Read Luke 5:12-26
This passage starts “While Jesus was in one of the towns…” Just in those words there is a lesson for us. What is it? The disciples had left everything to follow Jesus. They are not mentioned in this passage but presumably they were watching and learning. I want to see if we can identify some clues to experiencing God – maybe the lessons that the disciples might have had in mind after these events. And I want to do it from two perspectives. On the one hand we have Jesus: the healer, the one ministering, the one through whom God worked. On the other hand we have the person healed: the one receiving ministry, the one in whom God worked. Both experienced God. Which one do you want to be? You can say “Both”.
Jesus was in one of the towns. Jesus was going from town to town. Maybe one clue to experiencing God is to get out more. Be out and about where people are. If we are going to be used by God to minister into people’s lives (as Jesus did here) we need to be mixing with people and especially with needy people. Jesus was pro-active. He was looking for opportunities. Is that relevant to you?
Lepers, of course, were social outcasts. Because their diseases were considered to be contagious, the law required that they be isolated from society and that they warn others from approaching them, by calling out “Unclean. Unclean.” Can you imagine the shame and loneliness of constantly having to say to people, “Don’t come near me. I am unclean. I am a reject.”?
It appears that this man came along, not knowing that Jesus was there but when he saw Him, he took his opportunity. That might be our first phrase: “Take opportunities”.
This man knew that he should stay away. He wasn’t sure that Jesus would want to help him. “If you are willing, you can make me clean”. He knew that Jesus could but he was not sure if Jesus would. He should stay at a distance. Jesus might reject Him, but despite both of those reasons, he came to Jesus.
We offer prayer ministry after the services. There is an opportunity. Maybe sometimes in our worship or in our private reading of scripture, God speaks – maybe graciously offering to do something in our lives. Do we respond? Do we allow God to minister to us? Do we ask other people to minister to us?
As we read about Jesus’ ministry, we will see many occasions when crowds came to Jesus to hear Him or to be healed of their sicknesses. In fact, v.15 said just that. Jesus’ presence was an opportunity and many people took it. How anxious are we to learn and to allow God to grow us and heal us?
The leper then fell with his face to the ground and begged Jesus. What word might describe that? Humility?
That is when He said, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” “If you are willing” might reflect humility but what about “you can make me clean”? What word might describe that? Faith?
In humility and faith he asked. Jesus said, “Ask and you will receive.” Or, as James says, “You do not receive because you do not ask” (Jas 4:2)
Mark’s gospel, at this point, says that Jesus was indignant. Would He have been indignant with the man? What had the leper done wrong? I wonder if He was indignant with the coldness of the society that would reject needy people. I wonder if he was indignant because this man had so little expectation that he would be loved and accepted.
Jesus showed a stunningly different attitude. He reached out and touched the man and reassured him that He was willing. That man may not have experienced human touch for many years, because people were so afraid of lepers; so afraid of the contagion. But this man, Jesus, cared in a radical way.
It is reminiscent of the days when there was so much fear of AIDS but some people befriended and cared for AIDS suffers. Or more recently the courage of those who have treated Ebola victims despite the contagiousness of that disease. When people are suffering in that sort of way, most people pull away leaving the sufferers isolated and without hope or love, but some move closer so as to care.
In the early centuries of the church there were numerous plagues which caused enormous fear such that families abandoned their own loved ones who became sick and forced them out onto the streets to die. In contrast, Christians took them in and cared for them even risking their own lives to do so.
What word might we use to describe the attitude shown by Jesus here or by those early Christians? Compassion, perhaps.
The leper had doubted Jesus’ compassion but Jesus made it clear. But the leper was confident about Jesus’ power and authority. “You can make me clean.”
Jesus exercised that power saying, “Be clean” and the leprosy immediately left him. It was compassion coupled with power. Think about how Paul links those two in 1 Corinthians 12-14. Those are three chapters about the gifts of the Holy Spirit – being empowered by God to do the supernatural but the middle chapter – 1 Corinthians 13 – is all about love. Paul says, “I may have all sorts of spectacular gifts but if I do not have love I am no more than a clanging gong.”
Pretty clearly, we experience God when we operate in the supernatural, not just using our natural abilities but empowered by the Holy Spirit for actions that are otherwise impossible.
Perhaps the last thing to note from this story is that Jesus told the leper not to tell anyone what had happened but to go and show himself to the priests as the law required. In fact, Mark says that Jesus gave him a stern warning. And Luke just says that the news spread but Mark tells us that that man went out and began to talk freely, spreading the news.
