Thursday, May 04, 2017

Luke 7:1–35

Luke 7:1–35 (ESV): Jesus Heals a Centurion’s Servant, Jesus Raises a Widow’s Son, Messengers from John the Baptist


I’ve combined a few passages together because they all seemed to flow into each other. I was tempted to put in one more, and get all of chapter 7 in one post, but I decided to leave the last section for the next post.

Chapter 6 was taken up with Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, but now he has finished his message, and gone to a new region. In that region is a centurion who has a sick servant, who is very dear to the centurion, so he sends some Jewish elders to ask Jesus to come and heal the servant. When they find him, they ask Jesus to do it, mentioning that the centurion is “worthy” of this favour because of all that he has done for the Jewish people. Jesus’ reaction to this isn’t recorded, but he does go with them. However, before they even get to the centurion’s house…
… When he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends, saying to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. Therefore I did not presume to come to you. But say the word, and let my servant be healed. For I too am a man set 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.” (verses 6b–8 (ESV))
Jesus marvels at these words, and tells those with him that he hasn’t found such faith even in the Jews (who should have been the most faithful). When the centurion’s friends get back to the house, they find that the servant is well again.

Soon after this Jesus travels to a place called Nain, and finds that a man has just recently died, and is being carried on his bier to be buried. The man was the only son of a woman who is also a widow, so she now has no one. Jesus has compassion on her, and tells her not to weep, before going and stopping the procession carrying the bier, and telling the dead man to arise. He does so, and Jesus “gives him” to his mother. (This might seem like a weird way to put it, but the ESV Study Bible says that, “These are the exact words found in the Septuagint of 1 Kings 17:23 (NIV), describing the raising of a widow’s son by Elijah.”) The great crowd with the man’s mother are seized by fear, but they also glorify God, recognizing Jesus as a prophet and that God has visited his people. Unsurprisingly, the report spreads throughout the region.

After this, some of John the Baptist’s disciples come to report to him all that Jesus is doing. (Luke doesn’t state it, but John is in prison at this time.) John then sends two of them back to Jesus, to ask him if he is the “one to come,” or if they should expect another (verse 19 (ESV)). So they do, and in the hour that they ask Jesus, he heals many people. (The passage mentions diseases, plagues, evil spirits, and blindness.) And then he answers the question:
And he answered them, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” (verses 22–23 (ESV))
He then addresses the crowd, and asks them what they were looking for when they went out to the desert where John was. Some grass blowing in the wind? Someone in fancy clothes? (Of course not, because someone in fancy clothes wouldn’t have been in the desert!) A prophet? Yes! And not just any prophet, John is the prophet who himself had been prophesied about, that he was going to prepare the way for God’s chosen one. In fact, nobody is greater than John—and yet, Jesus tells us, “the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he” (verse 28 (ESV)).

When the people hear this—“and the tax collectors too”!—they acknowledge how just God is, while the religious leaders reject the message. Luke ties this to John’s baptism, saying that the people (and the tax collectors) who were baptised by John accept Jesus’ message, while the religious leaders who were not baptised by John reject it.

Finally, Jesus calls out the hypocrisy of the generation of people he’s talking to. In verse 32 (ESV) he uses a metaphor about children playing happy songs that people refuse to dance to and playing sad songs that people refuse to weep to; if he was speaking today, he might have simply said, “there’s no pleasing you people!” Any why? Because John the Baptist came living a very ascetic lifestyle, and people claimed he had a demon because people aren’t supposed to live that way; then Jesus came along, eating and drinking, and people called him a glutton and a drunkard, because prophets aren’t supposed to live that way. A prophet simply can’t win with these people! Nothing they do is acceptable! Jesus’ response is sort of the equivalent of saying that history will decide: “Yet wisdom is justified by all her children” (verse 35 (ESV)). Regardless of what the people thought of John’s or Jesus’ lifestyles, here we are a couple of thousand years later, and Christians are still around, because of the actions of these two men. (Especially the latter, of course.)


When the Jewish elders come to Jesus and ask him to heal the centurion’s servant, it’s possible to read this as a hypocritical act: they condemn Jesus as a blasphemer, but when the centurion wants help they come and ask for Jesus’ assistance? I’m guessing that this isn’t what’s going on, though; I’m thinking that this is just a different set of Jewish elders. The people here in Capernaum perhaps didn’t condemn Jesus, while the religious leaders in other areas did. It’s also possible that there’s a distinction between the “elders” and the “religious leaders.” In any case, I don’t sense any hypocrisy from the passage, and Jesus definitely doesn’t say anything along those lines. (Not that the passage is about them anyway; it’s about the faith of a non-Jewish person.)

