1st Sunday in Lent February 21, 2021
277, 394, 373, 391
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
+ In the Name of Jesus Christ. Amen. +
Now when He concluded all His sayings in the hearing of the people, He entered Capernaum. And a certain centurion’s servant, who was dear to him, was sick and ready to die. So when he heard about Jesus, he sent elders of the Jews to Him, pleading with Him to come and heal his servant. And when they came to Jesus, they begged Him earnestly, saying that the one for whom He should do this was deserving, “for he loves our nation, and has built us a synagogue.” Then Jesus went with them. And when He was already not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to Him, saying to Him, “Lord, do not trouble Yourself, for I am not worthy that You should enter under my roof. Therefore I did not even think myself worthy to come to You. But say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I also am a man placed under authority, having soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard these things, He marveled at him, and turned around and said to the crowd that followed Him, “I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel!” And those who were sent, returning to the house, found the servant well who had been sick.
It has been said that the smallest package in the world is a person wrapped up in himself. When the world revolves around “me, myself, and I” it makes for a very shallow and sad sort of life. In an article entitled “How to be Miserable” the author says: “If you want to be truly miserable then… think about yourself. Talk about yourself. Use the word ‘I’ as often as possible. Listen greedily to what people say about you. Expect to be appreciated. Never forgive a criticism. Trust nobody but yourself. Demand agreement with your own views on everything. Sulk if people are not grateful to you for favors shown them. Never forget a service you have rendered.”
God didn’t create people to be like this. He made them to put God and others before self. And, by the way, putting God and others before self actually makes for a very joyful life. But our fallen sinful nature is all about “me.” Sin warps our minds and hearts so that our lives are often very self-centered.
Friends, how often do we truly put God or others before self? Or how often do we do something nice for someone for entirely unselfish reasons? Maybe we do it because we want the other person to do something nice for us in return. Or maybe we just want to get recognition or a pat on the back for what we’ve done. That’s how our sin warped minds think, but that’s not how CHRISTIAN FAITH thinks and operates. Spirit Created Faith is focused on other things. THE FAITH GOD GIVES US IS NOT SELF-CENTERED!
Faith is centered on the grace of God. Grace means that God loves us even though we don’t deserve His love. A faith focused on God’s grace stands in contrast to faith which trusts its own works for salvation.
The man in our text was blessed with a faith that trusted in grace. Our text calls him a Centurion. Centurions were high ranking military officers in the Roman Empire. He was a powerful man who was used to giving orders. He was also a man who had won the respect of the local community. The Jews of Capernaum greatly admired him because he had built for them a synagogue—a church.
As a man who was highly respected in the community, it would have been normal of him to think: “Certainly if anyone is deserving of Jesus’ help, I am.” His friends sure thought he was deserving: “And when they came to Jesus, they begged Him earnestly, saying that the one for whom He should do this was deserving.”
A pastor tells of an old cab driver who once gave him a ride. As the two went along the cab driver mentioned that because of his advancing age he was thinking of retiring soon. The minister remarked, “Well, I hope that you have a nice retirement, but I also pray that things will turn out well for you when your years on earth come to a final end.” “Yes sir,” answered the old man, “I think they will. You see, I’ve never been drunk in my life, never used a profane word, and I also go to church now and then.” He was pretty pleased with himself and quite shocked when the pastor expressed serious doubts about his going to heaven if he were to die in such a self-righteous state. The cab driver did not have faith in grace—in God’s undeserved love for sinners. He had faith in himself. His faith was self-centered. His faith was in his own ability to win salvation for himself.
This kind of self-trust is found everywhere, even among those who call themselves Christians. If you and I are honest, there’s a part of us that is very self-righteous. Don’t we find it so easy to look down on those who say and do things that we would never do? Don’t we routinely try to justify our sins in our minds instead of simply and honestly confessing them before God? Don’t we find it easy to make comparisons between ourselves and others just to make ourselves look not quite so bad?
Despite his good reputation in the community, the Centurion looked upon himself as a wretched sinner. “And when He was already not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to Him, saying to Him, ‘Lord, do not trouble Yourself, for I am not worthy that You should enter under my roof. Therefore I did not even think myself worthy to come to You.’”
Why did the Centurion feel this way? Was he haunted by memories of people whom he had hurt in his life? Was he aware of his failures as a follower of Christ? Was he disgusted by wicked thoughts that lurked within his heart? We don’t know. One thing is certain: He knew he was a sinner deserving of God’s punishment and everlasting condemnation.
