This sermon is offered by the CRCNA as part of our Reading Sermons series.
Scripture: Luke 7:1-10
Sermon by Rev. David Snapper, Anchor of Hope CRC, Silverdale, Washington
I would like to ask: “What do you have to do to get Jesus’ attention?”
How do you get him to notice you?
How do you impress Jesus so that he pays attention to you?
I don’t think this is a trivial question. It’s not a question people don’t ask. Maybe we aren’t so up front about it or so direct about it, but we are often asking the question: What do I have to do to get Jesus’ attention? How do I get Jesus to notice me and love me? How do I get him to do things that I think are important?
Do I get it by pressure?
By being needy and helpless?
How do you get Jesus to love you?
What if I were to tell you to put on paper the top 3 strategies that would convince Jesus to pay attention to your need? What would you put down? How would say that you would try to persuade Jesus to love you?
Now I know what the right answer is. What I would be interested in is your real answer, your honest answer. How would you finished this sentence, “Jesus you need to love me and help me _______________….”? I know the right answer, but I wonder what the honest answer is.
Today I ask you to read a story with me in Luke Chapter 7 concerning a group of people who tried to get Jesus’ attention. In this story we will see exactly how they attempted to persuade Jesus to do their will.
Jesus at this point in the gospel of Luke has just finished the Sermon on the Mount. We begin reading with verse 1 of chapter 7.
When Jesus had finished saying all this in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum.  There a centurion's servant, whom his master valued highly, was sick and about to die.  The centurion heard of Jesus and sent some elders of the Jews to him, asking him to come and heal his servant.  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.
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."
 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. (NIV)
Now hold your Bibles open there; we’ll come back to the text in a few minutes.
Right now I want you to imagine the scene that day 2000 years ago. Try to picture the Sea of Galilee, 10 miles across, on a bright sunny -- perhaps a spring day and there on the shore is Capernaum. On the other side of Capernaum are the gardens of a long valley that comes up all the way from the Mediterranean Sea to the west. It’s a wonderful and fertile area, not arid and dead like so much of the Middle East. Today this area is rich with oranges and flowers and flowering bulbs. It’s a very rich and prosperous region.
Since it is on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, Capernaum is also an old fishing village and it has had several names with different people occupying it throughout history. A little bit down the road is a new Roman village. The Roman village and the historic Jewish village are near each other but separate. It is in this Jewish village where much of Jesus ministry was spent. He has very dear friends here and very important things happen in the village of Capernaum.
So Jesus enters into town on a day like most other days. There are tax collectors are in Capernaum because Capernaum is at the turning point where the road crosses the north end of the Sea of Galilee. Naturally there needs to be a government presence where there is commerce.
They collect the money from the caravans coming through, just like a toll road. Sometimes you pay for every mile that you drive on the road, sometimes for the value of your freight.
Here in this town is a man who is a Centurion. That means he’s a middle level soldier with authority over about a hundred people, maybe a few more, maybe a few less. He works for King Herod Antipas who governs the region as part of the Roman empire.
We know that this particular Centurion is probably a fairly wealthy man. We read that he has supported and built a synagogue for the Jewish people. We also know that he is a Gentile, for Herod recruited his soldiers from among the Samaritans and other people to the north of Israel. He is therefore not Jewish, nor does he worship in the sanctuary that he built.
Now you have to know that this Centurion probably is really only marginally welcome in the old village of Capernaum. As a Gentile his is probably a pagan. Now we have some feeling for the plight of the Centurion. Stationed in Capernaum our pagan Centurion wishes to develop friendship with the Jews and perhaps with their God.
So here is a man who is living in between two different cultures. He is living between the ancient Jewish Capernaum and the modern kingdom of Herod and Rome. He is partly Jewish in the sense that he loves the people. He gives them enough money to build a synagogue or has a major roll in building it. And yet he is not one of them, he is in the employment of the secular king who serves the hated Roman empire.
How will this man attract Jesus’ attention?
