Luke continues his narrative by describing key events in Jesus' ministry as He begins to preach and do miracles in the northern part of Israel. He lived as an adult in Capernaum in the region of the Sea of Galilee and it was normal that He not only began His ministry there but also call His Apostles from the town and villages in and around that area.
In the last section that we covered Luke described the choosing of the 12 Apostles (Luke 6:12-16). Luke follows the naming of the 12 with a summary of the teaching that Jesus gave after the selection of His Apostles.
The section 6:17-38 is basically a repetition of what Matthew provides in a longer and more complete way (Beatitude Section - Matthew 5:1-7:29). This passage demonstrates how the different gospel writers borrowed from each other in order to complete their records.
In 6:39-45 Jesus adds several parables in order to amplify and provide concrete examples for His previous teaching. Note that Luke places the parable of "the house built on the rock" at the end of this passage as does Matthew (Matthew 7:24-27).
When He had completed all His discourse in the hearing of the people, He went to Capernaum.
- Luke 7:1
Luke naturally ends this teaching section by noting where Jesus is geographically so that his reader (Theophilus) will not only know what Jesus is saying and doing, but also where these things are taking place in order to ground them into some historical and physical context.
We noted that Jesus' ministry was a series of teachings followed by miracles that drew attention to the teachings which were then followed by more miracles until the final miracle (resurrection) was performed. Luke notes another miracle which was unusual because of its recipient.
The Centurion's Servant Healed – 7:2-10
Historically we know that the region we refer to as Israel was under Roman rule at that time. The Romans permitted a limited form of self-rule with local "Jewish" kings appointed to manage political and social affairs under the direction of a governor (Pilate) who commanded the soldiers posted in Jerusalem as well as other key locations throughout the country, in order to maintain peace. The headquarters for the Roman forces in Judea was in Caesarea, on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea.
- Legionaries were the infantry soldiers that made up the bulk of the Roman army.
- Recruited from Roman citizens (free).
- 4'11" minimum height, 14-19 years old.
- A legion had 6000 soldiers and by 23 A.D. Rome commanded 23 legions.
- A cohort = 600 soldiers
- A century = 100 soldiers
- A centurion commanded a company of about 100 legionaries.
And a centurion's slave, who was highly regarded by him, was sick and about to die.
- Luke 7:2
According to Josephus (Jewish historian - Ant. 17, 8, 3 - Lenski p. 388: Luke's Commentary) there were no Roman troops stationed in Capernaum in times of peace. This Centurion apparently lived in Capernaum, he worked for king Herod Antipas whose troops were made up of foreign soldiers. Luke sets the scene by describing the favored status of this household servant and the fact that he was near death (Matthew says that the servant suffered from paralysis - Matthew 8:6).
When he heard about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders asking Him to come and save the life of his slave.
- Luke 7:3
This verse reveals certain things about this man:
- He was influenced by the witness of others concerning Jesus, not having seen or heard Him personally.
- He had both influence and favor among the Jews, sending several Jewish elders (leaders) to ask for help on his behalf (we find out why in the next verses).
- He truly believed. He did not ask that Jesus come and pray, or drop by to see what He could do. He specifically asked Jesus to come and save the life of his dying servant.
4When they came to Jesus, they earnestly implored Him, saying, "He is worthy for You to grant this to him; 5for he loves our nation and it was he who built us our synagogue."
- Luke 7:4-5
Luke records the arguments of the Jewish elders on behalf of this man:
- Note there is nothing said about the value and character of the slave, only that he was highly regarded by the Centurion.
- The way the elders state their case assumes that Jesus can do this, they assure the Lord that the Centurion is "worthy" not in the sense that he deserves a reward of some kind but that compared to others the Lord has blessed, he is worthy of consideration.
- They verify the sincerity of the man's faith by describing him as one who loves God's people (even though he is a Gentile) and proving his love for them and for God by building a house of prayer for them (synagogue).
6Now Jesus started on His way with them; and when He was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends, saying to Him, "Lord, do not trouble Yourself further, for I am not worthy for You to come under my roof; 7for this reason I did not even consider myself worthy to come to You, but just say the word, and my servant will be healed. 8For I also am a man placed under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to this one, 'Go!' and he goes, and to another, 'Come!' and he comes, and to my slave, 'Do this!' and he does it."
- Luke 7:6-8
So far we have only heard about this man's situation, piety, love and faith. In this passage we hear the Centurion speak and in his speaking we learn several more things about him:
- He was pious. Piety is a respect for Godly things and people. In his case he respected the fact that Jesus, as a Jew, cold not enter his house without defiling (becoming unclean) Himself according to Jewish Law. Seeing that Jesus is about to do so, he sends friends to stop Him. He wanted his slave healed but not at the expense of putting Jesus in a compromising position by openly violating the Law.
