“‘Just say the word’”, the Roman centurion said to Jesus, “‘and my servant will be healed, for I am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to this one, “Go!” and he goes, and to another, “Come” and he comes, and to my slave, “Do this!” and he does it’” (Matthew 13:9). This is the kind of man Jesus described in the first of the Beatitudes as being poor in spirit. He knew that he had nothing to commend himself to God, and could only throw himself on God’s mercy. He was a man of power, yet had no power in the thing that really mattered – the life of his beloved servant. Yet he knew that there was a greater power he could access if he came to it the right way, in the acknowledgment of his total powerlessness and worthlessness.
The reward given to those poor in spirit, according to Jesus, is this: “Theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:3). Those who know they are nothing in themselves are those to whom the power of the kingdom will be given. Centurions were the backbone of the Roman army and the Roman empire. All authority in the empire was vested in one man, Caesar. Although centurions carried no authority in their own right, they did carry the delegated authority of Caesar himself. If you disobeyed them, you disobeyed Caesar - and you received the consequences. The centurion understood by instinct and training the profound Biblical truth that a person will only exercise as much authority as they are submitted to. He saw Jesus as the carrier of a power greater than Caesar's, and he determined to plug into it.
Someone pointed out that there is a critical connection between each of the Beatitudes and the promises attached to them – and the connection is Jesus. Without Jesus, none of the promises will come. But with him, those who are poor in spirit will surely receive the kingdom of heaven. Those who mourn will be comforted. Those who are meek will inherit the earth. Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be filled. With a right attitude and heart, we can go to Jesus and receive the promises.
The centurion met the connecting point that day in the person of Jesus. He plugged his empty battery into the greatest power source in the universe. Because of Jesus, this man who was poor in spirit received the power of God’s kingdom. The centurion believed that Jesus’ word alone was sufficient to heal his servant, and through his faith – the child-like trust of one poor in spirit – the miracle occurred: “And Jesus said to the centurion, “‘Go your way; let it be done to you as you believed.’ And the servant was healed that very hour” (verse 13).
Notice the words, “Let it be done to you as you believed” (or “according to your faith”). These words are significant. Jesus held all the power in the universe, yet he enlisted the centurion as a critical co-labourer. It was the centurion’s faith which released the power of Jesus to heal, and if the centurion had not exercised that faith, the servant would not have been made well.
In actual fact, we don't need a lot of faith to see miracles happen - faith the size of a mustard seed is enough, Jesus said (Luke 17:6). But we do need some faith. Why? Because Jesus requires something to work with for the miracle to happen. He does not need us because he is less than God, but because in his divinity he has chosen to work alongside us, his brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, in expanding the family business, the kingdom of God.
Today we need an army of centurions to carry on this work, and see God glorified on earth. You can be one of them!