A surprising faith - Luke 6:46 - 7:10
A few years ago, two marathon runners caused a stir by trying to cheat in the Brussels Marathon in Belgium. It appeared at first that Abbes Tehami of Algeria was an easy winner of the Marathon. He crossed the line streets ahead of everyone else and was proclaimed the easy victor. That was until some bright spark wondered where his moustache had gone! Checking eyewitness accounts, it quickly became evident that the moustache belonged to Tehami's coach, Bensalem Hamiani. The coach, Hamiani, had run the first seven-and-a-half miles of the race for Tehami at full pelt, and then dropped out of the pack and disappeared into the woods to pass race number 62 on to his pupil. His pupil Abbes Tehami then ran the rest of the race fresh as a daisy and came home as an easy winner. After the deception was uncovered, the race organisers commented: 'They looked about the same, but only one had a moustache.'
Sadly, deception is an all too common occurrence in our world today, whether it be in the world of sport, politics, and even within our private lives. We're very adept at hiding the truth from even our very nearest and dearest. But where such deception is at it's most dangerous is in the spiritual realm, because whilst we might think that we are covering the wool over others' eyes about the state of our spiritual health, yet there is no way we can pull the wool over God's eyes. He can see straight into our hearts and tell if we are trying to deceive him or others about the state of our hearts. He knows exactly where we stand with him. And such deception is most dangerous when it comes to spiritual matters because the fruits of our deception can have eternal consequences.
Now it is this topic of spiritual deception that is at the heart of Luke's passage which we're studying together this morning. The end of chapter 6 is the end of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, and Jesus finishes with a sting in the tail. He's challenging his disciples by telling them not to be people who simply say they are a Christian and never do anything about it. He's challenging mere profession of faith. He's firing a warning shot across our bows to show us the need to be people who not only hear what Jesus is saying but do it. And throughout Jesus' teaching there is the constant warning that being a Christian, a follower of Jesus is not simply about saying you're a Christian but doing it in practice. Do you notice what he says in verse 46: 'Why do you call me, 'Lord, Lord,' and do not do what I say?' Mere words won't do in Jesus' book. If we say we follow him, it needs to be seen in the way we live our lives.
And that's why Luke follows the end of Jesus' sermon in chapter 6 with a story about a man who put his faith into action at the beginning of chapter 7.
Because Luke has very carefully and purposefully woven his gospel together and the story of the centurion whose servant is healed illustrates the point Jesus is making at the end of chapter 6. True faith acts. And as we'll see by the end of the passage, even Jesus is amazed at this man's faith and declares in verse 9: 'I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel'. And that according to Jesus is the mark of genuine faith. Faith is trusting Jesus' Word and acting on it. So as we come to these very challenging words of Jesus and the challenging example that follows, we need to be asking ourselves this very important question. Am I a person of genuine Biblical faith, someone who hears and acts on what Jesus says? Or am I someone whose faith is a mere profession? Some who is effectively deceiving myself? All down the centuries of the Christian church there have been many who have filled the pews of church buildings who simply said the creeds and heard the word but never did anything about them. Jesus would say to such people: 'Why do you call me, 'Lord, Lord,' and do not do what I say?' We can deceive our friends and families, we can deceive the minister, we may even deceive ourselves, but we cannot deceive God. May none of us in this building find ourselves in that position when we face Jesus at the end of our lives. So let's assess ourselves this morning in Jesus' school of faith, to hear from him what true faith is, and then to act just as this gentile centurion acted all those years ago in obedient faith. So three challenges for us on what genuine faith is.
1) True Faith Obeys Jesus' Words
First of all true faith obeys Jesus' words. Verse 46 of chapter 6: 'Why do you call me, 'Lord, Lord,' and do not do what I say?' The problem Jesus is addressing here is the problem of disciples calling Jesus Lord and doing nothing about it. And to illustrate his point, Jesus goes on to tell a parable about two men. Verse 47: 'I will show you what he is like who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice. He is like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock.
