AN EXPOSITION OF MATTHEW 8:5-13
5 And when Jesus was entered into Capernaum, there came unto him a centurion, beseeching him,
One of the great attractions of heaven will be the joy of meeting and getting to know the people who are there. The centurion from Capernaum will be in heaven. His story will want to be heard again by many. There are several centurions in the New Testament. Each one is spoken of in a noble and gracious way.
There is the centurion of Capernaum who astonished Jesus with his faith.
There is the centurion who stood beneath the cross of Jesus. As he witnessed the events of Calvary, and the various miracles associated with the death of Jesus, his final verdict was given. “Truly, this man was the Son of God” (Mark 15:39).
There is the centurion in Caesarea called Cornelius. He was “a devout man, and one that feared God with all his house, which gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God always” (Acts 10:1).
There is the centurion of Acts 27:43, who was willing to save Paul from being killed, and so kept other soldiers from committing murder during a broken sea voyage.
Why the centurions are presented in a favorable light in Scripture is curious, and speaks well of military men being individuals of faith.
Now the account of the centurion as recorded by Matthew, differs on two points from the same account recorded by Luke 7:2-7. In Luke’s account, the centurion did not come to Jesus. In Matthew’s account he did. In Luke’s account, friends are sent to Jesus. In Matthew’s account, no friends are presented.
In these two accounts, there is no contradiction if the principle is kept in mind that “what one does through another, one does himself,” in the words of St. Augustine. If representatives were sent to Jesus by the centurion, it was as if the centurion was present before the Lord. So Matthew’s account does not contradict Luke’s account in light of the guiding principle. Matthew’s account is simply briefer, and reveals something about the ministry of the Lord Jesus. It was gracious, it was extensive, and it did not discriminate.
6 And saying, Lord, my servant lieth at home sick of the palsy, grievously tormented.
7 And Jesus saith unto him, I will come and heal him.
One of the most thrilling phrases Jesus ever uttered contains words, “I will come.” It is an arresting phrase that brings joy and hope to the heart, and music to the soul.
“When Jesus comes, the tempter’s power is broken;
When Jesus comes, the tears are wiped away,
He takes the gloom and fills the life with glory,
For all is changed when Jesus comes to stay.”
“I will come,” said Jesus. “Your paralyzed servant will be healed.”
Jesus will come in response to a person’s appeal. The leper asked Jesus to come and heal him. The centurion came, and asked Jesus to heal his servant. You and I can ask Jesus to come and be the Saviour of our souls, and the Lord of our lives.
Jesus said He would come without censorship. Jesus did not chide the centurion for waiting so long. He did not berate the centurion for being a Gentile. Jesus did not delay. He said, “I will come. I will come now.” There was no evasion.
In all of this, the Lord acted contrary to the healing ministries in modern days. The religious charlatans of today promise healing miracles, only to delay, distort, and demand money to perform. It is a shame.
8 The centurion answered and said, Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof: but speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed.
By confessing his unworthiness for Jesus to enter into his house, the centurion was showing respect to the Jewish belief, that entering into the house of a Gentile would cause ceremonial uncleanness. It is not easy to endure the thought that others think the worst about us, but the centurion was humble enough to recognize it was so by the Jews. Gentiles were dogs in the sight of Jews, and dogs were unclean (Matt. 15:22-27). Contact with a Gentile was to be avoided when possible.
The humility of the centurion is made apparent in light of what he could have been proud of.
He could have been proud of his status in life, for he was a Roman centurion. He represented the glory, prestige, and power of Rome.
He was a member of the mighty fighting force of Rome. He could have been proud of his authority.
He was a man of position. He spoke, and others obeyed his command.
He could have been proud of the high esteem he held even by his enemies. He had built the Jews a synagogue (Luke 7:5). Today, the centurion might have been called in the Jewish community a Righteous Gentile, much like Oskar Schindler, who saved more than 1,100 Polish Jews from the Holocaust. The centurion was a good man, and yet he was humble. He was humble, and he had a heart, for he was disturbed over the suffering of a slave who was near death.
9 For I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me: and I say to this man, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it.