That was simply disobedient. He had been told very clearly and he simply did what he had been told not to. It had negative consequences for Jesus. The growing crowds became a problem and Jesus was no longer able to go into the towns openly but stayed outside in lonely places. That probably is exactly what Jesus had wanted to avoid but the healed leper made it difficult for Him. That prevented people experiencing God.
Isn’t it amazing that someone who has received such an amazing miracle could so blatantly defy the one who had healed him? Remarkable but probably not unusual. How many people has God been unbelievably good too who have then not wanted to obey Him? In fact, have we received God’s grace and been grateful for that but not been fully committed and obedient?
So, what do we see in this story? What did the disciples see? On the part of the leper, the receiver of God’s grace: taking an opportunity, humility, faith, asking. And negatively, disobedience.
On the part of Jesus, the channel of God’s grace: out amongst the people, compassionate (willing), empowered (able).
Between that story and the next one about the paralytic let down through the roof, there is a wee note: Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed. We will look at prayer more extensively because it is mentioned a lot. Recently we read about Jesus going out one morning to a solitary place to pray and the disciples not being able to find Him. Surely this is one of the biggest keys to experiencing God. Jesus’ being in the right place at the right time; His compassion; His empowering were all a result of prayer.
Let’s look at the story of the paralysed man. Do we see the same things or new insights? Jesus was teaching in a house (in Capernaum, Mark tells us). There were Pharisee and teachers of the law there, listening. Remember, Jesus is in the northern region of Galilee. Some of the Pharisees came from the villages of Galilee but some had come from Judea and Jerusalem – from the southern region. The distance from Jerusalem to Capernaum is about 140 km so Jesus’ reputation was spreading and the religious leaders were no doubt checking Jesus out. This is the first indication of opposition.
But, again, Jesus is out their ministering to a diverse group including the sceptical.
Note v.17. “The power of the Lord was with Jesus to heal the sick.” There again is a reference to empowering – the power of the Lord. We can do nothing without the power of the Lord. Jesus said that without Him we can do nothing. He commanded the disciples not to try to make further disciples until the Holy Spirit had come on them. We talked about this a wee while ago. Don’t we often feel that that is what is missing? We don’t feel that we have the power that Jesus had or the power that the apostles had. Do we need to be desperately and constantly in prayer saying, “Lord, we are weak. Without You we are nothing. Pour out Your Spirit on us. Empower us we pray. Help us to experience the supernatural so that others can experience the supernatural through us”? I think we do. We need to be praying for revival. We want our lives to bear fruit but we cannot do that without God.
Then the four friends brought the paralysed man. They couldn’t get into the house so they climbed up on the roof, took off the tiles, dug through the clay and lowered the man on his mat into the middle of the crowd. It must have been quite a remarkable event.
These men are between our two categories. They weren’t the one receiving ministry (although they did receive.) They weren’t the one doing the ministry (although they did minister to their friend.)
What would you say about these men?
- Took an opportunity
- They would not be dissuaded. Persistence. (But which column do we put that in? Were they persistent in seeking ministry? Yes. Or in offering ministry? Yes.)
- Thought outside the box
- They asked
- They had faith. Jesus saw their faith (v.20). These men believed. It was that belief that motivated them to bring their friend and to not give up and to ask. Jesus saw their faith in their actions.
- In the previous story, it was the faith of the leper that led to his healing. In this story it was the faith of the friends on behalf of the paralysed man. Either way, faith was a key component.
Jesus responded to all of that. The man was both forgiven and immediately healed. He went home praising God. He had an incredible experience of God and he hadn’t done anything. It seems like it all depended on his friends and on Jesus. Might someone you love experience God because of your compassion and your faith, your actions?
But in the middle of this story, we see something different – resistance, scepticism, negativity, criticism. Whereas the leper and the paralytic’s friends were open and expectant, the Pharisees and the teachers of the law were closed-minded. Are they going to experience God?
Well, yes they did. On this occasion they experienced God and on many other occasions they would experience God. They saw God at work. They were challenged by God and shown to be wrong. They questioned how Jesus could forgive sin. Only God could do that. Jesus showed them that He had the authority to forgive sin. And therefore he showed them that He was God. So they come out of this story looking silly. They demonstrated the opposite of faith. Are they going to be blessed by God? No, they have made themselves the opponents of God.
Assuming the disciples were watching all of this, what would they have learnt about experiencing God? What are the lessons for us? What are the challenges (or opportunities) for you? What are the challenges for us, as a church?