Centurion of Great Faith

Notes for November 17-18, 2018
Matthew 8:5-12

Biblical Background

  • Gospel of Matthew: The Gospel of Matthew is written primarily to a Jewish audience, thus the large number of quotations to the Hebrew Scriptures and prophetic fulfillments mentioned.  In this case, Matthew is throwing off his readers and showing Jesus’ lack of partiality as He finds faith in an “unclean Gentile,” who even worse, is a Roman soldier – one of the occupiers of the land of Israel.

  • Capernaum: This was a crossroads city and thus would have had Roman soldiers stationed there to keep the peace and enforce Roman law.

  • Centurion: The centurion commanded between 60-80 troops – a “century”.  He was like the Sergeant Major of today’s army and enforced discipline among the troops.  Roman soldiers didn’t marry, but often had servants in their homes to take care of household chores while they were carrying out their duties. Roman soldiers were very disciplined and followed strict regimens.

  • “I will come and heal him”: Jesus breaks cultural norms by his willingness to come into an unclean Gentile’s home.  Devout Jewish people would not do this.

  • Great Faith of the Centurion: The centurion’s understanding of the power of authority and command/control structures is carried over from the natural world into the realm of the supernatural as he has the faith to believe that Jesus has authority in the supernatural world to command things to happen just as the centurion has authority to command his troops to do things.

  • Most Gentiles: to find faith in an unclean Gentile was a surprise to the Jewish people – there were not many Gentiles who followed their one God, although there were a few “God-fearers” around. Most Gentiles would have been pagans who worshipped many different gods including Caesar himself.

  • Abraham, Isaac and Jacob: These are the fathers of Israel. If you were descended from them, one assumed you would be at the future banquet in heaven.  However, Jesus dispels this idea stating that it is for those of faith, not just physical birth into the nation of Israel that leads to salvation.

  • Outer Darkness: This is the picture of separation from God and having fellowship with him.  The gnashing of teeth may reference Psalm 112:10.

Discussion Questions

  1. What do you know about Roman centurions?

  2. What is significant about a centurion coming to Jesus for help?

  3. How would Jesus’ Jewish audience respond to the idea of Jesus talking with and helping a centurion?

  4. Who are the “unclean” people that we encounter in our world who are outside of the church? How does our church respond to them? How do we respond to them?

  5. What do you think the relationship was like between the centurion and his servant?

  6. What is the request of the centurion to Jesus?

  7. How does Jesus respond initially to the centurion’s request? What would be unique about his response in a Jewish context?

  8. When have you stepped into a stranger’s home recently, especially someone from a different cultural background? What did it feel like? What happened?

  9. Why did the centurion have such trust and faith in the authority and power of Jesus’ words to heal from a distance?

  10. What lessons are there in the faith of the centurion for us today?

  11. How does Jesus commend the centurion and his faith?

  12. Why is it that some Jewish people did not pick up on Jesus’ authority and power?

  13. What are the implications from Jesus’ word that people from the East and West will enter the Kingdom of Heaven and partake in the feast of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob?

  14. What are the implications in Jesus’ words that some will not enter the kingdom of heaven but be thrown into the darkness?

  15. Why is the truth of heaven and hell important to communicate to people today? After all, Jesus spoke of hell more than any other person in the Bible.

  16. How might you grow in faith? Discuss.