Bible Passage: Luke 7: 1-17
Intro: Well morning friends and visitors. My name is Pastor Matt and today we continue our study Portraits of Jesus. For the last few weeks we’ve considered the portrait of Jesus the ethicist and Jesus the wise man. But there is a danger we could reach the wrong conclusion. Yes, Jesus is an ethicist and yes Jesus is a wise man. But the portrait today is Jesus – more than a prophet.
Well when you think of the great prophets of the Old Testament era, WHO DO YOU CONSIDER THE GREATEST? The prophets kind of had a hotline to God and knew exactly what God wanted His people to do. So prophets communicated God’s ETHICS and God’s WISDOM to Israel. And having heard an amazing sermon about ETHICS and WISDOM we could reach the conclusion that Jesus is just another prophet. Maybe even a great prophet. But still just a prophet.
Now when we think about great Old Testament prophets, most people’s mind goes to MOSES (Slide 2). Moses met with God on Mt Sinai and then carved out the 10 commandments on two tablets of stone. The first tablet – probably contained the first four commandments about how to love God and the second tablet probably covered the last six commandments about how to love your neighbor. In some ways, Moses was the originalJewish ethicist and original Jewish wise man. Many consider Moses the greatest of Israel’s prophets.
But others think (Slide 3) of JEREMIAH, or ISAIAH or maybe EZEKIEL because they had clearer and clearer visions of Jesus, the Messiah. They started to see that what the world really needed was not ethics or wisdom – but a good King and a Saviour. So many peoplethink Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel were the greatest prophets in the Old Testament.
Interestingly, from a biblical perspective the two Old Testament prophets who turn up at Jesus’ transfiguration are Moses and Elijah. They are honored with seeing Jesus in all his glory.
The prophet ELIJAH held special honor. First, Elijah met God on Mt Sinai, like Moses. But Elijah also worked MIRACLES. Most of the OLD TESTAMENT PROPHETS just spoke God’s word. But Elijah made fire come down from heaven (more than once), he brought a dead child back to life and like Enoch, Elijah didn’t die. He was translated directly to heaven (2Kngs 2.11-12). What’s more, the Old Testament finishes (in the book of Malachi) – saying that one day God would send another prophet like Elijah.
So in Jewish thinking – Jesus might be the great prophet like Elijah, who not only speaks God’s word, but also works miracles? Or is Jesus more than a prophet? What should we conclude about Jesus’ identity?
Point 1: Jesus’ has an authority respected by a Man of Power
Show: Lk.7:1-6a (READ)
Explain: Well as I begin today, let me say these stories do have links to the prophet Elijah. The Old Testament said that one day God would send another prophet like Elijah. And having witnessed Jesus’ miracles and teaching – a natural conclusion is – maybe Jesus is the great prophet like Elijah.
But next week – Jesus will talk about John the Baptist, because it’s actually John the Baptist – who is the prophet like Elijah. If you look for a moment at Luke 7:24-26 you’ll see that Jesus says; (Slide 4). NOW NOTICE – Jesus says John the Baptist was more than a prophet. So, if John the Baptist (who prepared the way for Jesus) is MORE THAN A PROPHET – then Jesus himself must also be MORE THAN JUST A PROPHET. After hearing Jesus’ amazing sermon we still need to recognize that Jesus is more than an ethicist, more than a wise man and more than a prophet. Ultimately, we need to recognize that Jesus is the Messiah and the Son of God.
Now interestingly, a Gentile centurion seems closer to recognizing this truth than many Jews. If you look again at verse 3 you’ll see what happens (READ; Lk.7:3) Now this Centurionwould have been a Gentile who held a prominent position in the Roman Army. The word centurion (comes from the word century) which means 100. So a centurion was in charge of 100 soldiers. He was also pretty wealthy.
Today we have our DENARIUS OFFERTORY for Viorica and I explained earlier that a denarius was an average days pay for a Roman soldier. So a Roman soldier would get around 365 denarii a year. But historical records tell us Centurions were paid between 3750 and 7500 denarii per year. So a Centurion earned between 10 and 20 times the average salary. In todays terms – that’s a man who is earning between $700k and $1.4m per annum.
In the small town of Capernaum his role would have been head of police, mayor and judge on behalf of the Romans. But he may also be a God-fearer. You’ll notice in verses 4-5 the elders say the Centurion is worthy of Jesus’ help because he loves our nation and built our synagogue. So, he may even be a CONVERT to Judaism and that’s why all the Jewish elders speak well of him.
