Matthew 8:1-17 | Study and Discussion Guide
The Gospel of Matthew has been called a “Manual of Discipleship”. The whole gospel can be read as preparation for the reader to hear the stunning challenge of the last words of Jesus, “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you until the end of the age.” (Matt. 28:18-20). Jesus claims absolute and comprehensive authority. He calls for obedience in everything and commissions everyone to his mission. Why would we follow someone who asks for such total surrender? Chapters 8-12 of the Gospel of Matthew answer that question in this way: If you truly understand who Jesus is, you will come away saying, “Why would I do anything else?”
The Welcome to Outsiders: Matthew 8:1-15 tells the story of Jesus healing three people who were considered outsiders by the faithful religious community of his day.
The Leper - Spiritual/Physical Outsider: Lepers were the furthest outside the social-religious community of Israel. They were considered unclean and cast off to live alone. This leper broke all the rules (see Leviticus 13:45-46) to get to Jesus in hopes that he wouldn’t be turned away. Not only was he not cast away, he was made clean by the touch of Jesus. He was sent to the priests to be officially pronounced clean and brought back inside the community.
The Roman Centurion - The Ethnic Outsider: A Roman centurion was the furthest ethnic outsider at the time of Jesus. Not only was he a Gentile (a non-Jew), he was a commander in the Roman army. His job was to keep the Jewish people oppressed and subjugated under the rule of Rome. He would have been considered unworthy of receiving anything from God but judgment. Yet Jesus allowed him to come near and commended his faith as being greater than any Israelite he had ever met!
Peter’s Mother-in-Law - The Gender Outsider: In Jesus’ day, women were considered second class citizens. They were not allowed past the “court of women” in the temple and worshipped in the back of synagogues behind screens. Here Jesus breaks all the conventions and goes to Peter’s mother-in-law without being asked. He touches her and welcomes her service.
A Warning to Insiders
Alongside, his unprecedented and scandalous welcome of outsiders, Jesus gives a sober warning to those who consider themselves on the “inside”. In 8:10-12 he says to his followers that many of those you think are outsiders (“from east and west”) will come inside to share in the feast of my kingdom and many who think they are insiders will be on outside. Outer darkness, weeping and gnashing of teeth are horrible images of being outside of God’s eternal kingdom. The sober warning is here is directed to “those following him” (ie insiders). Frederick Dale Bruner notes that “all of Jesus’ warnings about hell occur in messages to people who believed themselves to be heirs of the kingdom, Jesus does not preach hell to pagans; but to those who think themselves believers” (The Christbook: Matthew 1-12 383-4).
The Way In for Everyone
The welcome and the warning BOTH lead us to the same place. It’s what gives great assurance to those with an outsider-heart. It’s what convicts and breaks the pride of insider-heart. It’s the way in for everyone. Matthew shows us the way in by providing an interpretive summary in verse 17. The healings are a fulfillment of Isaiah 53:4. Isaiah said a Suffering Servant would come to take and carry our weaknesses and disease. This servant doesn’t just heal, he takes and carries the effects of our sin, the judgment our sin deserves and our sin itself. This servant would take our place on the outside so we could have his place on the inside. This is the only way in for everyone. We are equally unclean, unworthy and unable. Jesus the only Insider had to become the ultimate outsider in our place.
REFLECT – on the chart below.
Do you agree that the answers are accurate? How do you account for the differences? What can followers of Jesus learn from this about how we represent Jesus to those who don’t believe? What would it look like for Christians to live out Jesus’ attitude and approach to outsiders?
This passage shows us that Jesus brought the most inclusive welcome to outsiders the world has ever seen. He crossed over every spiritual, physical, ethnic, gender wall in his time. He welcomed, touched, healed, commended and included those who were considered outsiders, outcasts and second class.
How does this help us in our doubts or skepticism when we ask, “Why follow Jesus?” How does this encourage us when we feel like we are never good enough and will never measure up to being a “true follower of Jesus”?
An insider-attitude says to God, “Of course I’m in. I expect to be. No surprise there.” Jesus had a very serious warning to those who have this attitude. Two warning signs of an insider-attitude were shared in the sermon:
a. There’s Comparison and No Conviction
Do you find yourself favorably comparting your “small” sins to the “big” sins of others? How so? How does this passage help you see great danger in this?
Is it hard for you to genuinely say, “I am as unclean as a leper, as unworthy as the roman commander, as sick & unable as a Peter’s mother-in-law lying in bed. In my sin, I am outside. I’m not clean, I’m not worthy, I’m not able!” Why is this hard for you?
b. There’s Presumption and No Surprise - Surprise and wonder are the key to following Jesus. The more regularly we are surprised that we are in; the more we will obey him, follow him and do whatever he says to do.
Where do you see signs of presumption in your faith?
When have you felt moments of surprise and wonder? What led to these moments?
Use Isaiah 53 to answer these questions: What does it mean that Jesus took our place on the outside? What does it mean that we get his place on the inside? Why is this the only way in for everyone?
SUMMARY: Why Follow Jesus? Because he offers the most inclusive welcome to outsiders the world has ever seen. If it wasn’t for Jesus, we would all still be on the outside. Because of Jesus, anyone can come in.