A sermon preached on Luke 7:1-10 by Pastor Jonathan Werre at Good Shepherd Lutheran in Sioux Falls, SD, on June 23, 2019.
Our Lord says many things in the Bible. But there is one thing that our Lord almost never said; I can count on one hand how often our Lord said it, and have three fingers left over. That one thing that he seldom said is, “Wow, that amazes me.” Only two times in the 200 plus pages of the Gospels, does it say that our Lord was amazed by something. This account of the centurion is one of the two times. Since our Lord so seldom is amazed by things, would it not be good to find out what exactly it is that does amaze him? And whatever it is that amazes Jesus, do you have it, do you amaze Jesus? Let’s find out.
What our text specifically says is, “When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at the centurion and turning to the crowd following him, he said, ‘I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.’” Remember what had happened up to that point. Jesus had just finished preaching his famous Sermon on the Mount, which was preached out in the country, from a hillside. Now, he was heading into town, Capernaum to be exact, on the western bank of the Sea of Galilee, for supper and to find a bed for the night, I suppose. As he was walking into town, some Jewish elders approach him. They have come on behalf of a particular Roman military officer. A centurion, which meant he was the head of a military unit consisting of 100 soldiers. He had a very valuable servant who was terribly ill. The elders asked Jesus to come to the centurion’s home and heal the servant (Which, btw, is yet another blessing of doing good work at your job—people want you around; imagine if this servant had done sloppy work, what are the odds the centurion would have sent to Jesus to heal him?) Jesus proceeds to walk to the centurion’s house. But before he gets there, a second message comes. The centurion says, I’ll paraphrase, “I’m not worthy to have you come under my roof. You are a great King, a Jew and holy, and I’m just an average person, a gentile, and a sinner. And anyway, it’s not necessary for you to be here to heal my servant. I know how power and lines of authority work—I’m an officer in the military after all. So, I know that cancer cells and nasty germs are under the line of authority of your words. You don’ need to visibly be here to heal my servant; you just need to speak the right words, and whatever disease is killing him will leave him alone.” And that is when our text says Jesus was amazed. “When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him and turning to the crowd following him, he said, ‘I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.’”
Now, there were others who had faith in Jesus at that time. The Disciples did. The women who traveled with Jesus did. Mary and Martha and Lazarus did. But it never says that Jesus was amazed by their faith. So what exactly was it about this centurion’s faith that amazed Jesus?
To answer that, let’s review what faith is. Faith is KAT—1) knowing the facts of the Bible, 2) acknowledging them to be GOD’s Word, not just what some church teaches, and 3) trusting that what the Bible says is true in MY case.
Faith looks at the Bible as a set of facts. So that what we believe, therefore, is facts, truth, reality. So, for example, when we say, “I believe in God the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth,” we are not saying that is our religious opinion that God is almighty and the maker of heaven and earth; we are saying that them is facts, truth, reality. And if you disagree, you are wrong. You do realize, that in our current culture, what I just said is a radical statement.
Because we live at a time when only science is considered “reality.” We live in a time when God and his Word have pretty much been dismissed when we talk about history, or the weather, or the economy, or depression, or sickness, or bad behavior, or how many genders there are. We live in a time in which science is considered facts and religion opinion.
Reflect on this for a minute with me. Our country has been at war in Afghanistan for over 17 years, the longest war our country has ever been in. That God himself is the director of that war, a war entirely under his control, is seldom thought of, though that is the truth, that is reality. The tornadoes this summer that will destroy towns and houses and lives—the meteorologist will explain why a tornado forms and he will be correct, we are grateful for such knowledge. But no one will say, “And it was God who sent it, as a judgment on some, a blessing for others, and a heads up for everyone that the Last Day is drawing close.” But the fact is, that’s the truth, that’s reality. When a child is acting out or an adult is suffering from depression or a teen goes into his high school and kills several and then himself, there are many calls for mental health services, and rightly so. The brain, like the body, needs to be cared for. But that good mental health and good behavior begin with the soul, not the brain. Counseling nor science can touch the soul. Only the Word of God can touch the soul, that’s the truth, that’s reality.
Now, the point is not that we should start expecting to hear references to God and his Word on the news and talk shows. That is not likely to happen. The point is–since this is where we live, you have to ask yourself—how much has this wrong way of thinking affected me? And for you who utilize the public school system for your children’s education, to what extent has this false world view affected your children?
