Soldier, Slave, Savior
Pastor Leslie Tipton
August 22, 2010
Today we're going to talk about breaking down some boundaries. Today we're going to talk about crossing over the line. Today…..we're going to talk about making a difference in this world one life at a time. Today we're going to see that the limitations the world puts on us AND the limitations we put on ourselves can be busted through!
The account which we have just read in Luke 7 is really a remarkable account of the great faith of a Gentile soldier, the amazing grace of our Savior, and of the great lengths the characters in this story went to achieve the final results. Luke records that after Jesus wrapped up his Sermon on the Mount, he entered Capernaum. It wasn't as though Jesus taught in the morning and then entered town that afternoon. Capernaum was many miles from where Jesus had been teaching, so this would have been days later.
We are told about a centurion, a professional officer in the Roman army who would have commanded a unit of about 100 men. The Roman centurion was the equivalent of today's Army Captain, and senior centurion's equivalent to our Majors. This man had probably been charged to keep peace in Capernaum and the surrounding area, had probably lived there for several years and had developed a good relationship with the people. At any rate, our centurion wanted his slave to live, thus the delegation to Jesus for help.
Boundary break number one:
The centurion was a Gentile – an outsider, and while he may have enjoyed a good relationship with the local Jews, he would always be considered an outsider. In fact, while the Jews may have been courteous to him, they despised the Gentiles. They despised anyone who wasn't a Jew and considered them to be outside the grace of God. He could come to the synagogue, but not in it. He could provide food for the Jews, but couldn't eat it with them. He could provide them the freedom to celebrate their feasts, but could not celebrate with them. He was a Gentile: a dog and an enemy of Israel. Not only was he a gentile, he was part of the occupation troops in their nation. A Roman citizen, an enemy of the state, a force not to be reckoned with. And here he is asking Jewish elders to go and get Jesus to heal his servant.
Boundary break number two:
We're also told that he had a slave that was terminally ill, but that this slave was very special to him. Slaves that became too sick to serve their purpose were usually kicked to the curb and left for dead, but those who were especially good would have been hard to replace. But rather than send this servant out into the streets to die, the centurion, in his act of faith, sends a delegation to Jesus to ask for a healing touch. Unheard of!
Boundary break number three:
So this centurion calls in a favor and sends some town elders to meet with Jesus, the great Jew with whom he has no access. But these Jews – they can go and talk with Jesus for him – could they get Jesus to come?
Boundary break number three:
Verse 6 says that Jesus went with them. Major boundary here. It was one thing for the centurion to ask Jesus to come to his home, but now Jesus is actually going. For Jesus to go into that home would be a major societal violation, but yet he is going. We got to be willing to breakdown those societal fences that are put up for no other reason than to deny access to all.
Jackie Robinson was the first black person to play major league baseball. Breaking baseball's color barrier, he faced jeering crowds in every stadium. Players would stomp on his feet and kick him.
While playing one day in his home stadium in Brooklyn, he made an error. The fans began to ridicule him. He stood at second base, humiliated, while the fans jeered. Then, shortstop Pee Wee Reese came over and stood next to him. He put his arm around Jackie Robinson and faced the crowd. The fans grew quiet. Robinson later said that arm around his shoulder saved his career.
Jesus was on His way….but as He was going the centurion sent a second delegation, this time with a different message. "Lord, don't trouble yourself because I'm not worthy to have you in my home." He then explains just how well he understands authority and Christ's ability to say the word for a thing to be done.
When Jesus heard all this the Bible says He marveled, then turned to the crowd that was following Him and told them, "I have not found so great faith, no, nowhere in all Israel." When both delegations returned to the centurion's home they found that the slave had been made whole.
This is a remarkable account of the amazing grace of our Savior, the great faith of a Gentile soldier, and of the common misconceptions of the religious people of the day, but understanding the message running through this text and why it's even included here is found in the sermon Jesus preached in chapter 6.
