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Saturday, February 13, 2010

Faith, In Israel: The Healing of the Centurion's Servant

Most of the healings done by Jesus were healings of the children of Israel. A few times though, and quite distinctly, Jesus heals non-israelis, even enemies of Israel, both in compassion, and to make a divine point. The healing of the Centurion's Servant is one such occasion.

The healing of the Centurion's servant takes place after the healing of the Leper, after the Sermon on the mount and before the healing of Peter's Mother-in-Law following teaching on Shabbat in the Synagogue. The healing is in Capernaum, Jesus' 'hometown' when he descends from the mount where He has taught the beatitudes.

The Roman Centurion who encounters Jesus seems an unlikely person to humble themselves before the Lord and Savior and ask for mercy for a mere servant. To begin with, the fellows chosen as centurions, were hardly chosen for their affability: they were brutal, strong and totally dedicated to Rome, and among the least likely who would ever approach a Jewish Rabbi and ask in faith for him to aid a suffering servant. On this day in Israel though, near the early part of Jesus' ministry of healing and preaching, the encounter both brought the Roman guard to trusting in the Redeemer, and to show all Israel, what God required in a people of faith, to exact the power and work of God in the nation .

This healing also bears another distinction: it is one of the few where the one who is healed, does not encounter Jesus. Yet ironically, the healing is one in which the Messiah points to the nature of faith behind all the healings: trusting in the Son of God.

The fact that the healing took place in the town Jesus lived is also remarkable, because even the divine Rabbi himself had pointed out that "a prophet is a prophet everywhere but in his own country". The Centurion, without us knowing why he was there on that particular day (they were all over Israel, but could have been sent to 'assess' this itinerate teacher), saw something in the Lord that impressed him so, that he confronts him about the healing of a servant sick at home. The request was simple:

"Lord my servant lieth at home sick of the palsy, grievously tormented."

and the Savior's reply was equally simple:

"And Jesus saith unto him, I will come and heal him. Matt 8:7"

The Centurion's Act of Faith

Men of war rarely are concerned with the tender affection for a servant's suffering: they most often have a more brutal outlook on life, a 'matter-of-fact' approach to daily trivia. They also rarely see themselves as less than anyone, save for a superior officer, a higher 'order', and it was hardly a Roman stance to humble oneself before the Jews in general, much less before a 'country' preacher from Nazareth and the surrounds. The humility of the Centurion before God is eminent in this gentile soldier. Rome, most likely including himself, had been crucifying Jewish men, imprisoning others and some years before had set a group of zealots afire, burning them alive for protesting and taking down the Roman eagle insignia on the Temple, a sign of idolatry. The emphasis here on the man's humility needs to be seen in the context of the 'zeitgeist' of Israel in that hour. If one may speculate, it is not unlikely that the Centurion was of a slightly more humane sort, since he is noted in Luke as having built a synagogue for the Jews, and and that having most likely seen or heard of Jesus healing others, sent Jewish elders to Jesus on his behalf. (Not all of the healings Jesus did are recorded in the Scriptures). When the Centurion then espouses his 'unworthiness' for the great honor of the healing of a servant, it must be seen as the exceptional act that it truly is, and why Jesus later commends it.

"The Centurion answered and said, Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldst come under my roof: but speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed." mt 8:8

A Roman soldier noting his own 'unworthiness?' Think of how phenomenal that was to the crowd who attended. Rome did not bow to Israel, Israel was being required to bow to Rome. His request of the Lord was also one of utter trust: he was not looking for a sign or a miraculous act, or a feeling, but placed his faith in the WORD of the Lord. "Speak the Word only..." was the apex of his faith. It was faith in the Word of the Lord without requiring His presence or even his touch.

The Rationale of Rank and Order in Heaven and Faith

Faith is so critical among the virtues, in heaven's eyes, that nothing really surpasses it, save for Love itself: we are saved by faith, and faith alone, and the healings of Jesus are for the purpose of faith and salvation. The word 'faith' in the Greek is:

πίστις or 'pistis'

and it means belief, fidelity, or trusting in the truth, particularly of God. He is after our trust as He is after our Love. We can actually love God without really exercising life-giving faith: what's not to love? He saves, protects, keeps, provides and comforts. He is always there. But do we trust him? Even in daily life, we can love some one but not trust them, yet that is because people are not always trustworthy. God is. So to go to the depths of Love for God, the very thing He saves us for, is to go to the depth of faith and trust.

