Marvelous Faith

March 1, 2020 Speaker: Jeff Breeding Series: The Gospel according to Luke

Passage: Luke 7:1–7:10

Marvelous Faith

One of the themes that Luke weaves through his Gospel account is the theme of amazement. Time and time again, people who encounter Jesus are amazed, astonished, even overwhelmed. All the Gospel writers have this theme to some degree, but Luke is unique in his emphasis. In fact, one writer has called Luke the Gospel of Amazement, and that would be a good summary. Over and over, Jesus amazes those who meet him.

For example, think of Jesus’ birth – ch2, as Mary and Joseph marvel over what it said about their infant Son. It continued in Jesus’s ministry, ch4, as the people marvel at the gracious words coming from Jesus’ mouth. Or in ch8, the disciples witness Jesus calm the storm and then marvel to one another, “Who then is this, that even the winds and water obey him?” Or ch9, in response to another healing, the crowd is astonished and everyone marvels. Ch11, Jesus heals, people marvel. Ch20, Jesus confounds the Pharisees, everyone marvels. Or most important of all, ch24, the tomb is empty, and Peter marvels at what this means. You can hear the theme, running throughout the Gospel. When people encounter Jesus, they are amazed.

Our passage this morning, however, turns that theme on its head. You may have heard it when we read, but in this text, the amazement is different. Here in Lk7, it’s not the crowd who stands amazed at Jesus. No, it’s Jesus who is amazed by what he sees in someone else, namely, a Gentile centurion. Look at v9 – “When Jesus heard these things, he marveled at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, said, ‘I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.’” This is the only instance in Luke’s Gospel where Jesus is the one amazed. This is the only instance where Jesus marvels. And listen, you don’t have to be a scholar to understand that’s significant! Jesus’ amazement is like a flashing neon sign saying, “Look here! This is where you should pay attention! This is what you need to see!”

And you hear the focus there in v9. Jesus marvels at the centurion’s faith. That’s the key to the passage. That’s the central feature we need to deal with. The centurion stands here as an example of faith. We could say it better than that, actually. The centurion displays what we might call exemplary faith, the kind of faith that draws Jesus’ attention.

Think of how helpful, how instructive this is for us. Faith, as you know, is one of those words we use often as Christians, but we probably don’t define clearly enough. Nearly everybody knows that faith is somehow important in Christianity, but what is faith? What does it look like in action? What makes its admirable, excellent, or exemplary in the Lord’s eyes? That’s what this passage is dealing with! How kind of the Lord! Through the centurion, God is giving us a picture of faith in action. He’s giving us a living illustration of exemplary faith, the kind of faith that the Lord Jesus commends.

How might we summarize this exemplary faith? If we take the events of the passage into account, what might we say? Here’s a summary, and then we’ll break this down in a number of points. Exemplary faith is humble dependence upon Jesus that confidently trusts his word. Let me say that again. Exemplary faith is humble dependence upon Jesus that confidently trusts his word. Now, as you hear in that summary, there are two distinct features to this exemplary faith, so let’s spend our time considering those in more detail.


Humble Dependence Upon Jesus

We begin in vv1-6 – Exemplary faith is marked by Humble Dependence Upon Jesus. As ch7 begins, Jesus enters the home base for his Galilean ministry – the city of Capernaum. He’s just finished teaching the people, v1 tell us, and now Jesus heads back to Capernaum. Its all pretty standard so far. But in v2, Luke gives us some inside information that lets us know something unique is stirring. Luke describes a centurion who is facing a desperate situation. Now, before we get to the centurion’s need, we should consider how unlikely this encounter is proving to be. Centurions were not well regarded in Jesus’ day. They were ranking officers in the army who had command of one hundred soldiers, hence the name centurion. And they were well compensated, far more than the average soldier. Now, those factors alone make this man an unlikely person to approach Jesus. Typically, powerful, wealthy people don’t easily sense their need for Jesus’ help.

But there’s something else about this centurion that is striking. He’s not a Jew. He’s a Gentile, as vv4-5 make clear. He’s an outsider, in other words, beyond the religious boundaries of Judaism, and therefore, based on cultural expectations, a very unlikely person to understand the things of God. If you were looking for someone to display exemplary faith, this is not the person you would pick! But then again, remember how the kingdom of God works. What does God do? He turns the ways of the world upside down, and in a real sense, that’s what is happening here. A centurion of all people becomes the source of exemplary faith.

And that faith comes into focus beginning in v3. Notice how the centurion expresses his dependence upon Jesus, v3 – “When the centurion heard about Jesus, he sent to him elders of the Jews, asking him to come and heal his servant.” For a brief verse, there is a lot to consider here. Did you catch how the centurion hears about Jesus? That is, he hears the report spreading around the region that Jesus is able to heal. Perhaps the centurion heard about the leper who was cleansed in chapter 5, or maybe it was simply the report of widespread healing in chapter 4. Whatever the case, the centurion hears about Jesus.

