September 29, 2019
Conversations with Jesus – Luke 7.1
This morning I want to begin by taking a poll of everyone’s favorite season of the year. So let’s start at the beginning-who likes winter best? You’re the people who love when it’s cold and dark outside! Who likes springtime best? For me it’s always driven by how warm of a spring it is-because some springs can be cold, rainy, windy and miserable. Who likes summer best? Clearly a favorite! No school, vacations, going to the beach. Who likes fall the best? For a lot of us we like the season we’re currently beginning-the start of the spring, the start of summer, the start of fall. Once those seasons are full swing we’re sort of craving the next season. As summer was ending who wasn’t craving those crisp, cool temps of fall? But here we are with fall officially underway. The leaves are starting to turn-maybe you’ve enjoyed the sound of leaves crunching under your feet. The season of apple picking is here. Everything pumpkin spice is already on the shelves at the store! The other morning for breakfast I had pumpkin spice Cheerios with pumpkin spice coffee. If only I had some pumpkin spice bacon I’d be all set! Do they even make that? But if you’ve been waiting for fall to arrive-it’s here in full glory! The wait is over!
I don’t know about you-but waiting for anything is always the hard part. Whenever I order something online-waiting for the package to arrive is killer. I’m always wondering-Is it coming today? I’ll find myself eagerly checking the mail or if it’s UPS wondering when the truck might roll in. And even if what I ordered is something boring-like a new charging cable for my computer-just the presence of a box-with that Amazon label on it-is really exciting. It’s arrived! Like when UPS drops off a bunch of boxes off at the church I’m wondering-what do we have here? And it’s usually just paper towels and coffee cups. Clearly not so exciting! But this morning-the idea of waiting for something to come is what John the Baptist is anticipating. And he’s a guy who’s been eagerly waiting for a long time-not just for something to arrive-but for someone. And the conversation we’re going to examine is whether that person is here.
So open your Bibles to Luke 7 as we’re continuing our series this morning Conversations with Jesus. And before Luke gets to John the Baptist we’re going to encounter 2 conversations that set the stage and give us a glimpse of why Jesus is here. Now the first conversation starts in v. 1-3. So here’s this centurion with a servant he really likes who’s hanging on death’s door. And notice how it says that the centurion had heard of Jesus. No doubt news of all the different miracles and healings that Jesus had done reached this guy. Back then people weren’t sending out texts and tweets about Jesus or posting Instagram selfies with Him, the news had to travel by word of mouth. But eventually, this centurion hears about Jesus and all He’s done-and as he considers the dire plight of his servant being at the point of death-he thinks-This Jesus can do something about it. And the concern the centurion has for his servant is certainly evident-it said he was highly valued by him. For you and me this might be the equivalent of losing a business partner or valuable co-worker. You wonder how the office would function if that person wasn’t there. Or maybe this servant is someone who’s closer to him than a brother or family member. It’s his right-hand man, his confidant, his support. So notice what he did-v. 3. Because remember that this centurion is a Roman-that’s what centurions were. They were Roman military commanders of 100 soldiers-hence centurion (because the root word centi means 100 like century or centimeter). But this guy is a Gentile-he’s not Jewish-and he’s part of the hated Roman Empire that’s ruling over the Jews. And yet-look at how the Jews feel about this guy-v. 4-5. They’re saying to Jesus-This guy is on our side. He’s done great things for us! You’ve got to help him out! They really like this centurion and are working hard to try and convince Jesus to go visit him-v. 6a. He’s like Okay, let’s go. And I imagine they’re saying, You’re going to love this guy, Jesus, he’s great, these are the sort of people you’re here for, he’s one of the good ones, you’ll be impressed with him. But Jesus has never made ministry about spending time with the right people or the super special spiritual people. In fact, Jesus has gone out of His way to meet with the not-so-special people, those society shuns. So notice the flaw in the Jews’ thinking-v. 4b.