Here’s how the story begins. Luke writes, “When Jesus finished saying all this in the hearing of the people he entered Capernaum. And there was a Centurion servant whom his master valued highly and he was sick and he was about to die.” So this centurion wanted more than anything to get Jesus’ attention. He wanted Jesus to heal his servant. It was not selfish, it was not small, it was not out of place, it was not inappropriate. In fact, it was the opposite of all of those things. It was exactly right, it was appropriate, it was very tender.
So, how does the Centurion go about getting Jesus’ attention?
How will the centurion attract Jesus? Ahh… he sends the Elders. When the centurion heard that Jesus was coming he sent some of the Jewish elders to him, asking him to come and heal his servant. That’s how he thought he would get attention. He sent people who seemed to be important people he has them bring the message. He thinks, I will send some people Jesus recognizes. Jesus will identify with them. Jesus will be impressed with them and he will come to my house, heal my servant. I will get what I want and we will be on with our business and I will have a healthy servant.
So this is the first way to attempt to gain Jesus’ attention – choose important and prominent messengers. The status of the messengers will draw Jesus’ attention.
Some of us might try the exact same strategy – we use spiritual name-dropping to impress God.
Oh, God, bless me, for I have read Dooyeweerd!
Oh, Jesus, have mercy on my soul, for I am a Calvinist!
You can imagine how silly this seems to God.
But let us not delay over the Centurion’s efforts. Let us continue to the Elders of Capernaum and see what they do.
The elders, trying to impress the centurion, have their own way to try to put pressure on Jesus. Let me give you 1-2-3-4-5-6 ways that they tried to put pressure on Jesus.
One. Luke says when they came to Jesus they pleaded earnestly with him. It means in the literal meaning ‘they pressured him’ or “exhorted him”. They called to him. They stood by him and they said, “You need to come help this man.” It was no longer a request; they were setting the agenda for Jesus, it was an instruction. You need to come and help. They attempted to pressure Jesus with their emotional urgency.
Some of us try to gain God’s favor by instructing God. We tell God “You need to do this!” We set the agenda for him. We instruct God.
Two. Now your translation doesn’t say this, but the original says “come quickly and heal this man.” Now “earnestly” should be translated something like “quickly!” or: “hurry, Jesus the servant is about to die. Quickly, come, see this man.” Their second strategy to get Jesus’ attention to put time pressure on Jesus.
Time pressure is a powerful tool that encourages us to not think, but simply obey the time pressure. Hurry! You’ll be late!
Any of you ever have time pressure? You know how “Yeah, yeah, yeah I gotta do that right now!” or “It’s on my schedule!” or “I’ve gotta go do that right now because my beeper’s going off on my Blackberry. I’ve got to hurry”. That’s what the elders were trying to do. They were kind of like a personal Blackberry screaming, “Hurry, hurry, hurry!" Some of attempt to motivate Jesus to live into our calendars and our schedules.
Three: Their third form of getting Jesus’ attention is with the pressure of professional duty. The elders continue by telling Jesus that the Centurion is a worthy person. You’ve got to do this not only because we are urging you, but also because neglecting the interest of a man as worthy as this Centurion would not look good on you. Now the Greek word here is ‘azios’ meaning worthy in the sense of “comparable.” The Centurion, they claim, is comparable in status to Jesus. The Elders are saying: “The Centurion is the equivalent to you, Jesus. He is your partner Jesus. He’s a Centurion, you’re a Rabbi. You know you owe it to him like a professional courtesy. We’re the elders, he’s a centurion, and you’re the rabbi. You owe it to him. You can’t – he’s not just some guy on the street – just ignore him. Probably quite a few of us in this congregation feel that same pressure every work day. We know we ought to spend more time with our family, but that professional duty is very powerful. This is the pressure the elders try to use on Jesus.
Four: The fourth form of pressure is that the Elders define what Jesus must do in order for Jesus to have their approval. Let me say that again: The fourth form of pressure is that the Elders define what Jesus must do in order for Jesus to have their approval. The elders inform Jesus that Jesus must go and do what the man requests. In effect, they define the task. Sometimes a woman will say to her husband, “Oh, I am having trouble with my computer.” Even though she does not say the words, she may really be intending to ask for help. Just stating the needs implies that another person must meet the need.
