The Centurion – Just Say the Word

“Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof.  But just say the word, and my servant will be healed.” (Matthew 8:8)

If anyone in Jesus’ day understood the meaning of authority, it would be an officer in the Roman military.  Perhaps it was the centurion’s position as a subordinate of more powerful commanders that gave him the sense of humility to confess his unworthiness before Jesus.  While it would have been easy for someone of his rank to become conceited and arrogant, he recognized that there were many others in the hierarchy of power who were above him – and he saw clearly that Jesus was over them all.  Being confronted with the kind of authority that was over his commander, his general, and even his emperor, the centurion is convicted of his own guilt and publicly professes that he is not fit to be in the Lord’s presence.

And yet, the centurion can relate to Jesus’ authority in one respect – he knows what it is to command: “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” (Matthew 8:9).  The centurion knows that his orders will be followed swiftly and obediently by his men.  But he also knows that his own authority has its limits.  While he can order his servant to “Do this” and the servant will obey, it won’t do any good for him to tell the servant, “Rise,” “Be healed,” or “Your sins are forgiven.”  Only the Word of power spoken by Jesus has the authority to accomplish these tasks.

It’s strange how the Roman centurion treats Jesus with the utmost respect and humility, while we ourselves often feel like we’re pretty big stuff – like we’ve been such wonderful Christian people that God owes it to us to grant this favor or answer that prayer the way we want.  In fact, this was the very mindset of those who came to Jesus on behalf of the centurion: “This man deserves to have you do this, because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue.”  But the centurion himself rebutted: “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” (Luke 7:4-7).  Like the centurion, we need to know our place.  We make humble requests, not haughty demands.

But the greatest thing we can learn from this Roman centurion lies in his model of faith for us.  Although he knows that he is completely unworthy of Jesus’ love and healing power, he appeals to Him in faith.  He trusts Jesus’ power so much that he is satisfied by His Word alone.  While many in his position would have expected the honor of such a dignified celebrity’s personal appearance, the centurion is blessed with faith that believes the power of Jesus’ Word without the necessity of seeing Him in person. (John 20:29)

The centurion’s faith – a faith which believed the promise of the Word without signs and without making demands – was able to amaze even the very Son of God.  As we are convicted of our own guilt and unworthiness through the Law, we can approach God for healing and cleansing from sin with humility and penitence.  As we trust in the promise of forgiveness through the Word, the Spirit works in our hearts to produce this same amazing faith – a most gracious gift from our merciful God!

“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” (Hebrews 11:1)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, give me the meekness and humility to accept the censure of Your Law and the faith to humbly trust the promise of Your Gospel, through Jesus Christ, Your Son, my Lord.  Amen.

Simon Peter – Because Jesus Said So

“Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything.  But because you say so, I will let down the nets.” (Luke 5:5)

If you’re a parent, you’ve probably uttered these words at least once in your lifetime: “Because I said so, that’s why!”  This phrase is usually spoken in a tone of impatience, disgust, or even contempt.  After all, that we even needed to employ those words in the first place means that someone doesn’t trust us; they don’t see us as an authority worthy of respect, and we feel inclined to point out that the very fact that we told them to do something ought to be reason enough for obedience.

Simon, James, and John weren’t just a group of fishing buddies out throwing some casts and knocking back a few beers on a lazy Saturday; they were professional fishermen who spent nearly every day of their lives on the lake, trying to make a living.  They undoubtedly knew the times, locations, and tactics used to catch fish better than anyone, and they also knew where the fish simply weren’t going to be.  These guys were experts.

So when some carpenter comes along and starts giving them advice, it probably would have been easy to get somewhat miffed.  They’re tired from working hard all night long and probably a little crabby at the fact that they have nothing to show for all their effort.  Now some layman wants to come along and tell them how to do their job?  Most of us probably would have said, “Get lost, buddy!”

But Simon Peter catches himself as he starts to point out the obvious facts to Jesus.  He recognizes Jesus’ authority, even if it doesn’t seem to have any logical bearing on the present situation.  He announces, “Because YOU say so, I will let down the nets.”

