The Gospel of Luke - Part 24: Struggling Faith - Luke 7:18-35

(These notes are based on lesson notes prepared by Rob Mahon for connection class leaders at Hoffmantown Church.)


Last week, we just got started in Luke Chapter 7 which could be titled Keep the Faith! We found that faith and belief is a dominant theme of the New Testament, appearing over 450 times, even more than Love.

Remember that Hebrews tells us what faith is:

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. —Hebrews 11:1
We started looking at the examples of strong faith that Luke gives us, with the Centurion sending a delegation of Jewish elders to Jesus asking for his servant to be healed.
When He had completed all His discourse in the hearing of the people, He went to Capernaum. And a Centurion’s slave, who was highly regarded by him, was sick and about to die. When he heard about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders asking Him to come and save the life of his slave. When they came to Jesus, they earnestly implored Him, saying, “He is worthy for You to grant this to him; for he loves our nation and it was he who built us our synagogue.” Now Jesus started on His way with them; and when He was not far from the house, the Centurion sent friends, saying to Him, “Lord, do not trouble Yourself further, for I am not worthy for You to come under my roof; for this reason I did not even consider myself worthy to come to You, but just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I also am a man placed under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to this one, ‘Go!’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come!’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this!’ and he does it.” Now when Jesus heard this, He marveled at him, and turned and said to the crowd that was following Him, “I say to you, not even in Israel have I found such great faith.” When those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave in good health. —Luke 7:1-10
We learned that Capernaum was a significant city at the north end of the Sea of Galilee and in fact was the home town of Jesus during his ministry, but that the people of his home town did not accept him as the Messiah, even though he did miracles there. Then we saw that the Centurion, although a powerful man as a leader in the Roman army, was in fact humble and admitted that he was not worthy to ask for help from Jesus. I was fascinated by the fact that the Centurion believed that Jesus could heal his servant, something that apparently many of the locals did not share. We ended with a discussion about how humble people become when they start to realize who Jesus really is. The Centurion was humble. We even read the passage where Peter was humble and said he was not worthy, when he came up against the power of Jesus. Jesus said that the faith of this Centurion was greater than anything He had seen among the Jews
Now when Jesus heard this, He marveled at him, and turned and said to the crowd that was following Him, “I say to you, not even in Israel have I found such great faith.” —Luke 7:9
I wonder how His disciples felt about that!. Here again we see that Jesus looks at the heart.
But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” —1 Samuel 16:7
Because Luke has a Gentile audience in mind, he emphasizes things that Jesus said and did that related to Gentiles. Remember what Jesus said in Nazareth in Luke 4:23-27 that nearly got Him killed:
And He said to them, “No doubt you will quote this proverb to Me, ‘Physician, heal yourself! Whatever we heard was done at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well.’” And He said, “Truly I say to you, no prophet is welcome in his hometown. But I say to you in truth, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the sky was shut up for three years and six months, when a great famine came over all the land; and yet Elijah was sent to none of them, but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet; and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” And all the people in the synagogue were filled with rage as they heard these things; and they got up and drove Him out of the city, and led Him to the brow of the hill on which their city had been built, in order to throw Him down the cliff. —Luke 4:23-29
God doesn't care whether we are Jew or Gentile, man or woman, rich or poor, Baptist or Catholic. He doesn't care how popular we are, how good-looking we are, how successful we are. He cares about our heart — our faith, to what extent we believe in Him.

Paul tells us:

...yet, with respect to the promise of God, he [Abraham] did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully assured that what God had promised, He was able also to perform. —Romans 4:20-21
How do we grow in faith?

One way is by knowing and believing and using the promises of God. Remember the illustration of the Bible being like a book of signed checks? God's promises are like signed checks where we can write in our name by faith and “cash” them for whatever God has promised (peace, joy, protection, guidance, etc.). We strengthen our faith by anchoring it in God's Word.  What is a promise that you need to claim this week?

