From Death To Life
[Luke 7:18-26, 36-50]
2020 is an exhausting year, is it not? As if it wasn’t bad enough that it’s an election year – because election years always drive people apart a little bit, but then COVID-19 has just thrown a wrench into everything! Schools, Sports, churches, and even just everyday life. 2020 is an exhausting year – it wears on you. It’s ironic, most of the time people burn out from working too hard, pushing themselves to the limits. But I feel like nowadays it’s more common for people to burn out from doing nothing. Not exhausted from the busy-ness of life, we’re exhausted from the emptiness in life. There was a guy, Charles Spurgeon, one of the most famous preachers of all time – literally his biography is called “The Prince Of Preachers” – used to suffer from severe bouts of depression. He lived in the 1800’s and had pretty bad case of gout, so that contributed but it went deeper than that. Despite all his success, all his wonderful work for the kingdom of God – he was frequently plunged into depression – desperately calling for God’s help, but there were times where there was no relief. He once said, “There are dungeons beneath the castles of despair.” That imagery is so powerful – not only can despair build up high walls in our life that are so hard to tear down, but underneath it some of us feel trapped like prisoners in a dungeon. There are dungeons beneath the castles of despair. Today is the third sermon in our series Journey With Jesus, Part II: the Calling. We return to the book of Luke to examine the seventh chapter. By this point in the story Jesus is revealing more and more of who he is and we get front row seats as people struggle to understand just who and what he is to the world. Let’s take a look.
[read v.1] – which if you remember last week, is a really nice way to say, after Jesus rocked their world and shifted the entire foundation of their life away from the world on onto a Godly foundation, he went into the city. [read v.2-3]. Just to fill it in if you didn’t know – centurion is a fancy title for a Roman Soldier. This guy is not jewish, he’s not local, he’s a reminder of the military occupation that Israel is living under. But the people like him, [read v.4-5]. So Jesus decides to go and heal this man’s slave, but while he is still on his way something happens – he gets a message from the centurion. [read v.6-8]. You see, this centurion is a soldier – he is well versed in the teachings of authority. He understands that Jesus has authority. He tells Jesus, “you don’t have to come all the way to my house. I’m not worthy of that, just say the word and I know my slave will be healed, just like when I tell my soldiers what to do – I know they will do it. Because I have authority over them, and I know you, Jesus, have authority over everything.” [read v.9]. Jesus turns to the people next to him, and he’s like – this guy gets it! And then when the messengers return home, they find that the slave has been healed. Jesus never even visited the Centurion’s home. He never saw that slave. The Centurion had faith in Jesus’ power, and healing was found.
Take a second and ask yourself – you ever have something in your life, a struggle your dealing with, an obstacle you can’t seem to overcome, a darkness that’s crushing you – and it feels impossible? Like you’re convinced there’s no solution, there’s nothing you can do, you are just completely trapped? Did you know that whatever it is – Jesus has authority over it? Jesus has power over everything in your life. Chapter seven opens up with a story of Jesus’ incredible power. And it’s pretty impressive, this wireless social distancing healing of the Centurion’s servant. And then he follows it with an even more powerful healing. Verse 12 [read v.12]. Now understand something – the woman was a widow, her husband had died. The dead guy is her only son. In this culture, if your husband dies, your children take care of you or you end up on the streets. Women had no power, no agency, no ability to fend for themselves. She has not just lost her son, she has just lost everything. She is literally about to become a beggar in the streets. [read v13-15]. Scared the buh-jeebers out of the crowd. Jesus literally just brought a man back to life from the dead. The first seventeen verses, the first chunk of this chapter is two epic stories demonstrating Jesus’ power and authority in this world. Nothing is too much for Jesus. Now again, I need you to just stop for a second and let those words echo into your soul. Nothing is too much for Jesus. Nothing your life has, nothing you have done, nothing that has been done too you is too much for Jesus. You think your sin scares Jesus? You think he’s afraid to look at who you really are? You think COVID-19 scares Jesus? Nothing is too much for Jesus.
So then we move to the middle of the chapter, where people are struggling to comprehend who Jesus is. He’s got complete authority over death and disease, he’s healing people without even touching them, bringing people back to life. He’s reshaping the boundaries of what is possible. So then John, as in John the Baptist, sends a couple disciples to ask Jesus some questions. [read v.20]. Now Jesus has been busy healing folk and he responds in verse 22 [read it]. They have a very reasonable question – are you the guy? Or are we waiting for someone else? Can we really put our faith in you Jesus? And Jesus responds by saying: Scoreboard. Look at my life, look at what I’ve been doing – the blind can see, the lame can walk, the deaf can hear, good news is brought to those who need it. You wanna know if you can put your faith in Jesus? Check the scoreboard.
