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Second Sunday after Pentecost

Luke 7:1–10

James T. Batchelor

Pentecost 2, Proper 4, series C
Saint Paul Lutheran Church  
Manito, IL

view DOC file

Sun, May 29, 2016 

Todays Gospel is the account of Jesus healing the servant of a centurion.  The miracle itself is one more testimony to the fact that Jesus is not only a man from Nazareth, but He is also the God of creation.  Never the less, there is a great deal more to this lesson.  This reading gives us the opportunity to compare the judgment of the world with the judgment of God.  It also gives us the opportunity to learn something about faith.

Luke begins this account be telling us about a centurion with a sick servant.  In order to get the most out of this text, it will be helpful to review what it means to be a centurion.

A centurion was an army officer.  As the title implies, he typically had command over one hundred soldiers.  A centurion led his soldiers by example.  He led the charge in battle.  When they breeched enemy defenses, he was usually one of the first ones through the opening.  He was responsible for training the soldiers under him.  He was also responsible for the way his soldiers represented the Roman Empire.  By the time a Roman soldier rose to the rank of centurion, he had demonstrated both virtue and heroism.

As deadly as a centurion could be on the battlefield, he was also expected to be a gentleman in polite society.  He had to be able to read and write.  He had to have a better than average knowledge of the laws of the Empire.  He had to know how to behave in the Emperors court.  While there are examples of corrupt centurions, in general, a centurion is a man who deserves respect.

Having said all that, centurions were also officers in the army that occupied the land.  The army not only conquered the empire, but it was also the police force once Rome had established control over the land.  So the centurion was sort of the equivalent of the head of the local field office of the FBI here in the United States.  Most people in the Roman Empire had high respect for the centurion.

Things were a little different in Israel.  Long ago, God had spoken through His servant Moses and said, You may indeed set a king over you whom the Lord your God will choose. One from among your brothers you shall set as king over you. You may not put a foreigner over you, who is not your brother. (Deuteronomy 17:15) So, no matter how benevolent and noble a centurion was, he was still the local leader of the occupying forces.  He is still the enemy who is carrying out the policies and procedures of the Roman occupation.  Furthermore, as a Roman army officer who grew up in Roman culture, we would expect him to worship the gods of Roman mythology Jupiter, Juno, Neptune, Minerva, and so forth.  He grew up in a culture that the devout Jew would label as unclean.

Now, when Luke informs us that the local Jewish elders came to Jesus in order to intercede for this centurion, we should be ready to hear something unusual.  Here is a centurion who has managed to overcome the cultural divide between the Roman occupation and the Jewish people.  The words of the Jewish elders tell us what is so different about this centurion.  When they came to Jesus, they pleaded with him earnestly, saying, He is worthy to have you do this for him, 5for he loves our nation, and he is the one who built us our synagogue. (Luke 7:45) As the one who built the synagogue, he demonstrated, at the very least, a deep respect for the Jewish religion and a love for the nation.  It is even possible that he was studying to become a convert to Judaism.  The Jewish leaders labeled him as worthy.  This is a very rare man one who has attained the rank of centurion in the Roman Army and, at the same time, is counted worthy by the Jewish elders.

As Jesus turned aside to go to this amazing man, we learn that this man possesses true humility.  When [Jesus] 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. 7Therefore I did not presume to come to you. (Luke 7:67) Here is a man who has achieved the rank if centurion and been judged as worthy by the people of the land that he occupies.  Never the less, he considers himself as not even worthy to meet with Jesus face-to-face.  This Roman army officer has confessed that Jesus is his superior.

When the officer expressed his faith in Jesus ability to grant this healing, he used his own authority in the Roman army as a metaphor.  He told of his own authority to give orders to the soldiers in his command.  The message that the centurion sent by his friends went on to say, Say the word, and let my servant be healed. 8For 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. (Luke 7:78) This gentile army officer confessed that Jesus is the commander over sickness and death even at a distance.  With this example, the centurion confessed that Jesus is the ruler of creation.

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. (Luke 7:9) At this point, Jesus marveled at the work that the Holy Spirit had done in this man.  He had created a faith in a gentile army officer that was greater than any in Israel.  The Jews had the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms, but they did not see Jesus as the promised Messiah.  This gentile army officer did not have any of those benefits, and yet, he saw Jesus as the ruler of creation.  Jesus marveled at the work of the Holy Spirit that had produced such a faith in this man.

You see, there is more than one miracle in this account.  Yes, Jesus healed the centurions servant.  That is a magnificent miracle that demonstrates Jesus power and authority.  The greater miracle in this account, however, is the faith of the centurion.  Even Jesus marveled at the work that the Holy Spirit had done in this man.

The miracle of faith in this centurion teaches us much about the Holy Spirits gift of faith.  The centurion confessed his unworthiness before the Lord.  Even though the world represented by the Jewish elders declared him worthy, the centurion had examined his life in light of the Ten Commandments and found himself lacking.  Of all people, this Roman Army officer approached Jesus as one who was only worthy of punishment for his sins.  He readily admitted that he had no right whatsoever to ask Jesus to do this.  He simply relied on the grace and mercy of Jesus.

This is the work that the Holy Spirit does in each of us as He works the miracle of conversion.  He shows us that we are helpless, hopeless sinners that we desperately need a savior.

This is a fact that should be obvious to us even before we open the Bible.  Murder, hatred, war, lust, immorality, covetousness, theft, lies, gossip, and all other sorts of evil dominate both history and current events.  No matter how hard we struggle to improve the lot of mankind, we fail.  There is not a single one among us who would not die of embarrassment if our secret thoughts and desires became public knowledge.

The Bible reinforces this.  Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. (Psalm 51:5) We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. (Isaiah 64:6) For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:2223) If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. (1 John 1:8) If we say we have not sinned, we make [God] a liar, and his word is not in us. (1 John 1:10) This is one time that the clear evidence in the world around us and the Word of God agree.  We are evil and we live in an evil world.  We must also join the centurion and confess, We are not worthy for Christ to come under our roofs.

If this was all there was to the centurions message, despair would be our path, but there is more.  The centurion went on to proclaim the power in the Word of God.  He pointed to Christ as the creator and ruler of all things.  He confessed that Jesus was not only the savior who could heal his slave, but He is also a savior of grace and mercy who brings salvation based, not on our worth, but on His love and our need.

Our greatest need is for a savior from sin.  Jesus is the one who is more than worthy enough to be that savior.  He surrendered His worth on the cross when He sacrificed Himself as a payment for our sin.  He took our sin onto Himself and placed His worth into our account.  In this way He paid for our sins with the worth of His holy precious blood and His innocent suffering and death.  He certified that His worth is enough to save us by rising from the dead and ascending into heaven.  It is the sacrifice of His worth for us that gives us forgiveness, life, and salvation.

The Bible does not tell us what happened to the centurion in todays Gospel.  I would like to think that he kept informed about the ministry of Jesus.  After all, Jesus marveled at the faith that the Holy Spirit gave to this Roman soldier.  He would be one of the very interesting people that I would like to talk to when I get to heaven.

Until then, we can learn from the Roman centurion.  We can learn that although we are not worthy, Jesus has more than enough worth for all of us.  Through the sacrifice that Jesus made for us on the cross, we unworthy sinners can come before God, confess our sin, and receive the forgiveness of sins and where there is the forgiveness of sins there is salvation and eternal life.  Amen

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