Luke 7:1-10 The Bible uses the word “faith” in two different ways. First of all, the bible uses the word “faith” for what is believed–the content or doctrine of Christianity. Of this faith, Paul says, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” We measure this “faith” by the standard of God’s Holy Word alone. This then is the first way that the Bible uses the word “faith”–as the substance of what is believed and confessed by Christians.
The Bible also uses the word “faith” in a second sense–as that with which we believe—the act of believing--and that is the kind of “faith” that we are talking about this morning. This kind of faith has been described as that which lays hold of the substance of the Faith–the hand of faith--trust and whole-hearted confidence in the Lord.
Of this second use of the word “faith” Paul says that “it is by grace that you have been saved through faith”. In other words, faith lays hold of God’s grace in Christ and makes it our own. This kind of faith is summed up in the words, “I believe...” and it is here that many of us struggle spiritually–wondering if our faith is as strong as it should be and needs to be—especially when we compare our faith to that of others.
We read of the faith of Noah that led him to build an ark in dry weather. We read of the faith of Paul who, beaten within an inch of his life, got up, dusted himself off, and went right back into the same city to keep of preaching Jesus. We hear stories of martyrs, ancient and modern, and their heroic faith and we say to ourselves–“man! I wish I had that kind of faith–they have a truly great faith.”
Of course it’s not really our judgment that matters, is it? Only the Lord sees the heart and only the Lord knows whether a person has a great faith or not. It is his judgment that matters.
So how does the Lord measure the greatness of an individual’s faith? What does he say is important when it comes to our faith? How can we know if we have a great faith or not? How can this faith be deepened and strengthened?
Only two times in the Gospels does Jesus ever say that a person’s faith was “great”: the Canaanite woman who begged for her daughter to be set free from demonic possession-- and the story we have before us today of the healing of the centurion’s servant.
These two people with great faith shared some things in common: they were concerned not for themselves but for others–both were marked by profound humility–both put their hope in Jesus Christ alone–and both trusted the words of promise spoken by Jesus.
This then is the measure of a faith that Jesus calls great: a faith that is unselfish and humble–a faith that is Christ-centered and trusts in his Word. Let’s look at each of these four facets of a great faith a bit more closely in the story of the healing of the centurion’s servant. The Bible says that:
“A certain centurion’s servant who was dear to him, was sick and ready to die. So when he heard about Jesus, he sent elders of the Jews to Him, pleading with Him to come and heal his servant.”
The first mark of a great faith is a faith that is concerned for others. The man in need of healing was not the centurion’s child or parent who was ill, but his servant–one who waited on him–rigidly separated by social class–and yet the centurion was profoundly concerned for him.
Concern for others is a mark of a great faith. Too often our faith is weakened because we are interested in helping only those who can help us–only those with whom we share a common social or racial or economic background. Too often we are only concerned with our own spiritual lives so that our Christianity turns into just a “me and Jesus” thing. This attitude is contrary to the mind of Christ and reflective of a meager faith.
A great faith is always concerned about others because that attitude is reflective of God. Out of loving concern for us, God reached out to us with forgiveness and new life and as his children we are to do the same for others.
Our faith is not just about our relationship with Jesus, it’s also about our care and concern for our brothers and sisters in Christ and especially for those who do not yet know Jesus-- and our faith will be strengthened as we reach out in love to help others in their need.
Secondly, Jesus says that a great faith is not only concerned for others but is also a humble faith. The centurion got it–the Jewish elders didn’t. The Bible says that:
“When they came to Jesus, they begged Him earnestly, saying that the one for whom He should do this was deserving, “for he loves our nation and has built us a synagogue.” Then Jesus went with them. And when he was already not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to Him, saying to Him, “Lord, do not trouble Yourself, for I am not worthy that you should come under my roof. Therefore I did not even think myself worthy to come to You.”
Humility is nothing more or less than knowing the truth about ourselves and the truth about God.
The elders of the synagogue begged Jesus to come and help based on the worthiness of the Centurion. In their minds, he deserved Jesus’ help because of what he had done--and based on any human measure, the worthiness of the Centurion was unassailable. “Surely”, the Jewish elders thought, “God was duty bound to love and honor and help someone like him”.
This, of course, is how the world and our flesh still thinks about our relationship with God and our faith is weakened by this idea that if I do enough, pray enough, give enough-- surely God is obligated to me. But the true, biblical faith is not based on our works or worthiness but only on the grace of God on account of the works and worthiness of Jesus.
The centurion’s faith, in contrast to the Jewish elders, was counted as great by Jesus, not because of the things he had done, but because he recognized the truth about himself and the truth about Jesus. He said of himself: “Lord, I am not worthy.”
Yes-- he was great and powerful and noble and generous in the eyes of the world-- but he knew exactly who he was in God’s sight–a sinner who deserved not even the smallest measure of God’s goodness and blessing and yet, because of his faith in Jesus, he hoped for everything.
So it must be for us. Our faith will be strengthened when we can honestly say with the hymn writers of old, “Just as I am without one plea but that Thy blood was shed for me” and “nothing in my hand I bring, simply to Thy cross I cling.” A great faith is humble.
The third characteristic of a great faith is one that is fixed on Jesus Christ alone. That’s the way it was for the Centurion who said to Jesus:
“Say the Word, and my servant will be healed. For I also am a man placed under authority, having soldiers under me. And I say to one “go” and he goes; and to another, “come” and he comes; and to my servant, “do this” and he does it. When Jesus heard these things, He marveled at him, and turned around and said to the crowd that followed Him, “I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel!”
The centurion’s faith was great not only because he was concerned for his servant and not only because he was humble, but also because knew exactly who Jesus was and what he was able to do.
The centurion saw that like himself, Jesus had authority. But where the centurion only had the power to order men to their deaths–this Jesus had the power and authority to grant life.
Those with a great faith like that of the centurion believe that in Jesus alone there is life and healing and hope. Sent into this broken and dying world by his Heavenly Father for our sake, Jesus went about doing good–giving sight to the blind, healing the sick, feeding the hungry, and delivering from Satan’s power. He went to the cross as the sinless Lamb of God offered for the sins of the world and he rose up from the grave as the first fruits of our own eternal life.
It’s not just any old faith that justifies us and makes us right in God’s sight-- but it is faith in Jesus Christ alone as Savior and Lord. Our faith will be strengthened when we recognize that the power of Jesus has not diminished over these last two thousand years. He is still mighty and strong to save and he conveys the blessings of Almighty God to us by his word just like he did that day. The Centurion said to Jesus:
“Say the Word and my servant will be healed. And those who were sent, returning to the house, found the servant well who had been sick.”
“Just say the word, Lord!” That was the Centurion’s faith and it was great indeed because he simply took Jesus at his Word.
Too often our faith is weak, because while we affirm the truth of God’s Word as a matter of church teaching, we are afraid to put it to the test and step out in faith. Dear friends in Christ, don’t you think it’s time for us to do the same as the Centurion and take Jesus at his Word and build every facet of our lives on it and let it guide every decision that we make?
What is a faith that Jesus calls great? It is a faith that is concerned for others, a faith that is humble, a faith that looks to Jesus alone, and a faith that takes God at his word. That was the great faith of the centurion and the Good News for us is that a great faith is not just for the heroes of the faith--God intends that we too would have a great faith.
He gives it to us by the power of his Holy Spirit working in Word and Sacrament. He gives it to us as we reach out in love and concern for others. He gives it to us as we leave our comfort zones and step out in faith according to his word confident that no one who puts their faith and trust in him will ever be put to shame. May God grant us this great faith for Jesus sake! Amen.