Who is Jesus?
Luke 5:12 – 26
Who is Jesus?
Leprosy, as we probably all know, is a pretty terrible disease. Certainly before modern antibiotics were around, it was untreatable, considered highly contagious.
It’s much more manageable today, and in the last 2 decades, more than 16 million people have been completely cured of leprosy.
But over the years there has been a number of well-known people who have suffered from leprosy.
Of course, perhaps the most well-known was Father Damien, the Catholic priest who initially ministered to people with leprosy before contracting the disease himself.
King Henry the 4th is thought to have had leprosy,
One of the most famous Japanese Samurai, Ōtani Yoshit-sugu, in the 16th Century.
All these famous people struck down with this disease.
But the man we meet today in Luke chapter 5, he’s not famous,
He’s not well-known for anything else,
He’s an ordinary man, in a, really quite terrible situation.
While Jesus was in one of the towns, a man came along who was covered with leprosy. When he saw Jesus, he fell with his face to the ground and begged him, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.”
In the ancient world the name leprosy was a broad term for a whole range of skin conditions, and those afflicted by them were socially ostracised,
Unable to live with their families,
Unable to work in regular employment,
For anyone among the people of Israel, who suffered the disease, they were unable to join in the gathering of the people of God.
They couldn’t go into the temple. The temple was where you met God. It’s not like us who can meet in any building that’s convenient, or outside under a tree if we wanted,
For the people of Israel, the temple was where God dwelt, and where you had to go to meet with him, and offer your sacrifices, and to hear the priest pronounce forgiveness for sin.
But if you had leprosy, you couldn’t do that.
And so you can see why the man says at the end of verse 12, he wants to be clean.
Now, this isn’t just talking about when you’ve been digging in the garden and you’re dirty,
Or your kids have been eating icecream or chocolate biscuits, and they have it all over their face, and up into their hair,
It’s not needing to be clean from that, it’s about being ritually clean.
Much of the book of Leviticus is about this, and chapters 13 and 14 deal with leprosy in particular, and if you’ve ever read much of Leviticus or you remember when we’ve looked at it together on Sundays, you’ll know that there’s lots of detail, and very specific rules, for how the people of Israel were to maintain this cleanliness.
And we don’t want to go into too much of the detail now, but just enough to grasp the significance of what happens in this episode.
God had said to his people back then, you need to keep yourself clean, as mark of your separateness, your identity as people who are set apart for me, the pure and holy God.
And so the sacrifices,
And the ritual purity,
And the temple worship, were all about making it possible for people to be with God.
And as we know, standing where we do, 2000 years after Jesus, all of the Old Testament law and ritual pointed forward to Jesus,
Prepared people for Jesus,
And it was only able to accomplish anything, in that it anticipated what Jesus was going to accomplish in his sacrifice for our sin and rebellion against God.
But come back to this man, he is outside all of that. He knows his problem is not primarily a physical one, but something that has spiritual implications.
He wants to be clean,
Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.”
Notice the humility in his approach to Jesus, He fell with his face to the ground and begged him.
Quite different to the way we often relate to Jesus, isn’t it?
We’re Australians. We are the great egalitarians, we don’t kind of submit ourselves in this way to anybody.
But this man, he’s obviously heard something about Jesus.
Maybe he’s heard stories of Jesus healing people,
Perhaps even someone he knows has been cured of leprosy by Jesus. We know that Jesus has healed stacks of people by this time.
Whatever he’s heard, he believes, he has faith, that Jesus can help him.
The first example of faith (v 12)
And so he’s come to Jesus, at significant cost, remember.
Luke tells us that this was in one of the towns, not out in the bush where those with leprosy were expected to remain.
He’s taking all kinds of risks, coming to Jesus.
The crowd might attack him and drive him away.
He might come face to face to with Jesus only for him to say, “get away from me, I don’t want to catch it!”
But whatever it is that he understands about Jesus, it shapes how he lives.
He finds Jesus,
He falls on his feet,
And he begs him for help.
Here is the first great example of faith in our passage today, and it’s almost a perfect textbook definition of faith.
These days we hear any number of definitions of faith.
Whether it’s Mark Twain, “faith is believing what you know ain’t so”,
Or Richard Dawkins, “Faith is belief, in spite of, even perhaps because of, the lack of evidence.” I always find it amusing that Richard Dawkins insists he has no faith, but we’re obliged to adopt his definition of faith.
It would seem a little like me defining the stages and feelings of childbirth, there’s something of a credibility gap, isn’t there!
But even Christian people I know, lots of my friends, talk about faith as, something that kicks in, when other means of being convinced about things fall short.
