What does Matthew chapter 8 mean?After completing his report on Jesus' teaching in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:1–2), Matthew turns to demonstrating Jesus' authority over disease, demons, and even the weather. Instead of telling the story of Jesus' ministry in strict chronological order, Matthew groups Jesus' miracles into a series of stories, beginning with this chapter. This emphasis on miracles runs through chapter 11, where the focus will turn to Jesus' teachings and parables.
First, Jesus is approached by a man afflicted with some kind of skin disease. The Greek terms used here are the source of the modern term leprosy, though they originally referred to a wide range of conditions. Such persons were not only stricken with a disease, they were shunned from public life and ceremonially unclean. Boldly and with great faith and humility, the man kneels before Jesus and says that He can make Him clean if He wants to. Jesus touches the man, even though the law says that touching a leper makes a person unclean. In this case, though, the leper is immediately healed. Jesus commands him to go to the priest to be declared clean, without telling anyone what had happened (Matthew 8:1–4).
Next, in Jesus' adopted hometown of Capernaum, Jesus is approached by messengers from a Roman centurion (Luke 7:1–10). Centurions were military officers commanding as many as several hundred men. The officer's servant is paralyzed, suffering greatly, and on the verge of death. Jesus agrees to come to the centurion's home to heal the man, but the Roman officer says he is unworthy to have Jesus in his home. Instead, he points out that Jesus only needs to say the word to heal his servant (Matthew 8:5–8).
The centurion compares Jesus' authority over the natural world of human biology to that of his own authority as a Roman officer. He is both under authority and holds authority over his soldiers. He speaks a word and it is immediately carried out. He knows Jesus can do the same. Jesus marvels at the man's great faith, even though he is a Gentile, saying that He has not found anything like it in Israel. Jesus teaches the crowd that many Gentiles will be in the kingdom of heaven, along with Abraham and the patriarchs. Not every Israelite will be there, however. The key measure is not ethnicity or culture, but faith in Him (Galatians 3:28–29). Jesus speaks the word, and the man's servant is immediately healed (Matthew 8:9–13).
Next, Jesus goes to Peter's house and heals Peter's mother-in-law from a fever. He spends the evening healing many people of sickness and casting out demons. Matthew connects this to a statement found in Isaiah 53:4, part of a longer Old Testament description of the Messiah's earthly ministry (Matthew 8:14–17).
At some point in time, Jesus prepares to cross the Sea of Galilee. Two men approach claiming interest in following Christ. The first, a scribe, says He is willing to follow Jesus. Christ responds by telling him that this will not bring the scribe fame, fortune, wealth, or power—the implication seems to be that this man was looking for prestige, not truth (Matthew 8:18–20).
The other man refers to burying his father before following Jesus. Most likely, he meant that he would wait until his father had died; or, that he would observe the customary one-year wait to re-bury a loved one's bones. Again, Jesus answers in a way that challenges the man's assumptions. In this case, the man wants to delay following Christ until a more convenient time. Jesus quips that the man should not wait, rather that he should "leave the dead to bury their own dead" (Matthew 8:21–22).
Then Jesus gets into a boat with His disciples to escape the crowds, get some rest, and sail to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. While Jesus is sleeping, a sudden and violent storm springs up. Waves pour water into the boat. This is not a minor storm, given that the experienced fishermen among the disciples are in fear for their lives. They wake Jesus up and cry out to Him to save them. He asks why they have so little faith and immediately stops the storm dead with a command to the wind and the waves. The disciples are astonished and wonder what kind of man they are following (Matthew 8:23–27).
When the boat reaches the other side of the lake, Jesus is confronted by two demon-possessed men. This account is also depicted in Mark 5:1–20. The demons recognize Him as the Son of God. He casts them into a huge herd of pigs (Mark 5:13), who immediately rush into the sea and drown. The people of the region are afraid and ask Jesus to leave.