A friend recently found out that there were complications with the health of his first-born son. It is never good to hear a doctor telling expecting parents that there are complications. It appeared that there was water on the baby’s brain and the doctor’s said that there was a strong possibility that the baby was not going to make it through the delivery. Where do you go with news like that? Or better yet, to whom do you go with news like that? Today, as we open God’s Word, we look into a similar situation; a soldier’s dearly loved servant is at the brink of death and God’s gives us a window into how and to whom this solider responds in the face of death. Soldiers live by different rules than the rest of the world, so I think it is fitting, as we approach Memorial Day, to look at the life of this soldier who was commended by our Lord Jesus Christ. This soldier was commended for his faith, so I pray today, that you can learn and emulate the faith of this soldier. I want to show you four truths of faith from this text that you can model in your own faith.
Faith in the Proper Person
Verse 1 says, “After he (Jesus) had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum.” This is a transition sentence for Luke. Luke is moving from the Sermon the Plain to another scene in the ministry of Jesus. But it is important to remember that the order and arrangement of the Gospel is not random. The Holy Spirit through Luke arranged the order of this gospel narrative in a very particular way. Luke connects this story about a centurion to the Sermon on the Plain. So let’s go back and read the end of that sermon, verse 46 and following:
Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord’, and not do what I tell you? Everyone who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like: he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built. But the one whose hears and does not do them like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the stream broke against it, immediately it fell, and the ruin of that house was great. (Luke 6:46-49)
So Luke, through the Holy Spirit, places this event right after the sermon to give us a picture of someone who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. As the story goes on, we can see that this soldier is faced with a dire storm. The storm of death is beating against the house, but as you will see, his house was not shaken.
Verse 2, “Now a centurion had a servant who was sick and at the point of death, who was highly valued by him.” This centurion was a Gentile who likely commanded a regiment of 100 soldiers. He was a soldier from a hostile force placed to control the Jewish people. This centurion had a servant that was sick and about to die. Now the rendering in the ESV can make it sound like the only reason that the centurion wanted his servant to live was because of his worth to him as if his being a good servant was the most important thing. He did not want to lose his service so he wanted him to live. Although good help is hard to find, I believe the King James Version does a better job in translation it says, “And a certain centurion’s servant, who was dear unto him, was sick and ready to die.” Can you hear the difference? Highly valued by him vs. who was dear unto him. The description of the centurion is not cold or self-motivated, but loving and kind. He is probably emotionally and spiritually gripped with the news of this dear servant. The emotion is properly not much different than my friends who heard about the chances of his son. In that situation, to whom does he turn?
Verse 3, “When the centurion heard about Jesus, he sent to him the elders of the Jews, asking him to come and heal his servant.” The centurion turned the only place any of us should turn in the storms of life: Jesus Christ. Now, the Word about Jesus Christ was spreading. His ministry was expanding so even a Gentile centurion, a member of the more upper class, had heard about Jesus. So what did he hear? He heard what we have been seeing over the last several months. He heard about his preaching and teaching, his miraculous healings and his authority over evil spirits, he heard about His Divinity. The centurion heard about Jesus and sought his help.
Now remember the audience of this gospel, it was written to the most excellent Theophilus. It was written to a Gentile who never saw Jesus, but only heard about him. And we see this Centurion, another Gentile, who never saw Jesus, but only heard about him. This centurion still had faith in Jesus Christ. We can have faith in Jesus Christ even if we only heard about him from His Word. On occasion I will hear of a non-Christian say something like, “I would have faith in Jesus if I could see Him.” This Soldier sought after Jesus in faith without seeing, but only hearing. 1 Peter 1: 8-9, “Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” Beloved, model this soldier’s faith!! He did not see Jesus, but he believed.
Faith in the Proper Place
We pick up the story with the elders of the Jews sent by the centurion to Jesus. Verse 4, “And when they (the elders) came to Jesus, they pleaded with him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy to have you do this for him, for he loves our nation and he is the one who built us our synagogue. And Jesus went with them.” The elders were probably not religious leaders, but social leaders. Luke makes the distinction several times throughout Luke/Acts by distinguishing them as “elders, Pharisees and scribes;” three distinct groups. So these social leaders speak very well of centurion. They said that he helped in the building of the synagogue and that he loved the nation of Israel. It helps us understand more of the character of the centurion with the Jews commenting that he loves the nation rather than that he loves God. The centurion was probably not a God-fearer or a proselyte. He was an honorable man, but he was not a follow of Yahweh. These elders of the Jews appeal to Jesus on the basis of this centurion’s merit or record of good work his has done for the Jews. But haven’t we seen throughout this gospel already that no one can approach God on the merit of their good works? The Jews didn’t get it, but a Gentile did.
