Scripture: Luke 7:1-10
My dad always said that I marched to the beat of my own drum. My mom would say I was a strong willed child. My wife just says I am stubborn. They are probably all right. Maybe you are this way to, but I am a bit of a non-conformist by nature. If someone tells me I have to do something a specific way then I have to resist the very strong urge to find a different way to do it just on principle. I have learned to (mostly) control these impulses over the years, but in elementary school I was in constant friction with teachers. This was most true in second grade with Mrs. Sizemore. She was the kind of teacher that valued rules, lived for straight lines, and put an extremely high value on class room order. Needless to say that was a very difficult year for both of us. There is a rite of passage that every young man graduating high school goes through where they are bombarded by recruitment fliers, postcards, and phone calls to join the various branches of the military. Since I was getting all of these things in the mail and all of these phone calls when I was a senior in high school, I very briefly looked into it. I had a friend who had already decided she was going to be career military, and she was able to tell me a lot about it. I quickly decided that while joining the military and serving in that way is very honorable and laudable it absolutely was not for me. Putting me with a drill sergeant that requires unwavering, absolute, instant, and exact obedience in the most trivial of details would have been a recipe for disaster. The irony then is that my life path developed in a way that my faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior became the most important aspect of my life. For a natural non-conformist like me being a Christian can be a challenge sometimes. It is my natural tendency to do things my way, but the bible reminds me that my ways are not God’s ways. Being a Christian means that we pray with sincerity “May your will be done”, as opposed to following our will. Proclaiming Jesus as Lord or our lives means that we seek to follow his commands and examples with unwavering, absolute, instant, and exact obedience over every facet of our lives. When it comes to submitting to the authority of Christ to that full of an extent, that is something I imagine all of us fall short of and struggle with daily. This morning’s scripture focuses on a member of the Roman military, and he can teach all of us about how to better follow Jesus.
This morning’s scripture records a story from the middle of Jesus’ ministry, and it happened in the area of Jesus adoptive home town of Capernaum. This story stands out for a few reasons. There are several uncommon or rare occurrences that manage to all happen in this one story. First, in this story people come to summon Jesus. This happens elsewhere in the gospels, but it is more common for people to come upon people or for people to come to him. It is much less common for Jesus to be summoned. Second, Jesus is called to help a gentile. We do not know a lot about the centurion, except that he must have been a bit of a non-conformist himself. The Centurion was a fairly well known rank in the Roman army. The centurion was one of the higher ranks that could expect to be in the thick of combat. While the command structure is not quite the same, a Roman centurion is roughly equivalent to a modern day army captain. It was common practice for Romans to deploy troops far away from home, that way they would not have natural sympathy for the locals. We can infer then that this centurion was a Roman citizen, a non-Jew, who was not local to the area. The Jews and their strict religious rules were known to be a pain in the side of the Romans, but despite that this particular Centurion found something admirable about them. The Jewish authorities tell Jesus that this Centurion loves the Jewish nation, and the soldier backed that up with his money to build their synagogue. The uniqueness of this cannot be understated. It would be similar to a staunch atheist donating a large sum to a church building program, because he believed the building would be good for the community. It is clear that this Roman centurion is a bit different than the average Roman solider.
Despite standing apart and being unique, this Roman centurion was still a non-Jew asking Jesus for a miracle. There are a couple of other examples of Jesus preforming miracles for non-Jews, but only a couple. In fact in Matthew 15 there is a story where a Canaanite woman, a non-Jew and a pagan, begs with Jesus to heal her daughter. Jesus tells her “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.” However, in that story Jesus does eventually heal the daughter because of the great faith of the Canaanite woman. The woman’s faith leads to Jesus praising and commending her faith. That is the other rare occurrence in this morning’s scripture as well. In all four gospels, there are only two instances where Jesus praises and commends the faith of another person: The Canaanite woman from Matthew 15 and the Roman Centurion from Luke 7. Jesus said about the Centurion’s faith, “I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.” There are three aspects about the centurion’s faith that made it great, and I believe that we can learn from him and incorporate those own aspects into our faith as well.
The first aspect of the Centurion’s faith is that he had a high view of Jesus and what he could do as the Christ. That is the meaning behind verse 8 where the centurion says “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.” As a military officer, this centurion was no stranger to authority. The backbone of the Roman Empire’s military success was the way that it used strict discipline to maintain unit cohesion. Roman soldiers were trained hard in being obedient and following the orders of their commanders. This kind of absolute authority is the kind of authority that the centurion understood, and he was plaining stating that this is the very same kind of authority that Jesus had over life and death. The centurion was declaring that he believed Jesus was more than just a prophet or divine healer. The centurion was declaring that he believed Jesus to have the authority to command and change the very rules that govern the universe. The centurion was declaring that Jesus was sovereign over all creation.