Last Week in our study on A. - Strong Faith, we got as far as: (1) - The Centurion;
Today we continue with: (2) - The Widow

Soon afterwards, He went to a city called Nain; and His disciples were going along with Him, accompanied by a large crowd. Now as He approached the gate of the city, a dead man was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow; and a sizeable crowd from the city was with her. When the Lord saw her, He felt compassion for her, and said to her, “Do not weep.” And He came up and touched the coffin; and the bearers came to a halt. And He said, “Young man, I say to you, arise!” The dead man sat up and began to speak. And Jesus gave him back to his mother. Fear gripped them all, and they began glorifying God, saying, “A great prophet has arisen among us!” and, “God has visited His people!” This report concerning Him went out all over Judea and in all the surrounding district. —Luke 7:11-17

Soon afterwards He went to a city called Nain —Luke 7:11
Nain is a town about 25 miles southwest of Capernaum. Jesus didn't just stay in one place and wait for people to come to Him. He traveled about to various towns and villages. When Jesus told us to “Go and make disciples” (Matthew 28:19), He's telling us to follow His example. Throughout His ministry, He took the initiative in reaching out to people and sharing with them.
When the Lord saw her, He felt compassion for her. —Luke 7:13
The Greek word used here is σπλαγχνιζομαι [splanknizomai] - don't even try to pronounce it! It is translated “to feel compassion” or “to be moved with compassion”. In the New Testament, this verb is found only in the Gospels and is always used of Jesus.
But a Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt compassion ... —Luke 10:33

So he got up and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. —Luke 15:20
Webster defines compassion as “sorrow for the sufferings or trouble of another, accompanied by an urge to help”. Compassion is much more than simply feeling sorry for someone. When Jesus felt compassion for someone, He did something about it. He did what He could to help. In this situation, no one asked Jesus to help. But Jesus saw this mother's pain and took the initiative.

It should be comforting to know that Jesus feels compassion for the hurts we go through in life. The devil tries to make us think that God is far removed from and untouched by our suffering. But that's a lie! Jesus' response here and other places show how much He cares about our pain.

Remember, our recent studies have told us that as Christians we are to become more and more like Him. Jesus expects us to have His compassion for people.

But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth. —1 John 3:17-18
As Christians, we should have a reputation for caring and helping.

Chuck Colson wrote that, when it comes to compassion:

"...the Christian church ... should be leading the way; for our Lord has already commanded us to care for the widows and orphans, to feed the hungry, visit the sick and imprisoned, and bear one another's burdens. And it is our great heritage. Up until this century, evangelicals pioneered schools, built the first hospitals, cleaned up work abuses in the coal mines, provided homes for the poor and orphans, to mention but a few."
Then Luke tells us:
Fear gripped them all, and they began glorifying God. —Luke7:16
This is the response we want to see when God uses us, isn't it? We want people to give God the glory and see God's heart to “help” people.

So we have looked at two examples of strong faith and the results: the Centurion and the widow.

B. - Struggling faith: Luke 7:18-35

Remember that Luke Chapter 7 can be broken down into three sections:

A.  Strong Faith(7:1-17)   (see also Matt. 8:5-13 and John 4:43-54)
B.  Struggling Faith  (7:18-35)   (see also Matt. 11:2-19)
C.  Saving Faith(7:36-50)

In 7:1-10, we saw great faith from a person we wouldn't expect - a Roman soldier. In 7:18-35, and just as surprising we see the struggles of faith also from an unexpected source - John the Baptist!

How many people do you know that are really committed to living by faith? Here’s one author’s description of the weak faith he sees.


Ken Follett is describing a character in his novel, "Triple":

He believed in Communism the way most people believe in God; he would not be greatly surprised or disappointed if he turned out to be wrong, and meanwhile it made little difference in the way he lived.
James tells us that faith that makes no difference in the way we live is dead (James 2:14-26).

