I. “I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me: and I say to this man, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it” (Matthew 8:9).
No one spoke like this.
Jesus Christ had travelled throughout the country. He’d gathered disciples, preached on the mountain, healed the sick and raised the dead. But through all that time, no one had spoken like this centurion. No one had the same quality of faith. For the first time, someone said something that made God marvel.
II. Today’s gospel is about authority.
Jesus Christ had just preached His Sermon on the Mount, which left the crowd astonished. Everyone said he was unique. He didn’t teach like the other rabbis. He taught “as one with authority.” Immediately that authority was put to test. He came down the mountain (stepped down from the pulpit, if you will) and found himself with a leper. Leprosy was a despicable and incurable disease. By healing the leper he asserted his authority over nature. Leprosy was social banishment. Christ not only restored the man’s health, he restored his place as member of God’s people. So He showed His authority over the Jewish religion. This was just the beginning.
Then they travelled to Capernaum and were met by a centurion. The man’s servant was dying and he needed a miracle. Now this fellow was Roman. He wasn’t merely gentile and pagan. He was an enemy of the State. But Jesus’s authority isn’t constricted to ethnic or religious borders. He did the miracle, and by doing so proved authority over the entire human race.
III. The stars signaled His birth. The sea hardened for Him to walk. The storm grew quiet at a simple command. The cosmos submitted to Christ’s authority.
He hung on the cross, proving authority over pain and suffering.
He infiltrated hell and broke open its gates, asserting authority over the devil.
He rose from the dead, brandishing authority over death.
He ascended into heaven, witnessing, once and for all, His authority to raise humanity to divinity.
No other religion, philosophy, man or god ever accomplished so much.
Buddha claimed to know the path to enlightenment. Jesus proved to be enlightenment. The Hindi teach about reincarnation and cycles of life. Jesus offers a way out of all cycles and traps and a home fixed in heaven. The pagans celebrate power to manipulate and control. Jesus offers eternal communion with God. Modern science, psychology, politics and social justice offer us comforts of every kind and promises of utopia. But in the end we still die, and they leave us with nothing. In a mere 33 years, Jesus Christ accomplished more than any man or any philosophy. He established His authority once and for all over everything.
IV. But let’s come back to the Centurion.
What was it about this man that’s so marvelous, and what do we learn from him?
“I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me: and I say to this man, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it…Speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed” (Matthew 8:9).
He didn’t have a special theological training. He wasn’t a priest or philosopher or scientist. He was simply a soldier, and as a soldier, he understood the true meaning of authority.
When the officers above him told him to jump he jumped. When he told his servants to work they worked. The Roman army was renowned for it’s orderly conduct, flowing from top to bottom like a game of chess. The system was flawed and man-made, but it gave him a glimpse into something perfect and God-made. So, when He finally encountered True Authority, he recognized it, and he fell down in worship to it.
V. In our times, we don’t like authority very much.
It’s not chic. We boast in being anti-establishment, self-made, or a free agent. There is some merit here. You can’t be a Christian without being a rebel of a kind. Our country was founded on the idea of standing up against tyrannical authority. But we get carried away. We forget that everyone, always, is in submission to some kind of authority. The minute you refuse to submit to God, you’ve ended up submitting to someone or something else. If it isn’t God’s authority, it’s a political party, materialism, egoism, or the devil.
VI. This is why Christ marveled at the Centurion’s faith.
Faith is not just a religious attitude towards life or belief in the supernatural.
Faith is recognition of and submission to God’s authority.
So we have to ask ourselves today what it means to call Jesus Christ “Lord.” Are we saying it with our lips? Or are we walking it out in our lives?
VII. How can we submit to Jesus’ authority today?
For one, we submit to His authority in the Church. You can’t have a relationship with Jesus in a vacuum. We encounter His in His body and in His leadership passed down through the bishops. The Church is “the pillar and foundation of Truth,” (1 Tim. 3:15) “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets” (2 Thess. 2:15). “Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority” (Heb. 13:17). “Stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or our epistle” (2 Thess. 2:15).
This is what it means to be an Orthodox Christian. It isn’t about having a beautiful Mass. It isn’t about reverence or music. It isn’t about associating with the sort of people you like, as though this were a social club. The Orthodox Church was founded in the first century, and adheres strictly to the authority of the apostles and their disciples. A thousand years after Christ, the Roman Catholic Church deviated from this when it invented the authority of the pope. Ever since, it has swung back and forth from different extremes and no longer looks like Christianity in the early years. The Protestant Reformation was founded on defiance of authority, and has ever since been caught up in an unending struggle to redefine doctrine and reinvent Christian life. As soon as you abandon the authority of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, you can come up with all kinds of crazy ideas made in your own image.
How does the Church tell us to live? What does the Church teach us about the sacraments, the calendar, confession, prayer, life? It was bad enough when the Romans insisted on one pope. Nowadays, we all want to be our own pope. But there’s no end to the insanity and pride there. True freedom comes when we stop trying to do it on our own, and start submitting to Jesus Christ.
VIII. God’s authority is the fiber of society.
In an address about our country, in 1852, senator Daniel Webster said, “If we abide by the principles taught in the Bible, our country will go on prospering…but if we and our posterity ignore its instructions and authority, no man can tell how sudden a catastrophe may overwhelm us and bury all our glory in profound obscurity.” He couldn’t have been more prophetic. If you’re not convinced, just speak to anyone who lived in the Soviet Union. No religious institution in history ever committed the atrocities and violence of the atheistic regimes in the twentieth century. A nation that submits to God’s authority will flourish. A nation that stands on any other kind of authority will disintegrate.
The same principle applies to our marriages, families, and relationships.
The same law is fixed in our personal lives.
IX. Have you submitted your life to the authority of God?
“Come and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord and to the house of the God of Jacob, that He may teach us about His ways and that we may walk in His paths” (Micah 4:2).
The Centurion recognized God’s authority and submitted to that authority.
We too, by turning our lives over to that authority, will find joy and rest and freedom.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.