7 When Jesus had finished saying all this to the people who were listening, he entered Capernaum. 2 There a centurion’s servant, whom his master valued highly, was sick and about to die. 3 The centurion heard of Jesus and sent some elders of the Jews to him, asking him to come and heal his servant. 4 When they came to Jesus, they pleaded earnestly with him, “This man deserves to have you do this, 5 because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue.” 6 So Jesus went with them.
He was not far from the house when the centurion sent friends to say to him: “Lord, don’t trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. 7 That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you. But say the word, and my servant will be healed. 8 For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”
9 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.” 10 Then the men who had been sent returned to the house and found the servant well.
The centurion was a gentile but obviously in good standing with the Jews. He had heard about Jesus and all that he was doing, so he sent his Jewish friends to ask Jesus to come and heal his servant.
There is a pointed difference between the way that the Jewish elders ask Jesus for help and the way centurion asks. The elders say ‘Please help this man because he deserves it.” [v4]. The centurion himself says, “Lord I do not deserve for you to even come under my roof.” [v 6]. The Jewish elders consider him a worthy man. He considers himself completely unworthy [v 7]. Jesus commends him for his faith [v9] and heals his servant [v 10]. What was it about his faith that so impressed our Lord? Obviously his accomplishments, loving the Jewish nation and building a synagogue, were not the important things in Jesus’ eyes. The centurion’s faith is seen in his humility. He does not consider his accomplishments to have any weight with Jesus, rather he relies only on Jesus’ compassion and mercy, and his reliance is total. That is faith.
Can you see the difference here between God’s view of humanity and our world’s view? We are constantly being told that we are worthy, and that we must see ourselves as deserving. There is great truth in that, of course. We are all made in God’s image and as such are all to be treated as image-bearers, with respect and integrity. We should treat each other as we’d like to be treated. However that thinking makes itimpossible for us to come to God. The problem arises when we see ourselves as intrinsically worthy – worthy of God’s grace, worthy to consider him as an equal. You can imagine the voices raised by many today if they heard the centurion’s words. “Stand up man. Look Jesus in the eye. Don’t beg. You deserve this. Look at what you’ve accomplished. Where did you ever get the idea that you are unworthy? You need to love yourself! Be proud and stand tall!”
The centurion stands before Jesus in great humility, and that is the only place that any of us can be in. We are not worthy to stand before the God of truth and love. The great wonder and beauty of this incident is that Jesus does what he’s asked. James and Peter both say the same thing – humble yourself before God and he will lift you up [James 4:10; 1 Peter 5:6].
We come to God “trusting not in our own righteousness, but in the manifold mercies of God.”
That is where we find our value. Self-esteem is as nothing compared to “God-esteem”. God exalts us! God lifts us up! God’s people are valuable because God values us! God has placed his seal upon us [Eph 4:30]. It doesn’t get any better than that!
Merciful God, what a wonder it is that you have adopted us as your children and that we will enjoy you forever, despite our failings and our rebellion against you. Amen
11 Soon afterward, Jesus went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went along with him. 12 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. 13 When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, “Don’t cry.”
14 Then he went up and touched the bier they were carrying him on, and the bearers stood still. He said, “Young man, I say to you, get up!” 15 The dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother.
16 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.” 17 This news about Jesus spread throughout Judea and the surrounding country.
Imagine the two large crowds coming together, the one full of sorrow and grief and the other with a boisterous, carnival atmosphere. What a contrast! As they approach they become aware of each other. The noise fades, and the crowd with Jesus steps out of the path to let the funeral through. There is a widow whose only son has died.
When Jesus assesses the situation Luke says his “heart went out to her.” Looking on, we might think how could God allow such pain had grief. OK so we all die but this man was young and his mother, with no social security and no family to care for her was in a dire situation. For many the issue of suffering turns them against any concept of a loving God. Here there is no theodicy; no explanation of the existence of pain and suffering, no defence from Jesus. Rather we see the Son of God filled with compassion for her. We see God deeply moved by the condition of one of his people.
Bette Midler sang “God is watching us from a distance”, like an objective observer. Luke however, tells us of God, in human flesh, deeply moved, reaching out in compassion and love. Jesus steps back into the road and walks along with the widow, because it seems at this stage the procession was still moving. He says to the woman, “Don’t cry.”
