Surprising Faith

Matthew 8: 5 – 13

When he had 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 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.

Understanding And Applying the Text

A centurion came to Jesus as Jesus entered Capernaum. Capernaum was a town on the northwest shore of Galilee. It was a major economic center in the area. As Jesus entered the city a Centurion approached. He had a request or plea. The centurion was an uncircumcised gentile. Yet Jesus commended the centurion for his faith. In doing there was a warning to the Jews. God will cast them off. The age of the Jews will end. And God will call the Gentiles.

A centurion was a noncommissioned officer in the Roman army. A centurion commanded about 100 men. Their responsibilities were roughly equal to junior officers today. But they were not officers. There was a wide social gap between a centurion and a Roman officer.

Matthew said the centurion came to Jesus. In Luke, the centurion sent Jewish elders as emissaries. (Luke 7:3)

Matthew and Luke are not telling different stories. Both tell the same story. What accounts for the difference? Matthew says the centurion came. But Luke let us know he came through emissaries. The emissaries were in his name and at his request. Matthew’s version is a more condensed version.

The centurion had a servant. This servant was ill. He suffered from palsy and was in great pain. Jesus volunteered to go and heal the servant. According to Luke, this centurion understood Jewish customs and laws. He was respectful of them. He even built a synagogue for the community. He understood a Jew could not enter a Gentile’s home. But it goes further than that. The centurion understood he was unworthy to have Jesus come into his home. And the centurion understood Jesus could heal from afar. This caused Jesus to comment on the centurion’s faith.

Matthew said Jesus marveled at the centurion’s faith. God cannot marvel. Marveling comes from the unexpected. Nothing surprises an all-knowing God. But Christ marveled. Christ was one person. But He had two natures. One nature was human. The other was divine. The human nature marveled.

Jesus used a metaphor of people coming from all over the world. They came to share in a banquet in heaven. Gentiles will dine with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. While Gentiles enjoy the banquet, the Jews are cast out.

I must pause here because we live on this side of the holocaust. That calls for some clarification. This is not an antisemitic statement. Hating Jews for being Jews fails to recognize important facts. Jesus was a Jew. All the apostles were Jews. Most of the early Christian church was Jewish. God does not reject the Jews as an ethnic group. Jesus foreshadows the end of the old covenant i.e. the Jewish age. He foreshadows the establishment of the new covenant. Those who reject the messiah are cast out, Jew or Gentile. God does not reject based on ethnicity. Nor does He give grace based on ethnicity. Unfortunately, most Jews reject the messiah. Christ was not making a racial or ethnic statement.

The centurion, a Gentile, is an example of the future faith of Gentiles. Gentiles receive the same grace and salvation as Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The promise of the patriarchs also belongs to us. We have the same inheritance.

This is a recurring theme in Jesus’ ministry. It appears in several parables. It appears in the parable of the wicked tenants. (Matthew 21:33–44) It appears in the wedding feast parable. (Matthew 22:1–14). Paul develops this idea. (Romans 9: 30-32) Israel is unsuccessful in pursuing righteousness through works. But undeserving Gentiles have God’s mercy through faith.

But why does Jesus call the Jews children of the kingdom? Paul addresses this in Romans. We are not in the Kingdom by reason of birth. We are in the kingdom by God’s choice. (Romans 9:1-29) There are many in the visible church today who are not in the kingdom.

Not only are those who reject Christ thrown out of the Kingdom. They are in outer darkness. In that darkness a “there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” In other words, it is a place of great anguish and suffering.

Jesus told the centurion he had his request fulfilled. It was not the centurion’s faith that healed the servant. It was Christ. The centurion’s faith was the vehicle Christ used. But it was Christ. It is all Christ all the time.

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