Luke was a doctor, a gentile and he gives an interesting perspective on the life of Jesus. So often we read this same miracle of the Centurion and healing servant in Matthew 8. But we wanted to read the passage today in Luke because it gives us one key perspective change.
Matthew 8 focuses on the Centurion, but Luke 7 introduces another perspective - v3-5. The centurion sent Jewish elders who said to Jesus, this man deserves something from Jesus. The Centurion loves the nation and built the synagogue. In the mind of the Jewish elders here is someone who deserves to have special attention. Jewish elders themselves didn't get their positions for no reason, they were examples of the Law, they felt like the Centurion did something worthy and he deserves Jesus' attention.
And so from the perspective of the Jewish elders, this Centurion deserved respect. His position alone as a Centurion, means he was no ordinary person, he commanded a regimen of about 100 men and were considered the backbone of the Roman army. He was a man who not only had the respect of his men, but also the fear of the conquered people.
One commentator called him, "A man amongst men." Not only was he a powerful man, but he was also a good man too - a wonderful model citizen. He used his personal finances to build a synagogue for the Jewish community. He's a Roman centurion, Jewish people are some conquered colony but for these people, he built a synagogue for God's people. He cares about the community, he even cares about one person - his servant.
He loves dearly this servant on his deathbed and desperately wants the servant to be healed. In those days a slave had little dignity - by Roman Law, a slave was known simply as a living tool. He had no rights and his master could mistreat him and even kill him without repercussions.
William Barclay quotes a Roman writer who wrote on estate management. He recommended that the farmer examine his implements every year and throw out those which are old and broken. He then adds, "Do the same with your slaves." But someone had defined compassion as your pain in my heart and this slave was precious to the Centurion, and he had compassion on him and wanted him healed. This man had a heart for people.
So the Jewish elders when they say this man deserves to have your attention, it's not without merit. The Centurion has lived a certain life and acted a certain way, now he has earned the right to be given certain privileged treatment - That is the thinking which is going on in this passage.
We often think like that. Certain people deserve to be treated in a certain way because of who they are, or what they done. Politicians, presidents get state dinners and cleared roadways, security when they visit. Celebrities get red carpet rolled out for them, treated well at restaurants, everywhere they go.
The thing we need to know though from today's passage, is the way that we think in terms of people deserving respect or status or what not in this world is not God's standard. God's standard for his people in heaven is not based on these things we judge in the world. The thing is, people think it's this certain way to go to heaven, it's amazing what people think.
A survey 5000 people were asked if they believed they were good enough to get into heaven. 90% of them said yes they were. But what standard are they using? That is the thinking still widely held today - If you do good to others, good should come back to you. Blessings should come to those who deserve it. Privileges should be earned.
Actually, a lot of us want God to work this way. We get to heaven because we are pretty decent people - but is that the best way? As soon as we start saying things like: "I deserve to be treated well by God", or, "Those people are good and they deserve to be accepted", or, "they have given a lot to charity and help in so many ways, they deserve good treatment by God". As soon as we start saying things like this aren't we turning Christianity into a competition. And in any competition there is always going to be those who are better than you.
For example what if we came to Jesus and said, "Look how much I have sacrificed" Jesus could easily say, "Well I know many more people who have sacrificed much more - you're not even close to giving you life for Me. What makes you think your sacrifice is sufficient? Or we might come to Jesus and say, "Look at the burdens I have carried". To which Jesus can reply - "You call that a burden? The Christians who live in China; they know what a burden is. Those who suffer in Muslim countries; they know what a burden is. What makes you think that your burdens are so bad?
We might even come to Jesus and say, "Look how much I had to give up for Your sake" And Jesus could say, "You live in San Francisco and you dare say you have given up for Me? I know people who live in houses the size of your garden shed - and they do that because of My Name. What makes you think that you are poor compared to the poverty of so many others?
It all sounds very nice ... having God treat us on the basis of what we deserve ... or more correctly ... on the basis of what we think we deserve. When we start thinking like this we missed the real issue because we are focusing on the wrong issue.
