The Man Whose Faith Amazed Jesus
Lloyd Ogilvie is a great Presbyterian preacher and a good friend. He presently serves as the Chaplain of the United States Senate. Several years ago, he had quite an experience one morning as he was preparing to address a large assembly of women in Darien, Connecticut.
The woman who was to introduce him stepped up to the microphone in front of a couple of thousand people and she said: “I want to introduce you to the most dynamic person you will ever meet in your life. He is exciting and positive and winsome. He has an uncanny ability to speak to the deepest centers of your life. He will give you self-confidence and courage and a whole lot of other things you’ve always wanted in your life but haven’t had.” As she continued talking in this manner, Lloyd Ogilvie became increasingly nervous. He couldn’t believe it. He had never had an introduction like that before, and quite frankly, he was rather embarrassed by it all. He knew he couldn’t live up to all those glorious terms, and he was wondering how in the world he could even begin his speech after that. Then the woman said: “The person I am talking about, of course, is Jesus Christ—and here to tell us about Him is my friend, Lloyd Ogilvie!”
How would you like to be introduced? How would you like to be known? Today I would like to introduce you to a man, and the introduction can be captured in a single sentence. He is the man whose faith amazed Jesus. I know that is a rather astounding claim, but it is altogether accurate. Look with me at his story in Luke 7. Several times in Scripture, we encounter instances where Jesus was openly dismayed by people’s lack of faith. More than once we hear him saying things like: “Have you so little faith?” Yes, over and over in the Gospels, we see Jesus perturbed by the sad unbelief of the people around Him. Therefore, when we behold this story in Luke 7, we are tempted to do a “double-take.” Here everything is reversed. Here Jesus is surprised by this man’s powerful faith, not his lack of it. Here we find belief so extraordinary that it actually amazed Jesus Himself.
Remember the story with me. Jesus had come to Capernaum. In that strategic city located on the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee, there was a centurion whose slave was gravely ill. Obviously, the centurion had heard about Jesus and His remarkable ability to bring healing, so he decided to call on Jesus for help. Now let me point out a couple of things which made this centurion and unusual man.
First, he was exceptional in the way that he treated his servant. It is quite obvious that he loved this servant almost as a member of the family. That was most unusual. The normal practice in those days was for a master to be quite brutal and ruthless toward the slaves. Under Roman law, a slave was defined as a living tool, having no rights of any kind. During that time, one Roman writer, for example, recommended that farmers once each year, ought to examine their implements and throw out those which were old and broken—and then he added: “And the farmer ought to do the same with the slaves.” Clearly then, this centurion’s attitude toward his slave was unusual. His love and concern for the man was most impressive.
Secondly, the centurion was exceptional in his regard for the Jewish community in Capernaum. In fact, he loved them so much that he actually had built them a synagogue. Astounding! Unheard of! Without precedent! In those days, Jews and Gentiles did not mix, especially if the Gentiles were Romans. But there was such a bond of love and respect between this centurion and his Jewish friends, that the Jewish elders in Capernaum actually approached Jesus and said to Him: “This centurion is a good man. He deserves your help. Now, this servant who is so dear to him is seriously ill. Will you come and save the servant’s life?”
In the face of this rather astonishing set of circumstances, Jesus stopped what He was doing and headed off toward the centurion’s house. But before Jesus arrived, the centurion, speaking through some friends, sent a message to Jesus which is steeped in humility. He said: “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, nor am I worthy to come into your presence. But I know your power. Just say the word and my servant will be healed.”
Now what’s happening here? Simply this. The centurion knew that Jesus and most of His followers had come out of the Jewish culture. He also knew that there was a rigid Jewish law forbidding any Jew from entering the house of any Gentile. Of course, you and I know that that wouldn’t have stopped Jesus for a minute. He never let rigid, narrow laws get in the way of His compassion. But the point is that this centurion recognized that his need and his request may have put Jesus in a difficult spot, so graciously, thoughtfully, magnanimously, humbly he says: “Lord, you don’t have to come into my house. It’s not necessary. You can do it long-distance. I believe in you. I trust you. I know you can do it from there.”
Now there comes this rather remarkable sentence on the pages of the Gospel: “When Jesus heard this, He was amazed at him and turning to the crowd, He said to them, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith!” And then the story ends with these words: “When those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave in good health.”
What a great story—the story of a man whose faith amazed and impressed Jesus! But let’s see what we can learn from the story.
The centurion’s amazing faith gave him an admirable kindness.
His faith made him kind, compassionate, sensitive and loving. If you study the Gospels carefully, you will discover that for Jesus, love and kindness were the marks of an authentic faith. If your faith makes you kind and loving, it is valid. But if your faith makes you narrow and hateful or harsh and judgmental, then it is bad news and bad religion.
Some years ago, when Henry James, the great American novelist was saying goodbye to his young nephew, Willie, he said something the boy never forgot. He said: “Willie, there are three things that are important in life. The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. The third is to be kind.”