It seems that faith is how we believe things that we can’t really be sure of; “You just have to take it on faith” we’re told.
But that’s not what the Bible pictures when it talks about faith. That’s not Christian faith.
Christian faith is being so convinced about something, that you’re willing to live your life in the light of that.
Whatever this man has heard about Jesus, doesn’t stay up in his head as intellectual knowledge does it?
His knowledge becomes faith when he’s willing to live his light in the light of it.
He is absolutely convinced that Jesus can heal, and so he risks everything to come and meet him.
See, notice his question is not about Jesus’ ability to heal. Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.
He’s already convinced that Jesus can.
All that remains to be seen is if Jesus will.
Those who area my age or older might remember a TV show from the 80s called Willing and Abel. It only lasted about 3 episodes or something, but it was about 2 handymen, Charles Willing, and Abel Moore, and they were always happy to try anything, anytime for anyone!
They were Willing, and Abel!
Well Jesus is willing and able.
He touched the man, probably the first person to touch this man in, well, maybe decades,
“I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!”
No longer is this man apart from the people of God,
No longer is his condition a visible sign of people’s separateness from God,
The leprosy had left him.
His faith in Jesus is proved right, isn’t it?
The second example of faith (v 18 – 19)
We’ll come back to this episode in a moment, but let’s look at the second example of faith that Luke gives us here,
Verse 18, Some men came carrying a paralyzed man on a mat and tried to take him into the house to lay him before Jesus
We know, though, that the crowd is so big that they can’t get to Jesus, so they go up onto the roof and dig a hole, and lower their friend down.
Think one of those flat-roofed Middle-Eastern houses you may have seen in pictures, they often had stairs going up the side of the house onto the roof, so that if it was hot, you could go up there, sit in some shade, and make the most of the breeze.
It’s what passed for air-conditioning in the first century AD!
Little surprise, this minor renovation to the house gets Jesus’ attention! We’d be pretty surprised if that happened here this morning, all of a sudden the ceiling tiles get pushed out the way and down comes someone being lowered on a mattress! To say nothing of the surprise that Cornerstone College would get on Monday when they discover a hole in their roof.
But what does Jesus immediately bring into focus?
Not their ingenuity,
Not their love for their friend,
Not their persistence,
Jesus draws our attention to their faith;, When Jesus saw their faith,
Here’s our second textbook definition of faith.
They have heard or seen, come to understand something about Jesus that convinced them that Jesus has something to offer their friend.
On my day off a couple of weeks ago, my kids and I went to the Tour Down Under stage that finished at Victor Harbor. There were crowds of people there. We were right up at the barricade, and if you turned around a bit, or moved along, you immediately lost your spot as other people pressed in!
That’s exactly the kind of crowd we’re talking about here, but I didn’t see a single group of men carrying a friend to lay them at the feet of Richie Porte or Caleb Ewan or any of the other riders!
Because we have no reason to think that those guys can heal anyone!
But these men are convinced that Jesus has something to offer their friend, so they go to these extreme lengths, to get their friend to Jesus.
See again how faith works?
They’ve heard, seen, believed,
And that overflows into their lives.
When Jesus saw their faith,
How does Jesus see their faith?
You see faith by what it leads to, by what you do.
What do you believe about Jesus?
That he’s God’s king?
That he offers forgiveness and reconciliation with God?
That he’s Lord, and so he gets to call the shots?
That he’s God turned up among his people?
Do you believe that Jesus offers the only way to relationship with God,
That people have to respond to him in faith or be shut off from God’s presence and blessing forever?
Well if you believe that stuff, is your belief like this?
Does it actually shape your life?
Does it change where you go?,
What you do?,
How you spend your money?,
Who you spend your time with?,
What you say?
Does what you believe about Jesus shape your diary?
Does it lead to conversations?
Does it make you pick up the phone and call people?
Does it lead you to seek out others, and put their needs before your own?
Because if it doesn’t, dare I say it, it’s not real faith!
Jesus commends these men for their faith, because they have turned up in front of him, because what they believe has led to action.
And friends our faith cannot be any less.
So two examples of faith to challenge ours, to deepen ours.
But this section is not just about faith, it’s about Jesus.
Faith is only as good as the object of your faith, what your faith is in.
So what do we learn?
Who is Jesus?
Who is Jesus? Don’t tell anyone (v 14 – 15)
Well, notice Jesus instructs the man, Don’t tell anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.”
I think there’s a couple of reasons why Jesus says, Don’t tell anyone.
The people of Israel at this time were looking for a leader who God was going to use to save his people.
