Hearing this, Jesus was amazed and said to those following Him, “I assure you: I have not found anyone in Israel with so great a faith!”
What if Jesus were amazed at some positive attribute you demonstrated? What if He said, “I marvel at the compassion Susan is demonstrating to her co-worker” or “Look at the perseverance Eric exhibits during this time of trial!”
In the Gospels, we sometimes find Jesus surprised by the opposite—the lack of faith of those around Him, especially by those who had heard Him teach and perform miracles.
Returning to His hometown of Nazareth, Jesus marveled at their unbelief (see Mark 6:6). Among His fellow Jews, Jesus was amazed that—despite the testimony of John the Baptist, His miracles, and the Scriptures—they still refused to believe in Him (see John 5:30-47).
The quantity of faith isn’t what concerned Jesus. Even a “mustard seed” of faith was sufficient (Matthew 17:20). It was the quality of faith that sees Jesus (and God the Father) as the appropriate object of that trust. Jesus even honored the desperate, honest plea of a father for his son: “I do believe! Help my unbelief” (see Mark 9:17-29).
In this passage from Matthew (and parallel story in Luke), however, we see an unlikely candidate who becomes the cause of Jesus’ surprise and object of his praise: a Roman Centurion. Why was this man an unlikely candidate and what about his faith caused Jesus to marvel?
Let’s consider three factors.
The Centurion’s Background
A centurion was a career military officer in the Roman army who was in charge of about 100 men. The Jewish people generally hated the Roman military for their occupying presence in their land and considered them unclean Gentiles. Similarly, the Romans often looked down on and despised those under their authority.
Why did this outsider come to Jesus? You’d think it more likely that a fellow Jew who believed in Jesus as the promised Messiah would demonstrate the kind of faith we see here. Yet, this Roman centurion didn’t allow any of these factors from his background to keep him from seeking out Jesus.
The Centurion’s Posture and Attitude
This very powerful man, representing the greatest empire of the world, came to Jesus and addressed Him as “Lord,” a respectful title (not a profession of divinity here, but a title of respect).
The humility of this man is seen in his declaration of unworthiness to have Jesus come into his house. Perhaps he was being sensitive to Jewish traditions of not entering a Gentile home, but he postured himself as undeserving. Once again, we see the Lord is near the humble and contrite in heart.
The Centurion’s Belief in Jesus’ Power and Authority
Perhaps here, we find the most astounding characteristic of all. Though this man was probably not steeped in the Scripture and teachings of the Jews, his confident assertion demonstrated a faith purer, simpler, and more Christ-honoring than theirs.
It was unnecessary for Jesus to go to his house and heal his servant. The centurion said, “I too am a man under authority, having soldiers under my command. I say to this one, ‘Go!’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come!’ and he comes; and to my slave, ‘Do this!’ and he does it” (Matthew 8:9).
Do you see the analogy he drew? He was a man under authority, so that when he commanded those in his charge, he spoke with an authority that was ultimately vested in him by Caesar and the Roman Empire.
Similarly, when Jesus speaks and acts, He does so as One vested with the authority and power of God.
The centurion, of course, wasn’t speaking from the perspective of a mature Christology, but he was saying that Jesus’ relationship with God is such that when Jesus speaks, God speaks. Jesus has authority and power derived from God.
Given the centurion’s background and understanding, we too should marvel at this simple, penetrating faith. How can this man be an example to us? Reflect on the questions below to see how his amazing faith may apply to us today.
- Is there anything from your history or background preventing you from whole-heartedly pursuing Jesus? Past failures, lack of credentials, anything that makes you feel like an “outsider”? None of these should keep you from trusting Jesus in every area of life.
- Regardless of how powerful or successful you are (or aren’t), do you have a posture of submission in relation to Jesus? What do others observe in you—a spirit of pride or humility? Do you need Jesus desperately or are you confident in your own resources? “The sacrifice pleasing to God is a broken spirit. God, You will not despise a broken and humbled heart” (Psalm 51:17).
- Regardless of what you profess to believe, do you live as if Jesus has authority over all things and can be trusted? What would you worry about less if you really believed this? What do you need to surrender to Him today to demonstrate your faith in His authority and power?