So then Jesus starts to talk about how great John is. He was kind of a weird guy, dressed funny, lived in the wilderness. But Jesus sticks up for him. He defends John and he ends it with this curious little line. He says, [read v.28]. John is awesome. Of all those born of women, which is all of us, John is the greatest. And yet, the least in the kingdom of God, that’s heaven, the least famous person in heaven is still better than the greatest person on earth. Which is a strange thing to say, but then it reads [v.29]. They acknowledged the justice of God. I had to sit down and pull that line apart for a little bit. What does that mean? Acknowledge the justice of God. So let’s walk through it slow. First, Jesus raves about John. This guy John is the greatest guy on earth. Yet, the least person in heaven, in the kingdom of God is better than John. The worst thing in heaven, is better than the greatest thing on earth. And they’re all sitting there nodding because they acknowledge the justice of God. The natural result of this limited world is death. We are born, we struggle, we die and that’s it. That’s justice. That is the hope that atheists and people without God can give to us. Romans tells us that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Because of our sins, all of us deserve death. We have fallen short, we don’t deserve the glory of God, which reaches beyond this life. To “acknowledge the justice of God” is to recognize that we don’t deserve heaven. We don’t deserve anything better than this life, than this world. But Jesus is here this morning to move us from death to life. We move from justice to grace. We move from the death that this world offers to the eternal life that Jesus offers. You hear that line: the worst thing in heaven is better than the greatest thing on earth. And if we are living in death, living in the midst of our sin and struggle – that’s a bummer! Because the best we can do in this life will still not be good enough. The most fame and glory and money and splendor the world can offer – doesn’t even scratch the surface of what heaven can offer you. But if you accept the salvation that Jesus gives to you. If you repent and accept the forgiveness Jesus is offering, the line becomes an unending source of hope. The worst thing in heaven is better than the greatest thing on earth. And I can’t wait for that.
It keeps going in verse 33 and Jesus has to take a second and complain. He says, I can’t win with you people. [read v.33-34]. John the Baptist doesn’t eat bread or drink wine and you complain about that. The Son of Man, that’s Jesus, comes and does the opposite – he eats bread and drinks wine – and you complain about that too! Kind of makes me think your complaining about bread and wine is not really about bread and wine. What we are witnessing here is Jesus’ frustration with people who give one reason in order to hide their true feelings. You ever have someone like that in your life? It’s kind of like how we tell ourselves – well the house isn’t clean or that projects not done or whatever because I never have time. But then we all got locked down from Corona, and we had all the time in the world and guess what? Time was not the reason. Or maybe someone says, I don’t pray or read the bible, or go to church because I don’t like the time slot, or I don’t like the music, or I’m too busy. But then we got locked down, and every church in the country went digital – you can watch church with any type of music you want, at any time – and yet still, somehow still we’re too busy for God. Jesus finishes up with this line, [read v.35.] Another way to say that might be, focus on the fruits. Focus on the results of your life, your decisions. Wisdom will be vindicated by her children. What is the result of life without God? What is the result of life with God? The second chunk of the chapter is basically just trying to figure out who this Jesus guy is – the guy who brings people from death to life.
The last section of the chapter is one final story. Actually, it’s the same story as the first part of the chapter. It’s a story of moving from death to life – but this time it’s not literal death or disease, it’s a different type of death. It begins [read v36-39]. It’s a familiar story, the woman with the alabastar jar, you may have heard it 100 times before. But every time I hear it, it makes me uncomfortable. Just picture this, someone on the floor behind you, crying and wiping the tears on your feet. You’ve got sandals on, and so she’s touching your toes and wiping them off with her hair. It’s incredibly intimate, and depending on the toes – gross. Deeply humbling for this woman to do this. I’m not sure the cultural expectations of hair on feet etiquette, but yikes. Now the Pharisee doesn’t seem to be bothered by the tears and the toes – but he’s over there clutching his pearls because this woman is a sinner. She’s one of the bad people, she shouldn’t be touching him. It doesn’t come right out and say it, but a lot of scholars assume that her sin, whatever it was, might have been sexual in nature. The pharisee views her as unclean. Jesus can obviously see what’s going on, so he tells Simon, the Pharisee, a story. [read v.41-43]. Two fellows are in debt, one ten times as much as the other. The creditor cancels both debts. Obviously the one who owes more, would be more grateful. It’s pretty straightforward. [read v.44-46]. So here we get a peak into the cultural norms. You didn’t give me water to wash my feet (so apparently washing feet is normal). You didn’t give me a kiss (so apparently a kiss of greeting is normal). And you didn’t anoint my head with oil (so apparently oil on the head is normal). You didn’t do any of this stuff for me, but she went above and beyond. And then here’s the kicker [read v.47]. You see, our awareness of our sins, affects our response to grace. Our humility, knowing that we are sinners, like the tax collectors, “acknowledging the justice of God”, like this woman weeping at the feet of God, she knew her sin – knowing that we don’t deserve heaven, affects our response to grace. I mean, think about it – you run up to somebody sitting on the beach and you throw a life ring around them and drag them up the beach – they’re not going to say thank you. But if someone is drowning in the ocean, and you throw a life ring around them and drag them to safety – it’s different. Problem in our culture is so many people think they’re just sitting on the beach doing just fine, but in reality they are drowning. [pause] Are you drowning?
