Summary: What Makes for Jaw-dropping Faith? 1) A God-given view of self; 2) A God-given view of Christ
It’s usually on Saturday afternoons. You know the infomercial. It’s the one that promises to give you a jaw-dropping physique for only 48 monthly payments of $9.95. It’s hard not to pick up the phone and order that rowing machine, the stair-stepper, or whatever it is they’re selling that week because the models using the equipment do have jaw-dropping physiques. Who wouldn’t want to look like they do? But before your fingers can dial the number, reality sinks in. Even if I order this equipment, you think, even if I use it everyday, there’s still no way I would end up with such a physique so why bother?
I wonder if we don’t feel the same way when it comes to having great faith. We resign ourselves to thinking that only the well-known believers in the Bible could attain such faith. The rest of us “common” Christians will just have to be content with a mediocre faith – a dependable Toyota-Celica-faith that will get us to heaven, but not a Dodge-Viper-faith that will dazzle along the way.
That’s perhaps what a certain Roman centurion thought 2,000 years ago. And yet it was he, an unnamed non-Jewish layperson and not one of Jesus’ disciples, who exhibited a faith which made Jesus’ jaw drop. What made the centurion’s faith jaw-dropping? It’s quite simple: a God-given view of self, and a God-given view of Christ. Let’s find out what this means.
After Jesus finished delivering his famous Sermon on the Mount he went into the town of Capernaum, which served as his home base in the northern region of Galilee. On his way home a group of Jewish elders from the local synagogue pleaded with Jesus to come and heal the slave of a Roman centurion. It was actually the centurion who had sent the elders to Jesus telling us that he was not your average Roman commander. Although he was a man of wealth and power and would not have had any trouble replacing his slave should he die, he showed great concern and compassion for his slave’s well-being. The elders explained that this centurion was deserving of Jesus’ help because unlike most dreaded Romans, this one loved the Jewish people and had even built the synagogue in Capernaum.
Jesus agreed to follow the elders to the centurion’s house but before he arrived, the centurion sent some friends asking that Jesus not come to his home. Why not? Listen to the centurion explain in his own words: “Lord, don’t trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. 7 That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you” (Luke 7:6b, 7a). “I am not worthy…”? What was the centurion thinking about? Had he recalled some teenage indiscretion of his? Was he reflecting on how he had treated his troops that week? Was he reviewing his less-than holy motive for building the synagogue for which the elders had praised him? Sure, others could think he was deserving of Jesus’ attention and help but the centurion knew better. He had a God-given, honest view of himself. He knew that he was a sinner. This is the first thing that made the centurion’s faith so great.
But what’s the big deal about that? Didn’t we confess this morning to being sinners? We did, didn’t we? That’s the point of today’s text. Having a jaw-dropping faith isn’t difficult; it’s a gift from God. A gift that begins with God helping us see ourselves as we really are. We need God’s help in this because others may say of us: “There goes a good husband, a hard worker, a cheerful mother, a neat kid, a wise grandparent…” After a while it’s easy to believe the hype, like the Hollywood star who thinks she really is better than everyone else because that’s what her publicist keeps telling her. In the same way it’s easy for me to think that I’m a fine pastor from the encouragement I receive from you. But if I want to have a faith God considers great, I need to compare my actions and motives with the kind of pastor God says I should be. And what I will see is that I fall short. I should be more bold in preaching the law. I should be more compassionate. I should spend more time knocking on doors. I should rejoice in my trials, not complain about them or feel sorry for myself. And if I’m still having a hard time believing that I fall short of the kind of person God wants me to be, I only need to compare myself to the Roman centurion. If he, who had built a synagogue, didn’t consider himself worthy of God’s help, then certainly I, who have done far less, shouldn’t deserve God’s help or attention either!