- Unregenerate man does not want to face and accept truth, but God tells us that it is through knowing and believing the truth that we are set free and saved (Romans 1:18, John 3:19, John 8:32, John 8:36-37, Ephesians 1:13).
- This passage (Matthew 8:10-13),looks at the hard truths that Jesus spoke to a group of Jewish followers early in His ministry, concerning salvation, faith, and the righteousness of God.
- Today in the 21st Century, it is still necessary to give the “hard word” in order for people to understand their spiritual condition and need for Jesus. There are also many false/watered down gospels that withhold the truth people need to hear.
- When we share truth we should do so with humility, confidence, and patience, from a loving heart.
What happens in this passage?
- This passage records the latter half of an encounter in Capernaum between Jesus, a centurion, and the followers of Jesus.
- The centurion has approached Jesus with the intention of asking Him to heal his servant (Matthew 8:6), and we learn of the centurion’s stunning belief in Jesus (Matthew 8:8-9).
- Our passage picks up at the point when the centurion finishes his discourse with Jesus.
- Rather than answering the centurion, Jesus turns to the people who were following Him and makes three claims extremely provocative and new to Jewish ears.
- Jesus contrasts the Gentile’s faith to Israel’s lack of faith (Matthew 8:10); He describes the future – who will get to heaven (Matthew 8:11); and who will end up in hell (Matthew 8:12).
- Following His unexpected statements addressed to His followers, Jesus finishes His interaction with the centurion by sending him home with the promise that his servant will be healed because of his belief (Matthew 8:13)
Identity of Jesus’ followers
- We know that Jesus was followed by people when He entered Capernaum (Matthew 8:10), but we don’t have a lot of other information about who these people were.
- Luke describes the number of people as a crowd (Luke 7:9). We don’t know if they started following Jesus as He entered Capernaum, if they joined him en route thereby witnessing Jesus healing the leper (Matthew 8:1-2). Or perhaps they had heard Jesus deliver the sermon on the mount?
- We are not told of their reason for following Jesus. We can’t assume they were genuinely interested in pursuing truth, and if they believed in Jesus. Elsewhere we see that crowds followed Jesus in order to be fed (John 6:26), or to witness signs and spectacles (John 4:48).
Theological truths taught to the crowd
- In this brief encounter, Jesus taught His followers theological truths difficult for them to comprehend. In the Book of Romans, we see these truths explained in detail by the Apostle Paul. The Christian rejoices at these truths!
- Jesus stated that the Gentile centurion had greater faith than anyone in Israel. This would have deeply offended Jesus’ followers’ sense of spiritual worthiness. Gentiles were considered “dogs” by Israel and unclean (Matthew 15:26, Acts 10:28). Jesus’ statement points to God’s righteousness through faith in Christ (Romans 3:21-22, Romans 10:3-4).
- Jesus made the radical claim that many Gentiles would enter heaven and sit with the founding fathers of the Jewish nation (Matthew 8:11). This points to the truth that Abraham is the father of all those believe (Romans 4:11b), and faith is counted as righteousness (Romans 4:3). It also illustrates God’s impartiality for who can be saved (Romans 10:12).
- The third blow Jesus delivered was proclaiming that some of God’s chosen people would be rejected and end up in hell (Matthew 8:12). This points to the truth that physical Israel would reject her Messiah and not be a part of God’s faith family (Romans 9:8, Romans 9:32b-33). Note this reality grieved the Apostle Paul’s heart (Romans 9:2-3).
- We are left wondering how the followers responded to Jesus’ statements. Did they think He was a madman? Were they so offended that they stopped following Him? Certainly, elsewhere in the Gospels, we see that Jesus’ hard truths were not well received (John 6:60, John 6:66).
Jesus – truth speaker
- We should take note that the Lord Jesus speaks with authority and without flinching. Twice He says “I tell you” (Matthew 8:10-11).
- Jesus’ concern is imparting truth, not tickling ears, pleasing people, or having the most followers. We also see Jesus give a similar “wake-up call” to token followers at Laodicea (Revelation 3:16-17). Jesus’ intention is not to be sensationalist (we live in a culture that likes to be shocking), but to speak the truth in love so that lives will be saved (Revelation 3:19, Revelation 3:21).
- We can also see the sovereignty of God at work. The presentation of the believing Gentile provides the perfect opportunity for Jesus to initiate a conversation about the righteousness of God that depends on faith in Him.
How can we apply the truths of this passage?
- We must not flinch from sharing the full counsel of God because of fear of offending people, or people being “put off” by Christianity. We live at a time when the social gospel neglects the need for repentance, and the prosperity gospel ignores the reality of Christian sanctification through suffering. Yet throughout the New Testament, God tells us that repentance is absolutely critical for salvation and suffering for our faith is to be expected (2 Corinthians 7:10, Mark 1:4, Luke 24:46-47, Acts 2:38, Acts 3:19, Revelation 3:19, Luke 9:23-24, Romans 8:17, Hebrews 12:11, 1 Peter 4:1, 1 Peter 4:12-13).
- We should look to Jesus’ example and speak even the hardest of truths with confidence and certainty, from a heart of love for people (Philippians 1:14, Ephesians 6:19, Ephesians 5:15, 1 Corinthians 13:1).
- Like the Jews learning about the righteousness of God, we should be sensitive to the fact that Biblical truth will be very new and different to people brought up in other religious systems. Sensitivity and patience are essential. Even the Apostles required a “retraining period”, e.g. despite Jesus’ instruction to the Apostles to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19), God used a vision to remind and reassure Peter that salvation belonged to non-Jews also (Acts 10:10-15, Acts 10:28).
- This passage should remind us to lean into the sovereignty and providence of God. We should be on the lookout for opportunities and open doors from the Lord for witnessing and speaking truth (Revelation 3:8, 2 Corinthians 2:12, Philippians 1:12-13).
- Currently 40% of the US population does not believe in the existence of hell. 1 Yet Jesus emphatically states that hell is a real place (Matthew 8:12). Knowing the righteous condemnation and eternal punishment that awaits every single person, we should have an urgency to give the good news of God’s invitation for forgiveness and reconciliation. God expects us to! (Proverbs 24:11-12, 2 Corinthians 5:20).
- Finally, this passage encourages us to repent of any self-righteousness and wear humility. Are there any members of society we look down upon in the same way that the Jews regarded the Gentiles? Do we hold fast the truth that God is impartial and will save anyone who calls on His name (Romans 10:12-13). Do we remember that we contributed nothing to earn our place at the table in heaven, that only because of Christ’s work are we redeemed and cleaned? (Proverbs 20:9, Proverbs 20:30).
1. Pew Research Center. Belief in hell. Full text