The Healing of the Centurion’s Servant
Text: Matthew 8:5-13; Luke 7:1-10

Christians are called to be disciples of Christ. They should not only confess Him as their Saviour, but also live in submission to His sovereign will. Christ is the King of kings and the Lord of lords. Thus, all who follow Christ must deny themselves humbly, take up their crosses daily, and follow Him wholeheartedly (Luke 9:23). If there is one who is worthy to be the Christian’s master, it must be the Lord!

Sadly, Christendom today faces a crisis of faith. Some confess Christ as their Saviour but refuse him as their Lord and Master. As a result, their lives are no different from the people of the world, full of licentiousness and debauchery. By their wanton conduct, they are essentially proclaiming, “We have many lords, and we are our own lords, but Christ Jesus is not our Lord!”

When Jesus entered Capernaum, he had already preached extensively in the region of Galilee (Matt. 4:23-25), one of His sermons being the Sermon on the Mount recorded for us in Matthew 5-7. He also healed all manner of sicknesses and delivered those who were possessed of devils. These caused Christ to rise in fame. He soon attracted a large following not only from Galilee, but also the surrounding regions. “And there followed him great multitudes of people from Galilee, and from Decapolis, and from Jerusalem, and from Judaea, and from beyond Jordan.” (Matt. 4:25)

However, while the people may be wowed by the spectacular, they missed the message behind the miracles. They were unable to see that the miracles authenticated Christ as the Son of God who had come to take away the sins of the world. Sadly, despite the works that were done among the children of Israel, they still regarded Christ as just a great prophet and teacher. Few believed in Him as their Lord and Saviour.

On the other hand, the centurion of Capernaum was esteemed very highly by the Jews. This was remarkable for two reasons. Firstly, the centurion was a Gentile. Gentiles were commonly regarded as outcasts of the kingdom of heaven by the Jews, and thus unclean and despised. Secondly, the centurion was a military officer of the Romans. Not only did he have command over approximately 100 soldiers, but was also vested with the authority to order anyone to stop in the way to serve him. Those who refused to do so could be severely punished. This caused the military lords to be despised by many quarters of the Jewish community.

Nevertheless, the centurion was greatly loved by the Jews. They lauded him for building a synagogue as they viewed it as a show of his love for the Jewish people (Luke 7:6). Moreover, the centurion appeared to be a compassionate man. He had a bond-slave (doulos, Luke 7:2) who was sick. In those days, slaves could be regarded as nothing more than legal commodities and thrown away at the whims and fancies of their master. There is no medical leave for a slave! However, the centurion had genuine affection for this slave who was nigh unto death, affectionately calling him his lad (pais, Matt. 8:6). He sought Jesus’ help not for him-self nor any of his household, but for someone whom he could have easily cast away. Therefore, the Jewish elders beseeched Jesus earnestly (spoudazō, Luke 7:4) out of their own will to help the centurion. In their eyes, the centurion was a worthy lord. He was most deserving to be helped by Jesus Christ!

The centurion viewed himself differently. When he heard that Jesus was coming to heal the servant, he sent his friends to tell Jesus not to trouble Himself. The Jews in those days did not enter the houses of Gentiles as they regarded them as unclean. The entrance of Jesus to the house of the centurion would have invited much unwelcomed attention from His enemies.

Of more importance was how the centurion understood his place before Christ. In the eyes of the world, the centurion was the lord, and Christ was his servant. The centurion could have commanded the lowly Carpenter to submit to his wishes. However, the centurion answered, “Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof.” (Matt. 8:8a) To the centurion, he was the lowly slave, and Christ is the exalted Master!

What followed this humble confession was an astounding statement of faith. “… 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.” (Matt. 8:8b-9)

All the previous instances of miraculous healing were done in the physical presence of Christ. However, the centurion declared that there was no need for Christ to be physically present in the house. He believed that Jesus could also heal from afar.

The basis of the centurion statement lies in his faith in the power of Christ’s Word. As a centurion, all he needed to do was command, and the task would be fulfilled. If it is true that the words of earthly lords have power, what more the King of kings and the Lord of lords! All that was needed was for Christ to command the illness to be lifted, and the boy servant would be healed. This caused Christ to marvel. “Verily, I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel.” (Matt. 8:10)

The exchange between Christ and the centurion was a rebuke to the children of Israel. They had heard the Words of Christ. They had also witnessed the miracles of Christ. Yet they were so slow of heart to believe that Christ is the Son of God and the Lord of the world. They thronged Him only for novelty, and for the meat He provided. They had no interest in Him as the Bread of Life, nor do they desire to submit to Him as their Eternal King and Lord. There is no true faith in the Word of Christ. As Christ would declare later, “This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me.” (Matt. 15:8) The Gentile centurion had more faith and spiritual insight than the children of Israel who had the oracles of God.

The hardness of hearts of the Jews caused Christ to declare, “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 into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matt. 8:12) Many of the Gentiles will come to believe in Christ and thus enter the Kingdom of heaven, but many of the Jews will refuse to submit to the Lordship of Christ and thus be eternally condemned.

As for Capernaum, many remained unmoved despite hearing the preaching of Christ and seeing the miracles. Thus, Christ passed judgement on that city for their unbelief. “And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell: for if the mighty works, which have been done in thee, had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day.” (Matt. 11:23) The city of Capernaum was later destroyed, and lies in ruins till today.

Alas, Christendom today seems to be devoid of such humble faith like that of the centurion. Many do not like to surrender their all under the Lordship of Christ. Neither do they trust in the power of God’s Word. They would rather turn to self-help books and gurus than to trust in the Holy Scriptures. Instead, they label those who preach faith in the Scriptures as proud and arrogant. What an upside-down world!

Dear readers, what about you? Have you submitted yourself fully to the Lord and His Word? Be like the centurion, and not like the Jews of Capernaum! Humble yourself under the sovereign rule of God and trust in the glorious name of Christ. Amen.

Lovingly in Christ,
Preacher Clement Chew