Hey everyone, Josh Hawkins here, welcome to Episode 66 of Opening Up the Gospels. I've been walking through the period I’ve called Jesus' “Middle Galilean Ministry” for the past several episodes, and I want to continue that today by diving into several events in Luke chapter 7. Specifically I want to look at the healing of a Roman centurion’s servant. Let’s jump right in and read from Luke:
"When He had completed all His discourse in the hearing of the people, He went to Capernaum. And a centurion’s slave, who was highly regarded by him, was sick and about to die. When he heard about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders asking Him to come and save the life of his slave. When they came to Jesus, they earnestly implored Him, saying, “He is worthy for You to grant this to him; for he loves our nation and it was he who built us our synagogue.”"
(Luke 7:1–5 NASB95)
So here we see Jesus going back to Capernaum right after He gave the Sermon on the Mount. Let’s take a look at our map. Back in Episode 63, I noted that a probable location for the Sermon on the Mount was in the hilly region just north of Capernaum and Bethsaida. And so after Jesus finishes teaching the people there, He heads back to Capernaum. Remember, Capernaum was where Jesus lived at the time and where His ministry was based. And so it’s some point after Jesus enters Capernaum again that this scene plays out.
Both Luke 7 and Matthew 8 narrate this event and talk about a centurion. A centurion was a captain of the Roman army and was the commanding officer for a number of troops. Now it’s interesting - the fact that a centurion was present in Capernaum indicates that the town was large enough to warrant the presence of the Roman army. So though we can’t be sure exactly how many people lived there, Capernaum seems like it was fairly populous. So along with the centurion and his troops we’re told about a servant who was sick and about to die. The centurion sends some Jewish elders to Jesus and tell him “Hey, this centurion in town has a servant who is sick and is about to die. You should go help him out because he built a synagogue for us and is worthy of your help.” Don’t forget - the Jews didn’t like the Romans. But the way to a heart of a Jew was to build something for them. Think about the city of Jerusalem - the Jews hated Herod, but Herod built them a marvelous temple with so much gold and marble. The Jews were willing to tolerate Herod, though they didn’t like him. The building of the temple went a long way in his favor. So similarly in this scene, we see the same thing - “Jesus, we don’t really like the Romans and their armies in our land and our city. But this guy built us something, so if you help him out, maybe he will build something else.” Does that make sense? Let’s keep reading in Luke 7:
"Now 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; for this reason I did not even consider myself worthy to come to You, but just say the word, and my servant will be healed. “For 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.” Now 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.” When those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave in good health."
(Luke 7:6–10 NASB95)
So Jesus starts along the way to the house, and as he’s walking there, some of the friends of the centurion meet Jesus. This is a different group than the Jewish elders. The fact that the centurion sent friends instead of going himself says a lot about him and his humility in that he didn’t even deem himself worthy to speak to Jesus directly. His friends tell Jesus that the centurion simply wanted Jesus to say a word and heal his servant because he didn’t consider himself worthy for Jesus to come into his house and heal him. He also says that he too is a man under authority, and through this he is expressing his belief in Jesus’ authority. Think about it for a second - this guy is a commander in the Roman army. He’s not a Jew, He’s a Gentile, and he’s making these outrageous statements about Jesus’ worth and His authority. And that right there is what causes Jesus to marvel so much. He turns to the mostly Jewish crowd and is in complete awe of the centurion’s faith. Just imagine the expression on Jesus’ face. Matthew’s account of this adds some more dialog from a later portion of Jesus’ ministry, check this out from Matthew 8:
"When Jesus heard this, he marveled and said to those who followed him, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith. I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”"
(Matthew 8:10–12 ESV)
