Matthew 8:1-13 | ‘Healing the Centurion’s Servant’ | Matins | Epiphany 3 | 23 January 2011
Our Lord Jesus Christ continues to manifest Himself as true God and true man, the Almighty in our flesh, and we hear it today in the Gospel account from Matthew chapter eight.
Our Lord, in fact, had just given the sermon on the mount (which is found in Mathew chapters 5, 6, and 7), and now He comes down off the mountain with great crowds following Him, and they come asking for healing, for help.
And Jesus gives it. He helps. He heals. He loves His neighbor with a divine love and compassion.
In fact, if we were to back up and look at the whole Gospel of Matthew, we would notice this pattern. Matthew (after his introduction and before his account of our Lord’s suffering and death) has five groupings of words and deeds, Messianic words and deeds. Jesus will preach a sermon, and then He will go and preform miracles.
The first sermon that Matthew records is the sermon on the mount, and these two miracles, then, are the first miracles detailed by Matthew.
The first miracle is the healing of the leper. He comes in faith to Jesus, confessing that if the Lord is willing, He can make him clean, and Jesus says (and how wonderful are these words), “I am willing; be cleansed.” Our own hearts should leap at these words, for the Holy Spirit has them here in the text for us as well. Jesus is willing to make us clean, declare us holy, to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
I think that we are often tempted to see in the miracles the strength of Jesus. “What do the miracles prove? They prove that Jesus is God the Almighty, that He has the power to wallop sickness and diseases and unruly waves. The miracles prove that Jesus has power, power to give sight to the blind, strength to the crippled, to raise the dead.” It is true that Jesus does have power, that He, in fact, created the world and sustains all things in the universe.
But power is not always a good thing; it’s not always a safe thing. It all depends on how its being used.
Imagine that you took a wrong turn and are wandering, lost, down a dark alley. You know the kind that I mean, stray cats rummaging through the garbage, the only sound is your footsteps echoing off the brick walls. And not a huge strong fellow comes into the alley, he’s powerful. Good news or bad news? Depends, doesn’t it? If he’s some thug who wants to steal your hat, it’s bad news. And the stronger he is, the more powerful he is, the worse the news. He might take a couple of your teeth in the process of stealing your hat.
But what if your walking down this same alley, and some massive beast of a man comes around the corner, and he’s your friend whose been out looking for you. This is good news, especially now that you know there are hat thieves lurking around the corner. And the stronger your friend, the better the news. Got it?
This, then, is how we are to read the accounts of the miracles of Jesus. It is not just showing us that Jesus is strong. It is not simply a demonstration of power. When our Lord Jesus says, “I am willing; be cleansed,” we know that He is using all of His powers for us, that He strength is being spent to help us. And this is good news.
Think of it, here we are in the filth of our sin. What do we think will happen if we bring that sin and uncleanness before the face of God? We might expect that He would use His power to wipe us out, to cleanse the world of us, but He doesn’t. He is willing to help, to serve, to heal, to forgive. He uses His strength and His power, in fact, His everything for us, to have us as His friends and children. The miracles of Jesus don’t just show us that Jesus is strong, but that He is also compassionate; they show us His power and His love. That is good news, and the importance of this first miracle.
The second miracle in the text is the healing of the centurion’s servant. This centurion was a Roman soldier, and this is important because Jesus will exalt his over all the Jewish people.
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. I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” 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 8:10-13)
There is something astonishing in this text. Remember what happened when Jesus finished preaching the sermon on the mount? The people “marveled.
And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes. (Matthew 7:28-29)
The people were astonished and marveled at Jesus, but now Jesus is marveling at this man. And at what? We should certainly pay attention to this commendation of our Lord Jesus. What does Jesus marvel over? Jesus does not marvel over this man’s position, that he is a ranking officer int eh Roman army. Nor does Jesus marvel that this man had done so many wonderful good works of service. He does not marvel over this man’s purity, his holiness, his love for God and his neighbor, nope. None of these things. Jesus marvels at this mans faith.
How wonderful. Faith is really nothing at all, it is simply believing a promise, trusting in someone else, and yet our Lord Jesus is willing to give to faith sure wonderful honor that He even accounts our faith to be righteousness.
It is astonishing that our Lord Jesus will attribute miracles to faith. “Go, your faith has made you well,” and we want to stop and say, “Wait a minute, Jesus, your made him well; you did the miracle; you healed him.” But our Lord Jesus attributes this to faith; Jesus give faith this honor. Incredible. And make no mistake, it is the same with us. We are exalted in the eyes of the Lord not when accomplish great things but when we believe and trust in Him.
The faith of the centurion is itself manifest in two ways (thanks to Luther for this insight, see Complete Sermons,V.242ff.), humility and trust. First, by his humility.
But the centurion replied, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof.”
The Centurion knew his own sin, his own unworthiness. Such a confession of humility can hardly be found anywhere else in the Scriptures. This verse, in fact, became a common prayer before receiving the Lord’s Supper. Luther himself prayed it, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof.” This centurion knew that he had not merited nor deserved anything for Jesus. But, his faith is also manifest is trust, confidence that Jesus is God, that He can save and will save His servant. The centurion continues:
“…but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. 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.”
This soldier knows that a word can accomplish things, and he knows that Jesus is the Word, that His speaking can accomplish anything He pleases. “Lord, speak, and it will be done.”
And this centurion is right. He doesn’t deserve anything good from Jesus. But he is right again when he looks to Jesus for a blessing. And Jesus speaks, and it is done; his servant is healed.
This, dear saints, should bring us marvelous comfort, that our Lord Jesus has the authority to speak and miracles occur, and for us, the greatest miracle of all is His speaking us righteous. Jesus speaks, “I forgive you,” and a miracle occurs: we are forgiven. Jesus uses all His strength to love us, to serve us, to forgive all your sins.
This is our comfort and our peace. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
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Pastor Bryan Wolfmueller | Hope Lutheran Church | Aurora, CO