Extraordinary Things (On the Way to the Cross - Part 3)
Scripture: Luke 5:1–5:26
Synopsis: Jesus did extraordinary things that were meant to bring people to a point of decision to receive him with faith or to reject him. We have the same decision presented to us today when we read about the extraordinary things he did.
When we left off last week, Jesus was leaving Capernaum in order to preach the good news in the other towns. If you remember, the people in that town responded to Jesus in faith because he demonstrated his authority through teaching, healing of the sick, and freeing those who were demon oppressed. We also noted that in the wider context of his ministry, Jesus would have to pay on the cross for everyone who responded in faith to him. The response of faith, from our perspective, is a decision that we need to make and stick to.
A few days ago, I was driving with my wife and a couple of our friends from out of town to the Emirates Palace so they could witness that particular spectacle when we realized that one of our friends was wearing beach sandals. This was a problem because we had already been turned away for wearing shorts and sandals before. As I drove, we were trying to decided if we should try to go in anyway or to give up this time. We still had not made a decision by the time we came to the place where you have to either turn right into the Palace or go left down the street. I could not stop there in the middle of the street while we discussed the issue, so we had come to the final moment where we needed to make a decision. So I said, “Decide! Now!”
This week, in Luke 5 up to verse 26 we find Jesus continuing his ministry in three places. First, in Genesaret by the sea of Galilee, second in one of the cities, and third, in a house. In each of these three places, Jesus said and did extraordinary things that were meant to bring people to a point where they could no longer hold off making a decision about Jesus. They had to respond either in faith to him or not. The intention of this sermon is that we also, along with these witnesses in these places, would consider three aspects of responding in faith to Jesus and be brought to that same point of decision.
The first Faith Response we see is that of the first disciples who, upon witnessing the extraordinary thing Jesus did, decided to follow him.
Respond in Faith: Follow Jesus Whole-heartedly
On one occasion, while the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he was standing by the lake of Gennesaret, and he saw two boats by the lake, but the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon's, he asked him to put out a little from the land. And he sat down and taught the people from the boat. And when he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish that they had taken, and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him. Luke 5:1-11
The first thing you might have noticed is that Simon this is the second time we have met Simon. Back in chapter 4 at Capernaum, Simon invited Jesus to his house where Jesus healed his mother-in-law and many others throughout the night. Gennesaret, where we find them today, is only about 5km from Capernaum and is also on the sea of Galilee. I imagine that this town was a normal stop on the fishing route of Simon and his partners James and John. On top of that, they likely heard that Jesus was in Genesaret and having caught no fish the night before and so having nothing to sell, perhaps they stopped there hoping to see him again.
Jesus had drawn a large crowd and needed a platform to teach from where the crowd would not be able to press him into the sea, so he used Simon’s boat. After teaching, he told Simon to cast in his nets. Look at Simon’s response, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.”
Keep in mind that Simon was a fisherman by trade. It was his livelihood to know how, when and where to fish. He knew when going back out to sea would not yield enough fish to be worth the effort. And yet, against all his better judgment and experience, Simon took Jesus at his word and let down his nets one more time. Verses 6-7 tell us that they caught so many fish that their two boats nearly sank with the weight of them all.
When you read the gospel accounts carefully, it becomes apparent that Jesus’ miracles were not done at random. He did them all for a reason. Looking at this miracle in particular, we must ask who was it for? If you notice, they had pushed out to sea, to the deep part to let down the nets, so they were no longer in the view of the crowd. This miracle was for the men in the boats: Simon, James and John.
Simon, and arguably James and John had so far seen Jesus do some amazing things, but up to this point it seems they had not really decided how to respond to Jesus. So, I think Jesus’ purpose in causing an extraordinary number of fish to swim right into their nets was to give Simon, James and John a sign that would force the issue. They had to decide now if they would really respond to Jesus in faith.
In verse 8, Simon “fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”” Simon’s response to Jesus is strikingly similar to the response of Isaiah when he had a vision of God. He said,
“Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” (Isaiah 6:5)
Now, Isaiah knew he was in the presence of God, but it is hard to say what Simon knew about Jesus in that moment. What we can say is that his response was appropriate for someone who had just witnessed the glory of God. That is, the instinctual reaction of mourning one’s own sinfulness.
