Healing from a Distance

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Matthew 8:5-13 (The centurion’s servant)

INTRODUCTION: Today is the second message in our new series on Ten Miracles of Jesus. Remember this is part of a section of Scripture emphasizing the power and authority of Jesus. First Matthew presents Jesus’ authoritative teaching in the Sermon on the Mount back in Matthew 5-7. Now Matthew shows that Jesus had the authority to say what he said in the Sermon on the Mount by performing these miracles showing his power and authority over sickness, suffering, Satan, nature and sin.

The first three of these miracles are all healing miracles, and all three are healings of very unlikely types of people – a leper, a Gentile and a woman. As we saw last week, lepers, Gentiles and women were all shunned by the Jewish people of the day. They were not allowed to participate fully in worship at the temple. And yet all three of these were recipients of God’s gracious and miraculous power as Jesus healed them from their illnesses.

Last week we looked at Jesus healing the man with leprosy. Today we will look at Jesus healing the centurion’s servant. (Read Matthew 8:5-13 and pray.)

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This miracle of Jesus healing the centurion’s servant shows us Jesus’ power to heal from a distance. This was unheard of in Biblical times. When you go back to the Old Testament, even the great prophets Elijah and Elisha had to be present to heal. But not Jesus. Jesus had absolute power and authority over sickness, and he could exercise that authority even from a distance. Jesus has power to heal from a distance.

Even though this miracle is about Jesus healing the centurion’s servant, we never actually meet the servant in the story. The entire incident rather focuses on Jesus’ interaction with the centurion himself. We are gong to look at this story in four parts: the centurion’s request, the centurion’s authority, the centurion’s faith and the centurion’s reward.

I. The centurion’s request (5-7)

So let’s get started. First of all, the centurion’s request. Look at verses 5-7: When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help. 6 “Lord,” he said, “my servant lies at home paralyzed and in terrible suffering.” 7 Jesus said to him, “I will go and heal him.” (Matthew 8:5-7)

This miracle takes place at Capernaum which was a small fishing town located on the northern side of the Sea of Galilee about 100 miles north of Jerusalem. It had a population of about 1,500. It was the home town of a number of Jesus’ disciples, including Peter, James, John, Andrew and Matthew. Although Jesus was originally from Nazareth, Capernaum became his new home town and was the center of many of his activities and miracles.

   A. You can come to Jesus for help

And as Jesus enters Capernaum, this centurion comes to him asking for help. Now a centurion was an officer in the Roman army who was in charge of a hundred men. This man would have been a Gentile, not a Jew, and he comes asking Jesus for help with his servant.

His servant lies at home paralyzed and in terrible suffering. We’re not told the reasons for the paralysis or how long this man was paralyzed, but the gospel of Luke tells us that he was in critical condition and close to dying (Luke 7:2).

We will talk more about paralysis and what it teaches us about sin when we get to Jesus healing the paralytic in Matthew 9, but the emphasis in this passage is not so much on the actual disease healed as the circumstances surrounding it. In fact the emphasis is not even so much on the servant who is ill here as the centurion himself.

The centurion comes to Jesus asking for help which is both a reminder and an encouragement that you also can come to Jesus for help. If the centurion could come to Jesus, certainly you can. This centurion was a Gentile, not a Jew. He was part of an occupying army that was oppressing God’s people. If he could come, so can you.

And when you come, don’t just come asking help for yourself, but come asking help for others. Notice the centurion came asking help for his servant. We can also come to Jesus asking help for others in need. Interceding for others in prayer is one of the great privileges you have as a child of God.

   B. Jesus is willing and able to help you

And when you come to Jesus for help, know that Jesus is willing and able to help you. Look at what Jesus said to the centurion. Like the man with leprosy last week the centurion doesn’t really even make a direct request. He simply tells Jesus about his servant, and Jesus says, “I will go and heal him.” (Matthew 8:7)

The rabbis taught that any Jew who entered a Gentile’s became unclean. Now that was not in the Old Testament, that was part of the many laws that the rabbis added to those in the Old Testament. Still, just as we saw last week that Jesus was not afraid to touch the leper, it is significant that he was also not afraid to enter a Gentile’s home.

