February 12, 2023 Speaker: Kit Johnson Series: Transforming Faith
Topic: Expository Passage: Luke 7:1-10
Since we finished Romans 6 last Sunday, and we have a guest speaker next week, it’s a good time to revisit our theme for the year, “Transforming Faith.” Remember we are focusing on building great faith that transforms all of life. We don’t want to be practical atheists. No, we want to really believe that a sovereign, good, and wise God rules over all things. And we want to believe to the extent that it changes how we pray, how we see the world, and the choices we make. Our faith should make a radical difference.
This morning, I want to consider a powerful example of this kind of faith that we should all aspire to reach (read). I love the simple confidence of the centurion. It’s so encouraging and challenging. I don’t have a complex outline; rather, I want to walk through this incredible story. Then I’ll pull it all together into several conclusions/applications.
But as we move toward application, I want you to think with me. Specifically, the climax of the story is Jesus’ commendation in v. 9, “Not even in Israel have I found such great faith.” It’s a huge compliment. So, I want you to consider, what made the centurion’s faith great? And how should I imitate his example? Maybe write some answers as we go. That said, let’s jump into the story.
I. The Setting (vv. 1 –2)
Verses 1–2 introduce the two main characters—Jesus and the centurion.
Jesus: According to v. 1, Jesus has just finished preaching the “Sermon on the Plain,” which is probably the same sermon recorded in Matthew 5–7, which we call the “Sermon on the Mount.” It was a major moment in Jesus’ ministry.
Now Jesus is traveling to his home base in Capernaum, exhausted from ministry and hoping for some rest. Still, v. 9 says that a “crowd” was following Jesus and probably peppering him with questions all along the way.
Centurion: Then v. 2 jumps to the home of a Roman centurion in Capernaum. Centurions got their name from the fact that they managed 100 troops. They were important people, and they were generally well paid. To give you an idea, a low-ranking Roman soldier made around 75 denarii a year, but centurion made 3750-7500 denarii. That’s a massive difference. So, this centurion is a big deal, and he probably lives in the best house in town.
However, the Jews typically despised centurions. They were Gentiles, they symbolized Roman oppression, and they got rich off burdensome taxes.
Therefore, the Jews would have never picked a centurion to receive Jesus’ compassion. But as Jesus so often does, he surprises us with whom he chooses to show compassion. We know this is an emphasis of our text because vv. 11–17 describe how he raised the only son of a desperate widow, and vv. 36–39 describe Jesus’ compassion to a woman who was known for her shameful, sinful lifestyle.
So, there’s loads of irony built into this story. On the one hand, you wouldn’t expect a mighty centurion to pursue a Jewish prophet. On the other hand, you wouldn’t expect Israel’s Messiah to prioritize a Gentile oppressor. So, as the story begins, we are left to wonder how these two men could possibly cross paths in a productive way?
That said, the story begins with Jesus walking home to Capernaum, and ahead of him in Capernaum, one of the centurion’s slaves was dying. The parallel account in Matthew 8 says he was “paralyzed at home, fearfully tormented.” Whatever was going on, it was an awful sight as he endured an agonizing death.
The centurion is deeply troubled because he “highly regarded this slave.” That’s another surprising twist because high-ranking Romans didn’t typically value slaves. But the centurion didn’t view this slave as mere property; he was a fellow man.
So, this is not your typical gruff, arrogant, and cruel centurion. Any first century reader would be paying attention. Who is this centurion? Why does he seem so different from a typical high-ranking soldier?
II. The First Conversation (vv. 3–6a)
So, the centurion is distraught over the looming death of his slave when somehow, he hears that Jesus is on his way into town. Again, Capernaum was the home-base for Jesus’ Galilean ministry, so I’m sure that the centurion had heard plenty about Jesus.
He had heard about the miracles, and he had seen the crowds. But he didn’t write it off as religious fanaticism like the Romans normally would. Instead, he had paid careful attention, and he could see that Jesus is no ordinary man. Normal people don’t perform those miracles or teach with that authority.
He believed that Jesus possessed God’s sovereign and limitless power. Therefore, he also believed that his servant’s paralysis was no match for the mighty power of Jesus.
Maybe someone suggested that the centurion go to Jesus. He wants to go, but there is a problem. Verse 7a says that he had such deep reverence for Jesus that he “did not even consider himself worthy to come (to Jesus).”
Now, Jesus didn’t demand this response. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus is always pursuing people, oftentimes going after the most shamed people of society. And Hebrews 4:16 commands those in Christ to boldly bring our requests to him. So, Jesus would have gladly received the centurion.
But the centurion’s reverence is also a welcome contrast to the flippant attitude so many have before God. They come boldly, but not because they are resting in his grace; rather, they think too much of themselves and not enough of God’s glory. We must remember that Christ is compassionate, but he is also the sovereign judge of all the earth. The centurion’s faith enabled him to rightly see a glory in Christ which demanded reverence and fear.
