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THE FAITH OF THE CENTURION

Luke 7:1-7:10
Key Verse: 7:10

Thank God for helping us to study Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain in 5 lessons. May we keep the words of Jesus in our hearts, especially the words, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God” “Be merciful…Love” and put them into practice. We may remember that the foundation of life is the obedience to the words of God. Today’s passage is about the faith of the centurion, which amazed Jesus. According to Luke, this is the first event that took place after Jesus’ Sermon for the kingdom members. Let’s think about such faith of the centurion.

First, the centurion’s true humanity (1-6a). Look at verse 1. “When Jesus had finished saying all this in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum.” Capernaum was located on the north-west side of the Sea of Galilee and was 200 metres (about 700 feet) below the level of the Mediterranean. The literal meaning of Capernuam is the village of compassion or of consolation. According to Matthew 9:1, Caperanum was Christ’s own town. The Roman soldiers were stationed there to keep the Roman peace within the designated vicinity. Then what happened there?

Look at verse 2. “There a centurion’s servant, whom his master valued highly, was sick and about to die.” Here it is not clear whether the centurion had a servant or several servants. But when we refer to other translations, it is clear that the centurion had a servant. Particularly, in the ESV, it is written, “Now a centurion had a servant who was sick and at the point of death, who was highly valued by him.” In Matthew’s gospel the centurion said, “my servant lies at home paralyzed and in terrible suffering” (Mt 8:6). In this we see the centurion’s true humanity. As you may know, a centurion was a captain of a hundred Roman soldiers. He was a soldier. As a commanding officer who controlled people with weapons, cruelty must have been one of his essential qualities. His occupation literally involved invading, killing, destroying, and oppressing captives. A centurion could usually do these things with the sadistic feelings of a cruel soldier. He was in a position to ignore slaves as if they were not there. But this centurion was different. We don’t know how the centurion came to have this servant, whether the servant was a captive or the centurion had bought him with a certain amount of money. Anyway the centurion regarded him as a human being and had a genuine respect and love for his servant. When the centurion loved his servant, the servant gave his full loyalty to his master and became very valuable to him.

The centurion’s humanity was tested, when the servant became ill to the point of death. David’s men once found an Egyptian in a field and brought him to David. They gave him water to drink and food to eat. He ate and was revived, for he had not eaten any food or drunk any water for three days and three nights. David asked him, “To whom do you belong and where do you come from?” He said, “I am an Egyptian, the slave of an Amalekite. My master abandoned me when I became ill three days ago” (1 Sam 30:11-13). But the centurion, when his servant became ill being close even to death, did not discard him. The centurion must have done his best to help his ill servant and then reached his human limitation when the servant was about to die. At that moment he heard of Jesus. A new hope arose in him when he put his faith in Jesus, who he had heard would heal any sick person, even one close to death. What did the centurion do? Look at verse 3. “The centurion heard of Jesus and sent some elders of the Jews to him, asking him to come and heal his servant.” The centurion must have visited some elders of the Jews to ask a favour of them. It is not easy to ask a favour of anyone. Most probably, the centurion requested that they go to Jesus immediately for the healing of his servant. This was a tremendous demand, for the elders of the Jews were legalistic and had to think based on the Law and tradition. But the centurion’s request was so earnest that even the legalistic Jews could not reject his request, but right away went to Jesus to ask him to come and heal the centurion’s servant.

When the some elders of the Jews 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.” Here we see the good relationship the centurion had built up with them. No doubt the centurion also had basic respect for the Jews, the colonized people. When the centurion showed his respect and love for the Jewish elders, they also responded accordingly and the bond of love was established. So when the elders of the Jews came to Jesus, they pleaded earnestly with Jesus as if it were they own matter. They said that the centurion loved their nation. It is not easy for many people even to love their own nation. Centurions were the backbone of Roman army. So the centurion’s loving their own nation would be good enough. But he loved the Jewish nation and showed this love by building their synagogue, what they needed. Certainly, it cost him a lot. More than that, by building the Jewish synagogue, he could have put himself in the danger of siding with Jews, and was possibly even criticised as a deserter of Rome, for Romans were polytheistic and the Jews, monotheistic. Yet this centurion did not care about such things. He must have been one of the God-fearing Gentiles, whom Luke often mentioned in his writing in the Bible.

What did Jesus do when he heard the pleading of the elders of the Jews? In verse 6a, Luke simply wrote, “So Jesus went with them.” In the gospel story Jesus rarely went to some one’s house, except in several specific cases: He went to Simon Peter’s house and healed his mother-in-law (Lk 4:38-39 and to Jairus’ house to raise his dead daughter (Lk 8:51-53). Jesus had so many things to do in his limited time of public life on earth. How could he take the time to go to the centurion’s house and heal his servant? This was a considerable investment. Yet, Jesus was willing to do so, obviously having been moved by hearing about the centurion. As we have thought of, the centurion had true humanity for human beings, whether a slave or the Jews, the colonized people. And his humanity was tested and proven true. This is the quality Jesus wants to form in us.

