What Kind of Faith?
Luke 7:1 – 17
What Kind of Faith?
Imagine you never met Jesus face to face ...
You might be aware that the book of Acts in the New Testament, is the sequel to Luke’s gospel account. It was written by Luke, our careful historian, and his goal with Volume 2, was to faithfully record all that Jesus continued to do, through his disciples and the church, after he was raised and ascended into heaven.
And if you’ve read much of Acts, or if you’ve been with us as we worked our way through the book over our first few years together as a church, Acts was our first long-term teaching series, you’ll know, that in the second half of Luke’s writing, we see the good news of Jesus begin to be shared, not just among the Jews, but among the Gentiles also, non-Jewish people.
This was always God’s plan. Way back in Genesis 12, God had promised to bless all the nations of the world through a descendant of Abraham, the father of the nation of Israel.
And ultimately, that blessing comes through Jesus, through the apostles and messengers of the early church who were all Jewish, and it reaches out into all the world.
So imagine you’re one of those early Gentile Christians,
You’ve heard one of those Jewish messengers talking about this Jesus, and how he offers forgiveness and relationship with God through his death in your place,
Or imagine you’re Theophilus, the Gentile man for whom Luke has researched and written this history in the first instance,
You’re hearing about the God of Israel, and you’re wondering what on earth he could offer you, a Gentile.
How could I benefit from the work and teaching of this man, Jesus, whom I have never met??
Or imagine, you’re miles from Israel, geographically,
Separated from the events of the New Testament by centuries,
Well, that’s easy to imagine, isn’t it? That’s us!
So imagine you’re you, and you wonder, “What does Jesus the Jew, have to offer me?”
I’ve never met him,
I’ve never seen him,
I’ve never heard him speak with my own ears.
What good can Jesus do for me?
Why is it worth putting my faith in someone who I’ve never seen or met?
Well, here in Luke 7, we meet someone who’s in that exact situation, don’t we?
Someone in the situation of the early Gentile Christians,
Someone in our situation.
What does it look like to relate to Jesus, if you’ve never seen him, heard him, or met him?
What kind of faith? (v1 – 3)
Somewhere in the town of Capernaum, a Roman Army officer’s servant lay dying. a centurion’s servant, whom his master valued highly, was sick and about to die
And so, verse 3, he heard of Jesus and sent some elders of the Jews to him,
Luke’s highlighted some particular examples of faith for us previously, hasn’t he?
There was Mary in chapter 1,
The 4 men carrying their paralysed friend to Jesus to be healed, in chapter 5.
Now we’ve got another, textbook example of faith. And we can start to understand why Luke highlights these examples for us, can’t we?
He’s a man who heard of Jesus, and so responds.
Whatever he’s heard of Jesus, he thinks that Jesus can do something for his servant, and so he sends some of the Jewish leaders to Jesus, asking him to come and heal the man.
You remember the anti-terror advisory campaign the government had running for a while? They had stickers and posters that said “See something. Hear something. Say something.”
We could define faith with just a slight variation of that!
Despite people trying to tell us that faith is leaping off into the unknown,
Or “faith is what you cling to when there isn’t any evidence”,
Faith according to the Bible,
The faith that Jesus endorses and affirms,
The faith that, maybe this episode today, calls on you to exercise,
That faith is being convinced of what you’ve seen and heard about Jesus, and therefore doing something.
This Centurion, as heard something about Jesus, He knows that Jesus can heal people.
But that much is not faith.
That’s just knowledge, facts, truth, history.
Faith is when, knowledge, facts, truth, and history, lead you to do something.
In the 18th century, a Scottish pastor by the name of Robert Sandeman, promoted a teaching that saving faith was merely “intellectual assent.”
So if you could say, “Yes, I agree with that ”, about the knowledge, facts, truth, and history of Jesus’ life, then that was considered saving faith.
This teaching, which became known as Sandeman-ianism, was rightly condemned as heresy at the time, and this centurion shows us why.
If he’d sat at his desk, drumming his fingers on his armour saying to himself, “I know Jesus can heal people”
That doesn’t accomplish anything.
That’s not faith.
That knowledge, that conviction, becomes faith, when it leads to action, when he lives in the light of what he’s convinced of.
