The Value Of Unworthiness
Is there anyone here today who knows what it is like to feel 'unworthy'? I suspect, that for most of us, feelings of unworthiness are not uncommon. Psychologists will likely tell you that feelings of unworthiness are not healthy. They will often spend their efforts trying to convince you to discard those feelings of unworthiness which, they argue, keep us from maximizing our human potential.
Would you be shocked to hear me say that I do not want to maximize my human potential? In fact, my prayer for myself, and for all of you, is that we would be delivered from our human potential. The Bible is clear on this point: Our human potential is sinful and corrupt . The reality is that we have good reason to feel unworthy. Masking our sin and unworthiness with a thin layer of self-esteem just isn't going to cut it. We need something much bigger than a positive self-image .
Now that I have disqualified myself from being the guest speaker at any self-esteem seminar, let me frame for you the biblical basis for valuing unworthiness. After being commissioned by God to lead the Hebrew people out of Egypt, this was Moses' reply: "Please, Lord, I have never been eloquent . . . send someone else "(Ex. 4:10, 13). After witnessing the presence of the Lord in the temple, Isaiah's response was, "Woe is me for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips "(Isa. 6:5). After hearing rumours speculating that he might be the Christ, John the Baptist's reply was, "I am not fit to untie the thong of His sandals "(Lk. 3:16). When the apostle Peter recognized that he was sitting in the same boat as God Incarnate, he pleaded with Jesus, "Depart from me Lord, for I am a sinful man "(Lk. 5:8).
If you struggle with feelings of unworthiness, your are in good company. Moses, David, Isaiah, John the Baptist, Peter, and Paul all knew what it was like to feel unworthy. If you want examples of people in the Bible who thought they had it all together, then your examples are Pharaoh, Nebuchadnezzar, Herod and the Pharisees. Now, I ask you, which group would you like to identify with? As we examine Luke 7 this morning, I trust you will see the tremendous value of unworthiness.
Upon Jesus' arrival in Capernaum Luke tells us that there was "a certain centurion's slave, who was highly regarded by him, was sick and about to die. And when (the centurion) heard about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders asking (Jesus) to come and save the life of his slave "(v.2, 3).
A centurion was an officer in the auxiliary forces under the command of Herod Antipas. A centurion would normally command 100 soldiers, but this was not always the case(Morris, Luke , 149). This particular centurion, being of non-Jewish descent, must have assumed that his request would gain a better hearing if he sent Jewish elders--after all, Jesus was Jewish.
Everything in this text points to the centurion being a man of unshakable integrity. The office of centurion, by itself, required an individual with tremendous intellect and courage. The centurion was also, quite obviously, a compassionate man. The average first century citizen, let alone a centurion, would not normally be concerned about the welfare of a slave. Slaves could be easily replaced. But Luke tells us that this particular slave was so "highly regarded " by the centurion that he did everything he could to save his slave's life.
It should also be noted that centurions did not usually have good relations with the Jews. This centurion, however, was clearly held in high esteem by the local Jewish elders who were quite willing to speak on his behalf. The reason this centurion was popular with the Jews becomes evident when we read that he built these Jews a synagogue(v.5).
If there was ever a man deserving of Jesus' help it was this centurion. And this is the very approach taken up by the Jewish elders. Luke tells us that "when (the Jewish elders) had come to Jesus, they earnestly entreated Him, saying, 'He is worthy for You to grant this to him; for he loves our nation, and it was he who built us our synagogue' "(v.4, 5).
What are the Jewish elders doing here? In an attempt to get Jesus to help the centurion, they point to the centurion's good works--"he loves our nation, and it was he who built us our synagogue ", they tell Jesus. How prone are we to doing the same! We, like the Jewish elders in this account, often resort to bartering with God, 'Lord, I have taught Sunday School, I attend prayer meetings, I help out around the church--so will you please answer my prayer?'.
Rather than approaching God as the Holy Creator of the universe, many Christians treat God as if He was a heavenly vending machine. We think that if we pray the right way, quote the appropriate Scriptures, and claim the correct promises, that God will surely answer our prayer.