Now stop and think about that statement for a second. Is anybody worthy of Jesus coming to do something for them? Has anybody ever earned the right or leveraged themselves into a position to say-Now Jesus, clearly you need to do this for me-I’ve worked hard, I’ve earned it, I’m worthy. Not at all! Jesus is the eternal second person of the Trinity, the Son of God. It says in John 1-that all things were made through Him. Or the book of Revelation speaks of Jesus saying-Rev 5:9, 12. This is clear that from heaven’s perspective Jesus alone is the one who’s worthy. There’s no one else who is worthy, no one else who’s earned the right to have Jesus do something for them. There’s no one that Jesus is obligated or indebted to. He doesn’t owe anybody any favors-and yet we often think He does. In a lot of ways, our thinking isn’t all that different from the Jews here in Luke 7. What were the reasons they gave-v. 5. Religious stuff. And we’ll say things like that-Lord, you need to answer my prayer request because I’ve been really loving lately. I’m a patriotic American, I’ve given my money to the church, been a faithful attender and supporter of the church, I’ve tried hard to obey you-and we’ll sort of bargain with God. I’ve avoided lots of sins for the last 2 weeks, I helped people out-I’m doing good spiritually so of course you’ll bless me. Obviously I’ve earned it. And we think that we’re worthy for the Lord to do something for us because of all we’ve done for Him. Have you thought that way before or spoken to the Lord like this? I know I have. After a good week of consistent devotions I’ll feel like I’m worthy-Lord, you know that last week wasn’t great, I’ll admit that. But this week has been so much better, you’ve seen how spiritual I’ve been-I’ve been impressing myself! So I’m expecting you’ll do a lot for me and work everything out. It’s like we’re trying to manipulate God and demand His blessings. That doing lots of good stuff puts us in His good graces where’s He’s obligated to do what we want Him to. So we start thinking-God, you owe me this. And we all have those things. Just reflect on it for a moment-what do you think God owes you? What do you think you’re worthy of Him doing for you? And yet it doesn’t work that way. It never has. There is nothing we’ll ever do that makes us worthy of Him doing something for us-and notice the one who points that out-v. 6b. It’s the centurion himself who recognizes the truth. In fact, he does a good job of correcting the Jews’ wrong thinking-v. 7a–I never assumed I was worthy-that was their words not mine-v. 7b–all you have to do Jesus is speak. Your words are enough. This centurion realized that his servant wasn’t going to be healed because he’d been a good and noble man and Jesus owed him a favor. Rather, it would only happen because of Jesus’ power.
So the first glimpse we see Glimpse#1:Centurion: Unworthy in the Lord’s presence. That’s where it begins. That’s the place we all have to come to with Jesus. The centurion’s words need to be our words-Lord, I am unworthy. We have to see ourselves as we really are-not as we think we are or society tells us we are. And that’s where the disconnect comes because our culture often tells us we’re all winners, we’re all worthy. Our culture wants us to buy into this idea of entitlement. You’re entitled to the Lord’s blessing because you’ve done a lot for God and deserve it. Or on the flip side-you’ve been through a lot already in life, you’ve had to endure so much and now God owes some good things to come your way, time for Him to turn the tables and bless you for a change. That’s how we think. Our culture works hard at eliminating that word sin because that’s what makes us unworthy before God. Our culture doesn’t want us to think of things as sinful or wrong; rather it wants to remove God’s standard and uphold ideas of tolerance and freedom of expression-do what feels right to you, live how you want, it’s not wrong if you follow your heart. But the reality is that our hearts are what’s wrong.
Countless places in the Bible tell us that-Jer 17:9 That’s an eyeopening statement-that above all things, the main description of our hearts is deceitful-meaning it tries to convince us that we’re better than we really are-or make our motives seems more pure than they really are. Or look at what it says in-Rom 3:10-12. And that’s quite the opposite of worthy! But that’s what God’s Word is telling us. That’s the truth we might not want to see-but need to admit-that as lost sinners we’re in a state of worthlessness before God. That doesn’t mean we don’t have any value. Certainly we have value because God made each one of us and cares for us immensely. But we don’t merit any worthiness in His sight; meaning that we’re not worthy of His blessings or favor because in our sins we’ve been the ones who turned aside and rebelled against Him. It would be like the guy who robbed you and stole your wallet coming back and asking for a loan. I don’t think you’re worthy of a loan-you robbed me! But that’s what we’ve done with God. We’ve robbed Him of His glory, we’ve rebelled against Him-gone our own way and done our own thing. It’s not easy to admit-but it does us no good to ignore it. For example, think back to the last time you had a bad haircut. I’m sure it was a long time ago-or maybe you say I’ve never had a bad haircut. But if you ever have-looking at yourself in the mirror is no easy thing to do! Look at this cut! What was the barber thinking? I’m a freak! So you can choose to avoid looking in the mirror and avoid seeing the bad haircut-which might feel good-but the rest of the world still sees you that way. And likewise, you can avoid looking at the mirror of God’s Word and go on pretending that you’re just fine as you are-but that’s not how God sees you. You’ve got to follow the centurion’s example-Pt1.