When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was
well built. But the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed and its destruction was complete.' Jesus' story is about two builders. And in many ways, these two builders are very similar. Both are building houses. Both no doubt took the time to plan their houses and get everything just right. Both had the surveyors' reports done, both had the very best in roofing and weatherproofing. Both had the very latest in environmentally sound heating and technologically advanced kitchens and security systems. Both houses also come under serious strain from the storms that buffeted them. Jesus says that a torrent afflicted the houses, literally that rivers came upon the houses. This was a serious flood for both men. But there is one crucial difference which affects the outcome. One man dug a foundation, the other didn't. One man's house was resting on a solid foundation, rock, the other was just build on ground at surface level. And when the storms came, only one survived. The second house collapsed and its destruction was complete.
And Jesus leaves us in no doubt what the point of his story is. Verse 47: 'I will show you what he is like who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice. He is like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock.' The point is that if you come to Jesus and hear him and obey his teaching then you're building your life on solid rock. But if you hear but simply ignore Jesus' teaching, then you're heading for disaster, verse 49: 'The one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation.' Notice that the difference is not between whether you hear the words of Jesus or not. Everyone in this story hears the words of Jesus. In fact Luke rams home that truth for us, because in verse 1 of chapter 7 he says that 'Jesus finished saying all this in the hearing of the people.' They all hear. But it is what happens next that matters. If Jesus' teaching goes in one ear and out the other, then you are building your life on mere sand. Your faith is seen to be groundless. It's what you do with the teaching that really counts.
And where it counts is when the storms come. Now certainly one application is to the storms of life that buffet us. Those who build on the rock of Jesus' teaching, who show their faith in him by obeying what he says are able to stand when the storms come. That's not to say it's easy, but we can stand. No doubt that man in the story was worried as he saw the waters rising around his house, but his house stood firm. The house was unshakeable. And there are certainly many Christians who can testify that when they have had the faith to obey Jesus' words and trust him, then when the storms come they have stood firm.
I can think of one such Christian, a family friend of ours called Norman Anderson. He was greatly used by God in the 1960's and 70's and was one of the foremost Christian leaders in this country. And yet he suffered intensely through terrible things that happened to his family. His three children all died separately as young adults within a few years of each other all in tragic circumstances, and he had to watch his wife die slowly of Alzheimer's disease in his latter years. And yet when asked once whether he was angry with God, he said no, and added that such suffering was a fact of living in a fallen world wrecked by sin. And he went on to say that his greatest hope was of heaven when he could meet his Saviour Jesus who died for him. The storms could not batter his house because he heard and obeyed the teaching of Jesus. He was godly man who had learnt to trust Christ even in tragic times. And Christ had never once let him down.
But the storms of this life are not the only storms that Jesus has in mind. There is a far greater storm to come, and that is the final judgement. And the only way we will stand on that day when we meet our maker face to face is if we have obeyed Jesus' teachings. It's not simply a matter of hearing. It's a matter of doing. It's no good saying on judgement day to the Lord Jesus: 'Yes, but I was at St. John's my whole life. I heard lots of Bible teaching. I went to Homegroup, I read my Bible.' But the Lord will say: 'And what did you do about it? Did you obey my teachings? Or did you simply become more knowledgeable.' You might even have memorised the whole Bible, but unless you do what it says, your knowledge is useless. You've heard, but you've not obeyed. And Jesus says that is very dangerous. You're toying with your eternal destiny.
You see the truth of this section of Jesus' teaching is that neither a verbal profession nor an intellectual assent to Jesus will do. It is obedience that he requires. And if you think that obedience sounds very cold and callous, then remember Jesus' word in John's gospel. 'If you love me you will obey my commands.' True love is seen in obedience. It is not enough to appear all keen and spiritual when in fact your life tells a different story. It is not enough to sit through sermons and Bible studies and let it go in one ear and out the other. Hearing Jesus' words means that we must do them. I wonder if it has ever struck you that coming to church and reading the Bible are life threatening businesses. We know the truth, we hear it week in week out, and knowing the truth brings responsibility. So if you are not prepared to do the truth, then there's no point turning up. We may as well go off on a Sunday and go shopping or repaint the bathroom.
