You Don't Belong in Heaven
(The following is a transcript for our public meeting at Edith Cowan Uni. It is based on Matthew 8:5-13 which we recommend reading beforehand.)
What comes to mind when you hear the word shark? No one here has much of a reaction. But if you’re at the beach and you hear shark – fear. Or at the aquarium and you hear shark – fascination. Words do more than convey meaning. It doesn’t just pass on information. It has the power to reach into our inner being and either fill us with joy or strip us of strength.
And here’s the interesting thing. Two people can hear the exact same words but have completely opposite reactions. Imagine a scenario where a surgeon comes into the waiting room and says to two families, it worked, it’s done. One family is relieved and the other is devastated because it was a transplant, and the successful surgery means the donor has died.
We understand that words have power but we often underestimate just how powerful. As much as we want to think that we’re strong, the reality is a word can be enough to lift us up or crush us. No one here is immune.
I want to show you from our passage today, why being a Christian has more to do with the words that are spoken to us than the actions we perform for God.
Heaven will be filled with people who don’t belong but believe
Let’s pick it up from verse 5. 5 When he had entered Capernaum, a centurion came forward to him, appealing to him, 6 “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, suffering terribly.”
A centurion is an officer in the roman army. Picture a typical stiff and angry looking man who smiles at nothing. You have to know that by this time, Jesus was already very popular and great crowds were following him. There was no Netflix back then and so what do you do for fun? There’s this rabbi going around performing miracles, of course you’ll be there. And so all of you follow him into this little town called Capernaum. And before you know it, you see roman soldiers following a centurion and they are marching towards you.
None of us here have lived through a time of war. The only soldiers we ever see marching through Perth are old and wrinkled veterans at Anzac day. One of you can probably take 5 of them on. But ask any refugee, the sight of soldiers carrying weapons coming towards you can be enough to trigger your ptsd.
That’s the kind of climate Israel was living under. There’s constant reminders everywhere that they have been conquered by Rome and are ruled by Romans. So when you see soldiers marching towards your group with a centurion leading them, you must think no good will come of this. I told you we should have just gone to the footy instead.
So imagine everyone’s surprise when the centurion comes forward and calls Jesus, Lord. A title of respect and reverence. Romans don’t call Jews lords. Romans lord it over Jews. And then he says, 6 “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, suffering terribly.” 7 And Jesus said to him, “I will come and heal him.”
Stop here and look at this closely. The centurion hasn’t even asked Jesus to do anything. All he said was my servant is suffering at home. Ok, should we send a card or get him some facemasks? Before he even asks, Jesus says I’ll come and heal him. What would a normal person’s response be? Anyone else would have said, yes let’s go. Remember when Lazarus was sick, his sisters came to Jesus and said please come. Hurry and come. So when Jesus says I’ll come and heal him, what should the centurion have said?
Look at verse 8.
8 But the centurion replied, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. 9 For I too 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 servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” 10 When Jesus heard this, he marveled and said to those who followed him, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith.
Now here’s my question: what’s so special about his faith?
It’s not just believing that Jesus can heal. Or that his belief in Jesus is stronger than Mary and Martha for example when Lazarus was sick. In fact, Mary had so much confidence in Jesus that she blamed him for not getting there sooner. She didn’t say, if you got here in time, at least you could have tried. She had absolute confidence t that Jesus could heal. What’s so special about the centurion’s faith?
It’s that Jesus’ word is enough.
His Word is enough. I don’t need you to come. I don’t need any flashy signs or divine anointing. Just say the word, and it’ll be enough. His Word is enough.
It’s no wonder Jesus looks at the centurion and says the Israelites have nothing on him. It’s not just that he believes in Jesus. Lot’s of people do. It’s that he takes Jesus at His word. His Word is enough for him. And then Jesus tells us.
11 I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, 12 while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
Here’s the point Jesus is making. Heaven will be filled with people who don’t belong, but believe. The Romans didn’t belong in Israel. They were the conquering army. The centurion didn’t belong in Caperneum. He was most likely stationed there. He doesn’t belong here. But Jesus says, many will come from east and west, from China and even New Zealand, people who don’t belong, and will recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. What he’s saying is that heaven will be filled with people who don’t belong, but believe. Those that think they belong to heaven or that heaven belongs to them, will find themselves in the outer darkness
Heaven will be filled with people who don’t belong, but believe. So what does this mean for us?
Think about this. How many of us read this passage and think man if only I have faith like this centurion, then I’d be a better Christian. If I could have even a fraction of this guy’s faith, maybe my Christianity wouldn’t feel so dull.
We look at the centurion and think man if only I have faith like his. But we don’t realize that anyone who is a Christian has exactly the same faith that the centurion had. Think about it. None of us were there. None of us ever saw the miracles or sat at the feet of Jesus. No one here even belonged. All we have is the gospel. The message of Jesus which somebody shared with us. And based on the word, based on just what we heard, we call ourselves Christians.
Jesus said heaven will be filled with people who don’t belong, but believe. He was thinking about us. Those who believe in the word of God. Someone might say, well if that’s true, then why do I still struggle with my faith? Surely if I have the same faith like the centurion, then I shouldn’t be struggling right?
Again, the answer comes back to the centurion. What’s so special about his faith? It’s not how much he had, it’s what he had it in. His faith was in Jesus’ word. Right? He said, just say the word and it’ll be enough. And look at verse 13. 13 And to the centurion Jesus said, “Go; let it be done for you as you have believed.” And the servant was healed at that very moment.
I wouldn’t be surprised if on the way back, he was full of doubt and still unsure. Like is my servant really healed? I want to really believe he is. Do I dare to hope? It wouldn’t surprise me if that’s what happened. But we’re not told right, and that’s the point. It doesn’t matter how much he still had doubts or how much he second guessed himself. What mattered most? What Jesus say to him? Go. Let it be done for you as you have believed. And that was enough.
A Christian is not someone who has absolute confidence that God is real or that the gospel is true. A Christian is just someone who only has enough faith to start walking back home. And along the way it’ll be difficult. There’ll be doubts, questions, or distractions tempting us to turn back. It can even get so bad that our hearts fail and it’s like we’re just going through the motions. I don’t really feel I am a Christian.
If that’s you, or if you ever yourself in that situation, remember this passage. Remember the centurion. His word is enough. So go and keep going. What’s the worst thing the centurion can do? Verse 13 tells us the servant was healed at that very moment, but the centurion wouldn’t have known or couldn’t have known until he made it back. What’s the worst thing he could do? Give up on his faith and give in to doubt. Maybe go someplace else and try something else. A Christian is just someone who hears Jesus word, believes enough to start walking home. And keep walking.
Heaven is filled with people who don’t belong but believe in Jesus’ word.
A Christian is not someone who has absolute confidence that God is real or that the gospel is true. A Christian is just someone who only has enough faith to start walking home.