"...if anyone makes the assistance of grace depend on the humility or obedience of man and does not agree that it is a gift of grace itself that we are obedient and humble, he contradicts the Apostle who says, "What have you that you did not receive?" (1 Cor. 4:7), and, "But by the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Cor. 15:10). (Council of Orange: Canon 6)


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    Images of the Savior (17 – His Healing of the Centurion's Servant)

    And when Jesus heard, he marveled, and said to those who were following, “Truly I say unto you, I have not found such faith from anyone in Israel”. – Matthew 8:10

    In all of the scriptures, there is no more precious truth than this: “There is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich unto all who call upon him; for 'Whoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved'” (Romans 10:12-13). And in all the gospels, there are few accounts which more poignantly display this truth than the account of the Gentile centurion, who called upon the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ, and found him rich indeed. How well-adapted this account is to strengthen the faith of all of us who, being alienated from the covenants of God, were grafted against nature into God's good tree (Ephesians 2:11-13; Romans 11:17-24)! Let us then look to this history with a mind to imitate this man's faith, so far as our Savior commended it; for in so doing, we will find the same Savior abounding in mercy to us, even as he did to the centurion in Galilee.

    If we would follow the example of this centurion's faith, and so find approval with Christ, we must note what it was about him which commended itself to Christ. And at first, we see that this man was truly humble, and not just with that sort of false humility with which religious persons in their pride hope to impress others. Consider, that he was a mighty man within the nation that ruled over Israel, and indeed ruled over the world. He had but to say a word and a hundred willing servants would jump to perform his bidding. But when he heard of our Savior, all his greatness fled away, and he saw himself as too lowly and humble even to entertain such a man in his house, let alone to approach him in person with his bold request. Certainly, he understood the sentiments of John the Baptist, who thought himself unworthy even to undo the latchet of the sandals of the Son of Man (Mark 1:7)! Let us note, that it was this man who obtained the approval of Jesus, and not the religious elders of the Jews whom he sent in his place, and who pleaded for him (quite against his own demeanor) by appealing to his worthiness. An appeal to our own worthiness will get us nothing from our Lord besides an invitation to do in our own strength what we are, by our own confession, worthy to do – but ah how little worth our own merit will finally be in the presence of God! Let us not plead our own merit, as these elders did, but rather plead the opposite and rest in Christ's worthiness.

    Next, we see this man's humility borne out specifically by his reverence for God's revelation. As the elders testified, this man loved the Jewish nation; in evidence of which, he had built for the Jews a synagogue, and he had even sent the leaders of the Jews to bring his request to Jesus. Now, what could this mean but that he recognized (unlike the Samaritan woman) that “salvation is from the Jews” (John 4:22), and that “to them were entrusted the oracles of God” (Romans 3:2)? There is no pride like that which seeks to approach God through some other way than that which he has revealed. If we would follow this man's example, we must revere God's revelation, and not be lifted up in pride to “offer strange fire before the Lord” (Leviticus 10:1-2), lest our end be the same as that of Nadab and Abihu!

    Then, even as all of the scriptures lead to Christ (John 5:39), we find that this man's reverence for God's Word led him to trust in Christ as the One who was able to help him. Let us learn this lesson well! They who see faith as the meritorious cause of salvation make a mockery of what true faith is, which despairs of oneself and looks only to Christ. Faith is nothing, and faith as a mere abstraction can do nothing for a man. But a faith which springs from a humble reverence for God's word, and which looks to the only One whom God's word names the Mediator between God and men (I Timothy 2:5), throws its possessor upon him who is powerful to save and pleads the mercy of him who is too compassionate to turn away the blackest sinner. Let us be sure that, if one professes to have faith, and yet he does not lean hard upon Christ at all times, his faith is only a subtle work, his humility is a deceptive pride, and both are worse than the works of the pagans who call their works and pride as they are, and do not reproach the name of grace by falsely hiding under its cover.