But the beauty of the gospel is that Jesus has come precisely for those who are unworthy. Remember Jesus’ words we looked at a few weeks ago–Luke 5:31-32. And it seems that the centurion understands the essence of what Jesus is saying. He’s not pretending to be someone he’s not, or claiming to be better than He is or stand tall upon his own worthiness-rather he’s trusting in what Jesus can do for him.
Go back to his words v. 6b-7. And he goes on to articulate the power of words from his own experience-v. 8. The centurion understands the power his words hold-and now he’s saying to Jesus that His words can accomplish far more. This guy’s faith is incredible-don’t miss that! Because he’s just telling Jesus to say something. All I need you to do is speak, Jesus, and it’ll happen-my servant will be healed. Jesus is on His way to the centurion’s house and he’s saying don’t bother coming over-your words are enough. Talk about faith! Wouldn’t you still want Jesus to come over just to make sure the miracle worked and the servant is healed? Would you have that much faith in just the words of Jesus? Do you have that much faith in His words today? Usually we want proof, we want to see something happening with our eyes, we want evidence that Jesus is at work-because just accepting His words at face value really stretches our faith-seeing is believing. But not for the centurion-and Jesus notices it-v. 9. That’s some high praise-for Jesus to marvel at the centurion’s faith. Wouldn’t it be great if Jesus marveled at our faith? The only other time in Scripture that Jesus marveled at something was in his hometown of Nazareth when He marveled at the people’s lack of faith. Not a good way to marvel. I hope that’s never true of us-where Jesus marvels at our unbelief! Wow-there’s some pessimistic people of little faith! Instead, let us be challenged by this centurion-who knew without a doubt that Jesus was capable of raising to life his dying servant with just a word. And that’s exactly what happened-v. 10. Just like that. Jesus isn’t even there. He didn’t have to reach out and touch the servant to heal him. He didn’t have to be in the same room or even on the property-but from a distance, with only a word-Jesus brings the dying servant is back to new life.
The only analogy that I can think of is when you’d sit down to write a short story for creative writing class in school-and you’d say such-and-such a character died. Wait no-scratch that-such-and-such a character lived. As the author of the story your words have the power to do that. With just a few keystrokes on your computer or a few words from your pen that character can live-just like that. That’s the power the author’s words have-and it’s no different with Jesus who’s the author of life. John 1 says-all things were made through Him and without Him was not anything made. Jesus is the creator and maker of all things-and yet here He is in the very midst of the world He made, saying to a dying servant-live. And His words contain the power to do that instantaneously-just like that. So that means, the centurion’s faith is no blind faith, trusting in Jesus is not some crutch for him or a last ditch effort after he’s called every doctor in town. Rather, the centurion’s faith is the most logical, sound, rational course of action he can take because He’s trusting in the very one who controls life and death. Have you ever thought about your faith in Jesus like that? That it’s not a leap in the dark or some desperate attempt after you’ve tried everything else and that people think your silly for it-but that faith in Jesus is the wisest and most rational course of action you can take? Even though the world tries to paint faith in Jesus as something weak and foolish-like the centurion we know it’s anything but that.
And the next story emphasizes that point. Take a look-v. 11-12. So Jesus and His disciples have just encountered a funeral procession. Everyone’s dressed in black and mourning the death of this only son of a poor widow. Now she’ll be alone and destitute with no one to care for her or help her. Her son would have been the wage earner that supported her-and now he’s dead. This is an extremely sad scene-so v. 13-14a. And the bier is the framework that holds the corpse-in this case it’s like the headboard of the coffin. In you have the NIV it actually says coffin-so Jesus reaches out to touch it-v. 14b. Talk about another set of bold words! This guy isn’t sick or on death’s door-he’s literally dead in the coffin. This is an incredible statement to make, especially if you’re just hoping it will work. But with Jesus there’s not one ounce of hoping-He knows exactly the power of His words-v. 15. That’s not a sentence you read every day-because when do dead people sit up and speak? Maybe on tv if you’re watching a zombie movie or the Walking Dead-but this is history, something that really happened. And how? This dead boy sat up and spoke because Jesus told him to-v. 14b. And the dead boy obeys; he does it. Maybe you can’t get your dog to sit up or roll over-but Jesus does it with a dead person in a coffin! The guy sits right up! Wouldn’t you love to see the look on his face? Wow-I used to be dead-sunny day outside-good to be alive again! And that’s exactly the point where his story intersects with ours. So Glimpse#2: Widow’s Son: Unable to defeat death. When you’re dead you’re dead. You’re not sort of dead or partially dead-or mostly dead as the Princess Bride famously says. This son was dead. Look back at-v. 12a. That’s all the dead guy can do-lay there, stuck in his coffin and be carried out. He’s unable to do anything else. He can’t sit up, he can’t go for a walk or take a breath or blink his eyes. He’s an unmoving, helpless corpse. And it’s no different for you and me in our sins. Look at-Eph 2:1-2. None of us are excluded from that-death is a reality we can’t avoid. From the moment we’re born the days fly by-the book of James says our lives are like a mist that appears and then quickly vanishes. It’s a sobering reality-but it’s true. One day we’ll be just like this widow’s son-unable to defeat death-lying there in a coffin. And yet it goes far deeper than just physical death-because God’s Word is ultimately talking about spiritual death.
