Faith & Compassion
Faith & Compassion
I invite you to open your bibles to the book of Luke. We have a lot to cover today, so I’m going to pray and we’re going to just dive straight in.
We’re going to pick up where we left off last week at the end of chapter 6, where Jesus wrapped up a short sermon to his disciples about what it means to be a follower of his.
What he’s been saying, verse 35, is Love your enemies, do what is good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Then your reward will be great and you will be children of the Most High. For he is gracious to the ungrateful and evil. Be merciful just as your Father is also merciful.
Then he went on to say in 37, don’t be the judge who decides who is worthy of grace and who isn’t. If you are stingy with forgiveness, that’s what you’ll get in return. Move to 41, don’t point out all the faults of others without addressing your own. That doesn’t mean you can’t ever point out sin in someone else – it just means our lives should operate from a posture of humility.
Then he gets to verse 47-49 and tells a short parable about the results of actually doing what he has just told us to do. His story about two builders is to say, if you actually follow my lead here, and love your enemies, don’t judge, pray for those who mistreat you, live generously even if you get taken advantage of, and you live with a posture of humility, you’re like a building with a solid foundation. And when the storms of life come, you aren’t going anywhere. You won’t be shaken, thanks to a solid foundation.
If you just listen to what I’m saying, and you think “great job, Jesus - love the energy, love the stories, appreciate you taking the time to talk to us today,” but you walk away without actually forgiving, actually loving your enemies, actually being generous, actually living in humility, actually not judging people - your house is on sand, and when storms come against you – it doesn't end well.
Scene 1: The Centurion
7:1 When he had concluded saying all this to the people who were listening (that makes the connection back to 6:27), he entered Capernaum. 2 A centurion’s servant, who was highly valued by him, was sick and about to die.
Capernaum was a medium-sized fishing town on the north side of the Sea of Galilee. Now you can go visit Capernaum today and see the ruins of this city. This is an artists rendering of what the city might have looked like, based on those ruins. It had about 1500 people who lived there, and it sat right beside a major Roman highway that connected a lot of the known world. An important city like that in the Roman Empire would have had a lot of occupying soldiers to keep order.
The promise of God for the Jews, however, going back to King David, was that someone from their own nation, their own family line, would one day be the king, and they would have their own land, peace, prosperity, all would be well. So every day that a pagan Roman was on the throne felt like one day farther removed from the hope that God’s promise for deliverance would be fulfilled. So the Romans were dogs. Gentiles. Definitely outsiders.
A centurion is someone who oversees 100 soldiers, and as you would expect, gained their position of leadership by actively and accurately carrying out the commands of Rome, some of which could have been rather unethical, or simply abusing authority to get what they want. Centurions could be very, very wealthy, with yearly salaries equivalent to $600,000 - $1 million today.
We’re introduced to one of these centurions here in verse 2, and all we know about him is that he has a servant whose life was hanging by a thread. The servant is referred to as “highly valued” which could mean anything from this servant was worth a lot of money, to he was highly valued as a dear friend. The point is, the centurion is in a state of need. That’s the storm coming up against his house right now. There is some desperation.
3 When the centurion heard about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders to him, requesting him to come and save the life of his servant.
Faith In Action
So there’s a couple things we notice in this verse. First, the centurion believed Jesus could save the life of his servant. You don’t go to the doctor when you have a broken arm unless you actually believe the doctor can fix it. So while we don’t know if this Roman commander has saving faith where he sees himself in need of a savior and repents of his sin, he at least believer that Jesus can heal. Where did that faith come from?
Second thing we notice is that he heard about Jesus. Someone is telling him what Jesus is saying, what he’s doing… miracles are happening, etc. Romans 10 says faith comes by hearing, and hearing comes by the word of God. So he heard about Jesus, was told that he could heal, and this centurion had heard enough that he believed Jesus could do it for his servant. And third, he puts his faith into action by sending some Jews to Jesus.
Maybe he doesn’t think Jesus will hear him out or help, because he’s a Roman, a Gentile, so he sends some local Jewish leaders to go instead. This is very unusual that Romans and Jews would work together at all, plus, up until this point in the book of Luke, the Jews are all trying to trap Jesus. They can’t stand him. So they may have hesitated a bit until the centurion might have reminded them, “Hey, you owe me one. I built your synagogue.”
I don’t know if that’s what happened, but it’s the argument the Jews use in verses 4 and 5 when they come to Jesus and ask him to help. They tell Jesus this man is worthy to be helped for two reasons, 1) because he treats the Jews well and 2) because he built them a synagogue. This is pretty interesting too, but you can go to Capernaum and find a synagogue there to this day. Now, the stones of the synagogue are white, but there is a marker on this corner that says the white synagogue was built on top of the synagogue where Jesus spoke. So these black stones underneath the current ruins are probably the stones the centurion paid to have put in place.
