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A Centurion of Capernaum
The Lord has finished His teaching for His disciples, but the people have listened also. They too have been addressed by Him. The words, His words, are words of spirit and life (Jn 6:63). When we hear His words, we cannot remain neutral.
Then the Lord enters the Capernaum. In the history Luke describes, we see what faith in His word means in practice, and that with a heathen centurion. In Capernaum is a centurion who has a slave who is highly regarded by him. That is a touching relationship. Normally, a slave was a ‘thing’. That the slave is highly regarded by the centurion says something about the centurion and it says something about the slave.
Now this slave is sick and even about to die. The centurion will have done all kinds of things to get his sick slave healthy, but nothing has helped. In his extreme distress, he resorts to the Lord Jesus, Who has just entered the city. He has already heard of Him. He looks high up to Him, as it appears further on (Lk 7:6). Therefore he does not go to the Lord himself, but sends elders of the Jews to Him. This is a recognition of the election of that people as the mediator between God and the Gentiles. Using the elders of the Jews to get the blessing of the Lord is a picture of what will happen in the future, when the nations will recognize that God is with His people (Zec 8:23).
These elders are impressed by the power of Christ. They believe that He is able to heal the sick slave. They beg Him to do it because according to their judgment the centurion is worth it. They give a good testimony of him. This is not a confession by force. Both their faith in the Lord Jesus and their appreciation for the centurion is real, but they judge the heathen entirely according to his love for them. That is typically Jewish. Instead of seeing that their own law condemns them, they see themselves as above the Gentiles. They are ‘I’ oriented.
The centurion loves God and he loves the people of God. This is evident from his building of the synagogue. God’s Spirit has already touched him. We see how he not only uses the elders, but also his friends, who speak more the language of his own heart. When he let speak the pure feelings of his heart and lets his friends intercede as his second envoy, he says: “Lord, do not trouble Yourself further, for I am not worthy for You to come under my roof.” Here we see two things: the deep awareness he has of the glory of the Lord Jesus and the corresponding deep awareness of his own smallness. The centurion sees himself as not worthy (cf. Lk 7:4-5).
The elders have highlighted his building of their synagogue as a merit. The centurion himself did not appeal to his building of the synagogue for the Jews as a merit which would have made him acceptable to the Lord and would have Him to act. He fully relies on the authority of the Lord’s Word and His grace to provide for his needs. For us it must also be sufficient that He “says the word”. It is faith that simply takes Him at His word, without regard to feeling or experience.
He sees in Christ a Person Who has authority over all things, just as he himself has authority over his soldiers and slaves. He also sees in the Lord a Person Who is under the authority of Another, just as he is. He knows nothing about the Messiah, but in Christ he recognizes the dependence on God and the power of God. This is not just any thought, this is faith, and there is no such faith in Israel.
Luke also mentions the great result of the faith of the centurion. The elders and friends see the sick slave in good health when they come home. From this acting of the Lord a great testimony has gone forth. Many are witnesses to it. There will also have been faith and much gratitude toward Him.
The Young Man of Nain
The grace of God in Christ continues his way. On that way also lies Naïn. The Lord goes there, with in His entourage two kinds of people: many of His disciples and a large crowd. As He and the many people around him approach the city gate, a procession meets him with a dead man in their midst. It is the only begotten son of his mother, a widow. Israel is like that widow, without a husband. Israel has an only begotten Son on Whom it should have placed its hope. And it is He Who will die, and with Him all hope of the people will disappear. Israel itself will kill Him.
Together with the widow are also many people. Thus the two large groups of people meet here. The center of the one crowd is Life. The center of the other crowd is death. The Lord sees the mother, the widow. She is deprived of her last support and joy. Her husband had already died and now she has to bring her son to the grave. It’s taking place at the city gate, the place where justice is spoken. Here there is a confrontation between life and death. One of the two crowds will have to give way to the other. Who has the right of passage?
Humanly speaking, death has the last word. Death has the right on its side. For death is the righteous wages of sin, isn’t it (Rom 6:23)? However, when death is confronted with Life, death loses its right and any claim to it. Luke notes that “the Lord” sees the mother. He, the Lord, has authority over life and death. Death will have to give way to the claims of Him Who was dead and has become alive again for all eternity (Rev 1:18).
