Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path. - Psalm 119:105

Bible Study Notes

Matthew 8: 5- 13

By Dr. Richard J. Krejcir
Jesus Heals a Soldier's Servant


Jesus Heals a Soldier's Servant

General Idea: Following Jesus' great message to the multitudes, He moves from the crowds to the ministering of the individual needs of people. Real ministry is not the glamour of a big pulpit, but rather the trenches, ministering to the hurting and needy. It is sad to see so many big-name preachers never take the time to do real ministry, or exercise faith by following the example given by our Lord. Matthew's purpose, perhaps, was to challenge racial stereotypes and encourage the Gentiles, while further motivating the Jews to see the importance of the Gentile mission. This becomes cemented with an especially incredible miracle where Jesus did not even go to the person; He just said the word, and a man was healed.

This passage testifies that God is concerned with people, regardless of social position, upbringing, status, or wealth. From the perspectives of both the common person on the street and the religious leaders, a Gentile servant, especially one from an enemy soldier, was to be shunned. These would be considered unapproachable, heinous, evil, and untouchable. It would be unthinkable to do a good deed to one of these. Yet, Jesus does just that.
 
1.   God responds to faith, not position! The Centurion had great faith, but the disciples struggled and exercised little faith (Matt. 8:26).
a.   A Centurion was a Roman soldier in charge of one hundred soldiers. In practice, they usually had sixty to eighty soldiers, and were a combination of what a Drill Sergeant and a Lieutenant in the Army would be today. Their main duty was to enforce discipline.
b.   Palestine was under Roman occupation, so there were a lot of soldiers traveling through going to their base in the fortress Antonia, in Jerusalem, as well as to Caesarea and Syria. They were very much despised by the local population. They were brutal, and forced themselves on people, taking their goods and food, including taking over family homes. A similar event in U.S. history was when England occupied the Colonies in the mid to late eighteenth century, and spurred on the American Revolution. The Jews, on many occasions, including the Masada, tried to revolt, but the Romans were too powerful.
c.     I will go and heal him. Jesus' response in the Greek is in the form of a question and a challenge, as, shall I come to him? Perhaps He wanted to also challenge His listeners to abandon prejudicial thinking.
                                                  i.   Jews did not normally go into Gentile homes; Jesus paves the way to racial reconciliation (Acts 10:24-33).
                                                ii.     For Jesus to heal this person, and then to include this story in the N.T. was a shock to the Jews.
d.   I am not worthy. The Centurion realized his depravity and the fact that he did not even deserve for Jesus to go to his house (Luke 7:1-10). He did not have only faith, but also humility--rare qualities for a powerful soldier and leader, qualities essential for the Christian, and vital for the Christian leader.
                                                  i.   The Centurion knew that a Jewish leader would not go to his house, but Jesus was willing to, anyway. Here is where faith comes in. He probably witnessed miracles of Jesus first hand with others, and, with Jesus being there physically realizes Jesus' authority and discipline, and, that perhaps He can just say the word as a command, as he, as a solder, commands others. This was a thought not even considered by Jesus' closest disciples.
                                                ii.     Servant meant a hired butler who usually was a long term trusted person and considered a part of the family. Roman officers were not permitted to marry, thus they had concubines and children. This was overlooked in order to keep morale up.
e.   There is a parallel incident in Luke 7:1-5 where Luke also records that Jewish elders and friends of the Centurion came to Jesus on his behalf.
f.    Later, at His trial, Jesus is flogged (whipped) by Centurions. (Matt. 27:26). Just imagine the compassion Jesus must have had knowing what his "friends and colleagues" would do to Him later!
 
