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Jesus meets... a man of great faith

READING: Matthew 8.5-13   (Luke 7.1-10)

When the twin towers of the New York Trade centre was blown up
- suddenly Muslims everywhere were scared as well as shocked
- they were shocked that such a terrible crime could be committed
- the Kor'an condemns killing of innocents more clearly than the Bible
- it says: If you kill one innocent person, it is as if you kill the world, and
if you save one innocent life, it is as if you saved the world
- they were shocked that anyone could do such a terrible crime
- and they were also shocked that people thought it might be a Muslim
- many Muslims have reason to hate the USA, but this was an outrage
- and no good Muslim would allow this kind of attack on civilians
- just as most who call themselves Christians condemn the IRA and UDF

But as well as being shocked, they were also scared
- because suddenly people everywhere turned against them in hatred
- because they were Muslims, they were labelled as terrorists
- they were lumped together with the fanatical bombers
- even though every Muslim organisation denounced this bombing
- people just put a label on all Muslims as dangerous and hated terrorists
Jesus didn't make this mistake of labelling people before he knew them
- when he saw the Centurion coming, he could have turned his back
- the Centurion represented the hated and feared occupation army
- they were irreligious, violent, and customers of prostitutes
- was there anything good to say about them?  No, not really.
- they brought law and organisation, but Palestine already had both
- and they imposed Roman taxes and spread Roman immorality
- so Jesus could have turned his back and avoided speaking with him
But instead, Jesus is happy to meet him and talk to him
- of course, in Luke's version, the Centurion sends Jews to talk to him
- the Jewish leaders of Capernaum came to Jesus on his behalf
- they say: Please help him because he's OK, even though he's a Roman
- he loves Judaism and even helped to build our Synagogue.But they didn't need to intercede on his behalf to Jesus
- and Matthew doesn't bother to mention the Jews speaking up for him
- Jesus is, after all,  the one who spoke to a Samaritan prostitute
- he was happy to heal the daughter of a Syrian woman
- and he has just come from healing a leaper, whom he touched
- (I wonder if the Jewish leaders knew this when they came to see him!)
Jesus doesn't look at the outside and label us as OK or worthless
- he doesn't care how many bits of ironmongery is piercing our skin
- he doesn't care what colour our skin is or what our accent is like
- he never asks for references or for degrees or qualifications
- he just wants to meet us and, even more, he wants us to meet him
Was there any doubt that Jesus would heal the servant?
- we don't ever hear of Jesus failing or refusing to heal someone
- everyone who came to him and asked, was healed or helped
- but there were plenty of people left in Israel who weren't healed
- Jesus must have walked past lots of beggars
- Jesus didn't just heal everyone he met, like a rich man throwing coins
- like the crowd of ill people at the pool of Bethesda (Jn.5)
- John says "a multitude of invalids, blind, lame, paralysed" waited there
-  they were waiting for the waters to stir and then get in to be healed
- they thought an angel or something stirred the water
- but he didn't go up to them all and heal them. He left them lying there,
- he only healed the person who asked him to heal him
- mind you, on this occasion Jesus cheated a little, and approached him
- he knew he had been ill for a long time, and took pity on him
- so he said to him: Do you want to be healed. And of course he did
The Centurion's servant wasn't healed till the centurion asked Jesus
- one might say that Jesus didn't know about him before that
- but that isn't the point of the story, which emphasises him asking Jesus
- the strange thing is that Jesus didn't have to be there to heal him
- he just prayed for him at a distance, without seeing him or touching him
- which means he could have healed every ill person he knew about
- he didn't even have to go over and see them. So Why didn't he?
Why did Jesus wait to be asked? Why didn't he just heal every one?
- err, I don't know. But I don't think it was because he couldn't
- when the woman in the crowd touched him, and he felt power go out
- I don't think that meant that he was tired out by the healing
- it means he felt power go THROUGH him, not draining his own power
- because on other occasions  he healed whole crowds of people
eg Mt.4.24: So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they broughthim all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains,
demoniacs, epileptics, and paralytics, and he healed them.- but notice they were all 'brought to him' - ie they asked him to heal
I don't know why Jesus waited to be asked, but it is clear that he did
- and I think that the reason is the same reason why we have to pray
- we don't pray in order to inform God that something needs doing
- we pray in order ask God to get involved and to help that situation
- why do we need to pray, when God already knows?
- I don't know.  I can guess, but I don't know the answer

