By Ray Luck
Pastor, Oak Grove Baptist Church, Athens
Focal Passage: Matthew 8:5-13, NKJV
One of my all time favorite cartoon strips is “Peanuts” by the late Charles Schulz. The other day I ran across one that I felt fit this lesson. Linus had built a small army of snowmen and he walked in front of them and said, “I am your leader, if you will follow me, you will be invincible! There is nothing that can stop us! Nothing!” In the last frame, the sun melts his army.
Our lesson for today deals with a similar situation in the life of a Roman centurion. The Roman Empire was strong in its day because it had developed an invincible military that brought fear into the hearts of all the empire it had conquered. Like most militaries, then and today, it was well organized by being divided into groups. In the case of the Roman army there were groups of 100 soldiers who were commanded by a centurion. There are several references to the centurion in the first three Gospels. Matthew and Luke both reference the text account. Matthew, Mark, and Luke reference a Centurion at the cross. Acts references a centurion by name, Cornelius, and then centurions are referenced at the end of Acts in connection with Paul’s arrest and trial. There are only three times where centurions are mentioned that their faith is talked about (Matthew 8 and Luke 7, same account, and Cornelius in Acts 10). At the crucifixion of Jesus the centurion said, “… Truly this was the Son of God!” but it does not indicate that he came to faith.”
In our text we find a man who exercised great authority in the Roman military and who was brought up in the Roman system to believe in many gods. As a leader in the military he was under great scrutiny thus for him to do what he did put him in a position that could cause him to lose his commission and maybe even be put to death. Not only did the Pharisees, Sadducees, Scribes, and Priests follow Jesus wherever He went, but the Roman soldiers were there as well monitoring His every move so as to squelch any potential riot against Roman authority.
This centurion, no doubt, had heard Jesus teach and witnessed His miracles and knew that He was no ordinary man. He also apparently was not as antagonistic toward Judah as perhaps were his cohorts. Thus, when one of his favored servants became ill, he was willing to risk it all to ask Jesus to heal his servant. Jesus immediately responded by saying that He would go to the centurion’s home and heal his servant. The centurion did not want Jesus to do that, saying to Jesus that he was not worthy to have Him come under his roof. He tells Jesus that he is a man of authority, as was Jesus, and all Jesus had to do was speak the word and his servant would be healed.
Jesus commends the centurion for his faith and says further for the benefit of those listening that day, “Assuredly, I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel.” May our faith always be as strong and bold as the centurian’s!