Date: October 21, 2018 Audio: Transcript:
I have two questions for you this morning:
#1 Would you like to have more faith?
#2 What exactly does that mean?
What does it look like to have more faith?
OK, the first question is probably pretty easy to answer. I suspect almost everyone in this room would like more faith.
The second question is a little more difficult, however – at least for me. Oh, I know faith means to trust or believe. Some say faith is believing the unbelievable or “Faith is married to Norm Skur!” However, we know…
Hebrews 11:1 – (Now) faith is the reality of what is hoped for, the proof of what is not seen.
Yet, what does it mean to have more faith or greater faith? Some folks suggest more faith means greater certitude. In other words, the more confident you are that something is true, the greater faith you have.
Yet, faith is more than a high degree of certainty. For example, I have greater certainty that the city of Boston, MA exists than I do that Baltimore, MD does. Why? Because I have been to Boston, but not to Baltimore. But so what? For many years, my favorite baseball team was the Baltimore Orioles, not the Boston Red Sox. I lived in the Twin Cities for five years. I know it is there, but I still don’t cheer for the Vikings.
Nor is great faith a willingness to believe incredible things. The Weekly World News (no longer in grocery stores, but still available online) had headlines last week about a Sasquatch roaming the streets of London and the body of a six inch space alien found in Chile. I don’t think people who believe those things have a lot of faith. I think they are gullible. Faith is not believing things you know are not true.
So what does it mean to have more or greater faith? Well, our text this morning helps us answer that question. Today we resume our journey through the gospel of Luke. We have been on a break from this book since May, and I am excited to get back into what I think is one of the most encouraging books in the whole Bible.
Today’s text is Luke 7:1-10 (page 863). Here we encounter a fellow who Jesus says has great faith. Let’s pause and pray the Lord will use his word to help our faith grow as well.
Luke 7:1 – When he had concluded saying all this to the people who were listening, he entered Capernaum.
“All this” was the so-called “Sermon on the Plain” recorded for us in chapter 6.
Luke 7:2 – A centurion’s servant, who was highly valued by him, was sick and about to die.
A centurion is a Roman soldier in charge of 100 troops. He is a mid-ranking officer – maybe like a captain today, who has a lieutenant below and a major above him.
Luke 7:3-5 – When the centurion heard about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders to him, requesting him to come and save the life of his servant. When they reached Jesus, they pleaded with him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy for you to grant this, because he loves our nation and has built us a synagogue.”
The centurion was not a Jew. As part of the Roman legion, he may have been what we would call Italian, or may have come from any part of the Roman Empire. One of his primary responsibilities was to keep the people in Israel from getting out of line. Yet, somehow, he has won their affection. Building the synagogue may have even indicated sympathy with their religion. Though likely not a convert to Judaism, he may be a “God-fearer, a Gentile who believes in the one true God.”
Luke 7:6-10 – Jesus went with them, and when he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to tell him, “Lord, don’t trouble yourself, since I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. That is why I didn’t even consider myself worthy to come to you. But say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I too am a man placed under authority, having soldiers under my command. I say to this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” Jesus heard this and was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, “I tell you, I have not found so great a faith even in Israel.” When those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the servant in good health.
Wow! I think that is a really cool story! Some of you are familiar with it from our productions of “Bow the Knee,” the musical drama we did for a number of years which featured Paul McNeal as the centurion, Anthony. That portrayal certainly is consistent with what we read here. However, we don’t really have any evidence that this centurion is the same one present at the crucifixion of Jesus, which happened in “Bow the Knee.”
OK, I think there are two characteristics of great faith described here, which explains why Jesus says he has never seen such faith, even among the Jewish people.
#1 Great faith flows out of deep humility.
I am struck with what the centurion says in…
Luke 7:6-7 – “Lord, don’t trouble yourself, since I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. That is why I didn’t even consider myself worthy to come to you.”
This is not false modesty. This man has attained a rank of some importance in the Roman army, and he is well-liked by the Jewish people. Yet, he is under no illusion that this is going to impress Jesus. He also knows there is nothing he can do to help his very ill servant. The centurion’s faith involves not a confidence in himself, but in the Lord. And folks, that is really the heart of faith, depending on God, rather than on ourselves.
Now, that is certainly something which goes against the grain in modern American culture. Today, we are often encouraged to believe in ourselves, to have faith in “me.”
“If you believe in yourself, anything is possible,” or so says the great “philosopher” Miley Cyrus – a little sarcasm there.
I saw one meme which says, “You cannot believe in God until you believe in yourself.” I thought, that doesn’t really make sense, but then I realized it was a quote from a Hindu Swami, so it is not supposed to make sense.
Even in the church I hear things like, “We need to have more faith in God, in other people, and in ourselves.”
