Four Friends, Faith and Forgiveness of Sins

Stand by Me is a film set in the fictional town of Castle Rock, Oregon. And there begins the story of four friends  – Gordie, Chris, Teddy and Vern. Gordie feels alone in his own home as his parents quietly grieve the death of their oldest son. Chris bears the reputation of being from a no good family. Teddy yearns for his father, his hero, yet a broken man who the town spurns. And Vern, well, he is just plain goofy.

These four friends set out on a journey to become local heroes. It will require a lot of walking which will be occupied by a lot of talking, accompanied by serene moments to think upon what really matters. “If I could only have one food to eat for the rest of my life? That’s easy. Pez. Cherry flavor Pez. No question about it,” said Vern.

It was these four friends sharing this journey which will cause Gordie, as an adult, to end their story with these words: I never had any friends like the ones I had when I was twelve. Does anybody?

John Balyo was a most respected man and beloved Bible teacher. He was pastor of Cedar Hill Baptist Church, here, in Cleveland. He never forgot, when he was young, being told that if you have five true friends by the time you die…well, that is remarkable. When he was in his sixties, perhaps a bit older, he shared that he did not yet have five.

At 38 years old, I am not so much reflecting on the friends I had when I was twelve – Reid Radcliffe, Kyle Wilson and Rob Bauer. Nor am I tempted to begin the count on my hand. Instead, I am left wondering if someone is reflecting on me or beginning to count me on their hand.

Luke writes Luke’s Gospel because there are things which happen to make us totter. But there are things which happened to keep us from tottering over. Keeping this in mind, Luke 5:17-26 makes just one demand of us. “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” (5:18). Behold is an imperative, a command.

There is much happening in these ten verses. Jesus is again teaching. Pharisees and teachers of the law, the Bible experts of the day, are there, just sitting there. And a crowd, too, is there, giving no wiggle room. The mood on this day will be affected by one rather short sentence. “Friend, your sins are forgiven you.” And yet, Luke is concerned that we not miss some men bringing on a bed a man who was paralyzed.

How many men brought on a bed a man who was paralyzed? Listen to Mark 2:3 which records this same journey. “And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men.” It is four men, four friends, who brought on a bed a man who was paralyzed. The paralyzed man could count four friends.

It Was One of Those Days

Have you ever had just one of those days? The mere mention of one of those days and we all know that this was not my, oh my, what a wonderful day; plenty of sunshine headin’ my way kind of day. This was oh, what a beautiful morning, oh, what a beautiful day, I’ve got a terrible feeling everything’s coming my way kind of day. And so Luke 5:17 begins “on one of those days.” And yet, it was not just one of those days as we know it. What kind of day was this? It was one of those days when Jesus was teaching.

What is significant about this one particular day when Jesus was teaching? First, I just want to point out that Luke, for some reason, is doing something peculiar as chapter fives unfolds. There is Luke 5:1. “On one occasion…” Then there is Luke 5:12. “While he was in one of the cities…” And Luke 5:17. “On one of those days…” There just seems to be this intentional ambiguity as Luke pens these moments.

But what is significant about this one particular day when Jesus was teaching? Listen to the rest of Luke 5:17. “On one of those days, as he was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there.” The Pharisees and teachers of the law (also known as scribes, cf. 5:21) were there! And who were the Pharisees and the teachers of the law? In short, these were the Bible experts, the theologians of the day. But remember, how did Jesus teach? What was distinct about Jesus’ teaching? Listen to Matthew 7:28-29. “And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority.” What does it mean to teach with authority? Listen to the rest of verse twenty-nine. “…and not as their scribes.” So, to teach with authority means to not teach as these scribes. And these scribes on this day were sitting there listening to Jesus teach! And really what was the difference? What was the difference between Jesus teaching and the Bible experts teaching? When Jesus taught, he taught the Bible, not about the Bible. When Jesus taught, he simply and wonderfully taught the bare Word of God; this is what it means to teach with authority.

What makes this just one of those days? We know Jesus was teaching and we know his teaching was distinct from the Pharisees and the scribes who were sitting there. Notice, too, that the Pharisees and the scribes had come from all over the place – every village in Galilee, every village in Judea and the all important city of Israel called Jerusalem. It seems then that not only were there a lot of Bible experts sitting there, but some of the most important Bible experts were sitting there. But still, what makes this just one of those days? Listen to the last part of verse seventeen. “And the power of the Lord was with him to heal.”

What Is Important About this Power?

What is important about this power? I would like to tell you that this word power is the Greek word dunamis from which we get the word dynamite. I would like to tell you that this is the same word that describes Easter. “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18). And I would like to tell you that this is the same word that describes how Jesus holds all things together. “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power” (Hebrews 1:3). But what I must tell you is that the power of the cross, the power which holds all things together, is the same power which in this moment is with Jesus to heal.

But why is Luke telling us this now? We have read of Jesus healing a woman with a severely high fever. We have read of Jesus healing those sick with various diseases. We just last week read of Jesus healing a man who was rotting from head to toe with leprosy (Luke 4:39; 4:40; 5:12-16). And so, when we read now that the power of the Lord was with him to heal, what might we be expecting to happen? When we read next, the very next verse, that four men were bringing on a bed a man who was paralyzed, that they were seeking to bring him in and lay him before Jesus, what might we be expecting to happen? We might be expecting that Jesus will heal this man; that this man will feel again; this man will walk again; this man will run again; this man who is broken, will be made whole. But why is Luke telling us this now? I think the reason is that we may have low expectations about healing. What folly to obtain bodily wholeness, only to get into eternity without Christ.

So, Here Come Those Four Friends

So, here come those four friends. And remember, this is the lone demand of us as we read this passage. Do not miss these four friends. Notice, it is these four friends each holding a corner of this bed or stretcher, carrying their friend. Where have they come from? How far have they traveled? We do not know. Mark tells us that this is taking place in Capernaum (Mark 2:1). We know from Luke 4:40, that there is no one left in Capernaum plagued with or by anything. So, most likely these men are not from town, but from out of town. It is these four friends seeking to bring their friend to Jesus. And it is these four friends seeking to lay their friend before Jesus.

And what happened? There was no way to bring their friend to Jesus! The crowd was too much! There was no wiggle room to enter the room. So, they went up on the roof. And who were they? They are the four friends and the stretcher and the paralyzed man. Now, most likely this was a one story building. How high is the roof from the ground of a one story building? Probably not that high. But it feels much higher lifting and bearing the weight of a stretcher with a paralyzed man upon it.

Here they were, all five of them, huffing and puffing and sweating and tired, on the roof. There was but one problem – how to get into the house from the roof! They begin to remove one tile after another. Then they begin to remove the ice guard and then the paper and then the nails and then the ply wood, all by hand. If that was not enough, the opening had to be big enough and wide enough to lower a grown man through it! How long did this take? How much noise was made? What were they feeling? This was someone else’s roof!

There is a point here, though. The condition of their friend did not stop these four friends. The distance did not stop these four friends. The crowd did not stop these four friends. The roof did not stop these four friends. The cost, the roof repair cost something, did not stop these four friends. No one gave up. No one gave in. What does that say about these four friends? Oh, how they loved their friend! Oh, how they cared for their friend! Oh, how persistent they were for their friend!

What Does Jesus Say About These Four Friends?

But what does Jesus say about these four friends? “And when he saw their faith” (Luke 5:20). Listen to what comes next. Jesus was looking at those four faces peering through this new skylight and then turns his face to the paralyzed man. And with the power to heal says, “Friend, your sins are forgiven you.”

This makes the Bible experts either fall out of their seats or come up out of their seats. “Who is this?! Who is this that speaks blasphemies [lies]? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” The Bible experts are asking all the right questions. But what must be the look of the four men who brought their friend to be healed? What must be the look of the paralyzed man who heard all that Jesus did in this town? Jesus is broadening the expectation of what it means to be healed. For surely, he came to heal…the brokenhearted (Isaiah 61:1, cf. 53:5). And so, that we may know that the Son of Man – he who has been given dominion and glory and a kingdom; he is the King; he is the promise of the Old Testament (cf. Daniel 7:13-14) – has authority to forgive sins, he commands the paralyzed man to get up, walk and go home. What does the paralyzed man do instead? He gets up and runs home! Jesus uses this moment to get all to think about who he is and the power he has to heal which is complete and eternal (the word forgive indicates a permanent condition). Each of our lives, each of our stories hinges on who Jesus is. Is he a liar? Or is he God? There is no room for any other talk about him.

