Called to Grow: The Healing Power of the Gospel

February 5, 2017
Brian Keepers
Luke 7:1-17

Last Sunday, Luke gave us a pair of stories—Sabbath stories—and showed us that Jesus is the “Lord of the Sabbath.”   Today Luke gives us another pair of stories. Only this time they’re healing stories.

The Gospel not only has the power to bring life and rest; it also has the power to heal. And to heal all people without partiality or discrimination. In these two stories, we see once again that Jesus is one with authority. This time, we see his authority over sickness and death.

The first story picks up in the town of Capernaum. We meet a centurion, a Gentile Roman soldier who is a man of wealth. He’s a good man, a compassionate man, a man who used his wealth for good. He may have even been a “God-fearer,” which is the name given to a Gentile who worshiped the God of Israel but would not submit to ritual circumcision. The story doesn’t say. But we do know that this man loved and respected the Jewish community. And he paid to have the synagogue built for them.

The centurion has a slave whom he cares deeply about who has fallen deathly ill. He has heard rumors about Jesus and his power to heal, and so he sends some Jewish elders to ask Jesus to come heal his slave. When the Jewish elders find Jesus, they not only pass along his request, but they lobby for the centurion. “He is worthy of having you do this for him,” they say, “for he loves our people, and it is he who built our synagogue for us.”

Jesus goes without a moment’s hesitation. But before they reach the house, Jesus is met by another delegation. The centurion is sensitive to the fact no Jewish person can enter the home of a Gentile without becoming “unclean.” And he doesn’t want to put Jesus in that situation. So he sends these friends to tell Jesus, “I’m not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only speak the word, and let my servant be healed.” This man is a soldier well acquainted with what it means to have authority and give orders. And he sees Jesus as one who has the unique authority to heal, simply by giving the order.

Here we see something fascinating. Jesus is emotionally moved by this centurion’s faith! Over and over again in Luke’s gospel we’re told that, when people encountered Jesus, they were amazed. But this is the first (and only) time where we see that Jesus is the one who is amazed. “When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him…”

What amazed Jesus about this man? Was it the fact that this Gentile, who isn’t one of Jesus’ followers, was already living out Jesus’ teaching to love his enemies (the Jews), and doing it better than his followers? Is it that this man attributes to Jesus a great power and authority? Or is it that this man possesses a depth of faith Jesus still hadn’t found in all of Israel?

Maybe all of these things. But here is the main thing I believe amazed Jesus: this soldier asked for what he knows he doesn’t deserve and in faith expects to receive it anyway! The Jewish elders thought he was deserving (maybe even entitled), but the soldier has a different attitude. He shows us a humble and bold faith. And a Roman soldier of all people!

Jesus says to the crowd, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” And Jesus heals the servant—from a distance and without saying a single word. “When those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave in good health.” The Gospel has the power to heal. Jesus is Lord even over sickness!

Then Luke goes right into another healing story. Soon after this, Jesus goes to the tiny village of Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd follow him. As he approaches the gate, Jesus runs into a funeral processional. A man had died—the only son of a poor widow in the village. When Jesus sees her, Luke tells us “he had compassion for her.” Once again, Luke gives us a rare window into the emotional response of Jesus. Whereas Jesus was amazed at the centurion’s faith, here Jesus is moved with compassion at the widow’s sorrow.

The Greek word used here for “compassion” is splagchinziaomai, and it is derived from a word that literally means “intestines.” It is an intense emotional response—a visceral gut-wrenching feeling-- to the suffering of others. It is a deep identification with their pain, a “suffering with,” a kind of empathizing with what another is experiencing and feeling.

Jesus sees this woman—really sees her as a beloved image-bearer of God in pain—and he is moved in a deep, gut-wrenching way. Unlike the centurion who was a man of wealth, power and privilege, this woman has no wealth, no power, no privilege. Now that her son is dead, she has nothing. She is vulnerable and without any kind of care or protection.

Moved by compassion, Jesus approaches her son’s dead body in the casket. And he does what is utterly taboo and forbidden. He reaches out and touches the dead body. Remember that he avoided going to the centurion’s home because it would make him unclean. Well, here Jesus crosses the boundary and touches the dead body, which would have made him unclean.

Here we see that Jesus not only has authority over sickness; he also has authority over death! And he allows himself to “get dirty” so to speak in order to bring life to this dead man. Jesus reaches out and touches him and speaks: “Young man, I say to you, rise!” And the young man sits up and starts to speak!

Then there is this beautiful part here: “And Jesus gave him to his mother.” You see the healing in this story is not just about the dead man; it’s also about the mother. Jesus restores not just the man’s life but he restores the relationship between a mother and a son.

Two healing stories. Two very different people who get healed—two people who seem worlds apart. A wealthy, powerful Gentile Roman soldier. A poor, vulnerable, powerless widow and her son.

