​​​Lesson for Sunday

OCTOBER 20, 2019

HUMBLE FAITH

SUNDAY SCHOOL LESSON

Restoration & Praise

Christian Fellowship Center

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Devotional Reading: James 5:13-18
LESSON SCRIPTURES: Luke 7:1-10
Exerted from: Standard Lesson Commentary KJV (2019-2020).


1 Now when he had ended all his sayings in the audience of the people, he entered into Capernaum.

2 And a certain centurion's servant, who was dear unto him, was sick, and ready to die.

3 And when he heard of Jesus, he sent unto him the elders of the Jews, beseeching him that he would come and heal his servant.

4 And when they came to Jesus, they besought him instantly, saying, That he was worthy for whom he should do this:

5 For he loveth our nation, and he hath built us a synagogue.

6 Then Jesus went with them. And when he was now not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to him, saying unto him, Lord, trouble not thyself: for I am not worthy that thou shouldest enter under my roof:

7 Wherefore neither thought I myself worthy to come unto thee: but say in a word, and my servant shall be healed.

8 For I also am a man set under authority, having under me soldiers, and I say unto one, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it.

9 When Jesus heard these things, he marvelled at him, and turned him about, and said unto the people that followed him, I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel.

10 And they that were sent, returning to the house, found the servant whole that had been sick.

Lesson Aim
After participating in this lesson, each learner will be able to:
1. List elements of surprise in the healing of the centurion's servant.
2. Explain how humility strengthens faith.
3. Demonstrate humble faith in a way that may surprise others.

INTRODUCTION

Twist Ending
​Bob Newhart starred in two popular television series. In The Bob Newhart Show (1972-1978), he played a Chicago psychologist, Dr. Robert Hartley. In the later series, Newhart (1982-1990), he played Dick Loudon, a New York author who moves to the country to operate an inn.

The second series is memorable for its twist ending. In the finale, viewers are shown what looks like Dr. Hartley's Chicago bedroom. Bob Newhart sits up in bed and says, “Honey, wake up! You won't believe the dream I just had!” Suddenly, we learn that the entire eight-year series has been nothing more than Dr. Hartley's dream.

Twists in television are great entertainment. Similar surprises in real life can be much less delightful. Sometimes we set ourselves up for unpleasant surprises with preconceived ideas about other people. When a stereotype gets debunked, we feel ashamed because of our newly revealed prejudice. We learn that this person is a unique and complicated human being—just like ourselves.

Stereotypes abounded in first-century Israel. Jews had their stereotypes of the Romans, and Romans had their stereotypes of the Jews. But occasionally, someone broke out of the mold. Broken stereotypes change the whole story, just like a twist in a television show.


LESSON CONTEXT

Matthew 8:5-13 contains another record of the healing of the centurion's servant found in Luke. The context for the parallel accounts in Matthew and Luke is nearly identical; in Luke it comes directly after Jesus' Sermon on the Plain (Luke 6:17-49), and in Matthew it is shortly after the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7).

The text of the sermon in Luke is shorter than in Matthew, but the two share a great deal of material (compare Matthew 5:3-12 with Luke 6:20-23; Matthew 5:38-42 with Luke 6:29, 30; Matthew 5:43-48 with Luke 6:27, 28, 32-36; etc.). For this reason, scholars tend to treat the sermons as two accounts of the same event. The seeming contradiction between the setting for the sermon on a “mountain” (Matthew 5:1; 8:1) and a “plain” (Luke 6:17) is easily resolved: Jesus found a wide, flat place (plain) on the mountain from which to deliver His sermon.

This sermon helps us place this healing within a time line of Jesus' ministry. Assuming that Jesus' crucifixion occurred in AD 30, scholars work back to place the Sermon on the Plain in the fall of AD 28 during Jesus' ministry in Galilee. Though this was early in His ministry, Jesus' reputation was already solidifying as both a teacher and a miracle worker (Luke 4:36, 37, 42-44; 5:15).

The placement of the healing of Peter's mother-in-law poses a momentary chronological difficulty. In Matthew, her healing comes immediately after the healing of the centurion's servant (Matthew 8:14, 15), but Luke places her healing prior to Jesus' sermon and, consequently, also the healing of the servant (Luke 4:38, 39). It appears that Matthew made the rhetorical decision to place the healing of Peter's mother-in-law, as well as other miracles in Capernaum, after the centurion's story as a topical connection with Capernaum. The event likely happened before the sermon, as in Luke.

