The Gospel of Luke - Part 25: Struggling Faith (continued) - 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 finished the study of the Centurion who exhibited strong faith by sending a delegation of Jewish Elders to Jesus to ask for healing for his servant, and then about the widow who had a son who had died, but Jesus brought him back to life.

I had a couple of “take-aways” from last week:

1. Jesus had compassion for people who were hurting, and we as his disciples should have too. Compassion is not just feeling sorry for someone, it includes doing what we can to alleviate their pain and suffering.

2. When we accepted Jesus as our Savior, we got a checkbook full of blank checks, signed by God. All we have to do to cash them for his promises is to have faith in Jesus to do what he has offered and promised.
Then we changed the tone of the teaching that Luke gives us. He changed from the two stories of strong faith of the Centurion and the widow to a surprising story of struggling faith, that of John the Baptist. Remember that Luke 7 can be broken down into three parts.

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)

The Centurion and the widow were the examples of strong faith. John is the struggler.

Last week we spent time rebuilding our memory about John and all the reasons that we would expect him to have strong faith. After all, he is the one who baptized Jesus and saw the dove come down and heard God say, "This is my Son in whom I am well pleased".

But we learned that John was in prison, about to be killed. He started to have some questions, perhaps some doubts about just who Jesus was. His personal situation affected his confidence. He had been in the light, but now he was in the dark, emotionally. Remember the quote:

"Don’t doubt in the dark what God showed you in the light."  John started to wonder, doubt.

Here is what Luke told us, leading up to where we start today. Luke had just told us what happened after the two healings.

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 7:16-17
Then we learned that:
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?” When the men came to Him, they said, “John the Baptist has sent us to You, to ask, ‘Are You the Expected One, or do we look for someone else?’ ” —Luke 18-20
That is where we stopped last week. So let’s pick up with Luke’s record of the response by Jesus.

Jesus' Response:

At that very time He cured many people of diseases and afflictions and evil spirits; and He gave sight to many who were blind. And He answered and said to them, “Go and report to John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have the gospel preached to them.  Blessed is he who does not take offense at Me.” —Luke 7:21-23
Notice how Jesus answered the question.  "My actions answer the question.  Don’t worry."

What do you think we can learn here about how to gain strength when our faith is struggling?  How does Jesus respond to John's doubts? Well, He doesn't rebuke and condemn him.

  1. First, He points John to the witness of Jesus' miraculous works — the blind regaining their sight, the sick being healed and so on. Jesus' miracles should convince us that He is who He claimed to be:
    But if I do them, though you do not believe Me, believe the works, so that you may know and understand that the Father is in Me, and I in the Father. —John 10:38

    Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me; otherwise believe because of the works themselves. —John 14:11
  2. Then, He points John to God's Word, to the Messianic prophecy in Isaiah 61:1-2 that Jesus had read at the inauguration of His ministry in Luke 4:17-19. Faith focuses on the God's Word and not on circumstances.
    And the book of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Him. And He opened the book and found the place where it was written,

    “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,
       Because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor.
    He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives,
       And recovery of sight to the blind,
    To set free those who are oppressed,
        To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.” —Luke 4:17-19
    Isaiah says:
    The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
        Because the Lord has anointed me
        To bring good news to the afflicted;
    He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
        To proclaim liberty to captives
        And freedom to prisoners;
    To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord
        And the day of vengeance of our God;
        To comfort all who mourn. —Isaiah 61:1-2
  3. Thirdly, He gently warns John not to take offense. Not to be turned off.
    And blessed is he, whosoever shall find no occasion of stumbling in me. —Luke 7:23 [ASV]

    Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me. —Luke 7:23 [NIV]

    And blessed (happy—with life-joy and satisfaction in God’s favor and salvation, apart from outward conditions—and to be envied) is he who takes no offense in Me and who is not hurt or resentful or annoyed or repelled or made to stumble [whatever may occur]. —Luke 7:23 [Amplified]
John needs to hold on to what He knows from the Scriptures and from Jesus' own ministry.