2.   As Christians, we must realize that we, too, are unworthy. That is why grace is so special and faith is so vital to overcoming our sin and depravity. Even though we do not deserve Christ and His grace, we can boldly ask and have fellowship with Him, and have the confidence that He is there listening and working in our best interests all of the time (Romans 8).  
a.   Say the Word/speak a word. Faith is paramount. It is the most important possession you have and the most important thing you do. Faith is what we take for granted, assuming that all Christians have it, although the Bible says no, not all do have it (Mark 4:40).  Some have just a little (Matthew 6:30), while others we do not observe having great faith, as in this passage (vs. 8:10 and Matt. 15:28).
b.   We, too, can just say the Word, and trust in Christ to provide. Faith does not mean we say the word and do nothing.  Christ did not do "nothing." He healed the servant. We are still to work while still relying, a synergistic blend, because if we do not, we will think of faith as a vending machine, and never get off our couch and into life, as our Lord demonstrated for us to do.
c.     As with verse two, Lord is an address for Sir, such as a monarch or respected leader, but does not refer to His deity or to Him as God. Jesus is called God in other passages (see our article on the Names of Jesus).
d.   God's desire is for all Christians to have and practice great faith! He tells us faith is to be planted, grown, and cultivated, as one does a seed (Matt. 17:20). So, it is something we are initially given, but it is up to us to make it grow. We cannot sit around, put it under the couch, and expect great things to happen. Faith requires action.
                                                  i.   Paul writes that God's Word will also empower it (Rom. 10:17).
                                                ii.   James and Peter tell us that enduring suffering will also help produce it (James 1:1-8; 1 Pet. 1:1-9).
                                              iii.    John tells us that our feelings will lead us astray, but faith will be the foundation to give us victory to be the Christian God wants us to be (1 John 5:1-5).
 
3.   Sit down with Abraham is a picture of a future Heavenly Banquet feast, as the outcast Gentiles take part with the prime Patriarchs, while Abraham's own children are being left out.  Again, we see a challenge to prejudice, as many Jews saw it as haven for them only. But, even Isaiah saw it otherwise (Isa. 25:6; 56:3-8).
a.   This passage also predicts how the Jews will harden themselves to the Gospel, and the Gentiles will be grafted in. It is faith that determines our eternal destiny, not our birthright. 
b.   Jesus repeated this same theme in Matthew 21:33-44; 22:1-14, and Paul further develops it in Romans 9:30-32. You cannot seek good by works only, but by faith and obedience.
c.   Darkness represents the grief and despair they will experience when they fully realize that their actions and determination to ignore the Gospel has left them in Hell, cut off from the Kingdom of God.
 
            Jesus sees the value of faith as paramount over anything else; faith is lifted up as the most important thing we have or do. Yet, all too often, we do not seek faith, but rather just what we can get. This can and will distort our thinking and direct our actions in the wrong direction. Faith encourages humility and gives us the realization of who we are in Christ. Without humility, we cannot come to the Lord, because we will never admit our need, surrender our will, nor be able to grow in faith. We will not be able to serve others, because we will think them unworthy, just as the people did toward that soldier's servant.         
 
 
Questions:
 
1.   How do you feel when you hear stories about occupying armies taking advantage of the civilian population? How would you respond if a foreign soldier took over your home?
 
 
2.   How important is ministering to people's individual needs to your church? What about your time in ministry? Remember, all Christians are called to minister with the gifts and abilities God gives each one (1 Cor 12-14; Rom. 12).
 
 
3.   Why do you think many preachers never take the time to do real ministry, and exercise faith, so to follow the example that our Lord has given, but they just love the pulpit?
 
 
4.   How does it make you feel that God is concerned with all people, regardless of social position, upbringing, status, wealth, and such?
 
 
5.   How would you feel if you were the child of a big name Christian personality, and you saw a new Christian, who does not have the knowledge or background you have, exercise more faith and wisdom than you?
 
 
6.   God responds to faith, not position. How have you seen this so in your spiritual journey and/or that of others? 
 
 
7.   Why would Jesus choose this Centurion to do an especially awesome miracle where Jesus did not even go to the person, but just spoke the word, and a man was healed?
 
 
8.   Do you think it was right for the Jews to shun Gentiles and the occupying soldiers?  What would be a modern equivalent to this for you? How would you respond?
 
 
9.   Can you think of a person, or a people group, to whom some Christians would feel it unthinkable to do a good deed? Why would they feel that way, and how would Jesus respond?
 
