Healing of the Centurion’s Servant (Matthew 8:5-13; Luke 7:1-10)
After concluding his sermon, Jesus returns to the town of Capernaum. A centurion hears that Jesus is in town and goes to see him. Centurions were commanders in the Roman army with about 50 to 100 men under them. This particular centurion had a servant who was dear to him, but who was gravely ill. Matthew’s account tell us that he was paralyzed and in pain; Luke’s account tells us that he was close to death. Knowing that Jesus had the ability to heal, he went to beg of Jesus the favor of having his servant healed.
The man, however, was a Roman and knew that Jews did not look favorably upon Gentiles. Rather than approach Jesus directly with his request, he asked the elders of Capernaum to bring his request for him. The elders were willing to do so because this man had done many favors for the Jews in past, including financing the building of a synagogue.
Jesus consented, but as approached the man’s home, the centurion sent out friends to tell Jesus that there was no need for the Lord to enter his home. He did not think he was worthy to approach Jesus, let alone having the honor of the Lord in his home. He only asked that Jesus declare that his servant be healed and that would be enough. He understood the nature of authority being both a man under the authority of others as well as being the commander of men. The centurion knew that Jesus had the authority to speak his will and it would be done.
Jesus’ reaction to the centurion’s request is interesting. He marveled at the man’s faith. Think what that one small word implies. Jesus is God (John 1:1), but even God can be surprised by what a man chooses to do. It destroys the idea that every event in life has been predetermined from the beginning. If Jesus knew the centurion’s faith beforehand, there would have been no need to marvel.
Jesus tells the crowd following him that he had not found a faith similar to what this Gentile displayed in all of Israel. Jesus knew the hearts of people (Matthew 12:25; Luke 6:8; John 2:25), he could see beyond outward appearances. He saw the strength of the centurion’s faith, knew that no one among the Jews had a similar faith, and found it wondrous. Jesus stated that this would continue to be the case. Many would come from distant countries to become believers and will one day sit with the Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in heaven. But many of the Jews will be rejected because of their lack of faith.
When the centurion’s friends returned, they found the servant healed the very hour that Jesus spoke. As the centurion knew, Jesus did not need to be physically present for a healing to take place. Nor did Jesus require faith on the part of the servant. The healing was granted because of the faith of the servant’s master.
Some people become concerned because Matthew’s account states that the centurion came directly to Jesus while Luke’s account informs us that he used intermediaries. Because the intermediaries were sent by the centurion to say as he directed, it is considered the same as if the centurion had done so in person. This is a form of metonymy where one thing stands in the place of another.
Raising of a Widow’s Son (Luke 7:11-17)
The following day Jesus left Capernaum and entered the town of Nain. Nain is south of
Capernaum, near where Jesus gave his sermon on the mount. His disciples and a large crowd were following him, thus providing witnesses to the event about to take place.
As they came close to the gates of the town, they were met by a funeral procession leaving the town. The only son of a widow had died and he was being carried out of the town for burial. There was a large crowd from the town attending the funeral, again indicating that there were many witnesses.
Jesus had compassion for the woman and told her there was no need to weep any longer. He touched the open coffin, stopping those carrying it. He then told the young man in the coffin to arise. Note that the command was given in no other name but his own. The man immediately sat up and began to speak. Jesus then gave him back to his mother.
The power displayed by Jesus caused the witnesses to both fear and to glorify God. This wasn’t some “minor” miracle. This was power such as only the great prophets or God Himself displayed. Such news obviously could not be contained; it rapidly spread throughout all of Judea and the neighboring regions.
John’s Doubts (Matthew 11:2-6; Luke 7:18-23)
Eventually news of Jesus’ raising of the widow’s son reached the ears of John, who was in prison. John sent his disciples to Jesus to ask, “Are you the Coming One, or do we look for another?”