What I like most about the centurion’s faith is its simple straightforwardness: when someone is in authority they give orders and they’re carried out; Jesus is in authority; Jesus can simply give the word, and it will be carried out. People usually prefer to have more of a show—come and wave your arms over my servant, and utter some special incantations, so that we can see your power!—and even simply meeting Jesus would have given the centurion bragging rights, but he gets past all of that, to the heart of the matter: my servant needs healing, and I know that Jesus can do it, so I’ll just ask him. Frankly, this is probably the reason Jesus decided to heal the centurion’s servant in the first place; we’ve seen other instances in which he wants to focus on the Jews, rather than on the gentiles, but this scenario allows him to showcase a level of faith that we should all aspire to.

When Jesus responds to John’s disciples, he says, “blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” Is that directed toward John and his disciples? It seems like it. (The ESV Study Bible says that it is “surely” directed to them.) But then a few verses later Jesus says that among those born of woman, nobody is greater than John—and then, almost in contradiction of himself, in the same verse, he says that the one who is the least in the kingdom of God is greater than John! What in the world is going on here?!? Some thoughts:
  • First of all, we need to finally do away with this idea that those who are closest to God will stop having doubts, or abandoning Him. John the Baptist was specifically set aside by God for a specific purpose, clearing the way for His Son, and yet when he saw Jesus in action, he couldn’t make up his mind as to whether he was really the Messiah, or whether someone else would be coming after. (It’s probably the things that Jesus didn’t do, to be honest: why wasn’t he smiting those pesky Romans???) I always go back to the example of the golden calf, as well: here was God, speaking to Moses on the mountain—the people had asked Him to stop speaking to them, because they were afraid they’d die—His presence was visible to them in a way that it’s never been visible to the vast majority of people in the history of the world, and right there, in His shadow, they create and worship an idol. We are all prone to straying, and that’s true even when God is directly involved in our lives.
  • Secondly, we should also do away with the notion that “greatness” is related to the things that we accomplish. I’ll never do the things that John the Baptist has done, or the things that Moses has done, or the things that King David did; I’ll never create Scripture, the way that Paul/Saul did or the Apostle John did; I won’t likely accomplish the kinds of things that Billy Graham did in my lifetime, or preach great sermons like Tim Keller does. You can choose whatever other example you’d like to use. However, it’s quite possible that I’ll end up being greater than them. It sounds unlikely (especially to me!), but being “great” in God’s eyes has nothing to do with the things I accomplish. If I even do accomplish anything, it’s through His orchestration anyway, so how could I consider myself great when I’m just doing the very thing He has prepared for me to do, and then strengthened me to do? To God, “greatness” is measured in faithfulness, not in any way that we can measure.
This is part of the reason the religious leaders reject this message. They’ve spent all this time working to be righteous (and bragging about how righteous they are because of it), and now Jesus is telling them that all of these “works” aren’t important, that that’s not what makes one “great” in the eyes of God. You can see why the people are as happy as the religious leaders are annoyed: you don’t have to do all of that stuff to be considered “great” in God’s eye, just trust Him. Though we shouldn’t pull this apart from the last passage, in which Jesus rebukes people who call him “Lord, Lord,” but don’t do what he says. If you truly have faith in God, such that He would consider you “great,” you’ll also strive to obey Him. There’s just a fundamental difference between striving to obey God—to be like Him—and trying to justify yourself by parsing His commands into ever finer rules and regulations as the religious leaders of Jesus’ day did, and trusting in your own righteousness rather than God’s.

As for the people not liking the lifestyle of either John or Jesus, I think we’re seeing the same behaviour that we see in modern-day North America, especially on the cable news channels: When you don’t like what someone is saying, challenge them on something completely unrelated. “Hmm… John says that I have to repent. But I don’t want to repent. Don’t listen to him, he… he has a demon! But now Jesus is saying I have to repent, too, and I still don’t want to repent. Don’t listen to him, he… he’s a glutton and a drunkard!” This is a tactic that has lived right up to the current day, and it’s sadly effective: if you can get people focused on something negative about a person—even if you have to make it up, or stretch reality a bit to make it stick—you can distract them from thinking about the actual message or issue.

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