Matthew 7:28 – 8:3

28 And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, 29 for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.

8 When he came down from the mountain, great crowds followed him. And behold, a leper came to him and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. [1]


The last two verses of Matthew Chapter 7 and the first three verses of chapter 8 record what happened when Jesus finished his sermon and began to walk down the mountain. Matthew transitions from the Sermon on the Mount to “the sermon on the move.”[2] These two scenes, the crowd’s reaction, and Jesus’ response to a desperate plea, display the authority of King Jesus.

Everyone knows the difference between a person who speaks out of vast and accurate knowledge and the person who merely repeats what he’s heard from others. The first is the voice of authority. The other is the voice of a parrot. The first is the sound of the fountain bubbling forth freshly from the ground. The second is the sound of an empty cistern.

There are times in history when there are none to speak with authority, and when that happens, there will always be some who, although they have no authority, nevertheless assume it. That was true in Christ’s day. For 500 years Israel had been without a prophet. As a result, the scribes had emerged as apparent authorities because they had learned the scriptures by rote. They were the recognized teachers of the law, and it was their duty to memorize the law, together with all the various opinions about it given by learned rabbis of the past. They were then to pass this knowledge on for the benefit of their fellow Israelites.

The Jews who heard Jesus preach the Sermon on the Mount grew up with these authorities. But when they heard Jesus for the first time, they were impressed with the infinite distance that lay between his preaching and the teaching of the scribes. Jesus spoke with authority. They spoke from authority. The scribes rested all they said on traditions of what had been said before. But Jesus spoke out of his own soul, with direct intuition of truth. Therefore, he could speak to the soul of his listeners.


Matthew tells us when Jesus had finished preaching, his listeners were apparently more impressed with his authority than with the content of the sermon itself. “28 And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, 29 for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.

Some commentators and teachers believe this was not good since they were more impressed with form over substance. Certainly, it would have been a far better reaction to come to the fullness of faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. But no one was at the point where such a profession of faith was possible, not even the disciples. So it was far more important at this stage of Christ’s ministry that their attention should be riveted to the preacher of the sermon. He is the narrow gate. He is the rock upon which they were now to begin to build.[3]

To set the authority of his teaching in contrast with that of the scribes is a bold claim, since the scribes were the authorized teachers of the law who in virtue of their training and office had a right to expect the people to accept their legal rulings. When Jesus comes to Jerusalem it will be with the scribes that he must debate, and against them that his tirade in chapter 23 will be delivered. It will be a contest of authority, that of the established guardians of legal tradition against that of the upstart Galilean preacher. But here already the people, perhaps remembering how in 5:20 Jesus has declared the “righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees” inadequate, sense a new dimension in Jesus’ teaching.[4]

To be impressed with Jesus’ authority was not bad. It meant they were impressed with him. It doesn’t mean that the Sermon on the Mount was ineffective, even if it was not perfectly understood, as long as it fulfilled this function. The Word of God always works. It works judgment upon those who refuse to believe and it opens the eyes of the elect to the person and work of Jesus.

That’s why it has been important for us to study the sermon. It points us to the Lord Jesus Christ. The preacher of this sermon is the sermon itself. By studying it we are brought into intimate contact with him. There is much we may not understand. But at least we should see him. At the beginning of this sermon, Jesus warned that his followers would be persecuted for his name’s sake, not for the sake of his teaching but because of their relationship to him.

Jesus revealed himself as the authoritative expounder of God’s holy perfect law. He repeatedly said, “You have heard it said… but I tell you….” He placed himself above the rabbis and scribes without the slightest apology, reserve, or qualification. He plainly stated that he had not come to destroy the law, or the prophets, but to fulfill them. In other words, he was the Messiah. In chapter six he instructs us how to do works of charity, how to pray, how to fast, and how to avoid materialism and anxiety. In Chapter 7, he warns against anything that might turn attention from himself and lead the wanderer into judgment.

These statements immediately distinguish the Lord Jesus Christ from all other religious teachers. Other teachers may be self-effacing. Jesus is self-advancing. Other teachers point away from themselves and say, “That is the truth as far as I understand it; follow that.” Jesus says, “I am the truth. Follow me.” Christ’s authority was himself alone, apart from any tradition or any merely human teacher.

Jesus not only spoke with authority, but he also acted with authority. So, his works served to substantiate his claims. By the time he preached this sermon, according to Matthew 4:23-25, the Lord had already healed various types of illnesses among the people and had cast out demons. But they were yet to see the great Messianic miracles that would begin to follow this sermon. They were yet to see lepers cured, the eyes of the blind opened, the dead raised to life, a storm stilled, water turned to wine, thousands fed from just a few shreds of lunch, and heaven opened.


