January 25, 2016

January 24, 2016 - Matthew 8:5-13

Podcast: http://redemption-clc.podomatic.com/entry/2016-01-25T11_31_35-08_00

Theme: A Strong Faith Thinks of Others
2) Think of your Lord
            A: In Humility – Declares unworthiness
            B: In Respect – Trust sight unseen
1) Think of your neighbor

We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel:

Matthew 8:5-13: When He entered Capernaum, a centurion came to Him, pleading with Him, 6 "Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, in terrible agony!" 7 "I will come and heal him," He told him. 8 "Lord," the centurion replied, "I am not worthy to have You come under my roof. But only say the word, and my servant will be cured. 9 For I too am a man under authority, having soldiers under my command. I say to this one, 'Go! ' and he goes; and to another, 'Come! ' and he comes; and to my slave, 'Do this! ' and he does it." 10 Hearing this, Jesus was amazed and said to those following Him, " I assure you: I have not found anyone in Israel with so great a faith! 11 I tell you that many will come from east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. 12 But the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth." 13 Then Jesus told the centurion, "Go. As you have believed, let it be done for you." And his servant was cured that very moment.

I want you to think of someone you look up to, perhaps someone you think of as a hero. Someone that you respect so much that you would wait in line to meet or even pay money to see. Perhaps it’s a celebrity, a professional athlete, or a bestselling author. If someone told you tomorrow that you’d be able to meet them and visit with them, I’m sure you’d spend some time thinking about what to say. No doubt you’d nervous as well as the day approached, you’d probably even be uneasy about how it was going to go.

Few of us ever get the opportunity to meet someone that we look up to so highly. Even fewer, when they get the chance, make the most of it. When you’re in the presence of someone you greatly respect, it’s easy to fumble over words or lose your train of thought. And suddenly, the meeting you were looking forward to so much, doesn’t go as well as you planned. It’s an easy thing to miss your one chance.

That’s one of the reasons that our text for today is so special. This centurion had his one chance with Jesus and he didn’t falter. Think of how many people, even just in Israel, wanted this same opportunity. Imagine all the crowds that pressed about Jesus wherever He went. Looking for just a glance, let alone a moment of conversation. To this centurion, it must have felt as if heaven itself was opened to him. The opportunity to request anything from the Son of God. Some might have called it luck, but we know differently. God had a plan through this story, and it continues to unfold to us today.

The lesson we learn is about faith. We see clearly where faith comes from; that’s easy: it’s found in Jesus. But we also what faith can do and how it expresses itself, especially a strong faith. We could point a number of blessings of having a strong faith, but we single out one because this particular blessing eludes us often. A strong faith thinks of others. It may not seem like this is much of a blessing. Much of the world would probably look at thinking of others as more of a hindrance than a help. But when this centurion had his moment with Jesus, it was how he thought of others that impressed Jesus.

Yes, we’re told that Jesus was amazed at what the centurion confessed. Can you imagine having your one, long-awaited moment with your special someone and amazing them with what you said!? It’s quite a surreal thought. How much more when it comes to Jesus! This centurion didn’t impress some movie star or athlete. He was standing before the almighty and eternal God. That’s the miracle of our faith. It doesn’t seem like much on the outside, but it contains the power of God unto salvation. The lesson to be learned for increasing the strength of our faith is to follow the centurion’s attitude. Surely, if this man could impress Jesus to the point that He declared that He had not seen a greater faith, we should perk our ears up and listen. Even the great Jews, the sons of the kingdom, weren’t close to the faith of this centurion. And one of the reasons why this man’s faith was strong was that he thought of others above himself. 

So often our attitude thinks only of ourselves. We get mad or angry at God because we don’t think He’s doing enough for us. We complain to others because they don’t give us enough credit or consider our feelings. What this self-centeredness really becomes is a cycle. Others don’t think about us enough so we get upset and we don’t think about them. All along the way, thinking about God fades away.

In our account, the centurion has a different mindset. The first thing he admits is that he is not worthy of Christ. He is not thinking of himself. He is not only concerned with his desires and goals. Literally in the text the centurion says, “Lord, I am not sufficient for You to come!” That’s the attitude of repentance and repentance in the antidote for selfishness.

With the humility of repentance in this man’s heart from the beginning, he was open to be filled with Christ’s power. And this power revealed itself in the fruit of trust. What power this was too! The centurion didn’t have to see the miracle. He wasn’t about that, as so many others were. He wasn’t there with Jesus to gratify what his flesh wanted. He was there for a blessing and the only blessing worth having comes from God in the way God chooses to give it.

The centurion testified to his trust by using examples from his own line of work. You could tell he was a good commander, a leader that his soldiers respected. He issued a command and they listened. When trust is established, there’s no room for doubt. Sometimes a thought of doubt occurs; that can’t be helped, it happens to us all. But when trust is present, doubt never prevails. Rather, doubt only leads to further strengthening of that trust by trial and perseverance.

