My Dad spent twenty years in the Air Force. He told me a story of when the Army Air Corps became the U. S. Air Force right after World War II. When new officers arrived at one Air Base, there was a major that wanted to make sure that the new Second Lieutenants didnt think too highly of themselves. So he would take the new officer and have him do a few drills marking down demerits for every mistake. If someone was really good, he would tell him, "Jump up in the air." The young officer complied and then was surprised to see the major marking a demerit. The major explained, "I didnt tell you to come back down."
From fighting in World War II and now today keeping the peace in Kosovo, the military has played an important part in our history. Even in the days of Jesus, there were soldiers keeping the peace Roman soldiers. We are going to learn about one of their officers, a centurion.
After he had ended all his sayings in the hearing of the people he entered Capernaum. Now a centurion had a slave who was dear to him, who was sick and at the point of death.
The centurion was a trusted leader who was in charge of 100 fighting men and additional support personnel. This centurion and his soldiers were in Capernaum to keep the peace. This is one of three believing centurions in the New Testament. The other two were the centurion at the cross and the centurion named Cornelius in Acts 10. As Hall remarks, "Even the bloody trade of war yielded worthy clients to Christ."
This centurion cared for the people in his household. Verse 2 tells us that there was a servant in his house that was sick. This servant was dear to the centurion. I dont think it was just this one servant. I think the centurion cared for everyone, whether they were a family member, a soldier, or even a servant. He had a heart of compassion.
Concerning the centurion, Dover writes, "If he had not been in the Roman army he had never seen Capernaum; but for his sorrow he would never have had a personal encounter with the Lord of Life. So it is with every one born of woman. Where our lot is cast, what our circumstances may be all this is Gods plan. Therefore it follows, they are the best circumstances conceivable, by which we may climb to Him."
When he heard of Jesus, he sent to him elders of the Jews, asking him to come and heal his slave.
It is interesting that the centurion asked the Jewish leaders to intercede on his behalf. He probably knew how the Jews despised the Romans. He had heard about Jesus miracles, but he didnt want to scare Jesus away by sending soldiers to ask. Instead, he sent the religious leaders that knew him. As a Roman official, the centurion could have ordered Jesus to come to his house. But that was not the kind of person he was. He sent the Jewish elders because he had faith that Christ could heal his servant.
Many people are impressed that Christopher Columbus was able to gather his three ships, get the royal sponsorship, and make the long journey to discover the Americas. This is certainly impressive. But what is really amazing is that he had the faith to even consider the journey. He was so strong in his beliefs that he was willing to risk everything. Would you have had that much faith? Without faith we will never be willing to leave the safety of our coasts. Sometimes God wants us to step out into the unknown and believe. Only then will we discover new spiritual horizons.
And when they came to Jesus, they besought him earnestly, saying, "He is worthy to have you do this for him, for he loves our nation, and he built us our synagogue."
The Jewish elders brought to Jesus a good report about this man. The centurion had helped the very people the Romans had conquered. In spite of his differences with the Jews, he cared enough about them to help them in their religious practices. The Jewish leaders obviously admired this centurion and thought highly of him.
It was because of his past kindnesses that the leaders of the synagogue were willing to help this man out. It may even have been their idea. We dont know where the centurion heard about Christ. Maybe it was from one of the Jewish elders. The kindnesses he had done out of compassion would now be rewarded with blessings upon his household. We never know how our kindness may have an effect on others. But if we love God, we cant help but love others and want to help them.
And Jesus went with them. When he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to him, saying to him, "Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof."
When Jesus begins to approach the house, the centurion sends out another delegation this one to tell Jesus that he was unworthy that such a teacher should enter into his house. He perhaps understood that Jewish rabbis felt that they would be unclean if they entered the home of a pagan. At any rate, this is a marvelous display of the mans humility. He was making no demands. He understood his place before God.
Knox points out, "There is an interesting contrast between the testimonial of the elders and the centurions estimate of himself. The elders say, He is worthy; he says, I am not worthy. ... The realization in our own hearts that we do not deserve helps make us deserving in the eyes of others... No amount of benevolence can put one in position to claim Gods help as a right; it is always a gift to be received humbly and gratefully."
I believe that we should be willing to approach God with the same humility. Even though the centurion understood that he was not worthy, he did not hesitate to call out to Christ for assistance. Even though we are not worthy of Gods mercy, we should not hesitate to cry out to Christ for help. But let us do it in humility as this centurion did.
