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Authority and Faith

Luke 7:1 -- 10

Note: the account differs somewhat between Matthew and Luke. There are various ways of harmonizing the two texts; this is not of concern in this particular study. Both passages are listed so that we may see all the details.

Matthew 8:5-13

Luke 7:1-10

And when Jesus entered Capernaum, a centurion came to Him, imploring Him, and saying, "Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, fearfully tormented." Jesus *said to him, "I will come and heal him." But the centurion said, "Lord, I am not worthy for You to come under my roof, but just say the word, and my servant will be healed. "For I also am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to this one, 'Go!' and he goes, and to another, 'Come!' and he comes, and to my slave, 'Do this!' and he does it." Now when Jesus heard this, He marveled and said to those who were following, "Truly I say to you, I have not found such great faith with anyone in Israel. "I say to you that many will come from east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven; but the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth." And Jesus said to the centurion, "Go; it shall be done for you as you have believed." And the servant was healed that very moment.



When He had completed all His discourse in the hearing of the people, He went to Capernaum. And a centurion's slave, who was highly regarded by him, was sick and about to die. When he heard about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders asking Him to come and save the life of his slave. When they came to Jesus, they earnestly implored Him, saying, "He is worthy for You to grant this to him; for he loves our nation and it was he who built us our synagogue." Now Jesus started on His way with them; and when He was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends, saying to Him, "Lord, do not trouble Yourself further, for I am not worthy for You to come under my roof; for this reason I did not even consider myself worthy to come to You, but just say the word, and my servant will be healed. "For I also am a man placed under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to this one, 'Go!' and he goes, and to another, 'Come!' and he comes, and to my slave, 'Do this!' and he does it." Now when Jesus heard this, He marveled at him, and turned and said to the crowd that was following Him, "I say to you, not even in Israel have I found such great faith." When those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave in good health.




There are a few things which are not familiar to us today which bear upon this story.

  • The servant (or slave) suffers from palsy. This description covered a number of diseases, but it would not be unfair to compare it with conditions like cerebral palsy.
  • Key to understanding the centurion’s behavior is this: for a devout Jew to enter into a gentile’s house is to become unclean. Even to touch a Gentile was held to make one unclean.
  • There was, at the time, a recognized class of God-fearing Gentiles. They did not become circumcised and convert, but honored, respected and followed the moral law found in the Old Testament.
  • Jesus, the Messiah, was sent to the house of Israel. In his adult ministry, he did not leave the boundaries of ancient Israel. For him to deal with a gentile would be thought very strange.

As noted above, the two passages appear to conflict if taken word for word. There are various harmonies; it is also possible that all the details of both accounts happened. More to the point, it’s not very important to our understanding.

The reaction of Christ

Only twice does Christ commend someone for great faith; here, and the episode of the Canaanite woman.[1] We can learn from this.

  • First, Christ marvels at his faith. We are accustomed to the idea that God knows everything, therefore Christ should never be surprised. Perhaps he wasn’t – but he was certainly impressed.
  • Next, he sets this man before us as an example of great faith. Therefore, the man’s character and actions are worthy of our time.
  • Finally, in Matthew’s account, he warns that those whose faith consists of lip service will not fare well in the Day of Judgment – especially when there are men like this centurion.

Let us look, therefore, at the elements of this man’s confidence in Christ.

Faith, humility and thoughtfulness


First, let us look directly at the type of faith this man had.

  • It is a faith of the mind. We are well acquainted with the type of preaching which proclaims that God wants your heart, therefore check your brain at the door. But this man’s faith is entirely intellectual; he has never met Christ in person. All he knows about him would come from the occasional person whom Jesus healed. No doctrine but the Old Testament would be known to him. It’s all in his head, no experience directly.
  • It is a faith buttressed by practice. This comes in two ways. First, he is in the habit of obedience, something now ignored (if not scorned). It is his lifestyle. So we see that he says “say the word” – because he understands what it is to take orders.

There is one word which gives away his entire thought process. He says, “For I also am a man placed under authority.” Do you see it? He knows that Jesus, the Christ, is a man placed under authority. Whose authority? No doubt: the God of the Old Testament. Once this conclusion is reached, the rest is logical and obvious.

One more thing: notice that it is the faith of the centurion which is being examined here – but the healing is for his servant. Often our prayers and petitions show more faith when we are interceding for others.


At first glance it might appear that this man is anything but humble. After all, he sent those Jewish elders, didn’t he? But remember this: he is a conqueror in a land which despises him. It is indeed unusual to build a synagogue for the Jews in those circumstances, but we can imagine political expediency in doing it. Herod was no angel, but he rebuilt the Temple. This man, however, has such a reputation among the local Jews that the elders of the synagogue come to Jesus. This is no doubt at his request, but see their approach. Knowing that Jesus (in their minds, a rabbi) is Jewish, they approach him on the grounds that “he is worthy.” He’s done us a lot of favors, he’s a good guy, please help him. Jesus readily agrees. Whether or not any of us are worthy is topic for discussion, but this man seems to be one for whom intercession could easily be made.