Have you ever been shocked by looking at yourself in the mirror early in the morning? You are not aware of what a mess you are until you are exposed by the mirror. I think that being in the holy, glorious presence of God is a similarly exposing experience. Simon may not have known that he was actually in the presence of God, but he recognized his inadequacy in the light of the glory of Jesus.
There is a cost to following Jesus that is apparent in this event. Lest we should think otherwise, work as a fisherman was at times a profitable business. It was at least enough for Simon to support his wife and mother-in-law, to afford a house and a boat, and work with partners. He along with James and John had a good, secure job. They did not know where Jesus was going. They didn't know how their families would be supported. Yet, verse 11 tells us that these men responded to Jesus by leaving everything, even the fish, to accept their new occupations as fishers of men.
Too often, when we apply scripture in our own lives, we tend to soften it a bit. We look at what Jesus demanded of his first disciples and we say, "what Jesus really meant was..." Basically, we try to find ways to make Jesus' call on our lives more comfortable, more in line with our values and desires. The problem is that when we do this we aren't following Jesus anymore, we are following ourselves.
The first disciples recognized that Jesus was worth abandoning everything to follow. That is exactly how we are meant to respond to Jesus today when we read their testimony. If you really believe that Jesus is who he said, God the Son come to proclaim the good news of his coming kingdom, and if you truly value him above all else, you will abandon half-hearted church attendance and commit to following him for real.
Even if you don't know where Jesus will lead you, even if following Jesus means giving up everything you have, even if it means your family and friends won't understand you, even if it means losing your good, secure job, because in faith you know that Jesus is worth abandoning it all. Will you decide to follow Jesus?
We find the next aspect of responding to Jesus in faith in verses 12-16 where a leper trusted Jesus unconditionally.
Respond in Faith: Trust Jesus Unconditionally
While he was in one of the cities, there came a man full of leprosy. And when he saw Jesus, he fell on his face and begged him, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying. “I will; be clean.” And immediately the leprosy left him. And he charged him to tell no one, but “go and show yourself to the priest, and make an offering for your cleansing, as Moses commanded, for a proof to them.” But now even more the report about him went abroad, and great crowds gathered to hear him and to be healed of their infirmities. But he would withdraw to desolate places and pray. Luke 5:12-16
A man with a disease effecting his skin came to find Jesus while he was in a city. Apparently his moment of decision had come before he even met Jesus. He must have heard about the extraordinary things Jesus was teaching and doing and believed just by the testimony. So when he saw Jesus, he humbled himself, trusting that Jesus was all he claimed to be and that he had the power to make him clean from his disease.
The man's body was full of leprosy. There was no livelihood for him apart from begging because the possibly infectious nature of his condition made him unclean and an outcaste. Everything bad that could have happened to him had happened.
He had already responded in faith to Jesus, but that doesn't mean he was the picture of faithful serenity. The passage says he fell down and begged Jesus. Yet, in the midst of his desperation, he would trust Jesus whether it meant the joy of being cleansed of his disease or continuing on as a leper. "Lord, if you will, you can make me clean." Jesus reached out and touched the diseased man and answered, “I will. and commanded him to "Be clean.”
It is easy to trust God when things are going well in our lives: when we are healthy, when we have more than enough food, when our savings look good, at the beginning of our work contracts, when marriage is bliss, when children are growing in faith and obedience. In times like these it is easy to say, "It is well with my soul."
But what about those times when life is full of trouble? When you really feel the force of your wedding vows to be faithful in poverty and sickness, when searching for work only leaves you frustrated and don't know what will happen to you next, when your children are rebellious and making the same mistakes you hoped to teach them to avoid, when you are sick and don't know when or if you will be well again. In times like these, we are challenged to trust Jesus unconditionally. Whether our situations get better or worse or stay the same, the response of faith is to continue trusting in Jesus.
I had the privilege of meeting one woman who was terminally ill with cancer and had only a week to live. She had come to Abu Dhabi to work as a nurse and support her family, but was diagnosed with cancer only a short time after arriving. She told me that some years earlier her husband had died, leaving her to raise their two daughters. Her greatest sorrow was that neither of her daughters, nor other members of her family, had trusted in Jesus. Only her. As I spent time with her in the days before she passed, time and again she expressed trust in Jesus despite all that trouble and pain.
