Whenever people encountered Jesus during His earthly ministry, they were often astonished by what He said and did. One particular Greek verb, thaumázō, was used repeatedly by the Gospel writers to express how His audience and onlookers reacted. This term meant to wonder or marvel at something or someone — to be amazed. Whether His disciples, the crowds, or antagonistic religious leaders, this same term was used to describe the response of people to His teaching, controlling the weather, driving out demons, miracles of healing, cursing the fig tree, and so on.
While we expect anyone who met Jesus and witnessed God in the flesh to be amazed, what’s more remarkable is that this same term is used just twice of Jesus’ own reaction. On only two occasions recorded in scripture, Jesus was amazed by what He heard and saw in people.
The first episode comes to us in Mark chapter 6. Jesus returned to His hometown of Nazareth and was teaching in the synagogue. The crowd was astonished by His teaching and the news of His miracles, but they couldn’t get over the idea that this was just a carpenter — the son of Mary and the boy who grew up among them. Rather than recognizing who He was, Mark tells us that they were offended by Jesus. In response, “He was amazed at their unbelief” (Mark 6:6).
The second episode is found in Luke chapter 7. A much-appreciated slave had become sick and was near death. The slave’s master sent a group of Jewish elders to Jesus and asked Him to come heal his dying slave. The Jewish leaders vouched for the master’s honor and how he loved the nation of Israel and even built a synagogue. As Jesus neared the man’s home, a messenger arrived saying that the man was not worthy to have Jesus come under his roof or even worthy to approach Jesus himself. Instead, he knew that Jesus only had to say the word for his servant to be healed. “Jesus heard this and was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following Him, He said, ‘I tell you, I have not found so great a faith even in Israel!’” (Luke 7:9).
Who was this man with such great faith that—for the only time recorded in scripture—Jesus was amazed? Was he a religious leader, or somehow a follower of Jesus? No, he was a Roman centurion. Let that sink in. Israel was God’s chosen people. He reveled Himself to them in countless ways throughout their history. They possessed the law and the prophets, yet their faith was less than this foreigner’s. How could this be?
Whereas the people of Nazareth refused to accept that Jesus was special and displayed their lack of faith, the centurion was well aware of his own unworthiness. He recognized Jesus’ authority and ability to command and control whatever He wanted, and He acknowledged that Jesus didn’t need to be nearby to perform any miracle He wished. This Gentile soldier saw clearly who Jesus was and what He could do, and then he asked accordingly, trusting Jesus for the outcome.
We are faced with a similar choice today. Like the people of Nazareth, we can show contempt and treat Jesus like someone familiar and ordinary—unworthy of our devotion and worship. Or like the centurion, we can humbly admit our own sinfulness and trust in Jesus’ mercy and power to save us. Faith is simply belief in action. To have a living faith—an amazing faith—we must live what we claim to believe.