An army captain's faith, 7:1-10
In our passage for study Luke records the healing of an army captain's servant. Although the servant is healed completely, gaining new-found health, and although Jesus demonstrates his authority by healing the servant from a distance, the focus of the story is on the captain's faith. As Jesus says of this man's faith "not even in Israel have I met a faith like this."
v1. Jesus has just concluded the Great Sermon, a sermon which serves to renew the covenant, and so it is appropriate for Luke to record a miracle-story which emphasizes the basis of covenant inclusion, namely faith. Leaving the countryside Jesus enters Capernaum.
v2-3. Living in Capernaum at the time was a Gentile centurion, an army captain in charge of 100 men. He is probably in the employ of Herod Antipas, the king of Galilee and Peraea. One of his servants, someone he highly regarded, is close to death. So, when he hears that Jesus is in town he sends a delegation of leading Jewish citizens to him to plead his cause.
v4-5. When they get to Jesus they tell him how worthy the captain is of his help. The captain obviously favours the Jewish faith, is possibly even a God-fearer, an associate member of the local synagogue, although not a full member. He had even paid for the construction of the local synagogue. So, the captain is a godly man of independent means.
v6-8. As Jesus sets out to meet the request, the captain sends word that he really didn't expect Jesus, a Jewish rabbi, to come into his home, the home of a Gentile. The members of the delegation may think he is "worthy", but he knows he is not. He didn't even think it was appropriate to approach Jesus on the matter, which is why he had sent a delegation to him. As a man of authority, the captain is well acquainted with giving commands and therefore he expects nothing more of Jesus than a healing command.
v9. Jesus is astonished. From his own kith and kin some have struggled to put their faith in him, but for most it is wonder, doubt or unbelief. "I have yet to meet a person in all of Palestine with a faith such as this."
v10. On returning to the captain's home the delegation finds the servant with new-found health.
We often find that when we read the gospels, what comes before the story, and what comes after it, sheds new light on the story itself. The story of the captains faith is probably Luke's prize example of faith in Jesus. Yet, it is its context that makes the story so profound.
In the preceding chapter Luke records the Great Sermon, often called the sermon on the mount, although in Luke's gospel it is on a plain. The Great Sermon is the New Testament version of a covenant renewal document. A covenant is a legal agreement between two parties, an agreement requiring documentary ratification, and at times, renewal. The most detailed example of a covenant renewal document in the Old Testament is the book of Deuteronomy. This covenant details God's agreement with his people Israel. In the Great Sermon, Jesus restates the basis of the covenant, namely divine grace, and then outlines the law which serves primarily to remind us that it is only by grace that we can stand right before God and live a life honoring him.
The Great Sermon ends with the illustration of the wise and foolish builder. The wise builder hears the words of Jesus and lives them out. He is the person who builds his house on rock such that his house stands firm. The foolish builder hears the words of Jesus and does not live them out. He is the person who builds his house on sand and so faces ruin. Of course, none of us live out the words of Jesus and so our life rests on unstable foundations which face inevitable ruin.
Given this fact, on what basis can we gain and retain covenant membership? In the Great Sermon God makes an agreement with his people whereby he freely promises the kingdom, he promises his eternal friendship, but how do we access this gift? The story of the captain's faith answers the question for us. Faith in Jesus is the way we stand eternally approved by God, and how we begin to live as a child of God.
So, the business of being a Christian, of daily living for Jesus, is not so much about living a godly life, it's about living by faith, living our lives in dependence on Christ. Trusting Jesus is the business of our daily life. Of course, faith tends to promote godliness, but the fundamental element of the Christian walk is faith. This then must be our cause, to replicate the captain's faith.
1. What elements in the story of the captain's faith indicate that the story focuses on the point made by Jesus' in v9 rather than the healing in v10?
2. What is the point of the story?
3. Explain how this story relates to the Great Sermon, 6:17-49, and apply.
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