This king was called the Messiah, and one of the signs that was going to accompany the Messiah’s arrival, was going to be miraculous healings exactly like we see here. Isaiah chapters 29 and 35 gave all sorts of wonderful pictures, about 800 years before Jesus, of what’s going to happen when God’s king the Messiah comes, or when God himself turns up among his people, and it’s exactly this!
A bit later on in Luke’s gospel account, some of John the Baptist’s friends, come to ask Jesus if he really is God turned up among his people, and Jesus points to, among other things, the cleansing of people with leprosy, to say, “the Scriptures are being fulfilled, God has come to be with his people.”
What Jesus is doing here, says, “I’m the Messiah!”
But in Jesus day, lots of the people were hoping that their Messiah would be a great military who would kick out the Romans, and make Israel great, again! Which, sounds a bit familiar doesn’t it!
And so Jesus didn’t want to get swept up in a wave of nationalism, of people trying to turn him into a general who’s going to build a wall to keep the Romans out, and all that kind of thing.
That’s going to be a massive hindrance to the kind of ministry that Jesus wants to exercise.
So Jesus says Don’t tell anyone. He’s got to get on with his task of proclaiming the gospel, He doesn’t want to get swept up in nationalist fervour.
Don’t tell anyone, but
Don’t tell anyone, but
When I was a kid people used to say that’s how Queenslanders talk!
Don’t tell anyone, but
If you’re from Queensland, that’s OK, you don’t have to be ashamed of it, it’s how Jesus talked!
Don’t tell anyone, but!
On other occasions he just says “don’t tell anyone”, here he Don’t tell anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them
According to the law in Leviticus, the priests didn’t have a ritual for healing leprosy, just for recognising that God had already healed you.
And it wasn’t just box ticking;, “You’re healed, you’re free to go.”
The sacrifices were a great celebration of God’s provision, of God providing atonement for sin, that is, paying the penalty for sin.
It took 8 days for this process of sacrifices to unfold, and the 8th day was all about atonement.
It was all about reminding people, “God takes away sin.”
There was a sin offering,
A burnt offering,
And a guilt offering.
What looks to us like an 8 day rigmarole, was a festival that celebrated and shouted, to the person,
To their family, .
To the community,
To the nation,
It shouted of God’s deliverance,
It was a testimony to God’s compassion on his people,
An enacted statement, that God deals with sin, takes sin away.
That sacrifice spoke of the sacrifice of Jesus that was still to come, that would take sin away,
It speaks of the atonement that Christ would provide,
It speaks of Jesus’ power to deliver people from sin and uncleanness.
It’s no wonder Jesus says, Don’t tell anyone, but, offer the sacrifices, as a testimony to them.”
Let your cleansing testify, to the priests, as the representatives of the nation, testify to all the people, that the time of the Messiah has arrived.
That Jesus acts with the power of God’s king.
“Don’t talk about what’s happened to you, let your cleansing speak for itself, since it announces that Gods’ king has come.
Let your cleansing testify to the fact that God will make atonement, dealing with sin once and for all.
And so it’s no surprise, that the news about him spread all the more, and people brought the sick to Jesus to be healed.
And notice that straight away, the people to whom that sign had spoken, the religious leaders, they now turn out in force to hear Jesus for themselves.
Verse 17, Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there,
They had come from every village of Galilee and from Judea and Jerusalem
Imagine if the Queen, or Prince William turned up in Mount Barker today. Everyone in town would be out, tweeting their selfies with Queen, wouldn’t they? Except us, because, we’re above that sort of thing. But news would spread, and the crowds would come.
The time of God coming to be with his people has arrived.
Who is Jesus? Jesus is dependent on prayer (v 16)
You probably noticed Luke’s comment about Jesus withdrawing to lonely places to pray.
More than any of the other gospel writers, Luke points out the timies when Jesus prays.
And what’s really worth us noting, is that the times when Luke records Jesus praying, are all invariably, right before significant moments in his ministry.
So Luke 3:21 Jesus prays before his baptism,
Chapter 6 verse 12, before he his chooses his disciples, t
9:18 before asking that great question of his identity, “Who do you say I am?”
And so on and so on until 23 verse 46, Jesus prays in the Garden of Gethsemane before his arrest and crucifixion.
Of course, it says something to us, doesn’t it?
And it feels a bit like an obvious statement to make, but, if Jesus, who we’ve just seen in unmistakable terms is God’s King, God with his people, if he thinks it necessary to pray to his Father in heaven before the challenges of life and gospel ministry, why on earth could we think we’d be any different?
