Surprised by faith! - Luke 7:1-17

This is a sermon by Malcolm Peters from the evening service on 11th February 2007.

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During this week someone knocked on my door.  Not very strange you might be thinking.  But this guy said that heíd noticed next door no longer had any curtains hanging in the bedroom.  It looked to him as if no one was living there any more and he wanted to know if theyíd moved out.  Now maybe youíre more trusting than me.   But I was a bit suspicious.  Who is this bloke.  So I ask him for some ID.  And it turned out that he was who he said he was.  He was from the council and he was doing some perfectly legitimate property checks.   And itís right that someone like him carries ID.  Because to go round doing that kind of stuff without the right authority itís very suspicious. 

Background/  Link

And thatís the issue in the passage we read earlier from Lukeís Gospel.    Because Jesus has been making some astonishing claim in the story so far. A few weeks ago when we looked the mission being announced in cpt 4, Jesus claims to be the fulfilment of OT prophesy about the coming King;  the coming messiah;  the coming Christ.    Indeed, more than that, Jesus claims to be the Lord God himself coming to visit His people.  Then at the beginning of  cpt 6 he claims to be the Lord of the Sabbath.  To have the right authoritatively to interpret OT teaching.  And then, after heís appointed his 12 apostles, he then gives the people an extend sermon, which youíll find in cpt 6 on p1035.    Thatís Luke 6 on p1035. 

And once again in this sermon, Jesus claims the authority to interpret the OT and make its meaning clear. And in the conclusion in v46-49, Jesus claims that the success of your life depends on how you respond to Jesus and His teaching.  And heís not simply talking about life in this world.    No the destruction of the foolish builderís house is a picture of eternal destruction;  eternal punishment.  Jesus has the audacity to claim that our eternal destiny depends on how we respond to His teaching.    Itís an astonishing claim.  And the issue is what do we make of it?  How should we respond?  Whatís Jís authority to make such claims?

Well in the 2 sections of Lukeís Gospel I read earlier, Jesus demonstrates His authority.  He demonstrates His authority in 2 ways:

  • in v1-10, Jesus demonstrates His Authority over sickness 
  • in v 11-17 he demonstrates His authority over death;  and so thirdly we see that
  • Jís actions back up His claims to be the Saviour

  • 1.  Jesus demonstrates His authority over sickness (v1-10)

    So first of all then, in v1-10, as you can see coming up on the screen, Jesus demonstrates His authority over sickness.  Come with me to Capernaum in v2:

    2There a centurion's servant, whom his master valued highly, was sick and about to die.

    Here weíve got a centurion, a commander of 100 men in the army.  We donít know his nationality, except v5 gives us a clue.  Because in v5 we discover that this centurion loves the Jewish nation and has built our synagogue, in other words Capernaumís synagogue.    Centurions were paid sensible money by first century standards.  So he was a man of means.   The Jews speak highly of him.  After all, he gave a huge sum to the new church building project.  But heís still an outsider.  Not one of Godís people.    He doesnít love God, he simply loves the Jewish nation.  Heís what the NT sometimes calls a God-fearer;  someone whoís attracted by the God of Israel;  someone who attended the services at the synagogue;  someone whoíd even given money towards Gospel work;  but someone who hadnít fully committed themselves to the God of the Bible.  Someone who was still sitting on the fence. 

    And maybe thereís someone like that here tonight.  Youíve been coming for a while.  Youíre attracted to the God of the Bible.  Youíve been gripped by the Bibleís teaching.  But somethingís been stopping you making that final step.  You might not even know what it is.  But whatever the reason, youíre sitting on the fence.  And thereís a danger with sitting on the fence.  Because if you sit there long enough youíll probably fall off.  And you might fall off on the wrong side.  The danger of fence sitting then.

    But coming back to our centurion, heís got a problem.  And the problemís in v2:

    2There a centurion's servant, whom his master valued highly, was sick and about to die.

