Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Centurion's Faith

This morning's Sunday school lesson, from Luke 7...

A lot had happened in Israel since the days of the Kings in the Old Testament. Israel and Judah were both taken into captivity, and Judah was eventually allowed to return to their land. But it was never the same. By the time Jesus was born, Judea was a province of the Empire of Rome. The emperor Caesar ruled Rome, and he appointed governors to the provinces. The Roman army had generals called centurions. They were called that because they each commanded centuries of 100 soldiers. (In this case, a century is a group of soldiers, not a group of years.)

Le Centurion (The Centurion),
By French painter Jacques Tissot
Painted between 1886 and 1894
Brooklyn Museum

After Jesus was rejected in Nazareth, He traveled around the area, teaching and healing. During this time, He picked twelve men to teach and become His disciples: Simon Peter, Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Simon the Zealot, Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot.

Peter lived in Capernaum, and Jesus liked to hang out there a lot. Most of the people in Capernaum were Jews, but there were also people from other cultures who lived there, such as an important Roman centurion. Roman soldiers weren’t very nice to the Jews, and they made them pay taxes. In fact, John the Baptist had to tell the soldiers not to take more in taxes than they were required to take. The Jews hated most centurions, but this one was different. He actually cared for the people in the town, and he even built a synagogue for them! That’s pretty amazing since he probably worshipped Jupiter and the rest of the Roman gods at first. He was also unusual because he cared for his servants. He had a very important servant who was very sick, so sick in fact that he was getting close to dying. The centurion heard that Jesus had come to town, and he sent some Jewish elders to Jesus to ask Him to come quickly to help his servant.  When they found Jesus, they didn’t just ask Him to come…they begged Him! They told Him about how this guy had done so much for them, and he really cared. This was not just any Roman centurion.

Jesus followed them, but before He got to the house, the centurion sent some messengers to say, “Don’t bother coming. I sent others because I wasn’t worthy to come to You myself, and I’m not worthy for You to come to my house. But I know that You are very powerful. You can just say the word, and poof! My servant will be well. I am under authority myself, and I have authority over my soldiers and servants. I tell them ‘Come!’ or ‘Go!’ or ‘Do this!’, and they obey me.” The centurion understood that Jesus had authority that he didn’t have. No matter how much he ordered his servant to get better, it would be impossible. But Jesus had authority over the sickness, and He could command it to leave.

When the messengers passed on the word, Jesus stopped. He was amazed. This guy wasn’t even a Jew! He said, “Wow! I haven’t seen this much faith in all of Israel!”

When the messengers got back to the centurion’s house, they discovered that the servant, who had almost died, was well!

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