Allen Jackson - A Chapter With Jesus
We're gonna take a chapter from Matthew's Gospel and follow Jesus. Thank you for that great enthusiasm. Online, the people are cheering. It's just those of you in the house that are having a hard time, but it's okay. It's a simple lesson. The idea is straightforward. We're gonna follow Jesus through a series of his responses to events, to people, to some opportunities that present themselves. And my objective is that one or more of these little vignettes will have parallels with your own journey today.
So as we walk through this chapter, select those scenarios that have some relevance to what's going on in your life because, before we dismiss this morning, we're gonna invite Jesus to intervene in our lives. Church is not... I'm glad you're excited he's in the house. Church is not about reciting history or crafting theology. It's about yielding our lives to participate with Almighty God. And we don't read the Bible just to gain information. We read it that we might be transformed. The first verse in your outlines is from the book of Hebrews, it's chapter 13. It says: "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever".
So the things that we read about Jesus doing in the 1st century, he is still doing in the 21st century. The Jesus that did miracles on the shores of Galilee is doing miracles on the shores of Stones River. The setting may not be quite as scenic but the power of God is just as real. And that's why we've gathered here today, so I pray you came prepared to receive. I have. We'll start in Matthew 8 in verse 1. Says: "When Jesus came down from the mountainside, large crowds followed him".
Some of you don't like a large church; you're not gonna get to hang out with Jesus. Not opposed to small church, folks. That's where I've spent many years in a smaller church than where we are today. It's not about the size of the church. "But a man with leprosy came and knelt before Jesus and said, 'Lord, if you're willing, you can make me clean.' And Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. 'I'm willing,' he said. 'Be clean!' And Immediately he was cured of his leprosy. Then Jesus said to him, 'See that you don't tell anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.'"
It's a pretty straightforward story. Jesus comes down from the mountain, back to the region around Galilee. The Sea of Galilee is a freshwater lake in a depression, and it's surrounded by mountains. And Jesus comes out of the mountains, back down to the shore of the lake, and a man who has leprosy, it's an incurable skin disease. Not too prevalent in contemporary American culture but I've been places in the world, I've been in villages where the lepers lived. And in the first century, it was a disease that made you... you were secluded, you were separate from the rest of society. In fact, if you came into public, you had to acknowledge that you were unclean so people would not inadvertently make contact with you.
So it was very much a separating disease and it meant you were alone. And I don't think it's an accident that Matthew uses the words of Jesus and large crowds and coming back to Galilee, and now there's an individual coming up to him. And the man says to Jesus, "Lord, if you're willing you can make me clean". He has a trust in Jesus. He's not... he just says, "You have the ability, if you're willing". And Jesus says something that echoes to us across all the years. He said, "I'm willing". I'm willing. And then he does something bizarre. It says that Jesus reached out his hand to touch the man. Nobody touched that man. Nobody reached out to him, everybody avoided him. In fact, the real problem is life. I don't think it was his leprosy. It was the fact that he was living a life separate from people. He was isolated.
Years ago, when I was in college, I studied the basic sciences. I had a chemistry class and a chemistry lab and we used to write lab reports and I remember I had a graduate assistant that would evaluate my lab reports. And I got back a handful of 'em where he would circle a word. I had trouble spelling the word "separate," and he'd circle the word every time I misspelled it, and he would put below it, "There's a rat in separate". I was a slow student. But it's true. There's a rat in being separate. It's not a good place. And if you feel like you stand on the outside and you don't know how to get on the inside, that everybody else got the playbook and nobody gave you a copy, you know what I'm talking about. And the good news of the gospel is that it's a welcoming thing to anyone who will receive it.
One of the great epidemics in contemporary American life is rejection. A lot of reasons for that, many of them attached to the collapse of the family as we have known it, and it leaves us with a sense of being rejected, being separate, being unaccepted, unwelcome, often pushed away. And it's a debilitating thing. It's not something casual. You won't overcome it by the force of your will or the strength of your own self-determination. We need God's help. And I want you to hear what Jesus said. "Lord, if you're willing you could allow me to be accepted back into the lives of everyone again". "And Jesus said, 'I'm willing.' And he reached out his hand and he touched him". It's more than a healing story. That man was being welcomed back into the lives of his family and the people around him. He was being invited off an island of separation, back into the midst of the people.