Now, the reality is the centurion might have built them a synagogue so they would always be under his thumb, right? He could play this card any time he wants. The Jews might have even known that, and so their motives for coming to Jesus could have been just to keep him off their backs. In effect, their words to Jesus are: He’s earned this healing; you owe him because he built us a place to meet.
The Patience of Jesus
6 Jesus went with them,
Stop there for just a second… I know that seems like such a small thing, that Jesus went with them, but this is good news for us today. The Jews don’t necessarily have great motives here! There is no indication that they actually care about the servant – they just want to make sure they stay on the centurion’s good side. Yet Jesus is so patient. He is so kind. He goes with them anyway.
I don’t know what motives drove you to Jesus or are driving you to him today. Maybe it was in a sermon or at church camp where someone painted a vivid picture of hell for you, and out of fear you prayed whatever they wanted you to pray. Maybe it is that as you get older, you realize you don’t have all the time in the world anymore, and you want to get things right before you cross the finish line. Maybe it’s just to keep someone off your back. You go to church so they quit bugging you.
But I hope this little scene right here is enough to encourage you that even if we come to Jesus out of wrong motives, he is patient and kind, and doesn’t condemn us. If he waited on us to get our motives right, no one would ever come to him. In fact, the reason he came to earth at all is to transform us and give us a new heart with new motives. Praise God for his patience.
I'm Not Worthy
Jesus went with them, and when he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to tell him, “Lord, don’t trouble yourself, since I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. 7 That is why I didn’t even consider myself worthy to come to you. But say the word, and my servant will be healed.a 8 For I too am a man placed under authority, having soldiers under my command. I say to this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”
The centurion sends a second group of people now, when Jesus is almost there, to say, you know what… you’re close enough. I’d rather you not come inside. And while that might sound a little awkward, there are a few reasons the centurion gives as to why Jesus should not come inside:
- LORD, I’m not worthy to have you in my home. Despite what the Jewish leaders thought of the centurion, that he had earned Jesus’ healing for his servant, the man himself would disagree – I’m not worthy to have you set foot in my home.
- This isn’t some depressed Roman centurion pouting in the corner with low self-esteem. This is a leader. Courageous. Wealthy. Respected. Generous. He oversees 100 other soldiers. He carries the authority of the Emperor of the world’s largest empire at the time.
- Yet He sees something in Jesus that makes him feel small. He sees something in Jesus that makes him Lord. He sees something in Jesus that makes him think his previous generosity is nothing; his wealth is of no use here; he is not even worthy to have this traveling teacher under his roof.
- The second reason the centurion gives as to why Jesus should not come inside is this: He recognizes that Jesus doesn’t have to come inside to heal the servant
- “He recognizes that Jesus has access to God and that all this powerful figure needs do is to speak and healing will occur. He has faith that Jesus’ command is all that is needed.” (Bock, 641)
- He understands authority like no one else. This centurion knows, I operate underneath my commanding officer, obeying him, sticking to whatever mission I’m assigned to, and yet under his authority, I’ve also been given authority and people listen to whatever I say.
- He would appear to be saying to Jesus: I know you operate under some greater authority than just yourself, but I also know that you have the authority and ability to just say words to whatever sickness or power has captured my servant, and it will obey whatever you tell it to do.
And Jesus’ eyebrows went up, and maybe his mouth dropped open a little bit. I’d like to think he might have even shook his head and went “whooo!”
9 Jesus heard this and was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, “I tell you, I have not found so great a faith even in Israel.”
A man of faith
And for the people reading Luke’s narrative, maybe a Roman centurion is the first person you would put on the enemies list. Maybe they are at the top of what you should hate.
And yet Jesus doesn’t present this centurion in the position of an enemy, not even an enemy to be loved – he presents this Roman centurion as man of faith!!!!
Jesus is not amazed that this guy built the Jews a synagogue, as crazy as that might have been – he’s amazed that he has more faith than the Jews who meet in the synagogue.
Jesus is amazed that this centurion recognizes his power and authority more than the Jews who should have recognized him! He’s amazed that this Roman outsider is closer to saving faith than the people on the home team! The Roman centurion has heard about Jesus, and acted; Here is a man who appears to be building his house on the rock! Jesus honors this man’s faith, and restores his servant back to good health.
Scene 2: The widow
11 Afterward he was on his way to a town called Nain. His disciples and a large crowd were traveling with him. 12 Just as he neared the gate of the town, a dead man was being carried out. He was his mother’s only son, and she was a widow. A large crowd from the town was also with her.
