Our God is so loving in his constant communication to us. The beautiful pictures He paints of His love for us are everywhere. The love story of God and man is observed in the history of Israel and the way He called them, set them apart, gave them the law, and redeemed them. The people of Israel could literally map out the timing, appearing, and manner in which the Messiah was to appear through the law, prophecies and festivals they had been given. There were specific signs they could look for. In chapter 8 Jesus fulfills some of those signs in the matter of the healing of the man with leprosy.
“Jesus reached out and touched him. “I am willing,” he said. “Be healed!” And instantly the leprosy disappeared. Then Jesus said to him, “Don’t tell anyone about this. Instead, go to the priest and let him examine you. Take along the offering required in the law of Moses for those who have been healed of leprosy. This will be a public testimony that you have been cleansed.” – Matt 8:3-4 (NLT)
The ceremony and offerings that Jesus is referring to can be found in Leviticus 14:1-32. In His miraculous healing Jesus was not only fulfilling the law (as he proclaimed he would in chapter 5) but sending proof to the priests that He was the Messiah. The tragedy of Israel emerges in this chapter when Jesus is approached by the Roman Centurion whose servant is dying back at home. Jesus responds saying he will go to the home of the Centurion and heal the servant. The Centurion, oddly enough, refuses.
“But the centurion said, “Lord, I am not worthy for You to come under my roof, but just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I also am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and 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.” Now when Jesus heard this, He marveled and said to those who were following, “Truly I say to you, I have not found such great faith with anyone in Israel. I say to you that many will come from 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 cast out into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” – Matt 8:8-12 (NASB)
When the leper knelt before Jesus asking to be healed, he did so in reverent worship acknowledging Christ had the power over things physical and spiritual. When the Centurion came before Jesus he did the same. What was it that caused the Savior to marvel at the Centurion and not the leper?
The thing that the Centurion touches on is a theme that goes all the way back to creation: Jesus only needed to speak the word and it would be so. This is a quality unique to God. He speaks and it is done. In Genesis 1 – we see the Lord speak creation into existence. The reason it happens as He says is due to His supreme authority over all things. And when Christ came to earth the Word of God (the manner in which God communes with man) was wrapped in flesh that we would recognize. John touched on this concept in the first chapter of his gospel.
“In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. He existed in the beginning with God. God created everything through him, and nothing was created except through him. The Word gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone.” – John 1:1-4 (NLT)
The authority of Jesus over life and death is exactly what the Centurion was speaking of, correlating it to the way authority works in the army – when the superior says it, it is done. When the orders are given it is carried out, no questions or contingencies. What an awesome thing to remember when we come before God – all that He says is true, has been, and will be. No questions or contingencies. I know I don’t always believe this in my heart. If I did, would I have room for doubt? The doubt that grows into fear and sometimes steals my joy? Do I believe my God has the authority to back up His promises for my future and good? (Jer. 29:11) If not, this is where my faith MUST grow. The beginnings of faith are where we take God at His word. Something the Centurion does. His faith was stronger than anyone Jesus had yet encountered.
Here’s the thing – the Jewish people had been living and breathing the prophetic examples of the coming Messiah. Jesus lived fulfilling those things. Some recognized those things, but many in Israel did not. But the Centurian was not Jewish, he was Roman. A man who was living without the cultural context and engrained knowledge of the coming Messiah sought out the Christ with faith that shows itself true and deep. This is why Jesus marvels. His faith rivals that of the people who you would mst expect to have true faith in Jesus at the Messiah. The tragedy is this: the people who had been given the most opportunity, had seen up close and personally the faithfulness of God in his passionate pursuit of the human heart, were missing the point. They were missing the Messiah who had finally come in an answer to their need. This is why Jesus grieves for His people (Matt 23) who will have to suffer the fate of eternity without God despite the gifts that had been showered on them of knowledge of the Messiah and His coming.
Is our generation any better? How many do we know that have been raised with or given the knowledge of Jesus Christ and the salvation He gives, yet refuse Him? How many of us are not walking in the callings of our God to live in His passionate love for us through obedient living? We who have more access than ever to the Word of God and can learn what is so readily available to us – the way we’re called to live with abandon running into God – how will we be judged?
Let us run into the Lord. Let us grow our faith and take Him at His Word.