5 When he had entered Capernaum, a centurion came forward to him, appealing to him, 6 “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, suffering terribly.” 7 And he said to him, “I will come and heal him.” 8 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. 9 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.” 10 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. 11 I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, 12 while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” 13 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
Matthew follows up the story of Jesus healing the leper with another surprising account of His healing of a Roman centurion’s servant. While we typically make much of the centurion’s display of faith, which Jesus does as well, we too often overlook the more subtle, yet equally significant statement made by Jesus in verses 11-12:
11 I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, 12 while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness.
The centurion was a Roman and, thus, a Gentile. He was a commander over 100 Roman soldiers, and it is likely that his servant, who was paralyzed, was also a Gentile. As Jesus entered into the city of Capernaum, He was accompanied by His 12 Jewish disciples and, more than likely, had a sizeable crowd of other Jews tagging along in hopes of seeing Him perform yet another miracle. So, Matthew sets up an interesting confrontation as this Roman military commander, a Gentile, approaches Jesus and requests the healing of his paralzyed servant. The 12 disciples and the other Jews in Jesus’ entourage would have been shocked at the centurion’s boldness. How dare he, a Gentile, approach Jesus, a Jewish rabbi, with a request of this nature. The Jews despised Gentiles and weren’t exactly fond of the Romans either. They viewed Rome as an occupying force that kept the Jewish nation in subjection through their military presence and economically stifling taxation requirements.
The Jews would have been appalled at the audacity of this Gentile’s request and eager to hear what Jesus would say in response. After all, he was a pagan, Gentile, Roman, and a member of the occupying military force. And he was requesting the healing of his Gentile servant. It’s likely that the Jews fully expected Jesus to turn down the man’s request. And later on in Matthew’s Gospel, he records an encounter between Jesus and a Canaanite woman, who came to Jesus asking that He heal her daughter.
22 “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” 23 But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.” – Matthew 15:22-23 ESV
Notice that the disciples begged Jesus to send the woman away, fully expecting Jesus to turn down her audacious request. And, at first glance, it would appear that Jesus agreed with them.
24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 25 But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” 26 And he answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” – Matthew 15:24-26 ESV
Jesus confesses that He had come to be the Messiah of Israel, having been born a Jew and a descendant of David, the great king of Israel. He even suggests that it would be inappropriate to give to a Gentile what had been intended for the Jews. But look carefully at the woman’s response:
27 She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” – Matthew 15:27 ESV
She recognizes and fully admits her unworthiness, but appeals to Jesus’ mercy, begging Him for nothing more than the healing of her daughter. And Jesus responded:
28 “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly. – Matthew 15:29 ESV
Like the centurion, this woman had come to Jesus out of desparation. Her need was great and she had nowhere else to turn. These two Gentiles, a Canaanite and a Roman, had heard of the miraculous works of Jesus and took the chance that He might use His power to their loved ones. And both displayed a faith that Jesus commends. The centurion believed that Jesus could heal his servant with just a word. He somehow knew that Jesus had authority, given to Him by God, that would allow Him to heal from a distance. The Canaanite woman believed that Jesus was gracious and good, and would be willing to use His God-given power to heal her daughter. And in both cases, Jesus answered their requests.
But back to verses 11-12. As surprised as the disciples would have been at Jesus agreeing to heal the centurion’s servant, they would have found this statement absolutely shocking. But Jesus was simply quoting from the Old Testament, reminding His Jewish followers of what God had already said would happen.
11 For from the east to the west my name will be great among the nations. Incense and pure offerings will be offered in my name everywhere, for my name will be great among the nations,” says the Lord who rules over all. – Malachi 1:11 NET
2 It shall come to pass in the latter days
that the mountain of the house of the Lord
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
and shall be lifted up above the hills;
and all the nations shall flow to it,
3 and many peoples shall come, and say:
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the house of the God of Jacob,
that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths.” – Isaiah 2:2-3 ESV
Yes, Jesus had come to the Jews and He would continue to minister among them, declaring Himself to be their Messiah and Savior. But He knew there was a day coming when the message of salvation would be made available to all, Jews and Gentiles. With His coming death and resurrection, the offer of salvation through grace alone by faith alone in Christ alone would be opened up to all men, regardless of their ethnicity. And the day will come when people from every tribe, nation and tongue will stand before God the Father and Jesus Christ, His Son, in the eternal Kingdom.
After this I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes and held palm branches in their hands. – Revelation 7:9 NLT
In the early days of Jesus’ earthly ministry, He was focused primarily on the Jews. But every now and then, He gives His disciples a glimpse of the future agenda of the Kingdom. He had come for all. The Jewish people, chosen by God, had always been intended to be a light to the nations, but they had failed. So, Jesus came to be a light to the world.
9 The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. – John 1:9-13 ESV
The Jews would end up rejecting Him as their Messiah, convincing the Romans to crucify Him. But Jesus would rise again, being restored back to life by the power of the Holy Spirit. And it would be this message of Jesus’ resurrection that the disciples would one day take to the nations. The apostle Paul summarized the Gospel message quite succinctly in his letter to the Galatian believers.
3 I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me. Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. 4 He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said. – 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 NLT
A Gentile came to Jesus requesting the healing of his servant and Jesus said, “I will come and heal him.” But even more significant than that statement was Jesus’ claim that Gentiles would be present in the Kingdom of God. He came to give His life for all men of every tribe, nation and tongue. And while it would be a long time before the disciples got their heads around that concept, the day would come when they fully embraced the divine plan which made the Gospel available and accessible to all.
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.