Yesterday we looked at the first two characteristics of the man who encounters Jesus in Matthew 8. Today we talk about the other two.
The third thing I want you to notice about him was his humility. A man who serves an occupying force might be the very opposite of humble. There are people who are arrogant and don’t even occupy a position. Yet here was a soldier, a Gentile ruling over a downtrodden people. He could have thrown his weight around. He could have said, “I have the right to attention. I have the right to everything I want.” And yet he was anything but that kind of man. He was very humble toward Jesus. He recognized Jesus as one to whom he should pay the utmost respect. He came to him saying, “Lord.”
But he was also humble in a deeply spiritual way. That is, he was humble before God. Here I think the parallel account in Luke is a great help because you have an interesting exchange of words there. The Jews, whom the centurion has obviously befriended, speak on his behalf to Jesus and they say to Jesus “This man built a synagogue for us in his town. He is worthy of your help.” It’s easy to see how they were thinking. As long as he spent his money on them he was worthy. That was about the extent of their logic. And when the man came to Jesus he said, “I am not worthy.” Now you see, that’s it exactly, and that is the way in which this man comes in the story as Matthew gives it.
When Jesus was told about the servant he said, “I’ll go and heal him.” And the centurion replied, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. All you have to do is say the word, and my servant will be healed.” In other words, I am not worthy to have you come even so far as my house and enter it to heal my slave. I can’t help but think of Jesus’ story about the tax collector and the Pharisee. Jesus told about the Pharisee who went up to the temple to pray and was very proud before God. After all, he was a Pharisee. He didn’t do the kind of things that sinners did. And in addition to all of that, he was careful in keeping the law. He fasted twice a week and he gave a tithe out of everything he possessed. And as he stood before God, that is what he pleaded. He pleaded his worthiness before the Almighty. Then Jesus said there was also this tax collector there, and he didn’t even feel that he was worthy to come forward in a public way and pray. He just stood off to the side by himself, inconspicuously, and he didn’t even deign to lift up his eyes to heaven. He kept his eyes down in a posture of humility, and he said merely, “Lord, be merciful to me your servant.” And Jesus replied that it was that man, the man who came humbly, who went home justified.
The centurion was faithful in his calling as a soldier. He was kind to someone well beneath him. All of that is important, but now we’re getting to something even more important. That is, when he stood before Jesus God had given him sense enough to be humble. So he came not pleading for an instant that he had done anything that would commend God’s favor to him, but instead he came hoping for mercy as any sinner must.
And then there’s this fourth thing about him. We looked at his calling and his kindness and his humility. However, the outstanding thing about this man is his faith. This is what so amazed Jesus. Other people had faith of course. And if Jesus was able to do miracles elsewhere perhaps Jesus could do a miracle for him. But this situation was different because this man was a Gentile. He knew that he had no claim upon Jesus to help him. And when he did come and present his need, he didn’t even have the audacity to phrase it in the form of a request. He merely announced to Jesus that he had a sick slave, and then showed great faith when he said to Jesus, “Lord, you are able to heal him from a distance. All you have to do is speak a word and it will happen.”
That really is astounding. As a soldier over others he knew that he could give an order to one of his men and it would be obeyed even if he was not there because he represented the authority of Rome. Likewise, Jesus, who represented God, could do exactly the same thing. God is the Lord of life and death, and if Jesus, who spoke for God, merely spoke the word, the servant would be healed even if Jesus never set foot in the centurion’s house. Jesus was astounded by this centurion’s faith and said, “I haven’t seen such faith in all of Israel.”
Now think of this man, of his calling, his kindness, his humility, and his faith. And yet, for all of that the man recognized his own unworthiness. You see that in the way he approached Jesus when he said, “I’m not worthy for you to come under my roof.” He knew he was unworthy because Jews did not enter the households of Gentiles. On a personal level, Jews and Gentiles did not even eat together. But he also knew he was unworthy in approaching Jesus, whom the man knew had come in God’s authority.