I Am Willing
This morning we are continuing in our study of the book of Luke. Over that past couple of weeks, we have looked at the stories of Jesus’ baptism, 40 days in the wilderness which ended with Satan tempting Jesus to follow his own interests.. Jesus’ response to Satan after each temptation showed his full reliance on God, the Father, and his intent to complete the mission for which he was sent. In last week’s message, we looked at Luke 4:18-19, where Luke reported that Jesus read from a scroll we now call Isaiah 61 which says: “The Spirit of the Lord GOD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and freedom to the prisoners;  to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor. This is the first time Jesus declares who he is. Last week Rodney walked us through the beginnings of Jesus’ ministry where he was teaching, driving out demons and unclean spirits, and healing many sick people. As Jesus performed all these miracles, his notoriety grew and the numbers of people seeking after him swelled
A deserted place
So let us pick up the story line near the end of Chapter 4 in vs 42-43 “When it was day, he went out to a deserted place. But the crowds were searching for him. They came to him and tried to keep him from leaving them. But he said to them, “It is necessary for me to proclaim the good news about the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because I was sent for this purpose.” Luke’s use of the phrase “when it was day” indicates that the following events happened on a different day. Ministry is filled with demands on one’s time. There are people with various needs, some sick who need healing, some dealing with bad relationships, others who have been treated in ways no one wants to speak about. With the growing number of people seeking Jesus in this location, he withdraws to a deserted place. Imagine the pressure of all the people pressing in around you with hardly any space to move and bringing an endless array of needs for you to address. And to top it off, the people have seen what he is able to do and don’t want him to leave because there are so many needs to be addressed. There are many instances in scripture where Jesus withdraws to pray and I have no doubt that as he withdraws to this deserted space, he is withdrawing to pray and seek his Father’s guidance. I can almost hear his comments and questions as he comes to his father: There are people here who need me. They want me to stay and minister to them. Should I stay? What do YOU want me to do? Then verse 43, his response to the crowds indicates he has received an answer. In another example of his allegiance to his Father and above the allegiance to these people, he says. “It is necessary that I keep going.” Here we have Jesus setting the example for us. What sort of decisions do you stop and pray about? What decisions are you pretty confident you don’t need to pray about and which ones do you sort of stop and say, “I’ll have to pray about that?” Should I Go out for dinner or stay home and fix something - pray or not pray, how about enroll your kids in dance or sports - pray or not pray, watch this football game or leave the TV off - pray or not, If you’re dating and thinking about marriage - pray or not pray? In Jesus' situation, here he is leading by example in a couple of ways. First, His Father’s will trumps his own desires. Maybe he wants to help these people, maybe not, but it doesn’t matter. Second, Prayer is the key ingredient to understanding and following God’s will. As the scripture continues, the crowds were trying to keep him from leaving them and continuing on to other towns. These people were not malicious but the good they were seeking for themselves was stopping Jesus from his ministry and mission which he pointed out in vs 43.
His use of the word which is translated as “necessary” is translated in other versions as ``must ``and indicates the urgency of his mission to proclaim the kingdom of God. His telling them “he was sent” tells us that he had to stay focused on the mission and could not be waylaid from it. And so he was preaching in the synagogues of Judea.
As we move into chapter 5, today we are going to look at the first 3 of 6 episodes that illustrate Jesus’ intent to follow God’s purpose by engaging in an itinerant or travelling ministry among the Jews as he revealed at the end of chapter 4.
Let’s go fishing
- Luke 5:1-11
As I think about the crowds pressing in on Jesus, I am reminded of when I was a college student in Ames a few years ago (okay it’s more like 50 years). One fall I worked at a farm where about 1000 laying turkeys for a local hatchery were kept in a 3 sided building, open on the south, in which we were building nests. One thing about domesticated turkeys that is interesting is that when you make a noise of about any kind, including hammering nails into boards, they flock around you and press in as close as they possibly can trying to see what is happening. It is almost impossible to shoo them away. In fact, they have been known to crowd so closely together that some may be killed, much like when a crowd panics and everyone presses to escape a situation at the same time in a disorderly fashion. And so as the crowds had been pressing in to get to Jesus, we see him withdraw to a deserted place.
