(Article for publication week of 10-2- AD 2014)
"When Jesus heard it, He marvelled, and said to them that followed, 'Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel' " (Matthew 8:11) (The reader is encouraged to read the whole lesson in Matthew 8:5-13 and the parallel passage found in Luke 7:1-10.)
Though some of the Lord's people are of "little faith" (Matthew 8:26), and sometimes plagued by doubts and fears (Mark 9:24), they are not like the unsaved who are of "no faith" (II Thessalonians 3:2). Faith in Christ is saving, though it be little and mixed with doubts and fears, for we are saved not by the greatness of our faith, but by the greatness of the Dear Saviour. Yet, to be of "great faith" is better. To be of great faith is to be delivered from doubts and fears, and to be increased in faith to a full assurance in grace. All of us who believe in Christ ought to be praying to the Lord to "increase our faith" (Luke 17:5).
Now our Lord said of the Roman centurion that he was of great faith. In fact our Lord said He had not found such great faith in Israel (in the days of His flesh). So the first thing I want to point out is that this faith was found in a surprising place. Great faith was found in a gentile, not in an Israelite. God often surprises us by His sovereign grace. Faith is a gift of God (Ephesians 2:8) and He is free to grant it to whomsoever He is pleased. None of us have believed in Christ because we were smarter than another sinner. In fact there are many unbelievers who are smarter than we (in intellect and intelligence). But we were not saved by "amazing intelligence", but by "amazing grace"! The only reason a sinner ever believes in Christ is because God regenerates that sinner and grants him repentance and faith. God passed by many Israelites and granted faith to this old gentile dog. And it pleased the Lord to work His grace effectually in the centurion so that he was one of great faith. This great faith was in a surprising character.
The granting of faith to the gentiles ought to be of special delight to my readers, for most of us are gentiles. Practically everybody in Simpson County is a gentile. Most of us are descended from Africans and Europeans, that is gentiles. Have you ever stopped to think that as far as we know all of our ancestors in Europe and Africa before the first century lived and died without the gospel and are now in hell. (I say "as far as we know", for only God knows infallibly.) For four thousand years the world was by and large destitute of the Truth except for God's elect in Israel. But then it pleased God to send His Son into the world and commission His Church to take the gospel to the whole world and so the gospel finally came to our ancestors in Europe and Africa and a few of them believed and were saved by the Lord Jesus Christ. How thankful we are that though the gospel was to "the Jew first", it is also to us gentile dogs. We gentiles who have been saved like the centurion feel just as he did that we are not worthy for the Lord Jesus Christ to come into our house. But thank the Lord for His surprising grace that moved Him so to do!