As you know, we're in a study of the gospel of Luke and I would invite you to open your Bible, if you will, to the 7th chapter of Luke. We're going to be looking at the opening ten verses, but not all of it, this morning. I wish we could. I said to Patricia yesterday, "Oh I hope I can go through this whole section because I'm so thrilled and excited about it." But I'm not going to be able to do that. I know that you live in a media-oriented world where you think every problem can be solved in a half hour. All the sitcom problems are. They're minor problems, relational problems, family problems. They seem to always be able to wrap up in thirty minutes. Bigger problems, like major crimes, mass murders, complicated issues, take an hour. Saving the world takes two; make it into a two-hour movie. And everything is done in a half hour, hour or two hours.
You can't formulize the Word of God. As a preacher, I've learned one thing through the preaching through the Scripture that I've done all these years: Not every passage of Scripture can fit into a fifty-minute sermon. That wouldn't give due to the Word of God, would it? It wouldn't be fair to me to take the profound riches of the passage before us and cram them into the next thirty minutes. More importantly than that we manage to package the material in the right amount of time is that we manage to understand it.
This is one of those passages that on the surface may just seem like another story, another incident from the life of Jesus, and at that, a marvelous one. But there's so much more here than just another incident. This is monumental. This is placed where it's placed in the text of Luke's gospel for a very specific reason, which I'll show you in a moment. This gives us exactly what we need to put flesh on the sermon just preached in chapter 6. Luke's record of this account is perfectly tied to the sermon that precedes it. We're going to see that.
The man who amazed Jesus; look at verse 9 for a moment. "When Jesus heard this, He marveled at him..." Now we'll stop there for a minute. The word "marvel," thaumazō, means to be amazed. It's something, isn't it, to think about Jesus being amazed at anything? How could He be amazed? He's God. There aren't any surprises if you are God. You know all things from the beginning to the end and all the elements in between. What's to amaze you? What was it that made Jesus marvel or wonder or be astonished or astounded? It's really startling in itself to think of that. But here is a wonderful glimpse of the humanity of Jesus. He met a man who amazed Him. And that is to say He saw something unexpectedly wonderful. There was only one such person in Scripture that amazed Jesus. Oh, He was amazed one other time. Mark 6:6 says He was amazed at the unbelief of the people. Amazed that they could see His miracles, hear His words, and still not believe. But this is the only person who amazed Him in a positive way.
Sort of brings me to the personal question. If...If I had been alive during Jesus' day, would He have been amazed at my faith? Would my life have amazed Him? What about yours?
Now we all know Jesus amazed people. Now that's the constant testimony of the Bible. That's the constant testimony of the New Testament gospels and especially Luke. Luke likes to tell us that people were amazed at Jesus. They were astounded and astonished. And, frankly, they were literally shocked into a kind of trauma by His words and by His miracles, His power over disease, His power over death, His power over demons, His power over the devil. And no one ever spoke the way Jesus spoke and no one ever acted the way Jesus acted. No one ever displayed divine knowledge to the extent that Jesus did. No one ever displayed supernatural wisdom to the degree that He did. And He made everybody wonder all the time. They were always amazed.
No surprise. He is God. And on the one hand we see Him being amazed as man. On the other hand, we see the people being amazed at Him as God. Frequently in describing the people's amazement, there's a Greek verb, thaumazō, that is used. You Greek students are very familiar with it. It's scattered all throughout the gospel record and particularly in Luke's gospel because he likes to talk about how amazing Jesus is. Thaumazō means to wonder at, to marvel at, to be astonished at, to be amazed at. And it was somewhat common for this response to Jesus. He stilled a storm as recorded in Matthew chapter 8, also other gospel records of that storm. And when He showed power over the wind and power over the sea, the disciples were amazed. And they even said, "What kind of man is this that even the winds and the waves obey Him?" And then there was an account in Matthew chapter 9 where Jesus confronted a man who was demon possessed, and as a result of this demon possession he was mute. He couldn't speak. And Jesus cast the demon out of the man and he spoke and the multitudes were amazed and they said, "Nothing like this was ever seen in Israel." There's an occasion in the 15th chapter of Matthew, somewhat typical of the ministry of Jesus. It involved a massive amount of healing on one occasion. Matthew 15, "And departing from there He went along by the Sea of Galilee, went up to the mountain, He was sitting there. Great multitudes came to Him bringing with them those who were lame, crippled, blind, dumb, and many others." Just about every conceivable and inconceivable kind of disease was represented there. And they laid all these people down at the feet of Jesus and He healed them, literally banishing disease from that mass crowd. "And so the multitude were amazed.” They saw the dumb speak, the crippled restored, the lame walk, the blind see and they glorified the God of Israel.” They were astonished at Jesus. In fact, in Mark chapter 5 verse 20 it says basically everybody was amazed.
