June 6, 2010: The Wrong Faith vs. The Right Faith

Let us pray: Dear Savior, today we ask You to teach us anew the right, proper, and correct way of salvation. Instill in us a faith that never looks inside for strength, but instead always looks to and holds on to You, alone. Teach us once again that we deserve nothing from You but anger over our disobedience to Your holy will, while also reminding us that your gift of grace and forgiveness is totally free—never based on our “goodness” but instead based on Your goodness. Yes, help us to be grateful receivers of Your eternal love. Amen

GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, THE GRACE GIVER!

TEXT: Luke 7: 1-10

Fellow Redeemed Sinners:

When I was about 9 years old I refinished my first piece of furniture. Throughout my teens I learned more and more about how to refinish various other antique items. By the time I was in my early 20’s I had done well over 150 pieces of furniture, mostly for the family, some for me, and some for other people who admired my work. During my years in the ministry I’ve only had time to redo a handful of antiques, but I still find it rewarding and it’s nice to rediscover that I haven’t lost my touch!

Two pieces stand out in my mind. One is a highboy dresser that is in our bedroom. We bought it in Newburyport and it was a well-worn piece of mahogany that demanded all my skills to bring it back to life. The other is also a dresser, an Eastlake Victorian, that I purchased about the time we were married. Someone had tried to refinish the Tiger stripped maple previously and had totally botched the job. It, too, demanded much attention. I recall shaking my head over it and declaring: “Someone went about refinishing this piece totally wrong!” Then I had to do it the right way. Fixing someone’s botched attempts doubles the work.

Folks, there is a right way and a wrong way when it comes to most things in life. Those “most things” include one’s understanding of the Christian faith. Today we see both examples set in juxtaposition in our lesson. And so, let’s examine:

THE WRONG FAITH VS. THE RIGHT FAITH

I

Jesus is about a year into His ministry. He’s just coming off preaching His famous Sermon on the Mount in the area surrounding the Sea of Galilee. Afterwards He heads for Capernaum, His adopted home base, which was situated on the shoreline of that large lake. There He was met by a delegation of Jewish temple elders who had been sent by a local Roman centurion, or high ranking military officer, with whom they were friends. It seems from Matthew’s parallel account that this Roman officer had a servant suffering from palsy. The Roman respected and valued this poor fellow and wanted Jesus to heal him. Since this officer had been converted to the Old Testament faith and honored it, he procured his friends, these elders, to go and make the request of Christ. “When they came to Jesus, they pleaded earnestly with him, ‘This man deserves to have you do this, because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue.’ So Jesus went with them.”

Right there you have a blunt example of the wrong faith. Humanly speaking this centurion was a wonderful fellow. Adopting the OT faith of those he’s ruling over, renouncing the Roman gods, and even backing up his confession by bankrolling a new temple were amazing examples of his faith. Humanly speaking you can understand their saying: “He deserves to have you do this.” Nonetheless, that is a wrong faith. Standing before God’s holy Son, no human ever dare say: “I deserve your blessing.” We’re all sinners. None of us measures up to God’s standard of perfection. All we can offer God is our sins, period! Even our supposed righteous acts are just that: supposed. Everything we do is tainted by sin. These elders show their wrong-headedness about true faith. Human achievements don’t cut it with God. If Jesus were to do what they asked because “he deserves it” the whole truth of grace, of pure love given us by God, would be negated. As the old story goes: If you approach God with your hands full of your achievements in life, then God cannot fill them with His love because there’s no place to put it.

II

Nonetheless, Jesus, Who knows all and sees all, still goes. He goes because the Lord knows those that are His. He goes because He has already, across the miles, read this centurion’s heart. He goes because Jesus knows this officer has the right faith. He goes because He wants to show His mercy and in the process teach everyone what the right faith is all about.

“He was not far from the house when the centurion sent friends to say to him: ‘Lord, don’t trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you. But say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”

All I can say is: Wow! Unlike his Jewish temple friends, this Gentile officer understood the core substance of the OT. And through them the Holy Ghost had put true faith into his heart. He realized from those many prophetic passages that Jesus was the Messiah, that Jesus was the Son of God, that Jesus was his Savior. He realized how small and insignificant he was alongside of Jesus. Note well his words: “I do not deserve to have you come under my roof.” What a stark contrast! Those that grew up immersed in the OT showed they didn’t really get it at all. They had gone “worldly” and sought to apply human ideas to the essence of the Christian faith. Whereas this centurion had come to faith fairly recently and he alone bent his knee to His Creator. He alone knew the meaning of grace, or God’s no-strings attached free gift of eternal love and all that goes with it.

Even Christ is wowed by this response. We’re told it amazed Him so much that He said to the crowd following: “I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.’ Then the men who had been sent returned to the house and found the servant well.”

The essential difference between Christianity and all other religious forms boils down to the wrong faith vs. the right faith. It boils down to human deeds, works, vs. God’s grace purchased for us on the cross by Jesus. It boils down to arrogance outwardly disguised by humility vs. true humbleness stemming from a heart which knows it can never bargain with God because all it has to offer are the worthless chips of sin.

The right faith is offered again, by God, to you, this day. In fact, you’ve already confessed it, just like this centurion when you ended your confession with the plea: “God be merciful to me, a sinner.”—No talk of deserving it there….And upon hearing the absolution where God forgave you, I hope and pray that inwardly your heart said: Wow! I guess that’s one of the greatest things about Sunday morning at church.—God strips away the filth and scared finish of the week from our souls and makes us shiney, pure, spotless, and clean once again. And to this reality the right faith says: Lord, I can never deserve it, but I’m really thankful for it! Amen