"A Faith That Amazes The Savior"
(Delivered Sunday, November 2, 2003 at Bethany Bible Church. Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotes are taken from the New King James Version.)
Now when He concluded all His sayings in the hearing of the people, He entered Capernaum. And a certain centurion's servant, who was dear to him, was sick and ready to die. So when he heard about Jesus, he sent elders of the Jews to Him, pleading with Him to come and heal his servant. And when they came to Jesus, they begged Him earnestly, saying that the one for whom He should do this was deserving, "for he loves our nation, and has built us a synagogue." Then Jesus went with them. And when He was already not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to Him, saying to Him, "Lord, do not trouble Yourself, for I am not worthy that You should enter under my roof. Therefore I did not even think myself worthy to come to You. But say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I also am a man placed under authority, having soldiers under me. And I say to one, 'Go,' and he goes; and to another, 'Come,' and he comes; and to my servant, 'Do this,' and he does it." When Jesus heard these things, He marveled at him, and turned around and said to the crowd that followed Him, "I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel!" And those who were sent, returning to the house, found the servant well who had been sick (Luke 7:1-10).
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Here's an amazing story - the story of how a mere man caused the Son of God to "marvel".
Frankly, it's a marvel all its own that Jesus would have "marveled" at anything. The Bible tells us that Jesus holds preeminence over all things, because He is the Firstborn over all creation. It teaches us that He is the one by whom - and for whom - all things were created. He was before all things; and it is by Him that all things consist (Col. 1:15-17). In His preincarnate glory - long before He ever set foot on earth as a man - it could be said that He had literally seen it all. What could He encounter that He hadn't already made? Even the very heavens itself - that breathtakingly beautiful realm of deep space that we're only now beginning peer into with our telescopes - is nothing other than the work of His own fingers (Psalm 8:3). And so, when He finally took human flesh upon Himself, became a man, and walked on this earth among men to save us from our sins, you'd expect that there couldn't possibly be anything Jesus could ever see that would have impressed Him. And you certainly wouldn't expect that there would be anything that could have caused Him to "marvel".
But clearly there was at least one thing, as Jesus walked upon the earth, that so caught His attention that it caused Him to marvel - and that is the exceptional manner in which some had faith in Him. As you read the Gospels, you can see that great expressions of faith in Him always caused Him to stop and enthusiastically respond.
For example, there was the Canaanite woman who came to Jesus, pleading in a very insistent way, that He would have mercy on her and heal her daughter. Jesus tested her by appearing not to respond to her; but she continued to pursue Him with persistent faith. Perhaps if she were asking something for herself, she would have ceased asking; but since it was for the life of her daughter, she wouldn't take no for an answer. Finally, Jesus granted her request - praising her and saying, "O woman, great is your faith! Let it be to you as you desire" (Matthew 15:28). Jesus gladly responds to persistent faith when it is motivated by such love for another.
And then, there was the paralyzed man whose friends tried to get him into a house to Jesus. Instead of giving up because of the huge crowd, and because there was no other way in, they acted in a very bold way. They tore apart the roof and lowered the man's bed down to Jesus by ropes. The Bible tells us that "When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, 'Son, your sins are forgiven you'" (Mark 2:5) - and then completely healed the man! Jesus responds to faith that is expressed with such bold initiative.
And then there was the poor woman who had been sick for twelve years, and had spent all that she had on doctors. Nothing else had worked; and she was at the end of her rope. But when Jesus came by, she snuck up behind Him in a huge crowd - believing that if she but touched the hem of His garment, she would be healed. Perhaps she didn't have the courage to ask Him face-to-face; but she did have the faith to 'sneak' a touch. And when she did so, and was immediately healed, Jesus took the time to seek her out - wanting to know who it was that had touched Him. She was terrified at being caught; and when He found her, she fell trembling at His feet. But He told her, "Daughter, be of good cheer; your faith has made you well. Go in peace" (Luke 8:48). Jesus gladly responds to such bold acts of faith when they come from someone who is humble of heart.
I have always loved the story of the leper who came to Jesus as He was preaching in Galilee. A leper never approached other people; but this horribly unclean leper was bold and daring enough to approach the King of kings. Kneeling before Jesus and pleading with Him, the man said, "If You are willing, You can make me clean." He knew Jesus could do it; and it all depended on whether or not Jesus was "willing". The Bible tells us that Jesus was "moved with compassion, stretched out His hand and touched him, and said to him, "I am willing; be cleansed" (Mark 40-41). Jesus responds to faith when it is express in such strongly confidence in His power and authority.