What is the point? When it says that Jesus saw their faith, this surely includes not just the four friends, but the five friends. It includes the paralyzed man. What does it mean to have faith? “Too many Christians live in constant despondency because they cannot distinguish between the rock on which they stand and the faith by which they stand upon the rock. Faith is not our rock; Christ is our rock. We do not get faith by having faith in our faith or by looking to faith, but by looking to Christ. Looking to Christ is faith.” The point is that all five men were looking to Christ. It is why Jesus could say to the paralyzed man, “Your sins are forgiven you.”

And do not miss these four friends! What does it take to dream and pray and plan, in love, more ways to reach people? It takes a friend. A man or woman’s greatest need is forgiveness of sins. “In our own lives, our family and friends will very likely not know the healing touch of Christ unless we have the kind of love that rips open roofs.”

Listen to Matthew 15:21-28.

Advertisements

If You Will, Make Me Clean

In five days, ninety-nine minutes in the life of Louis Zamperini will be shared in this very room. We have been asking God who is rich in kindness, merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love to the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, to fill every seat in this very room…with just two people.

We have been thinking of these two people as the unchurched; those who because of very real experiences have known real hurt and real disappointment, no longer desire to gather together for worship – to sing the Bible together; to recite the Bible together; to read the Bible together; to read the Bible some more together; to hear the Bible taught together; and to pray together. But the unchurched also includes those who do not believe; those who are lost; those who are not saved; those who have yet to know the joy of salvation.

The hope and the pastoral prayer is that ninety-nine minutes in the life of Louis Zamperini would cause us to dream and pray and plan, in love, more ways to reach these two people.

And the big idea of Luke 5:12-16 is to dream and pray and plan, in love, more ways to reach these two people. These five verses are about the love part of reaching these two people!

What’s Love Got to Do With It?

And the big question is, what’s love got to do, got to do with it?  It has much to do with what we ended last week. And what we ended last week is something I would like to call the teaching section of Luke. It begins with a rather general introduction: Jesus was teaching in the synagogues of Galilee (cf. Luke 4:14-15). He taught in the synagogue of Nazareth which was in Galilee (Luke 4:16-30). He taught in the synagogue of Capernaum which was in Galilee (Luke 4:31-37). And he taught in a boat in a lake called the Sea of Galilee (Luke 5:1-11).

And throughout all this teaching there are these displays of Jesus’ power and authority. There was the display of Jesus’ power and authority over the supernatural (Luke 4:35). There was the display of Jesus’ power and authority over the natural (Luke 4:39). And there was the display of the limitless bounds of Jesus’ power and authority (Luke 4:40-41). But there was also the display of Jesus’ power and authority in things hopelessly unproductive (Luke 5:1-11). And it was when he taught in a boat in a lake called the Sea of Galilee.

A crowd was gathering to hear Jesus teach. And when Jesus taught, what did he teach? He taught the Bible. A crowd was gathering to hear the Bible be taught. The crowd was getting bigger and bigger, so much so, that the crowd was leaning in together to not miss a single word. So, Jesus got into a boat, Simon’s boat, with Simon. And when Jesus was done teaching, he demanded that Simon take the boat out deeper to let down his nets for one more catch. Why is this significant? Simon and his crew had spent from dusk till dawn fishing this very lake from this very spot from this very boat without even getting a nibble. It was hopelessly unproductive. At the moment of following Jesus’ very words, the nets were filled with a large amount of fish beyond what could be contained. And it is so wonderful! It was at this very moment that Peter finally saw himself – his life, his work, his purpose – within the limitless bounds of Jesus’ power and authority. Then Jesus said this, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people” (Luke 5:10). How does the teaching section end? From now on you will be catching or gathering or reaching people. How?

“And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him” (5:11). What was the point? The big point was how to dream and pray and plan, in love, more ways to reach people. And the picture is to abandon clever methods, creative means that I may design; to abandon my own expertise and trust Christ to help me reach and gather people…even in long, hopelessly unproductive droughts. How can I do that? How can we do that? Keep teaching, always teaching the bare word of God.

And love has much to do with it.

And There Came a Man Full of Leprosy

Notice Luke 5:12. It immediately follows the end of the teaching section of Luke. What happens? “While he was in one of the cities…” Pause there. Keep in mind something about the teaching section. It was typically in the synagogues. And Luke 5:1-11 acts as a sort of transition – Jesus teaching in a boat. And now as Luke 5:12 begins, Jesus was in one of the cities. And “there came a man full of leprosy.”

The first mention of leprosy, it is actually the word leprous, is in Exodus 4:6. And some Bibles in every mention of leprosy give a footnote which reads the same every time: leprosy was a term for several skin diseases. There are a few people in the Bible stricken with one of these skin diseases – a woman named Miriam; a general named Naaman; a man named Gehazi; and a king named Uzziah (cf. Numbers 12:12; 2 Kings 5:1; 2 Kings 5:27; 2 Chronicles 26:20). Only two of these people knew what it meant to be healed of leprosy. This man in Luke 5:12 who is unnamed, seems to have the most severe case of leprosy. He was “a man full of leprosy.” It was all over his body, from head to toe. He may be the only person in the Bible described as suffering with leprosy in this manner.

The Bible devotes nearly two chapters to leprosy and those suffering with it. And it is best summed with these two verses: “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). Everywhere a leper went, he was to cry out that he was unclean. A leper was to stay outside the camp, that is outside of the city, not in the city. A leper was cut off not just from the community, but all sense of community. Well, any sense of community was to be had with other lepers. And most importantly, a leper was cut off from God’s holy presence in the Tabernacle. A leper could not come before God. A leper could not gather to worship with other worshipers! A leper could not enjoy singing the Bible together; reciting the Bible together; reading the Bible together; reading the Bible some more together; hearing the Bible taught together; and praying together. The leper was an outcast.

Remember how in the synagogue the people marveled that Jesus taught with authority and not like the scribes and rabbis? This was expressed in Luke 4:32, but greater yet in Matthew 7:28-29. Do you know what immediately happened after Matthew 7:28-29, the teaching section of Matthew? Jesus encountered this man full of leprosy (Matthew 8:1-4). I want us to see that in following the teaching sections of Matthew and Luke, Jesus encountered this particular man.

But remember that Jesus did not teach the Bible like the rabbis. The rabbis taught that if a leper even stuck his head inside a house, the house was pronounced unclean. The mere presence of a leper would make his surroundings unclean! It was illegal to greet a leper. It was thought that leprosy was caused by some great sin. Rabbis believed to cure a leper was as difficult as raising a person from the dead, which must be especially true in the case of this man. The public reaction to leprosy was to treat a person as if they were dead (cf. Numbers 12:12).

He suffered from what is most likely called Hansen’s disease, “a painless hell.” The body’s warning system of pain is destroyed. It brings numbness to the extremities including the ears, eyes and noise. There are cases in which vermin have chewed on sleeping lepers without the lepers even knowing it. This poor man in Luke had not been able to feel for years, and his body, mutilated from head to foot was foul and rotting. And to touch such a person would render one as unclean, as much as an outcast as him.

If You Are Willing, Make Me Clean

Do you think this man knew he was hopeless? How long do you think he may have felt utterly helpless? How long had it been since he knew the touch of another human being? Can he even remember it? Perhaps he was a father and a husband. How long since he knew the embrace of his son or daughter, the affection of his wife?

This man sees Jesus. He must recognize him and breaking every rule, for he was in the city, he comes near Jesus and falls at his feet, almost worshipful, kissing the ground. Now listen to what he says. “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” Matthew and Mark both record these same exact words when this man draws near to Jesus (cf. Matthew 8:2; Mark 1:40). In fact, when Mark records these words it is in a tense that implies he kept saying it over and over – Lord, if you will, you can make me clean. Lord, if you will, you can make me clean. Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.

And I just want to point out two things. Notice that the leper does not ask to be healed, but to be made clean. The word clean means to be made pure. It reminded me of Isaiah 1:18. “Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.” But also, the leper is convinced that Jesus can, he has the ability to make him pure. What is the request, though? Are you willing?