That doesn't mean we must always have a smile on or be a picture of serenity. Hiding what you feel is not helpful and I would even argue that it is un-biblical. There is a whole book of the bible called Lamentations. Many of the Psalms, one of which Jesus quoted while on the cross, express the profound sorrow and pain of the Psalmist. Lament, sorrow, anguish are part the appropriate response to trouble in our lives, but we must not stop there.
The leper came in to town and found Jesus, he fell on his face before Jesus, and said "Lord, if you will.." We should also respond to trouble in this way. In fact, one big purpose of troubles we face are to drive us to seek God and trust even more deeply in him. When we really trust him unconditionally, we can pray in the midst of our trouble, "Lord, if you will, you can..."
Our final stop on Jesus' journey for today is in a house where Jesus said and did some extraordinary things. Everyone there then had to decide if they would respond in faith by believing in Jesus' authority to forgive sin.
Respond in Faith: Believe that Jesus Has Authority to Forgive Sin
On one of those days, as he was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there, who had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem. And the power of the Lord was with him to heal. And behold, some men were bringing on a bed a man who was paralyzed, and they were seeking to bring him in and lay him before Jesus, but finding no way to bring him in, because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the midst before Jesus. And when he saw their faith, he said, “Man, your sins are forgiven you.” And the scribes and the Pharisees began to question, saying, “Who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” When Jesus perceived their thoughts, he answered them, “Why do you question in your hearts? Which is easier, to say, Your sins are forgiven you, or to say, Rise and walk? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”ï¿½"he said to the man who was paralyzedï¿½"“I say to you, rise, pick up your bed and go home.” And immediately he rose up before them and picked up what he had been lying on and went home, glorifying God. And amazement seized them all, and they glorified God and were filled with awe, saying, “We have seen extraordinary things today.” Luke 5:17-26
In any time and culture I imagine it would not be a normal thing to disassemble someone else's roof. Nevertheless, that is what the paralyzed man's friends did and then lowered him down. If that wasn't surprising enough, Jesus' response to the situation shocked everyone there. Verse 20 says:
"And when he saw their faith, he said, “Man, your sins are forgiven you.”"
I can't imagine this being what Jesus was expected to say. The man had a very obvious need that Jesus seemingly ignored to pronounce him forgiven. I would argue that Jesus saw the man's spiritual need of forgiveness as being more immediately pressing than his paralysis. Jesus also saw that the man had responded to him in faith and forgave his sin.
The Pharisees especially recognized the danger in claiming to have authority to forgive sin. In fact, they were exactly right. Only God can forgive sins. Jesus knew what they were thinking and challenged them with this question:
Which is easier, to say, Your sins are forgiven you, or to say, Rise and walk?
At first glance, it is certainly easier to say your sins are forgiven because, well, those can be just words whereas saying rise and walk would require something extremely unlikely to occur. One is a more obvious display of power than the other. I think Jesus' point was twofold. First, both statements required authority from the same source. God forgives, God restores.
The problem with us having heard this story so many times is that it loses its impact. The people then did not know Jesus was God, they didn't understand that the Messiah had to die on behalf of all who would believe in him. For them, the law was such that claiming to be equal to God was an inconceivable blasphemy. Yet in front of them all Jesus not only claimed authority to forgive sin but demonstrated it by commanding the man to pick up his bed and go home. He showed the same authority as God. "And amazement seized them all.."
Secondly, think for a moment which is more difficult for God. Which would be more costly to Jesus. To forgive sin or to heal a paralytic?
Think about this for a moment. If there was a judge that pronounced everyone innocent even when they were guilty, would he be a righteous judge? No. And if you think about it, we would not want a judge like that. A righteous judge must punish the guilty and absolve the innocent. So, how can God be a righteous judge and forgive sinners?
The answer is by fulfilling the requirements of righteousness himself and accepting punishment on behalf of sinners. Forgiveness is not free, not for God. It came at a great price. With that in mind, it was certainly far more difficult for Jesus to say, "Your sins are forgiven" than "pick up your bed and go home." A prophet or good teacher would not claim authority to forgive sin and certainly would not be able to substantiate that claim. Only Jesus, God the Son in the flesh could do such a thing.