Jesus is not concerned about things like performance, and position, and personal achievements. Faith in Jesus is not about our sacrifice, or burden-carrying, or performance, or "who deserve what".
The Centurion in today's message - shows us what kind of faith we must have. It's a faith that is completely different, in contrast to what these Jewish elders show - v6-10.
The Jews want Jesus to help the Centurion because "He deserves a favour from God". But the Centurion doesn't try the same line on Jesus. In fact, of all the people in this passage, only the Centurion has understood what Jesus is all about. The elders focus on "works" and "deserving". The Centurion focuses on "grace" and "undeserving". And that is why the actions of the Centurion are so wonderful - his actions show us what it takes to have a relationship with God in heaven.
As you read through this passage you see that the Centurion acts with the greatest humility. He doesn't dare speak to Jesus directly. He doesn't think his home is worth entering. He never once asserts his authority as an army officer. The Centurion knows there is nothing within himself that he can use to persuade Jesus to help. The Centurion also understands the authority of Jesus. He knows that Jesus is in complete control of all things - including sickness. If Jesus makes the command it will happen. If Jesus decides not to make the command, then who are we to argue? Jesus has the authority.
In a very simple way the Centurion is making it clear that he understands his place before Jesus. "I know you can do this; not because of my contribution but because of the type of person You are - a person of authority"
He is the subject and we are the object
What this Centurion is showing, is a very special faith in trusting the complete authority of Jesus. So often we put God as the object and try to understand God with our own limited scope and our limited ways. But God's ways are higher than our ways - He is the subject and we are the object. What is faith? Faith is the object with humility trusting in the authority of subject in God.
Max Lucado writes: "For that's what faith is. Faith is trusting what the eye can't see. Eyes see the prowling lion. Faith sees Daniel's angel. Eyes see storms. Faith sees Noah's rainbow. Eyes see giants. Faith sees Canaan. Your eyes see your faults. Your faith sees your Savior. Your eyes see your guilt. Your faith sees His blood. Your eyes see your grave. Your faith sees a city whose builder and maker is God. Your eyes look in the mirror and see a sinner, a failure, a promise-breaker. But by faith you look in the mirror and see a robed prodigal bearing the ring of grace on your finger and the kiss of your Father on your face."
When we ask the question - who am I? We have our unique perspective. Do we carry shame for a sin you committed many years ago? Are we going from day to day with a huge burden of guilt?
Maybe we've experimented with drugs, been violent, abusive, or vengeful, or maybe something else. Or maybe we've have been a member of the church all your life, even if you know the Scriptures well, even the pastors or perpetual church leaders serving and serving again. Or maybe you look at yourself in this world and say I'm a good person, I haven't really done anything all that bad or evil, I've kept to myself and been pretty good person.
Faith is accepting with the authority of God
In today's message, what we see is that it is not all about performance. If we have a burden of guilt with sin and say I don't deserve any favors with God. Or if we have done great things for God or lived a good life. All of that is not the basis of faith. Faith is accepting with the authority of God.
Faith, humility before Jesus, acceptance of His authority. That is what we need.
It's accepting Jesus as the authority of the cross, and salvation that comes through that. Faith, humility before Jesus, acceptance of His authority. That is what we need. Who are you? That is the first question. The second significant question is this ... Do you believe the authority of Christ?
It's an authority which Jesus has because He is the Son of God, the One sent to give us freedom. It's an authority that has been proven because Jesus defeated Satan, not once giving into temptation. It's an authority with the power to overcome sin and death, power proven on the cross. It's an authority that establishes Jesus as the One who graciously give a place in His kingdom to those who don't deserve.
That is the response we need today. Coming before Jesus in humility. Accepting that Jesus has all authority. That's faith. The faith which Jesus is looking for from each one of us. The faith which Jesus is looking for from those who are searching for true hope. Like this Centurion we read today, hope we can have this kind of faith too.