Hello Sunday school teachers, preachers, and students! Welcome to SundaySchoolPreacher.com. This centurion from the Roman Empire DESERVES a favor from Jesus. He loves the Jewish people, he’s kind to them, and he even built them a synagogue. If anyone deserves a favor from Jesus shouldn’t it be him? Well, that’s not exactly how things work with Jesus. As benevolent and kind and generous as this centurion may have been portrayed, Jesus is not a transactional Savior. You can’t expect God to move on your behalf based solely on your good deeds and good works. Kindness, humility, generosity, modesty, and meekness are all great virtues. But those virtues don’t move God on your behalf. If you want God to move on your behalf it will take faith. In this case the centurion knows faith can heal and he demonstrates humble faith. Faith was the key for this centurion and it’s the key for us today. Some of the ideas surrounding this week’s text include the terms:
The Gospel According to Luke is the third of the four Gospels. It is also the third of the three synoptic Gospels – Matthew, Mark, and Luke. The synoptic Gospels tell much of the same stories, use much of the same sources and tell those stories in much the same way. The Gospel according to John is not synoptic and tells somewhat different stories and tells them in a different way.
Nelson’s Bible Handbook notes that “the author does not identify himself by name, but he does tell us a good deal about himself.” Most people understand Luke to be a physician and a writer with excellent command of the Greek language. Nelson’s also notes that Luke was likely written sometime after the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 70 AD. Some scholars suggest it was written about 80 or 90 AD but neither the exact date nor the true author is known. Luke is also known as a Gospel written for the Gentiles. Nelson’s notes that “Luke is the most socially minded of the Gospels; in it Jesus blesses the poor, the hungry, those who weep, and the excluded (6:20-23).”
This seventh chapter of Luke begins with the story of Jesus healing a centurion’s servant. While the text calls him a servant I should note that the text is referring to the centurion’s slave. Additionally, this is the same story in Matthew 8:5-13. In the Matthew eight version the servant is referred to as a slave. Townsend Commentary explains that Matthew 8:6 describes the servant as “lying at home paralyzed, in terrible distress”.
While Townsend notes that “slaves in the New Testament period were not mistreated as a rule” Dr. Mitzi J. Smith explains in True to Our Native Land An African American New Testament Commentary that “slavery under Roman Empire was no different from other slave societies in the cruel and inhumane treatment of slaves.” She continues, “slave-owners regularly forced slaves and criminals to fight against gladiators and wild beasts in the arena and that even with legislation against cruel treatment of slaves it was the slave-owners who determined what was extreme cruelty.” The point is we should not think of New Testament enslavement as somehow more benevolent or less cruel than American chattel enslavement.
I should also note that this text provides an example of why translations matter. In verse two, the King James Version interprets the centurion’s sentiment toward his slave as a servant who was dear to him. The New Revised Standard Version interprets his sentiment toward the enslaved as someone the centurion valued highly. I think differently about something that is dear to me than I do about something that I value highly. Something that is dear to me is usually a person. Something that is valued highly is usually a thing, not a person.
In this text, the centurion is a Roman official. The Israelites are under the rule of an oppressive Roman Empire. Yet even in the midst of oppression this text highlights a supporter or patron among the oppressors. Townsend Commentary notes that “people often have faith in others based on their good reputation.” Clearly Jesus’s reputation preceded him in the case of this Roman Centurion both believing and acting on his belief in the authority of Jesus. The centurion knows that with Jesus faith can heal. Some important words to consider from this text include:
Review of Last Week and How it Connects to This Week.
Last week’s lesson was focused on the faithfulness of both the widow of Zarephath and Elijah the prophet. The lesson began at 1 Kings 17:8 with an often used phrase in the Old Testament. “The word of the LORD came to me”. This phrase indicates the reader should pay special attention because God is about to speak.
In verse nine the LORD told Elijah to go to Zarephath which was a city near Sidon on the Phoenician coast. The LORD told Elijah to live there because The LORD had commanded a widow who lived there to feed him. The NISB explains that “God sent Elijah among the Phoenicians, which was the center of Baal worship, to demonstrate that even in the land of Baal, the LORD was sovereign. In other words, God was sending Elijah away from the land of Israel into a foreign land. And ultimately God would show that the one true and living God was God outside Israel also.
I explained that it was important to note two things. First, the LORD had already commanded a widow to take care of Elijah. And secondly, the widow lived in the heart of Baal worship territory so she was likely not a worshiper of Elijah’s God. She probably worshiped Baal. I noted that Townsend Commentary explains that “the Old Testament portrays God as being particularly concerned for “the widow, the orphan, and the poor” – that is, the vulnerable and marginalized in society”. In chapter seventeen we saw God using a woman who most likely didn’t even know who the one true and living God was. But yet, God used this woman to show God’s sovereignty. I made that point that, God can use whomever God wants to use. God can deliver whomever God wants to deliver. And just because they don’t do religion the way you do religion doesn’t mean God doesn’t care for them.