The lesson from these stories is clear. We can be sure that at least one thing on this earth causes Jesus to stop and take notice - and that is 'exceptional faith in Him'. He always takes notice of such faith; and He is always glad to respond graciously to it.
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I wonder if you've ever had a well-meaning brother or sister say something like this to you: "You know; if you had just had more faith, you wouldn't be in the situation you're in!" In particularly painful times of suffering or loss, I believe that it's a very cruel and insensitive thing for one Christian to say to another. And the fact is that it is often flatly untrue; because God frequently permits trials to come into the lives of His most faithful saints in order to build up their faith and to cause them to grow. We should be very careful about ever hitting one another over the head with the "You should just have more faith" club.
But as cautious as I believe we ought to be about saying such things to one another, I also believe that there are times when we should be rebuked for our lack of faith, and encouraged to trust God more than we do. None of us have had more of a "front-seat" view of the miracles of Jesus than the twelve disciples had; and yet Jesus often rebuked them for their lack of faith. "Where is your faith?" He asked them (Luke 8:25). He often included the gentle rebuke, "O you of little faith", in the things He taught His disciples (Matthew 6:28; 8:26; 14:31; 16:8; Luke 12:28). His disciples once asked Him to increase their faith; but Jesus responded by telling them, "If you have faith as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, 'Be pulled up by the roots and be planted in the sea,' and it would obey you" (Luke 17:6) - indicating that the real problem was not the quantity of their faith, but the quality of it. They asked Him why they were not able to cast a demon out of a particular boy; and Jesus said, "Because of your unbelief; for assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you" (Matthew 17:20). I believe that Jesus meant what He said in these verses about the power of faith; and that what He said was absolutely true. And yet, we have to admit that - given what Jesus has said - the intensity of our faith is usually quite mediocre. I wonder if Jesus doesn't often feel toward us the sort of frustration He expressed when He said, "O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I bear with you?" (Matthew 17:17).
The Bible tells us that "faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen" (Heb. 11:1). It says that, without faith, it is impossible to please God; "for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him" (v. 6). And because that's true, I particularly love this morning's passage. It's a remarkable passage, because we're clearly told in it that the Son of God marveled at the faith of a man. And it displays for us some of the qualities of the man's faith that greatly pleases Him.
My faith in the power of Jesus has been very, very mediocre at times - far from the quality of faith that the Divine object of that faith deserves. And I don't want to be mediocre in my faith any longer. I want my faith in Jesus to be appropriate to who He is! I want it to be the intense, exceptional kind of faith that draws Jesus' attention, and that moves Him to so gladly respond as He has done to the faith of others.
Is that true of you as well? If so, then let's learn together from the story of this expression of faith that moved Jesus to "marvel"; and may the Holy Spirit use it to teach us the characteristics of an exceptional faith in Him.
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The first characteristic I notice is that such faith has ...
1. LOVE AS ITS MOTIVATION.
We see this in the details Luke provides us concerning this Roman centurion. A centurion was an officer in the Roman army who had charge of a hundred soldiers - sometimes more. This particular centurion was stationed in the coastal town of Capernaum; and in addition to having a large group of soldiers under his command, he also had a servant in his house. And we're told that this servant had developed a sudden and severe illness. In Matthew's account of this story, we're told that this servant was paralyzed; and apparently, this was not a slowly digressive paralysis, because Matthew reports that the man was "dreadfully tormented" (Matthew 8:6). Luke, a doctor, tells us frankly that the man "was sick and ready to die".
Now, we might have expected a hardened Roman commander to simply disregard this servant, perhaps entrust him to someone who could care for him as he died, and then commission another servant to serve in his place. We might not think of a centurion as being moved with compassion and love.
But we see something of the love of this centurion for his servant in this passage. Luke tells us that the servant "was dear to him". In fact - even though you can't see it in the English translation - the centurion's heart toward his servant is shown in that, when he referred to him in verse 7, he used a different word than was used to describe him as merely a household servant. When he says, "... Say the word, and my servant will be healed", he uses a word that's basic meaning is "child" - as of one born to him. Some commentators have even translated it, "my boy will be healed." Masters often referred to their household servants in this way; but this reflects the tender-heartedness the centurion had for his beloved servant. Most of all, you can see the centurion's love in his actions - in the fact that he sought diligently that Jesus would come and heal him; and going so far as to send the elders of the Jews to go to Jesus and plead for the life of his servant.
