Healing The Centurion’s Servant

Matthew 8:5-13

Luke 7:1-10

Bill McFarland

January 27, 2008


All of the miracles of Jesus may be thought of as parables acted out.  All of the miracles of the Lord are there to show him to be a man approved of God by the mighty signs and wonders and miracles which God did through his hands (Acts 2:22).  All of them are there to help people.  They are expressions of God’s compassion for our weaknesses and our needs.  But all of them are also there in the process of Jesus’ teaching us what we need to know about how to relate to our heavenly Father and about how to live our lives. 

I think one of these miracles in particular may be thought of with the title that I have given to our study today, “The Gospel Miracle.”  I say that because in this one account of something Jesus did to help some people, there are more of the threads of the gospel itself woven together in the picture than any of these other events I can think of.  I have in mind here the story of the time when Jesus healed the servant of a centurion, a Gentile who was a good and decent man.  But the way the Lord goes about this and the fact that he turns and says something to the crowd present while this is going on tells me that there is help given here to more than just the centurion and his servant.  There is something here about the Lord that all of us need to clearly consider.

This story is told in two passages, Luke 7:1-10, but also in Matthew 8:5-13.  Matthew seems to give more emphasis to the later part of this story.  Luke gives more attention to the first part of the details.  We are going to read Matthew’s this morning and then to think about it together.  Matthew 8:5-13 says, “When he entered Capernaum, a centurion came forward to him, appealing to him, ‘Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, suffering terribly.’  And he said to him, ‘I will come and heal him.’  But the centurion replied, ‘Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but l only say the word, and my servant will be healed.  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.’  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.  I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’  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.”

Lessons From The Miracle

There are wonderful lessons in this passage that we need to consider.  The first one has to do with how an appeal for the Lord’s help should be laid before him.  This man, the centurion, is someone who appears to be admirable in every way.  This fellow is in a responsible position, being the captain over a troop of 100 Roman soldiers.  Many believe that he may have been in charge of the outpost in Capernaum, a city where a great trade route passed through.  This man is said in Luke’s account, especially, to have loved the people of God and to have acted generously to see that a synagogue was built in their city.  In fact, in Luke’s version of this story, the elders of the people come out to Jesus to intercede in behalf of the centurion and to say that he is worthy of being helped. 

But this man right now is most concerned about his servant.  Even his bondservant was not somebody to him to just be used.  Luke says that the servant was particularly dear to this good man.  The man comes before the Lord, and notice how he lays the situation before Christ: “My servant is lying paralyzed at home.”  That term has to do with some type of palsy which involved muscle cramps and ultimately made it difficult for the individual to breathe.  He is suffering terribly.  We can imagine him being taken with these physical muscle cramps or spasms that invaded his body.  We are told in Luke’s account that this servant was at the point of death.  All of those things meant that there was a sense of urgency certainly to this centurion’s voice.

But notice the way in which he lays the situation before the Lord.  There is an appeal here, but it is an appeal which is simple and considerate and humble.  There are no demands; there are no manipulative efforts to lay a guilt trip on anybody; there are no instructions as to how the Lord ought to care for the situation.  There is some thoughtfulness about what this will require of the Lord, a Jewish Rabbi, if he were to enter into the house of a Gentile (which was thought to be untoward at that time), and what kind of trouble that might cause for the Lord.  This good man merely comes out here and lays it before the Lord. 

Can you see how high of an estimation of Jesus that demonstrated on his part?  This man thought enough of Jesus that apparently he believed that if the Lord just knew of the need of his servant, he would handle it appropriately.  He didn’t have to tell him, “Do this by the means being used,” or he didn’t have to tell him when or how it needed to be done.  He didn’t think that he had to fall down and make some great demonstration of his begging.  He just humbly and simply stated to the Lord what the situation was.

You and I are taught in 1 Peter 5 to cast our cares on him because he cares for us.  Isn’t that a wonderful invitation?  Notice from this centurion the humility, the sense of consideration for other people and what they are trying to do to help folks, and how it might put them out, that is shown here in this good man.  Let’s learn to cast our cares before the Lord but to do it simply and humbly and with trust in him.

