1 After he had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. 2 Now a centurion had a servant who was sick and at the point of death, who was highly valued by him. 3 When the centurion heard about Jesus, he sent to him elders of the Jews, asking him to come and heal his servant. 4 And when they came to Jesus, they pleaded with him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy to have you do this for him, 5 for he loves our nation, and he is the one who built us our synagogue.” 6 And Jesus went with them. When he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends, saying to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. 7 Therefore I did not presume to come to you. But say the word, and let my servant be healed. 8 For I too am a man set under authority, with 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.” 9 When Jesus heard these things, he marveled at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” 10 And when those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the servant well. – Luke 7:1-10 ESV
After Jesus had completed His teaching, He made His way back into the nearby village of Capernaum, accompanied by His disciples. And Luke records that the very first encounter Jesus had involved an “enemy” of the Jews – a Roman centurion. Just minutes after commanding His disciples, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you” (Luke 6:27 ESV), Jesus was going to illustrate exactly what He meant.
A centurion was a noncommissioned officer in the Roman army who commanded a force of at least 100 men (centuria). Normally, the Jews would have considered the presence of a cohort of Roman soldiers in their community as an invasion of their personal space and a painful reminder of their subjugation to Rome. But in this case, Jesus was approached by the local elders of the village who asked Him to come to the aid of this centurion. It seems that this Roman officer had won over the people of Capernaum with his kindness and generosity. He had actually funded the construction of the local synagogue, convincing the community of his love for the Jewish nation. The elders refer to him as a man “worthy” (axios) to have Jesus come to his aid.
This exchange brings to mind a portion of the lesson that Jesus had just taught His disciples. In regards to loving their enemies, Jesus had added, “if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same” (Luke 6:33 ESV). Without even knowing it, these Jewish elders were demonstrating exactly what Jesus had been talking about. They had been approached by this generous centurion, who asked them to speak to Jesus on his behalf. His servant, who meant a great deal to him, was on the verge of death and he was hoping that Jesus might heal him. So, the elders, who had benefited greatly from this man’s generosity, were more than willing to take his request to Jesus. They wanted to stay on good terms with their gracious benefactor. But Jesus had described to His disciples a totally different kind of love. It was to be non-reciprocal and one-directional, not expecting anything in return.
“But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.” – Luke 6:35 ESV
Yet, Jesus agreed to the elders’ request and accompanied them to the centurion’s home. But as they came within sight of the house, Jesus received a surprising message from the centurion.
“Lord, don’t trouble yourself by coming to my home, for I am not worthy of such an honor. I am not even worthy to come and meet you.” – Luke 6:6-7 ESV
The elders had described him as worthy (axios), yet the centurion declared that he was not worthy (hikanos). This man refers to himself as unfit or insufficient to be in the presence of someone like Jesus. He was ashamed at the thought of Jesus entering his home, so he simply asked that Jesus heal his servant from a distance. Two things jump out in this exchange. The first is the man’s amazing humility. The second is his faith. And Jesus was impressed by both.
When Jesus heard the centurion’s rationale for believing in His authority to heal, He was amazed. This Roman officer used his own experience as a leader of men to explain his belief that Jesus could simply command and His will would be done.
“…say the word, and let my servant be healed.” – Luke 6:7 ESV
It’s clear that this man had heard about Jesus and was fully aware of the miracles He had performed. Perhaps he had been on the hillside that day as Jesus spoke. The arrival of “a great multitude of people from all Judea and Jerusalem and the seacoast of Tyre and Sidon” (Luke 6:17 ESV), would have warranted the presence of Roman troops. And it’s likely that this centurion had personally witnessed the miracles that Jesus had performed just prior to His sermon on the mount.
a great multitude…came to hear him and to be healed of their diseases. And those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. And all the crowd sought to touch him, for power came out from him and healed them all. – Luke 6:17-19 ESV
The centurion was convinced that Jesus had the power and authority to heal his servant, and Jesus marveled at the man’s demonstration of unwavering faith. Turning to the crowd, Jesus declared, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith” (Luke 7:9 ESV). Because the crowd to whom Jesus spoke would have been comprised primarily of Jews, they would have found this statement particularly offensive. Jesus was commending a Gentile and, to make matters worse, an officer in the Roman army. And as if to add insult to injury, Jesus was declaring that this man’s faith was superior to that of any Jew He had encountered, including His own disciples. And Matthew adds a second statement from Jesus that Luke chose to omit.
“Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith. I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” – Matthew 8:10-12 ESV
Since Luke had written his gospel to his Gentile friend, Theophilus, he did not feel compelled to include the second half of Jesus’ address to the Jews. But it reveals an important aspect of Jesus’ earthly ministry and the global nature of His redemptive plan for mankind. As Messiah, He would not just deliver the house of Jacob, but He would be a blessing to all the nations of the world, just as God had promised Abraham. Entrance into the Kingdom of God would not be based on ethnicity or the ability to prove one’s Hebrew lineage. It would be based on faith in the saving work of Jesus Christ. And this centurion had displayed a remarkable degree of faith in the power and authority of Jesus. Far greater than anything Jesus had seen to date. And responded to the centurion with a message that confirmed and commended his faith.
“Go; let it be done for you as you have believed.” And the servant was healed at that very moment. – Matthew 8:13 ESV
And Luke adds that “when those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the servant well” (Luke 7:10 ESV). The centurion’s faith had been rewarded. His servant had been healed. And the disciples of Jesus were left to wonder about all that they had seen happen. His words must have rung in their ears for some time: “I tell you, I haven’t seen faith like this in all Israel!” (Luke 7:9 NLT). And to hear Jesus state that the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into outer darkness must have left them stunned and confused. None of this made sense to them. It all went against their preconceived understanding of the coming Kingdom of God. This was not what they had been expecting. All that Jesus said and did seemed to contradict their long-standing hopes, dreams, and desires. But little did they realize that the longer they followed Jesus, their confusion would only increase. Yet, in time, they would grow to understand what Jesus meant when He said, “A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher” (Luke 6:40 ESV). The next three years would prove to be a mind-expanding, paradigm-shifting experience for the disciples.
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