In Luke 6:27, Jesus said, "Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you. Bless them which curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you…" He continues along this same thread, but I want you to drop down to verse 33.
"And if ye do good to them which do good to you, what thank have ye? For sinners also do even the same. And if ye lend to them of whom ye hope to receive, what thank have ye? For sinners also lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil. Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful."
Boundary break number four:
Consider Jesus – He gives us a great example of what grace and love ought to look like. He didn't care about social boundaries. This man was a Gentile. He started heading for his house anyway. The man was a Roman soldier, an enemy of Israel. Jesus intended to help him anyway. The centurion was an unwelcome outsider – a stranger to the grace of God. Jesus treated him with grace and compassion. The man was unworthy – but Jesus didn't work on the basis of merit.
Listen; if you've ever doubted the love and grace of God, you ought to reconsider this morning. Jesus doesn't care who you are or where you've been or what you've done. He doesn't care what color you are, how much money you have, whether you grew up in church or not, if you smoke, drink or cuss. It doesn't matter if you're a great big sinner or if you're just getting started – His love for you is the same. He loves His enemies and those who call Him friend. If Jesus were among us today He'd have the same love for Osama Bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, Hugo Chavez, Ted Bundy or any of the worst people you know that He has for you and me.
I work for the church, preach and teach through the week, visit the sick, bury the dead, comfort the grieving and tell people about Him, but that doesn't make me any more deserving of His goodness than the guy under the bridge. Do you know why? Because God doesn't operate that way! Why does Jesus do good for His enemies? Why does Jesus love those who hate Him? Why can He bless those who curse Him? How can He love people when He'll get nothing in return?
I'll tell you why – because He is good. Chapter 6:43 – a good tree can only bear good fruit. He healed this centurion's servant, not because the man was worthy, but because Jesus is inherently good. This man happened to be a pretty good guy, but think of all the others in Scripture who were not good: the Samaritan woman, the woman caught in adultery, Zacchaeus, Saul of Tarsus and more!
Answer this: according to Jesus' sermon, if love is to be extended even to enemies, are there any boundaries limiting the goodness and grace of Jesus' ministry? In other words, is there any boundary that would stop Jesus from doing good in your life or in the life of anyone else? If the answer is no, and it is, then how in the world can we set up boundaries unless we are not being the imitators of Christ we have been called to be?
The truth of the matter is that you and I, Church of the Holy SpiritSong, have been called to reach our community for Christ. We've been called to be salt and light. We've been called to share the good news. We've been called to do good to others, period. If you've found yourself struggling to do good to those around you…if you've been prompted by God to do good to others but ran up against a wall – some boundary that kept you from ministering to them, then you need to recognize that you're guilty of the same sins the Jewish leaders were guilty of. You need to repent of it and surrender those boundaries to Christ. He tore the veil in two when He died on Calvary. Everyone has free and open access to Him. If you've erected another veil that's keeping someone from coming to Christ then my friend you need to tear it down, get it out of the way before God gets you out of the way.
I believe every one of you has at least some desire to be like Christ. You want to follow Him. I also recognize that while each of you has at least some desire to be like Him and follow Him, you're all at different places in that desire. Some are on fire for God and would storm the gates of hell with a bucket of ice water. Others of you are more hesitant – more reluctant – and like Peter would prefer to follow from afar. Regardless of where you are – this much is true: that if the Holy Spirit lives within you He is calling to you today to become like Christ – the Christ who knew no boundaries, the Christ who could love even the most undeserving of people. The Holy Spirit calls to you today to be merciful, as your Father in heaven is merciful.
Doug Nichols, said that "While serving with Operation Mobilization in India in 1967, I spent several months in a TB sanitarium with tuberculosis. After finally being admitted into the sanitarium, I tried to give tracts to the patients, doctors, and nurses, but no one would take them. You could tell that they weren't really happy with me, a rich American (to them all Americans were rich), being in a government sanitarium. They didn't know that serving with O.M., I was just as broke as they were!