What is Jesus’ response? “I will; be clean.” This is what Jesus says, but before he says anything there is something Jesus does. There is something Jesus does when he says, “I am willing!” He stretched out his hand and touched him. This word touched is not the same as in Luke 4:40. This word touched means to lay hold of; picture an embrace, a hug. Jesus hugged this man saying, “I AM WILLING!”

Jesus is not supposed to touch the man (cf. Isaiah 52:11). Touching an unclean person renders you unclean. We also know that Jesus does not need to touch the man. He could have healed him with just a word. So, if he is not supposed to touch him and does not need to touch him, why does he? Mark says that it was out of affection (1:41). And when Jesus touched him, hugged him, he was made immediately pure. But what did the man first know and feel? The affection, the deep, deep love of Jesus. But there is more. Why does Jesus touch him? Remember it makes Jesus unclean. A friend pointed out that Jesus was never afraid, never ashamed to bear the talk of himself being unclean, for spending time with sinners, the unlovely and seemingly unlovable.

Where Do We See the Love?

But why did Jesus touch him? Notice how the passage ends. It begins with Jesus openly in the city. It ends with Jesus put out of the city, alone in isolated places. Jesus traded places with the leper. Jesus became the leper. Jesus was now the outcast.

Leprosy is often a picture of sin. We all have sinned. And because of sin we are called dead (Ephesians 2:1) unable to enjoy the presence of the holy God. But there is Jesus. And here is that leper having been separated from God’s presence. Jesus came to him. Jesus touched him and in so doing separated himself, becoming the outcast so that this man could worship, be accepted and live in community!

And the question for each of us is, is he willing to make even me clean? “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). And listen to 1 John 1:9. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse [that word from Luke 5:12] us from all unrighteousness.”

And it is out of his affection. “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10). And it is for those who are unclean; five or ten or one hundred percent unclean, is still unclean (cf. Isaiah 1:4-6).

And for those who are forgiven sinners, those made righteous, what is the application? “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:11). What is teaching without affection? It is about even loving the unlovely and unloved and seemingly unlovable. It is about touching the unlovely and unloved and seemingly unlovable that they might know the limitless bounds of Jesus’ power and authority and affectionate embrace.

They Left Everything and Followed Him

In less than two weeks, ninety-nine minutes in the life of Louis Zamperini will be shared in this very room. We have been asking God who is rich in kindness, merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love to the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, to fill every seat in this very room…with just two people.

We have been thinking of these two people as the unchurched; those who because of very real experiences have known real hurt and real disappointment and no longer desire to gather together for worship – to sing the Bible together; to recite the Bible together; to read the Bible together; to read the Bible some more together; to hear together the Bible taught; and to pray together. But the unchurched also includes those who do not believe; those who are lost; those who are not saved; those who have yet to know the joy of salvation.

The hope, the pastoral prayer, is that ninety-nine minutes in the life of Louis Zamperini would cause us to dream and pray and plan, in love, more ways to reach these two people.

And the big idea of Luke 5:1-11 is how to dream and pray and plan, in love, more ways to reach these two people.

He Taught Them at a Lake

These eleven verses are part of something big. And it is not something that continues with Luke 5:12. These eleven verses are actually the end of something big, something that began with Luke 4:14-15. In other words, these eleven verses are part and the end of a big section in the Gospel of Luke. It is a section that begins with Jesus in a place called Galilee. And what is Jesus doing in a place called Galilee? “And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all.”

When we first came to those verses we called them a general introductory statement to this big section: Jesus was teaching in the synagogues throughout Galilee. He taught at the synagogue in Nazareth which is in Galilee (4:16-30). He taught at the synagogue in Capernaum which is in Galilee (4:31-44). And then he left Capernaum. Why did he leave Capernaum? Listen to Luke 4:43. “I must preach the good news of the kingdom to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose.”

And now pay close attention to Luke 4:44, the very last verse of this chapter. “And he was preaching in the synagogues of Judea.” It sounds like another general introductory statement, meaning, what are we to expect to read next? Jesus teaching at a synagogue in a town of Judea!

As Luke 5 begins, there was a crowd. How many is a crowd? Well, two is company and three is a crowd. So, this must be at least three people, but most likely it is a whole lot more than three people. It is a lot of people. And this crowd was pressing in on Jesus. The comfortable personal space between Jesus and the crowd was inching smaller and smaller. Why? The crowd was intent on hearing the word of God. This crowd was leaning forward to catch every word of Jesus’ teaching. And keeping in mind that general introductory statement of Luke 4:44, where would Jesus be teaching? We might expect at a synagogue in a town of Judea. But instead it is a lake! And where is this lake? We might expect that it is a lake in Judea.

Luke calls it the lake of Genessaret which is also known as the Sea of Tiberias which is also known as the Sea of Galilee. Yes, Galilee! As Luke 5 begins, Jesus was still teaching in Galilee and not in a synagogue but at the lake. Luke misdirected us. Why? It is the end of something big. And by end I mean the end for which Luke 4:15 was aiming.

This is the only time Luke calls the Sea of Galilee the lake of Genessaret. And I do not know why except that Gennesaret is also the name of a town on this lake, just like Capernaum is a town on this lake. Genessaret is just a little further south of Capernaum. And Capernaum was where a man named Simon, better known as Peter, lived.

And He Taught Them From a Boat

But as Luke 5 begins, the point is not this crowd and the point is not that this crowd was pressing in on Jesus, inching closer and closer to hear him teach. The point is that something caught the attention of Jesus. Listen closely to Luke 5:1. “On one occasion, while the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God,” something happened. The word while makes all the difference! While the crowd was inching closer and closer to hear him teach, listen to verse two. “He saw two boats by the lake.”

The two boats are the point! The crowd was pressing in on Jesus and as he is maneuvering for space, his foot slips into the water. It is then out of the corner of his eye he notices two empty boats resting on the shore. Nobody is using them. The fishermen are up further away from these boats, washing their nets. And it means that there are no plans to use these boats anytime soon. So, Jesus gets into one. Whose boat is this? This was Simon’s boat and we do not know how Jesus knew it was Simon’s boat, perhaps the name of it was “Simon’s Boat.” But the point is that it was Simon’s boat. Now, why is this important? In the previous verses, Luke 4:38-44, everything there took place at Simon’s house. And everything in Luke 5:1-11 will take place from Simon’s boat.

Notice the rest of Luke 5:3. Jesus asked – note this, Jesus asked – Simon to take the boat out a little way from the land. Why? “And he sat down and taught the people from the boat.” Sitting down was the position of teaching. The teacher in the synagogue sat to teach. But what is happening from Luke 4:14 until now? Teaching. Jesus teaching in synagogues and now Jesus teaching from a boat. Everything that happens in these eleven verses, happens from the perspective of the boat. And the first thing that happens is that Jesus teaches from the boat. But do not miss this; who is Jesus teaching from the boat? It is people.

Notice, again, how the people are described. The people are described as a crowd. And we do not know how many except that it must be a large amount of people. And what was the crowd doing as Luke began? The crowd was pressing in on Jesus to hear him teach the Bible. But why were they pressing in on him? It was getting hard to hear, obviously, but why? The crowd was getting bigger and bigger. It was those from the back of the crowd edging in to hear Jesus teach, forcing the crowd to inch closer and closer to Jesus. Now big question, what was drawing the crowd? It was the teaching of the word of God. And how did Jesus teach the word of God? He taught with authority, simply meaning, when Jesus taught the Bible he taught the Bible.

He Then Finished Teaching from the Boat

Then Jesus finished teaching from the boat (Luke 5:4). What has Simon been doing this whole time? I think he has been waiting for Jesus to finish speaking. The boat is rather large – about twenty-seven feet long and a little over seven feet wide. Simon rowed the boat out a bit and anchored it and waited. Jesus sat and taught from one end, while Simon rested at the other end. The boat rocked ever so gently while the warmth of the sun blanketed Simon’s face. He waited and rested.

