We have designed the service this morning to say a special welcome to those of you who are new to the church and to celebrate the fact that you come from all over the world, so a very warm welcome to you! My wife would like to apologise for my choice of tie this morning - and I think she'd like you all to know I picked it myself!
My name is Ramzi Adcock and I work for this church full time. My father is from England, my mother is from Jordan, I grew up in 4 different countries and my family moved 6 times before I came to university in Newcastle 16 years ago and finally discovered that it was the best place in the world to settle down. I know from my own experience a little bit of how exciting, but also how hard settling in can be and I hope that you will find a warm welcome here and soon feel a part of the family.
Let me quickly give you my top tips for surviving in the UK:-
1. You must register with a doctor immediately – do not wait until you get sick!
2. The emergency number in the UK is 999. That information may save your life. As might the next tip…
3. If you go to Scotland don’t refer to it as England. Also applies to Wales and Ireland!
4. Buses don’t stop automatically – you need to wave to stop them or they may drive straight past!
5. When someone you meet says ‘Hello, how are you?’ that is a greeting rather than a question.
6. If you’re not sure what to say to someone from the UK – just talk about the weather!
7. If you're looking to fit in with the locals you need to know that you can’t say ‘please’, ‘thank you’, ‘sorry’ or ‘excuse me’ too much. Don’t be surprised if they say sorry when you step on their foot!
8. NEVER arrive on time when you are invited to party, but make sure you are not late when invited for a meal!
9. The English queue for everything – even at bus stops, in banks and shops. You need to be patient!
10. Finally - advice for coping with the strange British system of having 2 taps - one for cold water and one for hot. The British way is to put the plug in and mix the water in the bowl. Here is another way that one of my friend uses - put 3 holes in a plastic bottle for a cheap, effective mixer tap!
So welcome to you if you have just moved to the UK. However, I know there are also many of you who have moved to Newcastle from other parts of the UK to work or study here – welcome to you too!
Now, the aim of my talk this morning is to help us to understand the part of the bible that was read for us earlier. What we are reading is God's words and so I am going to pray now and ask God to help us understand what he has to say.
Father. As we read your word we pray that you would help us to understand it. Open our eyes to see the truth about ourselves and the truth about Jesus so that we can relate well to you. Amen
What is written here is a true story that happened about 2000 years ago in a country called Israel in the Middle East. The people who lived in the country were called Jews, but they were occupied by the Romans.
Let's read the story together again, and stop and think a bit more about what is happening as we go through. So, Luke chapter 7, verse 1…
“When Jesus had finished saying all this in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum.”
This book is all about Jesus - what Jesus did and what he said. Just before this part of the book, Jesus has chosen a group of people to follow him and he has just finished teaching them what it means to be a Christian – or to have faith in Him.
He was in Galilee which is a region in the North of Israel. He now goes to a town called Capernaum, and something amazing happens there that was an unforgettable lesson in what it looks like to be a Christian.
Let’s see what happens in verse 2:
“There a centurion’s servant, whom his master valued highly, was sick and about to die.”
We are in the home of a centurion – a Roman army captain. He's a bit like an international student - he's not from the area he now lives in. In his job he was in charge of up to 100 men and so is pretty well off and respected. It’s a nice house and his servants help keep it that way. But our attention moves to the servant’s quarters and we notice a servant has taken ill. Not too unusual: sickness and death was common in Bible times and you didn’t expect to live as long as we expect to now.
But hold on: here is something unusual. The centurion seems to really care for the slave. He didn’t just get upset because no one has brought him his cup of tea. No, instead we see a centurion who cared for his servant as a person, and who wants to do whatever he can to help.
Let’s read on, verse 3:-
The centurion had 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 what does he do about his servant being sick? Well he has obviously heard about Jesus. So far, Jesus has only been up North in Israel, in the area where the centurion lived. Since arriving in his town (Capernaum) Jesus has been teaching, driving out evil spirits and healing people. Luke tells us that the news about him spread throughout the area (4:37 and 5:15). He believed that Jesus had the power to heal his servant and he decided to ask Jesus to come and heal him.