The elders do not allow Jesus to offer a suggestion, to have His own Divine idea or to heal in a way that He might graciously prefer. Not at all. Nor are they inviting or requesting help. They are now specifying what Jesus must do --- Jesus must go with them, just exactly as they have instructed. That’s subtle and sinister pressure – telling Jesus how He must meet your needs in your way. Perhaps you and I have tried that stunt on Jesus a time or two – telling Jesus how He must help us.
Five: Social Pressure. Now they add social pressure -- “Because he loves our people.”
He loves us, so you must go heal the servant. That’s social pressure. “He’s our friend and if he’s our friend, then you need to comply just the way he requests because he’s our friend and you’re under obligation because he’s our friend." So never mind what you had in mind and never mind what’s right -- you have to do this because … he’s our friend … he loves us.
Everyone here has attended social functions which we did not wish to attend. We do this from the weight of social pressure. Sometimes we try to pressure Jesus into following our instructions by insisting that since we belong to Jesus, he is in need of obeying our instructions.
Six: Finally, the Elders add one more reason: “He loves our nation and he built our synagogue.” Ah. Now we know what they want. Now we understand what is going on with the Elders. Now we understand what they are pushing Jesus so hard. “The Centurion gives us money.”
Let me try a paraphrase: “Jesus you need to do this because he gives us money. We are the elders and we get the money and he builds our synagogue. You know -- so treat him good and heal his servant and lets get on with it. ”
You wonder if there isn’t more to it. Perhaps the elders were not only thinking about the past but also the future. Jesus, we are putting pressure on you because there could be more money where that came from. The elders are greedy.
Have you ever talked to God and tried to negotiate a deal with God? You might promise to start tithing if He heals you. (Wow, that’s impressive, no doubt!) Or you might promise to stop drinking excessively if God will give you a promotion. Or you might promise to be a good parent if only God will give you a child. Underlying all such bargaining is greed. I try to make a deal so I can have what I want.
What a lot of people think about getting the attention of God is that you pressure Jesus to conform to your demands. You pressure him. You put some heat on him. Time, social obligation, professional obligation and all the rest. Sometimes we hint to Jesus that if he doesn’t do what we want then we will suggest to others that he’s not really so great a savior after all. You put the screws to the thumbs and make him comply because he’s got to do it because we need the money and we want to be in charge and we want to be in control. And we like to be the elders. And we like to have brand new synagogues. We like to have big new cool stuff and if you will just comply with us then we can have all the cool stuff.
Now, notice the unspoken words. Listen for what you don’t hear in what the elders say.
What are the words that you don’t hear? You don’t hear the word servant. Did you notice? This was supposed to be all about the centurion’s servant. Why then don’t we hear a word about the servant from the elders? Because the elders don’t care about the servant. They don’t care that the servant is dying; what they want is the good connection with the centurion and the money for the synagogue. That is why they also believe that pressure is the best tool for getting Jesus’ attention.
Again, what we’ve got here is greedy elders. Their real goal is clear enough in the end. They want Jesus to do something for THEM – for the ELDERS. They want to be the center of the story. They do no care about the dying servant at all.
These Elders are confusers . Listen to how they twisted the truth. The centurion said
2. ask him
BUT: they didn’t ask at all. We saw that they went and instructed Jesus what they wanted him to do which sounded very different from what the centurion said to them to do.
Let’s leave the elders for now. They are of no spiritual use to us at all. Their ministry appeal to Jesus is to pressure Jesus, twist the words of the Centurion, and control the overall story because they get money from this man. These men are greedy.
Yet Jesus goes with them. It’s amazing. In spite of the unworthy way in which they approached him Jesus allows the story to go on and he heads out for the centurion’s home. And with Jesus headed out that way the focus of the story returns to the Centurion. What we find out that is that while all of this is happening with Jesus and the elders something changes in the thinking of the Centurion. He realizes that something has gone wrong and he is already taking a new approach. He too gives up on the elders and he sends different people to Jesus.
