Faith of the Centurion (3/19/2017)

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In January 2005, God allowed me the privilege of going to Uganda and Sudan with other Church of the Brethren members. The trip excited me because I’d never done anything like that in my life. I was also a little nervous because I didn’t know anyone else who was going.

I flew to Chicago where I met the other team members. We then boarded a plane for London where we would catch another flight to Kampala, the capital of Uganda. A day and a half later, we arrived in Kampala and spend the night. The next morning, we went back to the airport so we could catch a commuter flight to northern Uganda. The name of the airline we were flying on is Eagle Air. The size of our group was 16 people but the airplane had 20 seats. Our group paid for the extra seats so we could use them to carry our supplies and luggage.

Now, at this point, let me pause to say things don’t always work the same way in Africa that they work here in the United States. The night before we left, someone at Eagle Air sold the four extra seats to other people. We discovered this only after we arrived at the airport. This meant we couldn’t take all of our luggage and supplies with us.

Our leaders complained about this but the people who bought the extra tickets were already there with us to board the plane. To complicate matters, some of our bags that were already on the plane had to be unloaded. Thankfully Eagle Air placed these bags on a bus and they joined us the next day.

After all of this confusion, the pilots boarded the plane and started going through their preflight checklist. I was sitting near the front so I could hear them talking. Suddenly one pilot looked at the other one and said, “I think they’ve taken enough bags off the plane to make us light enough for take-off.” Then they went back to checking things off their list.

All of this happened at a time when I really hated to fly. I realized that statistically flying was safe so I didn’t allow my fears to overpower the facts. However, I never factored this scenario into my thinking. At that moment in time, I was sitting there silently screaming, “What? You don’t know. Maybe somebody should make sure.”

A couple of minutes later they started the engines and we began taxiing out to the end of the runway for take-off. I have to say those few minutes contained some of the most fervent prayers I’ve ever offered up to heaven. My mind contained a mixture of prayers, thoughts about eternity and fear. But in the midst of this, I realized something. Jesus called me to go on this trip. I needed to have faith he would guide me through it – no matter what happened. If God wanted our group to die in a fiery crash, then somehow he would use if for his glory.

Hebrews 11:6 tells us, “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” Let’s look at two different groups of people in the New Testament – those who had faith and those who didn’t.

Luke 7:1-10 starts with, “When Jesus had finished saying all this to the people who were listening, he entered Capernaum.” For us to truly understand the importance of what’s about to happen, we need to stop for a moment and look at what Jesus had just said. Luke ties the two events together with this introductory sentence.

Jesus had just finished teaching a large Jewish crowd the importance of trusting in God and being faithful to God’s commands. He emphasized the fact that people’s devotion to God has to come out in the way they go about their everyday lives. At one point, Jesus asked them (Luke 6:46), “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord’ and do not do what I say?” We know from this passage and other New Testament stories that the vast majority of the Jewish people rejected Jesus. They didn’t have faith he was the Messiah.

Right after this exchange between Jesus and the Jewish crowds, Luke introduces us to a man who was, by all outward appearances, an enemy of Israel. In the minds of most Jews, this automatically made him an enemy of God.

There a centurion’s servant, whom his master valued highly, was sick and about to die. The centurion heard of Jesus and sent some elders of the Jews to him, asking him to come and heal his servant. When they came to Jesus, they pleaded earnestly with him, “This man deserves to have you do this, because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue.” So Jesus went with them.

He was not far from the house when the centurion sent friends to say to him: “Lord, don’t trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you. But say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”

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.” 10 Then the men who had been sent returned to the house and found the servant well.”

This centurion understood blind obedience. He was trained to obey without question any order a superior officer gave him. Even if he didn’t agree with the order, he had to have faith his commander was doing the right thing.

He also expected the soldiers under his command to blindly obey him. If the centurion told a solder to seize someone, he expected the soldier to arrest that person. If he gave the order to kill, he expected his soldiers to draw their swords and do it.

The centurion knew he had military authority. However, he understood that Jesus had a kind of authority he would never have. He knew Jesus had spiritual authority.

He realized Jesus’ spiritual authority like military authority. First of all, it is powerful. Sickness, disease and even death are under its control. This man knew Jesus had power over the sickness which was killing his servant. If Jesus commands something to be done, it will be done. Jesus could command the sickness to leave the servant’s body and the servant would be healed.

The centurion also seemed to grasp the fact that Jesus’ spiritual authority is only seen through faith. Jesus said in verse 9, “I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.” Remember, just before this encounter with the Roman centurion, Jesus had chastised the Jewish crowd for their lack of faith and lack of obedience to God.

The Jewish people’s lack of faith affected how Jesus could minister to them. Matthew 13:54-58 says, 54 Coming to his hometown, he began teaching the people in their synagogue, and they were amazed. “Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers?” they asked. 55 “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas?

56 Aren’t all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” 57 And they took offense at him.

But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town and in his own home.”

58 And he did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith.

Most of the Jews didn’t believe Jesus was the Messiah. They couldn’t see Jesus authority even though he taught them, encouraged them, sometimes shamed them and, most of all, performed miracles in their presence. We don’t know if the centurion really understood Jesus was the Jewish Messiah and the Son of God, but he did have faith Jesus had spiritual authority over sickness and the supernatural world. This unlocked the door for Jesus to perform a miracle for him.

How do we live a life of faith that allows Jesus to perform miracles in our lives? Let’s start by honestly answering this question: Do I have the faith of the Roman centurion or of the Jewish crowds? When you think about your faith compared to the centurion or the Jews Jesus was confronting, who do you relate to the most? There’s a quote from an anonymous source that says, “Your belief determines your action and your action determines your results, but first you have to believe.” If you have no or little faith, there’s no way you can be a strong Christian.

If your faith is weak, ask Jesus to give you more faith. In Luke 17, Jesus taught his disciples some things that are very difficult to apply to everyday life. The disciples said to Jesus, “Increase our faith!” (Luke 17:5).  Faith can be like a roller coaster. Sometimes we’re on top of the world and our faith is strong. We’ll get on the plane and trust God no matter what might happen. At other times, we’re in a valley and everything seems to bother us. Ask God to give you more faith if you’re in a valley right now.

The last thing you do is simply live out your faith. Don’t just talk about doing it. Step out and trust God to guide you through things you can’t do on your own. After all, it really isn’t living by faith if God isn’t the one who’s doing it.

Obviously, the pilots of Eagle Air got our plane off the ground. We cleared the runway and the pilots took the plane to an elevation of only a few thousand feet before they leveled off. I had a window seat so I got to see scenic views of the Ugandan countryside. Sometimes, when the work God has for us to do on earth is finished, he calls us to get on a plane that doesn’t make it. Usually this doesn’t happen. Jesus wants to bless us, heal us and use us for his glory. Is our faith strong enough for him to do this in our lives?