Calvary Road Baptist Church

“THE CENTURION’S SALVATION”

Matthew 8.5-13; Luke 7.1-10

 

Last week I preached to you about the faith of the Roman centurion. His faith was displayed and commended by our Lord in connection with the healing of his servant in Capernaum. This morning I would like to direct your attention to the same passages we read last week, Matthew 8.5-13 and Luke 7.1-10. Turn in your Bible to both passages, and read along with me:

 

5      And when Jesus was entered into Capernaum, there came unto him a centurion, beseeching him,

6      And saying, Lord, my servant lieth at home sick of the palsy, grievously tormented.

7      And Jesus saith unto him, I will come and heal him.

8      The centurion answered and said, Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof: but speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed.

9      For I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me: and I say to this man, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it.

10     When Jesus heard it, he marvelled, and said to them that followed, Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel.

11     And I say unto you, That many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven.

12     But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

13     And Jesus said unto the centurion, Go thy way; and as thou hast believed, so be it done unto thee. And his servant was healed in the selfsame hour.

 

1      Now when he had ended all his sayings in the audience of the people, he entered into Capernaum.

2      And a certain centurion’s servant, who was dear unto him, was sick, and ready to die.

3      And when he heard of Jesus, he sent unto him the elders of the Jews, beseeching him that he would come and heal his servant.

4      And when they came to Jesus, they besought him instantly, saying, That he was worthy for whom he should do this:

5      For he loveth our nation, and he hath built us a synagogue.

6      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, trouble not thyself: for I am not worthy that thou shouldest enter under my roof:

7      Wherefore neither thought I myself worthy to come unto thee: but say in a word, and my servant shall be healed.

8      For I also am a man set under authority, having under me soldiers, and I say unto one, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it.

9      When Jesus heard these things, he marvelled at him, and turned him about, and said unto the people that followed him, I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel.

10     And they that were sent, returning to the house, found the servant whole that had been sick.

 

I am persuaded these two accounts of the Roman centurion’s great faith are not accounts of his conversion to Jesus Christ. These two passages do not, in my opinion, record for us how an unsaved Roman soldier came to faith in Christ. Rather, these two passages clearly recount to us the circumstances surrounding the healing of this centurion’s servant, and his great faith in Jesus Christ as a believer. To the best of my understanding, the actual salvation of this Roman centurion is not recorded anywhere in God’s Word. Why not, you ask? Because, except for minor superficial details of circumstance, this centurion was saved the way everyone else is saved. You see, my friend, there is only one way to be saved.

 

First, THERE MUST BE LAW

 

To be sure, the Law of Moses was given only to the children of Israel gathered at the foot of Mount Sinai under the leadership of Moses, and to those generations that followed after them. We “know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law,” Romans 3.19. But just because the Law was given only to the children of Israel, is no indication the Law was only given for the children of Israel. After all, Romans 3.19 concludes with these words: “that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.” Thus, though the Law was given to a specific people, the Law was given for everyone to benefit from. All may benefit from the Law, because “the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good,” Romans 7.12. Additionally, Paul told Timothy, “But we know that the law is good, if a man use it lawfully,” First Timothy 1.8. Just because the Adventists use the Law wrongly does not mean the Law is of no use.

If the Law is good, how is it good? Of what benefit is the Law to such a man as the Roman centurion, who was a Gentile to whom the Law was not given? Romans 3.20 tells us, “by the law is the knowledge of sin.” In Romans 7.7, Paul adds a word of personal testimony: “I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.” Thus, it is not at all difficult to imagine the impact of the Law on the Roman centurion in showing him his sinfulness in the sight of God.

Imagine some things likely true about the subject of our consideration this morning. He was likely born a Roman to parents who lived in the city of Rome or in its vicinity. It could also be that he was born in a city like Philippi, whose inhabitants were all Roman citizens. In either case, our centurion was certainly born into a family of idolaters, who worshipped many gods in the halfhearted and perfunctory way of virtually all Romans. Being a Roman centurion, comparable to a captain in our Army or Marine Corps, most certainly meant he was a single man. Marriage was forbidden while serving out the thirty-year term of service required to be a member of the Imperial Roman army. If he was like most centurions, he had concubines, and may even have sired a number of children. The cities of the Decapolis, one of which we will visit when we tour Israel, were mostly populated by retired Roman soldiers. You see, the Roman Empire wanted their soldiers to make babies throughout the empire by the subjugated women they came into contact with, so that a generation of half-breeds would grow up with loyalties that leaned in Rome’s direction. Most cultures still have serious issues with children whose fathers serve in occupying forces, being deeply suspicious of their loyalties. However, whenever there was exposure to Jews and their synagogues, there were always some Romans who were curious. They admired the Jews’ religion and family life, and came to accept Judaism’s explanation of creation and the spiritual condition of man as being sensible and reasonable. The Jewish view of the universe was of a creation that is orderly, and that is governed by one sovereign God, while the polytheistic culture of Rome was one of marital and moral anarchy, that looked at the universe as being the confusing consequence of spiritual anarchy. One God, who is holy, who is personal, and who is powerful? How intriguing to the Roman mind. And how true. Truth always has its appeal. Thus, it is likely the Roman centurion had visited Greek speaking synagogues at some point, and there came under the tutelage of the Law of Moses, with its certainties and spiritual absolutes. It would be under such circumstances that he would come to see his entire life as a constant campaign of sinning against a holy God. Our centurion was obviously a man of means, perhaps coming from a rich family, or having acquired wealth by skimming some of the tax money collected by the publicans. However he got his fortune, he did have the money to pay for the construction of the synagogue in Capernaum. The Jewish elders were very happy about that, and when we tour Israel, we will see the remnants of that very synagogue in what is left of Capernaum.

