1. Limitations

Short Meditations in John 7:  1. Limitations

Jn 7:1  After this, Jesus went around in Galilee. He did not want to go about in Judea because the Jewish leaders there were looking for a way to kill him.

Chapter 6 was a package, almost, a miraculous feeding and then talk about bread, natural and spiritual bread. That was the substance of the chapter but underlying it was revelation about Jesus himself as the divine-human in their midst: a miracle worker (feeding many, walking on water), a teacher (on the hillside and in the synagogue), the one who had come down from heaven, and the one who has to be taken into our lives to feed us and give us eternal life. Major revelations.

Now in the first ten verses of chapter 7, John gives us a little insight into both (i) the divine restrictions and (ii) the human pressures, upon Jesus. These are two things we need to understand for our own lives.

After the specific teaching in the synagogue, following which both the crowd and some of his not-so-committed disciples drew back from Jesus, John starts this new chapter with a general insight into Jesus general strategy at this time, and it is important to see – for this is at the heart of the present verses – that his strategy varied according to the dictates of the Father and the general plan they had for the days ahead.

“After this.” After the teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.

“Jesus went around in Galilee.” Jesus didn’t stay in one place but limited himself to the area of the north referred to as Galilee.

“He did not want to go about in Judea.Interestingly there is a footnote after ‘want’ that suggests a possible alternative – not have authority which suggests that Jesus’ ‘wants’ were in fact subject to the Father in heaven’s authority. Why this restriction?

“because the Jewish leaders there were looking for a way to kill him.” We might say today, ‘the knives were out, the word was out to get him!’ It was clear that it was the leaders of Judaism who had a problem with Jesus, such a problem that they saw the only way to deal with it was by arranging for him to be killed.

But what this verse shows us that even the Son of God adapted a strategy to conform to what was going on in the world around him. We sometimes tend to think that God, being sovereign, can just plough on through the affairs of mankind, but Scripture is clear that He works so often within the affairs of mankind to bring about His overall goals. The classic of this was declared by the anointed apostle Peter: “This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.” (Acts 2:23) i.e. God’s plan using man’s sinful intent.

7. The Mystery – of the Anointed Preacher

Focus on Christ Meditations: 7.  The Mystery – of the Anointed Preacher

Isa 61:1,2   The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, .

As we briefly browse some of Isaiah prophecies in our search for hints of the Coming One in the Old Testament, to focus the ‘mystery’ that the apostle Paul spoke about, especially in respect of Christ himself, we cannot move on into the New Testament without first observing this most truly remarkable prophecy, not as remarkable as the Isa 9 word perhaps, but remarkable nevertheless.

Imagine you were a Jew living in Israel, say twenty years before the birth of Christ. You go along to the local synagogue on a Saturday morning to hear the scrolls read, and the rabbi expound the week’s reading before conducting prayers. This morning the scrolls of Isaiah are brought out and the above ‘chapter’ is read. I wonder what you would have thought about it?

Perhaps you hear these words and hear them as Isaiah explaining his own ministry. As a prophet, the Spirit of God is on him and by the Spirit’s enabling he brings God’s word, a word that can bring healing to those with broken hearts who are anguished by the hurts of life. For those who feel prisoners to dark thoughts, to feelings of inadequacy, and to failure, he sometimes had words of comfort and encouragement for those whose hearts were inclined towards the Lord. He proclaims that today is the day of God’s blessing for those same ones who seek the Lord, a day when God comes to judge all the negative things that inhibit our relationship with Him and comfort those who mourn, not only for the loss of loved ones, but for their own state perhaps.

Oh yes, God’s word does all these things but it seems it is limited to the spiritual world. You think of others in your community, the sick, the infirm, the disabled, yes even those troubled by evil spirits (and there do seem to be a lot of them) and you dare to wonder why God’s word, read and expounded every Saturday, seems unable to touch them – but you keep those thoughts to yourself for it seems unworthy of God.

