Truth Taught- Jesus marvels over the genuine faith of a Gentile Centurion
If you were to summarize the cleansing of the leper from last week, you might do so by saying the faith of the leper was amazing and the authority and power of Jesus were amazing. The leper approaches Jesus in complete humility with great faith in Jesus’ authority and power. Jesus then shows He is willing to cleanse the leper and we see through the words of Scripture our Lord’s authority over this disease and power when Matthew reports that immediately he was cleansed.
Today, the same points are highlighted. We will see the humility and faith of the Centurion and the authority and power of Jesus.
Matthew 7:28–29 (ESV)
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.
As we set the context we should know a little about the Roman Centurion Soldier in the Roman Army. First, as the title suggests, he was in charge of 100 men. They were the fighters and the ones engaged in military combat. It would be right to think of the Centurion as a Sargent. From the writings of Josephus we learn that this man would have had two others above him in rank…the Colonel and the General. They were called other names but those would be our equivalent.
Second, Rome had conquered the area where Jesus is ministering. The entire region was ruled by and part of the Roman Empire. When Rome conquered a people they often allowed their subjects to exercise much of their normal lives so long as Caesar received taxes from them.
Third, Centurions were forbidden to marry and have a family until their tour of duty, which lasted 20 years, was over. Because this man had no wife or family it is likely that this servant was the only family he had.
It’s important that we understand this because it goes a long way in showing us the humility and faith of this man. The Jews including Jesus had been conquered. He was over them; he ruled over them. Why would Jesus heal a man like this? The Jews hated Rome because they were under Rome’s authority.
Matthew 8:5–13 (ESV)
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.
1. True Authority Acknowledged
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.”
As with the leper from the previous text, this Centurion approaches Jesus and uses the title, Lord. Why would a man who was used to being in charge and used to ordering others to go here and there and do this or that ever approach One of the conquered people showing Him complete honor and respect? God, no doubt had been at work in this man’s heart. He had been hearing about Jesus and perhaps had even witnessed Jesus healing others.
Now, his dear servant lay paralyzed. We are not told what happened. Was it a fall or some serious sickness that caused this paralysis? Really, when it comes to Jesus healing this man’s servant, it doesn’t matter.
Matthew uses a word here to describe the servant and it’s different from the term for slave doulos but rather uses a term of affection, pais, which means child or beloved servant. To the Centurion, this was one of his family members whom he loved greatly.
A closer reading of the passage reveals a surprising fact. The Centurion never asks Jesus to heal his servant. Last time we listened to the leper’s statement… Lord, if you will, you can make me clean. Then we see Jesus’ quick response, I am willing, be clean. Here, the Centurion never gets to ask. Jesus is so willing to come to the rescue of this servant that the Centurion doesn’t get the words out before Jesus literally interrupts him with I will come and heal him.
Jesus goes past all the normal protocols much like with touching the leper. Our Lord is willing to go to this Gentile’s home making Himself unclean to heal a Gentile servant.
Jesus is showing us that God is for those who come to Him by faith. If we could ever get this clearly in our thinking we would run to God for much more than we currently do. Because Jesus has paid for our sin our guilt has also been taken away. There is nothing standing between God and us. God stands ready to help us. We see this as an example of how God worked in our salvation. He did not wait around until we came to Him. He didn’t wait until we even knew what the right question was. He came to us. He healed us from our sin even before we fully knew what we even needed. He interrupted us with a new birth.
Jesus would not hesitate to enter a Gentile’s house to heal his servant. God was in the midst of doing an amazing work among the Gentiles.
In the Book of Acts we see Peter being led by the Holy Spirit to no longer think of Gentiles as unclean.
Acts 10:19–23 (ESV)
19 And while Peter was pondering the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Behold, three men are looking for you. 20 Rise and go down and accompany them without hesitation, for I have sent them.” 21 And Peter went down to the men and said, “I am the one you are looking for. What is the reason for your coming?” 22 And they said, “Cornelius, a centurion, an upright and God-fearing man, who is well spoken of by the whole Jewish nation, was directed by a holy angel to send for you to come to his house and to hear what you have to say.” 23 So he invited them in to be his guests.
By the way, there is something amazing here and other places in the Bible. Whenever you read about Centurions they are portrayed in the Bible as the good guys. Every time you read about one he is shown in a positive light. God is doing a wonderful work here. The Jews hated them but God loved them. We are about to witness a shift or a twist in the plot. The hated Centurion will exhibit true faith while the Jews exhibit true unbelief. Could it be that God brought the Jewish people under subjection to Rome to bring about salvation to the Gentiles? In judging the Jews for unbelief God brings into Palestine a foreign people who would believe.
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.”
This man in a most surprising way has acknowledged that he is completely unworthy to have Jesus come to his house and that because of our Lord’s power and authority He doesn’t need to. This man acknowledges that Jesus can simply say the Word and the paralysis will obey Jesus’ command. He believes Jesus only needs to say the word and his servant will be healed. Our Lord has authority over the entire universe. All He does is say the Word and the universe responds in complete obedience.
He reasons that on a macro level the Lord’s authority works like his. He reasons that just like he gives commands and those under him obey so to Jesus commands and those under him too obey. Things like sickness, disease, demons, paralysis, and even death hear the Word of the Creator and respond. All of creation responds in obedience to our Lord’s commands…that is except people.
2. True Faith Acknowledged
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.
