A MAN OF WAR TEACHES US ABOUT PEACE

You’re probably well familiar with the Roman centurion who came to Jesus asking Him to heal his beloved slave (Matthew 8:5-13 and Luke 7:11-10). When we think about this centurion we’re prone to think about his faith, his understanding of authority, and Jesus’ miraculous power to heal the most impossible of sicknesses and diseases. If you haven’t read the story recently I’d encourage you to read it right now. It’ll help you understand what I’m about to tell you.

As I was preparing to teach a lesson on the Roman Centurion the Lord arrested my attention and pointed out a different picture of the centurion that I had not seen before. To my pleasant surprise, tucked away in a passage of Scripture where faith is everywhere apparent, a man of war had a lot to teach me about living peaceably with people who are very hard to get along with. Let me share with you what the Lord showed me.

THE PALESTINE OF YESTERYEAR

Take a trip with me back in time. Place yourself in the sandals of this Roman centurion. You’re currently stationed in Spain, France, Britain, or Rome itself. Your tour of duty is just about up and you’re expecting your next deployment order to come anytime soon. It comes as expected. Your next deployment will be to Palestine.

Of all the places in the Roman Empire, Palestine is the most difficult. The Jews are unrelentingly fanatical about their religion and their God. For them there is no compromise, no toleration, or moderation. They will fight and die for their beliefs, And, indeed, they have. Freedom fighters are aplenty and the entire region is a seedbed, or rather, a hotbed, of revolt and rebellion. The land is drenched in blood, both Jewish and Roman. If blood were water, the Palestine desert would be an oasis.

You are going to a land where you are not wanted or welcome. You are their enemy. You are a candidate for assassination. The unseen enemy is everywhere, dressed every bit as a civilian, and you don’t know who’s armed and hostile. Yes, with Rome’s might behind you, you can crush the Jews’ doomed revolts. But how do you crush a fanaticism and a spirit that will not die? How do you intend to live and survive in an environment of hatred and death?

BEING DIFFERENT

The Roman army—both its soldiers and its officers—are militant. They are a world power. Their numbers and their armament cannot be matched. They are, for all practical purposes, invincible. They will triumph in the end.

Knowing this, the army cares nothing about religion and people. They are concerned only to do the will of Caesar and enforce the rule of Roman law. There is no pity or compassion;  no deference, no backing down, no bowing down to the will of a conquered people or nation.

But this particular Roman centurion is different. (1) He loves his slave and treats him as his son (Matthew 8:6 where servant could be translated son). Slaves are not “people” to the Romans. They are things. Like iPods, cars, and cell phones are today. They are possessions. They weren’t treated like human beings. But this centurion is different. His slave is dying (Luke 7:2). And the centurion cares enough about him to seek Jesus out and ask Him to spare his beloved slave’s life. He’s a decent human being with a care and regard for people that didn’t exist all that much in Roman society. The guy’s got heart. He isn’t cold, uncaring, or ruthless.

The Romans hated the Jews as much as the Jews hated them. The Jews not only resorted to violence against the Roman presence in Palestine, but they also made full use of the power of petition or appeal. They would go to the highest Roman authorities in the land—the Army Tribune in town, the Roman Governor in Caesarea and Syria, the Roman Senate, and even the Emperor in Rome—if they had any gripes against Rome’s ruling representatives in Palestine.  

This, you will remember, is what finally forced a reluctant Pilate to succumb to the people’s wishes and have Christ crucified: the Jews were threatening to go to Caesar and accuse Pilate of treason for letting a rival King go scot free (John 19:12-13).

Not too infrequently, Caesar would remove these representatives from office in Palestine as a gesture of peace and good-will to the Jews. So the Roman rulers in Palestine knew their jobs were on the line and they despised the Jews for the political threat that they were.

But this centurion is different. (2) He loves the Jews (Luke 7:5). He finds a way to make peace with the local Jewish rulers in Capernaum. He extends some kind of olive branch to them and wins their acceptance and respect. He puts his money where his mouth is and spends a portion of his own personal wealth to build the Capernaumites a synagogue. Think of how much money it would take to build any kind of building today and you’ll get a fair idea of how much money this centurion dished out for the Jews. He was enabling their worship of a God that Rome didn’t believe or worship! Instead of being a traditional Roman and mocking the religious beliefs, convictions, and practices of the Jews, this centurion respects Jewish religion to such an extent as to spend a small fortune to build them a synagogue. And a synagogue wasn’t just a house of worship. It was a school. A community center. So the centurion’s goodwill gesture was a benefit to the people of the local community. The centurion wasn’t just winning the hearts of the Jewish leaders: he was winning the hearts of the Jewish people in the community.

The thing that’s so astounding about this is, ordinarily, the Jews wouldn’t have anything to do with Roman money. Rome kept them subjected. Taxed. Humiliated. A lot of Jews wouldn’t have accepted Roman money. But these Capernaumites received this Roman centurion into their midst, made peace with him, allowed him to build them a synagogue, and allied themselves with him to a point where they were willing to petition Jesus on his behalf. Somehow, the enemy centurion  found a way to change the enemy Jews and make them his friends.

Roman rulers and officers, as you would expect, are mightily proud. Jews were nothing to them and they used every opportunity to make the locals feel like dirt. They like to rubbed their power in their face and remind them they were a subjected people. Losers. Powerless against the might of the Worldwide Roman Empire.

