WHICH IS MORE IMPORTANT: LOVE OR TRUTH?

 

truth-love (1)

The fact is this: Love and Truth are equally important. We need to hold on to both. Love without truth is just meaningless and ineffective sentiment. Truth without love is arrogant and cruel.

 

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Matthew #26 . Matthew 8:5-13

When He entered Capernaum, a centurion came to Him, pleading with Him, “Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, in terrible agony! ”

“I will come and heal him,” He told him.

“Lord,” the centurion replied, “I am not worthy to have You come under my roof. But only say the word, and my servant will be cured. For I too am a man under authority, having soldiers under my command. I say to this one, ‘Go! ’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come! ’ and he comes; and to my slave, ‘Do this! ’ and he does it.”

Hearing this, Jesus was amazed and said to those following Him, “I assure you: I have not found anyone in Israel with so great a faith! I tell you that many will come from east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Then Jesus told the centurion, “Go. As you have believed, let it be done for you.” And his servant was cured that very moment. (Matt 8:5-13, HCSB)

Last time we saw how Jesus reached out and physically and spiritually touched someone who was literally untouchable – a leper. Now Matthew records another incident where Jesus interacted with someone whom the Jewish culture of his time saw as unacceptable. The man in question is a centurion – an army officer. Automatically, this means two things. First, he was not Jewish. The Jews at the time were an occupied people, a people under the oppression of Rome and Rome’s vassals. The Jews were not permitted to have their own army, so any army officer would certainly be a Gentile.

Second, because he was an army officer, not only was this centurion a non-Jew, but he was also one of the oppressors. Part of his job was to enforce laws that the Jewish people had not made, and to keep them from rebelling. He was part of the conquering and occupying army that was kept in the Jewish homeland. He would have been viewed by the Jews much the same way patriotic Frenchmen would have viewed a German officer in the army that occupied France during the Second World War. To put it another way – he was the enemy.

So here is Jesus, heading home with his Jewish disciples, and along comes the enemy. I think it is worthwhile to look both at how the man approached Jesus, and what Jesus said to him and about him.

Let’s begin with the centurion. He was probably in charge of the local garrison of soldiers. Jesus was a young, homeless, Jewish Rabbi with no official standing. The centurion could have come to Jesus and said, “Look, I’m the law in the town. Some officials might consider you a troublemaker. But I could make things easier for you if you take care of me, too.”

Instead, he came to Jesus and called him “Lord.” We’ve already talked about what this word means in Greek. It could mean “sir,” or it could mean “The Lord” as in, God. Even for a Gentile army officer to call a homeless Jewish Rabbit “Sir” is startling. But I think as we go through the text, we’ll see that this Centurion meant not only “Sir” but also “Lord” in the sense that he personally believed that Jesus was The Lord.

Let’s continue to look at the humility of this man. He doesn’t even actually make a request of Jesus. He simply tells him the problem. He says, “My servant is paralyzed with pain.” He doesn’t tell Jesus what to do about it – he just brings his burden to the Lord. I think this is very useful to us when we come to God in prayer. So often I am tempted to tell the Lord how to deal my prayer request: “Sally has leukemia, Lord, would you please touch her bone-marrow and remove the problem, and let those white and red blood cells come into balance?” But this Centurion shows us the way of simple trust. He simply says, “Lord, my servant is ill and in pain.” He figures that Jesus will know exactly what to do about it. He seems to think that simply just bringing the problem to Jesus will be enough. I can learn a lot from this.

Jesus, confronted by this enemy soldier, by a man who enforces the oppression of his people and who, by his cooperation, keeps them in crushing poverty, responds immediately: “I will come and heal him.”

The Centurion again displays both humility and faith. First, he knows that if Jesus enters his house, it will cause trouble for Jesus. Jews were not supposed to go into the houses of Gentiles. In those days, that would make them ceremonially unclean, and they would have to go through a cleansing ritual before they could worship again, or even eat with other Jews.

