The Kansas City Star ~ November 17, 2019 ~ Luke 7:18-22
Jesus and His disciples have left the town of Capernaum. They have walked about thirty miles south southwest to the village of Nain. The average person walks between three and four miles per hour, and that’s on smooth ground. So, when you think of the ground that Jesus and His disciples were traversing, it’s probably close to the three miles range, if not slower. So, thirty miles takes ten to twelve hours. So, they had just walked ten to twelve hours from Capernaum to Nain. When they got there, something pretty amazing happened (in verse 11). A large crowd followed them.
A funeral procession was coming out as he approached the village gate. The young man who had died was a widow’s only son, and a large crowd from the village was with her. When the Lord saw her, his heart overflowed with compassion. “Don’t cry!” he said. Then he walked over to the coffin and touched it, and the bearers stopped. “Young man,” he said, “I tell you, get up.” Then the dead boy sat up and began to talk! And Jesus gave him back to his mother.
I always wondered what he might have said. “I was dead, now I’m alive,” wow.
Great fear swept the crowd, and they praised God,
saying, “A mighty prophet has risen among us,” and “God has visited his people
today.” And the news about Jesus spread throughout Judea and the surrounding
That’s what people had just witnessed in the village of Nain, and it had quite an impression on folks, including some disciples of John the Baptist, which is where we’re going to pick up our story in verse 18. Please join me in the unison prayer as we prepare to study the Word of God. Let us pray.
Lord, upon the pages of this book is Your story. It is also our story. Open our eyes that we may see, our ears that we may hear, our minds that we may understand, and our hearts that they may be transformed. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
The disciples of John the Baptist told John about everything Jesus was doing. So John called for two of his disciples, and he sent them to the Lord to ask him, “Are you the Messiah we’ve been expecting, or should we keep looking for someone else?”
John’s two disciples found Jesus and said to him, “John the Baptist sent us to ask, ‘Are you the Messiah we’ve been expecting, or should we keep looking for someone else?’”
At that very time, Jesus cured many people of their
diseases, illnesses, and evil spirits, and he restored sight to many who were
blind. The he told John’s disciples, “God back to John and tell him what you
have seen and heard – the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cured, the
deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is being preached to
Now, Jesus mentioned those things specifically because all of those things were prophesied in the Old Testament as things that the Messiah would do. So, after witnessing this raising from the dead of the widow’s son, even the disciples of John the Baptist are a little rattled.
See, up until this point, John the Baptists was probably the most well-known preacher of the day. He was drawing some pretty significant crowds himself. Many people thought he was the long-awaited Messiah. John clearly said, “No. I am not. I am merely a voice shouting in the wilderness.” However, after hearing what happened in Nain with the widow’s son, he sends two of his disciples to check it out. And Jesus, as you heard, is asked a direct question. “Are you the Messiah we have been expecting, or should we keep looking for someone else?” Is it You?
Why do you think He does not give a direct answer? He could have. He could have easily said, “Yes. I am. It’s me.” In fact, there are several times in Scripture when He could have revealed who He was, but He doesn’t. Why?
Well, let me answer that by way of telling you a story. I have some very dear friends of mine, Doug and Susan Johnson. I’ve known Doug and Sue for forty years (Renee’s known them longer). We went to high school with them. We were all Triton Vikings! They are a part of the camping crew that I frequently talk about. I was Uncle Adam to their two sons, Taylor and Connor, as they were growing up. Even though we don’t get to see Doug and Sue with any sort of regularity anymore, they will always be precious to me. Susan, when I was growing up, was also one of only two people I knew who were adopted. That just wasn’t the reality in my growing up (at least it wasn’t known). But we knew, Sue knew. And I remember, when she was entering her teen years, Sue became curious about who her real parents were, which I suppose is totally understandable. Her adoptive parents, who we know and were great, completely supported Sue’s search. If that’s what she wanted to do, they’d be more than happy to help. But Sue wrestled with it. She went back and forth wasn’t sure. And then eventually, she decided when asked, no. She decided no, she wasn’t going to find out. When asked, Sue said, “You know what? My mother and father have been there for me. They have fed me, they have clothed me, they have put a roof over my head, they have loved and supported me every day of my life. They are my real parents, because that’s what real parents do.” You see, Mr. and Mrs. Ross, through their actions, showed Sue who they were. They didn’t have to be asked. They just showed.
The amazing thing about that story is that I had an older member of our congregation, at the end of the first service, come up to me afterwards and say, “That’s my story too.” I said, “I didn’t know you were adopted!” and she said, “No, you didn’t.” This lady is in her nineties, and she went through the exact same thing. She was curious, and then she said, “Nope, I know my real parents.” It was amazing.