Oswald Chambers, author of the devotional classic My Utmost for His Highest, wrote,

“Doubt is not always a sign that a man is wrong; it may be a sign that he is thinking.”

Doubt usually comes when circumstances appear to contradict what we believe God has promised. This was probably John’s struggle. As mentioned last week, John was probably wrestling with the fact that Jesus wasn’t turning out to be the kind of Messiah that John had expected.

When we go through circumstances we don't understand, we need to focus on Jesus, His character — His sovereignty, His love, His wisdom, His compassion and His Word which give us His promises, His guidance.

Faith means trusting God when life doesn't make sense; when things don't turn out the way we expect.

Who is among you that fears the Lord, That obeys the voice of His servant, That walks in darkness and has no light? Let him trust in the name of the Lord and rely on his God. —Isaiah 50:10
Back in Luke, Jesus then commends John:
When the messengers of John had left, He began to speak to the crowds about John, “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? But what did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Those who are splendidly clothed and live in luxury are found in royal palaces! But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I say to you, and one who is more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written, ‘Behold, I send My messenger ahead of You, Who will prepare Your way before You.’ I say to you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John; yet he who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” When all the people and the tax collectors heard this, they acknowledged God’s justice, having been baptized with the baptism of John. But the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected God’s purpose for themselves, not having been baptized by John. —Luke 7:24-30
Let’s look at some things Jesus tells us about John the Baptist in these verses. Jesus now defends and affirms John's ministry and rebukes those who have disregarded John's message: Back to Luke Chapter 7, Luke quotes Jesus as saying:
I say to you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John;  yet he who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” —Luke 7:28
A. T. Richardson in "Word Pictures in the New Testament" explains this verse:
“Jesus surely means that John is greater than all others in character, but that the least in the kingdom of heaven surpasses him in privilege.”
As great a man of God as John is, it's still greater to be clothed in the righteousness of Christ as a child of God.

Then Luke tells us:

When all the people and the tax collectors heard this, they acknowledged God’s justice. —Luke 7:29
The NIV says:
All the people, even the tax collectors, when they heard Jesus’ words, acknowledged that God’s way was right. —Luke 7:29
How people responded to John determined how people responded to Jesus. Those who had acknowledged their sin and need to repent also recognized their need for a Savior. But those who refused to acknowledge their sin also refused to accept their Savior.
But the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected God’s purpose for themselves. —Luke 7:30
It's tragic that the most religious people were the most resistant to John and Jesus. I like the way this is phrased — they “rejected God's purpose for themselves”. They thwarted God's purpose only in their own lives.

Whose purposes are you living for — God’s, the world's, your own?

The Pharisees are a graphic reminder that people can be religious and still not committed to God's purposes. You can go to church, teach a Bible Study class, be a deacon and still be rejecting God's purposes for your life and living for yourself.

Whose will, whose purposes direct your choices, your values, your finances, your use of time?

Then Luke tells us that Jesus condemns the leaders:

To what then shall I compare the men of this generation, and what are they like? They are like children who sit in the market place and call to one another, and they say, “We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not weep.” For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, “He has a demon!” The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, “Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!” Yet wisdom is vindicated by all her children. —Luke7:31-35

The world wants us to dance to its tune. Romans 12:2 warns,

Don't let the world squeeze you into its own mold, but let God remold your minds from within. —Romans 12:2 [Phillips]
Jesus says:
They are like children...calling out to each other... —Luke 7:32
Jesus compared the people, probably referring especially to the religious leaders, to children who would apparently cry out to kids who wouldn’t join in the games.
For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, “He has a demon!” The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, “Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!” —John 7:33-34
Both John and Jesus were a disappointment to the religious people. John was too fanatical about sin and Jesus was too “worldly”. Both Jesus and John focused on God and His Word rather than on accepted religious tradition and practices.