So after Luke tells us that Jesus went with the elders toward the centurion’s place he goes on to say that Jesus “was not far from the house when the Centurion sent friends to Jesus to say to him ‘Lord, don’t trouble yourself for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof.”
Now we don’t know exactly why the Centurion changed his mind but we do read that this second delegation he sends out to Jesus were some of his friends.
Did somebody tell him what was going on? Did he stop and say “Oh, what have I done? Or “I shouldn’t have sent the elders.” All we know is that he changed his mind and sent these friends to Jesus instead, and he tells them precisely what they are to say to Jesus. Watch now and hear how different his approach is from the elders. This is the Centurions own approach as he attempts to gain Jesus’ attention through the words he instructs his friends to use when they go out to meet Jesus and talk to him on the road.
One: In the words he gives them he begins with: “Lord.”
“Lord!” We read that he told his friends to say “Lord, do not trouble yourself.” He addresses Jesus as “Lord!” That’s a respectful title and all the more remarkable in that it comes from a pagan talking to a Jew. In this context it means the same as a Jew calling Jesus “rabbi", perhaps the pagan equivalent of rabbi. In effect, he is saying, “You are the rabbi. I’m the guy in need of help. I recognize that you are in charge of the spiritual issues here. I am in charge of my soldiers; you’re in charge of the spiritual issues. No matter what these elders said about ‘hurry up and get down here and take care of this guy needs’ you are my rabbi. And I show you respect as my rabbi.” The better way to get Jesus’ attention begins with the recognition that you know that Jesus is the teacher and you are the student.
Two: Do not trouble yourself.
Listen to how he tries to get his attention: “Rabbi, you are not a soldier in my command, you are the rabbi and I am the student. So in effect he says do not trouble yourself. You have no obligation to me.
The Centurion makes the remarkable observation that Jesus might be busy, might have other plans, might not want to take a detour to the Centurion’s house. This is considerate and humble. This statement is a recognition that Jesus is a free agent who is able to choose His own activities for the day.
You understand, don’t you, that many of us like to order Jesus around and tell him what to do as if he is obligated to follow our instructions. Our Centurion now acknowledges that Jesus is not obliged to help.
He as much as says “You don’t have to bother with me.” Now, is he being honest? I think he’s being honest. I understand I am a pagan. You’re a rabbi. You don’t owe it to me because of anything I’ve done. I’m not asking for you to pay a favor. This isn’t the Godfather that you owe me a favor. I’m just asking you for your help.
Three: Not Worthy
Our Centurion now reconsiders and declares: I am not worthy that you should come under my roof. I, personally, am not up to your high standards. I cannot expect you to come to my house to help me because I am a pagan and a Gentile. I, as a person, am not worthy. I am not your equal that you should come to my house. I am not your peer. I am a centurion and you are a rabbi. I am not of the status that an observant Jew would come under my roof. It isn’t supposed to happen that way in your culture and I respect that. You are under no pressure from me. This is the third way that he turns Jesus free.
Years ago one comedian in movies had a saying, “I don’t get no respect.” Our Centurion will make a third statement through his friends: I do consider myself worthy to stop you on the road and ask for help.
Notice the change: The elders declare that the man is worthy because he is a ranking officer and he contributes money to the synagogue. Wow, that should get Jesus’ attention! Now the Centurion backs away from that and declares the truth: I am not worthy to have you under my roof. And now, I am not worthy of stopping you on the road to ask a favor.
Now you understand these are the words of a centurion. In those days any soldier had the right to ask a local person to carry his gear for a mile or two. A centurion was allowed to order local people to do all kinds of things if he found it necessary. Yet to Jesus he says I don’t consider myself worthy. This word worthy has the sense of “strong enough.” I don’t have such a great force that I can come to you and stop you in public and expect you to meet my needs. I could never be your equal.
If the governor were driving down the road in his car her car and has the big governor entourage and you would stand along side the road with a little sign that says ‘governor please stop, my name’s David’. You think they’d stop that motorcade? (Laugh) They’d run you right over. (Laugh) They don’t stop for people who have signs. They just keep going.
