Summary: Do you want to WOW the Lord Jesus? You need a Scriptural WORLDVIEW, a faith-inspired WORKS, and a faith-generated WORSHIP.
THE WOW FACTOR
Last Tuesday (March 21, 2006) the MC of American Idol asked one of the judges (Simon) what he is looking for from the contestants. He said that there are two things he is looking for: first, originality (how are you different?); and second, the WOW factor (he or she has to wow him and the audience).
A believer’s dream and desire is to “wow” the Savior. In this story Jesus is amazed at the centurion’s faith. He told the crowd that was following Him that He has not seen the kind of faith that the centurion has even among God’s people.
Studying the narrative, I found the following three amazing things in the life of the centurion.
First of all, the centurion is a gentile. During that time and in that corner of the world, there abounds racial tension. The Jews looked down at the gentiles. They even call them “dogs.” They shun them. They ridicule them. They don’t want to associate with them.
On the other hand, there is plenty of anti-Semitic sentiment among the gentiles even in that era. So, there is a seemingly unbridgeable racial divide. The Jews hate the gentiles and the gentiles hate the Jews. The feeling is mutual.
Secondly, the centurion is an officer of the Roman military. A centurion is a commander of a hundred soldiers. These soldiers maintain law and order in that locality. You can say that the centurion is the chief of police. But he represents the occupiers, the Romans. He is the embodiment of the hated enemy, the oppressor, the undesirable foreign element. A radical Jew will not hesitate to plunge a knife at the back of a Roman soldier if he finds one patrolling alone in the dark alley.
In this impossible situation, we find this intriguing man in our story. We find him strangely different from the “normal” person of that day. This man was able to bridge the seemingly insurmountable racial divide. No, he obliterated the social wall. He literally tore it down. It does not exist in his life. He accepted the people of this town. He became an adopted son of the city. He became one of them. He is fully integrated. This is undeniably seen in the testimony of the city elders (vv.3-5).
Let me point out first that the centurion respects the native culture. He asked the elders to speak to Jesus for Him. These elders testified that he loves the Jewish nation and he proves it by single-handedly building a synagogue for the city.
I would point out as a better illustration of his worldview his treatment of his slave (v.2). I believe that it is customary for the Romans to take the vanquished people as their slaves so this must be a Jew. But the centurion loves him as his very own. He considers him as a part of his family.
May I suggest a couple of applications for us. First, let us tear down the walls that we erected around us. Let us reach out to people who are different from us. Let us level the social and racial playing field. Let us respect the cultures of people around us. Only then will God’s love shine through us.
Another application is this: A believer must earn the right to be heard. He must first earn the trust of his intended audience before he can effectively proclaim his message. In the case of the centurion, the people (represented by their elders) themselves are the ones testifying for him. He does not need to speak for himself. He is the walking message.
It would have sufficed for the centurion to merely accept the religion of the Jews. They would have been immensely delighted just to see him attend worship once in a blue moon. But he did better than that. He put his money where his mouth is. He single-handedly built the synagogue. I don’t know if he used his one hundred soldiers to do the job. He could have. I don’t know if he personally funded it or if he solicited from others. What struck me was the fact that he saw the need and he acted on it. To me that is faith at work.
There is a story of man who operated a little rowboat for transporting passengers across a river. One day one of the passengers noticed that the good old man had carved on one oar the word "Faith" and on the other oar the word "Works." Out of curiosity he asked the old man for an explanation saying that he does not see any correlation between the two. The old man replied that he will do better than that. He will demonstrate the correlation of the two. So he proceeded to use only the oar called “Faith” and the boat just went in circles. Then, he dropped the Faith oar and proceeded to use the oar called “Works” and the boat went in circles just like the first time, only in the opposite direction. Then he took both oars and presto the boat sped swiftly to their destination. There is no need for explanation. Faith without action is dead.