When the Son of Man Marveled
“You either got faith or you got unbelief, and there ain’t no neutral ground.”
- Bob Dylan in “Precious Angel,” from the Slow Train Coming album
The Messiah Yeshua was the Son of man and the Son of God. He was fully Divine and fully human. He was not half-god and half-human, like some character from pagan mythology. Even though He was God incarnate, the Word (Greek Logos, Aramaic Memra) manifested in flesh, He was also the Son of man, ben adam, which in Hebrew means “a son of Adam,” i.e., a human being.
As a human being, Yeshua experienced human emotions. In the wide range of human emotions, one emotion that humans can experience is the emotion which could be described as that of wonder, of marvel, of astonishment, of amazement. This emotion is usually brought on by witnessing something which is very much out of the ordinary, something which is totally unexpected, something that surprises, shocks, stuns, or flabbergasts. It might be something supernatural and miraculous, but it does not need to be. It might be something good, or it might be something not so good.
In the Gospels and Acts we read many examples of people marveling, usually as a result of Yeshua’s miracles and/or His teachings. But there are only two examples of Yeshua marveling at something. Apparently it took a lot to make the Son of man marvel. Nothing much seemed to surprise Him. But there were two things which caused Yeshua to marvel. What was it that caused the Son of man to marvel? What out-of-the-ordinary, totally unexpected things did He witness that caused Him to be amazed, surprised, shocked, stunned, flabbergasted?
The first thing that caused Yeshua to marvel was the great faith of a Roman centurion who asked Him to heal his servant. “When Yeshua heard it, He marveled, and said to them that followed, Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no not in Israel” (Matt. 8:10). The second thing which caused Yeshua to marvel was the unbelief of the Jews in His hometown synagogue in Nazareth. “And He marveled because of their unbelief” (Mark 6:6).
Great faith or great unbelief. These are the two things which cause the Son of man to marvel. I don’t know about you, but if I’m going to make the Son of man marvel, I want Him to marvel because I have great faith, not because I have great unbelief. So let’s look at these two events which caused the Son of man to marvel. First, the great faith of the Roman centurion.
One reason the great faith of the Roman centurion caused Yeshua to marvel was no doubt simply because the man was a Gentile, and a Roman soldier at that. Prior to the Resurrection of Yeshua and the engrafting of Gentiles into Israel, the Gentiles (unless they went through a formal conversion to Judaism) were “without Messiah, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12).
Prior to the engrafting of Gentiles into Israel, a Gentile had no claim on any of the blessings promised to Israel, and especially no claim on Israel’s Messiah, the greatest of all Israel’s blessings. For any Gentile to even consider approaching Israel’s Messiah with a personal request required great faith. And this particular Gentile was a Roman centurion, a military officer of the Roman army which was occupying Israel’s land and oppressing the Jews. He was not merely a Gentile, he was an officer in the enemy army! For a Gentile civilian to approach Israel’s Messiah with a personal request would have required great faith. For a Gentile centurion in the Roman army to do so required even greater faith. And that man’s great faith caused Yeshua to marvel.
This Roman centurion could have focused on the things that were not in his favor, i.e., his status as a Gentile and his position as a Roman military officer. If he had focused on these things, he would have resigned himself to losing his beloved servant “who was dear unto him” and “was sick, and ready to die” ((Luke 7:2). Had he focused on his unworthiness, he would not have had the great faith he needed to ask and receive.
How many times have you heard born-again believers say things like the following? “I’m not going to ask the Lord to do such-and-such for me. I’m not worthy to ask Him for something like that. I’m not good enough. I don’t deserve anything like that. Why would He listen to me?”
If you think this way about yourself, take a tip from the Roman centurion. He was a Gentile alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, a stranger from the covenants of promise, a man without hope and without God in the world. But none of this stopped him from asking Yeshua to do a miracle as a personal favor to him. If you are a born-again believer, this Roman centurion puts you to shame, because if you are a born-again believer, you do not have the disadvantages he had. You are not alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, you are not a stranger from the covenants of promise, you are not without hope and without God in the world. Therefore you should have even greater faith than this Roman centurion had!
