I. The Sick Servant (Luke 7:1-2)
II. The Centurion’s Supplication (Luke 7:3)
III. The Synagogue Incentive (Luke 7:4-5)
IV. The Centurion’s Certainty (Luke 7:6-8)
V. The Savior’s Statement (Luke 7:9-10)
I do not have great faith. Sometimes, I wonder if I little faith.
I was shocked a few weeks ago, to read in Matthew 14 Christ’s rebuke of Peter. As the disciples cross the Sea of Galilee, a great storm comes up, and they fear they are going to drown. Earlier, in Matthew 8, a similar storm had threatened their lives, and Jesus had calmed the storm with a word. But now, Jesus is not with them because He stayed on the shore to pray. So here they are, in a small boat, on the stormy sea, alone. They are struggling for their very lives. A careful reading of the text indicates they had been struggling with the wind and the waves for about six hours. That’s a long time to be in the middle of the storm.
But when Jesus is done praying, he gets up and walks on the water to them. And when the disciples see him, some are afraid it is ghost. But some of them think it is Jesus, and Peter says, “Lord, if it is you, tell me come to you on the water.”
And Jesus says, “Come.”
So, Peter steps out of the boat, and walks across the water to Jesus. But after a few steps, Peter’s brain kicks into gear, and realizes that what he is doing is impossible. The wind is above him, the waves are all around him. The depths of the sea are below him. It is impossible to walk on water. His logic and his faith begin to war with one another, so he begins to sink. He cries out to Jesus, “Lord, save me!”
And of course, Jesus does. But as Jesus stretches out his hand to Peter, Jesus says to him, “Oh you of little faith. Why did you doubt?”
Peter? A man of little faith? He’s the one that got out of the boat!
What about the other disciples still holding on to the boat for dear life? What about them? If Peter is a man of little faith, what are they? Men of no faith? They must have some faith. Maybe they are men of miniscule faith?
Whatever kind of faith they had, I’m in the same boat. Literally. I don’t think I would have gotten out of that boat. So I must not have great faith. I must not even have little faith.
Furthermore, if Peter’s faith, which got him to step out of a boat into a howling storm was little faith, then what in the world does great faith look like?
Then I came to Luke 7 in my study this week. In Luke 7:1-10, Jesus encounters a man who had great faith. It comes from a shocking person, and produces some shocking truths. Even Jesus is a bit shocked at first. As I studied the passage, I came to a new understanding of what great faith is, how it is developed and how great faith produces great results.
Do you want great faith?
Luke 7:1-10 will provide some help on understanding what great faith is and how to get it. This passage comes right after the conclusion of Jesus’ instructions to his disciples on how to be a disciple. Luke 6 contains Christ’s discipleship manual. He has taught them with words what it means to follow Him. Now, in Luke 7, 8 and 9, Christ is going to teach by example what it takes to be his disciple.
He has taught the disciples with words. Now he teaches them by example.
The first lesson is about developing great faith. The scene is set in Luke 7:1-2 where we are introduced to a Centurion and his sick servant.
I. The Sick Servant (Luke 7:1-2)
Luke 7:1-2. Now when He concluded all His sayings in the hearing of the people, He entered Capernaum. And a certain centurion’s servant, who was dear to him, was sick and ready to die.
Jesus has finished the teachings in Luke 6, and he now enters Capernaum, a small fishing village near the Sea of Galilee. This is where Jesus spent much of His time, and performed many of his miracles. Luke 7:2 goes on to tell us that in Capernaum was a centurion. Centurions were Roman Army officers who generally commanded 100 soldiers. Most of them were Gentiles, though sometimes they were half-Jews – Samaritans, so the Jewish people tended to despise centurions.
Not only where they symbolic of Roman rule, they often abused their power and took unjust liberties. But such was not the case with this centurion. We get a glimpse of his character in Luke 7:2, where we read that he had a servant who was dear to him. The word dear literally means he was held in high honor or value. Such compassion on a servant was unheard of at the time of Jesus.
The fact that the centurion cared so much for his servant set him apart from the typical Roman soldier, who could be brutally heartless. The average slave owner of that day…had no more regard for his slave than for an animal.
“The great Greek philosopher Aristotle said there could be no friendship and no justice toward inanimate things, not even toward a horse, an ox, or a slave, because master and slave were considered to have nothing in common. ‘A slave,” he said, ‘is a living tool, just as a tool is an inanimate slave.’ (Ethics, 1161b). The Roman law expert Gaius wrote that it was universally accepted that the master possessed the power of life and death over his slave (Institutes, 1:52). Still another Roman writer, Varro, maintained that the only difference between a slave, a beast, and a cart was that the slave talked (On Landed Estates, 1:17.1).
But this centurion cared for his servant. And this dear servant became sick. When the text says he was sick, the Greek literally says he was having it bad. This servant had it bad. That is Luke the physician’s professional diagnosis.