Lots of people have made different guesses but this is mine
- I think it is because God is a gentleman, who isn't at all pushy
- or, to put it another way, because he takes our free will very seriously
- he has, after all, cleverly made the universe to allow us that freedom

In the Gospel we see Jesus is extremely pleased when someone asks
- he commend them by saying that they have 'faith' when they ask
- notice that he doesn't tell the person who is healed that they have faith
- he tells the Centurion that he has very great faith, more than any Jew
- because he came and asked Jesus even though it seemed impossible
- it didn't seem possible that Jesus would heal someone he hadn't seen

- but the Centurion said that it was like giving an order in the army
- the person you gave the order would go and carry it out, somehow
- but not if you were just a Legionary, with a few Auxiliaries under you
- the Auxiliaries would have a go, but if it was difficult, they left it
- though if you were a Centurion, with 80 Legionaries under you, you could
ask for almost anything, and it would get done
- what this Centurion realised was that Jesus was the man with authority
- he was the representative of God on earth, and God can do anything

The Centurion's great faith, didn't mean that he could do great things
- it meant that he had faith in a great person, who could do anything
- when Jesus commended his faith, he didn't commend his power
- he was commending him for coming to ask for what seemed impossible
- not for believing that it was possible when it seemed impossible
- but for believing that Jesus was worth asking and coming to ask him
Jesus often commended the faith of those who came to him
- the two blind men (Mt.9.29), the woman who touched him (Mt.9.22)
- but the most telling is also in Matt.9: the four carrying the paralytic (v2)
- this verse is particularly telling because Jesus commends the four
- he doesn't say anything about the faith of the person lying before him
Mt.9.2: They brought to him a paralytic, lying on his bed; and when Jesus saw their faith he said to the paralytic, "Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven"
Just as Jesus commends the faith of the Centurion who came to Jesus
- Jesus commends the faith of others who came to Jesus
- sometimes this was the same as the person who was ill
- the blind men and the woman who touched Jesus brought themselves
- but the Centurion and the four who carried the paralytic brought others
- and it was THEY, not the person who was ill, whose faith he commends
- but Jesus said nothing about the faith of the Centurion's servant
- perhaps the servant didn't even know anything about Jesus
- Jesus certainly doesn't appear to ask about whether he had any faith
- and he said nothing about the faith of the paralytic in front of him
- it appears that we need faith not to be healed, but to come to Jesus
- once we have brought something or someone to Jesus, HE will heal
Christians are sometimes very cruel, even now the Inquisition is over
- and one of the worst things Christians do is blame people for being ill
- they say: You have to have faith that God will heal you
- which implies that they are ill because of their lack of faith
- if they had more faith, God would heal them, but they don't so he won't
Jesus doesn't talk like that at all about the person who needs healing
- Jesus commends the faith of the person who comes to him
- the person who brings the ill person or tells Jesus about the ill person
- it takes faith to come to Jesus, not to be healed by Jesus
- so be careful before you assign blame that someone is not healed
- because the person who lacks faith is you, not the person who is ill
- faith is what makes us bring that person to Jesus, not what heals them
- they are healed by the power of God, not by someone's faith
- we need enough faith to bring someone to God. God will do the rest
There were so many other, wrong people the Centurion could go to
- he could have gone to the Temple of Mithras, the soldier's god
- or he could have gone to any number of other pagan Temples
- and sometimes people were healed at such places
- sometimes by chance, and sometimes by the power of the Enemy
- but such healings come with a price, and often produce new problems
- bad dreams, strange compulsions, nagging voices and troubled minds
- when you go to the Enemy for help, he will extract a heavy price
Or the Centurion could have gone to a local Jew to pray for him
- he could have gone to the famous Rabbi Hanina ben Dosa
- he was famous for praying for the sick, and lived in Galilee at this time
- someone came to him once to say Gamaliel's son was ill in Jerusalem
- he prayed for him, and they returned and found he had been healed
- I don't think there would have been any harm in going to ask him
- but it would be rather like asking the king's servant instead of the King
- it would be equivalent to us asking a Christian friend to pray for us
- but when Jesus was there, at hand, why bother?
- that's what the Centurion needed faith for, to recognise who Jesus was
Also, I don't know if Rabbi Hanina ben Dosa would have met with him
- he was, after all, a Centurion in the occupying army
- we only know a little about Hanina, but he was a pious Jew
- and he was known to pray for other pious Jews, not for Gentiles
- but Jesus was different and, according to pious Jews, scandalous
- because he was willing to speak to anyone, and even to heal anyone
Jesus emphasised in his sermon in Nazareth that everyone is important
- Luke puts this near the beginning, in chap.4 because it is a key point
- Jesus said that Elijah helped a widow in Zaraphath, ie outside Israel
