A Centurion’s Encounter with Jesus

Scripture Reading

And when Jesus was entered into Capernaum, there came unto him a centurion, beseeching him, And saying, Lord, my servant lieth at home sick of the palsy, grievously tormented. And Jesus saith unto him, I will come and heal him. The centurion answered and said, Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof: but speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed. 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.]

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. And I say unto you, That many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven. But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. And Jesus said unto the centurion, Go thy way; and as thou hast believed, so be it done unto thee. And his servant was healed in the selfsame hour.

Matt. 8:5-13

Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel.

Matt. 8:10b

The Setting

This account of a centurion’s encounter with Jesus is a truly remarkable show of faith in Jesus. The centurion was a leader in the Roman army which was typically at odds with the Jews and their religion. This event took place in the coastal town of Capernaum on the shores of Lake Tiberias where Jesus went after residing earlier in Nazareth. Capernaum was also the same town where Jesus first started to preach his quotable saying, “Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” [Matt. 4:18]  A tremendous amount of teaching and preaching had transpired since that time from his well known sermon on the mount covering three full chapters in Matthew.

Then at this time, the centurion approaches Jesus concerning his dying servant. The gospel of Luke records the same account but also provides more background information for better context. This was indeed a cherished servant of the centurion, “And a certain centurion’s servant, who was dear unto him, was sick, and ready to die.” [Luke 7:2] The affliction of palsy as noted in Matthew was a paralytic type of disease, likely causing great pain and discomfort, let alone death.

Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.

Matt. 4:18

Faith, Humility and Charity

Despite being a military commander for Rome, this centurion demonstrated humility, faith and charity toward both Jews and Jesus. As a sign of his humility it was recorded in Luke 7:3 that the centurion first sent elders of the Jews to Jesus. His charity was then shown in Luke 7:5 with the Jews attesting to the fact that he loved their nation and built them a synagogue. His humility was expressed once again, “saying unto him, Lord, trouble not thyself: for I am not worthy that thou shouldest enter under my roof.” [Luke 7:6b]

Of most importance, was his demonstration of faith by making this statement to Jesus, “Wherefore neither thought I myself worthy to come unto thee: but say in a word, and my servant shall be healed.” [Luke 7:7]  As the centurion continued to speak with Jesus, believing in what he could do for his servant, Jesus then responded to this depth of faith by saying, “Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel.” [Matt. 8:10b] It is notable how such a strong show of faith was manifest in a centurion’s encounter with Jesus. While this provides a quick summary of this event, let us now expound further upon two key themes from this scripture – faith and worthy.

Worthy Personified

Worthiness toward Jesus is frequently referenced in scripture since this is illustrative of him being both Lord and Saviour. A few examples are set forth to support this from scripture. One of the first recorded comments of being worthy toward Jesus was when John the Baptist spoke, “And preached, saying, There cometh one mightier than I after me, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose.” [Mark 1:7] This was an incredible statement of humility toward the Lord and parallels the comments made by the centurion upon his appeal to Jesus for the healing of his servant.

Let us also look at some more serious occurrences that notably highlight just how worthy the Lord Jesus Christ really is in history. During the persecution of Jesus and his ensuing trials before Roman leaders, ironically neither Pilate or Herod found him worthy of death, “No, nor yet Herod: for I sent you to him; and, lo, nothing worthy of death is done unto him.” [Luke 23:15] Does this statement not harmonize with the apostle John’s writing that illustrates the Lord’s worthiness in this prophetic proclamation, “Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.” [Rev. 4:11]

Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power:

Rev. 4:11a

Faith Personified

The second theme that stands out from this week’s scripture reading is faith in Jesus as demonstrated by the centurion. Faith is believing in, or entrusting upon something that may not be evident at the time. In a sense, it is very intangible as written in the scriptures, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” [Heb. 11:1] At times in scripture though, faith or belief in Jesus followed evident signs such as when he turned water into wine, “This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory; and his disciples believed on him.” [John 2:11]

Another instance of this took place in this passage, “Now when he was in Jerusalem at the passover, in the feast [day,] many believed in his name, when they saw the miracles which he did.” [John 2:23] The disciples also clearly believed when Jesus had manifested himself before them after being in the tomb for three days, “When therefore he was risen from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this unto them; and they believed the scripture, and the word which Jesus had said.” [John 2:22]