I was quite discouraged with being sick, having everyone angry at me, not being able to witness because of the language barrier, and no one even bothering to take a tract or Gospel of John. The first few nights, I would wake around 2:00 a.m. coughing. One morning as I was going through my coughing spell, I noticed one of the older (and certainly sicker) patients across the aisle trying to get out of bed. He would sit up on the edge of the bed and try to stand, but because of weakness would fall back into bed. I really didn't understand what was happening or what he was trying to do. He finally fell back into bed exhausted. I then heard him begin to cry softly.
The next morning I realized what the man was trying to do. He was simply trying to get up and walk to the bathroom! Because of his sickness and extreme weakness he was not able to do this, and being so ill he simply went to the toilet in the bed.
The next morning the stench in our ward was awful. Most of the other patients yelled insults at the man because of the smell.
The nurses were extremely agitated and angry because they had to clean up the mess, and moved him roughly from side to side to take care of the problem. One of the nurses in her anger even slapped him. The man, terribly embarrassed, just curled up into a ball and wept.
The next night, also around 2:00 a.m., I again awoke coughing. I noticed the man across the aisle sit up to again try to make his way to the washroom. However, still being so weak, he fell back whimpering as the night before. I'm just like most of you. I don't like bad smells. I didn't want to become involved. I was sick myself but before I realized what had happened, not knowing why I did it, I got out of my bed and went over to the old man. He was still crying and did not hear me approach. As I reached down and touched his shoulder, his eyes opened with a fearful questioning look. I simply smiled, put my arm under his head and neck, and my other arm under his legs, and picked him up.
Even though I was sick and weak, I was certainly stronger than he was. He was extremely light because of his old age and advanced TB. I walked down the hall to the washroom, which was really just a smelly, filthy small room with a hole in the floor. I stood behind him with my arms under his arms, holding him so he could take care of himself. After he finished, I picked him up and carried him back to his bed. As I began to lay him down, with my head next to his, he kissed me on the cheek, smiled, and said something which I suppose was "thank you."
It was amazing what happened the next morning. One of the other patients whom I didn't know woke me around 4:00 with a steaming cup of delicious Indian tea. He then made motions with his hands (he knew no English) indicating he wanted a tract. As the sun came up, some of the other patients began to approach, motioning that they would also like one of the booklets I had tried to distribute before. Throughout the day people came to me, asking for the Gospel booklets. This included the nurses, the hospital interns, the doctors, until everybody in the hospital had a tract, booklet, or Gospel of John. Over the next few days, several indicated they trusted Christ as Savior as a result of reading the Good News!
What did it take to reach these people with the Good News of salvation in Christ? It certainly wasn't health. It definitely wasn't the ability to speak or to give an intellectually moving discourse. (Health, and the ability to communicate sensitively to other cultures and peoples are all very important), but what did God use to open their hearts to the Gospel? I simply took an old man to the bathroom. Anyone could have done that! -
As He calls to you today, can you say with integrity before God that your desire is to be that? To get to the place in your life where you do good to others, not because they're worthy, but simply because as Christ lives in and through you, you too are good? If we are not reaching our community, there is a reason. Could it be this one? Let us turn our hearts to God so He might tell us.
Today you might find yourself in the position of the centurion. You have some problem that's beyond your ability to handle. You've done everything you know to do, and now you're only left with that hopeless, helpless feeling that comes from not knowing where to turn.
The answer is Jesus! Just like this man did, you need to call to Jesus for help. Just come to Him today in a humble recognition of your need. Admit to Him that you can't handle your problem anymore. Admit to Him that He alone is able, and while you're not worthy of His goodness, you appeal to Him on the basis of His goodness.
Will you put your faith in Him today? Will you recognize the absolute authority of Jesus Christ and His ability to handle your problem? Will you call to Him for help? Will your faith cause Him to marvel? To drop His jaw with wonder?