The Healing of the Centurion’s Servant
The Healing of the Centurion’s Servant
Read Matthew 8:5-13 (compare Luke 7:1-10)
Our world is obsessed with greatness. Many people understand greatness in terms of power, prestige, or possessions. In the kingdom of God, however, the greatest is the least, and the last is first. Christ had taught this principle in the Sermon of the Mount, the great charter of the kingdom of heaven (e.g., Matt. 5:3). Shortly after He finished it, we meet a man who embodied this greatness. As a centurion, this Gentile man had many things the world would consider great. However, his greatness was not at all related to those things. Rather it was bound up with his faith, which the Lord declared was “great” (Matt. 8:10). Thus the real miracle of this story is not even the healing of his servant, but the faith that comes into evidence in and around this miracle.
A Great Need⤒🔗
In the Sermon on the Mount, Christ had also taught that we should seek, ask, and knock (Matt. 7:7-8). We don’t know whether the centurion of our passage had heard these words, but he certainly took his need to Christ. His great need was that His servant (literally, his slave) was deathly ill. Some disease had taken hold of him, and it was both paralyzing him and sending him into convulsions (Matt. 8:6). Luke notes that he “was ready to die” (Luke 7:2). It’s worth noting that this centurion cared deeply for his slave (Luke 7:2). During those days, slaves were commonly considered as property. It is doubly remarkable to see this concern and love for human life from a military officer who was no doubt used to violence and death. Many like him would have thought little of replacing one slave with another.
Not only did this centurion show a real regard for another human, but his track record was notable on another account. According to the elders of the Jews, this centurion loved the Jewish nation, and had even personally financed the construction of a synagogue (Luke 7:5). This would have made the headlines because Rome occupied the land of the Jews, and they were generally viewed as an oppressive enemy. This centurion was stationed in Capernaum to represent Rome and enforce its policies.
Matthew seems to suggest that the centurion came himself to Jesus. Luke fills in the picture by mentioning that he sent some of the Jewish elders. Clearly, they came at his behest and on his behalf. A centurion had at least a hundred soldiers under him. Clearly, however, this man had gained the love of many, including these elders.
We can understand then why the Jewish elders would bring this to Christ’s attention. However, their declaration that the centurion “was worthy for whom he should do this” (Luke 7:4) requires some scrutiny. Can anyone be worthy that Christ would answer their prayers? Can anyone deserve to have their problems remedied? Will any of us ever deserve Christ driving away sickness and death because of something we do or some church we have built?
Yet, the way the elders of the Jews reasoned is not uncommon. We often catch ourselves thinking, talking, and praying this way. “Lord, I have been laboring hard for Thee. Why then is this difficulty in my life?” Or “Lord, he has done so much good in Thy cause or in our nation. Certainly, Thou wilt hear us when we ask this for this man.” This kind of reasoning comes straight from the covenant of works, the principle to which we always gravitate. Even God’s people can lapse into thinking this way. But the centurion of our passage did not. We can definitely infer that he did not send his men with that message; they came up with that part themselves. For his part, he went to Jesus simply “beseeching” or “entreating” Jesus to come and heal his servant (Matt. 8:5; Luke 7:4).He was driven by his need and drawn by what he had “heard of Jesus” (Luke 7:3).
Christ had made Capernaum the base of His Galilean ministry, and He had performed many miracles there (Luke 4:31-44). He had driven a demon out of a possessed man, perhaps in the very synagogue the centurion had financed (Mark 1:25). He had sent out the fever from Peter’s mother-in-law (Mark 1:31), and later that evening he had “healed many that were sick of divers diseases, and cast out many devils” (Mark 1:34). He had healed the sick of the palsy, after having forgiven his sins (Mark 2:10-12). He had cleansed a leper somewhere in the area, and the reports of it had spread through the whole area (1:45). He had also spoken with authority in the synagogues, and, in the Sermon on the Mount, he had unfolded the kingdom of heaven and Himself as its King (Matt. 5-7; Luke 6). He had urged His hearers to strive to enter into the gate into the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 7:13). Some or all of these things had an effect on this centurion. Many others took Jesus as a great miracle worker, and from how our passage starts, you could imagine that this is all the centurion thought as well. However, it quickly became clear that the reports of Jesus had had a far more profound effect on him.
