Summary: Jesus is good to us, not because of how much we do or how great our faith is, but because He is good.
How Far Will You Go?
Woodlawn Baptist Church
October 29, 2006
The account which we have just read is really a remarkable account of the amazing grace of our Savior, the great faith of a Gentile soldier, and of the common misconceptions of the religious people of the day. Luke records that after Jesus wrapped up his Sermon on the Mount, he entered Capernaum. It wasn’t as though Jesus taught in the morning and then entered town that afternoon. Capernaum was many miles from where Jesus had been teaching, so this would have been days later.
We are told about a centurion, a professional officer in the Roman army who would have commanded a unit of about 80 men. The Roman centurion was the equivalent of today’s Army Captain, and senior centurions equivalent to our Majors. This man had probably been charged to keep peace in Capernaum and the surrounding area, had probably lived there for several years and had developed a good relationship with the people. We’re also told that he had a slave that was terminally ill, but that this slave was very special to him. Slaves that became too sick to serve their purpose were usually kicked to the curb and left for dead, but those who were especially good would have been hard to replace. At any rate, our centurion wanted his slave to live, thus the delegation to Jesus for help.
The centurion was a Gentile – an outsider, and while he may have enjoyed a good relationship with the local Jews, he would always be considered an outsider. In fact, while the Jews may have been courteous to him, they despised the Gentiles. They despised anyone who wasn’t a Jew and considered them to be outside the grace of God. Like the Ethiopian eunuch we studied last Sunday night, he could come to the synagogue, but not in it. He could provide food for the Jews, but couldn’t eat it with them. He could provide them the freedom to celebrate their feasts, but could not celebrate with them. He was a Gentile: a dog and an enemy of Israel.
But this Gentile wasn’t just any dog, he was a good politician. During his stay in Capernaum he had funded the construction of a new synagogue. As much as the Jews hated the Romans and their rule over them, they had crawled in bed with this Roman soldier to play political games with him for their own personal gain. Now he calls in a favor and sends them to meet with Jesus. He knows Jesus is a great man, perhaps even a god, but a great Jew with whom he has no access. But these Jews – they can go and talk with Jesus for him – could they get Jesus to come?
When they got to Jesus the Jews began their pitch. “Look Jesus, if anyone is deserving of your goodness it is this man. We know he’s a Gentile, but look at all the good he’s done for us. We really need you to come through for us on this thing.”
Verse 6 says that Jesus went with them, but as He was going the centurion sent a second delegation, this time with a different message. I tend to think that as he waited he had begun to think about how the Jewish leaders might misrepresent him. Surely he wouldn’t want to give the impression that he was something great when he was just a man in need of help. “Lord, don’t trouble yourself because I’m not worthy to have you in my home.” He then explains just how well he understands authority and Christ’s ability to say the word for a thing to be done.
When Jesus heard all this the Bible says He marveled, then turned to the crowd that was following Him and told them, “I have not found so great faith, no, nowhere in all Israel.” When both delegations returned to the centurion’s home they found that the slave had been made whole.
I said a while ago that this is a remarkable account of the amazing grace of our Savior, the great faith of a Gentile soldier, and of the common misconceptions of the religious people of the day, but understanding the message running through this text and why it’s even included here is found in the sermon Jesus preached in chapter 6.
In Luke 6:27, Jesus said,
“Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you. Bless them which curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you…”
He continues along this same thread, but I want you to drop down to verse 33.
“And if ye do good to them which do good to you, what thank have ye? For sinners also do even the same. And if ye lend to them of whom ye hope to receive, what thank have ye? For sinners also lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil. Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful.”