Not only is there the humility of the appeal, but in this story we see pretty clearly the compassionate heart of the Lord Jesus Christ.  The willingness of the Lord to act in this man’s behalf, his ability to do what needed to be done, is obvious in this story.  When the man lays the case before him, Jesus does not do anything to humiliate the centurion before the crowd, to make a show over the fact that this powerful and influential man is coming to ask me to do this.  He makes no scene out of the idea that “here is a Gentile officer in the Roman army coming to ask me to do something for him.”  Instead, the Lord simply says, “I (and I am told by those who know Greek better than I do, that it is very emphatic) will come and heal him.”  That statement, “I will come and heal him” is actually a promise.  Jesus simply stated to the man what he would do to resolve the need of that situation. 

You realize, don’t you, that that is the same way that he deals with us.  About many things he has said to all of us, “I will come and I will take care of it.”  We look forward to the house he has prepared for us, to the room he has prepared for us in his Father’s house.  We look forward to his coming again.  We look forward to the inheritance that he has laid up for us, all based on his promise.  We need to remember that when sickness comes to our house, and when we have someone dear to us like this man has, that the Lord still cares and still has made promises about how he will deal with what troubles our minds and our hearts.

Thirdly, notice from this wonderful story the nature of the authority of the Lord’s word.  This man whom the elders of the Jews said was worthy said of himself, “I am not worthy.”  Humility and greatness always seem to go together like that.  “I am not worthy for you to come under my roof,” he says in verse 8, “but only say the word and my servant will be healed.”  And notice the way he reasoned about this.  “I am,” he says, “a man under authority.  Even though I have officers over me, I can say to one ‘go’ or to another ‘come’ and they will do it.  If you, being the Lord who can deal with disease and death, have no one over you, your authority will be much greater than mine.  I know that you can just say the word and it will be done.”

Notice J.W. McGarvey’s observation about the man’s reasoning by faith, “If the centurion who was under authority to his superior officers could still say to those under him, ‘Go’ and ‘Come,’ then much more could Jesus, who appeared to be under no authority, command the powers of life and death to ‘go’ and to ‘come’ at his bidding.”  And Bro. McGarvey observed, “He reasoned well.”  Isn’t that wonderful – he reasoned well. 

Look at the nature of authority here.  The confidence this man has is that the same Lord of whom Psalm 148:2 says, “He spoke and it was created,” that kind of power to the Lord’s word, to speak and to have it so, deserves to be accepted in our lives.  It is what the New Testament claims for the Lord’s will.  It is important for us to have the conviction that Christ’s word, even without his actual presence, will be sufficient, as R.C. Trench once put it, because our Lord who now has all authority sits at the right hand of the Father in heaven and rules over his kingdom.

Respect for the authority of the Lord to speak and to have it so serves as the basis for all other responses of faith in our lives.  It begins with that conviction.  Do I believe the Lord has the right to say and the power to say?  Am I convinced that he, even if he is not physically present at the moment, still has the power for it to be as he says it will be? 

Then notice the marvel of real faith as it is demonstrated in this man’s life.  He had heard of Jesus, Luke 7:3 says.  His faith came by hearing in that way.  But we get a glimpse here of what Jesus regarded as genuine living faith.  He is the one here who is said to have stopped and marveled at this man.  You realize perhaps there are only two times in scripture that Jesus is said to have marveled.  One is at the unbelief of the people of Nazareth in Mark 6:6, and the other is at the belief of this Gentile officer in this story here.  Jesus was impressed with the faith that he saw. 

Real faith has certain qualities about it.  First, real faith respects the Lord’s right to speak and to be obeyed, as we have just mentioned.  It takes the Lord at his word.  Real faith is not concerned with what will happen with people if they don’t do this or, “He didn’t say not to do this.”  Real faith is taking the Lord at his word.  Faith like this trusts what the Lord has said and that it will be best.  Real faith says, “Not only is what the Lord said reality, but he says it in my best interest.  He is not trying to keep me from something.  He is trying to help me.”  And faith like this wants and intends to act in response to what the Lord does say.  Notice carefully: faith cannot be divorced from the authority of the Lord.  Faith takes the Lord at his word.  It trusts what he says; it acts on what he says.  One of the worst disasters in the history of Christianity has been the tendency to want to take and make faith different from believing action.  Doing what the Lord says is not a work; it is a response of faith.  James makes the point in James 2.

Then notice that here in this story we find what is a figure or just a shadow of what would happen ultimately through the gospel.  As those who were from the Gentile background who were thought to be no part of the people of God, were invited to come to the banquet table and to enjoy the blessings of life.  I am so thankful for that because if it weren’t true, I wouldn’t be there.  I couldn’t.  And on the other hand, we find here the figure of some of those who were sons of the kingdom who would not respond to Jesus with the kind of faith this centurion had, being left out. 