I fear that this erroneous theology comes forth from many pulpits today, treating God as some celestial vending machine whose primary purpose is to give us what we ask for. In this account, the Jewish elders approach Christ in this very fashion--they use the centurion's good works as currency for the supernatural vending machine.
We too may have heartfelt needs. We may have some very sincere prayer requests. Some may want healing for a physical illness. Some may want healing for emotional illness. Some may want a solution for their financial woes. Some may want healing for their marriage. We may indeed have a genuine need that we want God to meet. At the same time, we must be aware that there is a way to approach God that is clearly inappropriate. Asking God for something on the basis of 'what you deserve' is never appropriate .
We do not want God to respond according to our good works. The apostle Paul tells us in Romans 4:4 that "to the one who works, his wage is not reckoned as a favour, but what is due ". Paul is telling us that if we want to barter with God we are going to get "what is due "--and this, Paul tells us, is not favour. We don't want to engage in a transaction with God, we don't want wages from God because "the wages of sin is death "(Rom. 6:23).
If God does not bless us according to our deeds, how then are we to approach Christ? It is in the example of the centurion where we learn how Christ is to be approached. Jesus was on His way with the Jewish elders when friends of the centurion came with a message from him, "Lord, do not trouble Yourself further, for I am not worthy for You to come under my roof; for this reason I did not even consider myself worthy to come to You, but just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I, too, am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and 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. '"(v.6-8).
Do you see the difference between this approach and the approach of the Jewish elders? The Jewish elders told Jesus that " (the centurion) is worthy for You to grant this to him "(v.4). But what message does the centurion have communicated to Jesus through his friends? "Lord, do not trouble Yourself further, for I am not worthy for You to come under my roof, for this reason I did not even consider myself worthy to come to You "(v.6, 7).
How did the centurion approach Jesus? He approached Jesus as someone unworthy of being helped.The centurion approached Jesus with genuine humility .
This is how we must approach Christ. Christ owes us nothing. It is all grace. Every blessing is undeserved favour. But here is the wonderful news: Jesus is eager to bless us . He is not a reluctant Saviour.
We clearly see genuine humility in the centurion's approach to Jesus, but we also see genuine faith . The centurion's message to Jesus was "just say the word, and my servant will be healed "(v.7). Are you kidding me? "Just say the word, and my servant will be healed "--this is genuine faith. This is not presumptuous faith either--the centurion is not forcing Jesus' hand here. Rather, it is clear that the centurion recognizes Jesus as having great authority. And it is on the basis of this great authority that the centurion comes to Jesus with both humility and faith .
Do you have burdens that you are presently carrying? Do you have things in your life that are causing you grief and pain? Are you struggling in your relationship with Christ?
If you are, I ask you, what are you doing about it? Are you trying to solve your problems by your own strength or are you relying on Christ? Are you presently bartering with God until you get your way or are you humbly presenting your requests to Him?
The first thing that you must realize is that Christ has authority over all things. Everything and everyone is subject to Him. We can do nothing apart from Christ(John 15:5). Apart from Christ, your burdens will grow heavier. Apart from Christ, your pain and grief will increase. Apart from Christ, your ability to please God will cease.
We do not want to live apart from Christ. And since we do not want to live apart from Christ, we must learn how to approach Christ. There is value in being unworthy. There is value in being unworthy because these are the terms on which Christ accepts us.
The centurion approached Jesus with genuine humility , "I am not worthy ", he told Jesus. The centurion also approached Jesus with genuine faith , "just say the word, and my servant will be healed ".
And how did Jesus respond to this approach? "Now when Jesus heard this, He marveled at him, and turned and said to the multitude that was following Him, 'I say to you, not even in Israel have I found such great faith.' And when those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave in good health "(v.9, 10).
We all face many trials. The question is, are we going to face our trials alone or are we going to humbly trust in Christ to sustain us? I urge you this morning, choose Christ. Amen.