Chapter # 7 Paragraph # 1 Study # 3
Thesis: The faith for which Jesus seeks is an attitude which puts no stock in "proximity necessities".
Introduction: In the text before us this morning we are told that Jesus was startled by the expression of a "kind" of faith which He had not found in Israel. That this text is before us this morning, rather than some other text, indicates that Jesus actively seeks the "kind" of faith that is exemplified in this text. That there are different "kinds" of faith is abundantly illustrated by the records of the Bible. And that God will respond to all of them is powerfully declared by Jesus Himself in Luke 17:6.
So, if God will do as much for the one whose faith is as a grain of mustard seed as He will for the one whose faith is as the centurion's, what difference does it make to Jesus whether people use the centurion as a pattern to be emulated, or not? Luke's record of the centurion's startling faith is in his record for a reason and that reason seems to be that Jesus wanted His disciples to emulate it.
To answer, we are going to look into the uniqueness of the centurion's faith to see if we can find a reason for its inclusion in our text.
July 6, 2008
- I. The Problem.
- A. If we permit Luke 17:6 to have a part to play in our consideration of the text before us, we will have to conclude two things.
- 1. That an "increase" of faith is completely unnecessary to obedience.
- 2. That an "absence" of faith marks humanity so profoundly that even the disciples of Jesus were not notably "believing".
- B. In our text this morning we must consider the claim of Jesus that what the centurion exercised as "faith" did not exist in Israel.
- 1. This must be considered in terms of "degree" -- since many "believed" in Israel.
- 2. This must mean that movement into the "degrees of faith" is not a typical norm.
- II. The Problems With the Problem.
- A. If, as Jesus said, God will respond to "mustard seed" faith with whatever action is required to fulfill the expectation, what is the "problem" with not moving into the degrees of faith?
- B. The Bible declares two "seed" realities.
- 1. Any viable seed that is planted in good soil grows.
- 2. Any seed that does not grow dies.
- a. This may be a flaw in the seed.
- b. This may be a flaw in the soil into which it falls.
- C. Thus, the problems with the problem are two.
- 1. If there is no movement into the degrees of faith, the ability to "believe" will die.
- 2. If the ability to believe dies, the corruption that settles over the life makes one's experience go from bad to terrible.
- III. The Centurion's Example.
- A. His kind of "faith" is that for which God seeks.
- 1. There is no point to the presence of this record in the Word of God if He did not intend for it to be a positive goad to His people [Note Romans 10:19 and 11:11].
- 2. There is no point to a "goad" if it does not move us to its intention.
- B. His kind of "faith" has a very specific "point of address".
- 1. Sadly, the majority use of this text is pointed in the direction of "a way to get God to do what you want Him to do" in spite of the fact that that use is deliberately in contradiction with two major issues in Luke.
- a. The Luke 17:6 text pointedly tells us that the "point" of faith is not to get God to do what we wish but to get us to do what God wishes.
- b. The Luke 6:20-7:10 is absolutely not about getting God to act, but to get us to obey.
- 2. The text does have "getting God to act" as a major feature of its details.
- a. The centurion wanted Jesus to save his slave.
- b. The centurion got what he wanted.
- 3. But the point of the text is that Jesus got what He wanted and had not found in Israel.
- a. The text is about what Jesus "found" (end of 7:9): this means He was looking.
- b. The text is about how a person's life is affected when God gets what He wants.
- 1) God is not a selfish seeker.
- 2) God only looks for "stuff" that is of benefit to those He loves.
- 3) That the centurion got his slave back from the brink of death only means one thing -- that giving God what He wants means getting what we need.
- 4. The real issue beneath all of the "other" issues: the essence of the centurion's "faith".
- a. What was it that was so "different" from the faith Jesus had found in Israel?
- b. We might be tempted to think that it had to do with the centurion's humility because this is a major aspect of the content of the text, but there were many humble in Israel.
- c. We might be tempted to think that it had to do with the centurion's understanding of authority because this also is a major aspect of the content of our text, but Luke 4:36 tells us plainly that Jesus had made His "authority" a major part of His self-revelation to Israel and the people responded in 4:40 with faith in that "authority".
- d. So we have to seek for the "something" that made the centurion's "faith" unique from all that Jesus had "found" in Israel.
- 1) One thing that is unique in the centurion's practice in our text: his lack of any sense that "proximity" is a factor.
- a) In the 4:36-4:40 context there is a pronounced "proximity" issue.
- b) In the centurion's case, he completely dismisses "proximity" as an issue.
- 2) A second thing that is unique to the centurion's practice in our text: his grasp of the two different ways in which "authority" functions.
- a) There is clearly a focus upon the kind of "authority" which brooks no disobedience: this was held in common by the centurion and the Jews as shown in the 4:36 setting.
- b) There is also clearly a focus upon the kind of "authority" which restrains itself from forcing compliance: this is where the "elders" and the centurion and the nation parted company.
- i. This is not typically understood although it is revealed always and everywhere: God is authoritative and could force compliance at every point but does not.
- ii. The reason it is missed is that "Love" is missed: Love seeks compliance out of Love rather than force, but only does so when such compliance is possible (it does not seek it from confirmed rebels).
- 3) A third thing that is unique to the centurion's practice in our text: his "relational world" held his relationships as crucial to his soul's prosperity, but did not make the mistake of tying their benefit to "proximity" issues.
- a) This is a crucial "faith" issue because the failure of faith is very often rooted in a personal "sense of abandonment" that is often expressed in the words, "where is God?".
- b) For the centurion, even if God was clear on the other side of the universe, His "distance" would not affect His "authority" and its impact: this put his soul at rest as soon as he discovered "willingness" in Jesus.
- IV. The Point For Us.
- A. The major issue of "faith" is not proximity, but willingness.
- B. The major theological fact is that God is always willing when true benefit is in view.
- 1. Jesus, the text tells us, went with the "elders" in spite of their completely perverse attitudes.
- 2. Jesus, the prior text tells us, insisted that His disciples adopt the "always willing" attitude of seeking true benefit -- even to the point of loving enemies and doing good to the hateful.
- C. The major question for us, then, is this: when we do not get what we think we need by prayer, we need to ask, and answer, this question: how am I failing to love the God Who loves me?
- 1. James tells us that there are only two reasons for our failure to obtain what we think we need: not asking; and asking for false reasons.
- 2. So, if we ask and do not receive, we need to "adjust".