Monday, May 23, 2016

Marvelous Faith

Right after preaching the famous sermon on the plain, Jesus wants those who follow him to "get" something important, and an opportunity presents itself.

Luke 7: 1After he had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. 2Now a centurion…

I want to tell you about centurions. They were not mere Roman soldiers, they were enlisted men who had worked themselves up through the ranks to be in charge of 100 men. They were not just political brown-nosers, they were elite fighting men who were not to be trifled with. Their pay was significant. Using today’s numbers, the average private in the U.S. Army is paid $18200 per year. By that standard, the common centurion made $364,000 a year (some made 2-4 times that)! To attain this rank and honor, one must be proven in combat or in martial arts to exhibit skill and courage, have a record of obedience, and show leadership. According to historians, these men were the backbone of the Roman legions. In short, they were the special forces of the greatest army in the world, and were spread out to lead the others by example. They were serious, ambitious, professional soldiers. In occupied territories, centurions were often the military governors of a town or area. They were feared and often hated by those subjected to them. They were not known for having compassion. They wore a flashy helmet and a breastplate covered with silver medallions—war medals for valor. They were important, and they knew it. And they usually had utter disdain for those conquered.

Now you can better appreciate this story.

Because this centurion’s different.

2Now a centurion had a servant who was sick and at the point of death, who was highly valued by him. 

Usually these servants (the word is often translated, “slave”) were pressed into service against their will from among the conquered people and treated like dirt. We really don’t know much more about the servant. Matthew reveals he’s male, and that he was “lying paralyzed” and “suffered terribly.” Dr. Luke’s diagnosis is that he was near death. What is amazing is that the centurion actually cares about this servant. Highly unusual! 

3When the centurion heard about Jesus, he sent to him elders of the Jews, asking him to come and heal his servant. 

Now we see that this important Roman officer had heard about this Jewish itinerate preacher/healer and believed Jesus was for real. He moves on behalf of his servant, not himself. The “elders” was a group made up of some patriarchs from the town, the ruler of synagogue or religious leaders, and perhaps other important or wealthy men. That they would come on his behalf is quite unusual! But something else odd happened: 

4And when they came to Jesus, they pleaded with him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy to have you do this for him, 5for he loves our nation, and he is the one who built us our synagogue.”  

This is remarkable. Even these Jewish leaders, who were typically proud of their own righteousness and disdainful of others (especially Gentiles, and particularly leaders in the military that subdued them) recognize this guy isn’t your average centurion. By their own words, this guy actually lives out some of the things Jesus had just said his followers should do: love enemies, be selfless, generous, about others. 

6And Jesus went with them. 

On the heels of his sermon, Jesus himself seems to be demonstrating radical love for enemies. So he agrees to go help this Gentile soldier. While walking across town, we infer the centurion gets word that Jesus is actually coming. At this point you’d think he’d be thrilled, but he’s not: 

When [Jesus] was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends, saying to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. 7Therefore I did not presume to come to you. But say the word, and let my servant be healed. 8For I too am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me: and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”  

Did you catch that? He called him Lord, he shows incredible understanding of his own sinfulness, and he totally gets Jesus’ authority and power. He never blinks about whether Jesus can do this. He simply believes, and doesn’t think Jesus even needs to be present to make it happen. What was Jesus’ reaction? He is seriously impressed!

9When Jesus heard these things, he marveled at him, 

The word translated, “marveled” is only used three time regarding Jesus. Two of these are with this story about this centurion (Matthew uses it, too). The other is when Jesus marvels at the people of his home town regarding their LACK of faith [Mk. 6:6]. But here Jesus is impressed. And he makes a big deal of it: 

and turning to the crowd that followed him, said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” 10And when those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the servant well.

There’s a lot of good that can be said about this Gentile centurion: He loved his servant. He loved the Jews and demonstrated it. He shows humility (I am not worthy), and based only on what he’s heard, he has a correct understanding of Christ's authority and identity. All that is good. but it's his faith that Jesus focuses on as marvelous.

This should be our focus too—the kind of faith Jesus desires. Here are 3 key aspects of faith that the Bible teaches:

1. Faith defined: 
Hebrews 11:1 reads, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” That's more than mere hope. That’s being sure of what you hope for. That’s being certain of what you haven’t seen. That’s what we observe in this centurion who never saw Jesus yet believed he had the power and authority to heal his servant—in absentia! He simply believed! By the way, the Greek word translated “faith” is pistis, and the word translated “believe” is pisteuĊ. Yes, they have the same root. To have faith is to believe. 

2. Faith is necessary for a relationship with God: 
Hebrews 11:6 “And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.”
That’s because faith overrides all barriers, real and imagined. This centurion was a Gentile. Most Jews would have said that he was beyond saving. What’s a bigger problem is that he was a sinner (as we all are). Even the most serious Jews were separated from God by their sin, because good works do not save. But no one is beyond saving who has faith. 
Galatians 2: 15We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; 16yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified. 

And just in case that’s not clear enough, read Ephesians 2:8: For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God. Of course grace is God’s gift. But I believe faith is too. Faith is the means by which God’s grace is applied. Grace through faith. No one is an outsider to Christ if he/she has faith. 

“Wait,” some are saying, “I just struggle with believing.” In Mark 9: There’s a dad who’s son is demon possessed. He is desperate for Jesus to heal him. He says to Jesus: 22But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” 23And Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” 24Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” I love that prayer! If you aren’t yet there regarding belief, ask God to help you! Ask him to give you faith to believe!

There’s one more key aspect of faith…

3. Faith works! Real faith results in a change in lifestyle, and will show evidence. What the Centurion showed is an example of faith in Christ's identity/authority/ability that resulted in good works. Faith in Christ brings forth actions of humility and love–like what we've been talking about the last few weeks.

This kind of faith saves, and it also bears fruit. 

James 2 :14-19 14What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? 15If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? 17So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
18But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. 19You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! 

Galatians 2:20, one of my favorite verses, reads: I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

If we back away to see the big picture, we see that Luke is showing us that Jesus is giving the foundational blocks for “getting” God. 

We’ve been seeing the first which was on display in the sermon on the plain. Agape Love is that essential characteristic of God that caused him to make and save us. He wants to share it with us. It is how we are blessed. It is the key to living the Christ life. Love. Big huge foundational building block.

But this week we see another important foundational word for “getting God.”
To “get” him is not just to understand him. It is to have a relationship with him. 

Here is the key to gaining Christ: Faith. As far as we are concerned, all that is required is faith. We see in the centurion that it is NOT about heritage. It is about faith. His faith is what caused Jesus to marvel. It is what Jesus wanted all the others to see. 

Where are you? Have you believed? 

For some the “light” comes on like a flip switch, but for others it is more like a dimmer switch. Perhaps you’re just now getting to the place where you can say, “Yep, I think I believe.” Now, like this centurion, let it be known.

No comments: