160529 Luke 7:1-10

Last Updated on Sunday, 29 May 2016 Written by Pastor Pagels

Text: Luke 7:1-10
Theme: What Makes Faith Amazing?

Today's text takes us to the town of Capernaum, the home base of Jesus' Galilean ministry. The Lord had just finished preaching his Sermon on the Plain. He healed sicknesses and cured diseases and drove out evil spirits, and every time he performed a miracle the people were amazed.

But on this particular day the tables were turned. The One who routinely amazed others was himself amazed. By what, you might ask? What made Jesus stop and take notice? What could possibly cause this kind of reaction in the all-powerful Son of God? Nothing really, at least not anything that can be seen on the outside. What amazed Jesus was something he found in here. What amazed Jesus was the faith he found in a certain man's heart.

Because faith is the key that unlocks the door to heaven, because God's Word clearly and emphatically states that sinners are saved sola fide (by faith alone), it is always a good use of our time to review what faith is and what faith does. And using the Lord's interaction with a soldier as our guide, today we will discover Luke's answer to this important question...

WHAT MAKES FAITH AMAZING?

I. It's humble
II. It's hopeful

Before we get into the account itself, we need to define what faith is. Faith is NOT a decision a person makes. Faith is NOT a leap a person takes. Faith is a gift from God. We didn't ask for it. We don't deserve it. And the Lord doesn't force faith down our throats either.

Faith is a miracle, a miracle the Holy Spirit produces in sinful hearts through God's Word. Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. Faith is simple trust, not in what I believe to be true, but in the One who is the Way and the Truth and the Life.

Even though we don't deserve any credit for our faith, even though a discussion about the faith of an individual can deflect attention away from the object of our faith, Jesus singled out the faith of the centurion. And because he did, we will too.

This account has a happy ending, but it didn't begin that way. In fact, it was a crisis that brought these two men together. As Jesus entered Capernaum (a town on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee), "there a centurion's servant, whom his master valued highly was sick and about to die" (2).

In those days it wasn't rare for people to own servants or slaves. What was rare was the concern this Gentile showed for his servant. He wasn't worried about losing his investment. His only concern was for his servant's well being. And with his servant's life slipping away, the centurion looked to Jesus for help. He "sent some elders of the Jews to him, asking him to come and heal his servant" (3).

Imagine what the other soldiers might have said to him when they heard about this: "He's just a slave, and slaves are cheap. You can go out and get another one tomorrow. Why do you want to grovel at the feet of some Jewish healer anyway?" But the centurion didn't care what anyone else thought. He knew that he needed help, and he wasn't afraid to ask.

Jesus invites you and me to do the same: "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you" (Matthew 7:7). The Lord encourages us: "Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honor me" (Psalm 50:15). God challenges us: "With me all things are possible; all you have to do is ask."

And don't think for a minute that you are being selfish or self-serving when you ask God for help. Maybe you have never thought about it this way, but when you pray to God you are actually praising Him. With every petition you send up to heaven you are acknowledging two things: "God, I need help and I believe that you can help."

When the centurion's messengers found Jesus, they pleaded with him: "This man deserves to have you do this, because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue" (4,5). Even though the centurion wasn't Jewish, he was a friend to the Jews. In fact, he loved the Jewish people. He even went so far as to finance the construction of their local house of worship. That was enough to convince them that this man feared God. And that was the reason they urged Jesus to honor his request.

The Bible is filled with examples of people who put their faith into practice. In faith Noah built an ark. In faith Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son. In faith Joseph resisted temptation. In faith David slew Goliath. And in faith this unnamed soldier asked for a miracle.

James tells us that "faith without deeds is dead" (2:26), but faith that is living and active produces good fruit. So what does that fruit look like today? In faith we follow wherever the Lord leads us. In faith we stand up for the truth. In faith we resist temptation. In faith we stand up to our spiritual enemies. In faith God's people pray to God with boldness and confidence.

As Jesus approached the house the centurion sent some friends out to stop him, perhaps because entering the home of a Gentile would have made Jesus ceremonially unclean. That may have been the case, but the centurion gives us a different explanation: "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" (6,7).

