Faith in the One Who is to Come

A sermon on Luke 7:1-8:3 by Coty Pinckney, Desiring God Community Church, Charlotte, NC, 2/19/2006

What is faith? Is faith important? Is the object of faith important?

Recently National Public Radio revived an old radio series, “This I Believe.” The series welcomes submitted essays from anyone detailing their personal beliefs. Of the thousands of essays they have received, they pick a few to broadcast. Authors represent a wide range of people, from well-known people (like former Secretary of State Warren Christopher) to those who are unknown. Some talk of their belief in service; others, in love; others, in freedom. I enjoy many of these essays; most are thoughtful reflections on this life. Yet the underlying assumption of series seems to be: Faith is good. Believe! Be sincere! It is good to believe in something! But the object of your faith might be quite different from the object of my faith. Faith is important. The object of faith is not.

What is faith? What is biblical faith?

In chapters five and six of Luke there is only one direct reference to faith – in chapter 5 verse 20, when friends of a paralytic bring him to be healed by Jesus. Finding a crowd blocking access to the door, they climb on the roof, remove some tiles, and let their friend down through the hole. Jesus sees their faith, and pronounces the man’s sins forgiven.

Although this is the only direct reference, implicitly faith has been quite prominent. Two weeks ago we looked at Luke 5:12-6:16, asking, “What does it take to be Jesus’ disciple?” (see sermon). We identified five characteristics of a disciple from the text: A disciple must know he is a sinner, must depend on Jesus for healing and cleansing, must be touched and healed by Him, must treasure Jesus above all, and must become like Him. Clearly faith is central to this. To fulfill those characteristics, a disciple must have faith in Jesus rather than in himself, in others, in money, or in science.

Then last week we looked at the rest of Luke chapter 6, where Jesus raises the stakes from our being disciples to our being sons of the Most High (see sermon). Jesus’ sermon shows that it is not enough to be rich, or to be healed physically by Jesus, or to hear Him. Rather, sons of the Most High must hear Jesus’ words and do them. They must be willing to risk all they have for His sake, to follow Him. In particular, they must be willing to love their enemies, even though that might cost them all they have, for Jesus says in this way we will be acting like God. Our reward will be great. Once again, without faith, we would never act this way. We must believe Jesus’ words, we must trust the character of God, if we are to give up something now for promised heavenly rewards.

This week’s passage, Luke 7:1-8:3, provides us an example of a disciple, a son of the Most High. In addition, the passage describes five characteristics of true, biblical faith – the type of faith disciples must have. Please pray that God would open up the nature of true faith to us, so that we might grow as His disciples, and thus become Sons of the Most High.

One Son of the Most High

Luke’s example of a true disciple, a true son of the Most High, is a woman. Let’s read about her in Luke 7:36-50. Note that the New Testament uses both masculine and feminine pictures to represent all believers: All true believers are sons of the Most High; all true believers together constitute the Bride of Christ. Usually when the New Testament uses the word “son” rather than “child” to refer to believers, the emphasis is on our inheritance in Christ – since in New Testament times, generally only sons would inherit money or property from parents.

One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee's house and took his place at the table. 37 And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, 38 and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. 39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, "If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner." 40 And Jesus answering said to him, "Simon, I have something to say to you." And he answered, "Say it, Teacher." 41 "A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii [perhaps $2500], and the other fifty [perhaps $250]. 42 When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?" 43 Simon answered, "The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt." And he said to him, "You have judged rightly." 44 Then 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 from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. 46 You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47 Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven- for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little." 48 And he said to her, "Your sins are forgiven." 49 Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, "Who is this, who even forgives sins?" 50 And he said to the woman, "Your faith has saved you; go in peace." Luke 7:36-50 ESV

At this time it was not unusual for prominent people to host a dinner, but to welcome onlookers to come and listen silently to the conversation. The guests would lie on their sides around a low table with their faces toward the center. Onlookers would then gather around the outside, near the feet of the guests. This dinner seems to be such an occasion – no one expresses surprise at the presence of this woman.

But there is great surprise at her actions! The uninvited guests are not expected to disrupt the proceedings. She comes in and goes up to Jesus, weeping. The Greek word translated “wet” is the normal word for rain. More than just a few drops were flowing from her eyes! She then wipes up the tears with her hair and kisses his feet (the verb form is intensive – she’s kissing them again and again). She then opens a jar of aromatic ointment, and the smell permeates the room.

These actions are disruptive enough, but those who know who she is are even more disturbed. She is a disreputable woman. The text doesn’t tell us what she has done – perhaps some sexual sin, perhaps she is a thief. We don’t know. But her sin is well known.

