Third Sunday after Epiphany
The Lord praised the centurion who said, "I am a man under authority", and the Lord said, "I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel." Matthew 8: 9-10
In this faith of the centurion, we surely find an example of humility, who did not feel it troublesome to be under another's authority; although it is troublesome for the Old Adam to be under another's authority, nevertheless it is a sign of true faith to be under another's authority without murmuring. But the world is not like that, that one would willingly want to be under another's authority. Not only the sorrowless want to be free lords, but also some Christians want to be free lords, for it becomes troublesome for the Old Adam to serve. Not many now truly want to be under another's authority, although the Lord praised that man's faith, who said, "I am a man under authority," and the Lord said, "I have not found so great faith in Israel." And who knows, can such faith be found in Israel today? We know, namely, that pride is now ruling on the earth: all now want to be free lords, not one would want to serve. Children do not want to serve their parents, although our Lord and Saviour Himself served His parents for thirty years, He wanted, namely, to pay for their trouble and so fulfill all human righteousness, before He began to fulfill the heavenly righteousness. But the children of this time want to be adults themselves before they are able to rise up on two feet, and it is not strange that the sorrowless do so, who have no better conscience than a dumb ox, but Christians also want to be free lords. Who knows, will Jesus now find such faith in Israel as the centurion had, who said, "I am also a person under authority," This being under another's authority becomes greatly troublesome to the Old Adam. Many think thus: "I have already been under other people's authority, now I want to be free." Some free lords take for themselves consolation and Justification from this Word of God: "Be in bondage to no man." Some put that for an excuse, "I cannot fill the place of a servant well, therefore I cannot serve," but such words are nothing more than Old AdamBs excuses, for when you in serving do all that you are able and understand, then you are free of reproach of conscience; but if you are lazy and careless, then you are reproved with cause. I fear that Jesus will find such faith in Israel no more, as the centurion had, for he confessed himself unworthy to receive Jesus into his house, although he had faithfully served his government and also took such care of his servant as of his own child. Where now are such people, who willingly and without murmuring are under other's authority, and faithfully serve their neighbor for the Lord's sake? And where now can such a master be found who takes care of his servant like his own child, who goes many miles to seek help for his servant in his sickness?
The world has now grown so large and swollen that not many want to be under another's authority, but all want to be free lords. Not many want to serve others, and because of that pride and fleshly freedom, many lose their faith, so that it is unknown if the Lord would not find such faith in Israel like the centurion had. Nevertheless, fleshly freedom is not a fruit of the right faith, but under that fleshly freedom lies selfishness, pride, and love of the world, and, who knows, also adultery lies under that same freedom. Nevertheless adultery is not far when poor servants are inclined to marry and want to become free lords through marriage. There is not such a faith there as the centurion had, who said, "I am a man under another's authority." And we know that the service of the centurion was harder and heavier than some other service, for a soldier must show such obedience to the government, that if the government asks him to go to such a place where his life is in danger, then he must go.
In war it does not help to say, "I will not go where I will be slain," but where death is near, there the soldier must go. There truly is needed such faith which the Lord has not found, nor can probably yet find in many places in Israel. Compared to those soldiers, other servants have good days, for they do not have to go to such places where they will be killed. However, there is such a poor faith in many, that fear of men brings him into such an enslaved condition if he would go to serve; it is not the fruit of the right faith, but it is the fruit of pride, laziness, and adultery. Now when hard times are before us and independence wants to be with many, God must finally so punish the world that many a proud man must become a slave to the enemy when he has not understood to thank for that freedom which had come to him through Christianity, when all Christians have such a law, that there should be no slaves among the Christians, but he who is won over in war becomes a slave of the enemy, in a spiritual as well as in a natural war. Pray, all Christians, that the Lord would not so punish us with war that we would become slaves to the enemy, when He has given freedom to all the Christians; especially has He redeemed us from spiritual bondage with His own precious blood, so that we need not be under the power of the devil, if we, through His grace, war manfully, valiantly, and faithfully against the enemy, equipped on the right and left side with the shield of faith and the sword of the spirit. For now hard times are before us both from the natural and spiritual side. Soon the faith of Stephen will be tried. Soon the Lord will come to seek such faith in Israel as the centurion had. Hear, therefore, the prayer of the centurion. Our Father, etc.
The Gospel: Matthew 8: 5-13
By the guidance of our Holy Gospel, we must at this holy moment take heed and consider: Will the Lord find such faith in Israel as the centurion had? The first consideration: What were the signs of true faith in the centurion's travel? The second consideration: Will the Lord now find such faith in Israel? We hope and pray that the Lord would find such faith in Israel, which would stand in all trials and also in the last struggle of death.
The first consideration: What are those fruits of faith and signs which show that the centurion had the right faith? The first sign was that, that he had such concern for his servant as for his own child, for not many masters do that at this time. Many masters evict their servants when the servant becomes ill and is no longer able to work for his master. Nor do many masters at this time go far to get medication for a servant when the servant is ill, but some masters allow the servant to lie ailing like a pup, without helping and without caretaking. But the centurion went immediately when he heard that Jesus of Nazareth had come into that country. He went to pray to that heavenly Healer in behalf of this ailing servant, that he knew that natural medicines would no longer help in this case. There the centurion showed fruits of faith and such fruits of faith which we do not find in many places in Israel, for if some masters perhaps procure natural medication for their ailing servants yet few masters go straight to Jesus to pray in behalf of their servant, although it is a Christian's responsibility to do so.