And so just like the other examples of faith we’re given in Luke’s careful history of Jesus, this example causes us to think about our faith.
Think, for a moment, about what you know about Jesus.
For some of us, that will be a lot. You’ve, perhaps, known about Jesus all your life, and so you’ve had a lot of time to amass knowledge, to learn the facts, truth, and history, about Jesus;
He is the eternal Son of God,
He created all things,
He was born as a human being,
He lived the perfect life that you, and I, could never live,
He died the death that you and I deserved, for our sin, our rebellion against God,
He rose from the dead, vindicated by God. He is who he claimed to be, he has the power he claimed he had,
He’s been exalted to his Father’s right hand, as the King of God’s Kingdom,
He stands at the centre of God’s plans for all of his creation, and his Father’s intention is to place all things, under his feet.
That’s not everything we know about Jesus, but maybe you know some part of that.
My question is, “So, what?”
So you know that?
All of that,
Some part of that,
One line of that.
How are you living that out?
How is your life different because you’re convinced of that?
What does your faith look like?
What does it look like for you, to live in the light of what you know?
How do you conduct yourself differently in your relationships, because of what you are convinced of about Jesus?
How do you relate to God, today, because of what you have heard, seen, learned, about Jesus?
How do you face temptation, in the light of what you know about Jesus? It’s one thing to know that God’s pattern for life is best,
To be convinced that Jesus died in order for you to be able to live like that,
But does, what you are convinced of, actually change the way you act, when temptation rears its head?
How does what you have heard of Jesus, verse 3, shape the way you respond to the trials of life?
It’s great to say, “I believe in Jesus”, but how does that belief shape the way you respond, when you hit the, the speedbumps of life?
Does what you know about Jesus, knowledge, facts, truth, history shape the way you live?
Or is your response to trial and hardship, really just like everybody else’s?
Do you, like we saw last week, love your enemies?
That’s where being convinced about Jesus, the rubber really hits the road doesn’t it?
Does what you know about Jesus, shape the way you pray?,
Does it shape your confidence before God,
Does what you have heard of Jesus, work itself out in the way you face death?
Here is a man, who has heard of Jesus, and isn’t content for that to remain merely knowledge, facts, truth, or history. What he has heard spurs him into action,
Overflows into his life,
And so he sent some elders of the Jews to Jesus, asking him to come and heal his servant
A centurion, as the name suggests, originally commanded a hundred soldiers in the Roman army, although by the 1st Century AD that number varied considerably.
Think of the rhetoric that ISIS uses to recruit followers. The claim that allied soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan are invaders and occupiers. Well, to the people of Israel, that’ what the centurion and his men were.
And yet, in the New Testament, the overwhelming picture of the centurions we meet is a positive one.
So it’s a Centurion in Mark 15, who makes the declaration that is the theological high point of Mark’s gospel, Surely this man was the Son of God!
It’s a Centurion named Cornelius in Acts 10 and 11, who becomes the first Gentile convert to Christianity,
A Centurion who is determined to keep the Apostle Paul alive in the midst of the shipwreck of Acts 27.
In Simply Christianity Tuesday night we talked about how Luke especially, as an eye for people who were not very religious, the people you’d not normally expect to be in the in group when it comes to God.
And it’s not just Luke, but he certainly goes out of his way to show it, that the people who maybe naturally and ordinarily we’d expect to be beyond the work of God, outside the benefits of the good news of Jesus,
Time and time again God demonstrates his kindness and compassion to them.
And maybe that’s a good encouragement for you.
Maybe you don’t think of yourself as someone God is likely to use or bless.
Maybe your circumstances, your background, put you in a category that you think is always going to be second class when it comes to spiritual things.
Well, if so, let this centurion, and his colleagues, be an encouragement to you, as we see God honour this man’s faith.
Religious people think the blessings of Jesus come by merit (v 4 – 5)
But notice how the Jewish leaders phrase their request. It’s all about merit, isn’t it?
Verse 4, When they came to Jesus, they pleaded earnestly with him, “This man deserves to have you do this, 5 because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue.”
“Jesus, you should come and help this guy, because of all the good things that he’s done.
He loves our nation,
He’s given us somewhere to worship. Surely out of anyone this man deserves God’s help!