But here we see another surprise. How does he ask Jesus for help? He sent some elders (leaders) of the Jews! Remember this guy is not a Jew - but Jesus was. He is a leader in the army that is occupying the Jewish land! So why does he send the Jews? It is because he didn’t think he was worthy enough. He knew that Jesus was a man worthy of the highest honour. He couldn’t go himself. That would dishonour Jesus. Instead he must send some Jews. And not just any Jews. He must send the highest Jews possible. That way he could honour Jesus.
He was obviously good friends with these Jews. He has helped them build a synagogue – a Jewish religious building - and so when he asked them to do this for his servant they went enthusiastically. They found Jesus and asked him to help.
Well actually, they went a step too far. Maybe because they thought that because the man was a Roman they would need a very good reason before Jesus would agree to help. But what happened was that instead of asking if he could help, they demanded that he do this. It wasn’t a case of “Jesus, we know that you can do this. Would you please come”.
It was “Jesus, considering all this man has done he deserves for you to come and do this for him.” “Jesus you owe him this”. “Jesus you must do this: he is a good man. Look at his attitude to the Jewish people. He paid for our synagogue with his own money”.
How did Jesus respond? Verse 6:
“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.”
Jesus was very willing to go to help this Roman centurion– even though the way he was asked was rude and disrespectful. Luke who wrote this book loved to show us that Jesus came for ALL PEOPLE. He was willing to go and help the centurion. He was not concerned that he was a foreigner.
Meanwhile back at the house, the centurion is thinking about what he was done. Maybe he remembered that Jewish traditions said that it was wrong for Jews to enter the home of foreigners. Maybe he was embarrassed as he realised that he was asking Jesus to come all the way to his house and was worried that he had troubled him.
So he sends some of his friends to stop Jesus, even though by now Jesus was only at the end of the road! He was so worried that he even told them what to say, word for word. So they delivered the message, speaking as if they themselves were the centurion.
As they had not got back yet, the centurion had no idea what the Jews had said to Jesus. We know however, and his words contrast sharply with theirs “I am not worthy. I do not deserve…” How different to what the Jews had said. His attitude to Jesus was one of humility.
He saw himself as he really was: an unworthy man. Jesus was a working class Northern man. The Centurion was a man of wealth and social standing. Yet, he saw himself as unworthy to have Jesus come to his house, let alone meet him in the street. What an attitude of humility!
But it was also an attitude of faith. We read on:
Half way through v7
“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.”
He not only saw himself as he really was. He also saw Jesus as he really was. He realise that Jesus had power over life and death. He realise that he could heal with a word without even coming to the house! He understood that Jesus had authority, just as he had authority in the army to give commands. As God had created the world with a word, so Jesus could heal with a word.
And now we come to the punch line of the story: we see Jesus’ reaction to the man:-V 9
“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." ,
When Jesus heard the words of the centurion, he was amazed. Why was he amazed?
He was amazed because this man was a captain in the Roman army with considerable power. Yet he came with humility. He saw himself as he really was.
He was amazed because this man was not a Jew. He was a Roman, a foreigner. Yet he had faith, expressed in such a simple way. “Jesus, just say the word and it will happen”. He saw Jesus as he really was.
And that faith was held up to the people around him, and the disciples following him as an example of faith that was greater than anything he has seen in Israel.
Again Luke draws attention to the fact that faith in Christ is for everyone, not just the Jews. What great news that is for us! There is nothing that stops us having faith in Jesus.
Then we are told the men returned home. Notice there is no record of Jesus actually saying anything. The centurions faith was that Jesus could heal just with a word. We do not hear that word, but Jesus did have the authority over life and death and the servant was made well.
We’ve come to the end of the story Jesus is saying that we should have faith like the centurion. So, are you like the centurion?
What was the Centurion’s faith like? Basically, it meant seeing what he was really like and it meant seeing what Jesus was really like.
What about you? Firstly, do you see what you are really like?
1. Do you see yourself as undeserving and unworthy to come to Jesus?
Jesus is God. The bible tells us that God became a man and came to live with us to show us what God is like. He came to die on a cross and three days later rose from the dead so that we can be accepted by God.
