Why Consider Ourselves Unworthy?

Have you ever wondered what Jesus feels when He sees the faith of His people? I’m not sure we usually perceive Jesus as celebrating the faith of His people. We usually merely see Jesus as being present and helpful and someone we go to with our requests. We may see Him as the one who gives us true joy and satisfaction. Have you ever wondered what Jesus experiences when He dwells among His people?

In the previous passage, we saw Jesus heal a leper. Jesus healing was a living parable, a picture of the Gospel. In today’s passage, we see the second healing in this section of Matthew’s Gospel.

Matthew 8:5-13

And when Jesus entered Capernaum, a centurion came to Him, imploring Him, and saying, “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, fearfully tormented.”

Jesus said to him, “I will come and heal him.”

But the centurion said, “Lord, I am not worthy for You to come under my roof, but just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I also am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to this one, ‘Go!’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come!’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this!’ and he does it.”

Now when Jesus heard this, He marveled and said to those who were following, “Truly I say to you, I have not found such great faith with anyone in Israel. I say to you that many will come from east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven; but the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” 

And Jesus said to the centurion, “Go; it shall be done for you as you have believed.” And the servant was healed that very moment.


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The Centurion’s request (v. 5-7)

And when Jesus entered Capernaum, a centurion came to Him, imploring Him,

The centurion’s request is like the leper’s request before him in Matthew’s account. Whereas the leper was probably a Jew, the centurion is not. The leper did not formally ask a question, but made a statement. We gain a clearer understanding of this type of statement with the centurion. Matthew clarifies that this type of statement is a παρακαλέω, or request. This request is worded like a declarative statement but is, in fact, interrogative. The profession has a question mark at the end. The centurion is imploring Jesus.

and saying, “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, fearfully tormented.”

The centurion, like the leper in the previous passage, refers to Jesus using the title “Lord,” a title with which Jesus referred to Himself in His sermon on the mount. The centurion, who was a Roman and not a Jew, had already recognized the authority of Jesus and here confesses Christ as Lord. The Greek word for “paralyzed” is the word from which the English is derived, παραλυτικος. It is a word that suggests an inability to move. In the case of the centurion’s servant, this paralysis is something that causes fear and torments the servant. The word for servant, παις, can refer to a slave or a child (male or female). So, the centurion’s servant may be his son or daughter according to Matthew’s account.

Jesus said to him, “I will come and heal him.”

Jesus responded to the interrogative by agreeing to go and heal the centurion’s servant of paralysis.


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The Centurion’s faith (v. 8-10)

But the centurion said, “Lord, I am not worthy for You to come under my roof, but just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I also am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to this one, ‘Go!’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come!’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this!’ and he does it.”

The centurion tells Jesus that he is unworthy and that he understands the authority Jesus has. He tells Jesus to simply say the word and his servant will be healed. The centurion understands that Jesus is agreeing to travel with him and heal his servant. The fact that the centurion sees himself as unworthy gives us some insight concerning the heart of the person who has much faith.

Too often, we come to meet with the church body from a place of strength expecting things to go our way or expecting to have some sway. We have made a habit of approaching church music, giving, and even prayer pridefully. The message we receive from the example of the centurion is this- people who really have faith, believing in Christ, see themselves as entirely unworthy. This means much regarding the way that we live, treat others, do church, praise, give, listen to God’s holy word being preached and taught, pray, address sin, and request anything from our Lord. He is the worthy one, not us. When we come before God, we come from a place of unworthiness.

Now when Jesus heard this, He marveled and said to those who were following, “Truly I say to you, I have not found such great faith with anyone in Israel.

What is the source of the centurion’s faith? Jesus taught, in the Sermon on the Mount, that root produces fruit (7:15-23). The centurion has already confessed Jesus as Lord, like the leper before him. This faith that the centurion practices, here, is something that he had prior to this text. It is something that started within him and now shows outwardly in his trust and hope that Christ will heal his servant. Hebrews 11:1 defines the biblical view of faith explicitly:

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, meaning that by faith we are assured of the hope that we have. Faith is also the conviction of things not seen, meaning that by faith we are convinced of things that are unseeable and/or convinced in our unseen places (i.e. heart and mind) of things. The source of faith is external because by it we are assured and convinced. Faith must be provided to us before we can believe. The source of the centurion’s faith, if we want to be consistent with the rest of Scripture, is God. God has already brought the centurion to believe through faith. Root produces fruit.

