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Miracles at Capernaum and on the Sea
Summary —The Leper Healed. The Servant of the Centurion Healed. Great Faith. Sitting in the Kingdom with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. Children of the Kingdom Cast Out. Following Christ. The Storm on the Sea. The Disciples in Terror. The Storm Quelled at His Voice. The Gergesene Demoniacs Healed. The Swine Perish in the Sea.
1, 2. A leper came. Compare Mark 1:40–45; Luke 5:12–15. Leprosy was a dreadful and hopeless disease. It begins as a skin disease, defies medical skill, and is a kind of living death. Dr. Schaff says: “Near the Jaffa gate of Jerusalem I saw, in 1877, these miserable creatures with withered limbs imploring aid, and visited a hospital of incurable lepers.” There are various forms of the disease, but white leprosy seemed most common among the Hebrews. With it the sufferer became white from head to foot. The leper, by the law of Moses, was regarded unclean, was separated from the people, was regarded as death, and the disease was a type of sin. See Lev. 13:1–12; 2 Kings 5:27; Num. 5:2. Lord. An expression of faith, as well as the words that follow.
3. Touched him … straitway his leprosy was cleansed. To touch a leper was forbidden, and carried ceremonial defilement, but at the touch of Jesus the source of the defilement fled, and the leper was clean. At the touch of Jesus all impurity flees.
4. Tell no man. This was forbidden until the man was officially declared to be healed. He could not enter society until the priest had so declared. To blaze the story abroad as a miracle of Jesus might prevent such a declaration on account of prejudice. Besides, the Lord often forbade noising abroad his cures, for various reasons, chiefly because the multitude so thronged him. Offer the gift Moses commanded. See Lev. 14:10, 22, 30, 31. For a testimony. An official proof of the miracle.
5. When Jesus entered Capernaum. See note on Matt. 4:13. His return to the place he made his home after the Sermon on the Mount and healing the leper. Compare Luke 7:1–10. There came unto him a centurion. A Roman military officer, corresponding to our captain. All Palestine was under Roman military government at this time, with headquarters at Cæsarea, and soldiers in every leading town. This centurion probably commanded the company stationed at Capernaum. He was, of course, a Gentile. We learn from Luke 7:3, he came to Jesus, not in person, but by Jewish elders, whom he supposed would have more influence with the Lord. These elders interceded more readily because he had built them a synagogue (Luke 7:5), either to secure favor, or because he was, like Cornelius, a devout man. In the ruins of Tel Hum, supposed to be Capernaum, are yet found the foundations of a synagogue, one known by certain characteristics to have been built in the Herodian period, and there can hardly be a doubt that it was the one built by the centurion, and in which Christ often preached. See Edersheim's Jewish Social Life, page 255.
6. Lord, my servant lieth at home sick of the palsy. Luke says his servant “was dear unto him,” and the whole account of Matthew indicates intense solicitude. Paralysis, or palsy, was a common disease in those days. (See Matt. 4:24.) Alford says, “The disease of the text may have been tetanus, or lockjaw, which the ancient physicians included under paralysis.” Luke says that “he was ready to die.”
8. The centurion answered. Through friends whom he had sent for this purpose (Luke 7:6). I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof. This humility was partly due to his consciousness that he was a Gentile. Rigid Jews did not hold social intercourse with Gentiles, and the centurion may have supposed that so holy a Jewish teacher as Jesus would hesitate to come under his roof. Speak the word only. “Speak only a word” is the idea, and “my servant will be healed.” Not even Martha (John 11:21) thought that Jesus could have saved her brother Lazarus without going to him. His faith was great.
9. For I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me. The meaning is: “If I, in my subordinate station, am obeyed, how much more thou, who art over all, and whom disease serve as their master.” As he could say, “Go,” to a soldier and was at once obeyed, so Jesus could say, “Go,” to the disease, and it would obey him.
10. When Jesus heard it he marvelled. There are two cases in the Lord's history where he is said to have marvelled; here and in Mark 6:6. In one case he marvels at the faith of a Gentile; in the other at the unbelief of the Jews. I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel. The greatness of his faith is shown in his lofty conception of the power and dignity of Christ. This great faith was found, not in Israel, but in a Gentile. In one case beside, that of the Syrophoenician woman (Matt. 15:28), also a Gentile, the Lord commends the greatness of faith.
11. Many shall come from the east and west. The terms, “the east and the west,” the extreme points of the compass, are taken to indicate the regions that are far away, the whole world. The Lord means not only those who are geographically far away from Israel, but those who have been far away spiritually, Gentiles as well as Jews. Shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob. The Jews were accustomed to speak to the delights of the Messiah's kingdom as a feast with the patriarchs. The language implies intimate domestic intercourse and fellowship. The kingdom of heaven refers, here, rather to the eternal blessed state than to the church on earth.
