Luke is continuing to reveal Jesus to us. Who is this person and why should we follow him? In the last lesson we noticed Peter understanding that Jesus is the Holy One of God. Peter, James, and John leave their nets and follow him. This leads us into three stories that will help us more fully understand who this Jesus is.
Jesus Cleanses (Luke 5:12-16)
The first thing that we are going to see is that Jesus is able to cleanse. Most translations call this man’s affliction “leprosy.” However, this can be misleading. This word is used to refer to all kinds of skin diseases. Unfortunately, when talking about leprosy we only think about Hansen’s Disease where the skin turns white and extremities begin to fall off. But a reading of Leviticus 13-14 reveals that a variety of skin diseases are in view that caused a person to be unclean. We should not imagine that the person who comes to Jesus has Hansen’s Disease. However, notice the emphasis that is given to the severity of his condition. He is “full of leprosy.” This was an idiom for a serious condition (NET Bible). This means he had “a serious skin disease all over him,” as the HCSB translates. Whatever this skin disease is, this man is in very bad shape.
Further, this man has been suffering from ostracism. Notice the command given to a person in his condition. “The leprous person who has the disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head hang loose, and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean.’ He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease. He is unclean. He shall live alone. His dwelling shall be outside the camp” (Leviticus 13:45–46; ESV).
This is important to understand because we are reading about the bravery of this man to approach Jesus in this condition. Imagine the man as he is approaching Jesus is covering his mouth while shouting, “Unclean, unclean!” This man must have heard about the healing Jesus was doing. He has been ostracized by the nation, but while Jesus is in the city this man who is full of skin diseases approaches Jesus.
Be sure to notice the words of the man with leprosy. He does not ask Jesus if he is able to heal of his disease. There is no doubt in his mind that Jesus has the power to heal him. The only question is if Jesus is willing. “You CAN make me clean!” The question is if Jesus is willing to heal this man.
Now we need to be surprised by what Jesus does. We know by reading the other miracles of Jesus that Jesus could have simply said the word and this man would have been healed of this severe skin disease. But Jesus does something he did not have to do. Jesus touches the man. He touches him. We should be screaming in our minds, “What are you doing? You are going to be defiled! You are going to catch his disease! You will be unclean!” But that is not what happens, as Luke is clear to point out. Rather than Jesus becoming unclean, the leper becomes clean. Jesus reaches out his hand, touches him, and says, “I am willing; be made clean.” Immediately the disease left. Jesus instructs the man to go to the priest as required by the Law of Moses who would pronounce him clean and he would be allowed to live and function in the nation again, no longer ostracized.
KEY: Jesus has the willingness to cleanse and the power to cleanse those who come to him.
Jesus Forgives and Heals (Luke 5:17-26)
Jesus now encounters the Pharisees and the teacher of the Law of Moses. The Pharisees were one of four religious groups within first century Judaism. They had the goal of keeping the people faithful to the Law of Moses. The problem is that they attempted to achieve this goal they developed traditions that ruled on how the Law of Moses was to be applied to various situations. They were not a popular group (in fact, very few Jews were Pharisees), but they did wield quite a bit of influence within Judaism. The teachers of the law are also called the scribes who supported the development of these extrabiblical traditions. Their motive was to preserve and contextualize the biblical teaching into new settings (Bock, 479).
Jesus is teaching and healing in a home and there are great crowds that are listening to him and following him. Some men bring a man on a stretcher who is paralyzed. But they cannot get into the house where Jesus is at. But these men are not dissuaded from trying to bring this paralyzed man to Jesus. They go up on the roof and let him down on his stretcher into the midst of the crowd before Jesus. To help visualize this scene properly, here is some background information. The roof was a typical house in Palestine was somewhat flat and was about six feet above the ground. Further, there were steps that would lead up to the roof. The roof typically consisted of some wood beams laid across the top of the stone or mud walls. The roofing material was layers was reeds, thorns, and several inches of clay on top of them (Bock, 480). So we should not visualize the size of one of our houses and what it would take to dig through shingles and drywall. But this was not an easy act either. Great effort and diligence is shown to get this paralyzed man into the presence of Jesus.
When Jesus saw their faith…. Wait. What did Jesus see that showed faith? Jesus saw the great effort made by these men to access Jesus. They would do whatever it took to make sure that this man could be before Jesus for healing. When Jesus saw their faith, he said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven you.” Now this is not why these men brought the paralyzed man before Jesus. One can easily imagine the paralyzed man thinking that he came for physical healing. But it seems that Jesus’ words have taken everyone by surprise. “Who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgiven sins but God alone?” Jesus does something to get the wheels of the Pharisees’ minds turning. Jesus does not simply heal the paralyzed man. He tells the paralyzed man that his sins are forgiven. The point is to get the people to think: who is this person who is saying he can forgive sins? Who is this Jesus?