“Simon. Simon!” Jesus alerted him. “I am finished.” What would Simon now be expecting? Jesus then demands, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” I love what comes next. Simon tries to watch his tone, but you get it anyway. Remember, Simon was a professional fisherman. He has done this for his entire working life…on this very lake. He knows this lake inside and out, deep and shallow. Simon says, “Um, sir,” he was trying to really be respectful. “We worked to the point of exhaustion all night long until the breaking of the day.” Being a fishermen was strenuous, back-breaking work. They would lay out this one hundred foot net in a semi-circle into the water, waiting to catch something and then draw in the soaking wet, maybe fish filled net back into the boat, hand over hand and then repeat again and again until the needed quota was met. But listen to Simon. They did this last night, hour after hour and caught nothing. So, what was Simon thinking when Jesus tells him to do it again?!

Simon, not even half-heartedly obeyed. “But at your word I will let down the nets.” I wonder how that sounded. Surely there was a slight roll of the eyes when Jesus was not looking. What an example this is for you and me! Jesus’ word comes and it is demanding. We have some initial reticence. But we are sure he is the one who is speaking, and there is no doubt about what he wants, so we do it. And we are not sorry.[1]

And Simon Was Afraid

Watch what happened next! The nets immediately fill with a large number of fish. Be sure to mark that down; it was how many? A large number of fish. And it was so many fish that the nets began to break. It just gets better. The remaining fishermen hear Simon calling and grab the second boat to help. Both boats are then filled with fish and begin to sink! (cf. Luke 5:6-7).

Notice verse eight. There is a change in Simon’s name. Here he is called Simon Peter. He falls down at the feet of Jesus overwhelmed with his own sinfulness. Why? He was stunned at what just happened. But…Simon had experienced firsthand what Jesus had done back at the synagogue and in his own home. He saw Jesus’ power and authority over the natural and Jesus’ power and authority over the supernatural and the unlimited extent of this power and authority. It was not until Jesus got into his boat that Peter was overwhelmed with the sense of who he really is in the light of who Jesus really is. Why? This was Simon’s boat. This was Simon’s lake. These were Simon’s nets. This was Simon’s work. This was Simon’s livelihood. And it was now that he understood that he, his life, is too within the sphere of Jesus’ divine power and authority. This is essential to all our dreaming and praying and planning to reach two kinds of people.

They Left Everything and Followed Him

Jesus then said to Peter, “Do not be afraid” (5:10). Peter’s afraid. Why would he be afraid? Throughout the Bible those that come to this kind of realization – who they are in the light of who God is – get afraid (see Isaiah 6:1-5; Revelation 1:17). But remember, Jesus the King has arrived with good news. Listen to what he says next. “From now on you will catching men.”

Remember everything happens from the perspective of the boat. Jesus taught a large amount of people from the boat. Peter caught a large amount of fish from the boat. The teaching correlates with the catching. The large amount of people correlates with the large amount of fish. And Jesus finishes by saying, you will now be catching people and not for death like the fish but for living, for life. And how is Peter and the other disciples to do it? How did Jesus draw the large amount of people? It is by teaching the word of God and always teaching the word of God.

Notice how it ends. “And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him.”  What does it mean to leave everything and follow Jesus? This is how I have been thinking about it: when it comes to Jesus, what is everything to me? “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:8a). But the context here includes teaching and catching people. So the leaving everything involves abandoning what I may come up with to gather people and trusting Christ to help me gather people. How do I do that? Always teaching the bare word of God.

And so how are we to dream and pray and plan, in love, more ways to reach these two people? Always teaching, teaching always. Teach Sunday morning. Teach Sunday evening. Be seeking ways to teach intentionally, meaning who might this Bible study be for and who might this Bible study be for and…. Teach children. Teach teenagers. Teach the older generation, too. Teach in our homes. Keep teaching, keep explaining…the bare word of God.

And notice what makes a difference. It is when the teaching has prepared the teacher.

[1] R. Kent Hughes, Luke: That You May Know the Truth

I Must Preach the Good News of the Kingdom

Roast beef. Carrots roasted with the roast beef. Mashed potatoes – potatoes that have been peeled, boiled to the right tenderness, drained and then seasoned with butter, salt, a slight amount of pepper and finally mashed to the just right consistency. And maybe some sweet corn, but definitely gravy, not too thin and not too thick, made from all the drippings and juice of that roast beef. This is the best and most perfect Sunday dinner. Warm crescent rolls would be nice, too.

But this is Saturday. Luke 4:38-44 begins on Saturday. And on Saturday people would gather together for worship – to sing the Bible together; to recite the Bible together; to read the Bible together; to read the Bible some more together; to hear together the Bible taught; and to pray together.

What Happens After Worship?

But what happened after worship? The best and most perfect Saturday dinner. It was common, each Saturday, that fellowship would follow worship. And perhaps it was in someone’s home around the biggest meal of the week. Recently, I read of a local church in Vermont that each Sunday, beginning the weekend after Thanksgiving until Easter Sunday, gathers for fellowship following worship around a meal. And at Calvary we have Sundays like this, fellowship following worship around a meal. Sometimes it is soup, sometimes it is a good old fashioned potluck or sometimes it is fried chicken. Actually, each Sunday at Calvary is like this, it may not be a meal, but each Sunday fellowship follows worship and maybe it is around a cup of coffee and a cookie or two or three. But the experience is there. What happens after worship? Fellowship or perhaps put it this way: worship affects fellowship.

And this is what is happening as Luke 4:38 begins. “And he arose and left the synagogue and entered Simon’s house.” The best and most perfect Saturday dinner was about to be had, the biggest meal of the week. But as Jesus entered the house, there was no aroma of a roast filling the air. There was no activity heard in the kitchen. In fact, it did not look like anyone was expecting anybody for fellowship around a meal. Instead, all Jesus found was a mother-in-law.

Here laid this mother-in-law, shivering and yet bundled up with blankets. Her teeth were chattering. It hurt to even open her eyes. She was ill with a high fever. The word Luke uses to describe this fever is mega. This was a mega fever, serious and severe. Her hypothalamus had shifted her normal body temperature upward. Her body was fighting something – this is important – and it could be anything, a virus or an infection; heat exhaustion; rheumatoid arthritis or even a malignant tumor.

Notice the rest of Luke 4:38. “And they appealed to him on her behalf.” Some translations read that they begged Jesus to help her. But the question is, who are they? This is Simon’s house and Simon’s mother-in-law, so it must be that Simon was asking Jesus to help his mother-in-law. And who is this Simon? Simon is also known as Simon Peter or better known simply as Peter; yes, that Peter. And he is not the only one urging Jesus for help. If Simon has a mother-in-law, surely he has a wife. So, Simon and his wife are urging Jesus for help. But these two are not the only ones urging Jesus for help.

Simon had a brother named Andrew and he was there. Simon and Andrew had a friend named James and he was there. Simon and Andrew had another friend named John and he was there (cf. Mark 1:29). So, as Jesus entered this home for fellowship around the biggest meal of the week he was greeted by Simon and Simon’s wife and Simon’s brother and Simon’s friends with these words, “Jesus! Will you help her?! Can you help her?”

And what does Jesus say? Nothing, or Luke does not record what Jesus said. Listen to Luke 4:39. “And he stood over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her.” Jesus healed her. Matthew and Mark both record this same moment in Simon’s house. And when Jesus healed Simon’s mother-in-law they do not record Jesus saying a single word. But I want us to listen to how Mark records it. “And he came and took her by the hand and lifted her up, and the fever left her” (Mark 1:31; Matthew 8:15). What does Mark emphasize? It was his touch, all it took was his touch.

Matthew, Mark and Luke each agree; the fever was gone. The healing was immediate. And the healing was complete and by complete, I mean this: the fever was merely a symptom of something greater. Why would Jesus heal just the symptom and not the problem? The healing was complete and there were no lingering effects, no weakness, no need of rest. Instead, what did Simon’s mother-in-law do? She began to serve them…the biggest meal of the week! Fellowship was going to follow worship!

And Matthew, Mark and Luke each make sure we get the end result of this healing: service. She served them. It is “a living example of what Christ wants to do in believer’s lives. The measure of a Christian is not how many servants he has, but how many he serves.”[1]

What Does Luke Want Us To See?

But is this all that Luke wants us to see? It is interesting that Matthew, Mark and Luke record no spoken words of Jesus in healing this woman. However, Luke does record that Jesus rebuked the fever. And how did he rebuke the fever? I think it was simply his touch, he took her by the hand. But the word Luke chooses to use is interesting – rebuked. Why did Simon and his wife and his brother and his two friends plead with Jesus to help Simon’s mother-in-law? They had just witnessed Jesus’ power and authority earlier in the synagogue when he rebuked a demon (4:35). It was something in which all [Simon, his wife, brother and friends included] responded, “What is this word? For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits and they come out!” (Luke 4:36).

