The Centurion and His Servant
Francis Bourdillon, 1864
"Now when He had ended all His sayings in the audience of the people, He entered into Capernaum. And a certain centurion's servant, who was dear unto him, was sick, and ready to die. And when he heard of Jesus, he sent to Him the elders of the Jews, pleading with Him that He would come and heal his servant. And when they came to Jesus, they begged Him earnestly, saying that he was worthy for whom He should do this: "For he loves our nation, and he has built us a synagogue."
Then Jesus went with them. And when He was now not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to Him, saying unto Him, "Lord, do not trouble Yourself — for I am not worthy that You should enter under my roof. Therefore I did not even think myself worthy to come unto You — but only say a word, and my servant shall be healed. For I also am a man set under authority, having under me soldiers, and I say unto 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 turned Him around and said unto the people that followed Him, "I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel." And those who were sent, returning to the house, found the servant well that had been sick."
This man was an officer in the Roman army, what we would call a captain. Doubtless he had been born a heathen man. But it so happened that he was sent to the land of the Jews, just as our soldiers are sent to India or to Canada; and it seems that at the time of his servant's illness he had been a long while stationed in that country. It was a happy thing for him, for there he learned to know the one true God. If he had remained at Rome, he might perhaps never have heard of Him.
Many men in our army have reason to bless God that ever they were sent abroad. Many a young officer and soldier who never thought of religion at home, has been brought to a better mind in a foreign land. Many have come back quite changed — and many have died abroad happy in Christ. Some sermon, some reading, some conversation, some event — has been blessed by God to the soul, and the careless and sinful have turned to Him.
It is God who appoints our lot. It is He who causes this means or that means to work good to our souls.
It looks well for both, that the officer was so anxious about his servant. He "was dear unto him," and now that he was ill and ready to die, this kind master was full of sorrow; he could hardly have cared more for his own son. How wise it was of him to seek help of Jesus! Perhaps his knowledge was but small. He did not fully understand who and what Jesus was. But he had heard of many wonderful things done by Him, and he believed that He was both good and great. So he sent to ask His help.
The wisest and kindest thing we can do for those whom we love, when they are sick — is to seek God's help for them. All that can be done by medicine we must do — for this is the means which God has given us to use; but all should be done in a spirit of prayer.
True prayer is never lost. None can tell how often it may be "the prayer of faith" that has saved the sick and raised him again to health and strength (James 5:15). And even if health is not restored — still the prayer was heard, and the answer is given perhaps in blessings more precious still — in inward light and peace, in the presence of the Spirit, in an increase of faith in Christ, in the drawing of the heart upward to God and to Heaven.
But though he sought the help of Jesus — yet the centurion was too humble to go to Him himself, and thought himself unworthy that Jesus should even enter his house. He, a poor ignorant man, brought up in heathen darkness, guilty doubtless of many sins in his past life, and only lately brought to some knowledge of God — how should he presume to venture into the Savior's presence? He sent friends therefore, to beseech Jesus for him.
We cannot but admire his humility. Yet he might have gone himself. Jesus would have received him kindly. How happy are we that we may approach Jesus continually in prayer! We need no fellow-creature to be our Mediator with Him. He Himself is our Mediator with the Father. In all our distress and anxiety, for ourselves or for others, we may go straight to our Savior, our best and greatest friend — and tell Him all and seek His help. Like the centurion, we should feel our deep unworthiness; yet we may thankfully believe that, unworthy as we are — our Savior will hear and bless us.
If we admire his humility — we are yet more struck with his faith. Even our Lord Himself "marveled at him." Accustomed as He was to meet with no faith at all in most people, and with but weak faith even in His disciples — He marveled at the clear, strong faith which this Roman captain showed. "Only say a word," said he, "and my servant shall be healed."
So he believed. Not a doubt was in his mind. Let Jesus but speak — and without the use of means, without His even seeing the servant or entering the house where he was — the centurion felt sure that his servant would be made well. Then he went on to explain the faith that he felt, by a simple and beautiful fact: "I also am a man set under authority, having under me soldiers, and I say unto one, 'Go,' and he goes; and to another, 'Come,' and he comes; and to my servant, 'Do this,' and he does it."
He himself, though an officer, was subject to his superior officers, and was accustomed to obey their orders. His soldiers did the same toward him. He had but to give directions, and they were instantly obeyed. His word was enough. So, he believed, was his servant's disease completely subject to Christ.
"Only say a word, and my servant shall be healed." At His word, the powers of nature would be obedient — disease would flee, and the sick would be made well. The centurion had no more doubt of this, than that his own soldiers would do what he should order them to do. His faith was as great as his humility.
True faith and true humility are generally found together. It is when we lay aside all dependence on ourselves, and humble ourselves before God, and confess our utter unworthiness — it is then that there is room for the exercise of faith in the merits of Jesus. Then we can take comfort in what Jesus Christ has done for us; then we are led to place our whole trust in our Savior.
It is not humility, but a self-righteous pride — which keeps so many from a full belief in the promises of God in Christ. They are still looking for some worthiness in themselves; and they will not believe that they may cast themselves, all undeserving as they are, upon the merits of Christ.
The centurion did not seek Jesus in vain. Matthew gives us our Lord's answer to him: "Go your way; and as you have believed, so be it done unto you" (Matthew 8:13).
And so it was done. "His servant was healed in the same hour." "Those who were sent, returning to the house, found the servant well that had been sick." Just as the centurion believed, by a word, and almost with out a word — Jesus had wrought this mighty work. According to his faith — it was done unto him.
How much we lose by not going to Jesus in times of trouble! How much, by weakness of faith! "As you have believed" — that was the measure of our Lord's blessing. If this man had believed less — would he not have received less? If our faith were stronger — would not our prayers bring down a richer blessing?
We cannot seek Jesus too humbly — for we deserve nothing. We cannot place too full a trust in Him — for He is the helper of the helpless, the Savior of the lost, and will never cast out those who come to Him. For body and for soul, for ourselves and for our friends, in every need and trouble — it is our wisdom and our happiness to seek our Savior in humble and undoubting faith.