Faith that impresses the Savior

                                                Faith that impresses the Savior

 

What kind of faith impresses Jesus?  What sort of faith amazes the savior?  In the gospel accounts, only two individuals truly amaze Jesus and Luke records one of them in Luke 7:1-10. 

            To start off we need to know that Luke is writing this account in a specific manner.  From the start Luke would have us know that this is not a normal encounter for Jesus.  First off, Luke starts the passage “…he entered Capernaum.”  Now the city of Capernaum is significant because this was a large metropolitan town.  Jesus normally stayed and ministered in the rural back country of Judea, but in this instance He enters this large metropolis.  Not only was Capernaum a large town, but it was the main port city for the region.  All goods flowing in and out of the region came through Capernaum and it even lay along the trade route from Babylon to Egypt.  It was primarily for this reason that Rome had decided to make Capernaum it’s capital city in Palestine.  In fact one of the reasons we know that Pontius Pilate was an actual historical person living as a governor at the time of Christ, is that archeologists have uncovered a cornerstone to a coliseum Pilate built at that time.  This was not only a large, wealthy city, it had begun to be Romanized.  If you will, it was a “modern” city.

            So now we see Jesus entering this large, influential, and modern city only to be met by the town leaders.  This again was unusual.  The Jewish leaders were doing everything to distance themselves from seeming to support Jesus and His ministry.  Yet here we have the town elders approaching Jesus with a request.  Even more odd, it’s a request from a Roman Centurion.

            To the people of this time it would have been more understandable if the “request” had been delivered by a squad of soldiers at spear point. Rome didn’t “request” it demanded, it conquered.  This was still the time where under Roman law, a soldier could compel a non Roman citizen to carry his burden for one mile in any direction on a Roman road.   Yet here we have this Roman General asking for Jesus to come and heal his servant.  Not only that, but the leaders implore Jesus to grant this man’s request by appealing to this man’s character.  They point to his love of the Jewish people, (they would see this as a love for God)  and the fact that this General built a synagogue. (essentially he built a church)  Again it would have been uncommon for any Jew to praise a gentile much less a Roman.

            The question at this point is what portrait is Luke trying to paint of this individual?  We now know some key things: 1. He was a man of power in an important city.  More than likely he was the second most powerful man in the region.  2. He was a man of great influence.  This Centurion was able to persuade the Elders of this town to approach Jesus. (something they probably weren’t excited to do)  3. He was a man of  proven character (again He BUILT a CHURCH)  4. He was wealthy (refer to point three)  All of these factors make the request even more amazing.  Why?  Because He could have approached Jesus very differently.

            It is at this point that I am personally convicted and wonder, how many times do I just simply ask?  How many times do I come to God demanding, expecting, cajoling, bartering on my character, service and sacrifice.  Yet this man comes to Jesus with just a simple request.

            But it wasn’t this that amazed Jesus.  Jesus agrees to go with the Elders and on his way is met by friends of the Centurion with this message:  “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof.  Therefore I did not presume to come to you.  But say the word and let my servant be healed.  For I too am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to this one, ‘Go’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”  At this statement Jesus marveled.  What about this was so amazing?  I believe there are three things, 1. This mans view of himself. 2. This man’s view of Jesus. 3. This man’s desire in this situation.

1.      This man’s view of himself:  This is summed up in four words, “I am not worthy…”  Now because of our culture I believe I need to clarify this statement, because this is not a man grappling with self esteem issues.  I really can’t imagine a Roman soldier, much less a commander, just really needing a hug.  And, it wasn’t like this man’s house was a wreck.  The spirit of this statement isn’t, “Listen, Jesus, this really isn’t a good time.  I’ve got friends over, servants dying on me, if you could just heal from there that would be better.”  The only illustration I can think of is this. (it’s far fetched so try to use your imagination)  Imagine the President of the United States calling you up and asking to stay over this weekend.  Now for one small second some of you might think, “Sure why not?”  Some of you have really nice homes. (even by California standards where, let’s face it, a million only gets you so much) But as soon as that second passed and you start to think, “Alright we’ll have to clean out the guest room. No scratch that.  We’ll sleep in the guest room and He can stay in the master bedroom.  We’ll have to change the sheets…”  Now we’ve gotten into the absurd.  Why?  Because it’s the President!  And it’s not just Him.  It’s security issues, the Secret Service doing background checks on all the neighbors you’ve been trying to witness to, bomb sniffing dogs intimidating your dog, etc. etc.  Now what are we saying?  Are we saying that your home is worthless?  That it isn’t good for anything?  Absolutely not!  What we all know, is that while your home might be nice for you and your care group, it’s not exactly Presidential.  The President because of who he is deserves more than what you have to offer.  This is the attitude the Centurion has towards Jesus.  “You deserve more than my hospitality.  You are worthy of more than what I have to offer.”  (again amazing that THIS guy is saying this given what we’ve learned)