Luke will use this word, rebuke, again later on this very Saturday. It is in Luke 4:41 and again with demons. “And demons came out of many, crying,” notice that word crying. It may be the word shouting, instead. It is a word that means to cry out with loud screaming, like a wounded person emitting unearthly types of sounds. And what are they shouting? “‘You are the Son of God!’ But Jesus rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew that he was the Christ” (4:41). There is that word again, rebuke. So three times on this Saturday Jesus rebukes, first a demon, then a fever and then demons. Luke purposely uses that word three times. And the question to ask is, what does Luke want us to see?

Luke 4 and this Saturday, from the synagogue to Simon’s house, is about authority, Jesus’ authority. And when it comes to Jesus’ authority Luke wants us to see two things. See that Jesus has authority and power over the supernatural. And see that Jesus has authority and power over the natural.

And The Sun Was Setting

And then the sun began to set. And what happened when the sun was setting? After Jesus demonstrated his authority and power over the supernatural back in the synagogue, when the sun hung in the sky, “reports about him went out into very place in the surrounding region” (Luke 4:37). And when the sun was setting all those who had witnessed this authority and power brought any who were sick with various diseases to him (4:40). Why did they wait though for the sun to set? The sun setting meant that Sabbath was ending and everyone knew or was led to think that there are six days to work and if you need healing, do not seek it on the Sabbath. Wait until the Sabbath was over (cf. Luke 13:14). And that seems to be what was happening here.

Again, what does Luke want us to see? Notice that Jesus was healing everyone who was brought to him. He turns no one away. But I want to point out that those coming to Jesus for healing were dealing with various diseases. The word various literally means multi-colored. These are things like leprosy and blindness and deafness and physical disabilities; you think it, Jesus healed it. And the healing was immediate and it was complete. What does Luke want us to see? Listen to Luke 4:41. In the midst of all these diseases, there are those who were under heavy demonic influence whether internally or externally. Two things; it seems that Luke is making a distinction for us between having an illness or disease and demonic activity, meaning that the two are not identical. But the bigger point is that Jesus exorcised demons, not just a demon.

Did you know that there is a hierarchy of demons? “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). There are rulers and authorities and cosmic powers and spiritual forces of evil. And so what does Luke want us to see when it comes to these various diseases and hierarchy of evil forces? There is no limit to the authority and power of Jesus over the natural and there is no limit to the authority and power of Jesus over the supernatural. His authority and power is over these rulers and these authorities and these cosmic powers and these spiritual forces.

Notice though Luke 4:40. How did Jesus heal those with various diseases? He did not speak a word, instead “he laid his hands on them.” It was his touch, all it took was his touch. Twas battered and scarred, and the auctioneer thought it hardly worth his while to waste his time on the old violin, but he held it up with a smile. “What am I bid, good people,” he cried, “Who starts the bidding for me?” “One dollar, one dollar, Do I hear two?” “Two dollars, who makes it three?” “Three dollars once, three dollars twice, going for three.” But, no, from the room far back a gray bearded man came forward and picked up the bow, then wiping the dust from the old violin. And tightening up the strings, he played a melody, pure and sweet as sweet as the angel sings. The music ceased and the auctioneer with a voice that was quiet and low, said “What now am I bid for this old violin?” as he held it aloft with its’ bow. “One thousand, one thousand, Do I hear two?” “Two thousand, who makes it three?” “Three thousand once, three thousand twice, going and gone,” said he. The audience cheered, but some of them cried, “We just don’t understand. What changed its’ worth?” Swift came the reply. “The touch of the Master’s hand.” And many a man with life out of tune all battered and bruised with hardship is auctioned cheap to a thoughtless crowd much like that old violin. A mess of pottage, a glass of wine, a game and he travels on. He is going once, he is going twice, he is going and almost gone. But the Master comes, and the foolish crowd never can quite understand, the worth of a soul and the change that is wrought by the Touch of the Master’s hand.

I Must Preach the Good News of the Kingdom

Does Luke 4:38-44 teach us to think biblically about healing? Yes. Should we pray for healing? Yes. If you need healing pray for yourself. If someone you know needs healing pray for them. And if you need healing seek your pastor to pray for you and with you (James 5:13-16). Are all who ask for and seek healing healed? No. “Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:8-10).

Healing is temporary. It always delays the inevitable. So, why did Jesus heal? It validated his person, his ministry and his word. For never since the world began had anyone ever heard of anything or anyone like this (cf. John 9:32). Ultimately, Jesus healed for the glory of God. And there were a lot of people that Jesus did not heal. This too was for God’s glory, to show that his grace is sufficient for you and me.

But again, what does Luke want us to see? Why show us Jesus’ authority and power over the natural and Jesus’ authority and power over the supernatural? It is because it is all about preaching. Notice how Jesus puts an end to this day in Capernaum. “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose” (Luke 4:43). The point is that the cosmically authoritative Christ has come with the good news of the kingdom. The King is here. And the King is gathering citizens for his kingdom. And these citizens are the spiritually helpless and the spiritually captive and the spiritually blind and the spiritually broken. And what he can do for you eternally far outweighs what he can for you temporarily.

[1] R. Kent Hughes, Luke: That You May Know the Truth

And He Taught Them All With Authority

I believe in the sun even when it’s not shining. I believe in love even when I don’t feel it. I believe in God even when He is silent. These three sentences were found scratched into a cellar wall in Cologne, Germany during the Holocaust.

The word Sabbath is much more than a word, it is a day. But as a day it is much more than a day, it is a particular day. It is the seventh day of the week also known as Saturday. For Jewish people, Sabbath begins sundown Friday and concludes at sundown Saturday. The most moving stories of the Jewish people keeping Sabbath are the stories when they kept it in the midst of crisis and terror. They kept Sabbath under siege. They kept it in famine. They kept it in drought. They kept it in Warsaw’s ghettos and Hitler’s death camps and Stalin’s gulags. They kept Sabbath even when the world was falling to pieces.[1] I would like to think that those three sentences were scratched into that wall because someone had been keeping Sabbath.

Keeping Sabbath is one of ten commands found in a book of the Bible called Exodus and in another book of the Bible called Deuteronomy. These two books each have a chapter simply known as the Ten Commandments. Why are there two books of the Bible each with a chapter containing the Ten Commandments? The theme of Deuteronomy is remember; it is all throughout the book. So, the reason there is another book of the Bible with a chapter containing the Ten Commandments is so that we remember the Ten Commandments.

And one of those ten commandments is “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy” (Exodus 20:8). But listen closely to it again, this time from Deuteronomy. “Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy” (Deuteronomy 5:12). Do you hear and see something different? In Exodus the command is to remember the Sabbath day. In Deuteronomy the command is to observe the Sabbath day. What is the difference? I think the difference is this: throughout the week remember with fondness and joy the previous Sabbath but with much eagerness look forward to the Sabbath day that is coming. Why?

Sabbath is about rest; it is about stillness. “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). Sabbath gives the rest of God – actual physical, mental, spiritual rest. But Sabbath also gives the rest of God – the things of God’s nature and presence we miss in our busyness.[2] And the big question is, how? How do I find the rest of God?

He Taught in Their Synagogues

We are in a very particular portion of Luke 4 which begins with this introduction: And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and a report about him went out through all the surrounding country. And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all (4:14-15). Be sure to get this introduction to the rest of Luke 4 – Jesus taught in their synagogues.

The synagogue was the place to gather together for worship. It was the place to gather together to sing the Bible – Psalms 145-150. It was the place to gather together to recite the Bible – Deuteronomy 6:4-9. It was the place to gather together to read the Bible – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers or Deuteronomy. It was the place to gather together to read the Bible some more – perhaps Isaiah or Zephaniah or Malachi. It was the place to gather together to teach the Bible. And it was the place to gather together to pray the Bible – Numbers 6:24-26. But when did all of this take place?

Listen to Luke 4:16. “And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read.” Now listen to Luke 4:31. “And he went down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee. And he was teaching them on the Sabbath.” When did people in Jesus’ day gather together for worship; to sing the Bible and recite the Bible and read the Bible, read the Bible some more and teach the Bible and to pray the Bible? It was the Sabbath day. And when did Jesus teach in their synagogues? It was the Sabbath day.

