An Outsider’s Faith

Rev. Deacon Allen J. Batchelder

Trinity Church
Waltham, Massachusetts
June 2, 2013 – Pentecost II
Sacrament of Holy Communion

1 Kings 8:22-23, 41-43; Psalm 96:1-9, Galatians 1:1-12, Luke 7:1-10

From the Old Testament:
“Likewise when a foreigner, who is not of thy people Israel, comes from a far country for thy name’s sake, when he comes and prays toward this house, hear thou in heaven thy dwelling place, and do according to all for which the foreigner calls to thee; in order that all the peoples of the earth may know thy name and fear thee, as do thy people Israel, and that they may know that this house which I have built is called by thy name.”

From St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians:
For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through a revelation of Jesus Christ.

And from the Gospel of St. Luke:
The centurion said, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; therefore I did not presume to come to you. But say the word, and let my servant be healed.”

When Jesus heard this he marveled at him, and turned and said to the multitude that followed him, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” And when those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave well.

Let us pray:
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer, our Strength and our Salvation.

I am sure that we all have known someone or a loved one who has had to face a life-threatening illness. Each one deals with it in different ways. Some people will pray to God for healing, while others will cry out to the doctors: “you have to do something!” How many of you saw on TV this week the story of a ten year old girl that has multiple sclerosis and needed a lung transplant or else she would die. Unfortunately, child organs are rare and she needed to be twelve years old in order to qualify for an adult organ. For a brief moment we got to meet the little girl; we got to meet the little girl’s mom that was understandably concerned and was trying everything she could think of to get her daughter the life-saving organ. The mother contacted news outlets, contacted her Congressman and Senators to try to get the law changed. She also set up a web site for people to sign a petition. I don’t know if she prayed to God for healing.

Compassion has been defined as “your pain in my heart.” What pain our Lord must have felt as He ministered from place to place! In the 7th chapter of Luke, Jesus is confronted with the miseries of a dying servant, a grieving widow, a perplexed prophet, and a repentant sinner; and He helped them all. If a “hardship committee” had been asked to decide which of these persons was “deserving,” we wonder who would have been chosen. This probably goes on all the time in our hospitals, when they have one organ and there are several people that need it. Who is the most deserving?

Jesus, however, helped them all, because compassion does not measure: it ministers. Bernard of Clairvaux said, “Justice seeks out only the merits of the case, but pity only regards the need.” It was compassion, not justice, that motivated the Great Physician who came “not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:32).

In the four Gospels and the book of Acts, Roman centurions are presented as quality men of character, and this one mentioned in our Gospel reading this morning, is a sterling example. The Jewish elders had little love for the Romans in general and Roman soldiers in particular, and yet the elders commended this officer to Jesus. He loved the Jewish people in Capernaum and even built them a synagogue. He loved his servant and did not want him to die. This centurion was not a Stoic who insulated himself from the pain of others. He had a heart of concern, even for his lowly servant boy who was dying from a paralyzing disease (Matt. 8:6).

The centurion’s friends represented him to Jesus and then represented Jesus to him. When a newscaster reports that the President or the Prime Minister said something to Congress or Parliament, this does not necessarily mean that the message was delivered by them in person. It was probably delivered by one of their official representatives, but the message would be received as from the President or Prime Minister personally.

We are impressed not only with this man’s great love, but also his great humility. Imagine a Roman officer telling a poor Jewish rabbi that he was unworthy to have Him enter his house! The Romans were not known for displaying humility, especially before their Jewish subjects.

But the characteristic that most impressed Jesus was the man’s faith. Twice in the Gospel record we are told that Jesus marveled. Here in Capernaum, He marveled at the faith of a Gentile; and in Nazareth, He marveled at the unbelief of the Jews (Mark 6;6). The only other person Jesus commended for having “great faith” was a Gentile woman whose daughter He delivered from a demon (Matt. 15:28). It is worth noting that in both of these instances, Jesus healed at a distance.

