Sunday, October 3, 2021 Brad Barrett
The Authority and Compassion of Christ
I just finished reading a book about a WWII U.S. Army platoon that was captured by the German Army in the Battle of the Bulge. One theme in the book was recounting Adolph Hitler’s utter brutality over a 10+ year history as ruler over Germany.
It’s not uncommon in world history for rulers to have extraordinary power and authority, and be known also for unspeakable evil. It’s quite uncommon to find a ruler who has great power but also great mercy.
This morning we are continuing our series in the Luke’s Gospel, his record of the Good News of Jesus, the Messiah and Savior of the world. Today’s passage is in Chapter 7. In our reading we will see One Ruler who surprises us. His authority and power are unparalleled. And his mercy and kindness are shocking.
Our theme this morning will be the person of Jesus. He reveals himself as a Person we ought not to trivialize, but we also can find extraordinary compassion. Our conclusion is that we ought to trust him with our all.
Take your Scripture journals out this morning. Turn to page 52. Luke 7:1.
As we read Luke each week on Sundays, and as you read it by yourself or with your household (which I encourage), pray before reading with at least one request to God:
“Lord, would you help me to understand? From the stories we will read even this morning, would you help me to see your Son Jesus as he truly is, so that I might know you better, and trust you more?”
That’s the outcome the Lord would have for us, that this Gospel would change us and help us in a life of faith in God.
Both our stories today will help us toward that end.
So let’s start reading.
1 After he had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum.
2 Now a centurion had a servant who was sick and at the point of death, who was highly valued by him.
3 When the centurion heard about Jesus, he sent to him elders of the Jews, asking him to come and heal his servant.
4 And when they came to Jesus, they pleaded with him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy to have you do this for him,
5 for he loves our nation, and he is the one who built us our synagogue.”
6 And Jesus went with them. When he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends, saying to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof.
7 Therefore I did not presume to come to you. But say the word, and let my servant be healed.
8 For I too am a man set under authority, with 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.”
9 When Jesus heard these things, he marveled at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.”
10 And when those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the servant well.
Verse 1 tells us that Jesus had finished his “Sermon on the Plain,” the passage that we read last week in Chapter 6.
Now he travels to the town of Capernaum. Capernaum was a fishing town on the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee.
The Sea of Galilee is really a lake. It’s about 13 miles long and 8 miles wide. It’s the lowest freshwater lake in the world, at about 700 feet below sea level. The Jordan River flows into it in the north and out of it in the south.
Sometime after Jesus arrives in Capernaum, some Jewish elders came to Jesus with a request. Basically they prayed to Jesus, though face to face.
Here was their request: This soldier, a centurion probably in the Roman army (though we’re not specifically told that) had a beloved servant of his who was very sick. Near the point of dying.
(Matthew’s gospel tells us that the servant was “paralyzed and suffering terribly.”)
We might say today, “The servant is in hospice care. The end is near.”
The centurion (a man in charge of about 100 soldiers) heard about Jesus. Apparently he had never seen Jesus himself, but that didn’t stop him from believing that Jesus had the power and authority to heal. And that Jesus cared enough to listen to his request. So the centurion calls the Jewish elders and asks them, “Would you go for me and ask him?”
The elders agree to go, and they tell Jesus that this soldier loves the people of Israel. He even built their synagogue (perhaps using his own resources).
The elders say something interesting: “He is worthy to have you do this for him.” Now personally I’m not a fan of ever saying to God, “I am (or my friend is) worthy to have you answer my prayers. I deserve to have God do this.” Such a request sounds presumptuous. Prideful, for who is truly worthy except the Lord? And it smacks of an entitlement mentality.
But that’s what the elders said.
Jesus graciously agreed to go see the centurion and his servant. We don’t know where he lived nor how far Jesus needed to travel to see him.
So Jesus begins traveling, but before arriving there, the centurion sends a message to him.
He says, “Lord, don’t bother coming all the way to see my servant. Why? I’m not worthy to have you come here.”
That’s a fascinating response. The centurion humbly said, “I don’t deserve to have you come.”
This man had an appropriate high view of Jesus and comparatively a low view of himself. A humble view.
He said to Jesus, “You don’t need to be here physically. All you need to do is say the word, and my beloved servant will be healed.”
