Joe again prays... "God, please let me win the lotto! I've lost my business, my house and I'm going to lose my car as well". Lotto night comes and Joe still has no luck.
Once again, he prays... "My God, why have you forsaken me?? I've lost my business, my house, and my car. My wife and children are starving. I don't often ask you for help and I have always been a good servant to you. PLEASE just let me win the lotto this one time so I can get my life back in order." Suddenly there is a blinding flash of light as the heavens open and Joe is confronted by the voice of God Himself:
"Joe, meet Me halfway on this. Buy a ticket."
Faith is a choice, in today’s scripture we see the Centurion acting confidently with faith before his servant is healed. The Centurion purchases the ticket with confidence knowing he has a winner! The Centurion is in a situation beyond his ability and he has such confidence in Jesus Christ to perform a miracle that he takes a risk, sends servants and even has the audacity (or is it courage) to orchestrate the miracle
This current series is about the diamond of faith, four angles… today, we see an astounding example of faith. The centurion is a most unlikely man who chooses faith, looks to others before himself, has a healthy perspective on himself, confidently believes in Jesus, is commended by the Lord, and is blessed by the Lord with an answer to his prayer.
One more point before we dive into the scripture taking a look at the amazing faith of the Centurion. In the Thursday morning Bible Study we are looking at one of the Old Testament prophets, Habakkuk. I came across this insightful description by Eugene Peterson of what it means to be a prophet: “[Prophets] face us with God as he is, not as we imagine him to be.” this is exactly what the Roman Centurion does for us. What is more amazing about the Roman Centurion than his character, is that he puts the character of Christ in a spotlight. The Centurion illuminates Christ, like the brilliant light reflected in a diamond. I pray that as I learn to have a more confident faith, I don’t want people to say so much wow, that Pastor Carl is a great man of God… I want something much more significant… perhaps God will see fit to use me a smidgeon to influence others to see Jesus with a bit more clarity. If, through your faith, you can show others who God really is… wouldn’t that be a great honor. What is more valuable than faith, and for others to see God with more clarity, like the dazzling light of a diamond. People with confident faith face us with God as he is, not as we imagine him to be. With the Centurions amazing faith (and that is what Jesus himself said of the Centurion in Luke 7:9), the Centurion shows us with more clarity the real Jesus. “I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel” (Luke 7:9). With this statement, Jesus compels us to consider this man ~ what is it about his faith that is so admirable? The Centurion’s faith amazed Jesus! When you find people of amazing faith, learn from them, admire them, be amazed by them, and above all else embrace with more clarity the nature of Jesus Christ that you learn from the towering men and women who demonstrate amazing faith…this is the first angle in the diamond of faith….
You know what I think? Our world is blessed with others like the Centurion that have an incredible confident and insightful faith. They are often the older Christians among us that have been seasoned by the experiences of life, those that have weathered personal difficulties and remained firm followers of Christ, growing in their love and enthusiasm of the Lord.
Let’s look more closely at the Centurion: The centurion is a most unlikely man who chooses faith, looks to others before himself, has a healthy perspective on himself, confidently believes in Jesus, is commended by the Lord, and is blessed by the Lord with an answer to his prayer.
The centurion is a most unlikely man who chooses faith. The Centurion lived in Capernaum, a small fishing village on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee. As the name implies, a centurion was the captain of 100 soldiers. He may have been even higher in the ranks and in charge of even more, we aren’t told. Centurions were chosen for their leadership ability, they were the backbone of the Roman army. Centurions often suffered heavy casualties in battle, generally fighting alongside the legionaries they commanded. They usually led from the front, leading and inspiring their men by example. They also sought to display the skill and courage that may have brought them to their rank in the first place. What an unusual man in such and esteemed position to embrace and love the nation he is occupying. What an unusual man who cares about a slave under his care. What an unusual man who sends Jewish elders as his representatives to Jesus. How did all this come about? What is the back-story? So often we look at people of amazing faith and we simply do not know how they came to trust so completely in God.
Being held personally responsible for the training and discipline of the legionaries under their command, most centurions had a well-deserved reputation for dealing out harsh punishment. The centurion we meet in Luke 7 is quite different from his typical counterpart, he is sensitive, caring. Like Jesus, we should be amazed!
The Centurion looks to others before himself. The Centurions life’s purpose seems to be to bless others. Isn’t it fascinating that this man is commended for his faith, and the truth is that we can identify at least three signs that his faith expresses itself in his attitudes and desires for others. The Jews who are sent on behalf of the Centurion tell us that he loved Israel and he built a synagogue in Capernaum for them (Luke 7:5). The occasion for going to Jesus, however, is to request a miracle on behalf of his slave. The slave is dying, and the only possibility to save him is through divine intervention. The centurion had a slave whom he highly regarded. The centurion is unusual… This was rare. In the Roman Empire, slaves had no rights. They could be mistreated and even put to death. One ancient writer commented that “when your animals are old, you throw them out to die. You do the same with your slaves.”
Here is a new way to define an important aspect of faith: believing that Jesus Christ wants the best for others, asking the Lord to interceded to build up others, the unlikely people, the weak, the hurting, the struggling. The Centurion is taking a risk by going to Jesus on behalf of a slave. Maybe this is something I can learn…to pray for the Lord to intercede for the hurting and struggling around Sumas, the disadvantaged. May our eyes be open to those who slip between the cracks…
The Centurion is a risk taker. He sends Jews on his behalf. Wow. And they go. And they commend him. Of all the amazing things in the Bible, this has to rank near the top. Faith takes risks. And you know what, obviously he developed a trusting and loving relationship with the Jews well before the slave is sick and he sends them to Jesus.
