Lessons on Faith From Matthew 8
I'm like the disciples on the boat. But Jesus is calling me to be more like the centurion.
In Matthew 8, Jesus wakes from a nap and chides his disciples for panicking when they encounter a storm on the sea. He tells the winds and the waves to calm down. And they obey.
A few verses earlier, a Roman officer asks Jesus to heal his paralyzed servant. His certainty that Jesus has the authority to do it is so evident that Jesus tells him his faith stands out among the entire nation of Israel.
I’ve read Matthew 8 multiple times, usually considering each of its stories individually. But this last time, I saw the connection — the stark contrast between the disciples’ faith and the centurion’s faith. And I was convicted. Because I’m like the disciples on the boat. But Jesus is calling me to be more like the officer.
‘We Are Perishing’
Verses 24 and 25 set the stage for Jesus’ storm-calming miracle: “And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he [Jesus] was sleeping. And they went and woke him, saying, ‘Save us, Lord; we are perishing.'”
The problem isn’t that the disciples cried out for help. The Bible tells us to ask God for what we need. So what was the problem? Jesus identifies it in verse 26: “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?”
The disciples allowed fear to control them, rather than faith in their Messiah.
How many times have you felt “swamped by the waves”? I have, many times. When I’m tempted by worry, or I’m in the middle of a difficult time, or I have questions about my future, I tend to do exactly what the disciples did. Save me, Lord! I’m perishing over here!
It’s easy to let fear control our perspective on a grander scale, as well. When we look at the political division in our nation: Save us, Lord! We are perishing! When we hear about upheaval overseas: Save us, Lord! We’re going to perish over here, along with everyone over there!
We look at the storm — in our life, in the world. Rather than believing that God is in control, that he can calm the storm, and that he will defeat evil, we panic.
‘Only Say the Word’
Matthew 8:5-10 paints quite a different picture. Jesus had come to the city of Capernaum. The Roman officer told him his servant was very sick. Jesus said that he would come to his home and heal the servant.
But the centurion replied, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard this, he marveled and said to those who followed him, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith.”
Like the disciples, the centurion asks Jesus for help. Unlike the disciples, he doesn’t do so in a panic. He trusts Jesus’ authority so completely that he knows Jesus can heal his servant, even from a distance. By giving the example of his own authority within the Roman army, he shows he understands that Jesus is in control.
“Only say the word,” he asks of Jesus. He knows that will be enough.
Fear or Faith?
The centurion’s level of faith was so rare in Israel that the Bible says Jesus marveled at it. Imagine how much rarer that kind of faith must be today — when Jesus isn’t physically walking the earth. And yet that’s the faith we ought to have.
In Matthew 8, Jesus answers both the centurion and the disciples on the boat.
“Go; let it be done for you as you have believed,” Jesus tells the centurion in verse 13. And we’re told that “the servant was healed at that very moment.”
In verse 26, after Jesus chided the disciples for their “little faith,” he “rose and rebuked winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. And the men marveled, saying, ‘What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?'”
He’s a man whose authority doesn’t depend on whether or not we have confidence in it. He is in control no matter what. But we can decide whether we’re going to live in constant fear of the storms around us, or whether we’re going to have faith in who Jesus is and what he can do.
I want Jesus to marvel at my faith in him, not chide me for my lack of it.
“I believe; help my unbelief!” Mark 9:24