And He Taught Them All With Authority

What was Jesus teaching in the synagogues on the Sabbath day? The answer seems obvious, right? Jesus was teaching the Bible in the synagogues on the Sabbath day. And what was that like? Look again at the introduction to the rest of Luke 4. “And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all.” There was a sense that something was different about this teaching. And I am suggesting that there was something different about the teaching because there was something different about the teacher. It is by asking this question: how did Jesus teach the Bible?

There is a slight glimpse of this in the text from last week. It is there in Luke 4:16-27. How did Jesus teach the Bible? He read it. And then he stopped reading it. Why did he stop reading? He only read Isaiah 61:1-2 but not all of verse two. Jesus read the Bible and then stopped reading the Bible because he was reading the Bible intentionally. He read Isaiah 61:1-2 understanding the point. And he read Isaiah 61:1-2 so that the hearers would catch the point. It is why he stopped reading when he stopped reading! He then put the big idea of what was read in one sentence. “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” And to expound the big idea further Jesus went to two other Bible passages – 1 Kings 17:1-16 and 2 Kings 5:1-14.

And now listen to Luke 4:32. Jesus was teaching a synagogue. It was the Sabbath day “and they were astonished at his teaching.” Notice the word astonished (or amazed). It means to witness the incredible. What was so incredible about Jesus’ teaching of the Bible? Read the rest of verse thirty-two. “…for his word possessed authority.” There was something different about the teaching because there was something different about the teacher. Jesus taught the Bible with authority.

What Does It Mean to Teach With Authority?

What does it mean to teach with authority? The answer is not simply that Jesus was teaching the Bible therefore the Bible was being taught with authority. Instead, something is being said here about how the Bible is to be taught. And something is being said here about how we are to expect the Bible to be taught. “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). And so, what does it mean to teach the Bible with authority?

Does it mean to dress a certain way? Does it mean to use a certain Bible translation? Does it mean to emphasize certain do’s and certain do not’s? Do not drink; do not smoke; do not chew. And do not date girls that do. Mark tells of this same day in this same synagogue when Jesus was teaching. And he tells us a little bit more about the response to Jesus’ teaching. “And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes” (Mark 1:22). When Jesus taught with authority it was not like the Bible teaching these people heard the previous Saturday. And just note it for now – it was not like the scribes.

This was something I just kept thinking about all week; what does it mean to teach the Bible with authority? How did Jesus teach the Bible with authority? In the film It’s a Wonderful Life, when young George Bailey was perplexed he did what a cigarette advertisement told him to do – ask Dad, he knows. So, I asked my Dad these two questions (they are one and the same). And this immediately came to his mind: carried and consistent and confident. Jesus carried himself a certain way when he taught the Bible. Jesus was consistent as he taught the Bible. And Jesus was confident when he taught the Bible. Why? It was because he was convinced that the Bible is the very word of God. “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

And this was nowhere near like the scribes. “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger” (Matthew 23:2-4). Oh, may it not be when you hear the Bible taught! Instead, may you hear what is for your good even if it hurts. The missionary Amy Carmichael once said, “If you have never been hurt by a word from God, it is probable that you have never heard God speak.” We ought to pray for such divine hurt.

It was observed that the rabbis when teaching the Bible would simply cite what one rabbi after another and after another and after another thought of a particular passage. The authority was in the thoughts of rabbis. But here it was different. When Jesus taught the Bible he taught the Bible, not about the Bible. The authority was in the bare Word of God.

Have You Come to Destroy Us?

This kind of Bible teaching arouses the attention of hell. Notice that there are two responses to this kind of teaching. There is the witness of the incredible and then there is one who speaks up. In this synagogue was a man possessed by an unclean demon. At first I thought what an unexpected place to find a demon possessed man – in the midst of the place of worship! But then I was more surprised that this demon was called an unclean demon as if there was any other kind! As you read through the Gospels, though, often demons are described as unclean, physically unclean or morally unclean or both.

But here is this man possessed by this unclean demon and it is this kind of teaching that provokes his response. “Ha!” In other words, why are you bothering me?! What does this teaching have to do with me?! But most interesting of all is hearing this unclean demon say, “I know who you are – the Holy One of God” (cf. Mark 3:11). The words, Holy One of God, are another way of saying, “You are the exact expression of the holiness of God” (cf. Isaiah 6:1-5). This is a significant confession. Do demons know who Jesus really is? Yes. Do demons believe who Jesus really is? Yes. “Even the demons believe—and shudder!” (James 2:19). What is the difference, the dividing line between this demon believing who Jesus really is and me believing who Jesus really is? “What a tragedy it would be to know what God has granted you to know, to be given the truth that God in his mercy has showered upon you and not love him; believe him; trust him; follow him; treasure and worship him.”

The word shudder is a great word meaning to bristle like a frightened cat. And this is what is happening here. This demon thinks Jesus has come to destroy “us” – all the unclean demons. And notice what happens next. “Be silent and come out of him!” (Luke 4:35).

And notice what continues to happen. The demon did not delay, but obeyed. He left the man and left him unharmed. And now the people are overwhelmed with the authority of the very word of Jesus. And I think it is to emphasize that if Jesus has the authority over even the demons and they obey, surely he has the authority to help the helpless; to break the bonds of the captive; to open the eyes of the blind; to mend the heart of the broken. There must be authority in the good news of Jesus Christ.

All this took place on the Sabbath. So, how do I find the rest of God? It begins in gathering together for worship. And it ascends in singing the Bible together; reciting the Bible together; reading the Bible together; reading the Bible some more together; praying the Bible. And it culminates, this rest culminates in hearing the Bible taught with authority. And it is because it is about the one who alone has the authority to help the helpless; to break the bonds of the captive; to open the eyes of the blind; to mend the heart of the broken. It is about knowing Jesus better and loving Jesus more. There is the rest of God.

[1] Mark Buchanan, The Rest of God, page 59.

[2] ibid. page 3.

And the Eyes of All Were Fixed on Him

Luke writes Luke’s Gospel for a friend. His name…Theophilus, one who loves God. And Luke writes Luke’s Gospel because there are things which happen to make us totter, but there are things which have happened to keep us from tottering over (Luke 1:3-4).

So, Luke begins Luke’s Gospel with the angel Gabriel sent by God to a man named Zechariah with good news. Luke begins Luke’s Gospel with another angel sent to some shepherds out in some field with good news. Luke begins Luke’s Gospel with John the Baptist sent to people with good news (Luke 1:19; 2:10; 3:22). And Luke continues Luke’s Gospel with…good news.

Jesus is in his hometown. It is a Saturday in his hometown. It is like every Saturday before it in his hometown. Jesus went to the synagogue in his hometown. It is there that he stood up to read Isaiah 61:1-2, but not completely. He stopped. He sat down. And the eyes of all were fixed on him.

Why Were the Eyes of All Fixed on Him?

Why were the eyes of all fixed on him? The word fixed is also translated as fastened or to look intently. It is a polite way of saying that everyone was staring at Jesus. Why was everyone staring at Jesus?

The setting for all of Luke 4:14-30 is the synagogue. A synagogue, very simply, is the place to gather together for worship. It is the place to gather together to sing the Bible, exhorting one another to sing. “Praise the Lord! Sing to the Lord a new song, his praise in the assembly of the godly.” And apparently the exhortation to one another was not just to sing, but to dance as well. “Let them praise his name with dancing” (cf. Psalm 149:1; 3a). And this singing the Bible, exhorting one another to sing and dance, was also filled with reasons to sing and dance. “The Lord is good to all.” “The Lord sets the prisoners free; the Lord opens the eyes of the blind. The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down.” “He heals the brokenhearted” (cf. Psalms 145:9; 146:7-8; 147:3). And the hymn book used to sing the Bible was the book of Psalms, specifically Psalms 145-150.

 

But the synagogue was not just the place to gather together to sing the Bible but to recite the Bible, too. There would be a reciting of something called the shama. It is from places in the Bible like Deuteronomy 6:4-9. But just listen to Deuteronomy 6:4-5. “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” The remainder of this passage is to take the first two verses and fill your home with it.