Here’s the one thing they do have in common: they’re both outsiders. Not the kinds of people you’d expect (or even want) Jesus to heal if you were a good Jew in the first century. And yet Jesus heals them. With his words. With his physical touch. Moved by compassion, Jesus heals them both.

When we see Jesus healing people in the Gospels, it’s for a larger purpose than just that person’s well-being. Jesus heals as a way to give us a sign, a foretaste, of the kingdom of God. It is Jesus way of showing us, in advance, what God will do in all of creation when the kingdom comes in its completion. When “Death will be no more; / Morning and crying and pain will be no more “(Rev.21:4).

This healing won’t come in its completion until Christ returns. But we get a taste of it here and now. Jesus, the Great Physician, touches us all in our place of sin, shame, brokenness and pain. He brings healing to our sin-sick souls, forgiveness of sins. He brings healing to us mentally, physically, emotionally, relationally. Jesus lifts up the centurion as an example of what it looks like to put our faith in his power to heal us, even though we don’t deserve it.

But the power of the Gospel goes further than just our own healing. As those who’ve been healed, we are called as disciples to be agents of healing in the lives of others. Jesus calls us to “see” people—every single person—as an image-bearer of God. And to be moved by compassion— to “suffer with” to the point that we get angry when we see people God loves mistreated, disrespected, forgotten, pushed aside.

And then to act. To reach out, to touch them, to embrace and protect. So that through our compassion and acts of love—they encounter the healing power of the living Christ. I love these words by the 20th century missionary Lesslie Newbigin:

“The whole congregation is called to be a healed and healing fellowship, in which the healing love of God is ever at work to bind up the wounds of its members. And beyond this, the healing work is to spread beyond the congregation into the community around it….Whoever touches the Church—even in the most tenuous fashion, even in the midst of all the bustle and press of our busyness—should find that he has touched the source of healing. The healing that we receive here…is given for the sake of all our neighbors.” (The Good Shepherd, pp.72-3).

The healing we receive here, in Christ, is given for the sake of all our neighbors. Not some…ALL.

It was the worst mass shooting in recent U.S. history. When a man went into an Orlando gay night club, the Pulse, and gunned down 102 people as an act of hate. 49 people died, 53 left wounded. Just 10 minutes south of the night club is Iglesia El Calvario, a Latino Pentecostal mega church.

Moved with compassion, the people of Iglesia El Calvario reached out to the victims and their loved ones by handing out water bottles and donating blood as the death toll climbed from 20 to 30 to 40 and on up. They wept with those who were mourning, and opened up their church for a city-wide vigil to remember the lives of those lost and to pray and provide support.

Gabriel Salguero, the lead pastor, joined his LGBTQ neighbors in relief efforts, including offering prayers in Spanish and English at an 8,000 person event hosted by Equality Florida, a gay advocacy group. He and his ministry staff conducted funerals for the victims and grief counseling and ongoing outreach and support for the LGBTQ community. When local reporters inevitably asked about the tension between an evangelical church and the gay community, Salguero responded, “We’re called to be Christ to everybody, and we’re called to love our neighbor, every neighbor.”

In an interview with Christianity Today, Pastor Salguero said this: “There were a lot of tears on every side. If we’ve learned anything it’s that no matter what our disagreements are, God calls us to love our neighbor and to be Jesus and to mourn with those who mourn….We believe in prayer, and we believe the church needs to be a healing presence….A lot of things can divide this nation around politics and ideology, and we are ministers of reconciliation. That doesn’t mean we don’t have disagreements. It doesn’t mean we don’t have convictions. But at the end of the day…[it’s about] our capacity to love our neighbors and for the church to be Jesus—not just to preach Jesus but be Jesus to the hurting and suffering. Nobody cares if you’re a large church pastor, small church pastor, or a parishioner; if you speak English, Spanish or French; if you’re black or white; all of us were just trying to heal the city.”

What if the world saw the church in this way? What if our community saw Fellowship Church in this way? As a “healed and healing fellowship”-- a place of healing for all people, for our city, for our nation, for all the nations? A place that not only preaches Jesus but acts like Jesus to those hurting and suffering?

We’re going to create some space this morning to seek Christ’s healing presence…for ourselves…our neighbors…our community…our nation…and our world.

There will be several stations around the sanctuary where elders and pastors will be standing by to offer prayers of healing with oil. You may come and receive prayer on your own behalf, for whatever healing you stand in need of. You also may come on behalf of someone else and “stand in” as their representative. You are welcome to share with the person praying over you specifics, or you can just ask for general prayers and keep it between you and God. If you don’t want oil on your head, you can put it on the back of your hand, or just say “pass” altogether.

Jesus is Lord even over sickness and death. Whatever our pain, whatever our sorrow and heartache, whatever divides and injures, there is One, a Wounded Healer, a Great Physician, who says to us, and through us to the world: “Do not weep. Come to me. Rise, be made well.”

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Renee Krueger