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Luke brought the love of Christ into sharp focus in this chapter, along with the ethic derived from it, namely, that it is in the love of God and the love of man that a soul may hope to commend itself to the Lord. First, there is the centurion who loved his servant (Luke 7:1-10); then, Jesus showed his love for the bereaved by raising the son of the widow of Nain (Luke 7:11-17); next, Jesus offered his love of the afflicted and the poor as proof of his Messiahship to John the Baptist, laying stress on the publicans and harlots who accepted John's message (Luke 7:24-25); and then, he gave the explanation of how publicans and harlots were saved and the Pharisees were not, this explanation growing out of a dinner in the house of a Pharisee (Luke 7:36-50).
THE HEALING OF THE CENTURION'S SERVANT
In my Commentary on Matthew this miracle was referred to as being identical with the one in Matthew 8:5-13, this view being that of Lamar, Boles, McGarvey, and many others; and it is reaffirmed here that it may be so interpreted, all of the variations in the two accounts yielding easily to harmonizing suggested by many commentators. It should be noted, however, that it is by no means CERTAIN that Matthew and Luke have recorded the same incident.
More mature study has convinced this writer that the two episodes COULD be different miracles, and that the higher probability is that they WERE separate wonders. The Greek words translated "my servant" (Matthew 8:6) are from terms which are literally "the boy of me," F1 an expression which MacKnight affirms would have been translated "my son" except "for the supposition that the miracles are the same." F2 About the only objection to viewing the miracles as separate wonders springs from the alleged unlikelihood that there would have been two centurions, one with a sick son, another with a sick slave, who would have approached Jesus with approximately the same words, manifesting exactly the same attitude.
MacKnight, however, suggested that:
There might have been two centurions. Both made the same speech to Jesus, one through his friends, and the other in person; but this circumstance may be accounted for. As the faith of the first centurion, who was a heathen, took its rise from the extraordinary cure wrought on the nobleman's son (John 4:46-54), the faith of the second centurion might have taken its rise from the success of the first, which could not fail to be well known both in the town and in the country. F3
MacKnight elaborated the above argument in his harmony of the Gospels in such a manner as to foreclose any logical objections to it. He concluded thus:
To conclude that two centurions should have had, the one his son, the other his slave, cured in Capernaum with like circumstances, is no more improbable than that the temple should have been twice purged, the multitude twice fed, and the fishes twice caught by miracle, and with the same circumstances. F4
This consideration has been introduced here, not because of any bearing the question has with reference to interpreting the miracles themselves, but because of the implications bearing on the two great sermons, the one on the mount, the other on the plain. The big argument for making those sermons the same depends upon making these two miracles the same; but it is clear enough that the uncertainty of their being indeed but one wonder totally removes the principal argument for viewing Luke's record of the Sermon on the Plain as merely an abbreviated account of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew. Significantly, some of the commentators who treat these two miracles as one refuse to view the sermons as one (Boles, for example). It appears that it is more logical to view the miracles also as separate wonders.
The first clause here, according to Boles,
Shows that the discourse which had just been narrated was delivered at one time, and was not a mere collection of sayings or detached parts of different discourses. F5
A great deal of Jesus' teaching was done in Capernaum, which was his residence for a long while; and the event of our Lord's finishing a discourse at some place near the city and then returning to the place where he stayed must have recurred often. Nothing is plainer in the sacred Gospels than the fact that the sum total recorded by all of them put together was merely the tip of the iceberg, compared to all that Jesus said and did. The last word that has come down to us across the long centuries since Jesus walked on the earth is that "the world itself could not contain the books that should be written" (John 21:25), if men had recorded all that Jesus did and taught! This monumental truth destroys the conceit which would explain similar teachings or miracles of Jesus as inaccurate, garbled accounts of but one event or sermon.
