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CENTURIONS OF THE NEW TESTAMENT

Victor M. Eskew

 

INTRODUCTION

 

A.    In our lesson today, we will be examining several centurions of the Bible.

 

B.   Background:

1.    A professional officer in the Roman army who was over 100 men

2.    They were personally responsible for the training and discipline of the legionaries under their control.

a.    They were tough and harsh disciplinarians.

b.    Their symbol was the vine staff, an instrument they carried and used to discipline their men.

3.    Centurions fought beside their men in battle and sustained many casualties.

4.    These men had important social status and held powerful position in society.

5.    Upon retirement from the military, they could be employed as lictors, bodyguards for magistrates.

 

C.   As we come across these men in the New Testament, we are impressed by them.  Let’s look at several of them and learn some of the lessons that apply to us.

 

I.             THE FAITH OF A CENTURION (Matt. 8:5-11; Luke 7:1-9)

 

A.   The first centurion that we read about in Scripture sought out Jesus during His ministry.  The place was the city of Capernaum (Matt. 8:5).

 

B.   The exchange that he had with Jesus impressed the Son of God.  Jesus bragged on this man’s faith (Mat. 8:10).

 

When Jesus heard it, he marveled, and said to them that followed him, Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith no, not in Israel.

 

C.   Two things impressed Jesus about this man.

1.    First, he sent others to Jesus on his behalf because he did not feel worthy to approach Him (Luke 7:3, 6).

2.    Second, he recognized and acknowledged the authority of the Christ (Matt. 8:7-9).

 

And Jesus saith unto him, I will come and heal him.  The centurion answered and said, Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof:  but speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed.  For I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me:  and I saw to them man, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it.

 

D.   True faith recognizes and acknowledges Jesus’ authority.

1.    In the text, Jesus had authority over illness.

2.    But, Jesus also has authority over all things (Matt. 28:18).

a.    His authority is expressed in the New Testament.

b.    Great faith gives heed the things Jesus says in His Word (Col. 3:17).

 

II.           THE CONFESSION OF A CENTURION (Matt. 27:54; Mark 15:39)

 

A.   A centurion was at Calvary the day Jesus was executed.  In fact, he may have been the one charged with carrying out the crucifixion.

B.   This man was witness to the event that surrounded the cross.

1.    The viciousness of the Jews

2.    The words that Christ spoke from the cross

3.    The three hours of darkness

4.    The faith of Jesus as He commended His spirit to the heavenly Father

 

C.   Having heard and seen all these things, and more, the centurion looked upon all the evidence and made a bold declaration (Matt. 27:54; Mark 15:39).

 

And when the centurion, which stood over against him, saw that he so cried out, and gave up the ghost, he said, Truly this man was the Son of God.

 

1.    The events of Calvary were proof enough that Jesus is the Son of God.

2.    What was it that convinced him?

3.    Did he become a disciple of Christ after this?

 

D.   My friends, the evidence for the deity of Christ abounds.  We, too, must acknowledge the evidence and make the “Good Confession” in order to be saved (Rom. 10:9-10).

 

That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.  For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.

 

III.         THE INTEGRITY OF A CENTURION (Mark 15:44-45)

 

A.   Upon the death of Jesus, Joseph of Arimathea went to Pilate and craved the body of Jesus (Mark 15:43).

 

B.   Pilate marveled that Jesus was dead in such a short amount of time (Mark 15:44a).  Those crucified often lasted days upon their crosses.

 

C.   Pilate sought confirmation of Jesus death.  He did so by consulting with a centurion (Mark 15:44b-45).

 

…and calling unto him a centurion, he asked him whether he had been any while dead.  And when he knew it of the centurion, he gave the body to Joseph.

 

1.    Pilate was a very evil man.  He did not trust many people.

2.    However, he put his trust in this centurion.  When the centurion confirmed the death of Jesus, Pilate released the body.

3.    The centurion was known to be a man of integrity.

 

D.   Application

1.    Integrity is defined as

a.    Completeness, soundness through and through, perfection, and innocence

b.    It is closely aligned with honesty and trustworthiness.

c.    Another word for integrity is sameness.  A person with integrity is the same everywhere and with everyone.

