By Pastor Lee Hemen
May 22, 2008
When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help. (Matthew 8:5)
According to the historian Stephen E. Ambrose, General Douglas MacArthur was a good officer and a fine soldier that did not ask his men to do anything he was not willing to do himself. However, he was also known as a prima donna and often referred to himself in the first person. Meanwhile, Dwight Eisenhower was a quiet, confident officer that got things done and was willing to make the tough decisions and stick to them. Sometimes, to the point of irritating those around him. He followed orders and expected others to do the same, including someone like a General Patton or Montgomery where both had to be reigned in from time to time. In April 1951, MacArthur’s habitual disregard of his superiors, especially President Truman, got him relieved him of command. When he came back to the United Sates he brazenly addressed Congress and made his famous quote that recalled: “Old soldiers never die; they just fade away.” “And like the old soldier of that ballad, I now close my military career and just fade away — an old soldier who tried to do his duty as God gave him the light to see that duty. Good-bye.” He was grandiose to the last. Was he a good soldier?
Here in Matthew’s gospel we read a wonderful depiction of a good solider that is confronted with several different choices. Most centurions commanded a century of 80 men. Ordinary century commanders would be equivalent to modern day army lieutenants or captains. Senior centurions would be equivalent to lieutenant colonels and a Primus Pilus would be considered equivalent of a colonel. They could often be merciless in their training of lowly legionnaires, and were known for dealing out brutal punishments or great rewards. While the Roman army was known for these harsh conditions, it paid off during battle when strict order and discipline could decide the outcome. This often allowed the Legions to succeed in battles where they faced a numerically superior army.
We find this military commander, who usually ordered men to do what he desired, humbly coming to Jesus, a Jew, on the behalf of a servant. (Wait! Read that again slowly.) Did you understand the impact of it? Evidently his servant was “at home paralyzed and in terrible suffering.” Before this Roman officer could speak further, however, Jesus responds that He is willing to go and heal the man for him. Jesus immediately saw in this soldier’s actions a willingness to do what was necessary, including disregarding his own status and rank to make sure that someone under his supervision was taken care of. This should give us pause. How many of us would go out of our way for a fellow co-worker, a classmate, a neighbor, or even a family member we do not truly care about? Yet, here we find a Roman soldier, a hated Roman soldier, an arrogant conqueror asking the conquered for help for a slave. His response to Jesus’ willingness literally astonishes Jesus. Can you imagine astonishing the Lord? No one else in all of Scripture astonishes Jesus, but this soldier did! This centurion replies, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For 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.” (Matthew 8:8-9) Wow…!
What astonished Jesus was this Roman soldier’s “great faith.” In fact, Jesus had not experienced this kind of faith with any of His fellow Israelites, nor His own disciples! Those who should have come humbly to Him were arrogantly rejecting their own Messiah, but here was a hated Roman conqueror humbly coming to the king of Kings asking for help. Can you picture it? Can you grasp the drama and the truth of this passage? Today, dear child of the King, are you so caught up in your own arrogance that you cannot humble yourself to go to Jesus? What kind of soldier are you? Do you love to give orders but reject going to the one who is truly in control? This soldier understood Jesus’ authority, do you? Be careful if you say that you do because that means you are willing to allow Jesus to tell you to “just say the word” and when He says “go,” you will go, and when He says “come,” you will immediately come! How humble are you in the ranks of the Lord? What kind of soldier are you?
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