Jesus is eager to help. He wants to help you. He came to help you. And he is not only willing to help you but able. As G. Campbell Morgan notes: “Christ did not say [to the centurion], I will come and see what I can do. He said, ‘I will come and heal him.’” (Morgan, The Gospel according to Matthew, p. 84)

Jesus had no doubt of his power to help the centurion and his servant, and you need have no doubt that Jesus will help you in your time of need. You can come to Jesus for help. Jesus is both willing and able to help you.

II. The centurion’s authority (8-9)

So that’s the centurion’s request. Next let’s look at the centurion’s authority. Look at verses 8-9 with me: The centurion replied, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. 9 For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” (Matthew 8:8-9)

Two things stand out about the centurion’s authority in these verses. Know your place, and know Christ’s place.

   A. Know your place
      – Matthew 5:3

First of all, know your place. The centurion does not come bossing Jesus around or telling Jesus what to do. He comes humbly asking for help. Even when Jesus offers to come and heal his servant, he tells Jesus, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof.” (Matthew 8:8) The centurion does not appeal to his own goodness or credentials or authority in coming to Jesus. He does not consider himself worthy or deserving. He simply throws himself upon Christ’s mercy as he seeks his help.

Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3) The poor in spirit are those who know and confess their need for God. To be poor in spirit is to acknowledge your spiritual poverty, your spiritual bankruptcy before God, your complete lack of spiritual resources, your complete dependency on God.

And that’s what the centurion does here. That’s what the man with leprosy did last week. Neither the leper nor the centurion considered themselves worthy. Neither of them presumed upon Jesus to do what they asked. They both knew their place.

This humbling of the self before Christ is absolutely necessary in coming to Christ. As St. Augustine writes: “By calling himself unworthy, [the centurion] showed himself worthy for Christ to come not into his house, but into his heart.” (Augustine; Sermon 12 on the New Testament)

The truth is none of us are worthy. No one has a claim on God to help them. Jesus is not here to do our will. We are here to do God’s will. And so that’s the first thing we learn from the centurion’s authority in these verses. Know your place.

   B. Know Christ’s place
      – Matthew 28:18; Romans 13:1

And then secondly, know Christ’s place. The centurion comes humbly to Jesus, but he also comes confidently. He tells Jesus, “Just say the word, and my servant will be healed.” (Matthew 8:8)

“Just say the word” – now that is authority! I remember when I used to work landscaping in college. We would all arrive at the yard early in the morning and the boss would go over all the assignments for the day. There were trucks to be loaded and equipment to be made ready and teams assigned to various locations. And after we all knew what we were supposed to do for the day, the boss would say, “Let’s do it,” and we would all get up and start working. The boss just said the word and all the trucks and workers rolled out and got the jobs done. Why? Because he had authority. He was the boss. We knew our place, and we knew his place. He just had to say the word, and the work got done.

In the same way the centurion knew Jesus’ place. Notice he doesn’t ask Jesus to pray for his servant to get better but simply to command the healing. “Just say the word, and my servant will be healed.” (Matthew 8:8) Now that’s authority.

The centurion understood authority. He knew what it was like to command and be commanded. Remember he was in charge of a hundred men. He was used to giving orders, and he knew that when the command was given, it must be obeyed.

The centurion tells Jesus, “I myself am a man under authority.” The centurion understood that authority goes all the way up. His orders only carried weight with his men because he himself was under the authority of someone else. And that chain of authority went all the way up. The soldiers knew that to disobey the centurion was to disobey the emperor. Nobody wanted to disobey the emperor, and so they did what the centurion said.

This is an important Biblical principle. The Bible teaches us that all authority is given. It is delegated. Only those under authority have the right to exercise authority. In fact the Bible teaches us that authority goes all the way up – all the way up to God. We read in Romans 13:1: “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established.” (Romans 13:1) God is the ultimate authority, and all authority derives from him.

