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Death Interrupted

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: Matthew 8:5–13; Luke 7:1–17

Jesus’ miraculous works were designed to reveal who He is, but they were also acts of divine compassion. He sympathizes with our grief and suffering, and that is the standard He sets for us as we deal with hurting people and offer them the gospel of Christ.


I learned in school many years ago that the continents of our planet are shifting—ever so slightly. We used to call this continental drift, but it goes by more technical terms today. The continent of Australia, for instance, drifts nearly three inches to the northeast, every year. Australians do not feel it or see it—the drift is too slow to notice. But it takes place.[1]

When I read about this some time ago, it struck me as just one more illustration that everything on earth changes. There are some things that never change, though. God does not change, and His Word, the psalmist wrote, is “firmly fixed in the heavens” (Psalm 119:89).

Jesus has just finished His famous Sermon on the Mount. He has delivered His word; and today, some 2,000 years later, it is still the truth. Now as the audience empties that hillside where Jesus preached, the Lord heads back home to Capernaum, just a few miles away, according to Luke chapter 7.

The Lord is interrupted by a Roman centurion. A centurion was in command of 100 soldiers. The Greek historian, Polybius, recorded that centurions were “reliable men and highly respected military leaders.”[2]

Luke writes here in verse 2: “A centurion had a servant who was sick and at the point of death, who was highly valued by him.” Matthew’s parallel account describes this sick man as paralyzed (Matthew 8:6). Dr. Luke here says he was “at the point of death.” In other words, you might as well start working on the funeral program.

Verse 3 says, “When the centurion heard about Jesus, he sent to him elders of the Jews, asking him to come and heal his servant.”

We are following Luke’s account here, but let me mention a difference with Matthew’s account over in chapter 8.[3] Luke says the centurion sent elders, while Matthew says the centurion came to Jesus. Which one is correct? Well, both are. In the ancient world, you might send a messenger to act in your favor, and it would be as if you yourself were speaking.[4]

This is interesting, because Jewish elders did not typically run errands for people, much less a Roman centurion.[5] But we are given the inside story here by Luke, who tells us exactly why they showed up:

And when they came to Jesus, they pleaded with him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy to have you do this for him, for he loves our nation, and he is the one who built us our synagogue.” (verses 4-5)

He built their synagogue with his own money! He loved the Jewish people; and building the synagogue indicates that he loved, not only Israel, but also the God of Israel.

As Jesus approaches the centurion’s house, we read here in verses 6-7:

The centurion sent friends, saying to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. Therefore I did not presume to come to you. But say the word, and let my servant be healed.”

This Roman officer is saying, “Lord, all I need is Your word—just speak the word. That will be enough!” All he has to go on is the word of the Lord.

The Lord responds, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith” (verse 9). By the way, I hope that is your testimony today as well: His word is truly enough!

Immediately, the servant was healed (Matthew 8:13). Jesus spoke, and it was settled. What He promised, He produced.

Isn’t this what we are depending upon to this very day, beloved? Just His word? We cannot see Him; we cannot hear Him; but we can trust His word.

Have you ever seen the Book of Life with your name written in it, granting you eternal life? You have not seen it. So how do you know it is really there? You have His word on it.[6] The Bible says that believers in Christ, have their names written in the Book of Life (Philippians 4:3).

Now after this miraculous healing in Capernaum, Jesus, His disciples, and a great crowd travel about twenty miles southwest to the town of Nain.

The village of Nain exists to this day—it’s a little Arab village of about 200 people not far from Nazareth. It was like one of those little towns you pass just off the highway. You are probably not stopping unless you need gas; then you are thankful for it. You come to that little town and exit off the interstate, and there is a gas station with a KFC on one side and a Dunkin’ Donuts on the other side—that’s all I need when I am traveling.

Now the Lord obviously has a purpose for pulling off the main highway to walk over to this little village. We find out almost immediately what it is:

As he drew near to the gate of the town, behold, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of His mother, and she was a widow. (verse 12)

Beloved, this is no chance encounter. The Lord has arrived at this place, right on time. Verse 13 says, “And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said, to her, ‘Do not weep.’” Having compassion on her is the strongest expression in the Greek language for sympathy.[7] You could translate this, “When the Lord saw her, His heart went out to her—He felt deeply for her.”

Then we are told in verse 14, “He came up and touched the bier”the platform on which the body was lying—“and the [pall]bearers stood still.” Don’t miss the fact that Jesus has just touched the environment of a corpse and would have been considered ceremonially unclean. But not if there is no one dead under those wrappings!

I believe as soon as Jesus reached out for it—life surged back into this young man’s body. Then Jesus said, “Young man, I say to you, arise. And the dead man sat up and began to speak.”

That proves he is alive. We are not told what he said; it could have been, “I’m hungry” or “Hi, Mom.” We don’t know. But we are told in verse 15 that Jesus “gave him to his mother.” He reunited this young man with his mother. What a reunion!

Let me tell you, this is the picture of that coming reunion in heaven. Jesus is going to give us back to each other. You are going to see your child again and say, “There you are, at last! I have missed you so much.” You are going to see your believing parents and grandparents again, much younger than you ever remembered them. We can hardly imagine the reunion in that day as every funeral is put into the past, and death is forever interrupted.

Can Jesus just say the word and make someone’s disease disappear? Yes, if He chooses. Can Jesus just speak the word, “Arise,” and cause dead bodies to come back to life? Yes. In fact, one day He will do just that for you and me as well.

Now let me emphasize three truths from these encounters here. First, Jesus considers no one to be unimportant. He does His marvelous work with leading Roman centurions and unknown widows in little villages. No one is unimportant to Him.

Second, Jesus considers no case to be impossible. One man was paralyzed and about to die, and another man, already dead, was being carried to the graveyard. “Nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:37).

Third, Jesus considers no suffering to be insignificant. Of course, the Lord does not always eliminate the suffering. Our loved ones die, and we ourselves suffer at times, according to God’s will. We have not been promised the absence of suffering, but Jesus promises His presence in the midst of it. He enters into it with us, and one day He will put it away from us forever.

[1] David Grossman, “Australia’s GPS Was Off Because the Whole Country Moved,”, July 7, 2016; Chris Foxx, “Australia Plans New Co-Ordinates To Fix Sat-Nav Gap,”, July 29, 2016.

[2] William Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew: Volume 1 (Westminster Press, 1975), 301.

[3] Matthew 8:5-13.

[4] Walter C. Kaiser Jr. et al., Hard Sayings of the Bible (InterVarsity, 1996), 459.

[5] R. Kent Hughes, Luke: Volume 1 (Crossway Books, 1998), 254.

[6] J. C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels (reprint, Evangelical Press, 1985), 104.

[7] William Barclay, The Gospel of Luke (Westminster Press, 1975), 87.

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