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Life of Christ (2007-2009)

Faith to Doubt

Luke 7

Lesson audio

The incidents we shall examine in this lesson are not normally grouped together. Their only connection, it would seem, is that they happened in sequence. But taken in that sequence we see three expositions of faith:

  • The centurion of great faith.
  • The widow of Nain, who shows no faith at all.
  • John the Baptist, who exhibits doubt instead of faith.

The incidents happen in Capernaum and Nain; the map may be of some use.

map

We may begin, therefore, in Capernaum.

Great Faith

Mat 8:5-13 NIV When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help. (6) "Lord," he said, "my servant lies at home paralyzed and in terrible suffering." (7) Jesus said to him, "I will go and heal him." (8) The centurion replied, "Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. (9) For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, 'Go,' and he goes; and that one, 'Come,' and he comes. I say to my servant, 'Do this,' and he does it." (10) When Jesus heard this, he was astonished and said to those following him, "I tell you the truth, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. (11) I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. (12) But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth." (13) Then Jesus said to the centurion, "Go! It will be done just as you believed it would." And his servant was healed at that very hour.

Luk 7:1-10 NIV When Jesus had finished saying all this in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. (2) There a centurion's servant, whom his master valued highly, was sick and about to die. (3) The centurion heard of Jesus and sent some elders of the Jews to him, asking him to come and heal his servant. (4) When they came to Jesus, they pleaded earnestly with him, "This man deserves to have you do this, (5) because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue." (6) So Jesus went with them.

He was not far from the house when the centurion sent friends to say to him: "Lord, don't trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. (7) That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you. But say the word, and my servant will be healed. (8) For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, 'Go,' and he goes; and that one, 'Come,' and he comes. I say to my servant, 'Do this,' and he does it." (9) When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, "I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel." (10) Then the men who had been sent returned to the house and found the servant well.

Christ brings out faith

It is a fact: Christ often acts to bring out the faith we already have. The centurion wants Christ to heal, but – being a Gentile – sends the Jewish elders to ask Jesus for this work. Jesus could simply heal the servant, and send them on their way, but He doesn’t. Christ’s reply is somewhat startling: He will go into the house of a Gentile (and thus become unclean ceremonially). Think what an encouragement that must have been!

The centurion reacts in kind. His faith has been called upon, and on it he will lean.

Authority and faith

The key perception we need here is in one word. The NIV translates the centurion’s words as “I myself am a man under authority.” The NASB and the KJV use, “I also.” The key is not that the centurion is under authority, or even under Christ’s authority. The key is that the centurion sees in Jesus a man under authority just like himself. It is a simple leap to ask whose authority; the answer is God the Father. This, then, is what drives the centurion’s faith.

We will do well to remember some things about authority:

  • All authority is given to Christ; therefore all legitimate authority on earth must be connected to Him somehow.
  • Authority is given for the benefit of those in submission to it.
  • If you use authority given to you, you must acknowledge the validity of the source.

Such authority is best used in humility; veterans will recall “salute the uniform, not the wearer.”

On his own terms

Christ, having encountered such a man, deals with him in his own terms. He does not explain why it would be better if Christ actually went to the house; the centurion is willing to take his word for it. The uncleanness is avoided, the man goes on his way. He doesn’t ask Jesus to come anyway – “just in case.” To those in authority, Christ responds in authority.

No Faith Required

Luk 7:11-17 NIV Soon afterward, Jesus went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went along with him. (12) As he approached the town gate, a dead person was being carried out--the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. And a large crowd from the town was with her. (13) When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, "Don't cry." (14) Then he went up and touched the coffin, and those carrying it stood still. He said, "Young man, I say to you, get up!" (15) The dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother. (16) They were all filled with awe and praised God. "A great prophet has appeared among us," they said. "God has come to help his people." (17) This news about Jesus spread throughout Judea[1] and the surrounding country.

The faith formula

It is perhaps surprising that in the last section I did not encourage you to have the faith the centurion had. It would be a wonderful thing, of course, and the requirement of such faith is often preached. But faith is not a magic potion to get what you want; want of faith is not necessarily the reason you’re not driving a Mercedes.

Make no mistake; God loves such faith. He rewards it, too. But that does not necessarily imply that He will do nothing in your life without it.

The compassion of Christ

We need to know that the “coffin” referenced here was probably nothing more than a couple of boards which held the body, wrapped in linen. The mourners would be in somewhat of a hurry, as they were required to get the body into a grave before nightfall. Jesus halts the procession, which probably irritated them. But note what he does next: He comforts the widow. He’s about to raise the dead, and He comforts her in her grief. Why not get to the action?

Perhaps it is this: real friends are not those who have laughed together as much as those who have cried together. The heart of Jesus went out to this woman’s grief, and the Son of Man therefore need to comfort her – if only for our example. I think it much more than that.

Then He gives her back her son. Love precedes divine power. It is the very nature of God that He is love, and Jesus will not neglect it.

Reaction

As there was no trial of faith here, the results no doubt surprised the crowd. Their reaction is a lesson to us:

  • They were “in awe.” The word in the Greek is phobos, from which we get our word “phobia.” Other translations make this, “Fear gripped them.” Well it should; consider the power they suddenly discovered.
  • They praised God – how often we forget to praise Him after thanking Him
  • They acknowledge that “God has come to help his people.” It’s not just a statement of the obvious; it’s obvious and I will acknowledge it anyway.

Doubt and Uncertainty

Mat 11:2-6 NIV When John heard in prison what Christ was doing, he sent his disciples (3) to ask him, "Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?" (4) Jesus replied, "Go back and report to John what you hear and see: (5) The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy[2]are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. (6) Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me."

Luk 7:18-23 NIV John's disciples told him about all these things. Calling two of them, (19) he sent them to the Lord to ask, "Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?" (20) When the men came to Jesus, they said, "John the Baptist sent us to you to ask, 'Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?' " (21) At that very time Jesus cured many who had diseases, sicknesses and evil spirits, and gave sight to many who were blind. (22) So he replied to the messengers, "Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy[2] are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. (23) Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me."

Doubt happens

It is a fact. Many of those who doubted are recorded in the Scripture. Elijah, Gideon, Peter and doubting Thomas are among them; so doubt is a fact of the faith. What causes such doubt?

  • Circumstances. John is in jail, a very depressing and lonely place. A dark dungeon challenges your memory of the light.
  • Impatience. Just because God hasn’t done it yet, we fall into the thought that He never will.
  • Other voices. If those around you deny that you could have heard in the darkness, it’s more difficult to shout it from the housetops.

Courage is easy on the parade ground. In battle, at three AM in the morning, things are a bit different.

How Christ deals with doubt

First, note two things that Christ does not do:

  • He does not just reassure John. Jesus never does answer John’s question directly; nor should He.
  • He does not criticize John either. There is no blame for the doubt; Jesus knows what’s going on.

Jesus answers by simply pointing out the facts.[1] Listen to what He says:

  • Old Testament prophecy is being fulfilled.
  • The poor hear the Gospel; it is brought to the lowly, not to the rich who could fill the coffers of his pledge drive.

Then we see the gentle encouragement in verse 23.

Who I am; who you are

Permit me some personal experience. When God deals with my doubt, He does it this way:

  • He confirms the task to which I have been set. Even when I think my efforts futile and my direction wrong, He will not permit that error for long.
  • He adds to such tasks those things which seem fitting for my growth. It is not just a laundry list, but a vote of confidence.

Finally, He reminds me that I am a child of God, and my Father will refuse me no good thing. It is His good pleasure to build the kingdom of God, and He has been kind enough to share that pleasure with me.


[1] Hence apologetics today.

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