A faith statement that ascribes this much power and puts this much trust in Jesus, is unique in all of the gospels. It is a very high view of the power and Lordship of Jesus. The question is do we believe that Jesus has this much authority? Kevin DeYoung, author and Presbyterian pastor, once stated: “For many Christians, coming to grips with God’s all-encompassing providence requires a massive shift in how they look at the world.” It is one thing to say that Jesus is king, it is another thing to come to grips with that fact and live it out. If Jesus is king that means we truly believe he has authority over everything. It means that prayer is more than just the power of positive thinking, it means we are petitioning the king of the universe to change the rules of how the universe works on our behalf. It means that when we make these request, we are not just doing it to hedge out bets and playing the odds for a good outcome but we are trusting that the son of God has authority over what we are asking. That is what it means to have a high view of Christ.
There is another side of this aspect though, if we believe that Jesus has authority over all things, then we need to live like Jesus has authority over our lives. One of the hard truths we have to accept is that either Jesus has authority over our lives or Jesus does not. Jesus is always our king or Jesus is not our king. There is no such thing as an almost Christian or a Sunday morning only Christian. Jesus needs to have as much influence and authority in our lives on Monday and Wednesday as he does when we are in a sanctuary. A high view of Christ is viewing Jesus as the Lord of our whole life: our life at work, our life as a parent, our private lives, and our lives when we interact with others. It means that in everything we think, everything we say, and everything we do we seek to do it in a way that is consistent with the teaching and examples of Jesus. We seek to love and glorify God while loving our neighbor.
The second aspect of the centurion’s faith is the flip side of the first. If the first aspect of his faith was having a high view of Christ, then the second aspect is having a low view of himself. This is very clearly displayed in this morning’s scripture. The Centurion sends people out to keep Jesus from coming under his roof, because he feels that he is not worthy to be in the presence of Jesus. According to the scripture, he does not want Jesus to “trouble himself” with coming to him. If we realize the authority of Jesus, then we have to also realize how unworthy of approaching him we are. There is a good chance we all have met someone who conducts themselves in such a way that it is clear they consider themselves God’s gift to the world. You know the type right? They conduct themselves as if they are the best at, well everything, they are always right, believe they are loved by all (because after all who could not love them?), and act as if the whole universe revolves around them. While many of us may not take this sort of self-centered focus to such huge levels, we are probably all guilty of having a higher than we should viewpoint of ourselves. The problem with thinking that we are God’s gift to the world, is that we miss God’s true gift to the world. The Centurion properly acknowledges that Jesus has more authority and glory than he does or deserves. The proper word for this kind of acknowledgement is humility. Humility is a virtue that may be in short display in this day and age. I like how author and actress Vanna Bonta defined humility. She wrote, “humility is the ability to give up your pride and still retain your dignity.” Being humble is not thinking that we are worthless, it is simply and rightly realizing that we are not the most valuable commodity in the world.
The final aspect of the centurion’s faith worth emulating is that he was others focused. We already established the amazing ways he sought to show support and care for the Jewish people he was living among. The reason why the Centurion sought out Jesus in the first place though, was not for himself it was to help someone else. Verse 2 of this morning’s scripture states: “There a centurion’s servant whom his mater valued highly was sick and about a die.” The translation of “valued highly” is a bit of an unfortunate translation choice here. In the context of this scripture, the phrase valued highly makes it sound like the Centurion’s concern is economic. However, the same Greek word can be translated precious. The same Greek word is used in 1 Peter and translated as being precious to God. The connotation is one of great personal importance. The Centurion did not seek Jesus out for his own personal gain, but he sought out Jesus because of his love and concern for another. This too we should emulate. We should be much quicker to pray for the needs of others than ourselves. When we lift others up in prayer, it should not be out of some sort of obligation, but it should be done out of love. It should be done because they, no matter who they are, are of high value to us.
Jesus said that he had not found greater faith than the centurions in all of Israel. Would Jesus find that kind of faith in Edinburgh? May it be so. May we seek to have a faith that emulates that of the Centurion. May we acknowledge in prayer and in how we live our life that we believe Jesus has authority over all creation. May we also acknowledge that we do not have that kind of authority or even control over our lives. May we be humble, as we seek the greatness of God, and finally may our lives be oriented so that we seek to think of others in actions and in prayer before we think of ourselves. May we work together, spur one another one, and encourage each other to have the kind of faith that Jesus himself finds commendable.