The earthly ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ as documented in the Bible is broadly characterised by messages of forgiveness and redemption, love and mercy, and healing and justice. The healing ministry is replete with examples of Jesus’s encounters with people of varying ailments and infirmities, who either presented themselves in person to Jesus or had Jesus’s attention drawn to them through a third party, such as family members or members of the community, who took such individuals to Jesus or invited Jesus to come to their homes primarily to heal their sick or infirm relatives. A common denominator in these cases was faith, either of the healed or their loved ones.
However, among the documented examples of healing performed by Jesus, there was one, where extraordinary faith, the such that Jesus Himself remarked He had not found anywhere in Israel, was demonstrated. This is the story of the encounter between Jesus and the Centurion [Matthew 8: 5-13].
This encounter was very significant in many respects. First, a high ranking Roman military officer, a Centurion, approached Jesus, a Jew, to plead with Him to heal his servant. Secondly, the Centurion was probably the highest ranking social elite [among those who had approached Jesus directly or via a third party] ever to seek healing either for themselves or someone else.
Thirdly, which is even more extraordinary, was that the two principal individuals in this story [Jesus and the Centurion], each in their individual positions, was of high esteem and authority. The centurion, being a senior military commander, was a man of authority and power. In verse 9, he himself declared, “For I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me. And I say to this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”
Jesus Christ on the other hand, being the Son of God, was endowed with the greatest of all authority and power. Several passages in the Bible testify to His greatness. “And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth” [Matthew 28: 18]; “All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men” [John 1: 3-4]; “For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him” [Colossians 1: 16].
As followers of our Lord Jesus Christ, there are some Christian teachings and lessons for us to draw upon, from the dialogue that ensued between Jesus and the Centurion.
In this encounter, we see a lesser authority [the Centurion] admitting his limitations and acknowledging and submitting to a greater authority [our Lord Jesus Christ]. The Centurion, being such a high-ranking military commander, surely would have had the privileges, including unhindered access to the medical care facilities of the time. It is not explicit from the Bible passage as to whether this senior commander had consulted such facilities before approaching Jesus.
Implicit in this story however, is the possibility that the Centurion became aware of his own helplessness and limitations in regard of his servant. He set aside his personal honour and social privilege, and came to Jesus in humility and faith, and in recognition of the greater authority from whom to seek healing for his sick servant. The Centurion was at the point of need and would not let anything, not even pride or social status, get in the way of seeking out Jesus to have this need met.
This is a lesson in humility, an acknowledgement of the omnipotence of God in Jesus Christ, and total submission to God. There are several passages in the Bible, exhorting us about the Christian virtue of humility: “Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble” [1 Peter 5: 5]; “A man’s pride will bring him down, but the humble in spirit will retain honour” [Proverbs 29: 23]; “Though the Lord is exalted, yet He looks kindly on the lowly, but the proud He knows from afar” [Psalm 138: 6].
Perhaps the most extraordinary lesson from this encounter, was the remarkable demonstration of faith by the Centurion, even to the astonishment of Jesus Christ Himself. The Centurion had approached Jesus, pleading with Him to heal his servant who was lying at home, paralysed and tormented. In modern day medical parlance, the centurion’s servant’s condition, would have been classified as some sort of medical emergency with possible admission to an Intensive Care Unit [ICU], possibly followed with long hospitalisation. Jesus Himself recognised the possible seriousness of the servant’s condition and the imminent attention required, hence His suggestion that He would go to the Centurion’s home to heal his servant. Jesus told the Centurion, “I will come and heal him.”
Surely, this is the option and opportunity that many of us would have jumped at; to have Jesus physically come home with you and be your guest. Surely, this is the option everyone would probably have expected the Centurion to take. However, the Centurion, in acknowledgment of his own imperfection and recognition of Jesus’s omnipotence, replied, saying: “Lord, I am not worthy that You should come under my roof. But only speak a word, and my servant will be healed” [Matthew 8: 8].
THIS IS TAKING FAITH TO A WHOLE NEW LEVEL!!! Jesus was astonished. The Bible says, “When Jesus heard it, He marvelled, and said to those who followed, “Assuredly, I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel!” [Matthew 8: 10].
