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“Now when He had ended all His sayings in the audience of the people, He entered into Capernaum. And a certain centurion’s servant, who was dear unto him, was sick, and ready to die, and when he heard of Jesus he sent unto Him the elders of the Jews, beseeching Him that He would come and heal his servant. And when they came to Jesus, they besought Him instantly, saying, That he was worthy for whom He should do this: for he loveth our nation, and he hath built us a synagogue. Then Jesus went with them. And when He was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to Him, saying unto Him, Lord, trouble Thou not Thyself: for I am not worthy that Thou shouldest enter under my roof: wherefore neither thought I myself worthy to come unto Thee, but say in a word, and my servant shall be healed. For I also am a man set under authority, having under me soldiers, and I say unto one, Go, and he goeth: and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it. 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. And they that were sent, returning to the house, found the servant whole that had been sick. And it came to pass the day after, that He went into a city called Nain; and many of His disciples went with Him, and much people. Now when He came nigh to the gate of the city, behold, there was a dead man carried out, the only son of his mother and she was a widow; and much people of the city was with her. And when the Lord saw her, He had compassion on her, and said unto her, Weep not. And He came and touched the bier: and they that bare him stood still. And He said, Young man, I say unto thee, Arise. And he that was dead sat up and began to speak. And He delivered him to his mother. 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 rumor of Him went forth throughout all Judaea, and throughout all the region round about. And the disciples of John showed him of all these things”—Luke 7:1-18.
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In this wonderfully precious seventh chapter of Luke we have four very striking illustrations of the grace of God in Christ overleaping all boundaries and flowing out to meet the needs of troubled hearts. The centurion was a Roman, not one of the lost sheep of the house of Israel, to whom Christ was sent (Matt. 15:24). The widow’s son was already dead and the body was being carried to the burial-place. Only divine power could avail. All human hope was gone. The bewildered disciples of John were troubled because the Kingdom did not immediately appear. In grace Jesus showed them the signs of the Kingdom so as to confirm their faith and that of their teacher, now in prison. Last of all, the poor woman who found forgiveness at His feet was a sinner of the streets, despised by the self-righteous, but just the one for Jesus, who had come, not to seek out the righteous, but to seek and to save that which was lost (Luke 19:10). It is abounding grace throughout—grace that delights to give, and asks nothing in return, but which produces gratitude and loving service on the part of the recipient. Jesus never wrought miracles to gratify curiosity or to compel the amazement and admiration of carnal worldlings. Every putting forth of His power was with the distinct objects in view of glorifying God and ministering to human need. His heart of compassion went out to men in their sorrows and distresses, and it was His joy to speak the word of healing and to deliver the troubled soul. He could not be indifferent to what sin had wrought, and so He came to destroy, or undo, the works of the Devil (1 John 3:8). He did not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them (Luke 9:56), that men might be at their very best for God.
When we speak of anything as miraculous, we mean that it is beyond the power and ability of the natural man. A miracle is the putting forth of supernatural power, and as found in Scripture, is always to alleviate human sorrow or distress and as a manifestation of divine authority. Jesus was accredited as the Son of God and the Messiah of Israel by the mighty works which He performed.
In the present portion we have, first, the healing of a Roman centurion’s servant (vers. 1 to 10); and then the raising up from death of the son of the widow of Nain (vers. 11 to 18). We shall consider these in their order as here set forth.
We are told that as Jesus entered into Capernaum, after preaching the great sermon, a portion of which is preserved for us in the previous chapter, and a fuller record given in Matthew 5 to 7, He was met by a deputation of Jewish elders, who came to Him on behalf of a military officer, a centurion, whose servant (to whom he was greatly attached), was seriously ill. Matthew tells us the centurion himself came (Matt. 8:5), but we can readily understand that the elders presented his case to the Lord, as representing him. The discrepancy exists only in the minds of men who seek for some fancied evidence that Scripture is not wholly inspired by God. The case was urgent. The young man was already in a dying condition.
The elders pressed the claim of the centurion by declaring “He was worthy for whom He should do this: for he loveth our nation, and he hath built us a synagogue.” It is significant that in recent years a synagogue of evident Roman construction but with distinctly Jewish ornamentation has been uncovered among the ruins of Capernaum. It is a thrilling sensation to stand on the dais in that ancient building and reflect that possibly one’s feet are resting on the very stones where the holy Saviour’s feet once stood! This was my privilege some years ago.
