Fifth, we trust Jesus with our best faith. The official did not know Jesus’ divine power as we do. He wanted Jesus to “come” to heal his son, as a physician would. He had no idea that our omnipotent Lord could heal across time and distance, with just a word. Another Roman official did have such faith, and said to Jesus, “Just say the word, and my servant will be healed” (Matthew 8:8). And Jesus commended him: “I have not found anyone in Israel with such faith” (v. 10), and healed his servant in that very hour (v. 13).
Jesus would have welcomed such faith in this Roman, but he did not require it. He meets us at the point of our belief, when we give to him the best faith we have. The official in our miracle did not know what we do, but Jesus honored his request nonetheless. You may think your faith too small to receive a miracle from God, but if it is the best you have, it is all he requires. One of my favorite prayers in the Bible is the request of the father whose son was possessed by a demon. Jesus said to him, “Everything is possible for him who believes” (Mark 9:23), and he replied, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (v. 24). And Jesus did. He receives such faith as we have, by grace.
Last, we trust Jesus with persistent faith. “Begged” is in the continuous tense in the Greek, showing that the man repeated his insistent requests (Tenney 60). Jesus taught us to “ask and keep on asking, and it will be given to you” (Matthew 7:7, my literal translation). The Roman teaches us to heed Jesus’ instruction.
Now our Lord gave an odd response to such remarkable faith: “Unless you people see miraculous signs and wonders, you will never believe” (v. 48). At first glance, it appears that Jesus rebuked this man’s great trust in him. But the first glance is often wrong, especially in reading the word of God.
“You” is found twice in Jesus’ sentence, and is the key to its meaning. This is the second person plural, addressed to the entire crowd gathered before Jesus. His words were not spoken directly to the nobleman, but to the audience which was listening to his request. Jesus knew that most people were consumers, interested in him to the degree that he could help them. And he was right.
Tragically, he still is. For countless churches theology is therapy, the congregation a club. Members join the club that offers the services they want, and pay only for what they receive. The deacons are a board of directors, elected to ensure that the members’ needs are met. The pastor is a kind of “head pro,” with a staff hired to serve the membership. A few years ago a troubling survey was conducted. Thousands of churches and their pastors were asked the purpose of the church. 90% of the pastors said the purpose of the church is to fulfill the Great Commission; 10% said it is to meet members’ needs. 89% of the members said that the purpose of the church is to meet their needs; 11% said it is to fulfill the Great Commission.
So Jesus was both testing this nobleman’s faith and revealing that of his contemporaries. The official passed the test and more: “Sir, come down before my child dies” (49). “Sir” is a title of immense respect, unheard of on the lips of a Roman officer speaking to a Jewish peasant. His prayer was again a request, not an order. It was another statement of humble, personal, unconditional, persistent faith, the plea of a breaking heart. Not a demand that Jesus prove his ability, for this man already believed in his power.
So should we. When we bring Jesus our pain, we position ourselves to receive the grace he already wants to give. How many of our needs go unmet because we will not give them to our Master with the faith of this pagan? When last did you give your problem to Jesus as he did?
Trust his word
The Roman teaches us to remember what Jesus has done for us in the past, and ask him to do it again today. Now we learn a last, vital lesson from our Gentile teacher today: trust the word you hear from God. Immediately, without reservation or hesitation. Put feet to your faith. Stake everything on his word and will. Trust the word of God.
Jesus’ reply to the nobleman’s commendable faith was an absolute shock to his troubled mind: “You may go. Your son will live” (v. 50a). “Live” is a Semitic term which means both recovery from illness and return to life from death (Rienecker 228). That’s the good news. But the bad news is that Jesus would not go with the official to make it so for his dying son. He would not come to him in his hour of greatest need. No reputable physician in human history has ever claimed to heal a person he has never seen of an illness he has not diagnosed. This boy lay near death, 20 miles away, his illness unknown but terminal. And now a peasant carpenter claimed to have healed him with only his words.
Imagine yourself calling your doctor for help with a gravely ill child. The physician refuses to see your child, or to go to him. He will not prescribe medicine, run tests, or consult with other medical professionals. He doesn’t even inquire as to the precise nature of the illness. He simply says, “Your son will live.” Over the telephone, from an office 20 miles away. How would you respond?
Our pagan official “took Jesus at his word and departed” (v. 50b). His response and faith were instantaneous (Robertson 76). He started on his way, acting on his faith. Note that he did not stay with Jesus until receiving word that the promised cure had been effective—he simply left to go home to his healed son (Bruce 734).