The host, Simon, a Pharisee, thinks, “I thought this guy Jesus might be a prophet – but he doesn’t even know who’s touching him! He’s surely no prophet!”

Who is touching him? A disciple is touching Him. For she meets the five criteria we mentioned above: She knows she is a sinner, she depends on Jesus cleansing, she has been touched by Him, she treasures Jesus above all, and she is becoming like Him. Indeed, a son of the Most High is touching Him. She is giving up much to come to Him like this, including the cost of the expensive ointment and the embarrassment of showing this emotion in public.

This woman is a sinner, yes. But she is a confessed, forgiven sinner. She is a son of the Most High.

Jesus knows exactly who and what she is. So He tells this simple parable. His point: Knowing that you are forgiven much leads to much love. And she loves Jesus very much.

Jesus then contrasts her acts towards Him with Simon’s. The point is not that Simon has been discourteous to Jesus. He did what was normal and expected, though nothing more. But the woman has shown that Jesus is worth everything to her, and has honored Him in every way she can imagine.

So we might paraphrase verse 47: “As My parable shows, knowing you are forgiven much leads to much love. Her forgiven sins are many – and so she loves much.”

But Simon recognizes neither the depth of his sin, nor Jesus’ authority to forgive sins.

What about you? How much forgiveness have you received? If you don’t love Jesus much – are you, like Simon, not recognizing the depth of your sin?

The first three verses of chapter 8 give more very brief examples of similar love:

Soon afterward he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with him, 2 and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, 3 and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod's household manager, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their means.

These women have been healed; but as we saw last week, that alone does not make them sons of the Most High. But they respond to Jesus’ healing them by giving up their positions in society, giving generously of their possessions, and following Him. They too are disciples. 

The woman who anointed Jesus’ feet, in addition to being an example of a disciple, provides us with our first characteristic of true faith:

Faith Sees its Own Unworthiness

This woman knew her unworthiness. Simon the Pharisee – while recognizing that the woman was unworthy - did not know his own unworthiness.

The same idea comes out in the first story in today’s passage, found in Luke 7:1-10. A centurion’s servant is near death. He sends Jewish elders to ask Jesus to help. Do you notice the reason the elders say He should come? Verse 4: “He is worthy to have you do this for him.” They say he loves the Jews; he even paid to have a synagogue built.

Jesus, not commenting on whether or not the centurion is worthy, accompanies the elders. When the centurion learns that Jesus is on His way, he sends another delegation, this one of his friends. He has them tell Jesus, “Don’t trouble yourself! I am not worthy to have you come under my roof.” He denies what the elders said! “Therefore I did not presume to come to you.” The New American Standard Bible is more literal here. He says, “I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you” – the same idea again. The repetition makes the emphasis strong: “I am not worthy!”

Let’s pause in the story there. Faith sees its own unworthiness. Don’t be fooled by those who say about you, “He’s a good guy. She’s a good woman. She deserves so much.” You don’t deserve so much. Neither do I. If I get what I deserve, I will end up in hell.

In reply to the question “How are you?” C.J. Mahaney is fond of saying, “Better than I deserve.”

You too are by nature a child of wrath. You too have sinned again and again against God, diminishing His glory. Even today, even this morning, even while singing “You are more than enough,” you have not loved God with all your heart.

I am unworthy of Jesus. You are unworthy of Jesus.

True faith sees its own unworthiness. Do you see yours?

Faith Sees Jesus’ Authority

But the centurion shows us an additional characteristic of true faith. Look at the second half of verse 7. The centurion’s message to Jesus sent via his friends continues: “But say the word, and let my servant be healed.” The translation into English of the last phrase is difficult, because our language doesn’t have a third person imperative form. The centurion is not asking for permission for the healing to take place, but making an imperative statement. The New American Standard renders the phrase in future tense: “My servant will be healed.” Alternately, we could put it this way: “Say the word, and my servant must be healed.” The point is: If Jesus says it – it must happen.

That’s the way obedience works when the centurion speaks to those underneath him. He says, “Go!” It happens. He says, “Come!” He comes. The centurion has faith that if Jesus says, “Be healed!” his servant must be healed.

The centurion’s faith is in what? Jesus authority. In this case, His authority over disease. He does not think that Jesus is wearing magical garment. He does not think that Jesus is dependent on access to an outside power. But he believes that Jesus in His person has authority over disease. His touch is not necessary.

This man, the first Gentile explicitly mentioned in an account of healing in Luke, has faith beyond what Jesus has seen in Israel.

The centurion is humble– despite being relatively rich, socially in the upper class, from the dominant ethnic group. He has faith in Jesus’ authority – despite not being a Jew, not having that heritage.