Therefore, the centurion’s exposure to the Law of Moses would certainly have a dramatic effect on him. As an idolater, he would see from the Law that he had violated the first commandment. Bowing down to statues and burning incense to Caesar, he was guilty of violating the second commandment. Being a soldier, and guilty of the profanity that generally comes with that style of life, he was guilty of taking the Lord’s name in vain, violating the third commandment. Do you think he observed the Sabbath to keep it holy? Neither do I. Thus, he violated the fourth commandment. The fifth commandment has to do with honoring his father and mother. He could not have fulfilled that requirement if he was anything like a typical Roman. The sixth commandment says, “Thou shalt not kill.” However, this is a Roman centurion. Do you think he is guilty of violating this commandment? The seventh commandment forbids adultery, which technically means cheating on your spouse, which he could not have done since he was not married. However, the spirit of the command is the requirement to maintain sexual purity, which this professional soldier most certainly did not do. How about the prohibition against stealing? Do you think this officer in an occupying army ever took what was not his in the days before looting was considered taboo? Of course, he had stolen and violated the eighth commandment. Had he ever lied? Excuse me, but Rome was an empire built on pragmatism, with everyone cutting corners, hedging, and lying to get ahead. Of course, he broke the ninth commandment. Finally, there is the prohibition against coveting, wanting what someone else has. Would our centurion have violated all the other commands and given any thought to obeying the last of the ten? No. Therefore, you see, it was when he was exposed to the Law that he first came to see himself as a sinner, defiant, and opposed to the rule of the holy God in his life.

You may excuse yourself as being not nearly as bad as the centurion must have been. However, keep in mind what James 2.10 declares: “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.” If you have ever committed even one sin, you are just as guilty in the sight of God as this Roman centurion was.

We must be warned against adopting a mechanical approach to God’s dealings with sinners, as though all that is required is for someone to hear the “Thou Shalt Not’s” of the Law to know he is a sinner, in order for him to a realize the implications of his sinfulness. That is certainly not the case. The Lord Jesus Christ clearly pointed out that it is the ministry of the Holy Spirit of God to persuade men of their sinfulness and of the judgment that awaits them for their sinfulness.[1] However, the Holy Spirit makes use of means to accomplish His work in the heart of a sinner, and there will be no convincing any sinner of his sinfulness in the sight of God until that sinner has been exposed to God’s Law.

This truth is frequently ignored in our modern day by preachers who are afraid of preaching against sins, but it is a crucial necessity for real conversions to Christ. Jesus, you see, saves people from their sins, Matthew 1.21. However, where is the real need for a real Savior unless there is a realization of sin? Thus, you see, the absolute necessity of the Law.

 

Next, THERE MUST BE GOSPEL

 

I get ahead of myself a little, but there is little evidence these days suggesting preachers recognize that Law work must precede a presentation of the Gospel. A sinner must know he is lost before he develops any interest at all in being found. Did not Jesus say about Himself, “The Son of man is come to seek and to save that which is lost”?[2] Jesus Christ only saves those who are lost, and who know they are lost. The reason for this is because sinners who do not know they are sinners, who have no comprehension of the depths of their depravity and the heinousness of their crimes against God, do not see themselves as being in trouble, do not see that they have lost their way. No one who does not think he is lost is interested in being found, is he?

I learned as a lifeguard at a big vacation resort that swimmers were typically offended by my offers to help them until they came to the conclusion they were drowning. I usually knew they were drowning before they did, but they had no interest in a lifeguard’s help until they knew they were doomed without my help. So it is with a sinner and the Savior. The Law shows a man his hopeless situation as a lost sinner.

