7.2.16 – Prayer And Authority – Rachel Judge

Read Luke 7:1-10

The rain was relentless on our first family trip through the Buller Gorge. We took all day to travel from Hanmer Springs, after Alan had married a young couple we knew on a farm in a remote valley near there, to Motueka, to Sam’s three lively boy cousins the youngest of whom we were excited about meeting for the first time.

The winding roads through the lush bush seemed to be taking us far beyond our comfort zone, as the rain pelted down.

So the opportunity to let off steam and stretch our legs was welcome when we saw the signs pointing out the Buller Gorge swing bridge ahead. Now I was one of those annoying kids who on tramps with family and friends always used to jump about manically on swing bridges, purposely scaring others on the bridge. Maybe it’s easier when you’re short and close to the ground – not so far to fall, you recklessly figure. Then I married a tall man who loves everything about me – except my behaviour on swing bridges! Sam and I had a ball on that bridge, releasing our pent up energy from hours stuck in the car, while Alan bravely ventured several metres onto the bridge, then we drove on in with the window open as the rain dripped inside, clearing our heads from the lingering dizziness.

Bridges are important structures that we often take for granted. Think about the work that goes into them – the complex design, engineering and construction skills and experience necessary. Imagine the even longer journeys required if bridges weren’t built in strategic places, and the consequent extra costs of cartage, fuel, and drivers’ time.

You may have read in the ODT on Thursday an article that caught my eye because the Catlins is one of my favourite places for a holiday or big day out. The Papotowai Bridge over the Tahakopa River in the Lower Catlins is in need of repairs and so is closed for three months, meaning an extra 30 minutes on unsealed roads is added on to the drive.

Situations like this give us a greater appreciation of the difference bridges make in daily life and travel.

Sometimes God uses us to be a bridge to others – to demonstrate by our words, attitudes, motivations, priorities and prayerfulness that our commitment to Jesus rules our lives, indeed that Jesus Christ is the highest authority in our lives. We can probably think in fact of people whom God has used to be a bridge for us and others to come closer to Jesus.

Of course God made Jesus to be the ultimate bridge for us to come to God the Father. God made this bridge for us in the shape of a cross. It is a bridge that was built by the sacrifice of Jesus for us. The wonderful news is that when we personally know the builder of our salvation, we can trust the bridge He has built for us.

Let’s pray together, as we open God’s Word

 Mighty God, we come to you in joyful expectation to receive your Word for us today. We come in our weakness to experience your strength. We don’t want to keep on walking over wobbly bridges when we can trust your strength on the bridge between our weakness and your power built on the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.

In your great power now, take my words and fill them with your Holy Spirit so that together we may give you all the glory.

In Jesus’ Name we pray,

Amen

Wouldn’t you love to know more about this Roman army commander who was bold in outlining his need before Jesus? Here is a man of great authority who seemingly naturally, and with confidence, asks Jesus, through some of his Jewish friends, leaders in the synagogue, to heal his unwell servant. This man, high up in the ranks of the Roman army, who, as he tells Jesus, is used to giving orders to others, knowing the required tasks will be performed recognises the  authority and power of Jesus. Many others didn’t notice or want to be aware of this God-given power, but here in Capernaum, this centurion, this leader of men, had figured out for himself that here was another significant leader, on another quite different plane, seemingly out of this world, yet with feet, probably dirty feet at that, with all his walking on dusty roads, planted firmly on Galilean soil.

This Roman centurion who requested help from Jesus was acting as a bridge in several ways.

He was pleading for help from Jesus for his unwell slave. He was bridging the gaps between sickness and health, Gentile and Jew, and master and slave. That’s one multi-faceted and expertly made bridge.

Think about it. This commander in the army was undoubtedly a man of authority himself. But in Jesus he recognises a much deeper authority. He knows that this time he doesn’t possess all the qualities and power he needs to help his servant. We are told, in verse 2 of our passage, that the centurion’s servant was about to die.  He was helpless to deal with this irreversible illness and imminent death. The centurion understood not only that he was out of his depth this time and for once didn’t have the resources to beat this situation, but he also knew innately that Jesus was the only one who could heal his servant. So he said to Jesus, “Just say the word, and my servant will be healed” (Luke 7:7). Someone who hasn’t given their life completely to God might say, “I can do nothing” and stop there. Real Christian humility, with which means total dependence on God’s grace adds, “But I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13) and prays passionately with persistence.