If the centurion would have a session with most counselors or a conversation with many of us, he would hear something like this: “Mr. Centurion, you seem to have a problem with low self-esteem. Why would you say, ‘I am not worthy’? Of course you are worthy of having Jesus come to your house. God made you someone very special. Don’t put yourself down.”
Yet, rather than scold the man for his low self-esteem, Jesus says this fellow has the greatest faith he has seen in all of Israel.
A few years ago, I was listening to a psychologist on a radio talk show. It was December, and she had this suggestion: “Take twelve sheets of blank paper and on each, write one quality you like about yourself. Then place them in twelve envelopes and put them under the Christmas tree. Then at the end of the month, open one envelope on each of the twelve days of Christmas.” She concluded, “These are gifts to yourself, reminders of what a wonderful person you really are. That is my Christmas wish for each of you – that you would realize what a wonderful person you are.”
Friends, I realize that sounds like a great idea to many people. In a world where people are frequently reminded of their failures and inadequacies, often beat up emotionally and regularly reminded how they are not measuring up, it does feel good to be told we are a wonderful person, even if we are the one doing the telling.
However, the gospel of self-esteem is a very poor substitute for the gospel of Jesus Christ. Yes, it is a band-aid for a wounded soul, but the grace of God can bring true healing to that soul. Friend, focusing on your good qualities is not going to bring you ultimate happiness. Focusing on God and his qualities, on his greatness and goodness, on his grace and glory – that is what will bring joy to your life!
When asked what is the key to success in baseball, Yogi Berra once said, “Well, it is 50% hitting, 50% pitching, 50% determination and 50% attitude. Friends, Yogi was never very good at percentages.
Yet, sometimes our own thinking can also be confused. Some folks define great faith as 100% confidence in God and 100% confidence in oneself. It just doesn’t work that way! If we have 50% confidence in self, we can only have 50% confidence in God. Self-confidence undermines faith.
The centurion was able to have great faith in the Lord because he did not have confidence in himself. He knew there was nothing he could do to save his servant. Thus, all his hope, all his confidence, all his faith was in the Lord. Jesus said, “I have never seen faith like this. This Gentile has more faith in me than anyone I have met in all of Israel.”
Deep humility is, however, only one aspect of great faith.
#2 Not having a lot of self-confidence is not very helpful or healthy…unless it is replaced with confidence in the Lord, with a Christ-confidence.
And that is what made the centurion’s faith so strong. He had total faith in the Lord Jesus. He doesn’t believe he is worthy of Jesus coming to his home or approaching Jesus directly. Yet, he says to Jesus…
Luke 7:7b-8 – But say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I too am a man placed under authority, having soldiers under my command. I say to this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”
This man has absolute confidence in the Lord Jesus. His analogy is great – he believes Jesus’ authority over disease is comparable to his authority over his soldiers and servants. When Jesus says, “Jump,” the centurion expects the disease will say, “How high?” He is confident that all Jesus has to do is say the word and his servant will be healed. This man knows that even though he is not worthy, Jesus is. He knows it would be foolish to be full of self-confidence, but it makes total sense to be full of Jesus-confidence, Christ-confidence!
It is important to note that is the object of the centurion’s faith which makes it great. His confidence is in Jesus, not in his own faith. He does not tell Jesus, “I believe my servant will be healed because I have great faith in you, Jesus.” In fact, our text doesn’t say, “Jesus healed the servant because of the centurion’s faith.”
As we continue in this chapter (verses 11-17), Jesus raises a widow’s son from the dead. He brings the boy back to life. There is no indication the woman had any idea Jesus was capable of doing this. What makes faith great is the greatness of its object, of where the confidence is placed.
The analogy most helpful to me is this: When you step out on the ice on a stream or lake this winter, it doesn’t matter how much faith you have in the ice. What does matter is how thick the ice is. Your degree of certainty that the ice will hold you doesn’t matter either. You can be 100% sure you are not going to fall through the ice, but if it is only ¼” thick, that is exactly what will happen. You may think you have a 50/50 chance when you carefully step out on that ice, but if it is two feet thick, you are not going to fall through.
What makes the centurion’s faith great is that his faith was in the Lord Jesus. Trusting in Jesus is like stepping out on ice a thousand feet thick.
This is the key to what we are talking about this morning. The psychologists are right. A person who lacks self-confidence is often a pretty miserable individual…unless that self-confidence is replaced by a Christ-confidence. And the Lord Jesus is far more worthy of our confidence than we ourselves are.
The Apostle Paul recognized this. Even though he had many significant accomplishments in his life, he knew he should not put any confidence in that. Paul actually considered himself (1 Timothy 1:16) the worst sinner of all. Whatever good things he had accomplished were more than outweighed by his previous hatred of Jesus and those who followed Jesus, a hatred that had been rooted in pride. “But Pastor Dan, Paul didn’t lack confidence. Didn’t he say…
Philippians 4:13 – I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength?
