In Luke 7 Jesus uttered these somewhat cryptic words about a certain centurion. We should all desire to have “such great faith” that Jesus did not see even in Israel—perhaps at that time even among his own disciples. Let’s lay the groundwork for understanding and having this kind of faith—faith that even amazes Jesus himself—by looking at the entire incident.
Luke 7 When Jesus had finished saying all this to the people who were listening, he entered Capernaum. 2 There a centurion’s servant, whom his master valued highly, was sick and about to die. 3 The centurion heard of Jesus and sent some elders of the Jews to him, asking him to come and heal his servant. 4 When they came to Jesus, they pleaded earnestly with him, “This man deserves to have you do this, 5 because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue.” 6 So Jesus went with them.
He was not far from the house when the centurion sent friends to say to him: “Lord, don’t trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. 7 That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you. 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.”
9 When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, “I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.” 10 Then the men who had been sent returned to the house and found the servant well.
Initially the centurion wanted Jesus to go to the place where his servant was dying to minister to him face-to-face. But while Jesus was on the way, the centurion had a change of mind. It’s likely that he remembered that Jesus was a Jew and he himself was a Gentile; and that Jews at that time ordinarily did not associate with “unclean” Gentiles.
“But say the word, and my servant will be healed.”
Notice that he did not ask Jesus “to pray for his servant” as we always ask of our church leaders today when our loved ones are sick. Rather he was confident that all Jesus had to do was to “say the word” from wherever he happened to be at the moment, and his servant would be healed. First of all, what “word” would that be?
The answer is clearly given in the very next words spoken by the centurion:
“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.”
Being in the military, the centurion understood exactly the nature of authority. When he issued orders to his men, he had absolutely no doubt that they would obey his commands immediately. Moreover, the nature of authority is such that distance between the one having authority and the one under his authority does not affect the efficacy of the authority—not even one iota.
At home our family use to have a mixed lab named Tuffy. Because at the time it was a relatively new home, I would not allow Tuffy to walk on the carpeted areas. When he disobeyed I would discipline him so that he absolutely knew who was boss. However, with my wife and daughters who loved him, Tuffy had the run of whole the house when I was not present. They didn’t have authority over him, and would not obey their commands.
One day I was halfway around the world on a mission trip. While there I was on the internet talking with my wife over skype. She was seated in our family room in front of our home computer—a completely carpeted area. Suddenly I heard her say, “Tuffy, what you are doing here? Go back to the kitchen!” (Our kitchen area is of course not carpeted.)
I could tell that Tuffy stood his ground and would not budge. At that point from halfway around the world I spoke into my microphone with a loud authoritative voice, “Tuffy, go back to the kitchen!” At that very moment Tuggy hightailed back into the kitchen with his tail between his legs. He was many thousands of miles from where I was.
This incident vividly illustrates an essential characteristic of authority: it is not affected in the least by distance between the one with authority and the one under authority.
Being in the military the centurion understood exactly the nature authority and therefore that distance is not problem. As far as he was concerned all Jesus had to do was to issue a command from wherever he happened to be at that moment. Since he knew that infirmities and demons were under Jesus’ authority, the infirmity afflicting his servant would certainly go when Jesus “said the word” with authority by issuing a command. Unlike the Israelites most of whom had to physically approach Jesus for their healing, he knew exactly HOW Jesus could heal his servant even at a distance.
9 When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, “I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.”
Jesus was amazed at the centurion’s unique understanding of authority, a paramount understanding that gave him a kind of unusual faith that Jesus did not see even among the Israelites.
In the same way, such faith today is not seen in the Church either. This is the primary reason why miraculous healings are rare in the Church today. Far more significantly for the Great Commission, this is likely the primary reason why the Church’s preaching of the gospel on the Third World mission field today, with a few exceptions, falls far short of the effectiveness and fruitfulness of the ministry of the early disciples in Acts.
Our tradition teaches us that with regard to infirmities, the only thing we can do is to cry out to God to perform the healing, and after that leave the results up to Him. After all, only God has authority to heal the sick miraculously. We believers are not Jesus and are clearly helpless to perform miracles as only He can. Therefore we pray to God for the sick, and His will be done. Sadly, our tradition actually teaches us to be completely helpless in an area where we are actually not.
Interestingly, in the gospels not once did Jesus teach His disciples to pray for the sick in this way—that is, after prayer we leave the results up to God. When Jesus sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God, He commanded them to heal the sick.
Luke 9 When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, 2 and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal the sick.
Luke 10 After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. …9 Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’
Jesus always commanded His disciples not to “pray for the sick,” but rather to “heal the sick” using the power and authority He had given them before He sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God.
Sadly, this power and authority are not understood by the great majority of the Church today. That is why we simply pray to God for the sick and after that leave the results up to Him. We fail to obey the command of the Lord to heal the sick, especially when preaching the gospel to the lost.
The Church today is like Israel to which Jesus referred when He declared about the centurion: “I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.” Very few in the Church understand authority like the centurion, and so sadly, very few disciples today have great faith. Even those who understand authority for some reason usually do not teach it to others.
But when we really understand the nature of authority over diseases and demons, we can have “such great faith.” We will be set free from the doubt, fear, and uncertainty which paralyze almost all believers when they attempt to minister to the sick using the Lord’s power and authority.
In this way we will be able to heal the sick miraculously when preaching the gospel to the lost—just as Jesus commanded. Powerful miraculous healings on the mission field will bring Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and idol-worshipers to Jesus Christ. When missionaries to resistant peoples understand the authority Christ has given them for the sake of the gospel, their fruitfulness for the harvest can increase exponentially. It will be like night and day. Missions as in Acts will be restored.
And as a wonderful “side-benefit,” according to James 5 there can be provision for sick believers to be miraculously healed as well when “prayed over” with the Lord’s power and authority.
Matthew 8:13 Then Jesus said to the centurion, “Go! Let it be done just as you believed it would.” And his servant was healed at that moment.