so the Savior who also had authority and power could heal his servant simply by saying the word. When the Savior heard this he marvelled at the man's faith and stated, "I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel." He then said: "That many shall come from the east and west (i.e., gentiles), and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven. But the children of the kingdom (i.e., the children of Israel) shall be cast out into outer darkness" because of the lack of faith and trust in Christ (Matt. 8:5-12).
Following the first group of miracles is
an interlude regarding the
cost of discipleship (8:18-22). The miracles performed by the Savior
a large following of people. To those who wished to follow him, the
taught that their discipleship may cost them the comfort of earthly
First came a scribe who desired to follow the Savior. To him, the
said: "The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but
Son of man hath not where to lay his head" (Matt. 8:20). In other
the Savior would be rejected by his own peer because of the things he
Was the scribe willing to face the same rejection if he followed the
Then another came desiring to follow the Savior. But, said he, "suffer
me first to go and bury my father." The Savior responded, "Follow me;
let the dead bury their dead" (Matt. 8:21-22). What appears to be a
harsh statement is soften when the culture of the day is understood.
the man's father really been dead he would not have been with the
for the dead were buried the same day they died. What the man meant by
saying "suffer me first to go and bury my father" is "let me first take
care of my familial responsibilities." It was an excuse or a
Who knows how long it would be before his father would die. Perhaps the
man was concerned about receiving his inheritance. What is sure is that
his priority for other things were greater than following the Savior.
The Second Group of Miracles Stories
In the second group of miracles (8:23-9:8), Matthew demonstrates the Savior's power over the natural elements (the calming of the sea), over Satan's realm (the casting out of the two demons), and over sin (the healing of the paralytic).
The last of these three stories is pivotal. It demonstrates both the mercy and power of God to free man from the ultimate plague, sin! A man who was paralyzed was brought to the Savior by his friends. When the Savior saw their faith (or confidence in his power), he said the man, "Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee." His sins may have been a contributing factor to his paralysis. But more likely his sins were of a greater concern to him (or the Savior!) than his physical condition. The Savior then healed the man, demonstrating that he had power to forgive and heal men from their spiritual maladies. Further, the Savior's mercy and compassion upon the sinner who comes unto him is clearly shown in this story. Joseph Smith taught that if men do not understand that God is "merciful and gracious, slow to anger, long-suffering and full of goodness, such is the weakness of human nature, and so great the frailties and imperfections of men, that unless they believed that these excellencies existed in the divine character, the faith necessary to salvation could not exist; for doubt would take the place of faith, and those who know their weakness and liability to sin would be in constant doubt of salvation if it were not for the idea which they have of the excellency of the character of God, that He is slow to anger and long-suffering, and of a forgiving disposition, and does forgive iniquity, transgression, and sin. An idea of these facts does away doubt, and makes faith exceedingly strong" (Lectures on Faith, 3:35-36),
The Second Interlude
Following the healing of the paralytic is the second interlude (9:9-17). This interlude begins with the calling of Matthew as a disciple of the Lord (9:9). Following the theme of the first interlude, the cost of discipleship, we are now shown that Matthew was willing to give up all he had to follow the Savior by giving up his occupation and reputation. Recall that when the cost of discipleship theme was first established in the Gospel of Matthew, Peter, Andrew, James and John had also given up their occupation and reputation to follow the Savior (Matt. 4:18-22). Matthew was a tax-collector and as such must have been wealthy. If so, Matthew would have been making a great fiscal sacrifice in following the Savior.
After the call of Matthew, the Savior was invited to dine with "publicans and sinners" (9:10-13). When questioned by the Pharisees about the propriety of this action, the Savior responded: "They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick . . . for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." This incident demonstrates the Savior's cost of discipleship and is a commentary on why the Savior exhibited his power to heal. As the Savior could heal the sick he could also heal the sinner. However, to heal both the sick and the sinner the Savior needed to be with them. His cost of discipleship required him to look upon others with compassion and to spend time helping them. His discipleship required him to think of the needs of others rather than his own personal concerns including how society might look upon him.
