This afternoon I sat down to read my Bible and opened up to where I’ve been reading in the book of Matthew. Chapter 8 opens with two stories of faith. Both include faith in Jesus’ power, and yet Jesus responds very differently in each case. I’m sure the stories are familiar to most who have read the Bible, but today, something different struck me about these two accounts that I’ve never really thought through before.
The first account (verses 1-4) is of a leper, or a man who had a “serious skin disease.” He came before Jesus and knelt before Him and said, “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.” Jesus replied that He was willing and then healed the man. The next part of the account is something that has always puzzled me. Jesus commanded the man not to tell anyone what He had done for him. This never really made sense to me. I mean, wouldn’t Jesus want people to know of His power?
The second account (verses 5-13) involves another story of healing. This time, a centurion had a sick servant who he highly valued. Consequently, he went to Jesus to ask Him to heal his servant. Once again, Jesus was willing heal the man. Since the centurion did not take his servant to Jesus, Jesus said He was willing to go to the servant to heal him. But the centurion actually told Jesus he didn’t need to come. He said to Jesus, “Lord, I am not worthy to have You come under my roof, but only say the word and my servant will be cured.” He went on to explain, “For I too am a man under authority, having soldiers under my command. I say to this one, ‘Go!’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come!’ and he comes; and to my slave, ‘Do this!’ and he does it.” And that’s where he stops; that’s all he says. It has never struck me as something profound that he said. And yet, it does strike me how Jesus responds. Verse 10 says “Hearing this, Jesus was amazed and said to those following Him, ‘I assure you: I have not found anyone in Israel with so great a faith!”
Apparently, Jesus saw more in what the centurion had said than I did! And that’s what struck me today. Why in the first account did Jesus command the man not to tell anyone what He had done, and in the second, He praised the centurion for his faith in front of everyone who was following Him? Obviously, there must be something very different about each of these men. As I thought about it, this is what stood out: the first man seems to have faith in what Jesus could do, the centurion seemed to have faith in who Jesus was. Here’s what I mean…
The first man definitely exhibited faith. He had faith that Jesus could heal him. He said, “if You are willing, You can make me clean.” But did he have any interest in Jesus beyond his desire for healing? Jesus’ response to him makes me think he didn’t. It seems to me that when Jesus commanded him not to tell anyone, He was really telling him, “don’t tell anyone what I did because I don’t want people to follow Me just for what they want Me to do for them.” In other words, I think that this man saw Jesus as a great man with the power to heal sickness, but he didn’t view Him as the Messiah, or the Son of God. Jesus healed many people because He had compassion on them, but He did not come to heal sick people. He came to testify to the truth of the scriptures.
The centurion also exhibited faith, but his words imply a much deeper faith. “Lord, I am not worthy to have You come under my roof. But only say the word…” It amazes me that the centurion believed that Jesus was so powerful that He didn’t even need to see his servant or lay hands on him. He needed only to say the word! Moreover, he recognized that Jesus was not merely a man who had been given the power to heal, but that Jesus had been given authority, which obviously included authority over illness. In other words, what Jesus could do was an extension of who He was, and not simply some magic ability He had. It seems to be implied that the centurion understood Jesus to be the Son of God (which according to Dr. Doug Bookman actually means “one with God” and not “son” in our earthly sense of the term). And even if he didn’t exactly know that Jesus was the Son of God, he certainly recognized that there was something divine about this man called Jesus.
Now there’s one part of the story that I’ve left out. In verses 11-13, after Jesus praises the centurion for his faith, He says, “I tell you that many will come from the east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place, there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” I think what Jesus is saying here in these few verses is that many will think that they will be saved, when in reality, their faith is not authentic. Their motives are not pure and therefore they are not truly saved. This is a serious warning and it seems to apply to the first account. In the last part of verse 13, “Jesus told the centurion, ‘Go. As you have believed, let it be done for you. And his servant was cured that very moment.”
This got me thinking about my own faith. Am I more like the first man who looks to God just for what He can do for me, or am I like the centurion who saw Jesus for who He is and not simply for what He can do? My faith is authentic, but I confess that all too often, my prayers are more focused on what God can do for me rather than the other way around. I don’t believe there is anything wrong with asking God to do things for us. He loves us and wants to do good things for us. How do I know this? I love my kids and want to do things for them that they will like and enjoy. And I know that God is greater than me, not lesser. Matthew 7:11 says, “If you then, who are evil [sinful], know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!” So there’s nothing wrong with asking God to do things for us, but we must be careful not to approach God as if He is some genie who exists to do whatever we ask. We must approach Him with humility and a sincere faith that is based on who God is and recognize that He is in authority. And whether He answers our requests or not shouldn’t change how we view Him or what we believe about Him. That is the kind of faith that seemed to be exhibited by the centurion—a faith that is praised by Jesus and a faith I want to emulate.