It seems to be a strange question coming from the man who prepared the way for Christ and declared him to be the Messiah at his baptism. Yet, we must remember that John was a man, like all the other prophets before him. Other prophets had their moments of doubt. Moses had to be convinced to go and free the Israelites (Exodus 4:1-17). Gideon asked for two miracles before he lead God’s people to war (Judges 6:36-40). Elijah gave up after Jezebel threatened his life (I Kings 19:1-10). Jeremiah cursed the day he was born (Jeremiah 20:14-18). Remember that John has been in prison for quite a while now. Perhaps he thought, as did so many Jews, that Jesus would lead Israel in triumph against the Romans. Yet in all this time, Jesus hasn’t declared himself, nor has there been any apparent move to re-establish the kingdom of Israel. And for John, there has been no rescue. Is it a wonder that John began to doubt himself?
Jesus didn’t answer John’s disciples directly. Instead during that very hour that they asked, he performed numerous miracles before the disciples of John. Afterwards he told them to return to John and tell them what they witnessed. His reply back to John echoes the words of Isaiah 35:5-6 and Isaiah 61:1, but the hidden message is found in the verse before. “Say to those who are fearful-hearted, "Be strong, do not fear! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God; He will come and save you"” (Isaiah 35:4). Jesus was telling John to take courage. Jesus warns John not to fall away because Jesus was not meeting John’s personal expectations.
The Accomplishments of John (Matthew 11:7-19; Luke 7:24-35)
Jesus then asks those following him about their expectations of John. What was it about him that caused people to journey all the way out into the wilderness? He ask satirically if they expected to find “a reed shaken by the wind;” that is, where they expecting to find a timid man who moves in which ever direction the political winds moved? Obviously not! It was word of John’s forthrightness and solid message that attracted them.
What, Jesus asked, did they expect to see? A well-dressed wealthy man? Obviously not! People in fine clothing are found in palaces, not out in the desert. No, in the desert you would expect a rough burly man.
What the people expected to find was a prophet, wearing the clothing of a prophet (Zechariah 13:2; Matthew 3:4). But John was more than just a prophet; he was also the forerunner of the Messiah (Malachi 3:1). And Jesus pays him the highest of compliments: there has not been a greater man born up to this time.
Yet, despite his great standing, Jesus said that he is less than the least person in the coming kingdom of God. Despite John’s greatness, he would not be a part of Christ’s kingdom. Those in the kingdom would have superior privileges to John. As J. W. McGarvey notes, “the smallest diamond is of more precious substance than the largest flint.” The implication is also given that no one has yet entered Christ’s kingdom at this time, thus the kingdom does not yet exist.
Since the time John first arrived on the scene, people have been trying to force the hand of God concerning the kingdom. It is as if people thought they could enter by their own determination. As we go through the gospels, we will see many examples of this (John 6:15; Matthew 20:21; Luke 19:11, 36-38). The problem is that everyone had their own ideas as to what the kingdom should be like and attempted to mold and rush the kingdom toward their notions. It simply could not come about in this fashion.
The era of the prophets of the Mosaical Law comes to a close with John. All before John spoke of the kingdom coming in distant terms, but John spoke of it as being close, which precipitated the violent eagerness of the people concerning the kingdom.
If people are able to accept it, John is the Elijah who was prophesied to come (Malachi 4:5). Not literally, but spiritually. John is in character much like the prophet Elijah.
Still, the people have trouble accepting both John and Jesus. John was isolated in the wilderness and did not socialize with people; for that he was called demon possessed because he was too strict. Jesus worked among the people and associated with even the most lowly; for that he was called a sinner because he was too lenient. God uses all means to reach people, as Paul later states (I Corinthians 9:19-22). John and Jesus’ teachings are the same because it comes from the same source, but their temperaments were quite different; yet, people judged them on their temperaments and not on the truth of their teachings. As a result there was no pleasing the people because they would not be pleased by God’s message. Thus wisdom (the truth) is placed on trial by those who claim to follow her. Or another way to read the statement at the end of Matthew 11:19 is that wisdom is proven true by those to actually do follow her, as shown in Luke
An Anointing of Jesus (Luke 7:36-50)
Luke takes note of an incident that followed shortly after Jesus condemnation of Jews’ rejection of God’s messengers which aptly illustrates the problem. Jesus was invited to eat at a Pharisee’s home. The city in which this took place is not mentioned, though that hasn’t stopped many people from speculating. While dining, a woman came whom the local people knew to be a sinner. She brought with her an alabaster flask of perfume.
