THE MINSTRY OF MESSIAH (19)
In our last study, we considered the choosing of the twelve Apostles and the sermon on the plain. In this study, we shall consider the Centurion’s Servant, the Widow’s Son, and the message from John the Baptist.
The Healing of the Centurion’s Servant.
When Jesus had ended all his sayings in the audience of the people, he entered into Capernaum. As soon as he arrived there he was met by an embassage of Jewish elders who had been sent to him by “a certain centurion” whose servant was sick of the palsy, and ready to die. This miracle of Jesus is recorded in Luke 7:1-10, and Matthew 8:5-13. In the Matthew account we read that the centurion came to Jesus (Mat. 8:5), whereas in Luke others came on his behalf. I believe that there is a legal maxim, “what one does by another, one does oneself”. So in sending others to Jesus on his behalf, in reality the centurion came to Jesus. Both accounts therefore are true. This principle is shown in other parts of Scripture, e.g. when the angel spoke to Israel in the wilderness, it was Yahweh speaking (Exo. 23:20-22).
Perhaps in this incident we have brought before us the qualities that a Gentile should show in coming to Christ. This man, a Roman, providentially placed in the land of Israel at the time of Christ, was a representative of the Gentiles, for we read in Matthew 8:11
“And I say unto you, That many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven”.
We see from verse 12 the contrast between the Roman Centurion and the Jews:
“But the children of the kingdom [i.e. Israel] shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
In AD 70 they were cast into outer darkness.
Perhaps we are being shown in the attitude of this man, how we should come to the Master. He loved Israel and had built a synagogue for the Jews in his area. He recognised his own unworthiness but at the same time believed in the great power that Christ had to heal his servant, as we see from verses 6-7:
“trouble not thyself: for I am not worthy that thou shouldest enter under my roof: Wherefore neither though I myself worthy to come unto thee: but say in a word, and my servant shall be healed.”
Our position is shown in Romans 11, where the Apostle Paul is speaking of the casting away of Israel, but he continues in verse 17:
“And if some of the branches be broken off, and thou, being a wild olive tree, wert graffed in among them, and with them partakes of the root and fatness of the olive tree; Boast not against the branches. But if thou boast, thou bearest not the root, but the root thee … Well; because of unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by faith. Be not highminded, but fear: for if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee. Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off.” (verses 17-22).
We need to be conscious that we are but Gentiles who have been called through the mercy of our heavenly Father to be associated with the things of Israel. This was the attitude of the centurion. Jesus marvelled at this man, as we see from Luke 7:9:
“When Jesus heard these things, he marvelled at him, and turned him about, and said unto the people that followed him, I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel.”
Jesus had found greater faith in this Gentile than in Israel. Surely this man must have become a faithful follower of Christ. So:
“they that were sent, returning to the house, found the servant whole that had been sick.”
There is a lesson for us, brethren and sisters. Are we conscious of our unworthiness as this man was? We recall how when Peter saw the greatness of Christ in the miracle of the draught of fishes, he said to him, “Depart from me for I am as sinful man, O Lord” (Lk. 5:8). Ruth showed a lovely attitude in the presence of Boaz:
“Why have I found grace in thine eyes, that thou shouldest take knowledge of me, seeing I am a stranger?” (Ruth 1:10).
May we be continually conscious of the great mercy of our heavenly Father, that we who “were afar off are made nigh by the blood of Christ”.
Healing the Widow’s Son:
The next day, Jesus came to Nain, a city in southern Galilee. Many of his disciples also went with him. As Jesus entered the gate of the city, he met a funeral cortege, “a dead man carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow”. When Jesus saw her, he had compassion on her. How often do we read these words of the Master! Jesus had that mighty power with him which he always used for the benefit of others. This incident would have no doubt been preceded by earnest prayer and fasting. So Jesus says to the widow, “Weep not”. He then simply touched the bier. The record says that they that bare him stood still, and Jesus said, “Young man, I say unto thee, Arise.” So we read:
“and he that was dead sat up, and began to speak. And he delivered him to his mother.”
This was the first time Jesus had raised a man from the dead, and this miracle had a great impact upon the people, as we see from Luke 7:16-17:
“and there came a fear on all: and they glorified God, saying, That a great prophet is risen up among us; and, That God hath visited his people. And this rumour of him went forth throughout all Judea, and throughout all the region round about.”
Jesus was in the part of the country where Elijah and Elisha had been. We need to contrast his miracle in simply touching the bier with what Elijah did in raising the widow’s son (1 Kings 17:19-24).
The rumour so spread that John who was now in prison heard of it. We remember that John himself said of Jesus “He must increase, but I must decrease,” yet when this did happen, it must have been very hard for John. His whole life had been hard. He was born of aged parents, who probably died when he was young, and had spent his early years in the wilderness. He was “the voice of him that crieth in the wilderness”. He had prepared the way for the appearance of Christ. Now he was in prison because he had done the right thing. He had rebuked Herod because he had taken Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife. John now hears of Jesus’ fame as a result of raising the widow’s son. He was now fully experiencing that Jesus must increase, but he must decrease.
John the Baptist:
We must remember that although John came in the spirit and power of Elijah, like Elijah he was “a man subject to like passions as we are.” John had become very low. Jesus had raised this man from the dead. Why could he not deliver him from prison? He therefore sent two of his disciples to Jesus, saying, “Art thou he that should come? Or look we for another? We read of Jesus’s response in Luke 7:21-23:
“And in that same hour he cured many of their infirmities and plagues, and of evil spirits; and unto many that were blind he gave sight. Then Jesus answering said unto them, Go your way, and tell John what things ye have seen and heard; how that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, to the poor the gospel is preached. And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me.”
