What Is Faith?

Text: Matthew 8:1-13

In the name of Jesus: Amen.

Faith is a divine work in us. Faith, it changes us, and it makes us Christians. This faith kills the old sinful nature, and it makes us completely different people.  Faith actually changes our heart and soul and mind.  It brings with it the Holy Spirit.[1]

This is the way that it is with faith, my friends.  Faith is not dead and lethargic and inactive, but it is living and busy and active. Faith is a living confidence in God’s grace, so sure and certain that it makes us glad and bold and happy in our relationship with God and our everyday vocations.[2]  

Today, we see this faith on display in two lepers and a Roman Centurion.  Yes, in our Old Testament reading and our New Testament reading, we see faith at work in two lepers and a Roman Centurion. 

The first leper, from the Old Testament reading, was named Naaman.  He was the commander of Syria’s army.  Through a series of events, Naaman’s servant girl had meekly suggested that he go and see God’s Prophet Elisha, because this prophet would know how to cure his leprosy.

So, Naaman went and presented himself before God’s spokesman.  Without even seeing him face to face, Elisha sent the Commander to wash in the Jordan River.  And after some convincing by his servants, Naaman washed in the river and was cured. 

In our Gospel reading from today, we hear of a second leper. This leper, who lived some 850 years later, was the same as Naaman.  Bits and pieces of his body were about to fall off or already fallen off from leprosy.  He probably stunk like death, because the rot of the grave had already begun in his body.  Only this leper had no prophet to go to.  There had not been a prophet in Israel for 400 years. 

All of this changed, though, when this leper heard of the miracles and the healings that Jesus of Nazareth had begun to do.  So when he heard that Jesus was in the area, he limped his way to see the Lord, leaving a trail of skin and stench behind him. 

Now compared to Naaman, this leper had more faith.

“Lord, if you are willing, You can make me clean,” he said.  Then reaching out His hand Jesus touched the putrescent leper and said: “I am willing, be cleansed.” 

St. Matthew tells us that immediately his leprosy was cleansed. 

We cannot stop here, but we must move on to also hear about the faith of a commander of another army.  This commander was a Centurion in the Roman army. 

Briefly, one of the Roman Centurion’s beloved servants was on his death bed, too paralyzed with pain to be brought to Jesus. 

So the worried Centurion goes to beg Jesus for a miracle to which our Lord agrees and begins to make his way to the Centurion’s house.

Keep in mind that this Roman is a leader; in fact, he is the one in charge.  He could have had Jesus dragged to his servant’s bedside and commanded the Lord to heal him.  But this man of power and position is most importantly a man of faith and humility.  He will have none of it.  Therefore, the Roman Centurion confesses that he is not worthy to have Jesus under his roof.  In fact, he says it is not even necessary for Jesus to come.  If only Jesus would say a Word, then his servant would be healed.

Jesus is astonished at the Roman Centurion’s faith.  “Assuredly, I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel”  And at that same hour, the servant was healed.

Now, considering these three individuals, what cured Naaman and the leper and the Roman Centurion? The answer, they had faith.  Yes, all three had faith and all three were given miracles, even though they had faith to different degrees.  

You see, Naaman’s faith was a bit begrudging, while the other leper’s faith was slightly more forthright.  But neither of the lepers could compare to the great faith of the Roman Centurion.  Even Jesus said that the Roman Centurion had faith, unlike anything He had ever seen, even among God’s own people.  Indeed, they all had faith, even though they had faith in different degrees. 

So, what does all of this mean?  Does this mean that if we want to receive good things and blessings from God that we need to try and quantify our faith?  In other words, should we try to keep track of how much faith we have on a scale of 1-10 and then try to cash in our faith for God’s miracles and blessings when we are ranked at a 10?  Is this how it works – the higher our faith, the more we somehow deserve God’s greater blessings?  If this is the case, does this mean that we are in a race with each other to have the most faith or the highest faith?

Sadly some churches in America teach this and too many Christians believe this convoluted way of thinking.  The reason why?  We often think incorrectly about faith, as if faith is some object that we create and can personally manage.  That is to say; we view faith as if it is something that we can manipulate by our own will-power. 

