Jesus, the Lord of Hosts

(Luke 7.1-17)

Arnaud Weulassagou

This text fell on me kind of on accident, but it was a great pleasure to prepare it. In general to prepare a sermon, I reread the passage several times, and often, although I think I know the text, I discover (or rediscover) aspects of it I hadn’t seen before.

There is a pastor who said that any word which doesn’t directly or indirectly show the greatness of Jesus is a vain word.

I was very encouraged by this text because it helped me see just that: the greatness of Jesus. And I hope that in going through it together, you’ll also be able to feel his greatness more deeply.

I’ve entitled this message, “Jesus, the Lord of Hosts.”

As we’ve already seen going through this gospel, Luke wants his readers to see that Jesus is divine. We’ve seen that he was conceived by the Holy Spirit, that he was without sin. But we also saw two weeks ago that Jesus claimed for himself authority that belongs only to God. When he debated with the Pharisees about the Sabbath, he said to them, “The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath” (6.5). In saying this, Jesus was saying, “I am the one who wrote this Law… I am God.” As we often say, he’d have to be either God or crazy to say such a thing.

But anyone could say they’re God. Our reaction to such a claim would be to say, “Prove it.”

In today’s text, Jesus doesn’t simply say he’s God; he shows it by two quite particular miracles.

Which brings us to why I titled this message “Jesus, the Lord of Hosts.” 

I thought of Psalm 33, which says (v. 6, 9): By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and by the breath of his mouth all their host… For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm. Or in Psalm 46.6-7: The nations rage, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts. The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Many other passages in the Old Testament speak of “the Lord of hosts.” Often when the Bible uses this kind of military language, it is to show God’s authority and the reach of his power. For he spoke, and it came to be…

Today’s passage tells two stories in which we see Jesus speak, and the (improbable) thing he speaks comes to be. Immediately.

So first we’ll see a story which shows Jesus’s authority and power over physical elements (here, illness); next we'll see a second story in which Jesus shows his authority and power over life and over death. 

In seeing Jesus as the Lord of hosts, the first story gives us a surprising parallel, for it speaks of the interaction between Jesus and a soldier.

1) Jesus’s authority and power over physical elements (v. 1-10)

1 After he had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. 2 Now a centurion had a servant who was sick and at the point of death, who was highly valued by him. 3 When the centurion heard about Jesus, he sent to him elders of the Jews, asking him to come and heal his servant. 4 And when they came to Jesus, they pleaded with him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy to have you do this for him, 5 for he loves our nation, and he is the one who built us our synagogue.” 6 And Jesus went with them. When he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends, saying to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. 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.” 9 When Jesus heard these things, he marveled at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” 10 And when those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the servant well. 

So this story takes place in Capernaum, a neighboring town of the town where Jesus grew up (Nazareth), and where some of his disciples (Peter and Andrew) came from. Capernaum was also a town situated near the sea of Galilee, so it was home to much commercial activity.

This is one of the first cities in which Jesus began his ministry, both his teaching and his miracles. So his reputation had spread, and had reached a certain Roman centurion. A centurion was an officer of the Roman army who led a troop of 100 men. We know that when Jesus was alive, Israel was a Roman colony. We can see this all over the gospels—the political leaders were Romans, which explains the presence of Roman soldiers in the territory. They were there to maintain order and probably to quell thoughts of rebellion, because we know there were some Jewish nationalists who were violently opposed to the Roman occupation.

We can see why there would be hostility between the Jews and the Roman soldiers.

But this Roman centurion has a particular air about him.

First of all, he’s a friend of Jews. These Jews come to Jesus, and we see in verse 4 that they plead with Jesus to grant him what he asks. They remind him that this centurion loves the Jewish people; that he constructed their synagogue.

The second strange thing we see about this Roman centurion is why he has sent these Jews to find Jesus: to heal his slave who is about to die.

So this is a strange officer—he’s a good master, and apparently (v. 2) affectionately attached to his slave.

So the Jews come to find Jesus to bring him to the centurion. The Lord Kindly and simply follows, but while they are on the way the centurion sends someone to tell Jesus not to make the trouble of coming all the way to his home.

V. 6: 6 And Jesus went with them. When he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends, saying to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. 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.”

Something which helped me understand what the centurion is saying was the experience of a friend who stayed with me and my roommate for a few days. This friend was in the Air Force in Cameroon. The general of Cameroon's army sent certain soldiers to train in other countries, like France.

He said that for a pilot, every second counts. Everything moves very quickly, so there is a rule that while they are in the air, they must never ask questions of a superior officer. If an order is given, their reaction must be immediate. They are trained very early to follow their superiors’ directives as soon as they receive them.

