Tabletalk Devotions with R.C. Sproul - Wednesday, April 2, 2014
The Faith of a Centurion
Matthew 8:5–13 “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’” (v. 10).
Notably, Jesus orders the leper to tell no one about his healing. Instead, he must first go to the priest in order to be declared clean (Matt. 8:4). Having the cured man obey the laws for leprosy’s cleansing (Lev. 14:1–32) testifies to the priests that Jesus does not come to break the Mosaic law. Also, the ability to heal leprosy is a prophetic miracle (2 Kings 5:1–14), and so Christ may intend to reveal His prophethood to the priest through the leper’s testimony. Moreover, the commoners expect a Messiah who will kick the Romans out of Palestine. Having the cured man not proclaim Christ’s power will help keep His acclaim from spreading too rapidly and arousing Rome’s ire before the proper time.
Jesus’ healing of the leper is also a clue that His ministry will fulfill and thereby end the ceremonial regulations that separate Jew from Gentile. He can cleanse the unclean and touch the polluted without Himself suffering such uncleanliness. This is a strong hint that the new covenant era will not be one marked by ceremonial distinctions as the old covenant was.
The healing described in Matthew 8:5–13 also involves a person considered unclean in first-century Judaism. A centurion, who is a Roman officer in charge of one hundred troops, comes to Jesus urgently requesting his servant’s healing (vv. 5–6). Most Jews are hostile toward these foreign occupiers, but Christ feels for the man’s beloved servant and acquiesces to the man’s request (v. 7). However, the centurion’s great faith means that our Savior will not have to go to the man’s home (v. 13). In Roman society, the emperor has supreme authority, and he delegates it to officers like centurions. To disobey these officials is to disobey the emperor himself. The centurion sees that Jesus is invested with a similar authority, only the person He represents must be God (vv. 8–10). This officer understands, as John Calvin comments, that “he who, by the mere expression of his will, restores health to men, must possess supreme authority.”
Many who should know better never recognize Jesus’ authority. This Gentile sees Jesus for who He is, anticipating the day when many foreigners will, by faith, be grafted into God’s people Israel (vv. 11–12; Rom. 11).
Coram deo: Living before the face of God
In Christ, God is keeping His promise to bless all the families of the earth in Abraham (Gen. 12:1–3). The conversion of the nations to Christ is among the most tangible proofs for the veracity of the Bible. What Jesus has predicted is coming to pass — the Gentiles are coming to faith in Jesus. Think today on Jesus’ transformation of the nations and be encouraged that He has not left His people without a message.