Uncommon Faith

Centurian, Faith, Deity of Christ,

Have you ever had a conversation with someone and didn’t understand anything they were saying because they were using technical or specialized vocabulary? Maybe a Doctor explained some health issue to you in medical terms that were very appropriate and precise but you had no idea what he was saying because you did not understand the terms. You may have had the same problem with a contractor or a mechanic or a computer support person. Some terms are used frequently but defined infrequently.

We can face this same problem as followers of Christ. We are always telling people that they should “have faith”, “keep the faith” and “walk by faith”.  However, we seldom take time to define what “faith” means.

As we begin Luke chapter 7 Luke gives us an illustration of what true, unshakeable faith looks like. Surprisingly, the illustration is seen in a non-Jew, a Roman soldier no less. Jesus never actually meets this man but in verse 9 we are told Jesus was “amazed” at his faith.  The only other time the New Testament said Jesus was amazed was in Mark 6:6 where Jesus was amazed at the lack of faith in his own hometown. Jesus said the Roman soldier had a faith unlike any Jesus had found even in Israel. His example has something to teach us.

Who is this Man?

We really don’t know much about this man. We know he was a Centurion. This means he was a non-commissioned officer in the Roman army and could have had authority over as many as 100 soldiers.

It appears he was stationed in Capernaum which is located on the northwest side of the Sea of Galilee. We know the man had a servant that was sick and about to die. In Matthew 8:6 we are told the man was paralyzed and suffering. Verse 2 tells us that the centurion valued this servant highly. This in itself is noteworthy because servants were most often treated like property. When they became old or had lost their usefulness they were simply cast aside, thrown out on the curb for citywide cleanup.

The Centurion had heard of Jesus (perhaps from the miracles he had done when he was in Capernaum earlier). So he sent some elders of the Jews to Jesus to ask him to come and heal his servant.

The elders said, “This man deserves for you to do this, because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue.” So he apparently was a good guy, a generous man, and a big supporter of the local synagogue. (This synagogue in Capernaumhas actually been discovered by archaeologists). It would seem he was a man who was spiritually hungry, open, and one who sought to some degree to please God with his actions.

What is interesting is that these men appeal to Jesus on the basis of the deserving nature of the Centurion. They felt the man “deserved” this miracle. This is the way we all tend to appeal to the Lord. We have a tendency to negotiate with God. We think God owes us because

  • We have been good church-goers
  • We have given a lot of money to the Lord’s work
  • We are nice to people
  • We have regular devotions
  • We witness to others

As we will see, the Centurion, the man with great faith, approached things differently.

A Posture of Humility

We are told the Centurion sent a delegation to Jesus the first time because he “did not consider himself worthy to come to him”.  When Jesus came near his home he sent additional messengers to say that he “did not deserve to have Jesus come under his roof.” His attitude was one of humility.

He saw himself for who he really was. This Centurion understood that he had no right to ask anything of Jesus. He saw that he deserved nothing. One of the greatest hindrances to faith is to approach the Lord as if we were equals entering a negotiation. We have nothing with which to negotiate. Even on our best days we are only doing what we should be doing!

If we received what we deserved from the Lord we would get judgment. Every day of life is an undeserved gift. Every pleasure, every beauty, every insight is a gift. We deserve nothing. Appealing to God on the basis of what we deserve is like a serial killer claiming he deserved to be released from prison because he had always kept his lawn mowed!

True faith is not about being negative, it’s not even about being overly introspective, it is seeing our position before the Lord clearly. We are the created talking to the Creator.

He saw Christ for who he really is. The second part of this is that the Centurion saw the greatness of Christ. The Centurion believed in his power of the Lord so completely that he believed all Jesus needed to do was to say that word and his servant would be healed.

This is why the Centurion is able to come boldly to the Lord to ask for help.  Boldness is not the same as arrogance. The Centurion’s boldness was anchored not in his goodness, or his technique. His confidence was in the character and compassion of the Lord. He came confidently to the Lord because he believed the Lord would listen and hear His plea.

True faith then is anchored in a true understanding of our own unworthiness combined with an absolute confidence in His greatness.

