THE WOW FACTOR
Last Tuesday (March 21, 2006) the MC of American Idol asked one of the judges (Simon) what he is looking for from the contestants. He said that there are two things he is looking for: first, originality (how are you different?); and second, the WOW factor (he or she has to wow him and the audience).
A believer’s dream and desire is to “wow” the Savior. In this story Jesus is amazed at the centurion’s faith. He told the crowd that was following Him that He has not seen the kind of faith that the centurion has even among God’s people.
Studying the narrative, I found the following three amazing things in the life of the centurion.
First of all, the centurion is a gentile. During that time and in that corner of the world, there abounds racial tension. The Jews looked down at the gentiles. They even call them “dogs.” They shun them. They ridicule them. They don’t want to associate with them.
On the other hand, there is plenty of anti-Semitic sentiment among the gentiles even in that era. So, there is a seemingly unbridgeable racial divide. The Jews hate the gentiles and the gentiles hate the Jews. The feeling is mutual.
Secondly, the centurion is an officer of the Roman military. A centurion is a commander of a hundred soldiers. These soldiers maintain law and order in that locality. You can say that the centurion is the chief of police. But he represents the occupiers, the Romans. He is the embodiment of the hated enemy, the oppressor, the undesirable foreign element. A radical Jew will not hesitate to plunge a knife at the back of a Roman soldier if he finds one patrolling alone in the dark alley.
In this impossible situation, we find this intriguing man in our story. We find him strangely different from the “normal” person of that day. This man was able to bridge the seemingly insurmountable racial divide. No, he obliterated the social wall. He literally tore it down. It does not exist in his life. He accepted the people of this town. He became an adopted son of the city. He became one of them. He is fully integrated. This is undeniably seen in the testimony of the city elders (vv.3-5).
Let me point out first that the centurion respects the native culture. He asked the elders to speak to Jesus for Him. These elders testified that he loves the Jewish nation and he proves it by single-handedly building a synagogue for the city.
I would point out as a better illustration of his worldview his treatment of his slave (v.2). I believe that it is customary for the Romans to take the vanquished people as their slaves so this must be a Jew. But the centurion loves him as his very own. He considers him as a part of his family.
May I suggest a couple of applications for us. First, let us tear down the walls that we erected around us. Let us reach out to people who are different from us. Let us level the social and racial playing field. Let us respect the cultures of people around us. Only then will God’s love shine through us.
Another application is this: A believer must earn the right to be heard. He must first earn the trust of his intended audience before he can effectively proclaim his message. In the case of the centurion, the people (represented by their elders) themselves are the ones testifying for him. He does not need to speak for himself. He is the walking message.
It would have sufficed for the centurion to merely accept the religion of the Jews. They would have been immensely delighted just to see him attend worship once in a blue moon. But he did better than that. He put his money where his mouth is. He single-handedly built the synagogue. I don’t know if he used his one hundred soldiers to do the job. He could have. I don’t know if he personally funded it or if he solicited from others. What struck me was the fact that he saw the need and he acted on it. To me that is faith at work.
There is a story of man who operated a little rowboat for transporting passengers across a river. One day one of the passengers noticed that the good old man had carved on one oar the word "Faith" and on the other oar the word "Works." Out of curiosity he asked the old man for an explanation saying that he does not see any correlation between the two. The old man replied that he will do better than that. He will demonstrate the correlation of the two. So he proceeded to use only the oar called “Faith” and the boat just went in circles. Then, he dropped the Faith oar and proceeded to use the oar called “Works” and the boat went in circles just like the first time, only in the opposite direction. Then he took both oars and presto the boat sped swiftly to their destination. There is no need for explanation. Faith without action is dead.
There are plenty of opportunities to demonstrate our faith. Right here in our little church, there are many needs calling for faith to take action. Put your faith to work for God!
Worship is an act of honoring God. Romans 12:1 says that our life should be an act of worship. The centurion worshipped Jesus in two ways:
First, he called Jesus “Lord” (v.6). In fact, he has great respect for Jesus. He said that his house is not worthy for Jesus. Furthermore, he said that the reason he asked the elders to speak for him is because he himself is not worthy to approach Jesus. The centurion does not tread lightly in the presence of God.
We have become too casual with our worship. We use the name of Jesus too lightly. We even come to the worship service in shorts and T-shirts and sandals. And we utter the name of Jesus as if it is an ordinary name. I think we should be reminded how the believing Jews of old behaved reverently in relation to God. For example, the scribes who copied the Scriptures, whenever they come across the name of God, before they proceeded to copy it, they would bathe and wash their clothes. In fact, they felt so unworthy to even write the name of God so they just leave a blank.
Second, he had a faith that honors God. He said to Jesus through messengers, “You do not need to come. You do not need to touch the dying man. Just say the word. I believe you have authority over sickness. It will obey You. I know that by experience. I also have authority. My soldiers do what I say. I know Your Word is as good” (my paraphrase).
The Lord Jesus was so amazed at the faith of the centurion. He was “wowed!” I could picture Him in my mind—wide-eyed in wonderment, delighted and honored. There is no better worship than faith in Him. Hebrews 11:6 says that without faith it is IMPOSSIBLE to please Him!
Now, I am not talking about the kind of “faith” that one has when he closes his eyes and prays that when he goes home he will find a new Lexus parked in his driveway. That is ridiculously absurd.
Faith is believing what God said in His Word, trusting in His promises, and accepting His revealed will. It is eagerly searching the Word knowing that what it says is true and that it is all about us and what matters mot to us and what our future will be. It is a willingness to bet your life that the Word of God is true and reliable.
You may have watched the popular TV series called “Early Edition.” What intrigued about this movie is the newspaper that shows up every morning because it is about the following day’s events. The actor (sorry, I don’t remember his name) eagerly looks for the newspaper every morning. He believes in its veracity. And he spends his day trying to alter the events in the newspaper. My point is, the guy believes that what this newspaper says is true and he risks his life because he believes in it. How about us? We have the ultimate truth. Do we truly believe in it to the extent that we eagerly go to it for guidance? That is what honors God. That is worship in its purest form. That is the worship that wows the Lord Jesus.
Has your faith changed your WORLDVIEW? Does your faith translate into WORKS that glorify God? Does it result in WORSHIP that truly honors God? This is how we WOW the Lord Jesus.
Let us pray…