« Back

Focus on What is Important Not on What is Convenient

Posted on April 5, 2020

See On YouTube at https://youtu.be/S4AmZ0brt9U 

Focus on What is Important Not What is Convenient

Matthew 21:1-11

Psalm 31:9-16

Matthew 27:27-31

Matthew 8:5-13

Hosanna in the highest, great is he who comes in the name of the Lord. This is what the people shouted as Jesus entered the city of Jerusalem. The people cut down tree branches and laid their cloaks for the donkey to walk on. Jesus was treated like a king. Much like how Solomon was treated when he entered the city on a donkey as well. No one told the people to treat Jesus in this way however they did so on their own accord. They did this because of the miracles they had seen and because they believed that he had come to overthrow the current leadership in Jerusalem. Surely the man who could heal people and raise the dead would be able to overthrow the Roman rule of Jerusalem. Therefore, they treated Jesus as a king as he entered the city. However, I think Jesus entered in this way for more than just to fulfill the prophecy. Jesus was very shrewd in the way he used the crowds of people. Often when the Pharisees would try to trap him and kill him, he would slip away through the crowd. Lord knows that they wanted to do so at this moment as well since he raised a dead man to life. However, Jesus once again used the crowd to safely enter the city until his time would come.

I find it interesting how Jesus rapidly goes from this chapter in which he is in the position of being treated as a king to then the next few chapters in which he is mocked and humiliated as a king. Matthew 27:27-31 says,

Then the governor’s soldiers took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole company of soldiers around him. They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on his head. They put a staff in his right hand. Then they knelt in front of him and mocked him. “Hail, king of the Jews!’ they said. They spit on him, and took the staff and struck him on the head again and again. After they had mocked him, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him.

How does one go from being praised and then tortured and mocked in such a short amount of time? Why would he put up with such a thing if he had the power within him to pass judgment over these people? Why would he risk so much? Why even risk entering the city in the first place when he knew that the Jewish leaders had it in their mind to get rid of him? The answer is that he saw all of us worth dying for. He saw the lives and souls of those soldiers who mocked him worth suffering and dying for. He saw the people who praised his coming and then later screaming out for his death worth dying for.

There is another person in scripture who similarly felt that the life of his beloved servant was more important than his own life. This is the story of the faith of the centurion. Matthew 8:5-13 says,

When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help. “Lord,” he said, “my servant lies at home paralyzed, suffering terribly.” Jesus said to him, “Shall I come and heal him?” The centurion replied, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. Say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard this he was amazed and to those following him, “Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Then Jesus said to the centurion, “Go! Let it be done just as you believed it would.” And his servant was healed at that moment.

We have heard this story many times however I was reading a book recently that gave me a whole different perspective about this centurion. This centurion risked everything for this servant of his. There are some things about centurions that we must learn and understand. There were some requirements that had to be met in order for a Roman soldier to be come a Centurion. This was a lifetime accomplishment in the career of the soldier. “A Centurion was battle hardened – a veteran of at least sixteen years and numerous campaigns where he distinguished himself with valor” (O’Leary 223). There was no way to politically buy your way into this position. You had to do the work and survive many battles for years to be granted this honor and title. “A Centurion could carry ninety pounds of equipment at least twenty miles per day and train under the harshest of conditions. The Centurion provided his own equipment, armor, and paid for even tools he needed to fight the battle. He was a skilled engineer and builder in addition to being the finest combat soldier” (O’Leary 223). He did not rely on the government to provide him with what he needed to perform his duties. Nor was he just some muscle head brute of a man. He was very smart and skilled in many areas. “The enlistment period was for twenty-five years, after which a cash payment and small plot of land were provided (unless the treasury was short of cash, in which case, commitment to service was involuntarily extended)” (O’Leary 224). This meant that the Centurion would leave his family behind in the care of his servants if he had any and he would give the best years of his life to the Roman army until he was able to retire. If the government didn’t have enough money to pay him at the end then he would have to just serve longer. It wasn’t like they could just print more money if they needed to. He understood that at the end of the day even if he received little or no money in return for his service, no one could take his honor away from him. Only he himself could give that away if he was inclined to do so. “To rise to Centurion was considered the highest honor a legionnaire could attain. His life expectancy was uncertain, and the Centurion always led his troops from the front” (O’Leary 224). There was no hiding in the back of the line to protect one’s life behind one hundred soldiers. The Centurion was out front taking the battle head on and putting himself in harms way to protect his men and country. “Finally, the Centurion held ultimate sway over the welfare of every man who served in his one-hundred-man century” (O’Leary 225). This meant he was also in charge of any punishment given to his soldiers for bad behavior or breaking rank. He was required to dish out what would today be considered barbaric. This would have been difficult as he would know all his men very well and would have a very close relationship with them. However, it was his job to maintain the strength of the entire army and that meant he had to keep everyone in line. However, most would walk the extra mile to serve their troops as a leader.