The point that the Pharisees make is correct. Only God can forgive sins. No one else has the ability, right, or power to forgive sins. Only God can forgive sins. Jesus seizes on this thought and reveals who he truly is. “Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk?'” Think about this question for a moment. Which is easier to say? It is much easier to say, “Your sins are forgiven you” because the claim cannot be visually verified. If I say your sins are forgiven, no one knows if the sins have been forgiven. But if you say to a paralyzed person, “Get up and walk,” this is far more difficult because we will be able to see if the person has been healed or not. This is the point Jesus is making, as we notice in verse 24.
So that people would know that Jesus has the authority on the earth to forgive sins, he told the paralyzed man, “Get up, pick up your stretcher, and go home.” Immediately, the paralyzed man gets up, picks up the stretcher, and walks right out the house going on to his own home. Do we see what Jesus did? To prove that Jesus can do the easier thing (forgive sins), he did the greater thing (healing a paralyzed man). The healing shows that Jesus’ words of forgiveness are not empty words. The paralyzed man’s sins were forgiven. The proof of Jesus’ authority to forgive sins is the miracle of healing the paralyzed man. To state the issue before us in another way: Is Jesus’ claim to forgive sins an empty word or the real thing? Is God’s power behind Jesus’ declaration to forgive sins? The healing proves who Jesus is. Remember that the Pharisees rightly declared, “Only God can forgive sins.” Jesus has shown that he is God because he does forgive sins.
To validate this point further, notice that Jesus calls himself, “The Son of Man.” This is the favorite term that Jesus uses of himself. The reference point of this title comes from Daniel 7:13-14.
“I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed. (Daniel 7:13–14; ESV)
The Son of Man is the Messiah who was given all authority, glory, and a kingdom from God so that everyone would serve him. Jesus just said that he is that person. He has come with power and authority and that authority includes the forgiveness of sins.
KEY: Jesus has the authority and the power to forgive sins. Luke gives us one more story and then we can tie all of this together.
Jesus Came To Save The Lost (Luke 5:27-32)
In verse 27 we are told about Levi (who is also called Matthew) who leaves everything to follow Jesus, just like Peter, James, and John. Levi leaves behind the tax office and follows Jesus. Levi holds a great banquet that included a large crowd of tax collectors. Jewish tax collectors were hated by the Jews because they were considered traitors by working for the Roman Empire. Further, tax collectors were deceitful, often charging more than what was due and pocketing the difference. Tax collectors were hated, vile people that were placed on the same level of sin in the Jewish mind as the prostitutes. Notice that Jesus and his disciples are also at this banquet. Being at this banquet brings out the problem.
The Pharisees and the scribes were complaining to the disciples of Jesus. “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” Can you hear the criticism? “Jesus can’t be from God because he is associating himself with these vile people! What are you doing following Jesus and defiling yourself by being around these tax collectors and sinners?” “How can you have a meal with these people? How can you spend time with them? How can you have a social bond with them? How can you have fellowship these people?”
Jesus’ answer is powerful. “The healthy don’t need a doctor, but the sick do. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” This is why I hate going to the doctor. Do you know who sits in the doctor’s office? SICK PEOPLE! A doctor must constantly be around sick people. There is no other way to make them well. The doctor cannot be valuable if he only spends his time around the well. He must be around the sick if he is going to do his job.
Point: Our mission must be the same as Jesus’ mission. We must do everything possible to save the sick souls in the world. We must have the attitude that the sick need to hear the gospel and we must go to the sick. We cannot have the attitude of the Pharisees who did not want to be around sinners. We cannot look at the world as sinful people who will defile our righteousness. They are sick and we must bring them the cure of Jesus. Our teaching must be about bringing people to Jesus. Our worship must assist the lost in coming to Jesus. Jesus came to call sinners to repentance. We must also spend time around sinners to call them to repentance. There is no other way. If all we do is focus on each other, then we are missing the mission that Jesus has given to us and we are not like Jesus. We must focus on the lost. We must do things that encourage people to follow Jesus.
But Jesus’ point goes deeper. Let me ask a question: When do you go to the doctor? Let me point out to you that it is NOT when you are sick. We all get sick and the first response is not to go to the doctor. We want and see if we can get over it ourselves. We go to the doctor when we know we are sick and we need help getting well. We only go to the doctor when we understand that we are sick and realize that we need help to get well. This is Jesus’ point about not coming to save the righteous. It is not like there were righteous people that did not Jesus. There is none righteous, no not one (Romans 3). The point is that he did not come to save the people who think they are well. Jesus can’t save them because they did not understand they are sick and need a Savior to make them well. This was the problem of the Pharisees. They did not know they were sick and did not realize they needed Jesus to make them well. They thought they were fine. They did not recognize that they were full of sins just like everyone else. Jesus can help and heal those who recognize they need a Savior.
This thought is how the three stories tie together. The man with serious skin diseases did not care about the reaction of society and boldly went to Jesus asking for cleansing. The paralyzed man along with those who carried him boldly went to Jesus for healing and nothing would stop them from coming to Jesus. Jesus has the willingness to cleanse us. Jesus has the power and authority to forgive us of our sins. Jesus comes to sinners so that he can heal them. Jesus can heal you. He is the great doctor. Will you see that you are sick with sins and that you need him?