I see another testament to the centurion's love, and that was in his attitude toward the Jews. Even the Jews themselves were able to bear witness to this. The centurion sent them simply to plead with Jesus for the life of his servant; but it was the elders themselves that then pleaded earnestly for the centurion. They affirmed that he was very worthy of Jesus coming to his aid, "for he loves our nation, and has built us a synagogue" (v. 5). As a Roman commander, he was sent to occupy their land and keep them under Roman dominion; yet they could say that he loved them - and that he even went so far as to build them a place of worship from out of his own resources!
I would never want to take the matter too far beyond the text of Scripture itself; but I even wonder if God had done a spiritual work in the heart of this centurion. I wonder if he had become a sincere worshiper of the God of Israel! Why else would he so love the nation of the Jews - a people group that the Romans had found so difficult to hold dominion over - except that he had come to reverence and believe in the God of Israel? Jesus even seems to make this incident into an object lesson about how God would turn away from the unbelieving nation of Israel, and offer salvation to the Gentiles instead. In Matthew's account, Jesus said,
Assuredly, I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel! And I say to you that many shall come from east and west, and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 8:10-12).
It's as if Jesus was pointing to this centurion as a prototype of many more believing Gentiles yet to come!
All of this is to say that this centurion had a faith that was outstanding and exceptional, because it so clearly had love as its great motivation. He acted out of love for his servant, out of love for the people of Israel, and I'm even suggesting that it was out of love for the God of Israel as well. And if it was a genuine love for the God of Israel, then it was also a genuine love for Jesus. When He heard the news about Jesus, and about His power to heal, he immediately sent for Him and asked for his dear servant's life. And such great love always catches Jesus' attention. A faith that has such love as its great motivation is a "marvel" to Him.
Dear brother or sister in Christ, Jesus responds to us when genuine love for others is our motivation. He Himself is the greatest lover of people that the world has ever known. His whole work of redemption - saving us from our sins by His own sacrifice on the cross - was one great operation of love. He did not come to be served, as He said, "but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many" (Mark 10:45). And when we are motivated by love, we gain His attention; because He too is motivated by love.
Let me suggest a way to examine the quality of our faith. How many of our prayers are motivated by self-interests? How many prayers do we pray for our own comfort, or for our own advancement, or for our safety and security? Now of course, I'm not suggesting that those are wrong things to pray. In fact, there's no better way to treat our own concerns than to bring them to God in prayer. But if that's the predominant content of our prayers, I am suggesting that they reveal a faith that is not particularly exceptional. By contrast, how many prayers do we pray for other people - prayers motivated by genuine love for them, and that are modeled after Jesus' own passionate love and desire for them? Such prayers, I suggest, reveal an exceptional faith - a faith that captures Jesus' attention!
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Another characteristic we find in this passage of exceptional faith is ...
2. INITIATIVE IN ITS ASKING.
I'll admit that I had a hard time finding a way to express this; but "initiative" is the word that seemed best to express it to me. We see this characteristic in the fact that the centurion went to great effort to seek Jesus out.
Now you need to appreciate that inviting Jesus to come presented some very difficult practical problems. First, the centurion was a Gentile; and a Jew considered the home of a Gentile a ceremonially unclean place and would not enter it (see Acts 11:2-3). But second, the centurion's servant was desperately sick and could not be moved. It would have been impossible to bring the sick man to Jesus; and it was culturally inappropriate for Jesus to come to the home in which the sick man was kept. This centurion, fully aware of the Jewish customs and cultural rules as he no doubt was, did not let these problems prevent him from asking. As soon as he heard about Jesus - and perhaps as soon as he heard that Jesus was nearby and was on His way to Capernaum - he sent a delegation of Jews to ask Jesus to come.
There's an old word that I think of in this connection - importunity. It refers to the act of asking and pleading something of someone else in a way that is so urgent, and expressed with such persistence and earnestness of heart, that it almost comes across as inappropriate. It's a kind of asking that is not concerned with the rules anymore, and is not concerned with how it looks or how it might offend others. And yet, there's evidence in the Scriptures that that's the kind of earnestness God wants to see in our faith toward Him.
