Please read Luke 7:1-10 (I used the ESV).
Especially when interpreting historical narratives, it’s essential to get the lay of the land first. Let’s look at the context of this passage.
In historical terms we need to ask, “Who were ‘centurions’ and how were they viewed by the Jews of Jesus’ day?” A “centurion” is the commander of 100 Roman legionnaires. A centurion’s everyday duties included training the men under his command and arranging for their food, housing, and equipment. Sometimes a centurion was detached from his unit to do “special duties,” which might include anything considered to be for the good of the empire.
While the three centurions specifically mentioned in the Bible are presented in a favorable light, they were still Roman soldiers. That and the fact that Roman soldiers of all ranks had absolute authority over conquered peoples meant that there were occasions of abuse of authority. All that to say that most Jews of this day would have been at least wary of any Roman soldier, but especially a centurion.
In literary terms, this account parallels one in the book of Acts. Luke was a doctor and coworker with the Apostle Paul. He wrote this Gospel and Acts. In both books, an encounter with a centurion marks a turning point.
In Acts, there is a turning point in chapter ten where God gives Peter a vision and a mission to a centurion named Cornelius. In the first nine chapters of Acts, the emphasis is on the city of Jerusalem, Peter, and the Jewish Church. In the remaining eighteen chapters, the focus shifts to Rome, Paul, and the Gentile (non-Jewish) Church.
Similarly, in Luke, the centurion is also a man of faith and is the first Gentile whose faith is affirmed as being genuine. This passage does not mark a huge transition in Jesus’ ministry, but this is the first of a few encounters between Jesus and non-Jews.
Luke gives us no direct information about this individual centurion, not even a name. What we know is inferred from his actions. There are several positive things about the character of this centurion that are implied in the narrative; we will examine them as six benchmarks of a triumphant faith.
The six benchmarks of a triumphant faith found in this centurion’s example.
Mark #1 of a triumphant faith is compassion.
The centurion demonstrated compassion in his highly valuing his servant. This is a concern that transcended barriers between the centurion’s social class and his slaves. The law certainly did not require the centurion to do anything special for his servant’s care, or anything at all – he was a slave. In spite of the fact that he had only “heard of” Jesus, this man felt such strong compassion for his dying slave that he sent to Jesus to ask for a divine miracle to heal his servant.
In Colossians 3:12 God teaches, “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience” (emphasis mine).
The second mark of a triumphant faith is receiving in kind the respect and love you’ve shown t/t community. The first delegation of messengers the centurion sent included some of the ELDERS OF THE JEWS. Given the feelings that the Jews typically had for their Roman conquerors, it is extraordinary that these people would go to Jesus on behalf of the Roman centurion.
The reason for their devotion to this unlikely figure is clearly explained in verses four and five. One, “because he loves our nation.” The centurion’s love for his servant is indicated in the fact that he went to all the trouble of contacting Jesus in the first place. On a broader scale, the centurion also had generosity and compassion toward the people he governed. This wasn’t merely a noble sentiment; he acted upon these principles in practical ways.
Two, “He…has built our synagogue.” One of these demonstrations of the centurion’s love was deeply appreciated by the local leadership. The building of their own house of worship and instruction had earned their loyalty and support. Contrast this man with another of Rome’s representatives, King Herod. Herod built a fabulous temple, a structure many times more expensive and important than a simple country synagogue. But the Jews hated Herod and distanced themselves from him. What was the difference?
Herod abused his power and his people. His taxes and his body count were too high. While he claimed the Jewish faith as his own, he did not treat the Jewish people in the way the Law demanded.
The centurion, we have seen, showed love and respect for the Jewish people in Capernaum. He was an example of the principle of sowing and reaping. In this case, the truth that you get back from a community what you put into it.
This second mark is described in 1 Peter 2:12 = “Keep you conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.”
The third mark of a triumphant faith is humility. This is one of the paradoxes of the Christian faith – the one who humbles himself most sincerely is the one who will be lifted highest by God. Humility is a necessity for faith as we acknowledge we don’t have all the answers or all the power and we must trust in Him who does.
Jesus agreed to go with the first delegation and they are nearly at the centurion’s house when they are met by a SECOND delegation of the centurion’s friends. They convey a second message to Jesus, that the centurion has changed his mind. He realized that Jesus’ physical presence is not a necessity. Jesus can heal from anywhere. So, rather than trouble Himself to make the trip – rather than visit a home that is unworthy – He can just pronounce the healing from where He is and it will happen.
The reason the centurion gives for this change of mind is two-fold and both demonstrate humility. The first, “I do not deserve to have you come under my roof,” recognizes the greater stature and glory of Jesus. Without necessarily revealing anything about himself, the centurion rightly puts Jesus where He belongs; on the throne.