The centurion’s faith certainly was remarkable. After all, he was a Gentile whose background was pagan. He was a Roman soldier, trained to be self-sufficient, and we have no evidence that he had ever heard Jesus preach. Perhaps he heard about Jesus’ healing power from the nobleman whose son Jesus had healed, also at a distance (John 4:46-54). His soldiers may also have brought him reports of the miracles Jesus had performed, for the Romans kept close touch with the events in Jewish life.

In our Old Testament reading today, King Solomon prays for the “foreigners” who would come to Israel because they heard of the greatness of the Lord and His temple. It was the responsibility of Israel to be a “light” to the pagan Gentile nations and to demonstrate to them the glory of the true and living God. Solomon had this in mind when he asked the Lord to hear and answer the prayers of people outside the covenant, so that “all peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you” (1 Kings 8:43). Jesus Christ is that “light” and now the responsibility of witness has been passed to the true believers in Christ.

From the very beginning of the nation, when God called Abraham and Sarah to leave Ur and go to Canaan , God declared that He wanted Israel to be a blessing to the whole world (Gen. 12:1-3). God’s judgments against Pharaoh and Egypt were a witness to the nations, as was His opening of the Red Sea at the Exodus. His blessing on Israel in the land of Canaan was a witness to the pagan nations, and so was David’s victory over Goliath (1 Sam. 17:46). The Jews prayed, “God be merciful to us and bless us, and cause His face to shine upon us, that Your way may be known on earth, Your salvation among all nations” (Ps. 67:1-2). The church today needs to pray that prayer and keep that purpose in mind.

The Roman officer saw a parallel between the way he commanded his soldiers and the way Jesus commanded diseases. Both the centurion and Jesus were under authority, and because they were under authority, they had the right to exercise authority. All they had to do was say the word and things happened. What tremendous faith this man exhibited! No wonder Jesus marveled.

True authority comes from God. In the early days of the church, God called special men to do special tasks. Among them were the apostles. The word means “one who is sent with a commission.” While He was ministering on earth, Jesus had many disciples, and from these He selected 12 Apostles. Later, one of the requirements for an apostle was that he have witnessed the Resurrection (Acts 1:21-22). Of course, Paul himself was neither a disciple nor apostle during Christ’s earthly ministry, but he had seen the risen Lord and been commissioned by Him (Acts 9:1-18).
Paul pointed out that he had been made an apostle by Jesus Christ just as much as had the original Twelve. His apostleship was not from human selection and approval, but by divine appointment.

“The grace of God” is a basic theme in this letter to the Galatians. Grace is simply God’s favor to undeserving sinners. The words “grace” and “gift” go together, because salvation is the gift of God through His grace (Eph. 2:8-10).

We must never forget that the Christian life is a living relationship with God through Jesus Christ. A man does not become a Christian merely by agreeing to a set of doctrines; he becomes a Christian by submitting to Christ and trusting Him (Rom. 11:6). You cannot mix grace and works, because the one excludes the other. Salvation is the gift of God’s grace, purchased for us by Jesus Christ on the cross.

Keep in mind that God’s grace involves something more than man’s salvation. We not only are saved by grace, but we are to live by grace (1 Cor. 15:10). We stand in grace; it is the foundation for the Christian life (Rom. 5:1-2). Grace gives us the strength we need to be victorious soldiers (2 Tim. 2:1-4). Grace enables us to suffer without complaining, and even to use that suffering for God’s glory (2 Cor. 12:1-10).

If this Roman soldier, with very little spiritual instruction, had that kind of faith in God’s Word, how much greater our faith ought to be! We have an entire Bible to read and study, as well as nearly 2,000 years of church history to encourage us, and yet some are guilty of “no faith” or “little faith.”

I can’t tell you why someone is healed and someone else isn’t. If we were to have faith like this centurion, would we or a loved one, be automatically healed? I don’t think so. This is where faith and trust comes in: that God knows best, however the outcome.

It is through our Lord’s death, resurrection and ascension, that we are partakers of His most blessed body and blood; that as we come to His most sacred table, this bread and wine are signs of the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ; that through Him we shall have eternal life; that we may evermore dwell in Him and He in us, until His coming again.

Let us pray:
O God, your never-failing providence sets in order all things both in heaven and earth: Put away from us, we entreat you, all hurtful things, and give us those things which are profitable for us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.

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