One of the great biblical examples of this is found in the story of the blind man Bartimaeus. As Jesus was approaching the city of Jericho, along with His disciples and a great multitude of people, this blind man sat by the road begging. He was probably very unassuming; and people were probably used to him being there. He evidently even wore a special garment that marked him off as being blind and needy.
The Bible tells us that, like the centurion, he heard that Jesus was coming into town. Bartimaeus had probably heard a lot of the talk in the streets about Jesus - that He was able to perform miracles of healing; and that He was even able to give sight to the blind. The Bible tells us that, when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" (Mark 10:47). He behavior was very 'importune'; and so many of those around him warned him to be quiet. But he didn't care. He just cried out all the more, "Son of David, have mercy on me!" And it worked! The Bible tells us that Jesus stood still and commanded that he be called over to Him. They told the blind man, "Be of good cheer. Rise, He is calling for you" (v. 48). And as soon as he heard that, he threw his blind man's garment away - since he wasn't going to need it any more - and rose and came to Jesus.
Jesus didn't come to the blind man; He made the blind man come to Him. And when Bartimaeus came, Jesus asked, "What do you want Me to do for you?" - making the blind man ask specifically. And Bartimaeus said, "Rabboni, that I may receive my sight." And Jesus then said to him, "Go your way; your faith has made you well" (v. 52). And immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus on the road. Do you see it? There was initiative in the faith, because he cried out to Jesus. And that initiative was willing to be importune in the asking - and very clear when the request was finally heard. I believe that that's the sort of initiative with which the centurion sought Jesus' mercy for his servant; and I believe that it is the sort of faith God wishes to see from us.
I wonder if one of the things that holds us back in our faith is that we're too concerned about being polite and proper about it. We're more concerned about not offending anyone than we are about beseeching the throne of heaven for our requests. But a faith that's "polite" is also a faith that is mediocre! A timid faith does not change the world.
I was reminded the other day of the great Scottish reformer John Knox. He once cried out to God and prayed, "Give me Scotland, or I'll die!" Now that's a prayer with initiative! It springs from a faith that is not afraid to be importune. And what's more, it's a prayer that God honored! The Lord is looking for us to exhibit a faith that takes great initiative in what it pursues. Jesus taught us, "Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened" (Matthew 7:7-8). When our Savior sees us exhibiting such a strong faith in Him that we give ourselves to the pursuit of what He wants - even to the point of being "importune" - He stops and takes notice.
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A third characteristic of a faith that causes Jesus to marvel is ...
3. HUMILITY IN ITS MANNER.
And again, we see this in the centurion. He was motivated by love in his pursuit of Christ's help; and he took great initiative in the asking - which would certainly be characteristic of a Roman commander. But he was also remarkably humble in how he approached the Savior.
If you ever do a study of the Roman centurions that are mentioned in the Bible, you'll find that all of them are presented in a very favorable way. They are always in important places at important moments in the outworking of God's providential will. It was a centurion who stood by the cross as Jesus died, and declared, "Truly this was the Son of God!" (Matthew 27:54); and who reported to Pilate when the Savior was dead (Mark 15:44-45). Cornelius, the man who sought God and whose whole household was saved through the preaching of Peter, was a centurion of the Italian Regiment (Acts 10:1). It was soldiers and centurions who rescued Paul from being killed by a mob in Jerusalem (Acts 21:32); and it was a a centurion who prevented Paul from being scourged in order to get information from him (22:25). Centurions often protected Paul from being murdered, and provided him with military escort (Acts 23:17, 23), and when holding him captive, often ensured that he was well cared for, and that his friends were able to visit him (Acts 24:23; 28:16). One centurion prevented a large group of prisoners from being executed during a shipwreck, because he wanted to keep Paul alive (Acts 27:43). It seems safe to say that, every time a centurion is mentioned in the Scriptures, it's always in a positive light. They are presented as men of remarkable character, authority, and power. Such a centurion would be looked at as a great leader of men - a man's man who, in the eyes of other men, was most worthy of what he asked.
And what's more, this particular centurion seemed remarkably worthy and deserving from the standpoint of the Jewish people. As we have already noted, it was their own testimony of him that he loved the Jews; and he had built their synagogue out of his own expenses. They themselves told Jesus that the one for whom He should do this was "deserving" or "worthy".
