Washington UBF Sunday Worship Service
College Park, MD
January 22, 2017
The Authority of Jesus’s Word
The title of my message is: “The Authority of Jesus’s Word.” It is based on Luke 7:1-17. My key verse is verse 7b: But say the word, and my servant will be healed.
Last week Dr. John Lee gave a message from Luke Chapter 6. He focused on Jesus’s teaching about love and forgiveness. Do you remember what Jesus said? He said: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. Later Jesus said: Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. Today’s passage is about two events that took place shortly after this wonderful teaching. First, Jesus heals the dying servant of a Roman centurion in the city of Capernaum. And second, Jesus raises the dead son of a Jewish widow in the city of Nain. From these two stories we learn that Jesus’s word had the power to heal the sick and raise the dead. But Jesus’s word also has power today. Jesus’s word heals and revives people today. Do you believe this? Whether or not we believe in the authority of Jesus’s word makes all the difference whether we experience his life-giving power. May the Holy Spirit plant the centurion’s faith in our heart as we hear these stories.
Part I Lord … say the word
Look at verse 1. When Jesus had finished saying all this to the people who were listening, he entered Capernaum. After Jesus finished his inspiring and challenging teaching, he headed to the city of Capernaum. This was an important city at the time. It had a Roman garrison station there, and a tax collection facility. Levi, who later became Matthew, had a tax booth in this city. Jesus actually made Capernaum his home, and had done several miracles there. In the local synagogue, he drove an impure spirit out of a man. Then, he healed Simon Peter’s mother of a fever. He also restored a paralyzed man brought to him through the roof. (These miracles are recorded in Mark’s gospel Chapters 1 and 2).
What was going on in Capernaum? Look at verses 2-3: 2There a centurion’s servant, whom his master valued highly, was sick and about to die. 3The centurion heard of Jesus and sent some elders of the Jews to him, asking him to come and heal his servant. We learn that a certain centurion asked Jesus for help with his dying servant. What exactly is a “centurion”? It sounds a little bit like century. That’s because the two words are related. A centurion was a commander in the Roman army in charge of (can you guess how many) one hundred soldiers. Centurions were chosen for their toughness, bravery, and loyalty, and were highly trained, much like our American Navy Seals. Even though one would expect a centurion to be heavy-handed even brutal, this particular centurion seems to be different. I noticed four godly qualities in this military man: compassion, love, humility, and faith.
First, the centurion’s compassion. Verse 2 says that the centurion valued his servant highly. This is very unusual. It is well documented that servants at that time were regarded as little more than animals, like an ox or donkey. If a servant got sick and couldn’t work anymore, the master usually sold them for a low price, or even abandoned them (see 1 Samuel 30:13). But this centurion cared for the needs of his servant. Proverbs 12:10 says The righteous care for the needs of their animals, but the kindest acts of the wicked are cruel. The centurion shows basic respect for human life. Although outwardly he might have appeared like a hardened warrior, inwardly he was a compassionate human being. It is sinful human nature to look down on the least, the last, and the lost. Yet, this centurion recognized the sanctity of human life, that all people are created in God’s image. When he heard of the other healings Jesus did in Capernaum, he immediately sought help for his dying servant.
Second, the centurion’s love. Look at verses 4-5 4When they came to Jesus, they pleaded earnestly with him, “This man deserves to have you do this, 5because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue. What? Jews plead earnestly on behalf of a Gentile? What is going on here? Normally, Jews did not speak highly of Gentiles, but rather despised them. Moreover, remember that the Romans were an occupation army and because of that, were deeply resented, especially by the Jewish leaders. But here we see that in spite of these ethnic and political barriers, this centurion was genuinely respected in the Jewish community. He had earned their trust. The Jewish elders testified that this man loved their nation. He helped them build the local synagogue. Ethnic and political divisions are responsible for so much suspicion and fear, and cause many wars. But here is a man who could look beyond race and power. Instead of using his Roman soldiers to bully the Jews and keep them fearful of authority, this man cultivated good relationships with the Jews by loving and serving them.