- He was humble. Humility is having a realistic evaluation of ourselves. He recognized that Jesus' power was from God and greater than his own (that came from man) and thus placed himself in the correct position before Jesus, asking Him to exercise that power (say the word) in order to heal his servant.
9Now when Jesus heard this, He marveled at him, and turned and said to the crowd that was following Him, "I say to you, not even in Israel have I found such great faith." 10When those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave in good health.
- Luke 7:9-10
Rarely does Jesus "marvel" at what men or women do, but here He does so because this Gentile fully grasped the concept that Jesus' power was embodied in his word, an idea that the Jewish nation, having had God's word for nearly 1400 years, failed to accept. Luke notes that at this moment the slave was fully healed and restored.
Widow's Son Resurrected – 7:11-17
As if to confirm that the power is in Jesus' word, Luke follows up the healing miracle of the Centurion's slave with an even greater miracle: the raising of the dead.
In verses 11-12 Luke quickly sketches out the situation. He again pinpoints the location (Nain) a city southwest of Capernaum, and the scene, a funeral procession for the only child of a widowed mother. In this instance no one asks Him to intervene since the person is already dead. It is His compassion for the mother that moves Him to miraculously raise her son from the dead.
13When the Lord saw her, He felt compassion for her, and said to her, "Do not weep." 14And He came up and touched the coffin; and the bearers came to a halt. And He said, "Young man, I say to you, arise!" 15The dead man sat up and began to speak. And Jesus gave him back to his mother.
- Luke 7:13-15
Note that He only speaks a word to raise the dead man, and Luke confirms the miracle by noting that the one who was formerly dead began to speak.
In verses 16-17 Luke describes the excited reaction of the crowd. Unlike the Centurion's slave (done before a few and for the slave of a Gentile soldier) this spectacular miracle is done before the crowd following Him, His disciples, and the crowd from the city in the funeral procession. This miracle made Him famous throughout the nation, not just in His hometown and surrounding area.
Luke is setting the scene for Jesus' eventual appearance in Jerusalem.
Summary of John's Ministry – 7:18-35
In verse 16 Luke writes that the people were praising God on account of Jesus' miracle and saying that a great "prophet" had been send by God. Luke uses this statement as a bridge to summarize and close out the work of John the Baptist who was the last prophet sent by God to the Jewish people. After this section Luke recounts time when John was in prison and he sent disciples to ask Jesus if He was the Messiah.
18The disciples of John reported to him about all these things. 19Summoning two of his disciples, John sent them to the Lord, saying, "Are You the Expected One, or do we look for someone else?"
- Luke 7:18-19
Some are confused wondering why John would begin to doubt at this point. John's task was to announce the coming of the Messiah and the Judgement He would bring. (i.e. "And the axe is already laid at the root of the trees; therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire." - Matthew 3:10). It seems that John believed these two events would happen simultaneously, the coming of the Messiah and the Judgement.
When John saw that despite His presence there did not seem to be any judgement on the people, in fact, the leaders were actually pronouncing judgement on Jesus and attacking Him, John began to doubt and sent to the Lord for clarification and assurance. Of course, the Judgement did eventually come some years later, in 70 A.D. when Jerusalem was destroyed by Rome.
20When the men came to Him, they said, "John the Baptist has sent us to You, to ask, 'Are You the Expected One, or do we look for someone else?'" 21At that very time He cured many people of diseases and afflictions and evil spirits; and He gave sight to many who were blind. 22And He answered and said to them, "Go and report to John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have the gospel preached to them. 23Blessed is he who does not take offense at Me."
- Luke 7:20-23
Jesus, in word and deed, reassures them that He is the Messiah, doing all the things (miracles, teachings) that the prophets said that the Messiah would do. He gives John an exhortation to rejoice in his faith regardless of his circumstances.
In verses 24-35 Jesus finishes by confirming the person and ministry of John the Baptist and condemning the Jewish leaders who rejected John, his baptism and the Messiah he proclaimed. Even though John had a moment of doubt about Jesus, the Lord encourages the people not to harbor any doubt about John and Himself.
The Women – 7:36-8:3
Up until this time, aside from His earthly mother Mary and the prophetess Ana at the temple and those He healed, no women are prominently associated with Jesus. Luke changes this by introducing a woman who would anoint Him and a group of women who would support Him.
The Sinful Woman – 7:36-50
Now one of the Pharisees was requesting Him to dine with him, and He entered the Pharisee's house and reclined at the table.
- Luke 7:36
Again Luke situates the story but this time socially (Pharisee's) house for a meal, not geographically.