I don’t want to make too much of it but there is the wonderful picture of Jesus walking along beside the widow. At this point he does what he does with all of us as when we suffer - he walks with us. That might not seem like enough for us at times. We want a God who will alleviate our pain and suffering. Instead we have a God who walks with us.
Jesus then approaches the open coffin, and Luke says that those carrying it stood still. He steps up and says “Young man, I say to you, get up!”, and the dead man is restored to life. There is a great phrase here that I don’t want you to miss. “Jesus gave him back to his mother” [v 15]. I’d love to know what that looked like. Did he put his arm round the young man and walk him back to his mum? We don’t know but even without seeing it there is something wonderful going on here - Jesus gives the young man back to his mother. He gives the son life and he then gives the mother her son.
Jesus demonstrates that he does have the power to do away with suffering and pain, even if, for his own reasons, he doesn’t do it.
There are a couple of things to learn here. Firstly, pain and suffering come. There are no surprises there. Secondly, God is compassionate towards us. He doesn’t desert us in our suffering, although he might not deal with it as we would like. A friend once told me that when things are tough she holds out her hand a little from her side and imagines that Jesus is holding it. Thirdly, his healings and his defeat of death are a foretaste of what is to come. They are signs of the Kingdom. The day will come when God’s purposes for our suffering will be fulfilled and “every tear will be wiped dry.”
Our part is to trust God’s love for us and his power over death. “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” [John 16:33]
God of all comfort, make me aware of your presence when times are tough and give me peace in the midst of them. Amen
18 John’s disciples told him about all these things. Calling two of them, 19 he sent them to the Lord to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”
20 When the men came to Jesus, they said, “John the Baptist sent us to you to ask, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?’”
21 At that very time Jesus cured many who had diseases, sicknesses and evil spirits, and gave sight to many who were blind. 22 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 cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. 23 Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.”
We can imagine John’s disciples breathlessly taking news of all this back to John. At the very beginning of Jesus’ public ministry John called him the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world [John 1:29]. He also said, “But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptise you with[c] the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing-floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”
Now John is questioning who Jesus is. That is the simple reading here. We don’t know why but maybe, just as Jesus didn’t measure up to the religious leaders’ idea of what the Messiah would be like, so Jesus didn’t fit John’s picture either. Was he expecting the great military leader? Was he expecting huge social reforms or a wholesale return to the law? He doesn’t seem to fit even John’s description of him. Remember too that John was unjustly languishing in prison for speaking up about the kingdom. Surely the Messiah would bring justice!
Jesus answers by pointing to his miracles. He’s in effect telling them to go back and read their Bibles to see what it says about the Messiah. Didn’t Isaiah promise that the Messiah would give living water and food for the soul? Didn’t he promise that the Messiah would heal the blind and the lame? [Is 35:5-6; 42:7]
“Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.” Jesus here is encouraging people not to reject him because of a false idea of who he should be or what he should be doing.
We all have our own picture of Jesus in our minds. It is important to remind ourselves that in the Ten Commandments God forbade any images of himself and we assume that is because we will tend to worship the image rather than the reality. The same is true for images ofJesus. What is your image of Jesus? Is it fully biblical? Have you seen his humour, his joy, his anger, his terseness, his friendship, his compassion, his dangerousness – all those parts of his character and so many more revealed to us in the Bible?
Keeping this in mind, how do you think those around you who are not Christians see Jesus? It’s not a bad question to start a family discussion.
Dear Lord, help me to see you more clearly so that I can share you more truly. Amen
24 After John’s messengers left, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swayed by the wind? 25 If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear expensive clothes and indulge in luxury are in palaces. 26 But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 27 This is the one about whom it is written:
“‘I will send my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way before you.’[b]
28 I tell you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John; yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.”
29 (All the people, even the tax collectors, when they heard Jesus’ words, acknowledged that God’s way was right, because they had been baptized by John. 30 But the Pharisees and the experts in the law rejected God’s purpose for themselves, because they had not been baptized by John.)
31 Jesus went on to say, “To what, then, can I compare the people of this generation? What are they like? 32 They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling out to each other:
“‘We played the pipe for you,
and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge,
and you did not cry.’