In contrast to Capernaum, Nain is a tiny town about 20 miles from the centurion’s house, and instead of a wealthy Roman commander in dire straits, a widow is in a funeral procession, following the body of her only son. The centurion was desperate because he highly valued that particular servant, but he had others. He could have carried on or had Rome send him more servants.
This woman is desperate because this was not only her son, but her means of survival. Women didn’t work outside the home in Jewish culture like here in ours, so upon the death of her husband, she would have been under the care of her son. Now that he is gone, she is alone. Her whole town grieves with her, recognizing this is the beginning of the end for her. And this time, instead of responding to someone’s call, Jesus is responding to his own heart of compassion for the poor, the hurting, the weeping.
13 When the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said, “Don’t weep.” Then he came up and touched the open coffin, and the pallbearers stopped. And he said, “Young man, I tell you, get up!” 15 The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother.
This looks familiar
- Jesus shows his compassion for those in need; for the poor, the lonely, the afraid. He doesn't just use his power to help the powerful. He responds to faith, but he also responds to grief.
- Notice this is the opposite of the previous scene. Weakness instead of strength. Hopelessness instead of hopefulness. Grief instead of fear. Death instead of sickness. And in this scene there was no search party sent to look for Jesus. Yet, in this story, out of nowhere almost randomly it seems, at just the right time, Jesus arrives, and reverses things.
- This is good news for us today too. We all experience various kinds of grief and sadness and sorrow in our lives, but this story seems to say that even when the bottom seems to have fallen out of your story, and you don’t think you have the words to call out to him…Jesus knows where to find you, and he moves toward you in kindness and gentleness at just the right time.
- Jesus gave him to his mother. A Jewish person reading this, or even a Jewish person at the funeral who was paying attention, would have instantly made a connection here that you and I probably don’t. That is that what Jesus is doing mirrors a story from 1 Kings 17, where the Prophet Elijah did something almost identical. Prayed over a corpse, God restored life, and the prophet brought the now alive boy to his mother.
That is what sets up the crowd’s reaction in verse 16:
16 Then fear came over everyone, and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has risen among us,” and “God has visited his people.” 17 This report about him went throughout Judea and all the vicinity.
Introducing the Kingdom
Put these two stories together, and you see Jesus introducing a kingdom where a Roman commander could have more faith than someone who grew up in the church their whole lives. Jesus introduced a kingdom where you don’t have to earn your way into it by building churches and making sure you stay on the church’s good side. Jesus introduces a kingdom governed by compassion and mercy.
In keeping with his ministry, Jesus introduces a kingdom where the rich recognize their need, and the poor are lifted up. So the good news for you today, is that you can be a soldier carrying the authority of the emperor or you can be a grieving widow, alone and afraid, and the kingdom is available to you. The good news today is that the wealthy and powerful aren’t at the front of the line when it comes to who Jesus is willing to help, but they have access to Jesus too. The good news is that you might have your head bowed low in grief and sorrow, and out of nowhere Jesus shows up to let you know he sees, he knows, he cares.
Let there be light
This week in my morning devotions, I read Genesis 1, and the account of Creation. God said “let there be light” and there was light. Then he separated the light from the darkness, and he’s been doing it ever since. There is nothing darker in our lives than death, but no death so permanent and costly as spiritual death. In Jesus’ life, his death, and his resurrection, God once again speaks: “let there be Light!” And our condition of spiritual death is reversed, not just in the words of Jesus, but in his actions.
Romans 5:6 says at just the right time, Christ stopped the funeral procession for humanity, and reversed the curse of sin and death. Instead of joining our funeral procession, like he could have done, he willingly gave himself over to the darkness of death, taking our sins on his own shoulders, paying in his own body the penalty for our sin on the cross, and being laid to rest in the darkness of a borrowed tomb.
Jesus was God’s only son, and as he went to tomb that Easter Saturday, all hope seemed lost.
Death doesn't get the last word
But see death doesn't win in this kingdom. Death doesn't get the last word. God once again pushed back the darkness by raising Jesus from the dead, and giving him that name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow and tongue confess in heaven and on earth and under the earth that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of the Father, and now everyone… anyone… who calls on that name, will be saved. Not because we were worthy to have him come under our roof, but because he is filled with compassion and love for a lost and dying world.
Bock, Darrell L. 1994. Luke: 1:1–9:50. Vol. 1. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.
Green, Joel 1997. The New International Commentary on the New Testament, The Gospel of Luke. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Co
Baker, Lisa Lorraine. July 1, 2021, Why Was Capernaum Such An Important City In the Bible.