Commendable Faith (7:1-10)
Jesus enters the town of Capernaum. Capernaum becomes Jesus’ base of operations when he is teaching in Galilee. In Capernaum there was a centurion who had a servant who was sick and about to die. The centurion has heard about Jesus and he sends the elders of the Jews in Capernaum to Jesus asking for Jesus to come and heal his servant. What is interesting as we begin the story is how the elders of the Jews present this centurion’s request to Jesus. The elders come to Jesus and plead with him earnestly saying, “He is worthy to have you do this for him, for he loves our nation, and he is the one who built us our synagogue.”
This is an amazing scene. The Romans did not have much regard for the Jews and their nation. This centurion is an army man in command of his troops in a foreign nation. The Jews did not have much regard for the Romans either. Most of the Jews hated the Roman occupation and were looking forward to the overthrow of the empire. Even more amazing is what this centurion has done for the Jews in Capernaum. The elders say that this centurion loves the Jewish nation and even built their synagogue. Unlike most Romans, this Roman centurion is kind to the Jews. Further, he is generous to the Jewish people to be willing to build their synagogue. Think about how beloved this centurion was for the Jews to go to Jesus on the behalf of a Roman. It is because of this generosity that these Jewish leaders go to Jesus on behalf of this centurion.
The approach the Jewish leaders of Capernaum take is fascinating as well. They approach Jesus with the “worthiness” card. This centurion is worthy of your time. This centurion is worthy of Jesus to go to his house and help him. To the Jewish leaders this centurion is worthy. It is evident that these Jewish leaders had no idea who they were talking to. In no way can you go before the Lord and suggest that a person is worthy of his time or effort. Yet many have the same attitude toward the Lord. What do you think God owes you? Many think that God owes them good health. Many think God owes them a certain level of prosperity. Many think God owes them a certain standard of comfort. We are unwise to ask God for what we deserve. We are foolish to demand God to give us what is owed to us. According to the apostle Paul in Romans 6:23, the wages that we deserve to receive is death. We deserve eternal separation from God. God owes us eternal punishment for our sins. Everything else that we receive is mercy and grace.
We need to transfer this thought to how we treat other people. I am disturbed to hear so many speak in a way that other people owe us something. I hear Christians speak that way. People do not owe you respect. People do not owe you the attention you want. People do not owe you anything. Stop walking through life acting like people should pay attention to you or give you what you want.
Jesus goes with the Jewish leaders of Capernaum toward the centurion’s house. When Jesus was not far from the house, the centurion sent his friends to Jesus to tell him an important message. “Lord do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof.” The centurion understand who he is talking to. The Jewish leaders have made their case to Jesus that this centurion is worthy of Jesus. The first thing the centurion does is send his friends to Jesus to tell him that he is by no means worthy. The centurion recognized his unworthiness even though he was an important person. He understands that he is not worthy for Jesus to enter his own house. This shows a great respect for Jesus and a great understanding of who he is in relation to who Jesus is. In the gospels we will read about many who will have Jesus into their houses. Here is a centurion and he gets it. “I am not worthy to have you come under my roof.” The shocking generosity of the centurion caused the Jewish leaders to declare him to be a good person. Compared to other people, the centurion seems worthy. But compared to Jesus, the centurion is unworthy and sinful.
Further, out of his respect the centurion says that he did not want to presume to come to Jesus. The centurion sending his friends to Jesus was out of great respect for Jesus. The centurion did not even feel worthy to be in direct contact with Jesus. We will not understand our standing (or lack thereof) before God until we understand this truth. We are not worthy. We are the needy sinners who do not even deserve the grace of God. Jesus is not in need. We are in need. We must never forget our deep sinfulness that makes us unworthy of anything from the Lord.
Since the centurion is unworthy, he requests Jesus to “say the word, and let my servant be healed.” The centurion sends a message that Jesus does not have to come into his house. Just say the word and my servant will be healed. The explanation the centurion has for this faith is also staggering. The centurion understands authority. He is in a position of authority. When he says go, he goes and he says come to another and he comes. Therefore, Jesus being in a great position of authority has the power to simply say the word and healing will occur.
This does not happen too often, but Jesus is amazed at the faith of the centurion. Jesus exclaims that the Jews do not have this kind of faith. Here is this Gentile, a Roman centurion, who has tremendous faith and understands the authority that Jesus possesses. Is Jesus amazed by your faith? Is our faith something that would catch our Lord’s attention? Do we have the kind of faith that recognizes that we do not need Jesus’ physical presence in this room to answer our requests? Our Lord can heal from heaven. Our Lord has the power to do anything that we ask by his powerful word. It was through his powerful word that all of creation came into being.
Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 3:20–21 NKJV)
The centurion recognizes the power of Jesus’ word. This is a great miracle and a great display of Jesus’ power. Jesus is not even there and the servant is healed. Jesus never comes to the house. Jesus never enters the house. Jesus never sees the servant. Jesus never touches the servant. According to the Matthew account, Jesus simply says the word and it happens. The servant is healed.