Even counting the two centurions of these miracles (the one here, and the other in Matthew) as but one man, there are no less than eight centurions mentioned in the New Testament; and it is significant that all of them appear in a favorable light. As Ryle expressed it, "It is worthy of remark that in no case is there the slightest hint that the profession of a soldier is unlawful in the sight of God." F6 The list of centurions listed in the New Testament is:
The word here is "bondservant" or slave; and it is evident that Luke recorded this for the purpose of showing the centurion's love for such a person. "He did not despise slaves as other Gentiles commonly did." F7 The character of this noble soldier was evident, not merely in the love lavished upon a slave, but in his love for Israel, (Luke 7:5), and in his support of the worship of God (Luke 7:5). Some sought the aid of Jesus for a son, or daughter, or for themselves; but this man came to Jesus on behalf of a slave.
And when he heard ...
What is more likely than the supposition that this centurion had heard from his fellow officer in the same city of the healing of a son; and that both were familiar with the healing of the nobleman's son in the same city? A vast number of Jesus' deeds were wrought in Capernaum (Matthew 11:23). The "hearing" would also have included the very words and attitude by which the first centurion had approached the Lord; and the second would have adopted the approach which was so successful with the first.
The elders ...
In this appears one of the differences in the two similar miracles. The first centurion was a heathen; this one was evidently some kind of proselyte to Judaism; for it is hard to believe that he would have built the Jews a synagogue unless he was a follower of Judaism. This officer enlisted the elders of the people to convey his request to the Lord; in the case in Matthew, the centurion himself went to Jesus and made the request.
Clearly, the centurion had remained at home (Luke 7:6), and the Jewish elders actually bore the request to Jesus.
Our synagogue ...
McGarvey wrote that:
The ruins of Capernaum show the ruins of a synagogue. It was a beautiful structure, built of white limestone, shows by its architecture that it was built in the time of the Herods, and there is little doubt that it is the one which this pious Gentile erected, and in which Jesus taught and healed. F8
Thus, God raised up a devout Gentile to provide a platform from which many of the marvelous teachings of the Lord would be announced (see John 6:59).
How strange it is that this Roman centurion, a Gentile, and an officer in the hated army of the oppressors, should have received such a commendation as the Jewish elders in Capernaum delivered to Jesus on his behalf. He was one of a class of persons who rose above the base morals of the ancient empire and who rejected the vanity and falsehood of the pagan religions.
He was one among the proselytes, whom the providence of God had so wonderfully prepared in all the great cities of the Greek and Roman world as a link of communication between Gentile and Jew, in contact with both - holding to the first by their race, and to the latter by their religion; and who must have materially helped in the early spread of the faith. F9
This is clearly a different circumstance from that of the miracle in Matthew, as the next verses emphasize.
Such faith as that shown by the centurion is remarkable indeed.
Say the word ...
It is an attribute of God that his word alone is sufficient unto all things. "He spake, and they were made; he commanded, and they were created" (Psalms 148:5). Read the book of Genesis. God said, "Let there be light. And there was light"! It is amazing that this centurion understood this as being true of Jesus. The next verse shows how he arrived at such a conclusion.
Having in his possession the knowledge of how Jesus' word had wrought many cures, this centurion, like his fellow officer, had come to recognize God come in the flesh. As Ryle observed:
A greater miracle of healing than this is nowhere recorded in the Gospels. Without even seeing the sufferer, without touch of hand, or look of eye, our Lord restored health to a dying man. He spoke and the sick was cured. He commanded, and the disease departed. No apostle or prophet did a miracle like this. We see here the finger of God. F10
It does not appear that the centurion ever came into the presence of the Lord, physically; but, disclaiming for himself any worthiness that Jesus might come under his roof, he nevertheless received him in his heart, which was a far more glorious reception.
No, not in Israel ...
