Bible Study from Calvary Chapel Newberg

with Tom Fuller

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The Thread of Forgiveness

Luke 5:1-26

Up until this point in Luke’s gospel Jesus has been pretty much going it alone. Well, no longer. Now we see Him call a group of men from various different stations in society: tax collectors, fishermen, political activists and just ordinary people. And we also see Jesus demonstrate what His followers will do—take the message of sin forgiveness to a dying world and bring many into a new kingdom.

1 – 3

Lake Gennesaret, also called the Sea of Tiberius is better known to us as the Sea of Galilee. Capernaum, Jesus’ HQ and home of Simon Peter, is located on the northern shore. You can see what is believed to be the ruins of Peter’s house to this day. There is still a booming fishing industry in this area and last time we were in Israel we ate out at a place on the western shore and had fish, of course.

Jesus had become so popular that they started crowding Him into the water. He saw Peter’s little fishing fleet. To escape the crowd, and likely be heard more easily, He got into one of the boats and pushed out a bit. Jesus then sat down, which again is the normal posture for a teacher in those days. The average fishing boat of that time was 20 – 30 feet long, so not a dingy by any means.

4 – 7

There is a lot going on in this little exchange between Jesus and Peter. Jesus, a carpenter from an inland village tells a professional fisherman how to fish. Jesus also gives what a professional fisherman would consider to be bad advice. First, you don’t fish in the daytime but at night. Second you catch fish in the shallows, not in the deep. But Jesus is making several points here:

  1. Obedience to the Master is the key, not understanding or approving His orders.
  2. Jesus is making a point about the kind of fruit you can have when you belong to Him (and the kind of human catch the gospel will have).
  3. Jesus wants to know if Peter can be taught and if Peter can be led. Can you?

Peter had already tried man’s best efforts, had “worked hard” and had come up empty. Doing things God’s ways is always more fruitful. This doesn’t mean that whenever you fish if you pray first and throw in your line where you think the Holy Spirit is leading you will catch a bunch. Jesus is making a point about abundant fruitful ministry in Him—not giving a formula for instant success. The main point is that using man’s efforts to do God’s work is always fruitless but the gospel will always bear fruit—always.

Peter seems reluctant—pointing out that the professionals have tried and failed. But he does obey anyway. You know, Jesus is better at what you do than you are.

So something to point out from this account. As I mentioned, Jesus is demonstrating that He has the authority to bring into reality the things He said in His mission statement back in Chapter 4.

Here we have the demonstration of “the year of the Lord’s favor” in verse 19. The year of Jubilee was every 49 or 50 years. In that time crops would grow on their own, providing for the people without them having to tend them. The idea of provision also comes out in the story Jesus tells later in Chapter 4 with the widow in Zarephath. It was a drought, much like a drought of catching fish here. By trusting in the prophet and making that last loaf the woman had a “catch” of food that lasted. By trusting in Jesus and letting down the nets, Peter and the boys had a huge catch of fish.

Jesus also began His ministry mission statement by saying that He came to “preach good news to the poor”. While I don’t believe He means that people without money will always have it—the provision demonstrated here shows that where we lack, He supplies; where we are poor without Him, we are rich with Him. It speaks to provision of life coming from trusting in what Jesus says. Beautiful.

I also suspect that the money from this catch would have been a great jump-starter for Jesus’ ministry.

8 – 11

Though Peter was a bit of a blunderer, he was also a thinker. He realizes that his doubts about Jesus were so wrong. After he stops worrying about saving his boat he starts worrying about saving himself in relation to this Man.

It says Peter was “amazed”. It’s the same word used to describe the crowds in verse 36 of Chapter 4. The idea is to be dumbstruck. How could a man either know so much about things that were hidden (fish in the sea) or command creation to bend to His will?

Peter goes from amazement to chagrin. Only a really holy man would be able to do this. What does that say about him? Peter realizes his lack when compared to Jesus and his utter worthlessness in His presence. Should this not also be our response when confronted with the purity of Jesus?

Amazement had turned to fear, but Jesus tells him not to be afraid of associating with and giving his allegiance to Jesus because the Lord has a mission for him—no longer to catch fish but to catch people for the kingdom of God. In fact, admitting his lack of usefulness is the best prerequisite for service.

The next two stories of healing are further demonstration of Jesus’ mission—to let loose those who are imprisoned by infirmity.

12 – 14

Jesus went on from there, probably traveling around the lake, and in one of the towns a man who has a serious skin disease approaches Him. The Greek Lepra could include Hansen’s Disease, but also psoriasis, lupus, ringworm and something called favus (a disease of the scalp). Someone afflicted with a disease such as this was required to keep a distance and cry out “unclean unclean” to warn others to stay away (Lev 13:45-46, 2 Kings 7:3).