But that’s not all, is it? Having heard the report about Jesus, the centurion takes action. He sends word to Jesus, asking him to come and heal his servant. We shouldn’t overlook this. That request is an expression of faith. Here we have a man with power and wealth, a man with the position and the means to take care of himself. But instead of depending on his own strength and provision, the centurion casts himself upon Jesus. He depends on Jesus to meet his need. And how did that faith come about? Through hearing the report about Jesus. I hope you see it, or better yet, I hope you hear it. Faith comes by hearing, does it not? And so it is with the centurion.

Brothers and sisters, I hope you see here the simplicity of faith. I love this aspect of the text. On one level, this is what it means to believe. You hear the good news about Jesus – that he is mighty to save, that he is the Deliverer of those who cannot deliver themselves – you hear that good news, and you believe. Faith comes by hearing, and there is a beautiful simplicity to that.

Listen, if you’re not a Christian this morning, this is honestly the most important takeaway for you from this sermon. Faith, at its core, is this expression of dependence on Jesus. Think of how much the centurion still didn’t know. He’s never actually met Jesus, and he never will face to face, at least in this passage. And yet, those hurdles don’t keep the centurion from faith. On one level, that’s the simplicity of faith. You hear about Jesus, and then you depend on him to save you, to help you in your time of need. If you’re not a Christian today, I pray this will be true of you. As you hear the good news about Jesus, simply but clearly depend upon him in faith, turning from sin and trusting in him alone. And the Bible says you will be saved.

Now, as the scene continues, we should also note how the centurion’s dependence is displayed with remarkable humility. We’ve already gotten a hint of this in v3, as the centurion sends Jewish leaders to Jesus rather than coming himself. That’s very likely a sign of respect. As an outsider, perhaps the centurion is just being careful in how he approaches Jesus. But the humility really comes into view in vv4-6. Notice again what happens.

The Jewish leaders, v4, urge Jesus to heal the centurion’s servant. They are pleading with Jesus. This is serious, and they are sincere. But you’ll notice that the Jewish leaders build the case on the centurion’s worthiness. Do you see that in v4? They claim this man is worthy to receive Jesus’ help. Why? V5 tells us – the centurion loves the Jewish people, even using his wealth to build their synagogue. Catch the argument here. The Jewish leaders are saying, “Listen Jesus, this guy has earned this. He’s done so many good things for us. He’s gone out of his way to bless us. He’s even used his resources to honor God. He’s earned it, Jesus! This man is worthy to receive your help.” And that’s a powerful argument, isn’t it? It’s an argument from merit. It’s an appeal to the worthiness of the one in need.

But the centurion himself has a very different perspective, and it’s his perspective, surprisingly, that deserves our attention. Notice how upside-down the centurion’s appeal is. V6, Jesus agrees to go, but along the way, the centurion sends another group with a message. Catch what he says, v6 – “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. Therefore, I did not presume to come to you.” That is a powerful expression of exemplary faith. Contrary to the Jewish leaders, the centurion makes no appeal to his own worthiness. He doesn’t claim to have earned Jesus’ favor. Instead, the centurion simply humbles himself before the Lord. Compared to Jesus, the centurion is nothing. He has no claim on such a powerful, exalted person like Jesus. Whatever good the centurion’s done is not nearly enough to twist Jesus’ arm to act. Instead, the centurion simply humbles himself. “I have nothing,” he says, “so I humble myself in dependence on you.”

Brothers and sisters, we’re reminded here that faith in Christ is not a transaction we make with God. Faith is not an exchange, where we give Jesus our merit and he responds with what we need. I’m afraid that’s how we think of faith far too often – as though faith is some spiritual stock exchange between the Lord and us. “I’ve done enough, God, so I trust you will give me something in return.”

But if the centurion teaches us anything in this passage, it’s that faith can never rest on our worthiness. No, faith begins with humility. The first cry of faith is not, “Look how worthy I am, Lord!” No, faith’s first cry is “I am unworthy! I have nothing! I make no claim on you, Jesus!” That’s the humility of faith. On our own, we have no merit that we can exchange for God’s blessing. Instead, true faith – exemplary faith – understands that we are ultimately nothing before the Lord. “Nothing in my hand I bring,” as the old hymn says.

Again, this is key, brothers and sisters. If we’re not careful, we can slip into a mindset that turns faith into a work. We can adopt a perspective that distorts faith into some kind of merit that, in turn, puts God in our debt. But the beauty of the gospel is that simplicity of faith we referenced a moment ago. It’s the simple response of humbling ourselves before the Lord and depending upon him alone to provide what we need. I have nothing, and therefore, Jesus must provide everything.