The centurion was a man of authority. He knew what authority was, and he knew that Jesus had it. As Jesus himself would later say in Matthew 28: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” (Matthew 28:18) The centurion knew Christ’s place, and he put all his hope in Jesus’ power and authority.

The centurion told Jesus: “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed.” (Matthew 8:8) The centurion knew his place, and he knew Christ’s place. We would do well to do the same.

III. The centurion’s faith (10-12)

We have looked at the centurion’s request and the centurion’s authority. Next let’s look at the centurion’s faith. Look at verse 10 with me now: When Jesus heard this, he was astonished and said to those following him, “I tell you the truth, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith.” (Matthew 8:10) And there are two things we can learn about faith from Jesus’ response to the centurion.

   A. Faith pleases God
      – Mark 6:6; Hebrews 11:6

First of all, faith pleases God. Jesus is astonished, in a good way, at the centurion’s faith. He is astonished specifically because the centurion is a Gentile and yet he has shown greater faith than anyone Jesus has found in Israel so far. Just like last week’s miracle was the first recorded instance of Jesus healing someone with leprosy, so this week’s miracle is the first recorded instance of Jesus healing from a distance. Both instances demonstrated great faith on the parts of those who came to Christ.

Now, it’s not often you can astonish God. God knows everything that’s going to happen, so how can he be astonished? John Calvin helps us here when he writes: “Though amazement is not appropriate for God, seeing it must arise from new and unexpected happenings, yet it could occur in Christ, inasmuch as He had taken on our human emotions, along with our flesh.” [Calvin, cited in Leon Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew, p, 194]. Because Jesus was both fully human and fully God he could experience astonishment as part of his human nature.

Now it’s interesting to contrast Jesus’ astonishment recorded here in the gospel of Matthew with another instance of his astonishment recorded in the gospel of Mark. In Mark 6 we read that Jesus was rejected by the people in his hometown of Nazareth and he was astonished at their lack of faith. Think about that for a moment. In Matthew Jesus is astonished at a Gentile’s faith. In Mark he is astonished at the Jews’ lack of faith. In other words, what causes Jesus to be astonished? Jesus is astonished by faith in those who shouldn’t have it and by the lack of faith in those who should.

Hebrews 11:6 tells us that: “without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6) That’s the first thing we learn from Jesus’ response to the centurion’s faith. Faith pleases God.

   B. Faith alone saves
      – Isaiah 49:12; Malachi 1:11; Romans 4:13-16; Ephesians 2:8-9

And then secondly, faith alone saves. Look at verses 11-12 with me now. Jesus continues:
“I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. 12 But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 8:10-12)

“Those who come from the east and the west” refers to Gentiles. The subjects of the kingdom here are the Jewish people. Jesus pronounces that many Gentiles will be saved by faith while many Jews will find themselves outside of the kingdom because of their lack of faith. Jesus sees this Gentile man’s faith as a preview of coming attractions, a sign of what was yet to come.

Now this shouldn’t have been surprising to anyone. When we look at the Old Testament, we find a number of passages which speak of the salvation of Gentiles from all around the world. For example, we read in Isaiah 49:12: “See, they will come from afar – some from the north, some from the west, some from the region of Aswan.” (Isaiah 49:12) Or again in Malachi 1:11: “My name will be great among the nations, from the rising to the setting of the sun … says the LORD Almighty.” (Malachi 1:11)

The apostle Paul made it clear that it is faith that saves rather than simply being a Jew in the line of Abraham. He writes in Romans 4:13-16: “It was not through law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise … but through the righteousness that comes by faith…. Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace.” (Romans 4:13-16) Again Paul says in Ephesians 2:8-9: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)

Even today more Gentiles have accepted Christ than Jews, although the Bible speaks of many Jewish people coming to Christ in the last days (see Romans 11). What is Jesus saying here? You are saved by faith, not by your background. Neither your lineage, your nationality, your race nor your works has anything to do with it. The children of Abraham are those who believe (Romans 4)

There are going to be a lot of surprises come judgment day. But it doesn’t need to be that way. God has already told us the requirements for entering his kingdom – to believe in his one and only Son who died for your sins.

