Wednesday, 4 November 2015

The man who made Jesus smile

When Jesus heard this, he was astonished and said to those following him, “Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith...” Matthew 8:10

“Well, you’ve got to have faith, haven’t you!” the man said to me. 

As far as I knew he wasn’t a Christian, or religious in any way, and I suspect that he might just as well have said “You’ve got to keep your chin up”, or “You just have to hope for the best”. That, I think, is what he actually meant. Keep your fingers crossed! Always look on the bright side of life!

Well, it’s good to be positive when things are difficult. But this kind of vague optimism is a long way from what the Bible calls “faith”.

Every time I hear someone speak like this I feel I want to ask two questions. First, faith in who? And second, faith for what

Faith isn’t some feel-good substance floating about in the air like a pleasant fragrance but unattached to the realities of life. No; it’s a solid down-to-earth mind-set that makes a practical difference to your everyday life.

The beautiful story of the Roman centurion that Matthew tells us (Matthew 8:5-13) illustrates this perfectly. Just as Simon of Cyrene has gone down in history as the man who carried Jesus’ cross, so I think this unnamed soldier deserves the title of the man who made Jesus gasp with admiration.

Remember what happened... The centurion has a desperately sick servant, so he comes humbly to Jesus. “No problem,” says Jesus, “I’ll come and heal him.”

But the centurion won’t have it. “No,” he says, adding with real humility, “I’m not worthy of that! Just say the word.” And - as if Jesus needed it! - he proceeds to give him a little lecture on the subject of authority. “Look,” he says, “I’ve got men under me. If I say to one ‘Go’, he goes. Or ‘Come,’ he comes. Or ‘Do this’, and he does it. Well now, if someone as insignificant as me can make things happen in that way, how much more can you, Lord Jesus!”

I love to picture the face of Jesus as he hears and digests these great words, and then turns to the people standing around with a big smile of surprise and admiration. I see him shaking his head with pleasure as he exclaims, “What faith!” 

Here’s a question for us: Have I ever showed the kind of faith that would make Jesus gasp in delighted admiration? Or is my idea of faith more like that airy-fairy thing I talked about earlier?

I think the centurion would have given very clear answers to my two questions.

Faith in who

Jesus, of course. I don’t know how much he knew about him - certainly he wouldn’t have had anything like a “Christian” view of Jesus as Son of God and Saviour. But he knew enough to put implicit trust in him. 

And so I need to ask: Is my faith grounded and rooted in Jesus? Is my life focussed on him? Is he my lord and saviour? Or is he just a figure to whom I give a slightly superstitious respect? Either Jesus is the eternal, almighty son of God (we of course know this fuller picture, which the centurion didn’t) or he isn’t. So have I made up my mind? And am I living minute by minute in the light of that decision?

Faith for what

Answer, a touch of miraculous healing power on the servant he loved. Perhaps he had witnessed earlier healings worked by Jesus, and so said to himself “Why not me too? Why not my servant?”

Well, unlike the centurion, we very likely have never seen a miracle. So our faith, while it may indeed sometimes rise to the intensity of expecting a miracle, is more likely the kind that says, “I have faith in his care for me - and in his lordship over the world. I believe (there’s another word for faith) that he really is in control of all things. I trust him (and there’s another) for salvation, forgiveness, eternal life, and a direction and purpose in my earthly life. And I am confident (yet another) that he is with me in things both big and small today. Even if I never see a miracle, I have faith in Jesus as the key to the meaning of life.

And how do I achieve such faith? Ah, that’s the question! 

And the answer, put very simply, is: by sincere searching and serious prayer, remembering one of Jesus’ greatest promises: “Seek and you will find” (Matthew 7:7).

O God, build in me a deep and solid faith - even a faith so certain that it causes the Lord Jesus to catch his breath in amazement! Amen.