When the Lord sees her – and He knows all her life and her grief – “He felt compassion for her“. This word ‘compassion’ occurs three times in Luke: with the Samaritan for the man who fell into the hands of robbers (Lk 10:33), with the father for his youngest son when he sees him coming from afar (Lk 15:20) and here in Lk 7:13. Then the Lord speaks the comforting words: “Do not weep.” He really can say that because He is the Source of all consolation. He speaks these words to her, without any audible appeal by the widow to Him. He acts from His own fullness of grace. We don’t see faith in this woman, we only see grace and compassion on the part of the Lord.
Then He Who is the life, comes up. He touches the coffin and the bearers come to a halt. Why does He touch the coffin? Because He identifies Himself with it. That coffin is His coffin. It looks forward to His death which He will taste for others so He can share life with others. Every other human being is being defiled by this touch, but with Him it is the other way around. Whatever He touches becomes clean through His cleanness. We have seen that by the touch of the leper (Lk 5:13). By the touch of the dead we see that His mighty hand brings death to a halt.
Then He speaks words of life. He addresses the dead and the dead obey. He who died is a young man, a man who, in the power of his life, has been caught in the grip of death. Death must let go of its grip on this young man when he hears the Son of God say with authority: “I say to you, arise!” (cf. Jn 5:25).
The result is there immediately. The dead person sits up. The first expression of life is that he begins to speak. This is also the result of every conversion. If anyone has passed from death to life, he will testify of it. Then the Lord gives him to his mother. He knows what the young man needs and He knows what the mother needs. He puts them both back in the relationship they had before death intervened. He has established the family ties.
He does not command the young man to follow Him. The young man must be there for his mother. That is the task which the Lord gives him. And the mother gets back her comfort and support. It says so remarkably that He gives him to her, He is the Giver of every good gift. Once Israel will receive back the only begotten Son. That is when He is risen from the dead and returns to His people.
What is happening here again makes a great impression and God is glorified. All see that God is present in Christ and that God in Him visits His people. He is for them no more than a great prophet, someone in the row of other great prophets. They do not see that He is the Messiah. Yet what He has done makes known in a wider area “this report concerning Him” that God has visited His people.
The Question of John the Baptist
Also the disciples of John the baptist hear everything that is told of the Lord Jesus. Maybe some have seen Him perform deeds themselves. They report this to Johannes in prison. When John hears all this, he becomes confused. He is in prison, and the Lord Whom he has announced is on a tour, on which he does all kinds of miracles. Is He establishing the kingdom, and forgetting His forerunner? He announced Him, pointed out to Him, and baptized Him. So why does He not free him? He wants to know Who it is about Whom he hears such things. With that question he sends two of his disciples to the Lord.
John has not lost his faith, but has been confused. In itself, it is good that he goes with it to the Lord, to the right address. The Lord receives the disciples. They say who they come from and why John sent them. The question is simple. Is He the promised Messiah or should they look forward to the true Messiah? The question may be understandable, but it originates from false expectations. Luke says that when the question is asked, the Lord is busy doing an abundance of benefits. The question is answered by everything He is doing, by what He shows.
This is part of the answer the Lord gives to the disciples of John. He does not say: “Tell John that I am the Messiah.” They can tell him what they have seen with their own eyes and what they have heard with their own ears. He points to His actions and His message. But isn’t that exactly what John heard say in prison and what made him so doubtful? What does that add to what John already knew?
Indeed, the Lord has no other message for John than He has for all the people, but He brings it to him in a new and fresh way. He did not come to exercise justice, but to prove mercy. A wrong view of His actions or wrong thoughts about how He should act sometimes makes us doubt Him.
The Lord says “blessed” to those who do not reject Him because He does not meet their expectations. Whoever follows Him and trusts Him, even though he sometimes does not understand why things go this way, is blessed. John did not reject Him, but the Lord wants to use these words to tell John that he may continue to believe that he has announced the Messiah. John does not need to doubt that, despite his imprisonment.
The Lord Speaks About John
After the message the Lord has for John, He has a word about John to the crowds. The crowds should not think that John is a doubter who has called anything and now has lost faith in his own message.