You allow your mind to wander back to those earlier chapters of Isaiah. First there was that tantalising suggestion of a child who would come to bring the presence of God to the land in chapter 7, and yet there was linked with him the thought of judgment, but it was unclear and somewhat of a mystery. And then in chapter 9 there had been those almost unbelievable words about this child being God Himself, an even greater mystery. And then in chapter 11 there were words about a ‘branch’ of the house of David who would come (v.1) with the Spirit of God upon him (v.2,3) and as he rules he will bring justice (v.3-5) and the end result will be a life of incredible peace where, The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them.” (v.6) This was all going to be the work of one who was coming with the powerful presence of God upon him to achieve these things. Surely that must be what is being referred to here, now, in Isaiah 61, surely this must be more than just what Isaiah achieved through his ministry?

And so the questions would have hung in the air and fifty years on from this imaginary moment, in the synagogue of Capernaum in the north of Israel, in Galilee, a demon possessed man would cry out in response to the presence of God that had come (see Mk 1:23) and would be delivered by the Coming One. The word of God had been read week by week and expounded week by week and the man had been able to remain there untouched. But now….   A while later, presumably in the same synagogue, a man with a shriveled hand (see Mk 3:1), quite probably a regular attendee of the synagogue who had heard the word being read many times but who had remained unchanged, this man found the presence of God so obviously there that he walked out healed.

The truth was that weeks before, not in Capernaum but in Nazareth, Jesus walked into the synagogue as was his regular custom (Lk 4:16), it being his local synagogue, and whether it was because he volunteered to read the scrolls or whether they had heard of his preaching already (Lk 4:14,15) and they wanted to honour him, he was handed the scroll of the day which just happened to be the Isa 61 prophecy and, after he had read it out loud for all to hear, he declared, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Lk 4:21) The response to him was one of challenge, not a good start one might think, and anyway what did that actually mean? Was he saying that he has like Isaiah, a prophet-preacher whose words would heal and release – or what?

The ‘what’ we have already seen in the previous paragraph. This child – now grown man – did indeed come with the powerfully presence of God upon him for when he spoke demons were cast out and sick and disabled people were healed. This was not merely a ministry of words, but a ministry of power and authority. No wonder the initial response in the Capernaum synagogue had been, “The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, “What is this? A new teaching–and with authority! He even gives orders to evil spirits and they obey him.” News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee.” (Mk 1;27,28)

Up until now, the ministry of the local synagogue had merely been to read and proclaim the word of God; now Jesus brought a new possibility, it could be (see Jn 14:12) a ministry that changed more than intellects, it changed whole lives – but they weren’t ready for that, for ‘religion’ then and now, wasn’t and so often isn’t open to let Jesus be Jesus, the Messiah, the Anointed One.

If there was any doubt about it, Jesus himself spelled it out: “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.” (Mt 11:4,5) or, as Peter summarized it on the Day of Pentecost, “Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know.” (Acts 2:22)

But back in the days before Jesus came, the Isaiah 61 prophecy hung there, so to speak, like a wanted poster; yes, this is what we want, if only it can be, but how can such a thing be? The words only version is pretty good, but is there something more? How can ‘something more’ come about? The mystery tantalizingly hung there, words declared by God, words that stirred questions, words that brought the possibility of hope, words just waiting to be fulfilled. Does that sound familiar?

To reflect upon: Jesus said anyone who believed in him would do the things he had been doing (Jn 14:12). Does our church do that?

49. Sad Cynics

Short Meditations in Mark’s Gospel: 49. Sad Cynics

Mk 3:1,2   Another time he went into the synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath.

We have a continuation in “Mark’s studies of the Pharisees”!   When he says, “Another time” he is simply giving another example of the sort of opposition Jesus had been receiving from the religious people of the day. How tragic that sometimes Jesus’ activity is opposed by the very people who ought to be the most open to it!

