Sickness, sin, and opposition are no match for Jesus and his mission to bring God’s kingdom from heaven to earth as he forgives, heals, restores, and invites God’s people (even now) to join him in his mission.
Introduction – Last week a couple from Missouri came forward with 1 of 2 winning tickets to claim their share of the largest Powerball lottery jackpot in history. Their cash payout before taxes will be almost $300 million! According to them, they plan to use much of their new windfall to help others—giving to charity, to relatives for college educations and others needs, and to the community. They seem like regular people who don’t plan to make major lifestyle changes, but they know there will be a price to pay for striking it rich. Listen to what the wife said as she tried to comprehend what just happened. “This isn’t what I thought it would be like, now I’m really nervous. I’m grateful, but there will be some not-so-good stuff to go along with it.” Winning the lottery seems wonderful when viewed from the other side because we ignore the associated problems and challenges. Think about it. Would you still want all the benefits of winning the lottery if it meant your life would become much more complicated, difficult, stressful, and lonely than it is now? Is this also how you think of the kingdom of God? The kingdom of God that Jesus proclaimed seems wonderful at first glance, but if we are honest, most of us are not sure we want it his way because we prefer our life mission to God’s mission.
Background – Jesus is proclaiming the kingdom of God as he goes from town to town in Galilee. As he does so, he is challenging the status quo of the culture and the guardians of that culture (the Jewish religious leaders). The kind of kingdom Jesus preaches is radically different from anything heard before. Jesus’ story of the kingdom is too much for the religious leaders to stomach, and it is too good to be true for the masses. Those who oppose Jesus do so strongly; those who welcome Jesus rejoice as if God has finally arrived to bring salvation here and now.
I. Two Extraordinary Healings
A. The Leper’s Story (vv. 12-16)
Leprosy, its health and social effects, and how it symbolizes sin in its defilement. Jesus has the power to heal uncleanness, and the compassion to touch untouchables. Jesus is dramatic, but only so he might dismantle wrong belief.
B. The Paralytic’s Story (vv. 17-26)
Palsy, its health and social effects, and how it symbolizes sin in its disablement. Jesus attracted the attention of friend and foe. Faith is illustrated as bursting through all obstacles to get to Jesus. Jesus discerns hearts (the paralytic and his friends; the religious leaders). Jesus has the authority to forgive sins.
II. Why Are We Impressed With Jesus But Not Moved By Jesus?
These familiar stories are wonderful. Meditating on them should be enough to move us to love like Jesus loved in thankfulness for his love for sinners. So why aren’t we moved by Jesus? Let’s do a thought experiment by entering the story to discover the answer. In the movie The Matrix, there is a scene where Morpheus, the leader of a small group of mission-minded freedom fighters, meets for the first time with Neo. Morpheus has lured him to this meeting with a mysterious elusive white rabbit, just like Alice was lured into Wonderland. Neo is a man in search of the truth about his mission in the world. But he doesn’t yet understand the truth about himself. Until he learns the truth about himself, he cannot join Morpheus and take his place in the mission. So Morpheus offers to show him the truth about himself—how deep the rabbit-hole really goes.
A. We don’t really believe we are Pharisees at heart
We want to be associated with Jesus, but also maintain our distance from his ministry methods and his choice of friends. We want to reserve the right to judge whether we believe the hard sayings of Jesus apply to us. We prefer Jesus to build God’s kingdom as we envision heaven should be. We want the class order of the kingdom to be first the “moral Christian people” (i.e., us) and the “defiled sinners who are lucky to be saved” (i.e, them) to be last—with peaceful segregation of the classes preferred. Why? Because we want to be in control, keeping safe distance from anyone or anything that makes us afraid. So we yearn for the same kind of kingdom the Pharisees wanted: a moral God-fearing country that returns to its founding principles with power and influence wielded by the ultra-faithful few.