Jesus marvels at wonderful things. The Centurion’s faith is a wonderful thing because it points to God working among the Gentiles. He is an amazing picture of God’s salvation moving outside the confines of the Jews and branching out to others.
God predicts that Abraham will be a blessing to the nations because the Messiah will come to us through him.
Genesis 12:3 (ESV)
3 I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
I’d like to look for a minute at this man’s faith. It is not blind faith but a logical faith. He has seen or at least heard of Jesus’ amazing works. He believes. His faith takes him to Jesus on his servant’s behalf. I will go to Jesus and ask Him to heal my beloved servant. He reasons that since Jesus can heal others, perhaps He would heal my servant. This is an active faith. He takes the proper steps actually going to Jesus for help. In his going to Jesus his faith is being made manifest in actions.
Beloved, faith is logical and active. God never asks us to believe without proving to us that His Word is truth. We are called to exercise our faith in real time. Does faith in Jesus make good sense to you? Is your faith active?
James saw in his day those who were treating “faith alone” as a doctrine that claimed you could be justified by faith which produced no good works. And he fervently said No to such faith.
Faith without works is dead (James 2:17).
It is like a body with no breath (James 2:26).
It is like energy with no effect (James 2:20), and no completion (James 2:22).
If there is justifying faith, it has works (James 2:17).
So, he says, “I will show you my faith by my works” (2:18). The works will come from faith.
Paul would affirm all of this because he said in Galatians 5:6, “In Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.” The only kind of faith that counts for justification is the kind that produces love — the kind that bears the fruit of love. The faith, which alone justifies is never alone, but always bearing transforming fruit. So, when James says these controversial words, “A person is justified by works and not by faith alone” (James 2:24), I take him to mean not by faith which is alone, but which shows itself by works.
Paul calls this effect or fruit or evidence of faith the “work of faith” (1 Thessalonians 1:3; 2 Thessalonians 1:11) and the “obedience of faith” (Romans 1:5; 16:26). These works of faith, and this obedience of faith, these fruits of the Spirit that come by faith, are necessary for our final salvation. No holiness, no heaven (Hebrews 12:14).
“Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith.
It is a sad reality that Jesus could preach, teach and heal multitudes and there is no one exhibiting the faith of this Centurion. Our Lord marvels at such great faith. Is your faith accompanied by works? It has to be or there is not real saving faith. James and Paul both tell us that faith without works is not faith at all.
The Centurion’s faith said, I will go to Jesus He can heal my servant because He has all authority, power and loves us.
There is our Lord’s acknowledgement that while many Gentiles will be saved there are those who are hard hearted and will not believe.
3. True Unbelief Acknowledged
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.
Jesus’ authority has great comfort for those who believe and great terror to those who are unbelievers.
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,
Coming from the east and west is a way of saying many Gentiles will come into God’s Kingdom just like this Centurion by grace through faith. The Day of Pentecost saw 3000 souls converted. This was just the beginning of what God would do and is doing among the Gentiles. While these great events are taking place, the Jews remain lost and unbelieving.
What our Lord refers to here is the great Banquet Feast spoken of in Isaiah.
Isaiah 25:6–8 (ESV)
6 On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples
a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine,
of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.
7 And he will swallow up on this mountain
the covering that is cast over all peoples,
the veil that is spread over all nations.
8 He will swallow up death forever;
and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces,
and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth,
for the Lord has spoken.
The reality is that only those who believe the truth found in Scripture will be included in this feast. Notice and this is very important that the Jews who do not have faith in Christ will not be included. What does Jesus say?
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.”
These who are assigned to hell are some of the most religious, devout and committed people the world has ever seen.
The Jew who practices Judaism having no belief in Jesus is hell bound. Jesus is not pluralistic. He is not inclusive. He never for a second taught that all religions are of equal validity. All paths do not lead to God.
Jesus sends some to eternal life and the rest to eternal punishment. thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
There is a direct contrast between the two types of people who are assigned residence in these two places. Eternal life all who have saving faith in Jesus. Eternal punishment for all who do not have saving faith in Jesus Christ.
Hell will be populated with religious people who did so many good things. Hell will be populated by those who give to charity, volunteer in the hospitals, care for the elderly, bow down and pray everyday, help their neighbors, work for the good of their community while the murderer that believes in Christ is ushered into the Kingdom of God.
So, where are we in this contrast? Faith is the key. Nothing else matters. Real faith produces good works. Do you have good works coupled to your faith? What ministry do you have in this Church? What service can you point to? I’m afraid there are many today who cannot point to any service at all for assurance that their salvation is genuine.
The Centurion had a faith that caused Jesus to marvel. The Jews in Jesus’ day had no faith at all.
I fear that churches are filled with people with no faith at all just like the Temple was filled with those in Jesus’ day with no faith at all. Is your faith accompanied by good works?
Works never save but faith without works never saves either.
James 2:14 (ESV)
14 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?
The Centurion’s saving faith is seen when…
He humbly comes to Jesus calling Him Lord
He sees the unbelievable authority Jesus has over all things
He understands that Jesus is powerful and good
He places all his trust and hope in Jesus alone
He shows his faith by his actions
Matthew by D A Carson in the Expositor’s Bible Commentary
A Theology of Matthew by Charles Quarles
A Gospel of Matthew by France
Matthew by Craig Bloomberg
Matthew by Doriani
Matthew by Charles Price
Matthew by Leon Morris
Blue Letter Bible