Words of Faith 5-9-18
Dr. Jeffrey D. Hoy © 2018
Faith Fellowship Church - Melbourne, FL
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When Jesus had finished saying all this in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum.  There a centurion's servant, whom his master valued highly, was sick and about to die.  The centurion heard of Jesus and sent some elders of the Jews to him, asking him to come and heal his servant.  When they came to Jesus, they pleaded earnestly with him, "This man deserves to have you do this,  because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue."  So Jesus went with them.
He was not far from the house when the centurion sent friends to say to him: "Lord, don't trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof.  That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you. But say the word, and my servant will be healed.  For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, 'Go,' and he goes; and that one, 'Come,' and he comes. I say to my servant, 'Do this,' and he does it."
 When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, "I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel."  Then the men who had been sent returned to the house and found the servant well.
Jesus had just finished preaching a powerful group of messages on priorities, on Kingdom choices, on forgiveness, and on surrender. Now it was time to head home to Capernaum the little town that was his home base where he stayed in the home of Peter's mother-in-law as a guest.
Capernaum was the town where revival had first broken out. People had been healed and demons were driven out in Capernaum. But now, it was just simply a place to get a meal and rest. As he came into town, the leaders of the synagogue came to him with a most unusual request. "Will you come to the house of the Roman Centurion and heal his servant?" In fact, they pleaded in earnest.
This was quite strange because the Centurion was the picture of Roman occupation and oppression. A Centurion commanded 100 men and would be assigned to a town such as Capernaum to keep the peace and enforce Roman taxation and law. In his official life, a Centurion typically was a tough, battle hardened, career military man. The idea that the Jewish leaders would be concerned for the needs of this man's household would have been unbelievable!
Jesus might have thought, "This is great! I just preached a sermon about doing good to those who hate you, praying for those who mistreat you, taking the Kingdom response and breaking the cycle of hate. How marvelous that he Elders of the synagogue have responded and have chosen to do just exactly that!"
But that was not exactly the scenario. Jesus quickly learned that, in fact, it was not the synagogue leaders who had reached out to the Centurion but the Centurion who had reached out to the synagogue! That was even more shocking! It must have surprised and even intrigued Jesus because it gave a whole different perspective.
Obviously, there was something very special about this Centurion. The Centurion did not pop up out of nowhere with a "need" saying to his Jewish subjects, "I heard you had a healer in town and I demand that he come to my house.”
In fact, this man had been cultivating a relationship with the Jews for some time. He had made it a point to get to know the people he was charged with controlling. He had surveyed some of their needs and had personally helped them! He had built a relationship with the Jewish leaders such that they would say: "This man loves our Nation!"
We learn that the Centurion had done a sort of monumental thing. He had blessed the people in a tangible way. Something had called this man to make a huge gift. He had built the synagogue in Capernaum. Perhaps he had observed the dedication of the people to God. We don't know.
You can see the foundation of that synagogue even today. It was no small edifice! It was two stories with a gallery for the women and children. It had beautiful stone work, arches and pillars. Imagine. This was not a "church member" or even one of the group. He may have been a God-fearer, but basically he was a pagan in the eyes of the Jews. There is no indication that the Centurion had gone through a conversion process. He just decided to build the synagogue.
Imagine for a moment what that would be like. Imagine if someone in your congregation decided to build an entire new building. All would be stunned and grateful. But now imagine if an entire building was gifted but from a person outside your congregation who was not even a Christian, just an interested seeker who had admired the Spirit of God among you. Now imagine if the person was from a group that we, as a group, did not trust at all or that we as a group had enmity with! Someone who we would have expected from experience to hate us! This is exactly what the congregation at Capernaum experienced.
The Centurion at Capernaum was a pagan, a Gentile, an oppressor, and presumably an idolater, despised by the Jewish people, who for some reason made a shocking choice and reached out to build exactly the kind of Kingdom Bridge that Jesus was just talking about! Luke wants us to be sure to understand that God was at work among Gentiles long before there were Gentiles actually in the church.
So Jesus set out for the house of the Centurion. In first century Israel, he had no real choice. If the Roman Centurion asked for you to report, you did so! On the way there came another surprise, another message. Don't bother to come. I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. That's why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you. So that there is no misunderstanding the Centurion makes sure that the request is understood NOT as a "power play" or the flexing political influence and muscle, but as a request.
The Centurion wanted to be sure it was not that he was a big contributor and therefore expected to get his way. In fact, the Centurion was probably aware that Jewish law did not allow Jesus to come into his house without later submitting to special rites of purification. He respected that.
The message continued. But say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I, myself, am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, 'Go,' and he goes; and that one, 'Come,' and he comes. I say to my servant, 'Do this,' and he does it."
It was here that Jesus marveled at the faith of the Centurion. "I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel." Then the men who had been sent returned to the house and found the servant well.
And what was Jesus marveling at? We always are very sure that it was his understanding of the chain of command and the authority of Jesus. But I am not so sure that is all. The man had faith. But he also had lived out that faith. I can't help but think that Jesus noticed all of that.
Perhaps Jesus was commending the faith and the action of the Centurion, the faith in action. In a climate where boulders were rolled down on soldiers and assassins called sicarii targeted the military presence, this man was returning good for evil, breaking the cycle of violence, praying for those who hurt you, turning the other cheek, and taking the initiative to forgive. We see not a Jew but a pagan Roman Gentile doing the Kingdom response!
The Centurion knew a lot about command and faith. But he also knew about putting faith into action. He was not afraid of barriers, racial, ethnic, religious, or political. He sought to build a bridge in a tangible way. That was risky! He gave a generous and unexpected gift. He was living out the very Kingdom choices that Jesus was trying to get through to the religious people of Israel!
One cannot help but wonder what a different place the world might be if more people would do some such thing. Think about it. If a Jew would build a hospital in the Gaza strip instead of a settlement in East Jerusalem. If a Palestinian would build a memorial park grieving the innocent lives lost through terrorism. If a white person would build a memorial to commemorate Martin Luther King, Jr. How about a holocaust memorial given NOT by the Jewish Federation but given by a Christian? Those are big thoughts but there are also smaller possibilities building Kingdom bridges.
Jesus knew what it was like to see great hatred and enmity separating people and then do something about it. That is what we see in this Centurion. It is what the Gospel calls us to do. The Centurion was what Paul calls a "minister of reconciliation" (2 Cor. 5) and he did not even know it!
The challenge before us is to be ministers of reconciliation as well. Or will we be ambassadors of division? Do our lives do more to bring people together or to push them apart? Are our life actions a testimony of how God is reconciling the world to himself or a testimony of the division that sin has caused? Is there some kind act some generous deed some synagogue to be built that would build a bridge of reconciliation and share the love of Jesus?
Father God, help me to see the Kingdom possibilities. Lead me to be part of the solution rather than the problem. Help me to build Kingdom bridges. Help me to be a minister of reconciliation. In Jesus' name.