Bible Study from Calvary Chapel Newberg
with Tom Fuller
Loving the Unlovable - Part 1
Through Luke 6, Jesus has taught us a new perspective when it comes to 1) those around us who come against us for belonging to Jesus and 2) those who don’t follow the same values as we do as disciples of Christ. He told us we can strategically turn the other cheek—allow ourselves to be hurt if it means someone else can fall in love with Jesus. And when it comes to those around us we need a 1) accurate self-assessment (we’re all sinners) and a 2) strategic outlook on others—focusing on being integral—the same on the inside as the outside—relying on Jesus to forgive, cleanse, and change us. We are not self-sufficient but Jesus is sufficient for us.
As we move into Luke 7 I want to harken back to two other things we saw in Luke. The first is what happened right after Matthew became a disciple in Chapter 5. The former tax collector and social and religious outcast invited all his friends to a party and Jesus came to spread His love and gospel. The second is Jesus’ mission statement from Chapter 3. Part of His mission statement was to preach sight, freedom, and favor.
Luke pulls the concepts of Chapters 3 and 5, along with what happened in Chapter 6—into the events of Luke 7:1-15. There is nothing like “putting your money where you mouth is” to prove a point. Jesus is not all words—He is actions. And in the first half of Chapter 7 we see His words of reaching out to the outcast and the oppressed demonstrated in action. Today we will look at the first of the two episodes—this one involving a Roman Centurion with a sick slave.
As we move into this I want to bring to mind 2 things that the Jews would never do because they believed it would defile them. One was to come into contact with a Gentile and the other was to touch something dead. We’ll see Jesus create health and wholeness in both situations.
First up: what a faithful response to the gospel really looks like—as demonstrated by this Gentile enemy.
1 – 10
Centurions were well paid (20 times the ordinary soldier’s pay), well trained, loyal Roman citizens who commanded 100 Roman soldiers as part of a Roman Legion. There were lots of centurions in Palestine during the time of Jesus. Their role was to keep the peace—and that was not easy in revolt-prone Israel. To the citizens they represented Imperial Rome and its enslavement of their land. Jesus has already alluded to the power of the Roman soldier, which could command someone to carry their pack for a mile (Matthew 5:41). You became a centurion by proving yourself in battle and in loyalty. Centurions came up through the ranks of Roman soldiers. They were battle tested and tough.
Yet interestingly enough, the gospels and Acts mention centurions in a very positive light when it comes to the gospel. The centurion who oversaw Jesus’ crucifixion recognized the deity of Christ; and in Acts 10 it is a centurion who first demonstrates that the gospel was also for the Gentiles and not the Jews only.
Here in Luke 7 is the third great example of how Roman centurions were actually more open to the mission of Jesus than Christ’s Jewish brethren.
How did this start? I think here and in Acts 10 we see clues. These two centurions were God-fearers, in that they had come into contact with Yahweh and supported the Jews and the Jewish faith. This centurion in Luke 7 had actually taken some of his salary and used it to pay for a Jewish synagogue.
- These centurions I think saw Yahweh and the Law without the trappings of tradition and the mandate of subservience to its leaders like the Pharisees who were “blind guides leading the blind” (Luke 6:39). Take the human element out of Judaism and it leads to the Messiah.
- They knew what authority was like and how to follow orders and recognized real authority in Jesus.
What I also see, which we also get in Acts 10, is that a centurion takes care of his own. Our own military has a moto: leave no man behind. It seems this kind of loyalty down the chain of command was also present in the centurion. You know the chain of command and you follow orders and you take care of your troops—whether they are soldiers in battle or servants in their household. I think this shows the heart attitude of this man. He has a soft heart—a pliable heart that is not arrogant, selfish or self-absorbed.
So let’s walk through this incident. The first thing we see is the centurion followed protocol. To reach a well respected Jewish rabbi, the man sends respected members of his community. It also shows that he himself is respected by the Jews as elders would never have agreed to do anything for a Roman centurion had he not shown himself worthy. The Centurion could have commanded Jesus to come. He doesn’t. He asks.
Secondly we see that the centurion had not only heard of Jesus but trusted that He could help. In a way it was very demeaning for this man of power to reach out to a Jew. But power is relative and this man knew his limits. He could order soldiers and even Jews around but he could not order sickness or spare anyone from death.
The elders tell Jesus its okay—that the centurion has earned the right for Jesus to come. But I’m not sure that was necessary. I think it was his love for Yahweh, not the money he’d spent for the Jews that got Jesus’ attention. We know from Matthew’s account (Matthew 8) that the slave was paralyzed but also in terrible agony. Did you know you can still feel pain even when paralyzed? Imagine that—in pain but unable to do anything about it.
So starting in verse six there is an interesting twist. It’s almost as if the centurion realized what he was asking Jesus to do—for it would have made Jesus ceremonially unclean to enter the house of a Gentile. So he sends some friends to tell Jesus not to come in but simply order the healing. Where did he get the idea that Jesus could do this? It’s amazing to me that the man seems to intuit that since he gives orders and he knows they will be carried out – that Jesus is so powerful that He can order healing from a distance.
Jesus is also amazed. Here He’s dealt with such doubt, anger, rejection and hatred among His own people but this Gentile shows respect, asks respectfully instead of demanding, then places himself under Jesus’ authority.
So Jesus, in verse 9 proclaims His amazement. In Matthew’s account He adds: “I tell you that many will come from east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. 12 But the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 8:11-12).
This was a direct challenge to the authority of the Jewish religious leaders who strongly felt that the only way to Yahweh was through them. Jesus says that men like this Gentile centurion will sit down and dine with the Jewish patriarchs (to dine with someone meant you accepted them—something a Jew would NOT do with a Gentile).
So He is showing that you don’t inherit your relationship with God, nor do you earn it—but you get it by knowing who Jesus is and what He is capable of and then placing yourself under that authority.
So after hearing the faith, Matthew 8 tells us that Jesus told the centurion (or his friends) to go—that it was going to happen as they believed. When the servants returned to the house the slave was not only healed but in “good health”.
1.Look past the label.
Romans and centurions were hated based on their nationality or position. But some had looked beyond the label to see the real person—one who actually wanted to love God and given the chance would change their lives because of it. We can do the same. When you encounter someone that does look, smell, or act like you—don’t put a label on them and assume you know what they’re about. Instead, use self-sacrificing, other-centered affection to model the love Jesus showed to you. You may be shocked at the result!
2.Who’s in charge?
Notice the incredible faith of this man. He understands authority but takes it many steps further than his own experience. How willing are we to cede authority over our lives, and the things that happen to us, to Jesus? Are we as trusting as this centurion? If not, why not?