Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 8:9 “For I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me: and I
say to this man, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he
cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it.”
In seeking to fathom the mighty miracles of Jesus, the centurion had to rely on his own personal life experiences. He was forced to filter the powerful signs and wonders of Jesus through his own Roman religious and military background.
Religiously, the centurion believed in a spirit-world. Jupiter, Venus, Mars, and the other gods of Mt. Olympus were deemed powerful, capricious, and selfish. They were in essence human beings grown up, gods made in the image of man. Now, though, the centurion was seeing something new, a Man who represented a God who cared about humans, One who harnessed forces in the spirit-world for the good of people.
In addition to processing through his religious filter, the centurion was conditioned to analyze in light of his military training. To every perplexity, he by habit brought disciplined legionnaire instincts into battle array. The whole Roman system was based on absolute ironclad obedience to authority. Orders dispatched from Rome flowed to the empire’s outskirts, and were obeyed with absolute precision, and without hesitation.
The centurion’s religious belief in a spirit-world, and his military background of commands and obedience, somehow enabled him to say in essence to Jesus, “You and I are alike in ways. We both know how to obey and how to be obeyed. I am under Caesar’s authority; You are under Heaven’s authority. I have Roman soldiers at my beck and call; You have unseen soldiers under Your command.”
The centurion understood his own awesome authority was derived. It came from the fact he represented Caesar and wore on his uniform a Roman insignia.
This Roman somehow knew Jesus’ authority was also derived. His ability to do miracles was based on a commission from a higher power, from some Cosmic King in the spirit-world who could communicate power to every part of creation.
This soldier, witnessing power instantaneous and wholly effective, saw in Jesus the unseen arm of this Cosmic King. The centurion believed Jesus was under a highly exalted divine Authority which had delegated to Jesus authority over disease.
The legionnaire had seen enough awesomeness in Jesus to know this kind of omnipotence had servants everywhere. Even as the centurion did not have to do everything personally and directly, neither did Jesus. The centurion was convinced, even as he commanded soldiers far off, Jesus could order diseases from a distance.
Though a Gentile from a pagan Roman background, and though his understanding was minuscule, barely embryonic, the centurion somehow enunciated a clear, albeit simplistic, conceptualization of the Trinity. Jesus did serve under a heavenly Father, and did work at vast distances through the Holy Spirit. A soldier had begun to penetrate what the very nature of God is like. Jesus was impressed.
Matt. 8:10 “When Jesus heard it, he marvelled, and said to them that
followed, Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no,
not in Israel.”
The centurion won Jesus’ admiration. Faith like this is not easy to come by. Our Master was fascinated. He likes it when people trust Him. You and I want to please Jesus. We want Him to marvel again. Trusting Him is how it can happen.
When William, Prince of Orange, was invited to become King of England, he gave written promises to people regarding the political offices he would offer them. When he offered a written pledge to the man who was to be his Lord Chamberlain, the nobleman replied, “Your Majesty’s word is sufficient. I would not serve a king if I could not trust in his word.” This deeply pleased the king. The nobleman later became the ruler’s favorite minister.
Are we guilty of acting like we serve a King whose word we can not trust? Our Lord wants us to have faith in Him. He speaks, and deserves to be believed, especially by His own people.
There should have been much faith in Israel. They had Scripture, prophets, the temple, and heritage. Yet a Gentile was the first to acknowledge Jesus’ ability to work apart from His bodily presence. This trait was important to believe in, for it would be the basis on which Jesus would work in the world after His ascension.
This truth is stressed in John’s Gospel. That book is built around claims of Christ which He verifies and exemplifies through important signs. For instance, Jesus claimed, “I am the bread of life” (6:48 NAS), a truth proven by His feeding five thousand with five loaves and two fish. Jesus said, “I am the light of the world,” and then demonstrated it by healing the man born blind (9:5-7). Jesus claimed, “I am the resurrection and the life,” and verified it by raising Lazarus from the dead (JN 11:25,44). In this same Gospel, Jesus said, “God is spirit” (4:24 NAS), and then proved He was One with God by healing the nobleman’s son at a distance (4:46ff). Jesus, being God, is not limited by physical or geographic considerations.
This ability to work apart from His bodily presence was a vital truth, and a Gentile grasped it first. He surpassed them all, including the Apostles. Peter probably kicked himself and said, “How could I let a pagan Roman soldier say that before I did?” Even Mary and Martha, near the end of our Savior’s earthly life, said, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died” (JN 11:21,32 NAS).
The marvel felt by Jesus can be illustrated by an African Violet grower who spends months on a plant, trimming, watering, using perfect light and fertilizer, but one day walks out of his greenhouse and finds in the wild an African Violet more beautiful than the one he has worked with. His astonishment would be similar to what Jesus felt here. Israel had all the attention, but this Gentile had all the faith.
This surprise should encourage sinners. Faith can be found in unexpected places and in unexpected persons. Maybe you did not grow up in a Christian home, you never read the Bible much, your past and present are full of sins. The good news is, God looks for people like you to serve as trophies of His grace. He would love to transform your life into a tribute, a living monument, to His saving power.
Your case is not beyond God’s help. All your sin has already been dealt with by Jesus on the cross. Once money is given to cover a debt, it is as easy to write a paid-in-full receipt for $100,000 as for $10. Since Jesus has by His death already paid all the world’s sin debt, it is as easy for Him to pardon many sins as few sins.
I pray we at Second will never tire of stretching every nerve and sinew to convince people in Springfield, in Missouri, in the USA, and in the uttermost of God’s absolutely amazing grace, which reaches even to the worst of sinners. Spurgeon loved to tell a story about George Whitefield, who one day in a moment of exuberance preached that there would be some in Heaven who were “the devil’s castaways,” people even the devil thought hardly good enough for him, yet saved by Christ. Lady Huntington, a distinguished socialite and a supporter of Whitefield, came to visit the preacher and gently told him such language was not quite proper.
While they were discussing the matter, the doorbell rang and Whitefield went downstairs to visit briefly with another lady. He soon came back up and said, “Your ladyship, what do you think a poor woman had to say to me just now? She was a sad profligate and she said, “Oh, Mr. Whitefield, when you were preaching you told us that Christ would take in the devil’s castaways and I am one of them.”” She told the preacher that phrase was the means of her salvation.
May we never cease offering grace to the lowest of the low. No one needs it more than they do, and no one other than believers can offer it to them.
Our Lord marvelled at the centurion’s faith. Is there faith like that here right now?