Because this is a world view that does not impress Christ, does not amaze Christ. In fact, it is just the opposite of what amazes Christ. Because what amazed Christ was that this centurion understood so clearly that whatever Jesus says, his Words, is the facts, is truth, is reality. Jesus could be visibly a thousand miles away, but as long as he said the words, it would be. It’s his words, his words, his words. If Jesus said the words, “Your servant is healed,” that’s the fact, the reality, the truth. “When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him and turning to the crowd following him, he said, ‘I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.’”
Which means that this was not be the last time that Jesus would be amazed. Yet today he is amazed. When I proclaim to you the words, God’s words, that the person who holds a grudge or drinks a little bit too much or gossips or lives together without being married or, as it says in Malachi (3:8), “robs God in tithes and offerings” will end up in hell for his sin, and you believe these words. That you don’t first need to be marched up to the edge of hell and feel the heat and smell the rotten-egg sulfur, but you believe the words as facts, the truth, reality, and you repent, even though you have never seen hell—that amazes Christ.
And when I proclaim to you the words, God’s words, that the person who repents receives full and free forgiveness for all of his sins, that 2000 years ago Jesus Christ died on a cross to pay for your sin and rose from the dead to prove he had paid for it all, and you believe that is real, you don’t first need to do some time traveling back to 30 AD to see Jesus on the cross, but you believe the words of forgiveness, that these words are a fact, the truth, reality—that amazes Christ.
When I proclaim to you the words, God’s words, that “All things work out for good to those who love God” (Rom. 8:28), and after a heavy rain and a failed sump pump you are standing knee-deep in water in your basement and you reach down and pick up a water-logged Nintendo switch that you just bought and your ruined IMac with every last picture you’ve ever taken stored in it and your new puppy who did not make it, and you think, “But God will make this work for good, too”, and you believe that is the fact, the truth, reality, even though you see no evidence of it at the moment—that amazes Christ.
When I was writing this sermon, a memory suddenly came back to me, a memory covered with a lot of dust, of something that happened that amazed not only Jesus but amazed me, too. It was in the first mission congregation I served. One of the members was an elderly man, a career military man, not unlike the centurion in our text. And he was dying. There was no pain. No issues. His body was just gently shutting down. And I asked him the question I always ask someone who is dying. “Are you ready to meet Jesus?” And his face lit up. He was old and wrinkled, but for a moment his face looked like a boy’s at Christmas time. And he said, “Oh, yes.” And he said it with such enthusiasm; he didn’t say it like so often we do, which is more about wanting to get away from this world and its piggishness and pain. He was just plain eager to see Jesus. Like a lover is to see her beloved or two best friends are eager to see each other. To see that was amazing. Not just to me, but even more to Jesus.
And then at his funeral, when we were out at the cemetery, and right before the honor guard shot their three rounds that made all of us flinch, I said what I say at all funerals, “We commit this body to the ground—earth to earth, ashes to ashes to ashes, dust to dust—in the sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ.” And some of us at that funeral believed those words, God’s words, though we had never seen a body come back from the dead. We believed that these words were fact, the truth, the reality. And I still do. Believe that his body, which is long since decomposed, will the raised and beautiful and energetic and glorified. For that is what Christ promised him already at his baptism. And he’s promised the same to you, too, who believe and are baptized. And that’s the fact, the truth, reality.
Which brings us to the last amazing thing about all of this—the fact that we cannot make ourselves believe any of these things from the Bible. We are by nature sinful and incapable of it. So Jesus by the Holy Spirit has to give us this faith and also do the work of making it grow in us. So, when he says he’s amazed, he’s being amazed at his own handiwork. Isn’t he the kindest person you know? He gives us faith in the first place so we can be convinced that his words, God’s Word are fact, the truth, reality—he does that in us, and then he looks at us and says, “Amazing!” He gives us this gift and then he lets himself be amazed when he looks at us who have been given this gift by the Holy Spirit.
Can you think of anything more worthwhile to do this week than to grow in this gift of this kind of faith that amazes Jesus? The kind that knows the words of the Bible and says, “That’s the facts, that’s the truth, that’s reality…even though science, counselors, teachers, my culture, my feelings, my friends, say the opposite. These words are the facts, the truth, reality. And I mean to live like these Words are reality.” There’s a table full of devotional books by our church library to help us out with this. Amen.