So what does it mean in practice to hear and obey Jesus' teaching. Let me give us a very practical application. How do you apply sermons and Bible studies? It's easy it to let it go in one ear and out the other isn't it? Well what about getting into the habit of writing down one thing that you have learnt from the sermon or Bible study and then praying about it and thinking through perhaps the next few mornings or evenings how you can apply it to your life. How about using the sermon notes back home. We don't want them back. We produce them for us to take away and digest. Perhaps use them to pray through what you've learnt at the beginning of Sunday lunch as you give thanks to God for the food. Talk it through with your spouse or friend. Pin something on the fridge door or on the mirror this week to help you apply what you have learnt. Whatever it is, don't just hear the word, but do it, because that is what genuine faith is all about. For Biblical faith is trusting and acting upon the words of Jesus Christ. And the last thing we want to be is people who hear the word and don't put it into practice. Do you remember Jesus' chilling words from Matthew's gospel: 'Not everyone who says to me 'Lord, Lord' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only those who do the will of my Father in heaven.' To do the will of the Father is to obey Jesus' teaching. That's the first mark of true faith. Obeying Jesus' words.
2) True Faith Accepts Jesus' Authority
But the second mark of true faith that we find in this passage is that true faith accepts Jesus' authority. Because we might be tempted to ask, 'Well why should I obey Jesus' words. What right has he got to tell me what to do?' Well the answer is that he carries the authority of God himself, and that is precisely what this gentile centurion realised in chapter 7 vv 1-10. Verse 1: 'When Jesus had finished saying all this in the hearing of the people, he 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.' Now in these verses we find two different groups of people mentioned. First there is the crowd in verse 1. And Luke tells us that they heard all that Jesus had to say. But we're not told what they did about it. But the other person mentioned is the centurion, and he is described as someone who had heard about Jesus. So this man also hears. And it becomes clear later on that he's not just out for personal gain from Jesus. He genuinely believes Jesus to be someone special. This centurion is a man of faith. And how is his faith shown? In asking Jesus to come and heal his desperately sick and dying servant. This centurion is a man who hears and obeys. He puts his faith into action.
Now there are some unusual features about this centurion. First, it's most likely that he was a gentile, a non Jew. He was a commander of the occupying forces, and tough man who would have faced death no doubt on a number of occasions. Centurions were equivalent to our army captains, the guys who lead about 100 troops into battle. They are brave men, and they don't take fools lightly. But this centurion was also a generous and God fearing man, because his Jewish friends say in verse 4: 'This man deserves to have you do this, because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue.' The usual attitude of Romans to Jews was hatred, but not this man. He is generous and supportive of the local Jewish population. But there is another feature of this tough Gentile soldier which is very striking and that is his understanding of Jesus. Because he wasn't someone who simply thought Jesus was some magic healer who could do him a favour. No he recognised that there was something very special and exclusive about this Jesus. He asks through his friends for Jesus to come to his house, but as Jesus is coming something changes the man's mind and he sends another message to say that Jesus is not to come to his house. For the centurion knows that Jesus is so powerful and has such great authority that he can heal a man who is desperately ill even from a distance. Verse 7: 'But say the word, and my servant will be healed.' He has amazing confidence in Jesus' word!
Why? Because he knows Jesus' has an exclusive divine authority. Verse 8: '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.' It's not that he's boasting. Rather he is drawing a comparison between himself and Jesus. The centurion was saying something like this: 'Look Jesus, I'm a soldier and I've got people under me and people over me. If you work your way back up the chain of command, then eventually you get to the Emperor himself. So when I give a command, it is as if the Emperor himself is speaking. If I command a soldier to do something, I am doing so with the whole of the Roman power behind me. So woe to him if he doesn't do it. It is as if he is saying no to the Emperor, which is a capital offence. So when I give an order, things happen.' The implication is that this centurion believes that Jesus like this centurion wields extraordinary power and authority. But the authority that Jesus has is not just some Roman Emperor's authority, but the authority of God himself. So what need does Jesus have to go the house to heal the servant. He can simply say the word and he will be healed. Because he speaks with the very authority of the living God.
And that is why Jesus is so astonished. Verse 9: '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.' Only twice in the gospels is Jesus said to be amazed at someone. Once when he is amazed at Nazareth's lack of faith, and second here, when he's amazed at the centurion's believing faith. And what is amazing is that this gentile centurion has understood more than many of the Jewish leaders around him! He's seen who Jesus is. He's heard the word about Jesus and has acted on that word. And that is faith. True faith accepts Jesus' authority. True faith recognises that there is only one who is worthy of our complete surrender and worship. And that is Jesus.
