— Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.
1 When He had concluded all His sayings in the hearing of the people, He entered Capernaum.
Not until He was finished with His sermon (the one we’ve been learning about these past few weeks, describing the kingdom of God and that of the world) did Jesus move on. Everything Jesus did was deliberate; the Lord is not spontaneous or reckless as some have portrayed Him. He came in the fulness of time, as the Father had appointed. And when He was ready, had finished His sermon, He entered Capernaum - the same place where He had healed many people and His fame grew because of it. Luke 4:42 & 43 tell us the crowds were searching for Him. But He said to them, “I must proclaim the good news about the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because I was sent for this purpose.” Having preached throughout Galilee, he came back to Capernaum.
2 A centurion’s slave, who was highly valued by him, was sick and about to die. 3 When the centurion heard about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders to Him, requesting Him to come and save the life of his slave. 4 When they reached Jesus, they pleaded with Him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy for You to grant this, 5 because he loves our nation and has built us a synagogue.”
The centurion in the Roman army was about what a company commander is in ours. These were men known to be responsible and honorable. This un-named centurion had a household slave who was ill unto death. This was a valuable person and this man who had healed so many in this town a few weeks or months ago was back. He could heal this slave!
This centurion was highly regarded by the local Jewish leaders. When he heard Jesus was in town, he sent the Jewish elders to Him; every translation I looked at uses that word, sent. He issued an order, sent the men and they obeyed. These men were accustomed to giving orders, under the guise of advice, to the Jewish people. This Gentile had built them a synagogue and they went when he sent them. They were familiar with a system of being lords and having the Roman government be lord over them. So they went, and spoke to Jesus on his account.
Note the message they spoke to Jesus about the man who sent them: “He is worthy for You to grant this, 5 because he loves our nation and has built us a synagogue.” This is how the world determines a man's worth - what have you done for me lately? Jews had virtually nothing to do with Gentiles. Their law did require the same treatment for Gentiles who joined with Israel as for the Jews themselves. And while our text tells us this Gentile loved the nation and built them a synagogue, we have nothing telling us he joined with them as a covenant member.
When King Cyrus issued the proclamation to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem, he was highly favored by the Jews, but not part of their covenant community. When King Artaxerxes issued the orders that facilitated the rebuilding of the wall around Jerusalem, he was highly favored by the Jews, but not part of their covenant community.
This centurion loved Israel and demonstrated it. In our day, his name would be on building on the campus of a large "church" or on the pew of smaller one, because far too many Christians think the same way these Jewish elders did, honoring men for the kingdom work that God is doing. Our goal should be to be forgotten by all but our family and the Lord and for His name to be exalted by all! The Jewish worldview was based on the idea that wealth and health revealed God's favor. This man had their attention, they felt indebted to him. And to be clear, we are taught that love without evidence thereof is not biblical love, just as faith without works is not saving faith. When love is expressed in tangible ways, we should thank God for what He is doing, thank the person He is working through, but resist the urge to bestow honor on the creature that rightly belongs to the Creator. This was the error of the Jewish elders in our text – they failed to see Jesus for Who he is; and they saw more in the centurion than was there.
But we see that he put more stock in this man Jesus, which the Jewish hated, than he did in the nation of Israel. His slave was ill and he wanted Jesus, not the elders. This is a key point: When life is hard and when life is good, we need Jesus, not our favorite preacher. A faithful preacher will preach Christ and Him crucified, because only Jesus can do poor sinners good. This man wanted Jesus.
Our centurion would benefit by his slave being healed; we have no reason to believe that was his only motive. Slaves in the Roman military would be baggage handlers or camp assistants. During this time, Seneca was beginning to advocate for humane treatment of slaves, believing that well treated slaves would work better than those who were treated badly. Based on what we see in this passage about this centurion, it’s safe to say he was concerned about the welfare of this man who was his slave. And he wanted this man who was well known as a healer to heal him. The elders petitioned Jesus to come, and we see that He did.
6 Jesus went with them, and when He was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to tell Him, “Lord, don’t trouble Yourself, since I am not worthy to have You come under my roof. 7 That is why I didn’t even consider myself worthy to come to You.
People who rightly see the Lord and His Christ will see themselves more clearly. John fell down as one dead when the Lord Jesus appeared to him on Patmos in a vision. When Peter saw all the fish in the boat and realized Jesus was Lord over creation, he said, "Depart from me for I am a sinful man." The man who sees Christ clearly will be broken over his own sin. If someone doesn’t see his sin for what it is, if the focus is on the sin of others, he has not seen Christ aright.
