Who is Jesus?

Royal Holloway University of London Christian Union launched their Autumn series “Uncover Luke” last night with an introductory talk based on Luke 5:17-31.

The song popularized by Louis Armstrong ‘What a Wonderful World’ is a beautiful song that celebrates nature: Trees of green, red roses too, they bloom for me and you; Skies of blue, clouds of white, bright blessed day and dark sacred nights.

It’s a song that also celebrates friendship, and above all, falling in love: Friends shake hands saying, ‘How do you do?’ What they are really saying is, ‘I love you.’ It’s a great song about the gift of life: creation; friendship; falling in love. But as we know, the is something wrong with our world. In Mitch Markowitz’s film Good Morning Vietnam, while the song, ‘What a wonderful world’ says one thing, the pictures say something very different. As we are told ‘the roses bloom for me and for you’, we see a bomb going off. As we hear the words ‘the colours of the rainbow so pretty in the sky’, we see protesters being beaten. And, most poignant of all, the chorus of ‘I say to myself, what a wonderful world’ is accompanied by images of the little child’s sandal. That’s the world we live in.  It should be so good and yet there is something desperately wrong. The film’s artistry is very clever because it shows us that the world is not the place it ought to be. It should be a wonderful world, but all too often it is spoilt by people. The film is summed up by the Vietnamese girl with whom Robin Williams has fallen in love. She says that so many things do not happen the way you want them to.

The Bible actually goes deeper than that.  The Bible says that so many things don’t happen the way we want them to because people are not what they should be. People are sick, says Jesus, and desperately need a doctor.  How do we get that across to people who don’t realize the seriousness of their condition, or who don’t know where to get help? I prefer to let the Bible do it. I don’t try and prove the Bible is God’s word, I simply let God do that. The Bible is like a lion. You don’t need to defend a lion, you just let the lion out. Luke’s introduction explains why we can trust this account of the life of Jesus.

“Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught. (Luke 1:1-4)

Key observations:

1.  Careful investigation
2.  Eye witness accounts
3.  Orderly account
4.  Certainty

We can have confidence that Luke’s account is worth our time investigating the claims of Jesus.  If a person is willing to read one of the biographies of Jesus, I encourage them to answer the three questions:

Who is Jesus? Why did Jesus come? What does it mean to follow him?  The passage we are going to concentrate on tonight – Luke 5:17-31 answers each of these questions.

1. Who is Jesus?

One day Jesus was teaching, and Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there. They had come from every village of Galilee and from Judea and Jerusalem. And the power of the Lord was with Jesus to heal the sick. Some men came carrying a paralyzed man on a mat and tried to take him into the house to lay him before Jesus. When they could not find a way to do this because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and lowered him on his mat through the tiles into the middle of the crowd, right in front of Jesus.” (Luke 5:17-19)

From today’s passage we can certainly say Jesus is popular. We see clear evidence of the popularity of Jesus and the drastic lengths people will go to see him.  Jesus was in Capernaum. News of Jesus arrival spread quickly.

Life in Palestine was very public. In the morning the door of the house was opened and anyone who wished might come in or out. An open door meant an invitation for all to come in.

A crowd soon filled this particular home to capacity and had jammed the area around the doorway, so eager were the people to hear Jesus.  Jesus is popular.  On that particular day, so popular, these men couldn’t even get near the house with their sick friend, it was so crowded.   So they climbed onto the roof and started digging. The roof of a Palestinian house is flat.  The roof was a place of rest and quiet, to sleep in Summer. The stairs were built on the outside of the house so access was easy.  The roof consisted of flat beams laid across from wall to wall about three feet apart, a bit like the construction of an Elizabethan ceiling.  The space between the beams was filled with brushwood packed tightly with mud which dried to a kind of clay.  Often on top of this they would put earth and grass would grow. It was quite easy therefore to dig out the filling between the beams. It didn’t damage the structure of the house and was easily repaired. That’s how the men got their friend into the crowded room.  People have always been eager to hear Jesus.  Jesus is popular. Its still true today. His story is published in over 1500 languages. Over 1 billion copies of his biography are in circulation. And the film of his life has, according to Agape, been seen by over 5 billion people in 812 languages. The most widely seen film in history. The most popular person in history. But we can say much more than that. Look at verse 24:

“But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins…” (Luke 5:24)

By using the title “The Son of Man”, Jesus was claiming much more than authority to forgive. He was claiming both the right to forgive and power to heal as God himself, and the miracle proved it.

The phrase “Son of Man” is never used of any other person in the Gospels, nor by anyone else except Jesus Christ, of himself. “Son of Man” was a title not of honour but humiliation and condescension that Jesus chose to use to explain how he literally emptied himself taking the form of a servant in coming to earth.  But Jesus didn’t dream it up himself. The title comes from a Messianic Prophecy in Daniel 7 and his hearers would have understood immediately what Jesus was claiming by using it of himself.  Let me read it to you.  Daniel says,

“In my vision at night I looked and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into His presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshipped him. His dominion is an everlasting kingdom that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.” (Dan. 7:13-14)

No mistaking who that would be. First question. Who is Jesus? Answer – God’s anointed Son of Man to be worshipped.

