Dr. Mark E. Hardgrove
I lived in Maine for several years while I was serving in the United States Air Force, and I heard the story of a man there who was somewhat of a hermit. He had been single his entire life and with no children and no meaningful contact with his family, he lived alone. Sometime in January he died, apparently of a heart attack. But because of his reclusive nature no one noticed that he was dead until the spring thaw of April when his decaying body resulted in such an odor that his neighbors called the police and they went in to investigate and found the man. He had been dead for several months and no one even knew it until his body began to stink.
Here’s a question that we could ask ourselves: If our church closed its doors tomorrow, would anyone notice our absence? Or does the world only know that the church is there when there is a scandal, when someone raises a stink and the media camps on the doorstep to announce that the pastor has had a moral failure, or the church clerk embezzled money, or someone molested a child? Is it possible that there are a lot of church that are already dead, but no one will know until it starts to stink?
If no one would even know of or acknowledge our absence if we locked the doors tomorrow, then it just may be that we are no better than the social club, or the restaurant, or the horse park down the road. We have been called to be salt and light, we have been called to shake and shine, we have been called to sound an alarm. Jesus said: “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. 16Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. 17And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; 18 they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.” (Mark 16:15-18, NIV)
The church has been called out and sent forth to make a difference in the lives of people. We are to visit the widows and the orphans (Ja. 1:27), to cloth the naked, to visit the imprisoned, to feed the hungry, and in as much as we have done it unto the least of these, we have done it unto Jesus Himself (Matt. 25). Jesus said that men are to see our good works and glorify our Father which is in heaven (Matt. 5:16).
In our text we have the account of a leader whose faith provoked the admiration of Jesus. This man was a Roman soldier, a Gentile, and yet his story located in the heart of the Gospel of Luke, teaches us that we too can be a leader who can make a difference in lives of those we lead so that we can touch our community with the love of God. And frankly, we live in a time where there is a dearth of real leadership. We have people who want to gain fame and be admired. We have people who want to have their ego stroked and who want everyone to look at them standing on their pedestal, but we have far to few men and women who are willing to be real leaders in the church, or in the community. We have far too few people who are willing to make the sacrifices of time, talent, and treasure. We have far too few people who are willing invest themselves into the lives of others. And we have far too few churches that are leading the way in their communities.
If the church is going to be the church, the church that can make such an impact in our community that the community itself will rush to our defense if threatened, then we are going to have to raise up leadership that is interested in doing more than having a platform to speak from, we need leaders who will shine in the darkness and lead the way out.
Let’s look at this centurion in our text. First, I want you to notice that:
I. He Cared About Others (Vv.1-5)
A. He Cared for His Community
I’ve heard it said that people don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care. Some view leadership as an opportunity to promote themselves. Their whole goal is to get the glory and to stand in the spotlight. In this view of leadership people are simply tools to gain what one wants to get. But the centurion in this story was a man of compassion and concern. He was a Roman leader on Jewish soil but he cared about his community. He didn’t have to show any concern for the Jews, his promotion would come from the Romans not the Jews, yet he gained the admiration and respect of those his nation occupied. The people said of this centurion, “he loves our nation, and has built us a synagogue.” The Jews went to Jesus on behalf of this man and “begged” Jesus to do something for a Roman soldier. This speaks volumes about the character of this centurion.
When the community can say of us, as a church–but also as managers, business owners, PTA presidents, or any area where we are a leader–that we love them, then we know that we have begun to make an impact in our city.
Friend, if you are a parent or a grandparent, then you are in a position of leadership. And in that position you can influence children who are friends of your children, the parents of those children, and so on. And in that position you can show genuine care and concern for others. Reach out and touch someone, have compassion, show some concern, let them know that you care if they hurt and you’ll do whatever you can to help them heal. Find a wound and heal it, find a need and fill it, be a leader.
The centurion had made such an impact on his community that when he was in need his community came to his aid. When the church is making a difference, when we are having a positive impact on our community by simply showing the love of Christ, then when we are in need, when we need the rezoning, when we need the signage law amended, when we need help, the community will be speaking out and coming to our aid. The Bible says, “When a man’s ways are pleasing to the LORD, he makes even his enemies live at peace with him” (Prov 16:7, NIV). This centurion showed concern for his community.