Jesus had to carve out time,
Say no to other things,
Either get away from other people, or gather around himself particular other people, in order to pray,
The eternal Son of God felt that was necessary, and yet you and think we can go days without praying, maybe,
We imagine we’ll get by with a few words of prayer squeezed in at the beginning or end of the day, maybe,
We treat prayer as the last resort, when we can’t think of anything else that will work, maybe.
If for Jesus, prayer was the first resort, if that’s such a thing, why on earth, are many of us so reluctant to set aside the time to pray?
Why does it often get so little attention in our personal lives.
The 4 TMB Prayer Gatherings we’ve got planned for this year, we’re saying those are the one event we want you to be at that week. There’ll be no Bible Study Groups those weeks, we just want to get together and pray.
Luke doesn’t say much of a point about it. He just says what Jesus did. And the grammar speaks of it as being Jesus’ regular habit.
And maybe Luke knows that just by recording it, he’s holding a mirror up to our lives for us to look at.
Who is Jesus? The one who can forgive
But we get another piece of the puzzle about who Jesus is, as soon as Jesus speaks in this second episode.
Jesus seems to ignore the physical condition, doesn’t he? And goes straight for his spiritual state, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.”
Now, imagine after the service today, you go up to get some tea or coffee, you say, “I’d like a cup of coffee, please.”
And they reply, “Your sins area forgiven”!
You’d think they’d misheard, wouldn’t you? “Sorry, I’m not after forgiveness, I want coffee!”
“Your sins are forgiven”!
After the initial awkwardness, you’d think, “Who do you think you are?”
I haven’t particularly sinned against you? Why are you presuming to offer me forgiveness?
Verse 21, The Pharisees and the teachers of the law began thinking to themselves, “Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?”
They’re thinking the same thing that you’re thinking, but actually they understand it to be not just an awkward conversation, they see it rightly, or almost rightly, as an offensive blasphemy against God!
They’re right to ask the question, Who can forgive sins but God alone?”
See, although I can hurt you with my behaviour, and you can hurt me with your words and so on, the reason we do those things against each other, is because in the first instance, we’ve turned our backs on God.
We ignore God’s pattern for life, and because of that, we do things that hurt other people and other people do things that hurt us. But that hurt, as devastating as that can be, is really the symptom of the prior offence, our decision not to listen to God,
And not to follow his pattern for life.
If we, and every one we know, and every single person on earth, was willing and able to follow God’s pattern for life, then you and I wouldn’t hurt each other,
And others wouldn’t hurt us,
And the news headlines wouldn’t be filled with stories of people treating others appallingly.
Our sin is a rejection of God, and that overflows in the way we treat other people.
And when you think about it, the person we hurt is made by God and made in God’s image, so even at that level it’s an offence against God.
It’s like if you pick on my kids, it’s not to them that you’ll answer, but to me!
And so ultimately, it is only God who can forgive sin.
But if you eventually get your cup of coffee and morning tea time, and you come up to me and, throw it in my face, this is a hypothetical situation right?! but if Rex is standing next to me, and he says to you “You’re forgiven for that”, I’d rightly feel a little put out, wouldn’t I?
That should be for me to say, not Rex.
Do you see how the religious leaders view the problem?
Jesus is offering what only God can offer!
Jesus is claiming to be God!
And Luke tells us that Jesus knew what they were thinking, and so he wants to demonstrate that he really can forgive sin.
Verse 23, Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’?
24 But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.”, So he said to the paralyzed man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat, and go home.”
The thing with offering forgiveness, with saying “I’m God and I can forgive your rebellion against me”, No can tell whether you can actually do it or not, can they?
It’s not like there’s a little light above a person that changes colour whether you’re guilty or forgiven.
When I visited Singapore as a kid in the 80s, cars had to have a light on the roof that flashed whenever you broke the speed limit!
Everyone else on the road knew you were speeding.
It’s not like that with sin and forgiveness, though, is it?
There’s no outward sign, and so anyone can claim to be able to forgive sins,
A much harder claim to make, is to tell a paralysed person that they’re healed.
That’s obvious isn’t it?
As soon as the person tries to stand up, everyone will know whether you can do what you’ve claimed, or whether you’re full of hot air.
Jesus says, so you know that I can do this thing you can’t see, this thing that’s easy to claim, but for which there’s no real evidence,
I’m going to do the thing that you can see, the one that has heaps of evidence.
And if I can do this thing that’s impossible to fake, you’ll have reason to believe I can forgive sins.
And sure enough, Immediately he stood up in front of them, took what he had been lying on and went home praising God., 26 Everyone was amazed and gave praise to God. They were filled with awe and said, “We have seen remarkable things today.”
