Mathew 8 relays a story of an act of faith expressed by a centurion in the form of a request. This request was made outside of the traditional orthodox rituals of the Jewish faith, ie going to the temple, seeing a priest, and offering the correct sacrifice as dictated by religious law, and waiting for your request to be granted.
And our Lord uses this request to illustrate acts of faith are not limited to orthodoxy “When Jesus heard it, He marveled, and said to those who followed, “Assuredly, I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel!” (Mathew 8:10)
Who was this centurion, and what was his request?
During the time of our Lord’s earthly ministry all of Israel was under Roman rule, so it was common to find Roman soldiers stationed in the cities of Israel. This man, who came to see Jesus was not just a soldier, but a soldier of rank. A centurion was an officer who had a 100 men under his command. While he could have sent one of his underlines to summon Jesus, he came in person, indicating his request was important, and of personal importance.
We find his request in Mathew 8:5: “Now when Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to Him, pleading with Him, saying, “Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, dreadfully tormented.” Imagine, an officer in the Roman army, with 100 men under his command as well as other servants, comes to Jesus in person, to make a request to heal his servant.
At this time in history servitude was commonplace, and for a man of his position, to be concerned enough about a servant was nothing short of godly compassion. A man who not only had compassion on a servant, but was personally willing to do something about his servants infirmity. He went to Jesus and pleaded with him for help. The evidence of this centurion’s faith in Jesus was displayed by word and deed.
He didn’t come to Jesus and ask if he thought he could do something to help his servant. No he pleaded with Jesus to help his servant. An expression of faith, an expression of fact. He knew, by faith, if Jesus would, he could heal his servant. When we ask of our Lord, is it in faith, or just hope?
And Jesus said to him, “I will come and heal him.”
The centurion’s expression of faith continued: The centurion answered and said, “Lord, I am not worthy that You should come under my roof. But only speak a word, and my servant will be healed.For I also am a man under authority, having soldiers under me. And I say to this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”(Mathew 8:8-9)
Incredible! This centurion understood how things worked in matters of faith. He knew his position of authority demanded that those under his command were to follow instructions given as well as obeying orders given to him by his superiors. He knew by faith Jesus was Lord over all such matters, and he could heal his servant by word alone. Do we possess such faith?
“When Jesus heard it, He marveled, and said to those who followed, “Assuredly, I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel!”
Jesus grants the centurion’s request, and sends him away. In Jesus’s statement we find a note of condemnation of the people who are supposed to be the ones having the kind of faith expressed by this centurion. And this is the crux of the matter.
Those who participate in orthodox rituals are supposed to have this kind of faith, yet don’t, while those outside do. We know God’s own people, the Jews, rejected Jesus as Lord and savior because he didn’t fit in their preconceived ideas of what the savior was supposed to be. Blinded by their own orthodoxy, they rejected the messiah they were looking for. Have we been so consumed with our orthodoxy, our rituals, that we have overlooked true worship and missed true faith? Do we attend church for worship, or just out of habit?
Rituals serve to remind us. We observe and participate in those to remind us of our Lord. But when the observance of ritual becomes habit, it is no longer a reminder, but a meaningless action. Or worse, an action that hides the original meaning and blunts our faith. The modern celebration of Christmas and Easter are just two ritual observances whose original meaning, the birth and resurrection of Jesus, have been replaced by Santa and the Easter bunny.
This centurion, not an orthodox jew, but he expressed faith “greater than that in all of Israel.” Faith outside of the norm. This would be the way of the new faith, or the return to the true faith, before ritual and habit replaced it. Once Jesus completed his earthly mission and the ascension took place, God poured out the Holy Spirit on all flesh. The age of the gentiles, the age of whosoever believes, had come.
A change was at hand, and a warning given. “And I say to you that many will come from east and west, and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Mathew 8:11-12). Many of those once considered the chosen people, the keepers and guardians of the faith, will be cast out of the new kingdom, and replaced by believers who come from all over. They will share in the same faith practiced by Abraham, Issac, and Jacob.
A faith practiced in spirit and truth. These men followed, worshiped, and obeyed God long before the tabernacle and the church. Long before the mosaic law was composed. Long before there were any rituals to serve as reminders. The law of God was written on these men’s hearts and minds. How much stronger should our faith be since we have all of what these men never had. The examples of the faith of these men, the written word, the death and resurrection of Jesus, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
As time has passed, we’ve allowed tradition and ritual to dull the edge of true faith, and have failed to recognize opportunities to serve in faith wherever we may be.
Many consider their weekly attendance and participation in orthodox rituals as works of faith, quoting the scripture “faith without works is dead,” (James 2:20) and so it is. But I will also ad ‘works without faith is just as dead.’ Going through the motions is not an act of faith, it’s an act of habit. The Jews, with their numerous sacrifices, feasts, rituals and rules, convinced themselves these actions were acts of faith, when they had had become nothing more that habitual actions which had lost their meaning.
Let us heed God’s admonishment he gave in Isaiah:
“To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices to Me?” Says the Lord. “I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams And the fat of fed cattle. I do not delight in the blood of bulls, Or of lambs or goats.
“When you come to appear before Me, Who has required this from your hand, To trample My courts?
Bring no more futile sacrifices; Incense is an abomination to Me. The New Moons, the Sabbaths, and the calling of assemblies– I cannot endure iniquity and the sacred meeting.
Your New Moons and your appointed feasts My soul hates; They are a trouble to Me, I am weary of bearing them.
When you spread out your hands, I will hide My eyes from you; Even though you make many prayers, I will not hear. Your hands are full of blood.
“Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; Put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes. Cease to do evil,
Learn to do good; Seek justice, Rebuke the oppressor; Defend the fatherless, Plead for the widow.”
“Religion is routine ritual, faith is flaming fire.” –John Wesley