Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 8:5a “And when Jesus was entered into Capernaum,. . .”
Jesus was born in Bethlehem, grew up in Nazareth, and then moved to Capernaum (MT 4:13). On the Sea of Galilee’s northwest shore, Capernaum was situated on an important, much travelled trade route linking Jerusalem with Damascus. Jesus made this populous, bustling city His home and Galilee base of operations.
Our Lord performed at Capernaum many of His famous healing miracles, including the centurion’s servant, the nobleman’s son, Peter’s mother-in-law, a paralyzed man, and a demon possessed man. Jesus did good, even at home. Religion in the church-house isn’t worth much unless it results in religion in the living room.
Despite these obvious manifestations of God’s power in Jesus’ life, the people of Capernaum refused to believe in Him. Their disbelief was so brazen that Jesus cursed the city (MT 11:23). All that remains of it is ruins. They serve as a graphic reminder, we want to come under the blessing, not the curse, of the Nazarene.
Matt. 8:5b “. . .there came unto him a centurion,. . .”
Rome’s army consisted of legions (6,000 soldiers) divided into centuries (100 soldiers), commanded by centurions. These leaders, the backbone of Rome’s army, were responsible for the morale, discipline, protection, and well-being of their men.
Centurions were Rome’s finest. The Bible always portrays them in a positive light. At the cross a centurion confessed, “Truly this was the Son of God” (MT 27:54). Devout Cornelius feared God and prayed always (AC 10:2). Centurions kept Paul from being scourged (AC 22:26), saved him from assassins (AC 23:17), kindly guarded him in Caesarea (AC 24:23), and spared his life at sea (AC 27:43). The centurion of our text is also introduced to us as a fine gentleman.
Matt. 8:5c-6 “. . .beseeching him, and saying, Lord, my servant lieth at home
sick of the palsy, grievously tormented.”
Here’s a rare sight. Slavery brutalizes masters, yet here we see a slave dying a slow, agonizing death, and his master cared. The ancients didn’t care for slaves. Aristotle said slaves were merely living tools. Cato advised farmers to sell old slaves, sick slaves, and whatever else was superfluous. Caesar once apologized for feeling pity for a slave. Even tenderhearted and amiable Cicero apologized for allowing himself to feel a twinge of regret at the painful death of a slave.
In Rome, slaves didn’t count, but our text presents an exception to the rule, a centurion who cared. This soldier was an odd mix, a man of steel with a soft heart, a real man with tender compassion. He was a conqueror, having made his way to the top one percent of his profession by means of brawn, bravery, and brutality on the battlefield. Yet hardships of war had not hardened him on the domestic front.
The servant, too sick to be carried, needed help, and the centurion went out of his way, inconvenienced himself, to find it. Learn a lesson here. In our capitalistic, dog-eat-dog workaday world, do we care about people who work for us?
Maybe no barometer of character is more accurate than how we treat people under us at work. How is it with our co-workers, secretaries, and custodians?
On a personal level, the centurion willingly did as much for the servant as the servant under command could have ever done for the centurion. Do people at work say similar things about us, or do we have to admit we are guilty of living a double life? What we are at church often bears little resemblance to what we are at work.
Matt. 8:7 “And Jesus saith unto him, I will come and heal him.”
Not, “I will come and see what I can do.” Jesus always carried an air of authority about Him. He acted as if He were sovereign, in control. He was.
The centurion is going to have a good day today, for Jesus is heading his direction. Nothing better than this can happen in life. However, for this one good thing to happen, the centurion had to undergo things which seemed bad. Often the most trying test of our faith is being willing to go through bad things with submission in order to receive the good that God plans to bring about later.
When my mother-in-law’s health looked bleakest, I said in despair, “I see light at the end of the tunnel, and it’s a train.” My daughter immediately replied, “No, Dad, it’s not a train, it’s Jesus.” When in the tunnel, can we keep on believing the light ahead is Jesus, not a train?
Notice three tunnels this centurion had to pass through to make it to the light of Jesus. First, he was assigned a poor job location. Romans deemed Israel the armpit of the universe. Since Roman soldiers kept the peace and maintained order, they were welcomed in most places, but in Israel they were viewed as incarnations of tyranny. In Israel a Roman soldier faced hatred, bigotry, isolation, insurrection, zealots, assassins. Israel was a terrible job assignment, but because of it this centurion met Jesus. Do we hate where we are? When was the last time we prayerfully looked around to find the blessing Jesus meant for us to enjoy there?
Second, a loved one fell desperately ill. The servant’s sickness was hard on the centurion. It is always difficult to watch a loved one suffer, but this sickness proved to be a good thing, for it brought the centurion into contact with Jesus. I can’t help but wonder, how many of my loved ones’ troubles are allowed by the Lord to draw me closer to Himself. Oh that our faith could be consistent without trials and troubles, especially in those we love.
Third, he found himself in a hopeless situation. Life’s problems had grown insurmountable. He was powerful on a battlefield, but powerless beside a death-bed. He knew he needed help in a realm beyond the swords, shields, and spears he was experienced with. The centurion’s dilemma fits many today–in control at work, but out of control in life. Successful in business, but unable to control personal urges, impulses, and appetites.
Many work in finances, knowing all about stocks and bonds, but knowing precious little about how to handle everyday stresses of life. They are well grounded in financial securities, but don’t have a clue about spiritual security.
Often educators know how to handle other people’s children, but not how to parent in their own home. At school they do well, but at home life is a disaster.
Many counsellors give helpful advice to others on how to live, but don’t have a foggy notion on how to have a good marriage themselves. They fail in real life.
People’s lives are in disarray, but they refuse to admit their own personal failure. This is tragic, for they cannot receive help until they admit the perplexities of life have gotten beyond them. The centurion was helped when he admitted he had to find it outside himself. Self-sufficiency is the deathknell of receiving heavenly blessings. We have to admit we are helpless before we can obtain help from God.
However, if we confess our weakness and lean hard on Jesus, His response is immediate, “I will come and heal.” We often think this cannot be, for we feel ourself an enemy of God. This Roman centurion embodied a spirit of enmity toward every citizen in Israel, but Jesus blessed him. Jesus loves His enemies, and wants to be kind to them. He died for us “when we were enemies” (RM 5:10).
Maybe life has beaten us to a pulp, we feel numb, too tired to try, too weak to come to Jesus. Remember this servant. He was helpless and hopeless, totally unable to come to Jesus on his own strength. We do not have to be strong to enjoy Jesus. He is the Mighty One who delights to show Himself strong in behalf of weak ones like us. He died for us “when we were yet without strength” (RM 5:6).
Maybe we feel low and insignificant. We can never sink too low for Jesus to reach down into our heart with healing. He reached down to a Jew with leprosy. He then reached even lower, down to a pagan Gentile soldier. Then, as if that were not low enough, he reached lower, all the way down to an unnamed Gentile slave.
However low we sink, when we call on Jesus, we always find that underneath are His everlasting arms (DT 33:27). Stop struggling and making excuses. Receive Him and His benefits now. He died for us “while we were yet sinners” (RM 5:8).