A Truly Simple Faith (06/02/13)

A Truly Simple Faith

Luke 7:1-10
7After Jesus had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum.2A centurion there had a slave whom he valued highly, and who was ill and close to death.3When he heard about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders to him, asking him to come and heal his slave.4When they came to Jesus, they appealed to him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy of having you do this for him,5for he loves our people, and it is he who built our synagogue for us.”6And Jesus went with them, but when he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to say to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof;7therefore I did not presume to come to you. But only speak the word, and let my servant be healed.8For I also am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and the slave does it.”9When Jesus heard this he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, he said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.”10When those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave in good health.

In a grade school lesson, the teacher was explaining a little bit about whales. A little girl in class piped up and said, “I just learned that Jonah in the bible was swallowed by a whale.”
The teacher said it was physically impossible for a whale to swallow a human because even though it was a very large mammal its throat was relatively small.
The girl said: “I am sure Jonah was swallowed by a whale.”
The teacher reiterated that a whale could not swallow a human; that it was physically impossible.
The little girl replied: “My Sunday school teacher told me Jonah was swallowed and she would not lie to me.”
A bit perturbed by this, the teacher proclaimed: “That is a story from the bible, it is not factual, and I will not argue with you.”

After a little thought, the girl responded: “Well, when I get to heaven, I will ask Jonah”.
Now challenged, the teacher spouted: “What if Jonah didn’t go to heaven?”
Not at all daunted, the girl quipped, “Ok then you ask him.”

This little girl in the story has a simple faith. We will talk about this simple faith today. In fact, being simple is not easy these days. Our lives are not simple. Our lives are full of various ideas, new technology and information. We have various questions about the messages of the Bible which no one can solve. Having a simple faith is not easy.

In today’s text, we encounter a person who had a simple and deep faith in Jesus. And I believe that this story is one of the most wonderful stories in the Bible. Now we will see the messages God gives us today through this story.
Let’s see the text. Luke presents a centurion who has a faith in Jesus. Matthew and John also have this same story. However, the story in Luke is different from the one in Matthew and John. In Matthew and John, a centurion came to see Jesus and directly asked him to heal his servant. However, in Luke, a centurion sent some Jewish elders to Jesus to ask that his slave be healed.
I don’t know why the account in Luke is different from Matthew and John. But I can guess that Matthew and John might intentionally avoid dealing with Jewish elders in their Gospel because of the relationship between Jesus and Jewish elders at that time those Gospels were written.

I am not trying to delve deeply into the reason of the difference. It is beside the point for today’s sermon. The main point of this story is that Jesus met an outsider who has a simple deep faith in him. Let’s see who this man is.
Two biblical scholars offer an interesting background on the centurion in the story. According to them, the centurion was the backbone of the Roman army. Each legion was made up of sixty centuries, each hundred soldier commanded by a centurion. The centurion was an experienced soldier and had a position of authority and prestige. He was paid about fifteen times as much as an ordinary soldier.
That is, the centurion in the story of Luke is not an ordinary person. He had power and wealth. Moreover, he was a good man with a gentle heart.  The Jewish elders in the story said, “He is worthy of having you do this for him, for he loves our people and it is he who built our synagogue for us.”

He had very good reputation from the people in town. This centurion deeply cared for his servant when his servant was sick. We would not expect to find such feeling in a rugged centurion. We would expect him to have feelings of compassion for his own son or daughter, or mother or father. But a servant? He does not fit our stereotype of a centurion who lived in the Roman Empire. He was different in his compassion from other centurions in the Bible.
There is another important characteristic that this centurion had. He had a simple faith. He said, “Jesus, you just say the word and my servant will be healed.” “Jesus, you don’t even need to come to my house. You don’t need to come and put your hand on his forehead and say, ‘rise, get up and walk.’” “All you have to do is say the word right here on the street of Capernaum.”
And Jesus said, “I have never seen such faith in all of Israel.” This is very more than interesting. “I have never seen such faith in all of Israel.”

Now, let’s think of the faith that the centurion had. What was his faith like? Definitely, he was a gentile and I can guess that he didn’t have any chance to learn Jesus’ teaching. He might not have any clear understanding of theology. What he had was a simple faith, a simple faith that Jesus could heal his servant who, as is written in Matthew, “lies at home paralyzed and in terrible suffering (Matt. 8:6).” He knows that Jesus has the power to heal his servant. It was the same kind of simple faith that the girl in the story of Jonah displayed. The centurion just knew that Jesus had power to heal his servant.
My son always believes that his mother is the strongest human in the world. I am the second. Whenever he faces any fear or challenge, he comes to one of us and asks help. He has faith in us, the faith that we can help him and protect him and solve the challenges he has. His faith is natural, simple, and unconditional.

The centurion had a simple faith in the power of Jesus to meet his deepest need. This is the reason Jesus said, “I have never seen such faith in all of Israel.” This is the faith we should pursue in the course of our spiritual lives. Very often, we are distracted by various ideas and doctrines. Sometimes, we find ourselves stuck in the middle of theological arguments. Of course, asking questions is a way to grow spiritually, but if we are too into the questions, then they will distract us from the course of our faithfulness. Simple faith, deep simple faith, is what Jesus wants us to have in our relationship with him.

Let me wrap up today’s sermon. As already mentioned, being simple and having a simple faith is not easy for us who live in a complex society. Nevertheless, I challenge you now, “Let’s have a simple faith in Christ.” “Let’s have a simple and deep faith in him.” Whenever we face challenges, let’s depend on God and ask help from the Holy Spirit who gives us wisdom, courage, and patience, and we will experience that Jesus says to us, “I have never seen such faith in this whole island or even in the world.”
Let us pray.
Merciful God, thank you for being with us this morning and thank you for this opportunity to learn your precious message. Give us wisdom so we can have a simple and deep faith in you. And bless us to join in your ministry with the faith. We pray in your name. Amen.

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