This picture of people coming from the east and the west and coming to recline at the table with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob was a central part of the hope of the Bible.  Some of these pictures you will be familiar with.  Remember Psalm 23 – the “Lord is my shepherd” song.  It says, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for you are with me.  Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.  You have prepared a table before me in the presence of my enemies.  You anoint my head with oil.  My cup overflows.”  As long as we live in this world, the Lord can’t keep us from the valley of the shadow, but he can be with us there and he can prepare a table for us ultimately.

In Isaiah 25 there is a beautiful statement of this truth.  In this text, beginning at verse 4 it says, “For you have been a stronghold to the poor, a stronghold to the needy in his distress, a shelter from the storm and a shade from the heat; for the breath of the ruthless is like a storm against a wall, like heat in a dry place.  You subdue the noise of the foreigners; as heat by the shade of a cloud,        so the song of the ruthless is put down. 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.  And he will swallow up on this mountain        the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations.   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.”  That is where this picture of the banquet - reclining at the people, people from the east and the west, north and the south – comes from. 

Now to miss that for lack of the kind of faith we are learning about here would be a tragedy which would set someone to weeping because he missed it and to grinding his teeth because others have what he could have had. 

Then notice from our story here that this miracle gives a glimpse of the Lord’s way of blessing people.  He told the centurion to do something – “Go” he says, “and the needed blessing will be provided.”  It will “be done for you as you have believed.”  There was no great demonstration; there was no great commotion that a miracle had been done.  He required the man to proceed on the faith he had confessed.  The fellow said, “You speak the word and it will be so.”  The Lord said, “Go, you have what you have believed.”  If I had been him, I would have said, “Wait, wait, can’t you give me some proof?”  I would have been like Naaman, “I thought maybe there would be some great demonstration of this.  I thought maybe ..”  The Lord would have had to have said to him, “Look, you said you believed I could say the word and it would be so.  It is so.”  That in itself would have been a challenge of faith.  The Lord made people well often while they were doing what he told them to do.  In Luke 17:14, it was that way with the lepers – as they went he healed them.

Listen friends.  Under the gospel of Christ, the blessing which has been secured to us by the death and the resurrection of Jesus comes to us while we are doing what the Lord has asked us to do.  When we confess our faith in him and when we are buried with him in baptism, God washes those sins away and raises us up to walk in newness of life.  You read Romans 6:3-4 and Colossians 2, verses 12 and following. 

And also I want to mention in this passage that here is an illustration of the difference between a miracle and providence.  There are some people who insist that God still is in the miracle-working business the way he did in Jesus’ ministry who think that to say he is not means that God is not involved at all.  They are failing to see this distinction.  The centurion’s servant was healed at that very moment, verse 13b says.  A miracle had occurred.  The healing was immediate; it was complete; it happened while many people were present and heard what was going on.  There was no treatment by the hands of any people.  It didn’t take any medicine.  It took no time.  There were no great prayers made other than this man’s request.  It was a miracle. 

In providence, on the other hand, the Lord is also at work but he acts through natural means behind the scenes to fulfill his purposes.  He may work through people; he may use time; he may use seemingly ordinary means, but when he is through you can look back on it and see that he has been at work.  For example, R.C. Trench observed in this particular centurion something about the providence of God.  He says, “This centurion was one among the many whom the providence of God had so wonderfully prepared in all the great cities in the Greek and Roman world as a link of communication between Gentile and Jew, in contact with both, holding to the first by their race and to the last by their religion and who must have materially helped in the early spread of the faith.”  God in his providence has this Gentile man where he is so that in a while people can bring the gospel to Capernaum, and there will be hearts ready to respond to it.

Here is a story then which begins with an appeal and ends with the prospect of God’s continuing work in this world to bring many sons to glory.  What a story this gospel miracle has to tell!

We sang awhile ago from a great song.  It says, “But we never can prove the delights of his love until all on the altar we lay.  For the favor he shows and the joy he bestows are for those who trust and obey.”  It might be this morning that somebody is here ready to trust and to obey the wonderful savior whose actions we have studied this morning.  If you are ready to be baptized into Christ or if in some way you need the prayers of your family in the Lord, if we can help, will you let it be known while we stand and sing together.