By Dr. Donald Whitchard
“When He had completed all His discourse in the hearing of the people, He went to Capernaum. And a certain centurion’s slave, who was highly regarded by him was sick and about to die. And when he heard about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders asking Him to come and save the life of his slave. When they had come to Jesus, they earnestly entreated Him, saying, “He is worthy for You to grant this to him. He loves our nation and has built us a synagogue.
Now Jesus started on His way with them and when He was already not far from the house, the centurion sent friends saying to Him, “Lord, do not trouble Yourself further, for I am not worthy for You to come under my roof. For this reason, I did not even consider myself worthy to come to You, but say the word, and my servant will be healed.
I, too, am a man under authority, with soldiers under me, and I say to this one ’Go!’, and he goes, and to another ‘Come!’ and he comes, and to my slave ‘Do this!’ and he does it. Now when Jesus heard this, He marveled at him and said to the multitude that was following Him, “I say to you, not even in Israel have I found such great faith!” When those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave in good health.”
– Luke 7:1-10 (NASB)
Our LORD has completed His teaching to the crowds and His disciples, where He had emphasized showing affection for one’s foes, and the importance of demonstrating mercy. He also tells us to not judge someone’s words or deeds when you do not have all the evidence. Do not appoint yourself to be the final authority when you are blind as anyone else to your own sin. The point is to examine yourself and make things right before you venture forth to help someone else with their problems. Our lives are not to be built on a foundation of our own making, but upon the firm and solid foundation of Christ Himself.
After this time of instruction, Jesus went to the town of Capernaum on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, where He established what we would refer to as a headquarters or base of operations. He probably stayed with Peter or one of the other apostles in between His journeys to other towns and areas around the region. As He was coming near Capernaum, He encountered someone who had a request of His service, specifically an individual who would not normally be welcome or tolerated by the citizens of the region and Judea itself. This individual was a foreigner, seen as a hated and brutal occupier of a land in which they had no business or right to be there. The one making the request was an officer in the service of Tiberius Caesar, the Emperor of Rome and its conquered lands, which took up the entirety of the Europe, the coasts of Africa, the area referred to as the Balkans, and the Middle East from Egypt to Mesopotamia.
Order was maintained by the appointment of regional governors who held the power of life and death at their disposal and kept the area under control through the presence of soldiers and their officers throughout the lands of the Empire. This form of imperial control was also in the region of Syria and Judea, where the Jews had been a source of rebellion and dissention since they were put under Roman rule by a contemporary of Julius Caesar, the statesman and general Pompey in 63 B.C. Not only did Rome bring their military power to the conquered territories, but also their religions and pagan behaviors that was revolting in the eyes of the God-fearing Jewish populations.
The hatred for the unruly Jewish territory by the occupying armies and officials was returned by the Jews. Each side treated the other with undisguised contempt. Patrols and investigations of unrest were carried out by soldiers organized into select divisions, usually led by officers known as centurions, who were in charge of one hundred men, responsible for carrying out orders to crush any potential opposition from criminals and rebels, to maintain peace, and see to their men’s comfort and well-being. All were to give their loyalty to Caesar, and to disobey or question any order resulted in immediate punishment to include being tortured or put to death. It was a hard life all around, and for many of the soldiers stationed in the province of Judea, it seemed like the last place on earth and something of a dead end for their services.
A choice could be made. Either you bore the assignment with a sense of anger, frustration, and bitterness over the entire situation and counted down the time until you were transferred to a new post or could retire and live a quiet life in another area with one’s family and get the people and land of the Judean province out of your life, mind, and being. One centurion decided to make the best of what others saw as a miserable situation and have it count for something positive and beneficial to himself and the area he patrolled with his men.
Neither Matthew nor Luke give a name for this Roman official, but it is what he did that makes this story more important than trying to identify him. Often God will choose not to give us names of the people in His service in order for us to focus on their contributions and service to God in order that He may receive the glory, honor, and credit for using His fallen creation to be used as a means of seeing that the plans He has foreordained and put into action come to pass. What we are reading about is a story of faith from an unexpected source.
This centurion was, no doubt, reared in a home where multiple gods and goddesses were revered and worshipped either at the temple or at a small homemade altar. The father of the home ruled with a firm hand and had the power of life and death over his wife, children, and slaves, even putting infants out in the street to die of exposure if they were not wanted or were taken by slave traders to rear and be placed in a home where their treatment could be bad or good. The depravity of the Romans was legendary and often without moral or ethical bounds.
