Luke 7:1–10 After Jesus had finished saying all these things to the people who were listening, he went into Capernaum. 2A centurion’s servant, who was valuable to him, was sick and about to die. 3When the centurion heard about Jesus, he sent some elders of the Jews to him, asking him to come and heal his servant. 4When they came to Jesus, they begged him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy of having you do this for him, 5because he loves our nation, and he built our synagogue for us.”
6Jesus went with them. When he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to tell Jesus, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, because I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. 7That is why I did not consider myself worthy to come to you. But say the word, and my servant will be healed. 8For I am also a man placed under authority, having soldiers under me. I say to this one, ‘Go!’ and he goes; and to another one, ‘Come!’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”
9When Jesus heard these things, he was amazed at him. He turned to the crowd that was following him and said, “I tell you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel.” 10And when the men who had been sent returned to the house, they found the servant well.
When I have new people taking my adult confirmation classes, in my first lesson I begin to explain that when you walk into a church, you should be able to see what that church teaches based on the symbols within the church. Throughout the course of our study, I explain the Christian symbols in Epiphany’s sanctuary – the stained-glass windows, paintings, church furnishings, candles, crosses and other symbols.
But if you haven’t taken my class for a while, you may not know or remember what the symbols of our church mean. Symbols are meant to convey meaning with a simple image. But if you don’t know what that image means, you have lost its educational purpose.
If you saw the Apple logo, you might think they were selling fruit at a food market. If you saw the Brewers’ retro logo, you might think it was a cool baseball mitt, but nothing more. If you saw a big M on a sign, you might have no idea that it is advertising a fast food restaurant.
Symbols lose their impact if we lose their meanings. That’s why over the next few weeks, I’ll explain some of the symbols in our sanctuary. The first symbols are the lectern and pulpit.
The first Christian churches met in people’s homes or other private locations. Later, Christians met in catacombs when they were suffering great persecution for their faith. In the fourth century, though, after Emperor Constantine made Christianity a legal religion, Christians began constructing church buildings. They built lecterns and pulpits as places for reading and preaching the Christian faith.
The word “lectern” is Latin for “to read.” The lectern is where the Scripture lessons are read for worship. We read the Scriptures in the bulletin or sanctuary screen. We hear the Scriptures as the pastor reads the lessons. We speak and sing the Scriptures back to God in the Verse of the Day and the Psalm of the Day. All of this helps to reinforce God’s Word into our ears, from our mouths, into our minds and in our hearts. Our faith grows more each time we hear, read, speak, and sing God’s Word.
The word “pulpit” means “platform” in the Latin. A raised pulpit like Epiphany’s visually displays the importance of the sermon as God’s Words is applied directly to our lives by the pastor. New Hope’s pulpit is made from barnwood from an old barn that had been on their property. First Evan’s pulpit has an abat-voix or sounding board over it. Each of these pulpits are raised. A large, raised pulpit like ours speaks a visual message about the authority of the Word. It underscores what the pastor says in the sermon: “What I am saying to you here is what the Lord says in His Word!”
Before he ascended into heaven, Jesus instructed his followers, “Preach the good news to all creation” (Mark 16:15). Martin Luther wrote, “When God’s Word is not preached, one had better neither sing nor read, or even come together” (Luther’s Works, Vol 53, p. 11). The Apology of the Augsburg Confession states: “There is nothing that so attaches people to the church as good preaching” (Apology, Art 24:51). Considering what the Scriptures, Luther, and the Lutheran Confessions have to say about the value of preaching, it would be strange indeed if preaching did not occupy a prominent place in Lutheran worship. Our lectern and pulpit visually proclaim that this is the place for reading and preaching the Christian faith.
The Roman centurion in Capernaum had received the Christian faith somewhere along the line by listening to the preaching of God’s Word.
The centurion is one of the unique characters in the Gospels because he was not raised as a believer. He wasn’t born into the Jewish nation. In fact, it was just the opposite. He grew up in the Roman Empire where they worshiped many false gods and had little to do with the Jewish God of the Old Testament. But somewhere along the line, God’s Word had touched the centurion’s heart and the Holy Spirit had converted him into a proselyte, a Gentile believer. As a proselyte, the centurion was not circumcised and therefore could not worship God in the Jewish temple in Jerusalem. However, he was welcome to worship in a local synagogue. So he built one to worship God in.
While many the centurion’s Jewish neighbors rejected Jesus, the centurion accepted him by faith. It is quite possible that the centurion was standing in the synagogue congregation months earlier, listening to Jesus preach and then witnessed him driving the demon out of a possessed man.
Perhaps that event, in connection with hearing Jesus read the Scriptures from the lectern in the synagogue brought him to faith in the Lord. Perhaps the centurion heard Jesus preach along the Sea of Galilee, using Peter’s fishing boat as a pulpit. It was with that faith that the centurion sent some elders of the Jews to ask Jesus to heal his sick servant.