A similar account regarding the long-distance healing of a nobleman's son in Capernaum is unrelated to this story, though it may contribute to general knowledge about Jesus that was circulating in Capernaum prior to the centurion's request (see John 4:46-54). Such a healing in a reputable family would not have gone unnoticed by a centurion posted in the city. Taken with other events recorded in the first three Gospels, the groundwork for faith had certainly been laid in Capernaum (Mark 1:23-34; Luke 4:33-35).

LESSON

1. Now when he had ended all his sayings in the audience of the people, he entered into Capernaum.
Jesus' Sermon on the Plain comprises the sayings that Jesus finished just before going to Capernaum (see Lesson Context). The location for the sermon was probably somewhere near the city. To say Jesus entered into Capernaum rather than “traveled to” or similar suggests He was just outside of town.

Capernaum has become Jesus' residence and the headquarters for His ministry (Matthew 4:13; Mark 2:1). The precise location of the ancient city is unknown. From Matthew's description, scholars conclude that it would have been situated on the northwest coast of the Sea of Galilee.

2. And a certain centurion's servant, who was dear unto him was sick, and ready to die.
We are not told the centurion's name or regiment (contrast Acts 10:1). His title reveals him to be the leader of a group of Roman soldiers. The term implies that the group numbers 100, though it may in fact be somewhat less than that.

Still, he is a person of status and rank. He has charge of both servants and soldiers to do his bidding. Other centurions mentioned in the Gospels and Acts point to the potential for righteousness and faith in Gentiles, an important theme throughout the New Testament (see Matthew 27:54; Mark 15:39; Luke 23:47; Acts 10; compare Acts 11; Romans 9:30, 31; Galatians 3:8, 14; etc.).

Romans can legally treat a servant as nothing more than a tool. Many servants suffer gravely because of this legislation. However, a servant of great merit can be treated quite well. Though the centurion might also feel some affection for the servant, the primary bond between them exists because of the servant's good work. Given that the servant is quite dear (elsewhere translated “precious”; see 1 Peter 2:4), the servant probably has a specific set of skills that the centurion values.

Luke uses a general term for servant in this account, but Matthew uses a different word that can be translated “child” (Matthew 8:6; compare 2:16; 17:18). Children are not cherished in Jesus' day as they are today (see Matthew 19:13-15). Though the centurion can certainly care for a young servant, more likely the value of the servant points to his being an adult.

3. And when he heard of Jesus, he sent unto him the elders of the Jews, beseeching him that he would come and heal his servant.
When he heard of Jesus likely means when the centurion hears that Jesus has returned to Capernaum, not when he first heard of Jesus at all (see commentary on Luke 7:1). The centurion seizes the opportunity to find relief for his servant.

The elders refers to the leaders of the Jewish community in Capernaum. Israel has depended on elders for leadership since the time of Moses (Exodus 3:16; Ruth 4:1-12; 1 Samuel 30:26; 2 Kings 10:5; Ezra 10:16; etc.). In spite of the centurion's role as a leader among the occupational force dominating Judea and given the animosity common between Jews and Gentiles in Judea, these elders are on friendly terms with the Roman centurion.

4a. And when they came to Jesus, they besought him instantly.
Here is another surprise in the story: the elders come to Jesus and seek His help. This is the first mention of “elders” in Luke, but elders will later be listed among those who oppose Jesus, even seeking His death (see Luke 9:22; 20:1, 2; 22:52, 66-71). Jesus has already been criticized by other Jewish leaders, including scribes and Pharisees (see 5:21, 30). In contrast, these elders appear to have great respect for Jesus.

As though that were not surprising enough, the elders approach Jesus on behalf of a Gentile. The term translated instantly is elsewhere translated “diligently” (see 2 Timothy 1:17; Titus 3:13). Contrary to the duplicitous behavior of the Jewish leaders who later seek to trick or trap Jesus (Luke 10:25), these elders are sincere in their request. From beginning to end, the elders' actions seem out of character with that of most other Jewish leaders.

What Do You Think?
What are some ways our church can act as a go-between in connecting resources to those in need?
Digging Deeper
In so doing, what safeguards could be put in place to avoid wrong appearances and actions?


4b. Saying, That he was worthy for whom he should do this.
The elders' earnest plea shows their high regard for the centurion. In their opinion, the centurion's acts make him worthy not only to ask Jesus for healing but also to receive it (see Luke 7:5, next).