- even though there were lots of widows in Israel who needed help
- and that Elisha healed Naaman, a leper from Syria, not from Israel
- and Jesus said there were lots of lepers in Israel who needed healing
- why did Elisha heal a Gentile and not the Israelites?
- well, because Naaman was the only leper who came and asked
- and sometimes it is the Gentiles who have more faith to ask than Jews
- which is what Jesus tells the surprised Jews with the Centurion
- many Gentiles will share the Kingdom, and many Jews will miss out
- why? Because they don't come to Jesus. They don't ask
And we don't have to come to Jesus through someone else
- we don't have to find someone holy and ask them to represent us
- when the Centurion wanted to see Jesus, there was a big palaver
- he didn't think he was good enough, as a Gentile, so he asked a Jew
- and he didn't ask just any old Jew, but the leaders of the Synagogue
- and they spoke up for him saying he had helped build the Synagogue
- well, this is very nice, because it shows a great deal of respect
- but really it wasn't necessary. He could have just gone up to Jesus
Jesus was happy for anyone to come to him, worthy or not
- they didn't have to be Jews, and they didn't need to be good enough
- they just needed to come to him
- the faith they needed was only enough to tell them
"I can't do it. I need help. I'll go to Jesus because he can help me"
- they didn't need the faith to say: "I know Jesus will heal or save me"
- they didn't even need faith to say: "I know Jesus won't turn me away"
- they just needed enough faith to come and say: Please help me.
- or "Please heal him"
That's all the faith we need now, though sometimes we need it for longer
- often we need to have the faith to keep praying for a long time
- because most prayers aren't answered immediately
Our family went for a walk in the woods yesterday, and 7 yr-old  Jo got lost
- but it was OK because we agreed to all meet up at a certain point
- and Jo found her way to that place an waited there patiently, for a long time
- she started to get worried when no-one came, and prayed for help
- but she said that God didn't answer her prayer for a long time
- no-one realised that Jo was lost, and go to get her, for at least 20 mins
- so she thought that God was being rather tardy in answering prayer
Jesus says: Knock and keep on knocking, and the door will be opened
- Ask and keep on asking, seek and keep on seeking, and you will find
- we need to pray constantly, not because God is deaf or forgetful
- but because we live in a fallen world, where prayers need repeating
- when Jesus was here, one just had to ask him, and that was it
- now that he isn't here, things are a little more difficult
- I'm not sure what the mechanism is, why things are more difficult
- but whatever the reason, we know that we have to keep on praying
The hardest bit about keeping on praying is knowing when to stop
- because obviously, sometimes we will mistakenly pray for wrong things
- things which are not in God's wider plan, or things which are impossible
- or things which really aren't for our ultimate good, for some reason
- like when Paul was praying for the 'thorn in his flesh', and God said: No
- we guess he was praying about his eyesight which was getting poor
- but God told him: My strength is made perfect in weakness
- so he decided to stop praying. But how did he know?
- perhaps it was a word of prophesy from two people independently
- or perhaps God spoke to him through scripture or a dream
- but usually things are not so clear, and we have to go on praying
And that DOES take faith
- when a computer is doing something, it usually shows a progress bar
- programmers soon worked out that these were necessary
- because otherwise the computer looks like it is doing nothing
- and most people assume that it has crashed, and restart the program
- we need to see that something is happening or we give up
- we think the program has gone wrong or the computer has crashed
- and, unfortunately, we sometimes regard God in the same way
- when we have to keep praying and see nothing happening, we give up
- we assume that God is doing nothing and it isn't worth continuing
- and then it does take faith in God to know that he doesn't crash
- he is working quietly by his Spirit in the background, using our prayer
I have some good news for you. There is a miracle which happens fast
- there is a miracle which happens as soon as you pray, just once
- it works just like in the days when Jesus walked on this earth
- when one asked Jesus for healing and he healed, immediately
- and it is the most wonderful miracle, much bigger than a healing miracle
- it is the miracle of new life which is given to someone who repents
- when we turn to Jesus and we are completely reborn in the Spirit
- this happens with one prayer by the person who is turning to God
- just one prayer, just one ounce of faith, enough to say: Save me
If you say: "I wish I had your faith", you have a double misunderstanding
- first, you don't realise how little faith I have (I don't need much)
- and secondly, you misunderstand how little faith you need
- you only need enough faith to come to Jesus. He'll do the rest
- Jesus is the perfect gentleman, who will wait for you
- he isn't pushy and won't pressure you or hurry you up
- but I'm not so patient, nor so gentle, and I'm telling you to hurry up
- if you haven't given your life to Jesus yet, your life is being wasted
- life without Jesus is like trying to live without any friends
- it is very hard, lonely, you miss out on all the best bits of life
- and life after death without Jesus is just not worth contemplating

