Healing and Forgiveness

September 3, 2023

Book: Luke

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Scripture: Luke 5:12-26

Physical sickness is meant to show us our need for forgiveness and spiritual healing in Christ.

Well, I’m pretty excited today because we get to do something that I think is one of the most important things that we as Christians can be doing right now as we live our lives. How’s that for a setup? Let me explain that. I have walked with a lot of people through experiences of sickness and death, whether it’s their own or someone in their family. And sometimes Christians handle this very, very well, but sometimes they don’t handle it well at all. You know that old hymn, It Is Well With My Soul. You know that song? I’ve known people who will sing that their entire lives through many, many decades of walking with Christ. But when the storm comes, it is not well with their soul. They struggle. In my 18 years as a pastor, I would say that the difference between the Christian who handles these trials with confidence and the one who falls apart is the amount of time carefully spent creating a biblically informed view of the world. The difference is how much time has actually been spent thinking about what does the Bible say this world is, and what I’m going to experience in it. If you understand the role of sickness and death and you understand the reason that death exists, you are going to face the trial of death better than the Christian who has not spent that time thinking or meditating on the Bible’s teaching on death. And the problem, of course, with that is that these are not fun things to think about, right? Even now you’re thinking, Oh, why did I come this week? This is how it’s going to start? You’re going to start here, okay. Yeah.

People don’t enjoy this. So we’re heading into the fall here. If I offered you two Bible studies that you could be part of this fall, one is going to be on increasing your joy in Christ, and the other is on the theology of death. Which one are you choosing? Ironically, they could be the same class, but we don’t want to believe that, do we? We don’t want to believe it. Here’s what I always tell people to do. And you’ve heard me say this before. I’m going to say it again. You need to be laying the foundation of your biblical view of sickness and death now, so that later, when you’re going through it, you don’t have to build it then. Because it is much harder to build then than it is right now. The Puritan pastor, Jonathan Edwards, who famously wrote 70 resolutions for his life. He instructed himself in this way: resolved to think much on all occasions of my own dying and of the common circumstances which attend death. Sounds like a fun guy, right? This is him smiling, by the way. Much on all occasions he thought about this. Sounds like a lot.

Why put your thoughts there? Why? Why spend so much time on this? Church, I’m telling you, if you put your thoughts on the issues of death and the common circumstances of sickness that surround death, you will not only have a greater understanding of the gospel, you will counterintuitively learn how to have true joy through anything. You’ll have joy through it all. But you’ve got to build that now. You’ve got to build that when the sun is shining and the birds are singing and you’re looking forward to lunch and football. That’s the time to build this theology. You’re not going to want to hear the truth about sickness for the first time when you’re in the hospital. You’re not going to want to hear about the spiritual role of death for the first time at your loved ones funeral. So we get to do something this morning that I think is a wonderful thing for our church. We get to lay some of the cement blocks of that foundation this morning. And specifically the block that we’re going to lay is the connection between physical sickness and spiritual wholeness.

Here’s the big idea I want you to walk away from with this morning. Physical sickness is meant to show us our need for forgiveness and spiritual healing in Christ. That’s what it’s meant to show us. Let me say that differently. Every broken thing that is happening in your body, including the sickness or the tragic event that leads up to your death, is meant to show you your need to be forgiven and reconciled through faith in Jesus Christ. I know it doesn’t feel that way. That’s what it’s meant to do. And that’s true of the smallest things. And that is true of the largest things. When you get a cold this winter, inevitably you will get a cold or the flu this winter. And when you do, that is meant to show you the your frailty. It’s meant to remind you that you’re in need of God’s intervention for eternity because you on your own are not going to last. You’re not going to make it on your own.

That’s true on the large scale, too. Covid 19 was a pandemic meant to create the conditions necessary to bring about the spiritual healing of people. We don’t see it that way, but it sounds weird to us. But that’s true. And after we’re done today, I think that you’ll see that it’s true. Go ahead and open your Bibles if you have them. To Luke Chapter five, verse 12. We’re going to look at two stories today of healing. Two times in Jesus heals back to back. And you’re going to want to turn there because it’s their longer passages. I won’t have them on the screen. So open up your Bible, Open up your phone, get us to Luke 5:12.