After hearing such an outrageous claim and seeing such an astounding demonstration of power to reinforce the claim, everyone present had a decision to make. Either to respond in faith to Jesus or not. In this case, they had the opportunity to believe that Jesus had authority to forgive all their sin.
This is the same opportunity that you have today. No amount of sin is too great to be forgiven by Jesus because he already bore God’s full strength wrath against it all. Your punishment is finished in Jesus. If you believe this and trust in Jesus to forgive you, then in Jesus you are no longer guilty, but justified.
Now as in the last couple of weeks, we need to take a step back and look at these three extraordinary things that Jesus did in the context of his journey to the cross. Jesus cleansed one man with leprosy and forgave the sins of another man. In doing so Jesus showed himself to be the source of cleansing and forgiveness.
‘Clean’ is an important Old Testament concept. According to the Law God gave through Moses, people with possibly infectious skin diseases were ceremonially unclean. Being unclean was distinct from sin, but was part of the spiritual and physical purity that had to be maintained in order to come into the presence of God. Therefore, those who were unclean could not go to the temple to worship and they could not mix with the general population because anyone they touched would also become ceremonially unclean.
The procedure for moving from unclean to clean was different depending on what made one unclean. For every-day things it was a simple matter of waiting until the defiling factor had passed, washing with water, and presenting oneself to the priest. For more difficult cases, like infectious skin diseases, this generally meant a life in exile outside the camp/city. If the disease was healed, the person would wash, present himself to the priest for inspection, and offer a sacrifice to God as thanks for making him clean, as well as a sin sacrifice to make up for not being able to come to the temple.
Jesus, in his perfect life and in his death on the cross for us, fulfilled the requirements of the law regarding both righteousness and cleanness. Therefore, Whoever Jesus declares to be forgiven is forgiven. Whoever and whatever Jesus proclaims to be clean is clean.
Secondly, at the calling of the first disciples, Jesus brought them to the point of having to decide by causing them to catch a lot of fish. Then he said, "From now on you will be catching men." That statement was what this miracle was all about. The great catch of fish was an illustration of the multitudes of people whom these men would catch for Jesus through their testimony of the good news.
Jesus came to redeem all in Israel who would trust in him, but that would only be the beginning. Isaiah 49:6, in which God is speaking to his servant, gives us an idea of the scope of Jesus' purpose.
“It is too light a thing that you should be my servant
to raise up the tribes of Jacob
and to bring back the preserved of Israel;
I will make you as a light for the nations,
that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”
Jesus called disciples and spent 3 years preparing them so that when he accomplished his work on the cross and left, they would carry on the task of catching people for him so that over time and generations his salvation would reach to the ends of the earth. In this illustration, we are the fish.
We have the testimony of the disciples of the extraordinary things and extraordinary claims that Jesus made and did. Then as now, these serve for the purpose of leading people to the point of a decision: To respond to Jesus in faith or not to. You have been presented with this testimony and you can’t put off this decision.
Responding to Jesus in faith is not so easy as saying a prayer or coming to church regularly. Responding in faith to Jesus means believing he has authority today to forgive your sin and make you righteous in front of the Father. It means learning to trust Jesus unconditionally, regardless of your situation. It means giving up everything to follow him even if you don't know where he will take you. What will you decide?
By extension, those of us who have decided to respond in faith to Jesus have now also become fishers of men: proclaiming forgiveness of sin and cleanness before God in Jesus so that other people might have the opportunity to respond in whole-hearted, unconditional faith in him.
Whatever you say, I believe you.
Whatever you do, I trust you.
Wherever you lead, I follow you.
There is no cost too great because you bore the cost of sin for me.
Nothing in the world compares to you, for you alone are worthy to be praised.
More in On the Way to the Cross
April 13, 2014Glorious Injustice (On the Way to the Cross - Part 24)
April 6, 2014Peter and Judas (On the Way to the Cross - Part 23)
March 30, 2014I Will Send My Son (On the Way to the Cross - Part 22)