Before we move on, I want to remind us of this. Of all the virtues that honor Christ, humility stands at the top of list. Nothing makes faith shine as brightly as humility. A humble dependence on Jesus testifies to the world that Christ alone is able to save, that Christ alone is worthy of trust. In a culture that preaches increasing self-esteem as the pathway of fulfillment, the gospel preaches something better. The gospel says humble yourself and in doing so, you’ll find a Savior who exalts the lowly and gives grace to the humble.


Confident Trust in Jesus’ Word

That’s the first feature of exemplary faith – it’s marked by humble dependence upon Jesus. The second feature comes in vv7-10 – exemplary faith is marked by Confident Trust in Jesus’ Word. The centurion’s faith continues, and in fact, his example becomes even more powerful at this point. He has approached Jesus with humility, but now, notice the confidence he has in Jesus’ word, v7 – “Therefore I did not presume to come to you. But say the word, and let me my servant be healed.” Again, this is a staggering display of faith. The centurion believes that Jesus’ word is effective, that his word is powerful and able to accomplish this healing.

But why is the centurion so confident in Jesus’ word? Why is he so sure that Jesus can do this? Notice the illustration the centurion uses in v8. It explains why he is so confident in Jesus’ word, v8 – “For I too am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me: and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” Now, the centurion is making an argument here from the lesser to the greater. He uses his experience to explain how he understands Jesus. As a commander, the centurion has been entrusted with authority, and that authority, which has been given to him, is what makes his word effective. The centurion commands a soldier to go, and he goes. The centurion speaks, and it is done.

Now make the connection with Jesus. The centurion is confident because Jesus’ word possesses a much greater authority, and that authority, is what makes Jesus’ word effective. The centurion has made the right connection about Jesus. The centurion understands that no mere man can do the things Jesus does. No mere man can heal the lame and open the eyes of the blind. No mere man can heal with only his word. To do those things requires an authority that can only come from one place – God himself.

And that is what the centurion sees here. He understands that Jesus is mighty because Jesus acts with God’s authority. Now, does the centurion understand that Jesus is the second Person of the Trinity, the eternal Son of God who is the Promised Christ? Does the centurion understand all of those realities? Probably not, but don’t let that distract you from what the centurion does understand. He understands that Jesus’ authority must come from God. That’s why the centurion is confident in Jesus’s word. That’s why he is sure Jesus can do this mighty deed. The centurion’s trust – his faith – is grounded on Jesus’ authoritative word.

Now, we need to hang out here for a moment. There is some depth to this point that can feed our faith as well. Think with me about the context of this scene, specifically v7, and notice how the centurion’s faith highlights the unlimited scope of Jesus’ authority. To begin with, think about what we noted earlier in the sermon. The power of Jesus’ word is not limited by the centurion’s worthiness or lack thereof. The centurion is unworthy to come before Jesus, and yet, that does not limit what Jesus’ word can accomplish. That’s powerful. Jesus’s word is not limited by whether or not you’re worthy. Do you see it? The centurion understands that the effectiveness of Jesus’ word is not dependent on the recipient of that word. Jesus’ word acts in and of itself. The power of Jesus’ word is inherent and unrivaled. The centurion may be unworthy, but his unworthiness is no match for the power of the word of the Lord. When Jesus speaks, he accomplishes what he intends, even for unworthy people. His word is not dependent on the centurion.

If you sense your unworthiness this morning, if you are well aware of how much you don’t deserve Jesus to act on your behalf, then the good news is that your life is the perfect arena for Jesus to display his power. Your unworthiness is precisely where Jesus’ word does its best work. Trust him. When the weight of unworthiness feels heaviest, that’s the time to run to Jesus’ word, believing that his power is greater than your need.

But there’s still a bit more here to consider. From v7, think of how Jesus’ word is not limited by the lack of physical presence. This is striking. The centurion understands that the power of Jesus’ word transcends space and distance. Jesus doesn’t even have to come to the house; he simply has to speak, and his purpose will be done. In fact, Jesus’ word is the outworking of his person and presence. Jesus’ word accomplishes Jesus’ will just as certainly as if Jesus were present. To hear Jesus’ word, with faith, is to receive Jesus’ power, to experience Jesus’ presence.

And indeed, the conclusion to the chapter confirms the centurion’s confidence. Notice v10, where the miracle is recorded almost as an afterthought, v10 – “And when those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the servant well.” The centurion’s confidence was well placed, wasn’t it? With only his word, Jesus heals the servant. The power of Jesus’ word is not limited by the centurion’s worthiness, and neither is it limited by physical presence.