Likewise for the Centurion – he’s saying you Jesus are the powerful one. If I came up to you in the road with all my horses and all my Centurion equipment and all my soldiers and all my tanks and my guns and everything, you wouldn’t have to stop for me. I’m just a centurion and I know I don’t have the status to make you stop for me.
But what he says in verse 7 is the one I want you to stay remember. He says “say the word and my servant will be healed.”
Now follow this. The Centurion is saying something like this: Jesus, I tried to pressure you. The Elder REALLY tried to pressure you. But I know that pressure is not the right way to get your attention. I really am unable to pressure you. But there is just one thing I want to say – please heal my young servant.
Jesus, you don’t owe me a thing; I don’t have a thing to offer you, you’re the lord, you’re the rabbi, I’m just a soldier, there’s only one thing I’m asking --I have a servant who’s sick and I want him healed. Would you heal my servant?
He appeals not like the elders do, with all this external business, status, power, importance, money, social obligation, soldiers and civic responsibility. He says, “Look I have a dying man in my care. And I understand, Jesus, that you have me in your care.” (Now follow this and see how this works.) “You – have me – in your spiritual care – just like – I – have a servant – in my – spiritual care. And if you can understand that I love my servant, I can understand that you care for me, not because I am important, (because a servant is just a servant and they’re a dime a dozen in the ancient world) but I love this servant just like you love me.” Centurion doesn’t appeal to status, prestige or importance. He just appeals to the inside values of Jesus, His goodness. There is goodness, he takes all the pressure off, and he says I want you to love my servant in the same way that I know you love me. Help my servant. Help me.
Friends, let me make the same application with a different metaphor. Sometimes we treat Jesus like a piñata. Piñatas are these figures made to look like a person but they are made out of paper mache. They are hollow and they are made to be filled with candy. Children love piñatas because you hang then up somewhere in your yard and you little children loose on them. The children love piñatas right? Oh yah they love the piñata alright. You hang the piñata in a tree and all these little children who love the piñata -- what will they do next? They’re going to get a big old stick and they are going to beat the daylights out of their beloved piñata. hey beat it a little pulp until he is smashed all over your back yard. Now let me tell you the lesson here.
Sometimes people will beat their best friends to if they think they can get something good out of them. You with me? If you want to keep your favorite piñata for a while you have got to put it on the highest shelf in your office to protect him from those little vultures. What makes us think that if there is somebody who has something that we would like that if we hit them a little harder that they’ll give it to us? If we beat them a little bit more they will comply with our needs? It’s a little crazy, isn’t it? It is a little crazy, yeah.
Why do we treat Jesus like a piñata? Jesus is full of goodness and kindness and mercy so we pressure Jesus, coerce Jesus, whine and complain that we are not treated well enough all in hopes of convincing Jesus what worthy people we are. Yes, that’s nuts!
The point of this story is the question, “how do you get Jesus’ attention?” You just stop trying to manipulate him and come with a very simple premise that he loves you.
How do you get God to love you?
How do you get Jesus to pay attention to you?
The answer is: what makes you think he isn’t already paying attention to every word you say?
You could never make him love you more than he loves you now. Simply approach him as the merciful God he is. Recognize that the thing which will get his attention is the love he already has for you. He has already given his life for you. He is already offering you so much. That is the foundation of your appeal to him
Let us pray. Lord, thanks for this story so so utterly simple so profoundly true. Thanks Lord for loving us. We don’t need to trick you, or pressure you, or coerce you, you just love us just because You are good and that’s all we need. Thank you. In Jesus name. Amen.
Welcome and Announcements
Opening Hymn PH 475:1-3
Call to Worship Psalm 103:20-22
Response PH 629
Hymn PH 461
Call to Confession II John 1-6
Response PH 424
Prayers of God’s People
Offertory Prayer/Prayer for the Word or Offertory Hymn
Scripture Reading Luke 7:1-10 (Read this part way into the sermon as indicated)
Message: “How Do You Get Noticed by Jesus?”
Prayer of Application
Song of Response PH 267
Closing Song PH 637