From deep within him, and from his own experience of authority, the centurion understood the ultimate authority of Jesus.

He even knew that Jesus did not need to come and physically lay hands on his servant. The Lord of Creation, who spoke the universe into existence, simply had to speak the word and his servant would be healed. That is a high understanding indeed of the identity of Jesus.

That’s what we need too, an awareness of who Jesus is that permeates every part of our life.

There are two times in the Gospels that Jesus particularly commends the faith of an individual – the Syrophoenician woman, in Matthew 15, verse 28, and this centurion we are getting to know today.  Both are Gentiles; one is a woman, the other a man. This sounds indeed like a message from God reminding us that the way of faith is open to people of all nationalities, male or female.” God is not pleased at all by mere religiosity, practised by an exclusive few, who make the rules, but by humble, sincere faith in God that anyone can have.

And Jesus is overwhelmed by this man’s faith in God. As Tom Wright comments ‘this is what matters- the centurion’s faith. .…Often soldiers in that position would despise the local people as an inferior race, but this man didn’t. He had come to love and respect the Jewish people, and had even paid for the building of the local synagogue.’

I love the way Tom Wright emphasises the emotion in this account of a healing, and its effect on us, the readers 21 centuries later. He tells us that’ Jesus is astonished (at the centurion’s faith) and we are astonished at his astonishment.’

This centurion is no arrogant leader whose position and power has gone to his head. His faith is in God, not in himself. The sort of faith that Jesus is praising here in the centurion is not some sort of gooey religious feeling but in fact a specific recognition of Jesus’ authority.

He believes not in his own power, but in the power of God. In other words there is a strong humility about this centurion which is attractive, and not normally an attribute one might expect to find in a top Roman military leader of the time, with a hundred soldiers under him.

True humility, like this centurion’s, is great place from which to pray. For it affirms that we are not worthy in our natural selves, or strong on our own, but that we cling to the Creator of the universe for all we need. When we pray, we start from a place of weakness.  Like the centurion, we realise that God has complete authority. Prayer, in a sense is a giving up of control. Like the thief on the cross with Jesus we are asking Jesus to remember us and help us, for we are aware that on our own we can do nothing. This is true humility.

A verse I find helpful to sing, even just inside myself, in many situations, to remind myself that I am utterly dependent on God’s strength echoes the plea of the thief on the cross beside Jesus, recorded in Luke 23: 42 ‘Jesus, remember me, when you come into your kingdom’. This little chant comes from the Taize community in France and goes like this ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom….’

True humility is not putting ourselves down, but rather placing ourselves in God’s hands. It’s setting aside our desire to be in control, and instead allowing God to mould us – gloriously in his image. Humility also frees us from propping up our own egos so that we care deeply for the needs of others, whether they are like us or not. The Roman centurion showed true compassion for his critically ill servant, in a culture that normally treated slaves as barely human.

Paul commends this faith characteristic to the new Christians in Colossae as one of the rules for holy living – so not a special diet, or praying with particular words, but rather clothing yourself with humility and depending on God alone will lead to appearing with God in glory. Alleluia! That’s what we’re after!

The Scottish theologian, Bible scholar and author of commentaries on many books of the Bible, William Barclay gave us this practical prayer to keep us living a life of humility, in which God’s ways are paramount, rather than our own concerns.

‘O Father, give us the humility which realises its ignorance, admits its mistakes, recognises its need, welcomes advice, accepts rebuke. Help us always to praise rather than to criticise, to sympathise rather than to discourage, to build rather than to destroy, and to think of people at their best rather than at their worst. This we ask for thy name’s sake.’

So it sounds like God is looking for servants like this centurion, doesn’t it?

  • Servants who have a high calling in Jesus they trust him for everything, even for miracles, for He has authority over everything.
  • Servants who have a realistic understanding of themselves – lowly view of themselves—that they are unworthy and insufficient in their own strength, but they know Christ as gracious and all-sufficient. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4: 13)
  • Servants who are caring and compassionate to everyone, for they know that Christ’s authority and grace includes everyone, especially those who are often excluded.

Hudson Taylor, the great pioneer missionary to China, used to say, “All God’s giants have been weak men who did great things for God because they reckoned on God being with them.”

May that same powerful God do great things through us as we trust Him in our weakness!

Prayer of response to God’s Word

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