“Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed.” (Matthew 8:8)
If anyone in Jesus’ day understood the meaning of authority, it would be an officer in the Roman military. Perhaps it was the centurion’s position as a subordinate of more powerful commanders that gave him the sense of humility to confess his unworthiness before Jesus. While it would have been easy for someone of his rank to become conceited and arrogant, he recognized that there were many others in the hierarchy of power who were above him – and he saw clearly that Jesus was over them all. Being confronted with the kind of authority that was over his commander, his general, and even his emperor, the centurion is convicted of his own guilt and publicly professes that he is not fit to be in the Lord’s presence.
And yet, the centurion can relate to Jesus’ authority in one respect – he knows what it is to command: “For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it” (Matthew 8:9). The centurion knows that his orders will be followed swiftly and obediently by his men. But he also knows that his own authority has its limits. While he can order his servant to “Do this” and the servant will obey, it won’t do any good for him to tell the servant, “Rise,” “Be healed,” or “Your sins are forgiven.” Only the Word of power spoken by Jesus has the authority to accomplish these tasks.
It’s strange how the Roman centurion treats Jesus with the utmost respect and humility, while we ourselves often feel like we’re pretty big stuff – like we’ve been such wonderful Christian people that God owes it to us to grant this favor or answer that prayer the way we want. In fact, this was the very mindset of those who came to Jesus on behalf of the centurion: “This man deserves to have you do this, because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue.” But the centurion himself rebutted: “Lord, don’t trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you” (Luke 7:4-7). Like the centurion, we need to know our place. We make humble requests, not haughty demands.
But the greatest thing we can learn from this Roman centurion lies in his model of faith for us. Although he knows that he is completely unworthy of Jesus’ love and healing power, he appeals to Him in faith. He trusts Jesus’ power so much that he is satisfied by His Word alone. While many in his position would have expected the honor of such a dignified celebrity’s personal appearance, the centurion is blessed with faith that believes the power of Jesus’ Word without the necessity of seeing Him in person. (John 20:29)
The centurion’s faith – a faith which believed the promise of the Word without signs and without making demands – was able to amaze even the very Son of God. As we are convicted of our own guilt and unworthiness through the Law, we can approach God for healing and cleansing from sin with humility and penitence. As we trust in the promise of forgiveness through the Word, the Spirit works in our hearts to produce this same amazing faith – a most gracious gift from our merciful God!
“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” (Hebrews 11:1)
Prayer: Heavenly Father, give me the meekness and humility to accept the censure of Your Law and the faith to humbly trust the promise of Your Gospel, through Jesus Christ, Your Son, my Lord. Amen.