26 January 2014
Text: Matt 8:1-13 (2 Kings 5:1-15, Rom 12:16-21)
In the name of + Jesus. Amen.
“Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith,” said our Lord Jesus Christ, “I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness.”
Jesus made this remarkable observation about a centurion, a captain in the Roman army. This man is not a son of Israel. He has no reason to believe God’s Word. He doesn’t even believe in his own worthiness for Jesus to come under his roof. And in spite of all of these liabilities, he comes with faith, a faith in Christ that trumps everything else.
The centurion believes in the power of our Lord to affect a cure for his servant. He believes, and He doesn’t even have the benefit of a sign. Unlike the leper whom Jesus made clean, the centurion does not see and feel the laying on of hands. He has no reason to get involved with the priests and the sacrifices like the children of Israel. He knows that Jews (like Jesus) made it a practice not to come under the roofs of gentiles. And yet, the centurion still believes. He has faith in the power of Jesus in spite of all that could have driven him to despair.
The centurion may not understand the creation of the world or the giving of the law to Moses, the prophecies of a Savior of the world, or even how the forgiveness of sin works. He may know nothing about sacrifices and priests and the Lord’s covenant with Abraham. But the centurion knows one thing: this Jesus, by merely saying the word, has the power to heal his servant. This Jesus, by having authority to say to say “go” or “come” or “do this” – even to creation, even to the things that cause sickness in this world, and even at a long distance away from the servant who is suffering – the centurion knows beyond the shadow of a doubt that Jesus has the power to heal. And so he asks.
The centurion knows how authority works. The emperor commands the general, the general commands the captain, the captain commands the sergeant, and the sergeant commands the soldier. The centurion is a man under authority, and he understands that Jesus is too.
Dear friends, this is a remarkable thing for the centurion to understand. How could he possibly know that Jesus is a “Man under authority” and yet is a Man who wields authority even over matters of life and death? For a Man to have authority over life and death, that Man must also be God. And yet, this Man who is God is also “under authority.” The soldier sees the two natures of Christ, that He is divine and in control of all matter, and that He is a Man and is under the authority of God. There is something of the Trinity in this man’s faith, and He surrenders to that mighty power.
This is why Jesus marvels. Jesus is pleased. Jesus praises the man’s faith. And Jesus explains the irony that not even the children of Israel – who have Moses and the law, who have Elijah and the prophets, who have the Scriptures and the Messiah Himself – not even these chosen people, demonstrate this kind of faith.
Jesus uses this opportunity to explain that the kingdom of God is not limited to Israel, for indeed, “many will come from east and west” and will have table fellowship with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in heaven. And this is remarkable, for as the gentile centurion knows, Jews many not enter his home, let alone eat at table with a gentile. And here, Jesus says the gentiles from across the globe are invited to the table of the patriarchs and prophets. Like the Naaman the leper who was healed by Elisha, and like the leper who was made clean by the Lord Jesus, even the gentiles, people not given the promise of the Old Covenant, will even be invited to the table of the eternal banquet with the patriarchs.
Our Lord is not condemning the children of Israel, but is rather pointing out their misguided faith. They had faith in themselves. The centurion has faith in Jesus. The children of Israel sought after a sign. The centurion seeks after Jesus. The children of Israel constantly tested Jesus. The centurion steadfastly trusts Jesus: “Only say the word, and my servant will be healed.”
Only say the Word…
Dear friends, this is what faith looks like. The centurion has no power to compel Jesus, but he can ask. He cannot control the power of Jesus, but he can request with faith and with boldness. He cannot, by his own strength or worthiness, cure his servant, but he knows that the mere Word of Jesus has just that kind of power and authority. And the centurion has faith in the Lord’s mercy to answer this prayer, and to do so without a sign, and without an explanation.
Dear friends, this is the faith that saves! This is the faith that can result in mountains being removed into the sea! This is the faith that cures the sick and raises the dead, through which comes the forgiveness of sins and everlasting life! This is the faith that is not centered on us or our own power, but rather admits our helplessness and confesses that all things are under the authority of our all-powerful and all-merciful Lord.
His Word is powerful enough to create the universe. His Word is powerful enough to cure leprosy. His Word is powerful enough to make us worthy to share a table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. His Word works upon us poor miserable sinners, we who are unworthy to have Jesus come under our roofs. “But only say the Word,” Lord Jesus, “Only say the Word and we servants of God will be healed.”
Dear friends, this is perhaps the most comforting passage in the Scriptures. For here we see the Lord’s mighty power. He stands over all things: sins in need of forgiveness, sickness in need of healing, death in need of resurrection. We come to Jesus like the centurion, knowing that whether the Lord says “yes” or “no” to our specific prayer, He has all the power in the universe to make it happen, and He wants us to have eternal life. There is no higher court of appeals, no-one with more pull to escalate the matter to. And even though we are unworthy, if Jesus only says the Word, it will be so.
And we know that it is the Lord’s will to heal all men from the wages of sin, from death and from the power of the devil. This is the prayer of faith, dear friends, and the centurion’s prayer is our prayer: “Lord, I am not worthy that You should come under my roof, but only say the word and Your servant will be healed.” Amen.
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