The day Jesus was surprised


Jesus was “astonished” at the faith of the Roman centurion who came to Him seeking healing for his sick servant (Matthew 8:10). The same word is used in Mark 6:6 to describe how Jesus was "astonished" at the unbelief of the people in his home town. These are the only times this verb occurs in the entire New Testament with reference to Jesus. Jesus was rarely surprised by anything, but those two situations caught him off guard. It astonished Jesus that, in spite of all the miracles, his townsfolk could see no further than the boy they had grown up with. It equally astonished Him that this centurion, entirely foreign to Israel and the covenant promises of God, could so easily grasp hold of who Jesus was in relation to his Father. The townsfolk of Nazareth saw only Jesus’ earthly father, the centurion saw only his heavenly Father. The townsfolk limited Jesus to what his earthly father could give him, the centurion saw that Jesus could have anything his heavenly Father gave him. In one sense, therefore, the two stories are all about how different people understood Jesus and how they received him.

The centurion, by receiving Jesus as the Son of God and giving him due honour, placed himself in the middle of God’s chain of authority. The centurion was the link in the chain between Jesus and the sick servant. The centurion, by placing himself under Jesus’ authority, tapped into that authority and became the channel by which that authority flowed to the servant. Even though the centurion himself had no direct physical role in the healing, he was the human channel by which it occurred. It was by his faith that the servant was healed (Matt. 8:13). If he had not come to Jesus, if he had not recognized Jesus’ authority, if he had not come under that authority, the power of God would not have been released to heal the servant.

Jesus said that he had not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. The centurion’s faith was not great because he believed that Jesus could heal by long distance. The centurion’s faith was great because, as a Gentile raised completely outside the knowledge of God, he had, in a way even the disciples had not yet seen, penetrated into the secret of Jesus’ authority. He had seen that Jesus himself was the Son of God, and because he stood directly under his Father’s authority, he had power even over sickness. The centurion understood exactly where Jesus’ authority came from and how it operated. And he did all this without being raised in the Scriptures or in the knowledge of God. But he did possess one thing, and that one thing was enough: an understanding of authority which was so acute it led him to the one with authority over all.

Moving by faith to enter into God's chain of authority does not give us the ability to do anything outside of God's will. But failure to exercise faith is equally failure to recognize Jesus for who he truly is, and that failure will mean God will not use us to do what he otherwise could have done through us. God being God, he will find another way of bringing his kingdom on earth, but what a tragedy when we fail to understand who Jesus is, fail to understand the nature of his authority, fail to enter into a totally submitted relationship with him which releases that authority, and in the end fail to enter into the destiny for which God created us.

I doubt Jesus is astonished at anything from his seat beside the Father's throne, but if he is, I would rather he be astonished at my faith than at my unbelief. How about you?