Luke 7:1-10 (NIV)
1 When Jesus had finished saying all this in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. 2 There a centurion’s servant, whom his master valued highly, was sick and about to die. 3 The centurion heard of Jesus and sent some elders of the Jews to him, asking him to come and heal his servant. 4 When they came to Jesus, they pleaded earnestly with him, “This man deserves to have you do this, 5 because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue.” 6 So Jesus went with them. He was not far from the house when the centurion sent friends to say to him: “Lord, don’t trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. 7 That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you. But say the word, and my servant will be healed. 8 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.” 9 When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, “I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.” 10 Then the men who had been sent returned to the house and found the servant well.
There are several things to note in this passage. The focus here is on a man who was a centurion. He wasn’t a Jew. He hadn’t been steeped in religious training. He wasn’t used to exercising faith or expressing dependence on anyone. He was used to following the orders of Rome and giving orders that he expected to be followed.
It was commendable that he obviously cared for people; not typical for someone trained by Rome. After all, he was there to “do a job.” To him it had become more. He was involved in the lives of the people he governed. He was invested in them. He had a servant that was sick. He genuinely loved the servant. He didn’t want the servant to die. He could have easily had a new recruit given to him by the Roman authorities, but he wanted to see this man get well and stay on his team. Somehow he had come to the conclusion that Jesus could help his servant, and he sent people to find Jesus and to request that he come and heal his servant.
He obviously had a good reputation with the Jewish community. Those who went to Jesus were Jewish elders who were making a case for why Jesus should come to that place to heal the centurion’s servant. They explained to Jesus that the centurion had built a synagogue in their area and loved the nation of Israel. They felt his good works put Jesus in a position where he almost owed him a favor.
The centurion didn’t see himself in that way. He was actually quite a humble man. In fact, when he found out Jesus was coming he realized Jesus was willing to help him by healing his servant. He didn’t want Jesus to have to exert extra effort and come all the way to his home. In fact, he was so humble he didn’t even consider himself worthy to receive a personal one-on-one visit from Jesus. Again, Roman officials weren’t known for their humility so this was quite unusual. When they needed or wanted something they expected people to jump through hoops to make it happen.
So, there was an unusual love and compassion in this man’s character and it was combined with great humility. What Jesus commented on, however, in verse 9 wasn’t the man’s love, compassion or humility, but his faith. Revisit the verse with me. When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, “I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.”
Because of his position where he gave orders and people carried them out, the centurion knew how authority worked. He understood chain of command. He understood how the “buck would stop” with a certain person. He embraced the concept that someone was ultimately in charge. He himself, as a centurion, was in charge of 100 men. He knew that people with authority could request something and it would be carried out. His military training prepared him to embrace faith because through that understanding of authority, a light bulb went off in his spiritual senses and, he was convinced of Jesus’ authority. He demonstrated by his words that he knew if Jesus spoke the healing into being that based on His authority the servant would be healed. He just requested that Jesus say the word, and he believed his servant would be healed.
Jesus was blown away that the centurion would recognize His authority. The message he received from the centurion’s messengers stopped Him in His tracks. He turned to tell the people that were following Him, that He hadn’t even seen that kind of faith in all of His journeys through Israel to date. What amazed Jesus that day was the confident faith of the Roman centurion in Jesus’ authority. I’m surprised this demonstration of faith didn’t land him a spot in Hebrews chapter 11, the “Hall of Fame” for people of faith.
A few years ago I gave you this definition for faith. “Faith is the constant conviction that God is bigger than my mountains.” I thought that was pretty good. But the Holy Spirit has taken me a step farther in the development of my understanding of faith based on this passage, so here it is: Definition number 2: Faith is the recognition and respect for Jesus’ authority in any circumstance!
The centurion knew that if his servant was going to be healed it would be because Jesus exercised the authority He clearly possessed to heal him. That kind of faith amazed Jesus!
My mind quickly went to an OT passage where amazing faith, the recognition of God’s authority in a moment of crisis, was displayed by three young Hebrew boys. Turn to Daniel chapter 3. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, we’ll call them Sam, Mark and Abe, were set up and were facing execution in a horrible way. King Nebuchadnezzar was a self-absorbed maniac in ancient Babylon. He built a 90 ft. high image made out of gold and expected when people heard a certain song played by all kinds of ancient instruments, you were to bow down to the statue and worship it or else. The or else part was that you would be thrown into a blazing furnace.
