In the New Testament, we see a number of surprising examples of Roman Centurions held up as figures of faith. In them we are shown what it looks like to honour Jesus.
Acts 10:1-8 & 23b-26
At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion in what was known as the Italian Regiment. 2 He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly. 3 One day at about three in the afternoon he had a vision. He distinctly saw an angel of God, who came to him and said, “Cornelius!”
4 Cornelius stared at him in fear. “What is it, Lord?” he asked.
The angel answered, “Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God. 5 Now send men to Joppa to bring back a man named Simon who is called Peter. 6 He is staying with Simon the tanner, whose house is by the sea.”
7 When the angel who spoke to him had gone, Cornelius called two of his servants and a devout soldier who was one of his attendants. 8 He told them everything that had happened and sent them to Joppa.
23The next day Peter started out with them, and some of the believers from Joppa went along. 24 The following day he arrived in Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends. 25 As Peter entered the house, Cornelius met him and fell at his feet in reverence. 26 But Peter made him get up. “Stand up,” he said, “I am only a man myself.”
In the gospels, Roman soldiers play a very interesting role. On the one hand, they are the ones that crucified Jesus, beat him, and mocked him. Yet, on the other hand, we see stories like that of the Centurion who had “such great faith” (Luke 7:9) that he believes Jesus can “say the word” and heal his servant; there is also the Centurion at the cross who, after seeing Jesus show forgiveness to the people and show mercy to the robber, declared that “truly this was the son of God” (Matthew 27:54).
In this passage from the book of Acts, we see the story of another Roman Centurion – Cornelius – who has a vision from God. We’re told that when his vision ends, he immediately acts upon that vision, and sets off to do everything he was told to do. At the end of Acts 10, we see Peter explain to Cornelius, and his family, about Jesus and all he’d done, and we see the whole gathering receiving the Holy Spirit.
We’re not told how Cornelius came to be a “God-fearing” man, but what we do see in this story is his faith. His faith to carry out what he’s told in a vision from God, his reverence of the authority Jesus placed on Peter, and his faith in what Peter proclaimed about Jesus. We see a Roman centurion, who listens to the truth about Jesus and puts his faith in him – we are shown an example of what it looks like to honour Jesus.
Head: Think about what Cornelius does… what would it have involved to mobilise 3 members of his household to carry out a mere vision? Would you say your faith is like that of Cornelius? Why or why not?
Heart: How do you feel in times when your faith is tested? What is it that keeps you standing firm?
Hands: What would it look like for you to have faith like Cornelius?
Prayer: Dear heavenly father, thank-you for the faithful people like Cornelius, and the Centurion with the sick servant. We thank you for the example we see in them of what it looks like to honour Jesus as Lord and Saviour. We pray that in times when we are tempted that we can remember what it looks like to have faith. We pray in the name of your Son and by your Holy Spirit, Amen.
A song to listen to: Only a Holy God
Vicki Meehan – Creek Road Presbyterian Church- Carina