Again it is a Sabbath incident. As was his habit he went to the synagogue. This time there is a man there who has a shrivelled hand. Already the opposition to Jesus has hardened so that they are actively looking for reasons to criticise him. No what is interesting about this is that there was no question about Jesus’ ability to heal people and so even the opposition expect it to happen now, and that fact puts them on the alert to see what he is going to do today. Today is a Sabbath and work is forbidden on the Sabbath. Yes, I know we’ve been through that but they haven’t got the message yet!

So here they are watching, knowing there is a man in their synagogue with a shrivelled hand and knowing Jesus has the power to heal people. Will the two things come together? Now there are obviously two sad things about this. First there is the matter of Jesus’ power. Surely he wouldn’t be able to do what he is doing in this whole healing realm if it wasn’t God at work in and through him. These religious people are cynically watching for him to step out of line, but can healing a person ever be stepping out of line?  So, secondly, here is the man with an obvious infirmity and these religious people appear to have not a jot of compassion for him and so when the possibility of him being healed walks through the door, all they are concerned with is that it is the Sabbath.

Now this only goes to show us how easy it is for people who live by rules to lose perspective. I always remember a story from the early days of House Churches of a group meeting in a sitting room when an elderly person upstairs was taken ill and had to be stretchered out through the meeting in the sitting room, which steadfastly continued as if nothing unusual was happening! The order of Sunday morning was not to be disturbed. That is the same spirit as appeared here in this synagogue and it appears in churches today! How crazy!


22. Amazement

Short Meditations in Mark’s Gospel: 22. Amazement

Mk 1:27 The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, “What is this? A new teaching–and with authority! He even gives orders to evil spirits and they obey him.”

This is one of those verses, I believe, that indicates that there was a rather low level of spirituality in Israel at this time. We have already observed in meditation 18 that the people in the synagogue had been amazed at the authority that came out when Jesus started teaching. Now, a second time within a few verses, we are told they were amazed. Previously they had been amazed at the way he taught, but now they are amazed at the authority Jesus exercises in dealing with demons.

Now that the man had called out and had been delivered, it was clear what his state had been and is now. It is clear that he had been demon possessed and was now delivered and it is clear that it is Jesus who had set him free.  This was to be repeated hundreds of times in the three years ahead but for the moment it was an unusual event. The obvious presence of so many demon possessed people in the land, as became obvious when Jesus starts ministering, is an indication of the low spiritual state of the land. You only become demon possessed when you really open up your life to the enemy by participating in dark things of the occult. The people obviously know about evil spirits for they recognise what has happened. What is unusual in their experience is a demon possessed person being delivered!

What this suggests is that they had a form of religion in the land at that time without there being any power or reality in it. How easy it is to simply perform religious acts without their being any reality to it, without the presence of God in it. I wonder how many churches exist today where this is the case, where they are simply going through a religious performance but know little or nothing of the powerful presence of God bringing new birth and transforming lives? I wonder how many church services are simply a matter of routine to create a warm emotional feeling by being in an ancient building using ancient words, yet where the presence of God is unknown and the direction and power of the Holy Spirit is completely absent?

Lord, please deliver us from powerless religion. Please deliver us from boring routine. Please come and presence yourself in our gatherings and make your presence known as you guide us and teach us and heal us. Lord please come and do this for us.

21. Raw Authority

Short Meditations in Mark’s Gospel: 21. Raw Authority

Mk 1:25,26 “Be quiet!” said Jesus sternly. “Come out of him!” The evil spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek.

You might think that when Jesus is being revealed for who he is by a man in the synagogue he would have approved that, but no! He tells the man to be silent. Why?  Perhaps because this is an unrighteous and ungodly interruption from the enemy and it doesn’t actually help. Jesus will be revealed by his works and his words, not by demonic powers. On the day of Pentecost Jesus declared, Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know.” (Acts 2:22).  So this present outburst was not the right way.  Right, stop it!

