One of the great joys of my coaching years in the high school was to lead one particular athlete to Christ. He became interested in reading and understanding the Bible. Though I attempted to get him to start with something like the book of John, he insisted that he was going to read it from beginning to end, starting with Genesis. I wasn’t sure he’d stick with it, but he did. He was tenacious about it and would write down lists of questions to ask about what he was reading. He had no religious background or biblical knowledge base to go on.
His questions were great fun to answer. He simply could not believe how crazy it was for the Israelites to have seen all the things that God did for them, yet not believe and rebel AGAIN! As he discovered more and more of these stories unfolding of their lack of faith, he would talk about this with an amazed humor.
Over a period of time, he came to truly understand the gospel message, and with the background of all of the evidences of God’s hand in history, it was a simple matter for him to trust in God in faith. There was such an unblemished purity to his faith and conviction. It reminded me of the faith of the centurion that believed in Jesus Christ, as is in this passage from Luke 7 …
Luke 7:1 – When Jesus had finished saying all this to the people who were listening, he entered Capernaum. 2 There a centurion’s servant, whom his master valued highly, was sick and about to die. 3 The centurion heard of Jesus and sent some elders of the Jews to him, asking him to come and heal his servant. 4 When they came to Jesus, they pleaded earnestly with him, “This man deserves to have you do this, 5 because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue.” 6 So Jesus went with them.
He was not far from the house when the centurion sent friends to say to him: “Lord, don’t trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. 7 That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you. But say the word, and my servant will be healed. 8 For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”
9 When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, “I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.” 10 Then the men who had been sent returned to the house and found the servant well.
A centurion was a Roman military officer that command a “century” – averaging about 80 men, ranging in size from 60-100 soldiers. Five or six combined centuries of soldiers would make up a “cohort” with the most senior of the centurions in command. And 10 cohorts, or about 5,000 men, would comprise a Roman “legion.”
Centurions were the most called-upon Roman officers to make things happen and get things done. And we see them in a number of stories in the gospels and Acts, and they are surprisingly presented in a very positive light.
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 here in Luke 7 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.
His faith was pure, simple, pointed, and uncomplicated. There was no doubting in his mind as to who Jesus was and what he could do. There is a timeless lesson in this mental posture. There should be no hesitation in our conviction that God is able to accomplish great things, simply because of who he is.