Monday, May 27, 2013

The Memorial of Authority

Matthew 8:9 (KJV)  For I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me: and I say to this man, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it.
Today, we in the US celebrate Memorial Day.  It’s become like the gate in a horse race.  The gate opens and we race into the mindset and activities of Summer.  But the real intent of the day is to honor the fallen heroes who lost their lives so we could continue to enjoy life as we know it, here.  And, as I was thinking about that, our beginning verse kept coming to mind and generated some interesting thoughts

It really doesn’t matter what country we’re in.  There’s no change in the fact that a military has a chain of command.  That’s even true for terrorists, although it’s handled differently.  The Roman Centurion who made the statement in that verse was used to those above him being able to control his actions through orders.  And he could do the same with the soldiers and servants under his authority.

I’m not certain that the Centurion was a believer, at that point.  He may have heard about some of the things Jesus said and definitely knew He could heal.  Although the Centurion says he’s unworthy to have Jesus in his house, I’m not sure that came out of his becoming a Christian or whether he was just able to put Jesus’ healings into perspective based on chain of command.  The Centurion’s frame of reference was military authority.  So, his faith was based on his point of view that Jesus had an authority to heal, which placed Him beyond the normal human capacity.

Luke 17:6 (KJV)  And the Lord said, If ye had faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye might say unto this sycamine tree, Be thou plucked up by the root, and be thou planted in the sea; and it should obey you.
We’re all familiar with that verse.  But have you ever connected it with the Centurion in Matthew 8?  Jesus marvels at the Centurion’s faith.  That could have come as much from his understanding of military delegated authority as it could from recognizing Jesus’ Godhood.  A grain of mustard seed.  In the parallel passage, in Luke 7, the Centurion sends Jewish elders to Jesus because he didn’t see himself worthy of even asking Jesus to heal his servant.  And when the Centurion called Jesus “Lord”, the original has elsewhere been translated as “master”.  It may have been in deference to Jesus as God, but it could also be only a recognition of some type of authority.

Picture the whole situation with me.  Here’s the Centurion, a Roman soldier, used to the idea that there are multiple gods and goddesses, whose frame of reference is a military chain of command.  In the Roman army, particularly in trouble spots like Israel, disobeying orders might get you in jail, but it’s more likely a certain sentence of death.  So, it’s very possible that the Centurion may have done his 2+2, but hadn’t reached his answer of 4, yet.  What was Jesus’ response?

Matthew 8:10-11 (KJV)  When Jesus heard it, he marvelled, and said to them that followed, Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel.  And I say unto you, That many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven.

Certainly, if the Centurion wasn't a Christian, he was well on his way in the conversion process.  And whatever his spiritual state, that level of faith was greater than was displayed by the Jewish people of Israel.  Jesus was sufficiently impressed that He told the disciples that there would be lots of Gentiles joining Him in heaven.  There was truth in some of what the Centurion already knew and Jesus was pleased that he was willing to accept that truth to move closer to a relationship with God.  What does that mean for us?

The Centurion may have only had the beginnings of what we call real faith, but Jesus was pleased.  Thomas needed to see and touch the wound in Jesus’ hand.  Peter doubted enough to lie about his relationship with Jesus and, later, to run back to fishing instead of ministry.  Yet, Peter is the one that Jesus told directly, “Feed My sheep.”.  God knows our shortcomings and failings.  And He knows our hearts.  God is more interested in whether we continue in the faith than whether we do everything perfectly.  Doesn’t that realization bring a real sense of freedom?

There’s another point, too,  When we’re evangelizing, it needs to be out of respect for God’s authority, not out of any idea that our status will change because of doing it (or anything else).  If a soldier completes his ordered duty, he doesn’t get an extra reward.  He only gets recognition for going beyond his capacity.  And we know where that comes from in God’s army, don’t we?

Third, that understanding of spiritual authority allows us to realize it’s the Holy Spirit, not us, who does the saving.  And that’s in His own time.  If we go with the right heart, there will always be fruit.  Sometimes, we get the privilege of harvesting souls.  Other times we get to build the foundation that someone else will use to bring them to Christ.  Yes we have an urgency because we don’t know how long a person has to make that choice.  At the same time, we don’t need to give in to fear and a driving spirit.

All of that came out of Memorial Day and one verse.  So, let’s remember the men and women in uniform who lost their lives protecting our freedom and comfort.  Also, let’s pray for those still living and their families – for a relationship with God, physical protection, a covering for their emotional and psychological well being.  And let’s think of everyone else, somewhere in the process of recognizing God’s authority or succumbing to authority from elsewhere.  Pray.  And share the Gospel. 

What thoughts does your Memorial Day bring out?

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