Well, Sam, Mark, and Abe were devoted followers of God. They were living out their faith in Babylon even though it could mean death at any moment, and they weren’t about to compromise. So, when the music sounded and everyone else assembled to bow down in front of the gold image, Sam, Mark, and Abe weren’t taking part. Some of the king’s astrologers noticed they weren’t participating and told on them. The king was furious, and had Sam, Mark, and Abe brought before him. He explained how his program worked again and told them they had to comply or be put into the blazing furnace to burn to death.
Sam, Mark, and Abe’s response was unflinching and resolute. It displayed the kind of amazing faith the centurion possessed. Read what they said back to the king in Daniel 3:16-18 (NIV) 16 Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. 17 If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. 18 But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”
What a statement! What conviction! What faith! They knew no matter what that God would always have the final say in their lives! That is faith! What commitment to God even when threatened with death. So, here is a part b to definition number two for you to chew on: Faith is the confidence that God will always have the final say in your life and for that reason you will stay faithful to Him rather than seek an easy way out.
This morning I believe God is looking for some people with some “But if not” faith. That is the kind of faith that amazes Jesus! What if we have to walk through a fiery trial? What if we have to go through a valley? What if we have to suffer for a minute? Do we rest in the authority of Jesus to the point where our commitment to Him isn’t compromised in times of difficulty even when it looks like compromise is the only way out?
Staying faithful to Jesus will always be the best way out! Forget what the circumstances look like. Forget how the threats make you feel. Bailing on Jesus is always the wrong decision! Well, Sam, Mark, and Abe were proved smart to believe in God’s ultimate authority in their lives because they were dramatically rescued by Jesus. Read about it with me beginning in Daniel 3:23:
Daniel 3:23-30 (NIV) 23 and these three men, firmly tied, fell into the blazing furnace. 24 Then King Nebuchadnezzar leaped to his feet in amazement and asked his advisers, “Weren’t there three men that we tied up and threw into the fire?” They replied, “Certainly, O king.” 25 He said, “Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.” 26 Nebuchadnezzar then approached the opening of the blazing furnace and shouted, “Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out! Come here!” So Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego came out of the fire, 27 and the satraps, prefects, governors and royal advisers crowded around them. They saw that the fire had not harmed their bodies, nor was a hair of their heads singed; their robes were not scorched, and there was no smell of fire on them. 28 Then Nebuchadnezzar said, “Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who has sent his angel and rescued his servants! They trusted in him and defied the king’s command and were willing to give up their lives rather than serve or worship any god except their own God. 29 Therefore I decree that the people of any nation or language who say anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego be cut into pieces and their houses be turned into piles of rubble, for no other god can save in this way.” 30 Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the province of Babylon.
I love it! When God has the final say you are not destroyed but promoted! How about that! I want to show you something else before we leave this story. Verse 23 tells us the three men were firmly tied up when they were thrown into the furnace. Verse 25 tells us they were unbound and walking around. When I read that this week, God said to me, “I can deliver you in the fire before delivering you from the fire.” The ropes weren’t going to determine how Sam, Mark, and Abe experienced the furnace. Jesus was going to determine how they experienced their fiery trial. They were going to be free in the fire before they became free from the fire, and He was going to walk with them through the fire.
Is there anyone who can exercise some faith in the furnace this morning? It is in the fiery trials of life that our faith is refined and proved to be genuine. Peter tells is in 1 Peter 1:6-7 6 In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7 These have come so that your faith–of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire–may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.
God is looking for people with some “But if not” faith, people who will embrace that there is an Authority greater than any circumstance or earthly authority that has been established by man. God is Ultimate. Nothing and no one can trump Him. Look at this awesome verse from Proverbs 21:30 (NIV) “There is no wisdom, no insight, no plan that can succeed against the LORD.”
Isn’t that encouraging? God can never be outsmarted! God has no enemy that is greater than He is! God will always have the final say! When I considered that thought in preparation for today, I was reminded of a picture I saw at a conference a few years ago. Some of the ladies who were there will remember it. It is a picture called “Checkmate.”