12. But the children of the kingdom. The Jews, the natural children of Abraham, the “Father of the faithful,” heirs of the promises made to him. Cast out. Because they rejected the Messiah, in whom all the promises center. Into outer darkness. The history of the Jews for 1,800 years has been a fulfillment of this passage. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. There is a hint at the wretchedness of a future state of punishment.
14. Peter's wife's mother. Compare Mark 1:29–34; Luke 4:38–41. Peter, whom the Catholics make the first of the popes, was, therefore, a married man. See also 1 Cor. 9:5. Malarious fevers are still common in the vicinity of Capernaum, due probably to the adjacent marshes.
17. Spoken by Isaiah. In the beautiful picture of the Messiah in chapter 53.
18. Now when Jesus saw multitudes about him. The multitudes had gathered to listen to his teaching, or to behold his miracles. The sea was only six miles wide, and the Savior often crossed it in order to secure retirement. There is no deep recess in the eastern hills; no towns along its banks corresponding to those in the plain of Gennesareth.
19. A certain scribe said, … I will follow thee. Compare Luke 9:57–62. Though this scribe belonged to a class which, as a body, rejected Christ, he was disposed to be a disciple (see verse 21), but had not counted the cost. See note on Matt. 2:4.
20. Jesus saith unto him. He rejects not this man's offer, nor refuses him the liberty to follow him, only he will have him know what he is doing and “count the cost.” The Son of man. It is the name by which the Lord ordinarily designates himself as the Messiah—the Son of God manifested in the flesh of Adam; the second Adam. Not where to lay his head. He, as the “Son of man,” did not possess what the humbler animals claim, a home.
21. Suffer me first to go and bury my father. There are two views. 1. That his father was already dead, and he wished only to attend the funeral and properly observe the last rites. If this view is correct, the Savior meant to teach that the duty to the Lord is higher than any earthly duty, and when one has to yield to the other it must be the lower one. 2. The view is also held that the disciple asked that he might be permitted to remain at home until his father's death and burial, and then follow Christ. That is the more probable view. It was the case of “loving father or mother more than me.”
22. Follow me. The highest of all duties, now discharged by becoming his disciple, obeying him and making his life our example. Let the dead bury their dead. Those spiritually dead will attend to the last rites of them who have died naturally.
23. And when he was entered into a ship. Compare Mark 5:1–21; Luke 8:28–40. Boat is a better rendering. It was a small open row boat.
24. There arose a great tempest in the sea. Mark says, “A great storm;” Luke, “There came down a storm of wind;” the word used by Matthew implies a tornado. The Greek word denotes a sudden and violent gust of wind, such as frequently bursts on the lake. All travelers describe the storms as very sudden and violent, caused by the cold air that rushes down from the mountains into the heated depression of the lake.
26. O ye of little faith. According to Matthew, he characterizes them as of “little faith; according to Mark he asked, How have ye have no faith? according to Luke, Where is your faith? The spirit of the rebuke is the same in all the accounts. Rebuked the winds and the sea. Mark gives the very words of the rebuke: “Peace, be still.”
28. Into the country of the Gergesenes. Compare Mark 5:1–21; Luke 8:26–40. Gergesa has been identified on the east shore of Galilee; the “steep place” and “tombs” are still seen. It was a village in the district of the Gadarenes. The Lord landed here after the storm. The Revision has Gadarenes in Matthew, and Gerasenes in Mark and Luke. The simple explanation of this difference is, that Gadarenes and Gerasenes are different names for the inhabitants of the same large district, so called from Gadara and Gerasa, two cities of that region; while Gergesenes is the name of the people of a smaller district within the other, and named from the city of Gergesa. Two demoniacs. Mark and Luke mention only one, the fiercer one, who spoke with the Lord. The tombs. The tombs were caves, natural or artificial, cut in the rock of the hill side, and, hence, suitable for a shelter. Fierce. So violent as to be dangerous (Mark 5:3–5; Luke 8:29).
29. They cried out. This account shows: (1) That demoniacal possession was not simply bodily or mental disease. (2) That evil spirits actually took possession of and controlled human beings. (3) That these controlled the actions and organs of speech of their poor victims. (4) We learn elsewhere that sin prepared the way for the entrance of the demon. Thou Son of God. The demons, like the devil, recognized him. Torment us before our time. These words show that they expected the final triumph of Christ.
30. A herd of many swine. According to Mark, 2,000. They were an unclean animal, kept probably by Jews in violation of the spirit of the Mosaic law; or, if by Gentiles, kept in violation of God's law for the land of Israel.
32. Go. A permission, not a command. Rushed … into the sea. Maddened, the swine rushed down the steep declivity into the sea. If we knew all the facts we would see more fully the righteousness of the Lord's permission. Perhaps the loss of the swine was a punishment. Perhaps it was to show that evil works its own destruction.
34. The whole city came out to meet Jesus. Filled with wonder and fear by the story. Besought him that he would depart. Partly from awe of one with such power; partly, perhaps, from fear of loss of more property. The Lord, bidden to depart, never returned. In this fact is a significant lesson. Mark tells us that the healed demoniac became a preacher of Christ in his own country.
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