The Centurion's Example of Faith
2nd after Pent.(C)
1When Jesus had finished saying all this in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. 2There a centurion's servant, whom his master valued highly, was sick and about to die. 3The centurion heard of Jesus and sent some elders of the Jews to him, asking him to come and heal his servant. 4When they came to Jesus, they pleaded earnestly with him, "This man deserves to have you do this, 5because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue." 6So Jesus went with them. He was not far from the house when the centurion sent friends to say to him: "Lord, don't trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. 7That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you. But say the word, and my servant will be healed. 8For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, 'Go,' and he goes; and that one, 'Come,' and he comes. I say to my servant, 'Do this,' and he does it."9When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, "I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel." 10Then the men who had been sent returned to the house and found the servant well.
The text from St. Luke informs us how Jesus commended a most unlikely candidate. The man was a foreigner. He represented the military occupying force that was so despised by the Jewish nation. He was a slave owner. And he wasn’t just a lowly foot-soldier, either. He carried some authority!
In spite of so many reasons Jesus could have chosen to avoid the man, He honored the Centurion’s request and high-lighted his faith as being greater than any other in all of Israel. What were some aspects of that faith from which we might learn?
I: One thing for us to recognize is that the Centurion’s faith was expressed with sincere humility such as is characterized by true penitence.
The man made friends with the Jewish people who lived where he was stationed, and he had endeared himself to the local elders. They therefore sought earnestly after Jesus on the Centurion's behalf, saying, “This man deserves to have You (come heal his servant), because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue.” As the disciples once thought Jesus was too busy to see children, these elders perhaps anticipated that Jesus would want nothing to do with a Roman soldier, so they urged Jesus with sincere words of praise for the man.
The Centurion himself displayed no self-pride, however. He was quite humble and later sent the message: “Lord, don’t trouble Yourself, for 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.” Perhaps he had some real sense of the very Holiness of God embodied in Jesus(?); a degree of Holiness that couldn’t even look upon the least little sin.
It’s possible the Centurion was familiar with Old Testament writings that teach “All have gone astray, they are all alike corrupt; there is none that does good, no, not one.” His was like the confession of the Prodigal Son: “I am not worthy to be called your son.”
While millions of ordinary good people say they feel worthy enough before God to make it to Heaven, we should clearly understand that it’s a lie of self-pride that Scripture wipes out by fingering each of us as sinners who fall far short of the Glory of God! So then, just imagine such words coming from a man of authority from an empire of conquerors: “I am NOT worthy to trouble You, Lord.”
However it may have come about, the Centurion had come to some degree of true faith in Jesus, and he expressed it with sincere humility that should characterize each of us as well. May God’s Spirit grant us to likewise realize our own sin and unworthiness.
II: Another aspect of the Centurion’s faith is that it bore the fruit of loving his neighbors.
In the first place he was genuinely concerned for the physical welfare of his servant. It wasn’t that he stood to lose a piece of property if the servant died, but he was honestly moved over the health of a fellow human-being. The servant was dear to him. He was deeply attached and truly wanted healing for the servant’s sake and not his own.
Building the local synagogue is another prime example. St. Luke's words literally say in the original language that the Centurion “himself” built it. He was perhaps a man of some means, but a man of his rank probably wouldn’t have been extremely wealthy. Building the synagogue was something he did for others with at least some degree of sacrifice to himself, in other words.
The faith of a Roman soldier evidenced the fruit of loving others, just as Christ has consistently taught us to do. By commending the man’s faith, Jesus was holding out his example as one we all should follow.
III: A third point is that, although he acknowledged his unworthiness to come to Jesus, the Centurion nevertheless did seek after Jesus for the needed help.
No earthly doctor’s medicine or surgery could help the servant now at the point of death. No appeal to Caesar or prayers to an idol would save him. Witnessing to what he believed concerning Jesus, the Centurion addressed Him as “Lord” and pleaded for the help of sheer grace. He turned to the only alternative there is to death. He did seek Jesus for the only true help to be found.
When the problem arose at Cana’s wedding feast, Mary went to Jesus and also directed the servers to Him. Scripture constantly invites us too, of course, to approach Him, present our needs to Him, cast our cares upon Him. We truly are not worthy, but HE is. He promises to fill our needs, and He’s the Source to whom we may turn by grace. Follow the example of the Centurion, once again!
IV: The most important aspect of the Centurion’s faith, though, was his simply believing the authority of Christ’s Word.
“Say the word, and my servant will be healed,” he confessed, “for I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one ‘Come,’ and he comes; I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” In other words he was confessing “Lord, I know Your Word carries authority, and that’s enough for me.” Hearing that, Jesus praised the faith of this foreigner above anyone in all Israel and healed the dying servant!
We, too, have the Word of Him who from eternity was with God and is God. We have the Word of Him who is the Way, the Truth and the Life. His Word of Law and Commandments certainly exposes the sinners that we are, but His strong Word also releases our consciences from our real guilt and true unworthiness. It assures us of His sympathy for our weaknesses and pity for our entrapment in sinful rebellion against God.
Now His written Word states that “Jesus Christ gave Himself for our sins to deliver us.” The end goal of His authoritative Word is wrapped up in His death at Calvary and by the garden’s empty tomb. He died for us both on account of our sin, but also as payment for it, turning all God’s anger at our sin away from us by being lifted up on the Cross. He rose from death on the third day so that, as He said, we may also rise to life that lasts forever.
Christ’s own resurrection is the strongest evidence for us of the authority and truth of His Word! We have much more to go on than the Centurion did, because he couldn’t have known all that Jesus still had to accomplish to fulfill God’s eternal plan of salvation. Let’s believe fully what Christ teaches and says! Take Him at His Word! Trust the Divine authority of His Word!
The Centurion’s example of faith for us to follow is simple and clear cut--
First, he humbly confessed that he was not worthy of Christ’s attention or help.
Second, as a fruit issuing from his faith, he demonstrated true love and concern for others.
Third, he sought and turned to Jesus as the true and valid source for real help that he needed, calling Jesus “Lord.”
And fourth, he trusted that Christ’s Word carried a weight of authority beyond any human ability;- in other words, that Jesus really spoke as and with the authority of God!
God help us to learn from the Roman Centurion’s example and grant us His Holy Spirit that we may likewise practice a faith like the Centurion’s, faith centered specifically and directly on Jesus Christ alone!