Anyway, Sue’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. Ross showed Sue who they were through their actions. Jesus talks about that a little bit in Matthew 12. He was speaking to a crowd, and His mother and His brothers, James and others were standing outside and wanted to speak to Him. In verse 47:
Someone told Jesus, “Your mother and your brothers are outside, and they want to speak to you.”
Jesus asked, “Who is my mother? Who are my
brothers?” Then he pointed to his disciples and said, “Look, these are my
mother and brothers. Anyone who does the will of my Father in heaven is my
brother and sister and mother!”
This is why we call ourselves brothers and sisters in Christ. Even though we don’t share blood, we consider ourselves brothers and sister because we have shown each other we are worthy of that title. If we do the will of our Father in heaven, we are a brother or a sister in Christ.
Jesus was answering the disciples’ question that way, wasn’t He? He made the blind see. He made the lame walk. He made the deaf hear. The dead were raised to life again. He cured lepers and He preached to the poor – all things that were prophesied in the Old Testament. So, He’s basically saying who Jesus is, is a question y’all have to answer for yourselves! That is a question we have to answer for ourselves. We have 39 Old Testament books containing hundreds of prophesies about the coming Messiah (all of which Jesus fulfill). We have 27 New Testament books that tell us about all these amazing things that Jesus did. On top of that, Jesus has done something in your life, I know He has. I know it. I said a couple weeks ago, and I stand by my statement, I have yet to meet a Christian who does not have a miracle story to share. Something that has happened in your life, or in the life of someone that you love. I hear it all the time. “I’m telling you, pastor, I don’t understand it. That car, that truck should have hit us.” “She never should have walked away from that accident.” “She was on death’s door in ICU and she came back.” Again, and again and again I hear people share with me examples of Christ working in their lives. But, whether it’s 39 books of the Old Testament pointing to Jesus as the Messiah, whether it’s all the firsthand eyewitness accounts from the New Testament – doesn’t’ matter. In the end, Jesus leaves it up to us to decide who He is. That’s why He doesn’t give a direct answer. God wants you and I to decide for ourselves.
That’s a step of faith that we each need to take on our own. I promise you, if you do choose to believe, you will not be disappointed.
But with all that said, honestly the funny thing is that is really not where I was going this morning. I assume all of you already have chosen, or you wouldn’t be here. I mean, this is an awfully strange place to come on a Sunday morning if you haven’t already decided that Jesus is Lord. Maybe you heard about the free ice cream, I don’t know. But I’m guessing the majority of you… if you are seeking, if you haven’t yet made that final decision, I encourage you to do so. Continue coming, continue listening, and the Holy Spirit will speak to your heart. He will convict you of the truth that Jesus is Lord.
Anyway, that wasn’t what I was planning on talking about. What struck me this morning was not a question asked – “Are you the Messiah?” – so much as it was a question that was not asked. In verse 22, I read Jesus said, “Go back to John and tell him what you have seen and heard – the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life…” What question did you not hear? He never asks, how did that person become blind? How did that person become lame? Why is that person poor? Did you think to ask that question? My guess is not. You know, for the longest time, it never went through my mind either, until a week ago when I was writing this message. For some reason the Holy Spirit said to me, how come nobody ever asks that question?
What if (Michael and I can identify with this), what if somebody was diabetic, and they are told how they are supposed to eat or not eat, and how they are supposed to exercise or not exercise, and how they are supposed to take care of their body, and they totally disregard any of that! They don’t take their medicine, they just live their life however they want; and because of their attitude and their decisions, they end up going blind? That is a common symptom of diabetes. What if the person who was lame was lame because they had one too many to drink, and had an accident, and now they’re a paraplegic, having to function in a wheelchair? What if the reason this person was poor is because when they were fifteen, they decided it was a good idea to quit school? “I’m done, I’m out of here.” And never went back and finished. And then they got mixed up in some bad people in their neighborhood, got involved in a gang, got arrested three or four times – now they’re looking for a decent job without a high school education, with a record. Do you know how hard it is to find a job? You are condemning yourself to a lifetime of poverty, pretty much.