My friends, Jesus has all authority: Over disease. Over natural disasters. Over evil acts of evil men. Over you. If He says, “Stop!” The tsunami stops. If He says, “Die!” the virus dies. If He says, “Open your eyes!” You open your eyes.

Do you acknowledge that authority? Do you trust in His authority?

We see yet more of His authority in the next section:

Soon afterward he went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a great crowd went with him. 12 As he drew near to the gate of the town, behold, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow, and a considerable crowd from the town was with her. 13 And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, "Do not weep." 14 Then he came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, "Young man, I say to you, arise." 15 And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. Luke 7:11-15

The dead man is the only son of his mother. Remember, in this society there is no social security, there are no food stamps. Children, sons especially, are the source of support for elderly people. (This is the case in many parts of the world even today. When I was teaching school in western Kenya in the late seventies, the first question my students asked was about my family. When I told them I had two sisters and no brothers, their faces fell. They asked, “What happens to your parents if you die?”) So the widow, sorrowful for her son, also quite possibly is facing destitution.

At funerals in this culture, the body would wrapped in cloths and carried on a plank rather than in a coffin. So Jesus walks up and touches the plank. They stop. He speaks with authority. As Isaac Watts wrote, “He speaks and, listening to His voice, new life the dead receive.” That’s exactly what happens. Verse 15 tells us, “The dead man sat up.” I love that sentence. He was really dead. He was gone. There was no hope. But Jesus came, and the dead man sat up! He is alive. He can care for his mother.

Jesus not only stops disease at a word. He not only stops a storm at a word. He also raises the dead at a word. He has all authority.

Faith Sees Jesus as the Hinge of History

How do the onlookers react?

Fear seized them all, and they glorified God, saying, "A great prophet has arisen among us!" and "God has visited his people!" 17 And this report about him spread through the whole of Judea and all the surrounding country. Luke 7:16-17

Their reaction is good – as far as it goes. What do the people acknowledge here?

These are very important first steps. They are all important aspects of faith. But the next story shows that such a confession is not enough. They must see more clearly who Jesus is. They must see Him as more than a prophet.

In verses 18-23, the disciples of John hear about all that Jesus is doing, and they tell him. Remember, John is in prison, as Luke told us in chapter 3 verse 20. Remember also what John had said about Jesus:

15 As the people were in expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Christ,  16 John answered them all, saying, "I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.  17 His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire. Luke 3:15-17 

The people wonder if John is the Christ. He says, “No, I am not. But He is coming!” He then makes three main points about Jesus:

Now, consider: What has happened since John spoke those words? John has been thrown into prison. He hears that Jesus has healed many, cast out demons, preached to the poor, and raised the dead. But he doesn’t hear about the baptism of the Holy Spirit. He doesn’t hear of any judgment of evil. He doesn’t see any gathering, protecting, or saving of God’s people. Indeed – he himself is in prison! Shouldn’t the Messiah, the King, protect His own forerunner?

John seems to be confused But he does the right thing: he sends to Jesus, asking, “I said you are the one who is to come. Are you?”

Jesus response is found in verses 22 and 23:

And he answered them, "Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. 23 And blessed is the one who is not offended by me."

Jesus says, “Remember Isaiah 61, John. Remember Isaiah 35. I am displaying my authority. I am showing Who I am. I know I am not acting exactly the way you thought I would. I know it’s confusing for you to be in prison. But trust me! Have faith!”

John is to look to Jesus as the object of His faith. He is not to try to get Jesus to fit into His preconceived idea of what the Messiah should do. Instead, he is to look at the evidence, look at the Scriptures that are fulfilled, and then believe in Who He is. He is to trust Him.

Verse 23 is key: “Blessed is the one who is not offended by me” or “who does not stumble over me.” We must look to Jesus! He is God! We are not His judge. He is ours. If He is confusing – we should expect that. If we can’t understand Him – that’s what God is like.

In verses 24-28, Jesus explains not only John’s importance but also His own.

When John's messengers had gone, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: "What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? 25 What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who are dressed in splendid clothing and live in luxury are in kings' courts. 26 What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 27 This is he of whom it is written, "' Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you.' 28 I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than John. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he."

Jesus says people were right to go out to see John. They went out not because he was dressed nicely; nor did they go out because he would do whatever people wanted him to do. They went out because he was a prophet, the greatest of prophets, the one whom Malachi foresaw. John prepares the people for their Messiah through preaching repentance.

But then verse 28 seems to undermine Jesus’ earlier statements. The least in the kingdom is greater than John? What is he talking about?

It is helpful here to recall our discussion of the genealogy passage in chapter. Jesus is the hinge of history: Everything before points to Him; everything after looks back to Him. The same idea is present here in chapter 7. Something radically different takes place through Jesus’ presence.  

