Centurion At Capernaum

INTRODUCTION: This event is recorded in Matthew and in Luke, with some variation in the perspective of presentation between the two accounts. Though Jesus was seeking the "lost sheep of Israel," this Gentile centurion demonstrated his belief that Jesus was the LORD. The centurion had very good relations with the Jews, and he had a very sick servant that he loved, so he made a request to Jesus for healing of the servant. The significant comment from Jesus was that he had not seen such faith even in Israel, and Jesus then healed the servant with just a word.

NOTE: Scripture passages are from the American King James Bible.


A - JESUS ENTERED CAPERNAUM

Matthew 8 "5 And when Jesus was entered into Capernaum, there came to him a centurion, beseeching him, 6 And saying, Lord, my servant lies at home sick of the palsy, grievously tormented."

Luke 7 "1 Now when he had ended all his sayings in the audience of the people, he entered into Capernaum. 2 And a certain centurion's servant, who was dear to him, was sick, and ready to die. 3 And when he heard of Jesus, he sent to him the elders of the Jews, beseeching him that he would come and heal his servant. 4 And when they came to Jesus, they sought him instantly, saying, That he was worthy for whom he should do this: 5 For he loves our nation, and he has built us a synagogue."

COMMENTS: As Jesus left Nazareth in the earliest part of his ministry and went to Capernaum, a prophecy about the Christ was fulfilled. Matthew 4 "12 Now when Jesus had heard that John was cast into prison, he departed into Galilee; 13 And leaving Nazareth, he came and dwelled in Capernaum, which is on the sea coast, in the borders of Zabulon and Nephthalim: 14 That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying, 15 The land of Zabulon, and the land of Nephthalim, by the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles; 16 The people which sat in darkness saw great light; and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death light is sprung up. 17 From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." Through the various visits by Jesus, apparently not many of the Jews believed in him, but there was a Gentile centurion who saw the light of faith and became an example to others. Later, Jesus declared a woe on Capernaum for the general unbelief of the residents there. Matthew 11 "23 And you, Capernaum, which are exalted to heaven, shall be brought down to hell: for if the mighty works, which have been done in you, had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. 24 But I say to you, That it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for you."

The Matthew account expresses the centurion's request as though he was personally before Jesus, while the account in Luke indicates he sent representatives in his place. It is not a conflict for such wording to be in Mathew, since similar expressions appear elsewhere in scripture to ascribe to one man, that which is carried out by others who serve him. 1 Samuel 18 "6 And it came to pass as they came, when David was returned from the slaughter of the Philistine, that the women came out of all cities of Israel, singing and dancing, to meet king Saul, with tabrets, with joy, and with instruments of music. 7 And the women answered one another as they played, and said, Saul has slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands. 8 And Saul was very wroth, and the saying displeased him; and he said, They have ascribed to David ten thousands, and to me they have ascribed but thousands: and what can he have more but the kingdom?"

The Roman centurion heard that Jesus was in Capernaum and sent the elders of the Jews to ask of Jesus for his servant who seemed close to death. The elders were those who would have some respect and authority in the Jewish community, and the Centurion had the military authority of the Roman government for that city. There was apparently a mutual respect between them as the Jews spoke well of the centurion to Jesus, even saying that he loved their nation and had been instrumental in the building of their synagogue. They cited those facts as an indication that the centurion was "worthy" to have Jesus go to him to heal his servant. They did not say that the centurion shared their faith in the God of Israel, but spoke of his extreme kindness toward them.


B - JESUS WAS WILLING TO GO TO THE HOUSE TO HEAL THE SERVANT

Matthew 8 "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 speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed."

Luke 7 "6 Then Jesus went with them. And when he was now not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to him, saying to him, Lord, trouble not yourself: for I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof: 7 Why neither thought I myself worthy to come to you: but say in a word, and my servant shall be healed."

COMMENTS: Jesus said he would go to the house and heal the servant, but the humility of the centurion was such that he did not consider himself worthy to have the Lord enter into his house. The account in Luke gives the extra statement from the centurion that he had sent others because he was not even worthy to go directly to the Lord. The centurion was requesting that Jesus simply speak the word of healing from a distance, because he believed Jesus had the power to heal his servant in that manner. The centurion did not make his request because he thought things he had done made him worthy, so his appeal was more from a point of asking for mercy for his servant.


C - THE CENTURION UNDERSTOOD THE AUTHORITY OF JESUS

Matthew 8 "9 For I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me: and I say to this man, 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 them that followed, Truly I say to you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel."

Luke 7 "8 For I also am a man set under authority, having under me soldiers, 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. 9 When Jesus heard these things, he marveled at him, and turned him about, and said to the people that followed him, I say to you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel."

COMMENTS: The centurion expressed his faith in Jesus in terms that related to his own personal experience in life. He was under the authority of others of higher rank than himself, but he also had authority over his soldiers and his servants. They were obedient to his authority such that he only needed to speak a word to them, and they would respond immediately. The centurion believed that the authority of Jesus was at the highest level, and he could command that things be done even in the realm outside of human understanding. What a tremendous insight this man had to the powers of the Lord, and the faith that his request would be granted if it pleased the Lord to do so. Jesus told those following him to take note that such strong faith was not even evident among those of Israel. The nation of Israel had been separated by the LORD for himself, and given the law and the prophets as a special privilege, so when Gentiles demonstrated such deep faith it was very noteworthy.