And yet he knew something else. He knew that Jesus was the Savior and Friend of sinners. He knew Jesus was his Savior and Friend. God had worked in his heart a faith that looked away from self and depended entirely on Christ for salvation. The Centurion had a faith centered on God’s grace! His was the kind of faith that we just expressed in the last hymn we sing:
By grace God’s Son, our only Savior, Came down to earth to bear our sin.
Was it because of thine own merit That Jesus died thy soul to win?
Nay, it was grace, and grace alone, That brought Him from His heavenly throne.
Let one and all present here today, pray for such a faith as this! A faith that knows all our sins have been forgiven freely and fully by God’s amazing grace. Yes, even our self-centeredness was paid for and washed away by Jesus’ blood!
Faith is not self-centered, it’s centered on God’s grace. Not only was the centurion’s faith focused on God’s grace, it was also centered on God’s Word. After confessing his unworthiness to have Jesus come under his roof, he goes on to say: “But say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I also am a man placed under authority, having soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”
The centurion could get things done by just saying one word to his servants, and he trusted Jesus could heal his servant with just a word. He believed Jesus to be God Almighty! He believed that all Jesus would have to do was speak, and it would be done. You see, the centurion had a faith that trusted completely in the divine power and authority of God’s Word.
How different is this centurion’s trust from self-centered religious folks. So many today claim to be religious but don’t want to bother with the Bible where Jesus speaks to us. Or even if they claim a love for Scripture, when it comes right down to it, they ignore what God says in His Word and just live how they want. How many times, after showing a person what the Bible says, haven’t I heard them say: “That just doesn’t fit with my personal idea of God.” Well, God isn’t your personal idea. God is God and in the Bible He reveals Who He is and how He feels and what He wants. It is quite common for people to look for a religion or a church which doesn’t interfere with their opinions or sinful lifestyles.
But it’s not just other people. The sinful nature in every one of us balks at the idea that God’s Word should be the final authority in our lives. A part of us wants to be our own little god. “It’s my life after all.” Well, it’s not. God created us and then He bought us with Jesus blood. We belong to Him, and His Word should determine what’s what in every single area of our lives.
God-given faith looks at things differently. Faith tells us that the sinful part of us is ignorant and foolish and wicked, and there is no greater treasure on this earth than God’s Word. God-given faith has complete confidence in everything the Bible says. “Jesus, if you say my servant is healed, then he’s healed.” “Jesus when you tell me in the Bible that all my sins are forgiven, then they’re forgiven, end of story!” When the Bible says Jesus conquered death through His resurrection and that I will live body and soul forever with God in Heaven, then that’s exactly what will happen! Lord, when you tell me in the Bible that you will never leave or abandon me, then I can be absolutely sure that You will do exactly what you say. Jesus you love me, this I know because the Bible tells me so. When it comes to how You want me to live my life, just say the Word, Lord. In fact, I know that whatever You tell me, Lord, no matter what my reason says, no matter how difficult it may be to follow, if the Bible says it then I want to follow it, trusting that Your ways, God, are always best for me. Furthermore, LORD, I know that your Word will give me the power to do what You say.
Finally, our text shows us that faith is also centered on the needs of others. When the centurion turned to Jesus for help, notice his concern wasn’t for himself but for one of his servants. That’s how faith in Christ acts. The faith that God created in us is a marvelous thing in how it transforms us so that we, as Paul says in Philippians, put the interests of others before our own. Faith says, “IT’S NOT ABOUT ME.” When a person is brought to believe in Jesus, and as his faith grows, he begins to think less and less of himself, and more of others. Faith looks around and sees who in the world needs a helping hand. Who needs a shoulder to cry on? Who needs my prayers.? Who needs me to share the saving of love of Christ with them?
A Chicago Bears running back named Gale Sayers from back in the 60’s wrote a book called I AM THIRD, in which he stated the LORD is first, my neighbor is second, and I am third. That’s how faith talks and acts.
LET US PRAY: Dear Father, thank you for the saving faith you have gifted to us by the Spirit working through your Gospel in Word and Sacrament. Forgive our self-centeredness, which warps and twists our lives in so many sad and painful ways. Cause Your Spirit to work in our hearts so that more and more we may trust your grace alone, rely on your Word more fully, and show a genuine and living faith in the way we treat one another. In Jesus we pray, AMEN!
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.