There are three things you never want to hear a doctor say:
2. Hmm…I’ve never seen this before.
3. Oh, this is bad!
Luke says the third one here. This servant had it bad.
It was so bad, he was ready to die. He was at the point of death. So what did the servant have which was so bad? We don’t know. We aren’t told. But whatever it was, Matthew 8:6 indicates that the sickness caused paralysis and great torment. Generally, paralysis means you have no feeling. But this servant was paralyzed and in pain. He had the worst of both worlds. The centurion, who loved this servant, hated to see him in such distress and agony. So in Luke 7:3, he hears that Jesus is in town, and sends some people to ask Jesus to heal his servant.
II. The Centurion’s Supplication (Luke 7:3)
Luke 7:3. So when he heard about Jesus, he sent elders of the Jews to Him, pleading with Him to come and heal his servant.
Matthew 8:5 says the Centurion came. But in Jewish culture (or almost any culture), when a man of authority sends someone else for him as a representative, it is as if they themselves are coming. The centurion sends elders of the Jews as his representatives. This is curious. The elders of the Jews were some of the spiritual leaders of Israel. They would rarely submit to a Roman Army official. But here, they do exactly what he asks, and they do it quickly. This tells us that he had a good relationship with those he ruled.
He tells them to go to Jesus and plead with Him to come and heal his servant. Luke 7:4 says that when they came to Jesus, they begged Him earnestly. The situation is so dire, so important, they come pleading and begging earnestly for Jesus to heal the servant. It is always a good idea in prayer to get friends and relatives to pray with you and for you. It is not that God answers the prayers of ten people when He wouldn’t have answered the prayer of only one. I believe the prayer of one is just as powerful as the prayer of many. But there is something encouraging to know that other people are praying with you in your time of need.
In Luke 7:4-5 however, the elders explain why they were being sent as intermediaries. A distinguished Jewish rabbi had come to town, and so as not to offend him, the Centurion sent the Jewish elders to ask a favor of him. The Jewish elders explain why Jesus should heal the centurion’s servant.
III. The Synagogue Incentive (Luke 7:4-5)
Luke 7:4-5. And when they came to Jesus, they begged Him earnestly, saying that the one for whom He should do this was deserving, “for he loves our nation, and has built us a synagogue.”
Do you see how these Jewish elders approach Jesus? Yes, they come and they beg him earnestly, but they give reasons for why this man deserves help. The reasons were that he loves the Jewish people, and he even built a synagogue for them. Can’t you just hear the elders? “Jesus, I know he’s a Gentile, and I know he a Roman Centurion, but just this once, we can overlook that. After all, look how wonderful of a person he is. He loves the Jews, and he even built a synagogue for us to study God’s Word in. Jesus, if any Gentile deserves help, this one does. He’s a really good man.”
I wonder how often our prayers sound like that? “Oh God, I know I’m not perfect. I’ve sinned a few times. I’ve made a few mistakes. I’m only human, after all. Anyway, I’ve got this little request for you, which I think I deserve to have answered. I don’t ask for much, God, and I’ve tried to be good. I go to church. I tithe. I read my Bible every day. I volunteer at the food bank. Couldn’t you just give me this one thing?”
When we approach God like that, we are treating Him like Santa Claus. But God does not have a heavenly “naughty and nice” list. The prayer of a righteous man accomplishes much, not because the man is righteous and God listens to his prayers more, but because he knows how to pray according to God’s will. We don’t deserve anything from God. We cannot bribe God into answering our prayers because of how good we are, or what we have done for Him. Don’t go to God asking things from Him by saying, “God, I deserve to be given this request.” You don’t deserve it. You don’t deserve anything. Everything God gives to you, He gives out of His generosity, His goodness and His grace. The Jewish elders did not understand this. They did not believe this. They thought that answers to prayer were earned. But in Luke 7:6-8, we see that the Gentile centurion understood differently. The centurion had certainty about something the Jewish elders did not.
IV. The Centurion’s Certainty (Luke 7:6-8)
In these verses, there are at least three traits that set the centurion apart from the Jewish elders. Three things that show he had greater understanding than the Jews. First, unlike the Jewish elders, this man was courteous.
A. Courteous (Luke 7:6)
Luke 7:6. Then Jesus went with them. And when He was already not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to Him, saying to Him, “Lord, do not trouble Yourself, for I am not worthy that You should enter under my roof.
When he says, do not trouble yourself, the Greek literally reads, “Do not skin yourself.” Historian’s think this was a bit of slang. The centurion’s words reveal that he is courteous. He shows humility in approaching Jesus. He recognizes that most Jews do not want to associate with Gentiles. Many Jews considered themselves defiled if they entered a Gentile’s home. He did not know that Jesus was not concerned about such things. But what it reveals is that this centurion was more concerned about others than he was himself. He thought of others first. He cared for his servant, and now he cares for the cultural and personal inhibitions Jesus might have.