Whose lifestyle was more godly? John, who was uncompromising in condemning sin and striving for holiness — or Jesus, who freely associated with sinners? The answer is “Yes!”. Both lived according to the lifestyle God planned for them.

Paul says:

The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. —Romans 14:22
It is possible for two Christians to be led by God to different convictions concerning the same issue. Hopefully they won't be married to each other!  In Romans 14:22-23, the issue Christians were wrestling with was whether or not it was okay for believers to purchase and eat meat that had been used in pagan sacrifices. Today, the issue might be drinking or something else. The key is that each of us must get our conviction from God — according to His Word and His purposes — and not just choose according to religious tradition or personal preferences.

Can you think of issues where Christians might differ in their personal conviction?

What do you think are some keys to developing right convictions on issues not specifically mentioned in Scripture? The Pharisees condemned Jesus for being a “friend of sinners”. They believed that the devout should avoid all contact with the ungodly. But if we follow that line of thinking, we also eliminate our ability to be “salt” and “light”.
You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven. —Matthew 5:14-16
Jesus freely associated with irreligious people, as we saw in Luke 5:27-38, where Matthew (Levi) invites Jesus to a party to meet all his irreligious friends and co-workers.
After that He went out and noticed a tax collector named Levi sitting in the tax booth, and He said to him, “Follow Me.” And he left everything behind, and got up and began to follow Him. And Levi gave a big reception for Him in his house; and there was a great crowd of tax collectors and other people who were reclining at the table with them. The Pharisees and their scribes began grumbling at His disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with the tax collectors and sinners?” And Jesus answered and said to them, “It is not those who are well who need a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” And they said to Him, “The disciples of John often fast and offer prayers, the disciples of the Pharisees also do the same, but Yours eat and drink.” And Jesus said to them, “You cannot make the attendants of the bridegroom fast while the bridegroom is with them, can you? But the days will come; and when the bridegroom is taken away from them, then they will fast in those days.” And He was also telling them a parable: “No one tears a piece of cloth from a new garment and puts it on an old garment; otherwise he will both tear the new, and the piece from the new will not match the old. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the new wine will burst the skins and it will be spilled out, and the skins will be ruined. But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins. —Luke 5:27-38
Mark Mittleberg, the evangelism leader for the Willow Creek Association writes in his book, Becoming A Contagious Christian,

"You can't be a contagious Christian without getting close enough to other people to let them catch the 'disease'! This is where the whole enterprise is won or lost, at the actual point of contact. As I said earlier, friends listen to friends. So become one. [Become friends, real friends, with non-Christians.] If we don't start there, we can't effectively get anywhere."

Are you a true friend of sinners (irreligious people)?  Who are you praying for on a regular basis?  What are you doing to connect with and build relationships with non-Christians in your neighborhood and your workplace?  How long has it been since you had non-Christians in your home?  Why do you think so few Christians are “friends of sinners” the way that Jesus was?  Embarrassed about the Christian belief? Makes the unsaved uncomfortable? Makes the believer uncomfortable? Don’t want to endorse the life style of the other?

Evangelism isn’t an activity you need to add to your schedule. If you’re like most of us, you’re probably already too busy. Instead, evangelism is a dimension we add to our lives. Jesus wants to use you in your existing relational networks — your family, neighbors, co-workers, acquaintances through your family activities, etc.

What might be some things we can learn from Jesus as to how to be an effective “friend of sinners”?  Love them without endorsing the life style.

Dr. Bob Smith, a godly professor at Bethel College in St. Paul, Minnesota, made a casual comment that has made a permanent mark on many. He had just returned from two years of teaching in the Middle East and his mind was filled with fresh experiences of involvement with Muslims. He described how the people grasped at whatever display of personal interest or friendliness he would show them. Then he said, "You know, ninety percent of evangelism is love."

We broke Luke 7 into the following 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)

This lesson completes A. Strong Faith and B. Struggling faith.

Next week we will deal with C. Saving Faith.

Re-read Luke 7 to be ready.