The text before us focuses upon a Roman soldier, a centurion, and his request that Jesus heal his servant who appeared to be about to die. There is much to be gleaned from the centurion’s attitude and actions.
Centurions were officers who headed guard units of close to one hundred men. Roman soldiers and their officers came with a reputation. They were extremely well disciplined and were feared for their brute force. They were not regarded as nice people. This particular centurion, however, had established a different reputation. He was highly thought of by the Jews of Capernaum. The elders of the Jews held this centurion to be a very noble person because he was very respectful of Judaism and he had used his personal resources to construct a synagogue.
Upon reading this account, believers tend to look beyond the printed word and assume the centurion to have been a proselyte or to have been considering becoming one. Such assumptions may or may not be justified. We must withhold assigning motives to the centurion’s actions until we look upon the facts if we are to receive the understandings which the Holy Spirit would have us receive.
The Facts: (1) The centurion’s servant was dear to him and was sick and was about to die. (2) The centurion heard of Jesus and sent elders of the Jews to Jesus requesting that He heal his servant. (3) The Jews thought the centurion to be a worthy man. (4) Jesus went with the elders to the centurion’s home. (5) The centurion stated that he was not worthy to have Jesus enter into his home and that he did not consider himself worthy to have directly approached Jesus with the request to heal his servant. (6) The centurion, addressing Jesus, stated: “but say in a word, and my servant shall be healed.” (7) The centurion stated that he also was a man set under authority and that those under his authority did as he commanded. (8) Jesus stated to His followers that the centurion possessed faith which the people of Israel lacked. (9) The elders went into the centurion’s home and found his servant to have been restored to health.
While we know that the centurion had heard of Jesus, we do not know the details of what he had heard. It is fair to assume that he had knowledge of miracles of healing which Jesus had done. This was the cause for which he sought Jesus. From verse 7, it is apparent that he thought himself to be unworthy to approach Jesus with a request to heal his servant. It is also apparent that the centurion felt that the elders of the Jews were worthy to approach Jesus on his behalf.
While considering himself to be less worthy than the elders of the Jews to approach Jesus, the centurion accepted his authoritative role as an officer (v. 8). He had soldiers to whom he issued orders which orders were obeyed. The centurion described himself as “a man set under authority.” He viewed himself to have been given authority by a higher authority. He could issue orders with confidence because any soldier who disobeyed his orders must answer to that higher authority.
From verse 8, it is apparent that he also considered Jesus to be a man set under authority by higher authority as he (the centurion) had been. We know that the centurion had been given his authority by order of higher ranking officers whose authority could ultimately be traced to the Roman emperor. One can reasonably conclude that the centurion believed that the authority by which Jesus performed miracles was God. It is highly unlikely that one who was known to love “our nation” and “built us a synagogue” (see v. 5) did not have a knowledge of God. The centurion’s perceived unworthiness of his standing with Jesus is linked to his understanding of God. The centurion believed that Jesus could, by the power of God, heal his servant without entering into his home.
In verse 9, Jesus stated that He had not found so great a faith in Israel. The centurion’s faith that Jesus could heal his servant while not being in the servant’s presence was founded in God the Father who gave Jesus the authority to work miracles. Jesus’ followers believed that His miracles were of God but they lacked the centurion’s understanding of authority.
God wants His people to have the confidence of the centurion. The centurion believed in a God who possessed power over all things. The centurion believed that God fully backed Jesus to whom He (God) gave authority. New Testament believers know Jesus as God the Son and Savior but fail to call upon Him believing that He shall honor our petitions. We fail to call believing upon Him who has all authority.
The centurion saw himself as unworthy to approach the Lord. The elders thought the centurion to be a deserving person. Worthiness was not and is not an issue with Jesus. God looks upon the faith of men and counts it for righteousness.
These things are written such that God may find righteousness in us.