The deserted area where Jesus had gone in this story (and where the crowds found him) is along the shore of Lake ceGennesaret or the Sea of Galilee. This area was a narrow band of land between the lake and the upland. Since the land would slope up away from the water, the lake shore would have created somewhat of a natural amphitheater. As we heard last week, In the time of Jesus, teachers would sit to teach not like we do today where the teacher stands to address the group and may even wander around while doing so. I won’t wander too far from this space because I would lose my place in my notes, I'd have to start over and who knows when we would be finished. Anyway with a natural amphitheater and no place to sit, a boat (Simon’s to be exact) became the perfect solution because it allowed Jesus to sit, put out a ways from the shore, and to be separated from the crowd. Today we have sophisticated electronics and amplification equipment so I don’t have to shout to be heard. Jesus was using the best technology available at that time because the water would actually allow the sound of his voice to be carried to those sitting on the shore and he could be heard. Since Jesus had Simon put out a ways from the shore, Simon was obviously in the boat while Jesus was teaching. Now Simon had been fishing all night so we don’t know if he stayed awake and listened or dozed off in the middle of the message. It’s been a while since I tried to stay up all night but I’m pretty sure Simon would have been like “ Sure you can use my boat but I’m taking a nap.” What we do know is that after he was done teaching he told Simon to put out into the deep water and let down the nets for a catch.
Picture the following:
Simon and the others are fishermen by trade. They know how it works. They fish at night because the nets they are using are made of linen so the fish can’t see them at night and the fish are in shallower water. I’m not an avid fisherman but there are some in the room who may fit that description and we can imagine the thoughts of Peter …you stick to preaching, I’ll do the fishing. He may even have been so bold as to roll his eyes and shake his head but he said “Master, if you say so, I’ll let down the nets.” His use of the term Master here instead of teacher or rabbi would indicate that he recognizes some authority.
With the astounding catch of fish which follows, Simon does not do what many of us would which is; This guy Jesus is terrific, he’s like the golden goose. He can see where the fish are and if we keep him around, we’ll be set for life. Imagine the amount of fish we’ll catch, the money we’ll make. This is the ticket.
No! Simon recognizes that if Jesus can see where the fish are, then he can see into his heart and see all of the terribleness there, the sin which is deeply hidden. Peter is not unlike the rest of us. He has had thoughts and done things which he doesn’t want others to know. As I thought about this, I was reminded of a time when I was much younger, maybe 10-11. There was a small neighborhood grocery a couple of blocks from our house. A couple of friends and I decided that we could just take a couple of candy bars without paying. Of course this is stealing and if we were caught we didn’t really know what would happen but I did know dad had a belt and it might not be used to hold up his pants. At any rate, as I was in the process of picking up the 5 cent candy bar, the store owner made eye contact with me. I was exposed. I recognized that he knew what I was doing and immediately I felt embarrassed, and felt guilty of even thinking this was a good idea. I put the candy back and edged my way out of the store and headed for home. No words were exchanged and no further consequences occurred at the time but the feelings of being less than perfect (a sinner) remained. So here is Simon. He has a heart full of sins and he recognizes that Jesus can see every single one of them. Not just the big ones but even the tiniest thoughts. Just like me, his response was to try to get away from the situation. His response to Jesus was to say, “Go away from me, because I’m a sinful man , Lord.” Now using the term Lord rather than Sir, Simon is recognizing he is in the presence of the Holy. Simon’s response is similar to Isaiah Chapter 6:5-6. Isaiah describes his response when he found himself in the presence of the Lord. “Woe is me for I am ruined because I am a man of unclean lips and live among a people of unclean lips, and because I have seen the King, the Lord of Armies.” His lips were cleansed and his sins were atoned for by the touching of the fiery coal. Jesus' response to Simon was “Do not be afraid”. Why would Jesus tell Simon to not be afraid? Because, as we learned in last week's message, the scroll that Jesus read from Isaiah 61:1-2a says, “HE has sent me to heal the broken hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and freedom to the prisoners.” He did not announce the “day of God’s vengeance.” Which is in the second part of verse 2. This was not the day of vengeance. Not the day of Judgement. This is the day of Grace because Jesus knew that he was able to cleanse Simon and would take on his sins even though Simon was not aware of it. Luke does not report any name change, yet in the gospel of John Chapter 1 vs. 42, Jesus says “You are Simon, son of John. You will be called Cephas (Peter). This is another indication that Jesus can change things. After this, Peter, and the other fishermen (Andrew, James, & John) left everything and followed Jesus with a new vocation, A new calling: they would be catching people instead of fish. Instead of casting a wide net to catch all kinds of fish, the disciples would be casting the wide net of good news to bring in real sinners. And thus, the first disciples were called. And so we come to the end of Episode 1 where we learn that Jesus knows our sins.
