The Power and Compassion of Christ
When Jesus heard these things, He marveled at him, and turning to the crowd that followed Him said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” Luke 7:9 (ESV)
I love all of God’s Word, but I have a special affinity for Luke’s writings, perhaps because he is a physician. Two accounts continue to move me: The healing of the centurion’s servant (Luke 7:1-10) and the raising of the widow’s son (Luke 7:11-17). In two households we are brought face to face with the power of Christ revealed and the compassion of Jesus extended beyond manmade barriers of race and respectability.
His Sheep Hear His Voice and Respond in Humility
Here is the household of a centurion. He is a man of prominence in his community. He has slaves within his household. Then we see the zinger in verse 3—the centurion heard of Jesus. Having heard of Jesus, he sent some elders of the Jews to Jesus. They come to Jesus and plead earnestly. Jesus goes with them. The centurion sends these emissaries back with a very different message: “Lord, don’t trouble yourself. I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. I did not consider myself worthy to come to you.”
What an incredible testimony by this centurion who in essence is saying “As if somehow, someway I was worthy of your attention. And I could on the basis of who I am, and what I have done, make an appeal to you to do something for someone else”. When grace grips a person, that person comes to Christ on bended knee. We may present ourselves in business or academics on the strength of our merits, but when we come to Christ we come face down. Also, the centurion understood what the Pharisees did not.
Why? Because Pharisees always come to Jesus on the strength of what and how they are doing. We will never be the conveyors of mercy until we understand Jesus rescuing us from the doom of God’s wrath.
We are told in verse 9 that Jesus was amazed. The humility of the man is striking. He calls himself a man under authority. And he recognizes Jesus’ authority over all things, including disease. Just say it, Jesus, and the disease is gone. There are only two places in the Bible where Jesus is amazed. The other is in Mark 6 when Jesus returns to His own town. And the Bible says He is unable to do anything. A prophet is not without honor save within his own country. And He was amazed at their lack of faith. In Luke 7 He is once again amazed—never found such faith even in Israel. And the centurion returned and found his servant healed.
Alistair Begg preaching on this passage gives three very helpful observations:
- We see prophecy of Simeon being fulfilled, the old man in the temple in Luke 2. He says of the child that He is a light to lighten the Gentiles. The people who heard his prophecy probably wondered what that would look like. Here we see it in the home of the centurion.
- Jesus does not draw insider/outsider distinctions even when confronted with the possibility of defilement. It was a defilement for a Jew to go into the home of a Gentile. But Jesus was quite prepared to make the journey as necessary.
- There are two essential requirements for receiving true blessing: Deep humility and a steadfast faith in Jesus. We do not have the answer to the question of what kind of faith did this man have. A faith only to believe that Jesus could heal his servant? Or did he come to faith in Jesus Himself, as not only the one who would heal his servant’s physical disease, but also the one who would cleanse his evil heart from sin?
The Compassion of the Conqueror of Death
There is another account of Jesus’ compassion in Luke 7:11-17. Jesus goes to Nain, a town south of Capernaum. This is the story of the widow and the death of her only son—the saddest of all days. The focus here is not so much on the raising of the dead son, as it is on the compassion of Christ for this woman in her need.
This is not unlike the prior story not being so much about the healing of the servant as it is about the faith of the centurion. Here we have a woman who is a widow—she has no husband. And now she has no son. She is at the end of the line. She now has no means of protection or provision; she is the epitome of poor. We need to remember Jesus’ reading of the scroll in Luke 4:18: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor”.
This poor woman faces sadness, loneliness, and the end of the family line. Unlike the incident with the centurion, there is no request here. When the Lord saw her, His heart went out to her. He saw her before He heard her. Expect this of the compassionate good Shepherd—He sees the crowd as sheep without a shepherd. He sees them as people who will stand before God’s bar of justice and give a reckoning for their lives. Here is a question for all of us: What is our response when we see people in a mess? Is it the compassion of the Lord Jesus? When we see the lost we are seeing what we would be outside of God’s saving grace?
So, Jesus’ heart goes out to her—“Do not weep”. Into the extremity of this lady’s life comes Christ the compassionate Shepherd. Jesus halts the tragic progression to the grave as only Jesus can do. He touched the coffin, something a Jew does not do. Consider this: Only He who is the resurrection and the life can halt the tragic progression to the grave. This is what makes His compassion all the more magnificent—that somebody so vast in His resources would stoop to the level of this poor woman and her dead son. Into the middle of our tragic lives the Creator of life and the Conqueror of death enters and speaks.
Nothing could have prepared them for what was about to happen. The text tells us that those carrying the coffin stopped. Jesus speaks to the young man and he sits up. Why did he sit up? Because Jesus speaks and listening to His voice the dead receive new life. Don’t miss the compassion of Jesus here—He gives the boy back to his mother. Jesus is the Lord of life and death. He alone is able to call back that which is apparently gone. And He restores the broken (Psalm 34:18).
And with gratitude to Pastor Begg some observations:
- Unlike others, Jesus does not simply comment on the great enemies of mankind, He overcomes them—sin, sickness, death.
- Jesus hears the cries of the sorrowful. He knows our hearts and our cries.
- Jesus is the loving comforter. He is the victor over death, the re-uniter of separated dear ones.
- What Jesus did here, He will one day do for all the faithful in a final perfect form.
- Jesus will bring full and final comfort on that day—reunite us with our loved ones and all who have died in Him.
Lord Jesus, we want to be like you; we want to love others and give ourselves wholeheartedly to the cause of the gospel.
Yours in Christ,