Though the Savior dined with "sinners," it is not to be assumed that he was participating in the practices of the sinners. He was there to help them understand the gospel. This story should not be used to justify participation in inappropriate activities.
A discussion concerning fasting followed next (9:14-15). The disciples of John asked, "Why do we and the Pharisees fast oft, but thy disciples fast not?" The Savior responded, "Can the children of the bridechamber mourn, as long as the bridegroom is with them? but the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken from them, and then shall they fast." In those days, associated with a wedding was a seven day feast in which there was as much food and drink as one could eat. To have fasted during the wedding feast would have been an insult to the host.
Through this little parable, the Savior was telling the disciples of John that the cost of discipleship included feasting upon his words of Christ while they could. For the days were coming when the Savior would no longer be with them, leaving them on their own. Then they would fast, for fasting was a sign of mourning. In a modern revelation, the Lord stated that we should "call upon me while I am near--Draw near unto me and I will draw near unto you; seek me diligently and ye shall find me; ask, and ye shall receive; knock, and it shall be opened unto you" (D&C 88:62-63).
The second interlude concludes with a discussion of the superiority of Christ's gospel (of healing) over ritualized Pharisaic Judaism (9:16-17). The beginning of the story is recorded only in the Joseph Smith Translation. The Pharisees asked, "Why will ye not receive us with our baptism, seeing we keep the whole law?" (JST Matt. 9:18) The Savior chided them, saying that they do not keep the law for if they had they would have received him. Further, the law of Moses had no power to save them. The gospel which Christ was offering had power to save men and bring them back to the presence of God. Therefore, he said, "when that which is new is come, the old is ready to be put away" (JST Matt. 9:21). The Savior did not come to patch up Judaism by putting "a piece of new cloth unto an old garment" or "new wine into old bottles" (Matt. 9:16-17). No, the cost of discipleship required that the people must leave their old religion and traditions behind and follow the higher gospel of Christ.
The Third Group of Miracles Stories
In the third and final group of miracles (9:18-35), Matthew demonstrates the Savior's power and authority over death, blindness, and the devil. These stories also demonstrate the necessity of faith on the recipients part to obtain that power.
In this first story (Matt. 9:18-26), "a certain ruler," whose daughter had just died, importuned the Savior to come and bring her back from death. The Savior acquiesced to the man's request. But while on the way to the man's house, a woman who had a menstrual period that had not ceased in twelve years secretly approached the Savior to touch the "hem of his garment" in order to be healed from her illness.
The desperate nature of the woman's plight is realized only when the following is understood. The physical debilitations of such an ailment is obvious and would be most exhausting. Beyond this, however, the woman would have been ritually impure according to the law of Moses. She could not have participated in synagogue or temple service. Anything she touched while in this condition would have become ritually impure. Anyone touching her or the things she had touched would have also become impure as well. This would have had a devastating effect upon her social life.
Physically ill and socially ostracized, the woman approached the only one whom she felt could relieve her of her sufferings, Jesus Christ. She touched the hem of his garment secretly, knowing that by touching the Savior he would become ritually unclean. But the Savior sensed something had happened and he turned and "saw her." This must have frightened the woman. However, he said to her, "Daughter, be of good comfort; thy faith hath made thee whole." He was not concerned about becoming ritually impure by the woman's action. He was only concerned about the woman and her plight. Once again, the mercy and power of Jesus Christ was demonstrated. Having healed the woman, he then continued on to the ruler's house where he raised his daughter from the dead.
Death and blood are the prominent features in this first story. Both death and blood (blood was often a symbol of death) were leading causes of ritual impurity in the law of Moses and symbolize the spiritual death that follow those who are influenced by Satan's kingdom. These two incidents demonstrate the Savior's power over death, both spiritually and physically.