That Jesus placed this centurion's faith above ALL that he had seen in Israel is significant. As Taylor said:
This centurion placed Jesus on the throne of the universe, regarding him as the ruler of the world, and as having all things under his command. He saw him, not merely as Messiah, but as God Incarnate, and therein lay the superiority of his faith to that of any of the Israelites. Not even any of the apostles, at that time, had reached the lofty altitude on which this Gentile soldier stood. F11
He marvelled ...
For an article on the "Marvel of Unbelief," see my Commentary on John, index. It is not recorded very often that Jesus marveled; but his marveling here contrasts with his marveling at unbelief (Mark 6:6). It was an inherent condition of the incarnation that Jesus should have experienced amazement and wonder. How would the Lord, to whom all things were known, have wondered, or marveled? Trench called this question "One of the hardest in the whole domain of theology." F12 Every student of the Holy Scriptures must confess the awareness of the mystery in this which is beyond all human comprehension; but by faith we receive the answer supplied by the apostle who wrote that "He emptied himself, and took upon him the form of a servant" (Philippians 2:6-8).
Accepting this account as a second miracle wrought for the benefit of a centurion would also fit the evident purpose in Luke of giving TWO instances of Jesus' mightiest deeds, rather than merely one. Thus he recorded TWO instances of Jesus' raising the dead (no other Gospel did this), the OTHER genealogy (that of Mary), a SECOND anointing, ANOTHER sermon similar to the one on the mount, a SECOND version of the prayer Jesus taught his disciples to pray, the cure of a second woman who had long been afflicted (Luke 13:10); a SECOND lament over Jerusalem, a SECOND parable of the slighted invitation, and even recorded very significant utterances of Jesus from the cross which were not even hinted in the other Gospels. This is clearly a characteristic of this Gospel.
THE RAISING OF THE WIDOW'S SON AT NAIN
"There are many ancient remains of Nain, proving that the place was once of considerable size." F13 It is located "on the northwestern edge of `Little Hermon,' where the ground falls into the plain of Esdraelon." F14 Just east of the city are the remains of rock sepulchres; and the extensive ruins disprove the notion that the place was merely "a humble village of mud-built houses near Nazareth." F15 Luke was altogether correct in calling the place a "city." Today the village is a rather insignificant place called Nein.
Soon afterwards ...
may mean "the very next day," as this place reads in some ancient authorities (English Revised Version (1885), margin). Amazingly, only Luke recorded this wonder, the sacred authors having been most certainly restrained by the Spirit of God in what they included or left out.
The gate of the city ...
does not indicate that the city had a wall, referring rather to "the opening between the houses, by which the road entered the town." F16
Weep not ...
It was not possible, at the moment, for this bereaved widow to respond to such a command; but the Lord never gave a command without supplying the power to obey it. This is still an imperative, with qualification, to Christians of all ages: "Sorrow not, even as the rest, who have no hope" (1 Thessalonians 4:13). Someone has remarked that Jesus broke up every funeral he ever attended!
Touched the bier ...
Thus, Jesus defied the ceremonial defilement forbidding such a thing; because the dead could not defile him, but conversely he raised the dead!
Young man, I say unto thee, Arise ...
This corresponds exactly, except for the salutation, with what Jesus said to the daughter of Jairus (Mark 5:41); and the spiritual application is the same. See under that reference in my Commentary on Mark.
The power of the Son of God is truly infinite. Not even the charlatans of earth have ever attempted to fake such a thing as this. That a dead body should respond to the command of Jesus is a wonder of such magnitude as to numb the senses of all who contemplate it. Following the pattern of all his miracles of raising the dead, Jesus here obviously restored the young man to his former condition in life; and, in this, these miracles of Jesus were different from the resurrection of the Lord. He rose to an eternal existence which he already possessed; those whom he raised rose to the life they had previously possessed, but still subject to mortality.
Fear took hold ...
This was the natural result of such a miracle. The souls of men tremble when conscious of the presence of God; and such a presence had clearly demonstrated itself at the gate of Nain. The incarnation was affirmed by the conviction of the people who said, "God hath visited his people."