As a good soldier, the centurion understood how authority worked. He commanded soldiers under him to do this or that, and they do it. So he trusted…he had FAITH… that Jesus had authority and the right and the power to heal his servant from a distance. Without touching or seeing…Jesus can heal if he just says the word.
This Gentile…this non-Jew…. his faith is surprising and remarkable.
How did Jesus respond to this? He was amazed. He marveled.
This is one of only two times in the Gospels where Jesus was amazed at something.
- Here he marveled… he was amazed… that this Gentile…this non-Jew…understood who Jesus was and believed that he had the authority to heal.
- In Mark 6:6 Jesus also marveled…but this time it was because of Israel’s unbelief.
Contrasted to the simple faith of this pagan soldier, the people of God stubbornly denied Jesus’ authority.
Jesus said of this centurion, “Not even among the people of Israel have I found such faith.”
Then the centurion’s servant was healed. Matthew’s Gospel (Matt 8:13) tells us that they discovered the servant was “healed at that very moment” in time, even though Jesus was not there in person.
A remarkable miracle.
What are some observations from this story?
- Once again Jesus reaches out to someone unexpected.
He has ministered to moral outcasts: tax collectors and sinners. (Luke 6)
He has ministered to social outcasts: lepers (Luke 5)
He has ministered to physical outcasts: the deformed and diseased. (chapters 4 and 6)
Now he ministers to religious outcasts. Non-Jews.
This is a theme we see throughout Luke’s Gospel… and then into Luke’s second book called Acts.
The gospel is slowly opening up to the rest of the world. But ultimately this is no surprise, for the Lord had promised it 2000 years before this to Abraham in Genesis 12.
A 2nd observation:
- The centurion, though he had never seen Jesus, believed the stories that he had heard about him.
He believed Jesus had authority to heal. He believed Jesus had the power to heal.
He believed Jesus had the compassion to heal…that Jesus would actually care about a nobody servant of a nobody soldier in a nowhere town.
Luke penned this Gospel several decades later. And his readers had never seen Jesus either. What encouragement for them to trust in Jesus’ power, authority and compassion.
This is not unlike our situation. None of us—unless someone here is 2000 years old—have ever seen Jesus with our own eyes. We have never personally witnessed such miracles by Jesus. Yet we can believe.
That is what faith is: Believing in something we have not seen.
Hebrews 11:1 NIV Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.
The life of faith means you believe in Christ…you trust in him for life itself and all that goes with it…even though you have never seen him with your eyes.
You may have heard the expression, “Seeing is believing”? Well, actually that is not necessarily true. Thousands in those days saw Jesus face to face. They witnessed the miracles themselves. They saw him cast out demons. They heard him teach.
All these things were testimony to the heaven-sent power and authority and compassion of Jesus Christ. But shockingly in the end, few actually believed.
A 3rd observation from our story:
- Not only do we see the centurion’s faith, we see his humility.
He approached Jesus with faith, but not in a demanding way, like, “I deserve to have you come. So come!”… as if Jesus owed him something for building a synagogue. No, the centurion was humble. He said, “I do want your help for my servant, but I’m not worthy to even bother you to come to my house.”
A 4th observation:
- Jesus commended faith. Simple childlike trust. This was what Jesus noticed and commented on.
Jesus didn’t commend national origin or bloodlines, for this man was not a Jew.
Jesus didn’t note all the great things the centurion had done, like building the synagogue. I’m not saying that Jesus didn’t appreciate that. But Luke’s emphasis is on Jesus’ appreciation of the man’s humble faith.
Now let’s read our second story… A remarkable story of power and compassion…a story that does not appear in the other Gospels. Only in Luke’s.
11 Soon afterward he went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a great crowd went with him.
12 As he drew near to the gate of the town, behold, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow, and a considerable crowd from the town was with her.
13 And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not weep.”
14 Then he came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.”
15 And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother.
16 Fear seized them all, and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has arisen among us!” and “God has visited his people!”
17 And this report about him spread through the whole of Judea and all the surrounding country.
So Jesus leaves Capernaum and goes to another town called Nain, about 25 miles to the SW. A great crowd was with Jesus.
