The following sermon transcription is about faith and its application in the midst of a trial. I first preached this sermon to a congregation I pastored in Thornton, generic Colorado. I shared this teaching at our RiverLakes Men’s retreat this last spring. I have split this sermon into two parts. The first part concerning the leper’s faith is found in Faith According to Matthew 8 Part I.
The Centurion’s Faith
Matthew 8:5-10 5 And when Jesus entered Capernaum, a centurion came to Him, imploring Him, and saying, “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, fearfully tormented.” 7 Jesus said to him, “I will come and heal him.” 8 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. 9 “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.” 10 Now when Jesus heard this, He marveled and said to those who were following, “Truly I say to you, I have not found such great faith with anyone in Israel.
Now let us turn our attention to the second man in this illustration… the centurion. The faith of the leper was great but the greatest faith that Jesus ever recognized was in this man – the centurion of Capernaum. The centurion’s faith was the greatest faith that Jesus had ever seen, including His own disciples. This event took place right after The Sermon on the Mount. Chronologically, after the leper was cleansed, Jesus returned to Capernaum where he healed a paralytic. He called Matthew, went to Jerusalem, healed the man at the Bethesda pool, returned to Galilee, healed the man with the withered hand, chose the Twelve, preached the great Sermon on the Mount, returned to Capernaum and then met the centurion.
Now, there is a great parallel we will observe between the faith of the Roman soldier and that of the leper. The step-by-step principles that exemplified these men’s’ faith were the same. But there is also a difference and at the end of the study I would like to share with you what I have found to be the difference.
The centurion was a man of great respect – a man in charge of a hundred soldiers. He was known as the backbone of the Roman legion. If we could compare him to a soldier of today, he would be a sergeant or a non-commissioned officer. He was not necessarily a Roman citizen. To be a Roman citizen was probably the greatest privilege of the day. It gave a man security and it offered him the power of the Roman Empire. Many men put 20-25 years of service into the Roman legion just to obtain Roman citizenship. And so it may have been true of this centurion; a man dedicated to becoming a Roman citizen through service. There was something quite unusual about this particular Roman centurion; he was different from other Romans. He was a man who had embraced the God of the Hebrews
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. Luke 7 records this in a much more detailed manner than Matthew. This is not to say that Matthew’s account is inaccurate. Matthew’s purpose was to show Christ as the Son of God and the miracles He performed. So he shortened some of these accounts in order to get this God led emphasis across. In Luke’s account, many of the Jews reported that this Roman centurion had embraced their God. Additionally, the centurion not only had respect for the Jews and their God, he also proved it by rebuilding their synagogue. He was a man who definitely had a heart for people. And his request from Jesus was not for an affliction for a member of his own family, nor was it for an affliction he was suffering from, but for a servant. You see, at this time in history in this part of the world, slaves and servants were very commonplace, they were unimportant and lowly esteemed. Therefore when a slave or servant became or old, they were usually cast out to die.
The Roman soldier, unlike any other sought help for his servant. He did so because he loved him. In his plan to get Jesus to help, he solicited a group of synagogue elders to approach Jesus for help.
During this whole process of bringing Jesus to the centurion’s house, the servant continued to suffer. The word in Greek for such suffering is Basavc Sopas (basanisomas)which means tortured or dying. The paralysis though was only partial, but this did not stop the great pain he was in. A man who was partially paralyzed would suffer pain, not so much in the limbs that were paralyzed, but from the burden they placed on the rest of the body.
As Jesus approached this Roman centurion’s home, the centurion knew that Jews for the most part would never enter the house of a gentile. It defiled them according to their Jewish law and thinking. And so the Roman centurion respected Jesus so much that he did not want to hurt Jesus’ ministry by pressing Him to come into his home to heal his servant. Therefore in respect to Jesus, he sent some friends ahead to talk with Jesus saying, “Lord, do not trouble yourself further for I am not fit for you to come under my roof. For this reason I did not even consider myself worthy to come unto you, but just say the word and my servant will be healed.”
Now it is probable that this Roman centurion was not far from his friends as they were communicating this message to Jesus. He could probably hear Jesus’ response. And it is amazing that this Roman centurion would say that he was not worthy. I believe, personally, that the Roman centurion believed who Jesus was, that he had heard Him speak many times, and had seen many miracles. Jesus did a majority of his teaching and healing around the city of Capernaum. Therefore Jesus had a tremendous influence not only with the common man but many of the government officials who ran Capernaum. As an example, one synagogue official from Capernaum traveled to Cana to ask Jesus to heal his dying son, which Jesus did. Matthew, the Capernaum tax gatherer put aside his tax gathering profession to follow Jesus. And then there was another synagogue official named Jarius who sought Jesus help in raising his daughter from her deathbed; He did.