Jesus gave John no words of reassurance as to his position. He simply demonstrated to him that he was “he that should come.” John would no doubt remember the words of Isaiah 61:1:
“The Spirit of Adonai Yahweh is upon me: because Yahweh hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the broken hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of prison to them that are bound; to proclaim the acceptable year of Yahweh.”
John had to believe that Jesus had the power to do these things, and moreover, that he was the one sent to do these things—yet it was not the time for him to use these powers to deliver John. So it is with us, brethren and sisters. It is “through much tribulation that we must enter the kingdom of God.” Sometimes we may not see an end to our troubles, but we must believe that our heavenly Father has power to deliver us and that “all things work together for good to them that love God.”
John’s life came to a tragic end. He was beheaded by Herod because of a whim of Herodias, who Herod had unlawfully taken to be his wife. But Jesus’s words to the people which followed reveal the greatness of his character. Let us turn to Luke 7:24-28:
“And when the messengers of John were departed, he began to speak unto the people concerning John, What went ye out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken with the wind? But what went ye out for to see? A man clothed in soft raiment? Behold, they which are gorgeously apparelled, and live delicately are in king’s courts. But what went ye out for to see? A prophet? Yea, I say unto you, and much more than a prophet. This is he, of whom it is written, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee. For I say unto you, Among those that are born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist: but he that is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.”
We can only conclude from this that John was a greater prophet than Moses, Elijah and Elisha, for of all these prophets, he was the one chosen to herald the coming of the Messiah. We perhaps do not always fully appreciate the greatness of John. But what is difficult to appreciate is that he that is least in the kingdom of God is greater than John. Despite John’s greatness, he came in weak erring nature. Even Jesus when addressed as “Good Master” replied “Why callest thou me good? There is none good but one, that is, God”. What we are now is not to be compared with what we shall attain to in the kingdom. As the Apostle Paul said:
“For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.”
Here, he is showing us that whatever troubles we go through now in our earthen vessels, we should always look forward to the culmination of God’s purpose in the kingdom. Jesus “for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God”. John in his misery in prison had to have that end in view, and similarly we must have that end in view. Therefore Paul said of Jesus, “consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds”.
The effect of Jesus’ words concerning John was that “all the people that heard him, and the publicans, justified God being baptized with the baptism of John. But the pharisees and lawyers rejected the counsel of God against themselves, being not baptised of him.”
These words show the importance of justifying God. In his death, Jesus declared the righteousness of God. He showed in his death what is due for man because of sin. Indeed, in his baptism Jesus declared the righteousness of God (Mat. 3:15). So we read of Jesus:
“Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation (mercy seat) through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God: To declare, I say at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.”
David acknowledged God’s righteousness when he sinned (Psa. 51:4) In submitting to baptism, we acknowledge God’s Righteousness shown in the death of Jesus and ourselves die with him in the waters of baptism and rise to newness of life. Whether the people fully understood these things at this time, we do not know, but nevertheless they justified God in submitting to the baptism of John who was sent by God. The Pharisees and Lawyers rejected the counsel of God against themselves in refusing to submit to John’s baptism.
Their attitude is now reflected in the parable which follows concerning young children playing in the marketplace. The parable surely shows that however you present the Truth, it will not please those who do not want it, whether John as coming as an austere man, of Jesus mixing with the people and accepting invitations to meals. In the end Jesus concludes, “Wisdom is justified of her children”. Jesus was the wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1:30) and men who understood and accepted his message “would not quarrel with him, nor find fault with him.” Similarly with us, brethren and sisters, lest us manifest the wisdom or character of God in our lives. We should not do this as men pleasers. If there is little or no response, let us be satisfied with Jesus’s words, “wisdom is justified of her children”. How true are the words of the Apostle Paul:
“but we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks foolishness: But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Cor. 1:23-31).
In the next incident, we have an illustration of the very point that Christ is making. Jesus is invited to dine with a Pharisee. We then read in Luke 7:37-38:
“And behold, a woman in the city, which was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at meat in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster box of ointment, And stood at his feet behind him weeping, and began to wash his feet with her tears, and did wipe them with the hairs of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed him with the ointment.”
All the Pharisee could see was that “she is a sinner” and thought that Jesus should see this also. It took the parable of the two debtors to draw from the Pharisee the reluctant recognition that that debtor who owed the creditor most was the one “whom he forgave most”. Jesus’s reply to Simon the Pharisee is very telling:
“Seest thou this woman? I entered into thine house, thou gavest me no water for my feet: but she hath washed my feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head. Thou gavest me no kiss: but this woman since the time I came in hath not ceased to kiss my feet. My head with oil thou didst not anoint: but this woman hath anointed my feet with ointment. Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little. And he said unto her, Thy sins are forgiven.”
Those who sat at meat questioned, “Who is this that forgiveth sins also?” But Jesus said to the woman, “Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace.”
This incident illustrates the parable of the market place. The Pharisee showed no respect or love for Christ. He even questioned whether he was a prophet. All he could emphasise was “She is a sinner”. The woman manifested her repentance by showing a deep love for Christ. As this woman was conscious of her wretchedness, so we should always be conscious of our own wretchedness. This will develop in us a humility of mind and a love for the Lord God—His great mercy toward us in allowing His Son to lay down his life for us. This love of Christ will be manifested in serving our brethren and sisters after the example of this woman, for “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” May we learn from the negative attitude of the Pharisee to show a positive love to our brethren and sisters. We must uphold justice but we must beware of being too critical of our brethren and sisters. May we manifest the fruit of the Spirit:
“Let nothing be done through strife and vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man on the things of others. Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth: And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:3-11).