Matthew 8:5-13 I Have Not Found Such Great Faith

Last week was a poor, outcast leper; this week we run into a reputable, outcast Gentile.  What a comparison!  Both are stories of suffering and both are stories of faith.  In that culture, suffering/disease was rampant.  There was no relief and people did not live long.

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A Centurion Came to Him (vv5-7)

Matthew has already told us earlier in the book that Jesus had moved from Nazareth and made Capernaum his hometown.  Capernaum was a humble, peasant town, though larger and more significant than Nazareth.  It also had a strategic, lakeside setting.  This small agricultural and fishing village had approximately 1,000-1,500 people.  It was the home of brothers Peter and Andrew, and also James and John.  This region would have been made up of predominately Gentile peoples and that is what Matthew wants to set up here.

In the previous text Jesus was approached by a leper and now another man comes to him, a centurion.  This man would have been a Gentile who was stationed in the area as a commander.  As a Gentile, he represented an unclean people and as a Roman soldier, he represented a hated group of people.  The Jews despised both Gentiles and especially Roman soldiers.  Yet, we read about a centurion coming to Jesus pleading and respectfully calling him Lord.

For a man as powerful as the centurion, his concern for one of his servants is amazing.  The word that is used of servant can also be translated child.  Apparently it was a child-servant in the home of the centurion.  The boy is paralyzed which has caused terrible suffering in his life.  The centurion’s message, his prayer if you will, was only a statement before the Lord.  He did not attempt to come up with an answer to the problem or convince the Lord of his goodness so that the boy may be healed.  He simply laid down his need before the Lord.  And what was Jesus’ response?  “I will come and heal him.”  Once again we see Jesus’ willingness to heal.  In the entire account we do not read of any doubt that Jesus could perform this miracle.  The centurion does not second guess Jesus’ power and Jesus does not hesitate when confronted with the trouble.  He was able and willing!

Only Speak a Word (vv8-9)

The great humility of this Gentile is shown in v8.  He realizes that he is not worthy for Jesus to come under his roof.  Remember, Jesus declared in the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are the poor in spirit….”  This same event is given in Luke’s Gospel and he says that the centurion wasn’t even the one who came.  It was some elders of the Jews who came to deliver the message in the centurion’s behalf.  (This is common even in our culture.  Often times someone may speak for another as a representative.  For example, the news will state that the President released a statement when in fact it was the press secretary).  The centurion has great faith, which goes well with his feeling of unworthiness in the face of Jesus’ authority, and he affirms that Jesus only needs to speak a word and the boy would be healed.  We also learn from Luke that the centurion not only loved his servant, but he also loved the Jews.  Apparently many of the Jews highly esteemed the centurion as well.  He was an extraordinary man, though full of faith.

The centurion understood authority very well because he was a man under authority and he had men under his authority.  As a centurion in the Roman military, he had been invested with the authority of the emperor.  If a soldier under his authority disobeyed him, the soldier would not be rebelling against the centurion alone, but the emperor and the whole Roman Empire.  He understood authority.  The centurion could make great things happen with only his spoken word.  The faith that he shows in Jesus is astonishing, especially for a Gentile.  He recognizes that Jesus operates by the authority of God.  When Jesus acts, God acts and when Jesus speaks, God speaks.  The centurion “recognizes that Jesus needed neither ritual, magic, nor any other help,” but merely to speak a word and the boy would be healed (Carson, 202).

I Have Not Found Such Great Faith (v10)

Jesus acknowledges and appreciates the faith that the centurion demonstrates.  Let us view all the godly parts of the centurion’s story: first, his pleading began respectfully with “Lord;” second, he makes no judgment of what the Lord should do with the situation, he merely brings his concern before him; third, he admits his unworthiness; fourth, he submits himself to Jesus; fifth, he plunged to the depths of Jesus’ authority like no other man ever had – he understood that Jesus represented God and was operating with the authority of God, in the flesh.  That last thing is what was so amazing.  “That faith was the more surprising since the centurion was a Gentile and lacked the heritage of OT revelation to help him understand Jesus” (Carson, 202).

Sons of the Kingdom will be Cast Out (vv11-13)

The centurion represents the many Gentiles from all over the planet who would come to faith in Christ.  Jesus says that many will come from both the east and west to join the company of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.  In the presence of many Jews, Jesus declares that there will be many Gentiles welcomed into the kingdom of heaven, but there will also be many Jews who will be cast out.  He goes on to say that there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.  Jesus was making a very specific point among the Jews, but the same point can be made for us.  There will be many who think they are going to heaven simply because they are members of a church or because they call themselves Christians, but they will be cast out into outer darkness.  Those who will enter heaven are those who have truly put their faith in Christ.

Jesus did not instruct the centurion to go and do anything.  He did not give him some task to perform, some ritual that would heal the servant.  He said, “Go your way; and as you have believed, so let it be done for you.”  Jesus acted according to the man’s belief and the servant was healed.  How much faith you have is not what matters.  The quality of your faith is what matters and there is no greater quality of faith than what is placed in Jesus Christ.  The centurion trusted in what Jesus could do, not what he could do.

Someone has said, “Hell is not a doctrine used to frighten unbelievers; it is a doctrine used to warn those who think themselves believers” (Bruner via Blomberg, 143).  Do not fool yourself or be fooled by this world into thinking that you can be saved from the wrath to come by something that you can do or some kind of association that you can uphold.  Those who put their faith in the person and work of Christ will be saved from the wrath to come and will be welcomed into his kingdom.  So, you better focus all of your attention on Jesus Christ.