Luke 7:1–50 & 8:40-56
Faith and faithfulness Part 1
The whole of chapters 7 and 8 make up one section of Luke’s narrative so we will read them together though we will only look at chapter 7 in detail in this study. Not least because of the striking similarities and differences in the people involved between the first and last passages 7:1–17 and 8:40–56.
1. Jesus Restores Health and Life! (Luke7:1–17 and 8:40–56)
Question 1.What is the second passage about? How does it differ from the first passage?
The second passage is about healing of a woman and the bringing back to life of a man’s daughter. Remember: the first was about the healing of a man and the bringing back to life of a woman’s son. Luke has obviously put these particular stories at the beginning and end of this section very deliberately. He has carefully constructed the whole section. The important question is why has he done this–apart from the fact that this was the way that they wrote things in the Roman world of those days? When we look at the two chapters together we will see that he has built them so that the stories of the second part reflect the first part. The first part has two healings, 7:1–17; an account of the doubts of John the Baptist. 7:18–35 and then tells us about contrasting attitudes to Jesus, 7:36–50. The second part reverses that order telling us about contrasting attitudes to Jesus, 8:19–33, 38, 39; then the doubts and rejection by the Gerasenes, 8:34–37 and finally the two healings we have already looked at in 8:40–56. In the middle is a parable about the man who sowed some seed, getting different reactions from the different types of soil.
We can think of this as a reflection because the second half is the mirror image of the first half. There are many of these reflections in the Bible. One very obvious example is in Amos 5: 4b–6a, although unlike most of the Biblical reflections that one does not have an important middle. In most of them the middle is important to explain why the second half is different from the first. In our example here in Luke the middle, the parable, is clearly very important, though it does not alter the second part significantly.
Luke wants us to see that the whole section is about faith and faithfulness. One Greek word has both meanings whereas we split the two apart in English. By ‘faith’ we mean mainly mental agreement with the teachings of a religion–‘faith’ goes on in our heads. By ‘faithfulness’ we mean living in a way that follows the teachings of that religion–‘faithfulness’ goes on mainly in our actions. We will look at that more in the next study.
2. Jesus and the Centurion (Luke7:1–17)
Not for the last time Luke has a story about a centurion. He wants Theophilus (and us) to understand that Christian faith was acceptable to these significant people in the Roman world.
Question 2.We are told many good things about the centurion (7:2–5). We are told nothing about the widow of Nain. What can we learn from that?
There will have been plenty of people around with a vague faith in God who kept the religious laws, but this Gentile Centurion recognized that God was at work in Jesus and was prepared to act accordingly by trusting Jesus. Are we prepared to turn a vague faith into action when God works? Just possibly Luke knew the centurion because he joined the early church, but the widow of Nain did not, so he did not know her.
3. Doubts of John the Baptist (Luke 7:18–35)
Question 3. John expected the Messiah to act like his idea of what a Messiah would do. Jesus quotes Isaiah 35: 5,6 and 61: 1,2 to tell him he is wrong. In what ways was John wrong? What did they expect the Messiah to do? What was Jesus doing that was unexpected?
John evidently shared the general expectation of what the Messiah would do. John will have understood himself to be the messenger of Malachi 3: 1 –3; 4: 1–3 and therefore that all that those verses suggested would happen. Particularly if you live in a hostile society it is important, and encouraging, to remember how hostile the society in which Jesus and the early church lived and worked was.
4. Jesus and Debts! (Luke 7:36-50)
Question 4.What does Jesus mean when he talks about debts (7:39–43)? Do we have big or small debts to be cancelled? (We probably think we have only small debts to pay (v 41,42) but big or small counts the same!) Do we show as much love as we should for Jesus who cancelled our debts?
Jesus was talking about the way in which those who followed him and were members of the people of God needed to remember that they were in debt to God. We, living later, know that we rely on Jesus dying for us to cancel the things in our lives, which stop us, being accepted by God. Since ‘all have sinned’ it does not matter whether our sins are big or small they still stop us being accepted by the Lord. Only in Christ can we have acceptance by God.
5. Jesus, the Pharisee and the woman! (Luke 7:36-50)
Question 5. The Pharisee in the final episode of this chapter (v 36–50) is clearly much more concerned with things and ideas. The woman is only concerned with people. What can we learn from these two stories?
It is important to remember that some people are very concerned with people but some (a smaller number), find their interest is taken more by ideas and things than people. Both sorts of people are necessary in a healthy church and a healthy society.
Question 6. In what ways has this chapter stressed faithfulness?
Nearly all this chapter (and the next) is about people acting out their faith as a result of what they saw Jesus do. They were in a very positive way following him, not just thinking about him. That is faithfulness. The message to us must be that we have to follow Jesus, not just go to church on Sunday.
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