One of my favorite actors from when I was a kid died this past week. Gary Coleman, who played Arnold on Diff’rent Strokes, passed away. One of the recurring gags on the show was a catch phrase Arnold was known to say when someone, particularly his brother, would say something unexpected. He would cock his head forward and exclaim “What ‘chu talking ‘bout, Willis?” I still giggle when I think about it. I have to imagine, after they heard Jesus respond to the profession of faith by the centurion, that the Jewish people who heard Jesus might have said to Him “What ‘chu talkin’ ‘bout, Jesus?” What He said in response to the centurion’s assertion of trust in Christ reveals a truth that Paul would refer to in Ephesians chapter two as a mystery.
First of all, observe with me the response of Christ to this profession of belief on the part of the centurion. Jesus, it says in verse 10, “marveled”. Of course, we know that Jesus was God and was omnipotent so it can’t be that this response took him by surprise. The word translated “marveled” is the root word for the English word “enthusiastic”. This response of faith on the part of this Gentile leader brought the Lord joy. He was enthused by the response. We can hear the enthusiasm as we read on in the passage.
Jesus, it seems, had this response because the expression of genuine trust in Him was unique. He says that He had “not found such great faith with anyone in Israel”. Now, He was sent first to the nation of Israel as their Messiah. His primary ministry was to the Jewish people. God had promised a Redeemer and there He was in all His glorious humility. The nation of Israel, though, rejected Him—which was part of God’s plan. The faith of the centurion was unusual then because it came from the Gentiles and not the Jews and also in a qualitative sense. Jesus says the man has “great faith” which probably means an abundance. This man’s unusual faith was a launching point for Jesus to reveal something that no one would have ever guessed or expected.
Before He told the man that the miracle he requested for his servant would take place, Jesus shocked everyone by saying there would be Gentiles with faith like this man who would enter the kingdom of heaven. He identifies them as coming from “east and west” (in other words, from all over the world) and sitting “at the table” with the patriarchs (not serving them or outside of the feast). That was a pretty shocking statement to hear a Jewish teacher make. Gentiles were mongrel dogs and the Jews detested them. Now, they hear Jesus say that these filthy beasts are going to be in the “kingdom of heaven”. As the old saying goes “There goes the neighborhood”.
Oh, but wait, it gets even more shocking. Not only are these Gentiles going to be in heaven, and get there because of faith not because of their lineage, but there are going to be Jews who are left out. This was a jaw dropping statement. John MacArthur in his commentary on Romans mentions that Jewish rabbis taught that for a Jew to not enter heaven his circumcision would have to be undone. Further, they taught that Abraham himself stood at the door of hell to stop any Jew who accidentally wandered down there from going into hell. In contrast, Jesus says that there are going to be some Jews who will be “cast out into the outer darkness”. In other words, they would be eternally condemned. See, they thought they could rely on their momma, going to church, dressing right, or whatever else to get them to heaven. They were “good people” and though they had bought their ticket to heaven. Jesus says those folks who thought their religion would get them to heaven are going to be surprised but those with the faith to trust Christ like this Gentile soldier would be the ones to enter the promised rest.
Having shocked these people, Jesus gives the word to heal the servant as the centurion requested, thereby validating his faith in Christ. This man, considered a dog by the religious of the day, was just foolish enough to believe Jesus was who He said He was and would do what He said He would do and was blessed for it. Jesus says this kind of faith is the kind of faith that saves but pronounces doom on those who try to find a way to heaven through religion. Ask yourself today “Am I like the centurion or the Jewish leaders?” Don’t allow Satan to fool you with religion. Trust Christ to save you today.