Verse 6, “When he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends saying to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. Therefore I did not presume to come to you.” The soldier gives the opposite message. While the Jews were trying convince Jesus that the centurion was worthy, the centurion confesses that he is not worthy. This centurion took a position of humility. He knew his place. He had heard of Jesus and realized that Jesus was sent from God. He was not worthy to approach Jesus. This is a faith we desperately need in our day.
Beloved, we are not worthy. We will never be worthy. This goes against the stream of popular American ideology. Our American ideology says that we cannot tell people that they are unworthy. Our culture pushes the idea that everyone is good and has the hidden spark of greatness inside their hearts. We can do whatever we set our minds too. We can be all that we dream ourselves to be. LIES!!! In an effort to make people feel better about themselves, our culture misses the only thing that can truly make us feel better: The gospel of Jesus Christ. We are not worthy. We are sinners. We are not worthy of God. We have rebelled against Him. We deserve death and hell for our treason against the King of kings. But just because we are not worthy, does not mean we are unloved!!! Our God loves the unlovable. Our God loves the outsiders, the sinners, the dirty, the wretched, the poor. Our God loves us so much that he sent his son to die for us. Jesus “gave himself up to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people of for his own possession” (Titus 2:14). But he didn’t just die, he gave us hope through his resurrection from the dFor if anyone that humbles themselves under the mighty hand of God, then God at proper time will exalt you (1 Peter 5:6). So, our culture wants to ignore reality by elevating man to the supreme place, and thus, condemning us to the lowest place by setting us against God. But when we confess our sin, our unworthiness, God forgives us and adopts us as sons and daughters. What could feel better than to know that God loves me at my worst because Jesus took my worst for me on the cross?
Be careful not to allow this worldly thinking to infiltrate your brain. I think one way that your faith has shifted from its proper place is when you start appealing to God on the basis of your merit. “Lord, how could you allow this to happen? All I want to do is follow you. I go to church, I read my Bible, I try to love people… Why don’t you fix this?” In those moments, what we are really saying to God is, “I am worthy so this should not happen to me.” In those moments, remember Jesus Christ’s death on the cross. Remind yourself that you are sinner that is deeply loved by a great Savior. And remember, that you are unworthy. Beloved, put your faith in its proper place.
Faith in the Proper Power
Soldiers understand authority. They know who has the power over them. Soldier’s live or dies on their ability to submit to those in authority. See in Verse 7, “Therefore I did not presume to come to you. But say the word, and let my servant be healed. For I too am a man set under authority, with 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 turning to the crowd that followed him, said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” And when those had been sent returned to the house, they found the servant well.
In most scenes thus far in Luke’s gospel, we see people bringing people to Jesus so that he could lay hands on the sick people to heal them. The centurion believed that Jesus could heal his servant without even touching him, but only needed to “say the word”. This is a different and deeper level understanding that even the Jews had about Jesus’ power. Jesus was sent from God and had the authority to do whatever he pleases on Earth. I believe that the centurion was claiming that Jesus had divine power. Listen to Psalm 135:5-7:
5 For I know that the Lord is great, and that our Lord is above all gods. 6 Whatever the Lord pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps.7 He it is who makes the clouds rise at the end of the earth, who makes lightnings for the rain and brings forth the wind from his storehouses.
Only one with God’s Authority could heal his servant. This Gentile centurion soldier had faith in Jesus that he had the power of God. And Jesus proves this correct in healing his servant with the power of his word. Jesus marveled at this faith.
One of the reasons that I respect soldiers so much is because they understand authority. They do not question their orders, but submit to them. This does not mean that they agree with every order that they are given, but they know how to follow. Now do you see the connection the Jesus’s sermon? “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord’ and not do what I tell you? Everyone who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like:” He is like this soldier that knew Jesus was sent from God and it was his job to follow his Word. Does God’s Word have this kind of authority in your life? Jesus wants you to obey His Words for in your submission to His Word, you are showing that Jesus is Lord.
