The three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.
Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.
My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.
Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.
24 So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, epileptics, and paralytics, and he healed them. 25 And great crowds followed him from Galilee and the Decapolis, and from Jerusalem and Judea, and from beyond the Jordan.
Matthew 4 begins with Satan tempting Jesus at the end of His 40 days and 40 nights in the desert.
Afterward, Matthew shows us that our Lord fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy by settling in Capernaum — the land of Zebulun and Napthali.
There, Jesus called on people to
Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. (Matthew 4:17)
Of His move from Nazareth to Capernaum, recall that Jesus began his ministry in Nazareth and had to leave when his fellow townsmen tried to throw him off a cliff (Luke 4:16:30). He had read part of the scroll to the congregation in the synagogue (Luke 4:18-19):
18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Incensed, the people asked among themselves who Joseph the carpenter’s son thought He was. Anger escalated when Jesus reminded them of Nazareth’s parlous state during Elijah’s time: a preponderance of widows, a terrible famine and a leprosy epidemic. Our Lord’s teaching session ended as follows (Luke 4:29-30):
29 And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff. 30 But passing through their midst, he went away.
He had foreseen this (Luke 4:24):
And he said, “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown.
Matthew has the story of His rejection in Nazareth later (Matthew 13:53-58), although it omits the attempt to throw Him off the cliff.
Back to Matthew 4. Having made His base in Capernaum, Jesus then called four fishermen to follow Him: Simon (Peter), his brother Andrew, James son of Zebedee and his brother John (verses 19 and 20):
19 And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” 20 Immediately they left their nets and followed him.
All of this is in the three-year Lectionary readings used in public worship. Oddly, these readings stop with verse 23:
And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people.
It is incomprehensible that today’s verses are not part of the Lectionary verses. Why? They are every bit as marvellous.
John MacArthur preached a whole sermon on Matthew 4:23-25.
Word of Jesus’s teaching and healing spread to faraway Syria!
Also in this is the reality of Gentiles coming from far and wide to see and hear Jesus.
The other marvellous aspect of this is that He healed so many diseases instantly and permanently.
Medicine was very primitive in those days, in fact, until the 19th century. The reason people in the Bible considered illness a curse was that many were in chronic pain or physical isolation from disease or ailments. The most physicians, such as they were, could do was to give patients herbs or potions.
Furthermore, there was no developed study of illness. Epilepsy was considered an aspect of lunacy at the time. John MacArthur explains (emphases mine):
… the old English says lunatic. It’s translated epileptic. That’s very interesting. Lunatic is a word with a Latin root and the first part luna comes from the moon because the people in those days thought that people were nuts because they got affected by the moon. Lunar sickness, they were sort of, they used to call them moonstruck. That’s where you get the idea of a lunatic; he’s moonstruck. But the best etymological connection for this word for us today is epileptic. The reason we say that is because in Matthew 17:15, that word is used to refer to a seizure that appears to be some kind of epileptic seizure. So our Lord could deal with disease that is caused by demons, all of it, and our Lord could deal with disease that is come kind of disorder in the brain or the nervous system or whatever malfunction creates seizures.
Another constant preoccupation of the time was leprosy, which is contagious. No one went near lepers, who had to be isolated from the rest of the community.
A phenomenon of our Lord’s ministry was the preponderance of demons. MacArthur says that nowhere in the Bible do we read of so many as during His time spent preaching and healing.
This was the most magnificent time the ancient world had ever known.
Matthew Henry explains:
They who came for cures, met with instruction concerning the things that belonged to their peace. It is well if any thing will bring people to Christ and they who come to him will find more in him than they expected. These Syrians, like Naaman the Syrian, coming to be healed of their diseases, many of them being converts, 2 Kings 5:15,17.
John MacArthur explains how word of Jesus travelled. Galilee was a trading centre with much Gentile interaction. As a result, the Galileans were used to new people and new ideas:
And, of course, to a Jew that’s a very despicable thing to do so there was much frowning upon Galilee because of the mixture of people that lived there. But you see Galilee was surrounded by foreign people. Along the coast, the very coastline itself was that great people who sailed the Mediterranean Sea known as the Phoenicians. Along the northern part were Syrians. Along the southern part were Samaritans. You remember the southern part of Israel and the northern part was separated by Samaria where the half-breeds lived. So they had the half-breed Samaritans on the bottom of them and they had on the north and east the Syrians, and on the west they had the Phoenicians.
