Sunday 9th August 2020
The Faith of the Centurion
What sort of things amaze you? Cause you to marvel?
Something you see:
- A stunning sunrise or sunset,
- A night sky filled with stars,
- A beautiful vista?
Or something you hear about:
- A team winning you thought would lose,
- An unexpected act of kindness or generosity?
What sort of things amaze you; cause you to marvel? Let me turn that into another question: was Jesus ever amazed at something in the gospel account? Was Jesus ever caused to marvel at anything? Yes, he was.
Last week and this week our focus is on faith – last week we pondered the account of the Syro-Phoenician Woman, a woman whom Jesus described as having, ‘great faith’. Her faith was a tenacious, ‘I won’t be put off faith’, and Jesus commended her for it. Today, we ponder another faith account, similar but with differences; this time the focus is on humility and unworthiness, and once again Jesus will commend faith….but there is something else here…Jesus is recorded in this account as being ‘amazed’, and that word when attributed to Jesus, is very rare in the gospels, so for us as people called to live by faith, when someone’s faith causes Jesus to be amazed, that is a signal for us to pay very close attention.
So, what in our account for today, caused Jesus to be amazed, to marvel? Let’s see, as we dip into the gospel record of Luke Chapter 7:
The account begins: ‘When Jesus had finished saying these things…he entered Capernaum…there, a centurion’s servant, whom his master valued highly, was sick and about to die.’
So, at first glance, what do we learn about this man? We learn he was a centurion, a leader of men, a middle-ranking military officer stationed in Capernaum and likely tasked with keeping law and order. Often ranking officers were mercenaries and could be brutal in their peacekeeping; they were widely unpopular or even despised by the local population. But not this man; he is different…How do we know that?
- He cares about others; we see this in his concern for his servant whom he clearly values and is trying desperately to help and this at a time when servants could be treated poorly and were highly dispensable. This is a man of compassion who cares about others.
- He knows about Jesus – he knows Jesus can and does heal. He knows Jesus is the One to go to.
- And there’s more. He cares, not only about his servant important as that is, he cares about God’s people, and we know that through the words of the Jewish elders sent to request Jesus to come, “This man deserves to have you do this [come to help], because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue.”
So, what picture have we so far? A man of caring, compassion, who knows Jesus is the One to go to, a respected and generous man who loves God’s people, and those attributes are really important for us to note because they are the values of the kingdom of God and the backdrop to his faith. But again, there is yet more, because two further key values are about to be unveiled. Here we will discover more about the depth and quality of this man’s faith…Remember:
- The centurion invited Jesus to come to his house.
- He desperately wanted and needed Jesus to come.
- Jesus accepts the invitation.
But then something happens…Jesus is almost there…as if he’s at the end of the street, but the centurion instead of going to greet Jesus, is overwhelmed by a sense of his own unworthiness, so much so that he can’t even face Jesus, but sends a second set of messengers to say, “Lord,[note how he addresses Jesus], don’t trouble yourself….I don’t deserve to even have you come under my roof…”
We need to picture this man’s dilemma. It wasn’t a sudden panic that his house was a mess, or he hadn’t done the dishes. This was a man of significant means. He would have owned a substantial house, that wasn’t it….