But that may also be A PROBLEM. If we listened carefully during Jesus’ sermon – we would recall Jesus said; BLESSED are the poor, the hungry and those who weep. Jesus said “WOE to those who are rich. Woe to those who are well fed. Woe to you when all men speak well of you.” But that is exactly what the Jewish elders are doing. They’re all speaking well of him. So, by Jesus’ sermon the Centurion falls into the category of Woe, not blessing…
But despite being rich and powerful this Centurion seems to have got the true meaning in Jesus’ words. The real issue is not wealth vs poverty; but pride vs humility. Jesus wants people to be humble enough to admit they are sinners. Humble enough to admit they need Jesus to save them and humble enough to ask for help. What we really need is humility. And while it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God, it is not impossible. This rich, powerful Centurion shows great humility before Jesus and asks for a handout…
Show: Luke 7:6b-8 (READ)
Apply: Well, what we see – is that the Centurion approaches Jesus humbly. He says he is notworthy to either approach Jesus or have Jesus come under his roof.” That’s pretty humble. Have you actually reached that point? (PAUSE) Have you recognized that as a sinner – you really are not worthy 1) to approach Jesus, 2) nor have Jesus come into your house or you go into his house? We are not worthy to go to heaven or have anything to do with God or Jesus because of our sin.
Perhaps the Centurion heard last weeks sermon. Jesus called us to recognize he was the TEACHER and we are the students. He called us to recognize that he is the GOOD TREE and the GOOD MAN – par excellence. And Jesus told us to do a little bit of self-reflection. Perhaps the Centurion recognized that what was coming out of his heart and out of his mouth was not actually good.
Now of course, we can’t be sure the Centurion heard Jesus’ sermon. BUT CAPERNAUM was Jesus’ home town. We know many miracles and much of Jesus’ teaching happened in Capernaum (Matt.4:13; Mk.2:1). So the Centurion was probably getting the GIST of what Jesus was teaching and doing, even if he didn’t hear last weeks sermon.
So the Centurion says (through some of his lackeys); “I’m a guy with authority. I tell people what to do and they just do it. Then he (more or less says) – “Jesus I recognize that you are a man with authority (an authority far higher than mine) – so just speak the word from a distance – and I’m sure my servant will get better.” What the?? What sort of authority does the Centurion think Jesus has? We’re talking about telepathic healing from a distance. What must the Centurion have SEEN and HEARD from Jesus – to reach the conclusion that Jesus could do something this amazing?
NO PROPHET in the Old Testament (not even Elijah) ever did anything quite like this. So obviously, the Centurion recognizes that Jesus is MORE THAN A PROPHET. He recognizes that Jesus has GOD-LIKE POWER to heal and save (and he humbly asks Jesus to do it). No demands. Just absolute confidence Jesus can do it and may do it – if he asks humbly. It makes me wonder “whether I pray to Jesus with this same humility, faith and confidence?” Jesus may not always give us what we want. But we should still ask with the faith and confidence that Jesus can answer even our biggest prayers – if it is his will. But do we have the faith to ask big prayers. Jesus delights in big requests, because big requests show big faith…
Point 2: Jesus has an Authority worthy of Great Faith
Show: Luke 7:9-10 (READ)
Explain: Now notice Jesus draws the Centurions amazing faith to everyone’s attention. He says to the crowd “I have not found such great faith even in Israel.” Luke is reminding us that what Jesus really wants to see in people – is FAITH. FAITH in Jesus and his abilities.
And this story reminds us that even GENTILES can have great faith. Yes, the JEWS have a good collection of people of great faith. You can read about all the great Jewish people of faith in Hebrews 11. But here is a Gentile Centurion showing that he has great faith in Jesus and his abilities. And Jesus holds up this mans faith (as an EXAMPLE) for the crowd to recognize and try to emulate.
Friends, the key ingredients in true Christianity are faith, hope and love. That is why our VISION STATEMENT as a church is to be “A Community overflowing with faith, hope and love in Jesus.” Our faith, hope and love need to be so great that it overflows to others…
But would you say that you have GREAT FAITH in Jesus? (GOSPEL) ULTIMATELY our faith as Christians is in Jesus dying on the cross for our sins. The Bible says we all deserve to be die and be punished by God for the things we have done wrong. But Jesus died on the crossto take the punishment for us. And God says that if we truly believe Jesus died for us and ask for forgiveness – then we are pardoned and we get to go to heaven. Not because we are good enough. But because Jesus paidfor everything we’ve done wrong. SO OUR FAITH is in A) Jesus paying for our sins and OUR FAITH B) is in God’s promise of forgiveness. But as you have this faith that Jesus died for you – it produces HOPE – because you know you are forgiven and that you are going to heaven. Then faith and hope in Jesus also produces love. If you believe Jesus died for you and believe you are going to heaven – you actually start to love Jesus for saving you. Now even small faith, the faith of a mustard seed is enough to save you.
But what delights Jesus – is not little faith, but great faith. So when was the last time you truly exercised great faith in Jesus. A) Perhaps, you put your hands upon someone and prayed for healing or some other miraculous intervention. That’s great faith. B) Perhaps you were extra generous today in your denarius. You could afford to give $100, but you gave $300 trusting Jesus to look after you. That’s great faith. C) Or perhaps like Matt & Jen Lim – moving to Japan for the sake of God’s kingdom, you are moving out of your comfort zone for the sake of the gospel. That too is great faith. Yes, the faith of a mustard seed will ultimately save us. But Jesus delights in great faith. So when was the last time you delighted him? When was the last time Jesus used you as an example for other Christians to emulate?