And so there was a tremendous non-Jewish influence. And it tended to sort of water down the traditionalism and they were open to something fresh and they were open to something new and Jesus knew that. He selected that area. Additionally the roads of the world, the great roads of the world running from the east to the west and the north to the south passed immediately through Galilee. And we know about this, in fact, there was a very famous road in those days known as the Way of the Sea. And the Way of the Sea led from Damascus through Galilee and then made a left turn and went right down to Africa. Things coming from the eastern part of the world would come to Damascus; they’d be taken west to Galilee and then straight down into Africa. The road to the east went through Galilee and then right on out to the furtherest frontiers of the east, so it was a trade route. Because of that there was a tremendous mingling. Jerusalem never had that. Because of Jerusalem’s location it was isolated. It was on a high high plateau. People didn’t bother to go up there. It was in a desolate desert area to the east and a coastline to the west, desert to the south and so Jerusalem never had that trade element, as did Galilee. Traffic of the world passed through there.
In fact, one writer said Judea, that is the south, is on the way to nowhere and Galilee is on the way to everywhere. And so because of the mentality of the people, they were open to change, because of the constant influx of non-Jewish influence, and because of the tremendous population of people in a highly productive agricultural area Jesus was planned by God to begin His ministry there.
Matthew Henry’s analysis of Jesus’s cures examines them by miracle, mystery and mercy:
(1.) The miracle of them. They were wrought in such a manner, as plainly spake them to be the immediate products of a divine and supernatural power, and they were God’s seal to his commission. Nature could not do these things, it was the God of nature the cures were many, of diseases incurable by the art of the physician, of persons that were strangers, of all ages and conditions the cures were wrought openly, before many witnesses, in mixed companies of persons that would have denied the matter of fact, if they could have had any colour for so doing no cure ever failed, or was afterwards called in question they were wrought speedily, and not (as cures by natural causes) gradually they were perfect cures, and wrought with a word’s speaking all which proves him a Teacher come from God, for, otherwise, none could have done the works that he did, John 3:2. He appeals to these as credentials, Matthew 11:4,5; John 5:36. It was expected that the Messiah should work miracles (John 7:31) miracles of this nature (Isaiah 35:5,6) and we have this indisputable proof of his being the Messiah never was there any man that did thus and therefore his healing and his preaching generally went together, for the former confirmed the latter thus here he began to do and to teach, Acts 1:1.
(2.) The mercy of them. The miracles that Moses wrought, to prove his mission, were most of them plagues and judgments, to intimate the terror of that dispensation, though from God but the miracles that Christ wrought, were most of them cures, and all of them (except the cursing of the barren fig tree) blessings and favours for the gospel dispensation is founded, and built up in love, and grace, and sweetness and the management is such as tends not to affright but to allure us to obedience. Christ designed by his cures to win upon people, and to ingratiate himself and his doctrine into their minds, and so to draw them with the bands of love, Hosea 11:4. The miracle of them proved his doctrine a faithful saying, and convinced men’s judgments the mercy of them proved it worthy of all acceptation, and wrought upon their affections. They were not only great works, but good works, that he showed them from his Father (John 10:32) and this goodness was intended to lead men to repentance (Romans 2:4), as also to show that kindness, and beneficence, and doing good to all, to the utmost of our power and opportunity, are essential branches of that holy religion which Christ came into the world to establish.
(3.) The mystery of them. Christ, by curing bodily diseases, intended to show, that his great errand into the world was to cure spiritual maladies. He is the Sun of righteousness, that arises with this healing under his wings. As the Converter of sinners, he is the Physician of souls, and has taught us to call him so, Matthew 9:12,13. Sin is the sickness, disease, and torment of the soul Christ came to take away sin, and so to heal these. And the particular stories of the cures Christ wrought, may not only be applied spiritually, by way of allusion and illustration, but, I believe, are very much intended to reveal to us spiritual things, and to set before us the way and method of Christ’s dealing with souls, in their conversion and sanctification and those cures are recorded, that were most significant and instructive this way and they are therefore so to be explained and improved, to the honour and praise of that glorious Redeemer, who forgiveth all our iniquities, and so healeth all our diseases.
The prophet Malachi spoke of the ‘sun of righteousness’ (Malachi 4:1-3):
The Great Day of the Lord
4 “For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the Lord of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. 2 But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall. 3 And you shall tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet, on the day when I act, says the Lord of hosts.
These two verses of Matthew’s — rejected by the Lectionary compilers — add so much to our appreciation of Jesus’s healing miracles, revealing His inexhaustible mercy and love for all, including Gentiles.
Such an editorial decision beggars belief. Congregations can’t bear to hear two additional — and informative — Scripture verses? I do wonder about the Lectionary people.
In closing, John’s Gospel tells us that there were countless additional miracles which do not appear in his account (or the other Gospels) — John 20:30-31:
The Purpose of This Book
30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
Next time: Matthew 5:25-26