Today we resume our study of Matthew in chapter 8. Thus far, the first evangelist has shown our Savior to be a new Moses in his gospel. Like Moses, Jesus was in mortal danger shortly after His birth (Ex. 1:8–2:10; Matt. 2:16–18). Christ, the new covenant mediator, delivered God’s word on a mountain just as Moses received the Torah (the Law) on Sinai (Ex. 19:20–23:33; Matt. 5–7). However, Jesus comes not as Moses’ equal, but as his superior. Unlike Moses, our Lord explains the Law by His own authority (7:28–29). Moreover, Jesus comes down from the mountain to cleanse His people after declaring His Father’s will (8:1–4). Christ is better than Moses, who came down with commands that could only pronounce them “unclean” (Ex. 34:29; Lev. 13:1–8).
According to the Mosaic law, leprosy renders a person unclean, and the leper who approaches Jesus in today’s passage is used to living apart from the community in isolation or in a leper colony (Lev. 13:45–46). Since lepers are outcasts in Jesus’ day, the diseased man acts with audacity when he comes for healing, at least in the view of his culture. Yet the leper displays faith, not arrogance, when he kneels before the Christ. Convinced of the Savior’s power, the man knows that Jesus can make him clean if the Lord is willing to exercise His healing touch (Matt. 8:1–2). Truly, the leper’s recognition that Christ’s will is determinative is an example of how all are to come before Him (6:10).
Jesus could heal the man with His word alone (8:5–13), but He chooses to touch the leper (vv. 3–4). This point helps us interpret this text since Matthew emphasizes the touch with the “unnecessary” detail of Christ stretching out His hand (v. 3). Contact with a leper should render Jesus ceremonially unclean (Num. 5:1–4), but He is not defiled. Instead, His contact purifies the diseased man (Matt. 8:3–4), showing Him to be the fulfillment of the Law. Ceremonial regulations, including the leprosy laws, show us our need to be separated from all pollution, but such separation is ultimately possible only if men and women are themselves clean. Jesus’ touch cleanses His people, lepers or not, and will make it unnecessary to follow the letter of the ritual purity laws any longer.
Though not all diseases will be healed before the Lord returns to consummate His kingdom, we can be sure that He will cleanse the sins of everyone who confesses Him as Savior and follows Him as Lord (1 John 1:8–9). If you feel unclean this day, know that Jesus has indeed cleansed you if you love Him and have turned from your sin, placing your faith in Him. Pray for His continued cleansing and look forward to the day when all creation will be made new.
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