Luke 7:1-10 (Second Sunday after Pentecost/Proper 4—Series C)
“Do You Trust HIS Word?”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT
May 29, 2016
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is the Gospel lesson recorded in Luke 7:
1After he finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he went into Capernaum. 2Now a certain slave of a centurion, whom he highly valued, was sick and about to die. 3When he heard about Jesus, he sent to him elders of the Jews asking him that he might come and heal his slave. 4When they came to Jesus they began to urge him earnestly saying, “He is worthy for whom you will do this. 5For he loves our nation and he built the synagogue for us.” 6And Jesus went with them. By this time, he was not far away from the house when the centurion sent friends, saying to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy that you should come under my roof. 7For this reason I did not consider myself worthy to come to you; but say the word and let my servant be healed. 8For I also am a man set under authority, having soldiers under me, and I say to this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and he does it. 9When Jesus heard these things, he marveled at him and, turning to the crowd following him, he said, “I say to you, I have not found such faith even in Israel.” 10And when those who were sent returned to the house, they found the slave in good health.
Do you consider yourself to be worthy or unworthy? The next question would be, worthy or unworthy of what? The elders of the synagogue at Capernaum felt that the centurion who “loves our nation and built our synagogue” was worthy to have Jesus come and heal the centurion’s highly valued slave. Humanly speaking, they were probably right, and we can appreciate them putting in a good word to Jesus for a man of another nationality (the centurion was a Gentile!) and for a military enemy besides (he was a Roman!). But do his actions toward the Jewish inhabitants of Capernaum make this centurion worthy of the healing Jesus came to bring? These Jewish elders thought so. What do you think?
Better yet, what did the centurion think? Worthy or unworthy? Isn’t it interesting that he came to the opposite conclusion of the Jewish elders? “I am not worthy that you should come under my roof. For this reason, I did not consider myself worthy to come to you.” The centurion denied the worth attributed to him. As he saw it, he was not worthy enough for Jesus to come to his house. For that matter, he wasn’t even worthy enough to approach Jesus in person! What does this Gentile man know about Jesus that the Jewish elders do not? He himself was a man of rank, a Roman centurion, able to command men and slaves with one word with the full expectation that they will obey—“I say to this on, ‘Go!’ and he goes, and to another ‘Come!’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this!,’ and he does it.” As the world saw it, he had a certain amount of worthiness. But by God’s grace, this centurion saw himself as God sees him. He was aware of his sins and knew that God was too, and his sins made him unworthy to have One sent from God come to his home.
How did this centurion come to this knowledge of Jesus? We don’t know. But Jesus Himself makes clear that this centurion trusted in Jesus and in His power to heal and to save. At a bare minimum, the centurion believed that Jesus was doing the works of God. Perhaps his heart trusted that Jesus was God-made-flesh, the promised Messiah that he had heard about in Capernaum. At any rate, the centurion knew his unworthiness. At the same time, he trusted in the gracious word of Jesus which he knew could accomplish his request even without the Lord’s presence. “Say the word and let my servant be healed.”
The word of Jesus is a Gospel word of grace. The word of Jesus is a word that is undeserved. Would anyone dare say of themselves, “I deserve God to forgive my sins. I deserve God to save me. I have earned God’s love and merit whatever I ask of him”? And yet that is exactly what we do, isn’t it?
Humanly speaking, people might consider us worthy, like the elders did the centurion. “He or she deserves God to do such-and-such for them because they are such a nice person, helpful, kind, and generous.” Many of you know by now that I am a product of our LCMS Lutheran schools. I can still hear my fifth grade teacher, Jan Dager, now in heaven with the Lord, saying to us, “Nice people go to hell.” Most of our reactions were, “What are you talking about?” I think it took most of us a number of years more of growth to really appreciate what she meant.
“Nice” is a human term of comparison, the opposite of which is “mean.” There is a general human agreement on what behavior is nice and what behavior is mean. But which nice action is better? Is there something that you can do that is more “nice” than something I have done? Can you be nicer than me? And if you are perceived by others as being nice, what does that get you from God? Nothing. You can be as nice as nice can be, humanly speaking, and end up eternally separated from God in hell because you did not have saving faith in Jesus Christ. When you do nice things according to human standards, apart from saving faith in Jesus, you don’t merit anything. You are not worthy for God to do anything for you because you are still in your sins. And sin merits you only physical and eternal death and condemnation in hell. Yes, “nice” people go to hell if they do not trust the saving word of Christ since they rely on their own so-called “worthiness” to try to win favor with God.
The centurion understood this. He was not worthy to come before Jesus. He was not worthy to have Jesus come to him. He comprehended his sinful condition and understood his standing before God. But at the same time, he trusted in the word of Jesus, in the grace of God. It seems this Roman grasped what Paul wrote later in Ephesians 2, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world. . . . But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph. 2:1-9 ESV).
The only kind of worth that counts toward our salvation is Jesus’ worth that He made available to us through His life, death, and resurrection. God credits this worth to us by grace through faith by means of the Word of Christ. It is the Word of Christ that declares you and me not guilty of sin because Jesus has died on the cross, paying for our sins with His own blood. It is the Word of Christ that creates in us, by the power of God the Holy Spirit, the faith which trusts this Word, the faith that receives this Word, and the faith which apprehends the gifts of God which the Word offers, gives, and seals—forgiveness of sins, rescue from death and the devil, eternal life, salvation, and the strengthening of faith.
It is the Word of Christ that creates this saving faith in us by the power of the Spirit and delivers the forgiveness won by Christ to us, without any merit or worthiness on our part. It’s a free gift of God’s undeserved mercy and grace, just like the healing of the centurion’s servant was a free gift of God’s undeserved mercy and grace.
It is the forgiveness of sins received through the Gospel Word and in the Sacraments, which are Gospel Word and Sign, that makes us worthy to stand before God in righteousness and holiness for Christ’s sake. We could never set up our own love and our own works that would appease God’s wrath against our sins. We have no worthiness to stand before God in our sins. “It is not for the sake of our merits, nor for the sake of our [sorrow over sin], . . . love, worship, or works” (Ap. AC IV.83) We receive forgiveness of sins for the sake of Jesus Christ alone, through faith alone. It is the forgiveness of sins which Christ purchased and won for us through His death and resurrection that makes us worthy to stand before our Lord and God without spot or stain or blemish.
The Word of Christ, the Gospel, is the power of God unto salvation. The centurion, by the faith gifted to him by the Holy Spirit, trusted the Word of Christ to heal and to save: “Just say the word.” That, dear friends, is the same faith given to you by the Spirit of God. Therefore, through faith you say to Christ, “I am not worthy that you should come under my roof. Just say the word.” And so Jesus does as His pastors speak His Word of Absolution to you in His stead and by His command, “I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” As you come at Jesus’ invitation to His Holy Supper, your faith calls out, “Jesus, just say the word.” And Jesus does through His Words of Institution: “Take, eat; this is My body given for you. Take and drink; this is My blood of the new testament shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.”
His is a word that you can trust. His is a word that you can rely on. Jesus’ word is a word that does what He promises. Your sins are forgiven for the sake of Christ. By His grace alone, through faith in that Word of Promise, Christ has made you worthy by His blood to stand before your God and Savior without condemnation so that you may “serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true” (Small Catechism, Second Article). Amen.