Prostitution, homosexuality, bestiality, pedophilia, sadism and masochism, criminal behavior, political corruption, and the whim of the Emperor were all a mix of despondency that would bring everything down in a few hundred years. For now, Rome was all the world. Perhaps the time in Judea opened the eyes of this soldier to see that the life and culture he knew was a life of despair and mere physical gratification that ended with death and an uncertain afterlife should it exist. It could be that while on patrol, he heard the voices of the Jewish faithful in worship at the synagogue in the reading of the Scripture, or the singing of the psalms, or a decision on his part to be civil towards the people that drew him to admire these people and their devotion to God. He probably became over time a convert to the worship of one God and gained the people’s trust and confidence. As a result of this development and as a token of good faith and tolerance, he had a synagogue constructed for the village or town in which he was stationed.
Either he had a family when he was stationed and had them move with him, or he met a Roman girl or one of another nationality, got married, and had children, and obtained one slave, perhaps more. One slave had a special relationship with the centurion, possibly an orphan from one of the markets of a nearby Gentile town. He apparently treated this slave as if he were one of the family and had a great affection for him. Then the day came where the slave became seriously ill to the point where it seemed he might die. He had heard of Someone who might be able to help. By now, stories and testimonies had started to spread around the region about Jesus and His ability to heal all who were sick and oppressed by evil spirits and of His dynamic teachings about God’s will for all to come to Him for total pardon and redemption from sins and wrongdoings if they would repent and trust in Him.
This centurion knew instinctively that Jesus had authority, power, and character that no other mystic, priest, or soothsayer claimed to possess or practice apart from homage to the pagan deities. The soldier knew that Jesus was One who possessed the knowledge and wisdom of the Hebrew God to which he had been exposed. He knew that such a Man was due all respect and honor and felt unworthy to have Jesus be in his house. Normally the Roman citizen was known for pride and self-distinction and an attitude of superiority due to the power of the Empire. This soldier had been exposed to see that it was God who was of honor and he was humble enough to realize that, therefore he sent the elders of the village to inquire for Jesus’ help and to only say the Word for his servant to be healed.
This is faith in action, where the person asking for God’s intercession does not need to see a physical presence or have someone lay hands on the sick to be healed, or someone to repent and come to salvation. This is pure, unashamed, humble, trust that God is able to do what is right Not only does someone get a prayer answered and a life changed, but often this trust comes from a person who may have not had an exposure to the true God until recently. This trust comes from a pagan Gentile, not from the people who should know better, namely the people of Israel who had taken their relationship with God for granted. Jesus is showing His human nature by being genuinely surprised with the centurion’s words and attitude.
Think of someone who has just been delivered from their sins by trusting Christ as Lord and Savior and then watch the joy and glory that comes from their newly liberated heart and soul. They cannot wait to tell anyone who will listen about what the Lord Jesus has done for them in terms of being delivered from an old life of sin and wickedness to adopted into the family of God where they will be with Him for all time in heaven, free from the sin and suffering of this fallen world. There are right now people in this country who are from other parts of the world who have never heard of Jesus, like the centurion when he first arrived in Judea. Someone told him about the real God of all creation and redemption and it was made a fact and the foundation of his new faith by coming to Jesus himself. We have a harvest field right here in America of citizen and immigrant, lost in their sins, looking for answers and peace. Let’s be the people of God that we should be in these last days and have more people like this Roman soldier declare the authority and power of our Great God and Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, at whose feet we will bow one day, and hear the story firsthand. Perhaps this centurion is already known to us. See Acts 10 and 11 for what might be the rest of the story.
Don was born and raised in the true Cajun Country of Louisiana. He holds a Bachelors Degree in History from Louisiana College, a Masters Degree in Christian Education from the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, and a Doctor of Ministry degree in Pastoral Theology from Andersonville Baptist Seminary in Georgia. Don has served as a pastor, interim pastor, high school teacher, and hospital chaplain over the past thirty years. He currently serves as a volunteer chaplain (2008-present) with St. Francis Hospital and also served as the pastor/teacher from 2013-2016 at the Gospel Rescue Mission, both of which are here in Muskogee. He was called to Meadowbrook in February 0f 2017 and began his ministry in March of that year. He has also served as President of the Muskogee Baptist Association’s Pastors Conference, which is a weekly meeting that presents speakers and ministry ideas and concepts to church leaders in the greater Muskogee area.
Don’s top priority is to see that the good news of Jesus Christ is shared with our lost and hurting world and that the people of God are taught sound doctrine and preparation for our Lord’s soon return.