the account differs somewhat between Matthew and Luke. There are various ways
of harmonizing the two texts; this is not of concern in this particular
study. Both passages are listed so that we may see all the details.
And when Jesus entered Capernaum, a centurion
came to Him, imploring Him, and saying, "Lord, my servant is lying
paralyzed at home, fearfully tormented." Jesus *said to him, "I will come and heal him." But the
centurion said, "Lord, I am not worthy for You to come under my roof,
but just say the word, and my servant will be healed. "For I also am a
man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to this one, 'Go!' and
he goes, and to another, 'Come!' and he comes, and to my slave, 'Do this!'
and he does it." Now when Jesus
heard this, He marveled and said to
those who were following, "Truly I say to you, I
have not found such great faith with anyone in Israel. "I say to you that many will come from east and west,
and recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven; but the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into the
outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of
teeth." And Jesus said to the centurion, "Go;
it shall be done for you as you have believed." And the servant
was healed that very moment.
When He had completed all His discourse in the
hearing of the people, He went to Capernaum. And a centurion's slave, who was
highly regarded by him, was sick and about to die. When he heard about Jesus,
he sent some Jewish elders asking Him to come and save the life of his slave.
When they came to Jesus, they earnestly implored Him, saying, "He is
worthy for You to grant this to him; for he loves our nation and it was he
who built us our synagogue." Now Jesus started
on His way with them; and when He was not far from the house, the centurion
sent friends, saying to Him, "Lord, do not trouble Yourself further, for
I am not worthy for You to come under my roof; for this reason I did not even
consider myself worthy to come to You, but just
say the word, and my servant will be healed. "For I also am a man placed
under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to this one, 'Go!' and he
goes, and to another, 'Come!' and he comes, and to my slave, 'Do this!' and
he does it." Now when Jesus heard this, He marveled at him, and turned
and said to the crowd that was following Him, "I
say to you, not even in Israel have I found such great faith."
When those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave in
are a few things which are not familiar to us today which bear upon this
servant (or slave) suffers from palsy. This description covered a number
of diseases, but it would not be unfair to compare it with conditions like
to understanding the centurion’s behavior is this: for a devout Jew to
enter into a gentile’s house is to become unclean. Even to touch a Gentile
was held to make one unclean.
was, at the time, a recognized class of God-fearing Gentiles. They did
not become circumcised and convert, but honored, respected and followed
the moral law found in the Old Testament.
the Messiah, was sent to the house of Israel. In his adult ministry, he
did not leave the boundaries of ancient Israel. For him to deal with a
gentile would be thought very strange.
noted above, the two passages appear to conflict if taken word for word. There
are various harmonies; it is also possible that all the details of both
accounts happened. More to the point, it’s not very important to our
reaction of Christ
twice does Christ commend someone for great faith; here, and the episode of
the Canaanite woman.
We can learn from this.
Christ marvels at his faith. We are accustomed to the idea that God knows
everything, therefore Christ should never be surprised. Perhaps he wasn’t
– but he was certainly impressed.
he sets this man before us as an example of great faith. Therefore, the
man’s character and actions are worthy of our time.
in Matthew’s account, he warns that those whose faith consists of lip
service will not fare well in the Day of Judgment – especially when there
are men like this centurion.
us look, therefore, at the elements of this man’s confidence in Christ.
humility and thoughtfulness
let us look directly at the type of faith this man had.
is a faith of the mind. We are well acquainted with the type of
preaching which proclaims that God wants your heart, therefore check your
brain at the door. But this man’s faith is entirely intellectual; he has
never met Christ in person. All he knows about him would come from the
occasional person whom Jesus healed. No doctrine but the Old Testament
would be known to him. It’s all in his head, no experience directly.
is a faith buttressed by practice. This comes in two ways. First,
he is in the habit of obedience, something now ignored (if not scorned). It
is his lifestyle. So we see that he says “say the word” – because he
understands what it is to take orders.
There is one word which gives away his
entire thought process. He says, “For I also am a man placed under
authority.” Do you see it? He knows that Jesus, the Christ, is a man placed
under authority. Whose authority? No doubt: the God of the Old Testament.
Once this conclusion is reached, the rest is logical and obvious.
more thing: notice that it is the faith of the centurion which is being
examined here – but the healing is for his servant. Often our prayers and
petitions show more faith when we are interceding for others.
first glance it might appear that this man is anything but humble. After all,
he sent those Jewish elders, didn’t he? But remember this: he is a conqueror
in a land which despises him. It is indeed unusual to build a synagogue for
the Jews in those circumstances, but we can imagine political expediency in
doing it. Herod was no angel, but he rebuilt the Temple. This man, however,
has such a reputation among the local Jews that the elders of the synagogue
come to Jesus. This is no doubt at his request, but see their approach.
