The Book of Matthew

Jesus and the Centurion, Scene 5

Matthew 8:5-13 In this week’s lessons on Jesus’ encounter with the Roman centurion, we see how the centurion was changed as he came to a saving knowledge of Christ.
To All Who Will Come

Now, I’d like to apply this in a few ways. Jesus makes a contrast here between those who are not of Israel who will be present at the banquet and those who are of Israel but who will be excluded. The first principle that comes from it is this: It is possible to have many spiritual advantages and yet not be saved. The Jews had all the advantages. Jesus was even born of their race. He was there in their cities, and he was teaching them on the basis of their Scriptures, and yet many of them were lost. It was his own people far more than the Gentiles who conspired against him eventually to have him crucified and thus eliminated from their life, as they thought at the time. Now you too may have great spiritual advantages. You may come from a Christian family. You may have been exposed to Christian teaching. You may have had a godly mother, perhaps a godly pastor who taught you, perhaps dozens who have prayed for you. It’s possible to have all those genuine and valuable advantages and still be lost. So we come back to the point I made earlier, and that is to make your calling and election sure.

The second point is this: It is, by contrast, possible to have very few advantages and yet be saved. What advantages did this man have, after all? He would have been thought by every Jew to be outside the covenant and thus to have no share in the sacrifices offered in the temple on behalf of sinners. And yet Jesus was the great sacrifice, the One who in time would die for his sin, and it was through faith in that Savior that he passed into eternal life. Now you may say when you look at your past, “I haven’t had those advantages, although here are people around me who have.” Those are great advantages. They’re wonderful things to have. But the very fact that you have not had them does not mean that you will be lost. This man was saved. This man, this Gentile centurion, this soldier in a far off region of the Roman Empire, comes into contact with a man who perhaps he knew very little at the time. If that centurion can be saved, you certainly can be, because the gospel is made known clearly in this age. You have the Word of God, and all you must do is confess your sin, come humbly as he did, and have faith in Jesus Christ.

The third point I want to make from this story is this: Although excluded by men, even by God’s people, it is possible nevertheless to be included by God. That’s merely another way of saying that you can be saved no matter who you are. There are lots of barriers on earth. We try to overcome them in the Christian church, and yet they exist. There are circles of society into which each one of us is unable to go. Some excluded from one circle and some from another. Some because of birth or wealth or education have many of the world’s circles open to them; others because they have been deprived of such things have very few of those circles open. Sometimes those of one race are excluded by another, those of one religion excluded by those of another, and so on. You can multiply that and do that in your own experience as well as by your reflection on the race. But you see, although you are and can be excluded by men often in a very hurtful way in this life, it is possible to be included by God through the work of Jesus Christ. And although it hurts to be excluded here, and although it’s wrong to have exclusions as we do, nevertheless, the thing that transcends it all and gives us value and worth as individuals is to be received by God and have value in his sight. You can be a great sinner. You can be a great outcast. You can be rejected by your family, perhaps rightly so because of things that you have done. All that can be true and nevertheless you can be received by God. You can be changed by that and pass from death to life.

And then my final point is this: Although it is true that it is possible to have very few advantages and yet be saved, and to be excluded by men and yet be included by God, it is nevertheless possible to be saved and included only through the channel of human faith. God may give faith, but God doesn’t believe for you. And here was this centurion coming and exercising faith in Jesus Christ in a way that caused even Jesus to marvel at it. And that’s a challenge, you see. It is what is put to men and women from every race and in every place by the gospel. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved.” It’s what Paul told the Philippian jailer when he asked, “What must I do to be saved?” He didn’t give him a theological lecture. He didn’t explain all of the historical advantages of Judaism. He pointed him to Christ and he said, “What you must do if you would be saved is believe in him.”

And that’s what you must do also. We sing that in one of our hymns. We say “Nothing in my hands I bring.” Don’t think that you can come with anything to present it to Jesus Christ. He doesn’t need your gifts. And if you come trusting in it you exclude the very thing that will save you, namely, his work to be received by faith and not by works. The centurion did not come to Jesus saying I deserve your favor because I built the Jews a synagogue. He did not come saying I deserve help for my servant because I’m a Roman. He didn’t come saying I deserve your grace because I understand and appreciate the religion of Israel. He said, “I am not worthy.” And because he said, “I am not worthy,” Jesus heard him and saved him through that channel of human faith.

We have another one of our hymns that says “Let not conscience make you linger.” That is, do not let your concern about past sin keep you from coming. “Nor of fitness fondly dreamed.” That is reflection on what you regard as your good works. “All the fitness he requires is to feel your need of him.” If you feel your need of Jesus Christ, then he will receive you. Indeed, he’s received you already. And what you can do is what the centurion did and become spiritually alive and know that because of Christ’s work you will spend an eternity with him in heaven.

Study Questions
  1. List some of the spiritual advantages that the Israelites had.  Why did they reject Jesus as their Messiah?
  2. Review how this Roman centurion serves as a great example for how everyone must come to God.

Key Point: Don’t think that you can come with anything to present it to Jesus Christ. He doesn’t need your gifts. And if you come trusting in it you exclude the very thing that will save you, namely, his work to be received by faith and not by works.

Application: God calls all kinds of people to faith in Christ.  Some have many spiritual advantages before their conversion, and some have none.  Praise the Lord for his sovereign and gracious work in the lives of people around you.

Tagged under
More Resources from James Montgomery Boice

Subscribe to the Think & Act Biblically Devotional

Alliance of Confessional Evangelicals

About the Alliance

The Alliance is a coalition of believers who hold to the historic creeds and confessions of the Reformed faith and proclaim biblical doctrine in order to foster a Reformed awakening in today’s Church.

Canadian Donors

Canadian Committee of The Bible Study Hour
PO Box 24087, RPO Josephine
North Bay, ON, P1B 0C7