Like the leper, the centurion openly put himself in the presence of Jesus. He did so by sending the Jewish elders to represent him. And as Jesus arrived on the scene the centurion sent other friends to tell Jesus that He need not embarrass Himself by entering the house of a gentile. The centurion as all observed that day; put himself in the presence of Jesus.
The risk the centurion took was probably much greater than that of the leper, which is perhaps why Jesus noted him as one of the greatest when it came to faith. As the leper approached Jesus and put himself in His presence he only risked physical harm, rejection, or embarrassment. For the centurion to do the same meant possible rejection by his fellow Romans, the possible loss of Roman citizenship, and a potential conflict with the Jews he had helped.
The Roman centurion, like the leper also recognized Jesus as Lord. He did it through his friends and the Jewish elders, In the Latin there is a saying that says “Que facit peralum” translated, “He who transmits a message through someone else says it himself.” And there is no doubt that this Roman regarded Jesus as Lord and Master. And if this wasn’t enough, he also understood Jesus’ authority, which was far above his own. Listen to what he says, “For I too 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 me slave, ‘Do this!’ and he does it.” The centurion understood Christ’s authority and put himself under it. He put himself under that authority as he put himself under the authority of the Romans.
And the great humility we saw in the leper as he threw himself at Jesus’ feet, we see in the centurion as he ignored his own great authority to command Jesus to do what he wanted, but said, “I am not qualified enough for you to come into my house.” The word xKavos (Ikanos) in the Greek means worthy. “I am not worthy for You to come into my house. You just say the word and my servant will be healed.” Now in the midst of this humility, which again is the third step toward building faith, this Roman centurion openly before all his Jewish elders and Roman friends and before all others who were watching, put his need on the line. A need for a lowly servant. Add to that his admittance that he was not worthy makes a beautiful picture of true faith.
As the leper did, the centurion also waited. Did Jesus enter the house? Did He touch the servant? Not at all. He just said, “Let it be done,” and it was. Jesus marveled at the centurion and He turned and said to the multitudes, “I say to you, even in Israel I have not found such a great faith.”
When those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the servant in good health because the centurion, like the leper, had…
- Put himself in the presence of God
- Recognized Jesus as his authority
- Openly expressed his need
- Humbled himself
What was the difference between the leper and centurion’s faith? What made one faith great than another? One difference is that the centurion took greater risk in applying his faith. Another is that Jesus touched the leper and ministered to him more closely. With the centurion, Jesus just left the scene. Why was that? Why didn’t Jesus spend time talking with the centurion or give him a personal touch? Let me give you a modern day parable in closing.
Listen to an old and beautiful story of how one Christian dreamed that she saw three others at prayer. As they knelt the Master drew near to them.
As he approached the first of the three, He bent over her in tenderness and grace, with smiles full of radiant love and spoke to her in accents of purest, sweetest music.
Leaving her, He came to the next, but only placed His hand upon her bowed head, and gave her one look of loving approval.
The third woman He passed almost abruptly without stopping for a word or glance. The woman in her dream said to herself, “How greatly He must love the first one, to the second He gave the first; and the third must have grieved Him deeply, for He gave her no word at all and not even a passing look.
“I wonder what she has done, and why He made so much difference between them?” As she tried to account for the action of her Lord, He himself stood by her and said: “O woman! How wrongly hast thou interpreted Me? The first kneeling woman needs all the weight of My tenderness and care to keep her feet in My narrow way. She needs My love, thought and helps every moment of the day. Without it she would fail and fall.”
“The second has stronger faith and deeper love, and I can trust her to trust My however things may go and whatever people do.
“The third, whom I seemed not to notice, and even to neglect, has faith and love of the finest quality, and her I am training by quick and drastic processes for the highest and holiest service.
“She knows Me so intimately, and trusts me so utterly, that she is independent of words or looks or any outward intimation of My approval. She is not dismayed nor discouraged by any circumstances through which I arrange that she shall pass; she trusts Me when sense and reason and every finer instinct of the natural heart would rebel; – because she knows that I am working in her for eternity, and that what I do, though she knows not the explanation now, she will understand hereafter.
This last woman, I believe, represents the greatness of the centurion. I pray that all of us will someday have the faith of the centurion. But we must remember the great process that both the centurion and the leper went through to get to that point of faith. They put themselves in the presence of God, they recognized their authority, they risked a great deal, they humbled themselves before their peers and before Jesus and they waited for God to answer their prayers. Let us pray.