The Centurion and his Servant

Matthew 8:5-13
And when Jesus was entered into Capernaum, there came unto him a centurion, beseeching him, And saying, “Lord, my servant lieth at home sick of the palsy, grievously tormented.” And Jesus saith unto him, “I will come and heal him.”

The centurion answered and said, “Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof: but speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed. For I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me: and I say to this man, ‘Go,’ and he goeth; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he cometh; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he doeth it.”

When Jesus heard it, he marvelled, and said to them that followed, “Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel. And I say unto you, That many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven. But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

And Jesus said unto the centurion, “Go thy way; and as thou hast believed, so be it done unto thee.” And his servant was healed in the selfsame hour.

I’ve always loved this story of the centurion.  He was a soldier – and not just a soldier, but an officer in the great Roman army.  When he spoke, people obeyed.  “I say to this man, ‘Go,’ and he goeth; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he cometh; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he doeth it” (8:9).  He carried about with him all the authority of the great and fierce Roman Empire.  You wouldn’t dare disobey this man.

Yet, with all his power and authority, he was really pretty weak when it counted.  You see, he had this servant who wouldn’t obey him anymore.  Instead, he just laid there in his bed all day long.  And you know, if there’s one thing about servants, it’s that they’re supposed to obey.  But no matter how much the centurion told this servant what to do, he simply refused to do it.  That servant just wasn’t going to lift a finger in obedience to his master anymore.  And there was nothing the centurion could do about it.

Of course, I speak a little facetiously here.  There’s no reason to believe this centurion was upset with his servant.  Just the opposite in fact.  He demonstrates care and compassion for him.  “Lord, my servant lieth at home sick of the palsy, grievously tormented,” (8:6) he beseeches the Lord Jesus.  I don’t know about you but I hear real concern for the man in that plea.

The Lord Jesus responds, “I will come and heal him.”  And immediately the servant says, no, pointing out that he wasn’t worthy for the Lord to enter his house.  You see, the Roman soldier was a Gentile and knew his place in the Hebrew economy of things.  According to the Old Testament, the Israelites were to remain separate from the Gentiles and for an Israelite (as Jesus was), entering into the house of a Gentile was frowned upon [note, I don’t believe this was an Old Testament law, but it had at least become a tradition among the Jews of the day.  See John 18:28 and Acts 10].  … Anyway, the centurion, who one might expect to be all full of pride was willing to publicly take a very low place for the sake of his servant.

The centurion goes on, emphasizing his understanding of authority and hierarchy.  “I am a man under authority,” he says, and have “soldiers under me.”  He knows all the authority and political hierarchy he represents can do nothing for his beloved servant.  All the commands in the world from the Caesar on down would never result in that servant lifting a finger in obedience.  The servant was unable to obey even if he wanted to.  [If you’ve ever read Romans 7, this should sound familiar.]  But he knew his servant would, in fact, be healed if the Lord Jesus would simply give the command.  He understood what real authority was all about … and Who actually possessed it.

This soldier had faith in the Lord Jesus and His absolute authority.  And the Lord recognizes the centurion’s faith and grants his request, offering these words, “I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel,” and prophesies that there will be many Gentiles who will enter the kingdom of heaven while many of his own countrymen would be excluded because of their lack of faith in Him.

We all (both Jew and Gentile alike) start off like that servant, unable to obey the Word of the Lord even if we want to (Rom 3:23).  We’re helplessly paralyzed by our sin nature and simply unable to obey the Lord (Rom 7).  And we all (both Jew and Gentile alike) need to be like the centurion and humble ourselves to recognize and admit that no position or class of men, whether religious, medical, whatever, can fix us (Gal 3:22).  We need to go to the only One with the real authority to heal us and we need to humbly take our place as the hopeless and unworthy sinners we are.  Only then will He utter the Word, “forgiven,” and release us from our sinful paralysis (1 John 1:9).  Then, and only then, will we be able to obey His commands by the power of His own Word (Rom 3:31).

-J. Wilbur


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