Have you ever had someone suggest to you that you could find the truth about life WITHIN yourself? The other day I was invited to watch a motivational seminar on video by a Christian friend who thought I could really gain some insight from a well-known speaker. Because I know this friend well, I put it on the list of things I do for personal growth, and when it got to the top of the stack, I watched it. The man was entertaining and informative, and I found some of the information quite useful, that is, until he journeyed into “self as a source of truth.” That idea troubled me. There are many spiritual and religious groups that suggest that truth is found “within” a man or woman – many Buddhists believe this, and the Gnostics of the early centuries of Christianity taught it as well. They believed that “real truth” was sparked inside a person when they confronted the Almighty and had an incredible experience that led to the truth.
Students of the Bible – especially those who appreciate literalism – have generally dismissed that thought, and turned people to the fact that the truth is found in Jesus Who called Himself that very title: “The Truth”. In Him, we know, is the answer – in His purposes for us. If you think carefully and deeply, I think there IS an important truth that you can discover within you… but it isn’t the answer to a question – it is the problem we face. I believe that if you look inside – you will see that we are broken people, but we are also stubborn people. We can’t find the answer to our brokenness within – that truly IS found only in Messiah; but we can discover the problem – the fact of our brokenness, closely guarded by our stubborn pride.
We like to think of ourselves as competent. As Christians, we like to think of ourselves as vessels usable to our Master. Yet, if you ask almost any Christian they will tell you that for much of their life they admit to stubborn, self-oriented decision making. We who know Jesus also know ourselves – for when He came into our lives, the truth of who we are – and who we are NOT – became evident. That is a hard side of our faith… Inside each of us we wrestle with the pride and ego that hinders us from the continual surrender that invites God to work at transforming us – and for much of our life our stubborn resistance is our single greatest foe.
Key Principle: God draws near to one who opens their heart, but withdraws from one who refuses Him entrance.
There is a portion of Jesus’ ministry that highlighted the battle within those who met Jesus– the fight to surrender to God’s control – we want to continue our look at lessons in the life of Jesus with a brief stop in Luke 7. That passage is carefully framed around stories of five encounters between Jesus and people. For this lesson, let’s look at how Jesus dealt with people, and what hindered some people from really gaining the full benefit of standing face to face with God in human skin. Look at each of the five encounters. They were:
1. Jesus and the Humble Gentile: The Open Reverence of the Needy Centurion (Lk. 7:1-10).
2. Jesus and the Helpless Widow: The Surprise of the Broken-hearted and Helpless Widow (Lk. 7:11-16).
3. Jesus and His Uncertain Friends: The questioning of the familiar, yet unsure cousin of Jesus, John the Baptizer (Lk. 7:17-23).
4. Jesus before the Hardened Theologians: A fourth was a group of Pharisees that diverted the heart truths of God by theological arguments! (7:24-35).
5. Jesus and a Grateful Sinner: A shattered sinful woman that came to Jesus full of gratitude for His love, forgiveness and acceptance (7:36-50).
Step into the five scenes, one at a time – and look carefully for those who really grasped the truth of Who Jesus was, and what He could do for them.
The Humility of a Needy Centurion (Lk. 7:1-10)
Luke 7:1 When He had completed all His discourse in the hearing of the people, He went to Capernaum. 2 And a centurion’s slave, who was highly regarded by him, was sick and about to die. 3 When he heard about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders asking Him to come and save the life of his slave. 4 When they came to Jesus, they earnestly implored Him, saying, “He is worthy for You to grant this to him; 5 for he loves our nation and it was he who built us our synagogue.” 6 Now Jesus started on His way with them; and when He was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends, saying to Him, “Lord, do not trouble Yourself further, for I am not worthy for You to come under my roof; 7 for this reason I did not even consider myself worthy to come to You, but just say the word, and my servant will be healed. 8 “For I also am a man placed under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to this one, ‘Go!’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come!’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this!’ and he does it.” 9 Now when Jesus heard this, He marveled at him, and turned and said to the crowd that was following Him, “I say to you, not even in Israel have I found such great faith.” 10 When those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave in good health.
Jesus finished teaching and walked back into the village of Capernaum. When he got into the town, he was met by some of the local elders of the “synagogue near the sea” who came and asked Jesus to do a good deed for a slave – a strange request. It appears the centurion previously built a great relationship with the Jewish community by showing care to the local Jewish community and helping them raise the funds to maintain and add to their synagogue. The Jewish leaders came to Jesus and sough a healing for the man’s servant.
We don’t know much about the centurion – but we know some important details. The text offers six details:
• His rank put him in charge of a “centuria” consisting normally of 80 men. Six “centuria” formed a “cohort”…. The man was in a responsible position in the Roman army.