It’s true that we are not worthy and not good enough and don’t deserve any blessings from the Lord. Even the centurion knew that. “I am not worthy that Thou shouldest enter under my roof” was the message he sent to Yeshua. He knew he was not worthy, but he did not let his unworthiness stop him from making the request. Furthermore, the elders of the Jews told Yeshua that the centurion was worthy. The centurion sent the elders of the Jews to ask Yeshua to heal his servant, and “when they came to Yeshua, they besought Him instantly, saying, That he was worthy for whom He should do this: For he loveth our nation, and he hath built us a synagogue” (Luke 7:4f).
Even though this man was a Gentile Roman centurion, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, he apparently felt drawn to Israel and identified with Israel, so much so that he built a synagogue for the Jews. If you find it difficult to have great faith, perhaps it would help to do what this centurion did. Begin to love the nation of Israel. Let yourself be drawn to Israel. Realize that if you are a follower of Israel’s Messiah, you are a member of the commonwealth of Israel. Begin to think and live like a Messianic Israelite. Living on this side of the Cross, it should be easier for you to have great faith than it was for the centurion.
Now let’s consider the second thing that made the Son of man marvel, the unbelief of the Jews in the synagogue of Nazareth, the town where Yeshua grew up.
Just as the great faith of the Roman centurion is an example to encourage us to have great faith, so the great unbelief of the Jews of Nazareth is a warning to urge us to war against doubt, skepticism, cynicism, rationalism, and other similar -isms which provide fertile soil where unbelief can take root and grow in our hearts.
Why did the Jews of Nazareth have unbelief so deep-rooted that it caused the Son of man to marvel? Prior to this visit to Nazareth, Yeshua had done quite a few things which caused the multitudes to marvel. He had preached the Sermon on the Mount “and the people were astonished at His doctrine” (Matt. 7:28). He had cleansed lepers, delivered demon-possessed people, healed the sick, and raised a twelve-year-old girl from the dead. He had calmed a stormy sea, and “the men marveled, saying, What manner of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey Him?” (Matt. 8:27). He had healed a paralytic, and “when the multitudes saw it, they marveled, and glorified God, which had given such power unto men” (Matt. 9:8). Even in the synagogue in Nazareth that day, “many hearing Him were astonished, saying, From whence hath this man these things? And what wisdom is this which is given unto him, that even such mighty works are wrought by his hands?” (Mark 6:2). But in spite of their astonishment at Yeshua’s teachings, and their recognition of Yeshua’s wisdom, and their acknowledgment of His mighty works, they were still so filled with unbelief that Yeshua “marveled because of their unbelief.”
I don’t know about you, but I find this rather scary. Why? Because it shows that we can marvel at Yeshua’s teachings and recognize His great wisdom and acknowledge His mighty works, yet still be filled with so much unbelief that it causes Him to marvel at our unbelief.
Why were the Jews of Nazareth filled with so much unbelief? If we can understand the reason, it can help us combat unbelief that tries to take root in our hearts.
The reason the Jews of Nazareth were so full of unbelief is because they were... well, the Jews of Nazareth. They had watched Yeshua grow up in their village. The Jews outside of Nazareth might think of Yeshua as a prophet, but the Jews of Nazareth knew better. To them, he was just another carpenter-turned-rabbi from Nazareth, just Joe and Mary’s boy. “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James, and Joses, and of Juda, and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” (Mark 6:3).
The Jews of Nazareth did not even recognize Him as a prophet worthy of honor. On the contrary, “they were offended at Him” (Mark 6:3), prompting Yeshua to say to them, “A prophet is not without honour, but in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house” (Mark 6:4).
COMBATTING UNBELIEF BY NOT LIMITING GOD
If we want to combat unbelief in our heart, one thing we must do is take Yeshua’s statement to heart. It’s one thing to recognize a prophetic call and anointing on someone who is a stranger to you. But what happens if God puts a prophetic call and anointing on someone who is of your own country and among your own kin or in your own house?
