Friday, December 02, 2011

We Played the Flute and You Did Not Dance

Luke 7

If you are careful, when you read the bible, you will see two very stark differences between the world of the Bible and the world we live in. First is that the culture of the godless world is incredibly godless. They evil seems to be able to get no worse. People kill one another at the drop of a hat. Kings and princes rule with absolute authority and no one, other than someone equally terrible has anything to say or do with it. At least in our world, people are generally nice. You can disagree on almost any topic without worrying that the one you are talking to will kill you the moment you turn around.

The other stark difference is that the Godly are immeasurably more godly than we are. Christians and god fearers in both Testaments are regularly killed for their faith. They are tortured, they are sawn in two, they are crucified, they are starved, lose their homes, are spit upon, families leave them, you name it, they receive it gladly because they know they have a glorious home waiting for them with Christ. You could say that this only highlights the first point. But I bring it up to show that Christians in the first century believed the truth of the Gospel to the point where they would put up with any and every affront to their personhood to obtain what was promised.
After he had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. Now a centurion had a servant who was sick and at the point of death, who was highly valued by him. When the centurion heard about Jesus, he sent to him elders of the Jews, asking him to come and heal his servant… (Luke 7)

Summary of The Text:
Because this is a long chapter, I will summarize the text according to each vignette by vignette rather than verse by verse.

The end of chapter six finds Jesus preaching on what Luke calls the sermon on the plain, or the ESV has a “level place” (6:17). After that chat, Jesus goes down into Capernaum (7:1). In Capernaum, a centurion hears about Jesus and all the things he has been saying and doing. One of his favorite servants is sick and near death. The Centurion thinks the only hope the servant has is if Jesus will come and heal him, so because he is too humble to go himself, he persuades the Jewish leaders to go to Jesus and plead with him to come and heal him. As Jesus get near the house, the Centurion thinks further about who he is asking to do service to him and humbles himself even more when he tries to get Jesus to go on his way. He doesn’t even go to Jesus, he is too struck by his lowly position and sends servants to talk to Jesus. “I’m not worthy to have you come under my roof.” He goes on to say that if only Jesus will simply say the word and the servant will be healed. He understands that Jesus is working in a realm far higher than the one he is working in. But he realizes too that Jesus is not a simple underling. He is in a position of authority and when he says something, things happen. The centurion likens it to the chain of command he has with his troops. This attitude causes Jesus to marvel at him and even though the man is a Roman, Jesus has found no greater faith in all Israel than what he sees in this man. And the text says, “when the ones who had been sent went home, they found the servant well.”

Shortly after this event, Jesus went to a town called Nain (v. 11). There, Jesus comes across a funeral procession. He pauses, sees what is happening, goes to the mother and full of compassion, tells her to stop weeping. Then he reaches up on the bier and tells the young man to “rise up.” The dead man sat up and began chatting with everyone and Jesus gave him to his mother. The result was great fear of God and the word spread about Jesus like there was never any greater news on the planet.

When the news got to John the Baptist, he was, as Matthew tells us, in prison. He was near his own death and seemed to have wanted to make sure that his mission was truly over. He sent two of his disciples to Jesus to find out if he was the one they were waiting for or not. Jesus’ response was to tell them to examine the fruit. The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them” (v. 22).

After this, Jesus notices a number of people who were in attendance were talking in a derogatory way about John. Jesus lights into them and says that John had a cosmic role in the history of the world. He was sent to prepare the way for the Messiah and had done exactly as he was directed. Many of the people, who had been baptized by John rejoiced in John’s faithfulness. The rest, mostly Pharisees and lawyers, rejected God’s gift to them in John and now in Jesus (v. 30).

Jesus goes on to say that their generation is like the children who wouldn’t dance though others played the flute for them (v. 32). The leaders played the tune, but John and now Jesus wouldn’t play the game they way they wanted it played and they were accusing John and Jesus of all sorts of things—interestingly they were opposite things. John was an ascetic and Jesus was a drunk. In the end wisdom is justified by her children.

The last story is one in which one of the Pharisees has invited Jesus to dine with the family. While he is there a woman, who is from the city and is a sinner, comes in and weeping, pours very expensive ointment on Jesus feet and mixes it with her tears and kisses and anoints Jesus’ feet with her hair. The Pharisee, of course, is incensed that Jesus wouldn’t know what kind of woman this was and that he would let her even touch him (v. 39).

Jesus goes on to tell one the more famous stories of the Bible. If one person is forgiven a huge debt, he will be much more likely to feel close to the one who does the forgiving than someone whose debt is pretty minor. Simon knows this principle, but doesn’t see himself in the story. He doesn’t see, first that the women is simply responding to great forgives, and second that if he were seeing the world rightly he would realize that his sin is much greater than hers because his sin is against the Holy God who Simon pretends to serve. Jesus said, “Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little" (v. 47).