Jesus amazed Pilate by what He didn't do. I mean, Pilate assumed that Jesus would do something to display power when He was brought before Pilate by these Jews who wanted Him dead. Pilate assumed, he certainly had heard about the reputation of Jesus and frankly he was amazed that He didn't say anything or do anything. Luke wants us to understand how amazing Jesus is and so he says in chapter 4 verse 22, "All were speaking well of Him and they were amazed at His gracious words falling from His lips and they were saying, 'Isn't this Joseph's son?'" Remember that back in the synagogue in Nazareth in His own hometown and His own home synagogue where He grew up? The people were so astonished at what He said and they couldn't figure out how He could be the one they knew Him to be, the son of the carpenter.
In the 8th chapter of Matthew's gospel and verses 24 and 25, again we have a record of Him rebuking the wind and the surging waves and the disciples were fearful, it says in verse 25, and they were amazed. In chapter 9 verse 43 we read, "And they were all amazed at the greatness of God." Why? Well because He had healed a boy of a demon that was smashing the boy to the ground and He gave the boy delivered back to his father. It's astonishing.
Chapter 11 of Luke's gospel, verse 14, He was casting out a demon and it was dumb and it came about that when the demon had gone out the dumb man spoke and the multitudes, there's the same verb again, were astonished. They were amazed. They marveled. You find this a feature of Luke's gospel, this amazement that surrounded Jesus. In chapter 20 and 26 they were unable to catch Him in anything that He was saying and they were always amazed at His answer, it says, and it's referring there to the scribes and Pharisees. Everybody was amazed by Jesus, everybody.
And we're not surprised because He's God in human flesh, and we expect Him to be amazing. We expect Him to do things and to say things that are divine. And that's amazing because no one had ever seen that. God hadn't ever been incarnate before, or since. In fact, go back to Luke chapter 7 for a moment, and you notice that as you come to chapter 7 there's a transition, "When He had completed all His discourse in the hearing of the people, He went to Capernaum." Well the discourse referred to has just been given to us in the 6th chapter. It's that familiar Sermon on the Mount. Matthew gives us more of it. He fills up Matthew 5, 6 and 7 with it. Luke gives us a summary of it, starting in chapter 6 verse 20 and running down to verse 49. And we have just gone through this summary of the Sermon on the Mount.
Now there's no response given by Luke. Luke doesn't say at the end of verse 49, "And here's the response of the people." Luke doesn't record that, but Matthew did. You know what Matthew records in Matthew 7:28 at the end of the same sermon? "The multitudes were amazed at His teaching." Everything about Him, absolutely amazing.
Now that's not surprising. That shouldn't surprise us at all because Jesus is God. But it is shocking that Jesus was amazed by a man. But He was. I want you to meet this man. Verse 2, "A certain centurion's slave who was highly regarded by him was sick and about to die, and when he, the centurion, heard about Jesus he sent some Jewish elders asking Him to come and save the life of his slave. And when they 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.' Now Jesus started on His way with them and when He was already not far from the centurion's house, the centurion sent friends saying to Him, 'Lord, do not trouble Yourself further for I am not worthy for You to come under my roof. For this reason I didn't 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 another come, and he comes, and to my slave do this, and he does it.' Now when Jesus heard this, He was amazed 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."
What amazed Jesus about the man? His what? His faith, amazing faith. Would you amaze Jesus? Would your faith be amazing to Him? This man's was. What kind of a person amazes Jesus?
