Matthew 8:1-17 Part 3

Just one word of caution this morning as we begin to deal with the text of God’s Word – and that is that there is a very strong inclination to concentrate the predominant amount of attention on the human interest aspects in these accounts of the miraculous.  Our eyes – our mental eyes – are automatically focused on the individuals who received the special attention of the Lord – on their circumstances, what they did, how they responded – what happened to them.

            It’s kind of like the old TV program of thirty or so years ago called “The Millionaire.”  The first two minutes of the program were taken up with the selection of a person to who was to be given one million tax-free dollars.  And, then, all the rest of the show concentrated on the recipient of the money and the effect of the wealth of his life! Nothing else was ever mentioned about the millionaire who gave the money.

            And I think – in the same way – we lose perspective when we read the Bible.  We forget Who this text is about!  Our primary attention is given to people and their stories.  But this book has none other than God as its principle character!  These are His Words, and they are for the revelation of the Author.  And the whole of the work is that it might do all that God would have it do and bring Him glory and honor.  And although man was made in God’s image and is vice-regent of His creation – and although some men receive love and grace from God, and even if a few men have prominent places in the Scriptures – God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, is the primary figure in the Bible; and we must read and study and preach the Word with that one fact indelibly printed at the top of each page – just as it appears on page one – “In the beginning God….  In the beginning was the Word….

            The first four verses of chapter eight deal with a very interesting character; and, for two weeks, we’ve witnessed this outcast from society encounter the God of Heaven and earth.  And the apostle Matthew has allowed us to see God’s salvation applied to a dead man.  A Jewish outcast – an example of the Laws of Separation in human form – met the Law-Giver and asked to be cleansed.  And the Lord Jesus Christ, Whose Priesthood is being showcased in this miracle, performs the legal cleansing as only the High Priest could do.  The Author of it all had prescribed it all to Moses; and here the same Author is the fullness of His own Words -  performing all the work of the priest, and all of it foreshadowed by the Laws of separation and the ceremonial system of the Old Testament.

            This is the One Who spoke to Moses out of a flaming bush!  This is that same One who thundered from the top of Mount Sinai – the same One who uttered the detailed description of every act of the Levitical priesthood!  And the Embodiment of those Words is approached here, witnessed by this apostle, by one who symbolizes and figures the unholy, filthy, rotting state of mankind.  And this leper receives the cleansing and the entrance into covenantal society prescribed of old.  The One Who prescribed it performs it!

            And this morning we’re allowed to witness another.  Another outcast from Jewish covenantal society.  One separated by Law.  And another extremely interesting character.  A foreigner – a soldier – one probably hired by Herod to help rule his part of the kingdom when it was split by the Romans into three parts.

            Now.  While we’re given this second opportunity to know more about our Lord as He claims His Kingdom, there are two things which we must recall from our history – as we remember the three introductory sermons.  I’ll just briefly bring them back to your memory.

            First, we need to remember that Israel was the nation of God – His covenant people – and, as such, it was the center of civilization!  And God had caused Israel to be the people from whom all other peoples were separated.  And, having been given many laws of separation by which they were to remain separated, Israel was to scrupulously obey those laws and refuse to inter-mingle and co-mingle with pagans on their terms!

            Now, the point is this – it was the purpose of Israel to be a shining light to the Gentile nations – a holy nation – one which did not worship idols, one which did not degrade itself physically, one which had a just legal system – and, one which was fair and loving and just toward Gentiles and understanding of the non-covenantal status of all Gentile foreigners!

            But, as you may remember, Israel’s covenantal, separated status degenerated into disgust for anything Gentile.  And, for the most part, Gentiles were treated as scum.  Even in this northern part of the Kingdom which, from the seventh century B.C. has been mostly mixed-raced people living in it, there was still this depraved hatred of Gentiles – not covenantal separation tempered with justice and fairness and understanding and hospitality – but an intrinsic loathing.

            Plus – and here’s the second thing for us to remember from the history – not only was there this terrible misappropriation of the laws of separation and prejudicial animosity toward all other segments of society, but there was this awful misunderstanding of Israel’s collective mind, that God had established this holy nation and nothing would ever change – no matter what – (even if it was disobedient) and God would always vindicate them and defeat any pretenders to Israel’s rightful place!

