Luke 7:1-10

You’ll Be Surprised Where We End Up.

My mom was from the Lancaster area, a little over two hours from here. We would travel there at least once a year to visit her family and friends, often taking the same roads. Over the years, our normal route became very familiar to me and my sister-76 East (PA turnpike) to one of the Lancaster exists, then catch Route 30 to Route 772 into Mt. Joy. Dad always drove. It was our tradition. We’d get up at 6:00am, be on the road by 6:30, we’d stop for breakfast after an hour and a half. My sister and I would have our pillows in the backseat so we could sleep, of course. Well, after years and years of doing this trip the exact same way every time, all of a sudden, one time Mom decided she was gonna drive. And when we got off the turnpike, she started taking different roads. My sister and I were having trouble adjusting to all this change, and I finally said, “Mom, this isn’t the right way! You’re not on the right road! We’re gonna get lost!” She just smiled and calmly said, “Just trust me. You’ll be surprised where we end up.”

Expectations. Everyone, everywhere has expectations. The characters in our story were no different. We don’t know much about the Jewish elders who approached Jesus on behalf of this Roman Centurion, their motives or prior experiences. But what is so telling is that they came to Jesus FOR this man, who was in command of a garrison of soldiers, stationed just outside the town of Capernaum. He was a Roman and a military commander. Normally, that would mean he was their enemy, but he sent them to bring Jesus back and they went to do just that. Not only that, but when they got to Jesus, they began listing all the reasons Jesus should heal this man’s slave-he loved the Jews, built them their synagogue, he was worthy of this healing. Worthy-they thought Jesus should do something for this man because he was worthy.

Maybe they thought Jesus, being a Jew, would refuse his request… because the Centurion was, after all Roman. It’s not clear if these elders believed Jesus was the Messiah (the one who would deliver them from Roman occupation), but they seemed to regard him as a healer at least. Perhaps they had witnessed him perform a miracle. Or perhaps they only approached Jesus because of their respect for the Centurion (it seems clear from the gospel stories that most of the Jews didn’t get Jesus-who he was or what he was about). He didn’t follow the religious Laws in any normal way; he taught strange things and related to tax collectors and prostitutes, which was unacceptable for a good Jew at the time. So maybe they went to Jesus just because the Centurion asked them to. Their welfare and the welfare of their town depended on the kindness and goodness of this man, at least in part. Even if the Centurion wasn’t a Jew, he was still worthy of Jesus’ time. He was a good man.

But the Roman Centurion himself had very different expectations. For a moment, let’s step back and take a look at the events leading up to our story. This was near the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry. Just a few chapters before, Jesus was rejected in his home town of Nazareth. They didn’t understand him or his mission-in fact they drove him out of their town after he began comparing himself to the great prophet Elijah. And so he traveled to this fishing village, Capernaum, on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. While he was there he healed a man with an unclean spirit. As soon as Jesus approached the man, the unclean spirit confessed that Jesus was the Holy One of God. With the people gathered around, Jesus commanded that spirit to be silent and leave the man… and it did. It says that the people were amazed at Jesus’ power and authority. I wonder if the Roman soldiers stationed at Capernaum were there, but even if they weren’t there, they must have heard the story. News travels fast in a small town.

Not long after this, Jesus met some fishermen from Capernaum-Simon, James and John-and he talked to them about fishing for people instead of fish… a bizarre and graphic metaphor. Then he began healing and teaching. He took a lot of the Jewish religious laws and flipped them around and upside down. He talked about loving your enemies and being blessed when you are poor and persecuted. This must have all sounded very strange and different… not at all what people expected from a traveling Jewish healer.

And then we come to our story and this request from the Jewish elders on behalf of the Roman Centurion… Why did the Centurion choose to seek out Jesus? What kind of military commander cares so much about his slave that he would get a Jewish healer to help him? What kind of Roman soldier cares about Jews enough to build them a synagogue and build a relationship with their elders? He was a puzzling character.

But before Jesus could even get to his house, the Centurion sent some of his friends to stop Jesus and to tell him not to come, that he wasn’t even worthy to have Jesus under his roof. Not worthy to have Jesus come? The Jews just got done telling Jesus this man was certainly worthy. The Centurion also said that Jesus had the authority to heal with a word. As a Centurion, he certainly understood authority-when his commanding officer told him to do something, he did it, no question, no hesitation. And the people under him carried out his orders. Authority was power in that culture. Why did he believe Jesus had such great authority? I wonder if he was there when Jesus healed the man with the unclean spirit. Was he part of the crowd that was amazed at Jesus compassion, power and authority? Was he impacted by witnessing that miraculous event and hearing the confession of the spirit? “Jesus is the Holy One of God!”

Luke does not come out and say that the Centurion was there-this is simply my speculation, my wondering about what happened in the life of this Roman soldier. But whatever it was that drew the Centurion to Jesus, he responded with a lot of humility. He recognized that he wasn’t worthy of being in Jesus’ presence. In faith, he placed himself under Jesus’ authority. Somehow, he got it, he saw Jesus for who he was-a man of authority and power and compassion. Then it was Jesus’ turn to be amazed. He was amazed by this man’s faith, and when the Centurion’s friends finally got back home, they saw that Jesus granted the Centurion’s request. His slave was healed.

So, in the end, we have the Jewish elders, who don’t seem to have any problem being in Jesus’ presence… even telling him what he should do for someone else. And we have the Centurion, who seeks Jesus out, who recognizes his awesome power and authority… but knows he isn’t worthy to be in his presence. Who are we? Do we ever box God in with our expectations? Do we draw lines-this person is deserving, but this person isn’t? This person is outside the group, and this person should be in. Do we make faith about worthiness and doing good things? Do we recognize what God is doing in our churches, but think He needs convincing to work with other people, in other places? Have we so tightly nailed down the procedure of how one comes to faith in Christ that we deny God’s power to blow up all our expectations with His miraculous grace-grace that he pours out so generously on anyone who is humble enough to receive it? 

Or are we humbled by the Jesus who surprises us with His grace… who takes us on twists and turns down the road of faith? Are our eyes open, looking for where He is at work, outside our buildings and Bible studies and predictable 4-step membership programs? If we keep our eyes open, in humble faith, trusting that God is at work all around us in people’s lives…. We might be surprised where we end up…. And we might be surprised by the ways He invites us to join with Him in His surprising work.

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