You too, should think of others before yourself. Think of their needs and their concerns, then put those above your own. Secondly, when we approach God, recognize that we are not worthy to approach Him (2 Cor. 3:5), or to have Him approach us. He does it out of his love and grace for us. I say this, because it balances out what we see next about the centurion in verse 7. In Luke 7:6, he approached Christ with courtesy. In Luke 7:7, he approaches with confidence.
B. Confident (Luke 7:7)
Luke 7:7. Therefore I did not even think myself worthy to come to You. But say the word, and my servant will be healed.
In Luke 7:6-7, the centurion says that he is not worthy to have Christ come to him or for himself to go to Jesus. So how will the servant be healed? The centurion reveals great confidence in Christ when instead, he says, say the word, and my servant will be healed. These verbs are imperatives. They are commands. Say the word, and heal my servant. Can we command Jesus? Such boldness in prayer I have never had. It’s assertive; almost audacious. I listened to a sermon a few months back called “Praying Boldly” and the pastor was teaching about how most prayers in the Bible are much more bold and assertive than we are comfortable with.
This centurion is used to making commands, and he commands Jesus to heal his servant with his word. How can he do this? Because he knows Scripture. He is alluding to Psalm 107:20, which says, “He sent His word and healed them.” The centurion says to Jesus, “Just send your word, and heal my servant.” The only way our prayers can be this audacious, this assertive, this confident, this commanding, is when we have a promise of God to pray. The promise must be rightly understood in context; we can’t rip verses out of context to pray confidently. But when we know Scriptural promises, we can pray those promises so boldly, so confidently, that they rock the gates of heaven.
Pray “God, I am not worthy that you should come to me, or that I should come to you, but I was reading in your Word today and it said this. God, do what your Word says. Do it, because Your Word says it.”
Have Jesus’ instructions to his disciples on how to pray ever bothered you? He says that whatsoever you ask in His name, He will do it (John 14:13; 16:26). This doesn’t mean that if you tack on “in Jesus name” at the end of your prayers, you receive what you prayed for. No, what it means is that when you pray for the things Jesus prays for, when you pray for the things that according to the teachings, life, example, and will of Jesus, when you pray these things, they will be done for you. This is what this centurion does. Yes, he is confident, brash and bold. But he is confident in Christ. He is confident in the word of Jesus. He is confident that Jesus can heal. This confidence springs from something he comprehends about Jesus and the nature of commands. This is what we learn in Luke 7:8.
C. Comprehension (Luke 7:8)
Luke 7:8. For I also am a man placed under authority, having 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.”
He had a comprehension of power. He understood power and how it worked. He understood something about Christ which non else understood. I will tell you what he understood, but first you must see how Jesus responds in Luke 7:9. The reaction of Jesus provides the point of the entire passage.
V. The Savior’s Statement (Luke 7:9-10)
Luke 7:9. When Jesus heard these things, He marveled at him, and turned around and said to the crowd that followed Him, “I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel!”
When Jesus hears the words spoken by the centurion’s friends, He marveled and turned around. Jesus is so shocked at what He hears, He was stopped in his tracks. He is walking along toward the centurion’s house. The friends say, “You don’t have to go. The centurion says to just say the word and his servant will be healed.” Jesus is so shocked at the man’s faith, he says to the crowd, “I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel!” It’s like He is saying, “Wow! Now that is faith!”
Has your faith ever shocked Jesus? “Yes,” you say, “My lack of it.” Me too. Only one other time in Scripture is Jesus ever described as being amazed like this. When he visits his home town of Nazareth, he marvels at their complete lack of faith (Luke 4:14-30). It’s hard to shock Jesus, but when you do, it will either be your great faith, or your lack of it.
When it comes to great faith and little faith, we are probably more like the Jewish people. They prided themselves in being men and women of faith, descendant from Abraham, the father of faith, holders and keepers of the one true faith. Yet they didn’t have as great of faith as this Gentile centurion. Instead, the Jews, even the disciples, are rebuked over and over for having little faith.
The difference between great faith and little faith is not one of quantity. Great faith does not have lots and lots of faith, whereas little faith has hardly any. It’s not about percentages and degrees of faith.
You and I do not have faith containers in our souls which overflow when our faith is great, and are nearly empty when our faith is little. Faith does not work like that.
Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. Faith is confidence and persuasion in something God has said.
When you are persuaded that something is true, either because God has said it, or by the supporting evidence, then you have faith in that truth. Great faith believes and is convinced and is persuaded about some of the harder and more difficult truths of Scripture, whereas little faith does not believe or is not convinced or persuaded about these truths.