Beloved, we need to emulate such faith. In our modern era built on reason and rebellion, we need to be reminded of the importance of authority and submission. This story is a picture of a soldier who understands authority and submits to it. But this is only one story of countless soldiers throughout history who have understood authority. As we have already seen, there are many people in this church who have served our country, many in times of war. Soldiers in war had to trust their commander’s orders. They may not have fully understood every order, but they had to follow. And if they did not follow those orders, the war could be lost. The line of command in the military is just one picture of the authority structure that God has woven into our world.
One of the questions that you have to ask yourself as a Christian is, “Am I allowing myself to be led? Or am I willing to follow?” We have a commanding officer in the church: Jesus Christ. He has given us orders to obey. Jesus says in Matthew 16:18, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Paul says of Jesus in Ephesians 5:23, “Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior.” We have a head of the church. Jesus Christ is our Chief Shepherd, but he also has placed under-shepherds or pastors to help govern and lead the church. God calls men to lead the church under his authority. I have been given marching orders for the church by the Spirit of Christ through his Word. My calling is to preach this Word to you so you can obey Him showing Him to be the Lord over your life. So beloved, do you honor God’s Authoritative Word over your life? Are you allowing yourself to be led? Do you come on Sunday morning looking for a Word from God to obey or to challenge? Beloved, model this soldier’s faith in the proper power!!
Faith in the Proper Pursuit
One more aspect of soldier’s faith is that soldiers have to keep the mission at its center. Soldiers are sent into war with an objective. They may do other things, but the main goal is to accomplish their objective. Paul says through the Holy Spirit in 2 Timothy 2:3-4, “Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled with civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him.” We are called to be a good soldier in Christ Jesus. We have been enlisted into his army to labor for his glory. We cannot get entangled with civilian pursuits. And if I can be honest with you, I believe that some of you in this church have taken your eyes off the mission (the Great Co-Mission) and have become entangled with civilian pursuits.
God has called us to Himself and made us ambassadors giving us the ministry of reconciliation. He has charged us to labor for souls of men. People are dying all around us. They have been blinded by the spirit of the age. And I see in our church that we are often more concerned with temporal things than we are with things that are eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:17-18:
17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
We have become entangled with civilian affairs to neglect of our mission. We are at war. Our battle is not against flesh and blood, “but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places (Eph. 6:12).”
Beloved, lift your eyes up off of the things that you see and realize that we are in a cosmic battle with eternal consequences. We have been tasked with a Mission: to proclaim the gospel to a lost and dying world so their eyes may be opened and that they may be saved from Hell and savor Jesus Christ as Lord. Our battle is against Hell itself. But we must not fear for one has already come and overcame the grave.
In World War 2, Ernest Gordon was a British captive in a Japanese prison camp by the River Kwai in Burma, where the POWs were forced to build a 'railroad of death' for transporting Japanese troops to the battlefront. They were tortured, starved, and worked to the point of exhaustion. Nearly 16,000 died.
Gordon survived the horrors of that experience and wrote about it in a monumental work, Through the Valley of the Kwai, published in 1962 (and later made into the movie To End All Wars). He describes one occasion when, at the end of a workday, the tools were being counted before the prisoners returned to their quarters. A guard declared that a shovel was missing. He began to rant and rave, demanding to know which prisoner had stolen it.
Working himself into a paranoid fury, he ordered whoever was guilty to step forward and take his punishment.
No one did.
'All die!' the guard shrieked. 'All die!" He cocked his rifle and aimed it at the prisoners.
At that moment, one man stepped forward. Standing at attention he calmly declared, 'I did it.'
The Japanese guard at once clubbed the man to death.
As his friends carried away his lifeless body, the shovels in the tool shed were recounted--only to reveal that there was no missing shovel.
The reason we have hope this morning because there was a death sentence against us. The sentence was clear, “All die.” But one stepped forward, out of heaven and declared, “I did it,” taking the place of those who were destined to die. Jesus Christ stepped forward and gave up his life to save others. Beloved, we must be armed with this type of faith: A soldier’s faith. We are all called to be good soldiers of Christ Jesus. So let’s learn from our soldiers and emulate their faith.