2 encounters: Jesus and a Roman centurion. Jesus and a dead boy.
Centurions constituted the military backbone of the Roman Empire. these were officers who passed on orders from on high, trained and disciplined and commanded and fought alongside the men.
The interchange between a Centurion of the occupying power and Jesus a conquered Jew is therefore very surprising: v3 “the centurion heard of Jesus and sent some elders of the jews to him asking him to heal his [valued, sick and dying] servant”. The centurion appeals to Jesus because he’s heard of him and somehow he believes Jesus can do something about this terrible predicament. And Jesus, in his compassion even for the enemy (though the centurion we learn is a good and respected man v4) agrees to go at once and heal the servant. But there’s a twist to the story - the Centurion doesn’t want Jesus to have to come into his home for two reasons. First v6 the great centurion says he is not worthy to have Jesus the Jew come under his roof, that’s also why he sends others to Jesus v7 ‘I did not consider my self worthy to come to you.” But second the centurion knows Jesus doesn’t need to come end of v7 “but say the word and my servant will be healed”
Here is the heart of what Luke in this passage is teaching us about Jesus.
Will you and I recognise his authority?
Notice that the centurion knows that Jesus can heal at a distance with just a word because he, as a Centurion, knows how authority works. v8 For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, 'Go,' and he goes, and that one, 'Come,' and he comes, I say to my servant, 'Do this,' and he does it."
See what he’s saying? A word of command is enough.
But look at what’s strange in v8. The centurion sees himself not just as having authority but as being under authority. As a Roman centurion he operates under the authority of Rome. That is - He commands with the authority of the Emperor himself. To defy the centurion’s commands is to defy the emperor. That’s why his troops will jump to it. When the centurion speaks - the emperor speaks!
Well the centurion recognises that Jesus too is a man under authority, except that Jesus can command not soldiers but sicknesses to Go!! ….. The centurion sees that Jesus commands not with the authority of an emperor but with the authority of God!! That’s why with a word of Jesus his servant will be healed. When Jesus speaks, God speaks!
And the Centurion is right? Sure enough at the end of their brief correspondence v10 The men sent by the centurion returned to the house and found that sick and dying servant well! Jesus had spoken a word on the other side of town and the servant was completely restored.
Isn’t that extraordinary?
Just as God spoke and the world came into existence. So Jesus speaks and life, restoration, healing is the immediate result. Recognise the supreme and sweeping authority of Jesus.
We in our culture are increasingly uncomfortable with the idea of authority aren’t we?
We don’t trust those in authority over us. Politicians, the police, church leaders. In too many places they have been shown up to be flawed or corrupt. Using power not for public service but for personal gain And so we have lost trust. So perhaps we are uncomfortable with the authority of Jesus..
Recognise the way that Jesus exercises his authority. It is always actually as a servant. It is always to set the captive free. To heal the suffering.
The second story in our reading spells that out doesn’t it? v11-17. Come inside that story and allow its force to sweep over you. Here we are in the village of Nain. 5 miles from Nazareth. Walk in the crowd a few paces behind the coffin on this hot day in galilee, with the bright sun sparkiing on the tears which are streaming down everyone’s cheeks. The confusion and the sorrow of death. The professional mourners and wailers are there making plenty of noise so that the friends and relatives and particularly the poor mother can cry their hearts out without the embarassment of making a scene all by themselves.
You make your way from the family home to the town gate, A death in a small middle eastren community touches everyone. The family burial plot will be a little way outside of the town. Probably a small cave in the side of the hill, where the husband and father had been buried some time before. That’s where the procession is going.
Then quite suddenly some strangers arrive. A man leading a small group of followers and other crowds with them. He seems vaguely familiar. Perhaps he grew up in a neighbouring village. Nazareth - that’s it. He is looking at the widowed and now doubly bereaved mother and something inside him seems to be stirring. he comes up and says something to her and then to everyone’s surprise and horror he touches the coffin. (Nobody would normally do that except the official bearers. Touching a corpse or a coffin or even the bearers themselves would make you unclean). Then - the biggest shock of all - he’s telling the dead to get up ..AND HE’S GETTING UP!! The whole funeral procession goes wild with astonishment, delight, disbelief. The undertakers faces fall. People don’t know which one to look at, the no longer dead boy being helped out of the coffin! his amazed and ecstatic mother, or this stranger who has done what the old prophets Elijah and Elisha used to do. “God has come …to help his people.’ they say..
God has come to help. Ultimately, through Jesus’ death - paying for our sins.. God has come to conquer all sickness and suffering and death once for all. that will be demonstrated in Jesus’ own resurrection from the dead.
God has come to help his people. Jesus’ authority you see is Cross-shaped. It is about service, not expoitation. You can trust him. You can trust him with your life. Recognise Jesus’ authority.
2. Submit to Jesus’ authority
Come back to the centurion with the sick and dying servant.
Remember who this Centurion was: think Russell Crowe in Gladiator. ‘Maximus Decimus Meridius, commander of the Armies of the North, General of the Felix Legions, Father to a murdered son, husband to a murdered wife. And I will have my vengeance, in this life or the next.’ (I’ve always wanted to say that!)