You may have heard the saying “Familiarity breeds contempt.” This is a concise way of saying that the more closely you associate with someone, the less respect you have for their authority. This is often the case with people whom God has called and anointed, because God calls and anoints imperfect people. The more closely you associate with an imperfect person, the more aware you become of his flaws and imperfections. And the more aware you become of his flaws and imperfections, the less respect you have for him.
Of course in the case of Yeshua, it was not awareness of flaws and imperfections that lessened the people’s respect for Him, because He was flawless and perfect. For the Jews of Nazareth it was apparently just their familiarity with Yeshua that provided the soil for unbelief to take root in their hearts. Like many of their forefathers, they “limited the Holy one of Israel” (Ps. 78:41).
They limited the Holy One by ruling out the possibility that God might call and anoint one of their own country, kindred, and house, just as their forefathers had done. Joseph’s brothers despised their little brother for the prophetic dreams God gave him, but eventually bowed down to him. Moses’ Hebrew brethren initially rejected him as God’s chosen deliverer, but later acknowledged him and followed him out of Egypt. Joshua and Caleb’s peers wanted to stone them for urging the people to go in and take the land God had promised them. That generation died in the wilderness because of their unbelief, but their children followed Joshua and Caleb into the Land. Jephthah’s brothers thrust him out of their house, but later called him back to lead them in their fight against their enemy. David’s brothers did not recognize the anointing on their little brother’s life, but David eventually became king over all twelve tribes of Israel. Jeremiah was rejected and persecuted by his peers for prophesying that Jerusalem would be destroyed and the Jews would be carried away captive to Babylon. But Jerusalem was destroyed and the Jews were carried away captive into Babylon.
This was the oft-repeated pattern of prophets being rejected by their peers in Old Testament times. And the Jews of Nazareth continued this same pattern into the New Testament times by their rejection of Yeshua.
It’s easy for us to criticize the Jews of Old Testament times and of New Testament times and even Jews of contemporary times for their unbelief. But what do we followers of Yeshua do in these post-New Testament times? Do we, like the Jews of old, not even consider the possibility that God might actually call and anoint one of our peers to do some wonderful thing for the glory of God? Do we rule out the possibility that God might have a prophetic call and anointing on someone we know, someone from our own country, kindred, or house? Or (dare I say it?), do you rule out the possibility that the Lord might have a call and anointing on you to do something great for the glory of God?
God is sovereign. He can do whatever He wants. “But our God is in the heavens: He hath done whatsoever He pleased” (Ps. 115:3). He can choose and use anyone He wants, to do anything He wants done. God appeared in a burning bush to a reluctant shepherd with a speech impediment, and He used that imperfect shepherd to bring down awesome plagues upon Egypt, to split the sea open, and to lead a nation of slaves to freedom. God can and does still call and anoint imperfect people to do extraordinary things.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that miracles can only be done through perfect people. The only miracles that were ever done through a perfect person were the miracles done by Yeshua. All the rest of the miracles in the Bible were done through imperfect people. So if you are an imperfect person, welcome to the club. Be assured that the Lord can use you or someone you know to do miracles.
And don’t make the mistake of thinking that miracles can happen only in some other time or in some other place. “I believe God did miracles in the past, but not now, at least not here at this time.” This sort of thinking and talking will cause Yeshua to marvel at your unbelief, even if you are astonished by His teachings, recognize His wisdom, and acknowledge the mighty works He has done for other people in other places at other times. He wants to also do mighty works for us at this time and in this place. Don’t rob yourself of potential blessings which God might impart to you through the prayers of your imperfect peers. Don’t let familiarity breed contempt.
COMBATTING UNBELIEF BY RECOGNIZING GOD’S HIGH ESTEEM FOR AUTHORITY
Why do I say that our recognition of God’s high esteem for authority can help combat unbelief? Because it was the Roman centurion’s recognition of how authority works that gave him his great faith. This is evident from the words he spoke to Yeshua:
“Lord, I am not worthy that Thou shouldest come under my roof: but speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed.” How did he know this? The rest of his statement tells us how he knew this: “For [i.e., because] I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me: and I say to this man, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it” (Matt. 8:8f).