Yes, that is what Paul said, but he wasn’t talking about self-confidence or faith in himself. Paul was a man who was very Christ-confident. He never felt any challenge was too difficult. That was not because of blind optimism or a belief in the power of positive thinking. Paul’s confidence was in the same place the centurion’s was – in the Lord Jesus. That is where we should want our confidence to be, and that is what it means to have great faith.
OK, so what does all this mean for us today?
Well, let me first address those of you who are not believers in Jesus Christ or are not sure you are.
Numerous times someone has said to me, “Pastor Dan, I wish I had faith. I wish I could believe like you, but I can’t. It is just not there.”
Well, one of the things our passage makes clear is that one doesn’t get great faith or even mediocre faith by going to seminary or being a pastor. Faith shows up in surprising places, such as in Roman centurions. Yes, the nice things people were saying about him were, no doubt, true. We would probably consider him a good man. Yet, he was clearly a sinner who very likely had grown up a pagan, a man who worshiped false gods and idols. Or maybe he was a nice, but hardened atheist, a man who didn’t have time for religion, someone who was going to trust himself, not in any God. Yet, this fellow, Jesus says his faith is greater than all the devout Jews who went to synagogue every week and had memorized the whole Old Testament. How can that be? Well, it is a miracle. An act of God. The faith of the centurion was a gift from God, as is the faith of each and every one of us.
Ephesians 2:8 – For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.
So what is the “it” which is a gift from God? Is it grace? Or is it faith? The answer is the whole first part of the verse – being saved by grace through faith. Both grace and faith are gifts from God. I think it is clear (2 Corinthians 4:4) God opened the blind spiritual eyes of the centurion so he could see the glory of God in Jesus Christ. And that is what must happen for us to become believers in Jesus. We need God to enable us to clearly see who Jesus is, what he has done for us, and what that means for our lives. It is from this which faith is born and grows and thrives.
“OK, Pastor Dan, so what am I supposed to do if I don’t have faith, if I don’t believe? Are you saying that if God has not given me the gift, there is nothing I can do?”
Well, friend, there is something you can do. You can ask God to give you faith. Now, because he is God, he is under no obligation to grant your request, but it sure doesn’t hurt to ask. And I believe that, in his mercy, God will answer that prayer.
In Mark 9, we are told about a man who asks Jesus to heal his son who is possessed by a demon. When Jesus tells him he needs to believe, the man replies…
Mark 9:24 – Lord I do believe, help me overcome my unbelief.
The fact you are asking God for faith indicates he has already given you some. Thus, when we ask for more, when we sincerely ask him to increase our faith, when we ask for enough faith to embrace Jesus, that is a request I am confident God will answer.
Friend, are you here this morning and not trusting Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord? Do you think you are somehow capable of saving yourself? Do you feel this “believing in Jesus” stuff doesn’t quite make sense, that it seems too confusing, or maybe it just seems too simple?
Whatever the case, I would encourage you to pray that simple prayer. “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.” Ask him to enable you to see that salvation only comes through the Lord Jesus and what he accomplished for you through his death and resurrection. Ask God to give you a faith that will allow you to receive Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. And when he does, do it. Put your trust, your faith in Jesus Christ.
And one more thing – please let Pastor Mark, Pastor Ron or myself know if you have done that. We would love to celebrate with you and love to encourage you and help your faith grow.
OK, how about those who are already believers in Jesus, which I know includes most of you here. Well, I think the lesson is this: If you want your faith to grow, you need to focus less on yourself and more on the Lord. You need to stop looking in the mirror so much and spend more time looking in the Bible because that will give you the clearest view of God.
Friends, I am convinced that rather than remind ourselves of our good characteristics and focus on how wonderful we think we might be, it is a much better use of time to remind ourselves how wonderful God is.
You might even take twelve blank pages of paper and on each one write, “God Is:” and then put down one of his characteristics or attributes on each piece of paper. You can write something like this: God is loving, God is just, God is merciful, faithful, holy, righteous, eternal, all-powerful, all-knowing, unchanging, etc.
Put each paper in an envelope and then whenever you open these up (on the twelve days of Christmas or whenever), ponder the meaning of that attribute and its significance for your life. That will give us reason to be more confident in the Lord and will, thus, increase our faith.
Friends, whenever we face different challenges in life, it is very natural to focus on the resources we bring to that situation – if we are intelligent, wealthy, or have a lot of friends and family to support us – we usually think we will be able to handle whatever we are facing. If we don’t have those resources, we often get anxious and maybe afraid.
Folks with great faith, however, don’t focus on their own resources, whether they be few or plentiful. Instead, they focus on the Lord.
They know that in every situation, God promises to work for his glory and for the ultimate good of all those who are trusting in him. And God will provide the resources to accomplish just that. So when people with great faith have brains, money, friends and family members to deal with different challenges, they are grateful. These are resources God has provided for accomplishing his purpose. Focusing on the Lord, not on ourselves, that is what great faith is all about!