Sunday, March 11, 2012

Luke 7:1-10 - The Centurion's Faith

Jesus marvels at the centurion's faith
Key Truth: Luke wrote Luke 7:1-10 to teach believers that the faith that honors Christ yields greater compassion, humility, and power.
Key Application: Today I want to show you what God’s Word says about Christ-honoring faith.
Key Verse: Luke 7:9
Pray and Read:  Luke 7:1-10

Sermon Points:
1.   Christ-honoring faith yields greater compassion (Luke 7:1-5)
2.   Christ-honoring faith yields greater humility (Luke 7:6-8)
3.   Christ-honoring faith yields greater power (Luke 7:9-10)
Contextual Notes:
By comparing the unbelief of Zechariah the priest and the faith of the virgin teenager Mary, Luke’s Gospel calls us to believe that Jesus is the Messiah who fulfills God’s covenants with Abraham and David (Luke 1-2). Luke says that the first step in belief is to repent of our sin (Luke 3:1-20) to God’s suffering Servant, who, through his sacrificial death (Luke 3:21-23a), is the truly obedient Son of God, unlike sinful Adam (Luke 3:23b-38), defeating Satan in every area of human life: body, mind, and spirit (Luke 4:1-13).

In the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus begins his ministry around the Sea of Galilee (Luke 4:14-9:50[1]) as Luke powerfully contrasts belief and unbelief in a series of events. After encountering unbelief at the Nazareth synagogue (Luke 4:14-30),[2] Jesus is met with faith and unleashed power at Capernaum (Luke 4:31-44). After calling his first disciples to follow him in faith (Luke 5:1-11), Jesus’ ministry arouses the hostile unbelief of the religious leaders by forgiving sin (Luke 5:12-26). When Levi the tax collector responds in belief and follows Him (Luke 5:27-32), the Pharisees respond in unbelief and anger to Jesus’ dining with sinners (Luke 5:33-39).

In contrast with the unbelief of the Pharisees regarding their rigid ideas of keeping Sabbath (Luke 6:1-11), Jesus appoints twelve believing disciples as apostles (Luke 6:12-16) and outlines for them the blessings of walking by faith and the woes of walking in unbelief (Luke 6:17-26), putting faith into practice by developing Christ-like love (Luke 6:27-36), Christ-like integrity (Luke 6:37-42), Christ-like character (Luke 6:43-45), and Christ-like stability (Luke 6:46-49).

Following the Sermon on the Plain, Luke narrates a series of episodes which demonstrate people responding in faith or unbelief to Jesus’ person and his message. In Luke 7, Jesus returns to Capernaum with his disciples in tow, training them, ministering to the people, and healing the sick servant of a Gentile Roman centurion (Luke 7:1-10). Though Jesus came especially for the “lost sheep of Israel” (Matt 10:5; 15:24, 26; John 1:11), Luke shows that Jesus often finds greater faith among those outside of Israel. Luke makes it clear that Jesus has come to save all the nations and foreshadows the expansion of the Kingdom to the nations in his sequel Acts, paralleling the salvation of the centurion Cornelius, whose conversion confirms God’s plan to take salvation to all the nations (Acts 10).