We tend to think that we’re experts on a lot of things, even matters of spirit and ministry.  We know all the “right” ways to witness, all the best “fishing holes” for finding hearts with fertile soil for the Gospel seed, and just the right times to “let down our nets” and let the Gospel do its work.  But sometimes God calls us to cast out the net of His Word in situations that really don’t seem all that promising.  We look at the deep waters of a thoroughly secular society or a firmly atheistic acquaintance and say, “God, there’s nothing in there to catch.  I’ve worked all through the night in some of the ripest fields, trying to bring Your Word to sinners, and I’m tired of fruitless efforts.  Just let me go home and rest, mend my nets, and maybe another day I’ll try that part of the lake.”

Many times, we are called to bring the net of God’s Word to the fish.  But just as often, it seems, God asks us to let down the net and let Him bring the fish to us.  When we trust His authority and take Him at His Word, we will be amazed as we see the boat of the Church being filled with schools of people coming to faith by miraculous saving grace.  So cast away with reckless abandon, throwing your nets into whatever waters God directs you to – because He said so.  Even with all your skill and knowledge as a fisher of men, you will still get skunked every time without the Spirit’s help.  Let the One who created the lake and everything in it guide you to today’s catch!

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)

Prayer: Lord God, guide me in my ministry today.  Give me the faith to heed Your calling and proclaim Your Word wherever You direct me to do so.  Give me the courage to let down the net of Your Word, even in the deepest and darkest of waters.  Bring the multitude of those who do not know You safely into the boat of Your church, unto life everlasting; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord.  Amen.

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego – God’s Will Be Done

“If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king.  But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” (Daniel 3:17-18)

Like the prophet Nathan, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego find themselves in a difficult situation that requires them to confront a powerful authority figure.  Throughout history, God’s people have sometimes found it impossible to both serve God faithfully and still follow the strict regulations of sinful earthly authorities.  In these cases, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego have the correct approach: honor God by respectfully confronting the authority with his wrongdoing, continue to steadfastly follow God’s Word, and humbly trust in Him as you accept whatever consequences may come.

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego know full well that they are probably going to die for their rebellion against King Nebuchadnezzar.  Their words, “even if he does not [save us from the furnace]” reveal tremendous faith in God’s grace.  Even if they are to be executed for their refusal to worship idols, God has already saved them from death.  They are willing to be thrown into a fiery furnace for the sake of their Lord, because He has saved them from the eternal fires of Hell – and nothing Nebuchadnezzar can do to them will ever change that.

These three faithful warriors of God bravely face their doom, walking in the light of God’s Word and trusting in Him to take care of the end results.  Following this course always brings glory and honor to God, as we have seen time and again.  For some heroes, like Josiah and Samson, physical death is still the means by which God’s name is honored and His love is demonstrated for the world – and they can then celebrate His goodness and mercy in His very presence.  But for Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, God’s will is for their temporal salvation first, so that the King Nebuchadnezzar and all his subjects could see the power and majesty of the Lord.

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were able to stand firmly against the king’s wicked proclamation because they put God’s will before their own fears and desires.  In this selfless act, they point forward to an even greater Hero who would face down the combined evil of all human sin and wickedness, Jesus Christ the Son of God.  Faced with the threat of shame, suffering, and death, our Lord trusted in the Father’s mercy and put His life into God’s hands, saying, “not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).  Although death awaited Him, Jesus knew that the greatest triumph would come later, in His glorious resurrection.  Because of this, we can also face even death boldly, trusting in this same Resurrection.  God’s will is done when we faithfully and fearlessly serve Him, just as it will be done when we are raised to life again on the last day and are reunited with Him forever.  Come what may, let us walk with God and glorify Him, even when His path leads into the fiery furnace.

“Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who has sent his angel and rescued his servants!  They trusted in him and defied the king’s command and were willing to give up their lives rather than serve or worship any god except their own God… Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just.” (Daniel 3:28; 4:37)

Prayer: Lord God, our lives are always in Your hands.  Guide and direct us in Your will, that we may please and honor You with each step of our journey.  Let me always trust You alone and Your Word, seeking strength and courage through the death and resurrection of Your Son, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Josiah – Facing Bad News with Faithfulness

“Josiah removed all the detestable idols from all the territory belonging to the Israelites, and he had all who were present in Israel serve the Lord their God.  As long as he lived, they did not fail to follow the Lord, the God of their fathers.” (2 Chronicles 34:33)

Hearing the words of our country’s top politicians lately has left many Americans yearning for a return to Godly leadership.  Unfortunately, our government officials haven’t exactly been striving for a morality that follows God’s Law.  We need to continue praying for faithful leaders who will direct this nation in the way of the Lord, asking Him to send those who will reform the evils of this land.

