He was a Roman soldier, older and much more experienced than the hundred men under his command. He had fought and won, proving himself in the heat of battle. Now he and his troops were stationed in a peaceful and sleepy little fishing village in Galilee. Occasionally, he arrested a tax evader or a petty criminal, but life as a Roman soldier wasn’t exciting… not in Capernaum.
Although the Centurion had once longed for adrenalin-pumping conflict and combat, he had gradually become accustomed to his quiet life. He spent time with his men and had quickly gotten to know his Jewish neighbors. When the village had started building a new synagogue, he generously donated to the cause. I suspect that he and his men had even pitched in, providing physical assistance during the construction project (Luke 7:5).
One of the men under his command, let’s call him Nicolas, had become sick. This wasn’t a common cold. No sir! Nicolas was violently ill, soon bed-ridden and growing weaker and weaker.
Day after day, the commanding officer came to the young soldier’s bedside. The Centurion wasn’t a religious man, but he had watched from a distance as his Jewish neighbors had thronged to a Rabbi, a friend of the fisherman named Peter. The Rabbi had reportedly healed Peter’s mother-in-law (Mark 1:29-31) and then, when “the whole town was assembled at the door” the Rabbi “healed many who were sick with various diseases” (Mark 1:33–34). The Centurion had watched, skeptical but curious.
A few days later, the Rabbi returned to Capernaum. As the Rabbi, Jesus, gathered with his followers, four men brought a helpless paralytic. They couldn’t squeeze through the crowd, so they ripped up the roof and lowered their friend into the packed room. In the following days, the marketplace buzzed with reports of the miraculous healing. He was “sick of the palsy” (Mark 2:5, KJV), yet at Jesus’ touch, he had been healed, rolled up his mat, and danced out, revived, restored, reborn!
As the Centurion helplessly looked down at Nicolas, “sick of the palsy” (Matthew 8:6, KJV), hope sparked within him. Without delay, the “Centurion came to (Jesus), pleading with him, ‘Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, in terrible agony’ ”(Matthew 8:5-6).
The omniscient Jesus, knowing the humble and hope-filled heart of the Roman commander, asked, “Am I to come and heal him?” (Matthew 8:7). “Lord, don’t trouble yourself, since I am not worthy to have you come under my roof… But say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I too am a man placed 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 servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it” (Luke 7:6-8). “Just give the command, and the disease will flee! Nicolas will rise and walk, healed and healthy!”
This is one of only two times when Jesus is said to have marveled (Matthew 8:10); the other time was at the unbelief of the Jews. “He was amazed at their unbelief” (Mark 6:6). It’s also one of only two times that Jesus commended “great” faithfulness; the other hero of faithfulness was another Gentile, the Syrophoenician woman. “Woman, your faith is great. Let it be done for you as you want” (Matthew 15:28).
I wonder… is Jesus “amazed” at our great faithfulness? … or at our unbelief?
Even so, His grace is great, even when our faith isn’t.