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Matthew 8:5-13

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Introduction

The Faith of a Centurion

5 When he had entered Capernaum, a centurion came forward to him, appealing to him, 6 “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, suffering terribly.” 7 And he said to him, “I will come and heal him.” 8 But the centurion replied, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. 9 For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” 10 When Jesus heard this, he marveled and said to those who followed him, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith. 11 I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, 12 while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” 13 And to the centurion Jesus said, “Go; let it be done for you as you have believed.” And the servant was healed at that very moment.

During our last time together we discussed Matthew’s intention behind these 9 miracles found between chapters 8 and 9. Following Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in chapters 5-7, these miracles are intended, primarily, as signs of his divinity, that Jesus was no ordinary man, that he possessed an authority that was wholly his own.
Just prior to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, Matthew gives us a leading summary statement at the end of chapter 4 and says this,

23 And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people. 24 So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, those having seizures, and paralytics, and he healed them. 25 And great crowds followed him from Galilee and the Decapolis, and from Jerusalem and Judea, and from beyond the Jordan.

So Matthew sets us up for what’s to come in chapters 5-9. He tells us that Jesus will go “throughout all of Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom,” so he follows with Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in chapters 5-7. Matthew also tells us that “he went throughout all Galilee, … healing every disease and every affliction among the people,” therefore he continues in chapter 8 giving us 9 examples of these miracles.

Capernaum

At first we see Jesus coming down from the mountain, running into a leper and healing him, making him clean by a single touch, then Matthew tells us that Jesus continued his journey by entering the city of Capernaum. Now, Capernaum is geographically central to much of Jesus’ ministry. It’s the place where Jesus moved to after being chased out of his hometown of Nazareth. Matthew records back in chapter 4,

12 Now when he heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew into Galilee. 13 And leaving Nazareth he went and lived in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali,

Peter and Andrew were fisherman and natives of the nearby town of Bethsaida, just a few miles to the east, but had recently moved to Capernaum where Jesus resided.
It’s the same place from which Jesus will later call Matthew to himself as one of his disciples, it’s also where Jesus called Peter, Andrew, James and John to himself. Peter and Andrew were fisherman and natives of the nearby town of Bethsaida, just a few miles to the east, but had recently moved to Capernaum where Jesus resided.
It’s the same place from which Jesus will later call Matthew to himself as one of his disciples, it’s also where Jesus called Peter, Andrew, James and John to himself as his disciples. Peter and Andrew were fisherman and natives of the nearby town of Bethsaida, just a few miles to the east, but had recently moved to Capernaum where Jesus resided.
Capernaum was a Roman town located at the northern most part of the Sea of Galilee, and it was unique in that it appears that both Gentiles and Jews were friendly toward one another. In fact, the local synagogue contained artifacts that seem to indicate it was of both Jewish and Roman origin.

Centurion

So I want you to imagine this setting, as Matthew continues writing for us in verse 5 of chapter 8,

5 When he had entered Capernaum, a centurion came forward to him, appealing to him, 6 “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, suffering terribly.”

Jesus returns to Capernaum and is approached by a centurion who appeals to him to his heal his servant.
Now, as a child I remember wondering, “What’s a centurion?” I imagined that this must be a very old man, some who was at least a century old! But later I came to understand that the Bible was not referring to an old man, but rather to the title of an officer within the Roman army who was in charge of approximately 100 soldiers. Centurions were typically career soldiers and formed the backbone of the Roman military force. In fact, “centurion was the highest rank that a non-commissioned soldier could attain in the Roman army. A centurion was in command of a military unit called century.” (Zeichman, C.B., Lexham Theological Wordbook)
Centurions were typically career soldiers and formed the backbone of the Roman military force. In fact, “centurion was the highest rank that a non-commissioned soldier could attain in the Roman army. A centurion was in command of a military unit called century.”
Now what’s particularly interesting about this centurion is what Luke records of him in his Gospel account, so if you would turn with me briefly to Luke chapter 7 we’ll read starting in verse 1,

7 After he had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. 2 Now a centurion had a servant who was sick and at the point of death, who was highly valued by him. 3 When the centurion heard about Jesus, he sent to him elders of the Jews, asking him to come and heal his servant. 4 And when they came to Jesus, they pleaded with him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy to have you do this for him, 5 for he loves our nation, and he is the one who built us our synagogue.”