After these events in Capernaum Jesus went to a little town called Nain. His disciples and a great crowd followed him there. As Jesus approaches the gates to the city with a great crowd following him he comes across a funeral procession. A man has died and he was being carried out on a bier. Do not visualize a casket. A bier was a flat open stretcher that was carried on the shoulders. The body would have been covered with something like a sheet. The mother of this man is in the procession. He was an only son and worse, the mother was also a widow. This is a devastating event on two counts. First, to watch your children die is a terrible event that is unnatural. Children should bury their parents, not parents bury their children. Second, her financial livelihood was lost. She was a widow. Her only son would have taken care of her. Her only son is now dead and her future is bleak. The body is being carried outside the city walls for burial. Notice that we two great crowds colliding at this moment. Jesus and his disciples have a great crowd following him. A considerable crowd is with the widow following the body of her dead son.
When Jesus saw her, he had compassion on her. As far as we know she is a complete stranger. We need to stop here and think about this great truth. Jesus has compassion for his people. Jesus cares about us. Jesus cares about the things that are going on in our lives. Jesus could have easily passed this funeral procession by. He could have used this to teach the woman that it is just physical death. Be concerned about your spiritual life and fear spiritual death. He could have shown no concern for this woman because he had more important things to do and teach. We must be struck by the fact that Jesus is moved with compassion, stops the funeral, and performs a miracle. Jesus cares about his people. Jesus cares about you. He cares about your cares. He cares about your troubles. It is great to serve God who understands our suffering and cares about our suffering.
Jesus said to her, “Do not weep.” At the moment that must have sounded like the most insensitive thing to say. Can you imagine on the day your child died a person coming up to you and telling you not to cry? I can only imagine the likely incredulous look that would have begun to form on her face. “Don’t cry? You must be kidding. This is the most appropriate time to cry.” We are told that Jesus was moved with compassion. Jesus is about to do something and that is why he tells her not to cry, though she does not know that yet. This is simply an act from compassion. There is nothing about faith in this story. Jesus is simply going to show is power and authority.
Jesus goes up and touches the bier. The men who were carrying the body stand still as Jesus touches the stretcher. Jesus says, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” The dead man sat up and began to speak. Can you imagine what that looked like? As the man sat up, the sheet would have moved up. He takes down the sheet and get down from the stretcher and Jesus presents him to his mother. What power is on display again! At the voice of Jesus even the dead come to life. Jesus’ words penetrate even through wall of death. Jesus did not just speak to the body. The body is lifeless on the stretcher. Jesus is speaking to the person, wherever he was in the realm of the dead (Hades) and calling him back to this world. Jesus simply says the word and life is brought back into the dead. One wonders if Jesus had simply said arise if all the dead would have risen. Jesus directs his words very carefully. “Young man, I say to you, arise.”
The crowd understands that Jesus is no ordinary person. Fear seize them all and they all glorify God. They were saying that a great prophet was among them. Certainly Jesus is a great prophet like Elijah who also resurrected a dead son (1 Kings 17:23). Verse 15 mirrors the language of Elijah’s miracle in giving the son back to the mother. The crowds understands that Jesus is a great prophet. The crowds also understands that God has visited his people. Clearly, Jesus has been sent from God for them.
Do we appreciate and accept the authority of Jesus like the centurion? I want to zero in on verse 8 again for a moment. Jesus accepts the centurion’s understanding of his authority. If Jesus say go, we are to go. If Jesus say come, then we are to come. If Jesus says to do this, then we do it. This is a pretty simple idea. Jesus is in charge. Yet how often we are not doing what Jesus has told us to do. How often we try to circumvent the clear commands of our Lord. What is it in your life that you are not allowing Jesus to rule over? The authority that Jesus exerts is not partial. We cannot submit only some of our lives to Jesus. So often we think we are in submission to Jesus but we are withholding parts of our lives from his rule believing that we are in submission and obedience to Christ. True followers of Jesus go when Jesus says go and does what Jesus says to do. What in your life are you not doing that Jesus has said to do?
Many of you may think you are a Christian but you have not submitted to baptism. The scriptures teach that this is how we make our appeal to God for the forgiveness of sins (1 Peter 3:21). Baptism is how we join our lives with Jesus and enter a relationship with him (Romans 6:1-4).
Many of you may think you are a Christian but you are not living with Christ as your priority. You do what you want. You think you are a Christian because you do not do bad things like those you see on television. But that is not the definition of a Christian. The faith that Jesus accepts is that which obeys all the Christ commands, not just the commands we agree with.
Maybe you think you are a Christian because you go to church. We are very glad you are here. Please know that Jesus has called you to follow him, not to simply to come to church. We are here and would be happy to show you God’s plan for your life and what Jesus asks of those who seek him.