In verse ten Elijah went to Zarephath. When he arrived the gate of the city the unnamed widow was there gathering sticks. Elijah asked her for a drink of water.
In verse eleven as she was going to get the water Elijah asked her for a morsel of bread.
In verse twelve the unnamed widow said “as the LORD your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of meal in a jar and a little oil in a jug”. Elijah had traveled all that distance, only to discover that this woman God commanded to feed him only had a handful of meal. She told Elijah that she was gathering a few sticks so she could go home, prepare her meal for herself and her son, and then eat it and die. This unnamed widow was in a terrible situation. She only had a handful of food left and she literally had no hope of living beyond her last meal. She had given up hope and had no one and nowhere to turn to for help. I noted that Townsend commentary explained that “the status of widows in ancient Israelite society was precarious. Having no inheritance rights and often in want of life’s necessities, the widow was exposed to harsh treatment and exploitation”.
In verse thirteen Elijah told her, don’t be afraid, go and do as you said, but first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, then make something for yourself and your son. It’s this verse that struck me as a powerful way to show Elijah’s faithfulness also. Elijah had to know that God would provide. What man in his right mind would dare ask a woman who is about to make her last meal for her only child to feed him first. This took faith on Elijah’s part. He had to know that God was going to take care of this woman and her son.
In verses fourteen and fifteen Elijah told the widow, “The LORD, the God of Israel says the jar of meal will not be emptied and the jug of oil will not fail until the LORD sends rain on the earth”. The unnamed widow did as Elijah said so that Elijah and her household ate for many days. This woman deserved every bit of credit due her for not just listening to the man of God but truly believing that God would be her provider. Can you imagine what your mother might have said to someone who told her to feed them first, when she knew all she had was a small handful of food? The faith of this unnamed widow was astounding. She really believed! She believed the man of God and she believed that God would take care of her and her son.
Verse sixteen closed the lesson helping us to know that God did provide. The jar of meal was not emptied; neither did the jug of oil fail according to the word of the LORD that Elijah spoke. The unnamed widow only had a handful of meal and a little oil. But God made her little bit last a long time. God multiplied her little to become much. Beloved that’s good news for us today. You might not have much in your own eyes, but what you do have God can use it and make it last.
Last week, both the widow of Zarephath and Elijah’s response to God’s faithfulness was demonstrated by their trust in God’s provision. They both had active faith and they were both blessed for faithfulness. God took Elijah to a foreign land among foreign people who worshiped a foreign god. But God’s sovereignty didn’t end at the borders of Israel. Even in Phoenicia God was sovereign and showed his power through a nameless widow by saving her life and the life of her son. This week we see a Roman Centurion who is a supporter to the Jewish people demonstrating both humility and faith. The centurion is a man who understands the power of authority. Despite his great authority over Roman soldiers and as a Roman official he recognizes the authority of Jesus to heal his valuable slave. Townsend and Boyd’s Commentaries title this week’s lesson “Faith Can Heal” Standard Commentary titles this week’s lesson “Humble Faith”. The scripture text comes from Luke 7:1-10.
What Takes Place in This Passage
Chapter 7 begins with Jesus having finished talking about loving your enemies, not judging or condemning others, and a parable about two foundations in chapter six. When Jesus finished these sayings he went into Capernaum. I should note that Capernaum is his home and where he begins his earthly ministry. Matthew fourth chapter explains that Jesus begins his ministry in Galilee. Matthew 4:12 reads
“Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. 13 He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14 so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled”
In chapter 6 of Luke Jesus calls his twelve disciples. He has now entered Capernaum and this will become his home.
Verse two explains that there is a centurion’s slave whom his master valued highly that was sick and about to die. A centurion was a Roman soldier responsible for one hundred men. That means he would have been an official of the Roman Empire and a man with substantial authority over the Jewish people and over his own soldiers. Dr. Mitzi J. Smith in True to Our Native Land An African American New Testament Commentary writes that “when the centurion describes his slave as “highly valued” (entimos), he refers to the slave’s socioeconomic value”. I highlight this detail because I think it’s important to dispel the myth that American chattel enslavement was worse than New Testament enslavement and vise-versa.
The Greek word used for slave (or servant in some translations) is doulos. The correct term is slave and is defined as a person who is legally owned by someone else and whose entire livelihood and purpose was determined by their master. Dr. Mitzi J. Smith also writes “the owner is eager for Jesus to heal his servant because of the loss of revenue resulting from the slave’s sickness and inactivity.” I should note that Townsend Commentary explains “centurions who appear in the New Testament are generally shown to be men of positive character”. As I noted in the Background section, an enslaved person in New Testament days would not have been treated any better than those enslaved in the American chattel system.
