Such a great faith
Our passage this week follows on from Jesus’ sermon on the plain. After naming his 12 disciples, he described the life of discipleship to all who would listen. His sermon covered how to view life’s trials, how to love and relate to others regardless of how they treat you, the place of judgment, leadership and of rebuking. Lastly, he painted a picture for all this instruction as laying a solid foundation for life. Being a disciple of Jesus is to have a mind for the kingdom of God rather than the kingdom of this world.
- 1-10 The example of faith from the Centurion
- 1-6 Jesus hears of the Centurion
- 6-8 Jesus hears the Centurion’s point of view
- 9-10 Jesus declares the great faith of the Centurion
- 11-17 The dawning of faith in Israel
- 11-13 Two crowds meet at a city gate
- 14-15 A dead son restored
- 16-17 The people declare Jesus a great prophet
1-10 The example of faith from the Centurion
1-6 Jesus hears of the Centurion
“…finished saying all this…” Meaning the sermon on the plain of chapter 6.
“…to the people who were listening…” Note how important this detail is to Jesus’ sermon. It was addressed to the disciples (both the 12 and the many) and the point is that a disciple is one who listens to Jesus and puts his words into practice. See 6:20, 27, 49.
“…he entered Capernaum.” He has been to this town before (4:31)
“This man deserves to have you do this…” This is a unique and rare insight into the mind of the Jew. We may stereotype unfairly the legalistic and nationalistic Jew who judges all Gentiles as the enemy but we hear of how loved this Centurion was among the Jewish elders in Capernaum. He is described as a kind man even to his servant. He loves the people in Capernaum to the point of building their synagogue. He has the ear of the Jewish elders and they feel that this Gentile is worthy of compassion from Jesus. I love that Jesus doesn’t argue and debate the theology of whether he is actually worthy or not but simply goes with them.
6-8 Jesus hears the Centurion’s point of view
“…Lord… I do not deserve to have you come under my roof.” This comment is reflective of Simon Peter’s response to Jesus once he perceived him as Lord (5:8). The term ‘Lord’ does not necessarily mean Lord of all creation, ie God, but certainly is a term of submission. As important as the Centurion is (being the commander of 100 men in the Roman army), he sees Jesus as more important. He most likely sees Jesus as a man sent with God’s authority – a prophet to the people of Israel. Jesus will praise this man for his faith and the story that follows this one will have the people of Israel coming to the same conclusion.
“For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me.” This Centurion understands command structures and he is familiar with giving and receiving orders and he suggests that Jesus can operate in the same way. But he describes Jesus as ordering sickness and disease. This is his amazing faith. A Gentile who has empathy for the Jewish faith is ready to call Jesus Lord over illnesses.
9-10 Jesus declares the great faith of the Centurion
“…Jesus… was amazed at him…” Our God can be amazed at our faith and our response to him. We may not confuse amazed with surprised. A parent fully expects their child to walk on their own one day but they are still amazed when it happens. It isn’t a miracle that the baby has walked, since babies learn to do this all the time. But it doesn’t stop the parent from feeling the joy of the moment.
“…I have not found such great faith even in Israel.” Crowds have been coming to Jesus to be healed and touch him for healing and they have been slow to label him as Lord. The Centurion stands apart from Israel because of his distance from Jesus, both nationally and geographically. The Jewish leaders believed that this foreigner was worthy of Jesus’ attention but the man himself did not regard himself worthy even though he was powerful. He did not simply have great faith but a great perspective on his relationship with Jesus. This makes his faith all the more impressive. The greatness of his faith is not so much the greatness of the Centurion but the insight and knowledge of the One he puts his faith in.
11-17 The dawning of faith in Israel
The next scene fits with the previous because we see the faith of some in Israel see who Jesus is: a great prophet from God.
