Compare Matthew 7:21-27
As I’ve mentioned before, one would be hard-pressed — frankly, I think it an impossible task — to construct an argument for the doctrine of salvation by grace alone, without works, from the four New Testament gospels. And this comment from Jesus, whether in its Lukan or its Matthean form, is clearly one of the gospel teachings that advocates of such a doctrine would need to overcome.
I’m quite confident that they have their arguments, but it’s difficult to see how those arguments could be successful in overcoming what seems to be the Lord’s clear intent.
It’s scarcely surprising that, despite the Savior’s instruction not to talk about what had happened to him, the suddenly-cured leper went out and told everybody. How could he possibly contain his joy and excitement? And how could they possibly repress their curiosity?
Miracles were, as I’ve said here before, not a principal purpose of Jesus’ ministry. He was happy to do them, I’m sure, but people continued to get sick and die in Judea and Galilee during the three years of his preaching.
Such notoriety, such sensational news, actually interfered with what he was trying to do. And it attracted merely curious sign-seekers. “Jesus could no longer openly enter a town,” says Mark 1:45, “but was out in the country; and people came to him from every quarter.”
Compare Mark 2:1; 7:30
The harmony that I’m using as the basis of this exercise — Kurt Aland, ed., Synopsis of the Four Gospels: Greek-English Edition of the Synopsis Quattuor Evangeliorum (14th ed.) — plainly believes that the incident recounted in John 4 is the same as that described in Matthew 8 and Luke 7. It may be, but I’m not so sure.
In any event, I’ve always found the centurion’s protest (“Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof”) quite moving. Especially given the fact that his neighbors plainly held him in high esteem: “He is worthy to have you do this for him,” they said to Jesus, “for he loves our nation, and he built us our synagogue” (Luke 7:4-5).
It seems obvious, incidentally, that this centurion was one of the “God-fearers,” Gentiles who admired and accepted the Jewish message of ethical monotheism but who were unwilling to accept the entire ceremonial law that went with Judaism. And who could really blame such people? For most men, at least, the requirement of circumcision would have been an obvious deal-breaker. But it was far more than that. The constraints imposed by Jewish law were numerous and burdensome, and the requirements of ritual purity and of avoidance of many social interactions with Gentiles, while perhaps slightly irksome for a Jew, would have been catastrophic for a non-Jew, posing enormous risk to many of his friendships and even to his ties with his family.
It’s thus unsurprising that, when Christianity really began to pick up speed, it did so as something of a “good-parts version” of Judaism, minus the ceremonial law (including circumcision) and without the difficult purity rules. The “God-fearers,” the Gentile sympathizers, were an obviously rich field wherein the early missionaries (such as Paul) could work, and those missionaries did so very effectively.