This was about humility; humility that overwhelmed him; ‘I am not worthy’ humility….What a grasp he has, of who he is compared to Jesus; unworthy and wholly dependent on the grace of God and God’s Son, the dispenser of that grace… And then the Centurion goes on to add the words that astonish Jesus, ‘But say the word and my servant will be healed…’ This leader of men who held authority and was used to giving orders and having them obeyed, understood real authority, real power, and he knew both were found in the word and hands of Jesus Christ:
- “Just say the word”…
- He was content to cling to the word of the Son of God
- That word was enough…
And Jesus was amazed, Jesus marvelled, and Jesus wanted the crowd and us all to know; that’s it, that’s great faith, and turning to the crowd, Jesus said, “I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.” And then the lovely last word in this account, ‘Then the men who had been sent returned to the house and found the servant well.’ And what joy there must have been in that household…
Let’s begin to pull that all together:
Faith matters. The Bible tells us we are people saved by faith – we are part of God’s family through our faith in Jesus Christ, God’s Son, as our Saviour and Lord. The Apostle Paul reminds us: ‘For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith…’ (Ephesians 2:8) and he added, ‘I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me.’ (Galatians 2:20) We talked about this last week, the importance of faith and living by that faith. But faith is not easy, there is nothing easy about being a person of faith, and so accounts of ‘great faith’ within our Bible are crucially important and helpful for us….So, how might this centurion’s faith help our faith? In lots of ways:
- Faith comes first: this man had faith in Jesus, that is crystal clear from the account, that’s the starting point, put your faith and trust in Jesus.
- And his faith was shown in how he lived, day to day…
- If we would call ourselves people of faith it’s got to show – faith results in a life that is caring, compassionate, generous, well-respected, has a love for those in society others might treat poorly and a love for God’s people….Scripture describes such things as ‘the fruit of the Spirit’; what shows and grows in a life of faith….
- And then there’s humility and a sense of unworthiness; such easy words to say, but not so easy to live out…..but they are absolutely crucial…this is the core of kingdom living….this is knowing, being certain, that we are deeply unworthy, that we don’t deserve anything from the hand of God…
Some of our hymns capture this so well:
How deep the Father’s love for us,
How vast beyond all measure,
That He should give His only Son
To make a wretch [now there’s a word that grasps unworthiness]
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound –
That saved a wretch [there’s that word again]
The hymn writers understood it, the centurion understood it and we need to understand it too: God owes us nothing, we are saved, brought into God’s kingdom not because of anything we have done, but because God loves us…We need to grasp that truth as the centurion did, but the story doesn’t end there, for we are also called to take the next step…we are indeed unworthy…BUT WE KNOW….Our God through His Son Jesus Christ is the One to go to, is the One who answers prayer, can save, can heal, can act in power, ‘But say the word, and my servant will be healed…’ This text shows us the way…That rightful sense of humility and worthiness doesn’t keep us from God, it drives us to God through prayer and study of His Word…
There’s one further thing to ponder and it’s the most important thing of all: the Centurion’s deep humility was part of his recognition of who he was compared to Jesus, and his humility was right and well-placed, and the text tells us Jesus was amazed ….but here’s something that we should all marvel at, never cease to be amazed at, and it’s this: this same Jesus, whom the centurion would bow before, is the Son of God, who in the most extraordinary act of humility this world has ever seen, would be obedient to His Father’s will and allow Himself to be arrested, mocked, beaten, crucified, and all that for you and me. Why? We are so unworthy…Yes, we are. Jesus did all this because He loves us so much and wants the very best for us – and the Cross – dying for our sin – our unworthiness – was the only way. Philippians Chapter 2 says this:
‘Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God….made himself nothing…
He humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross….’
How could we not marvel, how could we not be amazed, how could we not bow, knowing all Jesus has done for us…How could we not say alongside the Apostle Paul: ‘I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me.’
What sort of things amaze you? Cause you to marvel?
What amazed Jesus, what caused him to marvel?
- Humble, ‘I’m not worthy’ faith….
- Simple ‘Just say the word’ faith….
Our calling, day by day, is not to concern ourselves with whether or not we amaze anyone, but to keep our eyes, our gaze fixed upon the One who is truly amazing, Jesus Christ, the One who loves you and me, unworthy as we are….may this account strengthen our faith and our resolve to, in all humility, love and serve Christ and His people, today and every day.
Let’s pray, Heavenly Father, Thank you for Your precious Word. Your Word that reminds us of all You have done for us in Christ. Lord, may we never cease to marvel at Your love, and help us day by day to live for You.
In Jesus’ precious name. Amen