When you put these things together, what you find is a confession of the sovereignty of Jesus’ word. When we say that word sovereign, we mean supreme power that is free from any control or constraint. In older times, a king would often be referred to as the sovereign of the nation, and the point had to do with power. In an absolute monarchy, what the king says goes, without question. There is no check on his power, and that power is expressed in the king’s word. That’s the idea behind the word sovereignty.

But from that idea, I hope you see that technically speaking, only God is sovereign. Only God has power without constraint. And part of the takeaway here in Luke 7 is that Jesus, through his word, displays this sovereign power. What Jesus says is accomplished, and there is no check on the power of his Word.

It’s hard to envision a more practical truth at this point. As we think about the sovereignty of Jesus’ word, there are two takeaways that prove very helpful for us to remember. One has to do with our life as a church, and the other has to do with strengthening faith itself. Consider our life as a church. The sovereign power of Jesus’ word is the reason why churches ought to be centered on the Scriptures. Listen, every church would at least profess the desire to follow Jesus’ authority, to submit to his sovereignty, and to depend upon his power. But the question is – How do we do that? Jesus, you know, is not physically present with us, so how do we, as a church, follow his authority and submit to his sovereignty?

The answer, is through the Scriptures, through the Word of God. As we keep the Bible central, we are demonstrating our confident submission to the sovereign power of Jesus. It is through his Word that Jesus makes his authority known among his people. And whenever a church removes the Scriptures from the center, even slightly, that church removes itself, even just a little, from the rightful place of submission to Christ.

This is why our church preaches through books of the Bible. It’s not simply a preaching strategy – it’s act of submission, brothers and sisters. It’s an expression of our confidence that Christ rules over us by his Word.

And at the same time, this point extends to individuals as well. There’s a takeaway here for our faith. Ask yourself,  How does faith become strong? How do our lives demonstrate a greater confidence in Lord, even in times of need? The answer is by going deeper in the Word of the Lord, in the Scriptures. Think about the centurion in this scene. Why is he so confident in v7? How is his display of faith so strong? The answer has nothing to do with him. It has to do with Jesus’ word. It’s the power of Jesus’ word that gives confidence – strength – to the centurion’s trust.

And so it is with believers today, brothers and sisters. Far too often, we try to strengthen our faith by looking inward. We try to increase our confidence by banking on our own reserves, our own power. But that is never the pathway to strength in the Christian life. Faith always grows stronger the more it looks away from self and looks toward Christ.

And the unique contribution of Luke 7 is that we learn where specifically we ought to look, and that is to Jesus’ word. When our faith is weak – that is the time we most need the Word of God. Jesus’ power flows through his Word, which means our confidence in him grows the more we take in the Scriptures.

Listen, there is no silver bullet for growing in the Christian life. There is no magic formula that will immediately make your faith stronger. But there is a key – a foundational step of faith that, by God’s grace, leads to growth. And that step is to go deeper in God’s Word. Exemplary faith is a Word-driven, Word-rooted, Word-saturated faith that finds its confidence in the Christ who rules and reigns through his Word.

Go to the Scriptures, brothers and sisters – not one time, or for one week, but day after day, go to the Scriptures. Remember that Jesus’ power – his sovereign rule and reign – is worked out through his Word, so with confidence, bank everything you’ve got on his Word.

And so, we end with v9 – Jesus is amazed at the centurion’s faith. Jesus marvels. Not even in Israel has Jesus found such faith. That’s a little preview of what is coming in the remainder of Luke’s Gospel, but especially in the book of Acts. The kingdom of God will expand to include both Jew and Gentile. Jesus is the Savior of all believe, to the Jew first and also to the Greek, as the apostle Paul says.

And that little preview is a good place for us to conclude. As this centurion expresses faith in Jesus’ word, notice how his faith puts the spotlight on Jesus. Yes, Jesus marvels at the centurion’s faith, but where is that faith directed? It’s directed toward Jesus, whose power is so mighty, he can sustain the humble. He can uphold the dependent. And he can give confidence to those who believe. At the end, the centurion’s faith is exemplary because it directs our attention back to Jesus himself.

This is the value of faith in the Christian life. It glorifies Christ as the one who is worthy of our trust. It puts Christ on display to the world, and in doing so, this kind of exemplary faith calls others to anchor their lives on the Word of Christ that will not fail.

Let’s be encouraged, brothers and sisters, to build our lives on Jesus’ word. Let’s be encouraged to humble ourselves, each day, in dependence on the Savior. And in doing so, let’s remember that God is often pleased to take such humble faith and use it as the means of magnifying his Son. May it be so among us, to the end of the age. Amen.

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