As a child, some of my favorite stories in the Bible came from the Four Gospels. I would stay up at night, reading over and over the stories and parables in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. There were nights where I sat on the hillside overlooking the water listening to Christ teach the five thousand, I climbed down through the roof to see the daughter of Jairus brought back to life, and was blown about on the sea of Galilee with the disciples. The figures became friends to me, sources of inspiration, guidance, and comfort. They remain so now, and I turn to them when I need a bit of encouragement.
One figure in the Gospels has always caught my attention and been so very close to my heart. Imagine, if you will, Jerusalem as it was when Christ walked the streets. A melée of people, Romans and Jews alike, filling the market place and streets. Tensions between the Jews and Romans were high – how would you feel if people who held you in the lowest esteem, despised your beliefs, and used military force to mandate laws in a land that was not their own by birth or by right.
One person in the Gospels that I have always loved is the centurion who went to Christ to have Him heal his servant (Matthew 8, Luke 7), and the centurion who knelt at the cross on Calvary and testified that Jesus was the Christ (Matthew 27, Luke 23). I’m probably completely wrong, but in my mind those two Roman soldiers are one and the same.
To continue painting the picture, imagine the crowds that followed the Savior as he walked the streets of Jerusalem and traveled throughout the Galilee. He was a man who embodied the hope of generations of the faithful. Some understood exactly the nature of His coming, others thought that He came to war against the Romans, to reclaim Jerusalem for the Jews. Even within the faithful, there would be tension between those who believed differently. Because of this tension, and because of the unprecedented following that Jesus had, the Romans we wary and even hostile to Him.
Just before meeting the centurion, Christ had concluded his Sermon on the Mount. It is recorded in Matthew 7:28 that the people were astonished at His teachings, and it wouldn’t be surprising if those who listened at the Mount followed him into Capernaum to continue listening and learning, or perhaps to ask him a question about the parable of the man who built his house upon the rock and the man who built his upon the sand.
To have an officer in the Roman army who commanded between 50 and 100 men come to a Jew who, in the eyes of some, was causing issues among the people wherever he went, was unprecedented. To have this centurion call through the crowd for his attention, and when he arrived beside Jesus, beseeched him that he might heal his servant? This is amazing to me. And it gets even more amazing – when Christ tells this centurion that he will go to his home and heal his servant, the centurion refuses. What he says next are, to me, some of the most faithful words in the New Testament:
Throughout the scriptures leading up to this point, Christ has always visited those whom he had healed. Just moments before the centurion called to him, Jesus had placed his hands upon a leper and healed him. People brought their afflicted loved ones before him to be healed. But this centurion – whom we can assume did not know of the prophecies concerning the Messiah – had the faith that this man whom he had likely never met had the power to heal his servant, stricken with palsy in his home, from where he stood in the streets of Capernaum.
That is one of the greatest examples of faith I have ever read.
This story has always touched me, and I have long found the centurion an example of not only great faith, but also the courage to have faith.
We think of the Romans in the New Testament and see them at times as cruel and unyielding. We think of Pontius Pilate and his colleagues, we think of the men who scourged and spat upon Christ before he was taken to Calvary.
But we don’t often remember the simple lesson that a lone centurion teaches us in the streets of Capernaum, and upon that hill at Calvary.
Christ gave up the ghost, and in the midst of the weeping of the disciples and the quaking of the earth, a centurion testifies at the base of the cross of the divinity of the man from Nazareth, saying “Truly, this was the son of God.”
A simple, but very real, testimony of Jesus Christ.
What does the example of the centurion teach us?
That faith in God isn’t meant only for those of a proclaimed religion or belief system.
That faith is bigger than we think it is, and that it has a greater sphere than we realized.
That faith is key to our own daily lives.
That faith can produce miracles, big or small.
That faith does not require proof.
That faith stems from an inner courage.
That your faith is your own.
I’m working towards having a heart without doubts and a faith like that of the centurion, and it’s a process, but one that has an amazing impact on my life. I am thankful to be able to learn from the man whose faith was greater than anyone expected.