What is faith? Why is faith the avenue through which we encounter God? Why are we asked to believe in someone we can’t see? These questions were the focus of Jon’s message. To work through these questions, Pr. Jon looked to the examples of faith in Matthew 8 from two individuals who were at the margins of Israel’s community: a leper and a Gentile.
In the first story, a leper comes to Jesus in a posture of worship and declares, “Lord, if you choose, you can make me clean” (v. 2), to which Jesus responds by stretching out his hand, touching the leper, and declaring, “I do choose. Be made clean!” (v. 3). It is important to know in this story that leprosy in the first century meant that you were part of a select group of “untouchables.” Lepers were segregated from communal life and were considered unclean by Jewish law. They suffered a lifelong illness and marginalization from the broader society. In this context, the leper goes to Jesus in a posture of worship and has hope and faith in Jesus’ authority Jesus heal him. In so doing, Jesus removes his leprosy and restores his status among his people.
In the second story, a Roman centurion comes to Jesus, addresses him as Lord, and pleads for Jesus to heal his servant. As a centurion, this man was not only a Gentile, but was also an enforcers of Roman imperial rule, likely commanding around 100 infantrymen. Although Rome was the dominate force of power in the first century, their power only contributed to suffering in the world. They had no power to heal it. The centurion recognizes that Jesus has authority from a different kingdom—the kingdom of God—and that all he needs to do is “speak the word” (v. 8). Jesus praises the centurion’s faith, declaring that this “outsider” has demonstrated greater faith than all Israel.
Faith, in both of these stories, is trusting in Jesus’ authority to bring healing and restoration with just a touch and a word. And as Jesus responds to their requests for healing, their faith in him and his authority grows. Faith is like intimacy in a marriage—it develops and grows over time. If you want to grow your faith, the leper and the centurion teach us to 1) come to Jesus in worship, 2) ask Jesus for what we need (even for more faith), and 3) trust in Jesus’ authority to deliver.