Jesus pictures heaven here as a great feast with all believers from throughout history and all around the world joining together. Don’t miss your place at the table. Jesus commended the centurion for his faith. The centurion came looking for healing and found heaven as well. Faith pleases God, and faith alone saves.

IV. The centurion’s reward (13)

We have looked at the centurion’s request, the centurion’s authority and the centurion’s faith. Finally now, let’s look at the centurion’s reward. Look at verse 13: Then Jesus said to the centurion, “Go! It will be done just as you believed it would.” And his servant was healed at that very hour. (Matthew 8:13)

   A. God works in response to faith

There are two things we can especially learn from this verse. First of all, God works in response to faith. Notice it is the centurion’s faith that secures the healing for the servant here. Nothing is said about the servant’s faith or lack of faith. This is another encouragement to us to pray for others.

Jesus’ words to the centurion are not an absolute promise for all healing for all people at all times but rather a commendation of his faith. Notice neither the leper nor the centurion presumed upon Jesus’ healing. Rather, they submitted themselves to Jesus’ authority and will. That’s what true faith is. So also when we submit ourselves to God through faith in Jesus, God will work in response to our faith today.

   B. Distance is no barrier with God
      – Matthew 15:21-28; Ephesians 2:13

And then the second thing we can learn from this verse is that distance is no barrier with God. Because God is omnipresent, because he is everywhere present at all times, there is no such thing as distance when it comes to God. You know the old saying, “Wherever you go, there you are.” Well, wherever you go, God is right there too. There is no such thing as distance with God.

Here in Matthew 8 Jesus works in response to the centurion’s faith and heals the centurion’s servant from a distance. In fact the servant is healed even as Jesus speaks the words. For Jesus distance is no barrier, because Jesus is God, and distance is no barrier with God.

Now distance is a problem for us. It is a problem for us both physically and spiritually. Matthew only records one other instance of Jesus healing from a distance. It takes place in Matthew 15 where Jesus heals the daughter of a Canaanite woman. This is also the only other Gentile healing recorded by Matthew. And just as with the centurion, Jesus commends the Canaanite woman for her faith. Isn’t it interesting that both of Jesus’ miracles from a distance involved Gentiles who were commended for their faith?

Remember, Gentiles are those who were once far away from God, but as Paul says in Ephesians 2:13: “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.” (Ephesians 2:13) Are you far from God this morning? The Bible says your sins have separated you from God, but please know that God sent Jesus to bring you near. Distance is no barrier with God. It is not a barrier for healing, and it is not a barrier for salvation.

CONCLUSION: We learned last week that all of Jesus’ miracles have a spiritual meaning along with the actually performance of the miracle itself. So what does the healing of the centurion’s servant mean for us today?

1) First of all, it means that distance is no barrier with God. This has special application to prayer. You don’t need to be present to pray for people. It’s nice when you can actually be there, but you don’t need to be present, because God is present. You can pray for people on the other side of the planet, and God can reach out and help them in answer to your prayers.

2) Secondly, it means that salvation is available through Jesus Christ. Jesus can heal from a distance, and Jesus can save from a distance. Salvation is open to anyone with faith in Christ. Just like the Gentiles in New Testament times, we were once far from God, but Jesus came the distance to save us. He left heaven and came to earth as a child; he walked this planet; he lived a perfect life; and then he went the distance to the cross to die for our sins.

3) And then finally it means that we must share the gospel with others. Jesus went the distance to save us. We must go the distance so that others may be saved. Jesus said, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel.” (Mark 16:15) We’ve a story to tell to the nations, and we have a commission from Christ to take the gospel to every person in the world.

Christ came the distance for you. Will you put your faith in him? Christ went the distance for you. Will you go the distance to share the gospel with others?

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