Good Works Produce Good Will
GOOD WORKS PRODUCE GOOD WILL
By Mark E. Hardgrove, PhD, DMin
Text: Luke 7:1-11, NKJV
1 Now when He concluded all His sayings in the hearing of the people, He entered Capernaum. 2 And a certain centurion's servant, who was dear to him, was sick and ready to die. 3 So when he heard about Jesus, he sent elders of the Jews to Him, pleading with Him to come and heal his servant. 4 And when they came to Jesus, they begged Him earnestly, saying that the one for whom He should do this was deserving, 5 "for he loves our nation, and has built us a synagogue."
6 Then Jesus went with them. And when He was already not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to Him, saying to Him, "Lord, do not trouble Yourself, for I am not worthy that You should enter under my roof. 7 Therefore I did not even think myself worthy to come to You. But say the word, and my servant will be healed. 8 For I also am a man placed under authority, having soldiers under me. And I say to one, 'Go,' and he goes; and to another, 'Come,' and he comes; and to my servant, 'Do this,' and he does it."
9 When Jesus heard these things, He marveled at him, and turned around and said to the crowd that followed Him, "I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel!" 10 And those who were sent, returning to the house, found the servant well who had been sick.
As I read this account in the Gospel of Luke, I noticed a couple things that I have not previously noticed. For example, I noticed that in Luke’s Gospel the centurion does not come to Jesus personally, but he sends some Jewish community leaders, elders, on his behalf. When you read Matthew’s Gospel, however, the account has it that the centurion came personally to Jesus.
Skeptics look at that and say, “See! I told you that the Bible is full of contradictions!” However, such statements reveal a lack of understanding or knowledge of how the respective Gospel writers recount the story of Jesus’ life and ministry.
There are at least two possible answers to the apparent problem, and when you read commentaries you find people on both sides of the fence. One view is that the centurion did come to Jesus along with the elders, but Luke focuses on the elders and not the centurion. The other view (and it is the view that I would embrace) is that the centurion did not personally come to Jesus and Matthew’s portrayal of the centurion coming to Jesus is just shorthand for saying that he sent others to Jesus on his behalf. Matthew often uses this type of telescopic wording to cut to the chase. Luke, however, portrays events more literally and with more attention to detail.
Having addressed this issue, look again at the text. This is an amazing text, in that, through a chain of events based on good works begetting good will, the centurion’s servant is healed by Jesus, without Jesus ever coming into the home to touch the man. Follow this chain with me, and see how humility and servanthood produce profound results.
THE SERVANT ENDEARED HIMSELF TO HIS MASTER
The first person we are introduced to in this account is a centurion. The centurion was an officer in the Roman army who was in charge of about 100 men. At this time in history Rome did not have any garrisons in Galilee, but King Herod was known to employ Roman soldiers to police the cities. So there was a soldier who had a servant that was very sick. By looking at Matthew’s Gospel, and the specific Greek language used to describe this slave, we know that he was a young man, perhaps in his late teens or early twenties. Doctor Luke says the servant was ready to die. But there an important point here—Luke tells us that this slave was dear to the centurion.
Think about this for a moment . . . this was a young man who was serving as a slave to a Roman soldier. Roman soldiers were not known for their compassion. Further, in that culture the slave was a possession, he was owned by the centurion and the centurion could sell the slave and buy another one. Slaves were considered a lower class of humanity. But the slave in this account is different. Somehow the slave had so endeared himself to his master until now the centurion is sincerely concerned about his welfare and wellbeing.
We don’t know how the young man became a slave, but at some point he was taken from family and home and forced into a life of servitude. Yet something about this young man’s work ethic or morality, his character or demeanor, had won the admiration and respect of his master so that when he became deathly sick, his master appealed to Jesus on his behalf.
This servant illustrates that while we may not be where we’d thought we’d be at this point in our life. We may not have the job we want, and we may be in situation that is humiliating and demeaning, but the servant shows us that by being the best servant we can be, and by making the best of the worst situation, we can still excel.
Reading about this servant, I was reminded of Joseph in Potiphar’s house. Joseph was sold into slavery by his own brothers, but instead of sitting and sulking and feeling sorry for himself, Joseph excelled in the worst of circumstances.
We are living in some difficult days, but we can still excel, we can still have a good attitude, we can still maintain honor and integrity in every circumstance. Joseph continued to bloom wherever he was planted, and slowly but surely God continued to bless him and move him up the ladder of success until he eventually became second only to Pharaoh.
The servant in Luke’s Gospel has earned the respect and admiration of the centurion, so that when the servant is in need, his master, the centurion, becomes the intercessor for the servant. When we continually do what is right, what is noble, what is honest, and we do it with excellence; others will stand up for us. That person that you thought didn’t even like you will be the person who promotes you. “When a man’s ways please the Lord, He will make even His enemies to be at peace with him” (Prv.16:7).
THE CENTURION ENDEARED HIMSELF TO THE COMMUNITY
The centurion had heard about a man named Jesus. There are people out there who are desperate. They need something, they need someone, and if we could get the word out there that Jesus is alive and well and working through the members of the Conyers Church of God, then I believe we would begin to see desperate people coming through these doors and finding their help in Jesus.