Recognition of Authority

There is a second aspect to this man’s faith. He recognized the authority of Jesus. Many of the Jews recognized that Jesus had abilities as a healer and a teacher. The Centurion recognized that Jesus was far more than this. He believed that His authority was so great that all Jesus needed to do was say that servant was healed (from anywhere) and the servant would indeed be healed.

This soldier understood the chain of command. He knew that when he gave a command his subordinates did whatever he commanded. A soldier must learn to submit to the orders and trust the wisdom of his commanders.

Jesus was more than willing to come into this man’s home. And if you are like me, you would have wanted him to come in and actually touch and pray over the person who was sick. However, the Centurion was so confident of the Lord’s authority that He knew Jesus only had to speak and it would be accomplished.

I marvel at the respect this Roman soldier showed to the Lord. He recognized the Lord’s power and was submissive before that power.

This is different from the mindset of our culture. We live in an arrogant day. Children think nothing of speaking against their parents. Students resist submitting to teachers. Citizens feel free to disregard the law if it doesn’t suit them. Respect for government authority has almost disappeared. Unfortunately, respect for God is also diminishing. This centurion had respect for the authority Jesus had over creation and I believe, over his life.

There are several ways we show respect. We show respect for God’s authority when we do what He commands. We show respect for His authority when we,

  • Remain sexually pure
  • Forgive those who have hurt us
  • Befriend someone who has not treated us well.
  • Help others with the resources we have been given.
  • Tell the truth even if it makes us look bad.
  • Testify of Him to our family and friends
  • Fulfill our obligations even when there are other things we might rather do.
  • Do what the Bible says even when it is inconvenient

Lorrie Shaver was a young woman who worked hard to prepare to be a missionary in France. She was headed to Colorado via Texas for her commissioning service. Her flight to Texas crashed and she was killed. Shortly before her death she recorded these words,

I’ve realized…just how finite we really are and how much we have to commit our lives daily to Him. It’s not a tomorrow thing. I need to realize that today I need to live for Him and what really matters to God is if I am obedient in today’s call.[1]

 Second, we show respect for God’s authority when we submit to and trust Him even in the unpleasant and painful times of life. When Job saw his life fall apart he said, “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.” (Job 1:21) Job showed that even though he did not understand (or like) what was happening in his life, he trusted the Lord. He submitted to His wisdom. Os Guinness has written,

Face to face with mystery, and especially the mystery of evil, the faith that understands why it has some to trust, must trust where it has not come to understand. Faith does not know why in terms of the immediate, but it knows why it trusts God who knows why in terms of the ultimate. [2]

Third, we show respect for the Lord’s authority by the way we talk about the Lord. We show respect to others by using the terms Mr. and Mrs. We show respect when we say, “Yes sir” and “Yes ma’m” (though this is waning). We even show respect when we say, “Hey, he’s the boss.”  A soldier salutes a superior officer. He respond to a directive by saying “Yes sir”. He stands at attention. All of these are outward signs of respect for authority.

When we speak of the Lord in ways that honor Him we show respect for His authority. This means we refrain from using His name as profanity or even as a meaningless expression. Grammatically, whenever you write a Name or pronoun that refers to God, it should be capitalized. Why? It shows honor and respect to the Lord. We should speak in that same way . . . being careful to honor the Lord with our words.

APPLICATION

Isn’t it sad that Jesus marveled at the uniqueness of this man’s faith? He marveled because this kind of faith is so rare. Jesus had been ministering to the Jews for perhaps a year and a half. He had done miracles and He had taught the crowds, yet this Roman soldier had more faith than any of the people Jesus had encountered.

How do we go about developing a stronger, more vibrant faith? How do we practice uncommon faith? It’s a tough question because such faith is too rare in my own life. However, based on this text I think there are some things we can do.

First, we can work to see God more clearly. We need to consider the attributes and the character of God. One of the reasons we tend to approach God as an equal is because we are uninformed as to God’s true nature. I encourage you to read a book on the attributes and nature of God. Read through the Psalms and note what David says about the Lord. Work through the prophets and listen to what they tell us about the Lord. Listen carefully to the words of Jesus.

It’s not all academic. On a clear night stand outside and look up at the starry host. Marvel at the working of the human body, consider the intricacies of the human brain, study the human body, and look around at the majesty of creation. Look around and marvel at the variety in creation and people. Remind yourself that God is the One who created it all.