The second, “That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you,” is a reflection on himself. Faith requires that at some point that we humble ourselves and admit that we are a sinner. That we deserve nothing better than death for our rebellion against God. This man didn’t think he was worthy even to approach Jesus and so he sent others whom he thought more worthy – Jesus’ own countrymen.
This may sound extreme to our ears, but remember the situation. If the centurion ordered Jesus to come to his home, he would be treating Jesus if He was no better than any other Jew. It would have looked like a typical exertion of the man’s authority. However, he recognizes Jesus as the higher authority. So instead of issuing an order, he makes an appeal.
A skeptical person might mistake the centurion’s words as flattery. That would be a mistake because the centurion had the legal authority to order Jesus around. In fact, any ordinary Roman soldier held that kind of authority over conquered peoples. So flattery would be completely unnecessary. Instead, this man is revealing a humble kind of character.
According to James 4:10, humility is a virtue all people of faith are to possess; “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.”
The fourth mark of a triumphant faith is trust in Jesus. The centurion’s second message went into a lengthy explanation of how, being a man of authority himself, the centurion recognized what a soldier might call “the chain of command.” Without having met him – presumably on the recommendation of others – the centurion recognized the authority of Jesus and trusted that He had the power to heal his beloved servant whenever and wherever He wanted.
Triumphant faith see possibilities where others see liabilities. Triumphant faith sees solutions where others see problems. Triumphant faith sees potential where others find fault. People who have triumphant faith are more focused on achieving success than avoiding failure. So part of this is the centurion’s attitude, but the major part is trust in God. The centurion knew, by faith, that Jesus had the authority to save his servant and trusted that He could do it without coming there.
Jesus Himself testified that He was possessed of divine authority in Matthew 28:18; “And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.’”
The fifth mark of a triumphant faith is sensitivity to others. This mark is implied more than stated. It emerges when we understand the circumstances of the day. At that time, pious Jews refused to set foot in the home of a Gentile, for fear they might come into contact with something that would make them ceremonially unclean and therefore prohibited from worshiping in the temple. Also, there was a lot of peer pressure to avoid Gentiles as much as possible.
Surely the centurion knew this because he obviously had friends among the Jews. Demonstrating sensitivity, he didn’t ask Jesus to do anything that any God-fearing Jew would do. This is, I believe, what motivated the centurion to say, “Lord, don’t trouble yourself.”
That kind of sensitivity is rare, but it shouldn’t be, for it is based on the most fundamental rule of morality, the Golden Rule established in virtually all of the world’s major religions and by Jesus in Matthew 7:12; “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to the, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”
The sixth mark is the most immportant: a triumphant faith is recognized and rewarded by Jesus. The recognition is found in verse nine, where Jesus exclaims, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” The faith of this Gentile stood in welcome contrast to the rejection of the Jews. Even though they were the people who had received the Scriptures and the prophets, the Jews were still largely blind to the truth that Jesus was their long-awaited Messiah.
The reward is found in verse ten, where the centurion received exactly what he asked of Jesus; “And when those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the servant well.” Although this passage isn’t about prayer, we remember from elsewhere in the Bible that the main point of prayer is to commune with God. The secondary point is to get what you asked for. That’s one way God shows His favor on His people. And that’s what happened for the centurion and his servant.
In 1 Peter 5:4 it is written, “And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.” Triumphant faith is rewarded by our Savior.
We have looked at six marks or signs of a triumphant faith. It’s reminds me of Jeff Foxworthy’s kind of “sign,” in the sense that our attitudes and actions indicate what kind of person we are; they describe who it is that is holding the sign. For example,
The sign in front of a funeral home read; “Drive carefully. We’ll wait.”
Sign on an office door; “Ditcher, Quick and Hyde – Divorce Lawyers.”
Sign outside a church; “Weather Report: God reigns and the Son shines.”
Sign on a gas station; “We’re out of Rolaids, but we’ve got gas.”
Sign outside a church; “Swallow your pride. It contains no calories.”
Sign on the back of a septic cleaning truck; “Caution: Vehicle may be transporting political promises!”
Sign outside Christ the King Catholic Church: “Christ the King is not responsible for valuables left in vehicles.”
Sign outside a church; “God wants full custody, not just visiting rights on Sundays.”
Sign on a plumber’s truck; “We repair what your husband fixed.”
Sign on a bumper; “Don’t let the car fool you. My treasure is in heaven.”
Today it would be good to ask yourself, “What’s my sign?” Do you show the signs of a triumphant faith?