Now, remember, all of Jesus’ miracles are done with an eye toward showing us a spiritual reality. So it’s meant to teach us something that we can’t see. It’s helping us see true things that would otherwise be invisible to us. They’re visible pictures of invisible facts. So Jesus uses these miracles not simply to do nice things for people, but to illustrate the good news that he came to preach. We’re going to look at both of these stories. We’ll look at them individually, but you’ll see very quickly how they relate to one another and why Luke put them together in his book. So let’s begin with the Leprous Man: verse 12. While he was in one of the cities, there came a man full of leprosy. And when he saw Jesus, he fell on his face and begged him, Lord, if you will, you can make me clean. And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will, be clean”. And immediately the leprosy left him and he charged him to tell no one, but go and show yourself to the priest and make an offering for your cleansing as Moses commanded for proof to them. But now, even more, the report about him went abroad and great crowds gathered to hear him and to be healed of their infirmities. But he would withdraw to desolate places and pray.

So in this scene, Jesus is approached by a man who has leprosy. Now, we don’t know exactly what skin disease he had. The word leprosy was sort of a catch all for many different types of skin disease. It could have been something like an extreme type of psoriasis or ringworm. If you’ve ever had one of these skin diseases, you know how difficult they are to get rid of. Skin problems are very, very hard to solve. Even with the medicine that we have today, they’re hard to solve. So imagine back then. A lot of these skin diseases are highly contagious. And the way they were treated was through isolation. So the infected person would be quarantined for a long period of time and then go to the priest who would then either sign off on this person being healed or he would go back into quarantine. Now, why the priest? Right. Why? Why the priest? Was the priest the medical professional of his day? Was the priest the Anthony Fauci of his day. Was he the one that got to choose who went where? Right. Well, no. There were doctors in ancient Israel who could help someone with their medical treatments. They weren’t great medical treatments, but they could help someone. The priest did not simply determine if someone was well. They determined if someone is clean. Now, I know that might sound the same to us, but that’s not the same thing. It’s not quite the same thing. Clean is a spiritual category. So a person who is clean is able to go before God in worship. Specifically, this person would be allowed to be among God’s covenant people. This person could enter into the temple and bring sacrifices like they are supposed to. Basically, this person could worship in a way that an unclean person couldn’t. Sickness was not the only thing that could make you unclean back then. You could be unclean if you, for instance, touched a dead body, or if you ate the wrong thing, you would be considered ceremonially unclean for a period of time. And the idea here is that God had set up a law to instruct the people on the proper way to be in a relationship with him. And part of that requires God’s people to be cleansed of association with things in the broken world, right? So that’s what the law was doing. It was separating out God’s people from the broken world. The laws for ritual cleanliness are difficult for us. They’re not so easy for us to understand for probably several reasons. I can think of two reasons why they’re hard for us. And one of them is just that the laws seem arbitrary to us. They seem like a strange concoction of different rules to be clean. And sometimes they can even seem a little bit cruel to us, you know? When someone gets sick and they can’t worship God. Why? Why is that? Why couldn’t they go before the Lord if they’re just not feeling well? But the second reason I think it’s a little bit more helpful for us is that we’ve never really had a relationship with the Lord like this.

See, we’ve never had a relationship with the Lord where we had to make ourselves anything before him. Certainly we’ve never had to be clean before God because our state in Christ is that He makes us clean. So it’s never been on us to prepare ourselves to be in God’s presence. So the Old Testament laws seem a little bit odd to us, and obviously I can’t go down the full list of all the things that make you clean or unclean this morning. That would take a lot of time. We did have a little reading from Leviticus 13, so you can get a sense for what that process was like. But I can summarize these laws by saying that all of those laws were intended to demonstrate the distance between a holy, righteous and sinless God and sinful people. The laws are intended to show that gap, that huge impassable gap. The brokenness of creation, which includes sickness and death, is a result of humanity’s fall into sin. And the entire law is designed not only to show us this gap, but to bridge the gap. And how does the bridging have to be done? In God’s grace, He made a way for people to be in his presence.