Let’s explore episode 2 in verses 12-16.
It is significant that this episode occurred in a city. Leprosy is a term used to describe a number of skin diseases and at the time was thought to be a punishment from God for wrongdoing (sin). Leprosy causes the loss of pain receptors such that a grain of sand in the sandal would not be felt and could work its way into the skin where it would fester and become infected. Once the sores developed, it became very painful, even a touch could be excruciating for the leper. The fact that this particular individual had leprosy all over him indicated that he had been a leper for some time and was likely as good as dead because of the severity of his disease. Lepers were not allowed to live in the city and when they did come into one, they had to stay at least 6 feet away from others and call out that they were unclean, because leprosy could be contagious. The 6 foot rule did not apply if there was wind. Then they had to stay 100 feet away from others toward which the wind was blowing. Imagine not only the physical but the social isolation of being a leper. It would be like COVID isolation for your entire life!! You couldn’t touch or be touched by someone else because leprosy was contagious. We know that babies do not develop normally and will die if they are not touched.
Now we have a scene where a leper, who is supposed to maintain at least 6 feet of distance from anyone, is falling at Jesus’ feet. How the heck did he get there? And an even more perplexing question is, What does he ask Jesus to do? Again not what most would do. He does not ask to be healed but to be made clean! And he says “if you are willing”. The leper does not question if Jesus can do it but is he willing to do it (does he want to do it). What happened next is astounding. Jesus not only said I am willing, HE TOUCHED HIM!!! He reached out and touched a Leper and everyone knew that meant that Jesus was unclean according to their laws. But what Jesus just did by touching the leper was to symbolically take on the sins of the leper. The man’s uncleanness would transfer to Jesus. He did just as is written in Isaiah 53:4 “Yet he himself bore our sickness, and he carried our pains, but we in turn regarded him stricken, struck down by God and afflicted.” His instruction to go show himself to the priests and do as Moses had instructed in the law is intended to show the leaders what had been done for him. Jesus once again brings release to a captive; good news to an outcast. Episode 2 shows us Jesus is not just able to make us clean. He is willing and he will do so by taking our uncleanness on himself.
Episode 3 in vs 17-26 of chapter 5 is our final episode for this morning.
On yet another occasion Jesus is in a crowded situation. The crowd here includes Jewish leaders (Scribes & Pharisees) from every village in Galilee, Judea and Jerusalem. This time a paralytic is being brought to Jesus for healing but they can’t get to Jesus because of the crowd. A standing room only situation if you will. The houses are not necessarily large by our standards since many of the towns and villages would have had maybe 200 people at most. But at any rate the house is packed. The paralyzed man has faithful friends. They believe where there is a will there is a way and are determined to find a way. They remove a section of the roof and lower the man down to Jesus. It almost sounds like a scene from a movie where a high level heist is about to take place. They have cased out the joint. They know where everyone will be including just where Jesus will be sitting to teach. They remove enough of the clay tiles or thatch (we’re not told what the roof was made from) at just the exact location and lower their paralyzed friend right down in front of Jesus: And Luke records the following , “Seeing their faith he said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.” Then the scribes and the Pharisees began to think to themselves, “Who is this man who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” But perceiving their thoughts, Jesus replied to them, “Why are you thinking this in your hearts? Which is easier: to say ‘your sins are forgiven’ or ti say ‘Get up and walk?’ But so you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” --he told the paralyzed man, “I tell you: Get up, take your stretcher, and go home.” Immediately he got up before them, picked up what he had been lying on, and went home glorifying God. Then everyone was astounded, and they were giving glory to God. And they were filled with awe and said. “We have seen incredible things today.”