So the Centurion demurs. He could have said, “My servant is not worth all that trouble,” but what he actually said was, “I am not worthy, and besides, there is no need.” This is where he reveals that he already sees Jesus as the “The Lord.” He describes his own command. He is in Palestine under the orders of the Roman Caesar, and so he has authority to tell his soldiers what to do. He recognizes that Jesus is on earth under the orders of God the Father, and so Jesus has the authority to tell the very creation what to do. He only needs to give the order, and the sickness will leave.

Most of the New Testament was originally written on a paper-like material called “Papyrus.” It was much more rare and expensive than paper and ink today. So Matthew doesn’t take the time to give us this man’s back story. But clearly, he had spent some time around Jesus, and he believed absolutely that Jesus had all the authority of God.

The next line is worth analyzing a little bit. It says that Jesus was amazed. The Greek doesn’t have a direct English equivalent, but it might be best translated, “Hearing this, Jesus marveled at it, and said…” You almost get the sense that Jesus was surprised. But how could Jesus be at the same time the one true omniscient God, and yet also be surprised? I think this question is very important, so we’ll take it as a side-topic for a minute. When Jesus came to earth, though he came in the fullness of his God-nature (Colossians 1:16-20) he chose, for the entire time he was on earth, to set aside all the advantages of being God, and to remain every bit as dependent upon the Father as we are (Philippians 2:6-11). And so, every miracle He did, He did not from His own power as God the Son, but rather, as any human would do – by completely depending upon the Father:

Then Jesus replied, “I assure you: The Son is not able to do anything on His own, but only what He sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, the Son also does these things in the same way. For the Father loves the Son and shows Him everything He is doing, and He will show Him greater works than these so that you will be amazed. (John 5:19-20, HCSB)

So Jesus was not using his divine omniscience when he spoke with the Centurion. He had chosen to set that aside, and not use it. Therefore, he did not know the future any more than you or I, except when the Father chose to reveal it to him. This was part of Jesus’ sacrifice for us – that he became like us, even to the extent of setting aside his Godly powers, and depending instead on the Father, just like any other human being must do. Remember the temptations of Satan in Matthew chapter four? They were aimed at trying to get Jesus to use his own power, rather than depending upon the Father. Jesus agreed to live a life that required trust in the Father, so that he was like us in every way.

Now since the children have flesh and blood in common, Jesus also shared in these, so that through His death He might destroy the one holding the power of death — that is, the Devil — and free those who were held in slavery all their lives by the fear of death. For it is clear that He does not reach out to help angels, but to help Abraham’s offspring. Therefore, He had to be like His brothers in every way, so that He could become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For since He Himself was tested and has suffered, He is able to help those who are tested. (Heb 2:14-18, HCSB)

This business of being amazed at the Centurion is just one example of how Jesus made himself like us, dependent on the Father. He knows what it is like to not know what God is going to do. He knows what it is like to blindly trust that God will do the right thing, the best thing, even when he personally doesn’t know what that will be. He has truly “walked in our shoes.”

With that, let’s get back to the Centurion. Speaking (as always) what the Father leads him to speak, Jesus makes a statement that would have been startling, and even offensive, to many of the Jews around him.

First, Jesus unequivocally makes trust in Him the requirement for entering the Kingdom. Second, he adds, basically, “A lot of non-Jewish people will be there in the Final Kingdom of Heaven – and many Jewish people will not be there.”

Over the fifteen-hundred from Moses to Jesus, the Jewish people went through an difficult and tragic arc in their attitudes toward non-Jews. God’s promise to Abraham was designed to bless both Abraham’s descendants, and the nations around them. The laws given through Moses commanded the people of Israel to be different from those around them, in order to show the nations something of what God was like, and so encourage those pagan people to come into God’s blessing. But the Hebrew people did not really obey those laws. Instead, after they entered the promised land, they embraced the cultures around them and let go of the things that made them unique, the things that would show foreigners the truth of God. They let the cultures around them influence them, and ultimately, lead them astray into abandoning the One true God. They went through many cycles of repenting and coming back to God, and then straying away again. Finally, they were utterly destroyed as nation roughly 587 years before Jesus (587 BC). When the nation was re-formed seventy years later, it seemed they had finally learned their lesson. The Jews after that maintained a very distinct identity. They no longer seemed inclined to mix with the cultures around them, nor worship false gods. But now, they went too far in the opposite direction. Not only did they not mix with the non-Jews around them, but they no longer cared if those outsiders ever learned anything about the One true God. They became self-satisfied, and by the time of Jesus, felt that Heaven was the birthright of all Jews, and all those who were not born Jewish were generally out of luck. It is true, there were still converts to the Jewish religion from other nations, but as whole, at the time of Jesus, Jews did not pursue non-Jews or make much effort to tell them about God. If an outsider expressed a passionate interest in Judaism, he could probably find a Jewish person to help him convert, but in general Jewish folks were not very eager to spread the word, being content to have it to themselves.