In every aspect of that law points us to the way Jesus would ultimately close the gap once and for all, for all people who trust in him. So here is in this passage, the closing of the gap. That’s what we have when Jesus heals this man of leprosy. By his word. What we’re seeing is all of that mosaic law summarized in a moment. It’s the closing of the gap. This man would have lived in isolation, so he wouldn’t have been allowed to be in the temple. He couldn’t have been with God’s people. He couldn’t have hung out with his own family. He would not have been able to make sacrifices that the Mosaic law requires to be in a good relationship with the Lord. So his whole predicament would have been a daily reminder to him that he needs God’s gracious healing every day. He would have woken up and looked at his skin and thought, I need God to intervene. I need God to intervene. I can’t solve this. I’m sure he tried, but he knew he needed God’s grace so that he could enter into the temple and stand before the Lord in confidence. He needed God’s intervention. And then he heard about a man named Jesus who not only heals people, but he’s speaking God’s word. This guy is coming and he is healing people and he is speaking as God. And so the man goes to Jesus and he says, Lord, if you will, you can make me clean. You see how he says the word ‘clean’ there? This isn’t just a request for the leprosy to clear up. This is a request to be restored into a right relationship with God and his people. And he knows the only way that this will happen is if the Lord wills. It’s not His will. His will would be for it to be clean. And he can’t make himself clean. But he knows that God can make him clean. He needs the Lord to will it. And Jesus, seeing that this man gets it, that he understands that he will need God’s intervention in order for him to be in a right relationship, be able to worship the Lord. He stands before him and he rids him of the barrier. He says, I am willing to rid you of the barrier between you and God, and he rids him of it and makes him immediately clean. It says he heals him. And then do you see that instruction that he gives to him? Go to the priest and show him that you are now ready to make the sacrifice required for your cleansing. And he says to prove it to them, to prove it to the priest. Jesus doesn’t need the proof. Jesus has done all the work, but go show them what has been done for you. And then do you have those instructions in Leviticus 13 and 14 that tell the person who’s healed and clean how they can worship God again. And of course, Jesus says, Don’t tell him I did it. Don’t tell him it was me because he doesn’t want to get let the cat out of the bag like we saw last week. But yet, of course, the word gets out because how could it not get out? Everyone is saying to each other, this man is able to restore lepers at the touch of his hand. This man is able to give ritual cleanness, not through some process, but simply because he wills to do it.

Church, we no longer have to make ourselves ritually clean to go before the Lord. Because Jesus is our ritual cleanness. He has made us clean. We can approach the Lord with confidence in prayer and in worship, not because we have made ourselves clean, but because Jesus has paid the full price of our sins and he cleanses us of all unrighteousness. Do you remember that phrase 1 John 1:9:  ‘He cleanses us of all unrighteousness’. This is what it’s talking about. But to have this righteous cleanliness before the Lord, to be able to enter into His presence, you have to have Jesus. You have to have him. You need the healing touch of a willing Christ who will heal you. Because on our own, our soul is as dead and as ugly as the leper’s skin. But through faith in Jesus, we receive the touch that restores us and brings us into that right relationship which our soul is longing for. And furthermore, when sickness strikes, when our bodies are racked with sickness and fever, and when things just don’t work right, we’re either driven to see our need for Christ or we’re reminded of our wholeness in Christ. That’s the purpose of sickness and disease. You thought there was no point. You thought it was random. You thought it just entered into the world. You just thought it was just a difficult thing you had to go through? Nope. It has a purpose. It’s designed to drive you. It’s meant to drive you to Jesus because Jesus is coming with a kingdom where there is no more sickness and death, and where everything is restored. You can see why this is such a foundational block that needs to be laid. When you’re healthy, can’t you? See the person that’s in pain and is grieving is not usually interested in hearing the theology behind sickness. You know, someone is sick in your life. You don’t go up to them. You know why you’re sick and you explain the theology to them. Maybe they’d be open to that, but you need to be thinking about it now. Now is when you develop that. This world is full of sin. It’s passing away. These bodies are falling apart, some at a faster rate than others. Would you agree? Why do you have to say it out loud? Yeah, right. We’re all sort of, we’re all moving toward death. Please don’t just take that out of context and make that … We are. Every one of us is moving slowly toward death. But sickness has a purpose. It has a purpose. Our human frailty is a physical reflection of a spiritual truth. If you don’t have Jesus, then you do not have hope beyond the grave. And if you do have Jesus, then you’ve been made spiritually whole and will be physically whole for eternity with Christ. If you have Jesus, your body may be dying, but your soul has been made whole. And nothing will ultimately give you fear.

This truth is even more clear in our second scene, which is with a paralyzed man. Pick it up with me in verse 17. “On one of those days, as he was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there who had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem. And the power of the Lord was with him to heal. 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, but finding no way to bring him in because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the midst before Jesus. And when he saw their faith, he said, ‘Man, your sins are forgiven you’. And the scribes and the Pharisees began to question saying, ‘Who is this? Who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?’ When Jesus perceived their thoughts, he answered them. Why do you question in your hearts? Which is easier to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you’ or to say ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins, he said to the man who was paralyzed ‘I say to you, rise, pick up your bed and go home’. And immediately he rose up before them and picked up what he had been lying on and went home, glorifying God. And amazement seized them all and they glorified God, and were filled with awe, saying ‘We have seen extraordinary things today’.”

