Luke 7 v 6. “He was not far from the house when the centurion sent friends to say to him: “Lord, don’t trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof.
Now follows two stories regarding salvation from death, the story of the centurion’s servant followed by the story of the widow of Nain and her deceased son. We will focus today on the centurion and his seriously ill servant.
The centurion was a Roman soldier and obviously a gentile. But unlike other Roman gentiles he loved the Jewish nation and had built a local synagogue for them. This was an amazing and expensive thing to do and it is no wonder that the Jews went to Jesus to plead for intervention on behalf of this man’s servant.
But in so doing they made a mistake many people make today. They pleaded for the salvation from death for the servant on the basis of the centurion’s good works and meritorious service. In these good works Jesus probably recognised evidence of an honest person seeking God as best as he knew how.
But something else was needed and it came from the centurion himself who sent a messenger to Christ to say: “I do not deserve to have you under my roof. That is why I did not consider myself worthy to come to you.”
Here were his friends saying: “He is worthy” (v 4) and on the other hand here was the man himself saying: “I am not worthy”. This basic and fundamental humility is what the Holy Spirit produces in us as a pre-cursor to salvation, and Luke wants his friend Theophilus (1 v 3) to know that. But now comes the amazing statement of v 8: “But say the word”. The soldier explained that he knew about authority because behind him lies the power of Rome. He says in effect to Jesus: “I recognise you as a power far beyond that of Rome. You have authority over the forces of life and death – so just say the word and my servant will be healed.”
Luke records Jesus’ amazement at this statement in v 9. Israel itself was always striving to build up merit before God, but this gentile got it right by abandoning his merit and relying totally on the Person of Christ and the authority of His word. His servant was, of course, healed.
Here is a great story given to us by Luke about a fundamental aspect of salvation. It cannot be and will never be merited or earned. It will always be a gift in response to faith and trust in God’s Word.
Many Christians struggle in their Christian life because they cannot quite shake the feeling that in some way they have got to be good enough for God. That is always the path way to discouragement and defeat. I hope you have not fallen into that trap.
The humility and faith that is a pre-requisite to salvation was not practised by the sick servant, but by the Roman Centurion on behalf of his sick servant. In this way Luke points to the need of personal humility and a sense of unworthiness before God, followed by faith in His kindness and Grace.
We should do the same.