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Introduction: Centurions were commanders of 100 Roman soldiers. These men were assigned to various parts of the Roman Empire for various duties, including peacekeeping. Certainly some of these men were employed in the execution of people condemned to death for any number of misdeeds and crimes, of which Jesus Christ had been accused.
This centurion had a problem. One of his servants (we're not told how many he might have had) was suffering, "sick of the palsy." Strong's Concordance indicates the phrase as paralytikos, which is the Greek word from which we get paralytic; there was little if any hope that this servant would be well again.
I. The Centurion Made an Appeal
We're not told which mountain was where Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount. It could have been one around Capernaum, which itself was near the Sea of Galilee. After all, this is where Jesus was going. Regardless, when He arrived in Capernaum, He met a centurion who made a personal appeal to Jesus.
This centurion first made a respectful greeting. He had the authority to demand to see Jesus (or anyone else for that matter) and could have said something such as, "Hey, you, Teacher, heal my servant, and I mean right now!" He could have employed threats, imprisonment or any weapon in his arsenal. He could have done it without any fear of reprisal. The Romans were the masters, politically speaking, and all others were under their rule. Roman citizens had special privileges and protections. The centurion could have issued an order for Jesus to appear. In person. Right here. Right now.
Yet he didn't do that. He approached Jesus with respect, giving Him a great deal of dignity in the process. Notice he called Jesus Lord or Sir, from the Greek word kurios (according to Strong's Concordance). This is more remarkable, as the centurion didn't have to give any kind of respectful greeting to anyone except perhaps his superiors. This is all the more remarkable given that Jesus was a Jew, and the Romans had no obligation to pay any kind of respect to their subjects.
Further, he didn't make a direct appeal for healing. He simply reported the servant's condition: "My servant lieth at home sick of the palsy, grievously tormented."
Did he have faith? How did he come to understand Jesus could heal someone as sick as his servant? Where did he come to learn anything at all about Jesus?
Jesus replied, "I'll come and heal him."
II. Jesus Gave Him an Answer
"I will come and heal him." These six words were some of the most profound ever spoken. Why was this remarkable?
For one thing, Jews were forbidden to enter the houses of anyone who was not Jewish. Simon Peter ran into that problem a few years later after he went to the house of Cornelius, after he reported that Cornelius and his household became believers in Jesus! Did I mention Cornelius was a Roman centurion, also? This story is told in
Second, Jesus could have healed the centurion's servant from a distance away. He did so for the son of a nobleman of Capernaum (see
Third, and this is a bit ominous, this could have been one of the last miracles Capernaum ever saw. Just a few chapters later (
Finally, this willingness to go to the centurion's home shows just how much Jesus loved all people. It's no secret the Jews hated the Romans (why else would there have been the Zealots and other revolutionary groups, plus Judas and Theudas, mentioned by Gamaliel in
III. Note the Centurion's Reply
Imagine the centurion's reaction to the words of Jesus in the previous verse! He had made a polite request or inquiry, not asking Jesus specifically for his servant to be healed. In response, Jesus broke at least two of the greatest social taboos of that time and went to a Gentile home to heal a servant. We could guess the centurion was flabbergasted.
In so many words, he said to Jesus, "You don't have to do all that! I'm not worthy to have a visit from You. Just say the word, and my servant will be healed!" He further showed his understanding of who Jesus was by saying, "I have authority and tell a soldier to go, and he does; I tell another to come, and he does; and I tell my servant to do something, and he does it." Many of us who have served in the military are quite aware of the chain of command in that everyone has a superior and subordinates. This centurion had 100 soldiers under his supervision, but he also reported to higher ranking officers (for example, chiliarchs, commanders of 1,000 men; sometimes called chief captains in Acts, e,g. Claudius Lysias). He recognized something in Jesus that many of the Jewish people never comprehended.
IV. Jesus Was Amazed
This is one of the few times in Scripture when Jesus was amazed or marveled at something. This recognition of faith that Jesus could heal the centurion's servant—from a distance—and the parallel of authority (coming from a Gentile!) must have been amazing indeed for Jesus. One thing that we sometimes forget is Christ's absolute humanity, and the ability to love, show anger, experience hunger and thirst, and to be amazed or to marvel at certain things.
Jesus expressed something that may be easily missed. He mentioned He hadn't seen such great faith in all of Israel. This is so true in that the centurion didn't specifically ask for healing or for any other thing. Most, if not all, the other miracles in which people came to Jesus were based on someone making a request. Examples include the son of the Capernaum noble, the Syrophoenician woman, the catch of fish in
V. Jesus Gave Additional Information
One thing to remember, especially in the Old Testament and gospels, is there was a distinction between the Jewish people, God's chosen people, and the rest of the human race. Gentiles were not part of God's dealings with Israel in regard to the Law of Moses and the promises of Israel's future. Some Gentiles did become believers (e.g., Rahab, the former harlot; Ruth of Moab). The Book of Esther tells how many people in the Medo-Persian Empire became Jews (see
Following this declaration (v. 10) that Jesus hadn't seen such faith in all Israel, He went on to startle the listeners. Isaiah and other prophets gave glowing promises of the glory to come in Messiah's kingdom but didn't say very much about the role of the Gentiles in that kingdom. Jesus told the listeners that many would come from the east and west and sit down with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. To the east were mountains and the land of Moab, Ammon and Syria; farther away were Babylon, Assyria and other locations. We can read in
However, for these people to have fellowship with the founders of the faith was something they weren't expecting! Even more, I doubt they expected to hear these words of warning, as spoken by Jesus that the children of the kingdom would be cast into outer darkness and experience weeping and gnashing of teeth. Did anyone ask Jesus for any additional information or to have Him explain this? Certainly they would lose God's blessings if they didn't repent and believe the gospel.
We have seen how the centurion, a Gentile, a member of the ruling powers, came to Jesus but didn't make any demands, requests or anything else. He simply said, "My servant is grievously tormented, sick of the palsy." Actually, this isn't so much an appeal as a statement, but there's an undercurrent of hope for healing.
The centurion recognized authority. This amazed Jesus and led Him to declare that many (Gentiles) would sit with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. He also warned that the children of the kingdom would be cast into outer darkness, where there would be weeping and gnashing of teeth. What a solemn warning for us all.
Jesus told the centurion, "Go thy way, as you have believed, so it has been done." This may seem to be anticlimax or less important part of the story, but this is the most important part. Matthew recorded that the servant was healed in the very same hour! This is proof positive that Jesus met the servant's needs and honored the centurion's faith. The centurion came in faith. Jesus honored that faith, and the centurion went his way, receiving the promise. May we have the same kind of faith he had!