Jesus creates a gospel community whose members are naturally are at odds with one another because of the great gulf between them that sin makes. One of the signs of the “last days” is nation rising against nation, and kingdom against kingdom (Lk 21:10). These divisions manifest themselves at more grassroots levels too. Race against race. Male against female. Husband against wife. Employee against employer. Religion against religion. Rich against middle class against poor. Old against the young. Political party against political party. The list goes on and on, even in the church. Traditional music against contemporary music. Deep teaching against practical teaching. Outreach against discipleship. Bible study against fellowship. Worship against mercy. Intact families against broken families. Homeschool families against public school families. Safe friendships against risky friendships. All either demonizing the other or afraid of contact with the other. Afraid of being contaminated, of becoming unclean. This is why Jesus created the Church—to bridge the divide that naturally exists between sinners who are different from other sinners. He is that bridge. The power to heal the fear, the hatred, the distrust, and the apathy is Jesus, his gospel message, and his kingdom on earth.
B. We don’t really believe our primary need is forgiveness
We only ask for bodily healing and material blessings (and occasionally “amnesty-type” forgiveness when we need to shed those nagging feelings of guilt). Our prayers are dominated by “give us this day,” with an occasional “forgive us our debts.” But they are rarely focused on our profound need to be forgiven by a holy God, and rarely full of praise to the Father for sending his Son to die in my place—to reconcile me and the world to himself. Francis Schaeffer described our small-minded ideals as the “horrendous values of personal peace and affluence.” In other words, “As long as I’m OK, then all is right with the world.”
The famous and witty British author G.K. Chesterton, who was also a devout Christian, was once asked to write an essay for publication. The theme of the essay was to be, “What’s Wrong With the World.” Chesterton submitted his essay which read, “Dear Sirs. I am! Sincerely Yours, G.K. Chesterton.” He understood that he had problems because he was the problem! The answer to the question of what is wrong with the world cannot come from us if we are the problem. We want to write our life script so God blesses us with health, wealth, and personal peace. But Jesus is saying your primary need is not a great life filled with creature comforts. Your primary need is to be forgiven your sins and to be joined to his kingdom mission. He knows that is where you’ll find a life greater than you can imagine. Now be honest with yourself. Do you want Jesus to be a supporting actor in your life-movie starring you? That’s not his mission, and he will never sign up for that role because he loves you too much. Instead, he is directing you to be a supporting actor in his movie starring him. He knows that is the best role you could ever hope for. Are you still trying to star in your own movie?
C. We don’t really believe Jesus’ mission is our mission
We do not reach out because we think it is Jesus’ (and other religious people’s) job to reach out. It’s too much to ask of us! When we examine closely the mission of Jesus, it makes us uncomfortable because it promises to disrupt (even destroy) our personal mission of life without responsibility, liberty without cost, and the pursuit of happiness without concern for the needs of others. So we assent to the goodness of Jesus’ mission to forgive sinners, care for the sick, fight oppression, befriend the friendless, and touch the untouchables, but we leave it to the ministers, missionaries, and others to adopt Jesus’ mission as their own.
I notice very soon after I was ordained to pastoral ministry that pastors are expected to be friends with everyone in church. To spend time with them, talking with them, fellowshiping with them, being available to them when they are in need. We do this because we are to imitate Jesus. Paul appealed to Christians to consider what this meant for them. They ought to have imitated Jesus, but if that didn’t convince them or if they were unsure what imitating Jesus looks like, Paul urged them to imitate him as he imitated Christ. The author of Hebrews, exhorting Christians to selflessly serve needy friends, also urged them to imitate their leaders’ faith (1 Cor 11:1; Heb 13:1-7).
III. How to Join in the Mission of God
A. Cultivate a heart like Jesus: pray like a missionary (v. 16)
The great crowds wearied Jesus. Although he had compassion for them, and healed them all, he needed to withdraw to desolate, lonely places to pray. He needed to draw spiritual strength from the Father to minister on the front line. Luke emphasizes that Jesus was a man of prayer throughout his gospel account (Lk 3:21; 6:12; 9:18, 28-29; 11:1; 23:46). His example teaches how important prayer is, especially when life becomes busy and there are needy people pining for your attention. If Jesus, the Son of God, needed to withdraw and pray to the Heavenly Father, how much more do you! It is a great error to think, “I’m too busy to pray.” Jesus and the spiritual giants throughout history understood this. Martin Luther spoke of how his prayer time increased as his workload increased. When he was busy, he made sure he prayed for an hour each day to prepare for the work God had called him to do. When he was really busy, he said he would pray 2 hours. And if he was so busy he had no time for prayer, he would pray 3 hours a day! The point is that when you are overwhelmed with problems, with people bringing their problems to you, or with busyness, then you need to withdraw and pray. Don’t allow anything (except works of necessity and mercy) to stand in the way of your regularly scheduled prayer. Otherwise your sinful nature will rule you through overwork, worry, and stress, and thereby transform your good intentions into bitterness, anger, frustration, exhaustion, depression, and alienation.
