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The Centurion

Jesus Through the Eyes of...  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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Series Introduction

As you know we have a missional partnership with Alemania Federal in Nicaragua through an organization called Food for the Hungry. Many of you sponsor a child, some of you have gone on one of our trips. I’m excited about this, not just because I believe in having a global outreach. Not just because of what we can offer them, but because of the riches they can offer us.
Years ago I went on a 10 day trip to Managua Nicaragua. We build a library, but the most important thing we did was listen to their stories: it was pure gold. The highlight of my trip was attending Sunday morning worship at Karl Marx Methodist Church. Karl Marx, as you know, wrote the Communist Manifesto. That’s a huge barrier, for a resident of Montgomery County to listen to a sermon under that banner.
This series - Jesus Through the Eyes of…, is about seeing Jesus through very different perspectives. We’re going to see Jesus as he was seen by an enemy soldier, a corrupt businessman, a publicly disgraced woman, hypocritical religious people. The way they see Jesus will be different, but it will instruct us.
That Sunday I got to hear Jesus from a different perspective.
Liberation Theology - not to be confused with Liberal theology - emphasizes social concern for the poor and the political liberation for oppressed peoples, was developed in areas like Latin America and South Africa. Our natural tendency is to interpret the Bible from our own cultural perspective: a white, affluent, suburban culture (maybe not all three of those words describe you). Yet the Bible was not written from that perspective: the Bible was written by the poor, by the oppressed, by the marginalized. The Bible describes a God who fights for those people. My point is that we miss important truths in the Bible when we only see it from a place of affluence. We should listen to the Bible from the perspective of those who we might see as unimportant, as uneducated, objects of pity, or even enemies.
During this sermon, we’re going to try to do something like this with people who encountered Jesus. People who were considered outsiders. They were stigmatized. They were hated. They were stereotyped. But they all encountered Jesus. We’re going to try as best we can to see Jesus as they saw him, not as we see Jesus. Growing up I understood Jesus from the perspective of a white, middle class American. Imagine my shock when on Sunday morning, at the end of a mission trip in Nicaragua, my group attended Karl Marx Methodist Church. The way that community understood the Gospel was not the way I was raised.
Today our focus is on a soldier. Not just any soldier, but a soldier that represents Rome.

Thesis: God speaks to and through evil
Soldiers were largely unaccountable for their actions. They could take what they wanted (Jesus, give a coat), abuse who they wanted. Soldiers lived in a defensive posture, zealots would kill them, mobs would form. You wouldn’t say good morning to them. You were afraid of them.

Thesis: God speaks to and through evil

Begin with the end in mind: ex. listening to a sermon or a study to someone who has hurt you; dehumanize someone who commits evil against you - that competitive coworker, that bully in school
ex. listening to a sermon or a study to someone who has hurt you; dehumanize someone who commits evil against you - that competitive coworker, that bully in school

A Roman Centurion

Matthew 8:5 NIV
When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help.
I’ve talked about trying to see the world from another person’s perspective. It’s hard enough for a liberal to understand a conservative, but how can you understand someone who comes from a completely different walk of life?
- imagine being invaded by North Korea, or imagine North Korea and Russia going to war with each other on US soil. A country, founded on fierce independence now being controlled by a foreign power. Imagine going to work and seeing soldiers everywhere. The soldiers, I imagine, would be a symbol of the nation that we fear and hate.
This was Israel’s reality. It’s a reality we need to take into account when we read about it. It is an assumed reality, but it was life during the time of Jesus. Israel, who has always been fiercely independent, was no longer self governing. They were taxed into poverty, solidiers were everywhere to enforce Roman rule, and conscientious objectors were crucified on a weekly basis. Israel was living in a perpetual nightmare. As the name indicates, a centurion was in charge of 100 soldiers.
Soldiers were largely unaccountable for their actions. They could take what they wanted.
Matthew 5:40 NIV
And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well.
Soldiers could abuse who they wanted without accountability. Soldiers lived in a defensive posture, zealots would kill them, mobs would form. You wouldn’t say good morning to them. You were afraid of them. And yet Jesus talks with this Roman officer and says,

Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith.

Thesis: God speaks to and through evil. So perhaps as we’re trying to see Jesus through the eyes of this enemy soldier, maybe think of how hard it is to hear truth from someone we resent. It is hard to hear a sermon or lesson from someone who has hurt us. And yet the reality is that God speaks to and through evil.

Begin with the end in mind: ex. listening to a sermon or a study to someone who has hurt you; dehumanize someone who commits evil against you - that competitive coworker, that bully in school

The Centurion’s Cry

Matthew 8:5 NIV
When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help.
Matthew 8:6 NIV
“Lord,” he said, “my servant lies at home paralyzed, suffering terribly.”
s
This is amazing compassion, given the time.
The Gospel of Matthew, Volume 1 A Good Man’s Plea (Matthew 8:5–13)

That was the reverse of the normal attitude of master to slave. In the Roman Empire, slaves did not matter. It was of no importance to anyone if they suffered and whether they lived or died. Aristotle, talking about the friendships which are possible in life, writes: ‘There can be no friendship nor justice towards inanimate things; indeed, not even towards a horse or an ox, nor yet towards a slave as a slave. For master and slave have nothing in common: a slave is a living tool, just as a tool is an inanimate slave.’

A slave was no better than a thing. A slave had no legal rights whatsoever; his master was free to treat him, or maltreat him, as he liked. Gaius, the Roman legal expert, lays it down in his Institutes: ‘We may note that it is universally accepted that the master possesses the power of life and death over the slave.’ Varro, the Roman writer on agriculture, has a grim passage in which he divides the instruments of agriculture into three classes—the articulate, the inarticulate and the mute, ‘the articulate comprising the slaves, the inarticulate comprising the cattle, and the mute comprising the vehicles’. The only difference between a slave and an animal or a cart was that the slave could speak.

