Luke 7:1–10 . . . Bible Study Summary with Questions
Jesus Begins to Heal Many
Back at week #12, we learned a bit about Naaman, a Gentile Syrian who was an enemy of Israel. Today's passage — the story of the healing of the centurion's servant — can best be understood in the light of the Old Testament account of Naaman's healing, as recorded in 2 Kings 5. Naaman, a captain of the king of Syria's army, and the centurion, were military men.
Because of Israel's sin and rebellion against God, Syria was given dominance over God's people. The Syrian army, under Naaman's command, would wage periodic attacks, plundering cities, taking crops, even taking slaves. One slave girl happened to become the servant of Naaman's wife. She told her master's wife that if Naaman went to Israel, a prophet of God there could heal him of his leprosy. Naaman decided that it was worth the effort to make the trip to Israel to become healed.
Naaman brought money and expensive gifts, expecting to "sweeten the pot" when he'd meet Elisha the renowned prophet. However, it was humiliating for Naaman to be instructed through a servant, not the prophet, that he must dip himself seven times in the Jordan River if he wanted to be cleansed. In fact, Naaman was downright furious. He expected to be greeted by the prophet, and to have been healed personally by him, using some dramatic words and gestures. He expected to pay well for his healing, of course, but in the process, to be treated as his position deserved. Naaman obeyed and was eventually cleansed.
While Naaman's and the centurion's approaches for healing have similarities, they differed significantly in the way they approached God for healing: Naaman came on the basis of human power and authority, the captain of the powerful Syrian army; he expected that his influence, power, and money would assure him of healing. The centurion, on the other hand, set aside all of his positions and power, humbly appealing to Jesus as being unworthy of God's gifts and presence.
The story of the centurion's faith is both significant and relevant to us. Our Lord made a point of commending his faith. The man was a Gentile, not a Jew; yet he put the Jews to shame in the matter of faith. Few things are more needed in our individual lives and in the life of the church than a vital, growing faith. The centurion's faith serves as a stimulus and a model for Christians of all ages.
The Faith of the Centurion (7:1–10)
The story of the centurion's servant's healing is a remarkable one. Let's focus on seven critical features that Luke and Matthew include in their accounts of this event.
First feature: Note that there are perplexing differences between both accounts. It's easy to conclude that the accounts in Matthew 8:5–13 and Luke 7:1-10 (shown below) are a record of the same incident. What is difficult to grasp is why Luke's gospel makes a point of telling us that the centurion never personally spoke with Jesus, while Matthew's account clearly gives us this impression. Matthew's account seems to describe a face-to-face conversation between the centurion and Jesus, while Luke tells us that two delegations are sent by the centurion to Jesus on the man's behalf. He even explains why he didn't come personally to petition Jesus to heal his servant (Luke 7:7). Regarding the apparent discrepancy between the two gospel accounts, we shouldn't feel obliged to give a full explanation where one doesn't exist; faith allows us to live with apparent inconsistencies, knowing that God's Word is inerrant and infallible, while our understanding of his Word isn't.
Let's remember that gospel writers were aware of the writings of others (cf. Luke 1:1–2); yet they felt free to express their accounts differently. For example, in Luke's account of the healing of the paralytic (5:17–26), we're informed that the man was let down through the roof. In Matthew's account, this isn't mentioned (Matt. 9:2–8). From reading only Matthew's account, we'd never have guessed that the healed paralytic had a most unusual "entrance." Neither account is in error; both can be harmonized.
Second feature: Although he is a writer of great detail, note that Luke doesn't mention the centurion's name. Perhaps, Luke was more interested in describing the man's character, while also focusing on the man's power position as a centurion. Luke wanted us to think of this man as a likely Gentile. Finally, Luke wanted us to see the centurion as a military officer, attached to the occupation forces in Israel; his power with respect to the nationals was almost unlimited. He, like Naaman, could have attempted to secure healing for his servant by using his political connections, but he laid all such attributes aside. Rather than appealing to Jesus as a man of great position and power, he approached him as an unworthy Gentile, demanding nothing, yet pleading for grace.
Third feature: Note too that the centurion asked nothing for himself. He sought physical healing for his servant, a young lad who was likely a Jew. Add to that the fact that the only motivation to which the centurion appealed was the Lord's mercy. In Matthew's account, especially, the servant's condition is described as very painful. The basis upon which Jesus was approached was that of human need, not of human power or worthiness or merit. Too, the centurion offered nothing in return for the healing of his servant.