• The Centurion had a soft heart toward his servant (7:1-2). He was a leader with a heart for PEOPLE, the object of God’s affection.
• The Centurion had a tender heart toward God’s people (7:3-5). To love me is to love what I love beside me.
• The Centurion had a deep sense of unworthiness (7:6-7a). An open sense of God’s “stooping” to us is a great place to begin a successful walk with God!
• The Centurion had a firm trust in Jesus’ authority (7:7b-8). The first step in our walk must be to stand firmly in Jesus’ ability.
• The Centurion gained Jesus’ attention (7:9-10). Jesus required only one thing of this follower – honest trust in Him!
This story made clear that Jesus aided a man of humility, tenderness and faith. The humility was not a poor self-image – it was “ranking himself beneath” out of respect. He recognized the power and position of Jesus, and he recognized his own sinfulness. His tenderness was shown in actions of assistance to those who needed help. His “faith” – the ability to see things as God says they are – was clear in the way he dealt with the Savior. Arrogance pushes God away – humility draws God in to help.
A second story also draws in a hurting and needy person…
The Surprise of the Broken-hearted and Helpless Widow (Lk. 7:11-17).
Luke 7:11 Soon afterwards He went to a city called Nain; and His disciples were going along with Him, accompanied by a large crowd. 12 Now as He approached the gate of the city, a dead man was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow; and a sizeable crowd from the city was with her. 13 When the Lord saw her, He felt compassion for her, and said to her, “Do not weep.” 14 And He came up and touched the coffin; and the bearers came to a halt. And He said, “Young man, I say to you, arise!” 15 The dead man sat up and began to speak. And Jesus gave him back to his mother. 16 Fear gripped them all, and they began glorifying God, saying, “A great prophet has arisen among us!” and, “God has visited His people!” 17 This report concerning Him went out all over Judea and in all the surrounding district.
Jesus left Capernaum not long after the assistance to the centurion’s servant, and walked toward the Jezreel Valley on the road that passed the foot of Hill of Moreh – a place famous because of the ministry of Elijah and Elisha long before. As he walked by the village of Nain, a parade of mourners happened on the road carrying a funeral bier of a young man. Jesus noticed a widow – walking without a husband or children behind the bier. He approached the broken hearted woman and told her to cease weeping. Next, He walked toward the bier; in a bold but shocking move – He TOUCHED the small bed with the body on it. This story offered a few details of the woman:
• The broken woman was loved, but broken beyond the hope of asking for help from God. Truthfully, in the midst of her pain, she probably never noticed Jesus standing before her! (7:11-12).
• The widow could not “cry out” for help, but Jesus picked her out (7:13).
• The crushed momma was unprepared for the incredible deliverance God brought – though He had done it before in others nearby! Elisha raised the Shunnamite woman’s son – and Shunem was a nearby village on the opposite side of the same hill! (7:14-16; cp. 2 Kings 4:36).
Consider this woman for a moment. Isn’t it true that in our tears, we can fail to see clearly? Sometimes in the midst of a terrible night, God stands ready to reveal Himself – even if we weren’t looking for Him! Jesus saw her tears, and He met her in the midst of her pain. He gave her back what she lost – but He gave her much more – He gave her His kind attention and care. Brokenness draws in the tender approach of God. There is no place so painful that God cannot touch it. There is no person so broken that God cannot repair them. There is no joy deeper than the knowledge that God is there when my pain is unbearable!
Yet a third story was collected by Luke and joined to this one, and though this one isn’t a healing, it is by someone in a desperate situation…
The uncertain cousin of Jesus: John the Baptizer (Lk. 7:17-23).
Luke 7:18 The disciples of John reported to him about all these things. 19 Summoning two of his disciples, John sent them to the Lord, saying, “Are You the Expected One, or do we look for someone else?” 20 When the men came to Him, they said, “John the Baptist has sent us to You, to ask, ‘Are You the Expected One, or do we look for someone else?'” 21 At that very time He cured many people of diseases and afflictions and evil spirits; and He gave sight to many who were blind. 22 And He answered and said to them, “Go and report to John what you have seen and heard: the BLIND RECEIVE SIGHT, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the POOR HAVE THE GOSPEL PREACHED TO THEM. 23 “Blessed is he who does not take offense at Me.”
John knew about the power of God (Lk. 7:18) and John HOPED that the promises were true and found in Jesus (Lk. 7:19-20), but he was uncertain (7:21-23; cp. Isa. 8:13-15). Jesus explained that His identity should be recognized based on the promises of God’s Word and the evidence of His walk before men! (7:21-23; cp. Isa. 8:13-15).