Matthew, beginning in 8:1, goes on to present in chapters 8–9 a collection, almost as long as the discourse just concluded, of stories of Jesus’ authority. This anthology of miracles also provides the narrative basis for Jesus’ Christological claim. These two chapters have thus been designed to play a foundational role in the building up of Matthew’s account of Jesus as the Messiah. Chapters 8–9 thus present “a ‘slice of life’ view of Jesus’ overall ministry. They contain fully half of all Jesus’ miracles individually recorded in Matthew’s gospel.[5]

Matthew’s rearrangement of the traditional order of the healings recorded in Mark 1:29–45, so that the story of the leper comes first, is designed to highlight Jesus’ work of deliverance by putting up front a more striking instance of Jesus’ restoration of the distressed and excluded. The three individual accounts are of the healing of people who for different reasons were from a Jewish point of view disadvantaged: the leper was by virtue of his illness an outcast from normal society, the centurion (and presumably also his servant) was a Gentile, and the third patient was a woman.[6]

We have only time to delve into the first miracle Matthew lists in chapters 8 and 9. Jesus is coming down out of the hills and back onto the plane. As he descends, we see a beautiful illustration of what the character and power of the Kingdom is like, a living illustration of the healing of a leprous man. Understanding something of the man’s predicament reveals the fullness of Christ’s teaching. Doctor Luke (in the parallel account, Luke 5:12) describes him as “covered with leprosy.

Leprosy, or Hansen’s disease, is a slow-growing bacterial infection that was wrongly believed to be highly contagious. Left untreated (and there was no treatment available in Jesus’ day), nerve damage can result in crippling of hands and feet, paralysis, and blindness. The loss of feeling from nerve damage often resulted in disfigurements of the face, hands and feet.

The poor man Jesus met as he came down the mountain had not been able to feel anything for years. His body was likely mutilated from head to foot and was foul and rotting. Leviticus 13:45-46 sums up the life of a leper in Israel:

45 “The leprous person who has the disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head hang loose, and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean.’ 46 He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease. He is unclean. He shall live alone. His dwelling shall be outside the camp. [7]

I don’t think we could begin to understand the humiliation and isolation of the leper’s life in 1st century Israel. He was cut off from society and had to assume a disheveled appearance. The ultimate degradation was having to cry “Unclean! Unclean!” whenever he came in range of healthy people. Lepers were typically beggars. There was little else they could do.

In Jesus’ day, rabbinical teaching made matters even worse with absurd restrictions. If a leper even stuck his hand inside a house, it was pronounced unclean. It was illegal to greet a leper. Lepers had to remain at least 100 cubits away if they were upwind, and 400 cubits if downwind. They were treated as if they were walking dead.

Also, it was taught that those who had leprosy contracted it because of some great personal sin. People jumped to this false conclusion because there were clear incidents in the Old Testament where God used leprosy as a visible judgment upon some of his people like King Uzziah (2 Chronicles 26:19).

The situation of a leper in Christ’s time was horrible. Their disease left them sick and rotting with no hope of healing. His contamination left him barred from society, with nothing to cure his disease and no charitable organizations to care for them. There was no health care for him. Although it was not so, leprosy was considered to be terribly contagious. No one pitied him because he was considered a great sinner under God’s judgment.

The leper was a walking parable of sin, an outward and visible sign of innermost spiritual corruption. If we could see, even for a brief second, a visible incarnation of ourselves apart from the cleansing work of Christ, we would see ourselves as the walking dead trying to cover ourselves with filthy rags.

This meeting between Christ and the leper was no chance encounter. It was divinely choreographed for Jesus to authenticate and illustrate his message. From the perspective of the leper, we see what is involved in obtaining and experiencing the healing touch of Christ.

THE PLEA (8:1-2)

When he came down from the mountain, great crowds followed him.” Though he had gone up into the hills to teach his disciples, a large crowd had followed to listen. As Jesus, the disciples, and the crowd came down from the hills Matthew tells us, “And behold, a leper came to him and knelt before him.” Imagine this large crowd and the disciples all talking amongst themselves. And above the persistent buzz, one man could be heard shouting “Unclean! Unclean!”

This desperate man was doing something scandalous! He was making his way towards a crowd in violation of the rabbinical rules. We can imagine people’s shock and fear as this man came closer. Perhaps some in the crowd were cursing him, but he kept coming, crying the pitiful refrain of his life – the announcement of his uncleanliness. We can imagine the crowds parting in horror until only Jesus and this desperate, pitiful man stood near one another.