I don’t know whether you saw in the news this week, St Peter’s Cathedral in Adelaide is apparently in dire need of 9 million dollars of repair work. It will take decades to complete, and so now the church is trying to work out how it can raise the money.
So is this our opportunity to put God in our debt?
Give money to build the cathedral, and someone will be able to say about you, to God, This man, this woman, deserves to have you do this,
That’s how religious kind of people think relating to God works.
And it fits with our whole approach to life, doesn’t it? The motivational poster;, “You only get out, what you put in.”
Michael Bloomberg, former Mayor or New York City once said, “I am telling you, when I get to heaven I’m not stopping to be interviewed.
I am heading straight in.
I have earned my place in heaven. It’s not even close.”
And when pressed on why he was so sure that he would receive the blessings of God, Bloomberg listed off some of the good things he’d done in his life;, his work for gun control,
His anti-smoking policies,
And healthy eating campaigns, banning super-sized soft drinks and what have you.
This man deserves to have you do this,
Now I’m not really sure where banning soft drink puts you before God,
But maybe that’s how you think it works.
You scratch God’s back, he scratches yours.
God, you should help me because of the good things that I’ve done,
Because of the ministry that I’m involved in,
Because of the money I’ve given,
Because of the sacrifices I’ve made.
Maybe you anticipate that when you stand before God, and he asks, “Why should I let you into my heaven”, you’re planning on pulling out your diary and saying, “Look at all the good stuff I did”,
Or pulling out your bank statement and saying, “Look at how much I gave”,
Or you’ll tell God to log onto the TMB website and look at the ministry roster, so he can see your name there, week after week.”
We often think this is how we relate to God; on the basis of our merit
Or maybe we know, that’s not right, we come into relationship by grace, but perhaps we imagine that we have to do good stuff in order to stay in relationship.
Being a person of faith means you know you have no merit to point to before God (v 6 – 8)
I find it encouraging though, that Jesus still goes along with these men, doesn’t he?
Their motives are all mixed up, they don’t understand how God works, but he doesn’t take them to task for their bad theology.
It certainly makes me feel better, that when I’m asking God to act on my behalf, there’s no need for me to be paralysed with uncertainty over “Is this the right thing to ask?
Are my motives right?
Do I have good reasons for asking God to act in this way?”
Sometimes I can spend so much time worrying about getting it out right, that I barely get around to asking God to act at all!
But there’s a need, and, no matter how badly it’s been communicated to Jesus, he’s willing to act;
The centurion though, shows a very different understanding of how to relate to Jesus, doesn’t he?
Verse 6, Jesus 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.
Religious people think you can deserve certain things from God.
But this man knows he doesn’t.
He doesn’t even think he deserves to have Jesus come under his roof.
And then verse 7, I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you.
This man doesn’t think for a moment, that he deserves anything from Jesus.
The blessings of Jesus come by faith and not by sight
In our family, we play a game called The Bible Game. It’s a “long journeys in the car” kind of game! I think it came about when we were driving down to Middleton every Sunday afternoon as we were starting the South Coast church.
So we’re all in the car, and it’s a bit like 20 Questions, except the person, or animal, or object you think of, that the other people have to try and guess, they call come out of the Bible.
We’ve had some variations;, besides people, objects and places, we’ve also had sounds, and smells, from the Bible, which can be a bit tricky to guess!
But if it’s a person we’re trying to guess, one of the questions we ask, as we try to figure it out, is “Did they meet Jesus?”
And my family are fortunate that I’ve never chosen this character as the person to guess, because, I’m not sure that I ever really noticed, that this Centurion doesn’t meet Jesus.
He hears about Jesus,
He believes something about Jesus,
He communicates with Jesus, at a distance,
He’s the recipient of great blessing from Jesus,
He’s commended by Jesus,
He just never meets him.
His experience of the power of Jesus is very very similar to ours.
We live in a time and a place where you can’t lay eyes on Jesus of Nazareth. Some people in history did, but we don’t.
But Jesus doesn’t say, “Well, because you never met me, your faith isn’t going to be as real or as deep as those people who have laid eye on me,” does he?!
When he hears what the Centurion says, 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.”
9 When Jesus heard this, he was amazed, and said, “I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.”
To this man, who in many ways experiences Jesus just like we do;,
At a distance,
Someone who hears of Jesus through the words of others,
Someone who was an outsider,
That’s all our experience, isn’t it?