D - MANY OUTSIDE ISRAEL WILL ENTER THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN

Matthew 8 "11 And I say to 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. 12 But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth."

Luke 13 "22 And he went through the cities and villages, teaching, and journeying toward Jerusalem. 23 Then said one to him, Lord, are there few that be saved? And he said to them, 24 Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say to you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able. 25 When once the master of the house is risen up, and has shut to the door, and you begin to stand without, and to knock at the door, saying, Lord, Lord, open to us; and he shall answer and say to you, I know you not from where you are: 26 Then shall you begin to say, We have eaten and drunk in your presence, and you have taught in our streets. 27 But he shall say, I tell you, I know you not from where you are; depart from me, all you workers of iniquity. 28 There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you shall see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets, in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrust out. 29 And they shall come from the east, and from the west, and from the north, and from the south, and shall sit down in the kingdom of God. 30 And, behold, there are last which shall be first, and there are first which shall be last."

COMMENTS: The statement in Matthew about those who will be part of the kingdom of heaven is not included in Luke as part of the account about the centurion; however similar words from Jesus do appear in another part of Luke. Jesus made the point that the children of Israel would not have entrance into the kingdom of God simply by tradition and bloodline, but he directed their attention to the example of faith in God shown by the Gentile centurion. He gave a stern warning that by faith many from all points of the compass would come into the kingdom while not being Jews; and many who thought they were children of the kingdom because they were Jews, would be left outside due to their lack of abiding faith in the grace and mercy of the LORD.

When the Apostle Paul wrote to the church at Rome, he made statements that are consistent with the above passages that bear the words of Jesus. Romans 2 "28 For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: 29 But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God. 3:1 What advantage then has the Jew? or what profit is there of circumcision? 2 Much every way: chiefly, because that to them were committed the oracles of God." This was a very special blessing for the children of Israel, and through them it became a blessing to all people who will accept the Word of God. Romans 3 "27 Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? No: but by the law of faith. 28 Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law. 29 Is he the God of the Jews only? is he not also of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also: 30 Seeing it is one God, which shall justify the circumcision by faith, and uncircumcision through faith."


E - FAITH THAT RECEIVES HEALING FROM A DISTANCE

Matthew 8 "13 And Jesus said to the centurion, Go your way; and as you have believed, so be it done to you. And his servant was healed in the selfsame hour."

Luke 7 "10 And they that were sent, returning to the house, found the servant whole that had been sick."

COMMENTS: From Matthew we can see that because the centurion believed Jesus had the power over even a fatal sickness, and did not make his request based on any worthiness in himself, the Lord chose to immediately grant the request to heal the servant. The elders found the servant healed when they returned to the house. The centurion had been there all along so he would have been able to tell them at what time the healing took place, verifying that it was at the selfsame hour that the word was spoken by Jesus. This must have been a wonderful thing to share between the centurion, the elders, and the rest of the household. The comment Jesus had made about the faith of the centurion, which led to the miraculous healing, had the potential to stir the hearts of others. The Lord recognizes those who come to him in humility with no dependence on their own worthiness. This is something that those who are part of any local church or religious organization today need to be aware of to be sure their faith is firmly placed only in the Lord.

The need to have complete humility before the LORD is evident in the Old Testament, and is reaffirmed in the New Testament. Jacob had left his parents and his brother with only a staff in his hand, but when he returned some twenty years later, he had been filled by the blessings of the LORD, and he had been made the forefather of the nation Israel. Genesis 32 "10 I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies, and of all the truth, which you have showed to your servant; for with my staff I passed over this Jordan; and now I am become two bands." It was well stated by Jacob that he was not worthy of even the least of all the mercies and of all the truth the LORD had shown to him, and he referred to himself as a servant of the LORD. Over the long period of centuries, many of the people of Israel lost that grateful servant attitude, even though they progressively received more of the Word of Truth from the LORD. When the LORD sent John the Baptist as the prophet to prepare the way for Messiah, he also stated his utter humility before the LORD when the people questioned him about his identity. Luke 3 "16 John answered, saying to them all, I indeed baptize you with water; but one mightier than I comes, the lace of whose shoes I am not worthy to unloose: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire: 17 Whose fan is in his hand, and he will thoroughly purge his floor, and will gather the wheat into his garner; but the chaff he will burn with fire unquenchable." As John prepared the way of the LORD, he set forth the baseline of humility by his own example. He also made a very stark statement about what is in store to separate those who will enter the coming kingdom from those who will not enter it.

--- REFLECTIONS IN PRAYER ---

I thank you, Lord, that this account shows that it is not necessary to see you in the flesh to make a request to you. Because you are the true and living God, you are present everywhere and at all times. The requests by prayer offered in faith will be answered according to your will. I thank you, LORD, for this historical example of a centurion who made a request for the need of another person even though he understood he could not make his request based on his own worthiness before you. May I have a similar faith because you have changed my heart, not because I have any merit before you by following religious practice or tradition. May any good works that others may see in me, bring honor to your name in whatever manner you have determined. Guide me in prayer for others that your mercy would flow out by your will. I believe that your Word is truth and that your Holy Spirit has led me to that truth. I thank you, Lord, that you have opened the way for me to joyfully await the coming of your kingdom because you have given me the sure hope of entering into it by your grace and mercy. Amen and amen.

Published 20 April 2014