Grace Emerges

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Chapter 7 Part 1: Revolutionary Adventures in the Gospel of Luke

Revolutionary Adventures in the Gospel of Luke

Luke 7:1-17
by Brad Duncan

Join me on this adventure through the Gospel of Luke as I explore the revolution of God's grace poured out to us, and how it can lead to our fulfilling God's greatest plan to build his kingdom on Earth.

The Journey so far follows these themes: Preparation.  Incarnation.  Revolution.  Liberation.  Transformation.

Outline of Luke 7:1-17:
  • Jesus heals the centurian's servant
    • Jesus entered the city of Capernaum, where he often taught and healed people, as in Luke 4:31.  It is on the northern edge of the Sea of Galilee
    • He is met by a group of Jewish people sent by a Roman centurian  (a supervisor of 100 Roman soldiers), who ask Jesus to come and heal a servant.  The Jewish people pleaded on behalf of the centurian and told Jesus how he loved the Jewish people in Capernaum and was generous to them.
    • On the way to the house, Jesus is met by another group of people sent by the centurian.  This time they bring the message from the centurian (verses 6,7):
      “Lord, don’t be bothered. I don’t deserve to have you come under my roof. 7 In fact, I didn’t even consider myself worthy to come to you. Just say the word and my servant will be healed. 8 I’m also a man appointed under authority, with soldiers under me. I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and the servant does it.”
    • Jesus is so amazed by the centurian's message that he stops and teaches the crowd an object lesson about faith, saying that among Jewish people he has never seen a faith like the one expressed by this Roman.  
    • Then he apparently heals the servant from afar and does not continue to the house.
  • Jesus raises the widow's son in Nain
    • Nain is a city about 50km to the south-west of Capernaum.  Clearly Jesus traveled and covered some fairly large distances.  Verse 11 says that his disciples and a great crowd traveled with him (Can you picture the crowd traveling 50km by walking?).  When they came into a city it would be a pretty big event.
    • When Jesus came into Nain he and his fellow travelers ran into a large crowd that was present for the funeral procession of a widow's son.  He is described as a young man by Jesus, and was the only son of the widow.  
    • Jesus very publicly in front of these two crowds, was touched by compassion for the widow.  His response to her was "Don't cry".  And then he reached to the stretcher or coffin that was carrying the young man, he touched it and told him to get up.  Which he did, and began to speak.
    • The large crowds around the scene were awestruck and praised God for the miracle.

Luke 7 further describes the healing ministry of Jesus. Two interesting examples are called out, probably because they are noteworthy among the many miracles that Jesus performed.

The Centurian
The story of the centurian is unique in how it reveals the nature of the Incarnation.
  • Authority. The faith of the centurian comes from acceptance of the authority of Jesus. As God's son he is in charge, and can command illness to recede or the dead to raise. For Jesus the centurian's faith did not come from accepting or adhering to traditions, beliefs, ideals or patterns of behavior.  In fact we learn that the centurian was kind to Jews, but still he was an outsider to their beliefs and traditions, a fact which Jesus addresses. 'Faith' was acceptance of the authority of Jesus, with no other requirements.
  • Acceptance. Jesus accepted this outsider and commended his great faith. Jesus was consistently against elitism, racism, sexism, and nationalism, as shows in this story. He was called to a particular nation (Israel) and remained there throughout his ministry, but was not prejudiced about who he would accept. Consider further that it was the servant of the gentile centurian that received healing!  Jesus also cared little for social standing, and showed equal compassion for servants, prostitutes, tax-collectors (traitors), fisherman, lepers, teachers of the law (recall Nicodemus), and rich rulers.   Similarly he showed equal concern for women and men.
Through this story we learn more about the ultimate authority and unbiased acceptance of Jesus as the Incarnation of God the all-powerful creator of all.  We learn to be careful about adding requirements to faith. By adding such requirements we may dismiss people as being unbelievers that God in fact accepts. Ironically we reject them when we have no authority at all to determine their righteousness. The authority remains with Christ alone to determine who is embraced in his compassion. We should humbly show compassion on all people and be unbiased about their standing with God, or risk asserting our own authority to judge the faith of others.

The Widow's Son
Next the story of the widow's young-adult son adds a further example of authority, acceptance and compassion. In this case the widow's faith is not even relevant!  Jesus' compassion is not related to her faith or the action of asking for help. The widow was undoubtedly heart-broken and distraught. Jesus had compassion on her, period. Jesus cared about women and those of low social standing, as well as children. He felt her pain, and showed both the heart and power of God by healing the young man, raising him out of the coffin!

Together these two stories show the intense compassion, authority and self-initiative, even passion and unpredictability, of the Incarnation.   His actions are not determined by man's will but by his own.

We should not mistake God's tendency to answer prayers as meaning that God is predictable or answers to man's authority. God remains the authority and we remain those that he showers with compassion. Faith should remain simply a belief in this authority and compassion.

Why a Healing Ministry?
These were just two examples. The stories continues as many more are healed, delivered from demons, and raised from the dead!  By doing this, Jesus was acting according to his purpose, to both teach and demonstrate the authority of God to heal mankind, mending the broken relationship, and launching a new kingdom of people who followed God and which God would shower his compassion upon.

I will write further next time about the continued story of John the baptist in Luke 7.  But, notice how the response of Jesus to John's disciples in verses 22,23 addresses exactly this topic, describing the purpose of the Messiah as being to heal people as described in Malachi (3:1).  Then when Jesus makes the curious statement thaty the least of the believers in the new kingdom will be even greater then John!  This means that what Jesus is really doing is ushering in the age of the spirit of God filling the Earth, empowering believers to even more extent than John, who we know was filled with the Holy Spirit. Even the least, poorest, most unfaithful, weakest believer in Jesus will be able to particupate in the kingdom of God and experience life greater than that seen by John.  This statement is not meant to belittle John but to show the significance of the new era that began with the ministry of Jesus.

In summary considering everything together, why did Jesus heal people?  I think to answer this we, like John, need to ask what the purpose of the Messiah really was.  We can consider several alternate views about the Messiah, in terms of people's expectations about what he would do to establish his kingdom:

Would the Messiah:
  • Establish a physical throne, where people would come to see him, participate in his kingdom and get help from him, all the while being ruled by him?
  • Unleash the power of God to vanquish his enemies?  Jesus could have come more as a lion than a lamb, laying waste to his enemies, raising up an army of followers, performing great miracles that demonstrated power more than showed compassion.
  • Or demonstrate the love and compassion of God, teaching us about his heart?  To demonstrate he would need to act in compassion toward hurting people, all the while teaching his followers about why he was doing that.  
What Jesus did in his role as the Messiah (the one establishing God's kingdom) was consistent with the descriptions in Isaiah and Malachi.  He poured out love and compassion, teaching us about the heart of God more than his raw power. Did Jesus want us to love God or just to submit to him? The way to the cross was the way of love, so that it could lead to a restored relationship between God and man. Any other method of vanquishing darkness would have been too eerily similar to joining it.  The ministry of miracles showed that Jesus was not passive or weak, but full of power and initiative.  But he directed that power at acts of compassion.  

Clearly that is a lesson for us: when we have power in a situation as individuals, or influence in society as the church, that power should be channeled toward compassion toward others, not toward building up something for ourselves.

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