2.    Psalm 26:1

 

Judge me, O Lord, for I have walked in mine integrity:  I have trusted also in the Lord; therefore I shall not slide.

 

IV.         THE CONVERSION OF A CENTURION (Acts 10)

 

A.   The conversion of the first Gentile was also the conversion of a centurion, Cornelius (Acts 10:1).

 

There was a man in Cesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of the band called the Italian band.

 

B.   This man received four things during the process of his conversion.

1.    A visit from an angel who told him to get Peter.

2.    A visit from Peter who told him the message of salvation.

3.    An outpouring of the Holy Spirit that convinced the Jews that God approved of the conversion of the Gentiles.

4.    The forgiveness of sins based upon his obedience to Peter’s command to be baptized.

 

C.   Cornelius was a religious man who was lost.

1.    He manifested honesty with the facts.

2.    He manifested a willingness to hear the Word of God.

3.    He manifested submission to God in complying with Peter’s command.

 

D.   Would that we had more like Cornelius in the world today.  Only those with good and honest hearts will be saved (Luke 8:15).

 

But that on the good ground are they, which in an honest and good heart, having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience.

 

V.           THE JUSTICE OF A CENTURION (Acts 22:25-26)

 

A.   In Philippi, Paul had been arrested and wrongly beaten as a Roman citizen.

 

B.   In Jerusalem, this almost happened again.

1.    The Jews were stirred up against Paul and sought to kill him (Acts 21:30-31).

2.    The chief captain and his soldiers rescued Paul (Acts 21:31-33).

3.    After Paul’s defense, the captain was not satisfied.  He demanded that Paul be “examined by scourging” (Acts 22:24).

4.    It was at this point that Paul appealed to a centurion (Acts 22:25).

 

And as they bound him with thongs, Paul said unto the centurion that stood by, Is it lawful for you to scourge a man that is a Roman, and uncondemned?

 

C.   When the centurion heard these words, he executed justice (Acts 22:26).

 

When the centurion heard that, he went and told the chief captain, saying, Take heed what thou doest:  for this man is a Roman.

 

1.    The centurion could have refused to listen to Paul.

2.    Instead, he appealed to the chief captain according to the law.  He executed justice on Paul’s behalf.

 

D.   As the centurion acted with justice, so should we.

1.    Hosea 6:8

 

He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good, and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy; and to walk humbly with thy God.

2.    Justice involves fairness, equality toward all, and operating in harmony with the law.

 

VI.         THE LEADERSHIP OF A CENTURION (Acts 27:1-28:16)

 

A.   This section of Scripture involves Paul’s voyage to Rome.  Listen to Acts 27:1.

 

And when it was determined that we should sail into Italy, they delivered Paul and certain other prisoners unto one name Julius, a centurion of the Augustus band.

 

B.   We don’t have time to develop all the particulars of this example.  During the course of the voyage, however, the centurion showed great leadership ability.

1.    Kindness to those under him, even a prisoner (Acts 27:3)

2.    Listened to the advice of others (Acts 27:31-32)

3.    Willingness to take risks (Acts 27:42-43)

4.    Rewarded those who had done well (Acts 28:16)

 

C.   In the course of time, the leader, a centurion was willing to become a follower of one less in rank, in fact, one who was a prisoner.

1.    Leaders should never be too proud to follow when necessary.

a.    Others may have more knowledge.

b.    Others may have more skill.

c.    Others may have more influence.

2.    Leaders know that it is not about power, it is about accomplishing a mission.

3.    Jesus was willing to be a lowly servant when necessary.  The fact that He was the Son of God did not keep Him from humbling Himself in order to make God’s will known and in order to bring it to pass (Phil. 2:5-7a).

 

Let this mind be in your which was also in Christ Jesus:  who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:  but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant…

 

CONCLUSION

 

A.   Centurions could be harsh and difficult man.

 

B.   However, the picture the New Testament presents of these men is very positive.

1.    One possessed faith in Jesus Christ.

2.    One made the Good Confession.

3.    One displayed integrity.

4.    One converted to Christianity.

5.    One manifested justice.

6.    One proved himself to be a great leader.

 

C.   From these centurions, we can learn much to apply to our lives, especially in doing as Cornelius did in converting to Christ (Acts 10:47-48a).

 

Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we?  And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord.