Monday, May 24, 2010

Matthew 8:4-13 Testimonies of Faith and Faithlessness Part I

When we read and study the Bible, sometimes we need to put ourselves back in the shoes of the people in the Biblical narratives. It’s easy for us to look at the children of Israel and criticize them for their unbelief, but forget about our own faithlessness. It’s times when I contemplate that and realize how sinful I truly am that I am particularly thankful that Christ came to save me in spite of my voluminous shortcomings and that the call to salvation is effectual. As we continue to examine the book of Matthew, we will begin to see a clearer picture of the role of miracles and the responses to them.

For instance, observe with me in verse 4 the instructions our Lord gives to the leper He healed. He told them man to “go, show yourself to the priests” and further that he should go through the ritual cleansing prescribed in the Levitical code. This took days—the person was not declared clean just by a cursory visual inspection of the affected area. Rather, he had to make an offering and wait seven days. Finally, on the 8th day, he was pronounced clean. While the process was long and appeared needless, there was a purpose in what the Lord told the man to do. By following the codes prescribed in Leviticus 14:2-57, the man would be able to give “a testimony to them” about how he had been healed. The miracle would provide to the priests a powerful testimony not only of the man’s faith but also of the nature and person of Jesus Christ.

Now, with that as a set up for the miracle described in these next verses, we see the faithlessness of Israel, God’s chosen people, made all the more obvious. In verse 5, we have a new character enter the picture. As Jesus went to the town that essentially served as his home base, he encounters a Roman solider—a centurion. Yes, the account in Luke indicates that he sent intermediaries to Jesus rather than coming himself, however, the point is the same. He implored Jesus on behalf of his servant. The exact nature of the ailment is not mentioned but, showing His love for all kinds of people, the Lord agrees to come to this Gentile’s home to heal this man.

Observe, however, beginning in verse 8, the great faith this man whom the Jewish leaders would have called a dog had and the perception he had been given as to who Christ was. He did need Jesus to “come under [his] roof” to perform this miracle. While we can only speculate as to his motivations for dissuading the Lord from coming to his house, the fact is the centurion saw it as unnecessary. We see why he saw it as unnecessary—he recognized Christ’s authority. In an amazing display of faith, he was willing to just take Christ at His word and believe him. Because he himself had experience commanding men (vs 9), he knew what it was like to exercise authority. Now, this centurion understood authority in his sphere of influence extended to them soldiers under his command. Therefore, when he tells Jesus “just say the word, and my servant will be healed” what he is really saying is that he recognizes Jesus to have absolute authority in this matter. Further, the fact that he sends people to ask Jesus to do this demonstrates that the centurion recognizes as being sovereign in the matter as well—Jesus could heal the servant or choose to not heal the servant. Here, in the heart of a “dog” as the Jews would call, we see a recognition of not only what Christ can do, but also Who Christ is.

The Jews, who had the testimony of scripture that had been delivered to them, rejected their Messiah. This Gentile commander, in contrast, sought Jesus out and recognized His authority as God in human flesh—the Sovereign of the universe. What kind of response have you made to the revelation of Christ? Are you like the Jews who reject the evidence, or are you like the centurion who is willing to take Christ at His word and trust Him?

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