[there are apparently no pictures where the centurion is not near Jesus, in spite of what Luke actually says; this is more for illustrative purposes than for accuracy!]
Video of the Divine Service here, here, and here.
[the main idea for this sermon is taken from Dr. Joel Biermann, Concordia Journal, Spring 2016, 140-141.]
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Perhaps our primary prayer should be, “O God, put us in our places.” O God, put me in my place. The centurion sends some Jews, some friends, some people from that area, to plead with Jesus for the life of the centurion’s servant. And those people try to put the centurion in his proper place: he is worthy to have You do this for him, to have You grant this to him. He loves our people and he built our synagogue. They try to put him in his place among them, and his place before Jesus. He is worthy to have You do this because he loves our people and he built the synagogue.
But when Jesus gets close to where the centurion is with his dying servant, the centurion sends other messengers with another message, and he puts himself in a completely different place: Do not trouble Yourself. I am not sufficient, I am not great enough, to have You come under my roof. Just say the word and my servant will be healed. I do not consider myself worthy, which is why I didn’t com to you myself. I know what it means to have authority. I am under authority, and I have soldiers under my authority. I say to one, “Go,” and he goes. I say to another, “Come,” and he comes. I say, “Do it,” and it is done.
And Jesus marvels. Jesus is amazed. One of only two times in the Gospels where Jesus is amazed: here, at the faith of the centurion, and in Mark 6, at the unbelief of His own people in Nazareth. Jesus is amazed, and He speaks the only words that He says in these 10 verses: Truly I say to you, I have not found such great faith, even in Israel. Even in Israel where, above all places, the people should know the power of the word of God, should believe that Jesus has authority to speak a word, and what He says will happen. We should stand next to Jesus in amazement at the faith of this centurion. He doesn’t try to stand in his place before Jesus. He doesn’t bring his authority, his power, his position before Jesus. He doesn’t claim any rights or privileges. He is unworthy even to be in the same house as Jesus, but he knows that Jesus is Lord, that He has authority, and that if He speaks, what He says happens.
We know those words of the centurion. They are printed for us to pray before we receive the Sacrament. We know the right words: I am not worthy. I am a poor, miserable sinner. But sometimes our thoughts or words betray what we really think of ourselves. We think—or even say—that we have some right or privilege before Jesus. “I was baptized here.” (As if that were a right, and not a gift.) “My parents built this church, founded this church.” “I was confirmed here.” We bring some position, some place, and claim some privilege before Jesus. “I’m a pastor. Certainly I have some claim on the word of Jesus.” No. When we come before the Lord, we have no claim on Him; no rights; no privileges. Whatever we have in the world, among other people, we cannot bring it in here, before Jesus, and use it to claim some place before Him. Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. Speak the word only, to Your poor, miserable, sinful slave. Oh! How devious are our hearts! Even the words “I am unworthy” we can make into a perverse sort of pride. Jesus gives us words, promises, gifts, and we say, “I am unworthy.” I am unworthy to come to where Jesus is, to receive what Jesus gives, to hear what Jesus says. I am unworthy, and therefore I shouldn’t be there. But be careful that you don’t make yourself more pious than Jesus!
Jesus is not ashamed to take His place. To leave the eternal throne, worshiped by angels, and to take on flesh. He takes His place on the cross. He takes His place between criminals. He takes His place among sinners. He comes for sinners, for the sick, for the unhealthy, for the grieving, and the needful, and the helpless. For those whose great need drives them to Jesus. For those whose unworthiness drives them to the worthy Lamb. He is not ashamed to be among such as us. Do not be so prideful in your unworthiness that you refuse to be where the Lord heals. Don’t be more pious than Jesus. He will always take His place among sinners, unworthy and helpless. He speaks a word and your sins are absolved. He does more than speak: He comes under the roof of our mouths and feeds us His own body and blood, His own eternally living life. And the baptized disciples is worthy and well-prepared who believes these words: Give and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins. And Jesus will not fail to be present as He has promised, among His children, made worthy by faith in His words, until we find ourselves whole, healthy, and alive in the house of the Lord on the last day.
Until then, He continues to put us into our places in the world, to do the good works He prepares for each of us. In particular places, with and for particular people, at particular times. He puts us in our places, but always in our place before Him: unworthy servants, who have only done our duty. In our place before Him, and in our place before other people. That is the Christian life. And this is Christian faith: O Lord, speak the word only, and I shall be healed. O God, put us into our places.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7).
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 5/28/16