Okay. This time, Luke tells us a little bit about the crowd around Jesus. It’s full of the top religious leaders from across Israel. So Galilee and Judea are regions. It says they’re coming from every town of those regions. And then Jerusalem is, of course, the most prominent city in Israel. And they’re coming to hear Jesus. The point is that Jesus is is garnering attention and not just this time from townspeople who are interested or who are sick. Scholars are coming. And the reason is obvious. The people who are going to hear Jesus speak are going to hear him speak the word of God. And that’s Jewish scholar territory. Now he’s coming into a world and stepping into the into the influence of religious teachers. He also just made a guy ceremonially clean. So his healing isn’t just practical wellness. Jesus is giving people access to God with his word. And the scribes and Pharisees are thinking, Wait, hold up. That’s what we’re for; that’s what we do. We’re the religious ones. We’re the ones that know the law. We’re the ones that teach people how to have access to God. We’re the ones that are supposed to be giving instructions in the law. This guy is fulfilling the law, but we’re the law people. And so, of course, they want to hear. And we’re going to see these guys show up again and again throughout the book of Luke. And they’re going to become increasingly irritated with what Jesus is doing. So Jesus is teaching the crowd in a house and they all start to hear something and then they look up and the ceiling is moving and tiles are being shifted out of the way. And in comes this guy and he’s being lowered on a bed by his friends. I’ve always wondered what the guy on the mat thought of this plan, you know? I mean, he had to be less convinced of it. Right? Like, okay, Uriah, what we’re going to do is we’re going to take the roof off. We’re going to lower you on your bed. I don’t know if his name was Uriah, but it probably was. But anyway, they get this guy down in there and here he is, all of them. They’ve got this plan. And here he is before Jesus. The crowd was so dense they couldn’t get to Jesus. They had to assume that once they moved this guy in front of Jesus, that that that Jesus would respond and that it would be obvious what they needed him to do. And so they go to the extreme. They know who Jesus is, they know what he can do. And so they go to the extreme. They lower him through the roof.

What’s Jesus going to do in this dramatic moment? Can you imagine how dramatic that moment must have been when the guy was there? See, up to this point, Jesus has been teaching. Everybody has been listening, they’ve been hearing his words. But now it’s very obvious what Jesus is going to do. Jesus now needs to do the thing that they’ve heard that he can do for everyone. It’s obvious why they’re there. The religious experts are ready to see Jesus perform what he’s famous for. This is a prove-it moment for Jesus ministry, if there ever was one. So what he does next will determine what people will say about Jesus, not just that day, but in all those towns that were there coming from. And in Jerusalem, the most important city. Let me pause right here.

There are people today that like to think of Jesus as the ultimate humanitarian. They really do. They like to think of Jesus as just a really good guy, that his whole purpose was to help people with their problems regardless of what they think or believe. Sometimes you’ll hear people say that Jesus loved without an agenda. What they mean is that Jesus just did loving kind things, regardless of what it is that anybody thought about him, that Jesus cared about. All he really cared about was making hungry people fed and making sure that sick people were cared for. And the argument then is that today what we should be about, too, that we should care about the physical needs of people, that we should care far less about a person’s spiritual state and concentrate really only on making sure the wrongs of the world are being undone. There are entire so-called missions organizations that have put themselves in that philosophy of ministry. If that was true, if this was really Jesus mission, this would have been the perfect moment for Jesus to communicate to all the religious people of the day that that he was here for humanitarian reasons, to help people out physically. That that was the reason that he came to make sure that all the people got taken care of physically and were cared for. But what he says is, man, your sins are forgiven. Your sins are forgiven. And then he stops talking, and we know there’s a pause because it says that they question in their hearts they had to be timed for the religious leaders to question in their hearts, who is this that speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins except God alone? Who would have the audacity to stand before a bunch of Mosaic law scholars who have spent their entire lives teaching the people how to keep the law and make sacrifices that the law requires for the forgiveness of their sins, and do an end run around that entire law and simply state that someone’s sins are forgiven. Who would do that? Blasphemy. This is the profane talk of a man who does not know God’s law and he does not care about the Lord. He’s a false teacher who has taken the authority that is God’s, and God’s alone. And of course, the four friends and the paralyzed man. I don’t know what they were thinking, but it’s certainly not why they came. I imagine they were a little confused. They didn’t go to all this trouble because of the need for the forgiveness of sins. That’s not why they did this. Clearly what they’re looking for here is physical healing. And in that initial moment, Jesus has not lived up to his reputation as a physical healer. Is even going to do it? He’s a failed humanitarian at this point.