11-13 Two crowds meet at a city gate
“…his disciples and a large crowd went along with him.” Picture Jesus travelling with an army of followers. An unnamed bunch of people intrigued by Jesus. They come with him to Nain. Perhaps this is the town still named Nain in the Plain of Jezreel a few miles south of Nazareth. That town was never fortified however and so poses a problem with reference to a gate. It could be that the ‘gate’ is simply the point where the road enters the town proper. Another ‘clever’ view is that Nain could refer to the nearby city of Shunem (reduced to nem and confused with Nain), the attraction to this view is that this is the Shunem of 2 Kings 4 where Elisha brought the Shunammite woman’s son back from the dead!).
“…a dead person…the only son of his mother, and she was a widow.” This story wants us to recall the story of Elijah and the widow’s son in 1 Kings 17:17-24 (see also Elisha raising a boy from the dead in 2 Kings 4:32-37). The response of the widow reflects the response of crowd at the end of this story.
“And a large crowd from the town was with her.” So we have a crowd coming into the town and a crowd coming out of the town and in the centre is Jesus standing by a dead son.
“When the Lord saw her…” This is the first time that Luke refers to Jesus as Lord as a name. The title is used often in reference to a third person who will bless Israel or save Israel and as the one over this world. It is also used by some of the characters to refer to Jesus but we see for the first time, Luke use the title as if it is a full conclusion now that Jesus is Lord.
“…his heart went out to her…” Notice the affection that our Lord has to his people. We’re reminded that our God has compassion and a heart of love and affection. Our God expresses emotion.
14-15 A dead son restored
“…touched the bier…” A bier is the frame on which a dead body was conveyed to the grave. Touching a dead body would make a Jew ceremonially unclean but I suppose not if the dead body is shown to be undead!
“He said, “Young man, I say to you, get up!” We must compare Jesus’ miracle here with the miracle of Elijah to raise the dead. Elijah (and Elisha) both pleaded to the Lord through word and action for the child to be restored to life. Jesus simply gives the word.
16-17 The people declare Jesus a great prophet
“…filled with awe and praised God.” Jesus had performed many miracles but now he has brought somebody back from the dead. Jesus keeps enlightening people to who he is through word and action.
“A great prophet has appeared among us…God has come to help his people.” Let’s not jump to conclusions about the conclusion of the people here. What they are saying is the God has sent a great prophet in his name to be among them. They are comparing Jesus with Elijah and they deem him to be a great prophet. To conclude that they are calling Jesus God is misreading their language. But they getting there. Their statement approves of Jesus as a great prophet like the prophets of old and God has come to help his people.
Faith in Jesus is about our understanding of who he is as much as it is our trust in him. The Centurion showed his great faith because he treated Jesus as a man with God-like authority to make things happen at his command. The people who witnessed the son’s resurrection concluded that God has come to rescue his people. Their faith is about their understanding of who Jesus is.
Topic A – Describing your faith. What would you list as your core beliefs in Jesus that you know and trust. In what ways does your life reflect this faith?
Topic B – Belief through the witness of others. Our faith is based on the eye witness accounts of others. The Centurion demonstrates a great faith without ever having met Jesus personally. Are you able to map out how you have come to trust Jesus? What evidence or experience has lead you to faith in Christ? Perhaps you still have questions that need answering to help establish your faith.
Topic C – The miracle of all miracles. Perhaps the greatest miracle that our faith relies on is the resurrection from the dead. This story described Jesus able to undo death for the widow’s son. Luke and the other gospels all highlight the risen Lord as the victory of God. Spend some time in prayer celebrating the resurrection and Jesus as Lord of all. Thank God for our common hope and ask him to grow our faith and conviction of the resurrection and eternal life.
Prayer for the week
Our Lord and our God, we thank you for the example of the Centurion’s faith who saw before many others that your Son has the power and authority to command death and disease. Help us in this life to trust you and to grow in faith. We thank you for the hope of the resurrection and pray that you will protect us and keep us all of our days. In Jesus’ name. Amen.