We are the Centurions!

In the Roman army, a Centurion was a company commander, roughly the equivalent of a captain in the United States Army. He was not an armchair officer, but led his troops into battle, and in peacetime, was responsible for their training and well-being.

The qualities of the Centurion were not restricted to his fighting skills, as he was also calm in battle, not easily goaded into fights, would not give ground even if overwhelmed by superior force, and would die rather than abandon his post.

Being a Christian Centurion may seem to be an oxymoron. However, the Bible speaks well of centurions on three specific occasions.

Both Matthew and Luke tell the story of the centurion of faith. While returning home to Capernaum, Jesus meets a centurion’s servant, who he sent to ask him to heal another servant in the household. Even the Jewish leaders agree with this request saying that the man loved Israel and had built their local synagogue. As Jesus continues down the road, he actually encounters the centurion who repeats the plea. Jesus agrees and starts toward his home, but the centurion says to Jesus, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But say the word, and my servant will be healed.” Jesus is astonished and says, “I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith.” (Matthew 8:5-13; Luke 7:1-10)

This story is unusual, at best. Rome was the enemy of the Jews and no self-respecting Jew would enter the home of a Gentile. Yet, Jesus, while surrounded by synagogue leaders and his handpicked disciples, offers to go to the home of a centurion, heal his servant and praises the centurion’s faith as being greater than he had found in all of Israel.

Then on the cross, after Jesus declares his work is finished and gives up his spirit, the lone-recorded response was that of a centurion who had helped in the execution. He declares that Jesus was a righteous man and the Son of the Living God (Luke 26:46-48). Later, the Spirit leads Peter to Joppa and tells him in a dream that a centurion by the name of Cornelius would send for him. He was to enter his home and tell him the good news of Jesus. Peter reluctantly obeys and declares, “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right.” Cornelius and his household are saved. (Acts 10: 11).

Three Centurions: one commended for his great faith, one found on bended knee at the foot of the cross proclaiming Jesus to be the Son of God, and the last along with his family is saved by his faith. These three events make clear that the title “Christian Centurion” is not contradictory. But after one becomes a Christian, can one remain a Centurion, a soldier in the Roman army?

When John the Baptist commanded, “Repent, the Kingdom of God is at hand,” a group of soldiers asked him what God would have them do. He told them not to extort money or accuse people falsely and be content with their pay. Surely the Jewish crowd is shocked that neither Jesus nor John the Baptist told these soldiers to resign from the hated Roman army or quite their posts. (Luke 3:14)

What are we to glean from this? We are to be soldiers of the cross, combining all that is best in the military character of the Centurion – calm, wisdom, steadfast, loyal, courageous and trustworthy – protecting those who God has given into our care, while laying all that we are and all that we hope to be at the feet of Jesus, our Lord and our God. (II Timothy 2: 1-13)

It is this Roman Centurion, recognized in the ancient world as having courage and character that confessed his own sinfulness and laid everything down obediently at the feet of Jesus, who serves as the English Station and Rock Creek mascot. Before a watching world, we ask that God give us the strength and grace to be worthy of this name.