"Therefore I did not presume to come to you. But say the word, and let my servant be healed. For I 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 slave, Do this, and he does it."
The centurion makes an amazing statement of faith. He understands what it means to have authority and to have his commands obeyed. So, he only asks that Jesus speaks the words. The centurion knew that if he spoke the words to his soldiers, they would instantly obey and even die at his command. He considers that Christ has the same kind of authority. Of course, he was right, but it is remarkable that a Roman soldier who may have been a pagan had such spiritual insight.
Knox comments on this verse, "It symbolizes the universal appeal of Christ to men of every race and kind. One does not need to have a certain sort of cultural background to feel the attraction of Christ and to recognize the truth in him. ... A Gentile officer could recognize God in Christ. So may other outsiders of various types. The possibility of faith is as wide as the race."
When Jesus heard this he marveled at him, and turned and said to the multitude that followed him, "I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith."
The centurions faith impressed Jesus. This indicates to me that if the centurion had been a pagan, he was one no longer as he reached out in faith to Christ. He could not have had so much faith without God touching his spirit and giving him the faith to believe.
What kind of faith do you have? What if Jesus came here today and told us that according to the faith that we have this morning all our prayers will be answered? Would you be rejoicing? Or would you be moaning? The centurion dared to have faith in Christ. Let us be willing to do the same.
And when those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave well.
Because of the centurions faith, his servant was healed. What healing do you need in your life or in your family? Reach out to Jesus in faith. Im sure many Jews thought they had faith, but the centurion demonstrated by his actions that his faith was real.
Ken Davis relates how in college he was asked to prepare a lesson to teach his speech class. The title of his talk was, "The Law of the Pendulum." He spent 20 minutes carefully teaching the physical principle that governs a swinging pendulum a pendulum can never return to a point higher than the point from which it was released. Because of friction and gravity, when the pendulum returns, it will fall short of its original release point.
He attached a 3-foot string to a child's toy top and secured it to the top of the blackboard with a thumbtack. He pulled the top to one side and made a mark on the blackboard where he let it go and each time it swung back he made a new mark. It took less than a minute for the top to complete its swinging and come to rest. The markings on the blackboard proved the thesis.
He then asked how many people in the room BELIEVED the law of the pendulum was true. All of the classmates raised their hands, as did the teacher who started to walk to the front of the room thinking the class was over. In reality it had just begun.
Hanging from the steel ceiling beams in the back of the room was 250 pounds of metal weights attached by a long cable. Ken invited the instructor to climb up on a table and sit in a chair with the back of his head against a cement wall. Then he brought the 250 pounds of metal up to his nose. Holding the huge pendulum just a fraction of an inch from his face, he once again explained the law of the pendulum that the teacher had applauded only moments before. He said, "If the law of the pendulum is true, then when I release this mass of metal, it will swing across the room and return short of the release point. Your nose will be in no danger."
After that final restatement of this law, Ken asked, "Sir, do you believe this law is true?" There was a long pause. Huge beads of sweat formed on his upper lip and then weakly the teacher nodded and whispered, "Yes." The pendulum was released. It made a swishing sound as it arced across the room. At the far end of its swing, it paused momentarily and started back. Ken wrote, "I never saw a man move so fast in my life. He literally dived from the table." Then Ken asked the class, "Does he believe in the law of the pendulum?"
The students unanimously answered, "NO!"
By his actions, it is obvious the teacher thought he believed, but in fact when it came time to act on his beliefs he realized that his faith was not that strong. Where is your faith? Do you, as the teacher, only believe intellectually? Or do you have faith enough to back it up with your actions. Jesus commended the centurion for his faith. And he was willing to act on his faith. Let us also be willing to step out on faith. And let our faith be more than mere words. Let it be from our heart.
This study on Luke 7:1-10 © 1999 by David Humpal, all rights reserved.
Hall: Gray and Adams Bible Commentary, vol. 4, pg. 47, Zondervan Publishing House
Dover: Gray and Adams Bible Commentary, vol. 4, pg. 330, Zondervan Publishing House (language updated slightly)
Knox: The Interpreters Bible, vol. 8, pg. 129 © 1952, Abingdon Press
Knox: The Interpreters Bible, vol. 8, pg. 131-132 © 1952, Abingdon Press
Davis: How to Speak to Youth pg. 104-106