2. Why did Jesus come?

“When Jesus saw their faith, he said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.” The Pharisees and the teachers of the law began thinking to themselves, “Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” Jesus knew what they were thinking and asked, “Why are you thinking these things in your hearts? Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’?” (Luke 5:20-23)

Luke included this story for a significant reason, more than to simply show that Jesus is popular.

Luke begins to catalogue the growing opposition to Jesus as the religious leaders began to realise who it was He claimed to be. Lets see how Jesus answers them so provocatively.

2.1 The Priority of Forgiveness

“When Jesus saw their faith, he said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.” (Luke 5:20)

It was no accident that Jesus chose to say these words, “Son, your sins are forgiven” There is nothing more important nor profound nor provocative that Jesus could say.  Jesus wasn’t a fool. He could see the man was paralyzed.  He knew why his friends had brought him.  He could sense their hope of a miracle. He knew they knew He was their only hope. But he was not primarily a healer of broken bodies. That is not why Jesus came. Jesus knew this person’s deepest need, as Jesus knows ours.  He was not distracted by the presenting need. There was nothing superficial about Jesus diagnosis.  There is nothing more important that Jesus can say to you and me than these same words, “Your sins our forgiven.”  Do you know that your sins are forgiven?  I didn’t say “hope”, I said “know”.  Know for sure your sins are forgiven, past, present and future?

On what basis can we know for sure? Isn’t that arrogant?  No, because it has nothing to do with us. We can’t earn forgiveness and we certainly don’t deserve it. It has nothing to do with us but everything to do with Jesus.

If you are not sure that you are forgiven before God, then you are missing out on the greatest, most wonderful treasure in the whole world. A clean heart, a clear conscience, a sound mind. And it is ours as we confess our sins. The apostle John writes,

“If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:8-9)

John is describing a continuous present experience.  There is nothing more liberating than to know that we are forgiven through faith in Jesus. Nothing. Nor is there anything more profound that we can share with someone else. Whether they be young or old, fit or disabled. Indeed the Bible teaches that we have the authority of Jesus to assure people of their state before God, if they turn back to Him. We have here not only the priority of forgiveness.

2.2 The Prerogative to Forgive

The Pharisees and the teachers of the law began thinking to themselves, “Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Luke 5:21)

This was no casual utterance of Jesus. Jesus is intentionally being provocative.  He knew what he was saying and what effect it would have on those who heard.  Luke provides the context in 5:17 that

“Pharisees and teachers of the Law who had come from every village of Galilee and from Judea and Jerusalem were sitting there” (Luke 5:17)

It was therefore a set up. The front two rows of men seated in that crowded room were there to gather incriminating evidence to convict Jesus. Jesus was therefore being very provocative.  Laying down the gauntlet. Openly and publicly.  He knows what they are thinking. By what authority do you say “Your sins are forgiven”. Only God can forgive sin.  Imagine how you would feel if a neighbours overgrown tree fell on your house, caused many pounds worth of damage. Just as you were about to call your solicitor, a stranger walked up and said to your neighbour “Its OK I forgive you”.   What would you say?   If you were feeling spiritual it might be something like “What on earth has it got to do with you… its my house not yours.”  No third party has the right to interfere and forgive.

The Jews knew that every sin, every injustice, was first and foremost against God and only secondly against another person.  Logically there were only three alternative ways to understand what Jesus was doing here. As C.S.Lewis rightly pointed out, Jesus was either totally and completely mad to say this, or willfully blasphemous, or God incarnate, God in human form.

For only God can ultimately forgive sin.  Which is it?

Jesus was either mad, bad or God.  There is no middle ground, no half way house. Jesus was not a good moral teacher. Jesus never left that option open.  He never had that effect on people.  Jesus was intentionally provocative. We have here not only the priority of forgiveness of sin and the prerogative to forgive sin, but above all,

2.3 The Power to Forgive Sin

“Jesus knew what they were thinking and asked, “Why are you thinking these things in your hearts? Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’?” But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the paralyzed man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” Immediately he stood up in front of them, took what he had been lying on and went home praising God. Everyone was amazed and gave praise to God. They were filled with awe and said, “We have seen remarkable things today.”  (Luke 5:22-26)

Authority is always in proportion to power.  There is no authority without power.  When Stalin was informed that the Pope was displeased with his purges he asked, “Oh really, how many tank divisions does he  have?”  Knowing what these teachers were thinking and why they had come, Jesus set a trap of his own. He asked them a question. A simple question that appealed to their logic. “Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’?” (Luke 5:23). He was saying basically this. I claim the right to forgive sin.

In so doing I am claiming to be Divine. You do not believe me and therefore naturally you deny that I have the right to forgive also. Clearly it is very easy for me to claim to forgive and I grant that it is difficult for you to test if I am right.  So answer me this question, which is easier to say to this man, “You’re sins are forgiven, or get up and walk?” They knew that both the right to forgive and the power to heal instantly and completely could only come from God.