In verse three the centurion hears about Jesus and sends Jewish elders to ask Jesus to come and heal his slave. The reputation of Jesus precedes him. This centurion knew about Jesus before even meeting Jesus. The centurion already knows that Jesus has the authority and is capable of healing his valuable enslaved possession. Evidently the centurion has the clout or authority to send Jewish elders to Jesus on his behalf. In Matthew’s recollection of this story in Matthew the eighth chapter, the Centurion speaks directly to Jesus.
In verse four, when the Jewish elders come to Jesus they appealed to Jesus on behalf of the centurion. They wanted Jesus to know that the centurion was deserving of this miracle. I should note that this takes place in the early part of Jesus’ ministry. It was in chapter 6 that Jesus called his twelve disciples. Yet, his fame is already spreading. The Jews who come to Jesus evidently believe Jesus can heal the servant also.
Verse five explains why the Jewish elders believe the centurion deserves this miracle. They explain to Jesus “because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue”.
In verse six Jesus goes with the Jewish elders. When Jesus was not far from the centurion’s house the centurion sent friends to tell Jesus not to trouble himself, because he didn’t deserve to have Jesus under his roof. This centurion’s humility cannot be diminished. He is a man of authority. Yet he recognizes despite his own great authority, the authority of Jesus was far superior.
In verse seven the centurion explains that he didn’t come personally to Jesus because he didn’t see himself as worthy. And his next statement is what really sets the centurion apart. He says “but say the word, and my servant will be healed.” Not only is the centurion demonstrating humility, he is also demonstrating faith. This centurion believes in the power of Jesus. He believes faith can heal.
In verse eight the centurion explains the he is a man under authority with soldiers and servants that he can tell to go and come and to do and they will do what he tells them to do. The centurion wants Jesus to know that despite his own authority, he respects the authority of Jesus. Having faith is having confidence or trust in a person. I often pray that I’ve placed my faith, my trust, and my confidence in Jesus and Jesus alone. While this centurion might have been kind to the Jewish people his kindness was not what moved Jesus. Even though he may have been generous by having their synagogue built it wasn’t his generosity that moved Jesus. What moved Jesus was this centurion’s faith. This wasn’t wishful thinking. It was a deep conviction that Jesus was the man who could and would make his slave well. The centurion had an expectation that all Jesus needed to do was say the word.
In verse nine, after hearing this centurion’s faith, Jesus was amazed. Townsend notes that “this is one of two places in the gospels where Jesus is said to be amazed – here in Capernaum by faith and in Nazareth by unbelief (Luke 7:9; Mark 6:6).
Verse ten concludes the lesson helping us to know that Jesus did, in fact, heal the slave. When the men returned to the house they found the servant well. Jesus spoke the word and the slave was healed.
After being kind and generous to the Jewish people by building them a synagogue one might think the centurion would have thought himself worthy of a favor from Jesus. Yet he thinks himself unworthy of Jesus to even come under his roof. Humility, modesty, and meekness are virtues. They are in contrast to arrogance, conceit, and pride. The centurion demonstrated these admirable virtues in ways most people can only hope for. After all, he was a man of substantial authority, he was known to love the Jewish people, and he had even committed valuable resources to have the synagogue built. If anyone should deserve a favor shouldn’t it be him? But that’s the thing about Jesus. It’s not a transactional relationship. Jesus doesn’t do for us because he “owes us one”. What motivates God to move on our behalf is our faith. Faith can heal. This centurion had humble faith. Let’s strive to do likewise and live a life in humble submission to God’s purpose and direction for our lives.
Key Characters in the text
Jesus – Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah and according to the Christian church the incarnate second Person of the Trinity. He was crucified on a cross and raised from the dead by the power of God. His followers worship him and seek to obey his will.
Centurion – The commander of a “century” – one hundred soldiers, the smallest unit of the Roman army.
Gentile – A term used by Jews for one who is not Jewish by racial origin, In the Old Testament, “the nations” is used.
Slavery – A condition of involuntary servitude. While slavery was practiced during biblical times, the emergence of biblical principles and eventually Christian ethical views that recognized the evils of slavery as a social phenomenon have led to its condemnation in many countries.
Themes, Topics, Discussion, or Sermon Preparation Ideas
1. Virtues of an important man.
2. You deserve a favor.
1. Why does is matter that New Testament enslavement was not different than American chattel slavery?
2. The centurion was a Gentile. Is that an important detail in this story?
I saw this YouTube video of Nelson Mandela explaining the importance of humility. As my concluding thought I’ll leave a link to that video. It says what I wanted to say much better. After this video finishes check the description section or the comments section for a link to it.
Preview of Next Week’s Lesson
Next week’s lesson continues in the same chapter in the book of Luke. It skips down to the thirty-seventh verse and continues through the forty-eighth. Next week I discuss the very touching story of a woman who washes the feet of Jesus with her tears. The lesson is titled “Faith Saves”.
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