Jesus, in further revealing who he was, forgave the paralytic's sins. The Jewish leaders were offended to say the least and Jesus, by calling out the attitudes of the scribes and Pharisees, once again revealed that he could see the hearts of individuals. And as further evidence of who he was, he healed the paralytic, who got up and walked away. In recent times, the greater church and culture depicts Jesus as a meek and mild individual, and indeed in these episodes today we have seen his compassion for those who are sick, hurting sinners.
But Jesus has a warrior side. He is bent on fulfilling the mission which God sent him to accomplish. To proclaim the Kingdom of God, release of the captives, heal the sick. And if it means being in opposition to the religious leaders and the powers of sin and darkness, he doesn’t hesitate to take action. Where were Peter and the other disciples during these events? They had left everything and followed him. They were there. They were watching. They were learning just as we, who read these stories now and hear the word preached, are doing. Jesus not only can see our sins and pinpoint where our allegiances really are, he is able to heal us and cleanse us from our sins, he is willing and he has done it all at the cross. Being able is only a part of the process. I may be able to do something (run a ½ marathon, help you move,help you build a house, teach in children’s ministry, share the gospel with a neighbor, ask forgiveness from someone I’ve hurt, forgive someone who’s hurt me, or any of a million other possibilities). But being willing to do something is a totally different thing. Jesus isn’t just able to forgive and cleanse us, he is EAGER to do so and has done it.
This morning we have looked at stories about a fisherman, a leper and a paralytic. And we have seen what Jesus is able to do. And most of us here believe God is able to do things. And we don’t have trouble with the fact that God is powerful and has the ability to change things. Where we do find ourselves struggling is believing that He WANTS to for me.
As the worship team comes forward, let me wrap up with this.
Whether you are here in person or joining us online this morning, maybe you fit one of the following situations. Perhaps you are a bit like Simon Peter. Lord, I would really rather you not be digging around in my heart and finding all the brokenness and making me change. For you, the good news is that Jesus already sees the brokenness and the shortcomings, and like Simon, he is not here to bring vengeance. He’s here to extend GRACE. Let me ask you this. If you had a carbon monoxide leak in your furnace, or black mold in your house, a person digging through your house to find it and fix or remove it would be extending grace to save your life. Would you say no thank you? Jesus is EAGER to do that in our lives.
Or perhaps you feel more like the leper. You feel that you have fallen so far away that there is no way back. Your life is toast and there is no hope, despair is your best friend and you’ve been left alone and hung out to dry. For you, the good news is that Jesus is not standing at a distance like everyone else. He is close enough to touch you and he’s not afraid of your past or your present. He has taken all your sin, shame and despair upon himself in order to make you clean. He is a friend of sinners.
And lastly, maybe you’re someone who has a family member, friend or coworker who is living in, crippled by or blinded by sin. The encouragement for you is to keep bringing them to Jesus. Keep praying!! We don’t know what kind of convincing it took to bring the paralytic man to Jesus but at some point, his friends literally picked him up, and as if he could have stopped them from doing it, brought him to Jesus and his life was changed-NOT by his faith but the faith of a few close friends. Keep bringing them to Jesus because we don’t know which prayer will get the green light to be answered or when.
As children of God, who have been brought from death to life, we are called to be on mission with God.
We are free. He has given us new hearts. We know we have a sinful nature because we live in a fallen world but we are sons and daughters of the King and because of the great sacrifice of the Son Of God, who took on our sinful nature, we can live freely knowing that the one who created all things has called us to be co-heirs with Christ. WE are called to be in mission with Christ. Our mission is not to do things for Jesus but WITH Jesus. HE knows where the fish are and he knows sin. He also knows the outcome of everything and has placed us in just the right places to be effective in casting the large net of the gospel so that at the end of the day we can be confident because “We have seen incredible things today!”