Why is this story tucked into this passage? Is it because a messenger approached Jesus just after he encountered the widow at Nain? Perhaps…but that doesn’t seem to be true based on the cross references of the other Gospels. It appears the point Luke was making in the organization of the stories together was this: John was under arrest. His desperation wasn’t from loss of a son or sickness of a servant as the other stories – but rather the loss of his personal freedoms and the fear of his own future. John’s life was all about one thing: Proclaiming the message of God. When he pointed people to Jesus as the Lamb, was he mistaken?
We have seen that humility attracts God’s hand, and brokenness move His gentle touch – but what about desperation and uncertainty? Does God withdraw from one who cannot trust Him fully? The answer is NO! God understands our deep connection to the physical world and to our own preservation. He knows what we fear most – and much of it relates to leaving this world. God’s answer to the “doubting desperate” is to offer more truth –more evidence of Himself. Honest doubt in the face of desperation doesn’t repulse God – it draws Him in.
A fourth story was joined to these…
Religious leaders as opposed to repentant businessmen (7:24-35).
Luke 7:24 When the messengers of John had left, He began to speak to the crowds about John, “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? 25 “But what did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Those who are splendidly clothed and live in luxury are found in royal palaces! 26 “But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I say to you, and one who is more than a prophet. 27 “This is the one about whom it is written, ‘BEHOLD, I SEND MY MESSENGER AHEAD OF YOU, WHO WILL PREPARE YOUR WAY BEFORE YOU.’ 28 “I say to you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John; yet he who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” 29 When all the people and the tax collectors heard this, they acknowledged God’s justice, having been baptized with the baptism of John. 30 But the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected God’s purpose for themselves, not having been baptized by John. 31 “To what then shall I compare the men of this generation, and what are they like? 32 “They are like children who sit in the market place and call to one another, and they say, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not weep.’ 33 “For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon!’ 34 “The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ 35 “Yet wisdom is vindicated by all her children.” 36 Now one of the Pharisees was requesting Him to dine with him, and He entered the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table.
The next story Luke paired with this set of remembrances was Jesus’ encounter, first with the crowds to pose a question about John – and then to two groups who heard John. On the one hand were those who followed John’s message – guilty cheaters who saw the need to repent and be baptized by John – acknowledging their sinfulness. On the other hand, there were some trained men that were proficient at using information and debate to deflect heart truth. They heard John, but his message of repentance meant nothing to them – for they saw themselves as righteous by virtue of what they KNEW. Jesus cut through the layer of theological objections to deliver a set of four powerful truths! These truths were targeted as a caution to those who had considerable knowledge of God’s Word, but little faith to walk in it!
The first truth was people want something that is REAL, not simply something that is highly polished. Not as many are faked out by religious nonsense as the religious may think. Jesus began His time before them with a question: “Why did you all go out to see John in the wilderness?” (7:24a) He offered several possibilities:
• Did his commitment draw you? (7:24b).
• Did his “sophisticated and polished look” draw you? (7:25)
• Were you perhaps seeking God’s truths? (7:26)
Next, Jesus affirmed that John was presenting the truth and preparing the crowd for Messiah (7:26b-27) as He explained the role that John played in prophetic truth (7:28). He was the announcer, the introducer – the pointer.
Jesus offered a second statement: When people encounter the truth and are powerfully changed by it, they are ready to take a stand for it! The many in the crowd that had been at the great revivals of John affirmed Jesus’ statements with an “Amen!” (7:29) but the theologically trained Pharisees withdrew (7:30).
A third truth became apparent: Real leaders see changes in their followers as truth is offered, while fake leaders moan about real ones! Jesus offered this observation about the religious leaders: “They lead, but they complain that no one follows” (7:31-32). “They reject the power others have found encountering God’s truth, and offer nothing but complaints about the externals” (7:33-34).
Finally, Jesus ended with this parable: “Life-changing God-given truth evidences itself unmistakably in the lives of those who follow it!” (7:35). Real truth has measurable fruit. Real wisdom transforms. Why is this story included here?
We have seen that humility, brokenness and desperation draw the tender response of the Lord… but here that truth is contrasted with those who repulse God. God is drawn to those who allow Him to transform them, but moves away from those who choose to know ABOUT HIM without surrendering TO HIM.
God isn’t seeking highly polished theologians – He seeks surrendered saints. He is looking for those who WANT Him to work in them, strongly desire Him to sculpt away their desires and leave them with a greater hunger for His touch.
