Portraits of Jesus
by Joel Beeke
Matthew 8 presents several portraits of Christ in ministry. A comparison of Matthew’s accounts with those in other gospels makes it clear that Matthew’s portraits are not arranged in chronological order. Rather, they are given to us to teach us how Jesus is Savior, Master, and Lord of All. Let us walk through this portrait gallery, one room at a time.
First Room (vv. 1–17): The Savior who bears our griefs and sorrows
In the first portrait, Christ has given His great Sermon on the Mount with such authority that great multitudes of people are compelled to follow Him. From amid the crowd a leper presents Himself to Jesus, saying, “Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean” (v. 2 kjv). This simple prayer is a confession of faith in the authority of Jesus, and Jesus honors it. In granting this request, He both speaks and acts. It would be enough to speak the healing word (see v. 8), but the Lord is moved to do more: He extends His hand to touch and bless the leper. We today might not appreciate how shocking this action was to onlookers, or how welcome it must have been to the leper. The holiness of Christ comes into direct contact with the uncleanness of the leper, conveying the blessing, healing, and love of God.
The next portrait of Christ is in Capernaum. A Roman centurion, perhaps the ranking officer of the local garrison, pleads with Jesus to deliver his personal servant from the torments of paralytic disease. The Lord agrees to go home with the centurion and heal the servant. This action, too, is shocking, since a pious Jew of that time would not have entered a Gentile home. Knowing this, the centurion protests, saying that Jesus has such power that He need “speak the word only.” Jesus marvels at the man’s great faith and cites it as proof that many other Gentiles will likewise believe to the shame of unbelieving “children of the kingdom,” that is, fellow Jews who “received him not” (John 1:11).
Next we see Jesus in Peter’s home, where the disciple’s mother-in-law lies sick with fever. Jesus administers healing to the woman with the touch of His hand.
In the last portrait of the room, we see before Jesus a large number of people afflicted not only with physical illness but also demonic possession. The Lord speaks the word; devils are cast out and their illnesses are healed.
All of these portraits show how Christ’s ministry of healing fulfills the prophecy of the Messiah as the Suffering Servant who “shall justify many” by bearing their sins (Isa. 53:4, 11–12).
Second Room (vv. 18–27): The master and His disciples
At the height of His popularity, Jesus chooses to separate Himself from the multitude. He crosses the sea, putting more than seven miles of space between Himself and His eager followers. In the three portraits of this second room, Jesus asserts His authority as master. Note that the Greek word for “master” (kurios) can mean the teacher who has authority over disciples, the master who has command over servants, or the lord who has power over all. With Jesus, all three meanings apply.
In the first portrait, Jesus says that following Him involves living in the world as strangers and pilgrims (Heb. 11:13) and knowing “the fellowship of his sufferings” (Phil. 3:10). In the second portrait, Jesus teaches that the highest duty of a disciple is to follow Him first. This takes precedence even over what a son owes to a dead father. Finally, Christ stills a tempest on the Sea of Galilee and rebukes the unbelief of His disciples. They are to trust Him regardless of the dangers or trials they face; He is altogether worthy of such abiding faith. A disciple must believe at all times, especially in a time of crisis.
Third Room (vv. 28–34): Lord of all
This last room holds one, colorful portrait. Christ goes to the dangerous territory of the Gadarenes, where He meets two men possessed with demons who live among the tombs. They are so fierce that they scare off anyone who might pass that way. Jesus puts Himself in physical danger to show that He is Lord of all, even of the powers of darkness that bind men and torment them unto death. The demons themselves know and address Christ as “the Son of God,” a truth His disciples are slow to grasp and most unbelievers outright deny.
Even more remarkable is the response of the Gadarenes. His display of divine authority brings them no comfort or joy. They are more concerned with the economic loss of their herd of swine than the deliverance granted to their fellow suffering men.
If Jesus visited our churches today, how many, do you suppose, might be inclined to ask Him to leave rather than threaten our way of life? Are you bowing before Christ as Savior, Master, and Lord with your entire life?