As I read the final verses of Matthew chapter 4 recently, it struck me that Matthew 4:23-5:2 function as the introduction to the Beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount. Matthew describes the priorities of Jesus and introduces the crowds that followed the teacher and healer wherever he went:
“Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed; and he healed them. Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him. Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them. He said:” (Matthew 4:23-5:2)
Jesus then began his great sermon with the blessings that we call the Beatitudes. As in the early chapters of the book of Mark, Jesus focuses on teaching while continuing also to heal the physical ailments of the people who come to him. He proclaims the good news, or gospel, of the kingdom, which he will emphasize during the following sermon when he says,
“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33).
In the sermon, Jesus will describe what disciples are and he will teach his hearers to pray, using what is often called the Lord’s Prayer as a model or template. The teaching about prayer falls in the middle of teaching about what it means to be a disciple of Jesus in the kingdom of God. The final verses of Matthew 4 reveal that the influence of Jesus spread into largely non-Jewish areas even during his ministry and introduces a glimpse into the variety of afflictions that he healed. If you or a family member has suffered from pain or had seizures or experienced paralysis, you can imagine the joy and relief that his therapeutic work gave them. Jesus cared for the whole person.
When Jesus came down from the mountainside (Matthew 8:1-4), a man with leprosy approached and asked to be made clean, to be healed. Jesus healed him, but then instructed the man to comply with the requirement of the law that his healing be validated by a priest and that he offer the gift that Moses had commanded. Jesus did not scoff at the requirements of the law regarding healing from certain diseases.
These chapters in Matthew give us insight about what it means to follow Jesus faithfully. They inform us about his priorities and how he sought to heal both the body and the soul. They remind us that seeking God first and trusting him does not require us to scorn medical guidance from doctors or the government. Today, chronic diseases and viruses alike continue to endanger lives around the world. People with epilepsy, COVID, and ALS (and many more diseases or conditions) yearn for healing. Many hunger also for a healthy soul. During the past few weeks, I have begun to memorize and to meditate on Matthew 4:23-8:4. A healthy relationship with God includes talking to God in prayer, but also listening to what he has revealed in Scripture. I encourage you also to study the Bible carefully as you pray so that your requests may align with God’s will.
- Quotes from the Bible are from the New International Version 2011.
O God who saves and heals, we come to you in our pain, seeking relief from our afflictions. Some of us know pain too well or have suffered from seizures interrupting our lives. Others struggle with mental illness or chronic anxiety. Illnesses disrupted our work and relationships. Many of us are very tired of hearing about a virus that continues to endanger lives in many parts of the world. We ask for healing, and for help in realizing how we may be your agents in healing others, whether physically or spiritually. Thank you for people who dedicate their lives to healing others, often endangering themselves. Thank you for their spirit of sacrifice. Keep them safe as they serve us. Thank you for a Savior who can heal our souls. May we focus on him as we seek your kingdom. I pray in Jesus’ name, amen.