Centurions were great men. Officers but they fought with the men. They were loved. And this Centurion was a community leader as well; a diplomat. Capable and effective. loved by the occuppied community - he had helped them build their synagogue. This would rightly be a proud Roman. And yet …here He approaches Jesus the conquered Jew with stooping humility doesn’t he?
v3 he sends jewish elders to ask Jesus for help. Asking for help is never an easy thing to do is it? [When we’re driving somewhere and we’re a bit lost because the sat nav has gone haywire. Fiona says those immortal words. Why don’t we stop and ask someone for directions. Real men never ask for directions] The centurion sends to Jesus pleading for help.
when Jesus agrees to go and heal the servant. the centurion sends another delegation ‘no you shan’t come into my house’ Why?
because it’s an awful mess and the cleaner hasn’t been? No.
Because jews and gentiles don’t mix? Well, No.
Because Jesus doesn’t need to come he can heal at a distance with a word? Well yes the centurion recognises Jesus’ supreme authority to do that but there is a prior reason why he doesn’t want Jesus to come to his house.
V6 Lord, he says, I don’t deserve to have you come under my roof. I don’t consider myself worthy to come into your presence!!! A great centurion to a jew??
There is a bowing humility here. The Centurion recognises that Jesus is no mere jew, no mere man - there is a bowing before greatness. Before divinity. Do you bow before Jesus?
Further - there seems to be a changing of allegiance here
Remember this Centurion was a servant, a subject of Caesar, the true Emperor, who was called ‘Lord and son of god’ and yet in v6 the Centurion commits the treasonable offence of addressing another man as ‘Lord’!! Lord, Jesus. Did he ask his friends to kneel as they brought the message to the Lord Jesus? Countless people did kneel before Jesus. As they changed their allegiance, submitting to his authority. Becoming obedient to him before all other authorities.
See, when you recognise who Jesus is in all his Divine authority - response is required.
Submit to Jesus’ authority. In bowing humility, in a change of allegiance, in a life of obedience to him!
Now again, i know we balk at the idea of submitting, offering obedience to any authority other than ourselves. We in our culture prize ‘freedom’ almost above all other values. Nobody else is allowed to tell me how to live - just me!!
But here’s the problem. The bible says we are not as ‘free’ as we think we are. We all live by some authority external to ourselves. It’s part of our human nature to do so. Our hearts crave meaning and fulfillment and we will devote the worship of our time, money, thoughts, hopes dreams to whichever ‘authority’ has currently captured our trust: be that career success; the search for the perfect relationship; acquiring the dream home. These things become our ‘authority’, functional ‘gods’. They drive us. They shape our attitudes and relationships. And tragically they break us and wound us because inevitably these things, even when we achieve them –fail to deliver the significance and fullness that we need.
So - Jack Higgins, a hugely ambitious and successful writer when asked what he knew at 60 that he wished he’d known at 16 replied … ‘I wish I’d known that when you get to the top there’s nothing there..’
Christianity asserts that our most basic and fundamental problem is that we turn our backs on God’s rightful and good authority. We don’t seek him. Instead we elevate our own authority. But immediately we begin to do that we are deeply vulnerable life begins to crumble, , our humanity begins to crumble.
Jesus has come to win us forgiveness and healing and LIFE through his cross by restoring us to a right relating to God. Submit to Jesus’ authority. Let him govern your life. He is best equipped to so. This is what you were made for.
And that means humility - taking off your own crown, bowing the knee;
It means a Change of allegiance– all other Lords must go, He is your life, he alone gives life;
and it means a life of Obedience- Placing yourself under the rightful authority of one who is Greater.
Let me end by asking
what does obedience to Jesus’ authority really look like? x2
yesterday was HM the Queen’s official 90th birthday and it was marked as the monarch’s official birthday has been for nearly 300 years with the trooping of the colour. a ceremony performed by regiments of the British and Commonwealth armies. Tens of thousands of soldiers marching under command in exact formation.
Soldiers learn to march under command because they are trained to receive orders and act upon them immediately. this kind of clear authority and absolute obedience is vital in a conflict situation and other dangerous jobs.
Most of us don’t live in very tight or clear authority structures. there are always people that we respect; in our places of work there are people whose decisions we accept and go along with, and whose instructions we carry out. But we can then make the mistake of thinking that Jesus’ authority is somewhat less definite. More like the less direct models of authority we have known in other aspects of our lives.
one of the really striking things in the passage we have read today is that while the crowds are amazed by the words of Jesus - that heal the sick and raise the dead
Jesus v9 is amazed at the words of the Centurion about authority and instant obedience
True - Jesus’ sovereignty over the world is exercised with such love and compassion that the image of a commanding officer organizing a battle or a route march is hardly the best image to use. BUT, if we see God’s authority at work in Jesus Christ, as any less absolute than that of a miliitary officer, we are, according to the passage, not only mistaken but also lacking faith itself.
Recognise and gladly Submit to Jesus’ authority
And your life will flourish under his command. Jesus’ commands are not burdensome.
When he speaks the servant rises from his sick bed. When he speaks the dead boy sits up!
To put our lives under the authority of Jesus is to discover perfect freedom, safety, life.