Last week I took a look at something in the following verses, but there are multiple things that I really wanted to dig into as we look into this section of Luke that is known as the “faith of the Centurion.” Here’s how the situation begins.
Luke 7:1-3 When Jesus had finished saying all this to the people, he returned to Capernaum. 2 At that time the highly valued slave of a Roman officer was sick and near death. 3 When the officer heard about Jesus, he sent some respected Jewish elders to ask him to come and heal his slave.
There was something that I found very interesting in here. The Roman officer took a very deliberate and particular approach when it came to contacting Jesus. He didn’t send a column of soldiers to march down the street and cause a scene, as a matter of fact, he didn’t send any soldiers at all even though that’s the world in which the Roman officer operated. He knew of Jesus, obviously, and so he decided to send respected Jewish officials. It was important to the officer not just to approach Jesus, but to approach Jesus through the right channels.
Now, I want to make sure something is clear here. The best way to approach Jesus for us today is directly and personally. There is no intermediary needed, nor does an intermediary really work if you want a personal relationship with Jesus. The reason this action of the officer really spoke to me is because it shows great wisdom and respect that I believe would be well used by us in the realm of evangelism.
Think about this. Let’s say there’s a local skate park. It’s a bit of a rough place, always filled with loud music and lots of young people. A nearby church is putting on a big outdoor concert soon with food trucks and Christian rock bands, and they decide they want to spread the word at the skate park to try and draw some of these guys in for the event. What’s the best way to approach that crowd? Would it be to send the 55-year-old administrative pastor who hasn’t even seen a skateboard or a teenager since he was 15 years old himself? Or would it maybe be best to send some of the church youth who skate in their free time and know a few of the regulars at the skate park? Clearly, one approach is going to have a much higher chance of success than the other.
I think about the “Christians” who stand outside of movie theaters or concert halls and yell at those coming in and going out about how they’re going to hell. “Repent or burn!” Is this the best approach to win those people to Jesus? No. It never is, and anyone who tells you different has a very different impression of the heart of the God we serve than I do. Only in very particular times and places in the Bible did God send one of His people to spread a loud message of “Repent or Else!” and this was usually done with a loving heart to try to give the people a chance to save themselves from an impending catastrophe. When you look upon the red and angry faces of those who scream and yell about fire and brimstone you rarely see any love there, only judgment and condemnation.
I remember watching a documentary once where this team of Christians was walking the streets praying healing over people, and so far that day they’d seen God perform multiple miracles and had seen three or four people give their lives to Jesus. And they came across a “repent or burn in hell!” dude, so they approached him and struck up a conversation. The guy told them that he’d been doing this on the same street for something like seven years and in that time he had one person actually stop and listen and give his life over to Jesus. One person in seven years using a message of anger and fear, while this other group had seen three people give their lives over in a matter of four hours using a message of love and gentleness. One approach was clearly better than the other.
Let’s look at how Jesus put this into action during his ministry.
John 4:6-9 Jacob’s well was there; and Jesus, tired from the long walk, sat wearily beside the well about noontime. 7 Soon a Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Please give me a drink.” 8 He was alone at the time because his disciples had gone into the village to buy some food. 9 The woman was surprised, for Jews refuse to have anything to do with Samaritans. She said to Jesus, “You are a Jew, and I am a Samaritan woman. Why are you asking me for a drink?”
Jesus had a plan for this woman, a plan to share with her the saving story of who he was. But he didn’t jump right into it. He didn’t see her and shout “repent or burn!” Jesus was a pretty smooth guy in how he related to people, and you’ll see that at first he simply related to her over their common interest. She was there to draw some water, he was thirsty, and so he had his approach.
John 4:10 Jesus replied, “If you only knew the gift God has for you and who you are speaking to, you would ask me, and I would give you living water.”
If you continue to read that story, Jesus continues to relate to her on the subject of water. He uses this common ground approach to illustrate the difference between the temporary and the eternal, and through this approach that was kind and conversational he was able to spark hope in this tired woman’s heart, and she went and told many to come and see Jesus. What would she have gone back to her village and said if instead of Jesus she’d come across someone who had used a harsh approach? Someone who had told her “Hey, filthy sinner! Repent or accept eternal torment in hell!” The approach matters very much, something that the Roman officer we met in the book of Luke understood.
We all have common ties. God made me just the same way that He made you, which means that on a foundational level, we have a connection. Find that connection with others. Work at finding an approach that is loving and gentle and common, and use it for the glory of God.
I love all of you. I hope you’re enjoying a safe and relaxing Memorial Day so far. Days like today when we gather with friends and family can be a perfect time to practice what we just talked about and find a common ground, gentle approach to speak to others about the love of Jesus.
If any of you have any prayer requests or just want to talk, my email is always open to you at firstname.lastname@example.org.