But Jesus isn’t going to leave it there; he’s going to get this demon out of this man. Now if you know anything about demons you’ll know that they don’t like giving up occupancy of a person who has surrendered to the enemy. Just speaking nicely to them and asking them to leave will not do it. There will be only one thing that will get a demon out once it has taken possession and that is the raw authority of God!

You want to see that raw authority in action? It’s here! “Come out of him!” That’s it. That’s all it needed, just four words that have their origins in heaven and spoken out on earth. This is the Son of God speaking, the perfect representative of the Father in heaven. Jesus said,the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing.” (Jn 5:19) The Son ‘sees’ or catches the heart of the Father and does His bidding – and it is done! When God speaks a word of command, it is done.  Yes, it IS done!  What is so incredible is that the Father rarely speaks such words to humans. He grants us free will, but where it suits Him that is no so for demons. They are rebellious evil spirits and as such are existing on borrowed time. When He wants them out, He simply speaks it and they HAVE to obey!

Whether they obey because they know they have to or whether they are impelled to by the power of God is never clear, but the outcome is always the same – they leave! There is no recorded instance in the Gospels of a demon refusing to obey Jesus. The individual may not have been able to set himself free, but Jesus was – and he didn’t ask permission!

Lord, thank you that you ARE Lord over all things, and that includes the whole spirit world.

19. Interruption

Short Meditations in Mark’s Gospel: 19. Interruption

Mk 1:23 Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an evil spirit cried out

I am always intrigued by this episode early in Jesus’ ministry. I am intrigued that a demon possessed man was in the synagogue. That perhaps challenges many of us. First of all it might challenge those of us who are uncertain about the reality of the existence of demons. If you’ve never encountered a demon possessed person and seen their supernatural strength or heard the unearthly voice(s) that may speak, you have to simply take on trust the Gospel accounts.

But then it may challenge those of us who do believe in demons and demon possession but who see such people as being always totally out of control. Now in my experience that does happen sometimes but I have also observed that a possessed person doesn’t always manifest the demon. In fact much of the time they seem fairly normal. That surely must have been the state here for surely the synagogue leaders would not have tolerated a man breaking lose in their synagogue.

What I also find intriguing is that this man existed in this synagogue without manifesting the demon. I say that because what I have observed over the years is that demons get upset when God turns up in His people. This would suggest a somewhat low level of spirituality in this synagogue that he could be there comfortably!

It is Jesus’ presence that so often seems to trigger demonic manifestation and that occurred in this synagogue on that day – and not before it! Until then, it appears he was comfortable in this place of teaching. I have to confess we have had people into our own church in the past who turn out to be struggling with demons and it was not until the presence of the Holy Spirit was felt did they manifest. This shows that both God and the enemy can both be present but there is no conflict until the Lord makes His presence known in our realm. At that point the enemy starts getting agitated as we’ll see in the next meditation.

It does appear that we can continue in our religious lives, comfortable with mediocrity or even with sin, until the Lord turns up and makes His presence known. At that time things start happening.

Lord, we need you to turn up in our churches and in our lives to deliver us from the mundane and from the little unrighteousness that we might otherwise tolerate. Please come.

18. Different Teaching

Short Meditations in Mark’s Gospel: 18. A Different Teaching

Mk 1:22 The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law.

I have listened to many sermons over the years and I have reached a conclusion: a preacher is able to convey only as much truth and with as much anointing as he personally has received, and the amount of truth or the anointing is obvious if you are aware of these things. Two different men can preach the same sermon and they will be completely different, because the life of a sermon comes from the life of the individual. It’s a scary thing to be a preacher because your preaching reveals you!

So Jesus comes to a synagogue and they allow him to teach, and suddenly they realise that here is someone quite different. This man knows what it is all about, this man speaks with authority. Yes, he knows the Scriptures, but then so did the Rabbis. But there is something more and it is more than just knowing the texts. This man knows what is behind them, this man knows the truth, this man knows God. Yes, all of that would be behind these words.