A couple of years ago I was watching the reboot of the tv show The X-Files-Moulder and Scully figuring out alien abductions, werewolves and the paranormal-great stuff! But in one episode Moulder was talking to Scully about death and he referenced Genesis where God told Adam that if he ate of the fruit from the tree in the garden he would die. And Moulder said-after Adam ate the fruit he went on to live for 930 years-so obviously God was wrong on that one. Moulder thought he’d outsmarted God and the Bible-but what Moulder forgot-and what a whole lot of other people forget-is that the moment Adam sinned death entered the human race-Rom 5:12. While that death certainly leads to our physical death-it ultimately leads to spiritual death-and that’s the real problem because it’s eternal separation from God, meaning the destination of hell that our sins deserve. Maybe you’ve never thought about it before but being human doesn’t make heaven our default mode when we die. A lot of people assume that-I’m a decent person-haven’t done anything too bad to disqualify myself-I suppose I’ll end up in heaven when I die. But it doesn’t work like that-our sins are the disqualifying piece. As it says in-Rom 5:12. So we are unable to do anything about that on our own. We can’t reverse our own death or take back the sinful mistakes we’ve made. Heaven isn’t where we’ll automatically go. Just like the widow’s son-we’re stuck in death. So what was the widow’s son’s only recourse? To hear the words of Jesus-v. 14. What is our only recourse? The very same thing-John 5:24. You and I can’t save ourselves-we’re unable and unworthy-but we can hear the words of the One who can save us and we can put our faith in Him and live. That just as the widow’s son heard Jesus’ words and sat up physically to experience new life-so you and I can sit up spiritually to experience new life as we hear Jesus’ words today. And what does He say? This is what John the Baptist has been waiting to find out-it’s where we’ve been headed all morning-and these 2 glimpses have prepared us.
Look at v. 16-17. No kidding! He just raised a dead person in a coffin to new life! Certainly there’s a buzz about Jesus. So v. 18-because at this point John is in prison. King Herod put him in there after John was confronting him about his adulterous affair with his brother’s wife. Herod didn’t like hearing that or feeling convicted so he locked John up-which means John can’t go see these miraculous events for himself or even speak with Jesus. So he sends his disciples with a message for Jesus-v. 18b-21. So the miracles just keep continuing-and Jesus answers-v. 22. In answer to John’s question-Jesus is saying that all these miracles point to who He is and the power He possesses, that all these great physical things highlight the deeper spiritual truth that Jesus is here for. The physical miracles are a picture, a glimpse of the spiritual reality. For example, those who once were blinded by their own thoughts of being worthy can now see their need for God’s grace, that those who were once sick with the leprosy of their sin have been forgiven and cleansed, those who were once deaf because all the world’s values and philosophies shouted too loudly can now hear the good news of the gospel, and those who are spiritually dead are now raised up and resurrected to new life in Jesus. He didn’t tell John specifically-Yes, I am the One. Instead, He’s giving him an amazing glimpse of what His mission is all about-Glimpse#3:Jesus: Undoing all the pain that sin and death bring.
