A Centurion’s Encounter with Jesus

This week’s scripture reading – Matthew 8:5-13, 

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.

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

Matthew 8:10b

The Setting

Why did the centurion approach Jesus? Well, this account of a centurion’s encounter with Jesus is truly a remarkable show of faith in Jesus. The faith of the centurion explained is notable. What is a centurion in the Bible? The centurion was a leader in the Roman army which was typically at odds with the Jews and their religion. The 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 in Matt. 4:18, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. 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.

Now at this time, the centurion approaches Jesus concerning a 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 as recorded in Luke 7:2, And a certain centurion’s servant, who was dear unto him, was sick, and ready to die. 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.

Matthew 4:18

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 also expressed in Luke 7:6b, saying unto him, Lord, trouble not thyself: for I am not worthy that thou shouldest enter under my roof.

Of most importance, his faith was demonstrated after his reiteration of unworthiness by making this statement in Luke 7:7, Wherefore neither thought I myself worthy to come unto thee: but say in a word, and my servant shall be healed. As the centurion continued to speak with Jesus, believing in what he could do for his servant, Jesus then exclaimed in 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. It is notable how such a message of faith can come out of a simple event from a centurion’s encounter with Jesus.

While this provides a quick summary of this healing by Jesus, let us now delve into two key themes from this scripture – worthiness and faith.

Worthiness Personified

Worthiness before Jesus is spoken of frequently in scripture therefore let us explore several recorded incidents. One of the first instances of worthiness was when John the Baptist spoke in Mark 1:7, 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.

Another example of being worthy was in the parable of the prodigal son since it reflects the compassion and love of God and shows humility when the son returns to his father stating from Luke 15:19, And am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants.

There was also an admonition of worthiness when Jesus spoke to his disciples on coming events facing Jerusalem as documented in Luke 21:36, Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man.

During the persecution of Jesus and his ensuing trials before Roman leaders, ironically neither Pilate or Herod found him worthy of death as recorded in Luke 23:15, No, nor yet Herod: for I sent you to him; and, lo, nothing worthy of death is done unto him.

walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called,

Ephesians 4:1b

Further records of the worthiness were when the disciples of Jesus had preached and were detained by the rulers. After being physically beaten they saw it as a favourable worthy act in Acts 5:41, And they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name. 

The authors of the New Testament encourage believers to continue in this walk of worthiness toward the Lord as described in Eph. 4:1-3, I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

In another one of Paul’s letters, he reiterated the same theme with more examples of worthiness as shown in Col. 1:10-11, That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God; Strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness.

Finally, on this theme of worthiness, one last notable verse is illustrative of the Lord’s own worthiness in this prophetic proclamation in Rev. 4:11, 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. As a centurion’s encounter with Jesus showed his unworthiness before Jesus it reflects just how worthy the Lord is before us.

Faith Personified

Another theme that stands out from this week’s scripture reading is faith in Jesus as demonstrated by the centurion. Faith is really just believing in, or entrusting upon something that may not be evident at the time. In a sense, it is very intangible as described in Heb. 11:1, Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

At times in scripture though, faith followed evident signs such as when Jesus turned water into wine in John 2:11, This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory; and his disciples believed on him. Another instance of this was recorded in John 2:23, 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. The disciples also clearly believed when Jesus had manifested himself before them after being in the tomb for three days as noted in John 2:22, 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. 

Belief, or faith in Jesus, is foundational to Christianity as expressed by Jesus in John 3:18, 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. Interestingly, many of the sign-seeking Jews did in fact believe in Jesus after coming to certain conclusions as noted in John 7:31, 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?

This belief also continued on as he continued to preach in John 8:30, As he spake these words, many believed on him. Further records of this are shown as people recalled what John the Baptist said about Jesus in John 10:41-42, 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. Surely a centurion’s encounter with Jesus would have resulted in the same belief with the healing of his servant.

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

There were also a number of Jews who believed upon Jesus after witnessing him raise Lazarus from the dead in John 11:45, Then many of the Jews which came to Mary, and had seen the things which Jesus did, believed on him. Even high ranking religious leaders believed on Jesus but were not openly expressive of it as noted in John 12:42-43, 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.

This last verse tends to reflect the saying of Jesus in Matt. 10:32-33, Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.

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 until he saw evidence of his fleshly wounds from being on the cross. This was soon put to rest as noted in John 20:28-29, 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.

Answering the Call

To close off this Bible study on a centurion’s encounter with Jesus, let us pursue the theme of believing faith once more. 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 as documented in Acts 28:23-24, 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.

My Lord and my God.

John 20:28

As a result of this divided belief among the Jews, Paul continued to speak to the them by quoting the ancient prophet Isaiah in Acts 28:26-28, 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. The entirety of this event is provided to help illustrate that sadly not all people will believe in God’s saving grace, regardless of receiving the same gospel message.

Paul’s encounter with unbelieving people though, stands in stark contrast to the simple, almost child-like faith during a centurion’s encounter with Jesus. Quite often, people will either let their intellect, sin, 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 in John 20:28, My Lord and my God.

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.

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