5a. For he loveth our nation.
The centurion is not merely a successful diplomat who maintains a good relationship with the leaders of the subjugated nation. In yet another surprise, he genuinely loves the nation. Luke gives no insight into why the centurion loves Israel. His affection suggests that he is a devout Gentile. Such a person comes from a pagan background but believes in the one true God. Often such individuals are attracted to the high moral code evident in Jewish law. However, they live outside of Judaism because they do not choose to go through all the rituals that are necessary to be fully incorporated into the nation (contrast “devout Greeks/ persons” in Acts 17:4, 17 with “proselyte[s]” in Acts 6:5; 13:43).

5b. And he hath built us a synagogue.
As a tangible expression of his love for the nation of Israel, this centurion has built . . . a synagogue, presumably in Capernaum. This does not mean he personally erected the structure. Instead, he financed the project, paying for the construction out of his own resources.

6a. Then Jesus went with them.
Apparently, Jesus gives some kind of affirmative answer to the elders and begins walking toward the centurion's home.

6b. And when he was now not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to him.
The second delegation is called friends, and no mention is made of their nationality or ethnicity. One might suppose these friends are also Jewish. If so, the fact that they are with the centurion at home emphasizes the very special and unusual bond he has with the Jewish community (contrast Acts 10).

6c. Saying unto him, Lord, trouble not thyself: for I am not worthy that thou shouldest enter under my roof.
The friends deliver the centurion's message faithfully. The centurion refutes the elders' witness about him, saying that he himself is not worthy to have Jesus visit him. The centurion may be sensitive to the Jewish law cited by Peter: that it is unlawful for Jews to enter Gentiles' homes (Acts 10:28). If the centurion is sensitive to Jesus' becoming unclean by entering his home, then he may be unaware of Jesus' earlier actions of touching the unclean to effect healing (Luke 4:40; 5:12, 13).

What Do You Think?
How do we help a person who hesitates to turn to God because of self-acknowledged personal sinfulness and/or unworthiness?
Digging Deeper
How do passages such as Luke 5:8 and 1 Corinthians 15:8-11 help frame your answer?


Man of the Century
Was Sir Winston Churchill the greatest man of the twentieth century? Charles Krauthammer, a political commentator, argues that “without Churchill the world today would be unrecognizable—dark, impoverished, tortured.” Churchill recognized early on that totalitarianism could destroy the world. A gifted wordsmith, his speeches gave the British people the backbone to resist Nazism at a time when no other nation could or would.

However, Churchill was not a humble man, and his rhetoric could also skewer his opposition. On one occasion, he was criticizing Clement Attlee, a political enemy. A friend interjected, “You must admit that Mr. Attlee is a humble man.” Churchill responded, “He's a humble man, but then he has much to be humble about!”

The centurion had accomplished much for which he could be proud as witnessed by the fact that he commanded a cadre of Roman soldiers. Yet, unlike Churchill, he was a humble man. He recognized he wasn't worthy to host Jesus. May we demonstrate the same humble attitude! —C. R. B.

7a. Wherefore neither thought I myself worthy to come unto thee.
The centurion's surprisingly humble message continues. Not only is he unworthy for Jesus to come to him, but he is not worthy to come to Jesus. This statement suggests that the centurion was not primarily worried about imparting uncleanness to Jesus if He visits the centurion's home. Instead, the centurion recognizes Jesus' greatness and power and concludes that his own accolades are paltry by comparison. In his own opinion, he does not deserve an audience with Jesus.

This verse emphasizes different details between Matthew and Luke in retelling this story. In Matthew's account, there is no delegation of elders or friends; the centurion himself presents the request to Jesus (Matthew 8:5). When Jesus consents to come, the centurion expresses in person his faith that Jesus need not be physically present to heal the servant (8:7-9). The easiest and best reconciliation of this seeming contradiction is that Matthew simply condenses the account. Having the centurion act and speak for himself cuts out the middlemen and takes the story from beginning to end quickly.

The different emphases of these accounts may also help explain the difference between them. The theme of whether or not the centurion is worthy to host Jesus or even meet Him is not entirely absent from the shorter account (Matthew 8:8). Matthew emphasizes instead the centurion's status as an outsider of great faith (8:10-12). Luke highlights the humility of the centurion's faith by revealing that the centurion's friends and the elders speak on his behalf.

7b. But say in a word, and my servant shall be healed.
Even more surprising than the centurion's humility is the faith that is coupled with it. He believes in Jesus' power to heal by a word. Perhaps he has heard of the nobleman's son (John 4:46-54; see Lesson Context). If so, he does not mention it. But just as he knows he needs only to speak a command for his soldiers or servants to obey, so the centurion has confidence that Jesus needs only to speak for His will to be accomplished.