A centurion was a captain of one hundred men, in the Roman army. This officer had a servant, a bondsman, whom he loved and who was at the point of death. It is evident that this centurion was a true believer in the Lord Jesus Christ. He had heard of Him through his friends and, probably, had listened eagerly to His gracious messages. He had witnessed His works of power and he was convinced that Jesus was more than man. Though himself of a more exalted station in life than Jesus, he nevertheless recognized Christ’s superiority, and so he sent messengers pleading for mercy and help, not arrogantly demanding attention. His faith was a cup of joy pressed to the lips of the blessed One who was despised and rejected by so many whom He sought in love to save.
Jesus immediately started for the centurion’s home, but on the way was met by other messengers, who, speaking on behalf of their soldier friend, said, “Lord trouble not Thyself; for I am not worthy that Thou shouldest enter my house.” Note the difference. The elders said: “He is worthy.” He himself insisted: “I am not worthy!” He was one who had taken his due place of repentance as an unworthy sinner before God. Realizing something of the true nature and character of Jesus he said, “Wherefore neither thought I myself worthy to come unto Thee; but say in a word, and my servant shall be healed.” As a military man he explained that he could speak with authority and his soldiers would be obedient. Surely Jesus could speak in the same way and rebuke the disease that threatened the life of his servant!
Such an expression of trustful confidence gladdened the heart of our Lord. He marvelled at the man’s simple faith—a faith such as He had not found in Israel. Nothing glorifies God like confidence in His Word. In response to the centurion’s faith, the apparently dying man was instantly restored. This was faith indeed! He did not feel that the personal presence and touch of Jesus was needed to heal the dying servant. He recognized the fact that “where the word of a king is, there is power” (Eccles. 8:4), and he was sure that Jesus had that authority, and that a word from Him would bring health to the one who was so ill.
Faith’s reward is sure. When the messengers returned to the house, they found the servant well, and inquiry proved that the change for the better had come at the very time when Jesus spoke the word (Matt. 8:13).
But a greater evidence of His power was soon to be given. On the following day Jesus went with His disciples to the nearby city of Nain, the ruins of which are still to be found in Galilee. A large throng followed them, doubtless stirred by what had taken place the day before, and hoping to see some other great wonder wrought by Jesus; nor were they disappointed. As the crowd drew near the village, they saw a funeral procession wending its way to the cemetery. They soon realized it was the funeral of a young man, whose widowed mother was the chief mourner. As Jesus drew near, His tender heart was filled with compassion as He beheld the evidences of her grief. He bade her cease weeping; then touching the bier on which the corpse lay, He said with authority, “Young man, I say unto thee, Arise!” Immediately, in response to that voice which shall one day awaken all the dead, the young man opened his eyes. Life returned to that cold body. To the amazement of all, he sat up and began to speak. How graphically Luke describes it all, and what a stirring of heart there must have been in the breasts of the many on-lookers as Jesus “delivered him to his mother.” Who can dry tears like Jesus? Some day He will wipe away all tears from the eyes of His redeemed (Rev. 21:4), for He is God as well as Man. When He bade the widow dry her tears, He did not merely seek to soothe, but He was about to work a miracle that would fill her heart with unexpected joy.
It was such a demonstration of divine power as they had never known before and they glorified God, declaring that a great prophet had risen up among them.
The news of this mighty miracle went abroad through all Galilee and Judaea, even coming to the ears of John the Baptist, who was pining in prison because of his faithfulness in rebuking King Herod’s wickedness.
Thus God had borne witness to the claims of His Son, who in grace had come into the world to be the Saviour of sinners.
It has pleased God to honor our faith, because faith is that which honors Him. Faith takes Him at His word, and counts the things which are not as though they were (Rom. 4:17). But it is not faith that does the work. It is but the means which God uses to unloose His unlimited power. Faith is the hand which lays hold of Omnipotence. As Man on earth, our Lord was the pattern Man of faith and He taught faith to others. He chose, in this scene of His humiliation, to live in daily dependence upon the living Father (John 6:57). Thus the works of power He wrought were those which the Father gave Him to do (John 14:10). In rebuking disease and death, and in saving from sin those who sought His grace, He was manifesting the heart of God toward a needy world. His concern for the life and health of mankind was but the expressed desire of God the Father, that all men who believe in Him might be at last delivered from the effects, of sin. It is not always His will to grant perfect; health now, but faith can firmly trust Him in every circumstance.