Devotion One—Centurion at Capernaum
In these four devotions we will look at the lives of the four centurions mentioned in the New Testament, and see what effect Jesus Christ had on each of them. What we shall ultimately see is the Power of the Cross.
Setting the Stage
The Army of Rome consisted of three types of soldiers: The Praetorian Guard (Caesar’s bodyguard), The Legionnaires (infantry soldiers and officers made up of citizens), and The Auxiliaries (non-citizen troops or what we call Mercenaries).
The backbone of the Roman army was the centurions. These men were legionnaires who worked their way up through the ranks and were promoted for their dedication, courage, and leadership skills. The position could be purchased or granted by a prominent friend or political leaders, but most were gained by merit of service.
The word centurion comes from the Latin word centuria or centum, meaning “one hundred.” To help us grasp the significance of his role, we need to understand the design of a Roman legion.
According to Smith’s Bible Dictionary a legion consisted of from 3,000 to 6,000 men. Each legion was further subdivided into cohorts, the cohorts into three maniples, and the maniples into two centuries of one hundred men each. There were sixty centuries in a legion, each under the command of a centurion.
The centurion received pay that amounted to more than twenty times the ordinary soldiers pay, about five thousand denari per year. Some centurions of higher rank and service received ten to twenty thousand denari per year. The common soldier received between two and three hundred denari per year. Thus we see that centurions were men of financial means and highly respected in their communities.
With this understanding in mind, let us look one at a time at the four centurions mentioned in the New Testament.
Centurion at Capernaum
Matthew 8:5-13; Luke 7:1-10
Jesus had finished his teaching in Luke 6:46 by asking the Jews, “Why do you call me Lord, Lord, and then do not do what I say.” The Jews were guilty of not recognizing Jesus’ authority.
Jesus is now on his way back to Capernaum where he will perform a miracle for a Gentile Centurion who does recognize his God given authority.
The two accounts of Jesus’ confrontation with the Centurion are portrayed in two different ways. Matt. 8:5 says, “When Jesus arrived in Capernaum, a Roman officer came and pleaded with him…” The account in Luke 7:3 says, “he sent some respected Jewish leaders to ask Jesus to come and heal his slave.” It doesn’t really matter whether the centurion goes to Jesus himself, or sends representatives, both were under Roman authority. What does matter is that the Centurion believed in Jesus’ power.
By sending Jewish leaders to Jesus on his behalf, the centurion was in keeping with the Old Testament economy. The fact that the Roman officer built a synagogue shows his desire to worship the God of the Jews. Being a gentile, he could not go into the Temple, but he could worship God in the synagogue.
The centurion shows his humility by putting himself under the authority of Jesus. He feels he is not worthy (Lk 7:6-7). The Jews on the other hand with their self-righteousness think they are worthy of God’s blessings.
The centurion being a man of authority knew that the word of Christ and his faith were sufficient to heal his servant. (Mt. 27:28-29)
What can we learn from the life experience of the Centurion at Capernaum?
(1) Belief in the authority of God’s word and the sovereignty of God brings results.
(2) True faith is demonstrated in a humble approach to God.
(3) Don’t be critical of a man because of his job.
(4) Rejection of God’s truth may bring replacement in God’s service. The Jews rejected Christ and were replaced. (Rom. 9-11)
(5) A man is a good leader when he is a good follower.
(6) Jesus doesn’t have to be present for healing to take place.