Compassion Toward a Gentile

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. (Matthew 8:5–13)

A great passage for us this morning one of hope and power and faith. Really good stuff and I hope we can all follow along and see the glory of Christ in it. The sermon on the mount had such impact and word was getting around about this man Jesus that even this early in His ministry, He was inundated with requests from many who were hurting. In fact, even gentiles were convinced of His power and came to Him even though Jesus was a Jew.

This is fascinating. This man, the centurion was a high official with the occupying imperial army. As such, he would have been, shunned by the Jewish people. They would have considered him to be unclean and an enemy of their race and their faith. In fact many of the Jewish people followed Jesus precisely due to the fact that they believed Jesus would oust the Romans, defeat them and free the Jews from such oppression. Knowing this makes this account more interesting and even instructive for us.

Do you remember what Jesus had just taught at the sermon on the mount about enemies? About how we are to treat our enemies? Here is what he said,

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:43–48)

This is what is great. Jesus had just taught instructing His followers about how to treat their enemies and now we get to see Jesus model such a practice to His followers. Jesus was serious about what he had said and this is proof of it. Can you imagine his jewish followers watching this powerful enemy soldier approaching Him? And an amazing thing happened, Jesus had compassion on him!

Listen to this carefully and personally. Did you know that that person or those people who are around you who have treated you badly in some way, maybe someone who has been unfair to you and is making your life hard. Did you know that that person may be really hurting in some way? If he or she is hurting in some way, struggling in some way…do you care?

Oh, we can be so good at justifying our behavior toward someone because of how that person has treated us. We can be really cold toward people who have hurt us in some way, made our life hard in some way. We can turn our backs and just walk away from them. And in doing so, we can act as if we are righteous to do so,

Let me say this…you don’t have that right, not if that person is in need, or is hurting or not if you are in a position to help them.

Are we going to be like Christ or are we not? I talk to Christians on a weekly basis who, it seems, could almost kill fellow believer they are so mad. Where does that come from? What gives you that right? That does not come from God and that is not what was modeled by Jesus. We need to hear this every day. We were, you were an enemy of Jesus and He saved you anyway. When we see this Centurion approach Jesus, let’s not gasp and be appalled that he being an enemy would want something from Jesus. And let’s certainly not be surprised by Jesus respond of love and compassion. This is you and it is me and Jesus had mercy on us and saved us in spite of who we were and are.

The true test of genuine Christianity is how believers treat those whom they are naturally inclined to hate or who mistreat or persecute them.

And then we must take it a step further and evaluate who were treat others. I mean, are we Christians or not? Who have you recently despised? Go and love them. Be like Jesus, go and love them.

Now, I have jumped way ahead here, we haven’t even gone through the account yet.

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.” (Matthew 8:5-6)

The soldier appealed to Jesus.

like the leper, the centurion approaches Jesus with remarkable respect. He submissively calls him “Lord.” He demonstrates unusual concern for the great suffering of one who is merely his “servant”.

Jesus responds:

7 And he said to him, “I will come and heal him.” (Matthew 8:7)

There seemed to be zero hesitancy here! There was a need, Jesus learned of the need, He had the power to heal this man and it was like, ok, let’s go and take care of this! I don’t think anyone could have anticipated the centurions response to Jesus favorable and gracious reply.

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. (Matthew 8:8)

It is an amazing response. Especially given that fact of the natural relationship between Jesus and the Romans. For the Centurion to say, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, this was the height of humility and respect for this Jewish man Jesus. This was just not normal. What Roman soldier had this kind of respect for a Jew? And yet he did.

He humbled himself before Jesus, and then confessed true faith in the power and the person of Jesus.

And he said,

... 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.” (Matthew 8:9)

The centurion bases his belief on his own experience with the military. Just as he can command others to carry out the orders he himself has been given and can expect their instant and complete obedience, so also he believes that Jesus, under God’s authority, gives orders for illnesses to be cured instantaneously.