33 For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ 34 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ 35 But wisdom is proved right by all her children.”
You can’t help but admire John the Baptist: outspoken, blunt, heroic, committed – a man who walked the talk. Jesus said he was the greatest man who had ever lived [v 28]. If you were to think of the great men and women who lived BC would John rate a mention? We think of Abraham, the great pharaohs of Egypt, the great rulers of China, King David, Alexander the Great, the Queen of Sheba, Ramesses the Great, Julius Caesar, Cleopatra, Confucius, Aristotle, Archimedes and the like. John doesn’t appear in any list that I could find. Yet Jesus said there was no one greater.
In his book ‘The Great Divorce’, C.S. Lewis writes of a day visit to heaven for one of the inhabitants of hell who see a woman of great beauty and influence attended by all sorts musicians and servants and animals. He writes,
“Is it?...is it?” I whispered to my guide.
“Not at all,” said he. “It’s someone ye’ll never have heard of. Her name on earth was Sarah Smith and she lived at Golders Green.”
“She seems to be…well, a person of particular importance?”
“Aye. She is one of the great ones. Ye have heard that fame in this country and fame on Earth are two quite different things.”
That is how it is with John the Baptist. A man of great faith who obeyed his God even though it meant his death. He was implacable – not like a reed buffeted by the wind. Yet he was rejected by those who should have welcomed him. He would not play their games [v 32-33].
“… yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” Jesus is saying that to be in the Kingdom of God is by far the greatest thing. John’s greatness still stands, but to be in the kingdom is the greatest blessing of all; to be adopted as a child of God is the pinnacle of greatness. It’s not that John doesn’t share in that blessing, but that it is the blessing that is wonderful and not John’s achievements.
Greatness in the eyes of God is the greatness displayed by the centurion in the previous incident, a greatness that is granted not achieved.
God of power and might, you have given me the status of being your child. May I never take that for granted. Amen
36 When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. 37 A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. 38 As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.
39 When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”
40 Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”
“Tell me, teacher,” he said.
41 “Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”
43 Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.”
“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.
44 Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”
48 Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”
49 The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?”
50 Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
There are couple of things that will help us to understand the incident.
It was the custom of the day that the poor could visit a banquet to get some of the leftovers, hence the woman’s presence without an invitation. Secondly, it was also customary to provide for a guest to have their feet washed upon entering the home, and to greet them with a kiss on the cheek, neither of which the pharisee gave Jesus, so it would seem that Jesus was not considered an honoured guest. We can only guess at the pharisee’s motivation for having Jesus for a meal, but from what follows it would not be out of the question to conclude that it was not a good motive.
The woman’s act was extraordinary. Imagine it happening today to some VIP. It’s a public confession of sorts. It’s taking sides against the religious leaders. It’s a display of deep emotion – enough tears to splash onto his dusty feet. She would know of the pharisee’s attitude towards her (her lifestyle was notorious), so her actions are brave as well. All this happens before the gathered guests. There is a beautiful brokenness and deep thankfulness in what she does. As for Jesus, most people would withdraw their feet in embarrassment, yet Jesus lets it proceed. He allows her to show her love and devotion because it is a good and right thing to do. It is motivated by the forgiveness of Jesus. Obviously there had been some sort of encounter previously, either face to face or with her hearing Jesus and experiencing forgiveness as part of a crowd. She carries out this act, says Jesus, because she has been forgiven for much.
The incident draws a strong contrast between the woman and the pharisee. The pharisee does not think much of Jesus because he doesn’t think there is much, or anything, to be forgiven for, and he doesn’t think Jesus should be doing any forgiving anyway. [v 49]
Real conversion begins with deep regret for sin and ends with great joy and thankfulness for forgiveness. Her display is extravagant but not out of place, and her sin is forgiven.
Some years ago I visited St Paul’s Cathedral in London. Although it was beautiful and awe inspiring, I found myself wondering if the money could not have been better spent, and it might well have been, but reading this passage makes me realise that it might also have been an extravagant expression of love and devotion. We need to be careful about of criticising the motives of others.
29 “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” [Mark 12:29-30]
How do you express your appreciation for what Jesus has done for you?
Heavenly Lord, help me to love you with all my heart and soul and mind and strength. Amen