Already we know that the Centurion was caring and compassionate. He was an employer who cared deeply about this employees. This was not common at all among Romans.
I want to stop for a minute and think about stereotypes. On the television series, "The Big Bang Theory," the main characters are your stereotypical "nerdy scientists" who are socially awkward. They also have a stereotypical "ditzy blonde" neighbor. Stereotypes are depictions of someone in an over-simplified way. Stereotypes are descriptions that are believed by the public at large, but may not be true. Stereotypes are usually applied to a group of people:
1. All women are bad drivers
2. Men never ask for directions
3. Old people don't know how to use technology
4. All little girls want to grow up to be princesses
5. Women always need a man’s help,
The worst forms of stereotyping are based on gender, race, religion, sexuality: we have all kinds of ways of slapping a label on someone and making a certain set of assumptions about them. Stereotyping gives us permission not to think, not to get to know someone before assessing their character.
In the eyes of the Jews, this centurion would have been your stereotypical Roman soldier. An enemy. A hater of God. Someone violent and to be feared. But already we see that there is nothing stereotypical of this man. He was a caring and compassionate man, and he had been paying careful attention to Jesus.
But there was a huge barrier that would have kept a Roman Centurion from talking with a Jewish Messiah:

The Centurion’s Barrier

Matthew 8:7 NIV
Jesus said to him, “Shall I come and heal him?”
I’ve already talked about one huge barrier that would keep this centurion from having a relationship with a Jewish Messiah: the stereotype that was applied to Roman soldiers: cruel, oppressive, violent murderers. Jews hated them and feared them.
But there is another, and we might miss this if we don’t slow down and pay attention to the text. Jesus asks his question for a reason. He’s not just asking for directions, he is raising a matter of religious law. The Mishnah is the oral tradition of Jewish law. It explains how God’s law was to be practiced. I want to read a quote from it:

Dwelling places of gentiles [in the Land of Israel] are unclean.

Religion can excuse us from doing all kinds of ministry. An evil Roman Centurion crying out for help? Not your problem: God’s law says we can’t even go into their house.
Religion can be a way out of a lot of things.
“That’s not my calling.”
“That’s not my gift.”
“That’s not my gift.”
“I can worship God anywhere.” (chaplaincy, criticism of preachers, ‘that’s interesting, tell me more about your faith’ - turns out he had a very vague sense of Jesus and the Holy Spirit) But his religion did not require corporate worship.
Here, religion has created a barrier.

The Centurion’s Belief

Matthew 8:8–9 NIV
The centurion replied, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. 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.”
I’ve already talked about his compassion: But let’s look at what this centurion sees when he sees Jesus? Who is Jesus in the eyes of the centurion? How can help us to see Jesus through the centurion’s eyes?
Jesus’ Promise
So what does the centurion see when he saw Jesus? Who is Jesus in the eyes of the centurion? How can help us to see Jesus through the centurion’s eyes?
Jesus is holy and righteous, and I am unworthy.
Jesus has authority, not just over people, military and governments. Jesus has authority over sickness, pain, and death.
Jesus comments on this centurion’s faith, and how painful it must have been to hear these words:
Still, I imagine how hard it would be for God’s people to hear this:
Jesus crosses religious barriers.

Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. 11 I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. 12 But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Gun violence in schools. I see these preachers deliver messages on forgiveness and grace. Could I do that? Right now I just feel mad.
While Jesus’ words were painful to hear, Jesus was offering freedom to his fellow Jews. Jesus sees through hatred and prejudice, he shows them that they can be free from hatred and the desire for vengeance.
Jesus rewards faith. This is no shot in the dark, or a desperate plea for help: this faith is well thought through.
Expository Outlines on the Life of Christ 3. An Example of Faith (Matthew 8:1–13)

I. The problem—vv. 1–6

A. The cleansing—vv. 1–4. A leper asked for healing. Note Jesus’ words, “I will.” The leper was healed.

B. The city—v. 5. Capernaum was about eighty miles north of Jerusalem.

C. The centurion—v. 5. The word centurion designates a captain in charge of about a hundred men in the Roman army.

D. The call—v. 6. He called on Jesus for help. Even though all others fail to help, Christ is near to deliver us.

II. The promise—vv. 7–9

A. Sure promise—v. 7. See the words of Jesus, “I will come and heal him.”

B. Simple plan—v. 8. The centurion said, “You don’t have to come to my house and touch the servant—just speak the word and he will be healed.” This is the simple faith Christ wants from us.

C. Simple person—v. 9. He was a great person, but had childlike faith … the kind God requires.

III. The power—vv. 10–12

A. Pleasing faith—v. 10. God does not ask that we understand all things; He asks only that we believe. Such faith pleases God.

B. Pardoning faith—v. 11. The Jews thought the promises of God were for them alone, but the gospel is for all people. (Note the word whosoever in John 3:16; Rom. 10:13.)

C. Punishment without faith—v. 12. Whether a person be a Jew, Catholic, or Protestant, if he fails to accept Christ as his Savior, he will be lost (John 3:1–8).

The Bible has much to say about faith. Faith is not only in the head, but is in the heart (Rom. 10:9–10).

IV. The perfection—v. 13

A. Command of faith—“Go thy way.” The centurion went, believing without seeing the results. Anyone can believe when they see, but real faith believes before it sees.

B. Completion of faith—“And his servant was healed in the self-same hour.” Jesus tells of the power of this faith (Matt. 17:20). Different types of faith are saving faith, keeping faith, healing faith, active faith, and overcoming faith.

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