When the centurion “heard about Jesus, he sent the elders of the Jews to [Jesus], pleading with Him to come and heal his servant.” It is telling that these Jewish community leaders were willing to go to Jesus on behalf of a Gentile, Roman soldier. Just as the centurion’s intercession for the servant says much about the servant, the elders’ intercession for the centurion says much about the centurion. In fact, the elders almost immediately begin to make their case as to why Jesus should heal this centurion’s servant. They said in verse 5 "for he loves our nation, and has built us a synagogue."
Here was a Gentile who had truly exemplified servant leadership and had earned the love and respect of the community and community leaders and they were ready to be his advocate. They were pleading with Jesus on his behalf.
Again, when you consider the animosity and the hostility between Gentiles and Jews, and in particular Romans soldiers and the Jewish citizens, it is an amazing thing to see the Jewish leaders acting as intercessors for the centurion. It didn’t happen by chance, but their intercession on his behalf is the fruit of the seeds of that this soldier had been planting in the community. The other gospel writes tell us that this man built synagogue at his own expense. Good will and love can transcend even racial and cultural differences and bridge the divide. Love covers a multitude of sin.
I believe that when a church is acting in the best interest of the community, and when we demonstrate our love through our actions, then when will have all the advocates we need when it comes time to get zoning laws changed, variances, and loans. Even those who may have once been hostile toward us will become our advocates when they know that we love our community and we are here to serve and invest ourselves in it.
Jesus hears the elders and then starts to go to the centurion’s home, but then just before Jesus gets the centurion’s house, the centurion sends out some friends to tell Jesus, "Lord, do not trouble Yourself, for I am not worthy that You should enter under my roof. Therefore I did not even think myself worthy to come to You.”
He knows that for Jesus to come into his house could cause some trouble for Jesus. The house of a Gentile was considered unclean, and to go in the house of a Gentile would then render the Jewish man unclean as well. It appears that Jesus was prepared to go to into this man’s house, but the centurion sends out his friends to Jesus with the message, “But say the word, and my servant will be healed.”
This Roman soldier did not have a seminary degree. He had not sat, as Paul had, at the feet of Gamaliel or other great Jewish teachers, but this man knew one thing, he knew something about authority. The message from the centurion continues, “For I also am a man placed under authority, having soldiers under me. And I say to one, 'Go,' and he goes; and to another, 'Come,' and he comes; and to my servant, 'Do this,' and he does it” (V. 8).
Luke has much to say about the Word. The very first words of Jesus in Luke’s Gospel after beginning His public ministry are “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God’” (Luke 4:4). Later, Jesus goes down to Capernaum and begins teaching on the Sabbath and Luke tells us that the people “were astonished at His teaching, for His word was with authority” (Luke 4:32).
Luke goes on to describe an incident where Jesus cast a demon out of a man by saying to the demon, “Be quiet, and come out of him!” The man was delivered and the people were amazed, saying, “What a word this is! For with authority and power He commands the unclean spirits, and they come out” (Luke 4:36). This happened in the very region where the centurion lived, and he had heard of the authority of the Word of Jesus. He recognized that Jesus was operating under the power of God, and that Jesus’ word had authority over demons, sickness, and even death. Here Jesus heals a servant at the point of death, but in the next account of Luke 7, Jesus raises a boy who had already died.
In Luke 24:19, after Jesus’ own death, burial, and resurrection, He appeared incognito to two of His disciples and walked with them on the road to Emmaus. In the course of the conversation these men spoke of Jesus, describing Him as “a Prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people.”
The centurion may not have know much theology, but he knew something about a word spoken with authority and based upon what he had heard about Jesus, he was confident that the word of Jesus carried such authority and power, that all Jesus had to do was say the word and he knew that his servant would be healed.
THE CENTURION ENDEARED HIMSELF TO JESUS
When Jesus heard the statement of this Gentile, Roman, soldier, Jesus marveled and said, “I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel!” The only other place in the Bible where it says Jesus marveled is in Mark 6:6 where we are told that Jesus marveled because of the unbelief of the people in His hometown. So Jesus marvels at two extremes. At one end of the spectrum, Jesus marvels at the faith of a Gentile, Roman, soldier, and at the other end Jesus marvels at the lack of faith among the Jewish people of His own hometown.
I wonder if we ever do anything that makes Jesus marvel—at either end of the spectrum? I would to God that we made Him marvel because we believe in the authority of His Word and become wise enough to build our lives on that Word. Just prior to our text, in chapter 6, verse 49, Jesus was contrasts the wise man with the foolish man and Jesus says that the wise will hear His words and put them into practice.
What was the result of the centurion’s faith? Verse 10 says, “And those who were sent, returning to the house, found the servant well who had been sick” The servant was healed because he served well under difficult circumstances. The centurion’s request was made because he had humbly served the people in his community and because he was willing to believe that if Jesus said it that would settle it.
Let me ask you…what words has Jesus spoken over your life? These words may have come while you praying, while you were reading the Bible, or maybe during worship, but you heard it in your heart. Now can you believe? Trust in the authority of God's Word. In a world that dismisses God's Word, stay dedicated to it. In an age where God's word is reviled, give it reverence. There is power in the authority of His Word in this world.