Well, we're going to learn that. Unfortunately we don't have the time to go through all the lessons today. But let me give you at least a good starting point. And we have to go back to verse 1 for that because here Luke in his very, very careful historical approach sets the context for the story about the centurion. And he gives us essentially what is a three-fold context. First of all, he gives us a chronological context, or a chronological setting. And that's obvious. "When” or after “He,” Jesus, “had completed all His discourse in the hearing of the people." There's the chronological setting. What he's about to tell us about the centurion happened after Jesus completed His sermon in the hearing of the people. That sermon has just been given to us in the 6th chapter, as I said. It's the Sermon on the Mount. With no significant time interval, that's very important, no significant time interval is indicated but rather immediately after, the very next incident in the Galilean ministry of Jesus He confronts this centurion.
Is that important? Oh is it ever important, because the centurion, as we will see, seals in living flesh the theme of the sermon. It is the fall, probably, of the year 29 A.D. The Galilean ministry of Jesus had really begun in the summer of that year, so He's just been in His Galilean ministry a few months. It will wrap up the following fall in the year 30 A.D. So it is just a few months into His Galilean ministry. This sermon is very definitive. By now He has collected a massive amount of disciples numbering in the thousands. And when I use the word "disciple," I'm not saying anything about their spiritual condition. The word disciple, mathētēs, means learner, student. He had a huge crowd of people following Him, learning. And there was a wide spectrum represented in that group. There were those apostles who had committed themselves to Jesus Christ and had understood what He was saying and who He was and their faith was a saving faith. On the other hand, there were those who were following Him who were nothing more than the curious and there was everything in the middle. So it was appropriate that Jesus direct this sermon at that wide spectrum of disciples. Back in verse 20, "Turning, He gazed on His disciples and began to say..." So He's going to talk to this crowd of people who to one degree or another are interested in Him and what He has to say and who He is. And He's going to give them this sermon which essentially sorts out for them who is a real disciple, who is real. And the characteristics of the real disciples we have already learned. Do you remember verses 20 to 26? The emphasis there is that a true disciple is penitent. A true disciple is recognizing spiritual poverty. A true disciple is hungry for a righteousness he knows he doesn't have. A true disciple, verse 21, is a weeper, sorrowful, sad over sin.
Then we also learned that a true disciple, while hating sin, particularly in himself, is a lover. He hates sin but he loves others and we know in verse 27 he loves his enemies. This is supernatural. This isn't true on the natural level. This isn't true of unconverted people. He is a lover of even his enemies.
We further learn in verse 30 that he is a giver, that he is marked by generosity and generosity to people who will take what he gives and give nothing back. So he has a supernatural view of sin. He sees it the way God sees it. He has a supernatural love, even for his enemies. And he has a supernatural generosity so that verse 35 says he loves his enemies, he does good, he lends, expects nothing in return and he definitely is a son of the Most High.
Furthermore, verse 36, he's merciful. He has compassion. He has gentleness. This is evidence of the work of God in his heart, the transforming work of God in his heart. Now beyond that he follows the right teacher, the true teacher. He doesn't follow blind guides. He doesn't follow barren teachers. He follows the Lord, verse 36, and he calls Him Lord but he does what He says and therefore he builds his house on the rock. That's essentially the sermon. And we've gone through that in great detail but that's the description he gives of a true disciple.
And then immediately, Luke says, Jesus encounters the living illustration of that. That's what we'll call the context, or the content setting. The chronological setting, it was right after the sermon. The content setting, he illustrates the very same truth of the sermon. It's a perfect example. Here, I read it to you, is a man with compassion: a centurion who loves his slave? That's not what we understand about slavery. A centurion who is compassionate? A slave was considered a tool to be discarded if it didn't function. A slave that loves the Jews who hated him? Here...I mean a centurion who loves the Jews who hated him? Here is again a man who loves his enemies. A man who not only loves the Jews but was so generous enough that he built their synagogue? And a Roman centurion who calls Jesus Lord? There it is. Everything that Jesus said was characteristic of a true disciple is characteristic of this man. He's rejected the false teachers of Judaism, the scribes and the Pharisees, and chosen to follow Jesus.