In the second story (Matt. 9:27-31), the healing of the two blind men, the issue of blindness is treated. In the scriptures, those who have been led away from the truth are said to be blinded by their own hardheartedness and by Satan (Mark 4:12; 2 Cor. 3:14; 4:4; 2 Ne. 9:32; 27:5; Jacob 4:14; Alma 13:4;D&C 78:10). Thus the story demonstrates that the Savior's power can overcome spiritual blindness.
The third story (Matt. 9:32-35), the casting of the evil spirit out of the dumb man, shows once again the Savior's supremacy over the realm of Satan.
The interrelatedness of all three stories becomes obvious to the reader when it is remembered that it is the power of Satan that causes spiritual death and blindness in the world. Yet, Matthew has demonstrated clearly that Christ has power over all things that inhibit and stops man's progress towards the Kingdom of God.
The final interlude (9:36-10:4) leads into the second discourse. The Savior observed that those who were following with compassion "because they fainted, and were scattered abroad as sheep having no shepherd." The Greek word translated "fainted" is skullo, meaning exhausted by troubles. The imagery portrayed in this verse is a sheep being chased by a predator until exhausted or of a sheep searching for food by unable to find any. The suggestion is that those following the Savior are exhausted by the troubles of the world because they have no leaders.
The Savior would provide for them
leaders. To his disciples, the Savior
said: "The harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few." Upon
this, the Savior called twelve of his disciples as Apostles and shared
with them his power to heal with a commission to go "to the lost sheep
of the house of Israel" teaching them the gospel of the kingdom. In
interlude, Matthew tells us that the cost of discipleship includes
others who are in need.
The second discourse is aimed at the newly called Twelve Apostles. It contains instructions concerning their apostolic calling to the "lost sheep of Israel." The Apostles were told to preach that "The kingdom of heaven is at hand" and to heal the people as they travel among them (10:7-8). They were not to work to support themselves but as God's minsters he would provide for their support (10:9-10).
The Apostles were instructed: "And into whatsoever city or town ye shall enter, enquire who in it is worthy; and there abide till ye go thence" (v. 11). That is, they were to carefully search for lodging and only stay with those who were worthy. But we are not told what qualifies them to be worthy. When they approach a house where they might teach the gospel, they were told to "salute it." If "peace" comes upon the house then they are worthy, or perhaps ready, to be taught. If they are not, then the peace will "return to" the Apostles (10:12-13).
If they were rejected, they were to "shake off the dust of" their feet (10:14). "The Jews held that even the earth in Gentile lands was unclean, and it was their custom when they returned from abroad to shake from their feet the dust they had acquired when abroad" (Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew, p.250; see also, Lightfoot, Commentary on the New Testament From the Talmud and Hebraica, 2:185-186). The idea of shaking off the dust was to say that the city that rejects the message of the Apostles is no better than a gentile city. Further, the Savior warned: "Verily I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrha in the day of judgment, than for that city" (10:15).
The Savior told the Apostles that their missionary efforts would be stifled with resistance: "Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves. But beware of men: for they will deliver you up to the councils, and they will scourge you in their synagogues; And ye shall be brought before governors and kings for my sake, for a testimony against them and the Gentiles" (10:16-18) The Apostles were told that when that happens, they were to "take no thought how or what ye shall speak: for it shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall speak" (10:19).
They were further warned: "fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell" (10:28). That is, they should not be overly concerned with those who persecute them or can kill them. They should worry more about those who have the power to destroy the souls of men through making evil enticing.
Finally, the apostles were told that their message will bring a decisive sword among the people causing divisions within families as some accept their message while others reject it (10:34-37). The cost of discipleship requires that those who accept the gospel message put God and his work and glory at the center of their lives. They are to place his work above all else including family. Finally, the Apostles were told that those who accept their message accept the Lord himself for the Apostles are in the Lord's service.