A second sign is that, that this centurion felt his unworthiness: "I am not worthy that you come under my roof." Some other confessor of dead faith or grace theif would say in this place, "If Jesus came under my roof, I would receive Him with joy and would offer Him the best wine that I have." But the centurion was not able to be so vain and lightminded that he would have addressed Jesus as an equal, which a sinful person can call under his roof. But the centurion knew that the Son of God is not equal to men; he felt that a sinful creature was not worthy to take the Son of God under his roof, although the Son of God was so lowly that He surely would have come under the roof of a sinful creature if he would not have believed that his servant would have been healed otherwise. But the centurion had such a faith that the Word of Jesus effects as much to those farther away as to those who are close by. The centurion felt that the Son of God is the Almighty God and omnipresent, and this faith not many had in Israel yet at that time. Someone could probably find some substance of unbelief in this centurion's unworthiness when he did not dare to receive Jesus under his roof, and could such a person who is in unworthiness receive the Son of God with joy at the judgement when he did not dare to receive him into his home? But in this place we must make a lasting distinction between true and false unworthiness, for in true unworthiness there is the right faith, which reveals itself like this, that the word of Jesus effects as much as if Jesus Himself was present. Such a faith the centurion had that one word from the mouth of Jesus effects so much as if Jesus Himself was present. But false unworthiness effects so much unbelief, that people do not believe the word, but they want that Jesus Himself should come bodily to them and put His hand upon them. In that way the unbelieving tempted the Saviour, as for example Jairus, who did not believe that Jesus could heal his daughter since she was already dead. And surely many penitent also tempt Jesus with their unbelief, when they do not believe the Word, do no believe that the word effects so much as when Jesus Himself is present. There now the centurion shows his faith, when he had such an assurance that one word effects as much as when Jesus Himself is present. But the centurion also shows his faith with that word, "I am also a person under another's authority." We know, seriously, that they who do not want to be under another's authority are in pride and love that fleshly freedom; they want to be free lords. Such do not have the right faith, if they even confess faith, for the fruit of the right faith is humility, and submission. A believing one can be a slave bodily and, nevertheless, free in behalf of spirit. The Jews said to the Saviour: "We have been born free, we were never in bondage to any man." The Jews boasted that they were slaves to no one in behalf of the body, however they were sold into slavery to the Gentiles when their country was destroyed, for spiritually they were the slaves of sin although they boasted of freedom. But if the Son of God could have made them free from the bondage of sin, they would have also avoided being bodily enslaved. But they were so proud that they incited the Romans upon themselves. If they had received Christianity, their kindgom would have been enduring, but they persecuted the Christians and became so proud that they obeyed no one any more. The free lords of this time can take an example from them and take heed, how it went with the Jews who said, "We have been born free, we were never in bondage to any man." But they did not have the right faith, although they kept it so that they had the right faith. But the centurion had the right faith when he said, "I am under another's authority." And the Lord said, "I have not found such faith in Israel."
The Second Consideration: Will the Lord find such faith in Israel anymore? We do not know if He will find it, but we know that many will come from the east and the west to sit with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, and the children of the kingdom will be cast out into outer darkness: there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. The Lord will probably not find such faith in Israel which would stand in trial, except those few souls who are like this centurion, and have become unworthy to receive the Son of God under their roof, and in that unworthy condition nevertheless believe firmly that the word of Jesus effects as much as if Jesus Himself were present with it. That was the faith of the centurion, that one word of Jesus was a powerful as He Himself. And if all penitent, sorrowful and doubting ones would be able to believe as this centurion, that one word of Jesus is as powerful to heal the sick as Jesus Himself, then surely they would soon be healed. But all do not have such faith as the centurion had, for the sorrowless do not believe at all before they see signs and wonders, and the ewakened, too, would want to see signs and wonders before they would be able to believe that Jesus with a word will heal their hearts; although now is given the sign of the Prophet Jonah to all doubting ones who want to see signs and wonders. So Jesus Himself has said, that no other sign will be given to those doubting ones than only the sign of the Prophet Jonah. So behold now, you doubting ones, the sign of the Prophet Jonah, and take heed of the faith of the centurion, you doubting ones, when you become sick because of unbelief, when the heart becomes hard because of unbelief, then believe that one word from the mouth of Jesus effects as much as Jesus Himself. When the devil of self-righteousness ravages your hearts and persecutes your consciences, believe then, as the centurion, that one word from the mouth of Jesus will drive the devils away and heal the wounds of the heart; otherwise He must say, "I have not found such faith in Israel." Whoever has such faith that one word from the mouth of Jesus effects as much as He Himself, certainly also feels the blessed power from that one word which proceeds from the mouth of Jesus. And we truly believe that although many a believing one feels himself unworthy to receive Jesus under his roof, one word from Jesus' mouth must effect in him so much, as if Jesus Himself were bodily present, and many a believing one will come from the east and the west to sit with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven; although he feels himself unworthy to receive the Son of God under his roof. Therefore say then only one word, gracious Lord Jesus, You great Cross-bearer, You Healer of the sick and Comforter of the doubting, then my heart will be healed and my conscience cleansed and all tribulations of body and soul will cease. And our assurance is, that many have already by one word come from the east and the west to sit with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, although the Lord has not truly found such faith in Israel, as He finds with those who feel themselves unworthy to receive Jesus under their roof. But they, however, believe that one Word from Jesus' mouth will effect healing for their sick hearts and wounded consciences; but the children of the kingdom will be cast into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Amen.