And as they approached Nain, a considerable crowd was with this mother in the funeral procession. Unexpectedly, they all come together. Many people, perhaps hundreds, were about to witness this stunning event.
A widow had just lost her only son, and his body was being carried out, apparently to be placed in a tomb.
What is remarkable is Jesus’ heart. He had compassion on this brokenhearted woman. He speaks with a tender heart and tells her, “Don’t weep. It will be OK. I’m here.” So he walks up to the casket, and he issues a command to this dead body and his spirit: “Young man, rise from the dead!” And the young man sits up and begins talking. Jesus simply commanded this man’s body and his spirit to be reunited and to wake from the dead. Astonishing!
How did the people respond? Well, they freaked out. “Fear seized them all.” They were understandably afraid, for who had ever heard of someone rising from the dead? And at the funeral procession?? Such a miracle would be unsettling. Awe-inspiring. And they glorified God. They cheered and celebrated God. They exclaimed, “The Lord has visited us this day! God is real and he is near!” Their words make me think of Matthew 1:23, quoting the prophet Isaiah, that the Messiah will be named “Immanuel,” which means, “God with us.” God is with us, the people said.
Indeed these were glorious times for the people.
Imagine what this moment was like. Picture that we’re all at a funeral this morning. We’re all grieving over the death of a young man here at Stonebrook. Let’s assume 20 years old like an ISU student. His mother is already a widow, and to compound her grief her beloved son dies, also. And she is devastated.
But then the doors open back there and in comes a large crowd, with Jesus at the front. The room quickly fills up, standing room only. This man Jesus comes up here to the sobbing, overwhelmed mother and compassionately says, “Don’t weep.” Then he walks right up here, touches the casket, and says to the dead man, “Rise up!” The casket then bursts open, and the man sits up, sees us all, smiles, and starts talking.
What is your reaction? I suspect most of us would be startled and run for the door! People rising from the dead just doesn’t happen! What is going on? Who is this man who just walked in here and did that?
Once we regained our senses, we would be astonished. Amazed. And thrilled. Our friend and brother in Christ is back! His mother whom we all love has her son back.
We can’t miss what happened here.
- Jesus sees a grieving mother, a woman devastated by the misfortune in her life. And he has compassion. Jesus noticed her and he cared for her.
- Jesus has power and authority unlike anything we have ever seen. He simply spoke a command, and a dead man came back to life. This is mind blowing.
These are startling, unprecedented days. .
We have just read two remarkable stories.
So I want to ask….What do we do now? What is some significance and application for us today from Luke’s message??
There are several important lessons we could take out of these stories.
For example, it would be quite worthwhile to consider the centurion’s humility. The Jewish elders said he was WORTHY to have Jesus come and help. But the centurion viewed himself differently. He didn’t deserve anything…even Jesus coming to his town. He viewed Jesus on a much, much higher plain that himself. That is humility.
And such humility is a core part of the Gospel itself. The Good News of Jesus.
So we could spend some time applying the centurion’s humility to our lives. And there are other topics.
But here’s the one thing I want to focus on
That out of these two remarkable stories we would…
Grow in our trust in Jesus who has BOTH infinite power and extraordinary compassion
The end result of us reading Luke ought to be an increased trust in Jesus Christ. He is completely worthy of our complete trust. For the forgiveness of every one of our sins. For help in the most severe trials. For life itself.
And Jesus is completely worthy of our worship and admiration.
But such faith is not some switch we flip on. My “Faith switch.” Click it on and I’m good.
We must grow in the knowledge of God. Head knowledge for sure. But even more, we need an experiential heart knowledge.
We want to really know and understand Jesus in a way that leads to trust. And to obedience.
We want to believe Jesus for who he is. Not a partial Jesus. Not sort of Jesus. Not a little bit of Jesus. All of him. His power and authority. And his compassion.
King David from the OT wrote a Psalm that reminds me of what we’ve seen in Luke 7 today:
Psalm 62:11–12 ESV Once God has spoken; twice have I heard this: that power belongs to God, and that to you, O Lord, belongs steadfast love.
David saw that God has power. Unprecedented power and authority. He answers to no one. Instead, all answer to him. And he can do whatever he pleases.
