17/08/2003 at 9.30am / 11.15am
Jesmond Parish Church
A sermon preached by Ramzi Adcock
This morning we start a new series called 'People Meeting Jesus' and we begin by looking at the story of the Centurion that we heard read earlier.
What we have here is a historic account of a real event that happened about 2000 years ago. As we read the story together, try to picture what is going on. Every so often, as we read it together we will hit the pause button and think a bit more about what is happening.
So, Luke chapter 7, verse 1…
When Jesus had finished saying all this in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum.Jesus has just been teaching a crowd of people in Galilee which is in the North of Israel. He now goes to nearby Capernaum to teach them a lesson in faith - from a foreigner!
Look at verse 2:
a centurion's servant, whom his master valued highly, was sick and about to die.Not the most exciting start to a story is it! We are in the home of a local Roman army captain. In his job he was in charge of up to 100 men and so is pretty well off and respected. It's a nice house and his servants help keep it that way. But our attention moves to the servant's quarters and we notice a servant has taken ill. Not too unusual: sickness and death was common in Bible times and life expectancy was what we would call middle age.
But hold on: here is something unusual. The centurion was personally concerned about the slave. He didn't treat him as a tool. He didn't just get upset because no one had brought him his cup of tea. He wasn't sending messages to the agency demanding they get someone down straight away to replace him!
No, instead we see a centurion who cared for his servant as a person, and who wants to do whatever he can to help.
Let's read on:-
The centurion had heard of Jesus and sent some elders of the Jews to him, asking him to come and heal his servant. When they came to Jesus, they pleaded earnestly with him, "This man deserves to have you do this, because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue." (v3-5)So what does he do about his servant being ill? Well he has obviously heard about Jesus. So far, Jesus has only been up North in Israel, in the area where the centurion lived. Since arriving in his town (Capernaum) Jesus has been teaching, driving out evil spirits and healing people. Luke tells us that the news about him spread throughout the area (4:37 and 5:15). He believed that Jesus had the power to heal his servant and he decided to ask Jesus to come and heal him.
But here we see another surprise. How does he ask Jesus for help? He sent some elders of the Jews! Remember this guy is not a Jew - he is a foreigner! He is a leader in the army that is occupying the Jewish land! So why does he send the Jews?
It is because he didn't think he was worthy enough. He knew that Jesus was a man worthy of the highest honour. He couldn't go himself. That would dishonour Jesus. He was just a foreigner. Instead he must send some Jews. And not just any Jews. He must send the highest Jews possible. That way he could honour Jesus.
He was obviously familiar with these Jews. He has worked with them on their latest building project and when he asked them to do this for his servant they went enthusiastically. They found Jesus and passed on the request.
Well actually, they went a step too far. Maybe because they thought that as a foreigner they needed to present a good argument for why Jesus should even spare him the time of day. But their request turned into a demand. It wasn't a case of "Jesus, we know that you can do this. Would you please come". It was "Jesus, considering all this man has done he deserves you to come and do this for him." "Jesus you owe him this". "Jesus you must do this: he is a good man. Look at his attitude to the Jewish people. And he out of his own pocket paid for our synagogue".
How did Jesus respond? We read on:
So Jesus went with them. He was not far from the house when the centurion sent friends to say to him: 'Lord, don't trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you.(v6-7a)Jesus was open to go to help this foreigner. This is a favourite theme of Luke. Jesus came for ALL PEOPLE. He was willing to go and heal the slave of the centurion. He was not concerned that he was a foreigner.
Meanwhile back at the house, the centurion is obviously having second thoughts. Maybe he remembered that Jewish traditions forbade Jews to enter the home of foreigners. Maybe he was embarrassed as he realised that he was asking Jesus to come all the way to his house and was worried that he had troubled him.
So he sends some of his friends to stop Jesus, even though he was only at the end of the road! He was so anxious that he even told them what to say, word for word. So they delivered the message, speaking as if they themselves were the centurion.
As they had not got back yet, the centurion had no idea what the Jews had said to Jesus. We know however, and his words contrast sharply with theirs "I am not worthy. I do not deserve…" How different to what the Jews had said. His attitude to Jesus was one of humility.
He saw himself as he really was: an unworthy man. Jesus was a poor working class Northern lad. The Centurion was a man of wealth and social standing. Yet, he saw himself as unworthy to have Jesus come to his house, let alone meet him in the street. What an attitude of humility!
But it was also an attitude of faith. We read on:
But say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, 'go' and he goes; and that one 'come' and he comes. I say to my servant, 'Do this', and he does it (vv 7b-8)He not only saw himself as he really was. He also saw Jesus as he really was. He realised that Jesus had power over life and death. He realised that he could heal with a word without even coming to the house! He understood that Jesus had authority, just as he had authority in the army to give commands. As God had created the world with a word, so Jesus could heal with a word.