Do you know the name Stephen Grellet? He was a Quaker, who was born in France and who died in New Jersey in 1855. That’s about all we know about him except for some words he wrote which have made him memorable. You may not know his name, but my guess is that you know his words, “I shall pass through this world but once. Any good I can do, or any kindness I can show any human being, let me do it now and not defer it. For I shall not pass this way again.”
Kindness, love, compassion—whatever you want to call it, it is one of the signs of an authentic faith. Nothing pleases God more than to see us expressing our faith in loving kindness. Jesus saw that in the centurion—and He liked it!
And the centurion’s amazing faith gave him a genuine humility.
Did you notice in Luke 7 that as the religious leaders approached Jesus, they said of the centurion, “He is worthy”; but later, the centurion, in genuine humility says about himself: “Lord, I am not worthy.” His humility impressed Jesus. But you know, humility is a quality which unfortunately has fallen on hard times lately. Our society seems bent on encouraging us to toot our own horns, to look out for number one, to negotiate from power and to win by intimidation, domination, or even manipulation.
Perfect example—Lucy in the Peanuts comic strip. One day Lucy strides out into the den where her little brother, Linus, is watching his favorite TV program. Lucy immediately marches over and changes the channel. Linus whoops out in protest: “Hey, I was here first!” Lucy pompously puts her hands on her hips and says: “In the 20th chapter of the Book of Matthew it says, ‘The last shall be first and the first last.'” Linus, with a sad, resigned look says: “I’ll bet Matthew didn’t have an older sister!”
On June 1, 1676, the Swedish navy learned a valuable lesson in humility. The pride of that navy was a huge battleship called “The Kronan”, which means “The Crown.” It took seven years to build the Kronan, equipped as it was with 126 cannons and weighing 240 tons. However, on her second voyage to sea, she made a sharp turn, and top-heavy with all those armaments, she rolled over, capsized, sank straight to the bottom of the ocean. The battleship Kronan sank under the weight of her own guns!
Now if that centurion had come to Jesus in the spirit of arrogance, tooting his own horn, boasting of his authority, throwing his weight around, Jesus would not have been very impressed. However, he came to Jesus saying: “Lord, I am not worthy to have you under my roof, nor am I worthy to be in your presence.” Jesus was impressed with that genuine humility. In fact, He said: “Never, even in all of Israel have I found such amazing faith.”
Then the centurion’s amazing faith gave him a devoted spirituality.
“He built us our synagogue”, the people said. Catch the significance of that, please. It doesn’t say that he built them a school or a park or a museum. It says he built them a synagogue; He built them a church. I think that’s an indication of his own closeness to God.
I’ve always loved the story Fred Craddock tells about a young minister fresh out of seminary, wanting to do well, but scared to death. The first time he went to the hospital to make his pastoral calls, he was terribly nervous. As he walked into the hospital, he whispered, “Oh God, be with me.” The first room he entered confronted him with an elderly woman in the bed, gravely ill, gasping for breath. He decided pretty quickly to make this a short visit, so he said to the woman: “I can see you are having a bad day, so I won’t stay, but could I have a quick prayer with you?” Gasping between each word, the woman said: “Pray…God…will…heal…me!” That really shook the young minister up. He gulped hard and choked out a one sentence prayer. The minute he said “Amen”, the older woman’s eyes flashed open. She sat up. Then she startled the young minister by throwing her legs over the side of the bed. She stood up, stretched her arms wide, turned toward the young minister and said; “I’ve been healed!” She charged out of the room and down to the nurse’s station crying: “Look at mel Look at me! I’ve been healed!” The young minister staggered out of the room, down the stairs, out the door, into the parking lot, and collapsed against his car, quivering and shaking. Finally, he looked up toward heaven and said: “Lord, don’t you ever do that to me again!” He wanted to know the power of God, but not up close and personal!
Not so with this centurion. His devoted spirituality gave him an understanding of the power of Jesus Christ, and he longed for that power to heal his servant. And when Jesus saw the depth of the centurion’s spirituality, He was, quite frankly, amazed! In fact, he said: “Never even in all of Israel have I seen such faith.”
That centurion had an amazing faith because he had experienced amazing grace—the amazing grace of Jesus Christ. Do you see that cross there, the one that stands before us Sunday after Sunday? Do you know what it means? It means that God in His incredible mercy has loved you and me when we didn’t deserve to be loved at all, that God has forgiven you and me when we didn’t deserve to be forgiven at all, and that God has given us a brand new beginning in life when we didn’t deserve that new beginning at all either. And I’ll tell you the truth: If God has done that for you and me, if that’s what the cross is really all about, then the very least we can do is to go out and give that gift to others as well. For you see, we are people who live by grace—not by law, not by condemnation, not by the mean spirit of “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”—but always, always by grace,
Amazing, amazing grace!