Here we see the Batitudes in action. The man recognizes his desperate need for the healing touch of Jesus. He is aware of his helpless condition. He knew he was unclean. It was a requirement of his life to announce it everywhere he went. He knew he was perfectly hopeless. He could do nothing to help himself. Likely, everyone else around him had given up on him too.

He was painfully aware of his condition, and in this he was an example found in Christ’s very first words of this sermon: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (5:3-4). This man acknowledged there was nothing within him that could commend him to God. He was in the perfect place to receive God’s grace.

God does not come to the self-sufficient, those who think that they are able to meet their own needs. He comes to the bankrupt in spirit, those who mourn their condition. It’s entirely likely that the leper had been sitting beyond the range of the crowd and heard Jesus’ opening words. This is the only way any of us can truly come to Christ, by announcing that we are unclean.

If we come announcing we are only partly unclean or 25% clean, he will not receive us. Have you come to Christ knowing you are totally unclean? Only then will he give you the healing touch you need. This man acknowledges his desperate need while coming in worshipful submission. The word translated “knelt” or “bowed” shows us the leper’s heart by his posture.

The basic meaning of this word in early Greek literature was to bow down and kiss the earth as one lay prostrate before the gods. In the Greek translation of the Old Testament this word was used for the Hebrew word for bowing down. Doctor Luke tells us “he fell on his face” (Luke 5:12). This poor man poured his entire soul into worship as he lay prostrate before Messiah. He worshipped Christ as the only possible source of his healing. Christ healing touch cannot come with casual, irreverent acknowledgement. It comes as we bow down before him in realization that he is our only hope.

The leper demonstrated remarkable faith. “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” In Mark’s account, he uses a word that indicates the man repeated his plea several times (Mark 1:40). What a touching picture with the prostrate leper repeating in his raspy voice, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.

This desperate man had heard of Christ’s miraculous power and perhaps even been listening to him that day. But even more significant the man said, “You can make me clean.” He believed Jesus could save even him. Often when a person is under the conviction of sin, he secretly thinks he is beyond God’s grace. But miraculously, this man clung to the truth that the Lord Jesus Christ was his only hope!


As that poor man lay at Christ’s feet before a horrified crowd, Jesus looked at the man as he had never been looked at before. Mark 1:41 says Jesus was “moved with compassion” (NASB). Jesus felt the man’s pain. “And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him.” It may have been two or three decades since this poor man had ever been touched by a healthy person. Jewish law prevented any healthy person from coming within 6 feet of him.

The Greek word used here for “touch” is often translated “to take hold of.” At the very least, Jesus firmly grabbed the leper. But it could also indicate Jesus hugged the man. How beautiful the Lord is! He did not have to touch this person. He could simply have spoken a word or simply willed the healing. What he chose to lay his hand on this wretched man in front of the appalled onlookers, in front of his shocked disciples. Jesus was now ceremonially unclean.

Reaching out and touching this man was the instinct of God’s loving heart. He also removed any fears the man had. He wanted the leper to feel his willingness and sympathy. He also wanted to identify with the man’s wretched condition. But there was a larger theological reason for Christ’s touch. Placing his pure hand on the rotting flesh was a parable of the incarnation.

In the incarnation Jesus took on human flesh, then became sin for us, though he himself never sinned. In the incarnation, he took our sins upon himself and gave us his cleanliness. The apostle Paul, in 2nd Corinthians 5:21, explained it this way: “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Jesus laid hold of our flesh and touched us and healed us.

This was a dramatic and public healing. “Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately his leprosy was cleansed.” The cleansing was instantaneous. Everyone gathered there saw it. The poor man’s face, his eyebrows, his eyelashes, his nose, his ears, his hands and feet were all instantly restored. Imagine the gasps and rumble of amazement in the crowd as they watched this happen before their eyes.

God will do this for anyone in the moment that they place their trust into the perfect, law-keeping life of the Lord Jesus Christ and his sacrificial blood-shedding death. If you come to him, fully aware of the leprosy of your sin, if you come in worshipful desperation, realizing he is the only possible source of your healing, if you come believing that he can heal you, you will be saved! You will be healed from your soul’s sin.

May we experience his tender touch in each of our lives today and every day.

The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price. [8]


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Mt 7:28–8:3.

[2] Hughes.

[3] Boice, 270.

[4] France, 298–299.

[5] Id. at 299–300.

[6] Id. at 305.

[7] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Le 13:45–46.

[8] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Re 22:17.