Apply: I want you to remember – in the background of these stories is the question “WHO IS JESUS?” After hearing his amazing sermon are we to conclude he is another prophet? Perhaps even a great prophet like Elijah? Or is Jesus more than a prophet?
In the story that follows about Jesus raising a widow’s son from the dead there are direct allusions to Elijah. You see, ELIJAH also raised a widows son from the dead. Jesus does it a bit more easily than Elijah. But there is still a similarity. At the end of verse 15 – where it says “and Jesus gave him back to his mother”, it is the exact same form of words as 1 Kngs 17:23. After Elijah raises a boy from the dead it says “and Elijah gave him back to his mother.” So a comparison is being made between Jesus and Elijah.
And perhaps another story is also in the background of the Centurion. A story about Elijah that the Centurion might know if he is a convert to Judaism. The Centurion is so powerful he could have just sent soldiers and demanded that Jesus come to his house. The Centurion has that sort of power. So why doesn’t he demand that Jesus come to his house. Well the problem is he only has 100 soldiers at his disposal and that may not be enough…
You see there is a story in the Old Testament (2 Kings, chapter 1) where KING AHAB sends 50 soldiers to Elijah demanding that he come and do what Ahab wants. And Elijah strikes all the soldiers dead. So King Ahab semds another 50 soldiers demanding Elijah come. So Elijah also strikes them all dead. (100 men gone just like that). Boom. Finally, the last group comes humbly to Elijah and pleads with him “please have respect for my life and the lives of my men.” In a way Elijah held in his hands both THE POWER OF LIFE (raising the dead widow’s son) and THE POWER OF DEATH (killing 100 soldiers) just like that – click fingers..
Did the Centurion who was a god-fearer and built the synagogue know this story about Elijah? If he did, the Centurion would have known the 100 soldiers at his disposal might not be enough, especially if Jesus is more powerful than the prophet Elijah. Although, we can’t be certain – THE CONTEXT (and the focus on Jesus being more than a prophet) should at least bring to mind the story of Elijah striking down 100 soldiers and shortly thereafter also striking down King Ahab. If the Centurion is truly grapsing Jesus’ identity (and he recognizes what we are meant to recognize) – that Jesus is MORE THAN A PROPHET then to some extent he recognizes Jesus holds his life and death in his hands.
Point 3: Jesus has Absolute Authority over Life and Death.
Show: Luke 7:11-15 (READ)
Explain: Well NAIN is a small town about 20km south-west of Capernaum. And as I mentioned already there is a comparison in this story between JESUS and ELIJAH. One of Elijah’s famous miracles is that he raised a dead widow’s son in Zarephath. But Jesus now raises a dead widows son in Nain – and he does it a lot easier than Elijah. Elijah had to go through an elaborate ritual – lying next to the dead boy 3 times – before he comes back to life. But again, Jesus just speaks and the dead boy comes back to life and is returned to his mother.
This is a wonderful picture – of the the entire world. As the funeral procession of humanity comes wailing and mourning in the valley of the shadow of death – it runs into the Kingdom of God going the other way. Jesus, his disciples and a great crowd are going the other way excited and full of hope (because of Jesus’ miracles) – and as the world of death collides with God’s kingdom of life – death is swallowed up in victory. Jesus is so much more than a prophet. He just speaks to the dead boy and he sits up and begins to talk.
Apply: As Jesus says in Revelation 1 (Slide 9; Rev.1:17-18). But do we realise Jesus holds our life and death in his hands. It’s not science, or medicine or vaccines. Our lives, our future, our world and even our eternity are in the hands of Jesus. He says you die, you die. He says, you live, you get to live. There are lots of people these days who say “Yes, I think Jesus was a great ethicist. I think much of his teaching is good and wise and helpful. But he was just another prophet, just another wise man.” But that is not the right conclusion. Jesus is much, much more than a prophet. 1) Powerful men recognize Jesus’ true power and they approach him accordingly. 2) Dead people approach jesus and they come to life. Yes, Jesus is prophetic in that he communicates the absolute truth about God, ethics and life. But Jesus is not just another prophet. He is God’s Son in the flesh. He died for you and he will ultimately determine whether you live or die.
That’s the sort of person you want to make peace with – while there is still time. 1) If you haven’t yet done that – I urge you to put your trust in Jesus. Come to him today in prayer – ask for forgiveness, ask for salvation and he will give you life, eternal life. 2) But if you are already a Christian – recognize that the one who holds the power of life and death in his hands – also loves you enough to die for you. SUCH A PERSON IS WORTHY – not of mustard seed faith, but great faith. He loves you and has power to look after you -more than you can imagine. So don’t give him mustard seed faith. Give him great faith – for in this your King, the King of Kings – delights. Amen. Amen