Exposition:   Note well,

a.   (|| Matt. 8:5-13; and perhaps John 4:43-54)
b.   Centurions – These officers were mainstays of the Roman army, commanding a “century” of about 100 soldiers (A Roman legion was composed of sixty centuries). These veteran soldiers maintained discipline and commanded great respect, and were paid 15 times an ordinary soldier’s wage. They were highly motivated, competent soldiers, and generally decent persons. In fact, the New Testament portrays every centurion mentioned in a good light (Mark 15:39; Acts 10:2; 27:53). This centurion, obviously a Gentile serving in the oppressive Roman Army, models what Luke calls “great faith,” illustrating two of Luke’s key themes of walking in faith vs. unbelief and in the Gospel’s extension to the Gentile nations.
c.   Luke 7:2 – Sick and about to die: Matthew tells us that his “son” (pais) was paralyzed/palsy and suffering/greatly tormented (Matt. 8:6). Palsy begins with spasms, then respiratory problems to eventual death.
d.   Since Roman troops were not stationed in Galilee until AD 44, this centurion may have served under Herod Antipas, tetrarch of Galilee (Luke 3:1), performing police, security, or customs services. He seems to have been a “God fearer” like Cornelius (Acts 10:2), a Gentile worshiping the God of Israel but has not converted to Judaism. Apparently he financed the construction of the Capernaum synagogue (Luke 7:5) because the local Jewish leaders first come to Jesus, asking him to do something for the man. There is, in fact, archaeological evidence on inscriptions that Gentiles supported synagogues, and Josephus says that Gentiles frequently supported synagogues. These people were highly respected by Jews.
e.   ILLUSTRATION: Slaves in the ancient world, though they may be highly skilled craftsmen or even physicians like Luke, existed to serve their masters alone. They had no rights as persons, and their lives had little value to society. Cicero once apologized for having a twinge of regret when a slave of his suffered a painful death.
f.    Bob Pierce the founder of World Vision and Samaritan’s Purse, prayed, “Let my heart be broken by the things that break the heart of God.”
g.   APPLICATION: Compassion for others is a by-product of walking in Christ-honoring faith. So how do you react when you hear of children being killed in the womb, or of people becoming human traffic and sold as slaves for labor and other purposes, or when you learn of the persecution of brothers and sisters in Christ, or when you hear of a mother down the road who is struggling to provide for her family, or of a family who has lost their home in a disaster, or when you hear of someone in the hospital or having lost a loved one? Do you care? Does it motivate you to do anything at all for them? As Christians we are called to respond in compassion. How much more compassionate should we be toward those who have an eternal destiny before them of punishment because they do not have faith in Christ Jesus. How are you sharing Christ with those around you?
a.   Luke 7:6 – I do not deserve to have you come under my roof: Entering a Gentile home made a Jew unclean (Acts 10:28; 11:12), and the centurion knowing that is being thoughtful of Jesus. But there is more, by calling him Lord and recognizing Jesus’ superiority, the centurion subordinates himself to Jesus, seeking a favor from his patron Lord.
b.   Luke 7:7 – But say the word: The Roman army was renowned for its discipline and organization. This soldier commanding authority, he recognizes Jesus as having greater authority with the authority of God’s word to heal (Psalm 107:20). Psalm 51:17
c.   APPLICATION: Do you want Spiritual Authority? Then cultivate in your life the virtue of humility. Paul tells us in Romans 12:3, “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.” But humility is not weakness. It is strength. There is a boldness in humility. Proverbs 28:1 says, “The wicked flee when no one pursues, But the righteous are bold as a lion.” Proverbs 22:4: “By humility and the fear of the LORD Are riches and honor and life.” Proverbs 15:33: “The fear of the LORD is the instruction of wisdom, And before honor is humility.” Pride is the source of most all other failures of sin in your life. By asking the Holy Spirit to replace personal pride with humility, you will gain spiritual authority and Christ-likeness.
a.   Luke 7:9 – I have not found such great faith: Not only an extraordinary praise for a Gentile, but also an indictment at the unbelief of Israel. The story parallels in Elisha’s healing of the Syrian General Naaman (2 Kings 5:1-16) where Elisha is not present (2 Kings 5:10), and the healing results in the recognition of the power of the Lord and the prophet representing him (2 Kings 5:8, 15; Luke 7:16).
b.   This is one of only two times (cf. Mark 6:6) in Scripture when Jesus was amazed (thaumazo). Notice that Jesus was not more amazed at the man’s building the synagogue, but at his faith.
c.   Luke 7:10 – and found the servant well: Jesus’ act of healing from a distance serves not only to illustrate his miraculous power to heal, but also his present power to save. Jesus may be absent in the flesh, but His Word is enough. This is the same Creator, who, the writer of Hebrews says in his great chapter on faith, created the universe (aionas – ages) at His Word (Heb 11:3). “Let there be light, and there was light (Gen 1:3). Isaiah said that his word would not return to him void, but would accomplish the purpose for which he sent it (Isaiah 55:11).
d.   APPLICATION: In the same way, Jesus need only speak, and our broken, thwarted lives are made whole.

[1] Culminating at Luke 9:20 with Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Anointed of God.
[2] The incident parallels the beginning of the birth narrative, in which the priest Zechariah responds in unbelief to the announcement of the angel Gabriel. The Capernaum synagogue’s faith parallels the believing faith of the Virgin Mary.