Tuesday, 25 April 2017

The Faith of a Roman Outsider

“But say the word, and let my servant be healed”     (Luke 7:7)

The Romans haunt the pages of the New Testament.  And every centurion mentioned was a man of character (see Matthew 27:54, Acts 10:1; 23:17; 22:26; 24:23; 27:43).  In Luke’s story before us, this Roman ‘outsider’ - who loved the Jews - had built a synagogue for them in Capernaum (Luke 7:5).  If you visit the shores of Lake Galilee today, you can still see the remains of that first-century synagogue – and into one of the slabs of stone is carved the eagle insignia of the Roman tenth legion!  In that first century AD we can be sure that Jews would never normally have allowed any sign of an occupying power to decorate the holy walls of a synagogue - but with this particular, much-loved Roman …. well, a remarkable exception was made.

Matthew 8 records the centurion’s plea that Jesus come and heal his sick servant, but it is Luke’s account that fills out Matthew’s ‘compressed’ story by indicating that it was the friendly local Jews who physically ‘came’ to Jesus in the name of this modest man.  Evidently the centurion felt not ‘worthy’ to come in person (v.7); it seems that he never actually met Jesus.  He had only ‘heard’ of Him (v. 3).  Here was faith - from a distance….

·      Awakened
·      Expressed
·      Rewarded!

And healing resulted.

The centurion - himself a man of authority - had recognised, from what he had heard, that Jesus was a Man who was in command - of everything - and he acted accordingly.  Never in Israel, said Jesus, had He met with such faith.  Here is the only case in the Bible of a man who was able actually to surprise Jesus positively.  Only in Matthew chapter 6 and verse 6 is Jesus recorded elsewhere as ‘marvelling’ - and then it was at the unbelief of people in his own home town of Nazareth.

Take it in.  Here was a model test-case, a forerunner of many ‘outsiders’ from east and west who would one day sit at table in the kingdom of heaven - as Matthew interprets the story; people who have not seen and yet have believed!

We don’t even know the centurion’s name; we have to be content with just his ‘fingerprint’ on that slab of stone, in Capernaum’s historic ruins.


Wednesday, 12 April 2017

The Last Frontier

" … the appearing of our Saviour, Christ  Jesus, who has destroyed death, and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel"       (2 Timothy 1:10)

Um - the greatest ‘break-through’ ever – what was it?  In Sport, we could name, well … Jesse Owens at the 1936 Olympics?  Muhammed Ali? Roger Bannister and the Four-minute mile?  Babe Ruth?  The great Borg/McEnroe Wimbledon Final tie-break?

In Discovery and Invention, how about Isaac Newton and the Law of  Gravity?  Marconi and Radio?  Einstein and the theory of relativity? The landing on the Moon? These pioneers crossed new frontiers. Humanity draws in its breath, and the world is never the same again. 

But the last frontier to be overcome lies in the historic conquest of Death itself.  The supreme accolade belongs to Jesus Christ, who ‘destroyed death.’  We read that He ‘appeared’ for this very purpose.

Christ is the great ‘Destroyer.’ At a single week-end in the Middle-East His death by violence looked like defeat – but in it lay the seeds of the destruction of death itself.  In this way, He has ‘destroyed’ death.  By this is meant not the disappearance of death - as a phenomenon - but rather of removing the sting, the power, the terror from it - much as the demolition experts will remove the fuse from a dangerous bomb, and make it harmless.

So with Jesus. Because of his own death, and subsequent resurrection, death no longer has the power to terrify those who belong to Him.  As a church minister, I’ve seen many people on their death beds; they run into hundreds.  I’ve observed that, in the context of Christ’s own and forgiven followers, there is a massive difference. Certainly, there may be pain - and grief on the part of the relatives - but the fear of the unknown has been stripped out of the occasion … and then – in eternity – the promise of a living resurrection body - like His!

Christ is also the great Illuminator.  We read that He has brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel.  Before Jesus, nobody knew a thing.  The Greek philosopher Xenophanes admitted, ‘Guesswork is over all.’  Others would struggle with the tapping on the shoulder of Old Man Death.  Then came Jesus…  and the prospect has changed, for ever.

Christ is also the Great Divider.  It is ‘through the gospel’ that the Death frontier has been beaten.  If we are lovers of the Gospel, and have found salvation and forgiveness through Christ, then this Announcement means everything.  But on which side of the Cross and Reurrection are we standing? Let us not stay on the Xenophanes side, of ignorance - or shrugging unconcern!  Rather, we can make this our prayer:

 ‘Lord Jesus, with millions of others, let me too share in your victory over death. Let me claim - through Your Cross and Resurrection -  eternal life, forgiveness of sins, and a place in your eternal kingdom. I put my trust in you this day, Amen.’