But we must remember that God's gracious gifts are not imparted to those whom the world looks upon as "worthy". The Bible clearly tells us that, before God, "all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags" (Isa. 65:6). And so, this Gentile centurion would make his earnest appeal for his servant; but he would not dare to go to Jesus and make his appeal in person as if he were worthy in and of himself. Instead, he sent the elders of the Jews to make the appeal on his behalf. This Roman commander - a leader in the occupying army over Israel - called Jesus "Lord". And though Jesus had agreed to come, this man sent ahead and stopped Him; saying that he was not worthy of Jesus entering under his roof.
Jesus is not impressed with our resume. He doesn't respond to those who boast in their own worthiness of what they ask. The faith that catches His notice come from someone that understands - first and foremost - who Jesus Himself is; and who then approaches Him accordingly. Its a faith that makes its appeal, not on the basis of one's own merits, but strictly on the basis of Christ's own rich mercy.
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And finally, I note that the centurion's example of faith was cause for the Savior to marvel, because it was a faith characterized by ...
4. CONFIDENCE IN ITS EXPECTATION.
Word was, no doubt, passed on to the centurion that Jesus was on His way over. His request was heard, and was graciously responded to. Clearly, it was Jesus' will to heal the man. But perhaps the centurion had second thoughts about the propriety of all this. Here he was, a Gentile - and a commander in the occupying army at that! Has he dared to ask the Jewish Messiah to come to his ceremonially unclean Gentile home?
So, even though Jesus was just a short way away, the centurion sent friends ahead to stop Jesus from going any further. The centurion said that he was not worthy of having Jesus come under his roof. But - and this is where his faith was so marvelously demonstrated - he expressed the confidence that it was not necessary that Jesus come under his roof anyway. In fact, He told Jesus, "Lord, do not trouble Yourself." He was not worthy of the Lord going to such lengths as to defile Himself by coming to his Gentile home.
It wasn't that he still didn't want Jesus to heal his servant. Rather, he expressed confidence that it was sufficient for Jesus to simply speak the word from where He was, and his servant would be healed. He said, "For I also am a man placed under authority" - not that he thought that he was equal with Jesus; but simply that he understood how authority works - "having soldiers under me. And I say to one, 'Go,' and he goes; and to another, 'Come,' and he comes; and to my servant, 'Do this,' and he does it." He was making an argument from the lessor to the greater; saying that, if he - a mere man - can merely speak a word and have what he says done - if he can see his own orders carried out without his even being present, but his word alone being sufficient - then he had confidence that, if Jesus simply spoke the word, his servant would be healed. And it was this expression of faith that caused Jesus to "marvel" most of all. Jesus turned to those who followed Him and said, "I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel!"
When our faith expresses great confidence in Jesus' power and authority, it captures His attention. The apostle John has written, "Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him" (1 John 5:14-15). What a promise! What a limitless offer God makes to us! Yet, we so often pray in a pathetic, unbelieving way, that we clearly express that we don't even believe God hears us or cares, or - worst of all - that He can't do what we ask. May God pardon us for our lack of faith! May we learn what His will is - and then ask big!
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When we began our look at this passage, I said that there is at least one thing on earth caused Jesus to marvel - and that is the exceptional faith of some. But the Bible teaches us that there is at least one more thing that caused Him to marvel - and that is the exceptional unbelief of others. When He came to His own hometown of Nazareth, we're told,
And when the Sabbath had come, He began to teach in the synagogue. And many hearing Him were astonished, saying, "Where did this Man get these things? And what wisdom is this which is given to Him, that such mighty works are performed by His hands! Is this not the carpenter, the Son of Mary, and brother of James, Joses, Judas and Simon? And are not His sisters here with us?" So they were offended at Him. But Jesus said to them, "A prophet is not without honor except in his own country, among his own relatives, and in his own house." Now He could do no mighty works there, except that He laid His hands on a few sick people and healed them. And He marveled because of their unbelief (Mark 6:2-6a).
Dear brother or sister in Christ, are you a cause for Jesus to "marvel" - one way or the other? Here, we're shown the qualities of faith that cause Jesus to marvel to His own delight - a faith in Jesus that is motivated by sincere love for others; a faith that is bold in taking initiative; a faith that is humble in the asking; and a faith that is confident in the outcome. May God help us to exercises such faith in such a wonderful Savior!
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