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The Amazing Faith of the Centurion

Powerpoint for message (PDF)

This week I want to continue looking at Matthew chapters 8 and 9. In my last message 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 passage that is titled, “The faith of the Centurion” in the NIV. But I would prefer to call it “The amazing faith of the Centurion”. It is a great story about a man who brought his problem to Jesus. A man who had amazing faith. It is found in Matthew 8:5-13 NIV 2011.

Bible Reading

Matthew 8:5-13
When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help. 6 "Lord," he said, "my servant lies at home paralyzed, suffering terribly." 7 Jesus said to him, "Shall I come and heal him?" 8 The centurion replied, "Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. 9 For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, 'Go,' and he goes; and that one, 'Come,' and he comes. I say to my servant, 'Do this,' and he does it." 10 When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, "Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. 11 I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. 12 But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth." 13 Then Jesus said to the centurion, "Go! Let it be done just as you believed it would." And his servant was healed at that moment.

Background Teaching

Like we did a few weeks 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 town. It was on the north western shore of the sea of Galilee. It was a very fertile town and it had a port for the fishermen. Jesus went there and there found his first disciples, Peter, Andrew and the two sons of Zebedee (Matt. 4:18–22). He taught there in the synagogue (John 6:24–59) and directed Peter to find a coin in the mouth of a fish with which to pay the tax collectors (Matthew 17:24–7). He also lodged there in Peter’s house as a base while He was healing the sick and teaching (Mark 1:29–34; 2:1–12; Luke 4:38–44).

Capernaum was also an important town for the Romans and it had a garrison of troupes under Herod’s control, but overseen by the Centurion. 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. We see in the Gospels that Centurions oversaw the crucifixions. In our context there might be one at Northam, Merredin, Southern Cross and maybe Bruce Rock. 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 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. He would have been respected, but also feared.

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 level of faith was behind his request.

It was very unusual for a Centurion to ask for help outside Rome, especially from a Jew. Rome was all powerful and was the most advanced society in the known world. It had a glory and grandeur that was unparalleled. Combine this with military might, its medical services, the Roman Roadways for transport and things like the aqueduct water transport system, it was very self-sufficient.

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 or even untie His sandals. This feeling of unworthiness was not because he thought that he might make Jesus ceremonially unclean like the leper, rather, the man felt unworthy in the face of Jesus’ authority and position. It is interesting to note that it is the same Greek work used for Lord as the Leper - Koo-ree-os, - it means Lord, Master, Ruler and Supreme Authority.

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 the Centurion was under the emperor’s authority, when he 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 empire itself.

This is the same understanding the centurion applied to Jesus’ authority. He seemed to understand that Jesus was under God the Fathers authority in Heaven and because He was given God’s authority, 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 was shown in two ways. Firstly, that he believed Jesus could heal from a distance and secondly, that he understood Jesus’ authority was from the throne room of Heaven. 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, the Passover 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 originally comes from Isaiah 25:6. “On this mountain the LORD Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine-- the best of meats and the finest of wines."

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. Verse 6 of Isaiah 25 said the Great Feast in Heaven would be for “All peoples”. 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.

Summary

In this passage we see that the Centurion stepped out of Rome to come to Jesus. He understood Jesus’ authority was from Heaven and he held Jesus in high regard when he called Him Lord. We also saw that he had the greatest faith Jesus had seen in all of Israel and all the Great Feast would be for all peoples.

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. We need to bring our problems to Jesus.

This miracle is the second in a series of miracles that Jesus performs. If we read through Matthew chapters 8 and 9 we see there are nine miracles in total.

The miracles in Matthew chapters 8 and 9 covered all things. 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. There are many false gods who people whorship, but there is only one true God who sits on the throne in heaven.