You either believe something or you don’t. Faith is like a switch. It is either on or off. And there are no dimmer switches with faith. You cannot believe 80% that there is a God. You either believe it or you don’t. If you are 99% sure, then you don’t yet believe. You are not yet persuaded. You have not yet been convinced.
So what is the difference between great faith and little faith? Great faith believes greater and more difficult truths than little faith. Great faith is fully convinced of the difficult promises and the hard to understand truths of Scripture. Little faith does not believe them. Little faith may believe the simple promises and the first grade level truths, like “there is a God” and “Jesus gives eternal life to those who believe in him.”
But little faith does not believe in the advanced truths, like “God will supply all of your needs according to His riches in glory.” Do you believe that? Really? Than why do your worry about tomorrow? I worry all the time about tomorrow, so that means I don’t believe it. But great faith believes it. Great faith believes the hard to believe truths of the Bible. Great faith has nothing to do with the size of your faith. Rather, it’s about the difficult truths you do believe. This brings us back to the centurion and what he believed.
Jesus praises this centurion for having great faith. He says he hasn’t found such great faith in all of Israel. This centurion believed something which very few believe. He believed something very difficult to believe. He believed one of the advanced truths which nobody else believed. What did he believe?
First, he believed in his own lack of merit. He was courteous. He was humble. Yes, he was a good man. Yes, he loved the Jews. Yes, he built a synagogue for them. But that doesn’t mean he deserves anything from God, or from Jesus Christ. He knew he was unworthy to go meet Jesus, and he knew he was unworthy to have Jesus come meet him. He was unworthy. Most people do not believe this. Most people think they do deserve favors from God. Most people think they are pretty good people, and God owes them something. It is much harder to believe that all we have and all we are given is simply and only by the grace of God. But that is the first thing the centurion believed.
Second, he believed in the power of Jesus. He was confident in Christ. He believed in the authority of Jesus. He likened Jesus to military commanders. He knew that what Jesus commanded would be done. He knew that the words of Jesus were sufficient to accomplish the healing. Again, most people do not believe this either. We have promises in Scripture that Christ will make us more and more like Himself. He tells us that He will never leave us nor forsake us. He tells us that He will provide for all our needs. He tells us that He has given us everything we need for life and Godliness. He tells us that getting the Word of God into our lives will wash us and transform us into His likeness. His Word is sufficient. Most people don’t really believe these things. And I’ll be the first to admit that some of these are hard truths to believe. But the centurion showed great faith because he believed in the power and authority of Jesus to do exactly what He said He would do. The centurion believed that Christ’s word was sufficient.
This is related to the third thing the centurion believed. He believed in the ability of Jesus to heal from a distance. He believed Jesus did not have to be physically present with the dying servant to heal him. Jesus did not have to wave his arms, or say any special words, or make any special anointing. Healing from God comes without any of these sorts of things which most people back then, and even most people today, think are necessary. The centurion believed these things when almost nobody else did, and so he had great faith. “Great faith is not some higher level of conviction. It is believing something that is harder to believe, something that is contrary to what most people believe.” He believed some difficult truths. And so, Jesus healed his servant.
Luke 7:10. And those who were sent, returning to the house, found the servant well who had been sick.
The word used in Luke 7:10, hugiaino, means to be in full health, to be sound in mind and body. Jesus uses this word in Luke 5:31 to talk about those who have no need of a physician because there is nothing wrong with them. The symptoms of paralysis and pain not only left, but the disease as well. It was all gone. The servant was perfectly sound in mind and body. Do you see what God accomplishes for those with great faith in His promises?
This is the truth Jesus wants to pass on to his disciples. If you are His disciple, this is what He wants you to learn. Great faith in great promises lead to great results. If you want results, you first have to know the promises. You first have to understand God, and how He works. You first have to know what He has said in His Word. Without a knowledge and understanding of those things, you will never have great faith. Romans 10:17 says that faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God. Without hearing and understanding the Word of God, you will never have great faith. You will never even have little faith. And without faith, it is impossible to please God.
Do you want to please God? Do you want to do great things for God? Do you want God to do great things through you? It’s not enough to just have faith. Faith by itself does nothing. Faith must be based on the promises of God.
How do you get your faith to look at Jesus. Bob Wilkin shows us how. He writes, “You can’t believe what you haven’t heard, so make sure to have regular feeding on the Word of God in terms of personal reading and meditation, church attendance, and [discipleship] (Psalm 1; Heb 10:23-25; 2 Tim 2:2). Your faith…grows the more you understand and believe what God says.”
Make your prayer this week the prayer of the man in Mark 9:24, “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.” We all have areas of unbelief. Though we believe and are convinced of some things, we doubt and do not believe others. Praise God for the things you do believe, but pray that God would help you believe the things you do not. Then when we come to Jesus in prayer, He will marvel at our faith as well.
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