    This wasnít just any old servant.  This was a highly valued servant.  He was obviously doing a good job.  But itís more than that.  The word translated Ďhighly valuedí has the sense of personal affection that goes beyond the manager-boss relationship.  Which is which is why itís sometimes translated that he was Ďvery dearí to him.    This centurion cared deeply for his worker.  But then he got ill.  So ill, in fact, he was at deathís door.  So what does the centurion do?  Does he think:  Oh well, Iíd better pencil in a slot for the funeral and go to the job centre tomorrow to get another one.  I wonder if the insurance will cover the loss? 

    No.  The centurionís gutted.  Yes itís disappointing when you loose good staff.  But itís more than that:  this centurion was facing the loss of a close friend.  He was facing the rupturing of a good relationship. 

    So what does he do?  Well look onto v3:

    3The centurion heard of Jesus and sent some elders of the Jews to him, asking him to come and heal his servant.

    Now remember that the centurionís a God-fearer;  a gentile who went to services in the Synagogue he helped to build.  And so heís heard about all the healings Jesus has already done.  The leper and the paralytic in cpt 5 and the crowds that were healed at Simonís house after Jesus healed his mother-in-law back in cpt 4.      And so when his beloved servant is ill, really ill, he asks the Jewish elders to got and get Jesus for him.     

    And so in v4, off they go, and they plead earnestly for Jesus to come back with them.  This man is a God-fearer;  he's open to God and His Word;  heís sympathetic to Godís prophets.   Jesus please come.   So what does Jewish Jesus do?  Well he goes doesnít he?  Which is a demonstration of whatís to come.  Lukeís already told us about Jesus fulfilling OT prophesy;  fulfilling the OT prophesy about being a light to the gentiles;  to non-Jews that is.  And here we have the first hint of that.  The blessings that Jesus came to bring are not just for Jews.  Theyíre for gentiles too.  

    And thatís an important lesson for us.  With Jesus there are no racial boundaries.  Jesus isnít just for white middle class English people.  Jesus is for all types of people; all races; all gender; all creeds.  Indeed, a major theme for Luke is Jesus bringing salvation to those on the outside.  To those who wouldnít have considered themselves the people of God.  To unclean gentiles like this Centurion and his servant.  Jesus is for you, even if youíve never thought of yourself as a the sort of person Christianity is for.  Jesus is for all types of people;  people like you.

    And so Jesus goes with them.  But then something dramatic happens on the way.    Look with me at the second half of v6:

    He was not far from the house when the centurion sent friends to say to him: "Lord, don't trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. 7That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you.

    The Jewish elders had said to Jesus that the centurion deserved or literally was worthy to have Jesus come and heal his servant.   But notice that centurion himself has none of it.  He knows heís an unclean gentile.  He knows that a Jew would become ceremonially unclean if he went into a gentileís house.    He recognises that he's unworthy to have Jesus do anything for him.  ĎLordí he calls Jesus respectfully from a distance through his friends.  Iím not worthy to have you anywhere near me.  It reminds us of Peterís words, when he said:  away from me Lord for I am a sinful man.    This centurion is humble;  he knows heís a sinner.  And he makes a respectful request;  the request is conditional:  if you say the word, my servant will be healed.  Although the centurion is rich financially, heís aware of his poverty of spirit.  Heís aware of his utter unworthiness to come before Godís holy servant Jesus.    He displays utter humility.  But thereís more. 

    Look onto the rest of v6: 

    V6b:  But say the word, and my servant will be healed. 8For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, 'Go,' and he goes; and that one, 'Come,' and he comes. I say to my servant, 'Do this,' and he does it."