Whatever this centurion had heard about Jesus, he understood enough to know He was not a mere man, as he was himself. Receiving someone into your house was an act of grace, accepting responsibility for the care and safety of the guest. Consider when a commoner is accepted to enter the house of the king. The greater condescends to protect and care for the lesser; as David did with Mephibosheth. This Gentile recognized he was the lesser; not the greater. He was not worthy of having of having this man who healed people in his house.
He was not worthy of even going to Him! A person does not approach a king with being bidden. To do so is to invite death. We see this in Esther 4:11 “All the royal officials and the people of the royal provinces know that one law applies to every man or woman who approaches the king in the inner courtyard and who has not been summoned—⌊the⌋ death ⌊penalty⌋. Only if the king extends the gold scepter will that person live.” Such was reverence common people had for kings. Such was the reverence this centurion had for the King of kings.
Isaiah was a prophet called by God to proclaim His Word to Israel. He saw the veil pulled back a little, got a glimpse of the thrice holy Creator and Judge of all flesh. And he was undone. Those being called by God will be broken when they fall upon that Rock. He will bind every wound of every sheep He brings into His sheepfold. Let us learn from this Gentile centurion - we are unworthy to have the God-man in our presence. We are not worthy to be in His presence. But at His Word, we come to Him and are healed. Let not conscience make you linger, nor of fitness fondly dream. The only fitness He requires is that you feel your need of Him. This He gives you! The centurion knew He needed Jesus, and Jesus came.
But say the word, and my servant will be cured. 8 For I too am a man placed under authority, having soldiers under my command. I say to this one, ‘Go!’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come!’ and he comes; and to my slave, ‘Do this!’ and he does it.”
In a song of deliverance, the children of Israel sang out the truth of the power of God's word. Psalm 107:19-20 Then they cried out to the LORD in their trouble; He saved them from their distress. He sent His word and healed them; He rescued them from the Pit. Contrary to the nature of gods made by humans, YHWH does not need to touch in order to do. Contrary to those gods which are not Gods, YHWH needs nothing human hands can do. He spoke and everything that is created was created. Say the word, Creator God in human flesh, and my servant will be healed.
This Gentile had more trust in the Messiah from Nazareth than did those who were raised up under and taught the oracles of God. Both the Jews and the centurion had heard the reports of the healing that Jesus performed last time He was in town. The Jewish elders that were friends with the centurion didn't appear to be interested in the Messiah - they wanted to honor their benefactor. But the Gentile had a problem, he wanted something these Jewish elders could not grant him. And his military training served him well in this regard.
Discipline and obedience are keystones of the military, without which it could not function. In our military, lawful orders must be followed; in ancient Rome, ALL orders had to be followed. This centurion knew how to issue and follow orders. He had been taught to trust the chain of command and the system used to get critical messages to where they were needed. With messengers running to and fro, people in the Roman army rarely saw the one giving the orders - they obeyed what was told them without seeing the superior. His entire career was based on orders being given and obeyed, not doubting, only trusting; with the evidence of the signet ring stamped in wax.
We would call this faith. Hebrews 11:1 (KJV) Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. The centurion said, "Say the word and my servant will be healed." The substance of things hoped for - not as the world hopes about winning the lottery. Hope in that which cannot fail. Trust is hope put to use. Faith is also the evidence of things not seen. The centurion had heard much evidence, he trusted in this man about whom he had heard much. And he did more than wish for healing; he sought out the Healer and asked Him to say a word.
Hebrews 11:6 (HCSB) Now without faith it is impossible to please God, for the one who draws near to Him must believe that He exists and rewards those who seek Him. Those whom God calls, come to Him, often without realizing they’ve been called until they see in Scripture that no one can come to Christ unless the Father draws him (John 6:44). Those who seek God have been drawn by Him, believe on Him; and He rewards them - grants them life eternal and provides the Holy Spirit. Man, in his natural state, has not this saving faith and cannot be pleasing to God. The centurion must have had this kind of faith – see how the Savior responded to him!
9 Jesus heard this and was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following Him, He said, “I tell you, I have not found so great a faith even in Israel!”
It’s fascinating to read how Jesus responds to various people who come to Him in faith. We’ll look at two.
To Nathaniel: Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit! (John 1:47) For a man to have no deceit in his mouth, no guile, is to be without hypocrisy, not doubting about the Lord. This is the man described in Psalm 32:1&2 Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit. This man does not claim to be without sin; but, like Job, he admits he is sinful and casts himself on holy God. In Job 9:20, after being counseled by his friends, Job declared himself to be righteous, yet condemned by his own mouth, blameless yet perverse in God’s sight. The more mature in Christ we are, the more we will be without deceit, without thinking of self too highly.
