daily biblical sermons

The great importance of faith for the Christian life, and how little it is appreciated by many that self-identify as Christians today
Fr. Steven Scherrer, MM, Th.D.
Homily of Saturday, 12th Week of the Year, June 27, 2020
Lamentations 2:2, 10-14, 18-19, Psalm 73, Matthew 8:5-17

Biblical quotations are taken from the Revised Standard Version unless otherwise noted




“As he [Jesus] entered Capernaum, a centurion came forward to him, beseeching him and saying, ‘Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, in terrible distress.’ And he said to him, ‘I will come and heal him.’ But the centurion answered him, ‘Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, “go,” and he goes, and to another, “come,” and he comes, and to my slave, “Do this,” and he does it.’ When Jesus heard him, he marveled, and said to those who followed him, ‘Truly, I say to you, not even in Israel have I found such faith. I tell you, many will come from east and west and sit at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.’ And to the centurion Jesus said, ‘Go; be it done for you as you have believed.’ And the servant was healed at that very moment” (Matthew 8:5-13).



This reading is about the incredible faith of the pagan Roman military officer (a centurion) who asks Jesus to heal his servant who is paralyzed and in great distress. When Jesus says that he will come and heal him, the centurion says that he is not worthy to have Jesus enter his home, but just requests that Jesus give the order that his servant be healed. This centurion says this because he is a Gentile and knows that Jews do not mix with Gentiles and do not eat in their homes. Nonetheless this centurion exhibits tremendous faith in Jesus, namely that he could just give a command, and his servant would instantaneously be healed.



One might have expected such faith in Israel, but surely not in a pagan Roman soldier, and so Jesus expresses his amazement at the depth of this Gentile’s faith, saying, “Truly, I say to you, not even in Israel have I found such faith” (Matthew 8:10).



Faith is of great importance to Jesus. He is the Jewish Messiah, the Son of God, and the Savior of the world, and yet the leaders of the Jews, the scribes, the Pharisees, the chief priests, and the Sadducees all rejected him. Where would Jesus find the faith in him that he was looking for so that he could save his own people, and the world beyond? He did not find it where you might expect him to find it, namely in the well-prepared, highly educated scribes and Pharisees who knew the Scriptures well. He found it, rather, in this pagan Roman soldier, who doesn’t ask Jesus to come and pray that God might heal his servant. He doesn’t even want Jesus to come with him to his home to see his servant. He simply asks Jesus to give the command that his servant be healed.



Jesus accepts and praises the great faith of this pagan Roman soldier, for what he believes about Jesus is true. Jesus does have divine power. Jesus does not pray that his Father might gradually cause this servant to recover, but he simply gives the command himself that this young man recover. And he recovers that very instant, as this centurion found out when he got home (Luke 7:10). Furthermore, we note that the centurion had no doubt whatsoever that if Jesus would give this command, his servant would be healed. So he simply requests that Jesus command his servant to be healed, and Jesus does so, and the servant is instantaneously healed.



What can we learn for us today from this reading? We can learn the high value that Jesus puts on unshakable faith in him. Jesus commends and recommends to us this man’s profound faith.



I think that many Christians today do not properly appreciate the importance of faith in Jesus Christ and the tremendous power that faith in him has for our life. One key example of this failure to appreciate faith is the failure of many Christians today to appreciate and even to accept St. Paul’s teaching about the importance and power of faith in our lives. Too many Christians today think that faith is quite weak and that we have to join to it something else. St. Paul boldly preaches the doctrine of justification by faith, not by works. This shows the tremendous importance of faith and its power to justify us.



St. Paul says, “No human being will be justified in his [God’s] sight by works of the law” (Romans 3:20). “For we hold that a man is justified by faith apart from works of law” (Romans 3:28). We “know that a man is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ, and not by works of the law, because by works of the law shall no one be justified” (Galatians 2:16). By “works of the law” St. Paul means the moral and ceremonial law of Moses.



