On Faith, Healing, Jesus and John the Baptist
(Luke chapter 7, verses 1-23)
Last week when we concluded our dissection of Luke chapter 6, we left off at the parable Jesus told at the conclusion to his Sermon on the Mount about the wise and the foolish builders. One built his house on a bedrock foundation, the other homeowner built his on stilts. So much time goes by and then along comes a tropical storm with heavy rain, damaging winds and much flooding. The first house built on solid rock stood firm, but the house on stilts washed away. Jesus compared this to 2 men who heard his Word in church, but only one put those words into practice, whereas the other did not. As a result the first man's faith stood firm, but the second was swept away. If we hear the Word of God and fail to put it into practice, we sow the seeds of our own destruction. So today let's pick up where we left off beginning at verse 1 of chapter 7.
“When Jesus has finished saying all this in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. There a centurion's servant, who the master valued highly, was sick and about to die. The centurion heard of Jesus and sent some elders of the Jews to him, asking him to come and heal his servant. When they came to Jesus, they pleaded earnestly with him, 'This man deserves to have you do this, because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue'. So Jesus went with them. He was not far from the house when the centurion sent friends to say to him, 'Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. That is why I did not even consider myself to be worthy to come to you. But say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one 'Go' and he goes, and to that one 'Come' and he comes. I say to my servant 'Do this' and he does it.' When 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'. Then the men who had been sent returned to the house and found the servant well.” (Luke 7, verses 1-10)
This is one of the most inspiring stories in the Bible, and there are a ton of those. It's also one of my personal favorites because it proves that faith – full-fledged, unreserved, undiluted faith – is the least common denominator to a fruitful and productive Christian walk. Without faith, everything else about our praise and worship becomes nothing more than going through the motions of religiosity, pomp and circumstance. How can we worship a god we don't believe in? But when one becomes filled with the Spirit of the living God, which is in a class by itself, all that same-old-same-old becomes rejuvenated and invigorated into an entirely new self, which is where the phrase “born again Christian” comes from.
“The centurion heard of Jesus and sent some elders of the Jews to him, asking him to come and heal his servant.” As you can see here, this unnamed Roman centurion was a thoughtful man. He didn't send his own servants to ask Jesus to come and heal that sick servant. He sent elders from the Jews, presumably from the Temple at Jerusalem, who would have the most influence on Jesus, to persuade him to come. “So Jesus went with them. He was not far from the house when the centurion sent friends to say to him, 'Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. That is why I did not even consider myself to be worthy to come to you. But say the word, and my servant will be healed.”
As you can also see, the centurion in this parable was a very understanding man who by faith understood that Jesus was the Promised One (“I do not deserve to have you come under my roof “) foretold in what we now call the Old Testament. (See Isaiah chapter 9, verses 6-7) Moreover, the primary mode of transportation in those days was on foot, and the centurion had enough faith to realize that Jesus didn't need to be there to heal that sick servant. He wanted to save Jesus some steps, and this would be even more true if this were during the merciless Middle Eastern summertime.
“When 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'. Then the men who had been sent returned to the house and found the servant well.” Evidently, Jesus had the 1st century equivalent of an entourage. Moreover, Jesus pointed out to the crowd that the Roman centurion had more faith in the Jewish Messiah than many of the Jews did, particularly those in positions of leadership. But the main thing here is that Jesus was impressed by the faith of the centurion to the point of granting his wish and healing his sick servant while still an hour’s walk away. And now, let's move on to the next part of our study, beginning at verse 11.
“Soon afterward, Jesus went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went along with him. As he approached the town gate, a dead person was being carried out – the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. And a large crowd from the town was with her. When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her, and he said, 'Don't cry'. Then he went up and touched the coffin, and those carrying it stood still. He said, 'Young man, I say to you, get up!'. The dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother. They were all filled with awe and praised God. 'A great prophet has appeared among us', they said. 'God has come to help his people.' This news about Jesus spread throughout Judea and the surrounding country.” (Luke 7, verses 11-17)
What has gotten lost in the translation here are the commandments of the Law of Moses regarding the handling and burying of dead people. Any deceased person was regarded as “unclean” and was not to be touched, and Jesus walked the earth as a Jewish man. So basically it was contrary to the Law of Moses for Jesus to even approach that funeral procession. At this moment Jesus literally lost his religion, but it was for a noble purpose. And so there he was, touching the coffin as he raised the deceased man from the dead. If the Pharisees of Jesus' time saw him do that – and they're not mentioned here – they would have gone crazy, possibly even attempting to execute him on the spot. But just like in Luke chapter 4, which we studied a few months ago, the Father did not allow any such thing to occur to his Son before it was time.
“They were all filled with awe and praised God. 'A great prophet has appeared among us', they said. 'God has come to help his people.'” And who are “his people”? This includes everyone who believes in and puts their faith and trust in Jesus Christ. They are those who believe he is the Son of God, the risen Lord, the Savior and Kinsman Redeemer of all humankind, and the blessed Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world! Jesus is not just a 'great prophet', he is the Prophet of all prophets. And he hasn't just come to help his people, he came and died for us all so that we may live, and live forever with him. I oftentimes find myself similarly filled with awe and praise for God! And now let's conclude today's study beginning at verse 18.
“John's disciples told him about all these things. Calling two of them, he sent them to the Lord to ask, 'Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?' When the men came to Jesus, they said, 'John the Baptist sent us to you to ask, 'Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?' At that very time Jesus cured many who had diseases, sicknesses and evil spirits, and gave sight to many who were blind. So he replied to the messengers, 'Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.” (Luke 7, verses 18-23)
As you know, John the Baptist had followers too, just like Jesus did. But even John the Baptist sometimes had doubts, so he sent two of his disciples to Jesus for verification purposes. As a 3rd party observer, this seems reasonable to me, given the lack of direct communication that existed back then, such as phones and the Internet. So along comes John's 2 disciples and they ask Jesus, ‘Are you the Chosen One or aren't you? John the Baptist wants to know.’ Jesus responded, ‘Don't take my word for it – judge me by my actions!’ Then he lists all the miracles he had performed and would perform as proof of his authenticity.
Two thousand years later, multitudes and throngs of people of all races, nationalities, creeds and ethnicity's still place their faith in this same authenticity that is the personification of Jesus Christ. It hasn't changed one little bit during all this time. Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever, he is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, and the Son of the Living God!
It also says Jesus “preached the good news to the poor”. And what was that? Their lack of resources is only temporary, he told them. If you want to store up treasure for yourself and save for your future, don't store it here on earth. Store it in heaven instead, where no one can get to it (see Matthew 6, verses 19-21). Stop worrying about your lack of possessions. Stop fretting over not having enough cash on hand, because it happens to all of us.
No matter how much we accumulate here, we can't take anything with us after our physical lives are over. Materialistic pursuits and the accumulation of wealth are all illusions and a complete waste of our time. The only things that will last forever are Jesus and all his followers. “Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.” In other words, blessed are those who prefer Christ, who is eternal, over earthly riches, which are anything but. Blessed are those who prefer Jesus over all other things, so let's all make sure we are blessed to the hilt! And next week we'll finish up Luke chapter seven.