If you are familiar with the game of chess, you know there are bishops, rooks, knights, pawns, horses, a queen and king. Each piece gets to travel across the board in a specific way. The goal of the game is to put your opponent’s king in a position where it can no longer move anywhere. That is called having your opponent in “checkmate,” and that’s the name of this picture.
The story is told of two gentlemen friends were visiting a city one day and decided to tour an art museum together. They were both business men, but one of them was also a former chess champion. They were walking slowly through the gallery and came upon this same painting. While both looked at the painting, the former chess champion was fascinated by it, and could not turn away from it. It depicted an ordinary man, with a sad countenance, sitting across a chessboard from a jubilant “Satan-like” opponent. The pieces (as seen in the photo above) on the board are arranged in such a way that the man’s king was left in a losing position and to cause the devil to shout the title of the painting – “Checkmate!”
The more the chess champion looked at the board, the more he was perplexed, and his companion was getting very impatient. The chess champion said to his friend, “You go on…there is something puzzling me about this painting, and I can’t quite figure it out. I’ll catch up with you later on.” So his friend went off to tour the rest of the museum. The chess champion gazed at, thought, gazed some more and studied very closely the unusual painting. After quite some time, his friend returned and found the chess champion smiling, and noticing his return, the chess player said, “I’ve got it! This painting has the wrong title. I’ve been studying the arrangement of all the pieces (not seen in the photo), and the devil hasn’t necessarily won, because ‘The king still has one more move!’”
Listen, here is a part c to definition number two: Faith is the total belief that no matter what you are facing, the KING still has one more move.
What is it to you that feels like checkmate? Cancer? Bankruptcy? Job loss? The end of a relationship? Declining health? Your past that is haunting you? God wants you to hear and embrace this morning that the KING still has one more move and always will have another move!
No matter how desperate your situation–it may even look like you have lost everything–but THE KING HAS ONE MORE MOVE. How do I know this? How can I be so confident to declare this to you? I know because our King has a well-documented history of last moves. I know because…
…Seas don’t split just open to allow people to pass through on dry ground.
…Water doesn’t just spring forth from a rock.
…Food doesn’t just accumulate on the ground every night.
…An old man holding up his arms does not determine the outcome of a war.
…Thick city walls don’t just fall down flat when people blow horns.
…Men thrown into furnaces and lion’s dens do not survive.
…A jar of oil doesn’t just keep refilling itself.
…Wading into a dirty river doesn’t cure leprosy.
…The blind don’t see, the deaf hear, or cripples walk just because someone
touches them or spits on dirt and puts mud in their eyes.
…Threatening storms don’t just stop because someone talks to them.
…Shackles don’t just miraculously fall off and prison doors open. (http://www.villagealive.com/resources/Sermon++Notes+One+More+Move.pdf)
AND PEOPLE DON’T WALK OUT OF THEIR GRAVES ALIVE unless God is God!
I watched a messaged on Youtube this weekend by Jentezen Franklin, a pastor and author, who taught on this subject of God always having one more move. He said you and I can do something God cannot do. I perked up and paid attention. He said, “You and I can do all that we can do.” God, however, has never done ALL that He can do! There is no limit to His power! He will always have another move, and He will always have the last word!
Philippians 2:11 tells us there is coming a day when “every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.” What does that mean? It means that one day everyone will acknowledge and respect the authority of Jesus Christ and will worship Him from that acknowledgement. In Matthew 28:18 Jesus said all authority in heaven and earth had been given to Him. Do you believe it?
Do you believe He has ultimate authority? That He just speaks a word and angels do His bidding, sickness has to leave, and demons have to flee? Do you believe He is so powerful that He can rescue you from any difficulty and do you trust Him enough that even if He chooses not to you won’t lose faith in Him? Are you in a trial right now that has you bound up? You can’t pray? You can’t worship? You can’t experience any joy in life? You’re mad at everyone around you and you blame God for your circumstances? God can free you in the midst of the fire. You can be unbound in your anger and pain and you can be free to love God and live life to your fullest potential before you ever get out of the furnace! Does all hope seem lost? Have you come to a dead end? Are you looking at a problem that seems to have no solution? Could you muster the faith this morning to believe the King still has one more move? Maybe you’ve done all you can do, and it is now time for God to do all He can do!
Believing in Jesus’ authority, choosing to be a “but if not” person, being open and expectant that the King still has one more move, that is the kind of faith that amazes Jesus. Let’s exercise it this morning.