“The King’s Authority Over Disease: Jesus and a Centurion (Exposition of Matthew 8:5-13)

In Matthew 4:23 the ministry of Jesus is summarized as follows:

And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease among the people.

In chapters 5-7 we see Jesus “preaching the gospel of the kingdom”. In chapters 8-9 we see Jesus “healing all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease among the people”.

In chapters 5-7 we find the Sermon on the Mount in which Jesus asserts His Kingly authority by issuing the commands of His kingdom. In chapters 8-9, Jesus demonstrates His Kingly authority by healing the sick, casting out demons, and calming the sea.

In 8:1-17 Matthew records three miracles which Jesus performed on three different social outcasts of His day: a leper, a Gentile and a woman. Last week we looked at how Jesus demonstrated His authority over disease in healing a leper, today we will consider Jesus’ authority over disease in the healing of the Centurion’s servant in Matthew 8:5-13.

Now when Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to Him, pleading with Him, 6 saying, “Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, dreadfully tormented.” 7 And Jesus said to him, “I will come and heal him.” 8 The centurion answered and said, “Lord, I am not worthy that You should come under my roof. But only speak a word, and my servant will be healed. 9 For I also am a man under authority, having soldiers under me. And I say to this 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 it, He marveled, and said to those who followed, “Assuredly, I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel! 11 And I say to you that many will come from east and west, and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. 12 But the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” 13 Then Jesus said to the centurion, “Go your way; and as you have believed, so let it be done for you.” And his servant was healed that same hour. Matthew 8:5-13

I.  The Setting, v. 5.
Let me begin by looking at something of the setting, specifically the place and the man.

Jesus has now returned to His home base of Capernaum in the northern province of Galilee. We normally associate Jesus with Bethlehem, Nazareth, and even Jerusalem, but Matthew tells us in 4:13 that Jesus left Nazareth and went to dwell in Capernaum.

And as Jesus returned to His home base of Capernaum, a man comes to meet Him. This man is called a centurion. In Jesus’ day, Capernaum was a garrison town which means that troops were stationed there. Herod Antipas had an auxiliary army made up of non-Jews/Gentiles from outside of Palestine.

This man was a centurion which means that he was a captain over 100 men. He was also under another’s authority. He was fairly low in the chain of command, but over 100 men.

Now that we’ve seen something of the setting, let us now turn to the dialogue that takes place between Jesus and this Gentile soldier.

II. The Dialogue, vv. 6-9.
This centurion comes to Jesus with a humble request. He recognizes Jesus’ lordship by calling Him “Lord.” His request is not directly for himself, but for the health of his servant who lies paralyzed, and if you compare Luke’s account of this event, at the point of death (Luke 7:2). After the centurion presents the problem Jesus responds with “I will come and heal him.” In the Greek, the personal pronoun for “I” is not necessary because it is understood in the verb itself. But here the pronoun ego is present which places an emphasis on “I”. This has caused some scholars to suggest that the statement of verse 7 could be best understood as a question: “Shall I come and heal him?” The centurion’s response once again expresses his humility. He is aware of his unworthiness as a Gentile to lay claims upon this Jewish Messiah: “I am not worthy that you should come under my roof.” Now comes his confession of faith: “But only speak a word, and my servant will be healed.” This centurion knows something about Jesus. He knows that he has the ability to speak things into existence. He believes that Jesus has the authority of the God who spoke this world into existence! Now the centurion explains the basis of his confidence in the authority of the words of Jesus. He appeals to his own experience as a soldier.

All authority in the army was a derived authority. In the Roman army, only the emperor had authority which was then delegated to his subordinates. Thus, whenever the centurion spoke, he spoke with the emperor’s authority. A soldier who disobeyed the centurion would actually be seen as defying the authority of the emperor himself.

When the centurion sees Jesus, he sees one who is both submissive to the authority of God His Father and who exercises the authority of God the Father. Isn’t this exactly what Jesus Himself said in John 5:19-30,

Then Jesus answered and said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner. 20 For the Father loves the Son, and shows Him all things that He Himself does; and He will show Him greater works than these, that you may marvel. 21 For as the Father raises the dead and gives life to them, even so the Son gives life to whom He will. 22 For the Father judges no one, but has committed all judgment to the Son, 23 that all should honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him. 24 “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life. 25 Most assuredly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear will live. 26 For as the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son to have life in Himself, 27 and has given Him authority to execute judgment also, because He is the Son of Man. 28 Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice 29 and come forth— those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation. 30 I can of Myself do nothing. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is righteous, because I do not seek My own will but the will of the Father who sent Me.

This Gentile soldier understood who Jesus was, didn’t he? It’s as if he’s saying, “If on the human level I can say, “Go,” “Come,” or “Do” and it happens, how much more will your words which are the very words of God accomplish whatever you command?!?!”

III. The Teaching, vv. 10-12.
This is a teachable moment! When Jesus hears this confession of faith by the centurion, He turns in amazement to the crowd who is following Him (see v. 1) and begins to instruct them regarding the make-up of the coming kingdom. Jesus is amazed at the faith of the centurion! The level of faith expressed by the centurion was unheard of among the Jews of Israel. Jesus begins with “assuredly,” “verily,” or “truly” which translates the Greek word amen. But Jesus sees this episode as a preview of the future kingdom and He uses this incident to point to that reality.

The reality is that just as this Gentile centurion has come to the right one and expressed faith in the right one, so too will many others come to faith in Jesus Christ in a saving way. The centurion comes to Jesus to receive healing, but these will come to receive salvation. Many Gentiles will come from the east and the west and sit down with faithful Jews like Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. This teaching by Jesus is a foreshadow of the scene in heaven described in Revelation 5:9-10 where the redeemed are singing a new song:

You are worthy to take the scroll, And to open its seals; For You were slain, And have redeemed us to God by Your blood Out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, 10 And have made us kings and priests to our God; And we shall reign on the earth.

But Jesus goes on to say that many who think they are ok will be cast out into the outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. This is a reference to the judgment of hell. Interestingly, Jesus is not here using the doctrine of hell as a doctrine to frighten blatant unbelievers, but to warn those who think they are true believers.

The important thing to note here is that the basis of who will be in the kingdom of heaven is faith and faith alone. Not national descent or ethnicity, but faith in the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ.

IV. The Healing, v. 13.
After ending the monologue, Jesus turns back to the centurion and in what seems like an afterthought (though we know it is not) he says to the centurion, “Are you still here? Off you go now. Your servant is healed!”

In this text Jesus has demonstrated His authority both over disease and distance! The centurion teaches us an important lesson about Jesus’ authority. Jesus teaches an important lesson about the ethnic makeup of His kingdom and the basis of entry into that kingdom.

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