 
10. Read Luke 7:1-5: Why do you suppose a Centurion, who was a occupying soldier, not only acknowledged Jesus' authority, but also realized his own depravity, that he did not even deserve for Jesus to go to his house?
 
 
11. Why is humility an essential quality for the Christian? What happens when we do not have it, or we refuse to acknowledge it?
 
 
12. Why, as a Christian, must we realize that we, too, are unworthy? What happens when we refuse to do so?
 
 
13. How important is this statement to you: Even though we do not deserve Christ and His grace, we can boldly go before Him, ask Him, and have fellowship with Him, and have confidence that He is there, listening and working in our best interests--all of the time (Romans 8)?  How can you explain this with confidence and enthusiasm to a non-Christian friend or coworker? 
 
 
14. Have you ever taken Faith for granted, assuming that all Christians have it? How do you feel knowing that the Bible says, "No, not everyone has it?"
 
 
15. How can faith be turned into an excuse to do nothing, as in waiting for your ship to come in, yet never work to bring that ship in?
 
 
16. Why do you think God designed faith, so it is up to us to make it grow? Why not just give it all to us in one, big, lump sum? 
 
 
17. Later, at Jesus trial, He is flogged (whipped), by Centurions (Matt. 27:26). Can you imagine the compassion Jesus would have to have knowing what his "friends and colleagues" would do to Him later? How can this help motivate you to respond to others, even if they may hurt you?
 
 
18. Read Romans 10:17; James 1:1-8; 1 Pet. 1:1-9 and 1 John 5:1-5: How can God's Word also empower Faith onward? 
 
 
19. God's desire is for all Christians to have, and use, great faith. What do you need to do to make this more of a reality in your life and in your church?
 
 
20. How would you define faith? Now, how will you put it into practice?
 
  
 
Theological Thought: "Faith"
 
We are committed to Christ by faith. Thus, we, as Christians, must live by faith (1 Cor. 1:22-30)! Christianity is not based on fairy tales or superstition. Faith is based on knowledge given by God. Our faith is based on historical evidence, logical reasoning, and valid testimonies. We have a wide body of knowledge. We have sixty-six books, written over a 2000 year period of time by dozens of authors, all inspired by the Holy Spirit. Millions of personal testimonies and thousands of volumes of works by gifted authors and teachers exist. Faith is not just simple trust, and faith is not blind trust, because we know the One who is leading! Faith is still trusting what cannot be seen, and believing our God (vs. 1:16-32; 5:1-11; 10:14-17; Gal. 3:1-4; Eph. 2:8-9; James 2:14-26)!
 
Faith provides the "substance" of our relationship with our Lord, looks to our future, and is our hope. Faith is a two-way street. We receive it from God, and reciprocate it back as trust, like a lake, which has a source and an outlet. If we only have an outlet we will dry up. If we just have a source, we become like the Dead Sea, lifeless and void.  
 
Faith is the instrument and not the cause. Christ is the cause!
 
            Faith means you may not know where you are being led, but you know the One who is leading you! It is based on the faithfulness of our Lord, and not on our goodness. Similarly, animal sacrifice in the O.T. was a means of forgiveness and surrendered attitude because of the loss of something precious, but not the cause (Gal 2:15-16; 3:24; Heb. 9:11-15; 10:1-4). The reformers called this "meritorious ground for our justification," explaining it as the soil into which the seed of justification is planted. And, Christ was that soil, too. As we give our lives to Christ in faith, He in turn gives us His righteousness
 
            Faith does not mean we can save or sanctify ourselves, nor can we make atonement for our sins. We cannot redeem the world since we cannot redeem ourselves. Faith is accepting the sovereign work of our Lord, allowing Him to be Lord, and continue to realize this! Faith translates into obedience because we recognize who Christ is as we respond to Him with trust. Keeping faith going in practice is obedience. Alongside comes following His precepts found in His Word, so we see our sins and His covering of them. We become grateful so we desire to grow in Him more, be in Him, and tell others about Him.
 
© 2003 R. J. Krejcir Into Thy Word Ministries www.intothyword.com
 

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