Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
July 16, 2017
1 After he had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. 2 Now a centurion had a servant who was sick and at the point of death, who was highly valued by him. 3 When the centurion heard about Jesus, he sent to him elders of the Jews, asking him to come and heal his servant. 4 And when they came to Jesus, they pleaded with him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy to have you do this for him, 5 for he loves our nation, and he is the one who built us our synagogue.” 6 And Jesus went with them. When he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends, saying to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. 7 Therefore I did not presume to come to you. But say the word, and let my servant be healed. 8 For I too am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me: and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” 9 When Jesus heard these things, he marveled at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” 10 And when those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the servant well.
— Luke 7:1-10, ESV
Our family was fortunate to be able to take a cruise this year on our summer vacation. We were among almost three thousand passengers with a crew of another thousand floating on the ocean for five days. Of all of the people responsible for our safety and well-being, two stood out: the captain and the cabin steward.
The captain of the ship was an Italian fellow with an Italian name who looked, well, very Italian. He was a tall, dark, and handsome, fit as a fiddle in his white uniform. I only caught a glimpse of him a couple of times in the dining room. I suppose he was busy for most of the cruise doing what captains do, commanding the crew and guiding the ship safely through its voyage. If you're going to go out on a boat and return safe and dry, you need a good captain.
But, if you are going to enjoy the journey, you need a good cabin steward. Ours was nicknamed Non, a short lady from the Philippines with a long name that I can neither pronounce nor spell. We saw her quite often coming in and out of our room. She called us by name, attended to our every need, kept our room spotless, and, yes, magically turned towels into a wide array of jungle animals.
Life is a journey, albeit seldom on a cruise ship. To make it work we need captains to guide us, wisely and safely, from place to place. To make it enjoyable we need cabin stewards to serve us, for everyone likes to have their needs met. In this gospel story, told by Matthew and here with Luke’s slightly different spin, we meet a captain and cabin steward in four different spots:
As Jesus enters into Capernaum, He encounters representatives of a well-known captain, or Roman centurion, who owns a worn out cabin steward, or household servant. The captain was important to the town, and the servant was important to the captain. Each had their own role to play in life.
A first century centurion was a Roman military officer in charge of a hundred men. They trained soldiers, led them into battle, and supervised occupied lands, like Palestine during the reign of the Roman Empire. This particular centurion and his troops were assigned to Capernaum, Jesus’ home base, a small fishing village of a couple of thousand people on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Since his authority was great and the town was small, this centurion was the biggest man in town.
Since he was rich (a centurion was paid ten to twenty times the average annual wage) and powerful (when he said, “Jump,” the whole town said, “How high?”), he owned slaves to attend to his household needs. We do not know how many servants the centurion had, we are only told about one, and he was very, very sick. Matthew said he was paralyzed, while Luke describes him as knock, knock, knocking on heaven’s door. All manner of methods and means had been attempted in vain to cure this poor servant. Then the Lord came back to town.
And so it was that as Jesus returned from His preaching trip on the plains to His home office in Capernaum, He encountered a captain and a cabin steward, in one place and in one person.
In the Centurion
The best leader of servants is a servant-leader. This big, begging centurion was obviously both.
Leadership qualities would have been a necessity in order for this man to rise to the rank of a centurion. When Rome was young, such positions could not be gained by nepotism nor bribe, they had to be earned by skill and hard work. This centurion commanded soldiers and servants with the greatest of ease. He could have ruled this tiny little fishing village with an iron fist.
But instead, he led with love. Unlike most Romans, he loved Israel, and I suspect he converted to Judaism not long after landing in occupied territory. He loved God, and instead of spending his lavish salary upon himself, he gave no small sum of money to build the town a beautiful synagogue for worship, weddings, and other special and sacred occasions. He loved his lowly servant, and instead of burying one and buying another, he pleaded to Jesus for the resurrection of the servant from his sick bed. This captain became a cabin steward for the sake of his servant. He bowed, like a lowly servant, before Jesus and literally called upon the name of the “Lord.”
And it is in the Lord Jesus Christ, not in Capernaum, not even in this centurion, that we see the greatest combination of leader and servant.
The best servant-leader who has ever lived is none other that our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (ref. Matthew 20:28; Mark 10:45). This story is ultimately not about Capernaum, not about the centurion nor the servant, but about Jesus.
Jesus' leadership qualities are impeccable, and in this story they seem to be rightly recognized by the Roman centurion. The centurion understood authority, and he understood that Jesus had it all. The only person who has all authority on the planet is the One who made it, namely, God. The centurion got what even the Israelites had yet to fathom, that Jesus Christ is “Lord.” Jesus Christ was, is, and always will be God.
The centurion seemed to know that Jesus is Lord, but in this story he also learned that Jesus is love. The God who made the planet, Rome, Israel, captains, and cabin stewards, loves them all, so much so that He, the great God, condescends to serve their physical, emotional, and spiritual needs. Jesus, the Suffering Servant, walked the dusty streets of Capernaum, approached a Gentile household (although it was not necessary for Him to enter in), took the centurion’s and the synagogue elders’ prayer request, and completely healed a lesser suffering servant.
This miracle was performed by Jesus to alleviate suffering and promote faith, the latter of which is the greatest, most enduring end. People healed by miracles get sick again and die. People saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ will never die. But to get grace, you have to have faith, in Jesus as both God and man, Lord and Christ, savior and servant to all who call upon His name.
You can see the commander and the servant in Capernaum, in the person of the centurion, in the person and work of Christ, and in one more place.
In the Christian
Once you look at a biblical text, the next place to look is in your own heart. Do you believe the Bible? Do you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ? Are you following Him? If so, you, too, will be a commander and a servant.
Who will you lead? You don’t have to be Jesus, or an earthly king, or a ship captain, or a pastor to be a leader. We all lead, in good ways or bad. We lead people to Christ or away from Him. We attract people to the church, or we make the church loathsome to the lost. What kind of a leader are you?
I hope you are a servant-leader. Do you know someone who is sick? Reach out to them and let them know you are praying for them, and bring food or other necessities if it will help. Do you know someone who is troubled? Talk to them, or rather listen to them. Offer the counseling services of your pastor or some other qualified professional. Do you know someone who is lost, spiritually? Share the gospel with them, invite them to Bible study and worship services, give them a Bible and a good Christian book. By serving you can lead people to the Lord Jesus Christ.
Look to Capernaum, and you will see a centurion. Look to the centurion, and you will see Jesus Christ. Look to Jesus, and you will see the Lord. “Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else” (ref. Isaiah 45:22, KJV).
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