Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 8:8a “The centurion answered and said, Lord, I am not worthy that
thou shouldest come under my roof:”
This centurion knew the rules. Romans hated Jews; Jews hated Romans. He was an outsider who realized how taboo it was for a Jew to enter a Gentile’s house.
The soldier could have enforced his will, had he chosen to. He was an officer in the proud army of an imperial government. His very presence in this country said, “I am superior to you,” but he did not let earthly rank keep him from being humble. He set himself under One who belonged to a conquered, enslaved people.
The centurion was important in the army, but felt insignificant in the presence of Jesus. The closer we come to Christ, the greater He grows, and the smaller we shrink. Hooper, at his martyrdom, said, “Lord, I am Hell, but Thou art Heaven.”
A sense of unworthiness puts us where God can bless us. Humility is essential to salvation, but unfortunately, the masses refuse to humble themselves. People are determined to earn their way to Heaven, based on their own works and merit.
Rest assured, we’ll enter Heaven God’s way or not at all. Depend on it. God will always be God. He is not going to dismount the throne of His Sovereignty to bow to our will. We must learn the lesson of Jonah, who was freed from the whale when he confessed, “Salvation is of the Lord.” Our task is to accept His prescribed method of salvation. Jesus is a Savior of sinners, thus we have to come as sinners.
Sensed unworthiness is essential to salvation, but I hasten to add words of clarification. Though the centurion felt very unworthy, he did not let that keep him from coming to Jesus for help. We encourage people to follow his example. Many will miss Heaven due to sinful pride, many others will miss it due to sinful humility.
For every God-given grace, Satan offers a corresponding counterfeit. For true Godly humility, the forgery is false hyper-humility. Some feel too unworthy to come to Jesus for help. This attitude is Satanic, and causes people to miss Heaven.
We are unworthy, more unworthy than we can know, but this should never be allowed to serve as a barrier to keep Christ from working in us. He came to overcome our unworthiness, to work in us despite–yea, because of–our sinfulness.
We must pray, “Lord, I am unworthy, therefore come help me.” Our unworthiness is why we need help. Grace, by its very definition (unmerited favor), finds its sphere of operation in the unworthy. It is okay to consider ourself chief of sinners, but this does not give us a right to deny the grace of God. If we even hint the blood of Jesus can not cleanse us, someone needs to put their hand over our mouth. “The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin” (1 John 1:7). Would any of us dare to deny this? Would we accuse Christ’s blood of being deficient?
Let’s not add to our already huge body of sin the evil of calling God dishonest. Feel free to talk bad about yourself all you want, but do not make God out to be a liar. Jesus says He will forgive; you say He won’t. Which is more dependable and honest, God or you? We know we can safely assume the lie is never with God.
Our God is never capricious. He is not dangling before us a salvation we cannot have. If His forgiveness is not ours, the problem always lies with us.
Many people are their own jailers and tormenters. Stuck in a self-made hole of agony and depression, they often have to say with the Psalmist of old, “My soul refused to be comforted” (PS 77:2). Unfortunately, we are experts at making excuses. We can keep making excuses until we finally excuse ourselves right into Hell.
Feeling sick one day when a young preacher, I asked my Aunt Linda, a nurse, for advice. She made several suggestions. I rebutted each of them with an excuse–“That’s too expensive, it might give me insomnia, I might become addicted to it, I don’t have time to go see a doctor, etc.” After I excused away every suggestion she could offer, she looked me straight in the eye and said, “Well, stay miserable then.”
This little incident helped me in life. When people make suggestion after suggestion to help me, and I slough them all off, I say to myself, “Well, John, stay miserable then.” To you who continue to excuse away all the arguments for coming to receive God’s blessing and benefits, let me gently yet pointedly say, “Well, stay miserable then.” Until ready to lay aside all your excuses for not coming to Jesus, you will never find the joy you seek, and even sadder, you will never go to Heaven.
Matt. 8:8b “. . .but speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed.”
The centurion’s humility is stunning. He in essence says, “Lord, many need your attention. There’s no need to stop the good work you are doing for the masses in order to come help my one servant.” The centurion’s humility was surpassed only by his faith. He believed Christ could heal a patient out of sight, far away, by dispatching invisible healing messengers. The centurion somehow knew distance was no obstacle to Jesus. All the soldier needed and desired was Christ’s bare word.
This amazing display of faith by a pagan prompted Jesus to use this incident as the prototype of how He would deal with the Gentile masses in the future. We will consider this more fully at verse 11, but at this point suffice it to say the Gentile masses have been healed and have come to Jesus by the influence of His bare word.
The power of Jesus is not conveyed through His personal presence, but through the power of His word. If you deem this an overstatement, consider what happened to Jesus in His incarnation. He performed miracles everywhere in Israel, yet the nation rejected Him, miracles and all. The people crucified Him.
Every human being has been created by God in such a way that they can respond by faith to God’s spoken word. We each have the ability to respond to the Holy Spirit’s prompting within us, and to rely on what cannot be seen. “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (HB 11:1). Successful Christianity entails belief in things beyond us and dependence on the invisible.
The centurion did not ask for a sign or something spectacular. The bare word of God sufficed. This is still the only foundation to be trusted. Signs and wonders help capture attention. They have a role to play, especially when forces of light are in intense warfare with powers of darkness. However, belief has to be in the word.
One day, as Napoleon was reviewing his troops, his horse bolted and began to run. A soldier ran from the ranks and caught the reins. When the Emperor said, “Much obliged,” the soldier replied, “Of what regiment, sir?” Napoleon, pleased with the man’s quick wit and trust in his bare word, replied, “Of my guards,” and then rode away. The soldier laid down his gun, saying, “He may take it who will,” and headed off to become the Captain of Napoleon’s Guard (told by Sibbs in B.I.).
Jesus, by His bare word, offers Himself and His forgiveness to us all. As the Holy Spirit leads, we can catch His bare word and act on it. We can believe. Will we? Do not be a cynic and a skeptic. “Have a trap for sunbeams as well as for hailstones. Take fast hold upon the sweet words which God has said” (Spurgeon).
Don’t deny yourself the pleasure of being saved, and don’t deny the Lord the pleasure of saving you. Cato opposed his friend Caesar. When Caesar won the civil war, Cato committed suicide. This grieved Caesar, because Cato had denied him the chance to spare his life, and thereby show how much he still loved Cato. We do similar disservice to Jesus if we don’t let Him apply to us the benefits of His blood.