At the same time, he is a God of steadfast, unfailing, unshakeable love. He is tender and kind and merciful.
From our two stories in Luke 7, let’s first examine Jesus’ power and authority.
Think of what Jesus did and said:
- He commanded healing of a suffering, dying man in a distant town. And it happened at that very hour.
- He commanded a dead man to rise out of his casket during a funeral procession. And the man came back to life.
- He commanded demons in Luke 4 to shut up and to leave. And they HAD to.
- He taught with authority in Luke 4. And the people were amazed.
This ought to jar us and startle us. Even intimidate us. When Jesus speaks in his Word, we ought to be jarred awake. We ought to be made alert. We ought to give 100% attention.
And if we want more, Jesus has authority over everything and everyone.
Jesus’ last words on earth spoke of this. He said,
Matthew 28:18-19 ESV “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…”
God the Father has given Jesus the Son ALL authority.
Jesus Christ rules over everything. He rules over broken bodies. He rules over demons. He rules over the dead. He rules over violent storms, which we will read in three weeks.
What we find in this Gospel is that Jesus also rules over ME. And YOU. He rules like no one else ever has and ever will.
Do we believe this? Does this affect how we live and what we think? Does this affect our frequency and fervency of prayer? Does this give us confidence in a chaotic world when political authorities and criminals and nations are running wild, creating havoc?
So Jesus reveals himself in this Gospel as Supreme in power and authority. And we can and we must learn to bow before him. To yield our hearts to him.
We can trust in Jesus. He has infinite power and authority.
At the same time, we must believe that Jesus is a compassionate Savior. For an all-powerful ruler without compassion … is a monster like Hitler and so many others.
Consider Jesus. If he cares for a pagan soldier and his servant whom he has never met… and if he shows tender compassion toward a widow and her son whom he did not know…and if he cares for the worst sinners of his day (like two weeks ago, tax collectors)… will he not be merciful and kind toward us?
The Apostle Peter, a firsthand witness to all these events, wrote to churches 30 years later, saying,
1 Peter 5:7 NIV Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.
Give all your burdens and stresses and worries to Jesus. Why? Very simply, because he cares about you.
The Apostle Paul understood this quite well. He says,
Romans 8:31–32 NIV What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?
If God is on your side….the God who did not withhold his precious and glorious Son from dying in your place…don’t you think he will be gracious to you in every other way imaginable??
Considering both Jesus’ authority and compassion in these first 7 chapters of Luke, we haven’t even read yet in Luke’s Gospel the greatest story of all…Christ’s death and resurrection…the ULTIMATE display of power and compassion.
No story surpasses that in its witness to the grandness of God. To his strength and his love, like David declares in Psalm 62.
Let’s go all the way back to Week 1 in this sermon series. In Luke 1, what is Luke’s purpose in writing this Gospel account?
Luke 1:3–4 ESV …it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you… that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.
Luke recorded these stories about Jesus Christ that we would have greater certainty…more assurance…increased confidence…greater faith… in what we have been taught about God and his Son… that our faith would be reassured and strengthened and built.
As we grow in our knowledge and understanding of both Jesus’ power and his compassion, our faith will grow. We will give him our hearts. Our very all.
Many things can seemingly thwart our trust in the Lord for his power and tenderness. For example, a prayer that didn’t get answered in the way we wanted, a terrible injustice that happened to us, a life-changing illness, breakdown in our families when we grew up. When such things happen, weeds of doubt and distrust are planted and we let them grow. We…let them grow. No one forces us to doubt Jesus.
Can we not be people like this pagan centurion— though he had never seen Jesus…though he wasn’t of Jewish heritage— in humility he trusted in Jesus’ power, authority, and compassion to hear him when he cried out for help?
Can we, like the centurion, believe that Jesus can work in us and around us even though he is not physically present?
Can we, in our grief and pain like the widow who lost her only son, look to Jesus and look for his tender touch of compassion and wipe our tears away??
May these two remarkable stories impact our hearts, that we might know and believe that Jesus is our Compassionate Lord, with indescribable power and mercy. He has come to earth and risen from the dead in order to bring forgiveness and healing to our souls. To give us life forever and ever. To seal us with the ever-near Holy Spirit. To walk with us all our days until our heart stops beating and we meet him in glory.