    Notice also the depth of the centurionís faith.  He doesnít just recognises J's power to heal completely;  he doesnít even recognise Jís power to heal in an instant;  he recognises Jís complete authority to heal at a distance.  Jesus doesnít need to touch the ill person;  he doesnít even need to be present.    The centurion probably hasn't even met Jesus.  Heís only heard about J;  heard about Jís words;  heard about Jís deeds.  And yet he knows enough to trust in Jesus this much;   he knows enough to trust that Jesus can heal his dieing servant in an instant, from a distance.  Because somehow, Jesus is acting with god-like powers.    The centurion may not have all the answers, but he believes and trusts in Jesus on the basis of what he does know. 

    And Jesus is surprised by that level of faith.  Look with me at v9:

     9When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, "I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel."

    J is amazed at his faith.  Literally Jesus marvelled at his faith.  Itís the only positive use of this word marvel in the Gospels and reflects Jís strong commendation of this manís faith.  Lots of the Jews had rejected Jesus as weíve seen in the previous chapters.  But even among those whoíd responded more positively, none of the Jews had responded with this level of faith.  And so Jesus marvelled at this gentile centurionís faith.    So amazed was Jesus with this manís faith that Luke only implies the actually healing itself.    Look onto v10:

    10Then the men who had been sent returned to the house and found the servant well.

    In Matthewís account of the same event, we discover that the servant was healed in an instant.  At the very moment Jesus said the word.  Because Jesus has complete authority over sickness. 

    2.  Jesus had complete authority over death  (v11-17)

    But then in v11-17 something even more amazing happens.  Because in these verse, we donít just see Jís authority of sickness.  We see Jís authority even over death. 

    Look with me at v11:

    11Soon afterward, Jesus went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went along with him. 12As he approached the town gate, a dead person was being carried outóthe only son of his mother, and she was a widow. And a large crowd from the town was with her.

    Here weíve got a widow.  So sheís already lost her husband.    Sheís probably not that old, because her eldest son we discover in v14 was only a young man.    And her eldest son was her only son.    In a culture were people had lots of children and considered big families a blessing from the Lord, this woman was in a bad way.    At a relatively young age, sheís lost her husband and her only son.    It raises the question:  ďwhy me?  What isnít God blessing meĒ.   But then thereís the financial issue:  in those days, no social security;  no equal employment rights;  widows with no working sons were at the mercy of other peopleís charity.  And on top of that, thereís the human issue:  sheís lost her husband; and now sheís lost the son sheíd brought into the world;  the son sheíd nursed from birth.  No wonder sheís hysterical in v13. 

    And so people want to be there to support her.  They couldnít really do anything to solve her real problem;  but the whole town was there to support this widow.  In v12, theyíve had the church service and now theyíre on the way to the committal in the graveyard.  The coffin in v14 would have been either just a flat board or possibly an open top coffin.  The body would have been on display for all to see;  that was the custom of the day.  This young man was well and truly dead Ėeveryone could see it.    And now theyíre on their way to bury him. 

    And thatís when Jesus turns up and joins the funeral crowd.    Like the rest of the crowd he grieves for her.  Look with me at v13:

    13When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her

    Literally it says that he had compassion on her.    Jesus is not a remote and distant Lord who made the world and then sits back at a distance.  No heís God with us.  He feels our pain;  because he lived in the real world.  And he had compassion on those in need.  On those in pain;  deep pain.  But Jesus isnít just there like the rest of the crowd.  Look at the end of v13 when Jesus says:

    "Don't cry."  Then Jesus went up and touched the coffin, and those carrying it stood still. He said, "Young man, I say to you, get up!"

    Can you imagine it.    Jesus hadnít been to the funeral itself.  He turns up during the procession to the cemetery.  Heís probably never met this woman before.  And he storms in and stops the funeral procession.    Heís either being monumentally insensitive;  or these are the actions of someone supremely confident of being able to do something to help.  Not just mere words.  Don't cry he tells the grieving widow.     Iíve got more than empty words of comfort for you.  Iím going to solve your problem.  Not just your grief, but the reason for your grief. 

     Young man, I say to you get up.  Can you imagine what the funeral party were thinking.  Whatís he doing.  He might be able to heal the sick but this blokeís dead.    