In an army, the word of a superior officer drives the soldiers to action.

This is what the Roman centurion is saying to Jesus. There is no point in the Lord coming all the way to his home. He knows that Jesus only needs to speak, and the thing will be done.

Essentially, he’s saying, “I know my own power over those under my authority. But Jesus, all of nature is under your authority. Your word is law over everything that exists. If you say something, it will happen; you don’t need to see my slave; just say the word and he will be healed.”

The question I ask myself while reading that is, How could he know that? He’s not Jewish; he’s not educated in the Torah.

But in v. 9-10, we see the Lord’s reaction. Jesus doesn’t tell him he’s wrong; he admires the officer. He says, “not even in Israel have I found such faith.” Since the Lord began his ministry, no one had understood who he was better than this Roman soldier.

And of course, when the Jews arrive at the centurion’s home they find the slave healed.

The second story is just as miraculous, if not more… Jesus is on his way somewhere, and he performs a miracle no one asks of him.

2) Jesus’s authority and power over life and death (v. 11-17)

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. 

The second story takes place in Nain, another town in Galilee.

The Lord was someone who taught as he walked. There were great teachers in history who have done the same thing (like Aristotle). So Jesus goes from town to town, and in our text we see that there is a great number of disciples following him.

On the road, they meet a crowd of people who are there for a burial—that of a young man, the only son of a widow.

At this time and place (unlike today), women were unable to provide for their own needs. They were dependent on a man—either their husband or their sons. So a widow was condemned to be poor and dependent on the charity of others, unless she had one or more sons.

I don’t know if this is something we see in France, but in certain under-developed countries, there are families which are so poor that their children can’t receive an education. So what generally happens is they choose one child in the family for whom they’ll save all their money, to give him an education. Once his studies are finished, he’ll come back home to provide for the needs of his family. In these cases, they look to this son as the one who will free them from poverty; he’s the hope of his whole family.

The story Luke tells here is not just the story of a woman who’s lost her son. She hasn’t just lost a son; she’s also lost her way of providing for herself, to keep her out of poverty.

Luke tells of the emotion of the crowd who is accompanying her. When Jesus arrives, he is also stirred by the situation. Verse 13 says that Jesus was filled with compassion for the widow, so he approaches to speak to her and console her. 

Next, he does something very strange: he touches the bier on which the dead young man is lying. Jews were not supposed to touch the dead, for fear of being made ritually unclean. Then he does another strange thing: he speaks to the dead young man as he if were alive. V. 14: 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!”

Jesus meets a dead man, tells the dead man to get up, and the man gets up.

Once again, Jesus puts his powerful word to work. He speaks, and the thing happens.

In the story of the centurion, we may have understood that Jesus had power and authority over the physical world. But to die is, in a sense, to leave the physical world. So now Jesus shows that his word is able to call someone who has left the physical world and bring him back. He has power not only on earth, but also in the invisible realm.

And of course, after this event, Jesus’s reputation continues to grow.

What can we learn from these two stories?

Firstly:

Having faith means seeing that Jesus is Lord.

A Christian is by definition someone who has faith in Jesus. 

But as we saw with the centurion, faith means seeing Jesus for who he really is—that is, the Lord of everything that exists in heaven and on earth.

Hebrews 11.3: 3 By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.

This is the Word of God who created all things and by whom all things subsist.

My prayer for myself and for you is that the Lord would increase our faith. That he would make us see that Jesus is Lord.

I’ve been going to church since I was a child, but it was only at around age 22 that I became interested in God—it was a kind of spiritual awakening. I won’t say I became more pious—that’s obviously subjective and debatable—but one thing is for sure: I often said to myself, “Wow, Jesus is Lord!” 

I pray for myself and for you that we would keep growing in this—that we would have the faith of the centurion—that we would see that Jesus is Lord.

Jesus gives life to the dead.

These “little stories” of Jesus’s life are often there to point us toward the bigger story.

The resurrection which we see in this text, though it is impressive, is but a shadow of something greater that Jesus did and still does: Jesus works spiritual resurrections.

Firstly, for those who are not saved.

Ephesians 2.1-2, 4-6: And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience… 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus…

Secondly, for those who are saved, but who still find themselves enslaved to sin.

1 Timothy 5.5-6: 5 She who is truly a widow, left all alone, has set her hope on God and continues in supplications and prayers night and day, 6 but she who is self-indulgent is dead even while she lives.

The solution—the way to receive this resurrection we all need is simple: we pray and ask him for it.