We could continue to add many more quotations from St. Paul proclaiming this great doctrine that we are justified by faith in Jesus Christ and not by any good works in accord with God’s moral or ceremonial law. This is one of the most powerful teachings of the New Testament. It is really the gospel itself expressed in the clearest possible way. And yet how many self-identifying Christians today really accept his teaching and really live in it, appreciate it, and allow it to illuminate their lives.



Too many argue against it and say in effect, “Faith, yes, that’s good, but we can’t be justified unless we actually do something ourselves, because we’re stronger than God, and God is not strong enough to do it all by himself and justify us just by our faith. We can only be justified by our own good works (as well as by our faith).” So people who self-identify as Christians end up denying Pauline theology, and St. Paul is the great theologian of the New Testament.



Why is this doctrine of justification by faith, not by our own good works in keeping God’s moral law, so important to us? It is important because it expresses the basic Christian mystery that we are to preach to the ends of the earth. It expresses the gospel message itself that missionaries are sent out to preach to the nations.



And what precisely is this doctrine? What exactly does it teach? It teaches that what justifies us, which means what sets us right with God, what restores our relationship with God, what reconciles us with God, what overcomes our alienation from God caused by our sins, is the death of Jesus Christ on the cross. This is because Jesus Christ was sent into the world in order to suffer our death sentence for our sins for us (Isaiah 53:5-6; 1 Peter 2:24; Romans 8:3-4) so that we will not have to suffer it here and in hell after our death.



But for Jesus’ suffering on the cross to have a connection with us, we must have heard the gospel, that is, we must know that Jesus suffered our death sentence for us, and we must accept that salvation and put our trusting faith in it and believe it. When we do this, we have made an act of saving, justifying faith that now enables God to connect Christ’s death on the cross to us individually and personally and count it as full payment of what we owe God of suffering in punishment for our sins.



So when we make an act of faith in Jesus Christ and in his saving, atoning, reparation-making death on the cross for the sins of the world, God then considers that our debt that we have with God of suffering and death in punishment for our sins has been fully paid for us by Christ’s suffering and death, and so we do not have to pay it ourselves. It has been paid for us by Christ, whom God sent to us as our substitute to die in our place, instead of us, in punishment for our sins. And so since our sins are fully atoned for and full reparations have been made for them and the full death sentence for committing them has been already suffered for us, God simply acquits us and declares us ungodly sinners righteous, and he reckons to us his own righteousness (Romans 4:5).



Therefore we ungodly sinners now shine with the righteousness of God himself, and our sins are expiated and forgiven, and God considers us now to be righteous. And if God considers us to be righteous, then we are righteous indeed, with God’s own righteousness reckoned to us (Romans 4:5), which is the righteousness that St. Paul wants to have, as he said, I wish to “be found in him [Christ], not having a righteousness of my own, based on law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith” (Philippians 3:9).



St. Paul, when he was a Pharisee, formerly thought that he could justify himself by his own good works, according to God’s moral and ceremonial law, just as do many Christians today who do not understand Pauline theology. But St. Paul, since he has discovered Christ, now says that he does not want to have a righteousness of his own, based on law, “but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith” (Philippians 3:9). And this righteousness from God is reckoned to us by God, when we put our faith in Jesus Christ, because of his atoning death on the cross that paid for our sins for us.



This is the righteousness that we preach to the world, to the nations, we do not go out and preach that if people do this and that and the other thing that they will become righteous through their own efforts and their own good works. That is not the Christian gospel. We preach that God will make them righteous, when they put their faith in Christ, because of his death on the cross that paid the price for the sins of the world, that suffered the death sentence for the sins of the world.



Once we are justified by faith, without any good moral works of our own contributing to it in any way, then we must begin to live a new life as redeemed and justified Christians. And this new life must be a life filled with good works, whereby we grow in holiness (sanctification), which will be rewarded proportionately on the last day, as Jesus said, “For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works” (Matthew 16:27 NKJV).



So the Christian life must follow God’s moral law. If a Christian excuses himself from following God’s moral law, then he was never justified, because a justified Christian always lives a life of good works and always seeks to follow God’s normative biblically revealed moral law. Whether or not a Christian lives a life of good works, always seeking to follow God’s biblically revealed moral law, shows whether or not he has been justified.

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