LUKE 7 – WRITING OFF DEBT
When you’re busy and stretched for time in a modern 21st Century world, some things have to go. Additional, nice-but-not-necessary things, are first to be shelved as we keep the treadmill of life turning at a fast pace. A chapter like today’s – written by a 1st Century doctor – can appear long-winded at first glance. It’s therefore difficult to see any real relevance for progress and sustainability right now. But the chapter can be broken up into four parts and, amazingly, each story holds vitally important information for us today – 2,000 years after it was written.
The thing is, we’ve got to get off that treadmill long enough to unpack it! And, having unpacked it for myself, I notice a golden thread of authority woven through the tapestry of all stories, and it’s all about writing off our debt with our Maker.
The first story is about the Roman centurion’s slave and – beyond the fact that it was a terminally ill person who was amazingly healed – it’s least likely to be seen as having any use, or interest, at all for someone reading it today. But this is a story of authority, line management, and amazing grace for the foreigner and underdog…
In Roman occupied Palestine, this centurion represented those who were hated by most, in the same way that an SS officer in WWII Nazi occupied France would have been. Although he seemed to have impressed the local religious leaders[v4-5], his slave would have been seen by many as the least of the least, owned by the last person on earth who should be shown favour. But here’s the thing…
Out of everyone there that day – who should have known the true power behind Jesus status[a] – it was the centurion who ‘got it’ without having been educated in it. He worked under the full authority of Rome, and therefore believed that Jesus’ status (His role and where He was positioned in the grand scheme of things) gave Him full authority under God. By calling Jesus “Lord” (Sir), and by not coming into Jesus’ presence, nor making Jesus come to his house [v6-7], was proof that the centurion was treating Jesus like a King/Ruler i.e. the only people above centurions were rulers, governors, and the Roman Emperor himself.
This wasn’t a story about a deathly-sick servant. This was about Father God writing off debt owed by the centurion (the list of everything he’d done wrong since childhood); overlooking his background and current job; receiving no guarantees of future Faith commitment; and simply answering his “prayer” freely and without strings attached. If a soldier from a ruthless foreign occupation can get his requests answered, there’s hope for me! But if that’s not “good news enough”, there’s Jesus’ incredible promise for our future, along with His warning…
“…many will come from east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven; but the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into the outer darkness…” [Matthew 8:11-12]
In the same way, the next story – about the widow’s son [v11-17] – may seem disconnected to everyday life now. But it again shows Jesus’ authority to administer the Creator God’s compassion without cost; debt free and (as we say in English) not even knowing the lady from a bar of soap! Just as the ancient prophet Isaiah had predicted, Jesus has been given authority over life and death i.e. the “government is on His shoulders”. [Isaiah 9:6-7] But as a mum who has also lost her only son, I didn’t get my son back as today’s story shows. I had very much contemplated asking for our son back – you can read about that in my second book Mysterious? …Expect the Unexpected – but I didn’t ask.
I live now with “the feeling”, every time I read stories of people being raised from the dead. Every Easter, for example, the churches in our city have a sunrise service at the cemetery. In memory of Jesus rising again on Easter morning; in response to the ancient prophet Isaiah’s call to “rise and shine”[b]; and with the hope of open graves given to us by the prophet Ezekiel.[c] Although Ezekiel’s prophecy was set in my morning readings for August 13th – the morning after we buried our son – it still strikes a raw note in my soul when I read stories like this, in today’s chapter, of the widow’s son being restored back to her, full of life.
But the Creator’s script wasn’t written about me. It was written in order for us to know beyond doubt, that Jesus was indeed the One who was to come [v19] – the One who would bring to the world the Creator God’s Global Gift of Eternal Life.[d] And it wasn’t just that He could raise a dead boy back to life, there were many other signs as well.
John the Baptist was Jesus’ cousin and, like Moses, was born from two Levites – the priestly clan.[e] In addition, he was conceived extraordinarily in their old age – just like Abraham’s son Isaac who was heir to the Creator’s promises.[f] I’ve written more about John in my 01 September Breadcrumbs, but as important as John was to the Creator God’s storyline [v26-28], even John had to check, to be sure of Jesus’ identity. [v18-23]
And yet, Jesus didn’t give John a definite answer. Instead, the proof was in the pudding.[g] John’s Followers were eye witnesses to what Jesus had already done in such a short time. Just as the prophet Isaiah had predicted 800 years earlier[h], Jesus had cured many with diseases, sicknesses and evil spirits. He gave sight to the blind; the lame could walk; those with leprosy were cleansed; the deaf could hear; the dead were raised, and the good news was preached to the poor. [v21-23]
What is notable in all of the above, is that no-one was asked to pay, go through a religious ritual (such as male circumcision), nor sign a contract. No-one appears to know what “rabble” or “low-life’s” were in this large crowd. They were freely and indiscriminately healed according to what they asked for – their “prayer request” – and walked away without a debt to be paid. And yet, as incredible as these stories are, the one that stands out for me today, is the invisible one that can’t be quantified or verified.
This is the story of faith healing the heart of a harlot. [v38-50] It’s the moment when Jesus displays the greatest of all the Creator God’s gifts – using the authority that He had all along.[i] As wonderful, and as miraculous, as we think all of the above is, it’s not the outside of the human that Father God is interested in. Healing outer illnesses and defects is nothing compared to healing the defects of one’s soul. Created in the beginning in His likeness, we’ve never been like Him. This has been the mission on the agenda from the beginning of HIStory, and it requires an inner and lasting change.
Since the soul is our eternal part, it’s vitally important to save it eternally – from the disease of sin. But history has proven that we can’t change ourselves – no matter what philosophies we’ve tried following – nothing works. And so it is, that this chapter ends on the greatest of all miracles. Jesus performed the miracle of the Creator God’s Limitless GRACE – writing off debt to create a disease-free heart, clear conscience, and a soul completely free from the effects (the natural cost) of sin.
Although I knew that God’s gift of grace and forgiveness was freely available to everyone – no matter who they are and from whatever background – I was caught today by the idea that two people side-by-side in today’s chapter, could receive a different portion of grace. One was forgiven little while the other forgiven much.[v42] Connected with this though, is the idea that, in response, some could love their Maker more. Not because they’re “a religious person” prone to an interest in Faith matters but, quite the opposite, because of the size of the grace they’d received. [v43]
Thank-you Father God for coming up with the idea of writing off debt so that I won’t be carrying the load to my death: “My chains fell off; My heart was free; I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.” [j] …
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[a] Isaiah 9:6-7
[b] Isaiah 60:1 (King James Version 1611)
[c] Ezekiel 37:12-13
[d] 1 John 5:13
[e] Luke 1:5-7 (Context: v1-25)
[f] Genesis 18:9-14 & 21:1-7
[g] Matthew 7:16-20 and Luke 7:35
[h] Isaiah 61:1-3 & 53:5
[i] Exodus 23:20a
[j] Lyrics from Charles Westley’s Hymn c1738: And Can it Be
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