The last few chapters recorded the beginning of the teaching ministry of Jesus. Now this chapter begins recording the healing ministry of Jesus. We should keep in mind that most of the Gospel writers did not arrange their material in chronological order as it is common for us to do. Only Luke claimed to have put everything down “in order,” (Luk 1:1-3). Matthew seems to have arranged his material around themes.
The very first healing recorded in the Gospels is the leper who came to kneel before Jesus, stating, “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.” Boy, that is the 64,000 dollar question, isn’t it? We all know that God is able to heal anyone of anything, but is He willing to do so?
“Willing” in Greek is thelo, and it means, “to will, have in mind, intend, as in, to be resolved or determined, to purpose, to desire, to wish, or even to love; to like to do a thing, be fond of doing; to take delight in, have pleasure in doing.”
The leper is asking Jesus, in essence, “Do You want to heal me? Do You desire to heal me? Or is this something You might be doing begrudgingly, out of obligation or some sense of duty, but You could really care less whether I have leprosy or not?”
And Jesus answered him, “I am willing.” — I am resolved to heal you, I am determined to heal you, I want to heal you, and it even gives Me pleasure to do so. This is such a key to understanding the character of God!
Peter says of Jesus:
“… how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, who went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him.” Act 10:38
It is in the Lord’s nature to alleviate the suffering of others, to lift the oppression of the devil off of those who are afflicted, to make them clean and to set them free. That is the first thing we are to understand about Jesus as Matthew begins to reveal His healing ministry. So I believe it is no accident that this story of the leper is the first one Matthew chose to tell about Jesus.
We find from this chapter Jesus healing Jews and Romans, men and women, slaves and free, the clean and the unclean (leprosy was considered a disease indicating impurity or uncleanness as defined by Torah), diseases affecting the body, as well as afflictions affecting the mind or soul; temporary illnesses (fever) as well as permanent conditions (leprosy), those illnesses which were momentary inconveniences as well as those illnesses which led to death’s doorstep.
In verse 16-17, it says that Jesus healed all who were sick, in fulfillment of prophecy in Isaiah 53.
“He took our infirmities, He bore our sicknesses,” (vs. 17).
The Hebrew for “took” means “to take away completely, to lift off, to carry away, as well as to support, to sustain, and to endure.” The fact of the matter is, in these days, some people get healed when they pray, and some don’t. I cannot even begin to explain why. My own mother died of cancer, even though I prayed for her, while my son was completely and instantly healed of a life-threatening skull fracture and brain damage with absolutely no side effects whatsoever. For my son, Jesus took away completely his infirmity, and for my mother, He supported her and sustained her while she endured that illness. For both, He took their infirmity.
Now I tend to believe that it is the Lord’s will to heal every sickness of every person. Why some people don’t get healed is a puzzle. I know the faith teachers teach that it is because the person did not have enough faith (verse 13?), while the Calvinists teach it is all in the hands of a sovereign God. I tend to think the answers might be less trite.
All I know is, God is not only able to alleviate our suffering, but He is also willing to do so! Let us keep asking, seeking, and knocking persistently, and not give up!