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People Worth Touching -- BE DONE! -- 10/03/2021

People Worth Touching  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  40:18
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Be done!

Matthew 8:5–13

When Jesus had come to Capernaum, his chosen base of operations, a Roman centurion came to Jesus asking for help. Matthew tells us the centurion came to Jesus because his servant was lying paralyzed at the centurion’s home and the servant was suffering terribly.

Here we notice an interesting socio-cultural dynamic: a Roman officer coming to ask an itinerant Jewish rabbi for help. What would cause this kind of unlikely encounter to take place?

From a practical, perhaps a bit cynical, perspective we could say the centurion had a servant who was completely useless to him in this condition. Cost for the servant’s upkeep was rising and productivity was zero. From a business perspective, this was an unsustainable situation. Something had to be done.

Yet, the way the centurion describes his servant implies a much deeper and humane motivation. In Greek the centurion’s description might read more literally like this: “My servant can’t move and is terribly tortured by unbearable pain.”[1] [2]

What do we feel in these words, but compassion? The centurion could not bear to see his servant in such pain. Being a compassionate man, the centurion had likely exhausted all possibilities to help his servant. This Roman centurion came to Jesus, the Jewish rabbi, for help because he faced a helpless situation. There was nothing the centurion could do to help his servant.

Doubtless, the centurion had heard of Jesus the miracle worker. Matthew told us in Chapter 4:24 that Jesus had a reputation for such miracle working.

Matthew 4:24 NIV

News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed; and he healed them.

The centurion and the Jewish leper, whom we encountered last week, share a common motivation for coming to Jesus, each bring to Jesus a physical condition that renders them helpless.

Perhaps like the leper, the centurion has been lingering on the edges of the crowd following Jesus. Maybe he heard the Sermon on the Mount and was touched by the Word of God that moved him to faith. Maybe the centurion heard about or even encountered the man that Jesus healed from leprosy. We don’t know how it happened. We do not know what finally tipped the scales that overcame the legitimate concerns running through his mind: “I can’t do this. I am an officer in the Roman army. What will my superiors think if they hear of this? What will those under my command think when they surely learn of this? A Roman officer coming helplessly to a Jewish rabbi? This is unheard of - a sign of weakness to the Romans and despicable to the Jews. I can’t do this!”

And yet, the Spirit of God works in his heart in such a way that, like the man with leprosy, he dares to do the unthinkable and comes to Jesus with his helplessness. Jesus receives the Jewish leper and the Roman centurion in their helplessness.

Do you remember when you ran to Jesus in your helplessness? You must remember because if you are a Christian, you surely did come to Jesus in complete helplessness. At some point, you came helpless to Jesus and like the leper, like the centurion and said, “Lord help me”. You must have surely come helplessly to Jesus and submitted yourself to the authority of Jesus as Lord of your life. When you came, like the centurion and the leper, Jesus welcomed and received you in your helplessness. What did that feel like? What changed in your life? What does Jesus welcoming you in your helplessness feel like today? What is changing today in your life because you came? God’s Word this morning encourages us to remember and give thanks for Jesus receiving us in our helplessness.

If you are a Christian, since coming to Jesus to submit to him as Lord of your life, you have likely run to Jesus many times with your helplessness - and that’s a good thing. Jesus wants us to be completely dependent on Him. Is it not true that every time you bring your helplessness to Jesus, you do find help in your time of need? Is one of those times popping into your mind right now. That’s the work of the Holy Spirit helping you to remember the mighty works of your good Heavenly Father in your life. Remember, give thanks, and believe that as He has been, so shall Jesus ever be for you in your time of need.

Where are you feeling helpless today? What is keeping you from bringing your helplessness to Jesus today?

Now we come to one difference between the leper and centurion. The leper had little to lose culturally or socially in coming to Jesus, he was already at the bottom of society. On the other hand, the centurion, had much to lose. He was not at the top of the social-cultural hierarchy, but he was certainly far from the bottom. To come to Jesus, the centurion put at risk his profession and his social standing, both of which were how he understood who he is in the culture. In short, the centurion was putting his personal identity at risk to come to Jesus.

Are you helpless today? If you have nothing to lose, follow the leper and run to Jesus. Are you helpless today and are counting your real risks in coming to Jesus? If so, like the centurion, follow the stirring of the Holy Spirit in your heart and run to Jesus.

Let’s step back into the scene with Jesus and the centurion.