The Centurion has a healthy perspective on himself. I am impressed that the Jews tell Jesus the Centurion deserves to have his request answered, but that is NOT what the Centurion says about himself. READ Luke 7:4-7a.
A cornerstone of faith: As long as we think we deserve a hearing, our prayers will go unanswered because God isn’t impressed by the things that impress us. Often we talk as if we’re saved by faith, but we act as if we’re saved by works. I’ve officiated at perhaps 250-300 funerals of people without a church that really want to believe in God, and I heard at least 100 times that the loved one will be in heaven because they were good. I’m not about to correct people at such an emotional time, I have no doubt they may go to heaven (that’s not my call), but it’s not because they are good, it’s because God is good. In our hearts we tend to believe, “If I was a better person, God would answer my prayers.” We try and try and keep on trying, we obey the rules, we act nice and we hope that will make a difference with God.
Our faith is tested in crisis. The good that comes from crisis is the realization that we cannot save ourselves. The Centurion has hit the bottom and has no answers found in his own strength. Only when you hit the bottom will you see with clarity that I am weak and Jesus is strong. When life crashes we see clearly what we deep down knew all along: all our good deeds are nothing but “filthy rags” in the sight of God. When our loved ones are in trouble, then we realize only God can restore, only God can save, only God can answer. The Centurion, a man of authority, a confident man, the commander of a 100 Roman soldiers, has a healthy perspective on who he truly is before the Lord Jesus: “I am not worthy.” Faith is honest about our own nature and the nature of God! Perhaps it is good to be backed into a corner now and then. Desperate situations make us aware of our complete dependence on God all over again. We quit talking about how wonderful we are, and we simply cry, “Lord Jesus, have mercy on me.” There is no prayer more basic than that. And the Centurion is doing it for somebody other than himself.
The first step in salvation is to understand there is nothing you can do to earn God’s love, nothing you can do to deserve salvation. As long as we think we deserve God, we either will not come to Christ, or if we do, we will always secretly think that we weren’t really that bad off in the first place.
It is good for us to be completely humbled before the Lord because then we come as beggars before him, pride stripped, arrogance gone, knowing that were it not for grace, we could not come at all. But when we come before the Lord crying out for mercy, that’s when we discover the life-changing power of Jesus Christ.
The Centurion confidently believes in Jesus. This is, in my humble opinion, the greatest legacy of the Centurion. He acts as a missionary as he sends people to Christ, first the Jews, then the Slave. He simply believes Jesus can heal the slave. Clearly the Centurion is overwhelmed by meeting Jesus face to face, because first he sends somebody else to retrieve Jesus, then when Jesus starts on his way the Centurion sends another message asking that he simply give a command and that will be enough.
We learn who Jesus really is through the Centurion, not as we wish him to be. Jesus can be trusted, Jesus is holy, Jesus is far greater than us, Jesus is the ultimate authority, Jesus is the miracle worker. Jesus alone can save us, give us meaning, give us purpose. “You have unlimited power Jesus. Just say the word and the disease will disappear.” The centurion saw Jesus for what he was, and his great faith came from that vision. This is amazing faith. He argues from personal experience because he knew all about being in command and giving orders that must be obeyed. “Lord, you have power over disease as I have power over my men.”
The Centurion is commended by the Lord. “I have not found such great faith.” What is it about the Centurion causing Jesus to give such high praise? All of the above! The Centurion chose faith, he looks to others, he takes risks, he is realistic about himself as unworthy and not deserving of anything from Jesus, and he points the way to the Lord, building bridges and confident of the amazing nature of Jesus.
The Centurion (and the Slave and the Jews) are blessed by the Lord with an answer to his request. "Lord, just say the word and my servant will be healed.” There is no other miracle quite like this recorded in the Bible. The story ends Luke 7:10. Jesus healed the centurion’s slave without a word. Jesus didn’t go, he didn’t touch him, he didn’t offer a public prayer, he didn’t do anything outwardly. He just healed him. How did he do it? Beats me. But I know why he did it. He did it to demonstrate beyond all question that he is the Son of God with all authority given to him over sickness, disease and death.
And I know this: the Centurion’s faith put a spotlight on the authority and power of Jesus. The Centurion shows us Jesus as he is, not as we wish Jesus to be. The centurion is a most unlikely hero of faith who chooses faith, looks to others before himself, has a healthy perspective on himself, confidently believes in Jesus, is commended by the Lord, and is blessed by the Lord with an answer to his prayer.
Here’s a problem. Nobody could possibly pronounce they have faith like the Centurion… so how do we respond?
One idea: find people of great faith that also take risks, have humility and point the way to Christ. If Jesus can commend somebody for faith, we ought to be able to do the same. We will not only learn from them aobut ourselves, but also have a constant reminder of what Jesus is like through their relationship with God.
Another idea: while it is impossible for us to ever declare we are people of great faith, that does not mean we cannot practice the risk taking, the bridge building, the humility, the confidence in God, so that perhaps we can grow in the Lord. Faith is not a destination, it is a way of living, an active dependency to make it through each day.
Finally, it can get so discouraging to see amazing people and conclude you can never make it, so I remind you that this series is a diamond of faith with four sides, four stories, and truth comes in the whole. The humility and confidence expressed by the Centurion is only part of the story. In the next few weeks we’ll look how faith is also completely dependent on God, faith allows room for lots of questions, and faith is needed precisely because we are sinners.
May the faith of the Centurion, and other people of amazing faith, inspire you to embrace Christ for yourself, seeing Christ for who he really is. Choose to live by faith. Choose Christ. Amen.