4501 Waller Rd E
Second Sunday after Pentecost
May 29, 2016
Ascension Lutheran Church, Tacoma WA
Paul Naumann, Pastor
A SOLDIER MEETS HIS SAVIOR
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, Amen. The text that our
message is based on this morning comes from the eighth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew,
beginning with the fifth verse, as follows:
Now when Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to Him, pleading with Him, 6 saying,
"Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, dreadfully tormented." 7 And Jesus said to him, "I
will come and heal him." 8 The centurion answered and said, "Lord, I am not worthy that You
should come under my roof. But only speak a word, and my servant will be healed. 9 For I also am a
man under authority, having soldiers under me. And I say to this one, 'Go,' and he goes; and to
another, 'Come,' and he comes; and to my servant, 'Do this,' and he does it." 10 When Jesus heard
it, He marveled, and said to those who followed, "Assuredly, I say to you, I have not found such
great faith, not even in Israel! 11 And I say to you that many will come from east and west, and sit
down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. 12 But the sons of the kingdom
will be cast out into outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth." 13 Then Jesus
said to the centurion, "Go your way; and as you have believed, so let it be done for you." And his
servant was healed that same hour. Here ends our text.
In Christ Jesus, Who humbled Himself so that you might gain the exalted status of a child of God,
There is an old adage, "There are no atheists in foxholes." When a crisis occurs, and it's a matter of
life and death, atheists become rather scarce. At times like that, the conviction that there IS a higher
power controlling things comes to the surface very quickly. People no longer deny that there is a
God; rather, they cry out to God, and desperately seek His help. But there's a big difference
between "foxhole" faith and true, saving faith. God is not some anonymous entity who can be
bargained with one moment and cast aside as soon as the crisis is past. In order for our prayers to
be effective, we need to know exactly whom we're praying to, and why we may expect Him to
answer our prayers.
Our text for today concerns an officer in the Roman army - a centurion - who commanded the
Roman garrison in the small town of Capernaum. He had a crisis on his hands and, like many who
suddenly find themselves facing a crisis, he was turning to God. But his faith was not a "foxhole"
faith - far from it! He knew he needed help. But much more importantly, he knew that the only
person who could help him was Jesus Christ! Today we'll take a closer look at this remarkable man.
Our theme is:
A SOLDIER MEETS HIS SAVIOR
I. A great man humbles himself before Jesus.
II. A humble man finds greatness through faith in Jesus.
The centurion must have been kind of a big shot in that little town. After all, the Romans were in
charge of things at that time, and he was in charge of the Romans in Capernaum. He must have
been looked upon as a very important man. Beside his rank in the Roman army, the centurion
enjoyed quite a respected standing with the Jews that he governed. In the parallel account of this
episode in Luke, it even says that a few of the more important Jewish leaders in the community took
the soldier's side. It says that they "...begged Jesus earnestly, saying that the one for whom He
would do this was worthy, 'for he loves our nation, and has built us a synagogue.'" -- Luke 7:4-5.
Everybody looked up to him, and respected him. Everybody recognized him as a great man. So it
must have taken everyone a bit by surprise when this great man humbled himself before Jesus!
Yes, he made himself very humble indeed. He had an urgent need that only Jesus could help him
with. So this powerful man came as humbly as a beggar to lay that need before the Savior. Now
when Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to Him, pleading with Him, 6 saying, "Lord,
my servant is lying at home paralyzed, dreadfully tormented." 7 And Jesus said to him, "I will come
and heal him." 8 The centurion answered and said, "Lord, I am not worthy that You should come
under my roof. Imagine! No doubt there were many important people who would give their eye
teeth for the honor of an invitation to the officer's home. And yet, he felt unworthy to have Jesus
come under his roof. Why? Because he knew Who Jesus was. He was a man who recognized
authority when he saw it! He said, I am not worthy that You should come under my roof. But only
speak a word, and my servant will be healed. 9 For I also am a man under authority, having soldiers
under me. And I say to this one, 'Go,' and he goes; and to another, 'Come,' and he comes; and to my
servant, 'Do this,' and he does it."
Soldiers are usually very self-confident people, have you noticed that? Perhaps one thing that
gives them their characteristic self-assurance is that they're familiar with the chain of command.
They know exactly who has authority over whom. This soldier was telling Jesus that he knew very
well Who Jesus was, and he recognized in Jesus a far greater authority than himself - the authority
of Almighty God! He knew that Jesus was his superior, his supreme Commander, with power over
life and death, sickness and health. He knew Jesus could perform this miracle of healing with a
single word, as easily as he himself might order one of his soldiers to "about face," or, "forward,
march!" So knowing all this, the centurion humbled himself. He addressed Jesus as his superior
and, in great humility, asked Him to grant his request.
So how good are you at recognizing authority? Who's your commander in chief? Who's in control
in your life? One day a group of kindergarten children were gathered at the local library to watch a
puppet show. The children sat spellbound as a couple of the parents worked the marionettes from
above, making them dance and sing. One little boy, his eyes as big as saucers, whispered to his
friend, "It's magic!" "It's not magic to me," his friend replied, "my daddy's holding the strings!" It's
easy for us to forget who's holding the strings in our life. Sometimes, events seem to swirl around
us, leaving us bewildered -- wondering what it all means. Where's my life going? Who's in control?