Second, we need to be honest about our own sinfulness. Before we will ever truly trust Christ we must come to the end of any notion that we deserve God’s favor. Listen to the way you pray. Hear when you start to negotiate with God. Pay attention to when you are implying that you “deserve” His blessing. When you see this happening stop and confess your foolishness and adopt the posture of one who is a grateful recipient of an astounding grace.

Third, we can make it a practice to consciously submit to his authority. The believer recognizes not only God’s love but also His right to have authority over our lives. Becoming a disciple means learning to rely on and submit to God’s authority in ever-increasing ways.

Do you know a good way to learn to do this? Start by submitting to the authorities in your earthly life. Show respect for your employer. Talk to your teacher in an honoring way. Pay attention to those who are charged to give you guidance. Follow directions. If we will learn to be humble and submit to authority in the everyday things of life we will more likely submit to the Lord.

Here is a good test for your life. Ask yourself: Am I submitting to God’s authority and His commands or am I trying to edit and revise those commands according to my preferences? Earlier I read a list of commands we obey when we respect the Lord. As I read that list did you find yourself adjusting those commands to fit with your lifestyle rather than adjusting your lifestyle to fit His commands? Do you have a bunch of excuses why those things should not apply to you?

The trend in our society (and even in a growing segment of the church) is to see the Word of God as a book of wise sayings rather than the revelation of God’s heart and will. Too many people view the Bible as a catalog from which you can pick and choose things that you think might be helpful for your life.  This approach is not Christian faith! The growing tendency to revise God’s word to fit popular culture is not creative worship . . . it is heresy. Biblical, Christian, and saving faith involves submitting to God’s authority for our lives as revealed in Scripture.

Sadly, Jesus is becoming more of a life coach than a Savior to many. He is pictured as cheering for us rather than leading us. He is presented as our good buddy rather than as our Lord and Rescuer. His commands are viewed as wise sayings to help us reach our goals. The focus is not the Lord . . . it is the consumer.  We learn from the Centurion that our Lord desires followers who will wholeheartedly trust Him. He wants people who will trust His sacrifice for their sin, His directives for their lives, and His wisdom throughout the circumstances of life.

There is one more thing. Don’t miss the value of intercession. The centurion came to Jesus on behalf of his friend. What do you think would have happened if the Centurion had simply stood back and mourned the decay of his friend? What if he had shrugged his shoulders and said, “There is nothing I can do.” Surely the servant would have died.

The Centurion chose to boldly ask Jesus to heal his servant. He took action. He turned to the Lord. As a result, the servant had many more years of life, and I wouldn’t be surprised if both the Centurion and the servant became lifetime followers of Christ.

You may feel like you are in a helpless situation

  • There may be someone you love who is desperately sick
  • Someone going through great turmoil
  • You may have a friend who strongly resists the message of the gospel
  • You may have a family member who is rebelling
  • You may even find yourself facing some mountain in your own life

Use this story as a reminder that you are never helpless when you can bring your concerns to the Lord of life. He can change any situation with a simple word. Ask boldly and ask confidently. We can be bold without being manipulative. We can be humble without being weak or wimpy. Our job is to turn to the Lord confident that He is able to meet our greatest need.

Will the Lord always give us what we want?  No. Sometimes we don’t see clearly. Sometimes what we think is best is really not what is best. We can be sure that the Lord will give us what is best in His eternal and flawless perspective. So, instead of worrying, fretting, scheming, or despairing . . . turn to the One who has the power and authority to heal a body, change a heart, break down a wall, or completely change a circumstance. Turn to the one who can bring beauty from the ashes and victory from the rubble of defeat.

Isn’t it interesting that we have this great example of astonishing faith and yet we never learn the Centurion’s name?  I’m sure this is because the story is really not about the Centurion. It isn’t about what men can do . . . it is about God can do if we will trust Him. This story is not given us so we can learn some technique that will guarantee the answers to our prayers. The story is related so we can see what true faith looks like.

Faith does not need to be a word that is used all the time but practically means little. What the centurion teaches us is this: Faith is what results when we focus not on our ability but His. It is when we abandon our schemes, let go of our worry, set aside our fear and instead unreservedly trust Him. That kind of faith may be rare but it doesn’t have to be.

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Scripture:

Luke 7:1-10