It’s amazing that the man actually approached Jesus but must have heard that this man can heal. It would take quite a stretch to believe that one could be cured from Leprosy because other than the story of Naaman the Syrian, we don’t have a record of it happening in the Old Testament. He falls on his face and doesn’t doubt that Jesus can heal him but wonders if He is willing to do so. Jesus says the six words we all need to hear: “I am willing. Be made clean.”

Jesus then orders the man to go to the priests and perform the ceremony prescribed for those healed from leprosy, a ceremony detailed in Leviticus 14 but never used that we know of until now. It was in part to show the priests that the Messiah had come, but also to cement into this man that this was a real healing—and also to delay news about Jesus spreading because it would make it harder for Him to minister without being pressed too hard. It doesn’t work of course, and the crowds simply got bigger.

This healing is a perfect analogue for sin. Sin is pernicious, infectious, chronic, and terminal. It separates us from God (Isaiah 59:2) as unclean with no hope of healing. But in steps the Messiah who reaches out and touches that which was not to be touched. Not only is He capable but He is willing. Jesus touches our sin and instead of being infected by it, He cleanses it. The ceremony Jesus alludes to was beautiful, involving two birds—one of which is killed and the other, washed in the blood of the first one, is set free. We are washed in the shed blood of Jesus and set free from sin.

I don’t think it’s any accident that Luke records the story of Naaman being cleansed of leprosy in the previous chapter either. This is Jesus’ mission, and it’s illustrated further in the next account.

Jesus continues to practice His recharging by withdrawing and praying.

15 – 24

This is really quite an incredible story. First we see Jesus teaching, as usual. But now word has gotten back to the religious leaders and they’ve come to check Him out. And not just a few either but from all the towns around Galilee and Judea, and even from HQ in Jerusalem. The Pharisees were one of four sects in Israel at the time (the others were the Sadducees, Zealots, and Essenes). They were experts in the Law of Moses and had added a lot of oral rules to try to keep themselves pure. In the midst of this microscope, Jesus is ready to heal—and so much more. He is about to demonstrate that He is the Messiah.

The Holy Spirit orchestrated all of this, of course. Just as He’s teaching some men arrive carrying a paralyzed man on a mat. There are too many people for them to get inside so they literally go up on the roof and break through a muddy layer until they get to the roof beams, then use ropes to lower the mat down. There is nothing that is keeping them from reaching Jesus. I love that attitude! But imagine the fear that must have gripped the paralyzed man. He was totally at the mercy of his friends. I think sometimes when we begin to draw near to the gospel fear grips us as well—we feel helpless when compared to Jesus much as Peter did. If Jesus rejected him, or if they dropped him, he would be in serious peril. Jesus really does hold the final answer—and if He rejects us we are totally lost. But then the good news!

So Jesus does something unexpected in verse 20. He sees the faith as demonstrated by the actions—but instead of healing the man of paralysis, He forgives His sins. Why can Jesus do that? 1- because He’s God and all sin is against God (Psalm 51:4) so as the offended One He can forgive, and 2- He is going to the cross to pay for the man’s sins so it’s like a foregone conclusion—a looking forward to what is going to happen like forgiveness on credit where Jesus will pay the bill Himself.

Jesus knew that this would tweak the brains of the Pharisees. He knew that they knew only God could forgive sins. The obvious conclusion would either be that Jesus was God or that He had just blasphemed by claiming to be God. They chose the latter.

So Jesus poses a dilemma. It is easier to say “your sins are forgiven” but there is no way to demonstrate that because it’s invisible—you don’t see it happen. It is actually easier for Jesus to do a miracle, which He does and visibly heals the man—but His point is that He has authority to forgive sins.

This too fulfills Isaiah 61. This man had been in the prison of paralysis and now was set free. Worse, he was in the prison of sin, and though he couldn’t see it, sin had made him an absolute slave and unable to move away. This is the same case in all of us.

The result is silence on the part of the Pharisees and people who are “astounded” in “awe” and describing what they saw as “incredible”. The Greek word is where we get paradox – but it means unusual, unexpected, uncommon, and incredible.

What’s your reaction when you realize Jesus can and does forgive sins and heal? The Pharisees go away from the encounter and, as we’ll see later, begin to organize opposition that will later lead to murder. Many others, like Peter, fall down at His feet and declare “depart from me, for I am a sinful man.” Yet Jesus reaches out to us like to the leper and says “I am willing. Be cleansed” and “I will make you fishers of men” – forgiving then sending us out.

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