It could be deduced that possibly, the Centurion may have in private, been an admirer of our Lord Jesus Christ. Perhaps, he had in private been following the ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ. Given his position as a senior commander in the Roman military, the Centurion would possibly have had access to the dossier that would have been compiled on Jesus, considering the perceived threat that the Roman government thought Jesus posed to their authority at the time.
Nonetheless, the ill-health of his servant invariably became the conduit through which the Centurion came to make a public declaration and affirmation of his faith in Jesus Christ and the power of His ministry. The Centurion, without any hesitation, acknowledged the power of the “word”. In verse 8b, his reply to Jesus’s suggestion that He would come to his home, was, “But only speak a word, and my servant will be healed.” There’s power in the word. Jesus Himself declared that “Heaven and earth may pass away, but My words will by no means pass away” [Matthew 24: 35, Luke 21: 33] without fulfilling that for which they have been sent. The word that comes from our Lord Jesus Christ is no ordinary word. It is the word of authority powered by the Holy Spirit.
Several passages in the Bible testify to the power of the word. For example, Hebrew 4: 12 states: “For the word of God is living and powerful and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and interests of the heart.”
Psalm 107: 20 states: “He sent His word and healed them. And delivered them from their destructions.” It is the same word that the Centurion, inspired by the Holy Spirit, asked Jesus to speak so his servant could be healed.
Necessity may have brought the Centurion to Jesus, nonetheless, he turned the encounter into an opportunity to publicly declare and affirm his faith with such extraordinary stance. Jesus said to the Centurion, “Go your way, and as you have believed, so let it be done for you” and his servant was healed that same hour [Matthew 8: 13]. Not only was the Centurion’s servant healed, his faith was also reckoned by Jesus as unparalleled at the time in the whole of Israel. What a remarkable feat. The Centurion [possibly, a presumed ‘enemy’ and unbeliever] passed the FAITH TEST, and he did it in such spectacular fashion. The Centurion had by now, become a model of faith.
Life is not without its challenges. The challenges may present in varying forms, scales, and times, regardless of our age, social status, level of faith or length of time since we became a Christian. When you are going through the tough and the rough, when you are going through the rumbles and the tumbles, when your faith is being challenged and tested, remember, our Lord Jesus Christ remains faithful and in this we should rest our hope and trust.
The Bible says: “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can endure it” [1 Corinthians 10: 13].
Make no mistake, in our journey with Jesus, the ‘CENTURION MOMENT’ will present itself in one form or another; when we shall have to face the ‘FAITH TEST’ and Jesus will be the Reckoner. The Centurion has already set the bar! That’ll be the record to beat! How close will you and I be to beating that record?
Moreover, the story of the Centurion is yet another example of how those who had been stereotyped at the time as ‘outsiders’ became Jesus’s illustrations and models of love and faith. There is the Parable of the Good Samaritan, that Jesus used to illustrate ‘good neighbourliness’ [Luke 10: 25-37] and the story of the Samaritan Woman, who invariably became Jesus’s ‘disciple’. She went away testifying to her compatriots about the Messiah. The Bible says: “And many of the Samaritans of that city believed in Him because of the word of the woman who testified, saying, He told me all that I ever did” [John 4: 39].
With Jesus, there’s no ‘outsider’. With Jesus, there is no stereotype. God’s love is vast and deep. It’s for all! The story of the Good Samaritan, the Samaritan woman, and the Centurion suggests the length God will go to seek out His own and make good model of them.
An important conclusion that Jesus drew from the Centurion’s extraordinary faith is captured in Matthew 8: 11, “And I say to you that many will come from east and west, and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of Heaven. But the sons of the Kingdom will be cast out into outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
Simply put, the race is not won until it is won! No wonder then, 1 Corinthians 10: 12 warns: “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.” Therefore, let us prayerfully continue to strive in our heavenward race, drawing our sustenance from the Word, which is powered by the Holy Spirit. Let us arm ourselves with faith, hope, and love. May the Lord of grace sustain us and deepen our faith in Him. AMEN!!!