And that is really what is at the heart of obedience to Jesus' words. Because we will only obey him when we realise that he is the one who holds this exclusive divine authority. That he is he who he claims to be, God in the flesh, the King of kings and Lord of lords. And if you know who this Jesus really is, that he is the King of kings, then are you willing to let him be king over every area of your life? This centurion risked a lot that day when Jesus came to see him. He risked his reputation with the Jews. He might have risked his job by fraternising with the enemy. He may have been refused by Jesus and so lost his servant. But he was willing to put his faith to work. It means Jesus being king over everything. It takes faith to let him into our marriage, our finances, our thought life, our family relationships, our work situation. It is trusting that Jesus is fully capable and powerful enough to help us in every situation we face, however tough we find them. And when we realise how powerful this Jesus is, that he holds the very reigns of the universe in his hands, then we can face any situation with courage and hope.
Let me tell you about one man who did just that, General Von Zealand. Von Zealand live during the time of the Prussian king Frederick the Great, and Frederick the Great was widely known as an agnostic. By contrast, General Von Zealand, one of his most trusted officers, was a devout Christian. One time during a festive gathering the king began making crude jokes about Jesus Christ until everyone was rocking with laughter; all but Von Zealand, that is. Finally, he arose and addressed the king: 'Sire, you know I have not feared death. I have fought and won 38 battles for you. I am an old man; I shall soon have to go into the presence of One greater than you, the mighty God who saved me from my sin, the Lord Jesus Christ whom you are blaspheming. I salute you, sire, as an old man who loves his Saviour, on the edge of eternity.' The place went silent, and with a trembling voice King Frederick replied, 'General Von Zealand. I beg your pardon! I beg your pardon!' And with that the party quietly ended. When you know who is the real King, Jesus, then you'll be able to face all that this world throws at you with courage and hope. No, it won't be easy, but the one who obeys Jesus' words and recognises his divine authority will stand through all the storms of this life and the next. For true faith recognises Jesus' authority.
3) True Faith Receives Jesus' Rescue
But the final challenge we receive from this passage is that true faith receives Jesus' rescue. The centurion has just confessed Jesus' authority, and Luke writes in verse 9: '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.' The help the centurion has been waiting for is finally given. Jesus heals the man's servant. He brings him back from death's door and gives him new life. Now it's important for us to see that this centurion did nothing to earn Jesus' rescue in this way. In fact Luke makes this clear for us by drawing a contrast between what the centurion's friend say about him, and what he says about himself. Luke shows us that there is a wrong way and a right way to approach Jesus.
The wrong way is in verse 4: '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.'' They plead for Jesus' help on the basis of what the centurion has done. He's done good things, he's helped the nation and built the synagogue. He deserves your help Jesus! But according the rest of Luke's gospel, that is the wrong way to approach Jesus. For we don't deserve his help. We've done everything turn him off from us for ever. But still people today believe they can earn God's favour. 'Look at me God! I've gone to church for years, I've been faithful in doing this, that and the other. I've always tried to live a good life.' But we're told in God's word that our good deeds are like filthy rags, and even our best deeds are tinged with sin.
No, the right way to approach Jesus is shown by the centurion himself in verse 6: '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.'' The right attitude is complete humility before Jesus, knowing that we don't deserve his kindness. The Jews said, 'he deserves it'. The centurion said: 'I don't deserve it.' In fact he couldn't even face Jesus. All he could do is fling himself on Jesus' mercy and trust that his Word would heal.
And that is what you and I must do again today. For true faith recognises that only Jesus can save. True faith realises that we cannot earn our way to heaven. We cannot simply do our best and hope God will let us in. He won't. But there is a way. The way of humility and trust. For as we come to share bread and wine in a few moments time, we remember that it is only through Jesus' death for us on the cross that we can have a hope of rescue. For it is God's grace and mercy alone that can save wretched sinners like you and me, trusting that the cross is the only way of rescue and new life. And that is the mark of genuine faith. The person who says 'Not me Lord, but you. Only say the word and I can be healed.' And even today those nail pierced hands are outstretched waiting for us to confess our need and come to him for forgiveness, healing and a fresh start.
It's all too easy to deceive others about the state of our heart, we can even deceive ourselves, but we cannot fool God. So let us resolve again today to be people of genuine Biblical faith. People who obey Jesus' words, people who accept Jesus' kingly authority, and people who receive Jesus' rescue.
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