So when Jesus states that many Gentiles (non-Jews) will be in heaven, and many Jews will not, this was a shocking and offensive idea. Many people may have felt that they would automatically be in Heaven, just because they were Jews by birth. By the same token, they felt that non-Jews would not be there, simply because they were born to the wrong kind of parents. But Jesus challenges their entire basis for salvation and heaven. He says it is about trusting Him.

There are so many applications to this passage. Let’s go back to the Centurion. He was a soldier in an especially brutal army in an especially brutal era of history. Sometimes we think, “I want to follow Jesus, but it’s really tough to do that in my profession. No one around me understands. It just doesn’t fit my circumstance.” But this man in the Roman Army found it possible to trust Jesus and follow him, even in his exceptionally brutal and profane circumstances. If you find yourself saying, “It’s hard to follow Jesus while I do _______ for a living,” I encourage you to pause and consider this Centurion.

Now let’s think about Jesus welcoming this enemy soldier, this oppressor, when he comes in faith. We Christians struggle with both of the same extremes with which the Jews had difficulties. When Jesus welcomes this outsider, this enemy, it reminds us of his words that we should love our enemies. It challenges us to welcome and accept people who are very different from us, people whom we might even tend to think of as enemies. Have we become self-satisfied and content to believe we are going to Heaven because we go to a Christian church, while meanwhile, we don’t care if our friends and neighbors and co-workers take the road to hell? Too many Christians seem to have this attitude. We think it is about organizational membership, rather than trust in the person, Jesus Christ.

We forget that Jesus Himself tells us to reach out and tell those who don’t know Him yet. Are you willing to tell Muslims about the grace of God that comes through Jesus Christ? What about black folks or white people? Are you ready to show God’s grace and love and forgiveness to gay people and Democrats? Or maybe your problem is with people who oppose gay marriage, or with Republicans, or members of the National Rifle Association – can you show them the love and truth of God?

But there is another side to all this, one that we must not forget. The Jewish people before 587 BC had a problem too, and it was the opposite problem. They welcomed all cultures, regardless of the Truth, regardless of their attitudes toward the One true God; and they let those cultures influence their own beliefs and their own relationship with God. This passage does not teach us that everyone is saved, regardless of their attitude to Jesus. It does not tell us to give up truth or give up the standards of the bible. Instead, it teaches us that we are all the same in our need for Jesus. The Centurion did not come to Jesus and say, “This is who I am and I’m not gonna change for you. You must accept me, but you may not change me or command me.” Instead, as we have seen, the Centurion came to Jesus in trust and humility.

Many Christians these days have difficulty accepting this. They can accept people who are different from them, and even embrace different cultures. But they have a hard time insisting that all people must repent of their sins and receive Jesus in trust. Jesus welcomed this Centurion precisely because he trusted Him in humility. If we welcome people regardless of their attitude toward Jesus, we are not helping them. If we tell people who are sinning that they are not sinning, we ourselves are distorting God’s Word and are endangering our own position of humbly trusting Jesus and what He says.

The fact is this: Love and Truth are equally important. We need to hold on to both. Love without truth is meaningless and ineffective sentiment. Truth without love is arrogant and cruel.

This incident with the Centurion challenges us to hold on to the truth that to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, we must trust Jesus and humbly receive Him and His truth. At the same time, it also challenges us to accept anyone in the world who wants to come to Jesus with faith and humility. It encourages us to bring our burdens to Jesus with humble faith.

Listen to the Holy Spirit today as He uses this passage to speak to you.

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