Why would Jesus, who is omniscient, marvel? εθαυμασεν is a term used to describe admiration, contemplation, and/or wonderment. The book of Hebrews explains this for us as well:

“For by it (faith) the men of old gained approval” (Hebrews 11:2).

According to the preacher of Hebrews, faith was the thing by which people were assured and convinced. Being assured of godly hope and convinced of godly things, they gained approval. God admires the fruit produced by those He has assured and convinced through faith. This is what it means that Christ would “find” faith in us and that He would admire or marvel at the faith we have.

Jesus is not only admiring the trust that the centurion has or his hope. Jesus is marveling at something deeper- the essence of this man’s new nature. This new nature, a regenerate heart, has been provided to him somehow at some previous juncture in time that we do not get to know. He has been made a good tree and he bears good fruit. Isn’t it great to know that Jesus marvels at His work in our lives. It must be like the joy that I feel when my son learns something that he is going to have to learn anyway. I am so proud when he learns this thing even though it is expected. Because I am happy, he becomes happy, and everyone celebrates! It is cool to know that Jesus takes joy in the fruit that is produced by His good trees. We are His portion and He is our prize. The author(s) of Hebrews even state that Jesus endured the cross for the joy that was set before Him (Hebrews 12:2). Since our faith does not depend on our work, there is nothing we can do that causes Christ to experience less joy when He observes the faith that His people have.

Jesus continues by stating that this faith is not even found with anyone in Israel. The non-Jewish, unclean, uncircumcised,  unlawful (concerning God’s Law), foreigner had more faith than any Israelite and Christ was pleased. This affirms, again, what Jesus taught in His sermon on the mount. Legalistic, or works-based, religion is ineffective. We are saved and sanctified by grace through faith. People aren’t saved because they are churchy. People are saved through faith. If we are unworthy, we cannot see anyone else as being less worthy than us. It amazes me that so many people preach the doctrines of grace but have no idea what they mean because they are constantly condemning people.


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The kingdom of heaven (v. 11-13)

I say to you that many will come from east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven; 

Jesus declares this Gospel truth. The expanse of His kingdom reaches far beyond the Jews only. Many people from all places will recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.

…but the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” 

The sons of the kingdom, a phrase referring to the Israelites or Jews, will be thrown into the outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. Jesus also taught this in His sermon on the mount. Legalistic religion can’t get us there. According to Jesus, many Jews will spend eternity apart from Him and in a place of darkness, weeping, and gnashing of teeth.

And Jesus said to the centurion, “Go; it shall be done for you as you have believed.” And the servant was healed that very moment.

Some people will use this detail in the text to insist that Jesus does not have all knowledge and cannot possibly be God or one with God. They will point out that Jesus declared something, in this case “I will come,” that did not correspond to actual events (i.e. Jesus did not in fact go). The claim is that Jesus was either lying or He was mistaken because He lacked foresight. ελθων, the word translated “will come,” can also indicate the act of reasoning with one’s self and coming to the decision to do something. While “will come” is the correct and most basic English translation, there is a nuance in the Greek that we do not see in the English. Something is lost in translation. There is no contradiction in this text and Jesus was entirely truthful and accurate when He said what He would do. We are not unfamiliar with this type of language in the English. When we talk about opening a door for someone, we usually mean that we are going to give them an opportunity. If we give someone an opportunity, we are truthful and accurate in what we have said even if we do not stand up and open a physical door for someone. This illustration does fall short because Jesus wasn’t speaking metaphorically in this instance, but we can understand.

In the previous passage, Jesus touched the Jewish leper. In this passage, Jesus speaks and the centurion’s servant is healed from afar. In the previous passage, we saw that Jesus was painting a picture of His gospel through the healing of the leper. The same is true, here. The Gospel was not for Jews only. Through the Jews, the world would be healed and cleansed. This is being done in Christ. God’s promise to Abraham in Genesis 12:3 is fulfilled in Christ. Every nation is blessed through the descendants of Abraham, namely Jesus Christ. Jesus is absolutely lord over all things and all people and all other created beings.

Questions:

  1. What is genuine faith?
  2. What does it mean that we consider ourselves to be unworthy? How does this truth change the way that we live and consider other people and other local churches?
  3. Is it encouraging to know that Jesus is not only sanctifying us, but takes joy in us? Does this joy depend on our work or His? Can anything remove the joy that Christ experiences when He admires our faith?
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