Christ Covenant Church
Rev. Marq Toombs
15 July 2018
Eighth Sunday after Pentecost / Ordinary Time
Our sermon text for today is Luke 7:2-10
Now a centurion had a servant who was sick and at the point of death, who was highly valued by him. When the centurion heard about Jesus, he sent to him elders of the Jews, asking him to come and heal his servant. And when they came to Jesus, they pleaded with him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy to have you do this for him, for he loves our nation, and he is the one who built us our synagogue.”And Jesus went with them. When he 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. 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 one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard these things, he marveled at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” And when those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the servant well.
As we walk through the Gospel of Luke at Christ Covenant Church I want to make sure we see that Jesus’ mission is shaped by the Law of Jubilee and that he brings Jubilee to bear on all kinds of people with his words and deeds. Jesus not only proclaims the gospel of Jubilee, he embodies it. Jesus practiced what he preached.
This story we just read is no different.
Here we meet a centurion. He is a Roman soldier in charge of one hundred Roman soldiers. They serve as the militarized police force in that Jewish town (Capernaum).
From a Jewish point if view, this was a real problem. The Romans were foreigners. The Romans were in charge of the Jews. The Jews were captives in their own land.
It would be like having the American military acting as the police force in charge of all the cities, towns, and villages in Mexico.
For the most part, there was tension between Romans and Jews. They despised and hated each other.
And yet, we meet this centurion and he seems to be different. Here is his resume:
He is a centurion, which means he is under the authority of Rome. He must do what his commanders order him to do.
He works for the Roman government and must enforce Roman law to maintain peace and order.
He is the master of his household.
He is a man of wealth and means. He has servants. He funded the building of the synagogue (Jewish church building).
He is a man of influence in the town. He is well-respected by Romans and Jews.
On the surface this looks like a good resume. However, in context of Luke’s Gospel, this resume might cause some problems for him.
Remember Luke has been telling us what God thinks about the rich and powerful and how treats the proud and the beautiful:
In Luke chapter 1 Mary, the mother of Jesus sang:
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
52 he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
And Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist sang:
51 that we should be saved from our enemies
and from the hand of all who hate us.
In Luke chapter 4, Jesus preached:
18 The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
And in Luke chapter 6, he said:
24 Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.
25 Woe to you who are full now, for you shall be hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep.
26 Woe to you, when all people speak well of you.
So, up to this point Luke has made it clear that people like the centurion will have trouble with God.
And yet, this centurion is different. He is not like the typical rich and powerful man.
When he heard about Jesus he responded with faith and hope.
How did he hear about Jesus? That “the news about Jesus went abroad, and great crowds gathered to hear him and to be healed of their infirmities. (5:15)
What did he hear about Jesus? That “people came to hear Jesus and to be healed of their diseases. And those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. And all the crowd sought to touch him, for power came out from him and healed them all. (6:18-19)
When the centurion heard the news about Jesus he asked Jesus to come and heal his servant.
In the Roman world, some servants were treated very well, almost like sons or daughters. They were loved by their masters like step-children are loved by their parents.
The centurion loves this servant like a son. He is highly esteemed. But he is suffering with a terminal illness.
It is a terrible, horrible, dreadful ordeal watching a loved one suffer, and waiting for it to end — either by healing or by death.
If you have ever sat and watched a loved one suffer to the point of death, you know how the centurion felt.
So, there is something different about this Roman centurion. He is a tender-hearted man; a deeply religious man.
We know that faith comes by hearing the word of God.
In God’s providence, the centurion lived in Capernaum. He must have heard the word of God from the elders of the Jews. They read and explained the Law and the Prophets every Sabbath.
He might have even heard the message of John the Baptizer at some point:
14 When soldiers asked him, “And we, what shall we do?” John said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.”
The point is that the centurion was a man devoted to God. Not the gods of the Romans, but the one true God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
He walked by faith before God and man.
So, he sent elders of the Jews to Jesus, asking him to come and heal his servant. This shows the influence and the respect he had among the Jews.
And when they came to Jesus, they pleaded with him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy to have you do this for him, for he loves our nation, and he is the one who built us our synagogue.”
The Jews prayed to the Christ one behalf of a Roman soldier. This is remarkable!
Now, we are Reformed Christians, and we are sensitive about such things, so some of us might be thinking in our hearts, “A-ha! He was not worthy, for no one is worthy but God alone.”
And yet when Jesus heard their prayer he simply answered it: “He went with them.”