Knowing that Jesus (in their minds, a rabbi) is Jewish, they approach him on
the grounds that “he is worthy.” He’s done us a lot of favors, he’s a good
guy, please help him. Jesus readily agrees. Whether or not any of us are
worthy is topic for discussion, but this man seems to be one for whom
intercession could easily be made.
however, he sends some friends to talk to the man. It sounds rather pompous to
say that I’m not worthy to have you under my roof. Remember, however, that in
these days providing hospitality to a traveler was considered an honor; the
traveler selected my home above all others.
to make it clear, the man himself comes out to meet Jesus and repeats those
words. Note one thing: he did not bring the servant out of the house to
Jesus. Such is his confidence in Jesus, such is his humility, that he asks
simply that the Man says the word.
have already seen the man’s thoughtfulness in the building of the synagogue.
Perhaps he was one who loved righteousness. But do you not also see it in his
care for his servant? Slaves were throwaway people in those days. We may
conclude from Christ’s remarks that the man’s interest in his slave was not
purely one of avoiding financial loss. This, obviously, is a commander who
cares for his men. Such men love greatly and are greatly loved.
can also see his thoughtfulness for Jesus. He would spare this rabbi the
distance to his home. More than that, he understood that Jesus would become
unclean by entering his home, and he would spare him that. He is one who
would not defile another man’s conscience. This is all the more touching in
that Jesus’ first reaction is that he will go and heal the man. Even after the
offer, even after Jesus is practically at his front door, his thoughtfulness
and care for others are prominent.
humble, thoughtful – a trio of virtues which would grace any man.
fascinating thing about the account of the Canaanite woman is her humility;
the fascinating thing here is the centurion’s grasp of authority and its
relationship to faith. How is this grasp of authority related to faith?
by human example
need to understand a small bit of the nature of authority.
despite our “question authority” mentality, we live most of our lives by
authority, We take the doctor’s authority in medical matters; we move
over for the fire truck roaring to a fire. We take the very existence of,
say, Bangladesh by authority (have you ever been there?) So authority is
something quite common in our lives, in various forms.
when used righteously and truthfully, authority is for our benefit. The
doctor is for our healing, the fireman to rescue us, the policeman to
eliminate the thieves and crooks.
the proper response to authority is submission.
We are first to be obedient, second to be cooperative, third to be helpful
and finally we are to make their task a joy.
authority is to work correctly, it must match exactly with responsibility
and power. If any of these is discordant, then things don’t work well.
this must be tempered with the idea of stewardship – sinners are given
stewardship and must give account of their actions. Only the sinless are
authority of Christ
sounds a bit obvious, but the same can be said of the authority given Christ.
First we must see that all authority begins with God the Father – it is his
universe, he created it. But he has given that authority to Christ the Son.
Therefore we can apply those principles to the authority of Christ. His
authority is completed; it is for our benefit (indeed, our salvation) and the
proper response to it is submission.
I submit, is an example of the perfection of God, whom the theologians assure
is the sum of all perfections. For in Christ is all authority, and in him is
also all responsibility – he who is the sustainer of all things in heaven and
on earth. To this end he has all power; thus this trio is shown in
perfection. Our response is in obedience.
do you not see that the perfection of faith must carry with it the perfection
of obedience? The centurion understood this; he gave orders, he took orders,
and things worked when the obedience to those orders was perfect. But our
obedience is often far from perfect. Only those who believe, obey – but only
those who obey, can believe.
of faith and obedience
submit that faith, as it grows in Christians, goes through various stages.
Here is one schema of such stages. See if you can place yourself anywhere in
is grudging faith. God is out there, but of no particular
importance to me. And by the way, he’s not doing a very good job of
running the universe – because I’m not getting what I want. Every now and
then I give him some advice, and call it prayer.
is firehouse faith. The crisis has arrived, and suddenly I’m a
real prayer warrior. I’m bargaining with God every step along the way:
if you get me out of this, I’ll be sooooooo good. God is a little more
real – but still not really part of my daily life.
is dutiful faith. Usually found in those raised in the church, it
tells me to be in church every Sunday, unless I’m someplace else. I pray
regularly – before meals, in church, and for a sweet minute before bed.
is open eyes faith. This is the faith of one who has seen what the
Lord can and will do – and has begun to desire more of it. It’s a faith
that wants “more for me.” But it’s also a faith that acknowledges that
God plays a very necessary part in that. Interestingly, it’s a faith that
also acknowledges the righteousness of God.
is bicycle faith. Bicycle? Remember when you first learned to
ride a bike? You were sure that it would tip over – but you found that
when the wheels were turning, it stayed up. After a while, you came to
depend on that fact and gave it no more thought. God becomes a spiritual
bicycle: I don’t know how it works, but it does. So I pray every day,
wondering what will happen next.
is inside straight faith. Inside straight? Any poker player will
tell you: never bet on an inside straight. This is the faith that says
if God tells you to bet an inside straight, bet it and draw three. It’s
the faith of one who knows that God will provide, trusts in that fact –
and is constantly delighted with how God provided this time.
centurion had inside straight faith. He didn’t know how, but he knew that God
would provide – all he wanted was for God to say the word.