And yet, of one like that, of one like us, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.”
From time to time we have officers and enlisted men from Woodside Barracks in our church family here. When an officer gives an order, it is expected that those under him or her, will obey immediately, will put that word into action.
That’s how the Centurion thinks of Jesus. All it takes is a word, and his will is accomplished.
We live in an age of power and posturing, don’t we?
Russia is building its armed forces and annexing the Crimean Peninsula,
Sending an Air Force Carrier around the world to project power.
China’s deploying battleships and building islands,
North Korea test fired ballistic missiles this week in order to make the rest of the world sit up and take notice,
The US is doing, well, who knows what the US is doing?! But the end result of all this is that Doomsday clock has been moved up to 2 and a half minutes to midnight, the closest it’s been since 1953.
Our world is so keen to demonstrate its power.
And yet, what does this centurion understand of Jesus’ power? He just needs to speak, and what he wants done is done.
We see it play out the same in the next section, verse 14, He said, “Young man, I say to you, get up!” 15 The dead man sat up and began to talk
Maybe you get a bit anxious of the power plays in the world, the brinkmanship and destabilisation that goes with it.
Well, take a look at your Jesus,
Who heals with a word,
Who raises the dead with a word.
Is that your picture of Jesus?
Powerful, in control, achieving his purposes, with his word.
And just like an officer doesn’t have to be there at the front line in order for his instruction to be carried out, this Centurion recognises that since Jesus acts with God’s authority, he doesn’t have to be physically present, in order to carry out his will.
Jesus isn’t there in the room, but the centurion and his servant enjoy the reality and blessings of his presence.
That’s the kind of faith this man has.
Maybe we wish we inhabited a different place in space and time, so that we could see Jesus, have Jesus physically in the room with us.
Certainly it’s natural;, that’s what almost all of our other relationships are like, they’re better when the people we love are with us.
But Luke wants us to learn from this centurion’s faith;, that when it comes to Jesus, what matters is not where he is, physically, geographically,
But where we are in relation to him,
That is, have we come to Jesus in faith.
There’s no doubt that this centurion was a good man.
And yet verse 9 doesn’t tell us that Jesus was amazed at his goodness, but at his faith.
I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.”
You’ll never impress Jesus with your goodness, but you can benefit from Jesus, by your faith.
Then the men who had been sent returned to the house and found the servant well.
Well, you can imagine how this episode of the Roman centurion who never actually meets Jesus, might have been an encouragement for people like Theophilus,
For people like Luke’s orignal Gentile readers,
For people like us, who never met Jesus face to face.
He’s not a footnote in the story, “Oh yeah, and Jesus also healed the servant of some bloke who worked for the Roman army”,
No, he’s held up as a shining example.
This man’s faith is held up as an example to both Jews and Gentiles.
Will you trust, as the centurion has?
Jesus meets death (v 11 – 17)
Much more briefly I want us to look at this second incident. I wanted us to focus on the Centurion and his faith, but we need to have 11 to 17 under our belt, so that next week we can make sense of the interaction between Jesus and the disciples of John the Baptist.
We’re in the same general geographic area, a town called Nain, still up in the North of Israel, north of Samaria and all of that.
Nain was a town that no one had ever heard of, nor did they care! It’s the Totness of Israel!
Actually there’s a Nain in South Australia, up in the Barossa. And if you’re going to name a town after some other town, this is not a bad one to choose, is it? Nain is known solely as the place where Jesus raised this young man from the dead.
Jesus’ compassion in the face of death (v 11 – 13)
But maybe you’ve had that experience where you’re driving down the road, and you have to stop for a funeral procession. That’s what happens to Jesus and his disciples here. They come across a grieving mother, a widow coming out of the town, And a large crowd from the town was with her
Jesus said, “I hadn’t really planned on raising anyone from the dead today, I’m just caught in funeral traffic!”
No, Look at Jesus’ compassion. When the Lord saw her, verse 13, his heart went out to her and he said, “Don’t cry.”
There's a huge crowd present, but Jesus is concerned with this one.
Jesus is face to face with a widow, and she’s lost her only son. Death is abhorrent at the best of times, the Bible calls it the last enemy.