This man is different; he’s not like the teachers of the law. Oh yes, they had plenty of them and they just seemed to convey lifeless information; it seemed all a bit unreal when they spoke. They spoke about the law and the past in ways that tended to leave you somewhat bored. It was just old history and, after all, God hadn’t spoken for centuries. This was the religion of yesteryear.

And then Jesus got up and spoke and suddenly it wasn’t like that any more. There was life in what he was saying. He meant what he was saying. Indeed, he knew what he was saying and that was more than just knowing the right words in the book. This man, somehow, stepped right into the book and it came alive; this man made the book real and relevant. No longer was this just turning up to hear dry and dusty words every Saturday morning in the synagogue. Suddenly life is there, and truth is there and it is vibrantly alive.

Lord, please help me when I speak out your word, to have your life. May I convey life through your word. Deliver us from thinking it is an irrelevant book, meaningless for today’s age. Thank you that your word is real and relevant for every age and that never changes. Thank you for the wonder of your word. Please help me convey that to others.

17. Synagogue Teacher

Short Meditations in Mark’s Gospel: 17. Synagogue Teacher

Mk 1:21 They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach.

I marvel at how we take things in the accounts of the Gospels for granted. For instance I don’t think I’ve ever really pondered on the fact of Jesus going into the synagogue of the town where he now lives, and teaching there. The synagogue was first and foremost a place of gathering of the children of God for teaching. But would anyone have been allowed to stand up and teach? The answer has got to be no. It has got to be someone of standing, someone who the synagogue leaders’ trust. So somehow Jesus’ reputation has already grown so that these synagogue leaders are happy for him to teach in their synagogue.

Now it is clear from Jesus’ later teaching that he had not come to bolster up the present religious regime in Israel so it might seem surprising that he goes into the synagogue, the bastion of local religion and teaches there. It is, I suggest, simply an illustration that says that Jesus will take any and every opportunity to speak to the people.

The apostle Paul, in his early days of preaching at least, always started off from the synagogue of whatever town he was visiting. Perhaps it is the Lord giving the religious people, first of all, the opportunity to respond afresh to His love. After all, you would expect the religious people, those with hearts apparently inclined towards God, to be the first to respond when the Lord comes and speaks. Unfortunately that is not always so. Yes, there were people in Israel with clear and open hearts to the Lord as the Gospels show, but many, especially in authority, struggled with Jesus and with what he was saying.

Is it perhaps that God comes and speaks truth always, and we aren’t always comfortable with the truth? Is it perhaps that God comes and demands to be the head of His people and we don’t like being given instructions?

Those of us who ‘go to church’ would, I suspect, be the first to declare our allegiance to the Lord, but I wonder how open we are if He comes and speaks truth and demands obedience in all issues of our lives?

Lord, grant that you find in me an open heart that will listen to you and will obey willingly what you say. Help me, please, to move in faith, responding when your Spirit speaks.

24. The Crippled Woman

People who met Jesus : 24 :  The Crippled Woman

Lk 13:10-13 On a Sabbath Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues, and a woman was there who had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not straighten up at all. When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.” Then he put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God.

The human spirit is quite amazing sometimes – it has to be, living in a Fallen World where things go wrong. Sometimes we cope in amazing ways – simply because we have to. Previously we considered the woman who had been bleeding for twelve years and we considered the limitations of that, recognising that it was one of those embarrassing things that we suffer that we don’t want others to know about. But then there are those sorts of afflictions that are patently obvious and the whole world looks on and feels sorry for us – or not! The woman in our verses today is like this. She is bent over and cannot straighten up – and she’s been like it for eighteen years! In other words she can remember a time when she wasn’t like this.

Now there are some interesting points in this story that make it stand out. The first thing is that Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues. No longer is he merely a visitor; now he is a welcomed teacher. They give him space to teach. The second thing to note is that this woman is there in the synagogue and it would appear that she is no stranger and not just there because Jesus is there. If she had not normally attended synagogue then it is more likely that she would have waited for Jesus to come out if she had wanted to ask him for healing.