Jesus is still doing that. And no matter what it is that's touched your life that has made you feel separate, I'm here to tell you Jesus will welcome you. It says we are accepted in the beloved, that in Christ we are made participants in the kingdom of an eternal God. You and me. Isn't that amazing? You know God loves you. In fact, if you don't take anything else away this morning but that, please don't leave that in this place. God loves you. You matter to him. He cares for you. He knows your darkest secrets, the things you pray never see the light of day, and he still loves you. Doesn't mean he's sloppy or he's gone soft on sin. It means his grace is sufficient, and that if you'll turn your heart, and he will help you, he will welcome you in to the center of his purposes.
You're not gonna be put on the bench, you're not gonna be relegated to the second team. You're not gonna be looked over. You matter to God. You should sit up a little straighter, carry your head a little higher. Not in arrogance or pride, but as a representative of the one who has welcomed you. We are children of the King. I like the last sentence in that passage as well. "Jesus said, 'Go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.'" You just finished reading the book of Leviticus if you're doing the Bible reading. Aren't you glad to be done with the book of Leviticus? Well, hah, "No, no, I read it monthly as a part of my devotional".
Sure, you do. Well, you'll understand this. You read where if you had certain skin diseases or boils or all kinds of... some of that information, you know, if there's a white hair or no hair or a lump, and I'm thinking, "That's just TMI. I didn't wanna know that much about the ancient Israelites". But the instruction was always, "Go, show yourself to the priest". And Jesus, here, is showing you. He came to fulfill the law, he said, not to destroy it. But then Matthew inserts another little piece that's helpful. He said, "Go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift that Moses commanded, as a testimony to them".
Who's the "them"? To the priests. It makes me smile. Jesus cared about them too. You know, we know he cared about the sinners, the tax collectors and the thieves and the prostitutes and the people that were troubled. Clearly, Jesus cared for them, but he cared for the priests too. "Go, show 'em your skin. Tell 'em what happened. Let it be a testimony to them too". Folks, I'm telling you, the Lord cares about you today, whether you've been a sinner or a saint. You don't wanna point to your pedigree, you wanna turn your heart to Jesus.
Now let's push on. In verse 5, "When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help. 'Lord,' he said, 'my servant lies at home paralyzed and in terrible suffering.' Jesus said, 'I'll go and heal him.' And the centurion replied, 'Lord, I don't deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I tell this one, "Go," and he goes; and that one, "Come," and he comes. And I say to my servant, "Do this," and he does it.' When Jesus heard this, he was astonished and he said to those following him, 'I tell you the truth, I haven't found...'"
I haven't found the rest of the Scripture until I turned the page. "'I tell you the truth, I haven't found anyone in Israel with such great faith. I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.' And Jesus said to the centurion, 'Go! It'll be done just as you believed it would.' And his servant was healed at that very hour".
It's an interesting little vignette, a little story from this chapter. Jesus is speaking to two separate audiences. One is this centurion, but he's also gonna speak to the crowd of people who were gathered around. And then Matthew tells us that he's in Capernaum. It's the city Jesus chose as the base for his public ministry. He left Nazareth and he moved to Capernaum. It's a little Jewish fishing village on the northern end of the Sea of Galilee, but it's located on a major roadway in the ancient world. The Sea of Galilee was a freshwater source in the middle of a desert region and so it's no accident that the Romans built one of their major roadways passing by the shores of this freshwater source, and it's the reason there would have been a centurion and a contingent of Roman soldiers in a Jewish fishing village, to guard this major highway.