I don’t know how long you waited. Maybe just a minute. Maybe a little bit longer. Why do you question in your hearts, which is easier to say: your sins are forgiven you, or to say rise and walk? Let’s think about that for a moment. Which would be easier to say. You ever thought about that? Which of those two questions? Which one of those two things would be a bit easier to say? Your sins are forgiven you, or rise and walk. It’s kind of a two edged sword question. In one way, it’s clearly easier to say your sins are forgiven you. That’s much easier. You know why? Because nobody can check. Nobody. Can you say anything you want? You can walk around today telling people their sins are forgiven, right? Nobody, nobody can check to see if that’s the case. You’d have to be God to know if the sins are actually forgiven. People can say whatever they like. In that sense, it would be way harder to command a paralytic to rise up and walk. Because if he doesn’t, then everybody knows you’re a fraud. So it’s easier to say the other thing. But in another way, forgiving a person’s sins is a far harder thing to do because you would need the actual authority of God to do it. You’d have to be something that is much greater than a healer or a prophet to forgive a person’s sins with your words.

So there’s an intentional tension within this question that Jesus asks. And then he clears it up. ‘But that you may know that the son of man has the authority to forgive sins, I say to you, rise up, pick up your bed and go home’. And the man picks up the bed and he goes home. Surprise! It is far easier to tell a man to get up and take his mat home with him for Jesus. It’s easier to do that because that relatively minor work of power for Jesus points to the much greater reality that the Lord has entered into the presence of these people and has brought the forgiveness of sins for those who have faith to believe. See? See? He switches it on them. He it’s much easier for Jesus to command a man’s back, to be made whole again, that he could walk. That man came from physical wholeness. He left with spiritual wholeness. You see how it says he was glorifying God when he left? I imagine he was. He came for his body to be healed. But you got to see this, Church. His non-functioning spine, his inability to walk was just the method that the Lord used to bring this man and his friends through the roof to Jesus, who sent them home spiritually whole. Do you see it? The reason this man couldn’t walk was so that he could come to Christ and be made whole. That’s the context of his healing. His broken body was simply the occasion that God used to repair this man’s soul through faith in Jesus Christ.

Every broken thing in the world, every broken thing in this world is an opportunity for someone to see their need for gospel wholeness. That’s why the things are broken. Perhaps you’ve heard of a woman named Joni Eareckson Tada. She’s a famous evangelist, radio host. She’s an advocate for the disabled community. As a teenager in 1967, she was severely injured in a diving accident, left her as a quadriplegic. She’s written and spoken on her battles with depression, and her desire to die shortly after. In the years following that accident, she’s been very open about the struggles that she’s had. As you can imagine, through that ordeal, she doubted God’s existence for a time. And then when she was convinced of God’s existence, she doubted his goodness for a time. But the Lord used that ordeal to get a hold of Joni’s soul, to open her eyes to the truth that Christ came for her to expose her need for spiritual healing. And in a very moving interview with the late Larry King, who an interviewer who didn’t follow Jesus, but never shied away from spiritual conversations, Joni testified that were it not for injury, she might not lean into Christ the way that she does now. This is what the Lord is doing with the brokenness. This is what He’s doing with the hurt. He’s drawing us through the pain of this world to the healing touch of Christ. This doesn’t mean that every physical affliction will be healed. We know that it won’t. Not every paralytic in Jerusalem or in the Judean area stood that day. Not every paralytic in Israel who came to Jesus or who was around Jesus was healed. Even the ones that did, by the way, eventually died of something else. But the physical pain of this world is drawing us to the one who came to expose our spiritual sinful brokenness that can only be repaired through forgiveness in Jesus.

Let me tell you something, Church. If you are in a season of pain and suffering right now physically, I’ll tell you, this is a church that will walk beside you. There will be folks here that will walk beside you in that pain. But you need to know that that pain is pointing you to Jesus. And that’s how we’ll talk about it, too. The pain is pointing you to Jesus. The deficiency of your body is pressing you to cling to the sufficiency of Christ. I’m going to leave you this morning with the words of Joni Eareckson Tada taken from that interview: “My affliction is like a sheep dog snapping at my heels, making me run down the road to the cross of Jesus Christ for help, where I just ain’t got nowhere else to go but God.” Would you pray with me?

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