How is Jesus being hinge of history the key to understanding his comments about John?Those who saw God most clearly before Jesus came saw Him less clearly than all believers since. The author of Hebrews tells us why this is the case:

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son . . . 3 He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature. Hebrews 1: 1-3

No one saw the exact imprint of God’s nature until Jesus came. We see Jesus, and we see God. And no one saw God’s nature will full clarity even in Jesus until He showed His character at the cross and through the resurrection. Even John would not see the cross and ressurection. We who live after the resurrection have a special privilege:

And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, 40 since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect. Hebrews 11:39-40

The Old Testament saints had many marvelous pictures of the glory of God and their redemption: The sacrificial system. The cleanliness regulations. The rescue from Egypt. The return from exile. But these were shadows. They are wonderful pictures. But the reality is Jesus! Jesus is hinge.

This does not mean that Old Testament saints are not in the kingdom. But during their earthly life, they could not see God’s glory as clearly as all believers can after Jesus’ death and resurrection.

True faith sees Jesus not only as prophet. True faith sees Jesus not only as One with authority. True faith also sees Jesus as the hinge of all human history.

Faith Goes to Jesus for Answers

Verses 31-34 concern those who see Jesus but don’t have faith:

"To what then shall I compare the people of this generation, and what are they like? 32 They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling to one another, "' 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, 'Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!' 35 Yet wisdom is justified by all her children."

What’s going on here? Remember verse 40 of chapter 6 from last week:

A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.

“A disciple is not above his teacher.” This is what John the Baptist was tempted to do, what Simon and the other Pharisees were doing, what “this generation” is doing: trying to be above Jesus, judging Him. They cannot do that. We cannot do that. Jesus is the judge.

Note carefully: The reason we can’t do this is not only because we are not omniscient like God. In addition, our minds are corrupt. We are not neutral observers, assessing the evidence and deciding whether or not Jesus is God. Unbelief is not neutral. Unbelief comes with a worldview, with preconceptions, and tries to judge Jesus by them.

What were Simon’s preconceptions? A holy man cannot let a sinful woman touch him. That was given. So Jesus, since He let this woman touch Him, must not be holy, must not be a prophet.

What was John: tempted to think? The Messiah wouldn’t let me languish in prison.

So Jesus characterizes unbelief by his story about “this generation”, the children. They say, “You and John are not acting the way we think you should!          He needs to lighten up. You’re a drunkard and hang around with the wrong crowd.”

We must remember: A disciple is not above his teacher. Ultimately, there are only two ways to relate to Jesus: As one under Him, trusting Him, submitting to Him, or as one who will be condemned by Him. He is the hinge!

This is why knowing our unworthiness and acknowledging His authority are so important - so you will acknowledge that you are under Him.

So look to Him! Have faith in Him! Submit to Him! Trust Him! Take special care not to pretend that you can judge Him.

Faith in Jesus is the Purpose of God for You

Finally, look back at verses 29 and 30, a parenthetical statement we skipped. Jesus has just said that John is the greatest prophet of all, but the least in the kingdom is greater than he.  

(When all the people heard this, and the tax collectors too, they declared God just, having been baptized with the baptism of John, 30 but the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected the purpose of God for themselves, not having been baptized by him.)

Why is there such a difference between those who were baptized by John and those who were not?

What was John’s baptism?

Remember Luke 3:3: John preached a “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” Those who submitted to John’s baptism had acknowledged their own unworthiness. They had acknowledged their sinfulness. They had seen their need for forgiveness. Now that Jesus has come, they therefore are willing to submit to Him, to acknowledge that Jesus is central, that He is wise, that He is beyond their comprehension. The Pharisees and others who repudiated John, on the other hand, did not acknowledge any of this. They were not willing to repent. They did not acknowledge their sin. They put themselves over Jesus instead of submitting to Him.

So “they rejected God’s purpose for themselves”. What was God’s purpose? For them to glorify Him through repentance, through turning from self-righteousness and other sins to Jesus, through loving God’s Son. Faith in Jesus was the purpose of God for them.

Faith in Jesus is the purpose of God for you.

The object of your faith does matter.

Will you accept God’s purpose for you?

You are unworthy. He has all authority. Indeed, He is the hinge of history!

So willingly submit to Him. Go to Him humbly. Believe!

This sermon was preached on 2/19/06 at Desiring God Community Church in Charlotte, NC. Darrell Bock’s Luke 1:1-9:50 (Baker, 1994) was helpful at several points. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, The Heart of the Gospel (Crossway, 1991) – a book of sermons on Matthew 11 – was helpful in discussing John the Baptist’s questions.

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