An Unexpected Encounter with Faith (vv. 1-5)
A Roman Centurion
Rarely did our Lord give such strong praise, so we should carefully observe and seek to possess the kind of faith of which he so highly approves. The first thing we see is that it was found in a Roman centurion. This went against popular notions, for the Romans were enemies of the Jews, and therefore must have been enemies of God, as the Jewish leaders constantly preached. It is true, of course, that the Romans, like the Jews, were born in sin. That Jesus commended the faith of this particular Roman is not a denial of the universality of man’s ruin and depravity. Nor does it justify the modern idea that we should look for a legitimate voice from God in socialists and perverts, any more than in conservatives, for all are born in sin, alienated from God by wicked works, and in need of the quickening work of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, when we look for the source of this Roman man’s faith, we must find it in God’s grace, for his sovereign mercy alone is what makes men to differ (1 Cor. 4:7). In that he loves the Jewish people and built them a synagogue bears witness that he had embraced biblical religion and looked for the promise of life and salvation through the Messiah. He was like Cornelius in this. It was not a natural religion that Jesus commanded or a faith that he generated from his own virtue, but faith that was a gift from God to him. His faith was also a rebuke to Jews, for he was an outsider who embraced Jesus Christ, whereas his own people rejected him.
A Lover of the Jewish Nation
The first fruit of the Spirit is always love and its many complements. For faith in God had quenched the hatred of his heart toward the Jews. The Jews’ hearts were yet spewing hatred and revenge, but this Roman centurion had built them a synagogue, which would have brought no small amount of ridicule upon him from his fellow soldiers and perhaps suspicion from his commanding officers. Nevertheless, he believed the Scriptures, for this was the heart of the synagogue system that began when Israel went into exile – that the people met on the old Sabbath day to hear the Scriptures read and expounded. Bearing the cost of building a synagogue was not a passing whim but the tangible fruit of his faith. Even if the Jews as a whole hated the Romans and particularly the Roman soldiers, the local Jewish leaders were compelled to recognize in him a true friend, worthy of their pleading with Jesus in support of him. Common love for the Scriptures unites those who were formerly enemies, so that a true brotherhood of faith exists where God’s word is honored. And we also learn that where God’s word takes root in our hearts, hatred for others, even for our tormentors, is quenched so that we are willing to do them good.
Our age is particular upside down on this point, for the real basis of racial peace is not to be found in being color blind, whatever that means, but when our inborn hatred is subdued by the Spirit and in its place brotherly love reigns supreme. This does not prevent us from having and expressing honest concerns about domestic policies, but we can love even while we oppose the social unrest being intentionally created by economic and military policies, as well as by social engineers who are trying to abolish some national borders in order to consolidate their own power and wealth. Nevertheless, we must do good to our enemies, as Jesus said, and in particular, love the Jewish people, however their leaders have become, for our Lord sprang from Judah. As he said in a mild rebuke to the Samaritan woman, “Salvation is of the Jews” (John 4:22). Let us pray earnestly that he will soon recover his former people, for he knows those who are his, and bring them back into his church.
Such Great Faith (vv. 6-8)
Seeks Jesus’ Help in Time of Trouble (vv. 4,6)
When it comes to the particulars of “such great faith,” we learn first that wherever the gospel comes to men, even if only the basic rudiments, it softens relationships that are often bitter and angry, like that of a master and servant. This man led one hundred men, but he loved this one particular servant. The servant on his part had endeared himself to his master by careful obedience and going about his duties with a good spirit, which thing those who under authority or work for others must endeavor to do, as the gospel teaches us (1 Tim. 6:1-2; Tit. 2:9). Christ Jesus was not socialist egalitarian but instructs us to abide in the station that we are called into his service (1 Cor. 7:21), and to believe that he calls us to serve him in that place, until he calls us elsewhere. Do not be deceived by today’s social justice crusaders in the church, for they have been deceived by Satan’s rebellious spirit that has permeated our unbelieving nation. Rather than allowing the sickness of his servant to drive him to despair or away from God, as happens when we think that God should never let us suffer or feel pain, he called out to the Lord for help. Combining Matthew with Luke, it would seem that the centurion came himself (Matt. 8:5), which may only mean that he sent his servants in his name, or that while he was coming, his servants went ahead of time. At his request, local Jewish leaders came and pled for this godly man. When in need, it is a blessing to have many people pleading with God for you.
