Sermon: The Centurion of Our Souls (Luke 7:11-17)

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The Centurion of Our Souls

Luke 7:11-17

Today’s message begins in the depths of despair.  In the beginning, this account is probably one of the saddest in all of Scripture.

Last week we saw How Christ was struck with amazement as He saw the Centurion’s faith in action.  We also saw that Jesus has all authority to heal because He controls the universe.  What was very serious last week has now turned to desperation.  The Centurion cared deeply for his beloved servant and longed to see him well again.  If the servant had not been healed by Jesus, the Centurion could have kept on, perhaps finding another servant that could do what this one did.

By way of contrast we have the situation before us today, one of utter hopelessness.  The Centurion was a man of means.  He had enough funds to build the synagogue in Capernaum.  The main character in the account today is a widow who had lost her only son.  In those days, she was without hope.  Her life was basically over.  There was no one left to care for her, she had no way of earning money.  She was destitute.

What sort of sadness was she experiencing?

R L Dabney was a great southern theologian during the time of the Civil War.  He was away when he learned that his young son was ill.  He rushed home to help.   Here are some of the words he wrote in a letter to his brother after his son died…

We used prompt measures, and sent early for the doctor, who did not think his case was dangerous: but he grew gradually worse until Sunday, when his symptoms became alarming, and he passed away, after great sufferings, Monday…A half hour before he died, he sank into a sleep, which became more and more quiet, until he gently signed his soul away.  This is the first death we have had in our family, and my first experience of any great sorrow.  I have learned rapidly in the school of anguish this week, and am many years older than I was a few days ago.  It was not so much that I could not give my darling up, but that I saw him suffer such pangs, and then fall under the grasp of the cruel destroyer, while I was impotent to help.  Ah!  When the mighty wings of the angel of death nestle over your heart’s treasures, and his black shadow broods over your home, it shakes the heart with a shuddering terror and a horror of great darkness.  To see my dear little one ravaged, crushed and destroyed, turning his beautiful liquid eyes to me and his weeping mother for help, after his gentle voice could no longer be heard, and to feel myself helpless to give any aid—this tears my heart with anguish.—R L Dabney (quoted from Philip Graham Ryken’s commentary on Luke page 315)

This is a bit of the anguish this widow was experiencing.  The only difference was Dabney still had his wife and other family members, this widow before us today had no one.

Please hear God’s Word…

Luk 7:11  Soon afterward he went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a great crowd went with him.  12  As he drew near to the gate of the town, behold, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow, and a considerable crowd from the town was with her.  13  And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not weep.”  14  Then he came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.”  15  And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother.  16  Fear seized them all, and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has arisen among us!” and “God has visited his people!”  17  And this report about him spread through the whole of Judea and all the surrounding country.

Father, strengthen our faith as we see before us the power of Christ to raise the dead!

1.  Our Source of Sorrow (Luke 7:11-12)

Soon afterward he went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a great crowd went with him.  12  As he drew near to the gate of the town, behold, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow, and a considerable crowd from the town was with her.

As we look into this scene, we see the tragedy of the human condition.  Many of us have been a part of funerals.  Many of us have wept as our loved ones have passed away and we find ourselves standing beside their grave in disbelief at the whole thing.

On one hand the source of our sorrow and the source of the sorrow of this widow is death, death of a loved one or death of a friend.  There is, however, something deeper.  There is something that brought death into the word.  There is something that when it came brought death with it.  That something is sin.  Sin is the true source of our sorrow.

Let’s step back into the scene and see that Jesus and His disciples and the great crowd were walking toward the small town and as they entered, there was another smaller crowd leaving.  Jesus and His followers were not sad, in fact, they were probably happy as they were no doubt reviewing the events that had just transpired in Capernaum.  The crowd they met was not happy.  The crowd leaving the town was wailing with grief.  The funeral procession was being led by the mother of the dead son according to tradition.  Jesus is not very good at turning His head and going the other way, is He?

This son being carried in a coffin was a stark reminder that sin and death still are a formidable foes.

From the first sin of Adam and Eve till now, death has been winning.  Men, Women, Boys, and girls are dying every single day.  Years ago the statistic was 140,000 people die every day on Planet Earth and that statistic is no doubt increased.

ESV Romans 5:12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned-

So, by contrast, we see two very different crowds.  One crowd was glorifying God for the authority of Christ and the other crowd was mourning the loss of a loved one due to the death that sin brings.  Which crowd do you belong to?  Are you in the crowd who follows Jesus or are you in the crowd that follows death?  Are your sins forgiven or will you pay the death penalty for them yourself?

As Jesus watched this sad situation, He was witnessing the tragic and lost condition of dying humanity.  The cries of grief and the scene before Him were unmistakable, death had claimed another victim.

Even though there was a crowd in the funeral procession, this widow in a very real sense was now alone.  When she buries her son, she buries a bit of her heart with him.

Our source of sorrow is sin and its plague of death.

2. Our Source of Joy (Luke 7:13-15)

13  And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not weep.”  14  Then he came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.”  15  And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother.

Many times when we are in contact with someone grieving we awkwardly try to think of something to say, as if by saying just the right thing, their grief will be somewhat alleviated.  The fact is, nothing we say in those moments helps much.  I’m very sorry for your loss, I am praying for you and your family, is just about the only thing that may bring a very small amount of comfort.  In the end, the loss is still there.  The hurt has not left; death still has their loved one in its clutches.