So, he doesn’t feel worthy to go, but he still wants to help his servant. Therefore, he hurried off to find several Jewish elders, and he asked them to appeal to Jesus on his behalf. He probably thought that their Jewish nationality made them more worthy to approach Jesus.
In another surprising twist, the elders agreed to help a centurion. And they didn’t limp out to Jesus and make a bland appeal simply because they had to. No, vv. 4–5 says, “They earnestly implored Him…” They want to help a man that they surprisingly respect and maybe even love.
Of course, they sound more like Washington lobbyists than people who understand Jesus. Their argument is essentially, “This guy has made a big donation, so you better repay his generosity.” That’s not exactly going to win Jesus because he doesn’t play political games.
But the elders are doing their best because they clearly appreciate the centurion building them a synagogue. I’d be elated if someone volunteered to pay for our church to expand. But the elder’s appreciation clearly goes deeper than political games. They testify that the centurion is not just buying favors. He “loves our nation.” This is no ordinary centurion.
So, they made their appeal, and then they waited for Jesus’ response. Yes, Jesus was surely tired, and yes, Gentiles were not his first priority, but Jesus has a compassionate heart. Therefore, he agreed to help and took a detour toward the centurion’s home.
No matter how many times you read about Jesus’ miracles in the Gospel, don’t ever lose sight of his amazing compassion. Jesus cares about all people from lowly Gentile slaves to desperate widows to people who have committed terrible sins. And he always has time for your burdens and cares. So, go to him, talk to him, and rest in the fact that he hears, and he cares.
III. The Second Conversation (vv. 6b–8)
Returning to the story, Jesus is pressing toward the centurion’s home, and we, the readers, expect Jesus to enter the house and heal the servant like he always does.
But there’s another surprising twist. Someone apparently ran ahead and told the centurion that Jesus was coming! That’s exactly what he asked for. The whole house was probably full of excitement.
But the centurion was overwhelmed by his own unworthiness, and I imagine that his mind began to spin. “What have I done? Jesus is God, and he is so busy. And I’m a humble, Gentile sinner.” I’m not worthy to have Jesus come to my house or to take up his time.”
The people around him are shocked. “You’re a Roman centurion. Why are you intimidated by a Jewish prophet?” But faith transformed his perspective. It gave him a grand vision of Jesus’ glory and of his unworthiness. He was so overwhelmed that he grabbed a couple friends and told them to quickly deliver a message to Jesus not to come.
These friends probably thought the centurion was nuts. “You’re a centurion. Go speak to this Jew yourself?” And “Jesus is almost here. He clearly doesn’t mind coming.” And “Joe is dying over there. We need Jesus in this house right away.”
It’s worth noting that the ancients believed in miracles, but they assumed that the miracle worker had to be physically present to perform the miracle. He had to see the person, touch him, and pray over him.
So, to them, telling Jesus not to come was equivalent to telling him not to heal the slave. They can’t believe what they are hearing. But they honored their friend and went on their way.
They intercepted Jesus and his entourage when they were almost to the house, and they delivered the centurion’s remarkable message (vv. 6b–8). Everyone present was surely stunned by the centurion’s surprising request. Why would he say such a thing? And to go back to my introduction, we must ask, “What made the centurion’s faith so great?”
First, the foundation of this confession is the fact that the centurion had a big view of God. He had seen Jesus’ miracles, and he understood that only sovereign power could do these things. He probably didn’t have our refined theology, but he recognized power when he saw it. Therefore, he had a simple but massive vision of God’s glory.
That’s where great faith always begins. So often, our culture makes faith all about me. It’s an irrational feeling that I drum up in myself in hopes that I can create a reality that doesn’t yet exist.
But biblical faith is never about me; it’s about God. The object of your faith matters more than the conviction in your heart. God’s power changes things not the power of my faith. Therefore, I’m planning to do a Sunday evening series this spring to help us build transforming faith. But we aren’t going to talk about faith as much as we are going to talk about God and about fearing him. Because great faith comes from knowing a great God. So, the centurion’s view of God was the first great feature of his faith.
Second, because the centurion had a big view of God, he had a small view of himself. He thought, “Who am I that the Son of God would visit my house? And who am I to speak with Jesus face to face?”
Again, the point is not that we should be so humble that we hide from God. Jesus is compassionate, he loves sinners, and he urges us to come. But always remember that we only come through his blood.
So, great faith includes great confidence that the blood of Christ makes us worthy to come. But great faith doesn’t produce a sense of entitlement where I think, “God ought to do what I want.” No, when Isaiah saw God, he responded, “Wow is me.” In Revelation 1, John fell like a dead man when he saw Jesus in his glory. Great faith sees that transcendent glory, and it always responds with reverence, awe, and humility.
Third, the centurion’s faith created a small view of his problems. We generally think that all our problems are huge. “The sky is falling.” “The world is about to end.” “My problem is the only thing that matters.” But the centurion’s big view of God transformed how he saw even terminal illness.