One of the reasons that the Centurion trusts the Lord is not merely because he saw other healings, but because he sensed the power of the Lord, and the authority of the Lord. Power and authority are two commodities which Roman soldiers understood. The Centurion understands implicitly Sovereignty, rank, order and leadership, as he conversely understands surrender to authority obedience and the necessity or quick obedience in battle. He is able to apply 'soldiering' to the divine order and battle as well. The Roman officer shows his understanding of sovereign authority and being under authority:

Mt. 8:9 For I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me and I say to this man, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it.

The Centurion expects obedience from those below him, so he expects to obey those above, and in Jesus he recognizes such power and authority, that it illicits utter trust, to the point that he does not even feel worthy to have him under his roof, this great Sovereign whom he has encountered in Israel this day. This happens elsewhere in the scriptures. When Jesus stands before Pilate, Pilate's premiere question is whether He is a King. Another Roman Ranking leader says

Mar 15:2 And Pilate asked him, Art thou the King of the Jews? And he answering said unto him, Thou sayest [it].

Isn't it noteworthy that there is such a sense of kingship about Jesus among the leaders of Rome and the leaders in that day of the Jews (in Roman collusion). Those men knew authority and what makes a leader. Herod in Jesus' infancy sends to kill the newborn infant king, sensing his eminent overthrow. The leaders of Israel when Jesus is 12 listen to him attentively in the Temple. I used to wonder why Jesus was only questioned and not arrested or killed when He overthrew the moneychangers: the reason: it was His house, His rule, and they could sense it. They question him instead about WHERE his authority comes from, not whether he has it:

Mat 21:23 And when he was come into the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came unto him as he was teaching, and said, By what authority doest thou these things? and who gave thee this authority?

And by the time He is given over to the death on the Cross, Pilate sets his charges over His head much to the consternation of the Pharisees who have just crowned him with thorns, placed a scepter of reeds in his hand

Mat 27:29 And when they had platted a crown of thorns, they put [it] upon his head, and a reed in his right hand: and they bowed the knee before him, and mocked him, saying, Hail, King of the Jews!

and Pilate in unalterable Roman edict posts His crime:

Mat 27:37 And set up over his head his accusation written, THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS.

He does so in every language of the time and area. That the Roman Centurion then, recognizes immediately the greater authority of Messiah and the veracity of his word (the way, THE TRUTH and the life..), so much so that his entire trust is place in Jesus' word and command. It is such an impressive display of faith by a gentile, much less a Roman officer, that Jesus commends his faith and clear understanding of the divine nature of authority, rank order and obedience to Israel when he says,

When Jesus heard it, he marvelled and said to them that followed Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no not in Israel.

Now, it is not unlike God to use Gentiles to provoke Israel to jealousy!
(".... I will move them to jealousy with [those which are] not a people; I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation." Dt 32:21)

Jesus certainly in the line of Jacob does not mean to 'supplant' Israel with Gentiles, but to invoke them to jealousy, that they may follow what is excellent in faith and other matters. He was sent first to Israel, to the '...lost sheep of the house of Israel' as had been all the prophets, because the Jews were sanctified and called out, set apart for a purpose to bear the Word of God, the Oracles of God, the Messiah, and the glory of God. The Jews were supposed to, at that point in history have been the leaders in faith, so when an excellent spirit in the form of a Roman Centurion exhibits that life-giving faith, not even for himself but for another at a much lower level of society, Jesus holds up his example before all Israel, that they might not be replaced by it, but take their rightful place in the doing of it.

Jesus Commends the Faith of Gentiles

Following the commendation of faith Jesus commends another well known account in the Tenach of great faith in a gentile woman encountering a prophet of God in the Widow of Zarepheth (Serpta) who was obedient to a prophet:

Luke 4:26 But unto none of them was Elias sent, save unto Serepta, a city of Sidon unto a woman that was a widow. (Her son was brought back from death,)

and the healing of the Syrian King Naaman:

...and none of them [Israeli lepers] was cleansed, saving Naaman, the Syrian.