Fourth feature: Clearly, what motivated the centurion was the Lord's mercy. In Matthew's account especially, the condition of the servant is described as "suffering terribly." The basis upon which Jesus was approached was that of human need, not of human power, worthiness, or merit.
How interesting it is to contrast the humility of the centurion with the hypocrisy of the Jewish elders, who pled his case before Jesus. Only Luke provides us with the details on this matter, including the petition of the Jewish elders to Jesus on the behalf of the centurion: "This man deserves to have you do this, because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue." In contrast, the centurion saw himself as unworthy of God's grace; he did not feel allowed to have Jesus come under his roof (v. 6), nor even to personally appear before the Master (v. 7).
Jesus went with the Jewish elders, toward the house of the centurion, for very different reasons than they'd suggested: Jesus acted apart from selfish interest, out of a heart filled with mercy, while the elders acted out of self-interest, for very selfish reasons: Rich and generous Gentiles were worthy of Jewish ministry, but the unworthy deserved rejection and disdain, even eternal damnation, at least in the minds of many Jews.
Fifth feature: Clearly, the centurion had a fair understanding and appreciation for a Jew's religious beliefs. Notice that the centurion didn't wish to put Jesus in the position of having to come into his house. This wasn't because the official was unwilling to have Jesus, but, due to his contact with the Jews, he understood Jewish reticence to have intimate contact with a Gentile. What's more, the centurion helped build their synagogue; he had to have known a good deal about their religious beliefs and practices and wasn't offended by these views, nor did he challenge them. Indeed, he accommodated them. This was a very humble thing for a military superior to do for a captive people.
Sixth feature: Note that the centurion understood the meaning of authority. A man of authority, he was quick to recognize that his authority didn't extend to the healing of man, while Jesus' authority did, because it was greater than the centurion's. Thus, the centurion doesn't mention his own authority, except to illustrate why Jesus need not be personally present to heal his servant; a man of authority need only speak the word. Jesus, who the centurion had concluded from reports he'd heard, was a man of the greatest authority. He could order sickness to depart and it would, whether or not Jesus was present. He also recognized that Jesus' authority, like his own, was the result of a higher authority ("For I myself am a man under authority" v. 8), capable of recognizing and appreciating the superior authority of Jesus.
Seventh feature: Luke's and Matthew's accounts of the healing of the centurion's servant jointly provide a unique emphasis. Luke's account, addressed primarily to a Gentile audience, provides great encouragement for Gentile readers, because here the faith of a Gentile is praised by our Lord as being superior to the faith of the Israelites. We find hope for Gentiles. Also conveyed by Luke is the great respect that the centurion had for Judaism and for the Jews, causing him to send a delegation of Jewish elders to petition Jesus to heal his servant. Matthew's gospel, on the other hand, written with a Jewish audience in mind, tends to humble the reader by including Jesus' words that not only commended this Gentile's faith, but also spoke of the fact that in the kingdom, many Jews would be absent while many Gentiles would be present (Matt. 8:10–12).
Look at v. 9. "When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him." Thaumazo (Gr.): He was amazed, astonished. The centurion amazed Jesus with his powerful faith. Here is a man who, against the grain of normal Roman attitude, loves his slave, a man who certainly (in a transcendent way) loves his enemies, which Jesus said was a definitive mark of a child of God.
Wouldn't you want to be one who amazed Jesus, whose love, generosity, mercy, devotion, love of the truth, love of the people of God, love of God, humility, and penitence, and whose great faith and submission to the power and authority of Christ would amaze him? You don't want to settle for anything less.
- Q. 1 On what basis did the elders request Jesus' help? How does their approach differ from the centurion's (vv. 6–8)?
- Q. 2 Describe a time when you let go and let God accomplish his purpose.
The Faith of the Centurion
7 When Jesus had finished saying all this to the people who were listening, he entered Capernaum. 2There a centurion's servant, whom his master valued highly, was sick and about to die. 3The centurion heard of Jesus and sent some elders of the Jews to him, asking him to come and heal his servant. 4When they came to Jesus, they pleaded earnestly with him, "This man deserves to have you do this, 5because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue." 6So Jesus went with them.
He was not far from the house when the centurion sent friends to say to him: "Lord, don't trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. 7That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you. But say the word, and my servant will be healed. 8For 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."
9When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, "I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel." 10Then the men who had been sent returned to the house and found the servant well.