If you had to pick one word to summarize the centurion's words, if you had to pick one word to describe the centurion's faith, "humble" would be an excellent choice. He didn't want to bother Jesus. He felt unworthy to stand in the presence of Jesus. That is why he didn't want Jesus to come any closer. That is why he communicated with Jesus through others.

But as humble as the centurion was, we should never confuse his humility with weakness. He said to Jesus: "Say the word, and my servant will be healed" (7b). The centurion didn't need Jesus to stand over his servant. The centurion didn't need a sign from heaven. All he needed, the only thing he needed, was Jesus' word. His faith was both humble and hopeful.

Unlike the mountain climber whose footing gave way just a few feet from the top of a steep cliff. Luckily he managed to grab onto a nearby tree limb before he fell. And as he was hanging there the following conversation ensued:

"Is anyone up there?" he shouted. "I'm here," a voice thundered from above. "It's the Lord. Do you believe me?" "Yes, Lord," the climber answered. "I believe, but I'm losing my grip and I won't be able to hold on much longer." The Lord replied: "Don't worry. As long as you trust me you have nothing to fear. I will rescue you, I promise. All you need to do is let go of the branch." The climber paused for a moment, and then he said: "Is anyone else up there?"

This story may not be true, but isn't it true to life? How much do you have in common with that rock climber? When you pray to God, do you believe that God can and will do what he promises? Or do you sometimes sell God short? When it comes to your prayer life, have you lowered your expectations, or have past disappointments made you doubt what God can do?

The centurion had high expectations, some might say unrealistic expectations. He asked Jesus for a miracle, but he didn't demand it. And his attitude reveals one more characteristic of an amazing faith. Faith is willing to accept what God gives.

In this case the Lord gave the centurion exactly what he asked for. When his friends returned to his house, they couldn't believe their eyes. The servant, the same servant who had one foot in the grave, was now alive and well.

Who knows? Maybe this miraculous healing led even more people to believe in Jesus. But not the centurion. He didn't put his faith in Jesus after his prayer was answered. He trusted Jesus from the very beginning. He trusted Jesus' power. He trusted Jesus' Word. And no matter what happened, he was willing to accept God's will.

This isn't the only place in the Bible where we are told that Jesus was amazed by something. Mark reports that Jesus was amazed by the people in his hometown of Nazareth, but for a very different reason. Because the people were offended by him, because they dishonored him and rejected him, Jesus was amazed...at their lack of faith (Mark 6:6).

This leads to a deeply personal question. If Jesus came back today, if Jesus came here today, would he be amazed? And if so, why? Would he be amazed by the steady stream of petitions that we send up to God? Or would he be amazed because our prayers are so few and far between?

Would Jesus be amazed by a group of Christians eager to serve and willing to suffer rather than forsake their Lord? Or would he be amazed because our words and actions make it difficult to distinguish us from anyone else?

Would he be amazed by the boldness and persistence of our prayers, or would he be amazed because we doubt God's power or God's love or both?

Would Jesus be amazed by humble hearts that believe the will of God is always best? Or would he be confronted by proud people who are convinced that they know better?

What is truly amazing, what is so much more amazing than the faith of any man, is the grace of God. He doesn't treat us as our sins deserve. He doesn't send us where we deserve to go. He doesn't say, "This bunch is a lost cause. I've had it. I think I'll start over." Instead the Lord says: "I love you. I love you so much that I sacrificed my Son to save you. And because Jesus did for you what you could never do for yourself, because Jesus died for you, I forgive you."

Not only has God given us the gift of his Son. He has also given us the gift of saving faith. In Holy Baptism the Holy Spirit creates faith. In Holy Communion, Jesus gives us his body and blood to strengthen our faith. Through his Word and sacraments our triune God builds us up in our faith.

You might be tempted to think that God has seen it all. After all, he's God. He created everything. He is omnipotent. He can do anything. He is omniscient. He knows everything. There is nothing that can possibly surprise him.

But when Jesus sees how the Holy Spirit has worked in your heart, when Jesus looks inside and sees a living, beating, faith-filled heart, perhaps he pauses for just a moment and, with a look of satisfaction on his face, he thinks to himself: Now that is truly amazing. Amen.

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