These were the words which caused Yeshua to marvel and to say, “Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no not in Israel.” It was not just the fact that this Gentile Roman centurion had the chutzpah, the gall, to boldly make a personal request of Israel’s Messiah; it was also the fact that this Gentile understood how highly God esteems authority, and he understood it better than any Israelite did.
The centurion understood how and why authority works. He knew that the soldiers under his authority obeyed him because he himself was under the authority of Caesar. His soldiers did not obey him because they thought he was perfect nor because they always agreed with his decisions. They obeyed him because they recognized the authority Caesar had bestowed upon him as a centurion in the Roman army. If they disobeyed their centurion, they would answer to Caesar. To disobey their commanding officer amounted to disobeying Caesar, because Caesar had commanded soldiers to obey their centurions.
With this understanding of how authority works, the centurion knew that Yeshua was submitted to the authority of the God of Israel, and that God had bestowed authority upon Yeshua to heal. Just as the centurion could command a soldier “Go” and the soldier would go, so he knew that Yeshua could command a sickness or a disease or a demon to go, and it would have to go. “Speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed.” A soldier would obey the centurion because the soldier recognized Caesar’s authority upon the centurion, and a sickness or a disease or a demon would obey Yeshua because the devil recognized the heavenly Father’s authority on Yeshua. The centurion knew that just as he could command and expect obedience from his soldiers, he could likewise count on the devil’s obedience to Yeshua’s commands.
If we want to have great faith that will make the Son of man marvel, we have to recognize God’s high esteem for authority - not only the authority which the heavenly Father bestowed upon His perfect Son many centuries ago in a far-away land, but also the authority He bestows upon His imperfect sons and daughters at this present time and in this place. If great faith is to grow out of our understanding of authority, it must be an understanding of authority that exists in the here and now, and not just authority that existed in the there and then.
Do you want faith that will make the Son of man marvel and will cause Him to respond favorably to your personal requests? Do you want to pray with authority? What gives you the authority to command sickness to depart or to cast out demons or to otherwise give orders to the powers of darkness? Why should the powers of darkness yield to your commands?
The centurion understood that he had a right to exercise authority over others only because he himself was submitted to authority. He understood that a person can exercise authority over others only if he himself is accountable to authority.
In the heavenly sphere we are to be submitted to the authority of Yeshua, who is submitted to the heavenly Father: “the head of every man is Christ... and the head of Christ is God” (1 Cor. 11:3). We are also to be submitted to human authority in the earthly realm: children to parents (Eph. 6:1-3; Col. 3:20), wives to husbands (Eph. 5:22; Col. 3:18; Tit. 2:5; 1 Pet. 3:1-6), servants to masters (Eph. 6:5-8; Col. 3:22), the younger to the elder (1 Pet. 5:5), disciples to spiritual leaders (Heb. 13:17), everyone to the civil authorities (Rom. 13:1-7). “Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether it be to the king, as supreme, or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well” (1 Pet. 2:13f).
You will either cause the Son of man to marvel at your great faith or to marvel at your unbelief. As Bob Dylan sang in 1978, “You either got faith or you got unbelief, and there ain’t no neutral ground.” If you got great faith like the Roman centurion, the Son of man will marvel at your great faith and exercise His authority on your behalf like He did for the centurion. If you got unbelief like the Jews of Nazareth, the Son of man will marvel at your unbelief and He will do no mighty works where you are, just as it says of His visit to Nazareth: “And He could there do no mighty work, save that He laid His hands upon a few sick folk, and healed them” (Mark 6:5).
Root out all the doubt and skepticism and cynicism about God’s choice of people, and open your heart to the possibility that God might use one of your imperfect peers - or even you - to do some mighty work in your midst in your lifetime.
And get the authority issue right. If you are one of those hyper-independent, unteachable types who refuses to be accountable to any imperfect human authority in the Body of Messiah, you will exercise very little if any authority over the powers of darkness, because the powers of darkness know that the only people who have a right to exercise authority are people who are properly submitted to authority.