But that quotation by Ken Follett certainly doesn’t describe John the Baptist. John had placed his faith in Jesus, but now he was struggling with his own doubts and questions.

Before we get into this passage, let’s remind ourselves about what we’re told about John the Baptist in the Scriptures

Luke tells us that John the Baptist asked a very surprising question.
The disciples of John reported to him about all these things. Summoning two of his disciples, John sent them to the Lord, saying, “Are You the Expected One, or do we look for someone else?” —Luke 7:18-19
This is a pretty strange question for John the Baptist to be asking. After all, John is the one who baptized Jesus and heard God speak from heaven.
Then Jesus arrived from Galilee at the Jordan coming to John, to be baptized by him. But John tried to prevent Him, saying, “I have need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?” But Jesus answering said to him, “Permit it at this time; for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he permitted Him. After being baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove and lighting on Him, and behold, a voice out of the heavens said, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.” —Matthew3:13-17
John declared Jesus to be the Lamb of God and the Son of God
The next day he saw Jesus coming to him and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is He on behalf of whom I said, ‘After me comes a Man who has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.’ I did not recognize Him, but so that He might be manifested to Israel, I came baptizing in water.” John testified saying, “I have seen the Spirit descending as a dove out of heaven, and He remained upon Him. I did not recognize Him, but He who sent me to baptize in water said to me, ‘He upon whom you see the Spirit descending and remaining upon Him, this is the One who baptizes in the Holy Spirit.’ I myself have seen, and have testified that this is the Son of God.” —John 1:29-34
So why is John, of all people, asking this question?

Matthew 11:2 tells us that John was in prison.

When John heard in prison what Christ was doing, he sent his disciples to ask him, "Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else? —Matthew 11:2
Herod has imprisoned him and will soon put Him to death.
Now Herod had arrested John and bound him and put him in prison because of Herodias, his brother Philip's wife, for John had been saying to him: "It is not lawful for you to have her". —Matthew 14:3-4
Isolated and alone, John is going through some pretty difficult circumstances. Maybe John is struggling with what he is going through — why is this happening to me? Why would Jesus let this happen to me?

Maybe, too, Jesus' ministry wasn’t turning out the way John expected. Maybe John was expecting more of a political kingdom — Jesus ascending David's throne and asserting His authority.   Verse 23 implies that at least part of John's struggle had to do with Jesus. In Jesus’ response to the delegation sent, Jesus says:

Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of Me. —Luke 7:23
So Jesus seems to know that John may not be pleased or satisfied with what he sees in Jesus.

I can sort of understand where John is coming from. There are times when circumstances haven't turned out the way I expected. We all are susceptible to focusing on our circumstances and expectations rather than on Jesus.

It’s important that we not confuse John’s doubt with unbelief. Doubt and unbelief are very different:

What would you say is the difference between doubt and unbelief?

John Ortberg says:

Doubt can be a good thing. I am skeptical of reports that Elvis is alive and well and working as a short-order cook at Taco Bell. I don't believe that aliens periodically land on earth and give rides to humans - why is it they never seem to land at MIT to give a ride to a physics professor? I wouldn't want to buy into every infomercial I see on television. But doubt is not always good. It can hinder our praying. It can trouble us when we see suffering we don't understand. It can tempt us to try to sound more certain than we really are.
What are some things that can cause people to doubt, that can challenge our faith?

You’ve probably heard the old saying, "Don’t doubt in the dark what God showed you in the light". When we are going through hard times, that’s when we need to cling to what we know about the character and promises of God.

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. —James 1:2-4
David Jeremiah says:
A matter worth pondering is the fact that the very first topic James discussed involved the difficulties encountered in the Christian life. Totally foreign to him was the curious modern notion that becoming a Christian will make life easier, that all problems will disappear, and that the prospect in this life for each believer is that he will live "happily ever after."
Next week: - we will continue the story with the answer that Jesus gave the delegation to take back to John the Baptist.