When I was visiting Leigh Dewhurst in hospital this week we were talking about Slim Dusty’s funeral in 2003.
Philip Jensen, Dean of the Cathedral in Sydney pointed out in his funeral sermon that the pain of death is that it breaks relationships. Or in Slim Dusty kind of language, it robs us of our mates.
But notice there’s no exercise of faith here. No one asks Jesus to do anything.
This is being driven by Jesus,
By his compassion for people,
By his desire to demonstrate, remember from back in chapter 4, when Jesus reads the words of the prophet Isaiah, as an, agenda, if you like, for his ministry,
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Jesus is demonstrating that the time of God’s favour is now,
Now is the time for people to get a taste of what it is to enjoy the blessings of relationship with God.
It is just a taste. This young man will die again. Technically we’d call this a resuscitation, not a resurrection. There will be another funeral procession with this young man as the guest of honour. It’s why funeral directors apparently sign their letters, “Yours, eventually”
But because of his great compassion for people,
Because he longs to bring the benefits of the kingdom of God to people, Jesus acts.
Jesus is more ready to act for your good, than you are to ask him.
Of course, it’s not compassion simply to tell someone not to cry in the face of death, is it?
“There, there, it will be alright!”
But if that’s all you’ve got to offer, that’s not compassion.
I get so frustrated when I attend funerals sometimes. If there’s no hope in Jesus, held out, then we just get loaded with empty platitudes, “There, there. Don’t cry.”
But Jesus has good reason for telling this woman not to cry. Because today is a day of tasting the blessings of the Kingdom of God.
Jesus’ triumph in the face of death (v 14 – 17)
See there in the middle of verse 14, He said, “Young man, I say to you, get up!” 15 The dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother.
And it’s interesting to note that this is the first time that Luke refers to Jesus as the Lord. Other people have called him that;, the Centurion’s servants, for example, but this is the first time it comes from Luke. And it’s quite appropriate isn’t it? Jesus is about to demonstrate himself to be Lord over, even over death.
And from the way that Luke describes this event, is to borrow the language from some famous Old Testament miracles.
We read one in 1 Kings 17, with the great prophet Elijah. Luke deliberately echoes the language of 1 Kings so we see the comparison.
But with Elijah, great man of God though he was, how did the healing come about?
He carried the boy upstairs,
1) laid him on his bed,
2) Cried out to the Lord,
3) Stretched himself out 3 times,
Cried out to the Lord some more,
And then the boy’s life returned to him.
Do you see the difference?, Luke 7, “Young man, I say to you, get up!”
There’s another parallel that we’re supposed to call to mind, in 2 Kings chapter 4, with the prophet Elisha in the Old Testament town of Shunem.
In that story there’s even more back and forth around healing, with Elisha’s servant getting involved,
Laying his staff down on top of the boy who’s died,
More stretching out, again,
Walking back and forth in the room,
And the boy is returned to life.
Another great healing, no doubt about it, but it’s no “Young man, I say to you, get up!”
In Elisha’s case the boy sneezes 7 times when he’s revived. When my sister and I were younger, if one of us sneezed several times, then say after the third sneeze, the other one of us would say, “only 4 more times until you’re healed!”
But in Jesus’ case there’s no sneezing, Luke tells us that the boy began to talk. It’s just a picture of just how complete and utter this healing is.
Dead people don’t talk!
What’s the new Pirates of the Carribbean Movie called? Dead Men Tell no Tales.
Well, obviously for this to happen, is real proof that he’s not dead.
Nain, was either the very same town, or at least part of the neighbourhood, of Shunem, where Elisha raised the boy.
It’s why Luke tells us where it happened even though it was an insignificant town, just a petrol station and a pub.
See Luke wants us to understand how much greater, the work of Christ is, even than how God had acted in the those former days.
Verse 16, They were all filled with awe and praised God. “A great prophet has appeared among us,” they said. “God has come to help his people
As we’ve seen all along in Luke, the question we need to wrestle with is, “Who is Jesus?”
With the words of their Old Testament ringing in their ears, the people of this town conclude, God has come,
And whether you’re a Gentile soldier,
Or a grieving widow from Totness,
Or a regular person from somewhere in the Adelaide Hills,
What Jesus offers is good news!