But the one was impossible to test, the other easy.  “So lets link the two” says Jesus. “Lets double the stakes” All or nothing. “I claim to forgive, you deny it and its difficult to test, but if I also claim the power to heal, you can immediately detect whether my claim is true or false.”  And if I can show my power to do the latter, you cannot deny my authority to do the former. Are you with me?

The teachers were trapped, in public surrounded by believers, skeptics and spectators, all had sufficient grey matter to understand the logic of Jesus question.  Jesus not only asked them the question he also gave them the answer.  Jesus is not only popular and provocative but powerful. “That you may know that the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins, He said to the paralytic, I tell you get up, take your mat and go home, and the man got up and walked out in full view of them all”.  That little sentence “Get up and walk.” Demonstrated Jesus power to forgive.

The priority to forgive; the prerogative to forgive and the power to forgive.  People today are just as paralyzed by fear, by guilt and by doubt. Whether people appear healthy or sick in body is irrelevant.   Jesus healed this man first and foremost by assuring him that he was forgiven, and then healed his body in compassion to prove it. Like this man, Jesus treats us as individuals. He deals with us as personally as He did with this person brought by his friends. Like no one else on earth, Jesus Christ claims the absolute and complete authority to forgive you your sins. To give you peace with God. To bring you into a personal, relationship with Him.   We had three questions this morning and we have answered two: Who is Jesus? Answer : The Anointed Son of Man. What did Jesus come? Answer : To rescue sinners and forgive your sin. Our final question is this:

3. What does it mean to follow him?

“After this, Jesus went out and saw a tax collector by the name of Levi sitting at his tax booth. “Follow me,” Jesus said to him, and Levi got up, left everything and followed him. Then Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect complained to his disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus answered them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:27-32)

Then Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his house” (Luke 5:27)

Let the enormity of that sentence sink in. Jesus spends time with sinners.  He goes to their homes. He eats with them. He wants to meet their friends. This is shocking. A Holy God came to earth not to destroy sinners but to rescue them.

When challenged, Jesus says, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners’ (Luke 5:31). Jesus makes it quite clear he is interested only in people who know they are sick, not in people who think they are well. So, the qualification for coming to Jesus is not, ‘Are you good enough?’ but, ‘Are you bad enough?’ ‘Are you desperate enough to know you need rescuing’  What does Jesus say to Levi? “Follow me” (5:27) The word “follow” means “to walk the same road” Notice 3 things about this sentence.

3.1 An Imperative Command

Notice Jesus takes the initiative.  The word “follow” reflects Jesus initiative and is in the imperative mode. Jesus was issuing a command. Jesus was not saying, “Would you like to follow me”   This was no invitation as if he was doing Jesus a favour. It was a command from the King to be obeyed. Levi stood up immediately and followed Jesus.  An imperative command.

3.2  An Irrevocable Claim

Not only is the verb in the imperative, a command, It is also in the present tense.

That means Jesus was commanding the beginning of an action and its habitual continuance. Jesus was saying “Start following me, and continue as a habit of life to follow me.”  This gives the lie to the superficial appeals sometimes made, when people are invited to make a decision for Christ.  Jesus was not calling Levi to make a decision to come forward at the end of the service, but to a lifelong path of discipleship.  To walk the same road that Jesus was walking meant the road of self sacrifice, the road of separation, of altruism, of suffering, of holiness but is is also the road home. The road to rescue. Of all the disciples Levi probably gave up the most. He, of all of them, literally left everything to follow Jesus. Peter and Andrew, James and John could at least go back to fishing. There were always fish to catch, and always the old trade to fall back on. But Levi burnt his boats completely. With that one action, in one moment of time he had put himself out of a job forever. He could never go back to being a tax collector.  The Jews would never employ a quisling. The Romans wouldn’t give him a second chance. Levi was a man who staked everything on Christ.  He suddenly knew that the little villa by the sea at Joppa and the cash stowed away in the hollowed out bricks at the back of his home simply weren’t worth anything compared to being wanted – for himself. The old Levi was good for nothing. He was dead to the world even while he lived. The new Levi, aptly re-named Matthew, meaning gift of the Lord, was as different to the old Levi as if he had died and been born all over again. In fact that’s what had happened to him.  And that is what happens to us when we hear God’s voice in Jesus Christ and respond to the gift of grace.  An imperative command, an irrevocable claim.

3.3 An Irresistible Call

Jesus didn’t just say “Follow me”. What he actually said was “Follow with me”. Matthew was not being called simply to become a follower. Jesus was welcoming Matthew to be his companion and co-worker. It was to be a side by side walk down the same road.  At last someone accepted him for who he was.  To know that God loves us so much that he sent Jesus to rescue us and wants us to be with him is surely irresistible.  Such love.  An imperative command, an irrevocable claim, an irresistible call.

Three questions:

Who is Jesus? The anointed Son of Man.

Why did He come? To rescue you and forgive you.

What does it mean to follow him? Repent and believe.

Lets pray.