            And to have the swine from Rome exercising this arrogant authority over the rightful people of God, and then installing an Edomite over them to rule them, as in Herod and his family, was an intolerable set of circumstances – one which would not, could not, last very long!  So there was this seething cauldron of hatred underneath the surface, and rebellion and guerilla warfare going on in various parts of the country – and always the possibility of open national resistance which, as we know, did occur, beginning in about 67A.D.

            So, to have a foreign national mercenary exercising a military role in any part of Israel was not only bruising to national pride, but it was religious blasphemy!  To a Jew it was open rebellion and revolt against God Himself for a Gentile to be in Israel, in any position of authority!  So to be Gentile and a foreign soldier would be doubly difficult in a Jewish society.

            And that’s who approached Jesus in today’s text!  A centurion, the text says.  A commander of a hundred.  What a contingent of a hundred men was doing in a little fishing village like Capernaum I don’t know.  It probably attests to the awful tensions and underlying revolt which was the national mood of the day.  And there were, more than likely, similar contingents of troops in and throughout the country – and out of all the little towns!

            But let’s read the text again now – before we go on:


“And having entered into Capernaum, a centurion approached Him, beseeching Him, and said, ‘Lord, my child has been lying in the house a paralytic, being grievously afflicted!’  And He says to him, ‘I am coming to heal him.’  And responding, the centurion uttered, ‘Lord I am unfit that You should enter under my roof; but only say a word and my child shall be healed.  For I myself am a man under authority, having soldiers under myself, and I say to this one, ‘go’ and he leaves; and to another, ‘come’, and he comes; and to my servant, ‘make this’ and he makes it.’  Now, when He heard this Jesus was astonished and said to those following, ‘Amen I say to you, from not even one have I found so much faith in Israel.  For I say to you that many from the East and West shall come and shall be caused to recline with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the Kingdom of the Heavens; but the sons of the Kingdom shall be expelled into external darkness.  There shall be the weeping and the grating of the teeth.’  And Jesus said to the centurion, ‘Go your way.  As you have faithed, so it is done to you.  And the child has been restored in this hour.’”


So Jesus has left the mountain where he preached the Sermon on the Mount; and, on the way back to the town where He had chosen to stay, He healed many of the sick and diseased, including the leper.  And now this foreign, Gentile mercenary, who probably lives in Capernaum, approaches Him and importunes Him concerning a paralytic child.

The text is very specific about this being a child, and he is a paralytic, having been that way for some time – not a palsied, as some texts have it – and he’s been lying on his bed in this paralytic condition!  And the text makes it clear that this is a tortured and agonizing existence!

And this Gentle soldier, who must have loved this child very much, personally approaches Jesus when He comes back into town, and begins to beseech Him, the Scriptures says, to ask Him – to pray Him, if you will, with respect to this child!

And Jesus simply says “I’m coming to heal him.”  And since the soldier lives in the same town where Jesus lives, and since this little fishing village on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, or Lake Genassaret, is probably no more than a few hundred yards long – spread out along the coast – it wouldn’t be any big deal to go to the soldier’s house – a couple of minutes, maybe!

But the soldier recoils in horror that Jesus would do that!  Not that it would be a long trip, or that it would press Jesus for a time, or that Jesus would be in danger of some kind, or that the terrain would be difficult to cover!  Or that Jesus might not be able to find the house.  And neither was the soldier just being kind and considerate in not wanting to Jesus out in any way!  None of these are the point!

The history we went over a couple minutes ago is the point!  This is a foreign soldier – a Gentile – put in authority over God’s chosen people in God’s chosen land!  Jews would not have social contact with Gentiles and would never go into a Gentile house!  Gentiles were separated out by God as unholy and unclean and this man knew what his position was in Jewish society!  And, from the way the words read, he was really taken aback that Jesus even mentioned that He would come to the soldier’s house.

