The Son of Man’s Galilean Ministry (4:14–9:50)
Two Illustrations of Jesus’ Compassion (1-17)
1) Healing the Centurion's Servant
After the "Jesus Seminar," Jesus went back to His base of operations, Capernaum. During the exact time that Jesus was returning to town, a centurion (middle-ranking Roman officer) was needing some help for his fatally ill servant (1-2). The centurion sent the elders of the city to Jesus, hoping they could convince Jesus to help him, being a Gentile, with the servant he deeply loved. The city elders pleaded with Jesus on the basis of how much the officer had done to help the Jewish religion, especially building the synagogue Jesus attended on Sabbath (3-5).
Jesus agreed and was on His way to the centurion's home when He was met by some of the centurion's friends. They informed Jesus that the centurion was embarrassed, being a Gentile and unworthy of having such an honored guest in his humble home (6).
Herein lies the point of the story, not that there was a healing by Jesus, but that this particular healing revealed further about Jesus' authority.
Instead of having Jesus come to his home, the centurion told Jesus to just say the word to one of His servants so he could deliver the word for Jesus, and that would be sufficient to heal his servant.
The centurion recognized himself as a man under authority, who carried out the orders of the emperor himself. He also realized he would tell troops under him to go do this and that, and they would go do it with his authority. The centurion imagined Jesus to have the same kind of authority. He could tell someone to go with His word, and if the person went with His word, it was as good as Jesus’ coming Himself.
Jesus had the authority to forgive; He had the authority to determine what appropriate Sabbath behavior was, and in this story, Jesus taught that He had the authority to commission others to go and do in His name and His will. The Gentile centurion figured out the greatness of Jesus' authority by faith (7-8). Jesus was astonished at the man's faith, and when his friends returned to the house, they found the servant had been healed before they arrived (9-10).
2) Healing the Widow's Son (11-17)
Jesus then headed off and eventually came to a town called Nain, arriving during a funeral procession. Being carried out the gate of the city was the only son of a widow, followed by a large crowd (11-12). As Jesus watched the whole event, His heart was moved to compassion, realizing the woman's only source of income had evaporated with the death of her only son.
Jesus told the woman to grieve no longer (13) and then touched the casket, bringing the procession to an awkward pause. Jesus then demanded the young man rise (14). The young man sat up and began to speak while Jesus helped him off the casket and presented him alive to his mother (15).
Fear and worship seized the city and they recognized Jesus as a great prophet, but even more importantly, they realized they had been visited by God (16).
Luke's point is that the One Who had authority to forgive, to determine what was appropriate to do on the Sabbath, Who had the authority to send others to do miracles in His name, also had authority over death.
This is another one of those stories that spread and was told all over. It was one of those stories that Luke, when writing this account, made a journey to Nain to fully investigate (17).
John Searches for Confirmation (18-23)
John the Baptist had been watching Jesus and did not doubt He was a prophet, but he was not impressed with Jesus as the Messiah. John, at this time, was in prison (Matthew 11:2-19), and Jesus was not coming to his aid. The whole episode was giving John serious doubt. Jesus was not what any thought, much less John. Jesus had made no move to mount a political or military revolt to rival Herod or any other oppressor common to the Israelites. John, with others, had been waiting for the David-like figure to win some battles and put guys like Herod, once and for all, in their place, but Jesus was not fitting into that mold from John's perspective.
John sent some messengers to ask Jesus if He was the One, or if they should wait for another (18-20). Jesus told the messengers to return to John and tell them what they had seen—people suffering with disease, plagued with evil spirits, and covered with leprosy, as well as the lame, blind, deaf, and dead were all being healed, besides the poor being given hope (21-22). Then Jesus told the messengers of the blessing to come to those not offended by the Messiah’s turning out to be different from what/who they were expecting (23). Luke here, again, is seeking to make a clear point—Jesus had authority and power but did not use His authority and power as everyone had imagined.
Jesus Commends John the Baptist (24-30)
After the messengers of John had left, Jesus began to talk about the essence of John the Baptist. Jesus asked two rather rhetorical questions: what did they expect the forerunner prophet to be like—a reed bending in the breeze? Or a celebrity in soft clothing? (24-25) In reality, they did not go out and see a prophet to be a thing of beauty promising prosperity, as symbolized by the breeze blowing across reeds. When Herod Antipas put a symbol on his coins, his favorite was the Galilean reed. You would see whole beds of them swaying in the breeze, which would symbolize the beauty and fertility of that area. Nor did they go out to see a pompous, well-adorned, and decorated religionist.
Jesus then told them what they did expect—they expected to see a prophet of God. Jesus then explained further that John was more than just another prophet; he was the Lord's messenger sent to prepare the way before Jesus appeared (26-27).
John thought he was merely "a voice," not even worthy to be the lowest of all pagan servants (a foot-washer) (John 1:23, 27). Jesus defined John as being the greatest of all men born before His own birthday. John was the greatest of all Old Testament prophets, yet Jesus asserted that the most insignificant person living in the new age of His Kingdom would be greater than the greatest Old Testament saint (28).
Again, Jesus was seeking to inform His audiences that the new age of the Kingdom could not be compared with the Old Testament era, which had been dominated not by a King but by Law. In a side note, Luke tells us the disciples of John were glad their prophet had been vindicated. The religious leaders, on the other hand, rejected God's plan, first in their refusal to be converted to a new way of Kingdom-thinking and then in their rejection of Christ Himself (29-30).
The Nature of Those Who Reject John and Jesus (31-35)
Jesus then compares those who reject the Kingdom of Heaven and its King to children playing games in a public square. One group suggests one game and the other group won't play. When they change the game more to the liking of the grumpy children, they still won't play. Jesus puts it this way—some musicians played a wedding song, others complained, then they played a funeral dirge, and still no one joined in (31-32).
He likened John the Baptist to a guy who played a dirge and everyone excused participation by claiming John had a demon. Then, He (Jesus) came along attending feasts and drinking with the guests, and they excused their non-participation by calling Jesus an overeater, obsessively bombed, and a lover of wicked people (33-34). Jesus' caricatures of Himself and John the Baptist were no doubt exaggerated, but those who followed Jesus' coming by way of John's baptism would ultimately be shown wise (35).
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