“But say the word, and let my servant be healed” (Luke 7:7)
The Romans haunt the pages of the New Testament. And every centurion mentioned was a man of character (see Matthew 27:54, Acts 10:1; 23:17; 22:26; 24:23; 27:43). In Luke’s story before us, this Roman ‘outsider’ - who loved the Jews - had built a synagogue for them in Capernaum (Luke 7:5). If you visit the shores of Lake Galilee today, you can still see the remains of that first-century synagogue – and into one of the slabs of stone is carved the eagle insignia of the Roman tenth legion! In that first century AD we can be sure that Jews would never normally have allowed any sign of an occupying power to decorate the holy walls of a synagogue - but with this particular, much-loved Roman …. well, a remarkable exception was made.
Matthew 8 records the centurion’s plea that Jesus come and heal his sick servant, but it is Luke’s account that fills out Matthew’s ‘compressed’ story by indicating that it was the friendly local Jews who physically ‘came’ to Jesus in the name of this modest man. Evidently the centurion felt not ‘worthy’ to come in person (v.7); it seems that he never actually met Jesus. He had only ‘heard’ of Him (v. 3). Here was faith - from a distance….
And healing resulted.
The centurion - himself a man of authority - had recognised, from what he had heard, that Jesus was a Man who was in command - of everything - and he acted accordingly. Never in Israel, said Jesus, had He met with such faith. Here is the only case in the Bible of a man who was able actually to surprise Jesus positively. Only in Matthew chapter 6 and verse 6 is Jesus recorded elsewhere as ‘marvelling’ - and then it was at the unbelief of people in his own home town of Nazareth.
Take it in. Here was a model test-case, a forerunner of many ‘outsiders’ from east and west who would one day sit at table in the kingdom of heaven - as Matthew interprets the story; people who have not seen and yet have believed!
We don’t even know the centurion’s name; we have to be content with just his ‘fingerprint’ on that slab of stone, in Capernaum’s historic ruins.