One of the interesting features about the Bible is that it does not hold back on telling the whole story about various characters. Even some of the greatest biblical heroes have many dark chapters written about their lives for everyone to see and know and recount for millennia to come. Abraham had the failure of faith where he went to Egypt and told Sarah to tell everyone she was his sister. David had the Bathsheba affair. Moses whacked the rock in a fit of anger.
By comparison to these accounts, the various stories we reviewed yesterday about the 25 occurrences of Centurions in the New Testament could actually be said to be more positively presented. So why do Centurions get positive press in the Scripture, and why are they open to the gospel in the accounts where they are mentioned?
Ultimately the answer has to include the fact that it was because God was doing a work in their hearts. But let’s consider some other contributing factors …
Centurions would be men who were very predisposed to the value of truth. They were people who understood authority structures … people who were thoughtful about the bigger picture and not just caught up in the emotions of the moment.
The Centurion with the sick servant – He had become convinced that the monotheistic teachings of Israel contained truth rather than the craziness of the Greek gods. He was quick to see Jesus as the Christ of the Old Testament, recognizing the miracles as authenticating him. Therefore he was well ahead of most Israelites in appropriating this understanding.
The Centurion at the cross – He saw more than darkness and an earthquake. His observations, along with hearing the words of Christ from the cross, led him to believe in the true, divine nature of Jesus. He saw the bigger picture.
Cornelius – Like the first centurion above, he was following the Jewish faith as embodying the truth about God, and God worked to bring the full gospel truth to him.
Julius – This rugged centurion saw Paul as more than a prisoner or religious zealot “on the outs” with Rome. He could see something unique in his life – recognizing a connection beyond the mere physical world.
But the biggest reason for the positive press for centurions has to do with the master plan of God. Centurions were among the diverse people who were called by God in the early post-resurrection era of the church to expand the gospel and the church across the tracks that divided Jews and Gentiles. God was using them as prominent displays of his expansive grace to bring the merits of salvation to all who would believe and trust: Jew AND Gentile … this side of the tracks, and the other side of the tracks.