Sunday, January 26, 2014

Sermon: Luke 7: 1-17 Jesus' Powerful Word

Have you ever thought about the power of your words? A study has claimed that, on average, men speak 7,000 words per day, while women speak 20,000 words in a day. But every time you open your mouth, your words can be powerful.

The childhood rhyme isn’t always true - when you’re on the receiving end of hurtful words. Sticks and stones may hurt my bones but names will never harm me? To see in the news this week the abuse that Stan Collymore has been receiving on Twitter is a reminder that words can harm and hurt. They can be easily spoken, but devastating.

Words can also have the power to heal. The ability to say sorry, to make an apology, to bring reconciliation can be a powerful thing. Our words can bring about good. Now if that’s possible for you or me then what about the words of Jesus? What would it be possible for Jesus to do?

Last week we listened in to Jesus teaching on the plain. He was giving his team talk for those who follow him. And at the very end of the sermon, he says this: ‘I will show you what someone is like who comes to me, hears my words, and acts on them.’ (Luke 6:47). To hear Jesus’ words and do what he says is like building on rock. That’s a big claim - to say that what he says goes - the difference between rock and not having any foundations.

As if to cement this teaching, Luke tells us about two things that happened soon after. In each of the incidents, we’re shown someone in need, and in each of them, it’s what Jesus says that is important.

The first person in need is the Centurion in Capernaum. The centurion was a Roman soldier, a foreigner, who was in charge of 100 soldiers. He’s an important man, but his slave is sick, nearing death. He hears about Jesus, so he sends some of the Jewish elders from the town to go and ask Jesus to come and heal his slave.

When the elders get to Jesus, they’ve compiled a list of reasons why Jesus should run along and help the centurion. They say in verse 4: ‘He is worthy of having you do this for him.’ By their reckoning, he has done all sorts of good things and now deserves payback. He deserves to have this done for him. As if you can sway God’s favour by doing things.

How would you fill in the answer: ‘I am worthy because...’ What’s on your spiritual CV, the things you’re proud of, the things that you hold over God and say - I deserve this... For the elders, the good he had done was loving the people and building the synagogue. Obviously he has bought God’s approval through his giving and his good works.

But when Jesus gets near to the house, the centurion sends another message. Whatever these religious people say about him, he knows his own need. He doesn’t have a CV at all. They said: ‘he is worthy’. He says: ‘I am not worthy to have you come under my roof.’ Instead, all he asks of Jesus, unworthy as he is, is for Jesus to ‘only speak the word, and let my servant be healed.’

He knows how authority works. He’s about the rank of captain. He has soldiers under him, but he also has people above him. He is under authority himself, and when he says come or go, his soldiers and slave obey. When he says jump, the servants ask how high.

He knows that Jesus has the authority to heal. He knows that his word is powerful. And so he says: ‘only speak the word, and let my servant be healed.’

As we’re working our way through the gospel of Luke, we’ve seen how the people are amazed at Jesus, when they see what he does. But here we’re told that Jesus is amazed at the man’s faith. He believes in the Jesus and so trusts that Jesus can heal by his word.

This Gentile Centurion was the model believer - displaying more faith than anyone in Israel. He’s an example of one building on rock. He’s the one to be like - to trust in Jesus and depend on the word of Jesus to do what he says.

But as if that weren’t enough, Luke then tells us about another person in need. She’s in the town of Nain, leading a funeral procession, all alone. She’s a widow woman, and her only son has died. They’re on their way to the cemetery, with the whole town following behind.

It’s a terrible situation for a parent to bury a child, but even more so at the time. There’s no state benefits, no safety net for this woman. Without a husband or son, she has no means of support, no breadwinner. She’s in need, without hope and without a future.

Jesus sees her, has compassion on her, and tells her not to weep. Can you imagine something like this happening now? Someone interrupts the funeral and says, ‘don’t be crying.’ He’s a stranger to the woman, but by what happens next, we see that Jesus’ words have power.

He touches the bier, and says: ‘young man, I say to you, rise!’ Many’s a time we may long for someone to rise from death as we sit at the wake or watch the funeral. But only Jesus has the power to command a dead man to rise. The man sits up and begins to speak. Jesus’ words are powerful.

In these two incidents, Luke is helping us to see that Jesus’s words are powerful - that what he says happens. It’s no wonder that the crowds are both fearful and praising. They are witnessing something that the prophets like Elijah and Elisha did - raising the dead. But Jesus is more than just a prophet. This is more than just a good man. This is God: ‘God has looked favourably on his people.’

Or as another version puts it, ‘God has visited his people’ - God has come to save and rescue. God is here.

The thing is, though, what difference does this make to us? Why will this help you tomorrow morning? Jesus has the power to raise the dead by his command. The word he speaks at Nain is the same word he will speak on the last day, when he says rise. We will be raised to new life with him.

We don’t deserve it. We can’t work to earn it. We can’t depend on our spiritual CV. Instead, we must recognise our great need. We must confess that we are not worthy - but if Jesus says the word we will be healed. As we trust in him, he calls us to new life, by his powerful word.

When Jesus says it, we can depend on it. God’s word is what we need to be building our life on - not just every so often, but as often as possible. The people around us may speak words of cursing, and harm, but Jesus’ word is of blessing, it is good. To hear it, we need to listen to him. He is the only one who can heal and restore.

This sermon was preached in Aghavea Parish Church on Sunday 26th January 2014.

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