To Thomas, Jesus said: Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed. Thomas is a type for us: it’s easy to grow dissatisfied with what God has revealed to us and we want more! This is the same discontent Eve suffered. If you believe in Christ, be content with what He has revealed to us! If there be things you or I think are important truths but they are not found in the Scripture, we need to repent! Our faith in Christ will be evidenced by our lives of obedience to what He has told us, even if it goes against what we've been taught from our youth regarding these things.
The centurion saw himself and the Lord rightly and desired nothing more than healing. No sensationalism, no personal glory, no bragging rights. So many in Israel demanded signs. Not this Gentile. He wanted a word from Jesus. Think about that.
10 When those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave in good health.
Herein we see the difference between the divine and the carnal. When Word of Faith heretics claim to have healed people, there’s a distinct lack of supporting evidence. Was the person in the wheelchair really crippled? None of the highly publicized “healings” claimed by these people has been verified. These charades take place in protected venues where no hostiles are allowed. When the Son of Man went through Capernaum healing all sorts of people with all sorts of ailments, countless saw and all who knew the healed people knew this Man had done something no one else could. When Jesus healed, it was public, in full view of those who wanted to kill him. Recall the man blind from birth. No doubt about his condition or identity or healing. Recall the fear of man his parents were under:
John 9:18-23 The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight, until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” His parents answered, “We know that this is our son and that he was born blind. But how he now sees we do not know, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” (His parents said these things because they feared the Jews, for the Jews had already agreed that if anyone should confess Jesus to be Christ, he was to be put out of the synagogue.) Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”
This fear of man works both ways. In this context, the common folk were in fear of the religious leaders and the religious leaders were believing they were worthy of this fear, which they took as adoration. This is why the Jewish elders took no thought about approaching Jesus on behalf of the centurion – they were the noble religious leaders and this man was a commoner, though well thought of by the common folk. They thought too much of themselves and too little of the God-man.
This is the theme throughout Scripture: There are two kingdoms, two peoples. The kingdom of this world will always try to bring God down so man can see himself as lifted up. The kingdom of God will always lift the Lord Jesus as God so man will see himself as lowly. We are not worthy, apart from His redeeming grace, to draw near to God. We are not worthy, apart from the salvation that is Christ alone for Him to come to our house. But those He predestined, He called. And those He called, He justified; and those He justified, He has glorified. He draws us to be close Him and He makes us His house! It’s a far, far better deal than trying to make ourselves righteous and build a house for Him. For He does not dwell in houses built by human hands as if He had need of anything human hands could do for Him.
Application: Not all who call Jesus Lord are His children. Not all who want healing are citizens of God's kingdom. BUT - no one can truly say "Jesus is Lord" except by the Spirit of God; all who are children of God know Christ as Lord. Every citizen of God's kingdom will be healed, when He returns to make all things new.
Do you see Him as the glorified Son of God, seated at the right hand of God the Father? Are you secure in the knowledge that His blood was shed for you and that you are welcome in the beloved?
Self-love is a sign of the perilous times in which we live. 2 Tim 3:1&2 But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy. The list goes on; the point is clear: those who love self are on a pathway to eternal doom. Rather than love self, we are to see ourselves as unworthy servants and love Him Who loved us first.
The citizen of the kingdom of this world lives focused on serving self - do I look good to others, am I well thought of, do I have enough stuff? The citizen of the kingdom of God is focused on being obedient to God as revealed in His Word, bring glory to God in his body (thoughts, speech, actions). Paul summed it up this way: Romans 6:16&22 (HCSB) Don’t you know that if you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of that one you obey—either of sin leading to death or of obedience leading to righteousness? But now, since you have been liberated from sin and have become enslaved to God, you have your fruit, which results in sanctification—and the end is eternal life!
Each one of us who are of Christ's sheepfold will fall into sin from time-to-time; our lives are marked by spiritual warfare. He has given us to one another to teach, reproof, rebuke, weep together, and rejoice together. Christian fellowship is a vital part of our lives as slaves of righteousness.
This is the call we find Paul and Jude alluding to as they refer to themselves as slaves of Christ. Jude, a slave of Jesus Christ and a brother of James: To those who are the called, loved by God the Father and kept by Jesus Christ. Slaves can be sent. Slaves are not worthy of the king's honor, slaves see their lord rightly. Our nature is to be a slave to our fleshly desires. If you are called by God, if you are in Christ, His call is to be a slave to righteousness.
We are unworthy of His redeeming grace, yet He is the faithful One in Whom we can trust.
Come, ye weary, heavy laden,
Bruised and broken by the fall
If you tarry 'til you're better
You will never come at all
Not the righteous, not the righteous
Sinners Jesus came to call
Lo! The Incarnate God, ascended
Pleads the merit of His blood
Venture on Him, venture wholly
Let no other trust intrude
None but Jesus, none but Jesus
Can do helpless sinners good