It was that time of June rituals, especially graduations rituals, taking place all over. . . . Perhaps more than other occasions, because people were coming out of the lockdown, eager to celebrate.
One of the major scenes: proud parents watching their child receive the document that certifies the culmination of another step in their long academic development. Some people are happy for you at graduation time, others may be jealous, and some may even be angry or disappointed (you could have done better). But parents are more than happy. They are proud, amazed, yet not surprised. They always knew their child was capable of doing this. Their child was always certain to accomplish this feat, even if the child never knew it. Parents always know it. And so there is that unmistakable, amazing look. The same look that appears when a child comes home excited with their new driver’s license or the news that they are getting married. You can also see that look in a teacher, a pastor, or a mentor. But none beats the face of a father or mother.
In the New Testament we find in the Gospel of Luke a story of faith that amazes Jesus (7:2-10). It is the story of a Roman centurion. The majority of us know what a Roman was. We even know what a Roman soldier was. But what about a centurion? Who were they, and what did they do?
The Roman centurion was so called because the term means “captain of 100.” A Roman centurion was captain over 100 foot soldiers in a legion. Loyal and courageous soldiers could work their way up the ranks, catch the eye of a general through their skill and courage in battle, and thus be named as officers. Their pay amounted to more than 20 times an ordinary soldier’s 200-300 denarii per year income, reaching about 5,000 denarii per year. Legions included five senior centurions, who received 10,000 denarii per year, and a chief centurion (“the first javelin”), who earned twice that sum.1We do not know how high-ranking a centurion the man in Luke’s story was.
We find in the Gospel of Luke a story of faith that amazes Jesus.
We wonder what led to this man finding his way into the Scriptures. References to Roman soldiers in the Bible are often unflattering. What we do know of this man has more to do with his spiritual testimony, generosity, and faith.
“A centurion’s servant, whom his master valued highly, was sick and about to die” (Luke 7:2).2The first thing we learn about the centurion is that he had a servant whom he “valued highly.” The Greek word, entimos, was usually not applied to servants. In fact, it comes just short of implying that the centurion loved his servant. The text does not suggest that he was worried about losing property, but that he was genuinely concerned about the well-being of his servant/friend. Luke’s text gives us additional insights into his character: he“heard of Jesus and sent some elders of the Jews to him, asking him to come and heal his servant.”The messenger elders argued: “This man deserves to have you do this, because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue” (verses 3-5).
The reader may easily conclude that this man was a trained politician who knew whom to send for a special request and how to state the request. That may have been the case, but there is more here. By the testimony of the Jews, this centurion was very generous, evidenced by his building their synagogue. He loved the nation of Israel. By their standards, Jesus had to help him; he “deserved” it. Today we have not entirely escaped such theology. We still think that we deserve blessings from God based on our performance, academic levels, years in membership to a particular denomination, nationality, etc.
We do need to allow the centurion to represent himself, for it tells us something about his faith. As Jesus and the Jews drew close tothe centurion’s house he sent friends to object: “Lord, don’t trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you. But say the word, and my servant will be healed. 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” (verses 6-8). The centurion has corrected the possible assumption implied by the Jews. He does not think himself “worthy” (hikanos) of Jesus coming into his house. It is the same sentiment John the Baptist expresses: “after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry” (Matt. 3:11). The centurion has not acted as a skilled politician by sending people who will give a good report about him to Jesus; he does not think that he deserves to present himself to Jesus. If he was going to get something from Jesus, it would be because of mercy and not out of deserving it based on his acts of charity and spiritual devotion.
And there is more. He dares to explain his theological conclusion of the power of Jesus based on the logic of his professional experience. He says, “I have authority because I represent the Roman Empire. I use my words to command. Based on what I know, You represent something greater than the Roman Empire; You represent the kingdom of God. If I, an unworthy, sinful man, have power, You have more. Just say the word; You do not need to come. Just say the word, and my servant will be healed.”
And there you have it—words and an attitude that amaze Jesus: “When Jesus heard these things, he marveled at him” (Luke 7:9). He turned to the Jewish crowd following him and said, “I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.” And needless to say, the centurion’s messengers returned to the house to find the servant’s health restored (verse 10).
Can you see the face of Jesus as He pronounced those words? It is the face of a very proud parent. It is as if Jesus is saying, “I am thrilled that you have exercised such faith; you have honored your Father. He is always longing for His children to act in such a manner. You are capable of expressing even greater faith.”
We still think that we deserve blessings from God based on our performance.
Why do we have this story in the Scriptures? I suggest that it is not only to highlight the logical, evidence-based faith of the centurion. Not only to give us an insight into a characteristic of our God—the fatherly pride that He experiences in response to our faith. This story challenges us to live every day in a manner that amazes God. He wants us to be intentional, to aim high, to amaze God by your faith. You see, we also have evidence. We also can draw our conclusions regarding the power and love of our God. “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for. By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible” (Heb. 11:1-3).Creation is the most significant visible evidence of the existence and power of God. It is continuous and unavoidable, and we are all part of it; all, by our existence, an unavoidable element of the most significant evidence of the power of God. We can conclude with the centurion: just “say the word.” The God who created everything by His word, things coming into existence as He spoke, is the same God looking to be amazed when we exercise the centurion’s trusting faith today.
The world is looking and waiting for this manifestation. God and His world urge us on together: Amaze Jesus. God created you for it. It is a gift He places in everyone (Rom. 12:3). Even if you did not know it, God has always known it. Live faith! Amaze your God. Let Him testify that He is so proud of you!
Rodolfo Alvir is the lead pastor of the Red Deer Seventh-day Adventist Church in Alberta, Canada.