The Lord addresses the crowds in their conscience. When they went to John in the wilderness, why did they do that? What did they want to see? Did they see a doubting man, a weak man, who once said this and then again something else? A man who let his words be determined by the circumstances, just like a reed bends to where the wind is blowing? Hadn’t his preaching been powerful? And what have they done with it? Or did they think they went to see a man who looked beautiful, impressive as an appearance because of the shine of his clothes? If they had thought so, they should not have gone to the wilderness, but to a palace. The preaching of John and his whole performance testified of great power and sobriety.
But what were they going to see? A prophet, right? Well, they have seen him. But that should not have been the end of it all. Above all, they should have listened to his preaching and acted accordingly! The man they have seen in the wilderness is a special prophet. The Lord wants to forcefully remind the crowds of the reality of John’s performance, for He wants to reach their conscience so that they will accept Him.
John is not just a prophet. His performance is foretold in Scripture. It has been written about him that he was sent out as messenger ahead of “You”, that is Yahweh, that is the Messiah, to prepare His way. Do the crowds know that? And did not John designate Him as the Messiah, and did He not prove in His words and deeds that He is? And what do they do with Him? Do they accept Him as Messiah through conversion and repentance, as John preached, or do they just want to take advantage of His goodness?
After the Lord has shown how special John is that he was announced as a prophet in the Scriptures, He says that never a greater prophet was born than John. John surpasses all previous prophets. All have announced the coming of the Messiah, but only John has been able to point out to the Messiah with his finger and say: He is the One. Of all the prophets he is the only one who has been able to preach that the kingdom has come near.
Then the Lord compares John the baptist with all who are in the kingdom of God and says that the least in the kingdom of God is greater than this greatest prophet ever born of women. How is that possible? We can only understand this if we consider that this is not a comparison between persons, but a comparison of position. It is about the contrast between the position of the believers in the Old Testament and that of the believers in the New Testament.
“Greater” has nothing to do with the person, but with the position. If it were a comparison of the person, which member of the church would dare to compare himself with John the baptist? All the prophets and the law prophesied until to John (Mt 11:13), for with the coming and rejection of Christ a new era has dawned. The kingdom of God was not established in power and majesty, but in a hidden form. Every man who converts, joins a Christ rejected on earth and is connected to a Lord in heaven. This is the part of the church.
The church is not like John the friend of the Bridegroom (Jn 3:29), but the bride. Everyone who belongs to the church is greater than he is. John did not belong to the kingdom of God, which is the kingdom which God establishes and over which He appoints a Man, the Son of Man, as Head. This could only happen after the Son of Man had taken His place in glory. Therefore the kingdom was not there before that time.
All the Lord’s words about John the baptist are approved by all who were baptized by John. They justify God, that is to say, they speak right of God and acknowledge the righteousness of God in the performance of John. They justify God in His judgment of them. That is why they were baptized by John.
Luke mentions the tax collectors separately. For this class of people, the Lord’s words about John are a great encouragement. They must go against the flow in two respects. They are hated for their profession and now they also have openly joined the Messiah. The wise and intelligent, however, the learned and great ones, the Pharisees and scribes, have rejected God’s purpose for themselves. They refuse to accept the preparatory work of John the baptist.
Playing the Flute or Singing a Dirge
The Lord takes His hearers with Him in His discourse when He asks Himself aloud with whom He could compare them, so that they will see to whom they are equal and recognize themselves in it. He speaks of them as “the men of this generation“, that is, the people of a certain kind, people with certain characteristics. How can be made clear to them what kind of people they are?
He sketches the scene of playing children. Some have played on the market, they have given a performance and others have watched. When they are finished, however, there is no applause, but also no ‘boo’ shouting. There is no reaction at all. They remain indecisive. Whatever God calls for, they do not like it. When God offers joy in Christ, they do not want to dance. When God calls for mourning, they do not want to weep. When God calls for righteousness, it is too severe for man. When He calls for mercy, it is too easy for Him. Whichever way God goes, man doesn’t like it at all. He despises grace and recoils from the law.
