“When Jesus had finished saying all this to the people who were listening, he entered Capernaum. There a centurion’s servant, whom his master valued highly, was ill and about to die. The centurion heard of Jesus and sent some elders of the Jews to him, asking him to come and heal his servant. When they came to Jesus, they pleaded earnestly with him, ‘This man deserves to have you do this, because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue.’ So 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. That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you. But say the word, and my servant will be healed. 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.’
When 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.’ Then the men who had been sent returned to the house and found the servant well.” (Luke 7:1-10)
Jesus was amazed! Luke uses the Greek word thaumazo which we translate “marveled” or “amazed” to describe Jesus’ response to the centurion’s faith. The only time this word is used to describe Jesus’ response to others’ faith is in Mark 6:6, when he marvels at the lack of faith in the people of Nazareth, where he grew up.
But why? Why the Wow?
First, I’m guessing that the sheer oddity of the situation caught Jesus by surprise. Do you remember those “Student most likely to succeed”commendations in American High School Year Books? Well, in terms of faith, the centurion might have been voted Least Likely Candidate.
He was a pagan outsider. He wouldn’t know about the Law and the Prophets and the expectation of the coming of Messiah. He wouldn’t even know about the one true God, the powerful, loving Father of creation.
Furthermore, he was a Roman, stationed in Palestine to subject the Jews to the Emperor’s rule. He was a man of war. He achieved the rank of centurion by distinguishing himself above others in the brutal Roman martial arts.
It’s not the CV that you would expect for becoming one of the Bible’s heroes of faith.
But the text gives us a couple of clues: “He loves our nation and has built our synagogue.” This is not the behavior of a tyrannical oppressor. Even if he initially came as part of an invading force, something of the inner life of the Jewish people had got to him.He was sympathetic towards this conquered people, intrigued by their long faith journey and drawn to their religion.
So what in the world had happened to this man exactly ? We don’t know. But there he is in Capernaum; a miracle of God’s marvelous grace. The very word “miracle” means “Something Astonishing!” And Jesus noted the fact.
And he’s a firstfruit and a foreshadow of what Jesus had come to bring about. He was a living illustration that “many [would] come from the east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 8:11).
This centurion is also a reminder to us that “man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). I think we will be surprised someday when Jesus doles out rewards. Most of the great ones among us will probably have lived in obscurity. Jesus is not as impressed with titles, degrees, and achievements as we are.
He is impressed with those who really do humbly believe him.
Billy Graham once said, “God will not reward fruitfulness, he will reward faithfulness.”
The centurion was faith-full. I want to be like him when I grow up.
But there’s a second factor here, that caused Jesus to exclaim at the centurion: it has to do with the concept of authority.
It was one of the unique things about Jesus that when He spoke, people recognised the power beind His words.“The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law.” (Mark 1:22) The “teachers of the law” offered learned opinions, suggestions and points of view to ponder, but Jesus cut to the chase. He spoke with authority.
And this authority meant that when He spoke, things happened.
If I went into a crowded shopping mall and instructed the shoppers to vacate the premises immediately, I can’t imagine that much would happen apart fom a few pitying glances and possibly a court order. But if I were a policeman, clothed inthe mantle of my office, then the story would be very different.My authority would effect action.
And the Centurion recognised this in Jesus, because he understood it in himself. As he said, “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.’ “
The interesting point is that the Centurion was able to extrapolate from comprehending a merely human authority to something much more. Jesus demonstrated power over unseen forces – the forces of sickness, demonic forces, and even natural forces. Remember the story of the storm? “The men were amazed and asked, “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!” (Matthew 8:27)
And it was another centurion, ordered to crucify Jesus, who saw even in the most horrid aspects of a cruel death, something more than just a routine execution: “This man truly was the Son of God!” (Matthew 27:54)
So the Centurion in our story was commended because he got the point and made the connection. “God was in Christ” (as Paul put it later), speaking words of power and enacting new creation. Just as the Father had once said “Let there be light,” so now the Son opened the eyes of the blind, and the ears of the deaf with a single stated command.
And the Centurion put his entire confidence on that one insight.
He believed in Jesus.