Throughout the Gospel of Luke, we see massive crowds of people continually astonished and amazed by the words and actions of Jesus. Then, in chapter 7 of Luke, we see the reverse happen – Jesus himself is amazed by the words and actions of someone. Only 2 places combined in all of the Gospels do we see Jesus “marveling” at anyone. One of those times is when Jesus marvels the unbelief and faithlessness of Israel as a whole. The other time is right here in Luke 7, when Jesus marvels at this one man, a Roman centurion. Considering the rarity of such an occasion, we should take a close look at this man and what led to Jesus’ amazement of him.
First, we should look at the whole story:
After he had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. Now a centurion had a servant who was sick and at the point of death, who was highly valued by him. When the centurion heard about Jesus, he sent to him elders of the Jews, asking him to come and heal his servant. And when they came to Jesus, they pleaded with him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy to have you do this for him, for he loves our nation, and he is the one who built us our synagogue.” And Jesus went with them. When he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends, saying to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. Therefore I did not presume to come to you. But say the word, and let my servant be healed. For I too am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me: and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard these things, he marveled at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” And when those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the servant well.
– Luke 7:1-10
So what was it about this man’s actions and words that caused the King of kings and Lord of lords, who performed miracle after miracle and spoke with unparalleled wisdom, to marvel at him? I have three suggestions.
1. Jesus marveled at his compassion.
Roman soldiers were hardly known for their compassion. They were more frequently known for their brutality, violence, and harshness. They also rarely got along with the people of Israel and in most cases, the animosity was mutual. But this centurion was unique – he cared enough for a lowly servant to seek out the help of a Jewish rabbi. The man “highly valued” this servant so much so that he asked the Jewish leaders for help asking Jesus for help. Most Roman centurions would not have asked anyone for help. But this man had deep compassion for even the lowliest of his household. As a man of unparalleled compassion, I believe Jesus admired this man’s compassion for his servant.
2. Jesus marveled at his humility.
The centurion asked the Jewish leaders to speak to Jesus on his behalf, but why? Why didn’t he go himself? Even when Jesus gets close to his home, the man still sends delegates out to deliver a message to Jesus. But why? Luke records that the message the centurion sent to Jesus was, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. Therefore I did not presume to come to you.”
Though the Jewish leaders begged Jesus to come with the reasoning, “He is worthy to have you do this for him”, the centurion recognized his unworthiness. He humbly confessed to Jesus that he realized that he wasn’t even worthy to stand in the same room is Jesus. He rightly grasped how great and mighty and holy Jesus was and understood that he was not worthy to stand in Jesus’ presence. It wasn’t because he was a patriot or a generous donor that Jesus marveled, it was because of his humility – his understanding of Jesus’ greatness and holiness and his own lowliness and unworthiness.
3. Jesus marveled at his faith in the authority of God’s word.
The centurion said, “For I too a man set under authority…” and explains how, as a Roman military leader that possessed authority, his mere words were enough to get soldiers and servants to do as he asked. As a man of authority, the centurion recognized Jesus’ unique authority as well. Though he was a Roman official and possessed political authority over Jesus, he rightly understood that Jesus possessed a similar, but much higher authoritative power than he. “But say the word, and let my servant be healed.” He knew that Jesus wielded unparalleled authority – that just as he commanded his soldiers and servants and they obeyed – in the same way, Jesus commanded demons and illnesses and they obeyed.
The centurion had complete faith that Jesus mere words were enough to heal his servant. Healings at the time were rare enough, but a long distance healing that didn’t require physical touch of any kind was truly rare. And yet, this man believed that all Jesus had to do was speak the words and his servant would be healed.
It was these three things, the centurion’s compassion, his humility, and his faith in the authority and power of God’s word that caused Jesus to marvel at him so much so that he turned to the crowd of people following him and said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” In other words, Jesus basically said, “Wow, I’ve been traveling all across this nation of people who have received my word and have been called by God into relationship with him and yet this man, a Roman official, is the one that astounds me. I have not seen faith like that in all of Israel.”
So what does it take for the King of kings to be amazed by someone? Compassion – a deep and unfiltered love for all, especially the lowliest of people. Humility – a right understanding of one’s own unworthiness to stand in presence of Jesus. And faith in the power and authority of God’s word – The belief that even though we are unworthy, that Jesus is compassionate enough and mighty enough to command obedience from diseases, demons, and even death.