Chapter 18.1 "Just Say the Word"
Autumn of A.D. 27 to spring of 29 (about a year and a half)
Christ Raising the Son of the Widow of Nain, detail of original oil painting on canvas by Domenico Fiasella, 1589-1669
Christ Raising the Son of the Widow of Nain, detail of original oil painting on canvas by Domenico Fiasella, 1589-1669
(CLICK on the image above for a LARGER version)

Centurion’s Servant

The Roman centurion Paulos was in charge of the soldiers quartered in Capernaum. The officer had learned to love Israel and revere Israel’s God, and had earned the respect and affection of the leading Jews in Capernaum. He was not only honest and upright, but in his official position had been instrumental in building their synagogue. Now Paulos’ highly valued servant was sick and near death. Chuza, who lived nearby, had told the Roman officer how his son had been healed by Jesus’ word, and suggested he turn to him for help.

When Christ came to the edge of the city, he was met by Jairus and other believing Jewish leaders who asked him to heal Paulos’ trusted servant, “Please come with us and help our friend. If anyone deserves your help, it is he, for he loves the Jews and even built a synagogue for us.”

Jesus was impressed with their faith and went with them. A large number of other people followed behind his friends to see what he would do. The centurion’s home was not in Capernaum itself, but in its immediate neighborhood on the road to Tiberius.

Before they arrived, Paulos came to them on the road and pleaded with the Savior, “Sir, my young servant lies in bed, paralyzed and racked with pain.”

“I will come and heal him,” Jesus replied.

“Lord, I am not worthy to have you come into my home!” exclaimed Paulos. “Just say the word from where you are, and my servant will be healed! I know, because I am under the authority of my superior officers and I have authority over my soldiers. I only need to say, ‘Go,’ and they go, or ‘Come,’ and they come. And if I say to my slaves, ‘Do this or that,’ they do it.”

The centurion’s humility and belief in his ability to heal from a distance amazed Jesus. Turning to the crowd who had been following, he spoke loud enough for all to hear, “Truly, I have not seen faith like this in all the land of Israel!”

Some of them wondered if the Master would heal his servant, or if the Gentile Paulos would be barred from a share in Israel’s blessing.

Christ knew what they were thinking. “I tell you this: many Gentiles will come from all over the world and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob at the feast in the kingdom of heaven. But many Israelites for whom the kingdom was prepared will be cast into outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Then he turned back to the Roman officer and spoke warmly, “Go on home. As you have believed, so let it be.” At that very moment the boy was healed.

When Paulos returned to his house, he found it was all true. In the centurion’s self acknowledged unfitness lay the real fitness with true Israel, and in his deep felt unworthiness was the real worthiness for the kingdom and its blessings.

Surely the Judaism of non-believing hearers could never have received a more rude shock than by this inversion of all their cherished traditions. It was a common belief that when the Messiah redeemed Israel, they would be gathered together for a great feast with the patriarchs and heroes of the Jewish faith. As each weekly Sabbath was to be honored by a feast with the best food the family could afford, so would the world’s great Sabbath be marked by a feast in which the Great Householder, Israel’s King would entertain his household and guests. To them, one thing was clear: Gentiles could have no part in that feast.

But Christ had opened his spiritual kingdom to all believers. Paulos had inherited the kingdom by faith—all that was required for entry.

Raising of Widow’s Son

The next morning, Jesus left Capernaum for the town of Nain. The spring countryside was surely the truest realization of the picture in the Song of Solomon when the earth clad herself in garments of beauty and the air was melodious with songs of new life. It seemed as if each day marked a widening circle of deeper sympathy and higher power on the part of the Healer; and also brought with it fresh surprise, new gladness, untapped possibilities, and pointed Israel far beyond the horizon of narrow expectancy.

Yesterday it was the sorrow of the Gentile centurion until faith called out and placed him on the high platform of Israel’s worthies. Today it is the sorrow of a Jewish mother in Nain which touches the heart of the Son of Mary, and appeals to where denial is unthinkable.

The way to Nain was more than twenty-five miles, but on foot there was no difficulty in reaching it before evening, when many funerals took place. The burying ground was about ten minutes’ walk to the east. By this path from Endor, Jesus came with his disciples and the ever growing multitude. As they came near the walled city, a funeral procession moved out of the gate toward them accompanied by wailing and mournful music of flutes. As the procession came closer, they saw a woman named Miriam walking beside the bier and a body wrapped in white grave clothes lying on it; not of an old man glad to have done with mortal pain, but of a teenager dead on the threshold of manhood. Miriam was his mother who had lived in and for him, for she was a widow and had no other sons. Her tears blinded her and she did not see the people coming up the hill.

When the two crowds converged into one, Jesus felt the widowed mother’s deep sorrow. Now Miriam began to feel something that warmed and strengthened her like the brightness of the sun. Her swollen eyelids strained open and she was aware of a tall man standing in the path, blocking the way between her son and his grave. The Lord’s heart overflowed with compassion and he said, “Do not weep.”

His words of comfort caused Miriam to suddenly wipe the tears out of her eyes as though she had no further use for them, and then she saw the one who spoke clearly. It was as though her life up to then had been a living death, but now, seeing his glowing presence, she was alive.

Standing beside her, Jesus laid his hand on the bier where her dead son lay and the bearers immediately set it down. The Author of Life had no fear of the greatest of all defilements—contact with the dead. Wailing and music of the flutes ceased. The two crowds meeting here outside the city wall were still, silent, and gripped by awe. No one moved or spoke. No one could anticipate what would follow.

The Son of God gathered his power and his voice rang out, “Young man, get up!” In his presence, death and grief could not continue.

Hearing that sovereign command, the dead boy sat up and began to speak to those around him! Not about that world of which he had only a brief glimpse. For as one who suddenly passes from dream vision to waking loses what he had seen in the abruptness of the transition, so did he who was hurried from that dazzling brightness back to the dim light to which he had been accustomed. It seemed as if he had wakened from long sleep. Where was he now? Whose light and life fell upon him?

Christ helped the living boy off his bier and put him back into Miriam’s arms so she could feel his warm and pulsing life. From then on, mother and son loved and trusted him as the true Messiah. The Lord of Life for the first time burst open the gates of death! This miracle was something quite outside of human experience.

At Nain, the divine Presence fell on those who saw this miracle and the hymn of divine praise swept over their souls, “A mighty Prophet has risen among us! God has shown his care for his people!” Further and wider spread the wave over Judea—and beyond.

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