Summary: I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel (Luke 7:9).
AMAZING FAITH OF A CENTURION
It is interesting to note that, in this busy little cameo, two of the main characters remain offstage throughout. In Luke’s record, the incident takes place immediately after the Sermon on the Plain (Luke 6:17-49). Jesus had said all He was going to say to the crowd for the time being, and withdrew to Capernaum (Luke 7:1).
It is at this point that we are introduced to a certain Roman centurion, and his bondman, both of whom are offstage. We are told two things about the bondman: one is that he was held in high honour by the centurion; the second is that he was sick, and about to die (Luke 7:2). This also tells us something about the centurion, because he was willing to speak up for a slave, a person who had no voice of his own in society (cf. Proverbs 31:8-9).
Having heard of Jesus, the centurion sent some Jewish elders to beseech Jesus to come and heal his bondman. Nothing is taken for granted, but neither is any effort spared. It is not for us to tell Jesus when and how He should act, but merely to lay out our problems before Him (Luke 7:3).
Given the later humility of the centurion (cf. Luke 7:6-7), it seems likely that the praise that the elders lavished upon their benefactor was not part of the original petition, but an addition of their own (Luke 7:4). The praise was deserved (Luke 7:5), but we must not make the mistake of thinking that good works are what get a person into heaven. This account has more to say about the faith of the centurion (cf. Ephesians 2:8-9), rather than the works which incidentally arose from his faith (cf. Ephesians 2:10).
Jesus was quite happy to go with the elders, but when He was not far from the house He received a second message from the centurion. This time the communication was carried by the centurion’s friends. It was a message of the deepest humility, the utmost faith, and the clearest understanding of the authority of Jesus (Luke 7:6-8).
The only other time we are told that Jesus was ‘amazed’ was when he wondered at the unbelief of His own people (Mark 6:5-6). Thus He turned to those now following Him, and marvelled, “I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel” (Luke 7:9). Might He say the same today of the Church, when faith and faithfulness are so rare (Luke 18:8)?
The man’s faith was repaid, as those who were sent returned to find the centurion’s servant healed (Luke 7:10). Sometimes those who are settled back on their lees, complacent in spirit, need to learn from those in the margins. Like this uninitiated adherent to the faith - who spoke up for one more marginalised than himself, and exercised great faith in doing so.