B. He Cared About Those Working Under Him
Not only did this centurion care about his community, he cared about his servant. When you see the word “servant” here, you can think, “slave.” Slavery was a way of life back then and it had nothing to do with the color of one’s skin, but of social standing and birth. A slave could be bought and sold, and if this servant died, the centurion could have replaced him with another. But this centurion genuinely cared about his servant. This servant was more than just a means to an end; this servant was a man that was sick and a man for whom the centurion cared.
We need to remember that people are not a means to an end; they are an end in and of themselves. We don’t care for people and minister to people to elevate ourselves, but to lift them up and help them out. As a true leader we should be seeking the welfare of others, even when it calls for sacrifice on our part. We are our brother’s keeper. This centurion cared enough about his servant to call upon the aid of a Jewish rabbi named Jesus. He’d heard about Jesus and he asked the Jewish elders in his community to appeal to Jesus on behalf of his servant.
Because this man had been a genuine friend to the community, the community of Jews broke with all custom and social protocol to ask Jesus to come to this Gentile’s house and heal the man’s servant. If we’ll begin healing hearts, mending marriages, empowering parents, and helping out the down and out, we will find that voice of our church, this church, will cause even the politicians to stop and listen.
I. He Carried Himself With Humility
It is noteworthy that unlike many who claim the mantle of leadership and who are so busy building themselves up that they have little time for others; this man carried himself with humility. He was a leader of a hundred Roman troops. He had men who jumped at his command, and who would die for him on the field of battle, yet this centurion was able to be a leader and still carry himself with humility.
The Bible tells us that if we will humble ourselves in the sight of the Lord, He will lift us up (Ja. 4:10). To show His disciples the true meaning of Christ-like leadership Jesus got down and washed their feet and told them to do the same.
When Jesus responded to the request of the Jews and proceeded to the centurion’s house the man sent his friends out to meet Jesus saying, “Lord, do not trouble Yourself, for I am not worthy that You should enter under my roof. Therefore I did not even think myself worthy to come to You.”
We have a lot to learn from this man. Sometimes we act like we’re doing God a favor when we come to church. We act like we are, or ought to be the center of attention and that everything in the service should revolve around what we want and like. But this man said, “Lord, I’m not even worthy to stand in your presence. I’m not worthy for you to enter my house.” We must never allow pride and a haughty spirit to enter into our heart and corrupt our service unto God. We must remember that it is all about Him who bore our sins on Calvary’s tree.
A true leader still considers it an honor to be called upon to lead. President George W. Bush said that every time he enters the Oval Office it still gives him chills bumps. When people are willing to follow our lead it should not result in a power trip, but in a humble appreciation for their trust and confidence in us.
The day that we believe that we deserve the position will be the day that we descend down the slippery slopes of self-importance and pride. I have not arrived, neither am yet made perfect, but this one thing I do, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. It is not our right to teach a class, or our right to sing a special, it is our privilege be used of God in any ministry capacity where it can be said of us that we co-laborers together with Christ.
III. He Comprehended The Power Of Authority
Finally, what marked the leadership of this centurion was that he comprehended the power of authority. He did not have a background in Judaism, he is not referred to as a proselyte or a God-fearer, and it appears that he had never had contact with Jesus before this account, so what was the basis of this man’s faith? This man was a soldier, a leader, and if there is one thing this man understood it was the subject of authority. He knew, first hand, the power of the words of those in authority.
We in America have religious television and radio, as well as Christian magazines and books. We have Bibles in dozens of translations, and churches on almost every corner, and one would think that we would have enough faith to see people healed more frequently, and people saved and delivered more often. So why don’t we? Because with all our Bible training and courses and religious programming, we in America have a serious lack of understanding on the subject of “authority.” Ever since the 60’s we have been raising one generation after the other who chafes at the thought of coming under authority. And while we are suspicious of, and rebel against, authority figures we are undermining a very important principle in the whole faith equation. Namely, God is God and I am not. God’s Word is God’s Word, and mine is not. God can do whatever He desires, I cannot. God can tell me what to do, when to do it, and how to do it because He is God. God is sovereign, He is the Rock that is higher than I and neither is there any other Rock like our God. Heaven and earth shall pass away, but His Word will endure forever. His Word will not come back void; it will accomplish what He has purposed.