The whole of Judaea ...
is inclusive of the entire domain of the Herods (Antipas and Agrippa I) with "all the region round about," thus having reference to the whole of what is today called Palestine. There is no way for men to stretch their minds to fully comprehend the impact of such a miracle as Jesus performed, shocking the entire eastern half of the Roman empire.
Nor should it be left unnoticed that this miracle was wrought within a very few miles of Nazareth, whose citizens refused to believe in Jesus. This miracle was close enough that they could not have avoided knowing it happened; and thus Jesus gave his home village another chance to believe on him whom they had despised.
There is a progression in the New Testament resurrections. The daughter of Jairus had been dead but a little while; this son of the widow was dead a longer period, the body being carried to the tomb; and Lazarus was dead and buried four days! All of the resurrections Jesus wrought (except his own) have this in common, that no word has come down to posterity of what any of them said concerning the state of death from which they were rescued. As Taylor said, "They uttered no word concerning the state from which they had been recalled. It was not theirs to bring light and immortality to light." F17 THAT was reserved for Christ.
THE DEPUTATION FROM JOHN THE BAPTIST
John's uncertainty is understandable. He had publicly identified Jesus as the Christ; but the Saviour's Messiahship was not being proclaimed with the dogmatic certainty which John might have expected; therefore, he did with his doubts what every true believer in Christ should always do, that is, he brought them to Jesus who answered and relieved them. When God's children are in doubt, let them search the word of the Lord. If John, instead, had taken his doubts to the Pharisees, he would have been confirmed in his doubt, not in his faith; and the same is true today of many religious leaders. For more on this, see my Commentary on Matthew, Matt. 11:1-3.
Art thou he that should come ...?
Humanity must have a Saviour; God promised one; and, if Jesus is not the Saviour, then who is? John did not say, "Art thou he that should come, or shall we cease looking?" but "shall we look for another?" Such is the state of Adam's fallen race that only a Saviour can avail anything. This desperate need of all mankind surfaces in John's question. This was the text chosen by this writer as his "trial sermon" at Walnut Street Church of Christ, Sherman, Texas Oct. 6, 1935; but the speaker was not aware of the reason for the murmur of laughter that swept over the audience when his text was announced.
Jesus' answer to John was twofold, including: (1) a demonstration of his messianic power (as here), and (2) a verbal reiteration of it in the next two verses. John the Baptist performed no miracles (John 10:41); and this outflashing of Jesus' miraculous power must have been very impressive to John's disciples; but Jesus went beyond this and quoted the prophecy of Isaiah, who described the times of the Messiah in the terms that Jesus used of his own ministry. See next two verses.
One passage which Jesus clearly had in mind was Isaiah 35:5, in which the prophet foretold the messianic age. Thus Jesus answered John plainly, but not too plainly, that he was indeed the Christ. The reason for Jesus' avoidance of a more dogmatic declaration concerning himself at that time was to deny on his own behalf the malignant, carnal notions of Messiah's true character which had perverted the popular mind of that day. For more on this, see my Commentary on Matthew, Matt. 11:1-3.
The dead are raised up ...
has reference to a plurality of resurrections; and here is proof that not all such wonders have been recorded by the sacred authors. Long after the synoptic Gospels were written, John recorded the raising of Lazarus; and there may have been many others whom the Lord raised to life from the dead.
Blessed is he ...
The clause introduced by these words shows that Jesus expected John to continue in faith; and the passage immediately afterward indicates that Jesus knew he would continue.
JESUS' EULOGY OF JOHN THE BAPTIST
Jesus meant by this that John was not a vacillating popularity seeker, preaching only those things that fitted the popular mood, a weather-vane type of preacher, pointing in all directions like a reed in the wind.
The rugged nature of the mighty John was well known, as well as his garment of camel's hair, noted for its discomfort, John being the original man in a hair shirt; and Jesus was saying by this reference that John would stand by his identification of our Lord as "the Lamb of God," regardless of the hardships involved.