Third, the centurion’s humility. Look at verses 6-7. 6“Lord, don’t trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. 7That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you. What did the Jewish elders tell Jesus about the centurion? This man deserves to have you do this. What did the centurion tell Jesus about himself? I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. Well, that right there is humility. When others speak about you more highly than you speak about yourself, that’s humility. How often do we demand our rights, or expect respect from others? That’s part of our sinful nature. This centurion is setting us an example. He could have used his power to threaten Jesus into seeing his servant. Instead, he is sincerely sorry for the trouble he could cause Jesus, whose reputation could have been compromised if he entered a Gentile home.
Fourth, the centurion’s faith. What impressed Jesus most about this centurion was not his compassion, not his love, and not his humility. It was his faith. Let’s read verse 7b together, the key verse, please: But say the word and my servant will be healed. These words suggest that the centurion fully trusted in Jesus’s power to heal his servant. Moreover, he did not think Jesus had to bring any medicines or surgical instruments. He didn’t think Jesus even had to touch the patient. Jesus simply had to say a word. The centurion’s military career taught him how power works. He knew that he could get something done without being personally present. All he had to do was to order one of his soldiers to go do it for him. In the same way, Jesus could order the disease to leave his servant’s body. The centurion must have heard about what happened in the Capernaum synagogue one Sabbath day when Jesus ordered an impure spirit to come out of a man. He heard what Jesus did, and that was enough for him, he believed Jesus could do it again.
How did Jesus respond to the centurion’s words? Look at verses 9-10. 9When 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.” 10Then the men who had been sent returned to the house and found the servant well. Jesus was truly impressed by this man’s faith in the power and authority of Jesus’s word. In contrast to this, Mark 6 describes how Jesus was amazed at the lack of faith he found in his own hometown Nazareth. As a result, Jesus did not perform miracles there. In light of this, we can see that we can either amaze Jesus with our faith, or we can amaze him with our lack of faith. Without faith, it is impossible to please God. Without faith, we are in danger of falling into Satan’s traps. Without faith, we forfeit great blessings, both in this life, and in the life to come.
Our generation has little faith in authority. This past Friday, many took to the streets in DC to question the outcome of the presidential election. My students sometimes like to challenge my authority. “Dr. Vlaicu, why did you put such a hard question on the midterm?” “Dr. Vlaicu, why did I get such a low grade? I deserve a higher grade.” But, more seriously, this generation questions and challenges the authority of God’s word. Many doubt the existence of God or demand proof of the authority of the Bible. In Luke 11 Jesus said: This is a wicked generation. It asks for a sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah. Jesus performed many miraculous signs among the people his time, and even then, people doubted his words. Eventually, they had Jesus crucified. But Jesus raised from the dead after three days in the grave. This is the sign of Jonah. May God give us the faith of the centurion to believe Jesus’s words in Matthew 28 All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me … And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.
The Roman centurion taught me to grow in compassion, love and humility. He taught me to pray for those who suffer. We all know people who are suffering. Let’s pray for them more earnestly. Let’s intercede for them like this centurion:
Lord Jesus, say the word, and my brother David Brogi will be healed.
Lord Jesus, say the word, and my brother Caleb Kim will be healed.
The centurion also taught me that because of my sins I do not deserve to have Jesus come under my roof. But, Jesus’s words on the cross “Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” heal my soul of sin and sanctify me. They bring me back from near death to new life.
I strongly believe that the centurion also understood that Jesus is not just a healer of the flesh. He knew he is also healer of the soul. Two summers ago I read the biography of an American Presbyterian woman missionary. Her name is Sarah Barry. At age 25 she went to Korea in obedience to Jesus’s world mission command. On the trip over (which, by the way, was pretty long because she traveled by ship) she said she wondered what she had to offer to the Korean people. She realized she had nothing of great value to give them, except the word of God. And the word of God turned out to be the best gift. Through her Bible studies many young Koreans came to believe the gospel. The souls of many were healed. They turned around from worldly fatalism to eternal hope. Some of her students became tent-making missionaries to other nations, including this country, the United States. They became eager to take the living word of God to a dying world. (If you look around you, you might see some of these missionaries.)
Part II Young man … get up!