8. For I also am a man set under authority, having under me soldiers, and I say unto one, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it.
The centurion knows about authority from personal experience. He accomplishes his will not by personally attending to every detail but by giving orders. Rather, he commands soldiers and servants alike, and they do his bidding. He does not question his own authority over the soldiers; in the same way, he assumes Jesus' authority over the servant's sickness.

What Do You Think?
What distinctive of your occupation can you use in your witness of faith?
Digging Deeper
How do we guard against “too much of a stretch” in doing so?


Most of Jesus' healings take place with the sick or possessed person before Him (just one chapter in Mark contains many examples; see Mark 1:25, 26, 30-34, 40-42). The centurion remains confident that Jesus can give the word to effect his servant's healing. The centurion has grasped something that many in Israel never will: Jesus has the authority and the power to heal whomever He chooses as He ushers in God's kingdom on earth (see Luke 4:18-21).

9. When Jesus heard these things, he marvelled at him, and turned him about, and said unto the people that followed him, I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel.
Strictly speaking, to marvel at someone or something does not require expressing surprise but only recognizing that person or thing as being worthy of admiration: “marvelous.” We too may marvel at the centurion's great faith. It is a thing of wonder, even though it does not surprise us after many readings.

Jesus frequently draws a crowd wherever He goes. Now He simply turns to the elders and the people who are following Him. Jesus points out the irony of the Gentile's faith in the face of Jewish unbelief (compare Acts 13:46, 47). This dovetails with rejection Jesus has already faced (Luke 5:21, 30; 6:7, 11) and is yet to face in the months ahead (7:30; 9:22; 11:53, 54; 15:2; 16:14; 22:52).

These elders, for their part, act unlike most other elders in response to Jesus' ministry. So Jesus may commend the elders for their faith as well. Approaching Jesus shows that they too believe that He can heal the servant. This serves to highlight as well the centurion's faith that Jesus need not even be present in order to heal the servant.

What Do You Think?
What steps can we take to increase our faith in God before we see Him act?
Digging Deeper
How do cautionary admonishments, such as that of Luke 12:22-34, help you form your answer?


Marvelous Models
My wife, Pat, suffered for decades from debilitating back pain. One day, she surprised me by showing me her “suicide diary.” It was a series of notations in Joyce Landorf Heatherley's Silent September, which tells of the author's suicidal thoughts as she struggled with relentless pain. Pat was a model of Christian perseverance, dying of cancer a quarter-century after I became aware of her “diary.”

A year after Pat's death, I preached at our church on suicide. Three years later, I marveled once more at the influence of Pat's model of faith. A woman told me one Sunday, “I struggle with a painful chronic disease. I recently stood with opioids in my hand and thought, ‘I don't have to live with this anymore.' Then I thought of your sermon, and I felt God reassuring me that He would help me.”

Jesus marveled at the centurion's faith. The centurion's example created a perfect opportunity for Jesus to work a miracle. Does your model of faith cause others to marvel? —C. R. B.

10. And they that were sent, returning to the house, found the servant whole that had been sick.
No mention is made in Luke's Gospel of Jesus' dismissing the group or of assuring them that their mission has been successful. In Matthew's account there is such a word: “Go thy way; and as thou hast believed, so be it done unto thee” (Matthew 8:13). Jesus accomplishes precisely what the centurion anticipates: He makes the servant whole. Does Jesus even have to speak in order to heal the servant? The centurion would not be surprised to hear that Jesus never spoke a word after commending his faith.

Conclusion

Simply Marvelous
Faith can be found in surprising places. When my oldest son was critically injured in an automobile accident, he was flown by helicopter to a university hospital. I had taken classes at that university several years before and had my faith questioned. I chalked it up to the way things are in secular universities. With my son in the hospital associated with that university, I assumed his caregivers would be secular in their approach. But I marveled at the doctor when I overheard him say something to the effect of, “I simply could not do this job without faith.”

As a leader of the occupational force in Judea, the centurion faced hatred and resentment from the Jewish people who didn't know him. The easy and typical response would be to return the sentiment. But this centurion loved the Jewish nation. He trusted Jesus before and better than many in Israel ever would. His life experiences made him humble in the face of the true authority he recognized in Jesus. For this reason, his faith was simply marvelous.

Prayer
O God, make us humble in our faith. Help us to expect You to work in our world even when we cannot see You. Give us confidence that You make all things whole. In Jesus' name. Amen.


Thought to Remember

Humility sets the stage for great faith.