We're going to see that all unfold. There's also a geographical setting here and we've already hinted at it. It says at the end of verse 1 He went to Capernaum. The Sermon on the Mount was delivered on a hillside, walking distance from Capernaum. I've been there many times. It's very, very close. He finished the sermon and He just walked over to Capernaum. Now Capernaum was the main city on the north shore of the city of Galilee, bustling, busy city surrounded by the beautiful hills, north shore of Galilee, where there was all kinds of things growing. It's a agricultural center. And at the feet of the city, which comes down a little slope to the water was the fishing industry where Peter, for example, and the others plied their fishing trade. Jesus made Capernaum His headquarters during His Galilean ministry so that Capernaum was exposed to Jesus on a pretty regular basis. He...He traveled all around the Galilee, preaching in villages and towns everywhere but when He came back to home, it tended to be at Capernaum for much of the time. So they were exposed to Jesus' teaching, they were exposed to His example, His life. They were exposed to His miracle power. And that's an amazing thing to think about because in Matthew chapter 11, the city of Capernaum hears some words from Jesus that are sad. Listen to what Jesus said, "You, Capernaum, will not be exalted to heaven." That's pretty straight, isn't it? You're not going to heaven, folks. You people in this city are not going to heaven. And then He says, "You're going to Hades." You're headed for hell. You're not going to heaven. Hmm. And then He says this, "If the miracles had occurred in Sodom which occurred in you, it would have remained to this day." I never would have destroyed Sodom. If they had seen what you have seen, they would have repented and believed. And Sodom was a bad place, wasn't it? Synonymous with what? Homosexuality. They tried to rape angels there, the homosexuals, according to Genesis 19, perverse. If Sodom had been exposed to what you've been exposed to, they would have believed. They'd still be there. "Nevertheless I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment than for you." Better to be a perverted homosexual trying to rape an angel than to reject Jesus Christ. Straight stuff, sad town. You go there today, you won't find it. Jesus said it would be obliterated. It is not there, hasn't been for centuries.
But at this time it was His headquarters. He went into town and verse 2, let's just take the first four words, "And a certain centurion..." we'll stop in front of the apostrophe, we're not even going pass that. "And a certain centurion..." This is what's so unusual about this. It would be so nice if it was a certain rabbi, certain Pharisee, certain scribe, a certain Sadducee, a certain Jew. But it isn't. It is a...a certain centurion. By the way, Matthew gives us a parallel account in Matthew 8:5 to 13 that you can compare as you study this.
Let's talk about a centurion for a minute. Centurion is a title given to what was essentially a captain in the Roman army. They were the highest ranking NCOs, non-commissioned officers. They... They got their rank by moving up through being battle tested. They were the backbone of the Roman army. Centurion connects to the word century which connects to the number 100. Technically they had a hundred men under them, although that number was flexible and many had more and some had less. But they got to where they were in their rank by the force of their commitment: loyalty, courage, bravery, fortitude, strength. I mean, to be a soldier in ancient times was an obviously a hand-to-hand combat environment. You didn't sit behind a rock somewhere in a cave and fire missiles at somebody three miles away. You fought hand-to-hand. Strength, courage, absolutely the stuff of which these men were made, and they didn't get to the rank they were in without having proven that not only could they fight but they could lead. Not only could they lead by command, they could lead by example because that's really how you lead in life and death situations. Not only that, they could follow orders. They were the soldier's soldier. They knew how to lead, they knew how to set an example, they knew how to fight, they knew how to command, they exhibited fortitude, courage, manliness, all of that. At the same time, they knew what it was to be submissive to those that were over them. They were the best of the best in the pagan environment.
They... They were not so much Polybius Rites, seekers after danger. They weren't foolish, as they were steady in action and reliable and so loyal that they would die at their post if necessary. And they then were the backbone of the army. They took orders well and they gave orders well. They held their accountability to the one over them and they maintained accountability with those under them and they kept the army functioning.
Every time the New Testament deals with a centurion, it does so with respect. Every time they appear on the pages of the New Testament, there is an affirmation of this kind of manhood, this kind of character, this kind of integrity as a soldier. Three centurions are believers in the Bible. This man who is unnamed, only called a certain centurion. We'll find out his name when we get to heaven. There is another centurion who became a believer and he was watching Jesus being crucified, remember that? And at the end of the gospel of Luke, Luke makes a very important point of identifying this man. In chapter 23 verse 47 the centurion saw what had happened to Jesus, began praising God saying, "Certainly this man was righteous." And that's the second one who obviously became a believer. The third one is named for us, the only name we have. In the 10th chapter of Acts, you remember his name? Cornelius. Cornelius was really the first Gentile convert of the church. And so you have these three centurions who are noted for their exemplary, remarkable faith and it is said about Cornelius that he was a God-fearer. And so it could be said about this man, as well.