That to me sounds like a bit of an understatement! We have seen remarkable things.”
Here is Jesus acting with God’s authority, demonstrating beyond a shadow of a doubt, that he acts with God’s power in the world.
This is God himself, among his people.
Sometimes I’ll be talking to someone about Jesus, and they’ll say something like, “Jesus never claimed to be God.”
Which, you know, it’s true that Jesus never said the 3 words, “I, am, God.” But of course, Jesus didn’t speak English, so we shouldn’t expect him to say exactly those words.
But even leaving aside for a moment the occasions when Jesus does make that very sort of claim; I and the Father are one, that kind of thing,
All through the New Testament there are occasions where Jesus says and does things that leave those who were actually present in no doubt as to his true identity.
What Jesus says here,
What he does to the man with leprosy who comes wanting to be healed, it might all sound rather like a nice story to us, but to those who witnessed it to speaks volumes about who Jesus is.
The Pharisees and the teachers of the law were right when they said, Who can forgive sins but God alone?
And the healing of this paralysed man with just a word,
The healing of the man with leprosy, as I said, these were all the signs that would accompany the arrival of God to be with his people,
When God’s king came to establish the reign of God’s kingdom, this is the stuff that you would see.
We might not think this is Jesus demonstrating his identity, but those who were there absolutely thought that.
Every Sunday there are people here who are new to our church. And we just love it! It’s part of what makes our church what it is. But because we expect to have new people around, when I get up to do stuff, I try and remember to introduce myself; “My name’s Clayton, I’m the pastor here.”
But sometimes I forget to do it, But really, by the time I’d done Ministry Matters,
And maybe communion,
Perhaps a kids talk,
And then preached, if you had any familiarity with churches at all, you’d have figured out, I’m the pastor, right? You wouldn’t be thinking, “Wow! They let the bass player do a fair bit!”
It’s the same with Jesus, even if he never made a single statement about his identity,
To those who knew what it was going to be like when God turned up,
To the people of Israel who knew their Scriptures, Jesus ministry revealed his divinity.
And so Jesus shows without a doubt, that he can forgive sins,
He acts with God’s authority, because he is God, come to be with his people.
I know lots of people, for whom the issue of guilt and forgiveness, is, well, even crippling.
Can I be forgiven?
Can God ever accept me, with the way I’ve lived my life,
Or treated other people,
Or maybe it was just one thing, one choice I’ve made, that casts a shadow over my whole life, and makes me wonder if God could ever forgive me,
How can I possibly know whether God will welcome me or not before it’s too late?
Jesus can forgive sins.
That’s the take-home message from this section.
Jesus says come to me, and you will know God’s final verdict on your life, today.
There is no wondering,
No need to fear,
It is in coming to Jesus in faith, recognising that he is God’s king, and bringing your life in the light of that, that’s how you can find your assurance of forgiveness.
Who is Jesus? What a friend
Of course, Jesus was only able to declare this man’s sins forgiven, because of what he knew he was going to, in dying on the cross.
Here’s why it’s so important that Jesus didn’t get swayed from his purpose by the will of the people.
Jesus can only offer forgiveness, because he took on himself, the punishment for sin and rejecting God that we deserved.
No cross? No forgiveness.
No penalty for sin being paid? No relationship with God.
Jesus offers forgiveness, because he dies in our place.
That Japanese Samurai who had leprosy, Ōtani Yoshit-sugu. There’s a story about him that’s been passed down the centuries, and, let me warn you, it’s, it’s gross.
But it’s powerful.
In 1587 Yoshit-sugu was taking part in a tea ceremony. Drink the tea, pass the cup on
But when Yoshit-sugu drank, this is the gross bit, some pus from his leprosy-damaged face, fell into the cup. And he only realised just as he passed it on, and it was too late and culturally impossible to do anything.
Every other person in the ceremony looks horrified at the cup as they receive it, and they pass it on without drinking.
Until it’s the turn of Yoshit-sugu’s friend Ishida. He takes the cup,
He drinks the whole lot without batting an eyelid,
And then he even congratulates his friend, on a superb cup of tea.
Yoshit-sugu was amazed and touched, at his friend’s kindness. It shaped the rest of his life, actually.
And I couldn’t help but think of another friend who took another cup,
A cup that in effect we had polluted with our filth,
The Bible speaks of what Jesus suffered on the cross as the cup of punishment that we deserved for our rebellion against God.
And Jesus drank it all, every drop,
So that we could be forgiven,
So that the rejoicing and celebration of this man, could be ours.
What a friend!