Reading Time: 8 Minutes
Our hope in studying the Gospel of Matthew is that God will use the study to make us more like Jesus. One helpful way of reading is to see yourself as a part of the story. Try one of these options as we read the story of the centurion, who came to Jesus with a serious concern.
— Are you on the fringes and part of the crowd who is just checking thing out?
— Think of yourself as one of Jesus’ followers. A man who is a member of a hated race of people has just appeared. How do you think Jesus will react to him? How do you feel about what Jesus has to say to this man?
— Imagine yourself to be the Roman official, who is desperate to get help from Jesus for his servant.
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.
Capernaum was where Jesus lived, when he was not traveling the northern territory of Israel conducting his ministry. The centurion was a Roman official, who possibly had 100 soldiers under his direction.
The centurion’s servant was paralyzed. There was no known medical treatment for paralysis and he came to Jesus for help, believing him to be a Jewish healer. At this point in Jesus’ ministry, people didn’t know what to think about him. Little-by-little, Jesus revealed the exact nature of who he was and what was his mission.
The centurion asked Jesus to heal his servant and Jesus agreed to travel to his house and help. The Roman official knew that Jesus would receive great criticism for entering the house of a Gentile, so he said: “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed” (verse 8).
The official understood authority. Authority answers the question, “Who is in control here?” Among his soldiers, the centurion had authority to command their obedience. He believed Jesus was in control over sickness and health, and that Jesus could command paralysis to leave and for health to return.
People who read this account today are thrilled by how the servant was healed. People in the crowd, possibly even Jesus’ disciples, would certainly be troubled by Jesus’ statement about the centurion’s faith.
When Jesus said, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith” (verse 10), that would have disturbed and angered the crowd. The soldiers were often made up of Syrian mercenaries. To think that someone like that had greater faith than a good Jew was quite troubling indeed.
Jesus’ next words were probably became the top topic of gossip in this largely Jewish town. He said, “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” (Matthew 8.11-12).
Jesus “flipped the script,” and applied words that were normally reserved for Jewish people to Gentiles. If you have been imagining yourself to be in the crowd, you are probably murmuring with seething anger with others in the crowd. Jesus has just offended your racial views to the max!
Jesus told the centurion, “Go; let it be done for you as you have believed” (verse 13). The centurion’s faith was demonstrated by coming to Jesus in the first place. His faith was further emphasized, when he acknowledged Jesus’ authority over sickness.
No one in the crowd knew whether the servant was healed or not, until a report came from the centurion’s home. They learned that “the servant was healed at that very moment” (verse 13).
Let’s try to imagine what the people felt.
— The Centurion: Get in touch with the times when you have been desperate for help, like the centurion. How did you feel as you came to Jesus? Did the centurion’s example give you new ideas of how to come to Jesus in times of trouble?
— The Crowd: If you saw yourself as part of the crowd, think of some kind of person whom you believe to be outside of the reach of God’s grace. Ask yourself if people like that actually have faith. Even more, is it possible that their faith is greater than your own?
— The Followers of Jesus: If you saw yourself as one of Jesus’ followers, what did you learn about Jesus’ authority? If you saw Jesus’ authority over sickness in a new light, will it make a difference in how you pray?
The Power of Prayer
We can be like the centurion and bring the needs of people to Jesus. As we meditate on what we can do, consider five kinds of power that we have.
(1) Who we are. “We may serve better in the lives we live, than in the best service we ever give” (Samuel Gordon). Think about Gordon’s statement and come up with your idea of what he is getting at.
(2) What we say. “Death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Proverbs 18.19).
(3) What we do. “. . . Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10.31).
(4) Concerning money, what we do not keep, but release for God’s purposes. “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 2.7).
(5) Through our prayer. “You do not have, because you do not ask” (James 4.2).
The centurion could not help his servant with any of the first four avenues of power. His money, his personality, his actions, and what he was able to do were all powerless before his paralysis. He used the fifth and most effective avenue of power, prayer. He brought his need to Jesus and Jesus did the rest.
When we surrender our self-centered, self-pleasing life to the control and direction of God, he is able to use all five of the realms of power to benefit people around us. Each has its role, but today’s Bible passage highlights the great value of prayer.
Like the centurion . . .
— Prayer is simply coming to Jesus with our need.
— Prayer believes that Jesus has authority and is in control over all issues of life.
— Prayer invites Jesus into the situations of our lives to “say the word” of healing, or other of the issues of life.
— Prayer rests the results with Jesus.
We are studying the life and ministry of Jesus with the purpose of learning how to live the Jesus-kind-of-life. As we interact with this slice of life from Jesus’ ministry, let’s think of a situation that we believe only Jesus can help.
There may be a relationship that is in trouble. Corona virus is threatening to health, parents with school age children, and jobs. People are in the clutches of addiction. Racial inequalities are realities that are quite concerning. You may have another issue that is pressing on your heart.
Please take one issue that most concerns you. Use the example of this Bible passage to bring your concern to Jesus. Use the most powerful of the “five powers,” prayer, and see what God does.
Dear Jesus, thank you for this story of your great love and power. Thank you for showing us how you love all people, even people who are very different from us. Thank you for showing us the power of coming to you in prayer. Please help us to use all of the avenues of power that you have placed at our disposal, especially the power of prayer.