Jesus… marveled at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” (Luke 7:9)
Jesus, the “founder and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2), once marveled at the great faith he found in a man. And it’s the only instance recorded in the Gospels when Jesus responded that way. Who was this man? A rabbi? No. A disciple? Nope. A Roman soldier.
Jesus had walked down from the brow of the low mountain outside of Capernaum, his adopted home (Matthew 4:13). He had just delivered what would become the most famous sermon in history.
When Jesus entered the town, he was met by a group of Jewish elders. They had an urgent request. Would Jesus come quickly to the home of a Roman centurion whose servant was so ill he was near death? The centurion himself had sent these elders to Jesus to make this request.
This was strange. Jewish leaders were not in the habit of being fond of Roman soldiers.
Feeling the obvious oddness of the request, one of the elders quickly added, “He is worthy to have you do this for him, for he loves our nation, and he is the one who built us our synagogue.”
This was also strange. Roman soldiers were not in the habit of being fond of Jews.
Jesus discerned the Father’s direction in this and so he set off with them to the centurion’s home. He had also just been preaching on the importance of loving one’s enemies. This was something to encourage.
As they neared the house another group of men intercepted them. They huddled in a brief, hushed conference with the confused elders. Some observers figured it was too late.
Then a representative of the interceptors stepped over to Jesus and said respectfully, “Teacher, I have a message for you from my Roman friend. He says,
Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. Therefore I did not presume to come to you. But say the word, and let my servant be healed. 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.
A murmur wove through the crowd. He didn’t want Jesus to come.
Jesus’s eyes held the man’s as he pondered the profound words. From a Roman soldier.
Who has believed what he has heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the Lᴏʀᴅ been revealed? (Isaiah 53:1)
Jesus’s mouth eased into a smile. He shook his head slightly.
For that which has not been told them they see, and that which they have not heard they understand. (Isaiah 52:15)
This emissary of Israel’s enemy understood what even these Jewish elders didn’t grasp. He looked at the elders.
The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. This is the Lᴏʀᴅ’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. (Psalm 118:22–23)
Then he turned to his disciples and the small crowd that had followed him off the mountain and said in a loud voice, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith” (verse 9).
Jesus “marveled” at this man’s faith. When Jesus marvels, we must meditate.
Luke chose the Greek word thaumazo (thou-mad’-zo, also in Matthew 8:10), which we translate “marveled” or “amazed,” to describe Jesus’s response to the centurion’s faith. The only other time this word is used to describe Jesus’s response to someone else’s faith is in Mark 6:6, when he marvels at the lack of faith in the people of Nazareth, those who knew him best.
It is a gospel irony that the only person recorded in the gospels whose faith made Jesus marvel was a Roman soldier. The only reason he was in Palestine was to help keep the Jews under the domineering rule of the pagan Tiberius.
It amazed Jesus that a Gentile soldier of all people, a stranger to the covenant, a man with limited understanding of the Scriptures at best, saw what few of the covenant people saw when they looked at Jesus: the Son of God. Jewish crowds flocked around Jesus. Jewish leaders lobbied and debated him. But like Peter in the boat full of fish (Luke 5:8), the Centurion recognized divine holiness in Jesus and sinfulness in himself and knew he was not worthy of Jesus’s presence.
He also recognized Jesus’s authority. While Jewish elders asked Jesus questions like, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” (Matthew 21:23), this foreigner knew exactly who Jesus was. He knew Jesus had authority from the Father to command the natural world. He knew proximity was no factor. Jesus could speak disease out of existence from any distance.
And Jesus marveled that in this Centurion he saw a first fruit and foreshadow of what he had come to bring about: that “many [would] come from the east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 8:11).
This man whose faith made Jesus marvel was not a disciple, did no miracles, planted no churches, had no degree, and no religious title. His spiritual résumé was unimpressive. The man with the greatest faith in Israel was a Centurion who simply knew who Jesus was, what he was able to do, humbly asked him, and trusted that he would receive what he needed. He really believed in Jesus.
That is still the faith that makes Jesus marvel.
This meditation is included in the book Not by Sight: A Fresh Look at Old Stories of Walking by Faith.
Trusting Jesus is hard. It requires following the unseen into an unknown, and believing Jesus’s words over and against the threats we see or the fears we feel. Through the imaginative retelling of 35 Bible stories, Not by Sight gives us glimpses of what it means to walk by faith, counsel for how to trust God’s promises more than our perceptions, and the way to find rest in the faithfulness of God.