The Leper And The Centurion
By Lee Jones
Our church culture is inundated with sign seekers. Turn on any “Christian” television channel and you are guaranteed to see a “preacher” or “evangelist” telling the Prosperity/Word of Faith Heresy: speak the right words, make up enough faith, and you can get the material blessings or miraculous healing you desire or need. They claim this is gospel, but in reality it bears no resemblance to the biblical gospel, and it doesn’t square with how the Bible approaches healing.
I want to share one passage that completely contradicts the false model of the “name it and claim it” theology.
In Matthew 8:1-13, Jesus heals two different people in remarkable ways that are not considered these days. First, the leper.
The leper calls out to Jesus from his weak state as a sick, social pariah. In verse 2, he says a provocative thing for many Christians today: “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” Where does he assert his authority over his life circumstances? He has none, yet he believes Jesus does. He believes Jesus as Lord has the ability to make him clean, yet the leper knows he has no right to demand that action from him. If Jesus is willing, the man knows he could be cleansed. This is the same for us; physical healing in the here and now is purely by the grace of God.
Jesus hears the man’s prayer and heals him, but in Verse 4 he instructs the man to tell no one, but to see the priest and offer the sacrifice required. Leviticus 14 describes that sacrifice: the slaying of a bird under running water, then taking the live bird with cedar wood, hyssop (check Psalm 51:7), and a red cord, and dipping it in the blood of the slain bird. The leper to be cleansed is to be sprinkled with that blood seven times. Thank God that our transgressions against him are covered in the blood of not just a bird, but Jesus Christ his Son, the one true sacrifice.
The centurion recognized, much like the leper before him, the sovereignty of Jesus over all things, including human health.
This leper was immediately healed, but Jesus sent him to do this rite to restore the man to his community and, most importantly, to worship. As an unclean man, he could do neither.
There was no fanfare over this. The man was restored and God received the glory.
Then a centurion comes to Jesus with an urgent request: a paralyzed servant who is “fearfully tormented” (Verse 6, NASB) and asks for the help of Jesus, who is willing to come to the man’s home (as he did for others).
We would expect this. We are very familiar it’s deliverance ministers/healers putting their hands on the sick or disabled and pronouncing them healed, or telling people to walk before an audience, or even boasting with no evidence that they have raised the dead. Yet this story subverts that tendency completely.
Rather than requesting a public spectacle of Jesus, the centurion addresses him as Lord and proclaims surprising faith; Verse 8 and 9 says, “I am not worthy for you to come under my roof, but just say the word and my servant will be healed. For I am a man under authority with soldiers under me; and I say to this one “go” and he goes, and to another “come” and he comes...”
Unbelievable! This gentile believes that’s only a word from Jesus, whose words created all there is (John 1), could heal his servant without a physical touch, much like a general who gives orders. The centurion recognized, much like the leper before him, the sovereignty of Jesus over all things, including human health.
Jesus proclaimed in Verse 10 that this convert’s faith, being a gentile Roman official, is greater than any of the most religious in Jerusalem. He talks about gentiles who come from the “east and west and recline at the table with Abraham,” yet the sons of the kingdom are banished to darkness. The centurion shows the promise of the gospel to all nations, and that unbelievers (even religious pretenders) will have no place at the marriage supper of the Lamb.
So Jesus healed the servant the instant he told the centurion to return home.
Here are a few takeaways from this passage that I’ve found good and useful:
- Even today, physical healing is just as much a work of grace as it was in Matthew’s own day. We should pray accordingly, asking our Heavenly Father for the help we need, and not to presume we can order him to do what we want.
- Jesus is still sovereign over our health, and we are not. We should approach all our physical ailments, both great and small, with that knowledge. He has all authority, not me.
- A miraculous showing or the “laying on of hands” is not a necessary pre-requisite for healing, though elders can anoint the sick, for example, as James writes. However, there is no one person living now who can secure healing or prosperity through his or her personal ministry, only Jesus Christ can secure that. Christ still heals like he healed the centurion’s servant and the leper. He hears earnest prayers in faith, itself a gracious gift of God. The prayers of righteous people are effective.
- When healing occurs, all glory belongs to God. He supplies the means (doctors, medicine, scientifically unexplainable eradication of disease in some occasions) and the ends/resolutions of those conditions. No matter the means that might be involved in the healing event, all praise ultimately belongs to God.
Glory to God alone.