Matthew wrote the Sermon on the Mount to show us all the things Jesus taught as He went about the countryside in Galilee. It gives us the big picture of what He said about life in the Kingdom of Heaven. Many of those ideas are also told in the book of Luke, but they are scattered throughout his book as Luke showed how Jesus was teaching those things along the way. As He came into new towns and new areas, He would share His message over and over again, giving each community in the nation of Israel the chance to respond to their Messiah.
Jesus challenged His disciples to do more than listen to His teaching. They had to put it into practice. And that is exactly what Jesus was doing as He travelled. As we continue to read the story of Jesus’ life, it is like we are watching His Sermon come alive. The Sermon teaches how to honor the Law of God with perfection, and that is what Jesus did. The Lord said that the disciple who is blessed is poor in spirit, meek, merciful, and pure in heart. They will mourn sin and evil, act as peacemakers, and accept persecution for the cause of his Kingdom. As you read the stories of Christ’s life, try to point out when you see these qualities in our Savior. He is our model.
The Lord came down the mountain and headed for the town of Capernaum. The great masses of people followed right along as He walked. In the midst of the crowd there were some Jewish elders. They were men of high honor and dignity, but they came up to Jesus with earnest looks on their faces. They desperately wanted His help, but not for their own need. They had come out of concern for someone else.
There was a Roman centurion, a high ranking soldier, who was facing something terrible. He had a devoted and faithful servant who was suffering. He was paralyzed and in great pain. They were sure he was about to die. When the centurion heard about this Jesus who had the power to heal, he went to the Jewish elders. He asked them to go to Jesus and ask Him if He would heal his servant.
The elders had a deep respect for the centurion. So they went out to find Jesus. When they met Him on the road, they pleaded with Him, saying, “‘This man deserves to have you do this, because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue.’”
Now here was something new! Jewish men were honoring and serving a Roman soldier! When Jesus heard this, He understood that this was a remarkable situation. He said, “‘I will come and heal him.’” He started to go with the elders to his house, but as he drew near the house, they were stopped. The centurion had sent his friends out to meet them with a message:
“‘Lord, don’t trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you. But say the word, and my servant will be healed. 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’”
Wow. This man understood what it meant to have power. He worked for an army that gave him authority. His men were quick to obey and serve. The centurion understood that Jesus had authority, too. He believed Jesus had power over illness. He even had faith that Jesus could command healing from far away!
When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at this centurion. He turned to look at the multitudes of crowds that were following him through the streets. “‘I tell you, I have not found such great faith in all Israel.’”
Wow. The Gentile, the non-Jewish person who was considered unclean by most of the Jews, had more faith than anyone Jesus had met so far! How ironic…and how sad for Jesus. How He must have longed to see that simple, strong belief in His own people!
Jesus said, “Go! Let it be done just as you believed it would.” At that very moment the servant was healed. Imagine what it was like for the servant to feel his body change. What was it like for his family…what if he had kids? Imagine the kind of awe and celebration in the centurion’s household that night. Their day had gone from deep sorrow to astonished joy, from the weariness of mourning to relief and dancing. But that is how our Lord is. He is the God of reversals.
Then Jesus said:
“‘And I say to you, that many shall come from east and west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven; but the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth’”
Any time the Bible talks about “gnashing of teeth,” we are being given really intense imagery. What makes you so angry or miserable that you actually begin to gnash your teeth together?
What Jesus said was also offensive. He didn’t let that stop Him. The Jews believed that the salvation belonged only to them. They thought that because they were Abraham’s descendants, they automatically inherited God’s covenant promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They were born to be members of the Kingdom of Heaven. But Jesus said this wasn’t so. Abraham’s true descendants were the ones who shared in the faith of Abraham, like the Roman centurion.
Jesus also said that one day, at the end of time, anyone who shared in that righteous faith would dine with the great heroes of the Old Testament. Wow. That is amazing news! Can you picture yourself there, sitting with Abraham, feasting away?
But Jesus was also giving a very stern warning. He was showing that the Kingdom of Israel was not the exact same thing as the Kingdom of Heaven. Everyone who was born a Jew was a member of the nation of Israel, but only those who had faith in Jesus would be welcomed into the Kingdom of Heaven. The rest of Israel would be left out in the land of torment and pain…it would be so bad that they would gnash their teeth. They had been given the Word of God. The Son of God Himself had come to their rescue. Those who reject Him were choosing separation from God. And in the end, if they didn’t repent, God would let them have their way for all eternity.