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What We Learn from the Centurion
Luke 7:1-10


Pastor Kevin Vogts
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Dakota Dunes, South Dakota
Second Sunday after Pentecost—June 2, 2013

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

In today’s Gospel Reading, Jesus dramatically heals the servant of the faithful centurion.  Let’s consider “What We Learn from the Centurion.”

First of all, we learn from the centurion to humbly confess our sins and unworthiness.  The “Cleveland Plain Dealer” newspaper has a church reviewer, like a movie reviewer, except that he goes to different churches and then writes a review for the paper about the worship service.  Some years ago he attended a Lutheran congregation and what struck him most, and struck him deeply, was the opening words in the confession of sins, which we all confessed a few moments ago: “I, a poor, miserable sinner, confess unto you all my sins.”  He said it was a little shocking, because in all the churches that he visits, most of them don’t talk much about sin anymore.  But, he said he found it refreshing to have a whole congregation of nice-looking, well-dressed, middle-class people proclaiming to one another that they are in fact “poor, miserable sinners.”  He liked having that stark confession at the beginning of the service, because it lets you really know why you are there: you are a poor, miserable sinner, in need of a Savior.

That is why we are worshipping the Lord today: because we are all poor, miserable sinners, in need of a Savior.  Nice-looking, well-dressed, and middle-class, but, nevertheless, poor, miserable sinners, in need of a Savior, like the centurion.

The centurion at Capernaum was a VIP, a “very important person.”  He was a respected and powerful officer in the world’s greatest army, the leading local representative of the great empire which ruled over this conquered country.  Palestine and the Hebrew people were looked down upon by the Romans as backward and primitive.  The Roman enclaves they built in Palestine were considered outposts of true civilization.  I have excavated at one of them, called Abila, a fine Roman city, plopped in the middle of the desert.

So this centurion could have had a haughty, proud, superior attitude.  From the Roman viewpoint, he was really the only person in Capernaum who was nice-looking, well-dressed, and middle-class.

However, there was one area in which the Romans respected, even looked up to, the Hebrew people, and that was their religion.  The other religions of the Roman Empire were a hodge-podge of dozens of pagan false gods, and the moral standards were very low.  But, the Hebrew faith was different, with a strict belief in only one true God, and very high moral standards. 

Many Romans and others were attracted to this faith.  They generally did not fully convert but became sort of associate members of the synagogue, called “God-fearers.”  They would attend the services, read the Scriptures, say the prayers and strive to live according to the Ten Commandments.

What attracted and appealed to these God-fearers most were the prophecies of a great Messiah, the Savior, who would come for the whole world from the Hebrew people.  The centurion at Capernaum was no doubt one of these God-fearers, who was awaiting the promised Messiah.

“[Jesus] entered Capernaum.  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.’”

The centurion at Capernaum was a VIP, a respected and powerful officer, the leading local representative of the world’s greatest empire.  Nice-looking, well-dressed, and middle-class, even wealthy. And, yet, he confess to this Rabbi that he is a poor, miserable sinner.  “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.”  We learn from the centurion first of all to humbly confess our sins and unworthiness.

Though he was not Hebrew himself, as a God-fearer the centurion was familiar with the prophecies of the Messiah, that God would come down to earth to rescue us.  And he knew that one of the key indications of the true Messiah when he came would be miraculous healings, as Isaiah prophesied, “Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows. . .  Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy.”  Jesus puts it this way, “The miracles I do in my Father’s name speak for me. . .  Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves.”

Our text says the centurion had “heard of Jesus.”  He had no doubt heard about the miraculous healings Jesus had performed.  And it seems he also understood, better than many of Jesus’ own people, what these miracles meant: Jesus is the fulfillment of the prophecies, the promised Messiah, the very Son of God.

“’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.’”

Just as the centurion has authority to order and command his soldiers and servants, he believes that Jesus has authority, simply to say the word and order and command his sick servant to be made well.  The Greek word the centurion uses in his request for Jesus to heal his servant literally means to “save.”  With this request the centurion acknowledges Jesus is the Lord, with divine power to heal and save.

 “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’  Then the men who had been sent returned to the house and found the servant well.”  We learn from the centurion to trust in Jesus as our God and Savior.

We also learn from the centurion to trust in the power and promise of God’s Word.  The centurion trusted the truth of the Old Testament prophecies, recognizing from them that Jesus is the one who was promised, the long-awaited Messiah, God come down to earth and made man.  And because the centurion believes Jesus is God, he trusts in the power and promise of Jesus’ word.  “‘Lord,’ said the centurion, ‘just say the word, and my servant will be healed.’”

Sadly, unlike the faithful centurion, there are many churches and preachers today who are denying and deviating from God’s Word.  A survey of clergy in one of the largest denominations in the United States asked, “Do you believe the Bible to be the Word of God?”  Astoundingly, only 18% answered “Yes”; 82% said “No.”  Without the solid foundation of trust in God’s Word, many clergy and congregations and entire denominations are veering off into heresy and immorality.  As Paul says in today’s Epistle Reading, “[You] are turning to a different gospel—which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ.”

“‘Lord,’ said the centurion, ‘just say the word, and my servant will be healed.’”  We learn from the centurion to trust in the power and promise of God’s Word.

We also learn from the centurion to turn to Jesus in our time of need.  Jesus says, “Come unto me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”  The centurion was burdened with a heavy load of grief and worry over the sick servant who was dear to him.  He came to Jesus and turned that burden over to him.  “Cast your burden upon the Lord,” Peter says, “for he cares for you.”

Like the centurion, what is the heavy load of grief or worry that you are burdened with?  Like the centurion, come to Jesus and turn your burden over to him.  As Paul says in Philippians, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”  We learn from the centurion to turn to Jesus in our time of need.

We also learn from the centurion to give generously to build God’s Church.  Though as a God-fearer the centurion was only an associate member of the Hebrew faith, we are told he built the synagogue at Capernaum.  Excavations there have probably uncovered the very synagogue that he built. 

The centurion literally gave to build God’s church, a church building for the worship of God, and that is very important.  This week we will hold in this church building our Vacation Bible School, sharing the Gospel with dozens of children, most of them visitors from the community.  Like the centurion, your help is needed to support this house of worship and the ministry here. 

And, in addition to your financial offerings, there are so many other ways for you to give generously to help build God’s Church—through your worship and prayer, through the offering of your time and service, like those who will help with Vacation Bible School this week.  Peter puts it this way, “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.”  We learn from the centurion to give generously to build God’s Church.

Finally, we learn from the centurion to not be ashamed of Christ and our faith.  You may remember the movie “Dances with Wolves,” which was filmed in South Dakota.  The army officer played by Kevin Costner is accused of “going native,” becoming too much like the Native Americans he is supposed to be watching.  The centurion at Capernaum was putting his own power and position and prosperity and prestige on the line by so publicly and boldly professing his faith in Christ.  He could easily have been recalled by his superiors and demoted for “going native,” going overboard with this Hebrew religion.

Paul says in Romans, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes,” and in 2nd Timothy, “So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord.”  We learn from the centurion to not be ashamed of Christ and our faith.

“[Jesus] 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.’”  We learn from the centurion:

To humbly confess our sins and unworthiness;

To trust in Jesus as our God and Savior;

To trust in the power and promise of God’s Word;

To turn to Jesus in our time of need;

To give generously to build God’s Church;

And to not be ashamed of Christ and our faith.

Amen.

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