Is anyone in control? Well, "it's not magic to us" - the Bible assures us Christians that THE LORD
is in control! Jesus is the supreme Authority who brings everything in your life into His plan for
you. Every tiny detail is watched, controlled, and made to serve your good. Jesus said, "Are not
two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your
Father's will. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of
more value than many sparrows." -- Matt 10:29-31. Not only during times of crisis, but at all times,
we need to recognize the authority and the controlling power of our Savior.
The centurion of Capernaum was a great man who humbled himself. In another way, though, he
was also a humble man who found greatness. Because in one very important respect, he was
actually very humble. Oh yes, he had power. Yes, everybody liked him -- even the Jews. But, when
all was said and done, he was not a Jew himself. He wasn't a descendant of Abraham. And that
made all the difference to those people. Because they had one criteria for members of their religion -
one test you had to pass in order to fulfill their idea of righteousness - you had to be a descendant
of Abraham! As long as you were (they thought), then that was all you needed to be justified in
God's sight. John the Baptist had warned them about this false idea. He told them straight out that
they were kidding themselves if they thought they were righteous before God simply because of
their ethnic extraction. He said, "Bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not think to say to
yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father.' For I say to you that God is able to raise up children
to Abraham from these stones!" -- Matt 3:8-9. Still they stuck to their blind idea - any Jew was a
child of God, and any non-Jew was an outcast. And the centurion was a non-Jew. So from their
point of view, he was a very humble man indeed!
Jesus had a different test for righteousness - faith in God. And the centurion passed that test with
flying colors! When Jesus heard it, He marveled, and said to those who followed, "Assuredly, I say
to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel! 11 And I say to you that many will
come from east and west, and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.
12 But the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into outer darkness. There will be weeping and
gnashing of teeth." It was the centurion's faith that justified him in Jesus' sight, regardless of his
birth. The faith of this humble non-Jew told him that Jesus was who He said He was - the Son of
God. The Redeemer, who could save him from his sins, and save his beloved servant from an
agonizing illness. In Jesus' sight, this faith made him a very great man! Jesus broke down, once and
for all, the race barrier. He told them plainly that huge numbers of non-Jews would come to God's
kingdom from all over the world, from the east and from the west. But the original "sons of the
kingdom" would be cast out. God's chosen people, the Jews, would reject their promised Messiah.
They would fail the test of faith!
Jesus is sending you a message with these words. It's a message we've talked about before: God
has no grandchildren - only children! The faith of the Jews had broken down over the centuries to
the point where they no longer served God out of a pure heart. In place of true worship of God,
they substituted their own petty rules and regulations, like how many steps you could take on the
Sabbath Day, and how far up your arms you should wash before you could sit down to eat. And
yet, they still thought they were God's people! They said, "Of course we're God's people! No one
can condemn us - we're the descendants of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob! Why, we're practically
God's own grandchildren!" They thought that, as long as they had the external sign of
circumcision, and as long as they had good, believing forefathers like Abraham, that made them
right with God. They were terribly mistaken. Paul said, "For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly,
nor is that circumcision which is outward in the flesh, but on the contrary, he is a true Jew who is
one inwardly; and true circumcision is of the heart." -- Rom 2:28-29. The centurion had no believing
parents or grandparents. All he had was faith. He believed that Jesus was the Son of God, and his
Savior from sin. And that was all it took. That made him more a child of God than all those
hypocritical Pharisees put together!
So what makes you a Christian? I'll tell you what doesn't make you a Christian: not the fact that
you come from a Christian home, not the fact that, maybe as far back as you can remember, all your
relatives have been Christians, not even the fact that you're a member of Ascension Lutheran
Church - that's not what makes you a Christian! Those are all blessings that you should be thankful
for. But don't ever forget that what really makes you a Christian, what turns God from an angry
judge into your most loving and beloved friend, is faith in Jesus Christ as your personal Savior.
Nothing is required from you - Jesus has already done it all. With His death on the cross, He has
earned salvation for you! Paul says, "God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we
were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by his blood, we
shall be saved from wrath through Him." -- Romans 5:8-9. We're not God's grandchildren. We can't
be, because there is no such thing! Through faith in Christ, we're His own precious children.
Because of Jesus' merit, the glorious inheritance of the firstborn is just wrapped up and waiting for
us! Through faith, we are assured that we will one day soon hear the gentle voice of our Good
Shepherd telling us, "Come you blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you before
the foundation of the world."
A woman I was visiting once told me about a batch of bread she had made that had turned out
badly. The problem was, she had somehow put in twice as much flour and half as much water as
was necessary. She had the right ingredients, but in the wrong proportions! The story of the
centurion's faith teaches us to have the right ingredients in the right proportions. To be humble and
great in our faith. Humble, so that we come to God in humility and repentance, recognizing Him as
the "Commander in Chief" of our lives. Great, so that we trust in our great and mighty Lord Jesus
firmly and unwaveringly-for forgiveness, and for everything else we need in life. May God grant to
each of us the humble, but firm faith of the centurion of Capernaum. In Jesus' name, AMEN.