And now we come to the punch line of the story: we see Jesus' reaction to the man:-
When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, "I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel". Then the men who had been sent returned to the house and found the servant well. (vv 9-10)When Jesus heard the words of the centurion, he was amazed. Why was he amazed?
He was amazed because this man was a captain in the Roman army with considerable power. Yet he came with humility. He saw himself as he really was.
He was amazed because this man was not a Jew. He was a Gentile, a foreigner. Yet he had faith, expressed in such a simple way. "Jesus, just say the word and it will happen". He saw Jesus as he really was.
And that faith was held up to the people around him and the disciples following him as an example of great faith that is unparalleled by anything he has seen in Israel.
Again Luke draws attention to the fact that faith in Christ is for everyone, not just the Jews. What great news that is for us! There is nothing that excludes us from faith in Jesus.
Then, we are told, the men returned home. Notice there is no record of Jesus actually saying anything. The centurions faith was that Jesus could heal just with a word. We do not hear that word, but Jesus did have the authority over life and death and the servant was made well.
Now you'll have noticed I have not had any points so far. We have just been following the story as the Centurion met Jesus. We've come to the end of the story and rather than make a point I want to ask a question:
Is our faith like the centurion's?
Jesus has lifted the faith of the centurion up as an example for us.
What was the Centurion's faith like? In essence, it was seeing himself as he really is and seeing Jesus as he really is.
Do we see ourselves as undeserving and unworthy to come to Jesus? Do we see Jesus as one who has the ultimate authority?
If you are at church this morning and wanting to find out more about the Christian faith, this is what it is about. To come to Jesus in faith, to come as a Christian, you need to see yourself as you really are: undeserving, unworthy. The Bible says this: everyone has sinned and fallen short of God's standards.
You also need to see Jesus as he really is: as your God. With ultimate authority and power.
There is a lot more that can be said about that. If you have questions, then please ask someone you know who is a follower of Jesus. And if it would help you, then feel free to take a copy of one of these books at the back of church. They are called "Why Jesus" and explain a bit more about what faith is like.
But if, like me, you have come to Jesus in this way knowing that you are unworthy and knowing who he is then consider this: have you forgotten who you are and have you forgotten who he is.
If you have forgotten who you are, you may see in yourself some of the attitude of the Jews. They came to Jesus, knowing he could heal the servant, but forgetting they are unworthy. They came with a demand rather than a request.
I was trying to think of an area in my life where I have been doing this. Here is one (and there are many): in 5 weeks and 6 days (and 2 hours) I will be getting married! Before then, if we are to be able to stay in Newcastle, my fiancée Suzy needs to find a job in Newcastle. We have been looking for about a year without success. But I KNOW that God can provide. If he can provide us with 3 Osborne Rd, he can provide Suzy with a job.
But I was very convicted as I prepared for this morning. You see it is so tempting to come to Jesus saying something like this: God I trust that you are a great God and you can do anything. Father, please can you do this for me. After all, I deserve it.
Maybe we don't say it exactly like that. Maybe we just think it. Running through our minds might be something like this. 'Father I have not just been attending this church, I have been heavily involved in serving your people here. I have given till it hurt for the 3 Osborne Rd project. I even gave you 1 pound out of my pocket money when I was 6!' You see. It gets ridiculous! But it is so easy to do - to let our requests become demands.
It may be that you haven't forgotten who you are: rather, you have forgotten who Jesus is. Jesus has ultimate power and authority. As it says in Colossians:-
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities: all things were created by him and for him. (Col 1:15-16)Has Jesus become too small in your eyes? Have you forgotten he can heal without even a word? Do you realise who you are approaching? Do you honour him, as he deserves?
It is easy to forget. As I prepared for this I have had my picture of Jesus expanded. I have been praying that yours will be too.
And God is so amazing! I so needed to prepare this talk this week. We have been applying for work permits for two international students to join the staff as parish assistants. The application for their work permits was unfortunately rejected. We appealed and this week I received a letter letting me know that our appeal had been unsuccessful. I have to admit that I went home pretty depressed.
But I needed to remember the God that we serve. I needed to remember his power and his authority. He is indeed Lord over all. We have not given up hope.
What areas of your life cause you to forget or doubt that Jesus is who he is?
Take a minute now to bring those areas to Jesus. Come like the Centurion with humility and with faith. Ask him for what you need, confident that he has all authority and power. Ask him for forgiveness for forgetting who you are or forgetting who he is.
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