by Robert Brow
Today I want to look with you at the faith of two army captains as they encountered Jesus in very different circumstances. Both were centurions in charge of a hundred men in the army of occupation in Jesus’ day. These army officers were often ruthless men who had to keep down the unruly natives. They would burn down a rebellious village, round up agitators, organize a crucifixion.
During the war I was an Army Captain in the last five years of British rule in India. My last job was riot control. Our job was to keep down those who wanted the British to leave the country. In those days I was an atheist and I had no time for God. But in 1947 I was demobilized in the spring, India became independent in August, and I became a Christian my first week at university in October. So I can identify with these two army officers.
Now let’s read the story of the Roman Centurion. Many slave owners would not care much what happened to a slave they had bought - they could always buy another. But this one sent some Jewish elders of a synagogue to ask Jesus to heal his personal servant.
Let’s ask God to help us picture the scene as we read Luke 7:1-10.
Notice what the elders said of this army captain. "He is worthy of having you do this for him, for he loves our people, and it is he who built our synagogue for us" (7:7). Most officers of occupying armies do not bother to be friendly with the natives. Usually the order was "Do your job. Keep your distance. Keep them down. If you give them an inch, you have lost your power over them." It would certainly be very unusual for a Roman officer, whose religion was worshiping the Emperor, to get his men to build a synagogue for Jewish people.
As Jesus was on his way to pray for the centurion’s servant, the Centurion sent a message to say "Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; therefore I did not presume to come to you. But only speak the word, and let my servant be healed" (7:6). He then added that he had faith that Jesus had the authority to command healing just as he himself had authority to command his men. "I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another ‘Come’ and he comes" (7:8).
Notice what Jesus said to the Jewish crowd about this Roman Centurion’s faith. "I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith" (7:9). This shows that faith is not just leading a good life but believing that Jesus the Messiah has authority to heal. And in fact when those who were sent returned to the house, they found the centurion’s slave had been healed.
When we are concerned about healing, or any other crisis in our life, the first thing is to recognize Jesus’ authority over that problem. "Lord, I am not sure how you will deal with this situation, but I know you have the power to deal with it in whatever way you choose."
Perhaps you could take a moment in silence to bring your desperate situation to Jesus right now.
Now let’s read the account of another centurion’s faith. He was the officer in charge of the arrangements for crucifying Jesus. He was just doing his job, and he had his orders. "Take these three men out and crucify them. The Governor wants this notice put above the head of the one from Galilee. ‘This is Jesus, the King of the Jews’ (Matthew 27:37). Let me read what Mark, who may have been there watching, recorded. "Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to the bottom. Now when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, ‘Truly this man was God’s Son" (Mark 15:37-39).
You can see that this centurion’s faith was quite different from that of the other officer who believed Jesus had the authority to heal his personal servant. This centurion is looking at a man that he had watched for several hours hanging humiliated from the nails which his men had driven in. He knew the excruciating agony which was tearing Jesus apart. But this was no ordinary criminal. The centurion had crucified many of them. This man was not only a servant of God, but he talked very personally to God as his Father hour after hour as the blood dripped out. He must be the Son of God.
So one kind of faith is believing that Jesus has the authority to intervene in our particular situation. The other kind of faith is believing that a humiliated, helpless, and crucified man who cried out "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" is the very Son of God.
On the one hand faith is believing that God can work a miracle. On the other hand faith is seeing God’s power in total weakness. As Paul said, "When I am weak then I am strong" (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). Those who know their own frailty will see the crucifixion as the greatest power in human history. It is the power of love turning the other cheek, loving enemies, absorbing the full force of evil in one’s own body and defusing it.
The first centurion was impressed by Jesus’ power to heal. The second centurion was impressed by God’s power to love and forgive in the very worst of situations. I am sure that neither of them would have been able to explain how they came to faith. They just knew God had stepped into their life. They would never be the same again. And they had the honor of being recorded in the Bible for millions to read every year all over the world.
For us faith is easier than for them. We know the end of the story. When Satan had done his worst and destroyed the body and blood of the Son of God, the Holy Spirit gave him a resurrection body and raised him to glory. And that is what he has in mind for us. As Paul explained, "If the Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised the Messiah from the dead will give life to your mortal body through his Spirit that dwells in you" (Romans 8:11).
Prayer : Jesus, healer of the sick, come into my life and work your miracle in your own way. Jesus, who died for me and rose from the dead, take me in my weakness and empower me by the same Holy Spirit that raised you from the dead.