37And there was a woman in the city who was a sinner; and when she learned that He was reclining at the table in the Pharisee's house, she brought an alabaster vial of perfume, 38and standing behind Him at His feet, weeping, she began to wet His feet with her tears, and kept wiping them with the hair of her head, and kissing His feet and anointing them with the perfume.
- Luke 7:37-38
The meal was served on a low table and the guests reclined on pillows leaning on their left elbows with legs stretched out away from the table. The woman (not named and not Mary Magdalene who was healed of demon possession by Jesus) who was a sinner (not necessarily a prostitute, could have been a thief or a woman divorced because of her adultery) enters and stands behind Jesus. She begins to weep and then kneels, breaks open (no cap to keep the remaining oil, once opened it is all used up) a vial of anointing oil. Her tears fall on His feet while she is anointing them and having not been provided a basin and towel for His feet by His host, the woman proceeds to dry them with her hair, all the while kissing them. Her actions were a great sign of humility (she crashed the dinner), she exposed herself to possible rejection and shame, and she lowered herself before Jesus publicly.
Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he said to himself, "If this man were a prophet He would know who and what sort of person this woman is who is touching Him, that she is a sinner."
- Luke 7:39
Luke inserts a kind of caption over the Pharisee showing his thoughts and thus exposing his intentions and attitude towards Jesus. He had invited the Lord just to see if what was said about Him was true. This episode merely confirmed what other Jewish leaders said, He eats with sinners and tax collectors. He cannot be from God, He is not one of them (the Pharisees).
40And Jesus answered him, "Simon, I have something to say to you." And he replied, "Say it, Teacher." 41"A moneylender had two debtors: one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42When they were unable to repay, he graciously forgave them both. So which of them will love him more?" 43Simon answered and said, "I suppose the one whom he forgave more." And He said to him, "You have judged correctly."
- Luke 40-43
This parable exposes the hearts of both the Pharisee and the woman. One, the woman, felt the weight of sin and the other, the Pharisee, did not.
44Turning toward the woman, He said to Simon, "Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has wet My feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45You gave Me no kiss; but she, since the time I came in, has not ceased to kiss My feet. 46You did not anoint My head with oil, but she anointed My feet with perfume. 47For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little." 48Then He said to her, "Your sins have been forgiven."
- Luke 44-48
Interesting to note that Jesus says that what the woman did was done as a result of her sins being forgiven. This means that she did not anoint His feet in order to receive forgiveness, she did all these things as a show of her love toward Jesus for having already forgiven her at some previous time. In contrast to this, the Pharisee had neglected to show Jesus the basic courtesies of Jewish hospitality, let alone love. The parable simply lays out the very common sense idea that those who have been forgiven much are usually more grateful than those with smaller debts.
However, in reality both the woman and the Pharisee owed great debts for their personal sinfulness. The only difference was that she became aware of hers and the Pharisee did not. The result was that Jesus openly expressed before witnesses that the woman was actually forgiven and by His silence showed that the Pharisee was not. This declaration stirs up the other guests because in saying this Jesus was equating Himself with God, the very thing that will seal His fate to the cross later on.
The Ministering Woman – 8:1-3
In the first three verses of chapter 8, Luke will once again revert to his practical mode by describing how Jesus was supported. He has just described a man healing all kinds of diseases and infirmities, and reading people's minds. This would naturally lead people to wonder if Jesus was real, was actually human. That potential question or doubt is answered here where Luke explains that a group of female disciples provided the resources to eat, lodge and travel for both Jesus and His Apostles. A very practical footnote to add as Luke explains that Jesus and the Apostles were now fully engaged in ministry from place to place on a full-time basis, all having left their secular work to take on their Apostolic ministries.
We will continue next time as Luke will record another series of parables and miracles taking place in Galilee before Jesus will venture forth to minister in Jerusalem and the nearby countryside.
1. The prayers of the righteous are effective on behalf of others (righteous or not).
The elders appealed to Jesus on behalf of a Gentile (Centurion), a person they were not even supposed to deal with let alone pray for.
Praying for an unfaithful husband, a friend in jail or an unbelieving grandmother is made acceptable and effective because of our faith and righteous life, not theirs.
2. Faith believes that God will find a way.
The Centurion could not bring his sick and dying slave to Jesus and Jesus could not enter the Centurion's house without defilement (and the problems this would cause His ministry). The Centurion called on Jesus nevertheless, and God found a way to answer His prayer.
In faith and prayer our job is to ask and believe, not figure out how.
- What quality of character possessed by the Centurion do you admire most? Why?
- How can today's disciples demonstrate piety?
- In your opinion, what would Jesus marvel about in your life today? What would you like for Him to marvel at if you could achieve it?