John the baptist sang dirges for them because of their sins. His coming and way of life was suited with his preaching. When he came without eating bread and drinking wine with them, they said: “He has a demon.” But how could he eat and drink with them, when he had to preach against them because they were living in their sins? His preaching would become powerless if he just celebrated with them. But they did not respond to his preaching.
Then comes the Lord Jesus. He played the flute for them, He played the lovely music of grace. But there has been no dance of joy as a reaction. The Son of Man eats and drinks. He wants fellowship with penitent sinners, but they also condemn that attitude. They point to Him as “a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners“. And that too will be a reason not to believe. For people who don’t want to, it’s never good. Yet, unintentionally, they compliment the Lord by calling Him a friend of repentant tax collectors and sinners.
However, there are also those who have believed the preaching of John the baptist and have acknowledged the Lord Jesus as the Messiah. They are the vindication of wisdom. True wisdom will come to light automatically when it comes to light in those who have been raised and shaped by it. Wisdom is seen in these children. The wisdom of God is proven in all who have accepted Christ as the only possibility to be saved. He is the wisdom of God (1Cor 1:30). He is the only way. There is no other way to salvation. Whoever believes Him says that God is righteous to save sinners in this way. One of the children in whom wisdom is vindicated is the woman we meet in the following history.
A Woman Who Is a Sinner Comes to the Lord
The Lord is confronted with two persons. One is a man with an impeccable walk of life, a theologian. The other is a sinner, someone openly known as such. This confrontation takes place in the house of a Pharisee who wants to see the Lord at close quarters and has asked Him to dine with him. The Lord accepts the invitation, for there He must render a service of grace and teach grace.
A sinner seeking forgiveness, seeks Him. No doubt she has confessed her sins to God, but she has no knowledge of forgiveness. She feels He is full of grace and she knows she has to be with Him to get forgiveness. She finds Him. She is not deterred by the knowledge that she has to enter the house of a Pharisee. It’s about Him and He’s there. Then she must be there too. A repentant sinner and a Savior belong together. She is prepared for the meeting because she has an alabaster vial of perfume. Her tribute to the Savior and the appeal to His grace begin with tears. She takes the humblest place, at His feet.
Five times in this gospel we find people at the Lord’s feet, each time with its own characteristic. Here is a sinner who is sent away in peace. We also see a former demon-possessed sitting at the feet of the Lord who is sent from there to testify of Him (Lk 8:35). We come across Jairus, a man in deep sorrow, who throws himself at the Lord’s feet and finds comfort there (Lk 8:41). We meet Mary who sits at the Lord’s feet and is introduced by Him into His thoughts and enjoys the good part there (Lk 10:39). Finally, we find a healed leper at the Lord’s feet, a place where he brings worship (Lk 17:16).
With her tears, the woman begins to wet the Lord’s feet and she dries them off with the hairs of her head. Then she kisses His feet intimately and finally anoint them with the perfume. She is deeply impressed by His feet, for they are the feet that bring her peace (Isa 52:7). She is looking for that because she knows she is a sinner.
Her tears speak of her repentance. The hair of her head, which is long enough to dry his feet with it, speaks of her dedication (1Cor 11:15). Her kisses speak of her love. The perfume speaks of worship. The woman has Godly knowledge of Christ. For her this knowledge is not a doctrine, but has a deep effect in her heart. She feels Who He is. Grace gives a deep conviction of what sin is, with the inseparable awareness that God is good. Whoever so attaches himself to the Lord Jesus finds the true light.
The Lord Has Something to Say to Simon
Not only the woman is revealed in the light. Simon is also in the light and is revealed. With him we see the opposite of what characterizes the woman. With him there is no faith. God is revealed in the flesh in his house and he sees nothing. He observes coolly and possibly triumphantly that the Lord cannot be a prophet, otherwise He would have known who is touching Him. For this Pharisee there is nothing worse than being touched by a sinner. But Simon did not touch the Lord Jesus either, as the Lord confronts him later with!
Simon thinks the Lord does not know what kind of woman it is that touches Him. Simon also does not know that the Lord knows both the woman and him completely. The Lord responds to something Simon thinks. He knows the thoughts of every human being. He has something to say to Simon that is to him personally. Simon takes the right attitude. He is curious what the Lord has to say. That is indeed why he invited Him. He also calls Him “Teacher”, not because he acknowledges Him as such for himself, but because the Lord is known as such.
