Psalm 96 declares the LORD’s enthronement! Worshipers are called to proclaim each day that God saves. We are to publish his glorious deeds among the nations, telling everyone about the amazing things he does. Testimonies about God’s greatness in our lives ought to be regular part of our worship experience.
God is the creator of the heavens and there beside him is no god but idols. We are surrounded by idols and idol worship; rather than attempting to name these idols, let me simply define an idol as something then when touched by others, we feel out of sorts, our world literally falls a part because we cannot imagine life without it or them. This Psalm reminds us that if this is not God in lives then whatever it is that holds that place in our lives is an idol and we must turn from it and worship the one true God, the creator of heaven and earth.
This praise continues beyond humans and even the heavens and the earth are glad and rejoice, the sea and all things in it shout praises, the fields and crops bursts forth as well as the trees and the forest. What an awesome and a amazing God we worship! This is good news! We talked about the good news yesterday and will continue today.
We reflected on Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well which led to the whole village experiencing Jesus and making a messianic declaration, “It is no longer because of what you said, that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we now know that this is truly the Savior of the World.” (Jn. 4:42)
Today, I would like to continue with that theme and talk about the authority of Jesus and our human circumstances. We live in a polarized world which is an under statement. Political, social, religious etc ideologies permeate our culture. As such, we are quick to draw the line between who is in and who is out, who deserve to be helped and who doesn’t etc. This problem is not unique to us even Jesus and the apostles dealt with it in their respective ministry contexts. In our text this morning, Jesus encounters this reality but with interesting result that I believe is instructive to us.
The text tells us that a highly valued slave of a centurion (an officer in charge of a company of 100 soldiers) was sick and near death. The centurion heard a bout Jesus, and took action. This slave must have been very important to the centurion. He did what Roman officers perhaps were not supposed to be doing. He sent some respected Jewish leaders to ask Jesus to come and heal his slave. In this story, someone who deserves no sympathy from a Jewish messiah by virtue of the fact that they occupied the Jews was reaching out to Jesus for help. The centurion might have heard of Jesus’ reputation to heal the sick and his desperation led him to ask for help from the occupied, but Jesus as we know now was no ordinary Jew, he was also God’s son, the savior of the world!
The fact that a centurion was a leader of the occupying army ought to be a non-starter, end of discussion. No one wants to be occupied. And more importantly when the occupier suffers, the occupied ought to rejoice because suffering provides an occasion for identification. But I would add that in that same way, the authority of Jesus is for all who seek it, whether Jewish or Gentile. The situation here is rather unique because this centurion cared for the Jewish people and as such had gained the trust of the local leaders. So when he was in needed, the local elders sprung to action right away when he asked for their help. The elders went to Jesus and pleaded on the centurion’s behalf and Jesus accompanied them back to the home of the gentile.
There was a twist in the text when the friends of the centurion that he had sent with a new message intercepted Jesus. Jesus respected what was taking place and healed the servant from a distance. From this story, we can say boldly that Jesus’ ministry breaks down the barriers of insider and outsider, oppressor and oppressed, and Jew and Gentile. Barriers such as distance, cultural, political, ideological etc, do not limit his authority. There are lessons on cultural and religious and sensitivities in this story that we ought to pay attention even when we don’t quite grasp them. Jesus was astonished by the faith of an outsider! What do we make of this? He believed that Jesus’ command accomplishes something and he went for it. Do we such a faith in our Lord!
Jesus was amazed by the faith of someone who is an “outsider” to his Jewish community. In this case the outsider is a key representative of the Roman occupation. Matthew adds the caveat that even more surprising (to the “insiders”) than the Centurion’s faith is this: All kinds of foreigners and outsiders will be a part of God’s great kingdom while those who thought they were insiders will be excluded (Matt 8:11-12). The outsider had grasped the truth that the psalmist declares in 96. Jesus’ own people did not easily accept this truth but the centurion seem to get it and acts on it no wonder Jesus was amazed at his faith!
So who receives the blessings of God? The insiders who pays no attention to God or outsiders who recognizes the power of God? The Centurion had heard about the preaching and teaching of Jesus and he embraced that word. The potential loss of a cherished servant has him in a crisis and he reaches out to someone who has captured his hopes. The words and actions of Jesus were his hope in a seemingly hopeless situation. He trusts that the power of Jesus’ word can accomplish what nothing else can.
How might this be translated to our context today? Who are the insiders and who are the outsiders? With God the “insiders” are those who hear the words of love and hope and act on them and the “outsiders” are those who are those who have heard the words but whose hearts have grown cold. Today, would you consider coming to your Lord and savior with your questions, your needs, your desperation, anger etc. He cares and his authority extends beyond our human experiences. The Lord is enthroned above the earth, let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice! Do we believe this truth and are ready to act on it like the centurion? The invitation is for all of us this morning.
Preached at “The Point Center” in Parkersburg PA
Lanchester District Mission weekend
June 2, 2013