As Jesus was approaching the centurion’s home, the centurion sent some friends to say to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, because I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. That is why I did not consider myself worthy to come to you. But say the word, and my servant will be healed.”
Jesus was amazed at this centurion’s faith. He told the crowd, “I tell you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel.” Then the men who had been sent returned to the house and found the servant well.
Do you want a stronger, deeper and greater faith? Would you like Jesus to commend you for your amazing faith? If you want a stronger faith, you need to realize how weak you are. If you want a deeper faith, you need to recognize how shallow you are. If you want a distinguished faith, you need to admit how depraved and decrepit you are. If you want a greater faith, you need to confess how lowly you are.
It seems contradictory, but a great faith begins with humility.
That faith comes, not by expecting Jesus to come to us, but by humbling approaching him. That faith comes not by demanding material blessings and physical health, but quietly sitting in pews week after week, hearing Jesus speak his words to us from the lectern and pulpit. Our faith becomes weak as we are out in the dangerous spaces of the world as the devil, demons, governmental decrees, unchristian lawsuits, and atheistic friends attack us, our morals, and our faith. But our faith becomes stronger against all these threats as we find rest and comfort in our safe place – here in church. For it is in this place where we hear God’s Word, speak the Lord’s Scriptures back to him, sing his praises, have his baptismal waters poured over us, and eat his sacred meal.
We come to Jesus as the centurion did – empty handed, in need, an outsider. We come to Jesus, not promoting all the great things we have done for him this past week, but admitting all the shameful things we have done to him and all the embarrassing things we have failed to do for him over the past few days. We are not coming to church for some moral improvement, like we are one big self-help group and the pastor is a large-group therapist.
We come to church because we are surrounded by a sea of sin. The church is an island of life in an ocean of death. We are surrounded by zombies who don’t understand that they are the walking dead. The church is a hospital for us who recognize that we are terminally ill. The lectern and pulpit are where the Great Physician dispenses the life-giving medicine in his holy Word. He uses the Law and Gospel preached in these two places to cut out the cancer of sin and death and replace it with the balm of his healing forgiveness.
We come to church to confess that we are damnable sinners, with nothing good within us. We are not worthy to have Jesus come under our roof … nor are we worthy to come under his. Part of our Prayer of the Church today is an ancient prayer based on the words of the centurion. It goes like this: “Gracious God, we are not worthy that You should come under our roof, but You are the same Lord whose property is always to have mercy.”
We are not worthy to have Christ enter under the roof of our mouth with his holy body and blood. But he comes with mercy and his authoritative word, “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” Christ comes to us, not because we are worthy, but so that he can make us worthy in him. He comes to us, not because we are righteous, but because we need his forgiveness. He comes to us, not because we are healthy, but so that he can rescue us from our eternal deathbed.
“Just say the word, and my servant will be healed.” The centurion trusted the authority of Jesus and his Word. The centurion didn’t need for Jesus to go to his house and lay hands on his dying servant. He was being respectful of Jesus and his Jewish friends because he knew it was not right for Jesus to enter into the house of an unclean Gentile. But mainly, the centurion knew that he wasn’t worthy of the honor of having the Son of God enter his home. He desired only a word from Jesus. That would be enough. He also knew that Jesus had authority in his words. The authority to drive out demons and heal the sick. The authority to cure lepers and the lame. He had the authority of the heavenly Father behind his words – for all authority in heaven and on earth has been given him by his Father. When Jesus spoke, it was if God himself was speaking … and he was!
Have you ever thought about how powerful a word spoken at just the right time is? The stern word of a mother can stop a child from running into the street. The comforting word of a father can reassure a daughter after her boyfriend broke her heart. The confident word of a witness can bring a cop-killer to justice.
If that is how powerful a human voice can be, imagine how powerful the voice of Jesus is.
If you want your faith to be stronger, deeper and greater, it comes from hearing the voice of Jesus – daily, weekly, regularly, spoken, read, and sung. This week we’ll be teaching God’s Word to fifty children under the trees at our New Hope Soccer Camp. This past Wednesday I led the youth Bible study in the WLS cafeteria. Next month, we’ll be putting the campers to bed after their evening devotions at Training Camp. Those are all good and important ways to reinforce the faith through God’s Word.
But it is here in church, sitting in pews week after week, listening to God’s Word read from the lectern and applied to your life from the pulpit, that this happens regularly. Here in church, Jesus calms your fears, forgives your sins, cleanses your conscience, encourages your Christian living, and strengthens your faith. There is authority in those words. When the pastor speaks God’s words to you from the lectern and pulpit, it is as Jesus himself is speaking them to you … and he is!
This is the place for preaching the faith. Amen.