The archeologists excavated the Roman road and when they did they found the mile markers. You know, we have mile markers on our interstate? They're painted metal signs, but it's not a new idea. We didn't dream that up when the Defense Department built our interstate highway system. It's an idea we borrowed from antiquity when the Romans built their roads, and it was one of their great contributions. They could move their legions from one empire to the other in short order. They carved stone mile markers so you would know where you were on the road system. And those mile markers were there, just outside of Capernaum, a busy traffic center. Jesus moved to an intersection of the ancient world to begin his public ministry.
It's why his reputation grew. Jesus built his reputation in Galilee. The largest crowds that followed him followed him in the northern part of Israel. It's where two-thirds of his miracles took place in that area. When he goes to Jerusalem, it's more of a contentious place. He has business to do in Jerusalem, but in Galilee he's encouraging the people to put their faith in him. And he's in Capernaum and now this Roman centurion comes to Jesus and he asks for help. And Jesus is intrigued at the request and he's more intrigued at the man's response. In fact, he turns to the crowd that's gathered there, an overwhelmingly Jewish crowd, and he says, "I haven't found faith like this in all of Israel". It says he was astonished at this man's faith. "I didn't find faith like this amongst the priests. I didn't find faith like this in the synagogue. I haven't found faith like this amongst the disciples that I have recruited. I haven't found faith like this in Israel".
Wow, so this is a bit of a primer on how to have great faith. I wanna have great faith. How many of you want great faith? About 10%. What do the rest of you want? Mediocre faith? Little faith? No faith? Inert faith? You just wanna know somebody that has faith? I wanna have a great faith. And I believe we can use this to speak into that in our lives. I can tag three simple components in that centurion that he displayed before Jesus. The centurion came to Jesus and it said he asked for help. Now that may seem normal to you, reading in the pages of your Bible but in that context I would submit to you that's a very unusual circumstance. The centurion may not have been the most powerful man in that village but he was certainly one of the most powerful men. Jesus is an itinerant rabbi, he's a newcomer to the community. He could have Jesus brought to him at the point of a spear. He could have been reclining in comfort in his home while he was having food prepared for him, and he ordered the rabbi to be brought before him.
But that's not the context in which he presented himself. It says the centurion went to Jesus and asked him for help. And he didn't do it quietly, he didn't do it covertly, he didn't do it in private. He didn't do it under the cover of darkness. In fact, he does it in a very public way, with other people listening, the people he's there to enforce his authority over, and he comes to one of them and says, "I need your help". That sounds like humility to me. And I would submit to you that humility is one of the catalysts for cultivating faith in your life. Humility doesn't say, "I have no value". Humility doesn't say, "I'm insignificant".
Humility has a right understanding of who you are, what your strengths are, and what your weaknesses are. And we see that in this centurion. He knew he had some authority. He knew he had some power, he had some reach, but he understood he didn't have all power. And he understood the way to accomplish what he couldn't do himself wasn't by powering up and demanding it of someone else. It was by the expression of humility: "I need help". I find amongst those of us who are church folks, sometimes a reluctance to say to the Lord, "I need help".
We wanna act like the other people need help, the people outside the church need help. But we couldn't need help. We come to church every week. We've got a notebook filled with outlines. But the truth is we should be the people who are most aware of anybody that help is available and be the most ready to ask. We wanna humble ourselves. And then the centurion says something else. He says to Jesus, "My servant is in terrible suffering". That's why he's asking for help. It's not for himself. He's asking for his servant.
Now, again, this is bizarre to me. I wouldn't expect a Roman centurion to get help for a servant. If he's got a broken servant, I would expect him to get a new servant. In fact, I would expect the person who provides the servants to be in trouble. "The last one you brought me was defective. I want one that works better. Get me a new servant," makes more sense to me. Pastor's hard hearted, pray. But that's not the pathway this centurion took. He came to Jesus and he said, "I need your help. My servant is suffering terribly". He has compassion. He doesn't imagine that expressing compassion in public and asking for help is a diminishment of his own authority or influence.