The Kind of Faith that Changes Nothing
This chapter teaches two kinds of faith. And these last two verses encapsulate them both. The first is the kind of faith that recognizes that something happened, “who is this, who even forgives sins?”, but nothing changes. The second kind of faith is exemplified by the statement, “your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

These two kinds of faith are potentially present in each story, but the stories are not about the first kind as much as they are illustrations of the second. If the centurion had heard about Jesus, but had not sent for him to have his servant healed, his servant would have died right then. If the woman had not stopped the bier to let Jesus touch her son, the son would have stayed dead. If none of the people Jesus healed had gotten out of their beds, or opened their eyes, or could actually hear, or had stayed on their piers, or had kept their crutches, or had stayed in their sins, they would have had the first kind of faith, but not the second.

Later in the chapter the first kind of faith is exemplified by the Pharisees, the lawyers and their friends. They were the ones who went into the dessert to see a reed blowing around in the wind (v. 24). They were the ones who went to see a man in soft clothing (v. 25). But those kinds of men are in kings’ courts, the very places that these Pharisees and lawyers normally hung out. These people saw John, listened to him, saw the changes he made in all the people who believed his message, but did nothing about it. At the time of this discussion, John was languishing in prison awaiting the removal of his head. And they did nothing to free him from the Jewish king who ruled at the time.

And then, they complained when John and Jesus did what God wanted, ignored the “leaders” of Israel and did what God wanted instead of what the Pharisees wanted. They wouldn’t dance. Matthew adds, “we sang a dirge for you, but you wouldn’t mourn” (11:17).They wouldn’t play the game. And they suffered the human consequences for their godliness, but also received the rewards of their holiness.

The Second Kind of Faith—Real Faith—Saving Faith
The main point of the chapter, however, is that when people heard about Jesus, they believed what they heard, and it transformed their lives. The centurion knowing who Jesus was, sent Jewish leaders, to use the chain of command, to Jesus, then thought about it further and sent his servants to ask Jesus to simply give a command to the cosmos and his daughter would be healed. The commanded young man got out of the bier and lived. The blind received their sight. The deaf heard. The lame walked and according to Acts leaped as well (Acts 3:8). The sinful woman crept into the pompous Pharisees house and poured her costly perfume on Jesus’ feet and weeping for the joy of having been in the presence of the creator of the universe, wiped it on his feet with her hair. All because they believed the news they heard about Jesus. And it changed their lives. It changed the world.

I mentioned in the beginning that we live in a very different world from the one Jesus lived in. Our non-Christian world is no where near as ugly as the world John lived in when they cut off his head on the whim of a young girl. And our Christian world is not as holy as Jesus world when the woman wept on Jesus’ feet and wiped them with her most precious possession with her hair. What is the difference? I believe it is that Christianity changed the world to be a much more watered down world in terms of evil. Nice is what rules our part of the world. Fair is another word you hear a lot. But this makes the non-Christians a lot “nicer ‘and a lot more “fair.” On the other hand, not having a worthy opponent has allowed the Christians to soften up. We no longer need to stand for Christ with the potential loss of limb or life. We have become correspondingly soft. As the world has become nicer, Christians have become less faithful. We have slowly slid into the first kind of faith. We read what Jesus did, but we don’t act on it anymore. We don’t stand up to the evil of the world, partly because it isn’t all that evil, but also because we don’t want to give up our cushy life.

But think about this, isn’t what we are doing the same thing as what the Pharisees were doing? Aren’t we asking Jesus to dance to our tune? Aren’t we asking Jesus to mourn when we cry our sad song? When Jesus says rise up, are you jumping up in strong and life changing belief, or are you stretching first and then slowly rising, making sure that it doesn’t offend anyone, or if it does, it does it in the most polite way?

It is interesting that the world changed because the Christians acted like Christians, now we say our world is in the mess it is in because the non-Christians are so powerful, so mean and nasty. But who did God make to be the leaders around here? Christians led us into this mess, and only Christians, who believe, who have faith, and who trust in the promises of God can get us out of it. But only for God’s glory.

God of glory, full of promises, we beseech you to reveal to us ways in which we have not believed like the centurion, the young dead man, the formerly blind, deaf, lame, poor, and the woman who wept at your son’s feet. Please turn the hearts of your people back to you in a way that shows a difference in the way we live in our families, in our jobs, in our studies, in every area and facet of our lives. We beg you to transform our lives as we believe you and believe in you. Help us in our unbelief. We pray this in the strong name of Jesus Christ the Holy one. Amen.

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