Since the beginning of time man has been trying to find a way to please God through some act of self-denial, or good works that will get the attention of God. Most all the religions of the world (Christianity being one of the exceptions) focus upon the aspect of trying to do something so that God will not hate them and cause some horrible tragedy to befall them. Christ however will teach in Matthew chapter 8 that there is only one thing that will move the heart of God and cause Him to be pleased with man and that is the faith that we exhibit in His Son Jesus Christ.
In Matthew 8:5-13 we see a lesson on faith. We see recorded in the Gospel of Matthew that on two occasions Jesus marveled at the faith of individuals. In Mathew chapter 8 we see the account of a Roman Centurion (one who would lead 70-100 men into battle) had a servant who was ill from some dreaded disease. The servant was at home sick, paralyzed, and greatly afflicted. The centurion recognized that Jesus had the power of God behind him to heal. In Matthew 8:10 Jesus marvels at the faith that the centurion exhibits. Jesus is greatly moved by the faith of this gentile man. In verse 13 we see that because of the great faith of this gentile centurion that Jesus healed the servant.
I think we see at least four great lessons of faith here in this passage in Matthew chapter 8. 1) Distance is no barrier to the power of God. The Centurions servant was at home sick, yet Jesus does not travel to the home, but heals the servant from a distance. Your faith and persistent prayers in petitioning God to work in hearts both locally in Central Iowa as well as in other regions of the world moves the heart of God. God is not limited by distance that he cannot use you to touch the heart of someone even on another continent because of your prayers asking God to bring salvation.
2) Affliction may bring a blessing in disguise. What brought the contact with Jesus in Matthew chapter 8? Sickness. What was the result? Salvation. God may use human tragedy to lead people to Himself as the only answer both for physical life and spiritual life. We live in a sin cursed world where satan is the prince of the power of the air. Sometimes we find ourselves in treacherous, challenging and maybe even tragic situations, but it is important to realize that as a believer God can take our tragedy and turn it into triumph. Jesus takes this mans distress and turns it into triumph when his servant is healed. What looked like a tragic situation unfolding Jesus took it and brought healing both physically and most importantly spiritually. Never underestimate the power of God to take what seems like a train wreck in your life and begin to heal and put the pieces back together if you will trust Him by faith.
3) Faith in God's word is a priority over faith in God's wonders. The centurion simply said to Jesus in Matthew 8:8 "speak the word only and my servant shall be healed." God may not always do signs and wonders and great displays of power in a tangible way. In fact signs and wonders have only occurred at special times in history, but His word is what has always moved the hearts of people and changed entire nations and people. Trusting in the Word of Christ is the key. Faith is simply taking God at His word. God's word is the Bible and we just need to step out and believe it, proclaim it, and people will respond to it.
4) Faith is indispensable in pleasing God. Jesus was not pleased because the centurion observed 40 days of lent. Jesus was not pleased because the centurion offered him money to heal his servant. Jesus was not pleased because the man abstained from eating meat on Fridays. Jesus was not pleased because the centurion became a member of the Jewish synagogue or church.
Jesus was pleased with only one thing-faith.
It is inherent in our nature that we try to do something for God to get something from God. We think that if we do some good work or engage in some act, which causes us discomfort, that somehow God will notice our sacrifices and be pleased with us. No He won't. There is only one way to please God and that is to receive His word by faith and receive Jesus by faith. In Matthew 8:10 Jesus says, "I have not found so great faith no, not in Israel." It is faith not works that pleases God.
As we enter the Easter season may we be mindful of the fact that Jesus came to earth to die for man to rescue us out of the slave market of sin. There is nothing within us that pleases God except our willingness to accept His offer of forgiveness by faith in Jesus Christ. "For by grace are you saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast." (Ephesians 2:8-9)