Significantly, these eulogistic remarks were spoken by Jesus after John's disciples had departed, and were therefore offered for the enlightenment of the multitude, and not for any purpose of flattering John. John was more than a prophet in that he was the herald of the Christ, a man of the most magnificent spiritual dimensions.
Thus Jesus identified John the Baptist as the "Elijah" who was to come (Malachi 3:1ff), and as the herald of King Jesus.
Greater than he ...
This seemingly paradoxical statement is resolved by the considerations: (1) that John the Baptist was not in the kingdom of Christ, the same not being set up until after John's death, and (2) that the term "greater" has reference to privilege, rather than to character.
These are among the most significant words in the New Testament, showing categorically that the refusal to accept baptism at the hands of John was, in fact, a rejection of the counsel of God on the part of the Pharisees. In the preparatory phase of the kingdom of God, no less than in its reality after Pentecost, refusal to be baptized was here pointed out by Jesus as a "rejection" of God's counsel. Water baptism is one of the elements of the new birth, the being "born of water" to which Jesus referred in his interview with Nicodemus (see comments in my Commentary on John, third chapter). It is therefore true in the present era that failure to heed Christ's command that all men should be baptized is no less a rejection of God's will now than it was when those ancient Pharisees and lawyers rejected it. It is in fact a greater rejection, because John's baptism was only water baptism, the Holy Spirit not having at that time been given; whereas, the baptism of the great commission is followed by the reception of the Holy Spirit. Moreover the conceit that men may receive God's Spirit while rejecting his baptism is refuted by this passage. The new birth, without which none shall see the kingdom of God, includes being "born of water," although that is not the totality of it.
In this passage lies the reason why the publicans and harlots entered into God's kingdom, whereas the Pharisees did not enter it. Another significant reason also appears in the next episode where the sinful woman is presented as "loving" Jesus more than the proud Pharisee; and, as Jesus said, "If ye love me, ye will keep my commandments" (John 14:15).
The simile spelled out by Jesus in this passage compares the rejection of both John and Jesus by the same generation to the perverse and unreasonable behavior of spoiled brats sitting in the marketplace, and who would not dance when the piper played, nor mourn when the wailer wailed. They would not play wedding, for that was too happy; and they would not play funeral, for that was too sad! The opposite personalities of John and Jesus were alike rejected by Israel. The last clause, that "wisdom is justified of all her children," shows that both John and Jesus were fulfilling the true mission God sent them to achieve.
The criticisms Jesus mentioned here as having been leveled against himself were only a few of the vicious and unprincipled remarks directed against the Saviour. For no less than ten different false charges made against Jesus by the evil men in that generation, see my Commentary on Matthew, Matt. 11:18-19.
This anointing which took place in the house of Simon the Pharisee should not be confused with that which took place in Bethany (see my Commentary on 12:1-8).
This Pharisee was Simon (Luke 7:43); and he may not be identified as Simon the Leper (Matthew 26:6; Mark 14:3; John 12:1f). The circumstances here do not fit the anointing in Bethany at all. Luke's record of another anointing perfectly fits into the pattern he followed throughout the Gospel. See under Luke 7:10.
This Simon was doing what might be called "slumming." He had invited Jesus out for the purpose of studying him; but before the evening ended, Simon found himself the one studied, analyzed and found wanting.
It is hyper-ridiculous to equate this with the anointing by the devout Mary, as recorded in the other Gospels. This person was a "sinner," and her knowledge of what was going on in this Pharisee's house speaks volumes about the Pharisee. Her free access to his house shows some affinity between them, although it did not extend so far as a common attitude toward Jesus, whom the Pharisee dishonored, and whom the woman honored. This unfortunate daughter of Israel had fallen into a life of sin, but she recognized in Jesus a holiness and love which opened up the fountain of her tears falling inadvertently upon his feet, a fault (as she viewed it) which was quickly corrected by her wiping them with her hair, and anointing them with the precious ointment. Her kisses, lavished upon his feet, were a further expression of her love for the Son of God.