Notice what Jesus says to this grieving widow, Do not weep.  How can He say that?  It’s natural to cry and mourn.  How can Jesus say to this lady, don’t cry?

Luke shows us by giving Jesus the title Lord.  This is the first time Luke has called Jesus Lord in his Gospel.  13  And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her.

Last week we saw that Christ was not healing the Centurion’s servant because the servant or the Centurion was worthy.  The Jews said he is worthy because he built us our synagogue.  Here, very clearly, Luke shows us why Jesus does what He does… the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her.  It’s out of compassion Jesus performs the miracle of healing and in this case raising the dead.

Life and death collided as the funeral procession runs into God’s Son.  The reason Jesus could tell this poor woman to stop crying was because He was about to remove the reason for her tears.  He puts out His hand and touches the coffin.

I really like what Philip Ryken writes about this verse…

Jesus had the authority to bring it to a halt.  When He put out His hand, it was as if to say, Death, you will come this far, but no further.      

And he said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.”  15  And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother.

Those words from Jesus were just about as alarming as when He tells the mother to stop crying.  Can you see the amazing absurdity in this verse?  Luke reports it in such a way as to bring us to the point of wonder.  The dead man sits up and talks.  This is what every grieving person has thought as they look at their loved one in a coffin.  Perhaps they’re asleep and they will wake up. 

Here Luke shows us that when Christ commands even the dead obey.  It’s a paradox we are witnessing.  If the man is dead he can’t sit up.  If he sits up then he can’t be dead.  Yet, what Luke shows us is that at the split second the Lord commands the dead to arise, the dead become no longer dead but alive.

The centurion was right about Jesus…

ESV Luke 7:7 Therefore I did not presume to come to you. But say the word, and let my servant be healed.  8 For I too am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me: and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”

Jesus commands death to retreat and loosen his grip on the young man.  He commands that the young man’s spirit return to his body.  He commands that his vital organs begin functioning again…and a hundred other things happen as Jesus authoritatively speaks… Young man, I say to you, arise

The universe is at his command and every piece is put in place in a split second so that King Jesus’ command is carried out.  The command, arise was obeyed by a legion of intricate details and the young man does what the Lord commands.  Everything rushes to obedience and the command arise is obeyed.

3. Our Source of Confidence/Hope (Luke 7:16-17)

16  Fear seized them all, and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has arisen among us!” and “God has visited his people!”  17  And this report about him spread through the whole of Judea and all the surrounding country.

At the sight of a dead man waking up, sitting up and speaking caused everyone there to experience true fear. A dead man sitting and speaking gripped their hearts with Godly fear.  The King had given of command and the universe obeyed.  The people stand had never seen anything like this before.

That had, however, read something almost exactly like this before.  They put two and two together…

1 Kings 17:17-24,

2 Kings 4:18-37

Do you see the connection the people made?  When the widow’s son in 1 Kings was resurrected, Elijah gave him back to his mother.  Luke has a play on words when he uses the same type of language to show what Jesus did.  The people put two and two together and they concluded A great prophet has arisen among us!

Luke also reports the second thing the people say, God has visited his people!  Here in 2 Kings 4 we have the last time the dead had been raised.  This was about a thousand years before Jesus.  With Elijah and his replacement Elisha but raised children from the dead and both gave the child back to their mothers well.  Jesus does the same thing.

There is a difference.  Elijah and Elisha were prophets of God.  Both prayed to God and performed a ritual of laying the child on the bed and laying on top of the child and praying.  Jesus simply spoke the authoritative word and the dead sat up and spoke.

ESV 1 Corinthians 15:25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.  26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

It was on the cross and at the resurrection Jesus gave Satan and death a severe blow.  Both are wounded.  The One born of woman has crushed the head of the serpent.  When Jesus cried out from the cross, It is Finished, He claimed victory over death, Hell, and the grave.

The victory was won on Calvary and was proven as Jesus, Himself, sat up and spoke.  We can have the confidence and hope that we too one day, after we’ve been in the grave that we will sit up and speak as well.

John Owen the great 15th century theologian wrote a tremendous work called, The Death of Death in the Death of Christ.  Where he shows just how significant Christ’s victory is.

Paul tells us there is more coming…

1 Corinthians 15:50-58

As we wrap up this morning…

What about mothers who had to bury their child?  What about when Jesus doesn’t place His hand on the coffin and speak and raise the dead back to life?  What about the times when your sitting in hospital thinking that everything is a dream only to discover, it’s not?

The Centurion of our souls is the Lord Jesus Christ, King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  He commands the hosts of heaven; He commands the created universe…

King Jesus is reigning and the day is coming when He will return.  Notice the similar language used in 1 Thessalonians.

ESV 1 Thessalonians 4:16 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.

I wonder what the cry of command will be?  Jesus the Centurion on our souls will authoritatively command everyone who is in Christ to arise.

Just as the dead man being carried our rose, just as every molecule fell in line to obey this command, the same will happen to us.  The only difference is the dead in Christ will rise never to die again.

4. The Source of Evangelism

17  And this report about him spread through the whole of Judea and all the surrounding country.

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