Even though there was a party that would have Israel move in the direction of Greek culture, Jesus’ family would not have been involved in that.  And this soldier might have even known Jesus’ family!  Jesus spent most of His later childhood in Nazareth, which is only six miles or so from Capernaum!  And even if this is all speculation, the soldier could conceivably have known Jesus’ family and known that they all were direct descendants of David – therefore they would take the strict Jewish line.

But more than that – this man’s words indicate that he knew who Jesus was!  Like the leper, this man comes to Jesus with enlightened understanding given only by the Spirit of God.  No man can come to Jesus in this way on his own!  No man!

This man obviously has studied the faith from the Old Testament Scriptures.  He has anticipated the reality of all the foreshadowings and direct prophecies.  And he knows the Lord when He shows up and is manifested!  And since the Lord uses the very specific word “faith” in referring to him, we can only state it one way – this Gentile soldier was justified through faith!  Jesus says, verse thirteen, “As you have faithed, so it is done to you….”

And we know that faith is the true response to the Spirit and the Word.  Now, I don’t think that this centurion knew that this event would be recorded as God’s holy, inspired Word.  And I doubt if he knew that Jesus would use this miracle as an example of the inclusion of the Gentile nations in the covenant and the cutting off of the Jewish nation.  I don’t really know, but I doubt if he knew the awful nature of the dark prophecies that were spilling out of Jesus’ mouth! How sweet and awful is the place where Jesus is.

He just knew that he was unclean. And that the Scriptures had separated him out as unfit for God’s people to co-mingle with.  Verse eight. And he knew that Jesus was the One foretold by the prophets of old.  In places like Psalm two it was said that God’s Son would take the throne of David and rule His Kingdom with a mighty hand and a rod of iron.  And here Jesus was commanding creation itself to do this – and it did it.  And commanding creatures in the spirit realm to depart – and they did it!  And sick people were becoming well at His Word.  And bodies were re-formed and fixed at His Word.  He knew that this One had great authority, and that all of nature did what He said!

So he says, “Lord I am unfit that You should enter under my roof; but only say a word… and my child shall be healed.”

And the man explains himself by using himself as his own example – that he is under the authority of others, and that at least a hundred men do exactly what he tells them to do.  And he indicated that he knows that Jesus had this same authority to command; and that everything in creation responds to Jesus the same way the centurion’s soldiers and servants respond to him! They’re all servants of Jesus – everything in creation.

And this is a hated Gentile soldier talking this way!  Why this Gentile?  Next Lord’s Day the preaching of the Gospel will be taken up by answering this question – why this Gentile?  In other words, the covenant inclusion of the nations and the cutting off of the Jews.  Here is the High Prophet of God – preaching and warning and prophesying.  That’s next Lord’s Day.

Then, finally, this morning I want to make just a few additional observations about the text – especially what’s found in verses eight and nine concerning the faith that this man exhibits.

First, I would like for you to see the self-abasement with which this man approaches the Lord of Hosts.  His initial contact with the Lord was with asking – and, in asking, there is an acknowledging of the Power to give.  But when Jesus consented to give, there was then a greater and deeper humility exhibited.  Unfit.  And people, that’s faithful response to the grace and mercy of God.  Unfit.

The responses of unbelief are arrogance and cockiness and greed and an absence of thankfulness and a lack of humility.  Concentration on self.  On the other hand, the more God gives, faith responds with more humility and thankfulness!  The more God gives, faith responds with mourning over unworthiness.  The more God gives, the faithful man responds with the more self-abasement.

The second thing for you to see this morning is that the more humility and self-abasement, the stronger the faith!  This man was absolutely sure of his uncleanness – his  unworthiness – his depravity.  The Spirit of God had given him such a sense of that!  And that in turn was the very strength of the faith that God had given him; for that sense of worthless depravity is the mortification of the flesh which is required of us all as we live in the body of Christ through the faith!

His ego was out of the way – it had been killed, mortified – and the strength of the faith that was put in its place was of such a nature that this man was sure that Jesus’ control over creation could be done at any distance!  This is God; and all He has to do is speak and it is so.

Well, that’s what I wanted you to hear this morning.  And I pray that God, through the preaching of His Word and by His Goodness toward His Own people, would give you death to self and life in Christ through faith.