Naaman the King of Syria was OBEDIENT. He was a little particular in obedience to get rid of his leprosy, in that he wanted to wash in 'better rivers' in Syria, but he obeyed the prophet and was healed. Likewise, the Widow encountering the Prophet of God obeyed and her son lived. Jesus commends the FAITH of these two non-Israelis, not to replace Syria for Israel, but for Israel to learn to take the lead. In the New Testament he also commends the faith of the Syrophoenician woman and seeks the faith and understanding in Samaria of the woman at the well. He was interested in faith above national and ethnic boundaries.

That faith is such a pre-eminent value is self-evident: Jesus commends it above even the Chosen status of the Chosen people, and the apostle Paul notes in Romans that 'they are not all Israel that are of Israel'. Love is the greatest value, but real love is integrated with faith. The Jews are His first and Chosen people, but the ways of God are eminent and not compromised. Right order is faith in the hands of the Jews, to teach the nations, but the Lord is not above a topsy-turvy example to rebuke Israel.

The heartcry of the Chosen is to have fulfilled the eternal covenant, the everlasting Covenant and be the children of Abraham Isaac and Jacob before God in Heaven. It is the end of faith. Jesus commends faith in a Gentile though over no faith in a Jew, who is one only of the flesh: that is his point, not 'replacement'. The Jews are being instructed to 'own that part of their inheritance.

Mt. 8:11 And I say unto you, that many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the Kingdom of Heaven.

In the Kingdom of Heaven, faith is first. The Jews are called the "Children of the Kingdom" and warned of eternal judgment in turning away from the God of Israel.

But the children of the Kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 8:12

Rebellion and carnal living is anathema to faith. They lead to separation from God and both lead to a diminishing or even eradication of faith, needed for salvation, healing and a walk with God.

The Reward of Faith: The Servant with Palsy is Healed

We have barely mentioned the 'type' of healing here, which is critical: it is 'palsy'. In an earlier study we looked at the healing of palsy by one of the apostles in the Book of Acts, but it is the 'incurable' Palsy, with muscular deformity and atrophy that makes this act of faith even more prominent.

And Jesus said unto the Centurion, Go thy way; and as thou hast believed, So be it done unto thee. And his servant was healed the same hour. 8:13

Here again among the healings of Jesus we note the 'immediacy': not weeks, days and hours of the palsy beginning to disappear with stiff limbs loosening up, but an immediate cessation of the condition and all symptoms. All because someone intervened and begged for mercy for another! Not even the Centurion had to enter his own house for the healing to occur. There is no mistake that Jesus was the agent of healing: this is not some mustering of faith as a sort of 'mind over matter' as New Agers would like to believe, but FAITH in the Healer, the Lord God. The Centurion trusted the 'King of the Jews' sensing His power and authority over even the 'unchangeable' things of the world, such as palsy. His word was enough.

The implications of this healing are varied:

1. Jesus speaks, and is not even present, but the man is healed, noting the ubiquitous power of God.
2. Jesus heals a Gentile's servant noting that God is no respecter of persons, or of lowliness of the state of a human being in his beneficence.
3. Jesus stresses faith over race and nations, while keeping the Jews first, as a separated and sanctified nation.
4. Jesus uses this healing to teach of eternal life and judgment
5. Healing can be as in this instance, by word, without touching, metting faith
6. Jesus points to rank and order in Divine authority and surrender, and
7. Vicarious requests for healing in faith are honored.

This healing of a palsied servant, without the request of the servant, without Jewish heritage, without even the faith of the servant (eminent in most healings) shows the power and authority of divine healing. Jesus is healer, but he is also 'Commander in Chief' and nothing is too hard for him, or beyond the loving touch of his healing, including the atrophied condition of a servant in Israel, nor the hard heartedness of a Roman soldier, of the order who would later crucify the healer.

Speak the word only, Lord, and we shall be healed.

Till next time.
Elizabeth K. Best
Judah's Glory Bible Studies
Healing of Christ Series: The Centurion's Servant.

(will post a pdf copy shortly).
2. 84.