    But finally, we must notice that this man's faith was certainly genuine, for it demonstrated itself in his works. Well has James, the Lord's brother, noted that faith, if it does not show itself in works, is dead and worthless (see James 2:14-26)! And what work is more demonstrative of true faith than an active love for one another (John 13:34-35)? This man proved the sincerity of his faith by his selfless and fervent care for his servant, working as actively for his welfare as if it had been his own, notwithstanding the difference of rank and degree in their outward stations. Moreover, we see from the testimony of the elders whom he sent to Jesus that he was well-known for his kind and compassionate works, which sprang from his fervent faith in the God who had revealed himself in the scriptures. Do we desire to hear Christ's approval when we see him in glory? Then let us imitate the faith of this centurion, humbly seeking God through his word, trusting only in the One of whom all the prophets spoke, acknowledging our lowliness and hoping in his strength and mercy – for in this way, the Spirit will change us into the image of the One we behold (II Corinthians 3:18), our faith will overflow in works of true love and compassion, and we will finally hear from the lips of our Savior, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21).

    Now let us observe what we may of our Savior, as he responds to this man's faith. We notice first that Jesus commends this man's faith publicly, and holds it up for the people who follow him to imitate. So, when we have served the Lord in the sincerity of faith, faithfully laboring for him in private, he will reward us openly, and our works will not be able to be hidden (Matthew 6:1-18; I Timothy 5:25). And just as the Savior commended this man to his followers, so we must be willing to imitate those who have gone before us, whose faith is worthy to be emulated. So Paul exhorts us to follow him, even as he follows Christ (I Corinthians 11:1), so the author of Hebrews sets before us many notable examples of faith which persevered and triumphed at the last (Hebrews 11), and so our Father has filled the pages of history with men whose faith endured the rack, the flame, the hatred and spite and betrayal of friends and family, and came out pure as gold and triumphant to the end. Let us not despise these men, but consider them worthy to be followed, even as they have shown forth Christ in their patient sufferings at the hands of evil men.

    But pressing on, we observe that Christ not only commended this centurion's faith, but he vindicated it as well. This man was supremely confident that Christ was able to heal and deliver from afar, with the mere word of his mouth. And confronted with this faith, Christ showed it to be well-placed and reasonable, performing the mighty acts which this man had humbly besought. Let us assure ourselves that he will do the same with us! Do we boast in the almighty power of our God and Savior, and confidently expect that he will be able to preserve us without blemish, and keep us from falling until the end? Are we so amazed at the mighty grace of God which he has revealed in Jesus the Redeemer, that if the whole world should rise up against us, and the devil and all his hosts should howl in our ears with all their might, we will only cry out, “My God is able to deliver me!”? If so, then we may be certain that he will deliver us indeed; for he never turned away the true cry of faith, which boasts in his power to save his people; and whatever may come in this world, we are confident that he never will.

    And finally, we see that Jesus not only vindicates this man's faith, but he goes far beyond his expectations. For this man thought he was bold to send timidly by delegation, seeking Christ's mercy for his servant who was physically sick – and so he was bold, being a Gentile and still a stranger to the promises. But Jesus did not merely hear his prayer for physical deliverance – he filled his astonished ears with precious promises of eternal life and joy in the heavenly kingdom, and an equal share even with Abraham, the friend of God! He did not merely grant his mercies to this one sick servant, but he opened up the floodgates of his love and compassion to Gentiles far and wide, proclaiming that many would come from east and west, and that all would be brought in as full heirs of the Kingdom and covenant. Ah, how many of us are the same, thinking we ask much when we request piddling little favors for this life, favors of health and perishable money for bread and clothes, when they and our very bodies will soon be dust. Yes, God is gracious to give us those temporal things of which we have need – but even as Jesus demonstrated with this man, at the same time he gives us far more than we could have imagined or dreamed. We ask for a loaf of bread, and he gives us every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. We ask for strength to press on for a day, and he gives us the strength to stand delighted in his very presence for ages without end. Oh, the wonder of our Savior's bountiful mercy! Let us rejoice in the abundance of good and perfect gifts with which we have been showered, gifts reaching even to eternal life in joyous fellowship with God himself.

    As we leave this account, let us be impressed with the power that bold humility has with Christ. The humble, who despair of themselves, will find all strength in the One who made the worlds and redeemed them from sin. And the bold, who dare approach the throne of grace in Jesus' name, will find the Father willing to give far more than they could ever ask (Hebrews 4:16). This man was humble before Christ, and yet bold to ask of him his request; and we see how he fared. How can we who have seen far more of Christ's glory and grace, and who have far more reason for humility and boldness in his presence, refuse his commendable example? If he received healing for his servant and the promise of the Kingdom, what will we receive, who hope in Christ alone?

    Posted by Nathan on April 18, 2007 02:09 AM

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