Do you think this centurion wasn’t nervous? Did he had no shortcomings or doubts within his heart? Hardly! He just got done confessing his unworthiness to even be in the Lord’s presence; to be so bold as to take up his Master’s time. This centurion was not the model of someone who had it all figured out. He was crumbling under the pressure of his sins. He was desperate on his own. Such are the very individuals who find the deepest rest and comfort in the arms of their Savior.

The simple fact was that if this man was not as broken as he truly was, he would never have displayed the strength of faith that he did. The lower we are on our own, the stronger we become with Jesus. Dear friends, could it be that our faith is not so strong because our need is not so great? It foolish to think in such a way because our needs are far too insurmountable on our own. It’s folly to suggest that we could ever be in control on our own. Yet, we must talk about it because we’re continually tempted to think in such a way. We are led to distraction after distraction to keep us from seeing our ailments. We’re told that it’s the fault of others and not our own responsibility. And on the darkest corners of that path we’re told that our lack of faith is because of God’s insufficiency.

Isn’t that what we hear, and dare I suggest, what we believe from time to time? God’s Word can’t help me here. Jesus doesn’t solve this problem. This is too modern to be in the Bible. My pastor isn’t equipped to lead me this time. Those pesky doubts will always be present, but they are never greater than faith in Jesus, even when everything else in the world may be screaming the opposite. The key, I repeat, is in thinking of others. As the centurion did, think first of your Lord. He’s more than just a miracle worker. Trust in His power over sickness and disease was certainly strong for those who saw it, but defeat of doubt came at a much greater cost. The humility of respect feeds off something much greater than power over earthly foes or what my eyes can see.

Ultimately, the strength of faith goes to back to the cross. Faith equips us for the variety of problems we face on earth, such as the disease of a loved one as witnessed here. But it only comes from one source; forgiveness in Jesus. We don’t get that impression from what the centurion says, we have to take it from Christ’s response. He said, " I assure you: I have not found anyone in Israel with so great a faith! 11 I tell you that many will come from east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. Though the source of the problem was initially physical, the ultimate reward would be spiritual and eternal. We know this centurion’s faith was founded in the gospel because the blessing Jesus promised was the pure gospel hope of heaven.

No matter what happened with the servant, eternal salvation in Jesus Christ would never change. That’s where the strength of faith came from. When the centurion let go of his own cares and plans, and thought only of Jesus, he was surrounded in complete hope and protection. That’s the way faith operates. It helps us with the day-to-day problems while always reminding us of the greatest hope in heaven, because that’s where faith comes from. It shifts our focus from our own responsibilities and problems to Jesus. When we think only of ourselves, we separate that connection. When we separate that connection we start to doubt faith’s effectiveness in our lives. Then enters the age old lie that faith must be so strong in order to be effective. And then we’re told; Go ahead and strengthen that faith by works of charity, dedication to the church, sincere thoughts, and the like. And further down we dive, away from Christ our Lord.

Friends, we all want a stronger faith. But it doesn’t come by pitting our works against other Christians, or by creating arbitrary levels of commitment. There is one source – think of your Lord. Look to Jesus, the Author and Finisher of your faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the shame, despising the cross, and has sat down at the right hand of the Father (Hebrews 12:1-2).

Once Jesus is in your thoughts and in your hearts, your faith will grow. And that will lead you to our final point, to think of your neighbor. The way our text reads, it sounds like the main emphasis is on the centurion’s love for his servant. It sounds like it is the first thought to enter the scene. But in spiritual terms, the servant came after the Savior. Only when the centurion’s faith was properly fixed upon Jesus was he bold enough to request the healing miracle. To put it in another way, his love from Jesus and for Jesus led to his love for his neighbor. 

Our lives work the same way. The fruits we express for others are to flow from our Savior. If we desire to help someone, but leave Jesus out of the situation, what good are we really doing? Does it help our neighbor to lend aid but lead them farther from Jesus at the same time? That’s certainly not how faith operates. When faith is at work, our connection to Jesus will always be present, not shrouded, because it’s the Spirit who produces those very fruits in our lives.

The key to a stronger faith. It’s not in our works. It doesn’t come by trying harder or being nicer. And it doesn’t help to call others to faith but to leave Jesus out of the picture. The key is to think of your Lord, which will lead you to think of your neighbor. Think of Jesus and everything He has done for you. He is your Redeemer, your Substitute, your King, and your Friend. He has all power in heaven and earth. He is the source of wisdom and love. Now as you think of that, I ask this; what can happen in your life that is greater than Jesus? Keep your focus on Him, and your faith will be strong. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, Amen.

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