Recall from last time that Jesus compared those who are not merely hearers of His Word, but also obey the things He taught, to one who builds his house on a rock that will not be shaken when storms come. Those who merely hear the Word, but don’t obey, He likened to those who build with no firm foundation, whose works will fail catastrophically in the face of trouble.
Luke’s account of the Sermon on the Mount ends with this teaching. Having concluded His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus continued with His Galilean ministry. Before we take up the story, though, it is fitting that we take note of Matthew’s summary of the Sermon.
Matthew 7:28-2928And so it was, when Jesus had ended these sayings, that the people were astonished at His teaching, 29for He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.
How does Jesus’ teaching compare with the sermons we have heard and read in our lives? Jesus, of course, being Himself the very Word of God (see John 1:1-5, 14) taught with the authority vested in His Word. Effective ministers of the Gospel even today teach with the same authority Jesus’ own disciples recognized in His teaching – the power of the Word of God, if indeed their teachings rest upon and focus on the Word of God. We’ll take a closer look at the subject and source of Jesus’ authority shortly.
Continuing now in Luke 7…
Luke 7:1-10 (Matthew 8:5-13)1Now when He concluded all His sayings in the hearing of the people, He entered Capernaum. 2And a certain centurion’s servant, who was dear to him, was sick and ready to die. 3So when he heard about Jesus, he sent elders of the Jews to Him, pleading with Him to come and heal his servant. 4And when they came to Jesus, they begged Him earnestly, saying that the one for whom He should do this was deserving, 5“for he loves our nation, and has built us a synagogue.”6Then Jesus went with them. And when He was already not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to Him, saying to Him, “Lord, do not trouble Yourself, for I am not worthy that You should enter under my roof. 7Therefore I did not even think myself worthy to come to You. But say the word, and my servant will be healed. 8For I also am a man placed under authority, having 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.”9When Jesus heard these things, He marveled at him, and turned around and said to the crowd that followed Him, “I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel!” 10And those who were sent, returning to the house, found the servant well who had been sick.
In Matthew’s account of this miracle (Matthew 8:5-13), the centurion himself came to Jesus rather than sending emissaries. It is certain that Luke was not an eyewitness to the events reported here. Very likely, neither was Matthew, since we don’t hear about Jesus calling him until later in his gospel. It is nevertheless possible that Matthew did witness this healing of the centurion’s servant prior to Jesus calling of Matthew. It is also possible that Matthew merely reported his own calling out of sequence, a custom we have seen is prevalent in many ancient Jewish writings.
Nevertheless, since it is likely that both Luke and Matthew are reporting a story they were told, rather than being eyewitnesses, it is not surprising that the accounts differ somewhat. Whether the centurion came to Jesus himself, or sent emissaries is not germane to the story of the healing itself, or Jesus’ proclamation of the centurion’s faith.
A centurion in the Roman army was a man placed in charge of 100 (a century) soldiers. In the modern US Army, he would have been roughly equivalent to a lieutenant or a captain. In Luke’s account, we see that this particular centurion was a respected man among the Jewish elders of Capernaum, having built a synagogue for the town. The foundation and part of the walls of this ancient synagogue are still present in Capernaum today. The remaining limestone floor of the ruined building dates from a later time, and was built on top of the Galilean basalt building spoken of here in Luke.
Recall that Capernaum was the home of Peter, and the sons of Zebedee – James and John – who were fishermen in the town prior to Jesus calling them as disciples. The town lies on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee, just a little west of where the Jordan River flows into the lake. The Jordan stirs up the sediments from the lake bed, which provide nutrients for many plants, which in turn provide habitat and food for the fish.
It says here in Luke that the centurion had heard the stories of Jesus’ miraculous healings. What’s interesting is his reaction to hearing that Jesus had come back into town. His beloved servant was ill to the point of nearly dying. The faith of the centurion compelled him to lay his concern for his servant before the feet of Jesus. This is a wonderful example for us as well.
James 5:13-1613Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms. 14Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. 16Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.
But it was the centurion’s faith that led Jesus to honor his prayer, not the mistaken assertion by the Jewish elders that the centurion was deserving due to his having built them a synagogue and his purported love for the Jewish nation. So it is with us, and all people. None of us is deserving of ourselves even for Jesus’ notice, much less His blessing.
Psalm 144:3LORD, what is man, that You take knowledge of him?Or the son of man, that You are mindful of him?
Nevertheless, time and again we see that Jesus honored faith. For example, His healing the woman who had the flow of blood for 12 years…
Matthew 9:22But Jesus turned around, and when He saw her He said, “Be of good cheer, daughter; your faith has made you well.” And the woman was made well from that hour.
In healing two blind men…
Matthew 9:28-2928And when He had come into the house, the blind men came to Him. And Jesus said to them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?”They said to Him, “Yes, Lord.”29Then He touched their eyes, saying, “According to your faith let it be to you.”
Notice also that it is important for us to not merely hold faith, but to act in faith – often despite resistance from those around us. Consider the story of Bartimaeus.