Now would Jesus not only approve of this attitude, but teach His disciples (and by extension us) to have this attitude?  And would this attitude lead to a greater faith?  Skip over to Luke 17:5.  The disciples ask “Lord increase our faith! (good question don’t you think?)  Jesus responds: “If you had faith like a grain of a mustard seed you could say to this mulberry tree, be uprooted and planted in the sea, and it would obey you.”  Now this is encouraging.  I could go into how small a mustard seed is, and how extensive the mulberry tree’s root system is, but that isn’t what struck me about this passage.  Notice that Jesus continues on without changing the subject:  “Will any one of you who has a servant plowing in the field or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and sit down at table?’   Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink?’  Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded?”  What?  How in the world does this increase faith?  Here we were all warm and fuzzy thinking about mustard seeds and mulberry trees, and building Christian spice racks, and now Jesus is talking about kicking some poor guy of the couch after a hard day of work, making him wait tables, and not even thanking him!  What’s the point?  “So you also when you have done all that you were commanded say, ‘We are unworthy servants, we have only done what was our duty.”  Here is what I believe Jesus was teaching.  Folks if we, by some miracle of grace, were able to actually love God with all that we are, and at the same time simply love those we know (in this room) the way we love ourselves, we’d still be unworthy servants.  Because God is worthy of more than mere obedience.  Now how does this increase faith?  Our faith is increased when we come to the realization that there is only one for whom the cry of heaven is at this very moment, “WORTHY, WORTHY, WORTHY, is the Lamb…”  There is only one who after obeying perfectly went one step further.  He took upon Himself our UNWORTHYNESS and INABILITY and gives to us His RIGHTOUSNESS.  Our faith is not focused on how wretched we are but upon how excellent and sufficient He is.  We are at best unworthy servants trusting in His worthiness.  (Point of application:  This attitude underlies all of the New Testaments exhortations.  Thinking of others, not judging, laying our lives down for one another, etc. etc.  Church doesn’t happen apart from this view.  I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but the church like nothing else gives us “Lay-Z-Boy moments”.  It’s just when we want to kick back and chill when we get challenged.  I think it also important to note that this whole exchange got started when Jesus was teaching on forgiveness.  In this subject alone we are most likely to say “They don’t deserve…”)

 

2.      The Centurion’s view of Christ:  Interestingly this man actually identifies himself with Jesus.  “For I too am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me…”  Now this is a statement that is a little difficult.  At first glance it would make more sense for him to say, “For I too am a man IN authority…”  But he specifically doesn’t say that. (the Greek here is actually VERY specific)  I actually didn’t get this until I was in the military myself. (I was in the United States Marine Corps Reserve for six years)   What this man is referring to is a military concept called the chain of command.  This is how the chain of command works:  Authority is given over resources to enforce the will of the one in command.  It worked like this for the Centurion:  The governor has a will, (that the streets are safe, that taxes be collected, etc.)  therefore the Centurion was placed under the governor’s authority and given authority (over soldiers) to enforce the governor’s will.  Now this honestly is what I believe to be close to what was in this man’s heart as he addressed Jesus,  “I say to this soldier ‘Go’ and he goes.  YOU heal people.  I say to this one ‘Come’ and he comes.  At YOUR word demons flee.  I say to my servant, ‘Do this’ and he does it.  At YOUR command the wind and the waves become silent.  I’m guessing you don’t answer to Caesar.  I presume that you are a little higher up the ‘Chain of Command’.  And if I by MY word can enforce the will of the one who has given me authority, then LORD say the word and my servant will be healed.”  It’s not enough to see the savior as worthy, faith sees him as ABLE.

Let me, for a moment, seem to digress and ask a question. It is a question posed to me some years ago and it’s one of those questions I have to keep asking myself.  “What have you stopped praying for?”   I don’t mean the things God has given an answer to.  I mean, what have you at one time earnestly prayed about and now, well, you just don’t bring it up?  The reason I ask is this.  In my own life too often the defining line between “God hasn’t.” and “God can’t” is very fine, and my heart can subtly move towards the latter.  Now to say “God hasn’t” is a statement of fact, to say “God can’t” is to believe a lie from the father of lies himself.  And let’s face it, it isn’t even a good lie.  I mean if you’re going to begin to believe a lie, believe in a lie that at least has the possibility of being true.  I’m speaking from personal experience here:  I’ve looked at my account balance while ignoring a call from a creditor and thought, “There’s no way I’m ever getting out of this.”  I’ve worked two part-time dead end jobs at the same time and thought, “This is all I’m good for.”  I am right now thirty years old, still single, and not one girl that I have ever been interested in has returned that interest. (I’ve even calculated the time from where my interest starts, to when she eventually marries someone else. It’s about eight months to a year.)  I don’t say any of this to engender sympathy. (in fact I’m preaching to myself) The fact is, my personal history doesn’t mean that God CAN’T.  Just because He hasn’t doesn’t mean He isn’t able to.  Sometimes I have to step back and really evaluate what I believe about God in a situation.  Do I really believe that the God that INVENTED MATH looks at my account statement and goes, “You got me, I have no clue…”  Do I really believe that the God who directs the course of nations and took twelve mostly illiterate guys and changed the world, looks at me and says, “I have no idea how to use you…”  This is deadly important.  There is a reason we are constantly encouraged to pray without ceasing.  For if the enemy can get you and I to doubt in just one small area, our faith is a house of cards waiting for a stiff breeze.  

