For the entire time Jesus was on earth, there are only two recorded instances of Jesus being amazed!
The first instance occurs in his visit to his hometown of Nazareth. The people didn’t believe in him and because of their unbelief . . .
5 He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. 6 He was amazed at their lack of faith (Mark 6:5-6).
The second instance is found in Luke 7:9, in the first story we will consider. In speaking of the Lord’s reaction to the centurion’s great faith Luke tells us, “He was amazed at him.”
In the latter part of Luke 6, Jesus selects his twelve apostles after a night of prayer on a mountain then comes down with them and delivers a sermon which has been come to be called the Sermon on the Plain because he gives it on “a level place” (Luke 6:17). It covers a lot of the same territory as the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew, but with a few Lucan emphases. That is where chapter 7 picks up, “When Jesus finished saying all this to the people who were listening . . .” (v. 1). Sermon over, Jesus goes on to Capernaum.
Going to Capernaum was a homecoming of sorts for Jesus. Capernaum was his base of operations during his Galilean ministry. He traveled around and ministered in many of the towns and villages of Galilee, but he always returned to Capernaum. Indeed, in Matthew 9:1 Capernaum is referred to as “his own town.”
Capernaum was the home of Peter and Andrew. It was in the Capernaum synagogue that Jesus had amazed the people by healing a man possessed by an unclean spirit. It was in Capernaum that Jesus had healed Peter’s mother-in-law. And it was on the Sea of Galilee near Capernaum where Jesus had finally succeeded in catching the fishermen, Peter and his partners. And it was Capernaum which received one of the Lord’s harshest condemnations.
And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted to the heavens? No, you will go down to Hades. For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day (Matthew 11:23).
But on this day, as Jesus enters the town he is met with . . .
An Amazing Request (vv. 1-5).
First, it is an amazing request because of who it came from – a Roman soldier. A centurion was a commander over 100 men. He was, apparently, a rich and powerful person as he could pay for the building of a synagogue. He was also a good and generous man.
It is amazing that the Jewish leaders would speak on his behalf. He was a Roman soldier – a representative of the occupying power. Usually, Jews didn’t like Romans and Romans didn’t like Jews. The Jewish leaders who come to Jesus on his behalf say, “he loves our nation and has built our synagogue” (v. 5). This would make him an extraordinary person.
This centurion has a problem that he cannot solve. His servant is ill to the point of death. The text says that the centurion valued his servant highly. What we know about this man suggests that it is more than financial value that makes this servant important to him. I think there is personal value here, too. This servant is a trusted friend, as well. No doubt the centurion has done all that his power, position and wealth can afford for his servant, but all to no avail.
He has heard about Jesus and believes that Jesus can help his servant. But, he doesn’t go to meet Jesus in person. In fact, Jesus and this centurion never meet face to face. Instead, he asks some of the Jewish leaders to go to Jesus on his behalf. Probably reasoning that Jesus will be more responsive to his own people.
Amazing Faith (vv. 6-10)
Jesus agrees to go with them and is on his way to the centurion’s home, when another group arrives with a message, “On second thought, don’t come to my house. I am not worthy of your presence under my roof. Just say the word and I know my servant will be healed.” The text says, “When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him” (v. 9).
The Lord. Amazed.
You must think, “That’s not possible!” This is the Lord. What could possibly amaze him? Well, Jesus tells us. He turns to the crowd following him and says, “I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel” (v. 9). He is amazed at this man’s faith.
His was a confident faith. The centurion had confidence that Jesus could help him. His confidence was based upon his understanding of authority.
But say the word, and my servant will be healed. 8 For 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 (v 7).
As a soldier, he is under authority and, as a commander, he has authority. If his cilliarch (commander of 1,000) tells him to do something, he does it. If he tells one of his decanii (commander of 10) to go somewhere, they go. He recognizes that Jesus is a man who has authority over sickness. He can command it to go and it will go. The servant is healed (v. 10) without Jesus laying a hand upon him, without, apparently, even speaking a word.
The centurion’s faith is amazing and extraordinary. He had a problem which he knew he was powerless to solve, so he reached out to the only person he believed could help him – Jesus. He expresses faith in a man who (as far as we know) he has never met, based only upon what he has heard about him. Jesus told (doubting) Thomas, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:23).
This story is about the amazing, extraordinary faith of the centurion. We that Jesus responding to such faith. The call here is for us to exhibit such faith. When we doubt that God can help stories such as this encourage us to believe.
But perhaps you’re feeling a bit outclassed by this centurion. Maybe you’re thinking “I can see why Jesus granted the centurion’s request, but my faith isn’t amazing or extraordinary. Will Jesus still help me if I can’t work up super faith?” Many of us, perhaps most of us are like the man who said to Jesus, “"I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!" (Mark 9:24).
The next story is for you, for here we see the Lord’s . . .
Amazing Compassion (vv. 11-17)
Jesus goes to a town called Nain, just a few miles from Capernaum. There he encounters a tragic scene; a funeral procession heading for the cemetery. A widow’s only son has died. This is a tragic situation because in those days before Social Security a woman without a male relative would have no means of support.
The text tells us “When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her” (v. 13). The Greek word here is very strong. It is visceral -- “moved in one’s inward parts”. Jesus was moved deeply by the woman’s plight and he decides to do something. Jesus is motivated solely by his compassion. No one, not even the woman, has asked Jesus to do anything. It seems never to have occurred to anybody to do so. Maybe Jesus could heal sickness, maybe he could cast out demons, but Death? Well, that’s final. To the woman and the townspeople it’s an impossible situation.
He says to her, “Don’t cry” (v. 13). That is probably the most insensitive thing you could say to a person who has just lost a loved one. If you ever say to someone grieving, “Don’t cry,” well, you deserve whatever negative response you get. But Jesus is not being insensitive. He can say , “Don’t cry,” because he knows what he is about to do.
In the ancient Near East, in fact in the Near East today, they don’t bury the dead in coffins. The body would be transported to the grave on a kind of stretcher or open basket. It is this that Jesus walks up to and touches. The bearers stop. Probably they’re wondering what he’s up to. I can imagine a hush falling over the crowd; and then Jesus says, “Young man, I say to you, get up!” (v. 14). And the body sits up! And begins to talk! You talk about a shock? I can’t imagine what the reaction would be.
Jesus gave him back to his mother (v. 15). The same words are used of Elijah when he raised the son of the widow of Zarephath (1 Kings 17:23). Resurrections don’t happen often in the Bible, but when they do it’s a sign a great prophet has appeared. The people make the connection, they are filled with awe and praise God, “A great prophet has appeared among us. God has come to help his people” (v. 16).
These stories and others like them are included in the Scripture to show us just how amazing Jesus is. Jesus has authority over sickness and power even over death. The “impossible situation” is not impossible for Christ.
Most of us have no trouble believing that Jesus can help us. But we may struggle with the notion that he wants to help us. The second story assures us that Jesus knows our troubles and has compassion for us. Our lack of faith doesn’t constitute a barrier to Christ’s power or compassion. Nor is lack of doubt a prerequisite to Jesus’ help.
Don’t ever think that Jesus doesn’t care about your plight. He sees the troubles that beset us and his response is compassion. It’s what brought him to the cross.
And don’t think that you must gin up some super faith before God will respond to you. Jesus, who commended the centurion’s great faith, also said, “[I]f you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you" (Matthew 17:20). It is not the greatness of your faith that matters, but the greatness of the Object of your faith.
These stories ought to inspire us to greater faith, and encourage us to trust God more.