The good news this morning is that Jesus brings death to life. For the centurion, he healed his slave. Never even made it to his house, he simply made it so. For the dead man, Jesus brought him back to life, gave him back to his mother – saved two lives with that one. With the tears and toes sinful woman – she wasn’t sick, she wasn’t dying or dead – but he saved her life just as much as those other people. Do you see that? Jesus brings death to life, and not all death is physical. Spiritual, sexual, emotional, mental – there’s a lot of different types of death in our world. What was that line from Spurgeon? There are dungeons beneath the castles of despair. And to you who are shackled to the wall of despair, living in death, finding no way out – this is the good news I have for you this morning. Jesus brings death to life.
So put your faith in Jesus. Jesus has all authority in heaven and on earth. Jesus is the son of God, savior of the world. He is stronger than every single thing you have ever faced in this life. He is enough, he is more than enough. Check the scoreboard. Do you have something that blinds you in this life? With Jesus the blind receive their sight. Do you have something that keeps you from walking? Because with Jesus the lame will walk again. Do you have something that keeps you from hearing? Can you hear your neighbor? Can you hear God’s voice? Because with Jesus the deaf will hear. Do you have poverty in your life? Poverty in your bank account, or poverty in your heart? Because with Jesus the poor have good news brought to them. Jesus brings life to what is dead. So put your faith in Jesus.
Two quick applications and then we’re done. First, acknowledge the justice of God. The power of faith comes from the humility with which we pursue it. When we are honest about the death that has a grip on our life, we are more eager to step into the fresh life that Jesus offers us. See the American Church is crippled with the disease of apathy. Most churches have stalled or even declined because they have no sense of urgency – they take Jesus’ grace completely for granted. Like that Pharisee who entertained Jesus, he didn’t do ANYTHING for the son of God and savior of the world who was standing right in front of him. Because he felt like he was doing just fine in life. If you can’t remember why you need a savior, then you’ll never figure out why you should worship him, or follow him, or even slightly inconvenience yourself for him. But if you acknowledge the justice of God. If you remember your sin, remember the shackles you were carrying and remember how Jesus has set you free – that humility is the catalyst that transforms lives. Acknowledge the justice of God, it will led incredible power to your faith.
First, acknowledge the justice of God, and then second – let him bring you back to life. Whatever you got going on, put your faith in Jesus. This year is a proving ground for a lot of people. This year has tested our mettle, it has strained our resolve. 2020 was an unwanted surprise assessment of our foundation – the very ground we are standing on. And for some of us, that ground is slipping away. So now is the time, now is your chance – put your trust in Jesus, in him and him alone. Let Jesus bring you back from the death this world offers. There’s an old story about dead faith. It says, Dead faith is the kind of faith that would lead a man to take a bottle of medicine from his medicine cabinet. The man looks at the instructions on it, and he says, “I’m sure they are correct. I have all confidence in the source of the medicine. I know who wrote these directions, and I believe everything about it. I know this medicine will relieve my headache if I just take it. But then the man takes the medicine bottle and puts it back on the shelf. He doesn’t lose his headache. It continues on. He can say it with his lips all he wants, “I believe that medicine, I know all about that medicine – but if he does not take the medicine, the headache will remain. That’s dead faith. But today I challenge each and every one of you. Put your faith in Jesus, let him bring you back to life. Actually take the medicine we’ve been talking about for years. You can say it with your lips all you want, but if you don’t let Jesus into your heart, so he can get to work on your soul – the headache of life will never go away.
Charles Spurgeon was the Prince of Preachers, and yet his low days were some of the lowest you could have. There are dungeons beneath the castles of despair. Some have lived there for a long time, but only recently discovered the shackles. We had so many flashing lights and distractions we didn’t notice we were slaves to death. But when the light bulbs burn out and the distractions are removed because the world’s suddenly in lock-down – we can finally see the walls for the prison they are. The world has nothing more to offer us than death. But Jesus brings death to life. And so I’ll leave you with this, May you acknowledge the justice of God – remember the death we come from. May you put your faith in Jesus – accept the life he gives us. May you let Jesus overcome every struggle you face, because he is the one with authority. Amen.
 Dr Harlan Roper, Tape On James, Dallas, Texas, James 2:20