Josiah was the kind of king that the faithful remnant had been praying for.  Already at the age of sixteen, he had started down the path of a rock-star reformer.  2 Chronicles 34:3-7 is just a fun passage to read: Josiah the warrior-king, smashing the pagan altars and chopping down the false gods, crushing the wickedness of idolatry wherever he trod.  The God-fearing people of Judah must have wept with joy as he led the people back to the Lord and ordered that His temple be restored.  And then…they found the Book of the Law.

I’m sure Josiah had known that the people had not been doing what was right in God’s eyes, but he never imagined how utterly short they had fallen of God’s demands until now.  He tore his royal clothes and immediately sent messengers to the prophetess Huldah.  They returned shortly:

Josiah: “Well?  What did she say?”

Shaphan: “Well, my liege, we have good news and bad news…”

Josiah: “Hmm, better hit me with the bad news first.”

Shaphan: “Huldah says that all of Judah is going to be destroyed because of the wickedness of our fathers.  Jerusalem will be completely destroyed and all the people will either be killed or carried off as slaves.”

Josiah: “That’s terrible!  Well, what’s the good news?”

Shaphan: “You’re going to die, so you won’t have to see how bad everything will get.”

Imagine; Josiah had put his whole heart into reforming the kingdom and turning the people back to God, only to hear that everything he’s done will be destroyed soon and his life will be taken from him.  Most people would react to this news with anger, resentment, and despair.  How does Josiah react?  “The king stood by the pillar and renewed the covenant in the presence of the Lord – to follow the Lord and keep his commands, regulations and decrees with all his heart and all his soul, and to obey the words of the covenant written in this book” (2 Chronicles 34:31).

Josiah doesn’t question God’s judgment.  He doesn’t curse at Him for this “unfair” pronouncement of doom.  He doesn’t even despair of all the good that has been done in Judah, but rather redoubles his efforts in leading the people with Godliness and humility.  He celebrates the Passover with joy and festivity, and leaves the people with an imprint on their hearts of God’s mercy and love before being gathered to be with Him.  Perhaps it was Josiah’s faithful example that gave the remnant the hope they would need to get through the coming ordeals of destruction and exile.

Unlike Josiah, we don’t know what the future holds for our country, our world, or even our own family.  But even if we did, and even if it looked really terrible, would that be a reason to despair?  Or would we be like Josiah, and rejoice with great gladness in all that the Lord has done and all that He’s promised yet to do?  Would we leave a Godly example for the remnant that would follow us?

I’m not sure if Josiah knew that it wouldn’t be long before those in exile would see Cyrus deliver them out of bondage and exile; and then the true Messiah, Jesus Christ, deliver them from the bondage of sin and death as well as exile from God.  But He knew that God was faithful, and he was saved from despair and despondency by his faith in God’s promises.  We cling to those promises yet today, for they are our hope and salvation, and our strength in the face of dark times.

“I called on your name, O Lord, from the depths of the pit.  You heard my plea: ‘Do not close your ears to my cry for relief.’  You came near when I called you, and you said, ‘Do not fear.’  O Lord, you took up my case; you redeemed my life.” (Lamentations 3:55-58)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, hear now the cries of our nation for leaders who will faithfully guide us in Your truth.  Forgive the many sins of our people and redeem our country, that we may be a city on a hill and light to all the nations of the world; to the glory of Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord.  Amen.

Manasseh – Chief of Sinners

“But Manasseh led Judah and the people of Jerusalem astray, so that they did more evil than the nations the Lord had destroyed before the Israelites.” (2 Chronicles 33:9)

Manasseh doesn’t sound very faithful or heroic, does he?  So why include him in a devotional series dedicated to “heroes of the faith”?  I have to admit, when one reads the account of Manasseh’s wickedness, it feels pretty dirty to put him in the company of heroes like Hezekiah and Isaiah.  But then I remember some of the other terrible sinners who God was able to forgive and redeem – Samson, Saul, Andrew Boll – and I am reminded that a faith hero is measured only by the love that God demonstrates through him.

Manasseh’s heinous sins led the entire nation into exile and slavery.  His decision to abandon God and perform terrible acts of idolatry caused him great suffering and shame.  Finally, Manasseh wakes up and realizes that his rejection of God is at the heart of all the troubles he and Judah are facing: “In his distress he sought the favor of the Lord his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers.  And when he prayed to him, the Lord was moved by his entreaty and listened to his plea…Then Manasseh knew that the Lord is God” (2 Chronicles 33:12-13).