When the centurion said, “For I am a man,” he was not making an equivalent between himself and Jesus, as if Jesus too were but a man, but with superior authority. At the Council of Nicaea in AD 325, the Arian chose to interpret this passage in that way in order to diminish the deity of Jesus. But there is no social equality in view by the centurion. The centurion merely recognized that as he was a man, how much more authority Jesus would have as Immanuel. The stress is upon authority, not creaturely status. The argument is from the less to the greater. The centurion is a man under authority; Jesus is greater, for He is authority personified. So Jesus is called, “Lord.” He can heal with just a word, for He is God. Jesus may heal with a touch, as He did the leper, or he could heal by His word alone.
10 When Jesus heard it, he marvelled, and said to them that followed, Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel.
Only two times in the New Testament are we told that Jesus marveled. He marveled at something. He marveled at the unbelief of the Jews (Mark 6:6). He marveled at the faith of the Gentile centurion.
This does not mean Jesus was surprised by the faith of the centurion. It does mean He honored the faith of the centurion, and was impressed by it. The Lord then praised the faith that praised Him. Jesus always accepted the praise of men that praised Him, and could rightly do so because He was very God.
When a mere mortal man is praised, there is an instinctive deflection of the praise. When the people said of Paul, “The gods are come down to us in the likeness of men,” he tore his clothing and cried out in protest (Acts 14:8-15). People know deep in their hearts they are not worthy of undue adulation. But Jesus is worthy of praise, and received it as a proper show of respect. To praise Jesus is to please Him.
That a non-Jew should have faith in Jesus Christ was a remarkable event in the ancient world. The fact that the Gentile should be a solider in the service of Herod Antipas, was even more remarkable.
What is this faith that the centurion had? Is it something that we can have as well? How?
There are people who believe that faith believes something that is not true. However, Biblical faith is not blind faith.
The Bible defines faith as “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1 KJV).
The English Standard Version says that “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
The Holman Christian Standard Bible says that “faith is the reality of what is hoped for, the proof of what is not seen.”
The Living Bible asks the questions, “What is faith? It is the confident assurance that something we want is going to happen. It is the certainty that what we hope for is waiting for us, even though we cannot see it up ahead.”
What these various translations try to convey, is that faith is not something abstract, but something which is definite and concrete, for faith is rooted in truth. The faith of the centurion was grounded in truth.
It was true that Jesus was the Messiah.
It was true that Jesus was the Son of God.
It was true that Jesus had authority and power over sickness and death.
It was true that Jesus could heal, even from a distance.
Notice that the faith of the centurion is called by Jesus, “great faith.” There is much talk in modern evangelism about having simple faith. But there is nothing simple about true spiritual faith.
Great faith is a mature faith, which is rooted in an intelligent understanding of Jesus Christ. The centurion had faith in the person of Jesus as Ruler, Commander, and one with Authority to speak, and His will is done. Is this your view of Christ? Do you have great faith? Do you see Jesus as very God incarnate, as the centurion saw Him?
If Jesus is not God, as He claimed to be, and as His power demonstrated Him to be, the centurion would have been guilty of blasphemy. But Jesus is Lord because He is Immanuel, God with us. “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD.”
The faith of the centurion caused the Lord to reflect on the general faith of the Gentiles.
11 And I say unto you, That many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven.
The ministry of the Lord Jesus was designed to include Gentiles, and warn Jews. It was an alarming statement Jesus made. It did not endear Him to other Jews, but it did provide hope for all those in need of hope for physical, mental, and spiritual healing. Though Jesus was initially sent to the house of Israel (Matt. 10:5), the people did not respond in a positive way. The nation rejected their Messiah, and so the Lord brought in many from the east and west to sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. Later, Paul would write of how Gentiles would glorify the Lord for His mercy. “Now I say that Jesus Christ was a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers: 9 And that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy; as it is written, For this cause I will confess to thee among the Gentiles, and sing unto thy name. 10 And again he saith, Rejoice, ye Gentiles, with his people” (Rom. 15:8-10).
12 But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
The reference to “outer darkness” is a reference to hell. There is a terrible place of judgment which awaits the unbeliever. Hell is characterized as a place of torment, gnashing of teeth, and utter darkness. Men may mock hell, but it is to be taken seriously.
13 And Jesus said unto the centurion, Go thy way; and as thou hast believed, so be it done unto thee. And his servant was healed in the selfsame hour.
The measure of believing determines the measure of healing. Since the centurion had great faith, his servant would have a great healing. We read that the servant was healed in the very same hour. Spiritually, every person will be healed who will place their trust in Jesus, and rely upon Him for ultimate healing as they are near unto death.