The best we can tell, this is a parallel passage to what we’ve read in Matthew chapter 8. It’s possible that this account just happens to be incredibly similar but I think the parallels that exists between the two accounts are so similar that it overwhelmingly compels us to reckon them two perspectives of the same instance. And if that’s true, then Luke gives us further insight into who this centurion was. While Matthew seems to cut to the chase, Luke tells us that rather than a face to face encounter with Jesus, the centurion has sent Jewish elders as intermediaries to deliver his request. We also learn that this centurion has played a significant role in the construction of their local synagogue.
Now, if you’ll recall, when we’ve talked about synagogues in the past, they’re essentially local houses of worship, where the OT scriptures were read and taught to the people. These were the same places where Jesus conducted a majority of his teachings, just as Matthew tells us back in chapter 4, that,

he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom

So what this leads us to believe is that this Gentile officer was likely a God-fearer, that while he was not Jewish or circumcised, that he did fear God and seek to adhere to his commandments as recorded in the OT.
Therefore, we see these Jewish elders pleading with Jesus to respond favorably to this man’s request. And as it’s recorded back in Matthew chapter 8, verse 7, Jesus responds and says, “I will come and heal him.”

Gentile Faith

Now, what happens next is central to what we’re supposed to takeaway from this text, these next verses get at the heart of what’s most important here, so we read picking back up in verse 8,

8 But the centurion replied, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. 9 For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” 10 When Jesus heard this, he marveled and said to those who followed him, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith.

There’s one word that describes this man, and that’s humility, which is precisely what we’re intended to see in these 3 verses, but let’s unpack that a bit further.
Uncleanness and defilement
Now, let’s unpack that a bit
First, notice what this centurion says on the outset, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof.” At this point it’s important for us to understand the cultural and religious context at this particular time, otherwise we’ll miss much of how this passage of Scripture intends to demonstrate this centurion’s humility. You see, It was forbidden for Jews to associate with Gentiles, let alone enter a Gentile’s home. To do such as thing would constitute ritual uncleanness or defilement. Just as leprosy constituted ritual uncleanness the Jews believed entering the house of a Gentile constituted similar defilement.
This is most clearly portrayed, I think, in the book of Acts when the Apostle Peter is compelled by a vision to enter the house of Cornelius, a centurion living in Caesarea. When Peter enters his home he says this to Cornelius and to those with him,

“You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation, but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean. 29 So when I was sent for, I came without objection.

The vision that eventually convinced Peter that it was not unlawful to visit this centurion was given to him three times! This is the type of concern the Jews had for maintaining ritual cleanness, to not defile themselves. And at this point in Matthew this centurion is well aware of these laws, and has every intention of obeying them even as Gentile.
But what’s even more astonishing is that this doesn’t cause him to bat an eye, he still makes his request. He doesn’t see this as a hindrance to Jesus’ ability to heal his servant. He says there in verse 8 again,

“Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed.

Do you remember how Matthew concluded Jesus’ sermon on the Mount? He said,

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.

This centurion not only recognized Jesus’ authority but he trusted in it. Notice that in verse 8 he calls him ‘Lord’. Therefore he continues by saying,

9 For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”

This man responds precisely as Matthew intends for his readers to respond, precisely as God intends for us to respond, in complete trust in Christ, to recognize who he his and to humbly take refuge in him.
He knew what it was like to have authority over soldiers, to tell them to do this or to do that, therefore he perceived that Jesus had a similar authority over disease, even the paralysis of his suffering servant.
This centurion is aware of his own unworthiness, and trusts completely that Jesus can overcome it. This man responds precisely as Matthew intends for his readers to respond, precisely as God intends for us to respond, in complete trust in his Son, to recognize who he his and to humble ourselves before him in reliance upon him.
So it is for this reason we read in verse 10,

10 When Jesus heard this, he marveled and said to those who followed him, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith.

Did you know that all of Scripture only records Jesus marveling two times? Once here, and the other in in relation to Nazareth and their unbelief, Mark writes,

6 And he marveled because of their unbelief.

Jesus is so astonished at this man’s faith that he says,
it’s recorded that Jesus marveled two times in all of Scripture? Once here and again

“Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith.

In fact, he goes on to say in verses 11 and 12,
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mt 8:10). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

11 I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, 12 while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

This is a massive indictment against the nation of Israel, yet radically good news for Gentiles like this centurion. Jesus exclaims to those following him that there will many, just like this centurion, who will come from the east and the west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, and yet there will be many so called sons of the kingdom who will be thrown into the outer darkness, and in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Conclusion

I think Paul in his letter to the church in Rome explained it best when he said in chapter 9, starting in verse 30. If you would turn with me we’ll read it together.

Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith; 31 but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. 32 Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, 33 as it is written,

“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense;

and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”

10 Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. 2 For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. 3 For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. 4 For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.

Those who pursue righteousness by the strength of their own might will not obtain it, but those who understand their desperate need for God’s mercy will obtain it. Whoever trusts in the Son of God will not be put to shame. Therefore, do not let Jesus be a stumbling block or a rock of offense. Trust him, rely upon him, delight in him. Humble yourself before him, just as this centurion did.

Prayer

The Jews can be the greatest law keeping people the world has ever seen but if they refuse to trust in their Savior they will not be saved.
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