In a parable the Lord presents three people to Simon. One is a moneylender or creditor, the other two are debtors, but with a different debt. One has a great debt, the other a small debt. Neither the debtor with the great debt nor the debtor with the small debt is able to pay. Then the moneylender graciously forgave them both their debts. The question to Simon is which of both debtors will love the moneylender more.
The Lord wants to teach Simon through this parable that while he may have committed less sins than the woman, he is as incapable of paying as the woman is and therefore, like her, in need of forgiving compassion. Moneylender do not generally evoke feelings of love, but forgiveness does. Even Simon can judge that correctly. He therefore gives the right answer.
The Lord Compares Simon With the Woman
Then the Lord speaks to Simon about the woman. Without her having been aware of it, this poor woman was the only one to act as would be appropriate in this circumstance. This is because she values the all-encompassing importance of Him Who is present there. If the God-Savior is present, what significance do Simon and his house have? The Lord’s presence makes everything else forgotten.
The Lord looks at the woman and teaches Simon a great lesson. He points Simon to the woman. Certainly, he has seen her, but with totally different eyes than the Lord. The Lord is now going to tell Simon how He sees her and appreciates what she has done to Him. He also tells how He sees Simon and how He experienced what Simon did not do.
He came into his house, but Simon withheld all customary kindness from Him as a Guest. He did not discover in Him what the woman has discovered in Him, and remained indifferent and cold toward Him. The Lord has missed what Simon only as the host should have done to Him. The woman has more than excellently compensated for this, to Simon’s great shame.
The woman’s tears have been a great refreshment for Him on His weary journey through the wilderness. There is nothing more invigorating to the Savior than expressions of sincere repentance for sins. Drying His feet with her hair is also an act He greatly appreciates. He sees her longing for dedication. By drying the tears with her hair, her tears are absorbed in her hair, they are as it were identified with it. This is an indication that in her dedication the woman has always remained aware of her origins. In the kissing of His feet she has shown her love in the most intimate way and persistently, while with Simon there was only coldness. The Lord also missed Simon anointing His head, but the woman more than made up for this by anointing His feet with perfume.
The Woman Goes in Peace
The Lord concludes His teaching to Simon by declaring that the woman has acted out of love for Him and that she loved Him much. The multitude of her sins had led her to Him, for she knew that she could get forgiveness from Him for all her sins. Her love for the Lord was great because she knew that His love was greater than all her sins. That is why she gets what she is looking for: forgiveness of her many sins.
What she has seen in the Lord, what He is for sinners like her, has by grace made her heart willing to go to Him and has awakened in her the love she had for Him. She thought only of Him. He had taken possession of her heart to the exclusion of all other influences. Therefore she had entered the house of the haughty Pharisee, for He was there. His presence answered every difficulty. She saw what He was for sinners and that the most wretched and lowest sunken human being found refuge with Him.
By grace, the poor woman has felt that there is a heart that she can trust when there is nothing else left. And that is the heart of God! God covers the transgression and pursues love by it, He awakens love by it (Pro 17:9). This love is in the woman’s heart and that is why she came to the Lord Jesus to ask Him for the fervently desired forgiveness for her many sins she had already confessed to God. Her love drove her out to Him. God also seeks this love with us.
After teaching Simon, the Lord turns to the woman and declares that her sins have been forgiven. After her heart was overwhelmed by the love of God, her conscience is now also reassured.
In turn that provokes a reaction from those present. They talk among themselves about Who He is that He even forgives sins. They talk about forgiveness as a theological issue, as is so often the case today. But only the heart that is convinced of sins and desires forgiveness sees Who He is. When the Lord speaks to Simon about the woman, He speaks about everything she has done to Him in love. He says to the woman that her faith has saved her; He doesn’t speak about her love she has abundantly shown to Him.
The woman is the only one of the whole company who goes away in peace.
Kingcomments on the Whole Bible © 2021 Author: G. de Koning. All rights reserved. Used with the permission of the author
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de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Luke 7". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 8 / Ordinary 13