Aspects of the authority of the Lord Jesus and the fallibility of human judgement
1. The Authority of The Lord Jesus
Verses 1-10: The Centurion’s Servant Healed
The Jewish elders besought the Lord to heal the centurion’s servant on the ground of his master’s merit, ‘he is worthy’. But the centurion begged Him to heal the man on the basis of His authority. He reasoned that in the Roman army he took orders from his superiors and expected those under him to obey him. Therefore Jesus need only say the word. The centurion confessed his own unworthiness and implicitly accepted the authority of the word of the Lord. In responding to the request the Lord drew attention to the centurion’s faith, implicitly accepting his assessment of the Lord’s authority. In healing the servant the Lord declared His authority to heal sickness and the importance of faith on the part of those who sought His healing power. He also affirmed the reality of that power, even when exercised on behalf of a sick person at a distance. In verse 22 He links this healing power with His messianic authority. He was indeed the Coming One. His authority to save sinners is illustrated in His authority to relieve the visible distresses and consequences of sin.
Verses 11-17: The Widow of Nain’s Son Raised
Sickness carried to its ultimate end terminates in death, and death is usually thought of as irreversible. But Christ’s power and authority extend beyond sickness, even into death. A key element in the Lord’s exercise of His authority over death in this case is His compassion, verse 13. He was not a magician rejoicing to display impressive powers to cause people to admire and wonder at Him. He saw a woman twice bereaved and without hope on earth. His compassion led Him to exercise His authority over death on her behalf. His compassion towards us sinners is a vital aspect of His exercise of His authority to save us from our state of spiritual death. We notice that the people’s reaction was not one of simple wonder. Rather they glorified God – ‘God hath visited his people’.
Verses 18-35: John the Baptist Reassured
While the Lord was performing these miracles and surrounded by wondering crowds, His faithful witness John was in prison. Matthew 11. 2 tells us, ‘Now when John had heard in the prison the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples, and said unto him, ‘Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another?’ John of course knew the messianic promises, but it must have seemed strange to him that he himself was, it appeared, excluded from the glad experience of Messiah’s coming. Hence his question, ‘Art thou he that should come?’ The Lord’s reply listed the miracles which showed His messianic authority to relieve distress, according to the prophetic promises of Isaiah 61. 1, 2, ‘the deaf hear, the blind see, the lame leap, the dumb sing’. We notice His inclusion of the messianic promise that, ‘to the poor the gospel is preached’. His compassion, praise God, includes His care for our spiritual need. The Lord is careful to make it clear that He does not resent John’s request for reassurance. He speaks in glowing terms of John’s faithfulness and greatness, a greatness associated with a unique ministry faithfully fulfilled. We note how in His reproof of the Pharisees and Lawyers the Lord links Himself closely with John: their rejection of John and Christ was due in both cases to their lack of true spiritual insight and their selfcentredness. The Lord’s denunciation of them carries the full weight of His divine authority, as does His commendation of John.
Verses 30-50: Simon and the Sinful Woman
The principal theme of this section is the Lord’s authority to forgive sins. When He said to the sinful (but already forgiven) woman, who had come into Simon’s house during the dinner, ‘thy sins are forgiven’, the reaction of the guests was one of shock and amazement, ‘who is this that forgiveth sins also?’ The attitudes of Simon and his other guests stand in stark contrast to the grace and forgiveness extended by the Lord to the woman. Of course, His forgiveness would be meaningless if He were not divine, for her sin was not against Him as a man. He could forgive because all sin is primarily and fundamentally against God, and He is divine. He had, and has, therefore this authority to forgive sins. He can forgive sins, moreover, because He suffered for sins, the Just for the unjust, to bring us to God.
2. The Fallability of Human Judgement
Over against the authority of the Lord Jesus and His deep understanding of the thoughts and motives of those around Him, Luke constantly sets the false assessments that the people made of each other. Luke’s narrative technique for identifying these false assessments is the constant repetition of the word ‘saying’, vv. 4, 16, 39. In one instance he records the Lord as saying to them, ‘Ye say’, vv. 33-34, in relation to similar false assessments. One hesitates to include John’s ‘saying’ in verse 19, but in so far as it expresses doubt about Jesus being the Christ it is a false assessment.
Verses 1-10. The centurion
The people pleaded with the Lord to heal the centurion’s servant, verse 4, saying, ‘he is worthy that thou shouldest do this for him’. On their scale of goodness this man had a right to have his plea to the Lord heard on the basis of his virtues. But Jesus is the only man glorified in this chapter. Men stand or fall as they relate to Him. If they respond to His grace and authority He upholds them, otherwise He rejects them. The centurion, looking at himself openly and honestly, saw that he was not worthy when confronted by the Lord, v. 6. Yet, depending on the authority that he has detected in Him, and trusting in His gracious willingness, he pleads for a distance healing by the word of authority. The Lord responded by healing the servant just as the centurion had asked. This request, He said, showed ‘great faith’. This incident, by the way, illustrates how faith is vital to our salvation, but is clearly not itself a saving virtue. His faith did not heal his servant but it laid hold on the authority and power of Christ to heal.
Verses 11-17. The Widow of Nain
When the Lord raised the widow’s son at Nain from the dead the crowd exclaimed that, ‘a great prophet is risen up among us’. A moment’s reflection on Hebrews 1. 1 will make clear how very far short their estimate of the Lord Jesus fell below the reality. Prophetic ministry until He came was fragmentary and revealed only glimpses of God. He was not just ‘a prophet’ or even ‘a great prophet’; He was Lord of all the prophets, and ultimately the subject of all prophecy. If John was ‘much more than a prophet’, v. 26, how much more true is this is of John’s Lord. And in so far as He did exercise a prophetic ministry He brought such a ministry to uniquely new heights. He is, and He is bound to be, the end of prophecy. He brings fulfilment.
Verses 18-35. John the Baptist
If we include John’s anxious question, ‘Art thou he that should come, or look we for another?’ as an underestimate of the Lord, we need to be careful, for John’s doubts were gently handled by Him. The evidence of the compassionate ministry of His miracles needed to be given to John to inform him of the proof that the promised Coming One had now come. John was a man of true faith; all he needed was to have the evidence spelt out to him. Then the Lord linked Himself with John as being criticized by unthinking carpers who could not understand them. They criticized John’s ascetic lifestyle, just as they criticized the Lord’s sociability and approachability. Both John and the Lord showed up the falseness of self-seeking, self-centred religion. The criticism was a subconscious form of self-defence.
Verses 30-50. Simon the Pharisee
The theme of prophetic status surfaces again in the episode in Simon’s house, ‘This man, if he were a prophet, would have known’. They knew the woman was ‘a sinner’. Why, everyone knew she was ‘a sinner’, but only the Lord knew that she was a forgiven sinner. Her devotion proved that she was responding in love to the One who had forgiven her. This surely is the sense of, ‘her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much!’ This may account for the way in which this statement is introduced by the Lord, ‘Wherefore I say unto thee’, as a direct answer to Simon’s false assessment.
In Conclusion. Verses 40–42. The Debt we all Owe
It is worth commenting that, in a passage in which there has been such inaccurate judgement passed on others, the Lord finally brings home to all His hearers, and to us, the fact that all men are debtors. They need the forgiveness of the divine Creditor. He is willing to forgive, but we need to arrive at the position taken by the centurion, ‘I am not worthy’. Before the Lord we are not only in the presence of infinite power and authority; of a precise and comprehensive perception of our motives; but also, praise God, of a grace and a willingness to forgive.