The Faith of the Centurion

5When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help. 6"Lord," he said, "my servant lies at home paralyzed and in terrible suffering." 7Jesus said to him, "I will go and heal him." 8The centurion replied, "Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. 9For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it." 10When Jesus heard this, He was astonished and said to those following Him, "I tell you the truth, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. 11I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. 12But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth." 13Then Jesus said to the centurion, "Go! It will be done just as you believed it would." And His servant was healed at that very hour.

Matthew, showing that Jesus had the authority to say what He said in the Sermon on the Mount, continues to recount some of the miracles that Jesus performed. The next miracle was performed on behalf of a centurion: "When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help. ‘Lord,’ he said, ‘my servant lies at home paralyzed and in terrible suffering.’ Jesus said to him, ‘I will go and heal him.’ The centurion replied, ‘Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed’" (vss. 5–8). From these few verses, there is much commendable we can say concerning this centurion. First, he showed great care for his servant, humbling himself to ask Jesus to heal the servant. We too should show such care for others, helping them in their needs, even those who, from a worldly point of view are "below" us. Second, he went to the best possible place for help for his servant: to Jesus Christ, Lord of the Universe. We too should seek help from the Lord Jesus Christ first, bringing our needs and the needs of others before Him, with the faith that He can tend to our needs. Third, he came to the Lord in humility. From a worldly point of view, the centurion was in a position of authority over Jesus. But he humbly came before Jesus, stating his request, and acknowledging that he did not even deserve to have Jesus in his house. And we too should come to the Lord in humility, acknowledging our unworthiness as sinners before Him who alone is worthy in the eyes of God.

Then also, the centurion showed great faith that Jesus could heal his servant without even coming near his servant: "But just say the word, and my servant will be healed." The centurion explained the rationale for his faith: "For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it." (vs. 9). The centurion applied his understanding of the rules of authority in the Roman guard in order to understand how Jesus’ authority works. The centurion was a subordinate commander, so he knew well what it was both to command and to be commanded. He understood that true authority and power comes not from within oneself, but from being under the authority of someone greater than oneself. For example, the authority that the centurion had over people came from the fact that (ultimately) the Roman emperor stood behind his authority. Thus, the centurion was, in effect, vested with the authority of the Roman emperor: people obeyed the centurion as if they were obeying the emperor. In the same way, the centurion understood that Jesus is under the authority of God the Father, the Creator of the Universe. Thus, Jesus has authority over the Creation, just as God does. Given this, the centurion correctly reasoned, Jesus could command the forces of nature such that his servant would be healed. The centurion realized the Jesus’ healing power was not magic and did not depend on ritual, but was power as given under the authority of the Father.

"When Jesus heard this, He was astonished and said to those following Him, ‘I tell you the truth, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith’" (vs. 10). Some may be surprised that Jesus, God in the flesh, was "astonished". However, Jesus, having come as a man to earth, was limited in His knowledge when He walked the earth. "Jesus [could be ‘astonished’] as a man, while as God nothing could [‘astonish’] Him. It is only the same difficulty that we meet with in such facts as His growing in wisdom (see Luke 2:52), and His not knowing the day and hour (Mark 13:32)" [Broadus, 179]. "Though amazement is not appropriate for God, seeing it must arise from new and unexpected happenings, yet it could occur in Christ, inasmuch as He had taken on our human emotions, along with our flesh" [Calvin, cited in Morris, 194].

Jesus was all the more "astonished" because the man who showed so much faith was not a Jew, but a Roman centurion. One of Jesus’ primary missions on earth was to be the Messiah to the Jews and to fulfill the Old Testament Messianic prophecies. Yet, sadly, as Jesus told those following Him: "I tell you the truth, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith."

The lack of faith of the Jews would have dire consequences for those who did not believe in Jesus Christ as their Messiah: "I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth" (vss. 11–12). Many Jews thought that mere descendency from the patriarchs "Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob" earned them entrance into the kingdom of heaven. But Jesus here explicitly teaches us that many of the original "subjects of the kingdom", the descendants of "Abraham, Isaac and Jacob", because of their lack of faith, "will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth." "The centurion comes from the camp to Christ, and the Israelite goes from the synagogue to hell. The harlot bows at Jesus’ feet a penitent, while the self-righteous Pharisee rejects the great salvation." [Spurgeon, 90]. Let us note here that there are only two choices: the kingdom of heaven, and the outer darkness. And one’s final destination is tied to his faith in the power of Jesus Christ. Faith in Jesus as the Messiah to the Jews, and the Savior of all, leads to the "feast" in the kingdom of heaven. Rejection of Jesus Christ leads to the outer darkness. We may differ on our understanding concerning what hell is like—whether it is literally a burning fire or not—but let us understand clearly that, whatever the specifics of hell may be, hell is always described in the Bible as a place of great torment and suffering.

The immediate result of the centurion’s faith was the healing of his servant: "Then Jesus said to the centurion, ‘Go! It will be done just as you believed it would.’ And His servant was healed at that very hour." (vs. 13). Jesus, though He had the power to heal all who were afflicted, chose often to respond to faith. And He responded to faith, not only in the act of healing, but also in the manner of healing. Had the faith of the centurion been weaker, Jesus was prepared to go to his house and lay hands on the servant (see vs. 7). Because the centurion had strong faith in the absolute power of Jesus over sickness, Jesus responded to his faith and healed the servant immediately, without going to the centurion’s house, or even seeing the suffering servant. So even now, Jesus chooses often to respond to our faith, when we pray for need. Thus, it is very important to strengthen our faith in the power of Christ, in the sovereignty of God, through meditation, and through study of the Bible, which chronicles His wonderful works.

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