Luke 7:1-23 [Audio at Bottom]

After finishing his orientation with the multitudes of new disciples, Jesus returns to the regions around the sea of Galilee to continue in his ministry to the poor and oppressed. In order to understand Luke’s intent for this chapter, I want to start at the end, with the report of these things to John and his response, and explore this question: what is it about the ministry of Jesus that suddenly causes John to doubt as to whether Jesus was indeed the Messiah or merely another prophet preparing the way for someone else? After exploring that question a little bit, then we’ll go back and look at the miracle stories themselves.

The question again: What is it about the ministry of Jesus that suddenly causes John to doubt as to whether Jesus was indeed the Messiah or merely another prophet preparing the way for someone else?

To begin to answer this question, it might be helpful to review John and the unique ministry to which he was called by God to perform. If you remember, John played an important role in the gospel of Luke. He was in fact introduced in the story even before Jesus. His birth was a miracle and he was a child set apart for the Lord even from his mother’s womb. John was to go before the Messiah to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”  John was the forerunner, sent by God to prepare the way for the Messiah and this new age, and he executed his mission faithfully. Great crowds turned to John, coming to him for a baptism of repentance, preparing their hearts for the Lord’s Messiah who was shortly to come. When people considered that John himself might be the Messiah, John pointed away from himself to the One to come: “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” Just take a moment and appreciate John’s vision of the Messiah, grounded as it is in the imagery of the Old Testament.  A world-changer, a mighty-king, a terrifying judge, bringing in the kingdom of the Lord. And so John’s mission as he says in another gospel, is to increase Jesus. John is like Jesus’ marketing director or his agent. Increase his exposure, get him on Oprah. It’s what John was called and commissioned to do.

And while Jesus’ entrance onto the societal stage may have been a little different, a little slower and less dramatic than John expected, one can begin to observe, reading halfway through chapter six that momentum is building behind Jesus. Luke 6:17   And he came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea and Jerusalem and the seacoast of Tyre and Sidon. Jesus finally has some momentum, the start of a movement. Now would seem to be the perfect time to capitalize upon this momentum and march on to Jerusalem. You could understand it if John were to get a little excited. Every thing he has worked for, the culmination of his life’s mission is now starting to come into focus. You also might then understand John’s frustration and bewilderment at what Jesus does next. Instead of building on the momentum and riding the crest of his popularity toward Jerusalem, Jesus goes back to his base in Capernaum and a tiny village, Nain, that no one has ever heard of - it’s not every mentioned in the Bible again. From John’s perspective, Jesus is the frustratingly unmarketable Messiah. Every time the movement starts growing and momentum builds, Jesus seems to seek out obscurity. This is frustrating and bewildering to John, until finally he sends his disciples to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” Can we start printing the t-shirts? 

What’s Jesus’ answer? Verse 21: In that hour he healed many people of diseases and plagues and evil spirits, and on many who were blind he bestowed sight. 22 And he answered them, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. 23 And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” In short, this is what the Messiah does. Deal with it.

This is what the Messiah does. The essence of this section that we are looking at today is that it is a reaffirmation of the Ministry of the Messiah. The movement has grown, but the ministry remains the same. The section is a clear echo of Luke chapter 4. If you remember, Luke 4 detailed for us the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. In Luke 4 Jesus quotes Isaiah 61: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Here in Luke 7, he tells John, this is exactly what I’ve been doing! In Luke 4 Jesus tells of how God sent his prophets to a Gentile military officer and a poor widow. Here in Luke 7, Jesus has just gone to a Gentile military officer and a poor widow. 

While Jesus’ priorities are confusing and bewildering to John, Jesus has a crystal clear picture of what He is to do and he is executing his Messianic ministry with laser-like precision. So when John asks are you the Messiah - because this movement seems to be stalling, Jesus’ answer is that He is doing the things that the Messiah is to do. What are we to take from this re-affirmation of Jesus’ ministry in the gospel of Luke?


