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I invite you to open your Bibles to our Gospel lesson for today from Matthew chapter 8 as the Centurion demonstrates the kind of humble confidence that pleases Jesus.
In our Old Testament Lesson we heard about Naaman who almost missed out on having his Leprosy cured because of his pride. When Elisha didn’t even come to the door, but sent a servant to speak to him, and then suggested he wash in the Jordan, he was indignant. He was a great commander, highly honored in his country. He deserved better treatment. He was ready to turn around and head back home without receiving the healing he came for. Thankfully for him, his servants talked sense into him. He humbled himself. Did what Elisha suggested and was healed.
Paul warns us, don’t be arrogant. Don’t think too highly of yourselves. But because of our sinful nature we want to sing along with the old country song that says “Lord, it’s hard to be humble when you are perfect in every way.” Our sinful nature is arrogant. It always tempts us to think that we know best, even better than God.
What’s the only thing that can make us truly humble? God’s law. God’s law says, “do you think you are a good person, maybe even better than most? God doesn’t want good, or even better than most. He demands perfection. Are you perfect? If not (and no one is perfect) then you deserve God’s judgment just as much as anyone else.” God’s law says, “have you avoided big, public sins? You haven’t made the news or the paper because of a sin you committed? Not even a speeding ticket? Good. But God doesn’t just judge your actions. He judges your thoughts and your words as well.”
If ever you find yourself thinking that you deserve better in life, or that God owes you something, you are thinking too highly of yourself. You need to take a good long look in the mirror of God’s law. When you do, you will be humbled. You will come away confessing that the only thing you deserve from God is his just wrath and eternal punishment.
This centurion from Capernaum didn’t think too highly of himself. He was humble. Luke tells us that others thought highly of him. He had done many good things for the community. He had even built a Synagogue. But he realized that there is nothing anyone can do to make themselves worthy of coming before Jesus and making a request of him. No one deserves to have Jesus do anything for them. In fact, Luke tells us that he didn’t even come to Jesus in person but had his message delivered to Jesus by others. He doesn’t even dare to ask Jesus to do anything. He simply states the situation. Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed and suffering terribly. He lets it completely up to Jesus what he wants to do. If Jesus would have ignored him, he would have accepted that. He realized that Jesus wasn’t obligated to do anything for him. Jesus is LORD. He can and does do whatever HE pleases, and what he pleases is always best.
Do you have that kind of humility when you approach God with a need or a want? Or do you sometimes say, or at least think to yourself, “God should do this for me, after all, look at all I do for him. I give a lot of my time and money to his church. I do my best to keep the commandments. I try to be kind to everyone, even my enemies.” When you catch yourself thinking things like that remind yourself who you are and who God is. Compared to God, you are like a speck of dust on the face of the earth. Even if you live to be 100 your life is just a dot on the timeline of the history of the world. God fills the universe. He endures forever. After you remind yourself of who God is and how you compare to him, then review your thoughts, words and actions in the spotlight of God’s law that demands perfection. When you do, like this Centurion, you will realize that you are unworthy to even think about approaching God or to have him come to your house, to have him come near you.
As humble as he was, the Centurion still dared to send a message to Jesus. He dared to hope that Jesus would consider healing his servant. He indicated, again Luke tells us this message was passed on to Jesus by others, that he had absolute confidence that all Jesus would have to do is speak a word, tell him that his servant would be healed, and he would be healed. Where did such confidence come from?
He trusted that all authority in heaven and earth had been given to Jesus. As a Centurion he understood authority. He had people in authority over him and he had authority over the soldiers under him. If he gave an order to a soldier that said “go”, the soldier would go; or “come” the soldier would come. If he told his servants, to do something they would do it, no questions asked. Since Jesus is Lord, to whom all authority is given in heaven and on earth, whatever he commands must obey, even paralysis and pain, demons and death. Remember how he raised Lazarus. He stood outside the tomb and SPOKE a word, “Lazarus, come out,” and he did.
No wonder Jesus was amazed! Not even his disciples had such strong faith. They were afraid in the storm and amazed when Jesus spoke and the wind and the waves obeyed him. This gentile Centurion trusted that there wasn’t anything Jesus couldn’t do. He simply had to speak and it would be done.
What about you? Is your faith as great as that of this Centurion? Are there times when you forget that nothing is impossible with God? Are there times when you look at the mess you are in, or the mess you have made, or the terrible things that are going on in the world and give up hope? Isn’t that like saying “even God can’t fix this?”
Jesus warns of the great danger of failing to see him as he is, the almighty God made flesh. He warns of the great danger of failing to trust in him, especially when we know better. The sons of the kingdom, the Jews, knew better. Like us they had the words and promises of God and heard them regularly. But, like Naaman, they became proud, and many missed out on the healing God wanted them to have because they refused to trust that Jesus was the promised Messiah. In the same way, we can become proud. We can brag that we have the right doctrine and be so wrapped up in being right that we trust in our “rightness” rather than in Jesus. Jesus warns that those who do will see people they never dreamed would end up in God’s kingdom feasting there while they are excluded.
Thankfully Jesus didn’t just come to earth to perform miraculous healings. He performed miraculous healings so that we would trust that he is the promised Messiah, our Savior. When we see him hanging on the cross and laid in the tomb, he doesn’t want us to lose hope. He wants us to see our atonement. He wants us to see that he is doing something far greater and more important than healing a Centurion’s servant who would one day die. He wants us to see that, on the cross, he is paying for our sinful pride and our lack of trust in him. He is taking on himself our sins, and the sins of the whole world. He is satisfying God’s just wrath.
Jesus came to die for us and he rose from the dead. Because he did, we too can come to him as the Centurion did, with humble confidence. We come, knowing that we have no right to come, or to expect him to even listen to us, much less do anything we ask. We have not earned or deserved anything from him but wrath and punishment. But, we come with confidence. We come knowing that with him, all things are possible. There isn’t anything he can’t do. There isn’t any sickness he can’t heal. There isn’t any problem he can’t fix. All he has to do is say a word, give a promise, and it’s already done. We come because he has already spoken the most wonderful words there are. At our baptism he has said, “I have redeemed you, I have called you by name, you are mine.” In the absolution he says, “I have breathed on my disciples so that when they tell you your sins are forgiven, they are forgiven.” In the Supper he says, “This is my body. This is my blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins.”
Jesus has spoken the word to us, who are paralyzed and tormented by sin. He has said, “Be of good cheer, your sins are forgiven.” Now, like the Centurion, we come humbly before him, not daring to tell him what to do, but presenting him with our problems and the problems of our loved ones. Like the Centurion, we trust that nothing is impossible for him. We are confident that all he has to do is say a word and whatever he commands will be done. And then we sit back and say, “Thy will be done, Lord, not mine. Amen. Thus it shall be so.”