B. Act in love like Jesus: reach out and touch untouchables (vv. 13, 20-24)
Jesus touching the leper displays his compassion and mission—to save by reaching out and entering the lives of outcasts. Jesus left his throne in heaven to walk the dusty roads of Palestine so he might live among sinners and touch them with his compassionate, healing care. The paralytic was untouchable in the sense that he was invisible—irrelevant to society. But when this insignificant man interrupts Jesus’ public teaching, Jesus gives him his attention. He touches this faithful man and incorporates him into a lesson about the power and authority of Jesus, the Son of Man. The lesson illustration is glorious! The man walks away healed, and more importantly forgiven!
C. Give glory to God for Jesus: bring others to the Great Missionary (vv. 14-15, 18-19, 26)
1. In the leper’s story, Jesus sent the cleansed man to the priest for inspection and approval to reenter Jewish society and religious life. This was required by the Law of Moses for “unclean” people to reestablish normal social contact (Lev 14). Who is the “them” (v. 14) for which the testimony of the priest and the offering is directed? Probably the priests as health inspection authorities since it would be difficult for a man known to have been a leper to reenter society. He would be feared by most. But with the priest’s inspection and approval, and the man’s offering for cleansing accepted, the former leper would be allowed to reenter society. His testimony to the power of Jesus to heal in the name of the Lord brought the religious leaders and the masses to Jesus, the Great Missionary.
2. In the paralytic’s story, remember the men’s energy, commitment, and persistence to help their friend. In faith, they pushed, climbed, and dug through any obstacle, working as a team to get to Jesus (cf. 2 Cor 8:9).
3. Although Jesus wanted to keep a low profile about his healing ministry throughout the towns of Galilee, he did not stop amazing the crowds. Why? Because Jesus is in the business of bringing glory to God, and that is what his healing and teaching ministry caused the crowds to do—glorify God. Amazement seized them all. They were filled with awe. They were awestruck at the signs and wonders Jesus performed. They recognized how extraordinary Jesus was, and how his works were worthy of praise. Although most did not realize it yet, they were glorifying God in the presence of the Son of God! Some of them would soon be joining Jesus in God’s mission.
Conclusion – Jesus is the Man on God’s Mission. When he lived on earth, he loved God, taught God’s love, demonstrated God’s love, challenged those who opposed God’s love, and invited people to participate in the loving mission of God. He reached out to the poor, the social outcasts and pariahs, the notorious sinners, the captives, the sick, the deformed, the lost. He entered their lives and touched them with the promise and commitment to bring wholeness. He is the faithful missionary. He broke through the roof of heaven to reach out and touch the untouchables. He lived this way and died this way. On the cross, he became unclean so that God might cleanse us of our sins. On the cross, he became the untouchable one so that God might touch sinners, bringing them forgiveness and healing. On the cross, the Father shunned Jesus like a defiled unclean leper, withholding his loving touch so that we might be touched, cleansed and restored. On the cross Jesus was paralyzed, unable to escape God’s holy wrath poured out on him for sin, so that we might be set free from the paralyzing shackles of our sin. Only when the love of Jesus begins to touch your heart will you stop merely being impressed with him and start being moved by him. Only when you see yourself as untouchable yet forgiven in God’s sight will you begin to love in the extraordinary way Jesus loved. Only when you begin to see his love for the untouchables for what it really is—love for you—will your heart be moved to true faith that moves you to join the mission of God. Behold the Son of Man! Fall at his feet, seek forgiveness and healing from him, follow him, glorify him, and join him in his mission of salvation!