But this centurion’s different.  (3) He’s humble—at least in the presence of his superiors or greatness (Luke 7:6-7). Jesus is a Rabbi. He’s no army man. He wields no political power. He’s vastly popular with the people. But He’s got no army! There no earthly reason why Rome would fear a fellow without an army. But the centurion knows something diffent about this Rabbi because he lives and works in the same city where this Rabbi lives and works. The Rabbi has power of a different sort. At His command, demons go. Diseases are healed. The sick are restored. The centurion recognizes authority when he sees it and he stands in enough respect for the Jewish Rabbi to place unbridled, undiminished faith and hope in Him to heal a dying slave. The centurion’s humble enough that he considers himself unworthy to have such a guest—a Jewish guest—in his home.

So what am I saying? I’m saying this Roman centurion was different. He was unlike most Roman rulers and officers. He was a decent human being. He had a heart. He was loving. Compassionate. Caring. Respectful. Considerate. Humble. Peaceable. Generous. An Ambassador of Goodwill. In a land of war and enmity, hatred and death, the centurion found a way to make peace and win the hearts of his enemies.

THE PALESTINE THAT IS AMERICA TODAY

That was back then in Jesus’ time. Now let’s fast forward to our time and the  real world in which we live today. Like the centurion, we live in a world that hates, despises, and persecutes us. We’re the enemy. We’re unwanted and unloved because of the Jesus we follow and the Bible we believe. Take a public, vocal stand on abortion, homosexuality, same-sex marriage, prayer and Bibles in our schools, praying to Jesus in the public square, the Ten Commandments, need I say more?, and you will know the hatred and slander of those who oppose our Savior and our God.

Come into the workplace and, like the centurion, you step into an office or a factory where people hate your guts. They just don’t like you and they use every opportunity and tactic to let you know that. Take a wider step into the community and it’s like everybody’s against you. They’re not nice or respectful to you. They’re not decent by any means. Some would even kill you if they could.

Like the centurion, you’re faced with a quandary and a dilemma. How do you make peace with the enemy? How do you reach out to those who don’t like you  and who don’t want you to be around them? How do you get the enemy  to accept you or at least be nice to you? How do you be peaceable in an unpeaceable world?

The centurion was not like most of the Romans of his day. He was different. He was a man and a breed apart. TO WIN THE HEARTS OF PEOPLE—maybe not everyone, but at least the locals where you’re at, the Capernaumites of your office, factory, family, or community; YOU’VE GOT TO BE A DIFFERENT SORT OF CHRISTIAN.

Your enemies know Christians to be heathens like them. Unscrupulous. Unethical. Thieves. Crooks. Gossipers. Back biters. Hypocrites. Liars. Drunks. Fornicators. Pornos. Gamblers. Carnal. Selfish. Ad infinitum.  Thanks to the unchurched, untaught, uncrucified Christians-so-called, Christians have a black eye in the world and people just don’t have a whole lot of respect for Christians.

YOU’VE GOT TO PROVE TO THEM YOU’RE DIFFERENT. YOU’VE GOT TO SHOW THEM YOU’RE DIFFERENT. LET THE LIFE, LIGHT, AND LOVE OF CHRIST SHINE THROUGH YOU. IN TIME THEY’LL SEE THAT YOU’RE A DIFFERENT KIND OF CHRISTIAN THAN THE CHRISTIANS THEY’RE USED TO  SEEING. In time they’ll come to admire and respect you. YOU’LL CHANGE THEM WHEN YOU CHANGE YOURSELF. OR CHANGE THEIR PERSPECTIVE OF WHAT A TRUE CHRISTIAN’S REALLY LIKE.

To get the centurion’s results you’ve got to be like the centurion. Be a decent human being. Quit being selfish or self-centered. Quit thinking about yourself all the time. Have  a heart for people. Be loving. Compassionate. Caring. Respectful. Considerate. Humble. Peaceable. Don’t treat people like dirt. Don’t make sinners feel like dirt. Don’t rub it in their face. Show them the love of Christ. Show them there’s hope of a new life in Christ. Be an Ambassador of Goodwill. Go out of your way for people. Put your money where your heart and mouth are. Be generous and kind. Give. Help. Bless. Watch your mouth, your temper, and your thoughts. Overcome evil with good. Pray for them. Ask God for wisdom and He will show you how to tear down walls and build bridges. In Jesus’ words in the sermon on the mount, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you (Matthew 5:44). And in Romans 12:21, Overcome evil with good.

You’re not going to win everyone. We live in a hostile world and there’ll always be people who aren’t going to like you. But, like the centurion, if you persist in goodness and look for ways to win the hearts of people, God will give you grace and favor and you will win the hearts of those whom God intends for you to touch and change through His Spirit, power, and love working in and through you. God bless you and make you a modern day centurion, a man of peace, in the unpeaceable Palestine that is America today.

1 Comment

  1. September 12, 2012 at 6:18 PM

    An impressive share! I have just forwarded this onto a coworker who was conducting a little research on this. And he actually bought me breakfast because I stumbled upon it for him… lol. So let me reword this…. Thank YOU for the meal!! But yeah, thanks for spending time to talk about this matter here on your website. I put your site on my blogroll, check it out http://www.seo-casestudy.net/Sites-We-Like


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