Luke 7. Five Faces of Faith.
Key Notes: Outstanding faith was exhibited by a pagan. The least faith was found in a Pharisee. John the Baptist was in the middle.
In Luke 7, there are five people who exhibit faith to varying degree, so that faith itself can be studied. Their stories are memorable and can be used as separate lessons.
7:1–10. An Italian centurion, Gentile official of the colonial government, commander of a hundred, was, like so many centurions in NT, held in high regard. (Lk.23:47; Acts10:22; 22:26; 23:17,23; 24:23; 27:1,43). He had a servant who was dying. Jesus was summoned to heal him through the mediation of the elders of the synagogue that the Centurion had financed. But the Centurion had second thoughts, perhaps the imposition of asking Jesus to come into a Gentile house (Acts 10:28), so he sent a second party of his friends to ask Jesus to heal his servant at a distance. He reasoned that just as he had military aides at his disposal, so Jesus also had agents (angels?) at His command. Jesus was delighted to find such faith in such an unlikely person. The servant was found well when the friends returned.
7:11 Jesus came to the city of Nain with a crowd and confronted a funeral procession. The widow was probably near the basket carrying her only son to his grave. Her situation was desperate. Without family, having lost both husband and son, she was destined to become a woman of the streets. Jesus comforted her and told her not to cry. He then stopped the procession and spoke to the dead. The young man sat up and began to talk. All were amazed and praised God.
7:18. John the Baptist in prison (Lk.3:20) heard from his disciples what Jesus was doing and sent them to Jesus with this question: "Are you the One to Come or shall we look for another."
John had become disillusioned. He was still in prison. Jesus was not sifting Israel, or baptizing with the Holy Spirit and fire--so far as he could see. Lk.3:16–17
This was the first time that Jesus had been criticized from within the family of faith. Jesus' response was to demonstrate to the messengers all kinds of miracles (healing of blind, lepers, lame, dead, plagued, and demon-possessed) and send them back to tell John what they had seen and to tell John not to be offended. He was doing as Isa.35:5–6; 42:7 and 61:1–3 prophesied. [The release of captives sadly did not include a physical rescue of John.]
Jesus tossed out three popular versions of what John was not:
a light-weight who would go in any direction.
a courtier in fancy clothes.
a mere prophet.
He said that John was the greatest of the prophets, but even the least of the disciples (?Bartholemew) would be greater, as a partner of the New Covenant. John belonged to the Old Covenant. Then He noted that the masses of people did not follow John, or Jesus, but were indifferent, unmoved either by an ascetic prophet or by a convivial Evangelist.
7:36 The last episode in this chapter involves three people: Simon, a Pharisee who invited Jesus to dinner, and a woman of the streets who came in and embarrassed the guests. She cried copiously, enough to get Jesus' feet wet. She dried them with her hair and poured ointment on them. It was a tacky scene. Simon was annoyed, in part because his party was being spoiled by scandal and partly because he doubted Jesus' intelligence. Jesus then attended to Simon, rather than the woman.
He taught him by a parable that the woman had been forgiven for numerous sins and loved Jesus much, whereas Simon obviously loved Jesus little: he had provided no washing of His feet, no kiss of greeting and no perfume for the hair--all customary ways of showing respect to a special guest. Simon was not forgiven at all as evidenced by his lack of love for Jesus. Then Jesus said in the presence of Simon and the members of the party that her faith had saved her and she could go in peace.
In this chapter we see faith in five different perspective.
•The centurion had a sick, dying servant. He saw Jesus as an executive like himself: a commander with all necessary resources available to him. He needed only to say the word. The servant did not know Jesus; the centurion had not even met Jesus but he knew Jesus' power and trusted it without reservation. Jesus was an intercessor. The centurion’s faith demonstrates his insight into the Invisible Kingdom.
•The widow had lost her husband and now her only son was dead. She was overwhelmed by grief and despair. Faith was far from her mind. Jesus did not wait for her to react to Him. He took charge of the situation and returned the son to his mother without her participation.
•John was in Herod's dungeon and he chafed at Jesus' apparent inactivity. His faith was wavering and sick. He was on the verge of apostasy. Jesus' response was to demonstrate the power of God at work in saving dozens of the sick, in the presence of the messengers. We can only trust that John was satisfied and strengthened by the message he heard. His faith was that of a martyr who needed reassurance.
The woman at Simon's party had lived a sinful life, probably in prostitution. Her need was forgiveness, but she had no words of confession or contrition. She could only cry. But Jesus heard her cry as vivid speech and gave her her heart's desire. Her faith shows God's knowing and forgiveness.
•Simon's problem was a spoiled dinner party. He was a cool observer, skeptical, and without faith. Jesus saw his heart and taught him that love toward God was conditioned by what he have been given. He invited Simon to partake of God's forgiveness, a process that would take a while. His non-faith exposes the fork in the road between repentance and resistance.
All five individuals show us that faith is variable. Those who were confronted by Christ were at different points in their spiritual journey. A scale has been developed that enables us to rate a person's spiritual position. Zero is the dividing line between faith and unbelief.
*The centurion was a +8/10. His faith is stronger than any Jesus had found.
John was at + 1/10; at this point, his faith could go either way.
*The woman at Simon's party was +4/10. She had crossed the line of saving faith before she got to the party and made further progress that day.
Simon faith was at -5/10. He had a little knowledge and little interest in Jesus except as a dinner guest.
The widow of Nain started at 0/10 and moved to 3/10 with Jesus' help.
So everyone we meet is at a different point in the spiritual journey. In the case of the two women, Jesus understood their tears and acted without words being spoken. John the Baptist's faith needed strong support. Our hearts, our groaning, too, are more important than our words.
Likewise "the Spirit prays for us with groaning that cannot be uttered". Rom.8:26