After healing the centurion’s servant, Jesus went to a town called Nain, about 25 miles SW of Capernaum. A large crowd was following along. Look at verse 11. Soon afterward, Jesus went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went along with him. What was going on in Nain? The next verse. 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. Sounds like two large crowds meet at the town gate. A large crowd went along with Jesus. The other large crowd went along with a widow burying her only son. Which crowd do you think won the mood over? Normally, out of respect, the funeral would prevail and the mood would turn somber. And that was probably the case here. Jesus himself was sad to see what this widow was going through. Look at verse 13. When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her.
We have to realize what it meant to be a widow in Jewish society. Widows and orphans were some of the most vulnerable people at that time. In a mostly agricultural economy, it was very difficult for them to provide for their basic needs. They also had very little legal protection, because a woman’s word did not have the same value as a man’s word. That’s why the Bible warns very sternly those who try to take advantage of widows.
So this widow was left alone in the world to fend for herself, without husband and without son. Who could comfort a woman in this situation? What words could give her consolation? The best one can do is simply be by her side, and quietly share in her suffering. But Jesus said to her: Don’t cry. (v. 13). Wow, how can you say to this poor woman “don’t cry.” That almost seems insensitive.
But Jesus is not being insensitive. What he is telling her is that “You can stop crying, because I am here and I am about to bring your son back.” Look at verses 14-15. Then he went up and touched the bier they were carrying him on, and the bearers stood still. He said: “Young man, I say to you, get up!” The dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother. What an amazing act of one-sided grace! Jesus took away the widow’s sorrow. He took away her tears. That’s what Jesus came for. He came to save the world from the power of death. We see here a preview of what Jesus accomplished for us by dying for our sins on the cross. Revelation 21 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning, or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. With Jesus we have the promise of eternal life. In John 11 Jesus said to Martha whose brother had just died: I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die.
Verse 16 says that the people of Nain were all filled with awe and praised God. They recognized that Jesus was a great prophet sent by God to help his people Israel. News about Jesus spread like wildfire.
In Nain two large crowds met at the town gate. One was a procession of life, headed by Jesus. The other was a procession of death, headed by a lonely widow. One procession had hope and joy. The other procession had despair and sorrow. In this case, the procession of life won the mood over. May we look up from our daily sorrows and join the procession of life headed by Jesus. May we follow him, so we may have living hope and lasting joy.
Let me also mention the silent person in this story. A young person lying in a coffin is a very tragic image. Young people do not belong in a coffin. They should be bursting with strength, vision, and hope. Yet, many young people in our time seem to be lethargic, complacent, and indifferent. They like to watch movies like “The Walking Dead” and play video games in which they die again and again. They spend countless hours online, in a virtual reality, away from the live people of the real world. Many don’t accept responsibility for their words or actions, reject authority, and avoid accountability. Some cannot control their bad habits, and struggle with guilt and self-condemnation. This past Friday, in his inaugural address, the new President of the United States, Donald J. Trump, talked about, I quote, “this American carnage.” By that he meant the destruction of American jobs, but also the destruction of American young lives by drugs, gangs, and poor education.
Jesus has something to tell these young people who struggle with hopelessness: Young person, I say to you, get up! How can a young person have life? 1 John 5 says God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. Jesus can give them strength to fight against their sinful nature and grow in godliness. Jesus can give them vision to live productive and upright lives. Jesus can give them hope for their future in spite of adverse circumstances. Let’s continue to pray for the young people of our nation, and the young people in our church, to hear Jesus’s words and rise up to become the leaders of a new great awakening in America. Let’s pray for older people, too, to have hope for their children, and to be be alive in heart and spirit.
In conclusion, today we reviewed two events that testify to Jesus’s power to heal the sick and raise the dead. We learnt that this power is unleashed by hearing Jesus’s word. Those who hear and believe his word have eternal life. They have crossed over from disease and death, to health and life. In John 5 Jesus said: Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life. This is good news of great joy. This is good news for all the people. For Jew or Gentile, man or woman, young or old. May we have unwavering faith in God’s word. May we experience the life-giving power of his word. May God bless you with the joy of knowing Jesus who loves you and saves you.
Let’s read together the key verse, please. But say the word, and my servant will be healed.