This man didn’t have a deep theological reason for saying what he said, but when he said, “Just speak the word and my servant will be healed,” he was basing this statement on the fact that Jesus was a man who spoke with authority over the elements, and even over life and death itself. He had heard of the miracles of Jesus and he believed. He hadn’t even seen Jesus’ miracles, but he’d heard and he recognized a man with authority. He said to Jesus, “For I also am a man placed under authority, having soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”
Just as he had the authority to speak to his servants and soldiers and they responded, the centurion knew that Jesus could speak to the sickness that paralyzed his servant, and the sickness would have to respond. Jesus didn’t have to go into the house, the power of His Words would reach the servant and rebuke the sickness. The centurion said, “Just say the Word and my servant will be healed.”
I fear that until we can come to the place were we understand and honor God ordained authority, we will fail to see the power of God released as we desire. Until children honor their parents, until parishioners respect those who are over them in the Lord, until leaders acknowledge the headship of Christ, until we all understand the importance of God ordained leadership, then we will fail to understand the power of the Word of God for our lives.
Furthermore, until we recognize the authority of God’s Word, we will never be in a position to speak God’s Word with authority because it’s not our authority but His authority that provides the power to remove the mountains when we speak to them.
IV) He Received The Commendation of Jesus (Vv. 9-10)
Notice the response of Jesus to this man’s words. Luke tells us that Jesus “marveled at him.” What a commendation! There are only two places where the Scriptures tell us that Jesus “marveled,” once is here at the faith of a Gentile Roman soldier, and the other is in Mark 6:6 where Jesus “marveled” at the unbelief of the Jews. In fact, Jesus turned to the crowd of Jews and said, “I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel!”
What did the man say that prompted such a response by Jesus? He simply said, “I know that you have the authority to merely speak the Word and my servant will be healed.” The Jews resisted authority, and they resisted Jesus. But this man knew both how to be under authority and how to be in authority. We will never be effective leaders unless we are willing first be faithful followers. Jesus was making leaders out of His disciples, but it all started with the invitation, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Matt. 4:19).
Because of the centurion’s faith in the authority of Jesus’ words, he went home to find his servant healed. This centurion had secured the healing of his servant because he was willing to humble himself before Jesus. He, the Roman soldier who led a hundred men, acknowledged and submitted to the authority of a Jewish rabbi named Jesus.
Until we are willing to yield to the authority of the Word of God in our lives we will never live in victory. Until we are willing to surrender our will and our desires to the Lordship of Jesus, we will never experience the triumphs we so long to see. God is looking for leaders who can be led. And He’s looking for church that will follow Him and will lead the community to the light that gives life unto men.
I’m going to make this invitation today. You may be a businessman, a teacher, a PTA president, a parent or a grandparent, but if you are willing to take a stand and lead the lost to Christ, lead the down and out, up and over, lead the struggling ones to the fold, then I want you to accept the challenge that lies before our church and say with me, “Yes, we will be relevant, we will be ready, we will be willing, and we will lead our community to Christ instead of allowing them to push us into the shadows.” We complain about our schools, and our government, and our politicians. We talk about our society and our community, and all the ills and problems, but Jesus said, “Behold I give you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions and over all the power of the enemy.” It’s time for the church get out of the foxholes and come out of hiding. It’s time for the church to rise up and push back the gates of hell.
Joshua and Caleb were willing to go forward and take the land that had been promised, and I believe that God has promised us this city if we are willing to step up in the power of the Holy Spirit and take the Gospel of Jesus to our city. Paul said, “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ, for it is the power of God unto salvation to them that believe.”
I want people with a passion in their soul, with fire in their eyes, and compassion in their heart, to step forward and say “Yes, Lord, Yes, to Thy will and to Thy Word I say Yes.” I’ll go into the highways and byways, I’ll love the unlovable, I reach the unreachable, I’ll bring Your hope to the hopeless, and Your healing to the hurting.” Because if we are not willing to lead the way, then we become irrelevant to our city, we become salt without savor, good for nothing but to be cast down and trodden under foot.