So activate that tiny bit of faith which you do have, and turn to Jesus
- tell him that you want his help to transform your life, and he will do it
- tell him you want to belong to him and not to yourself, and it is done
- tell him you're sorry for what you've done and he's forgotten it already
- you are ready to start again, and this time the Holy Spirit is inside you
Whoever you are, wherever you are, life in Jesus is only a prayer away


 Discussion Questions

1.  Do you think that you react to some types of people differenently than to
others, even before you know them?
Imagine you are at a bus stop with two unruly  children and one runs off so
you have to chase him. You have to entrust the other to someone in the
queue, but who do you chose, and why?
- a white man in a business suit with a briefcase
- an Arab woman wearing a Muslim veil
- an black African in a boiler suit
- a Chinese woman with two bags of shopping
What would you look for in them which isn't listed in these descriptions?

2.  David said that Jesus didn't heal every ill person he saw, and said he left
people unhealed because they didn't ask him.
-  Do you think this is right?
-  Do you think that Jesus did in fact heal every ill person he saw? 
-  Why you think that he healed some and not others?
-  Did Jesus get a request to heal all the people in Matt.8?

3. Why do you think that some (or even many) prayers for healing go
unanswered today?
- how do you know when to stop praying?

4. How much faith do you think you have? What would you like more faith
-  What did Jesus say when his disciples wanted more faith? (Luke 17.5-6)

5.  We can pray for someone else to be healed without them praying for
themselves. But everyone needs to pray for themselves to be saved. How
do you think our prayers can help when we pray for them to find Jesus?


(C) Dr David Instone-Brewer 2001

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David Instone-Brewer