… When Jesus had finished saying all this to the people who were listening, he entered Capernaum.  There a centurion's servant, whom his master valued highly, was sick and about to die.  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.”  So Jesus went with them.
He was not far from the house when the centurion sent friends to say to him: “Lord, don't trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof.  That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you. But say the word, and my servant will be healed.  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.”  When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, “I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.”  Then the men who had been sent returned to the house and found the servant well. …
In Luke 7 we read a story about how some Jewish elders came to Jesus on behalf of a Roman centurion whose servant was very sick. We read in verses 4 – 6: “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.” So Jesus went with them.”
The first thing that is unusual about this story is that these are Jewish religious leaders petitioning Jesus on behalf of a Roman centurion. Remember that the Romans were the enemy occupiers of Israel at this time, they were foreign aggressors, deeply disliked and distrusted by the Jewish people. And yet this one Roman soldier seems to have found favour within the community of God’s people. He is an outsider by birth and yet seems to have become an insider through relationship. Look at what they say to Jesus: “He deserves this because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue.” Evidently this Roman had encountered the God of Israel and the proof of his transformation was his generosity in financing the construction of the synagogue for worship.
Sometimes God’s provision and resources for us come from people we would not expect or perhaps don’t even like. God somehow often uses people that we don’t think he can use. The lesson is this: Don’t reject the gift because you don’t like the packaging it comes in or the person it comes through.
Look at how the story continues:
“He was not far from the house when the centurion sent friends to say to him: “Lord, don’t trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you. But say the word, and my servant will be healed. 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.”
When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, “I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.” Then the men who had been sent returned to the house and found the servant well.” (vv 6-10)
It says that Jesus was “amazed”. Anything that amazes Jesus is worth paying attention to. What impacted Jesus so deeply? It was this man’s faith.
You see up until this point in the Gospels Jesus was always personally and physically present when a healing took place. He was in the room or he laid hands on the sick person or they touched him. In other words, when this Roman centurion says: “Tell Jesus he doesn’t even need to come here - He can just say the word and my servant will be healed” - he is expressing his faith that Jesus has the ability to do something which no one has ever seen Jesus do before. There is no precedent for his belief that Jesus is able to do this. So wherever did he get this idea from? The passage tells us.
As a Roman centurion this man understood authority. He understood the power of words to get things done. He did not have to be physically present for someone to obey a command from him. It simply had to carry his seal of authority. His words written down and sealed carried the same authority as if he was in the room speaking them directly to the recipient.
The other incredible thing is that we read that Jesus actually set off on the journey towards this man’s house before the second delegation arrived. In other words, Jesus was initially going to be physically present as he had been in every other healing. But when this man displays his faith in Jesus, it’s almost as if his level of faith draws out of Jesus something that Jesus had never done before - but had always been able to do. This man had the kind of faith which got God to do things which no one knew or thought He would - or could - or should do.
The X-factor here was not Jesus ability. It was the centurion’s faith that made all the difference. It makes you wonder what might God do if we only had the faith to ask him? But because we have never seen Him do it, we put it outside the realms of possibility. Might there even be prayers you need to change because through them you are limiting God to your expectations? Might God be able to do things quicker, easier and differently than we ever imagined?
Have you ever had a long-term friend whom you discover something about that you never knew? Perhaps they speak Chinese or they are an incredible cook or they once won some significant award. You’ve known them all this time, and did you never knew this about them.
I think God is like this. No matter how long we have known him, there are things yet that we don’t know, things about his character and ability that we don’t yet understand. When you read church history, where God does something unusual - it is often more to do with a human element, than divine sovereignty. Think about it: God is the same yesterday, today and forever. Therefore might we be the X-factor that makes the difference in our world?
Over time, we settle into ‘business as usual’ with God. This story shows us the power of human intervention intersecting with God’s intention. Jesus was going one way but this man’s faith was able to move him in a different direction. Often what we see in our lives is according to our faith - not God’s ability. We live in a world where people often say: “I’ll believe it when I see it.” Perhaps, as Christians, when it comes to what God can do, our motto should be: “I’ll believe it so I can see it.” Perhaps that kind of faith can amaze God in our generation.
(This reflection was influenced by a great sermon I heard recently by Pastor Paul Scanlon)