This man believed that Jesus could heal his servant with a word, with a command that he be healed. He was a man who understood authority and He believed that Jesus was a man who had authority over sickness. He simply believed.

This can be convicting to my heart and maybe it is to yours too. We are those who belong to the Lord, who go to church who know the Bible to some degree. We at least profess to have faith and yet, do we have this kind of faith? Do we go to Jesus first and make our request or do we do all we can to first work things out? Do we only ask Jesus help when we have exhausted all other possibilities or do we by faith go to Him and ask? This man had a problem and he went to Jesus.

What are you dealing with in your life? Have you by faith gone to Jesus and asked for His help with what you need? Do we exercise the kind of humility that this man did, great respect for Jesus and do we ask in faith, believing that Jesus can help and that He will act on our behalf in the way that is best for us?

What is also fascinating here is Jesus response to this man’s 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.” (Matthew 8:11-12)

What do we make of this?

This is troubling and yet simple.

The centurion is a paradigm of many outside Judaism (“from the east and the west”—cf. Ps 107:3) who will become Jesus’ followers. Jesus thus points forward to a time beyond his earthly ministry when Gentiles will flock to the faith.

More sobering is his observation that even as newcomers arrive, many from within Judaism (“subjects of the kingdom”), who by ancestry believe themselves still part of God’s covenant, will discover that they are not in the kingdom at all but painfully and eternally excluded from God’s presence. Darkness here is the opposite of the light of God in Christ (cf. 4:15–16). The refrain “weeping and gnashing of teeth” highlights the agony of this separation and recurs regularly as a Matthean distinctive (13:42, 50; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30). Happily, those who do respond positively to Jesus in this age, from whatever ethnic background, will join the faithful Israelites of previous generations (classically represented by Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) to enjoy eternal fellowship with God. Jesus characterizes that bliss as taking “their places at the feast,” the messianic banquet image depicting the intimate fellowship among God’s people in the age to come (cf. Isa 25:6–9; 65:13–14). The contrast between faith and faithlessness thus stands out even more than the miracle Jesus works. “Such great faith” does not refer to a particular quantity but to a quality of faith, Those who claim to be Christians can also be excluded from the kingdom if they lack faith. Those who deny people of certain races, classes, or creeds access to God’s message and ministry in this life may find themselves excluded from his presence in the next. As Bruner provocatively warns, “Hell is not a doctrine used to frighten unbelievers; it is a doctrine used to warn those who think themselves believers.”

Many Jews believe they are automatically in God’s Kingdom but they are not. May Gentiles will believe they are in God’s kingdom and they are not. Jesus taught this in the sermon on the mount speaking of the broad way and the narrow way, speaking of those who say Lord, Lord who never belong to Him. Those who even do works in Jesus name who do not belong to Him those who are wolves disguised in sheep's clothing the hypocrites, false teachers and false professors.

So who is in? Those who by faith have believed and how by faith live out the Christian life. We shall be known by our fruit. By how we life.

This goes back to the point on loving those who have even hurt us. Are we going to live out Jesus commands or are we not, this gives evidence of true salvation.

This is true for the Jew and for the Greek.

Now, Jesus does and amazing thing.

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. (Matthew 8:13)

Jesus had pity on this man, honored his faith, put his power on display and healed the man who was paralyzed. I’m not sure what would have had more impact here, the actual healing or the lesson spoken of by Jesus regarding faith.

This man believed Jesus. Let me ask, do you really believe in Jesus and have you trusted in Him for salvation? I’m not asking what do your parents believe or what have you been taught about Jesus, I’m asking do you believe? Do you believe enough to place you life on the line with Him? Do you believe enough that you will today, begin living your life in obedience to Him? That is what I am wondering.

Jesus is not one to be ambivalent about. As we have seen today, all power is His. And His people are commanded to follow Him and to follow is to believe and to obey. If that is not your desire then it is right to question your true position with Him

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. (Matthew 8:5–13)