On other occasions... Turn to the end of the book of Acts just to show you a couple of illustrations of this, in the 22nd chapter of Acts. On other occasions when centurions are mentioned — and we're just going to cover this point about a centurion — whenever they are mentioned they are always seen doing their duty. As I said, you didn't...you weren't a centurion if you were a rebel, if you couldn't take orders or give them. You earned the right to be there by respecting the law, respecting your commander, respecting your responsibility and your duty. And so we...we see them in the scenario. At the end of the life of the apostle Paul they start popping up because Paul, you remember, is now in Roman custody and you remember Paul is taken prisoner. The Jewish people wanted him out of the way. They accused him of speaking against the law, speaking against the synagogue, speaking against God, all kinds of false accusations. A riot was going to be precipitated. The Romans didn't want a riot in their occupied area of Jerusalem and so they took Paul prisoner to try to sort out what to do with the guy. They kept him for two years in imprisonment without really any right to keep him, but just to keep the Jews calm. Eventually he demanded a trial and he was sent to Caesar to have a trial. And you know the rest of the story, tragic story, he was imprisoned unjustly and finally he was executed at the hands of the Romans.
But at this particular point we start to see Paul in Roman custody interacting with centurions. The Jewish people are really upset in Acts 22:22. They say, "Away with such a fellow from the earth, he shouldn't be allowed to live." This is... This is an extreme reaction to Paul, much the same reaction they had toward Paul's Lord. They were crying out, they're throwing their clothes off, throwing dirt in the air, a riot starting. They're getting out of control.
So the commander ordered him to be brought into the barracks, stating that he should be examined by scourging. How do you examine somebody by scourging? You ought to know that. If you beat them hard enough maybe they'll give you the information that you want. They assumed that there was something that was causing this and they would only be able to get the information out of Paul if they beat him near to death. And so in a scourging that he would somehow reveal what he had done and cause the people to shout so much, so they stretched him with thongs. What they would do, two posts appropriate distance apart, they would strap his ankles with thongs so that his body was stretched, the lower body, they would then strap his top and this pulls taut the skin of his back and then they would lacerate it with leather thongs and embedded in the leather were bits of stone and glass. And in this process supposedly elicit some confession as to what he had done. They stretched him out on thongs there and Paul said to the centurion who was standing by, these were the men who were responsible for such things, Paul says, "I have a question, sir. Is it lawful?" Now he appeals to a centurion on a centurion's level. And a centurion in the Roman army understood the rule of law. He understood the rule. He was a policeman. He was a Roman policeman. He understood what his responsibility was to uphold the law and to do the duty related to the law. "Is it lawful for you to scourge a man who is a Roman and uncondemned?” There is no sentence against me and I am a Roman citizen, and Roman citizenship precluded this kind of punishment, according to Roman law.
Well, when the centurion heard this, he did what a dutiful man should do as soldier, he went to the commander. And he said, "What you're about to do... What are you about to do? This is a Roman citizen." The commander came and, "Are you a Roman?" He said yes. So there you see the picture of the centurion, very careful to do his legal duty. This is how they appear.
Look at chapter 23 verse 17. There is another plan, in verse 12 the Jews formed a conspiracy that they would...wouldn't eat or drink until they killed Paul. You could get real thin doing that because God wasn't about to let them do it. Now how many were in the plot? Verse 13, forty of them came together to plot how they could kill Paul, they wouldn't eat until he was dead...more than forty. Well, Paul called one of the centurions and said, "Lead this man to the commander. He has something to report to him." So he took him, led him to the commander, said, "Paul, the prisoner, called me to him and asked me to lead this young man to you since he has something to tell you," and so forth.