A worthy savior is not enough, I need an ABLE savior.  If your primary vision of Jesus is that of a dying, beaten, helpless, MAN on a cross, (as mine too often is) then you only have half of the story. (and there is  good news)  A dead savior, (even one who died for you) can’t help you much right now.  BUT if your savior is ALIVE, if He is GLORIOUS, if He is POWER INCARNATE,  if He is seated at the RIGHT HAND OF GOD ALMIGHTY,  and if ALL POWER, DOMINION, AND AUTHORITY have been given to Him, well that changes things doesn’t it?  WITH A WORD  The same word that spoke and galaxies leapt into existence, the same word that breathed life into inanimate clay, THIS WORD STILL SPEAKS.  WHAT CAN’T HE DO?  This is what gives prayer infinite, omnipotent POWER. Now I know the automatic response, “If it’s so simple why hasn’t he?”  The truth is, I don’t know.  That’s something you’ll have to ask Him about.  But I do know He’s probably looking forward to that conversation.  Because often in my life, sadly, that’s the only time I talk to Him.

 

3.      Faith sees the Savior as worthy.  Faith sees Him as able.  And Faith desires for Him to receive the glory:  

What does this Centurion want?  Obviously for his servant to be healed, but there is a dynamic at work, that this man is aware of, that we need to see.  In his culture for a person of superior rank to visit a subordinate’s house the honor would go to the lesser, not the greater.  Think back to my imperfect illustration.  If the President were to actually stay with you who would be honored?  Who would, if you will, receive the glory?  You would!  I mean the man flies around in the most technologically advanced aircraft known to man, your entertainment system isn’t all that impressive.  Just imagine the slant of the local news.  About 5% would be about the President and 95% would be about you.  The Centurion’s statements of, “I’m not worthy to have you come to my house.” And, “Don’t trouble yourself…”  Belie a greater desire.  Essentially, “Do not let me rob you of any honor that is due you.  Don’t let me take any of the glory that you deserve.”  We’ve been learning about Paul in Philippians having joy in the midst of his circumstances.  This is where most of it comes from. “If I die I go to the Lord, God is glorified, if I stay the gospel still goes forth and God is glorified, and if I’m released we reunite and God is glorified, my joy is in His glory I don’t matter.” Now I know that’s uncomfortable and if you say something like that it feels like something has died within you. (that’s OK it’s a good thing)  But really wouldn’t it be the most liberating thing to not be concerned with yourself?  Seriously think about it.  Wouldn’t it be so refreshing not to be worried about what other’s think about you, or weather your “career track” is going to “fulfill” you, or weather “you” are going to meet “your” financial goals?  (See Matt. 6:25-34)  Faith looks to the Savior and says, “All honor, glory and power belong to you…”

 

Finally, the Centurion still asks.  With all of this faith and a more clear vision of who Jesus really is than even Jesus’ own disciples he still asks, “Would you come and heal my servant…”  Faith asks for two reasons, first faith knows that not asking says something about God.  When we don’t ask what we are saying to God is, “I don’t really think you can handle this, so I’m going to carry it.”  Weather big or small we say, “ I really don’t trust you with this, so I’m going to keep it.”  If we truly have a worthy Savior, and an able Lord, why wouldn’t we ask?  What better place to find the answer?  Second, faith asks because He cares.  This is the most amazing thing, the incarnate WORD still speaks at the right hand of the Father.  But what is he saying?  He’s interceding on OUR behalf, saying, “Father bless… Father provide… Father strengthen…”  Peter 5:7 exhorts us to “cast all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.”  One of the reasons we have cares is so that we can experience His care by giving to Him the things we were never meant to carry in the first place.  We learn that we don’t have to carry our burdens (how amazing is that!), and that He loves us enough and is strong enough to carry them for us.

 

I believe this is meant for two groups of people, one you’ve slowly begun to carry more and more burdens.  Maybe you haven’t even realized it till reading this, how you’ve seen yourself as able, seen the Savior as unable, maybe you’ve been living for your glory.  And you wonder why you’ve been so tired lately?  You hear Ron on Sunday morning talk about Joy and you think, “I had that a year ago… Where did I lose it?” 

The second group is made up of those who’ve carried a burden for so long you hardly recognize it.  You get up in the morning it’s there.  You go home at night, it’s there.  You see your relatives, it’s there.  And you can’t remember the last time you prayed about it. You’ve had it for so long that it feels like it’s apart of who you are.  Now, the thought of giving that up feels like you would be giving up a part of yourself.  Like a part of you would die if you trusted this to someone else. (that’s OK that’s a good thing)  But what would happen if for just a little while you weren’t so concerned with yourself?  If this wasn’t apart of you, how free would you really be?

The invitation to both groups comes from Jesus directly:  “Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Come along side me as under a yoke and learn of me, for I am gentle and lowly of heart and you will find rest for your souls. (and in case you are concerned)  For MY yoke is easy, and MY burden is light. (I carried the weight of your sin, what do you really think is too heavy for me?)”  (Ref. Matt. 11:28-30)

 

 

 

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