Monday, January 24, 2011

The Centurion’s Theology

From the pericopal readings for the Third Sunday after the Epiphany the Gospel reading of Matthew 8:1-13 was the text for today’s sermon. This is an extremely rich text, one which has many wonderful treasures concerning the Gospel and the Old Testament proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

This text combines two accounts of miraculous healing, which direct to this wonderful proclamation of the Old Testament. Two men come to Jesus within a short period of time. Both men have a wonderful understanding of the promises of God in Christ. Amazingly, the richest understanding is expressed by one who was counted as from the outside, a Roman centurion. His expression of the right understanding of the true faith caused the Lord Jesus to marvel and to explain it more fully for the rest of us who are listening in to this man’s profession of faith.

In our usual time of discussion of the weekly pericopal texts and of the sermon, my wife asked a question of amazing depth which triggered further realization of even deeper understanding. The depth of this centurion’s understanding of the true faith is truly marvelous! Some of this is expressed in today’s sermon. It can be downloaded here.

However, the depth of the centurion’s response goes even deeper. The question that my wife asked was regarding the centurion’s statement connecting the fact that he realized that Jesus only needed to say the word in order for it to come to be, and the explanation of his understanding being based upon being a man under authority.

This man answered that his understanding was based upon being a man under authority, who also spoke with authority. He obeyed the authority to which he was subject, and those who heard his voice obeyed being subject to him. This is not amazing or cause for marveling. But the connection that he makes concerning Jesus is!

Regarding this, the centurion revealed a dual subjugation on his own part. As a centurion he was under the authority of the Roman government. But as a proselyte to the faith of the Jews he was also subject to Moses, who was also a man under authority. To whom did Moses answer?

Ah! Indeed! Moses pointed to the authority of another, one to whom all must bow the knee and confess as God and Lord. All of the faithful people of the Old Testament were under the authority of this one. But in this instance, the centurion was speaking of authority above and beyond this, for he was speaking of the authority by which the cosmos came into existence and is maintained. He was speaking of authority that even crippling and killing diseases must obey. He was speaking of the authority of the Lord God Almighty, to whom he was asking the blessing of healing for his paralyzed servant.

“Just say the word, Lord, and my servant shall be healed, for you are the one to whom all things are subject and must obey. Even this terrible sickness that is killing my dear servant must obey whatever you say. You gave your words to Moses, and he obediently proclaimed them to us. Thus I am happy to be subjected to counting myself unworthy to have you come under my roof, since I am not a descendent of Abraham and of the promise. I am very happy to be under this authority, whereby I am saved nevertheless by God’s mercy manifested as from the Jews, proclaimed to me and my household outside of the lineage of the promised Seed. It is by your words that I have been made to be a believer and a recipient of the blessing that is through Abraham and his Seed. So give the word, Lord, and my servant shall be healed.”

This centurion, this Gentile, truly understood the promises of the Old Testament. He understood that all of the distinctions made under the Old Testament were all about the promise of the Savior who would be born of the Jews. Jesus is the authority by which the Old Testament was given. Jesus is the authority by which the Old Testament is filled up and completed so that the New Testament in His blood supercedes it. This man understood that the Old Testament was being completed. The Lord Jesus marveled to observe this man’s faith, and He affirmed the truth of it saying:

Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel. And I say unto you, That many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven. But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

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