If we do not view faith this way, we can then see it as something to be wrestled away from God.  If we are successful in wrestling this faith away from God, we lovingly polish it and piously hold it up for all to see. 

Tragically, whenever we go these ways, we begin to make faith itself into an object of our devotion.  In other words, we keep people away from us that might damage our faith, and we then begin to compare our faith to other individuals to show them how grand our faith has become.

I lament saying this, but it is true.  Too many Christians are entrapped in this thinking.  They spend all of their time and energy concerned about the quantity of faith in their lives, to the point that they forget that salvation is not about having faith in our own faith.

Dear friends, having faith in our faith does not save us.  And that frankly is pure foolishness.  In other words, faith does not look to itself, but faith is always about the One in whom we trust.  Faith is connected not to itself, but it connects to and receives from the Lord Jesus Christ. 

This is why Jesus pays such a compliment to the Roman Centurion.  His faith was so great, not because of how much he had polished it or because of how much he had or because of anything He had done, but because it trusted in Jesus.  Indeed, what made the Roman Centurion’s faith so great was that He looked to and trusted Jesus to do what he could not.  The Centurion looked to Jesus and said: “Only speak a Word, and my servant will be healed.”  That is faith in Jesus, not in faith itself.

Having faith in yourself or in the strength of your faith will not save you.  That is misplaced faith, which is really no faith at all. 

So, today, I must ask you, where is your faith? 

Is it in having your name in the church books?  Is your faith in your regular church attendance?  Is your faith in how faithful you feel?  Is your faith in how good you supposedly love others?  Is your faith in how accepting and tolerant you are of others? Is your faith trusting in how much you read the Bible how religiously you live or worse yet how much faith you have?

If your faith trusts in itself or in anything or anyone other than the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God’s own Son, then that faith is no faith at all but only a dream of self-importance.

Does this sound a little harsh?  Maybe it is, but it is what Jesus said to the crowd after praising the Centurion.  Jesus said,

“But the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into outer darkness.  There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

The “sons of the kingdom” are the people of Israel and any others who live by the same error.  Their faith was not in Jesus as the Savior or in God as the One Who would save them.  But rather, their faith was in their faithfulness. Their faith was in having their name listed in the synagogue books.  Their faith was in how religiously they lived and how much faith they had compared to other people.  Their faith was everywhere but in Jesus.  And the same happens today.

True saving faith trusts not in itself, but in Jesus, in His suffering, His death, His resurrection.  Dear friends, do not let the devil lead you to think about faith as being an object that we need to wrestle from God or something we need conjure up out of the depth of our spiritual abilities.  Furthermore, worrying about how much or how little faith you have will distract you from the One who gives faith and the one who strengthens faith. 

You, who have ears, hear this!  Faith comes from hearing the Word and hearing through the word of Christ.  Faith is a gift to you.  It is something that you are given when the Holy Spirit called you through the Gospel and enlightened you with His gifts.  Faith is given to you in Baptism; it is given to you through the Word; it is given and strengthened in you when you receive the body and blood of the Lord Jesus Christ in communion. 

Faith is indeed created in you and strengthened in you through the Lord’s Word and Sacraments.  And this faith continually receives and longs for the Lord Jesus Christ and His gifts. 

Mark this, you and I can do nothing on our own to strengthen our faith.  Ah, but God the Holy Spirit strengthens your faith every time the Lord’s Word and Sacraments are given to you! 

“You are baptized into Jesus’ death so that you might be raised from the dead to walk in newness of life!”
Faith created!

“In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ, I now forgive you of all of your sins!”

Faith given!

“Take, eat; this is the true body of our Lord and Savior given into death for your sins.” 

“Take, drink; this is the true blood of our Lord and Savior, shed for the forgiveness of your sins.”

Faith strengthened!

So, today, receive the Lord and His gifts for you. And as you receive, may your faith be strengthened again and again and again, as we all live by faith in the Son of God who gave Himself for us. 

In the name of Jesus: Amen.

Portions of this Sermon are indebted to Rev. Joshua Reimche’s sermon on Matthew 8:1-13. 

[1] Martin Luther, Commentary on Romans, Trans. J. Theodore Mueller (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1954), xvii.

[2] Ibid.

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