Matthew is including this particular portion of Jesus’ teaching with the scene of the centurion and his faith because of a broader theme we’ve been talking about a lot already in this series - the theme of division and who it is who will inherit the promises made to Abraham. Remember, one of the main purposes of Jesus’ first coming is to bring a reckoning to Israel and to show them that their ethnic descent from Abraham and their adherence to the Law of Moses is not sufficient to grant them inheritance in God’s promises. Again and again we have seen that throughout Jesus’ ministry, starting right at the beginning of the Gospels with the message of John the Baptist. And that’s what we’re seeing right here in this scene with the Roman centurion. Later on, Jesus will be even more explicit, but this scene is hinting at the fact that Gentiles are going to be included in God’s eschatological feast and the inheritance that was promised to Abraham’s descendants. Matthew’s Gospel narrates Jesus several times saying that his mission and purpose was to come for the lost sheep of Israel. Jesus rarely goes into Gentile towns - there are a few exceptions we see in the Gospels - but He stays in Galilee, Judea, and Jerusalem. Yet there are some snapshots, especially later in his ministry, that we see Him ministering outside the fold of Israel. And in this particular scene with the centurion, we see this playing out a little bit. The centurion had so much faith in Jesus that it causes Him to marvel and say that He hadn’t found faith like that even in Israel. Think about it - Jesus turns to a Jewish crowd and says that. He’s commending a Gentile for faith in a Jewish messiah, a faith greater than the Jews themselves had. He’s indicting them and saying “you guys don’t even believe in me in this way, and this Gentile does? Let me tell you - in the kingdom, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob will sit down, but you guys, the ethnic sons of Abraham, the bearers of the Law and the promises, will be cast into outer darkness. Many will come from the north, south, east, and west, they will come from the nations, and they will sit down at the wedding feast that was meant for you."
This is just utterly staggering. Do you see how this statement would have been so profoundly offensive to the Jews? There are some more instances of this very thing that we will see later on that I’ll cover in some future episodes. But I hope right here you’re seeing a hint of this to the people in Capernaum.
Well, let’s move on to the next scene we see in Luke 7:
"Soon afterward he went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a great crowd went with him. 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."
(Luke 7:11–12 ESV)
Here’s a scene that only Luke’s gospel records, and it’s such a beautiful one. The next day after the scene in Capernaum with the centurion, Jesus goes to the town of Nain. Let’s look at our map for a second. Nain is southeast of Nazareth along the Valley of Jezreel, a good day’s walk from Capernaum. Jesus and his disciples and the crowd likely left in the morning and were arriving in the evening, when funerals typically were in that culture.
Now just imagine the drama of this scene for a second. Jesus and the large crowd with Him had been traveling the whole day, weary and tired from the journey. At the same time they are nearing the entrance to Nain, a large crowd is coming out of the gate of the city. There would have been mourning and wailing for the young man who had died. And this would have been much more outward than what we’re used to in funerals in our western culture today, which are usually very reserved emotionally. So we have two crowds of completely different tones converging and colliding right outside the city. And here’s where something beautiful happens. Let’s keep reading in Luke:
"And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not weep.” Then he came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. Fear seized them all, and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has arisen among us!” and “God has visited his people!” And this report about him spread through the whole of Judea and all the surrounding country."
(Luke 7:13–17 ESV)
Jesus felt compassion for this mother who had lost her only son. Imagine what it would be like when the roles were reversed in the future, where Mary would grieve the death of Jesus. I just wonder if somehow Jesus had his mother and his own death in mind in this scene. Well, we see Jesus raise up the young man with a word. Now I just love the little detail that Luke includes here - the dead man sat up and began to speak. What did he say? Did he think he just woke up from a nap? Was he curious as to why he was in a coffin and there was a crowd of people around him? When did he realize that he was dead and Jesus raised him up? Oh, there’s just so much to think on and ponder in this scene.
Now this is the first record in the Gospels of Jesus raising someone from the dead. Later we will see Jairus’ daughter as well as Lazarus get raised. Oh, just imagine what this was like! I’d encourage you to spend some time pondering and meditating on these two scenes we’ve looked at. They both show Jesus’ compassion and His power in such a deep way. Go back to episodes 5 and 6 if you want some practical tips on how to ponder or meditate on scenes from the Gospels. And if you’ve missed any of the other episodes from this series, find them all on my website at www.joshuahawkins.com/gospels. In the next episode we’ll continue looking at the events from the Middle Galilean period. God bless, see you then!