  1. If we don’t keep the character of the ministry the movement won’t matter Luke is regrounding us in the compassionate ministry of Messiah. Both Luke and Acts are books focused on the movement of the mission of God. The first thing we learned about Luke and Acts is that the entire structure of both books are structured around movement and mission. Luke: from Galilee of the Gentile, through Samaria and Judea to Jerusalem, and Acts: From Jerusalem through Judea and Samaria to the Gentiles. Yet Luke the author spends 8 or 9 chapters at the beginning of both books stalling a bit before the movement of the mission commences. Why? Because the first section of both books are concerned with the nature of the movement itself. In Luke, it is in this section in which we learn of the nature of the Messiah’s ministry - compassion. In Acts, in the first section, we learn of the nature of the Messiah’s community - the church. So it’s really significant that after Jesus gives his orientation to hundreds if not thousands of followers and it looks like the movement is growing, Jesus goes back and focuses on the things that are central to his ministry.

    To be honest, it is these pictures of ministry and community in the early chapters in Luke and Acts that provide fuel for the outward expansion.  When the church today ministers in the compassionate spirit of Jesus while conducting itself in the generosity, integrity, and devotion of the early church we cannot help but expand. Yet today, all signs point to the fact that we are bleeding people and losing ground in our society. What we learn from Luke and Acts is that the foundation of ministry and community comes first before outward expansion and movement.


  1. The leader must model the character of the movement Jesus has just finished orientation with his new disciples about emulating the father and radically loving enemies and those who can never pay us back, and so what does he immediately do? He shows love to a centurion soldier - a member of the enemy Roman army - and a poor widowed woman who could never pay him back.  


  1. As the movement grows, it takes great discipline to stay true to the original vision. Throughout the Gospel of Luke we have seen time and again how people were constantly trying to co-opt Jesus’ mission to serve their own agendas. Here we see a new wrinkle. As the movement grows, expectations grow as well. Jesus keeps his focus on ministry and on his call even as expectations rise. He keeps doing what the Lord has defined for Him in his calling, until the Lord calls Him to a new calling. Chapter 7 has been called the compassaionate ministry of the Messiah, but really Jesus is doing nothing that he hadn’t already announced in chapter 4 and been practicing from chapters 5 and 6. 


Specifically, what do we learn about the ministry of Jesus through the two stories preceding?

  1. It’s not to those considered to be worthy, but those who know themselves to be unworthy to whom Jesus extends his ministry.
  2. Even in the midst of great crowds, Jesus has compassion for the destitute individual


  1. It’s not to those considered to be worthy, but those who know themselves to be unworthy to whom Jesus extends his ministry.

Religious people think in terms of who is worthy and who is unworthy. When the Jewish elders come to Jesus, they assume that Jesus will think like them. A gentile officer would normally be considered to fall into the unworthy category, so they have to market him, talk him up. “He is worthy to have you do this for him, for he loves our nation, and he is the one who built us our synagogue.”  They don’t know Jesus very well do they? We readers know by now that Jesus doesn’t put people into those sorts of categories. Jesus, gracefully does not rebuke them, but goes to the Centurion. Yet as he is still on the way “the centurion sent friends, saying to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof.” 9 When Jesus heard these things, he marveled at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.”  Only time Jesus marvels - every other time in the gospel of Luke, people marvel at Jesus!  


Jesus marvels because here is a guy who gets it. It’s not to those considered to be worthy, but those who know themselves to be unworthy to whom Jesus comes. And here is this man, considered unworthy by some, considered worthy by others, but that doesn’t matter. Whether worthy or not, the man humbles himself before Jesus, and it is for this that Jesus commends him. 


See we make these sorts of category errors all the time. Who is worthy and who is not? In this passage we see that you could be considered worthy/unworthy on the basis of race and ethnicity. You could be considered worthy/unworthy on the basis of your rank. To some the centurion would be worthy of honor while to others he might represent the bad guys. We classify people as worthy/unworthy on the basis of our works. He built the synagogue. Jesus turns these categories on thier heads though - lets look at three more passages quickly: 

  • 1 Cor. 1:26  For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. It is not wisdom, intellect, educational status, power, nobility that make one worthy. 
  • James 1:9   Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, 10 and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away. 11 For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits. It is not wealth or poverty that makes one worthy. 
  • 1Cor. 6:9   Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. Here it looks like our morality can make us unworthy, but wait, here’s the next verse: 11 And such were some of you.