Manasseh was a legendary sinner, which makes God’s restoration of him to the one true faith one of the greatest displays of His loving, redeeming power in the Old Testament.  Manasseh finally acknowledges God to be the True King, and uses the remainder of his rule to correct many of the wrongs he had earlier committed.  He is a hero of the faith because he shows us today the path to salvation: Repent, and trust in a merciful God for life and restoration.

The depth of Manasseh’s sins shows all the more the awesome power and love of a God who would go all the way to the cross for the sake of miserable sinners like you and me.  Like Manasseh, in our state of defeat and bondage we turn toward the hills, looking for a Deliverer.  What a glorious sight when we see the Son rising there, swooping down upon our enemies to bring us freedom and hope!

“Look, there on the mountains, the feet of one who brings good news, who proclaims peace!” (Nahum 1:15)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, I thank and praise You for the example of sinners as wretched and miserable as I am who show me the power of Your love to redeem.  Grant that I may always turn to You for deliverance from the bondage of sin.  Help me to bring the good news of peace and life to everyone around me today, through Jesus Christ, Your Son.  Amen.

Nathan – Boldly Confronting Evil

“Then Nathan said to David, ‘You are the man!…Why did you despise the word of the Lord by doing what is evil in his eyes?’” (2 Samuel 12:7a,9)

“Don’t kill the messenger!”

This expression has become a common saying because all too often those in authority do kill the messenger, either literally or figuratively.  These words have no doubt gone through the head of anyone and everyone who has had to approach a powerful person with bad news or in any sort of confrontational situation.  Carrying out this task takes a great deal of courage – perhaps even more so than squaring off against giants or attacking enormous armies.

Nathan was sent by God to deliver a terrible message.  King David, the most powerful man in the land (and perhaps on Earth at the time), needed to be told that he had sinned against the Lord.  Nathan told him so, and none too gently.  He faithfully and boldly carried out the Lord’s instructions to confront and rebuke evil, despite the fact that his head might well become part of the palace’s exterior décor as a result.

Standing up for God’s truth in opposition to powerful men and women can be extremely challenging.  Christians often struggle with fear and doubt over the consequences of doing so: “Will I lose my job?  Will I lose my freedom?  Will I lose my life?”  Many times, it seems easier to just “go along and get along” rather than sticking your neck out and losing your head by humbly pointing out that your boss has given immoral, unethical instructions – or that a government or political leader has despised God’s Word by doing evil.  These people have authority over us; authority given by God.  But the ultimate authority in our lives, and theirs, must always be the Word of God.

Not only was King David a very powerful man, he was also well loved by the people and – all in all – typically obedient to God’s Word.  While this makes confrontation easier in some ways (he responds in repentance and contrition rather than anger and retribution), it can be very difficult to accuse otherwise “good people” of doing evil in God’s sight.  Because we respect them for their past and want to protect their reputations, it can be easy to look the other way while they hurt others, harm themselves, and dishonor God.

Like Nathan, we must sometimes confront those in authority with God’s Law.  We need to remind the world of the awful consequences of sin.  We need to call people to repentance and invite them to live once again in God’s precepts.  Then we, like Nathan, must also proclaim to them God’s love and forgiveness.  Though there may be earthly consequences for the sins they have committed, Jesus’ death atones for their guilt and brings life and renewal.

Nearly every one of us is in a position of authority in one aspect or another.  Ask God for the humility to meekly accept the censure of God-fearing people who confront you with your own sins.  Like David, we can humbly confess, “I have sinned against the Lord,” and hear God’s reply; “The Lord has taken away your sin.  You are not going to die” (2 Samuel 12:13).  Although our sin warrants eternal physical and spiritual death, the High King of Heaven has pardoned our guilt.  Therefore let us ever walk with Him, striving daily to more closely follow His commands.

“Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord” (Acts 3:19).

Prayer: Heavenly Father, give me the courage to stand up for Your Word, even when it may be difficult or dangerous to do so.  Give me the joy of proclaiming Your forgiveness and salvation to all those who come before You in faith.  Give me the grace to humbly acknowledge my sin before others and to look to You alone for redemption, through Jesus Christ, Your Son.  Amen.