Faith is Believing

This belief, or faith in Jesus, is foundational to Christianity as Jesus once told to an inquiring Pharisee, “He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” [John 3:18]  Many of the sign-seeking Jews did in fact believe in Jesus after coming to certain conclusions, “And many of the people believed on him, and said, When Christ cometh, will he do more miracles than these which this [man] hath done? ” [John 7:31]

This belief also continued as Jesus preached to the multitudes as recorded in scripture, “As he spake these words, many believed on him.” [John 8:30]  Further records of this are shown as people recalled what John the Baptist said about Jesus, “And many resorted unto him, and said, John did no miracle: but all things that John spake of this man were true. And many believed on him there.” [John 10:41-42] Surely a centurion’s encounter with Jesus would have resulted in the same belief with the healing of his beloved servant.

And many of the people believed on him,

John 7:31a

Believing to Salvation

There were also a number of Jews who believed in Jesus after witnessing him raise Lazarus from the dead, “Then many of the Jews which came to Mary, and had seen the things which Jesus did, believed on him.” [John 11:45]  While many of the Jews believed on Jesus they were not open about it for fear of repercussions from religious leaders, “Nevertheless among the chief rulers also many believed on him; but because of the Pharisees they did not confess [him,] lest they should be put out of the synagogue: For they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.” [John 12:42-43]

Perhaps one of the most memorable proclamations of faith or belief in Jesus was shown by Thomas. He refused to believe in the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ until he saw evidence of his fleshly wounds from physically being crucified on the cross. But this was soon put to rest by Jesus when he showed him his nail pierced hands and spear thrusted side, “And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God. Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed [are] they that have not seen, and [yet] have believed.” [John 20:28-29]

My Lord and my God.

John 20:28

Answering the Call

To close off this Bible study on a centurion’s encounter with Jesus,  let us pursue the theme of believing faith one last time. There is a remarkable account of Paul preaching to the Jews upon his arrival in Rome when he summoned the chief of the Jews together and spoke to them, “And when they had appointed him a day, there came many to him into [his] lodging; to whom he expounded and testified the kingdom of God, persuading them concerning Jesus, both out of the law of Moses, and [out of] the prophets, from morning till evening. And some believed the things which were spoken, and some believed not.” [Acts 28:23-24]

As a result of this divided belief among the Jews, Paul continued to speak to the them by quoting the ancient prophet Isaiah, “Well spake the Holy Ghost by Esaias the prophet unto our fathers, Saying, Go unto this people, and say, Hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and not perceive: For the heart of this people is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes have they closed; lest they should see with [their] eyes, and hear with [their] ears, and understand with [their] heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them. Be it known therefore unto you, that the salvation of God is sent unto the Gentiles, and [that] they will hear it.” [Acts 28:26-28]  The entirety of this event is provided to help illustrate this fact that sadly not all people will believe in God’s saving grace, regardless of seeing tangible proof or evidence or whether they receive the gospel message of saving grace.

Paul’s encounter with unbelieving people, though, stands in stark contrast to the simple, almost child-like faith of a centurion’s encounter with Jesus. Quite often, people will either let their intellect, or sin, or man-made ideologies, or influence from others, stand in the way of coming to the Lord Jesus Christ. But this was not how a  centurion’s encounter with Jesus turned out. As readers give contemplation to this study, consider if this just might finally be the time to make the commitment of unwavering faith and belief in Jesus much as Thomas exclaimed with heartfelt praise, “My Lord and my God.” [John 20:28]

Bible Study Questions

  1. In this study on a centurion’s encounter with Jesus, did it matter to Jesus that the centurion was with the Roman army?
  2. With this event taking place in Capernaum what other event occurred in that town before this encounter?
  3. The centurion showed charity to the Jews as noted in this message by building them a synagogue, true or false?
  4. What are the two key themes that present themselves in this week’s scripture reading?
  5. With the many examples of worthiness from scripture noted, why do you think it is important to have this humility before the Lord?
  6. Why do you think it is so difficult for people to confess their faith in Jesus before people?
  7. Thomas exclaimed in John 20:28, My Lord and my God. What happened before that for him to make such a bold statement of faith in Jesus? Hint, read John 20:26-29 for the full passage of scripture.

WORD GUIDE – * (centurion – a Roman military leader of soldiers) * (palsy – crippling affliction)

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