Does any of that matter? It certainly didn’t to Jesus. People came to Him and He healed them, simple as that. No questions asked. That’s how He loves. That’s what unconditionally means. And as Christ followers, that’s how we’re supposed to love too, though it’s not always the case. In fact, something else I remember about my time in high school. There was, around the time I graduated in 1981, a health pandemic that broke out on the west coast of the United States. People were dying in record numbers, and no one knew what was happening. We didn’t even have a name for it until 1984, when we knew it as Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome: AIDS. Now, those of you younger people who were born after 1984, you may have a different understanding of the AIDS virus, because you were born at a time when there was treatment, when there was hope; but when it first came out, we were scared! We had thoughts of the Black Death, the plague that killed 200 million people in Europe in the 14th century. We didn’t know what caused it; we didn’t know how you caught it; we were scared. I remember when Magic Johnson came out and said he was HIV positive. There were other NBA players who would not step onto the court and play the game if he was going to play, because they didn’t know. They didn’t want to catch it. Eventually, it was determined that one contracted the illness primarily in one way: the exchange of bodily fluids. This was done primarily in two ways: through intercourse or through sharing dirty needles with drug use. So, unless you were having unprotected sex with someone other than your spouse or sharing dirty needles in a drug habit, then you were pretty much safe. And we’ve made great progress since 1984, praise God. HIV/AIDS is no longer a guaranteed death sentence.
Imagine my surprise, however. The year was 2000 when I was reading a series of articles in the newspaper the Kansas City Star. In the Kansas City Star, there was this series about my brothers and sisters in Christ in the Roman Catholic tradition who were dealing with priests who had contracted AIDS. Now, my first response was, wait a minute – you get AIDS primarily through unprotected sex and sharing needles in drug use. Certainly pastors, whether Protestant or Catholic, should not be IV drug users. But above and beyond that, priests take a vow of celibacy. So, they’re not supposed to be having sex with anyone, unprotected or otherwise. Now, I am a former Roman Catholic, so I am quite familiar with the church’s position on both marriage and homosexuality. And I wondered – how are they going to respond to priests with AIDS?
I am ashamed to admit I was greatly surprised. They welcomed them. They welcomed them in health facilities; they welcomed them in hospices when that was necessary. They welcomed them and they cared for them. No one was turned away. No one was asked how or when they contracted the illness. It was absolutely Christ-like. And I had to get on my knees, and I had to ask God for forgiveness. I should never have doubted my Catholic brothers and sisters so quickly. I assumed how they would act; they completely blew me away.
This is how Jesus loves: unconditionally. How this person lost their sight, how they became lame, or why they’re poor, or how they got AIDS doesn’t matter. It certainly didn’t to Jesus. People came to Him and He healed them, simple as that.
When people are in crisis, when someone is in crisis, in need of comfort and care, we don’t ask why they’re in the situation that they’re in. We respond with comfort and care. It’s as simple as that. That’s what Christ followers do.
Now, please understand that does not mean we give money to every person who rings the buzzer at the door and asks for it. No. Because helping them purchase their next hit of heroin or their next bottle of Jack is neither comfort nor care. But walking up to Dunkin Donuts with them, getting them something to eat, or a cup of coffee, or talking with them. Or listening to them. Treating them like a human being, praying with them without asking why they are in the situation they are in. That is comfort and care. And that’s what a Christ follower would do.
Too often, I think, I make mention of that fact that this world can sometimes be a dark place. We expect it to be. We are inherently cynical. For instance, I’ve used this before and I’m going to use it again, because I know it’s going to work. Moms, dads, or former moms and dads with grown children – when you come home one day and all of a sudden, all of the dishes in the sink are washed, dried, and put away, and the trash is emptied and taken out to the dumpster, what is the first thing that comes to your mind? It’s either, what did they do wrong? Or what do they want? Right? We’re programmed to think that nobody does something for nothing. So, when someone is in need, and you help them without asking why, you just help them, understandably, they will often ask you, “Why did you do that?”
You see, you, me, Christians can make Jesus real for people; and in the process, just like with John’s two disciples, often help answer that big question for them: Who is this Jesus guy? Look, I know that very few Christians are comfortable doing evangelism. I know, I am one of them. I push myself to get out there on the street, to ask people about their faith, to hand out Bible tracks, to talk about the Lord – it is not easy. I get it. Even though Jesus clearly commands us to – He doesn’t suggest, He doesn’t say, “You know, if you have some extra time, and you’re king of feeling like it, I hope you would think about possibly…” No. He says, “Go and make disciples of all the nations.” Even so, 80% of Christians never do that.
Well, look, one of the most powerful ways to share the gospel is to love unconditionally. Can we do that? I hope so! I hope we can do that. So, ease into it. Try it at first with family or friends. Hey, let’s be honest – sometimes they’re the people it’s hardest to be loving unconditionally towards, right? Friends and family? Try it. Before you know it, you’ll be doing random acts of kindness without even thinking about it. It will be second nature to you. I know. People will be so confused… at first. However, confusion could soon be followed by conversion. Transformation. And that is, after all, the whole point, is it not?
So, here’s your assignment for the week. You’re getting ice cream; you’re also getting homework! I want you to confuse someone this week. Love them unconditionally, and then sit back and enjoy their response. Try it, it’s fun! And it might make a big difference in their lives. Besides, that’s what Christ followers are supposed to do. Would you stand and pray with me?