So, humility and compassion are necessary components for faith to grow in your heart. We have to care about people. People matter to God. They're not an intrusion, they're not an encumbrance, they're not a necessary evil you have to deal with to get your way. And finally, the centurion says to Jesus, "Just say the word and my servant will be healed". "You just say the word. Just say the word. All I need from you is a word. You don't need to come to my house. I don't need to tell you my whole story. You don't need to know the back story on my servant. I don't have to have coffee with you. All I'm asking for is a word from you". That centurion has confidence in Jesus.
Now, folks, faith is not that complicated. You don't have to read Greek or Hebrew. You have to have confidence in Jesus. Our faith is centered in a person. Learn to trust him. Your trust in Jesus is more important than the building where you sit on the weekend or the label on the sign or the translation of the Bible you read. Put your trust in Jesus. It's a choice you make. It's a choice you make not just once. It's a choice you make on a daily basis. In fact, you'll make it many times during the day. Where am I gonna put my confidence? Who am I gonna trust? What is gonna bring comfort to me and what am I gonna put, what am I gonna stake my future on?
Now you read this and you think, "Well, why wouldn't you put your trust in Jesus"? But this is a bizarre, and the reason Jesus is astonished is the majority of the people with whom he interacts do not put their trust in him. When he gets to Jerusalem, the leaders in the community say, "Show us another miracle and we'll believe you". And Jesus said, "I've shown you all the miracles I'm going to". Or they even used the Scripture to try to discredit him. They'll say, "We've studied the Scripture. There are no prophets that come from Galilee. You speak with the wrong accent. You can't be a prophet". They're trying to find ways to not have confidence in Jesus. They wanna diminish the evidence that they can see. They are proud of the fact that they are seated in the seat of the skeptic.
And I would invite you not to do that. It's easy for religious people and if we're in church on a holiday weekend, I'm afraid we're religious people. It's easy for us to do. We'll put more confidence in our status, our tenure, the years we've been along on the journey, all the things we've done, the places we've served, the dollars we've given. We get a little puffed up about it and, folks, our confidence is in the person of Jesus. He's my friend, I serve him, I serve at his pleasure. I trust him. You'd treat me differently if you knew him better. I don't mean you, but... You'd let me into traffic if you knew who my boss was. They put their confidence in Jesus.
But then the last pass at that passage, the tone changes, and Jesus turns away from the centurion to address the people that are gathered. And he says something that's pretty startling to me. He said, "I say to you that many are gonna come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the subjects of the kingdom are gonna be thrown outside". The people invited from the east and the west are non-Jewish. They're like the centurion here and his great faith. There's gonna be people come that don't come from the right family tree, and they're gonna take places at the table that you thought were yours and yours alone. It's a sobering... no, it's not an excuse for you and me, I think, to point our fingers at the Jewish people or a 1st century audience. It's a wake-up call for us, to not be presumptive or arrogant.
Again, the things that the centurion is holding out to us are humility and compassion and a confidence in Jesus, not religious pride and self-certainty and self-righteousness. We wanna flip the script on that. And I wanna invite you to that today. If you need the Lord's help, have the humility to say, "Lord, help me. I don't really care who knows I need help. I need the Lord's help". Have compassion on people, and put your confidence in Jesus. If you haven't done that, if you've been proudly sitting in the seat of the skeptic, thinking, "You're not gonna convince me to believe so easily," just tell the Lord you're sorry. Say, "I do wanna believe in you".
We're reading our Bibles together. I don't understand everything in my Bible but I choose to believe it. God created the heavens and the earth. How did he do it? I don't know. May I tell you the truth? It's okay with me. Apple created the iPhone. I don't care how they did it. I just want mine to work when I push it on. Why do you demand things of God and your faith that you don't demand of the other things in your life? Got in a car the other day, it didn't have a place for a key. You just pushed a button. That's not right. That's not the way God created the car. But I didn't get out and walk in disgust. I pushed my button and drove. And you sit in the seat of the skeptic with this bizarre refusal to put your confidence in Jesus. It isn't helpful. I'm grateful. I like to learn and study. I wanna use my brain. We need to use 'em more. We've gotten a little lazy. I'm not anti-intellectual, but yet, the more I learn, the more God makes sense.