As I look at these two passages, there are distinct points that I gather from each account.
In the Lukan account, we find that when the Roman centurion asked for Jesus help, he got the support of the Jewish elders who said to Jesus,
This man deserves to have you do this, because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue. (Luke 7:4-5)
Yet though the elders called this man “deserving,” the centurion himself said,
I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you. (Luke 7:6-7)
Sometimes, we think that in order to be saved, or for that matter, to get anything from God, we have to be “deserving.”
But grace says the exact opposite. It says, “Though you are not deserving, though you are not worthy, nevertheless I will give you what you need, eternal life and more. All you need to do is ask.”
The question is, do we have the faith to ask. Sometimes we get jaded in our faith. I know I do. We ask for something, and for whatever reason, God says no. And because of that, we wonder, “Is it worth praying? Will God answer? Does he have the power to answer? Does he care enough to answer?”
But faith says, “I will continue to believe in God’s goodness. That he knows what is best for me. Not only that, he has the power to help me. And because of that, I will continue to ask.”
That’s the kind of faith the centurion had. He thought, “I’m an outsider. A Roman. Jews generally hate Romans. And I am totally unworthy to get help from this Jesus. But I believe that he not only has the power to help me, but the desire. And so I’ll ask.”
And because he did, his servant was healed.
It is rare that you ever find Jesus astonished. You only find it twice in scripture. One was in the face of unbelief of the very people he grew up with (Mark 6:6), and the other was in the face of the incredible faith of this outsider, this Roman centurion.
Jesus said of him,
I tell you the truth, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 8:10-12)
And that’s the other point I get from this. It is people like this centurion, who understand their need for grace, and who put their faith in Jesus that will enter God’s kingdom. No one can inherit God’s kingdom through their bloodlines or by doing works that make themselves deserving. Rather, we inherit God’s kingdom when we say, “Though I don’t deserve anything from you, nevertheless I believe in you. Save me.”
Paul put it this way,
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)