This should not surprise us at all because this is what a wise king of the Jews asked God to do (1 Kings 8:41-43):
When a foreigner, who is not of your people Israel, comes from a far country for your name’s sake (for they shall hear of your great name and your mighty hand, and of your outstretched arm), when he comes and prays toward this house, hear in heaven your dwelling place and do according to all for which the foreigner calls to you, in order that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your people Israel, and that they may know that this house that I have built is called by your name.
That is what Jesus — who is God in the flesh — did for the centurion. He heard his prayer and answered it.
Jesus was on mission for the world — for the Jews, and for the Gentiles.
Remember when Jesus told the story about how Elisha the prophet healed Naaman the leper? (Luke 4:27) That was Jesus way of describing his own ministry.
Jesus came into the world for Jews and Gentiles, for insiders and outsiders.
That is why Jesus preached this message to his followers:
Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you…Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.
And Jesus always practiced what he preached.
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. Therefore I did not presume to come to you.”
Why the change of heart?
This is a mark of self-awareness and humility. As a centurion he was accustomed to giving orders and having people do whatever he commanded. At some point that day he must have realized that he had treated Jesus as a servant or a soldier — someone he could order around.
What in the world have I done?
Who do I think I am?
Why did I call him here?
So he regrets inviting Jesus to his house.
He feels bad about expecting Jesus to go to all the trouble to come and do something that he could have done from across town just by saying the word.
The centurion knows two things: Jesus is Lord; and I am not.
Now, since Jesus is the Lord, he has authority over the centurion, over his servant, over sickness, and over death.
The centurion reasons that authority and responsibility must work in the spiritual realm the same way it works in the military realm.
Now, if Jesus is the Lord of heaven and earth and everything in them, them Just one word from the Lord Jesus shall remove the terminal illness and restore my servant’s life.
The centurion believes the word of the Lord Jesus Christ has the power to form, reform, and transform the world. He believes the invisible influences the visible; that the spiritual affects the natural, physical, material.
“But say the word, and let my servant be healed.”
How did Jesus take this news from the centurion’s friends?
It stopped him dead in his tracks. Why? Was he offended? Upset? Bothered? No!
When Jesus heard these things, he marveled at him.
Not in a bad “shake my head” kind of way, but in a good “oh wow” kind of way.
The words means Jesus admired him — Jesus admired him for his faith.
Do you want to get Jesus’s attention? Do you want to get Jesus’s admiration? Do you want to impress Jesus in some way?
If so, you don’t have to speak in the tongues of men and of angels; you don’t need prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, or move mountains.
You don’t have to give away all your possessions, or deliver up you body to be burned in sacrifice.
If you want to impress Jesus, you don’t have to do anything dramatic or extreme.
All you have to do is trust him no matter what.
All you have to do is walk by faith, not by sight.
What is faith?
Faith is the confidence of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
It is believing that the invisible impacts the visible; that the spiritual affects the natural, physical, material; that the word of the Lord has the power to form, reform, and transform the world.
Like the centurion, people who walk by faith are commended by the Lord…but without faith it is impossible to please God, for whoever would draw near to him must believe that God is and that he is a rewarder of those who seek him.
So, what was the centurion’s reward for seeking and trusting the Lord?
The Lord answered his prayers. “When those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the servant well.”
Another way to put it: the Lord released him from all his anxieties and fears. The Lord gave restored and refreshed him body and soul. The gave him rest and relief.
What will your reward be for seeking and trusting the Lord?
Ask and you will receive. Seek and you will find. Knock and the door will open.
Pray and you will see the Lord’s decision, wait and you see the Lord’s salvation, hope and you will see the Lord’s provision for you.
Walk by faith and you will receive the Lord as your shield and great reward.
Until he answers, lower yourself under his mighty hand, and at the proper time he will lift you up. Cast all your doubts, fears, and worries on him, because he cares for you.
In the midst of sorrow and pain, cry out to him.
In the grip of anxiety and fear, call on his name.
In the darkness of guilt and shame, trust him.
In the face of sickness and death, cry out to him.
In the pit of despair and hopelessness, trust him.
In the prison of sin and temptation, call on his name.
In the chaos of unstable present and uncertain future, cry out to him.
I know that sometimes — especially when life is hard and you are at the end of your rope — the Lord seems to be far away, but God’s Spirit says,
The Lord is near.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will stand guard like a centurion around your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
As a wise king put it in the Book of Proverbs:
Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths.
Be not wise in your own eyes;
fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.
It will be healing to your flesh
and refreshment to your bones.