Two things flow from this: first she doesn’t approach Jesus; he approaches her. This suggests she has grown to accept her state and almost doesn’t think to ask for healing. This is a very common state for those of us who suffer with some form of affliction that we’ve had for a long time. Many years ago my mother smoked, had a smoker’s cough, and had bronchitis every winter. I suggested to her that she ask the Lord to heal her and set her free from smoking. I had already shared the Gospel with her but she wasn’t yet a Christian. The suggestion came almost as a surprise to her and she shrugged it off with, “Oh, I expect He’s too busy with important things than worry about my smoking.” So I left it but, when I visited home several months later I found she was not smoking and not coughing (and she never had bronchitis again!). She confessed she had asked Him, He had answered, and she had then become a Christian! But how many of us tolerate these things, stoically thinking it must be God’s will. I am challenged and embarrassed by the incredible accounts of Jesus healing all who came to him in the Gospels – and some, like this woman, who didn’t come to him.

The second thing that flows from this woman’s presence in the synagogue, as we commented in the case of the man with the shrivelled hand, is the inability of the religious leaders there to do anything about it. This was a powerless religion! Is ours similar?

But there is something else there that is strange. The text says she had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years.” Now intriguingly it doesn’t say ‘an evil spirit’. Sometimes we may refer to ‘a spirit of anger’ or ‘a spirit of bitterness’ or ‘a spirit of unforgiveness’, and although this may eventually involve the demonic, it starts out at least, by a strong attitude that we take on which takes us over. Now such things, experience tells us, can physically incapacitate us.

Now this interpretation of this situation is strengthened by the fact that Jesus did not drive out and evil spirit from her but simply spoke healing. Now in such situations we might seek for repentance in this lady from whatever wrong attitude brought about this infirmity before we prayed for healing, but Jesus just seems to read her and, we must assume, read her willingness to turn from that past attitude, and thus he speaks healing over her, which follows as he places his hands on her. This latter action, we assume, is either to strengthen faith within her, or to impart power, the same power we saw and spoke about in respect of the lady who had been bleeding for twelve years. Perhaps this change of attitude that Jesus, we assumed, reads, is confirmed by the fact that she gives glory to God immediately she is healed. It is a simple thing, but I wonder how many of us are truly grateful to God when we are healed of something, whether by the miracle of direct healing or by the work of doctors?

There is yet a further rider to be considered to this story which would suppose, as we said earlier, that ultimately, even if it is just brought about by our initial wrong attitude, Satan does have a hand in such things, and is able to use our wrong attitude to bring worse. In a dialogue that follows, as Jesus scolds the leaders of the synagogue for their hardness, we find: Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen.” (v.16). We have a mystery here but the truth seems to suggest, as we have noted at least twice, that if we open ourselves up to sinful attitudes which we maintain, we open the door to Satan to come and lock us in to them. The lesson is that we need to deal with all wrong attitudes and ensure that they do not persist and open the door for worse to come. May we hear that!

Good Reputation

Readings in Luke Continued – No.24

Lk 7:3-5 The centurion heard of Jesus and sent some elders of the Jews to him, asking him to come and heal his servant. When they came to Jesus, they pleaded earnestly with him, “This man deserves to have you do this, because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue.”

Can we remind ourselves to start off why we are doing these particular meditations? Yes, they are meditations about Jesus in the Gospel of Luke, but they focus on the parts of his Gospel that are unique to Luke. Within the Gospel there is material that is common to all three Synoptic Gospels indicating a common source, there is some common to Matthew only and some common to Mark only and some unique to Luke, and it is this latter material that we are focusing on. We are doing that because it brings an emphasis, a very human emphasis that perhaps only a doctor (which is what Luke was) would bring. That is especially true of our verses above. Luke picks up on the very human touches in the Gospel accounts.