Knowing all of this about a centurion it puts the circumstances of this visit with Jesus into a different perspective. This centurion most likely had returned home after his years of service to find that one of his servants that he left behind had grown ill. This was someone whom had served him and his family faithfully for years while he was out on campaign. He would have been exhausted from years of battle and probably just wanted to go home to relax in peace with his family. However, his heart would not let him do that when a beloved friend was suffering so much. As most would have heard he knew of this man in Israel who could heal the sick and even raise the dead. Rather than fearing death it was death that feared this Jesus fellow. This soldier traveled thousands of miles to kill for Rome. Why not travel a few more to save a man that was important to him as his own son? Consider the cost that this Centurion must have weighed before coming to someone in danger of arrest at any moment. Even so he put on his uniform and sought out this strange man whom he heard about. He understood the possible cost to himself of doing this. He could be arrested for what would have been considered conduct unbecoming an officer. He was also risking the hostility of zealots from both sides who could be counted on causing violence and death to any such gathering. Not only that he demanded himself to be beneath that of this teacher for the sake of a slave. If the Roman government found out about this then his reputation and all his deeds of valor would have been for nothing. Yet he went anyway risking everything in order to save the life of his beloved servant. He decided that the life of someone whom he cared about was more important than his honor, prestige, and rank. Putting this into perspective we can understand why Jesus said that he had not seen anyone in all of Israel with so much faith who would be willing to risk everything he had to save one life. He was focused on what was important and not on what was convenient.

I look at this story in the light of what Christ did for me. Jesus entered the city as a king and palms laid down before him giving him the honor he deserved. In reality he deserved even more. Yet he humbles himself to be treated as that of the worst of criminals. He gave up his stature of divine authority to rule all of creation. He gave up all pride and ego as pride and ego do very little for us when in the face of death. However, it was not his own death that he was concerned with. He was concerned about our own death. He was concerned about our own illness that has put us on death’s door. This is the illness of sin. Jesus was willing to give up everything he had to save the lives of all. He felt his own life to be less important than my own. The faith of the centurion in our story gives us a sneak peak at the kind of love and faith that Christ would give to all of us through the sacrifice of his own blood. Jesus was even greater than this centurion. Jesus was focused on what was important and not on what is convenient.

These are times of fear and uncertainty. It is uncertain what we should believe in these times. It seems that the media has its own agenda so what information should we listen to and believe. It seems that there are those in our government that also have their own agenda and are willing to sacrifice the well being of its people to achieve their own political goals. Very few leaders in our world today seem to be willing to be like centurions. However, I believe there is hope within the American people. There are churches stepping up and sacrificing to meet the needs of Americans and immigrants alike. There are individuals and even children who are taking the lead to help those in need by creating donation drives to get supplies to people who need them the most. There are manufacturing plants who have stopped building cars or other technology and have shifted their focus on making needed medical supplies. There are medical staff risking their own lives and health, working around the clock to save lives and even many coming out of retirement to help the cause. There are many who went to work one day only to be let go or laid off the next because business has shut down. There are people distancing themselves from loved ones to prevent the spread of this virus. When our government fails to come to agreement on a stimulus package that they believe is going to solve the problems in this country there are centurions out there who are leading the cause to sacrifice and serve. These are all true heroes who have decided that the lives of their own friends and neighbors are more important than their own.

Heroes are popping out all over the place right now. However, we must remember what our Lord and savior did for us. He has given us hope and salvation. A hope that we must remember this Holy week even though we are stuck in our homes. Jesus is the greatest example of heroism that this world has ever seen. It is in Him that we can find our hope and peace even through these dark times. No government can give us the hope and security that Christ gives us today. Through these times we must focus on what is important and not on what is convenient.

Colonel Jeff O'Leary (ret.) The Centurion Principles: Battlefield Lessons for Frontline Leaders. Thomas Nelson, Inc. 2004