The faith of the centurion

February 28th, 2015

This week I want to continue looking at Matthew chapters 8 and 9. This is something that God has really placed on my heart. Last week we looked at the first miracle story where Jesus healed the Leper. We saw that Jesus not only healed his body, but healed his whole life by restoring him to his former life and community.

This week we are looking at the story that is titled, “The faith of the Centurion” in the NIV. It is a great story about a man who brought his problem to Jesus. It is found in Matthew 8:5-13 NIV 2011.

Breakdown and background of the text

Like we did last week I want to breakdown the text and have a look at some of the key things we find it this story. Some of the background things we might not see at first glance.

Verse 5
In Jesus’ day Capernaum was an important army town and had a garrison of 100 troupes under Herod’s control. A Centurion was a career soldier in charge of these 100 soldiers and they were stationed at strategic places throughout the empire, maintaining discipline and executing orders. In our context there might be one at Merredin and then another at Southern Cross. If trouble erupted in our region, they could quickly move and sort it out. Because of his role a Centurion would have had high standing in the community and would be quite wealthy by general standards. He had a recognizable uniform (Tunic with Chicken hat – thanks Steph!) and carried a vine like staff to show his authority. As a Centurion he was part of an occupying force and a Gentile, or someone outside the Jewish faith.

Verses 6-7
In verses 6-7 we see the servant of this centurion had a form of paralysis. Jesus’ response to the centurion’s request for healing seems to be a question in the NIV 2011. “Shall I come and heal him?” This response was based on Jesus’ desire to find out exactly what the centurion was after and what degree of faith stood behind his request.

Verses 8-9
In verses 8-9 the centurion again addresses Jesus with the title “Lord”, but this time it is about feeling unworthy to have Jesus in his home. In many ways like John the Baptist felt unworthy to baptize Jesus. This feeling of unworthiness was not because he thought that he might make Jesus ceremonially unclean like the leper we saw last week; rather, the man felt unworthy in the face of Jesus’ authority as the Son of God.

The Centurion’s words – “just say the word” – shows he understands the Roman military system and the chain of command. All “authority” in Roman thinking belonged to the emperor and it was delegated downwards. Therefore, because he was under the emperor’s authority, when the centurion spoke, he spoke with the emperor’s authority. A foot soldier who disobeyed would not be defying a centurion leader, but the emperor and Rome itself. This is the same understanding the centurion applied to Jesus’ authority. He seemed to understand that Jesus was under God the Fathers authority and because he was given God’s authority, so that when Jesus spoke, God spoke and Jesus’ words must therefore contain God’s authority and the power to heal sickness.

Verse 10
Jesus is astonished at the faith of the centurion and he commended the man’s faith. The greatness of his faith did not rest on the fact that he believed Jesus could heal from a distance, but in the fact that he understood Jesus’ authority from God the Father. That faith was the more surprising since the centurion was a Gentile and did not have the Jewish understanding of the Old Testament. He did not know about the great miracles of God parting the Red Sea or the other great miracles God had performed for His chosen people. But his understanding of Jesus authority was more than any Jew of his time.

Verses 11-12
In verses 11 and 12 Jesus then talks about the great feast in heaven. This comes from Isaiah 25:6-9. Jesus here says that many Gentiles will come from the four points of the compass and join the patriarchs Abraham, Issaac and Jacob at the banquet. This was not what the majority of Jews believed at the time. They thought they would be the only ones there.

When we see the words “subjects of the kingdom” – this is talking about the Jews. They saw themselves as sons of Abraham (Matthew 3:9-10), Jewish people belonging to God’s kingdom by birth right. But in this passage Jesus changes things around; and the sons of the kingdom are thrown aside, left out of the great feast in heaven that would happen when Jesus consummates history. They are consigned to darkness where there are tears and gnashing of teeth. In other words outside the Kingdom in hell.

Verse 13
When Jesus said, “Go! Let it be done just as you believed it would”. We see that Jesus performed a miracle, not because the Centurion had a vain hope that Jesus might or could heal him – he knew Jesus would do it and could do it if He just said the word. He believed.

Application points

Again, like we did last week. What can we learn from this passage that is applicable to today? What things can we draw from it to help us in our daily lives?

1. The Centurion brought his problem to Jesus.

Like we saw last week with the Leper who was healed of Leprosy, the Centurion brought his problem to Jesus. What was the problem? He had a sick and paralyzed slave. He was powerless to help him and he realized that only Jesus could. Because of his faith, or more so, because his belief, Jesus made the servant well by just saying the word as the Centurion suggested.

2. The Centurion understood the power and authority of Jesus

The Centurion lived within the framework of the power and authority of Rome and the power and authority of the Emperor. He understood this authority and he understood what it meant to give and receive orders. With this faith in authority he came to Jesus and asked for Jesus to say they word and his servant would be healed.

As Jesus followers today, we need to realise that when we bring our problems to Jesus, like the Leper and the Centurion, that we bring them to the One who holds all the power and authority of heaven. We bring our requests to the Throne room of God – the place where the sovereign God of the Universe resides. We bring our problems to the One who created this world and holds eternity in His hands. We need to remember we bring our issues to the one and only Sovereign God.

3. The Centurion crossed the social and cultural divide to come to Jesus

In this story we see that the Centurion stepped outside the Roman Empire to come and speak to a Jewish Rabbi as many called Jesus. He left behind the power of the Emperor, the technology of Rome with all its advances, and came to Jesus. He stepped outside Roman culture.

Likewise today many people need to cross their social and cultural divides to come to Jesus. The wealthy business person who has it all, must lay aside their faith in their wealth to come humbly to Jesus. The Scientist who has put all their faith in Evolution, must lay it all aside and humbly come to Jesus. The Muslim who sees Jesus only as a Prophet, must lay it aside and come to Jesus. The young person who is caught up in the drinking and drugs culture, must lay it aside and humbly come to Jesus. That is what I had to do a little over 22 years ago myself!

4. In the story of the Centurion we see that salvation is for everyone

In the passage we saw that the ones left outside the Kingdom and the Great Feast were actually Jewish people. They were left in the outer darkness. Why? Because, they were trusting in their birth as Jews and in their traditions. Jesus said it was about faith and trust in Him.

Today we need to see that salvation is for everyone who has faith and trust in Jesus. It is for all people from the east to the west. From the north to the south. It is for all people from all countries of the world. It is for all the people of Merredin. It is for the rich, the poor. It is for the lame, the blind, the leper, the homeless person. It is for those on the inside of the church and those on the outside of church. It is for the young and the old. It is for the people who think they are good enough on their own and for those who know they are bad. It is for all people now matter what cultural or religious background they come from. Salvation is even for the Atheist if they humbly come to Jesus. Salvation is for anyone who comes to Jesus and asks Him to come into their heart and life. It is for anyone who asks God to forgive their sins. It is for anyone who believes Jesus died for them. It is all about coming to Jesus and making your connection with Him. You don’t have to understand it all right now, you just have to come seeking to know Him.

Closing

So today as we finish this message. I want to leave you with these four things…

  1. The Centurion brought his problem to Jesus
  2. The Centurion understood the authority of Jesus
  3. The Centurion stepped out of his social and cultural setting to come to Jesus
  4. The story of the Centurion shows that salvation is for all who come to Jesus.

Let’s pray