But the synagogue was not just the place to gather together to recite the Bible, but to read the Bible, too. There would be a reading of the Torah, the first five books of the Bible. But the synagogue was not just the place to gather together to read the Bible, but to read the Bible, too. There would be a reading from the Prophets, books like Isaiah. But the synagogue was not just the place to gather together to read the Bible, but to listen to the Bible. There would be a sermon, someone would teach the Bible. But the synagogue was not just the place to gather together to listen to the Bible, but the place to get courage. The service would close with the Bible, an Aaronic blessing. “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace” (Numbers 6:24-26). At the end of each of those verses, the people together would say, “Amen!”

It just struck me how present the Bible was to every part of the worship.

And so, in Luke 4:14-30, Jesus is attending these synagogues throughout the region called Galilee. Galilee could also be called the great lake region. There is one lake, the Sea of Galilee. Anyway, Luke 4:14-15 tells us that Jesus is attending these synagogues and he is teaching in each one. Notice the effect of this teaching. “And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all.” Some or most translations have the word praised. But it is an interesting word. Jesus is teaching the Bible – wow, what must that be like! – and the effect is glory. In other words, the people were recognizing the weight and value of what Jesus was teaching. There was something about what Jesus was teaching. And this is the whole point of these two verses, these introductory verses to the rest of the passage.

The remaining verses are about Jesus in his hometown on Saturday in his hometown synagogue. There was singing of the Bible; there was reciting the Bible; there was reading the Bible maybe something like Exodus 14 and then there was reading the Bible something like Isaiah 61. This is what Jesus stood up to read. And when he stopped reading, all eyes were fixed on him. Why? He only read the first two verses. This would have been very unusual. And in reading the first two verses, he did not read the whole two verses. He stopped midway through verse two. Why?

Today It Was Being Fulfilled

In Luke 4:18-19, Jesus is reading Isaiah 61:1-2, but only part of verse two. Listen to the part Jesus reads. “…to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” The rest of verse two reads, “…and the day of vengeance of our God…” Why does Jesus not read the rest? I really think this is why everyone is staring at him. Listen to what Jesus says in Luke 4:21. “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

This passage is about the Messiah’s coming, the Lord’s anointed one coming. And Jesus is saying in this moment at Nazareth that the Messiah has arrived. It is the year of the Lord’s favor, but not yet the day of the Lord’s vengeance. There is a year and then there is a day. The Old Testament prophets, when it came to future things, specifically the Messiah’s arrival, saw it all as one big drama, one big arrival. This was what they anticipated and what Israel and those in Nazareth anticipated. They anticipated salvation and judgment coming at the same time with the Messiah. But Jesus explains or hints here that the Messiah’s coming is two acts in this drama. There is the year of salvation, the Lord’s favor, and later will come the day of judgement (cf. John 12:47-48; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-8).

Think for a moment; a year is much longer than a day. So, what does that say about the year of the Lord’s favor? The word favor means to welcome because pleased. Again, since a year is much longer than a day, what does this say about the year? I think it says something about God. He is being patient. The day of vengeance is being delayed because God is patient. And why is God being patient? “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).

And Jesus says that this is being fulfilled as you hear it; meaning the year of the Lord’s favor has arrived and for us it is still the year of the Lord’s favor. And the year of the Lord’s favor has arrived because the Messiah has arrived. The Lord’s anointed has arrived. And Jesus is saying that he has arrived. He is the Messiah.

What is the Gospel?

And what does the Messiah do? Look closely at Luke 4:18-19. The Messiah proclaims the good news. Another word for good news, is gospel. The Messiah proclaims the gospel. There are two things happening in these two verses. There is a proclaiming and there is a doing. Do you see it? The Messiah proclaims the good news. The Messiah proclaims liberty. In other words, the proclaiming of the gospel is a proclaiming of liberty. But then there is a doing. There is a recovering and there is a setting free. It is the gospel that proclaims freedom and it is the gospel that gives freedom. It is because the gospel is not about a plan. It is about a person.

And it is here that I am attempting to understand what the gospel is. It proclaims freedom and it gives freedom. It begins with repentance. And there is repentance because God is rich in kindness. We see his rich kindness in sending his Son. It begins with turning the heart away from sin and turning the heart toward God. It begins with no longer relying on self, but instead trusting God in all things and for all things. And there is freedom from self and the sin that so easily entangles because the one who is mighty to rescue has been born. The one who is mighty to rescue went to the cross with joy, scorning its shame, destroying the works of the devil, paying the penalty of my sin by bearing my shame. It is there that while still a sinner God demonstrated his love for me: Christ died for me. And it is there, this place of ultimate love that Christ, as the nails were driven into his hands and feet, nailed my sin to the cross, canceling the debt and set me free. All other freedoms, ever won, soon turn into servitude. Christ is the only liberator whose liberation lasts forever.

And while I await his return and struggle with sin, saying no to it daily, I need to hear this good news.

But who is it for? Who is the good news for? It is for the poor; those who are helpless, who need help. Who is the good news for? It is for the captive; those who serve the desires of sin. Who is the good news for? It is for the blind; those who cannot see the reality and wonder and truth of Jesus and this good news. Who is the good news for? It is for the broken; those who are crushed; those whose hearts are in pieces.

Do I Understand the Gospel?

Here is the question I am struggling with in dealing with this passage. It is the big idea of Luke 4:14-30. Do I understand the gospel? Everything is going great on this Saturday at this synagogue until someone begins to chatter. “Is not this Joseph’s son?” In other words, “we know this guy, we have known this man since he was a child. We know his dad.” I am not sure how to totally take this; are they discounting what he has just said because he is Joseph’s son or are they wondering, since we have known you since you were child, why are you just now saying this?

Jesus hears them and he knows them. He knows what is coming next. They will ask for proof (Physician, heal yourself). And they will demand he do here what he did there at Capernaum (cf. Luke 4:31-37 or Matthew 8:5-13). And so he takes them back to the Bible by first saying, “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown” (Luke 4:24). In other words, I am not going to be welcomed here. You are not going to be pleased with me. Why? It is because of what he will say next.

He refers them to two accounts of two prophets: Elijah and Elisha (1 Kings 17:1-16; 2 Kings 5:1-14). Elijah is sent to a widow. There were many widows in Israel. But he was sent to a widow who was not an Israelite. She lived in what is today, Lebanon. But then there was Elisha. A leper came to him because Elisha invited the leper to come to him. He was a general, but not in the Israeli army. He was from Syria. And in both cases God showered his grace and mercy upon them.

Upon hearing this, and it was right there in their Bibles, the congregation was filled with anger and sought to throw Jesus off a cliff. My question is, why did Jesus say what he did? It is for this reason; they did not understand the gospel. First, they did not see themselves as the poor and the captive and the blind and the broken (cf. Revelation 3:17). But also they did not see the non-Israelite as the poor and the captive and the blind and the broken.

And it just said this to me: the gospel is not American; it is not Republican; it is not white; it is not middle and upper class; it is not a husband and a wife and two kids. The gospel is blind. The gospel is blind to color. The gospel is blind to politics. The gospel is blind to economics. The gospel is blind to gender. The gospel is blind to sexuality. The gospel is blind to location. The gospel is to the poor. The gospel is to the captive. The gospel is to the blind. The gospel is to the broken.

And when people see me they are to see Jesus. When people see this church they are to see Jesus. They are to see us with the poor (physically and socially and spiritually poor). They are to see us with the captive. They are to see us with the blind. They are to see us with the broken. They are to see us with the good news.

The End of Every Temptation

There are two events in the life of Jesus that are necessary to the rest of the life of Jesus. These are not two events which happened when Jesus was a child. And these are not two events which happened when Jesus was a teenager. Rather, these are two events which happened when Jesus was about thirty years old.

And what are these two events? There is the day that Jesus was baptized. And there are the forty days that Jesus spent in the wilderness. Both of these days are recorded for us in the Gospel of Matthew and in the Gospel of Mark and here in the Gospel of Luke. And each record tells of these days in almost the same manner – once you read about one event, you read about the other. “Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him…Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness…” (Matthew 3:13; 4:1). But listen to how Mark tells this; after the day Jesus was baptized, “The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness” (Mark 1:12). The point is that these are not two events to simply be read one after the other. These are two events that happened one after the other. Jesus was baptized one day and then began forty days in the wilderness. These two events are forty-one days in the life of Jesus.

