He Took Up Our Infirmities

What kind of healing would you have sought from Jesus if you had lived while he walked the earth?Look at Matthew 8:1–17 before you answer.

Trust your compassionate Lord. Recognize the compassion of Jesus. Jesus’ compassion is seen in his healing three unlikely candidates: a leper, the servant of a Gentile, and a woman. Matthew may not be trying to convey exact chronology, but grouping examples of miracles. Leprosy in Biblical days may not be identical with the modern disease described by that name. It not only caused physical suffering, but also enforced isolation from society. A leper was unclean. But notice Jesus’ willingness to reach out and touch the man, v. 3. Hear the compassion reflected in, “I am willing!” He is willing to cleanse. A similar compassion is evident in Jesus’ willingness to enter the home of a Gentile (v. 7—an act which the rabbis believed made one ceremonially unclean) to heal the paralyzed servant of the Roman centurion. The mere touch of Jesus’ hand brings healing to Peter’s mother-in-law. Matthew 4:23 summarizes Jesus’ early ministry. Having given a sample of Jesus’ preaching (Matthew 5–7), he now shows you some of his miracles. They are a visible form of the good news of the kingdom. “When our Lord came down to earth He drew heaven with Him. The signs which accompanied His ministry were but the trailing clouds of glory which He brought from heaven, which is His home.” (Benjamin B. Warfield, Counterfeit Miracles, p. 3).

Believe in the authority of your Lord. The theme of authority keeps recurring: Matthew 7:28, 29; 8:9; 9:9; and by implication in all of the power over illness (8:3, 16), nature (8:27), demons (8:16, 28–34), and even death (9:25). Ironically, that authority is not fully recognized by the people. Yes, they marvel at his teaching, 7:28. Crowds come to be healed (which may be why Jesus tells the leper not to tell anyone—he is not a magic healer, but the Messiah). The people Gadara even plead with him to leave, 8:34! But a Gentile, the Roman centurion, understands Jesus’ authority, and trusts him. His protest at Jesus coming under his roof may well not only be a concern about ceremonial defilement for Jesus, but more deeply an awareness of his own sinfulness and the holiness of Jesus. He recognizes that Jesus has authority, and that his personal physical presence is not essential to healing.

Trust the One who takes up your infirmities. Jesus, as the Suffering Servant, bears your infirmities. Matthew describes Jesus performing miracles of healing as fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah 53:4. Note that Matthew does not describe prophecy being fulfilled in order to prove its divine character. Nor is it simply a mechanical, automatic fulfillment. Rather, the progress from the old covenant to the new is in view. The history of Jesus is to be understood as “the action of God in fulfilling his own word to the prophets’” (Ned B. Stonehouse, The Witness of the Synoptic Gospels to Christ p. 192). “Jesus’ suffering and death was not by fate’s decree, nor was it merely according to a divine decree about him which might be inferred from providence. It was the carrying out of God’s will to save us which had been determined beforehand and made known by the prophets.” Herman Ridderbos The Coming of the Kingdom, p. 165). Jesus, as the Suffering Servant takes over the infirmities and diseases of mankind. It is not that specific illnesses are always (or even usually) the result of specific sins. But sickness and death entered the world at man’s sin and are part of its curse. Jesus not only proclaims the good news that the kingdom of heaven is present, he also presents the it in powerful, visible form. The curse upon sin begins to be rolled back. This anticipates the glory of the final triumph at his second coming. Although he sometimes brings wonderful healings and answers to prayer now, your final healing will take place then. For Matthew, as well as for Isaiah, a close connection exists between Christ suffering as the sin-bearer and his taking our infirmities upon himself.

Trust your Savior! It took real faith to look beyond the spectacular character of the miracles and recognize the authority of the King. Crowds came for immediate benefit. Not all of them were willing to follow (verses 18–22). The centurion recognize that authority, and placed his trust in Jesus. Jesus notes that his faith exceeds any that he has found in Israel. Jesus points to the consummation, the great feast, and describes the nations coming and replacing those who considered themselves the sons of the kingdom (i.e. its natural subjects). It takes that kind of faith to look at your sufferings and see them, not first of all as a problem to be removed, but rather as an instrument that God is using in your life at this point. “All of your experiences—the good and the bad, the pleasant and the painful, the loud and the silent—have a single goal: to conform you to Christ, to whittle down your thoughts and desires and behaviors so that they resemble those of a two-thousand-year-old Mediterranean carpenter. That’s what all of your experiences are for. This is a revolutionary approach to suffering of all kinds because instead of saying, ‘How can I get past this?’ we can say, ‘God, what are you doing with this right now?’ And once we ask that question, we can delve into the depths of Scripture to find a concrete answer.” (Pierce Taylor Hibbs, “PTH, Suffering Is an Asset” posted June 6, 2020). Citizenship in the glorious, powerful kingdom belongs, not to those who expect it by some natural right, but to those who trust in the Messianic King. Matthew records these healings so that you can come to trust this One who bears your infirmities.

No, the real question isn’t what might you have been healed of if you had lived 2,000+ years ago. Nor is it even what might Jesus heal you of today. Rather, the crucial question is, do you trust Jesus as your Messiah, the One who takes both the guilt of your sin, and (sooner or later) your infirmities upon himself?

About jwm

I serve as pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church, Newberg, Oregon.
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