From John’s account, we later learn that the woman is Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus (John 11:2).
It is amazing the number of commentators who confuse this incident with a similar one that happens later in Jesus’ life (Matthew 26:6; Mark 14:3). The details are different and the stories are distinct. The Pharisee’s name in this incident is also named Simon (Luke 7:40), but Simon was a common name among the Jews.
Mary stood at Jesus’ feet weeping and as her tears fell on his feet, she used her own hair to wipe them clean and she scented them with the perfumed oil that she had brought. We are not told what sins she had been guilty of committing, though Jesus later said they were many (Luke 7:47), but by her behavior we see that she had repented of them.
Though Simon had invited Jesus to dine with him, he did not do so because of his belief that Jesus was the Messiah. When he saw who was cleaning Jesus’ feet, he felt it was evidence that Jesus could not be a prophet because no true prophet would allow such a sinner to touch him. This serves as another illustration that the Jews at this time felt that uncleanness due to sin could be passed to another by touch or association.
Even though Simon kept these thoughts to himself, Jesus demonstrates that he knew the thoughts of men (John 2:25) and, therefore, knew who was wiping his feet. Jesus asked Simon if he might tell a story and Simon agreed. A creditor, Jesus said, was owed money by two men, one owing him 100 days wages and the other 50 days wages. Because neither man had the means to repay their debts, the creditor forgave them both of their debts. Jesus asked Simon, which man would have the greater appreciation toward the creditor. Simon thought the one who had held the greater debt.
Jesus then pointed out that though he was invited to dine in Simon’s home, Simon had not done even the small things one would expect from a host. No water was offered to wash his guest’s feet, no greeting was offered when Jesus entered, let alone a gift of perfume. In contrast, a woman who doesn’t live in Simon’s home came in and washed Jesus’ feet with her own tears, kissed his feet – the lowliest part of Jesus’ body – repeatedly, and anointed his feet with expensive perfume. Because of what she freely did, Jesus said her many sins were forgiven.
Turning to Mary, Jesus tells her that he forgave her sins. This causes a stir at the table because one person cannot forgive another’s debt. Sins are debts against God so only God can forgive sins. The people present found it offensive that Jesus would say something that would put him on the level of God. This was the second time that Jesus had done this (Mark 2:5). He did not repeat his proof that he had the right to forgive sins, but instead chose to ignore those who were upset. Telling her that her faith had saved her from her sins, he told her to go with a peaceful heart.
While the debt of sin might vary between people, the forgiveness of sin is absolute. Gaining forgiveness is to gain peace of mind. Though nothing was offered beyond Jesus’ words, we know that the woman’s faith in Jesus gave her that peace of mind.
Touring Galilee (Luke 8:1-3)
Jesus begins another journey though the region teaching the people about the kingdom of God. The twelve disciples whom Jesus had selected earlier accompanied him in his travels. Some women, who had been healed of demons and illnesses, also traveled with the Jesus. One was Mary from the city of Magdala, The town is located on the western shore of Lake Galilee on the edge of the plain of Gennesaret. The name of the town means “watch tower.” The town was probably a guard post. Mary was freed by Jesus from seven demons, thus explaining her willingness to follow Jesus in his travels.
We also find that Jesus’ influence reaching the small and the great. The wife of Herod Antipas’ steward both followed him and supported his ministry financially. Joanna is mentioned again in Luke 24:10. Susanna is only mentioned here in this passage. Even though these women did not preach the gospel, they had a major impact on the spread of the gospel.
We see that Jesus followed the principle that he taught his disciples, “Even so the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should live from the gospel” (I Corinthians 9:14; see also Matthew 10:10; Luke 10:7; I Corinthians 9:11).