WHY DOES JESUS FIND the faith of the centurion so astonishing (Matt. 8:5-13)? The centurion assures Jesus that as far as he is concerned it is unnecessary for the Master to visit his home in order to heal the paralyzed servant. He understands that Jesus need only say the word, and the servant will be healed. “For,” the centurion explains, “I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it” (8:9). Why is this such an astonishing evidence of faith?
Three factors stand out. The first is that in an age of not a little superstition, the centurion believed that Jesus’ healing power did not lie in hocus-pocus, or even in his personal presence, but in his word. It was not necessary for Jesus to touch or handle the servant, or even be present; he needed only to say the word, and it would be done.
The second is that he came to such confident assertions despite the fact that he was not steeped in Scripture. He was a Gentile. What grasp of Scripture he had we cannot say, but it was certainly less than that enjoyed by many of the learned in Israel. Yet his faith was purer, simpler, more penetrating, more Christ-honoring than theirs.
The third astonishing element is this man’s faith is the analogy he draws. He recognizes that he himself is a man under authority, and therefore he has authority when he speaks in the context of that relationship. When he tells a Roman soldier under him to come or go or do something, he is not speaking merely as one man to another man. The centurion speaks with the authority of Caesar, with the authority of the mighty Roman Empire. That authority belongs to the centurion, not because he is in fact as powerful as Caesar in every dimension, but because he is a man under authority: the chain of command means that when the centurion speaks to the foot soldier, Rome speaks. Implicitly, the centurion is saying that he recognizes in Jesus an analogous relationship: Jesus so stands in relationship to God, and under God’s authority, that when Jesus speaks, God speaks. The centurion, of course, was not speaking within the framework of a mature Christian doctrine of Christ, but the eyes of faith had enabled him to penetrate very far indeed.
This is the faith we need. It trusts Jesus’ word, reflects a simple profundity, and believes that when Jesus speaks, God speaks.