2nd Sunday after Pentecost
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, how great a faith do you have? This past Friday and Saturday my family and I traveled to Watertown, SD for a my wife’s cousin’s wedding. And as I was driving it struck me that I was putting a lot of faith in something. As I was traveling down I-29 going about 75 mph (yes that’s the speed limit J) every time I moved my foot from the gas pedal to the brake pedal I never found myself consciously worrying or wondering, “Oh boy, I sure hope these brakes are going to work this time! I sure hope they’re going to slow my car down!” Do you do that? As you’re driving your car- do you consciously worry whether your brakes are going to stop your car or not? I’m going to take a wild guess and say that most of us here don’t worry and wonder about that. In fact, we put a lot of trust in the brakes in our car, right? At 75 mph we’re trusting our car brakes with our lives, with the lives of our children, and with a sizeable investment of our money (our car), right?
Well, what about in our God? How much trust to do we put in Him? Thank the Lord that saving faith worked by God the Holy Spirit in our hearts- whether it be weak faith or very strong faith – in the Lord Jesus, is still saving faith. Yet, our Lord wants us to grow in our faith and trust in Him, He wants us to have a great faith in Him. So, one of the things he does is give us examples in His Word of individuals who had great faith in Him for us to learn from and imitate. One such example is in our Gospel lesson for this morning. Very rarely, in fact only twice, did Jesus commend someone for having “great faith.” One instance is in this lesson with a certain Centurion. So when Jesus commends a great faith, we perk our ears and listen.
Soon after Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount he went to Capernaum. Capernaum was a city in Galilee (the northern part of Israel). It was also Jesus’ kind of home base of operations while he conducted his ministry in Galilee. The city was located on a rather important trade route connecting Damascus in the north to Jerusalem in the south. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why there’s a Roman centurion stationed there. A Roman centurion was a commander of a century or 100 soldiers. When he learned that Jesus was in town he sent some of the elders of the Jews to Jesus to ask him to come and heal his servant. And here’s the first thing we notice about great faith: it’s unselfish. The centurion makes a request to Jesus, not for himself, but for his servant who was sick and about to die. At some point this Roman centurion had been brought to faith in the true God; the God of the Israelites who reveals Himself in God’s Word. And this centurion’s faith was evident by what he did in service to God and other people. We learn that “he loves our nation” and “has built our synagogue.” There’s a word in the Greek that didn’t get translated into the English, it literally says, “He built our synagogue himself” which seems to imply that he built it out of his own means as a place to worship God and learn about Him.
There we also notice the second aspect of great faith: it’s focused on Jesus. He presents his problem to the only one capable of doing something about it. Not only was this centurion a believer in the God of Israel, but through God’s promises from the Old Testament and the Holy Spirit’s work in his heart he came to recognize Jesus as the promised Messiah, the Son of God, who could help his sick servant.
That’s great faith, it’s unselfish, it looks out for the best interests of others. Great faith is also centered upon Christ, the world’s only Savior and the One who rules all things and is capable of doing anything. Though this Centurion was a Gentile and not a Jew, He knew the Savior came not just for the Jews, but for all people. He trusted in Jesus’ love and concern and willingness to help. That’s great faith, it trusts in Christ, in His love, His grace, His willingness to help His people in all things.
Then Jesus went with them. As Jesus was on His way and near the house, the centurion sent some friends to Jesus to stop him. Not only did this centurion feel unworthy to come to Jesus himself, after further consideration he also felt unworthy for Jesus to even come under the roof of his house. Not once did the centurion point out that he felt he deserved Jesus’ compassion – he didn’t point out his love for the Jewish nation or how he built their synagogue (a synagogue Jesus himself, no doubt, worshipped at). There we learn another aspect of great faith: it’s humble in its own worthiness. His friends thought he deserved it, but he knew that he didn’t deserve anything from Jesus. That’s great faith: it understands its unworthiness to receive anything from Jesus’ hands.