A Great King←⤒🔗
Despite the fact that the Jewish elders made a wrong case for the centurion with the Savior, we read, “Then Jesus went with them” (Luke 7:5). As He approached the house, word must have reached the centurion that the Lord was on His way. The man sent another delegation, this time of his “friends.” They came with the exact opposite message as the previous group. They come with this message: “Lord, trouble not thyself: for I am not worthy” (Luke 7:6). The elders said he was worthy; he said he was not worthy. Why did he say that?
First, we need to note that the man did not suddenly change his mind. All along, he knew he was unworthy. That’s why he had sent others to Christ and did not come himself. “Wherefore neither thought I myself worthy to come unto thee” (Luke 7:7). Clearly, he realized that the distance between the Lord and himself was not traversable. He needed others to mediate for him, and when it looked as if the Lord is about to come under the same roof, he had to make clear that he understood his absolute unworthiness.
Second, we need to note that this man understood Christ’s divine character. What he heard about Christ taught him that Christ is a divine King who has authority over all things, seen and unseen. As a centurion, he might represent Rome; however, this Jesus represents heaven and the kingdom of God. He might have one hundred men whom he can tell to go or come, but Christ rules over all. One word from Christ and diseases leave, demons depart, and sin is forgiven. Understanding this, the centurion ascribed to Christ all power in heaven and on earth, and no synagogue can be built to make him worthy to be under the same roof as Christ. John Newton put it well:
Thou art coming to a King
Large petitions with thee bring;
For His grace and pow’r are such,
None can ever ask too much.
In essence, this centurion put the crown on the head of Christ, whose right it is to wear it (Ezek. 21:27). He realized that he was not equal to Christ. He confessed what we read of frequently in the Scriptures when people were made aware of how great God was and how small they were. We don’t arrive at this conclusion by nature. Abraham compared himself to “dust and ashes” compared to the Lord (Gen. 18:27). John the Baptist said he was not worthy to unloose the latchet of His shoes (John 1:27). The prodigal said, “I am not ‘worthy to be called thy son’” (Luke 15:19).
This knowledge of God and of self is the fruit of God’s work in our hearts. He makes us sense His worthiness and our own unworthiness. It is worth noting that the centurion expressed this most directly and forcefully as Christ was coming towards him. The closer Christ comes, the more unworthy we feel.
A Great Faith←⤒🔗
What did the centurion display? Christ gave it a name: “great faith” (Matt. 8:10). Many think so differently. They imagine that great faith does what the elders did – steps right up to Christ and argues from man’s greatness and worthiness. Many think that if they erect a big church building and parking lot, the Lord will surely bless them for their liberality and vision, and they pray like that. But “great faith” does the exact opposite. “I am not worthy ... but speak the word only” (Matt. 8:8).
According to Luke, the centurion had his friends say, “Trouble not thyself ... but say in a word” (Luke 7:7). One single word from Christ was enough. Great faith detests a lot of fuss. When people like a lot of pomp and circumstance, it only indicates that they are not content with Christ’s Word. The centurion didn’t prescribe to Christ how it should all go: how and when and where this miracle should take place. Great faith is content to leave it all to Christ and His Word.
- The Bible tells us that Christ marveled twice: once at the unbelief of the Nazarenes (Mark 6:6), and once at the faith of this centurion (Matt. 8:10). How are we to understand the Son of God “marveling”? What significance is there to the fact that we nowhere read of Christ marveling at the things we often marvel at, but instead at the faith of one person and unbelief of others?
- How can we show the same attitude as these elders in our prayers and general view of how this world operates? Should we be fearful of this? See Matthew 8:12.
- Read Proverbs 22:1 and Ecclesiastes 7:1a and discuss how we see this operating in the centurion.
- How does the Holy Spirit work this sense of unworthiness?
- Read 2 Thessalonians 1:3a. If we are believers, how might we seek for and register growth in faith? Why is great faith content with Christ’s Word while small faith (or no faith) desires to see a lot of fuss?
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