There is still one more story…
A woman with gratitude, who found love and acceptance in the Savior’s presence (7:36-50)
Luke 7:37 And there was a woman in the city who was a sinner; and when she learned that He was reclining at the table in the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster vial of perfume, 38 and standing behind Him at His feet, weeping, she began to wet His feet with her tears, and kept wiping them with the hair of her head, and kissing His feet and anointing them with the perfume. 39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet He would know who and what sort of person this woman is who is touching Him, that she is a sinner.” 40 And Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he replied, “Say it, Teacher.” 41 “A moneylender had two debtors: one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 “When they were unable to repay, he graciously forgave them both. So which of them will love him more?” 43 Simon answered and said, “I suppose the one whom he forgave more.” And He said to him, “You have judged correctly.” 44 Turning toward the woman, He said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has wet My feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 “You gave Me no kiss; but she, since the time I came in, has not ceased to kiss My feet. 46 “You did not anoint My head with oil, but she anointed My feet with perfume. 47 “For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.” 48 Then He said to her, “Your sins have been forgiven.” 49 Those who were reclining at the table with Him began to say to themselves, “Who is this man who even forgives sins?” 50 And He said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
The story reminds us that the woman presented was a well-known sinner. Perhaps it was her dress, perhaps her speech or manner – but it was clear that she was a woman with a past. Luke described her: She was filled with shame and guilt from the past, but took the most precious thing she has and offered to it Jesus to express deep gratitude that she could be made whole (7:36-37). She poured out both her earnings and the pain of their heart, finding solace in merely being allowed to touch Jesus’ feet and find His acceptance. She was unconcerned about how she appeared to those who thought they had life together. She loved that God forgave her, and she cherished forgiveness with overwhelming gratefulness (7:38).
Some people you meet don’t really sense their need of God so easily. For people like that, God may need to provide a lesson to help them understand their need – by observing the advantages of brokenness in someone else. People with a brokenness about their past are often used by God as a lesson to others – and that is the gift we have in them! Consider this:
• Even those who know something of God’s love and power can misunderstand His heart. They want justice for others, but mercy for themselves. God shows that He knows how to love in spite of sin (7:39).
• Jesus wanted to teach even the self-righteous of His own mercy, that they might experience mercy (7:40).
• God is not unclear. He knows we all owe Him – none are worthy! (7:41-42).
• Jesus wanted the self-righteous to become as the broken – to acknowledge his own unworthiness (7:43)!
• Jesus desired an “exchange of eyes” – as the self-righteous discover their neediness (7:44).
• He contrasted the extreme love of the broken woman as a model to the stayed dignity of the self-righteous (7:45-46).
• Self-righteous men and women can be shocked by how the broken, guilty and shame-filled people are able to shed the need to look good in the hope that someone can love them and accept them – and God lovingly pulls them to Himself (7:47).
God draw near to the heart filled with gratitude, but withdraws from the haughty heart. Think about it this way:
Gratitude presupposes we know we are forgiven. Jesus openly claimed the right to forgive the sin, as well as remove the shame and guilt to those who trust Him (7:48). We need to trust His word. We must gauge forgiveness by God’s Word, not by other people who are also guilty. People are not as forgiving as God is, and they will resist the cleansing of one who has acted shamefully (7:49). Don’t forget, we need to be released from the bondage of shame and guilt, so that we can LIVE for Jesus! In this story, Jesus wanted this woman to know forgiveness and acceptance so that she could go out and LIVE, not cling to Him reliving her guilt over and over (7:50). Gratitude fills us when forgiveness is truly recognized.
The simple truth is that inside each of us we wrestle with the ego that hinders us from continual surrender – and for much of our life that is our single greatest foe. Humility before God, brokenness before God, honest desperation of heart, a hunger to surrender all the dark corners of the heart within, and gratitude for God’s forgiveness and intimate companionship draw Him in. That is the message of the five stories of Luke 7.
There are many people who have stories like the five we have encountered in this lesson. They have been burned by life, and the fires have scarred them and left them hurting. Yet, God wants to use them. Consider this, as we draw this lesson to its close:
Sequoia National Park is a reserve in the southern Sierras of California, in the United States. The park was established in 1890 and spans more that 400,000 acres. It is covered with a variety of trees – some of them are a very resistant kind of pine. These “Lodge Pole pines” were created by God to withstand incredible opposition. Seeds within the pine cones of these trees are not easy to break, like some of the other pine cones we find around our yards. Can you guess when the seeds come out? The cones lay dormant and open only under extreme heat, such as what happens in a forest fire. If you place “Lodge Pole” pine cones in a campfire they pop loudly as they open and expose their protected seeds. The true value of the cone is this: the crisis of a fire, the testing of extreme heat brings the release of the life-giving seeds that will spur reforestation in a fire that destroys other trees.
Maybe your life has been tested by fire. Maybe you feel broken by pain. You should know this: that is exactly when God moves in. It is pride that dismisses Him, while trust, humility and brokenness invite Him.
God draws near to one who opens their heart, but withdraws from one who refuses Him entrance.