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Among the many trials people have to bear, the greatest hardships are often caused by sickness and death. Serious illness and death come to all, Christians included. Both bring burdens that may cause the sufferer and others to struggle. In such a world Jesus exercised his messianic ministry. We turn now to consider Luke 7:1-17 Issues of life and death.
1. Healing the sick
As Jesus enters Capernaum, a remarkable incident takes place, concerning ‘a centurion’s servant…sick and about to die’ (v2). This Roman soldier, a Gentile, is no ordinary centurion:
(i). The compassion he had for the servant. This is in fact a slave, a piece of property in Roman law, yet the centurion ‘valued [him] highly’. He placed enough value on the servant to go to considerable lengths to contact Jesus – he ‘sent some elders of the Jews’ (v3).
(ii). The respect he enjoyed among the Jews who regard him highly. They ‘pleaded earnestly with Jesus’ (v4) – note he ‘deserves to have you do this’. The reason is surprising – he has built their synagogue (v5) – possibly he was a ‘God-fearer’ who attended synagogue.
(iii). The faith he expressed. This is more than curiosity. Note he is humble – ‘I do not deserve…’ (v6) and he has faith – ‘say the word and my servant will be healed’ (v7). Jesus’ evaluation is crucial – ‘I have not found such great faith’ (v9). He responds to the need.
We see clearly Jesus’ authority in the healing. As Messiah he demonstrates his identity as the One who transforms lives. The healing is a sign that he is able to change sinners and give them ‘life…to the full’ (John 10:10). To have that life, we must look to him in faith.
2. Raising the dead
Jesus next confronts death as he come face to face with the tragedy described in v12. Note:
(i). A fallen world. The main reason for the presence of suffering and death in the world is man’s sin (see Romans 5:2). The material world is implicated in human sin and death has intruded into God’s good creation, bringing sorrow and many other evils. At Nain Jesus confronts the consequences of the fallen state of the world.
(ii). A compassionate Messiah. This is vividly expressed in v13 ‘his heart went out to her’ – the word that expresses a deep physical response on Jesus’ part. This is both human and divine compassion, responding to sin and its consequences. Jesus willingly becomes ceremonially unclean (v14). He gives the son back to his mother – a tender and gracious act.
(iii). A mighty Lord. The Messiah’s authority is revealed in raising the dead, giving life in place of death. In speaking to the dead Jesus speaks with divine authority, enabling immediate obedience. God’s word brings fulfilment. Jesus is ‘the Lord’ (v13, first time in Luke) – in a more wonderful way than they realised. God and man, he defeats sin and death.