My kids want the same thing that politicians want. They use their force of being and cuteness to try and make me look past their grabs for it. I have authority over my kids, and they want to exercise it over me and each other.
There are few days that go by that I do not have to tell my oldest, “You are not the boss of your brother.” She wants to tell her younger brother what to do, and tends to chime in with, “You shouldn’t do that,” or, “You didn’t listen to Daddy,” when my wife or I are disciplining him. It trickles down to him, too, when he orders around his little sister. And our littlest, despite only being two, tries to tell the other two and my wife and I what to do when she doesn’t get what she wants.
Those who don’t have power want power, it is inherent in human nature to crave dominion and authority over other things. God created this desire good (Genesis 1:28; Genesis 9:1-3). Authority is ultimately an image of our Creator (Imago Dei) and is a reflection of the hierarchy found in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This was not a domineering authority, but one of mutual submission, mutual love, and mutual honor. The mandate from God in the Garden of Eden to exact dominion was a great responsibility and in the wise words of Ben Parker, “With great power comes great responsibility.”
Unfortunately, the Fall led to this good desire being re-purposed into an idol (Genesis 11) and has caused untold suffering and human strife. Sin has twisted our responsibility to care for creation and for each other and has lead to death, decay, tyranny, extinction, genocide, rape, deforestation, and a host of other ills. We’ve taken our God-given authority and replaced it with a man-made desire to hold the authority, both in our own lives and in the lives of others. Sin has caused both the moral decay of the human soul and the physical decay of creation.
Fast forward a long time from the Garden to one man who held lots of authority. In this story we do not know his name, but that he is a centurion in the Roman Army stationed in Capernaum. As a military leader of one hundred men he held substantial power and sway over a lot of people, even the locals, as evidenced by being a major benefactor to the city’s Jewish population (Luke 7:5). He had power that stemmed from civic authority, martial authority, and financial capital.
Two things that he did not have power over are death and sickness. In his house a servant he highly valued had become very sick and was at the point of death (Luke 7:2). There was no army tactic or civil edict he could give to return this servant from the point of death, but he had heard of one who had been demonstrating great power and preaching the kingdom of God. That man was Jesus of Nazareth, and he happened to be in town!
Showing his continual clout he sent elders of the town, from the local synagogue, to find Jesus with directions from the centurion to have Jesus come and heal his servant. They begged and pleaded on behalf of the centurion, pointing to his benevolence towards God’s people and love for the Jewish nation. Jesus agrees to go and follows the Jewish elders towards the house of the centurion where his servant lay sick and dying.
On his way, the centurion sends friends out to Jesus and the elders and this is the message they bring from the powerful centurion:
“Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. Therefore I did not presume to come to you. But say the word, and let my servant be healed. For I too am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me: and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he does; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” (Luke 7:6-8)
Jesus, in response, is absolutely blown away. He responds to the centurion’s response with:
“I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” (Luke 7:9)
The centurion’s friends are sent back to him and by the time they return the servant is fully healed! The faith of the centurion causes to Jesus to marvel, and his faith made his servant well. Such faith was said not even to be found among those in Israel! That is a shocking statement coming from the messiah of the Jewish people and his statement is a foreshadow of what the Spirit will do to bring the gospel to Gentiles through the ministry of Paul.
The centurion recognized Jesus’ authority, having heard from others that he had been demonstrating power over death and disease, and instead of trying to prove his own power, he appeals to their commonality and he humbles himself before the superior authority of Jesus. It is less remarkable that a Gentile asked the Hebrew Messiah for help (although that is remarkable), and much more astounding that a man of power such as a Roman centurion would condescend before a Galilean peasant and Rabbi and confess that Jesus’ authority comes from a greater source than the Roman Ceaser, but from God himself!
“There is not one square inch in all of human life of which Christ, who is sovereign over all, does not cry, ‘Mine!”
This story from Luke powerfully illustrates how we as believers, in Christ, approach him. Jesus’ commends the faith of this centurion because his faith is one of a humble recognition of Jesus’ authority over all things! That is the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ! We are not in control, God is in control, and faith is a humble recognition of God’s position of authority over not just our souls but all created things. As Abraham Kuyper said, “There is not one square inch in all of human life of which Christ, who is sovereign over all, does not cry, ‘Mine!” The centurion’s faith is one we model because it preaches a message of God’s sovereign rule and reign over everything, from life to death, A to Z, to infinity.
Tucked into this story is the recognition that only one faithful person has shown this type of humility. He was the only one to exemplify the faith of the centurion perfectly, all the time. It was God himself, Jesus Christ, humbly laying down his authority to condescend into history and take on flesh and be one of us. Jesus Christ showed true, perfect humility by submitting to the authority of the Father and coming to proclaim the kingdom of God and ultimately die on the cross for the penalty of our sins and rising again victorious over Satan, sin, death, and Hell, so that we can experience life with Him.
We can live out the faith of the centurion, but his humble faith ultimately points us to Jesus, the one who exemplifies perfectly humble, perfectly submitting faith to the Father.