In response to the centurion’s request, Jesus poses this question, “Shall I come to heal him?” The depth of this question is more profound than our 21st century understandings can typically grasp without some help. We read this question and we think Jesus is saying, “What do you want me to do for you?” However, both Jesus and the centurion understood the question to mean “Who am I in relation to you?” In the first century honor and shame culture, every person understood themselves to be embedded within a network of relationships that defined who they were as an individual. In our culture, we tend to see ourselves as individuals with an identity as distinct and independent of others,

(slide: I know who I am).

In the first century, and even today in many cultures, the individual knows his or her personal identity through where they stand within their network of relationships with people and institutions

(slide because of who you are to me.).[3]

In the question “Shall I come and heal him?” Jesus wants to know how the centurion sees himself in relationship to Jesus. Does the centurion see himself has superior to Jesus? Is the centurion’s appeal for help, an order or command to Jesus? After all, the centurion had the political and social standing to make that demand. Does the centurion see himself as an equal to Jesus? Is the appeal for help, an attempt to leverage Jesus’s reputation and miracle working power to his advantage? In doing so, as Jesus’s equal, the centurion would be adding to his own status and honor by aligning himself with Jesus’s honor and reputation as a worker of miracles. It would be natural and expected within the culture for the centurion to see Jesus as his inferior or, if to his advantage, to treat Jesus as an equal. But the response, the centurion gave Jesus, was neither of these options.

The centurion said, “I am a man under authority.” In this phrase we can infer the centurion to mean, “I have superiors who say to me go and I go. They say to me come and I come. They say to me do this and I do it. Likewise, I have soldiers and servants to whom I say go and they go. I say come and they come. I tell them do this and they do it. The centurion understood that authority requires obedience.

Do we understand that authority requires obedience? There are those who want to claim Jesus as Lord, but do not do what Jesus says do. These are the false disciples that Jesus described in the Sermon on the Mount,

Matthew 7:22–23 NIV

Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

When we come to Jesus as Lord, we cannot manipulate him as if we are his superior. We cannot be in relationship with Jesus to make him do what we want. When we come to Jesus as Lord, we cannot leverage the relationship to make ourselves look good in the eyes of others as if we are Jesus’s equal.

Coming to Jesus as Lord means it is our intent to obey Jesus in everything all the time.

When we fail to obey in everything all the time, we confess our sin, seek his forgiveness, trust his provision for our sin, and go on with our intent to obey Jesus in everything all the time.

The centurion understood himself to be a man under authority and to be a man with authority. Now, we can understand his amazing statement, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof.” You see to have Jesus “come under his roof” would mean that Jesus had come under his authority, protection, and provision. Under his roof the centurion was lord. The centurion is saying, “I do not deserve to have you come under my authority, protection, and provision.” In this response the centurion is telling Jesus, “This is who I am in relation to you, I am not your superior and cannot even claim to be your equal because I am coming under your authority.”

Why would the centurion say this? The key is in the phrase, “I do not deserve”. At the surface level, if the centurion were Jesus’s equal or superior, he would deserve to have Jesus come under his roof. In affirming he does not deserve that Jesus come under his roof, he reinforces Jesus is his superior. At a deeper level, “I do not deserve” communicates another way the centurion is like the man with leprosy.

The Jewish understanding would be that all Gentiles are “unclean”. Entering the centurion’s home would cause Jesus to become “unclean” just has touching the leper would transfer the curse of leprosy to Jesus. The point is that Jews and Gentiles are unclean before God. Yet, Jesus welcomes the helpless cry of faith that reaches out to him and says, “Lord, make me clean.”

Let us never forget, that we are Gentiles estranged from God, unclean in his sight by our own willful disobedience. Jesus by the shedding of his own blood for our sins provides God’s forgiveness that makes us clean. Upon the basis of the shedding of Jesus’s blood for our sins, we are the unclean Gentile centurion who comes in faith and says, “Lord help me.” We are the unclean leper who by faith comes to Jesus and says, “You can make me clean.” We are the servant, paralyzed, tormented, locked in the misery of our own sin who in a miraculous moment of grace receives healing.

The centurion says, “I am unclean and unworthy for you to come under my roof, but ‘just say the word and my servant will be healed.’” The centurion knew that people responded to the centurion’s authority because he spoke with the authority of the Roman empire. Likewise, this unclean gentile, Roman soldier recognized that Jesus spoke with the authority of God and when Jesus said, “let it be done, it was done.”