POSTSCRIPT: WHEN THIS SON OF MAN MARVELED
A.W. Tozer once wrote: “The God of the modern evangelical rarely astonishes anybody.” (From Worship: The Missing Jewel in the Evangelical Church) If that’s true, then I guess that means I’m not a modern evangelical, or I worship a different God, because I recently had a wonderful, unexpected experience that astonished me and made me marvel. It was so wonderful I feel compelled to share it here.
In my regular private Bible reading, I had finished reading through the Old Testament Prophets. After I finished Malachi, I decided to just continue on into Matthew.
The Gospel of Matthew. This was the first book of the Bible I read when I was a pot-smoking hippie seeking to find a connection to God through Jesus Christ. So Matthew has a special place in my heart.
This past September as I once again started re-reading Matthew, I started remembering what it was like the first time I read it. A long list of strange names telling who begat whom, followed by a brief account of Jesus’ conception and birth in chapter 1. The story of the wise men and the flight into Egypt in chapter 2. The preaching of John the Baptist in chapter 3. Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness, followed by His call to follow Him, and the beginning of His teaching and preaching and healing in chapter 4.
By the time I started reading near the end of chapter 4, “they brought unto Him all sick people that were taken with divers diseases and torments, and those which were possessed with devils, and those which were lunatic, and those that had the palsy; and He healed them,” I started getting misty-eyed and weepy as I thought about what it must have been like for those people who witnessed these wonderful acts of compassion and mercy. I started feeling like I was there with those first-hand eye-witnesses, and like I was witnessing these things myself for the very first time.
I knew that chapter 4 would be followed by the Sermon on the Mount, chapters 5 through 7. If Matthew’s Gospel is the holy place for me, then the Sermon on the Mount is my holy of holies. The Sermon on the Mount has a special place in my heart, because these were the words that hooked me when I was still dead in my sins. These were the words which caused me to first fall in love with Jesus. These were the words that convinced me that the Gospel was absolutely true and that Jesus was without doubt the Son of God. I needed no course in Christian apologetics. The very first time I finished reading the Sermon on the Mount, I said to myself, “These words have to be from God. No mere human could think up such wonderful things.”
Just as the postscript to the Sermon on the Mount says, “And it came to pass, when Jesus had ended these sayings, the people were astonished at His doctrine, for He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes,” so I too was astonished by the wonderful words and by the authority I recognized in the Speaker of those words the first time I read them the summer of 1970. My love for the Sermon on the Mount inspired me to memorize all three chapters in 1985.
Before I started re-reading the Sermon on the Mount this past September, I recalled how it affected me the first time I read it. Before I started reading it this time, I offered up a short prayer of thanksgiving to the Lord for these wonderful words and for the way He used those wonderful words to draw me to Himself the first time I read them, 44 long years ago.
Then I started reading. I began to sob and weep tears of joy. It seemed as if I was reading it for the very first time. Even though I was very familiar with the words from having memorized the Sermon 30 years ago, I felt like I was hearing these words for the very first time. These old, long-familiar words were so fresh and alive that it made me feel like I was there with the people who first heard the Savior utter these words for the very first time.
After I wept my way through chapters 5 through 7, I decided to keep reading in chapter 8. I expected my emotions to calm down and subside, now that the Sermon was over. But no. In chapter 8 I read the brief account about Jesus healing a leper with a touch of His hand. And I wept. I read Jesus’ response to a Roman centurion who wanted healing for his beloved servant. “I will come and heal him,” Jesus said. And I wept again. I read about Jesus healing Peter’s wife’s mother with a touch of His hand, and then healing more sick and demon-possessed people that evening. And I wept some more.
I wept tears of joy because I felt like I was there with those people, witnessing these wonderful acts of mercy from a wonderful Savior. Even now as I write this, it’s hard to hold back the tears of joy.
I have read through Matthew many, many times. What made it so different, so fresh and alive, this time? I don’t know. I don’t have a clue. I only know that this recent re-reading of Matthew made this son of man marvel and fall even more deeply in love with Yeshua. And for that I am very thankful.