And a certain centurion’s servant, who was dear to him, was sick and ready to die. So when he heard about Jesus, he sent elders of the Jews to Him, pleading with Him to come and heal his servant. And when they came to Jesus, they begged Him earnestly saying that the one for whom He should do this was deserving, “for he loves our nation, and has built us a synagogue.” Luke 7:2-5
Rome was a superpower in Jesus’ time and typically hated by the Jews because of their harsh treatment and pagan practices. A centurion in the Roman army oversaw 100 soldiers. They were powerful and feared by their own soldiers and, of course, their enemies.
It would have been extraordinary to anyone in Jesus’s day to learn that this particular centurion loved the Jewish nation and even built them a synagogue.
As Jesus came close to the centurion’s house, other friends of the centurion came to Jesus. They were instructed to give Him a message:
Lord, do not trouble Yourself, for I am not worthy that You should enter under my roof. Therefore I did not even think myself worthy to come to You. But say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I also am a man placed under authority, having soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this’ and he does it. Luke 7:8
At this point, Jesus does what no one else has ever gotten Him to do in the Scriptures — He marvelled because of the great faith He observed in the centurion.
Merriam-Webster dictionary defines marvel as A wonder; that which arrests the attention and causes a person to stand or gaze, or to pause.
There were several things that stood out about the centurion’s interaction with Jesus.
It would have been extraordinary to anyone in Jesus’s day to learn that a centurion loved the Jewish nation
1. The centurion didn’t consider himself worthy to approach Jesus. While the Jewish elders went to Jesus touting the wonderful things the centurion did for the Jewish nation, the centurion compared himself to Jesus and found that he was unworthy to even approach Him.
I believe the Jewish elders truly respected the centurion, but they didn’t understand Jesus like the centurion did. No one comes to God based on what they have done. Sadly, many Jews did not believe in Jesus while He was on earth because they could not see their need for a Saviour.
In their own eyes, they were descendants of Abraham who followed enough of the law to make them worthy of approaching God on their own merit. However, no one can approach God because of who they are or what they have or haven’t done.
The only time Jesus asked people what they had to offer in exchange for salvation was when He was making a point that they could never earn it. A quick survey of Jesus’s healing miracles would reveal that most of the people Jesus healed had nothing to offer Him in terms of wealth, position or even holiness.
2. The centurion loved well. The centurion didn’t approach Jesus for a family member, but for a servant. Romans were not known for their kindness, but rather for their cruelty. The fact that Scripture says the servant was dear to him speaks to this centurion’s character.
No one can approach God because of who they are or what they have or haven’t done
What made the Jewish elders say he loved their nation? Well, many politicians during Jesus’s time might have granted favours to be repaid at a later date, but when his friends met Jesus near his home, they didn’t mention the things the centurion had done for God’s people. His testimony seems to indicate that God had already turned the centurion’s heart toward Himself.
3. He understood Jesus was God. Say the word, and my servant will be healed. The centurion credited Jesus with power that many people did not have the faith to comprehend. He knew Jesus was able to heal his servant, but he also somehow understood that physical presence had nothing to do with Jesus’s ability.
There are many instances during Jesus’s earthly ministry when Jesus read people’s thoughts or cast out demons. He would forgive a person’s sin and then tell them to rise up and walk. There was evidence that He was more than a prophet but most missed it or denied it.
Also, the centurion seemed to understand the authority Jesus had was far beyond his own. He knew that Jesus’s ability came from His authority — even sickness was subject to Jesus. Jesus just had to tell it to “Go.”
Matthew records this same story, though he doesn’t refer to the centurion’s go-betweens. Yet, he includes a detail that I find especially comforting since, in it, Jesus is recorded talking about me and many others in the Church today.
And I say to you that many will come from east and west, and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 8:11
Jesus was referring to Gentiles, those outside of Israel. The centurion was but one example of how God sees individuals, not nations, groups, or even families. A family cannot come to the Lord together unless every single heart within that family has made a decision to receive Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour.
There is not a single person who can come to Jesus based on his/her merits — but they also will not be denied because of where they came from.
What made Jesus marvel at the centurion is what He continues to appreciate in believers today — great faith.
But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. Hebrews 11:6
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