The Word of Jesus in Desperate Times, Part 1, Luke 7.1-17

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We live in a world where arrogance and self-importance have been elevated to all time toxic levels. It seems to be increasingly rare to find examples of men and women who intentionally choose to live in the simple humility of compassion and service. My friend, Dave Martin was an exception to this pattern and thus his voice – and oh he had a beautiful voice – continues to resound in the melodies and harmonies of those who would hear. Dave’s friends and family said “goodbye” to him yesterday as he was rather suddenly matriculated into the very presence and face of God. To sum up Dave is just to say that he was one of the most genuine men I ever knew. There were so many testimonies yesterday of how others always felt listened to; friends and family were loyally cared for and protected; and how simple trust in his Lord was seen in human flesh. As so many said and I reaffirm, “I want to love Jesus more fully because I knew Dave Martin.” It is to Dave and his Lord that I dedicate a few thoughts from the story of another humble servant of God – the Centurion of Capernaum.

Humility and desperate compassion are the birthplace of abundant faith in the Living Voice of God.

The Scripture says that the Centurion “highly valued” his servant/slave. Let’s stop right there… Check out the oxymoron! A centurion highly values one of his slaves? Centurions and Roman soldiers in general were notoriously known for their cruelty – but not this guy. What is particularly noteworthy in the text is that Luke could have used the ordinary term for “value/honor” and that would have been striking enough. But instead he uses an intensified version of the term honor. Thus in the English the text says that the slave was “valued highly”. This leaves us with the impression that not only did the centurion treat him humanely – which would have been unusual enough – but treated him and saw him as a dear friend.

“Unheard of … Unthinkable!”

Yet, why else would he appear to be so desperate to seek out this slave’s healing? After all, aren’t slaves replaceable? A slave is a slave is a slave is a slave, right? Just property, right? If ya run out of them just go “over-throw and occupy” another weaker nation and get some more, right?

Not so with this man.

There is something going on in him; something outside the box, something supernatural that would have him feel and display such a heart of compassion. He steps outside the norms of his culture’s attitudes and biases’ and loves a person that his culture has cast out. He acts in spite of the likely disrespect he received from those under his charge and even the suspicion he may have raised with his superiors.

Let me speculate a bit…. Although the details are not there to say for sure one way or another, I believe there had already been a movement of God in this man long before this present encounter with Jesus. It makes sense that the motivation behind his compassion was that his mind and heart were already being opened to the God of Israel, turning him away from the polytheistic worldview he was certainly to have been raised in. This spiritual change may indeed have been the very thing that caused him to fall in love with the these people he’d been deployed to keep under control; the reason that led to him building the synagogue in Capernaum.

When the Scripture says that the centurion had heard of Jesus, I think it would be a grave mistake to think of this as a passing rumor of the latest get rich quick scheme or the latest miracle snake oil remedy. Our media bombards us with thousands of commercials that expose us to these kinds of products but more often than not we just put them out of our minds. I have “heard of” Hair Club for Men but it has not driven me to go and invest in it has it? I have not been “desperate” enough to take care of my “follicle challenges” have I?

Duh!

What the Centurion had heard of Jesus was likely to have been as vivid as any news that had spread at the time. Let’s take a look at just some of the “headlines” that had preceded this present visit of Jesus to Capernaum.

Luke 4.14: “Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit and news about Him spread through the whole countryside. He taught in their synagogues and everyone praised him…. 22: “All spoke well of Him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from His lips…. 28: All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this… but he walked right through the crowd and went on his way…. 31: (in Capernaum) they were amazed at His teaching, because His message had authority. In the synagogue there was a man possessed by an evil spirit. “Shut up!!” Come out of him! 36-37: All the people were amazed and said to each other, “What words these are! With authority and power he gives orders to impure spirits and they come out!” And the news about him spread throughout the surrounding area…. 40: At sunset, the people brought to Jesus all who had various kinds of sickness, and laying his hands on each one, he healed them…. 42: At daybreak, Jesus went out to a solitary place. The people were looking for him and when they came to where he was, they tried to keep him from leaving them…. 5:1: One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God…. 15: Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses…. 22-26: Jesus knew what they were thinking and asked, “Why are you thinking these things in your hearts? Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the paralyzed man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” Immediately he stood up in front of them, took what he had been lying on and went home praising God. Everyone was amazed and gave praise to God. They were filled with awe and said, “We have seen remarkable things today.” …. 6:17-19: He went down with them and stood on a level place. A large crowd of his disciples was there and a great number of people from all over Judea, from Jerusalem, and from the coastal region around Tyre and Sidon, who had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases. Those troubled by impure spirits were cured, and the people all tried to touch him, because power was coming from him and healing them all.

When you add to this that Capernaum was likely the home base for Jesus’ ministry (check out Matthew 9.1) and that the town of Capernaum was estimated to have had a population of only 1500, it is highly likely that this was not the first encounter that the centurion had had with Jesus. The news of Jesus had created such a buzz throughout the entire region of Israel that anyone – faith-filled or not – would have known that something significant was going on around them.

So, I believe it is the already blossoming faith of the centurion that leads him to conclude that Jesus could not only heal the life of his friend but that He was the Lord of all the desperate seekers of the world. The authenticity of Jesus as Messiah was so validated in his heart that in his hour of desperation he could look nowhere else for healing.

Humility and desperate compassion are the birthplace of abundant faith in the Living Voice of God.

I love the fact that our centurion so quickly has a right understanding of his position before a holy God incarnate. He may not have comprehended all of the theological significance of how he felt. All he knew is that Jesus was holy and he was undeserving.

A few weeks ago there was a young man in our church who testified that the Lord had healed his knee during a sermon a few weeks prior. One of the many blessings I received from his testimony was when he said, “I had not asked for it (healing) nor did I deserve it.” I think he was reflecting the same heart seen in the centurion when he said, “I don’t deserve to have you come under my roof.”

There is something pronounced and in fact attractive to God when we reflect this kind of humility before Him and toward one another. James says, “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up” (James 4.10). Remember: In the Kingdom economy of God up is down; first is last; and the greatest is the least.

This is not an “I am worthless and less than” kind of humility for that kind of humility is indeed a false humility. Look where the focus of attention still is: ME!

The centurion was humbled because he knew he was not dealing with a common man here but was in THE VERY PRESENCE OF THE SON OF GOD. Even though he was not face to face with Him he knew he was in the presence of someone greater than himself – a man full of authority. He was in the presence of someone with a greater reality than all the pagan gods he had grown up with. He was in the presence of someone who superseded the external law and moral code of the Jewish religion. It is out of this recognition of who Jesus truly was that compelled him to do the only thing he could – humbly, undeservedly – now boldly believe that Jesus had the authority to heal his servant by just saying a word, “Amen, Let it be unto you, Be healed; be still.”

How would our message and our faith be affected today if we too had this same dynamic faith found in this humbled leader? What levels of ministry and true compassion would be generated in the fellowship of Christ if we too recognized whose presence we are in? There are many desperate times and situations in marriage and family life when the word of Jesus is all that will heal. Will we have this kind of humility and compassion to go to Him and plead, “Lord, say the word….” Lord Jesus, even now say the word and we shall see You with greater clarity and fall to our knees in awe and faith – for what else could we do? 

Humility and desperate compassion are the birthplace of abundant faith in the Living Voice of God.

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