June 28, 2010 David Balzer

Luke 7: Loving the least, the lost, and the last

A new series of Dancing with the Stars has just started. Where TV stars with little dancing ability are teamed with professional dancer, and then train for hours every day to perform a dance routine at the end of the week in front of a TV audience.

Imagine the pressure! Always on show. Always being watched – assessed. Judged. The constant pressure to perform. Never knowing whether you’ve done enough. Or performed at a high enough level. Never knowing if you’ve got into someone’s bad books. Always only one wrong note away from being booted out. One mistake from oblivion.

Imagine if THE CHRISTIAN LIFE was like that?

And yet that’s EXACTLY what some people THINK. For them, life is one long examination. Always on show. Always being assessed. And measured. And watched. And judged.

There’s the constant WORRY of whether you’ve done ENOUGH. Enough to impress God the judge. Always focusing on YOUR PERFORMANCE. Your list of achievements. Unsure whether you’ve balanced out your bad deeds with your good deeds.

And always comparing yourself to those around you. How deserving are YOU compared to THEM. Can they REALLY be as PERFECT as they seem?

Life for people like this/ is full of uncertainty, insecurity, and anxiety. Because they know, deep down, that they really DON’T deserve anything from God.

If that’s YOU. Then this talk is dedicated to YOU. Because there’s GREAT NEWS in Luke 7.

Jesus isn’t interested in “Australian Idols”. In high-flyers. Or those who’ve got it all together. He’s come for the LEAST, for the LOST, and for the LAST. Which is great news for US. Because that’s what we ALL are.

The categories he’s after are “Worthless”, not “winners”. Hopeless, not heroes. Tails, not heads. In fact, Jesus says people like that are GREAT. Esteemed. Important. Valued. Worthwhile.

Not just good. Great. Greater than any of the Old Testament heroes. Greater than Moses. Or David. Or John the Baptist. Look over at v28.

(Luke 7:28 NIV)  I tell you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John; yet THE ONE WHO IS LEAST IN THE KINGDOM OF GOD is GREATER THAN HE.”

That’s what Jesus thinks of the LEAST. The lost ones. The outsiders.  Look at the examples in this chapter.

1. A Gentile soldier

First up. A Gentile. A Roman soldier. A centurion. An officer in charge of a group of men. Wealthy too. And generous. Probably a follower of God. If he’d been on Australian Idol, he would have been a hot favourite to win. He’d even paid for the Capernaum synagogue to be built. And the village elders had put a big brass plaque on the foundation stone. In honour of this WORTHY man.

And so, when one of his servants was dying, and he heard that Jesus was around. The elders were MORE than happy to put in a good word. Look there at v4.

(Luke 7:4-5 NIV)  When they came to Jesus, they pleaded earnestly with him, “This man DESERVES to have you do this, {5} because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue.”

A good man. He DESERVES favours from Jesus. That’s their argument.

But the man himself has got different ideas. Because when he hears that Jesus is actually COMING to his house, he sends a message to stop him. V6.

(Luke 7:6-7 NIV)  “Lord, don’t trouble yourself, for I do not DESERVE to have you come under my roof. {7} That is why I DID NOT EVEN CONSIDER MYSELF WORTHY to come to you.

You see, this guy sees things clearly. He knows, that under the façade, the mask of respectability, there’s something rotten at the core. Like an apple that’s crisp on the outside, but soft and brown and rotten in the middle.

His generosity. His achievements. His abilities. His allegiances. All hide the fact that HE knows he deserves NOTHING from God.

But that’s not BAD news at all. In fact, he’s really the CLOSEST of ALL to Jesus. Because he doesn’t just see HIMSELF clearly. He sees JESUS clearly, too. Look at the end of v7.

(Luke 7:7-8 NIV)  … But SAY THE WORD, and MY SERVANT WILL BE HEALED. {8} For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”

What’s his point? He RECOGNISES AUTHORITY. As an army officer, he can say the word, and it’s obeyed. For the Roman soldier, to disobey was .

And he sees the same in Jesus. A man with AUTHORITY. The RIGHT to control. It would only take A WORD from Jesus, and the servant would be healed.

And Jesus is amazed at his faith. That he can SEE Jesus’ identity. AND amazed that it comes from a GENTILE. Someone OUTSIDE God’s original people.

And what happens? It’s interesting the way Luke describes it. Because Jesus has even MORE authority than the soldier recognises. Not only does he have enough power to SAY the WORD, and the guy will be healed. He DOESN’T EVEN NEED TO SAY A WORD. V9.

(Luke 7:9-10 NIV)  When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, “I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.” {10} Then the men who had been sent returned to the house and FOUND THE SERVANT WELL.

Jesus THOUGHT it, and the servant was healed.