Second, the centurion’s faith in the authority of Jesus’ word (6b-10). If Jesus had simply gone to the centurion’s house and healed his servant, it would have made an excellent and really beautiful story. Yet, the story goes in a more exciting way. Look at verses 6b-7. “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.” This centurion was truly a humble man. We know that orthodox Jews did not enter a Gentile’s house. It would be a big trouble to them. However, here when the centurion said, “Lord, don’t trouble yourself,” it was much more than that. First of all, he called Jesus, Lord. At that time Caesar Tiberius was wielding the power on his throne, on the highest throne in the world. Roman Emperor was in control of all the army, and obviously he was above the centurion. Yet, his power had limitation and the centurion did not recognize him as the Lord. But when the centurion heard of Jesus, he would come to know that he is the Lord. If the Roman Emperor had come to the house of the centurion, it would have been overwhelming and he felt undeserving. Then how much more about the Lord’s coming! He knew that he did not deserve such a thing. The centurion truly knew who Jesus is and showed his right attitude toward Jesus. Because of this, he did not even consider himself worthy to come to Jesus. His attitude was like that of Simon Peter, who said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” after experiencing a great catch of fish at Jesus’ command (Lk 5:8).

Then he said, “But say the word, and my servant will be healed.” This centurion knew how the power and authority of Jesus would work. Some had faith that if Jesus could come and put his hand on the sick person, the person would be healed (Lk 4:40; Mt 9:18; Mk 5:23). That is a precious faith. When the centurion sent some elders of the Jews to Jesus, he too had that faith. So he asked, “Come and heal my servant.” Jesus had to come to the centurions’ house to see his ill servant and heal. But now the centurion’s spiritual understanding was that if Jesus is the Lord, who is above all, why not just command, not being bothered to come to his house. Since he found Jesus the Lord through hearing about him, his faith made a great progress. He knew the limitation of human authorities and words. But he came to believe that Jesus’ power cannot be limited, even by physical encounter or distance. “Say to the word, and my servant will be healed.” This is complete understanding of Jesus’ power and authority. And his faith is quite understandable to us; it makes complete sense to all who believe. This is really a simple and absolute faith in Jesus.

Undoubtedly this was God’s revelation to the centurion. Yet, it was related to his life experience in this physical world. He continued, saying, “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.” This centurion had a correct view of himself. He did not say, “I am a man with authority.” No. He said, “I am a man under authority, with soldiers’ under me.” With necessary commands, he was in control over those who were under him. The centurion also let himself be put in the control of his commanding officers over him. As an officer of the Roman army, he had learned how to submit himself to higher authority and how to receive submission from lower authority. In brief, he was a well-disciplined person who knew how to obey and how to give orders. Through much discipline, he overcame himself. He was not surfeited with pride at being a Roman officer. When the centurion saw his disciplined life, he could see in Jesus the absolute authority, majesty, honour, and power from above. The centurion had authority to order his soldiers to come and go and to his servant to do this and do that. But he realized that his authority was nothing compared with that of Jesus. Jesus’ authority was inimitable. Here we learn that in order to know the truth and the authority of Jesus’ word we must have basic discipline.

Many people in our time have a kind of allergic response to authorities. Postmodernism seems to mean to reject and destroy all the authorities, especially absolute authority. That is sheer ignorance that brings chaos in human life. In truth, it is God who established order and authority. When God said to the man in the Garden of Eden, “You are free to eat any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil…” he established the order between God and man. Although God made man as the crown of all his creation, man is also a created being. God is the one who commands, and man is the one who is to obey. It is also God who established all the authorities in the world. Paul said in Romans 13:1, “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established…” Peter also said the same thing in 1 Peter 2:13, “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men…” Then how much more in the spiritual world!

When the centurion said to Jesus, “Say the word, and my servant will be healed,” he was ready to obey any word from Jesus. And he believed that any object to which the Lord Jesus spoke would obey his word, and things would be done accordingly. Even the servant’s deadly sickness would obey Jesus’ command. His faith was like a treasure hidden in his heart, now revealed.

Look at verse 9. “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.” Nothing and no human being amazed Jesus, the Lord, the Son of God. He knew all about men. However, surprisingly Jesus was amazed at this centurion. The centurion was a man of true humanity and true humility with a correct view of Jesus and of himself. This view led him to have absolute faith in Jesus’ word. Jesus said to all those following him, “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.

Most probably the centurion would not encounter Jesus fact to face. Yet, whether he saw Jesus face to face did not matter to him. His faith did not come from seeing Jesus. Jesus’ hometown people saw Jesus and many of his miracles, yet did not believe. But this centurion could put his faith in Jesus by hearing of Jesus, and he came to believe the authority of Jesus’ word. This event is inspiring and encouraging to all those who believe in Jesus, without having seen him face to face. Peter said to the early Christians who were in the fiery persecution, “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy…” (1 Peter 1:8-9). And Paul said in 2 Corinthians 5:6,7 “Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. We live by faith, not by sight.” When Thomas met the risen Jesus, he confessed, “My Lord and my God!” Then Jesus said to him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (Jn 20:29).

What grace it is that we have the written words of the Bible. Our Lord Jesus wants us to have absolute faith in the written words of the Scripture and hear his word from it. “Say the Lord, and my servant will be healed,” can mean to us, “If we hear Jesus’ word through the written words of the Bible, any problem can be resolved.” At the time of troubles we must come to him with faith in the authority of Jesus’ word in the Bible and hear his word personally.

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