Mark 10:46-5246Now they came to Jericho. As He went out of Jericho with His disciples and a great multitude, blind Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus, sat by the road begging. 47And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”48Then many warned him to be quiet; but he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”49So Jesus stood still and commanded him to be called.Then they called the blind man, saying to him, “Be of good cheer. Rise, He is calling you.”50And throwing aside his garment, he rose and came to Jesus.51So Jesus answered and said to him, “What do you want Me to do for you?”The blind man said to Him, “Rabboni, that I may receive my sight.”52Then Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus on the road.
Note that Jesus’ response to the centurion’s having reached out in faith was to immediately go to him. Although it was unheard of for a Jewish man, particularly a rabbi to enter into the home of Gentile, it was apparently Jesus’ intent to do just that in response to the centurion’s show of faith. The centurion’s response is telling.
He clearly regarded Jesus with great reverence, and even fear, as well we too should revere and fear God.
Psalm 111:10The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom;A good understanding have all those who do His commandments.His praise endures forever.
The centurion would also have known about the Jewish tradition not to enter into the homes of Gentiles, so he sent word to Jesus that he was not worthy for Jesus to come to his home in order to heal his servant. Verse 7 makes it clear that the centurion was convinced that Jesus did not need to physically touch the servant to heal him.
Luke 7:7Therefore I did not even think myself worthy to come to You. But say the word, and my servant will be healed.
What the centurion said next, though, seems at first glance to be out of place.
Luke 7:8aFor I also am a man placed under authority, having soldiers under me.
I think we can glean two important aspects of Jesus’ ministry from this seemingly incongruous statement by the centurion.
First, the centurion clearly recognized that Jesus had authority and power to perform the healing itself. Jesus had proven His miraculous power on a number of occasions. In fact, the stories of those miracles are what had brought Jesus to the attention of the centurion in the first place.
But the power to heal and perform other miracles is only one aspect of the authority the centurion recognized in Jesus. As a member of the very strict Roman military hierarchy, the centurion had authority over the hundred soldiers under him, but he was also himself under the command of those above him. The centurion recognized from the stories he’d heard that Jesus certainly had authority over demons, diseases, and even nature. He also knew that Jesus must have been granted that authority from His Father.
Jesus Himself spoke of this authority in answer to Phillip, who had asked to see the Father.
John 14:9-119Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; so how can you say, ‘Show us the Father?’ 10Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on My own authority; but the Father who dwells in Me does the works. 11Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father in Me, or else believe Me for the sake of the works themselves.
Furthermore, Jesus told His disciples that they would receive this same authority by the power of His Spirit.
Luke 10:19-2019Behold, I give you the authority to trample on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall by any means hurt you. 20Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven.”
Finally, in His Great Commission of His disciples, Jesus claims to have complete authority over the entire universe (as well He does, being the very Word by which the universe was created – see John 1).
Matthew 28:18-2018And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.
Luke 7:11-1711Now it happened, the day after, that He went into a city called Nain; and many of His disciples went with Him, and a large crowd. 12And when He came near the gate of the city, behold, a dead man was being carried out, the only son of his mother; and she was a widow. And a large crowd from the city was with her. 13When the Lord saw her, He had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not weep.” 14Then He came and touched the open coffin, and those who carried him stood still. And He said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” 15So he who was dead sat up and began to speak. And He presented him to his mother.16Then fear came upon all, and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has risen up among us”; and, “God has visited His people.” 17And this report about Him went throughout all Judea and all the surrounding region.
Nain is a town in southern Galilee, in the Jezreel valley about 10 miles south of Nazareth. Luke is the only one of the gospel writers who reports this miracle of raising the son of the widow of Nain from the dead. This is somewhat surprising. After all, Jesus could have done no greater miracle than raising a person from the dead. Clearly, though, Jesus has this power, and clearly, this power belongs only to the Messiah. As we will soon see, Jesus mentions raising of the dead in His response to John the Baptist, when he asked whether or not Jesus is “The Coming One” (i.e. the Messiah).
Matthew 11:4-54Jesus answered and said to them, “Go and tell John the things which you hear and see: 5The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them.
Even more amazingly, we will also see later that Jesus is able to give the power of raising the dead to His disciples.
Matthew 10:5-85These twelve Jesus sent out and commanded them, saying: “Do not go into the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter a city of the Samaritans. 6But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 7And as you go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ 8Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out demons. Freely you have received, freely give.
Notice also that the people of Nain recognized that only God (Immanuel) has the power to give life.
Luke 7:16Then fear came upon all, and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has risen up among us”; and, “God has visited His people.”
Recall the prophecy of John the Baptist’s father, Zacharias, about God having visited His people.
Luke 1:68-7568“Blessed is the Lord God of Israel,For He has visited and redeemed His people,69And has raised up a horn of salvation for usIn the house of His servant David,70As He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets,Who have been since the world began,71That we should be saved from our enemiesAnd from the hand of all who hate us,72To perform the mercy promised to our fathersAnd to remember His holy covenant,73The oath which He swore to our father Abraham:74To grant us that we,Being delivered from the hand of our enemies,Might serve Him without fear,75In holiness and righteousness before Him all the days of our life.