Getting back to our centurion. The exposure we know he had to Jewish people, to the Law of Moses in synagogue worship on the Sabbath, would lead to an awareness of God, would lead to an awareness of God’s holiness, and would certainly lead to an awareness of his own sinfulness in God’s sight. Do not think Jewish rabbis would not preach very hard against violations of the Ten Commandments, especially with a Roman seated in the place reserved for Gentile guests.

Imagine this man being overcome with concern for his eternal and undying soul. Imagine him seeing himself as very small, indeed, in God’s vast universe, with God’s enormity, with great God’s power, and with God’s oversight of all things. Such attributes of God would especially affect a Roman, with his appreciation of immensity, of power, and sovereignty. He had committed sins his whole life, but now he recognizes that his sins are, in fact, crimes flagrantly committed against the Creator of all things. He is defiled and God is holy. What is he to do? Where is his remedy? How is he to escape the just and righteous judgment of his sins by this holy God of Israel?

At some point in this unfolding drama, God in His wise providence brings this centurion into contact with the gospel, with the good news that Jesus saves sinners from their sins. We do not know just how this happened. Perhaps the centurion was in the synagogue one Sabbath when Jesus visited. Perhaps he saw Jesus heal a man with a withered hand. Perhaps He heard Jesus teach as no other man taught, with authority. Perhaps the centurion was standing near the receipt of custom when Jesus called Levi to leave his collecting of taxes and follow Him, whereupon Levi became the apostle we know as Matthew, according Mark 2.14. It could also have been that he heard one of our Lord’s disciples preaching, since the Lord Jesus did send men out two by two on at least two different occasions.

Though we do not know the precise details of this man’s encounter with the gospel, we do know that he had an encounter of some kind. He heard someone, perhaps the Savior Himself, preach. It was by means of hearing preaching he came to have faith. Romans 10.17 declares, “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” That man, terribly convicted of his sinfulness in the sight of God, knowing full well that he was in a kind of trouble no one could rescue him from, heard the good news that though no one else could save him from his sins, Jesus could. And Jesus would. And Jesus did.

So, how did this Roman centurion come to be saved from his sins? As I said, though the superficial circumstances vary a great deal from person to person, what really happens under the surface is the same for everyone who is truly saved. It is by faith in Jesus Christ. Faith, you see, reaches out in a mysterious and spiritual way to latch on to Jesus Christ as the only Savior of sinful men’s souls. Therefore, though faith is crucial, it is not faith that saves. It is Jesus that saves.

 

We do not know precisely when the Roman centurion was saved from his sins. It could have been before or after he laid down the money to build that synagogue. Sometimes people give money before they are converted to Christ, and others give money after they come to Christ. Either way it happened, the centurion can be seen to be giving as a means of expressing gratitude for God doing something in his life, either by showing him he was sinful if he was generous before his conversion, or by saving his wretched soul if he was generous after his conversion. Whenever his actual conversion took place, it was before his manservant became ill, because he did not come to Jesus seeking his own salvation. Rather, he came to Jesus seeking the physical healing of his beloved servant, who may very well have been a believer himself. One more comment before we are dismissed. Romans soldiers of that day were conquerors of the known world. Though they were not as big in stature as most of their enemies were, they were extremely fierce and tough-minded. As a rule, they feared nothing, and knew their service to the empire was likely to end in a very violent and painful death. There is no indication this Roman centurion was any different in that respect from all the others. What do you think motivated such a warrior to become a Christian? Was he a sissy? Was he a wimp? Was he a gutless coward who could not measure up as a man?

How could such a man trust Jesus Christ, when everyone today knows that only sissies and wimps become Christians, and when Jesus Christ is portrayed by Hollyweird as an effeminate girlie man? That man committed the safekeeping of His soul to Jesus Christ because he was overwhelmed by the majesty, by the might, by the power, by the grace, by the goodness, by the mercy, and by the love of Jesus Christ. He was found trustworthy by this centurion. This should not surprise us. It was military officers who said, in John 7.46, “Never man spake like this man.” As well, in Matthew 27.54, the centurion who commanded the men who crucified our Lord Jesus Christ, who was witness to it all, and who had seen the three hours of darkness, felt the earthquake, and the fear on his men’s faces, said aloud, “Truly this was the Son of God.”

How foolish and ignorant I was as a 24-year-old man, for having concerns about Christianity being a threat to my manliness, and for Christians being generally wimpy. There are a great many these days who claim to be Christians who are sissies and wimps.

However, our Roman centurion, and many others whose courage and ferocity could not be questioned by anyone, knew Jesus Christ was no threat to anyone’s manhood. Jesus Christ both was and is the God Man, the Savior of sinful men’s souls. No man who is saved by this Man has regrets of any kind.



[1] John 16.8

[2] Luke 19.10




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pastor@calvaryroadbaptist.org