And here is what is really interesting; Luke interrupts the two events to tell us that this all happened when Jesus was about thirty years old (cf. Luke 3:23). It is almost as if to say that the two events happened during a forty-one day period; or that the two events are connected – one being the counterpart to the other – because Jesus was about thirty years old.

Why Does This Matter?

Why does any of this matter? It is because this is the year that matters. Listen to Luke 3:23. “Jesus, when he began his ministry, was about thirty years of age.” What does Luke tell us about the year that Jesus thirty years old? It was when he began his ministry. The year that a man would begin his ministry, specifically his priestly ministry, was the year that he was about thirty years old (cf. Numbers 4:3).

And there is a really specific Old Testament example of this: Ezekiel. He was a priest and the year that he would begin his priestly ministry was when he was about thirty years old. But listen to him. This is his introduction to the Old Testament book that bears his name. “In the thirtieth year, in the fourth month, on the fifth day of the month, as I was among the exiles by the Chebar canal, the heavens were opened.” And on this fifth day of the month when Ezekiel was about thirty years old, he saw “visions of God” and “the word of the Lord came to Ezekiel the priest, the son of Buzi, in the land of the Chaldeans by the Chebar canal, and the hand of the Lord was upon him there” (Ezekiel 1:1-3).

What happened in the year that Ezekiel was to begin his priestly ministry? The heavens were opened; he saw visions of God and the word of the Lord came to him. Again, the year that a man would begin his ministry, specifically his priestly ministry, was the year that he was about thirty years old. Do you know what the Bible has to say about Jesus and his ministry? Specifically, what is Jesus’ ministry? Listen to Hebrews 2:17. “Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people” Listen to Hebrews 4:15. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” What is Jesus’ ministry? It is a priestly ministry.

And what happened in the year that Jesus began his priestly ministry? Listen to Luke 3:21-22. “…the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” In the year that Jesus began his ministry the heavens were opened, he saw visions of God – he saw the Holy Spirit descend upon him in bodily form; it was like a dove – and the word of the Lord came to him. It was just like the year Ezekiel began his priestly ministry. However, it is wonderfully unlike the year Ezekiel began his priestly ministry – Jesus is a better priest. How is Jesus a better priest? He is a merciful and faithful priest. “For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted” (Hebrews 2:18). How is Jesus a better priest? He is able to sympathize with our weaknesses. “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). How is Jesus a better priest? He knows my need.

And what is my need? What is my time of need? See, it is very specific. I struggle with sin. I struggle with times of finding joy and pleasure in things other than God. And again, how is Jesus a better priest? He not only knows my need, but is able to help me in my time of need. How is Jesus able to help me in my time of need? He knows the struggle. And he knows the struggle because he suffered when tempted to find joy and pleasure in something else other than God. He knows the struggle because, in every respect, he was tempted as we are. The temptations Jesus faced were real and he faced them as a real man.

But before he faced these real temptations as a real mean he was baptized.

The Counterpart to the Wilderness

There are two events in the life of Jesus – the one day he was baptized and the forty days he spent in the wilderness; forty-one days in the life of Jesus. And the baptism is the counterpart to the wilderness. But how? The baptism was a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And the key word is repentance. He who knew no sin; he who was completely without sin; he who never sinned took part with people in a baptism that was about turning the heart from sin and turning it toward God. It was a baptism that was about turning from relying on self and turning toward trusting God…in all things and for all things. And so why did he do it? He did not need to do it. He was not in need of such a baptism. I think it was simply to say that this is right. Repentance is right. It is right to turn the heart away from sin and have it turned toward God. It is right to turn away from relying on self and turn toward trusting God in all things and for all things.

And then Jesus lived it. He lived it the rest of his life. But he especially lived it for forty days in the wilderness. It is why it was said that these two events are necessary to the rest of the life of Jesus. The end result is that he is able to help me in my time of need because he lived it.

The Counterpart to the Baptism

The counterpart to the baptism is not just the forty days in the wilderness, but what happened during those forty days in the wilderness. I think that Luke 4:1-2 are the foundational verses to Luke 4:1-13. And I just want to point out two things. The first is that Jesus was full of the Holy Spirit. And we do need to ask, what does that mean? What does it mean to be full of the Holy Spirit? And what does it mean for Jesus who was fully God and fully man to be full of the Holy Spirit?

Remember, Jesus being fully man experienced every bit of what it means to be human. And although he was fully God he did not rely on the absolute use of what it means to be God. He got tired. He got hungry. He slept. He worked. He hurt. He…the list goes on.  We need to remember this as we read through these verses. We are watching Jesus experience every bit of what it means to be human. And here he is full of the Holy Spirit. The word full can be a bit misleading as if to say we can run low on the Holy Spirit like a car runs low on gasoline. Instead, it is better to think of this word as controlled. He was controlled by the Holy Spirit. We, as believers, are commanded to be full of the Holy Spirit, controlled (cf. Ephesians 5:18). But the even better word is permeated. And it is like a glass of milk. If I were to pour Hershey’s chocolate syrup into that glass, what do I get? A glass of milk with Hershey’s chocolate syrup at the bottom. It still looks like a glass of milk. But once I stir the glass of milk and keep stirring, the chocolate syrup begins to permeate the entire glass. So it is here with Jesus and with believers. So, how does the Holy Spirit permeate the life of a believer? Everyday?

It begins here as it did with Jesus. It begins with each day choosing to turn from relying on self and choosing then to trust God in all things and for all things. It begins there. But it continues or is sustained by something. Notice in these verses Jesus is tempted by the devil three times. And each time Jesus, in the struggle, quotes Scripture. I do not think it is to suggest that Jesus had memorized these verses. I think he went into the wilderness thinking about these verses, meditating upon these verses. This is to say the means to being full of the Holy Spirit has much to do with being full of His Word (cf. Colossians 4:16). A result of being full of the Holy Spirit is not speaking in some unknown language. Instead a result of being full of the Holy Spirit is singing, making melody to the Lord with all your heart and being thankful (cf. Ephesians 5:19-20). A result of being full of the Holy Spirit is love, joy, peace, faithfulness, self-control (cf. Galatians 5:22-23; perhaps then pay close attention to Galatians 5:24).

And these verses that Jesus quotes are from Deuteronomy 8 and Deuteronomy 6; passages reflecting on how God led Israel in the wilderness for forty years. These are passages on how Israel was tested during that time and failed.

And Jesus was led by the Spirit. Jesus was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days. Question, does God ever lead us to the wrong place? I think often of the truth that the best place to serve God is where he sets you down. And since that is true, he never sets you down in the wrong place. It is always the best place. But what about when it gets difficult? Do I still believe it is the best place? God led Jesus to the wilderness. God never leads to the wrong place. And when Jesus got there, he went hungry for forty days, during which the devil showed up to tempt him every step of the way. Does it seem like this was the wrong place? You can be in the center of God’s will, you can be doing exactly what God would have you to do and right there you can encounter your greatest trials, your deepest sorrows, your most intrepid testings. Sometimes your are right where the Lord wants you, and trial and temptation are right there, too. We must never forget that.[1]

The End of Every Temptation

Why would God do that? “And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” (Deuteronomy 8:3). The end of every temptation is to know, we are being taught to know, in every temptation, to turn from relying on self and trust God in all things and for all things. It is exactly what Jesus did in each temptation for forty days!

It is the big idea of these thirteen verses. At the beginning, Luke teases the end. “And when they were ended, he was hungry.” There is an end to temptations. And at the end of these temptations Jesus was hungry. He did not fail. He was at his weakest and did not fail, but was hungry. Listen to the end. “And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time” (Luke 4:13). The devil meant these temptations for evil, but God meant them for good. The devil ended the temptations frustrated. These each actually served for the glory of God, the glory of Jesus and our good. Jesus is able then to help us in our time of need because of the evil intent of the devil!

He tempted Jesus to not wait on God, but do for himself (4:3). He tempted Jesus to not wait on God, but do for himself, i.e. getting his glory by avoiding the cross (4:5-7). He tempted Jesus to not wait in God, but do for himself. He tried to get Jesus to misapply Scripture, instead of doing the hard thing and think through Scripture first (4:9-12).

[1] https://www.fpcjackson.org/resource-library/sermons/tempted-tried-and-never-failing