Over the years my family and I have had to bring many problems to Jesus. The daily pain of living with Rheumatoid Arthritis for many years was brought to Jesus and He helped me get through each day, sometimes each hour. When Larissa found out she had a growth in her pelvis the size of an orange and we had two small kids, we brought it to Jesus. When my older brother, and hero in many ways, committed suicide last year, I had to bring my pain to Jesus. We have had times with no money, chronic health issues, jobs not working out as we hoped, family relational breakdowns. We have experienced times of tremendous pain and sorrow, but we have also been tremendously blessed through it. Because we brought out problems to Jesus and we allowed the overcoming power of heaven to intervene. God became our comfort, our strength, our supplier, our hope.

Whatever we are faced with today, we should bring it to Jesus like the Leper did in the preceding passage, and the Centurion did in today’s passage. Prayer and bringing our problems to Jesus should be our first reaction, not a last resort.

2. We need to understand 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.

In this passage we see that the Centurion stepped outside of 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. The Centurion must have realized that there was a much bigger and more powerful Kingdom at hand – the Kingdom of God. A Kingdom that is eternal.

So how do we come to understand the power and authority of Jesus? The best way is to prayerfully read and re-read the Bible. When we prayerfully read the Bible, meditate on it and memorise it, it allows the Holy Spirit to help the words sink deep into our hearts and minds, and it transforms from worldly thinking to Kingdom thinking. Thinking that understands the power and authority of Jesus.

When we read the Bible, and in particular the Gospels, we see the amazing miracles and interactions that Jesus had with people, with nature (Mark 4:39–41), with the demonic (Mark 1:34), and even life and death itself (John 10:17–18, John 11:23–27). The Bible also tells us that Jesus had authority as a teacher (Matthew 7:28-29), to forgive sins (Mark 2:5-12), to judge mankind (John 5:27-30) and give eternal life (John 17:2).

At the start of the Great Commission Jesus said “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18). We know this is true because of how Jesus lived during His public ministry. His authority was backed by His amazing actions. Nothing was impossible to Him. Hebrews 13:8 also tells us that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” So nothing has changed. Now Jesus is seated in the Heavenly Places seated at the right hand of the Father (Ephesians 1:20, Colossians 3:1), the highest and most prestigious place in all Creation. And from this Holy Place He is interceding for you and I right now (Romans 8:34).

Like the Centurion, we need to understand the power and authority of Jesus. When we do, it will change our lives and the lives of the people around us too.

3. We need to see salvation is for everyone and we need to be bridge builders for Christ

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

For me personally I came to faith on the 21st of July 1989 at 7.10pm. I was reading a tract titled “A journey into life” given to me by a friend from work that I went to church with. It changed everything and I knew my life would never be the same.

As I read that tract, I realized that when Jesus came to die on the cross for us, He came to bridge the gap that was between God and Mankind. God was on one side and mankind was on the other because of sin. There was a big chasm in between. Jesus death on the cross to pay for the price for our sin built a bridge. A bridge of salvation that we could walk across by trusting Jesus.

I quickly realized that as a new Christian, we need to be bridge builders too. We are not the bridge to salvation, but we are the bridge to Jesus. Jesus stretched His arms on the cross to make the way open for all people. We need to stretch our arms out those around and help them come to know our Saviour, King and best Friend.

One person in particular who has inspired me over the years to reach people for Christ is the Billy Graham. He said this about the task of evangelism. “My one purpose in life is to help people find a personal relationship with God, which, I believe, comes through knowing Christ.” Since rising to prominence in 1949 Billy Graham has reached millions for Christ. And even though he is an old man now, his legacy will continue to reach millions for Christ through the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, through his family who continue his work and through the millions of people who know Christ because of him.

This is my heart – to reach people for Christ and to help them to be lifelong followers of Jesus. Salvation is for everyone and we are to be bridges to Christ.

Closing

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

1. Like the Centurion we need to bring our problems to Jesus. Because He can help.
2. The Centurion understood the authority of Jesus. We need to understand the authority and power of Jesus too. When we do it will change our lives and the lives of those around us.
3. The story of the Centurion shows that salvation is for all who come to Jesus. We need to trust Him and be bridge builders to bring people to Him.

Let’s pray

By Dave Quinn
Founder of PASSION Australia

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