See we can put people in all sorts of boxes, we can label people worthy or unworthy, but here is the truth and why this is a category error. There is only one worthy. All the rest of us are in the other box. There is only one worthy - that’s what the Centurian understood - I’m not worthy, he said, to have you come under my roof. I’m not worthy to have YOU. So here is the life affirming truth of the gospel. First, stop comparing yourself to others, I’m better or worse. What’s the point? No of us is worthy, not one. Second then, stop putting others in boxes of worthy and unworthy as if we are their judge. Third, see Christ as the only worthy one and worship Him. Fourth, take great joy and comfort and life in the fact of the gospel that God loves LOVES the unworthy. Fifth, begin to find your worth, your value, not in the false gospel of self-esteem, but in the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, which declares that though you are not worthy in and of yourself, in Him you find your value, your purpose, your worth.


  1. Even in the midst of great crowds, Jesus has compassion for the destitute individual 

So Jesus leaves and goes to a small town called Nain and when he gets to the town he meets a funeral procession. As we are introduced to this woman’s tale, Luke focuses on two things, first Luke twice highlights the largeness of the crowd. Second, he highlights the destitute status of this poor woman. She’s a widow - she’s already attended the funeral of her husband. In addition to the emotional pain of losing her husband, as a widow in that culture her own standard of living then would have become dependent upon her son.  Here son would have assumed all the responsibility of caring for her needs. There is no life insurance, no social security, no public nursing home or social safety net. Her net is her son, her only son. And now she she has lost him as well.  There is no way of comparing her woes. She’s lost her son and in the losing of her son, she has lost her life as well.


Something drives Jesus to Nain, to be there right then, to see this woman, and to have compassion on her. The literal meaning of this word is for your bowels to turn over. Splagnizo is the description of the movement in your body of compassion for someone who is suffering. Jesus splagnizod for the woman, he had compassion on her. Verse 13 is the key that Luke is trying to frame for us. When the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her. 

  • This is the first time Luke as the narrator calls Jesus, the Lord. Thus we know something that even the people witnessing the event did not: Jesus is the Lord. The people’s response to the miracle Jesus will perform show that they understand the God is doing something in Jesus, that He has sent a prophet to them, but we know better. Jesus is the Lord Himself come for his people to see them, to have compassion on them. The Lord saw her: this is still the smae question that we ask when we face desperate scenarios - does the Lord see? Yes, even in the midst of the crowds, the Lord sees.
  • He had compassion: The literal meaning of this word is for your bowels to turn over. Splagnizo is the description of the movement in your body of compassion for someone who is suffering. Jesus splagnizod for the woman, he had compassion on her. His bowels turned over for her because he knew what she was going through and what this meant for her.  We know this feeling. Many of us had the same feeling this week when we saw the news of the the tornado hitting the elementary schools. God feels the same way. In the midst of the crowds and multitudes of people, Jesus sees and has compassion over the destitute individual. 


He then kindly speaks to the mother: Do not weep. Now, perhaps he saws this because he has in mind already what he is going to do for her in the immediate sense. 14 Then he came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” 15 And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother.  I don’t want to undermine the amazingness of this miracle or to deflate the joy of this moment, so I’m hesitant to point this out,  yet as amazing as this miracle is, it is only temporary. The son, while revived by Jesus, will yet die. The woman will experience other trials and pain. Jesus knows this, so when He says to her, do not weep, yes he may have in mind what he is going to do in the present, but I think his words reach beyond the present, for his words echo the words of promise that he taught his disciples just before, “Blessed are you when you weep, for you will laugh.” The revivification of the widow’s son is but a foretastes of the renewal of all things that Jesus teaches us to look forward toward.



So we come back to John. These things are told to John and John questions whether or not Jesus is the Messiah. This is the Messiah’s ministry. To go to those not considered worthy, but who know their unworthiness, to look and see the destitute and bring them the gospel of hope. This is the ministry that we then are called to participate in.

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