Matthew is the only other one who records the incident with the centurion in Capernaum and it is clearly the same incident. But Matthew, we have noted previously, sometimes tends to be rather brief on descriptions and when it comes to this centurion he simply says, “When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help.” (Mt 8:5) which is the gist of the opening words above, except Luke picks up from his sources something else, something quite endearing and which appeals to him and so he includes it. It is that this centurion who resides in Capernaum clearly has a good reputation in the eyes of the local Jews. He is on sufficiently good terms with the local Jewish elders that he asks them to go on his behalf, to appeal to Jesus on his behalf, and on the behalf of his servant.

In what follows it becomes obvious that there is both integrity and humility in this man. So why doesn’t he come himself straight away? We aren’t told directly but it appears clear that he doesn’t have a domineering attitude as a Roman, and recognises that when it comes to asking for healing it is not something you can demand. Moreover it may be that Jesus wouldn’t want to have any dealings with a Roman ‘oppressor’, so for this reason he uses his friendship with the Jewish elders and asks them to appeal to Jesus on his behalf. It is only when they have appealed to Jesus that the man comes himself and enters into dialogue with Jesus.

Now note that when these local Jewish leaders come to Jesus they don’t come half-heartedly on behalf of this Roman. No, they pleaded earnestly with Jesus to help this man. Now there is something important here that we could miss. These Jewish elders actually believed that Jesus could heal this servant. We usually tend to think that most of the Jewish leaders were against Jesus and didn’t believe in him. Well these leaders clearly did, otherwise they might have dissuaded their friend. No, they have heard about Jesus, perhaps seen him in action, and realise that he can help their Roman friend IF he wishes.

Now their approach has a certain Jewish legalism about it. Note what they say: “This man deserves to have you do this.” Well, no, nobody has earned the right to have Jesus heal them; he does it as an act of grace – always! We need to remember that when we are asking for healing for ourselves or for others. Jesus doesn’t heal us because we have earned it, but because HE has earned it on the Cross. All sickness is ultimately the result of sin in the world and Jesus has died to take out sin, our punishment and the effects of that sin. Thus he has earned the right to bring healing to us. We don’t deserve it and we can never earn it, but he gives it freely as an act of grace.

But they go on to give reasons for their thinking: “he loves our nation and has built our synagogue.” Wow! This Roman has almost become a Jew it seems. He is not there as an oppressor, he is there as a friend. He is obviously a wealthy and influential man, this Roman centurion, and has paid for and directed the building of their local synagogue. No wonder they feel good about him. Now this man has certainly earned his reputation and that in itself is quite remarkable. He has come into a foreign culture and he has blessed the people he has found there. He has not imposed his own Roman ways on them but has enabled them to express their own ways more fully. This is a good man, an apparently righteous man – but he’s still a man with a need that is beyond him; he has a sick servant who he obviously cares for (another good aspect of this man’s life) but he doesn’t have the power to heal him. We may be good people, but we are still limited and need God’s help. Whoever we are, and however good we are, this still applies.

I wonder what sort of reputation we have? It worries me sometimes, the obvious lack of reputation that is there often is within the Christian community. Jesus taught, “let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven,” (Mt 5:16) which indicates that Jesus expects us to have a good reputation in the eyes of the world around us as we cact as salt and light. Are we gracious in the way we disagree with the world’s immorality? Have we learnt to speak about righteousness graciously, or do we upset those around us by our declarations of their sin? Do the good things we do soften the hearts of those around us? Are we seen as the best and most conscientious workers or students, or are we seen to be those who do the bare minimum and then scuttle away back to our Christian ghettos? I don’t want that to sound hard, but that is often how it appears and I know because that is how I used to be for much of my earlier working life. It was how we were taught – to come out from among the godless people around us, except that is not how Jesus was. He got in among them and acted as salt and light and blessed them and showed them his Father’s love.

Yes, there will always be those who are against us because we shine and show them up for what they are, and in their defensiveness they will be against us, but do we give them grounds to feel hostile? This centurion stands out as a foreigner who blessed the local population. Can we be the same and thus become a channel for God’s love which opens people up to receive Him for themselves?