Dr. Charles Franklin DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
March 16, 2014
When he had entered Capernaum, a centurion came forward to him, appealing to him, “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, suffering terribly.” And he said to him, “I will come and heal him.” But the centurion replied, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard this, he marveled and said to those who followed him, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith. I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” And to the centurion Jesus said, “Go; let it be done for you as you have believed.” And the servant was healed at that very moment.
— Matthew 8:5-13, ESV
The miraculous makes its way to us through direct and indirect means, usually the latter. Sometimes we are prompted to ask God directly for a blessing, a provision, or a miracle for ourselves. This was the case with the leper in the first miracle recorded by Matthew. Other times, like the lowly servant in this passage, we are just sitting there and suffering when someone else asks on our behalf.
These someones are very important people in the kingdom of God. They are servants themselves, ministers, helpers. They bring the healing or saving power of God into other people’s lives through their unselfish service and faithful prayers. Matthew’s second miracle is a story of such a helper and the ultimate healer, the Lord Jesus Christ.
The helper here is actually a distinguished gentleman. He is a high ranking officer in the Roman Legion, a centurion, one of many who ironically appear always favorably in the New Testament. He is stationed in Capernaum, Jesus’ home base, and given charge of the garrison of Roman soldiers in this important commercial town. He is a Gentile, but one who has converted to Judaism. According to Luke’s parallel account, his faith and generosity is so great that he largely if not single-handedly saw to the building of the synagogue in Capernaum. He may well have been the most powerful man in town, yet his concern here is for one of the least powerful, a simple servant or household slave. A few things are noteworthy about this helper.
Helpers have the authority and ability to help. The centurion had a commission to act with the authority of the Roman Emperor. His words had iron, and he could make or break you. He had the means to provide the best medical care for his servant, but there was no cure for his paralysis. The centurion’s faith in Jehovah of the Old Covenant led him to faith in Jesus of the New Covenant, one in substance but separate in their trinitarian roles. The centurion believed Jesus carried the weight and authority of Almighty God, and his faith was well placed.
Helpers have the courage to cross boundaries to help. Faith is a small step, but acting on faith is a giant leap. Gentiles, even proselytes to Judaism, did not approach Jewish rabbis, let alone one who was hailed as the Messiah. Gentiles and Jews did not share their homes with one another, nor enjoy food and fellowship around the table. Subtle racial customs and not-so-subtle, overt racism are barriers broken down by the cross, but Jesus has yet to go to the cross when this event transpired. So, it took courage and courtesy for the centurion to ask Jesus to help without asking Jesus into his home.
Helpers serve as the means of grace which provides the help. Jesus had already taught that sometimes we have not because we ask not. By implication, sometimes others have not because we ask not on their behalf. The centurion’s request was not for himself, but his servant, and the petition of the centurion became a means of grace and healing for the servant. God is the source and supply of every good and perfect gift, but such gifts are often poured out of willing vessels who pray, preach, witness, and show love for others.
Helpers have compassion and care enough to help. In the midst of this miracle and at the end of the day, this centurion’s servant was healed because the centurion cared enough about his servant to ask Jesus to help him. Love is the greatest gift and the purest motive. Love moves mountains and makes a way. Love points us to point other people to Jesus, from whence their greatest love and help may come.
The helper brought his heartache to the healer. The healer here is not a televangelist wolf in pastoral sheep’s clothing. The healer here is not some huckster selling holy water. The healer here is not even a trained physician with capable but limited healing skills. No, this healer is The Healer, the Great Physician, the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! Look at the attributes of our Lord on display in this miracle, and see how they parallel and tower over those of the centurion.
Jesus is the ultimate authority with omnipotent ability. The centurion’s word did carry the authority of the Emperor, but Jesus’ word contains the power of God. And, God can do anything that pleases Him. In this chapter alone He cleanses a leper’s skin, makes a paralytic walk, cures a simple fever, calms a raging storm, and exorcised the demons from a diabolically troubled man. When you ask in Jesus’ name for help, for yourself or a family member or friend, you are asking the one who can, the one who has all authority and power, the one from whom all blessings and miracles and providences flow.
Jesus had the courage to cross boundaries, all the way to the cross. Jesus, while accomplishing His mission as the Jewish Messiah, made a point to include Gentiles in the gospel discussion. Once His mission was complete, He commissioned His Jewish followers to go into all the world to reach all races of people. The cross not only conquers condemnation and separation from God, it conquers the pride and prejudices that separates people from one another. Furthermore, Christ’s comments in the commission of this miracle counts more Gentiles in the kingdom of God than Jews, since they were beginning to approach Jesus by faith, while religious Jews were clinging to their works.
Jesus is the grace of God to all who believe. Works are bronze, faith is silver, but grace is gold. The source of grace is God, and the face of grace is our Lord Jesus Christ. Sickness happens in a fallen world because the world has fallen due to man’s sin. And while it was superstitious in ancient times for most people to assume that sick people were somehow getting what they deserved, all sickness and death is the just reward for all we who have sinned against God. But God is gracious. He often heals. He constantly blesses. He definitely saves to the uttermost all who come to Him by grace through faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ. So look to Jesus, and see the face of grace for you and your loved ones.
Nobody, I mean nobody, loves you and cares for you like Jesus. Two things that strike me about this and every other miracle recorded in the Gospels are the power and love of Jesus Christ. Jesus used His power to help and heal people that He loved. Jesus loved a servant in this passage, a person He had never even personally met. Jesus loves a lot of people who have not personally met Him yet, and it is our job to get them to Him.
There is hope for paralyzed slaves, when someone comes to help. The ultimate source of help is the grace, power, and love of God in Christ. Can you help someone today? Or, maybe you need a little help yourself.
The centurion’s servant is the slug in this story. He just lies there, unable to do anything, unwilling to ask God on his own. This is an accurate picture of a person without Christ. Sin paralyzes, depravity disables, and death is certain apart from the divine intervention of the grace of God.
The centurion is the human face of grace in this story. Amazing in his Christ-likeness, he asks in faith for grace to come to the place where his servant cannot work. He is the grandmother who won’t quit praying for that grandson or granddaughter to come to Christ until he or she does. He is that father who provides loving discipline until the son or daughter becomes a disciple of Jesus Christ on their own. He is the friend who invites her friend or neighbor to church, so that the truth, love, and grace of God found in the word and sacraments might fall and heal the paralysis of sin and unbelief. Grace has many human faces, and I pray one of them is yours.
But the hero of the story is not the slug, in spite of modern storytelling which always seem to make the victim the victor. The hero of the story is not the centurion, heroic as his faith may be. The hero of this story and every story in Scripture is God. He is there on every page, as He is in every town, involved somehow with every person. So come to Him, face to face. Ask for grace. If you have enough for yourself, ask for others. Be a helper, bring the Healer into other people’s lives, and spread the hope that is found in the gospel of our God and Savior Jesus Christ.