One time during His ministry on earth, Jesus gave what could be the greatest and longest sermon in history. Popularly known as the Sermon on the Mount, this masterpiece of preaching recorded in the Gospel of Matthew, chapters 5 to 7, is undoubtedly the greatest sermon ever given on earth. But that’s not the subject of focus today.
After descending from the mountain, the LORD proceeded to Capernaum. After such a long and tedious day in ministry, most likely the LORD was hungry and tired. He needed refreshment, but it wasn’t forthcoming. The need for ministry and the demand for Him from the public was getting greater.
Immediately upon entering Capernaum, a centurion approached Jesus. (A centurion, in the order of the day, was a Roman commander of 100 soldiers). In His encounter with the centurion, Jesus made a statement that He never made anywhere else, and which He never said of anyone else in the entire period of His ministry.
Let’s read about it from the Bible:
Matthew 8: 5-12 (NIV); 5-When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help. 6-“Lord,” he said, “my servant lies at home paralyzed and in terrible suffering.” 7-Jesus said to him, “I will go and heal him.” 8-The centurion replied, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. 9-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.” 10-When Jesus heard this, he was astonished and said to those following him, “I tell you the truth, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. 11-I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. 12-But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” 13-Then Jesus said to the centurion, “Go! It will be done just as you believed it would.” And his servant was healed at that very hour.
This man, who is only identified as a centurion (his name unknown), met Jesus with the greatest faith He ever encountered in His entire ministry. Jesus said He had not found anyone with such great faith in Israel. He referred to Israel because His ministry was primarily focused on Israel at that time, and this centurion was a Roman officer, a Gentile. It is thus befitting to point out from the onset that Jesus marveled that Israel, the covenant people, did not believe in Him as much as the Gentiles did. This could be seen as a rebuke to Israel for whom He was primarily sent.
I suggest to you 5 important lessons we can learn from this epic encounter between Jesus Christ and the centurion:
- He loved his servant.
The centurion loved and treasured his servant so much. In Luke’s account of the same episode, the Bible records in Luke 7:2; ‘There a centurion’s servant, whom his master valued highly, was sick and about to die.’ In that culture, and even in our present culture, it was uncommon for a master to love his servant this much, that when the servant was sick the master was troubled greatly until he went to seek for help from the LORD. This rare character exhibited by the centurion is worthy of emulating for employers in all generations concerning employee-employer relations. It may be that the servant was a hardworking and faithful person which made his master value him so much. Nevertheless, not many employers show such a level of love for their employees. Therefore, the inherent character of the servant, although not directly depicted, does speak to employees all over the world to perform their duties in such a way that their employers will cherish them greatly.
- He prayed for his servant.
The centurion went to Jesus to entreat and intercede for his servant. In both Matthew and Luke, the Bible does not tell us whether the centurion tried to seek help from anywhere else. Or even if he did, it seems that he believed that only Jesus could heal his servant.
This prayer attitude is something we can all learn from the centurion. If all employers on earth could take the initiative to speak to the LORD about their employees, what wonderful work environments could we experience everywhere! How the glory of God could fill work places all over the world!
- He respected authority.
The centurion recognized and respected the authority of Jesus. He bowed to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. He acknowledged the deity of Jesus. Since he had already submitted wholly to Jesus, it wasn’t hard for him to put absolute faith in the LORD. From his words, the centurion appears to have learned about authority from his official duties as a Roman officer. Nevertheless, his example is worthy of emulating, even in human leadership structures. It’s very important to respect authority, whether divine or human.
- He had absolute faith in the Word of Jesus.
The centurion told Jesus, “…just say the word, and my servant will be healed.” What a statement of faith! The centurion must have developed great faith by the time he came to Jesus. No wonder Jesus told him, “…I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith.” The centurion put His faith totally in the Word of Jesus. Because of his complete reliance on the Word of God, the centurion not only received his request from Jesus but he also went into the eternal records as a great man of faith. To no one else did Jesus say words of similar import, save for the woman of Canaan whose encounter with Jesus is recorded in Matthew 15:22-28. Even so, Jesus commended the centurion’s faith as being greater than any other faith He had encountered. His total confidence, trust and faith in the Word of God is something each of us must imitate.
- He served God with his resources.
In Luke’s account, the centurion is said to have sent some men of Israel ahead of him to intercede for him to the LORD. “The centurion heard of Jesus and sent some elders of the Jews to Him, asking Him to come and heal his servant. When they came to Jesus, they pleaded earnestly with Him, ‘This man deserves to have you do this, because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue.’” (Luke 7:3-5). From this account in Luke, it’s clear that the centurion was greatly inclined to the God of Israel. Even though he was not a Jew, he had helped to build a synagogue in Israel. Therefore, he teaches us a great lesson that it pays to serve God with our resources.
I trust you have been blessed by these great lessons from the encounter of Jesus and the centurion. I believe the Holy Spirit will reveal to us even much more wisdom from this story next time.