By Dr. Mark Scott
How can an all-knowing God be amazed at anything? Scripture affirms that Jesus was amazed—we are told of two examples in his ministry. Once he was amazed at belief (today’s passage and the parallel text in Matthew 8:10), and once he was amazed at unbelief (Mark 6:6).
Our lesson concerns the amazing faith of a Roman soldier. Matthew and Luke tell this story very differently. Matthew says the centurion approached Jesus personally to make his request. Luke says that the Jews in Capernaum presented the request of the centurion to Jesus. Perhaps the easiest harmonization is to say that the centurion made the request, but he did so through his Jewish friends (more like Luke’s account). But that may make the text say something it does not say.
Given the standard of how stories were told in the ancient world, perhaps it is not a contradiction at all. Perhaps neither way represents exactly how the event took place, but multiple voices (which give rise to greater authenticity) told the story differently. Perhaps the account is told differently to represent different approaches of the Gospel writers. Matthew, interested in the authority of the King, told the story as a power encounter between two people of authority. Luke, interested in unity between races, told the story as two people groups getting along to accomplish something great. But in both accounts a Roman soldier showed amazing faith.
The Desperation of Amazing Faith
Whether or not the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5–7) and the Sermon on the Plain (Luke 6:17-49) are the same sermon, both Gospel writers use the same rhetorical device to indicate that the sermon was over: When Jesus had finished saying . . . (Matthew 7:28; Luke 7:1), and they both indicate that this event took place in Capernaum.
The centurion (Roman soldier who oversaw 100 men) had a servant who was at death’s door. The servant was valued highly by the centurion, perhaps indicating that he was treated like a family member. We are not told the nature of the sickness. The centurion heard of Jesus and maybe heard that Jesus was near his base camp of operations, Capernaum. The centurion made his request through his Jewish friends. This is a noteworthy thing—Jews speaking well of their Roman oppressors. This attests to the centurion’s character. (The man had expressed his love for the nation by building them a synagogue.) The centurion wanted Jesus to come and heal his servant. The word heal means “to save through.” Part of salvation is that the sick are made well. Jesus was moved by the centurion’s request but perhaps was just as moved by the solidarity between the Jews and the Gentiles in making the request. So Jesus went with them.
Probably all of us would love to think that our reason drives our faith. Yet in reality, desperation often drives our faith. Maybe the centurion had exhausted his alternatives to help his servant. At any rate, he cared for his servant, so his desperation drove him to Jesus.
The Object of Amazing Faith
Faith is only as good as the object in which it is put. If the object is reliable then faith will prove true. The centurion had placed his faith in the best object—Jesus.
The centurion showed humility by stopping Jesus before he got to the house. Through his friends, the centurion said, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. Deserve and worthy are the same words in the Greek text. The centurion’s words here mean “not able”—he knew his place before a mighty God. The centurion also probed the depths of Jesus’ authority. One thing that the centurion knew from his military world was how lines of authority worked. He correctly understood that he was way over his head when he considered Jesus’ authority as God’s Son.
The Reward of Amazing Faith
Luke 7:9, 10
When Jesus heard this, he was amazed. The word amazed means to “marvel at” or “wonder.” Jesus was so amazed at the centurion’s faith that he drew attention to it and he granted the centurion’s request. Jesus told the crowd that he had not found this kind of faith in Israel. This was not the only time that Jesus commended a Gentile for amazing faith (Matthew 15:28). And it was one of three times that Jesus healed from a distance (Matthew 15:21-29; John 4:46-54).
What do you get for a God who has everything? You get him the one thing that he so desires—amazing faith.
Dr. Mark Scott teaches Preaching and New Testament at Ozark Christian College and has held preaching ministries in Missouri, Illinois, and Colorado.
Based on International Sunday School Lesson, © 2012, by the Lesson Committee. Scripture quotations are from the New International Version ©2011, unless otherwise indicated.