Next, however, he sends some friends to talk to the man. It sounds rather pompous to say that I’m not worthy to have you under my roof. Remember, however, that in these days providing hospitality to a traveler was considered an honor; the traveler selected my home above all others.

Just to make it clear, the man himself comes out to meet Jesus and repeats those words. Note one thing: he did not bring the servant out of the house to Jesus. Such is his confidence in Jesus, such is his humility, that he asks simply that the Man says the word.


We have already seen the man’s thoughtfulness in the building of the synagogue. Perhaps he was one who loved righteousness. But do you not also see it in his care for his servant? Slaves were throwaway people in those days. We may conclude from Christ’s remarks that the man’s interest in his slave was not purely one of avoiding financial loss. This, obviously, is a commander who cares for his men. Such men love greatly and are greatly loved.

We can also see his thoughtfulness for Jesus. He would spare this rabbi the distance to his home. More than that, he understood that Jesus would become unclean by entering his home, and he would spare him that. He is one who would not defile another man’s conscience. This is all the more touching in that Jesus’ first reaction is that he will go and heal the man. Even after the offer, even after Jesus is practically at his front door, his thoughtfulness and care for others are prominent.

Faithful, humble, thoughtful – a trio of virtues which would grace any man.

Faith and Authority

The fascinating thing about the account of the Canaanite woman is her humility; the fascinating thing here is the centurion’s grasp of authority and its relationship to faith. How is this grasp of authority related to faith?

Authority by human example

We need to understand a small bit of the nature of authority.

  • First, despite our “question authority” mentality, we live most of our lives by authority, We take the doctor’s authority in medical matters; we move over for the fire truck roaring to a fire. We take the very existence of, say, Bangladesh by authority (have you ever been there?) So authority is something quite common in our lives, in various forms.
  • Second, when used righteously and truthfully, authority is for our benefit. The doctor is for our healing, the fireman to rescue us, the policeman to eliminate the thieves and crooks.
  • Third, the proper response to authority is submission.[2] We are first to be obedient, second to be cooperative, third to be helpful and finally we are to make their task a joy.
  • If authority is to work correctly, it must match exactly with responsibility and power. If any of these is discordant, then things don’t work well.
  • All this must be tempered with the idea of stewardship – sinners are given stewardship and must give account of their actions. Only the sinless are given dominion.
The authority of Christ

It sounds a bit obvious, but the same can be said of the authority given Christ. First we must see that all authority begins with God the Father – it is his universe, he created it. But he has given that authority to Christ the Son.[3] Therefore we can apply those principles to the authority of Christ. His authority is completed; it is for our benefit (indeed, our salvation) and the proper response to it is submission.

This, I submit, is an example of the perfection of God, whom the theologians assure is the sum of all perfections. For in Christ is all authority, and in him is also all responsibility – he who is the sustainer of all things in heaven and on earth. To this end he has all power; thus this trio is shown in perfection. Our response is in obedience.

But do you not see that the perfection of faith must carry with it the perfection of obedience? The centurion understood this; he gave orders, he took orders, and things worked when the obedience to those orders was perfect. But our obedience is often far from perfect. Only those who believe, obey – but only those who obey, can believe.[4]

Levels of faith and obedience

I submit that faith, as it grows in Christians, goes through various stages. Here is one schema of such stages. See if you can place yourself anywhere in these:

  • There is grudging faith. God is out there, but of no particular importance to me. And by the way, he’s not doing a very good job of running the universe – because I’m not getting what I want. Every now and then I give him some advice, and call it prayer.
  • There is firehouse faith. The crisis has arrived, and suddenly I’m a real prayer warrior. I’m bargaining with God every step along the way: if you get me out of this, I’ll be sooooooo good. God is a little more real – but still not really part of my daily life.
  • There is dutiful faith. Usually found in those raised in the church, it tells me to be in church every Sunday, unless I’m someplace else. I pray regularly – before meals, in church, and for a sweet minute before bed.
  • There is open eyes faith. This is the faith of one who has seen what the Lord can and will do – and has begun to desire more of it. It’s a faith that wants “more for me.” But it’s also a faith that acknowledges that God plays a very necessary part in that. Interestingly, it’s a faith that also acknowledges the righteousness of God.
  • There is bicycle faith. Bicycle? Remember when you first learned to ride a bike? You were sure that it would tip over – but you found that when the wheels were turning, it stayed up. After a while, you came to depend on that fact and gave it no more thought. God becomes a spiritual bicycle: I don’t know how it works, but it does. So I pray every day, wondering what will happen next.
  • There is inside straight faith. Inside straight? Any poker player will tell you: never bet on an inside straight. This is the faith that says if God tells you to bet an inside straight, bet it and draw three. It’s the faith of one who knows that God will provide, trusts in that fact – and is constantly delighted with how God provided this time.

Our centurion had inside straight faith. He didn’t know how, but he knew that God would provide – all he wanted was for God to say the word.

[1] Matthew 15:22-28

[2] Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.

(Hebrews 13:17 NASB)

[3] Matthew 28:18

[4] Dietrich Bonhoeffer

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