I love how Jesus answers this question not with a simple yes-but by showing the results of His ministry. It would be like asking a newly signed free agent-Are you the star player our team’s been waiting for? And instead of saying yes-the guy answers- we’re scoring more runs, we’re winning more games, we’re getting more interceptions, making more touchdowns. That’s the essence of what the star player is supposed to do. Anybody can say yes-but it takes the real deal to create the results-and that’s what Jesus is doing. His answer is a foreshadowing, a snapshot and glimpse of what the kingdom of God is all about. It’s a place where there isn’t sickness and pain and disease, it’s a place where brokenness and blindness are gone-it’s a place of life as God intended it to be-and so Jesus is giving us a glimpse of what that world is like, the world He’s ushering in when those things start to get undone. What did the people say about Jesus-v. 16-God has visited his people-indeed He has-and all these amazing things are happening when Jesus undoes people’s tears and diseases and brings them joy by healing and restoring loved ones. Compare this to the description of eternity in Rev 21:3. God won’t just visit His people-He’ll live with them forever! And then look at what it says-Rev 21:4. That’s the world that Jesus is preparing for us-but here in Luke we’re getting an amazing glimpse of it as Jesus is reversing the tears of a widow by raising her son to life, by reversing the tears of the centurion by healing his servant! He’s saying to John the Baptist-and to you and me today-This is what’s to come for all who trust in Me-not a world of brokenness and tears and death, but a world of life and joy where all the pain and sorrow and diseases are getting undone. Keller, Encounters, 64.
So that leads us to 2 application points that we really need to consider-AP#1:Undeniable that Jesus is the One to come! He’s made it perfectly clear to us by what He’s said and what He’s done-v. 22. What other person has come to earth, doing the sorts of things Jesus has done, saying the sorts of things He said-and then giving up His life for us so that we can be forgiven and saved? There isn’t anybody else, there isn’t another Savior. It’s undeniable that Jesus is the One who’s our living hope and only means of salvation and eternal life. But notice the other half of their question-v. 20–or shall we look for another? Because that’s what a lot of us often do. We might realize that Jesus is the Savior, we might realize that He is the One we’ve been waiting for-and yet despite knowing that we still find ourselves looking to another. And I don’t necessarily mean we’re looking for another actual Messiah-but looking to other things besides Jesus to fulfill and satisfy our lives. Maybe that’s your spouse-that if this person can give you the perfect marriage and perfect romance than that’s all you need. Or maybe it’s your family and kids-that if you can create the perfect home and see your kids excel that’s all you need. Or maybe it’s your career-and making a name or a great business for yourself; maybe it’s your hobbies or your personal comfort or your looks; maybe from our earlier question it’s what you think God owes you-and if He gives you that you’ll be set. But whatever it is-when it becomes all you need you’ve wrongly turned it into your functional savior. You’ve bought into the lie that having that other thing will give you your purpose and meaning in life; that that something or someone other than Jesus will satisfy your soul and fill your heart-but the problem is it won’t. It can’t. You can stop looking for another because the One you need has already come! He came over 2,000 yrs ago to heal your heat and die for you so that you wouldn’t have to die. And one day He’s coming again to restore this world and resurrect your physical body so that you’ll live with Him forever. It’s an incredible, amazing hope-AP#1.
But it all comes down to trusting Him. Look at the last part of Jesus’ words-v. 23. If you have the NIV it says fall away, meaning trip over, stumble, leave, walk away. What an interesting way to finish the conversation. But what Jesus is saying is that you’re blessed when you’re not offended by Him and His words-because they’re going to hit you right here in your heart. AP#2: Unoffended by Jesus is our only response. The reality is that Jesus’ words are going to clash with your pride, They’re going to force you to humbly recognize the truth about yourself and how much you need Him-and that’s not easy to accept. It’s back to what the messengers said-this centurion is worthy for you to do this for him. And the reality is that he wasn’t, none of us are. We all have to conclude-I’m not worthy-not in the least-but I have a Savior who loves me despite my mistakes, despite my shortcomings and failures and sins, despite all my bad decisions-and I’m trusting in Him. And when you respond like that-you are blessed. Jesus would say-Blessed is the person who hears my words and believes in Me, who doesn’t let his pride get in the way or shy away or act ashamed of Me or give in to peer pressure and try to fit in-but blessed is the person who puts their faith in Me. Blessed is the person who isn’t offended by hearing the truth-and realizes that I am the way, the truth and life-and there isn’t another way to the Father but only through Me. That might sound like a narrow road-but that’s because it is. Jesus is the only way, He’s the only One to come, there isn’t another as our passage says. And yet He is all we need. The CE class we taught here has a great quote-You are more sinful than you ever realized-and that can be offensive to hear-but you are more loved than you ever dreamed-and that part is such a blessing! You are more sinful than you ever realized-but you are more loved than you ever dreamed! Instead of being offended-is your heart deeply affected by that truth? Have you trusted in Jesus, not looking for another, but He alone as your salvation and hope? He brought the centurion’s servant and the widow’s son back to life-in order to prove to you and me that He can bring us back to life. And that new life starts now when we trust in Him!