June 2, 2013: Who Do You Want To Meet In Heaven, And Why?

Let us pray: Dear Savior, don’t let that expression: “ye of little faith” ever be used by You to describe any of us! Keep us strong in our faith by enabling us to cede control over all aspects of our lives to You, and You alone. Then, not only will we be blest in the life to come, but we’ll be content and happy here and now. Amen

GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, THE OBJECT OF TRUE, SAVING FAITH!

TEXT: Luke 7: 1-10

Dearly Beloved By Christ:

So, what’s on your “bucket list?” Supposedly everyone has a list of things they want to do before they die, or in our case, before heaven comes. Is there anyone you especially would like to “meet and greet” before you shuffle off this mortal coil? Personally, I don’t think much about “bucket lists.” Instead, I focus more on “heavenly lists.” Specifically, I daydream over whom I’ll meet in heaven and what they will be like. I look forward to seeing St. Paul. What a fascinating fellow! Noah will captivate with his stories. Adam and Eve will reveal God’s heavenly ideal of what humans should look like at their very best.—After all both had to be the most beautiful and attractive people ever to walk the earth since God directly created them. And then there’s the fellow of our lesson, the centurion. His strength of character will speak volumes. Well, that’s my question today to you:

WHO DO YOU WANT TO MEET IN HEAVEN, AND WHY?

I

Capernaum was Jesus’ adopted hometown situated on the Sea of Galilee. Jesus has already built up a bit of a reputation for His teachings and miracles. So, when Jesus arrives back in town, a bunch of local synagogue leaders spy Him and approach with a unique request. It seems a servant of the local centurion was on the verge of death. This Roman army leader was distraught at losing this man. He cared for him deeply. Obviously, this Roman centurion was also a closet believer in Christ. He had “come to faith” from afar, if you will. Hearing the message of the Gospel had worked faith in his heart, even though he had never met Christ. Thus, this man “put his money and influence where his heart was.” He helped bankroll a new synagogue, supported the local religious leaders, and generally greased the skids of Roman bureaucracy in favor of the local church. He must have had a wonderful heart. So, when he asked some of the church leaders to intercede for him, they stepped up to the plate in short order. “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.”

From what follows we see that this former heathen, who didn’t grow up attending synagogue and didn’t know the Scriptures backwards and forwards as these Jewish leaders did, actually had a much deeper understanding of the Christian faith than they. The church leaders are all about “he deserves to have you do this because he’s done so much for God” in their approach. Folks, that’s not Christianity, is it? Human actions don’t buy God’s favor. Human actions, even pious ones, don’t make God indebted to us. The centurion understood this, the synagogue rulers did not. Do you understand this as well?

II

“Jesus 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. This 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 this one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”

Wow! What an answer! And this from a proud Roman, who is actually a humble Christian. If you ever wanted to know if Lutherans can be found in the Bible, right here you have one! He understands sin, grace, forgiveness, and the necessity of “faith alone” doesn’t he?

As I pondered this lesson while doing some groundskeeping this past week, another aspect of it hit me. Many of us would admit to being “control freaks.” That is, we always want to have a sense of control over our situations in life. Obviously, true control is a fallacy since we’re not God. Yet, we feel responsible and also wish to have our say in the matter of how we live. But isn’t there another component to being a “control freak?” Isn’t it also the issue of our own insecurity? Doesn’t part of us feel insecure to the point where we want to feel secure and thus try to control anything and everything that impacts us? I think so. It’s a blow to my psyche, but it’s true. And the bottom line is: it reveals a smaller rather than a larger faith, doesn’t it?

But not this centurion! If anyone could be expected to be a “control freak” it would be a Roman centurion in charge of soldiers stationed in a remote outpost in Judea. I suppose most Romans felt a lot like our troops stationed in Afghanistan today. They didn’t want to be there and the populace generally hated them. Safety wasn’t to be found apart from their barracks. And even then, it wasn’t really safe.

But here is this Roman army leader showing genuine humility and willing to cede all control over the situation to a Jewish miracle worker whom he has never met. Why? Why do this? Because the Holy Spirit has worked saving faith into his heart. No doubt he attended the synagogue he built. No doubt he heard the Message of the Messiah. And no doubt, he made the connection between the Coming Son of God and Jesus Christ Who was living part time in his town. He knows all about the “chain of command” and here he preaches it and practices it! Christ is his general.

“When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, ‘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.”

III

Now you know why I look forward to meeting this centurion in heaven. He’s unique. He’s interesting. He’s actually amazing—even to Christ! What higher praise for a human can there be than Jesus’ own stamp of approval? My favorite disciple is Bartholomew because Jesus said of him, “Behold a man in whom there is no guile.” In short, Bart had a very kind, open heart—which God’s Son could read. Likewise, Jesus praises the faith of the Syro-Phoenician woman. She had “great faith” too.—And this from Jesus Who could look into her heart and see it.

You and I probably are not on that plane of Christian faith, at least not yet. But isn’t it wonderful to know what it’s reachable? How? Well, the best advice on how to attain it is found in Proverbs: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding!” This fellow did and now resides in glory. Doesn’t it make you want to throw your earthly “bucket list” aside for an eternal one? Amen