A worthless Gentile. He even said it himself. But because he SAW himself. And SAW something of WHO Jesus WAS. He was part of the Kingdom of God.

A worthless Gentile. Least in the kingdom of God. But GREAT in Jesus’ eyes.

2. A widow and her son.

Next up. A widow. Another of the least, lost and last. But MORE than a widow – a CHILD-LESS widow, because she’d just lost her SON. Her only family. Her only means of support. She was all alone in the world. You don’t get any more least and lost than that. Look at v12.

(Luke 7:12-13 NIV)  As he approached the town gate, a person was being carried out–the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. And a large crowd from the town was with her. {13} When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, “Don’t cry.”

Don’t you feel THE SAME? When you see despair, and hopelessness and loneliness like that? You just WISH you could DO SOMETHING that could stop the pain.

But the difference is/ Jesus CAN. And so he touches the coffin, and talks to the body. Can you imagine it? A great crowd of people all standing around watching Jesus. Wondering why the procession’s been held up. And Jesus walks up to the coffin. And TOUCHES IT. According to Jewish law, he risked becoming unclean. Nobody does that!

But then he SPOKE to the body.

I took a funeral on Wednesday. An 82 year old great-grandmother of 24. Greatly loved. And greatly missed. And some people were talking to the coffin. Even touching it. Saying their goodbyes. But noone really thought Bella was LISTENING. Or that she’d actually RESPOND.

And yet, when Jesus did it, the boy WAS listening. Not even could silence Jesus’ call. The boy responded. From wherever he’d been, he came back INTO his body. Air filled his lungs. His heart started beating. His started flowing. His brain started working. His fingers started twitching. His eyelids fluttered.

And (v15) he sat up. And began to talk. I wonder what he said? Did he look at Jesus? “You called me?” Or did he look at his mum? “Oh, Mum. You should see where I’ve been. I’ve got so much to tell you!”

And Jesus GAVE HIM BACK to his mother. He USED TO BE his mother’s. Then she LOST him. But Jesus FOUND him. Had AUTHORITY over him. Brought him. And gave him back.

And the crowd are amazed.

Who does Jesus feel sorry for? For whose benefit is this miracle? The MOTHER. Because she’s LOST and ALONE. Least in the Kingdom of God. But great in Jesus’ eyes.

3. John’s “got the wrong end of the stick”

It’s the side of Jesus’ ministry that John’s forgotten. He THOUGHT he’d understood Jesus. Back in Ch 3, he preached Jesus as the Messiah. The One who’d baptise with the Holy Spirit. The One who would come in JUDGMENT, with a WINNOWING FORK to separate the wheat from the chaff.

And so John’s message/ was REPENT.

But when he’d preached that same message to King Herod, because he was sleeping with his brother’s wife, he was thrown in prison.

And that’s the last we hear of John. Until now.

He’s been sitting in prison. Thinking about who Jesus is. Waiting expectantly for Jesus, the JUDGE, to come down with the winnowing fork. The day of reckoning. When people like HEROD would get what they deserved.

And he kept waiting. And waiting.

But all he was hearing about Jesus was that he was some sort of PARTY ANIMAL. Eating and drinking. HEALING. PREACHING. Setting people FREE.

Where’s the JUDGMENT? Where’s the RETRIBUTION?

And that’s the questions his disciples ask/ when they come to Jesus. “Are you the One? Or have we got it all wrong?”

And look at how Jesus responds. V21.

(Luke 7:21-22 NIV)  At that very time Jesus cured many who had diseases, sicknesses and evil spirits, and gave sight to many who were blind. {22} So he replied to the messengers, “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.

Jesus loving the least, the lost, and the last. Yes – they’re all things the Jews EXPECTED the Messiah to do. From passages like Isaiah 29, and 35 and 61.

And yet, as you read those passages, there’s a note of JUDGMENT about them too. Listen, for example, to Isaiah 29. God is talking to Jerusalem.

(Isa 29:5-6 NIV)  But your many enemies will become like fine dust, the ruthless hordes like blown chaff. Suddenly, in an instant, {6} the LORD Almighty will come with thunder and earthquake and great noise, with windstorm and tempest and flames of a devouring fire.

That’s JUDGMENT. And then a few verses on.

(Isa 29:18-21 NIV)  In that day the deaf will hear the words of the scroll, and out of gloom and darkness the eyes of the blind will see. {19} Once more THE HUMBLE WILL REJOICE in the LORD; THE NEEDY WILL REJOICE in the Holy One of Israel.

There’s the vindication and the deliverance. But listen to the very next verse. Judgment.

{20} The ruthless will vanish, the mockers will disappear, and all who have an eye for evil will be cut down–

God will act with JUSTICE alright. But there’s TWO SIDE to justice isn’t there? PUNISHMENT for those who DESERVE it. And RESTORATION and VINDICATION for those who’ve been punished UNJUSTLY.

