Exciting phrases, easy acronyms, and memorable lists formed from dense works of systematic theology can be helpful for the everyday Christian. While these reductions of God’s Word and His nature help us understand general frameworks, they are unable to help us understand everything the Bible teaches. It is one thing...
Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation.” Hebrews chapter 11, later labeled the “Hall of Faith,” goes on to describe many heroes of the faith.
Do you have faith like that of Abraham or Moses or Rahab? How about David, Samuel, and the prophets? Paul? Peter? Those heroes of faith, and many others, are our inspirations. They are also very tough acts to follow.
It might be encouraging to consider someone commended for faith greater than anyone in Israel. He’s not noted in Hebrews 11, but Jesus himself praised him for his faith.
Jesus Recognized Faith
Jesus always recognized great faith. He could see faith (Matthew 9:2), or the lack of faith. Would you like to have heard from Jesus, as his disciples sometimes heard, “Oh you of little faith” (Matthew 14:22-32)? Me neither.
On the other hand, it would have been wonderful to have heard, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith” (Matthew 8:10).
Jesus said those very words to a Roman centurion who had just asked him to heal his servant. Jesus had responded in the affirmative and had been prepared to go to the centurion’s house. But the centurion said, “…only say the word, and my servant will be healed.”
Jesus saw something in the centurion’s statement that showed faith greater than anyone in Israel. What was it?
The Faith of the Centurion
The centurion explained his reasoning. He said that he knew what it was like to have authority over another, and he knew that those under his authority did what he told them to do. He knew that Jesus had authority, too. In fact, he understood that Jesus had complete authority; therefore Jesus could speak his desire and it would be done. Such logic made perfect sense to the centurion – he simply believed it – and Jesus commended him for great faith.
In the gospel of Matthew this interaction is second in a group of three healings (Matthew 8). Jesus healed a man with leprosy, the centurion’s servant, and finally Peter’s mother. These healings demonstrated that Jesus had authority over disease, and they also showed that lepers, gentiles, and women, three categories of people who were not particularly welcome in Jewish religious fellowship, were worthy of healing and had a place in the kingdom of God.
The same incident is communicated in Luke 7:1-10, and there we learn a little more about the centurion. He was a man of great integrity, he loved Israel, he had helped the Jews build their temple, and the Jewish elders thought him worthy. That was saying quite a lot for a Roman centurion.
I wonder what the centurion knew about the faith? We’re only told that he was a man who respected Judaism and had heard of Jesus. That’s it. He probably had not read the Jewish scriptures, and he probably didn’t know the fine points about either Judaism or Jesus.
But he apparently knew Jesus was God. He simply believed that Jesus had the power to heal his beloved servant.
Faith-Building Applications For Us
I hope you are encouraged by this interaction between Jesus and the centurion, for it speaks faith-building truth to all of us.
The centurion applied what he knew and could understand from his own experience to Jesus’ ministry. It made sense to him that there was no need for Jesus to come to his house. And Jesus commended him for unmatched faith in Israel, so much so that he marveled at the faith of a centurion.
It is possible to have great faith, and even to have Jesus commend you, if you simply believe. In the 21st Century with its emphasis on knowledge, technology, and celebrity, we might think we must be a well-known biblical scholar to have great faith.
Marvelous faith, according to this exchange, is much simpler. Just believe.
The centurion’s simple faith can also be inspiring for those who spend their lives studying the Bible. When getting drowned by details of the Bible or toiling over theological tough spots, it is refreshing to read this interaction and see that the centurion simply believed. In the end that’s all that matters.
The centurion’s story is a beautiful example of simple and honest faith. Jesus marveled at it. We don’t know the rest of his story, but I hope this man’s encounter with Jesus was a spark that led him to learn more about God’s Son.
Faith is never intended to be static.
We, too, have all that we need to know Jesus, and therefore, to show marvelous faith. Simple belief, taking Jesus at his Word, is commendable.