Authority Over Distance

by Paul George

Matthew 8:5-13; Luke 7:1-10

Jesus showed that the extent of His Kingdom went beyond the high and the mighty by reaching out to people that nobody else would touch. His Kingdom was not what most expected; it was not for the super pious, but for the desperate and the hurting. Therefore, Christ touched a man with leprosy and healed him.

That brings us to the next healing in Matthew 8 involving a centurion, a man considered an outcast by the Jewish people because he was a Gentile. Worse than that, he was a Roman soldier, a member of the occupying army that had invaded their precious land. Although he was despised as much as a leper was, the Lord healed his servant. By so doing, He reinforced the fact that His Kingdom included the outcast and the Gentile.

Some commentators think that all three of the miracles recorded in chapter eight happened the same day after Jesus had finished the Sermon on the Mount, came down from the mountain, and entered Capernaum, a town on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee.

Verses 5 – 6 – “A centurion came to Him, imploring Him, and saying, ‘Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, fearfully tormented.”

Jesus’ response – “Jesus said to him, I will come and heal him” (verse 7).

The centurion’s response – “But the centurion said, ‘Lord I am not worthy for you to come under my roof, but just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I also am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and 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’” (Verses 8-9).

The centurion’s response expressed humility. Some people think they do God a favor by becoming a Christian. However, the centurion who had worked his way up through the ranks, even though he was a combat-veteran was clearly a gentle, humble, meek, sensitive, and loving man who even cared for a sick slave, was a true God-fearing Gentile like Cornelius in Acts 10. His response is also evidence of his faith and recognition of the authority of Jesus over distance.

The centurion was saying, “I understand Your authority, there might be some around here who would question it, but I know a man with authority when I see one. I’ve seen what you’ve done and I know the power of Your words.” He reasoned from the lesser to the greater. He could say, “I am under authority and I can command things to happen. However, You are above all authorities, You speak and cause anything to happen. That is great faith.

Jesus is amazed (verse 10). When the text says that Jesus marveled, it tells us that Jesus in His humanness was literally amazed at the faith of that Gentile. His great faith was a taste of things to come, because there have been countless other Gentiles who have had that kind of faith in Christ. The implication is that He should have found such faith among the people of the covenant promises and inheritance. He had found a certain amount among the Jewish people but never with that much virtue. The centurion’s unique response showed his love, thoughtfulness, humility, sensitivity, and absolute confidence in the authority and deity of Christ. Even Christ’s own disciples on occasion had to be rebuked by Jesus for their “little faith” (Matthew 6:30; 8:26; 14:31; 16:8). They were not even too sure who He was during His earthly ministry. Even after others had testified of Jesus’ resurrection, Thomas would not believe until He saw Christ himself. However, the centurion had great faith. His example shows that some Gentiles would demonstrate greater faith than those of Israel. Isn’t that true today? The church predominately is a Gentile church; Israel still rejects Jesus as her Messiah. Jesus went on to make that clear in one of His most devastating statements – verses11-12.

There is coming a great and glorious Kingdom called the millennial Kingdom and an eternal Kingdom will follow it. In that first Kingdom, God’s wonderful promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob will happen.

God brought the covenant through them, therefore, salvation comes through Abraham’s seed, but we are sons of Abraham by faith, so we receive blessing because we are part of that same covenant. That is precisely what Jesus was saying in verse 11. The many that would come from the East and the West are those from the Gentile world, which is literally to the east and west of Israel. Most Jewish people did not believe that because Jesus’ statement was contrary to their tradition. They believed that all the Gentiles would be destroyed before the Kingdom came. Never for a moment did the Jews believe that the Gentiles would be reclining with them at the Messianic banquet. However, two thousand years later here we are, a church filled with Gentiles, and we will sit down someday in the millennial Kingdom with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Now, if that isn’t shocking enough, note what verse 12 says – “But the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

That is a very powerful statement. The Jewish people were called “sons of the kingdom” because by right they are the heirs of the promises and privileges that were given to them (Psalm 147:19-20; Isaiah 63:8-9; Romans 9:4). In spite of that, many will not be part of the Kingdom, because one does not enter it based on physical lineage. In John 8, the Jewish rulers boasted that they were the sons of Abraham. Jesus said, “I know that you are Abraham’s descendants; yet you seek to kill Me because My word has no place in you. I speak the things which I have seen with My Father; there for you also do the things which you heard from your fathers.’ They answered and said to Him, ‘Abraham is our father.’ Jesus said to them, ‘If you are Abraham’s children, do the deeds of Abraham. But as it is, you are seeking to kill Me, a man who has told you the truth, which I heard from God; this Abraham did not do.’”

Proudly assuming their right to enter, many sons of the Kingdom are going to be thrown out, having forfeited their inheritance by unbelief.

“Outer darkness” was a meaningful phrase in Jewish thought. The rabbis taught that sinners in Gehenna would be covered with darkness. They believed that sinners would be sent away from the light of God’s presence. Paradoxically, hell is not only a place of darkness; it is also a place of fire. Its supernatural quality enables fire to exist in total darkness, a phenomenon created by God for eternal punishment. Outer darkness is a place, just as heaven is. The horrible result of that punishment will be the “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” The darkness will cause a loss of all happiness, helpless despair, and the endless torment of eternal blackness.

Although some people think that Jesus just talked about love, the gospels make it clear that He talked a lot about hell. The message of Jesus is that people who reject Him as the Messiah, even if they are, the sons of the Kingdom are going to be thrown into outer darkness.

The promise – “And Jesus said to the centurion, ‘Go and it shall be done for you as you have believed.’ And the servant was healed that very moment’” (verse 13).

Notice the phrase “as you have believed.” Sometimes God heals people who have no faith. In fact, the Bible does not say that the servant had any faith; Jesus healed him for the benefit of the centurion, and everybody else in history who would read about him.

Do you see what Jesus was saying here? “I cleanse lepers and heal outcast Gentiles, because My Kingdom encompasses those who believe in Me, not those who are of some particular race.”

Conclusion

Many Jewish people in spite of the fact that he was a Roman soldier and possibly even a Samaritan held the centurion in high esteem. Do you think that those who disagree with your commitment to Christ hold you in high esteem because of your personal integrity? Do you uphold the same high standards of godliness whether you are at work, at home, in the community, on vacation, or anywhere else? When we do, even those who would oppose us can have reason to respect us. Consider the early church as they preached a controversial message: the Jewish leaders had rejected and crucified their Messiah, who had risen from the dead. Among other things, Acts 2 characterizes the early church as having unity of mind, gladness, and sincerity of heart (verse 46) As a result, what were other people’s responses to them, according to verse 47? Then, even after the fear-inspiring discipline of Ananias and Sapphira, how did people feel toward the church according to Acts 5:13? Are you willing to uphold the smallest commands of God as much as the more important ones? Do you think your faith would give Jesus any cause to marvel? Do you have reservations about Jesus’ power or His authority? If so, meditate upon Matthew 28:18; John 11:38-44; 20:30- 31; Colossians 1:15-20; Hebrews 1-2; and Revelation 5.

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