Unworthy, but Seeks Him Nonetheless (v. 7)
When Jesus agreed to come down to the man’s house, he sent friends (Luke 7:6) with a message. Do not trouble yourself coming in person – he had received word that Jesus would actually come to his house! I am unworthy that you should come under my roof – either because he did not want to compromise Jesus by ceremonially defiling him or because he was filled with alarm that the great Teacher about whom he had heard a great deal would actually come to his house – or both. Here was a Roman centurion who had significant authority in local affairs, sending word to a Jewish teacher not to worry about coming to his house. This humility is part of the reason Jesus commends his great faith. Not that this man had such clear views of Jesus’ person that he saw him as the incarnate Son of God, but loving the Scriptures, he at least saw him as a great prophet come from God, and perhaps even as the Messiah. His humility is astounding – he approached Jesus as a humble suppliant for mercy.
Undoubtedly we should obtain from God more of those graces and helps for which we have such pressing need if we approached him with a greater sense of his majesty and our unworthiness of receiving the time of day from him – but he loves us? Comes to us by his Spirit? Wonderful grace of Jesus! We believe too many of Satan’s lies – that we are good and worthy people, that God owes us something, and that we deserve for God to help us. Instead we must pray with these two things in mind. First, that our need is always great, and therefore we must pray without ceasing and seek to cultivate a prayerful and praying spirit at all times. Second, that when we come to God, we revere him for his holiness, goodness, and power, which reverence both elevates him and encourages us. Why else does he say, “You have not because you ask not,” or “With God, nothing is impossible,” but to encourage us to pray all his promises with the assurance that he is able to do far more than we can ask or imagine (Eph. 3:20). Thus, only humility is able to pray “big prayers,” prayers consistent with God’s power, his majesty, and his revealed will in Scripture. Humility says, “I am unworthy and have no strength.” Faith says, “God is gracious and has promised all that we need.”
Trusts Jesus’ Word (v. 7)
“Speak the word, and my servant will be healed” – the centurion shows us the heart of true faith. It takes Jesus as he is and is satisfied with his word alone. First, the centurion recognizes that Jesus has power to heal his servant. Second, Jesus did not have to be present to exercise his powerful word. And third, it was by his word that the healing would be effected – not a magic touch or other crafty shenanigans. It seems to me that this man had read the Scriptures and had a deep respect for God’s word. There are comparatively few today who are as able to rest in the bare word of Jesus – a promise from him to cheer and encourage, even if all our circumstances do not turn rosy. Admittedly, this man was looking for immediate, tangible help for his beloved servant, but he believed that Jesus was able to heal by his spoken word alone. Faith rests in the promises and power of God’s word. It was a great faith this man had, not because he was great, but because he so opaquely believed in the power of God’s word. And there is a connection between faith resting upon God’s word and receiving what it desires – all shaped by God’s promises and submissive to his will (Matt. 17:20; 21:22).
Understands Authority (vv. 7-8)
Now the centurion explains why he, a Roman centurion, feels personally unworthy for Jesus to enter his house. Remember that the Jewish leaders had appealed to Jesus to help the centurion’s servant, and the centurion had by this time sent some friends to tell Jesus he need not travel all the way to his house. The centurion may also have come to Jesus, not only through servants and friends but also personally (Matt. 8:13). If so, this heightens – or deepens – his humility. He says in effect: just send someone in your place. That will be enough. I do it all the time, and I am not sufficiently important to trouble you. Wrapped up in his explanation is a deep sense of personal unworthiness and deep personal faith in the powerful word of Jesus. There is also the very practical concern about the demands upon his time, and that Jesus is able to heal through any means he pleases. The Roman centurion makes no demand of Jesus but yields to his will – the Roman captor taken captive to the words and power of Jesus Christ.