Spake within himself ...
Only in the word of God may it be read what men said within themselves, and Luke has several such instances: the prodigal son (Luke 15:17), the unjust steward (Luke 16:3), etc. This Pharisee was correct in one of the premises of his conceited syllogism, namely, that a true prophet would have known who and what manner of person the woman was. However, he was wrong in his companion premise that Jesus did not know who and what manner of person the woman was. He not only knew that but also knew all about Simon, as the conversation at once revealed.
This was a dramatic moment. The proud, unloving Pharisee had already made up his mind. He had decided that Jesus was an impostor, and one cannot fail to sense the condescension in his icy "Teacher, say on?' But he was in for the shock of his life. The Master began by relating what Simon probably thought was an innocuous little parable; the point he would get later on.
|The lender||= Jesus Christ our Lord|
|The one who owed five hundred shillings||= the sinful woman|
|The one who owed fifty shillings||= the Pharisee|
|Their both being unable to pay||= the fact that no mortal can atone for even the most insignificant of his sins.|
|His freely forgiving both||= the unmerited favor of God in providing a means of forgiveness for all.|
The question of who "loved" the most focuses upon the most important element in determining who shall be saved.
Significantly, the sins of the Pharisee, consisting of pride, conceit, and self-righteousness, were here set forth as only a tenth as weighty as the sins of the woman.
Simon, so he thought, was merely going along with the little game; his "I suppose" is in the same vein of condescension as the "say on" of Luke 7:40. There was not even anything in Jesus' address to Simon that revealed the blockbuster that Jesus was about to detonate in his face. Simon, no doubt, was still smiling a sophisticated sneer when Jesus said, "Thou hast rightly judged." Then turning to the woman, who in Jesus' sight was the principal audience, he spoke, as it were, over his shoulder to Simon.
Simon had slighted and insulted Jesus by withholding the basin of water and the towel normally extended to a visitor, usually at the hands of a servant; and one may only wonder how Simon had made such a slip. Did he suppose that the humble Prophet of the poor would not recognize the omission of such a customary courtesy? Whatever his reason, it must be viewed as an intentional slight, a discourtesy that this Pharisee would not have allowed toward any of his priestly friends; yet he has snubbed the great High Priest.
But God had provided the honor which his only begotten Son required. What the proud Pharisee withheld the sinful woman gave. Her tears replace the basin of water and her hair the towel. How the heart of Simon the hypocrite must have quailed before such a denunciation. His sneering smile froze on his pallid face, as the Judge of all men pronounced sentence upon him in his own house and in the presence of one whom he despised and who was a witness to his humiliation.
It was thus a triple insult that Simon had directed against the Lord of life; not merely the basin and the towel, but the customary greeting of a guest with a kiss, and the anointing of the head with oil had also been withheld. But the woman supplied, out of love, all three!
Simon who thought he was judging the Lord suddenly found himself the judged, Jesus claiming in his presence the divine prerogative of judging all men, and announcing in the full majesty of his glorious person forgiveness of the woman whom Simon despised, and conspicuously omitting any reference at all to the forgiveness of Simon. There is not a more dramatic incident in the Scriptures than this. What did Simon say to such a thing? No response was recorded. One may well suppose that both his conversation and his appetite were overcome by what had occurred. The focus at once shifted to what the other guests were saying "within themselves," indicating that the judgment of silence had fallen upon them all.
While the dinner guests were thus concentrating upon their inner thoughts, Jesus reiterated what he had already said.
Far more than forgiveness, salvation itself was thus extended to Simon's impromptu guest. What about her obedience? It was assured. "If ye love me, ye will keep my commandments," Jesus said; and here was one who truly loved him. She was not saved by "faith only."
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.