When Jesus heard this response, Matthew tells us Jesus was amazed. The Greek word translated “amazed” hear is often used to express amazement in witnessing a supernatural event.[4]Let’s pay attention to what happened here.

Jesus saw God at work in this unclean Gentile. Jesus recognized the Holy Spirit worked in this man saving faith. Stanley Hauerwas describes the centurion’s faith like this,

The faith that Jesus praises, exemplified by the centurion, is that which trusts that Jesus is who he says he is and that he can do what he says he can do. It is this faith, moreover, that Jesus says will be found in those who will come from the east and west to dine in the kingdom of heaven.[5]

Jesus turns to the crowd who were amazed at his teaching and amazed by his miracles and says,

“This is it. This is what I’ve been looking for throughout all of Israel and have not found it. Here it is in this unclean Gentile. Here it is saving faith. Saving faith is trusting me to be who I say that I am and trusting that I can do what I say I can do!”

Permit me to paraphrase Jesus’s speech to the crowd for the sake of clarity. Jesus said to the crowd: “This is the kind of faith that gets you into the kingdom of God. This is the faith of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob who were declared righteous apart from the Law. Not having faith in me, not trusting that I am who I say I am and can and will do what I say I can do, that lack of faith is what will keep you out of the kingdom of heaven. The Gentiles with saving faith will get in. You, for whom the kingdom is prepared, will be cast out into to the torment of eternal judgment. The door to God’s eternal banquet hall is open to all who will come by faith in me. All who lack faith will be thrown out of the banquet hall into “the darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

One thing we can infer from Jesus’s pronouncement of judgement on those who do not believe in Him is that hell is a place of eternal despair. There is no light of hope in hell; there is only the deep darkness of regret: If I had only believed, if I had only placed my faith in Jesus, if I had only bowed the knee to Jesus as my Lord, then I would not be in this wretched place. These regrets will roll through tormented minds for eternity.

Stepping into the scene a final time with Jesus and the centurion, this is what we see:

In an act of authority and mercy, Jesus, the commander-in-chief turns to the centurion and says, “Go!” (Pause) Go and let it be done just as you believed it would.” Jesus said “go!” As a man under authority to His Lord, the centurion went. In his going in obedience to his Lord, the centurion’s helplessness was fully met in the healing of his servant.

In our contemporary world, we want to strike a bargain with Jesus. We say, “Jesus, you deal with my helplessness and then I will obey you.” Our scripture this morning teaches us that Jesus does not strike bargains. He will not be commanded or manipulated. We cannot leverage his authority and power for our purposes. The truth is this. Our healing becomes real when we come to Jesus, submitting ourselves to his authority. When Jesus says go, we go. When Jesus says come, we come. What Jesus says do, we do.

As a church family and as individuals, it is only in our obedience to Jesus that we experience Jesus to be who He said He is and experience Jesus doing what He said He can do - in everything, all the time.

Only in obeying Jesus do we experience Jesus’s words “Let it be done just as you believed it would.” To our amazement, we find that we are being healed, those under our authority are being healed, healing flows through us everywhere we walk because Jesus, the source of all healing flows through us everywhere we go at His command.

Let us run to Jesus with all our helplessness trusting He will welcome us. Let us come to Jesus asking him for cleansing, for healing, for whatever we need trusting Jesus will transform our helplessness into exactly what we need for our wellbeing and for His glory. Then in the authority of our Lord Jesus, let us go and let it be done to us, our families, and to our neighbors, just as we believed it would!

• [1] Byrley, C. (2014). Sickness and Disability. D. Mangum, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, & R. Hurst (Eds.), Lexham Theological Wordbook. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

[2] Faithlife, LLC. (2021). to be tormented (Version 9.8) [Computer software]. Logos Bible Software Bible Sense Lexicon. Bellingham, WA: Faithlife, LLC. Retrieved from https://ref.ly/logos4/Senses?KeyId=ws.be+tormented.v.01]

[3] See Vernon K. Robbins discussion: Social and Cultural Texture in Exploring the Texture of Texts: A Guide to Socio-Rhetorical Interpretation (1996, Trinity Press International, Harrisburg, PA).

[4][Robertson, M. S. (2014). Mystery. D. Mangum, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, & R. Hurst (Eds.), Lexham Theological Wordbook. ]Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

[5]Hauerwas, S. (2006). Matthew(p. 95). Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press.

Exported from Logos Bible Software, 11:50 October 4, 2021.

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