Here again is a centurion functioning, doing his duty under his commander, and yet at the same time sensitive to any violation of the law. Verse 23: "The commander says, 'Let the young man go.' He called to him two of the centurions, said, 'Get 200 soldiers ready for the third hour of the night to proceed to Caesarea with seventy horsemen and 200 spear men.'" So here are... They're going to move Paul to Caesarea, get him in a safe place. Caesarea was the Roman occupation city named after Caesar on the coast and here again the centurions appear in a very dutiful function.
Chapter 24 verse 23, gave orders to the centurion for him to be kept in custody and yet have some freedom and not to prevent any of his friends from ministering to him. So they gave him some latitude and the centurion was carrying out this dispatch on behalf of Paul. And then one more time, chapter 27 verse 43, again the soldiers plan... This is at the end of the boat trip which ended up in a shipwreck. They were going to Rome on a boat and the boat runs into rocks and the bow is stuck in the rocks and the stern of the boat is being battered by the waves and the boat is disintegrating. And the soldiers decide to kill Paul, along with everybody else, because if Paul escapes they're going to get killed because that was the way it was. You had to keep your prisoner or lose your life; but the centurion, verse 43, wanting to bring Paul safely through. Why? Because that was what was said; he had to get him through because he was having a trial under Caesar. His responsibility as a centurion was to make sure this man got there. His duty was to be fulfilled. And so here was the man protecting his responsible duty as a faithful centurion. Every time you see a centurion in the Scripture, you're going to find them in this light. They are dutiful, they are responsible. They are lawful. They are the police. And there isn't any time when you see one of them in any way shirking, skirting or disobeying his duty.
Now the land of Palestine, or Israel, was filled with centurions in the Roman occupation. Every time you see a picture of one, he's a dutiful man. Remember this, Gentile, idolater, outside the chosen people of God, no knowledge in his background of the knowledge of God, the covenants, the promises, the adoption, all those wonderful privileges that Israel had. He is a Roman. Possibly he is a non-Italian. He is a Roman in terms of the Roman army but he could have come from a number of nations because as Rome began to occupy in the great Pax Romana and began to conquer the world, they conscripted into their military service people from other nations than just Italy. We don't know what nation he is from. We do know he's a non-Jew, normally despised and hated by the Jews. Some have even suggested he might have well have been a Samaritan because there were many Samaritans who were conscripted by Rome to work for Rome in the military in occupying Israel.
Can you imagine a pagan, idolatrous Roman soldier who is also a Samaritan having authority over the Jews? There's only one thing possibly worse than that and that would be if he was a Roman Samaritan tax collector. They were the most despicable of all. And the fact of the matter is that's probably what he did. Why would the Romans have a centurion in the city of Capernaum? To make sure that there was compliance with the Roman law. What was the predominant Roman law that was being exacted on Israel? It wasn't some kind of law like a totalitarian government or even like a dictatorship. It was the law of taxation and it’s very likely the fact that this Roman centurion was responsible for making sure taxes were appropriately collected. Everything against him, everything against him, no exposure to the law of God, the history of Israel; he is the hated of the hated as a Roman idolater. He is further hated if, in fact, he were to be a Samaritan or for that matter any Gentile, and he was certainly a Gentile. And then add on that he had the responsibility to enforce the hated, despised tax system the Romans had imposed upon them.
Add one other thing. The Roman government didn't take full control of Galilee until 44 A.D. Up until that time they let Herod Antipas rule that area so that this Roman soldier was assigned to work for Herod Antipas, another non-Jew who ruled the precious Promised Land and was loathed by the Jewish population. This is an outsider of all outsiders. And yet Jesus said, "I have not seen this kind of faith in Israel."
That's sad, isn't it? What an indictment. This is a man who, without the background and with everything against him is a model of a true disciple, marked by compassion, mercy, love, faith, submission, penitence. All those things, and we'll see them all next Sunday. Let's pray.
Thank You, Father, for the beginning glimpse of this man. I wish I knew his name just so I could refer to him personally, but someday. Lord, we can ask You this: Would You help us to live in a way that somebody, if not our Lord, could be amazed at us, at our compassion, at our love for our enemies, at our generosity, at our trust, at our humility, at our repentance, at our obedience? Could we not, who have had so many privileges, so much exposure to the truth, live a life that could amaze somebody? Lead us to that end, in the Savior's name and for His glory. Amen.
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