The best part of this story is the cool, calm logic of vv. 7–8. There’s no panic in his words. He understood that terminal illness is nothing compared to a sovereign God. Jesus didn’t need to come to his house. If Jesus’ word created the universe, it could also heal the slave from a distance.
Why was he so sure? Again, he was a soldier, and he understood the divine chain of command. He notes that he understands what it means to be under authority. When Caesar spoke, he obeyed. And he also understood what it means to exercise authority. When he spoke, his soldiers obeyed. It’s quite simple.
Therefore, he also understood that terminal illness was just another subject to the divine authority structure. Illness, suffering, and other trials are not rogue enemies of God; rather, they are subject to God command. If Jesus commanded this illness to depart, it must obey immediately.
How do you see the challenges in your life? I certainly don’t want to minimize them because they are very real. Life is often painful and scary. God also cares about your sorrows, and Jesus sympathizes with them.
But your challenges are never bigger than God. If God commands them to flee, they must obey. And if they remain, it must be because God in his perfect wisdom and love knows it is best not to remove them. Christian, learn by God’s grace to see all of life through the lens of great faith. Like the centurion, grow a big view of God, a small view of yourself, and a small view of your problems.
IV. Jesus’ Response (vv. 9–10)
Well, the friends delivered the message, and Jesus stopped (vv. 9–10). Imagine having the Son of God “marvel” at your faith. It’s a very human picture of Jesus. God cannot be surprised, but as a man, Jesus is amazed, stunned, and in awe at the centurion’s testimony.
Incredibly, Jesus is only said to “marvel” one other time in the Gospels (Mark 6:6), and it’s a negative usage. So, this is the only time Jesus is said to marvel at a positive quality. It’s quite a statement.
When Jesus turned toward the crowd behind him, he was clearly moved by the centurion’s testimony. He says, “not even in Israel have a I found such great faith.” Matthew’s record of this account includes a stronger condemnation of Israel, but Luke leaves it out because he wants us to simply focus on the centurion’s faith.
I agree with a commentator I read this week who says that Jesus hasn’t even healed the slave yet, but the climax of the story is not v. 10; it’s v. 9. The primary theme of the story is the centurion’s great faith.
What a blessing it is to consider the fact that great faith pleases the Lord. Obviously, I want to be careful to honor the Lord appropriately in saying this, God notices great faith. It pleases him; he smiles upon it. You’ll never impress God with your natural strength and abilities. God doesn’t need your money or your talents. But God notices simple faith. He sees when you trust him, and he is pleased when you take a radical step of obedience simply because you believe him.
And he honors it. Again, the climax of the story is v. 9; therefore, v. 10 concludes story in a shockingly brief manor. The centurion had asked Jesus to “say the word,” but Luke doesn’t even include the word, pronouncing that Jesus would heal the slave.
Rather, Luke quickly jumps to very end. The friends return home and find the slave “in good health.” Jesus said the word, and the illness obeyed. It wasn’t too big for him, and he didn’t even need to visit. God’s Word commands all creation, and this miracle is another testimony to this fact.
I began by asking what made the centurion’s faith great? The answer is great faith transforms how I see God, how I see myself, and how I see my problems. So, how should you imitate the centurion’s example? The answer is see God, yourself, and your problems with eyes of faith. That said, I’d like close with 3 challenges. First…
Believe that God is worthy of this kind of faith. I always want to emphasize that great faith begins with God not with me. So, I want to emphasize that God is worthy of your confidence.
This story really happened. Jesus gave the command, illness fled, and health immediately returned. God’s command also reigns over every challenge in your life. Yes, it’s not always his will to answer the way he did in this story because God’s purposes are far greater than our comfort. But don’t ever think that your problems are bigger than God. His authority stands overall. It is so important that we see him that way.
Aspire to transforming faith. We should all pray, “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.” “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Sometimes it is hard to see God’s glory through the fog of fleshly fears and desires, pressure from the world, and Satan’s deception. So, don’t despair that walking by faith doesn’t seem as simple for you as it was in this moment for the centurion.
But don’t resign yourself to a weak faith either. The Holy Spirit lives inside every true believer, and one of his great ministries is to strengthen our faith. So, ask him for help. Then read and meditate on the Bible a lot because the Holy Spirit primarily works through the Word. As you live on your knees and in the Scriptures, you can grow great faith.
Practice transforming faith. If you never step out in faith until you only feel warm fuzzies, you’ll never step out in faith. You don’t wait until you have great faith before you act on faith; rather you act on faith because it’s right. As you do, God transforms your feelings.
Satan has some of you enslaved to fear, doubt, and anxiety. By God’s grace you need to stop being a slave to your feelings and choose to walk by faith.
Great faith transforms how I see God, how I see myself, and how I see my problems. Let’s all pursue that kind of faith, and let’s live that kind of faith. You’ll be amazed at the difference it makes.
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