    But not any more.  Because in v15, weíve got 3 evidences of the dead man coming back to life.  He sits up.  He speaks, and then Jesus hands him back to his mother.    Ok funeral over.  Itís time for a party now.  Stop crying everyone and bring on the champagne.    Itís time to celebrate.  Because Jesus demonstrates His complete authority over death. 

    3.  Jís actions back up His claims to be the Saviour

    J has complete authority over sickness.  And heís got complete authority over death.    And so the third overall point in tonightís passage is that Jís action back up His claims to be the Lord.  Indeed, both Jís actions and the way Luke records them back up Jís claim to be the saviour. 

    Because those words:  saviour, save and salvation are central in Lukeís Gospel. Thatís Jís mission in Lukeí Gospel:  to seek and save the lost;  the spiritually lost that is.  And that word save is key to our passage as well, although the NIV masks it.    Because the word translated heal back in v3 is actually the verb to save. There is a word for healing with simply means healing which is used at the end of v7.   

    But in v3 Luke uses a word which can be translated heal or save.  Itís the same word used in 7:50 when Jesus says to the sinful woman:  your faith has saved you.  And itís the same word used in 8:48 when Jesus says to the bleeding woman:  daughter your faith has healed or saved you.  And finally itís the same word used in 8:50 when Jesus said to Jairus whose 12 year daughter has just died:  Donít be afraid, just believe and she will be healed or saved.

    And by using this word with a double meaning, Luke wants us to grasp a v important truth.  Jís authority to heal the sick and raise the dead, are a pointer;  theyíre a pointer of His authority to save;  to heal us spiritually;  to raise us from spiritually death to new life; eternal life.  Because as the greatest physician the word has ever known, Jís diagnosis is bad.  Each and every one of us is sick.  Spiritual sick.  Lost in fact.    Even if we think weíre on the insider;  even if we think weíre worthy enough for God, Jís diagnosis is that weíre not.  In fact weíre all like that centurion.  In Godís eyes, before the searching eyes of Jesus, weíre all unworthy;  weíre all like unclean gentile outsiders.  None of us deserve to have Jesus come under our roofsí  come into our lives.  None of us deserve his healing and salvation.  As our second reading from Romans put it;  all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.  And so left to ourselves, weíre all facing the eternal destruction foretold back in 6:49. 

    But the Good news is that Jesus came to seek and save the lost.  He came to save unclean gentiles outsiders like this centurion and his sick servant.  And Jesus came to save spiritually sick and dieing people like you and me. 

    And so the issue for each of us is not what do we make of Jesus.  But rather what does Jesus make of our response?    Is he surprised by our faith.  Will he marvel at the humility of our response, as we admit that weíre not worthy to even enter His presence because of our sin?  Will he be amazed at our faithful response to who He is and what he came to do?  After all, Jesus has demonstrated His authority over sickness; His authority over death.  By His actions, heís authenticated His claims to be our Lord;  heís proved His claim to be the saviour. 

    And so what does Jesus make of your faith?  Because though Heís Lord of all, heís only the saviour of those who believe and trust in Him.    Is Jesus pleasantly surprised with your faith?
    Or is he amazed at the stubbornness of your unbelief in the face of all the evidence.  So before I close in prayer, letís reflect for a few moments on how Jesus is responding to your faith right now.  And if you like to talk through some of these issues, then pl come and see me or  Nathan  at the back after the service.  What does Jesus make of your faith?  Let pray .   

    Closing Prayer

    Dear Lord Jesus, thank you for revealing to us who you are:  the Messiah, the Christ, the promised King of the OT;  the Lord God himself.  And thank you for showing us just how spiritually sick we all are.  Thank you that you came to seek and save the lost, and we pray that you will be doing that right here this very night.  And so we pray that each and every one of us would be responding with the faith of that centurion;  in humility, in complete trust; and with a deep thankfulness that your salvation reaches even people like us.  In your name and for your fatherís glory we pray.  Amen.

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