Jesus Marvels and Commands Such Great Faith (v. 9)
The reason Jesus commends the centurion’s faith so highly is because it was so clearly centered upon the powerful person and word of Jesus Christ. He marveled to find this faith in a Gentile. In Matthew, he tells the people around him that his countrymen would be shut out of the kingdom of God, while the Gentiles would enter in droves from every corner of the world (Matt. 8:11-12). Why this great reversal? The Jews had everything, but they rejected Jesus Christ, and thus lost their place and part in the kingdom of God (Matt. 21:43). Only repentance and faith toward Jesus Christ as the Son of God and promised Messiah will restore them to the church of God. The Gentiles had nothing outward to commend them, but they embraced Jesus Christ as the Son of God and light of the world. With what light the centurion possessed in the Old Testament, he was able to embrace Jesus Christ. He trusted his word. This is the important thing and the reason that this man’s faith was so great – because it believed that Jesus Christ was the Word of God, appealed to him for help, and trusted his word.
We should say, moreover, that this centurion’s faith was no mere assent but produced many good works. He built a place for the Jews to gather, pray, and study God’s word. He could not even enter, but he was content to eat the crumbs that fell from the Jews’ table! He was filled with love for his servant, and did not hesitate to abase himself, being a Roman, to ask for help from Jesus, a Jew, and then further abased himself by putting himself under Jesus Christ – not my house, Lord, but speak the word; do not honor me but honor your own word; I have a sick and dying servant, but you are the powerful healer. When faith latches on to Jesus Christ, it draws from him many good works, much fruit, commendable, evident faith. Are we fruitful in Jesus? We have more of God’s word than the centurion, but do we love like he did? Are we willing to humble ourselves before men in order to honor Jesus Christ and promote his glory? Whose glory do we seek? Do we seek our own interests and comforts, or do we do all things in his name? This is not said to grind our noses in the dirt but to bring us at least to the level of this centurion. He saw something of the glory and power of God in Jesus Christ. He loved and studied the Scriptures. He loved the nation from whom Jesus Christ came. Do we love? Do we vilify the Jews because of what they did to Jesus or what they have become because they have so long now continued in a state of unbelief? Should we not rather weep that the long promised “life from the dead has not yet occurred, and beg God day and night to send it?
Faith Rewarded Now and Later (v. 10)
The Lord Jesus did not enter the centurion’s house but healed the man by speaking a word. Such great faith would not go unrewarded, and the Lord will honor our faith. Let us have more of faith, which is really to say, let us be more alive to who Jesus Christ truly is and what he is able and willing to do for us, if we come to him respecting him and desire only that he be glorified. Let us be more often in the word that reveals his glory, so that when troubles come, we shall run immediately to him. Then, trusting him and fruitful in his word, we shall not ask for him to deliver us from such and such a sin to spare our feelings but to magnify his power? We shall not ask for healing so we can move on with life but so that we can glorify him – which, if he leaves us on the sickbed, our deepest desire will be fulfilled – to know more of his power in our weakness, the power of his resurrection, and conformity to his sufferings and death – that his power may rest upon us (2 Cor. 12:9-10). Our greatest fear should not be that we will die poor or in pain, or that our friends and children will forsake us, but that we might very well pass through life as Christians and never really know the power of Jesus Christ and his word. It can easily happen. Will you still get to heaven? Yes, by his blood and righteousness, but would we not rather know more of his power in our lives, see more of his promises fulfilled, and rejoice in the salvation of the world and the defeat of our blessed Lord’s enemies? Let us pray and ask everyone we know around us to pray for us and for one another, that we may know the power of Jesus’ works and word, the presence of his Spirit, healing and making us fruitful in every good work, and giving us boldness to speak his blessed truth.