The way the Jewish elders spoke to Jesus when they asked him to help the centurion is how many people think we can be accepted by God. If we are good people, if we do religious things like give money to the temple, if we care for others, if we obey religious laws, if we are respectable people THEN God will be happy with us and answer our prayers when we're in trouble. But that is NOT what Christianity is like - that is religion. And it is highly offensive to God. Most people in the UK think they know what Christianity is, but they don't. It is NOT about doing the kinds of things that mean we can say to God - we deserve your approval and help.
The way the centurion spoke to Jesus helps us to see the difference between Christianity and every other religion. He realised that we are not deserving or worthy - and we need to do that as well. The bible says this: "everyone has sinned and fallen short of God’s standards".
If you are not a Christian - you need to realise what you are really like. To come to Jesus in faith, to come as a Christian, you need to see that you are undeserving, unworthy. You may already realise that - you try to do good things, but you fail and when you do something that looks good, you know deep inside that you do it for the wrong reasons - for your own benefit, or to look good or whatever. Great! Don't run away - thinking that you're not good enough to be a Christian - keep coming here on Sundays to learn more about Jesus and how he can help you! You can also consider going along to a Christianity Explored Course.
Many of us here this morning are Christians - but it can be so easy to forget who we are. Do you see in yourself the same kind of attitude the Jews had? They came to Jesus, knowing he could heal the servant, but forgetting they are unworthy. They came with a demand rather than a request. Maybe you're facing a difficult problem or situation and you feel that you deserve better? Maybe you need to say sorry to God and learn again from the faith of the centurion.
If you're an international who has just moved to the UK, you may have come expecting this to be a Christian country. Maybe those in your country first heard about Jesus from someone who came from the UK, so you expect the church to be very strong here. You may have already discovered that isn't the case - most British people have no idea what it means to be a Christian. I believe that God has brought you here not just to get a degree, but to be active in telling other internationals and those you meet from the UK that Christianity is NOT about making ourselves worthy to be accepted by God, rather it is in humbly asking God to accept us by faith in Jesus death on the cross for us.
Do you see yourself as undeserving and unworthy to come to Jesus?
You must not stop there! You also need to see Jesus as he really is: as your God. With ultimate authority and power, so my final question is:-
2. Do you see that Jesus has the ultimate authority?
Jesus has ultimate power and authority. That is what the centurion saw so clearly. "Say the word and my servant will be healed."
You may be a Christian but we can sometimes forget who Jesus is. Has Jesus become too small in your eyes? Have you forgotten he can heal without even a word? Do you realise who you are approaching? Do you honour him, as he deserves? Can you trust him to do things that seem impossible?
Jesus has ultimate power and authority - he is Lord over all! What areas of your life cause you to forget or doubt that Jesus is in control? Well learn from the centurion and come to Jesus with humility and with faith. Ask him for what you need, confident that he has all authority and power. Ask him for forgiveness for forgetting who you are or forgetting who he is.
Jesus is not just a nice man, a good teacher, or one holy man among many. He is unique - there is no one else who did what he did, or taught what he taught or had the authority he had. That is because he is God, that God became a man and came to live with us to show us what God is like. He came to die on a cross and three days later rose from the dead so that we can be accepted by God.
If you are not a Christian, make it your aim to decide what you think about who Jesus is. Keep reading the Bible, which will help you do that. If what Jesus says is right, and I'm convinced it is, then how your answer that question will effect what happens when you die.
It may be that you've realised that your answer to both those questions is yes - in that case you might be ready to become a Christian. You don't need to know everything that is in the Bible to become a Christian. You don't need to be baptised to be a Christian. You just need to speak to God and tell him what you've realised - that you're not worthy, that you believe Jesus has the ultimate authority and that he came to die on a cross and three days later rose from the dead so that you can be accepted by God. Don't leave it till later - do it now! I'm going to end with the kind of prayer you can pray if you want to become a Christian. As I pray you can pray with me in your mind if it says what you want to say to God
Lord Jesus Christ, I am sorry for the things I have done wrong in my life (take a few moments to ask his forgiveness for anything particular that is on your conscience). Please forgive me. I now turn from everything which I know is wrong. Thank you that you died on the cross for me so that I could be forgiven and set free. Thank you that you offer me forgiveness and the gift of your spirit. I now receive that gift. Please come into my life by your Holy Spirit to be with me forever. Thank you Lord Jesus, Amen.