Then the Centurion shows one last aspect of great faith. He knew the power of words. He was a man under authority and when he told a servant to do this, he did it, or to go here, he went there, or to come, he came. And if he, a man under authority, had that power in his words, then how much more power does the very Ruler of all and King of kings with all divine power have in His words! He knew all Jesus would have to do was say the word and his servant would be healed. He had implicit trust in the power of Jesus’ words.
Finally, the healing of the Centurion’s servant was simply a bonus. What was worth far more was the trust of this centurion to know and believe that Jesus had the power as God to be able to simply say the word and heal someone. Jesus didn’t have to be there. All Jesus would need is to will it to happen and it would. Why? Because Jesus has all power.
Then Jesus was amazed by this Centurion’s faith. He said, “I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.” But Jesus’ commendation of this Gentile centurion’s faith was a “double-edged” sword. Remember, Jesus only commended 2 people that we know of for having great faith. Both were Gentiles, both were non-Jews. Jesus had every right to expect great faith from the people who had His Word, had His promises, had the history of God’s faithfulness, the accounts of God’s incredible power on behalf of His people- to part the Red Sea and to cause walls to fall down at the sound of voices. But who does Jesus complement for great faith? It’s a Gentile! It makes us glad to see this because you and I are gentiles too, but is that the only similarity we have with this centurion? Do we have a faith such as he did? Would Jesus complement us for having such a great faith? We, as Christians, most of us who have grown up in the church, have had God’s promises held before us since we were children, brought to Sunday School, Christian day school, confirmation classes, come to church, but do we have a “great faith”?
So often aren’t we paralyzed by fear? We doubt our God’s power. We worry about the future. We wonder how God could still be in control of all things. So often is our trust in God’s promises simply a mental thought and not a conviction of our hearts? We know God is all-powerful, but when the rubber hits the road, when trouble meets us head on, when we’re in turmoil, we worry, we wonder, we forget about our God and His power on our behalf, his promises to help us in time of need and work things out for our blessing.
The essence of faith is clinging to the promises of God and trusting that God has the power to do what He has promised to do. Faith is being connected to the promises of God and trusting that God has the power to do what he has promised to do.
So having a great faith is first knowing what God has promised you. Just remember all of the good promises that God has made to you! God tells you that Jesus really did come to this earth, live perfectly here, die an innocent death on the cross, and rise again. And since Jesus did that God says, “This is what that means: it means your sins are forgiven in full, you and me are one again, there is no separation between us anymore. And further He’s promised to be with you always, does He have the power to do that? He’s promised to watch over you, to guide you, to care for you, to provide for your daily needs, to cause all things to work for your good, to forgive all your sins, to take you to heaven when you die. Does He have the power to do those things? Absolutely!
He’s promised to work all things out for the good of his people. He’s promised to use all things in order to spread His gospel message in the world and to build the faith of his people. Even when things don’t work out the way that we had expected or the way we planned or the way we wanted, we know without a doubt God’s blessings will be there. God’s promised it. So no matter what situation great faith is always saying, “I know God will work this for my good. I’m going to look for God’s blessing in this. Even when I can’t see it or can’t tell how, I know God is working this for my good and the blessing of His people.” “God’s been with me in the past, He’s carried me through so much stuff already, He’s been faithful to me and He promises to be faithful to me in the future, and so when the storms of life come and the waves of danger or disaster loom, so I know I can weather through any storm this world may bring at me.”
You know, we put a lot of trust in the brakes in our car because they’ve been there for us, they’ve proven faithful to us. Let’s put more faith in our God! He will always be there for you, He will continue to care for you, continue to watch over you, continue to work things for your good, He’s promised it and does he have the power to do it? Absolutely! And one day Jesus has promised that he will take you to be with him forever. Does he have the power to do that? Absolutely! Trust Him! Believe Him! Have great faith in your great Lord! Amen.