Justice is me getting a speeding ticket when I’ve been speeding. I’ve got what I deserved.

But justice is ALSO me having a speeding fine CANCELLED if someone makes a mistake, and reads the wrong license plate on a photo. I’ve got what I deserved.

And so Jesus the Messiah executes BOTH sides of judgment. Punishment for those who deserve it. And restitution for those who DON’T.

But John’s mistake is only focussing on one. He’s forgotten the OTHER SIDE of justice. And he’s got his timing all wrong. Because with Jesus, for most people, the judgment is DELAYED. Until . Because of his grace. Giving people EVERY CHANCE to turn to him.

And it’s the VINDICATION that he’s working on NOW. Healing. Restoring. Setting free. ALSO because of his grace.

And that’s the great message we’ve got to share. Jesus is JUST. And he WILL judge. But he’s also JUST (true to his character. Perfectly consistent), and will RESTORE those who are WEAK. Forgive those who repent. LOVE the LEAST, and the LOST, and the LAST. And that’s all of us.

But even though John’s got the wrong end of the stick. He’s great. Because he’s had the privilege of NO OTHER PROPHET. Of pointing to Jesus. “There he is. The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”

And yet even the LEAST in the Kingdom of God. The loneliest. The poorest. The sickest. Is still greater than John. Because they’ve SEEN Jesus. RESPONDED to Him. Accepted his healing and forgiveness. He’s cleaned your heart. Removed your guilt, and blindness, and blackness.

4. A sinner – Love from the least

And in the last part of this chapter, we see an EXAMPLE of this type of person. Who Jesus has DONE His WORK on. Another of the LEAST. Who Jesus LOVES.

He goes to dinner at Simon’s house. A Pharisee. Respectable. With the right connections. With a nice house. In a nice part of town. Another one who’s a hot favourite for Australian Idol.

But as Jesus is enjoying dinner, a visitor arrives. A visitor for Jesus. She’d seen him. Probably heard him preach. But she’s a sinner. A , or an adulteress.

And she longs for Jesus to heal her heart. It’s black like night. And hard as stone. And she can hardly live with herself any longer. So many mistakes. So many bad choices. So much baggage. But Jesus has spoken of CLEAN hearts. NEW beginnings. FRESH starts. And she wants that.

So she slinks into the house through the side door. Quietly stands behind Jesus. Listening. Hoping not to be noticed.

And the heaviness of her heart overcomes her. Or maybe she understands the enormity of the gift Jesus is offering. And she begins to cry. And the tears well up in her eyes. And roll down her cheeks. Great gushes. Waves of emotion, and relief, and gratefulness flood over her. Years of pent-up hurts, and bitterness, and regret, and frustration, and repentance. It all just comes flooding out.

And her tears fall to the floor. But she doesn’t even notice them. Because, for the first time in her life, she understands what it means to be FORGIVEN. To get a fresh start.

And then she notices that they’ve landed right on Jesus’ feet. He’s seated on the floor. Reclining at the low table. With his feet facing away from the table. And she’s making a real mess. The dust on his feet, mixing with her tears, making mud.

She gets flustered. Look around for something to wipe up with. But there’s nothing there. No cloths or rags or towels. Because foot-wiping is something Simon’s not too good at.

And the only thing she can think of/ is to use her hair. Long and flowing. The ’s calling card. And so she wipes Jesus feet.

And then, as a sign of her love, she kisses his feet. Now clean. And pours perfume on them.

Awkward – Yes. Unexpected – yes. But still a beautiful sign of repentance and love. “Who cares what other people think? Jesus has given me a new heart! And I don’t deserve it!”

Is that YOUR declaration? “Who cares what other people think? Jesus has given me a new heart! And I don’t deserve it!”

Certainly Simon doesn’t think much of the display. All he sees is a getting up close and personal with Jesus.

So Jesus explains her actions. V41. A story about two men. One who’s forgiven a HUGE debt. And one who’s been forgiven a LITTLE. And obviously, the one who’s had the MOST forgiven will LOVE the most.

And he applies it to Simon, and to the at his feet. V44.

(Luke 7:44-50 NIV)  Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. {45} You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. {46} You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. {47} Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven–for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.” {48} Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” {49} The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” {50} Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

This woman steps out of the contest. She gives up competing. And comparing. And Jesus gives her forgiveness. And she responds with love.

But Simon looks at himself, and still thinks he’s in with a chance. He’s doing better than other people. He might still be able to win. And he determines to try that little bit harder. And so he misses the chance to be in the kingdom.

But the message of this passage. Is that Jesus is after great people for the kingdom. But to be great. You need to be LEAST. And KNOW it. To know the debt you need forgiving. To respond in repentance and gratitude and love. Like this lost woman.

Jesus loves the least, the lost and the last. Which is great news for us.

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