Word on Wednesday – by John Mason
Some years ago, I was chatting with an acquaintance about Christianity over coffee in one of New York’s coffee shops when I noticed two women sitting in a darkened corner of the room. As the window blind had been drawn, I thought it strange that one of them was wearing dark glasses. It was not until they rose to leave that I realized that she was a famous film-star. I had been sitting a table away from a movie celebrity – but I didn’t know it.
It’s easy to miss such opportunities. I say this because many today have only eaten a diet of secular progressivism when it comes to the subject of a Jewish celebrity of the 1st century – Jesus of Nazareth. Yet perhaps unsurprisingly, today’s generation which tends to focus on self, is not interested in learning from the past, let alone taking an interest in the primary documents that tell us about him.
All of which brings me to a third coffee conversation you might schedule with your friend.
After reviewing any questions your coffee companion may have about Luke 4-6, let me suggest that you focus on the drama of the scene described in Luke 5:17-26.
You might point out that people were so keen to get near Jesus and hear him speak that they spilled out of the doors of the house where he was and onto the street. Draw attention to the ingenuity of four men trying to get a paralyzed friend inside to see Jesus. In their desperation they carried him up to the roof of the house, removed the tiles and lowered him on his stretcher-bed into Jesus’ presence.
The unexpected. Notice that instead of simply saying, ‘Rise and walk’, to the paralyzed man, Jesus astounded everyone by saying, Man, your sins are forgiven you (5:20).
His unexpected words suggest the man’s sickness was linked to sin. Jesus didn’t always make this connection. On another occasion when his close followers asked him why a man they came across was blind, he said, ‘It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be manifest in him” (John 9:3).
To return to the scene of Luke 5, medical science has long understood the link between mental attitude and physical well-being. Indeed, for some people there is a link between depression and unresolved guilt.
In Luke 5:17ff, Jesus is telling us that the paralyzed man’s primary issue was that of unresolved guilt. “Your sins are forgiven,” Jesus said. ‘Forgiven by whom?’ we ask: ‘His family or his friends? His neighbours or God?’
Who is this? This was the question the religious leaders asked: “Why does this man speak like this?” they asked. “Who can forgive sins but God alone?”
Their complaint centered on Jesus’ claim to have the authority to forgive sins. God is the one who is wronged by us. It’s his prerogative alone to forgive. Their theology was right, but they were unwilling to think outside their prejudices to form another conclusion: ‘Could this man have God’s authority?’
An unanswerable response: “So that you may know that the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins, … I say to you, rise, pick up your bed and go home” (Luke 5:24).
We can only imagine the tension and the anticipation as the drama unfolded.
Jesus’ commands are clear: Rise, pick up, go. We’re left in no doubt that the man is completely healed. The miracle is a sign of both Jesus’ power and authority – power to heal and authority to forgive.
Why didn’t Jesus cut to the chase and simply heal the man? Why didn’t he avoid conflict with the leaders? He deliberately used the occasion to provoke a reaction, because he wanted his audience then, and us today, to feel the full impact of his words and his action. He wants us to know that sin is serious and, importantly for us, that God has given him his authority to forgive sins.
Transcendence. Luke tells us that everyone who heard and saw what Jesus did that day, realized they were in the presence of someone who was more than a celebrity – “We have seen extraordinary things today”, they said (Luke 5:26).
Indeed, as Luke’s narrative unfolds, we see that the authority Jesus displayed that day was not a freakish event. Again and again he revealed his greatness and his power – over the forces of nature and evil, over sickness and even death. Jesus’ greatness prompted CS Lewis to write: Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important.
We all need to recover an awareness of Jesus’ greatness – deepening our trust in him and enabling us to introduce him to others so that they too can meet with the One whose ‘transcendence’ is truly divine.
You might want to encourage your friend(s) to read Luke 7-10 and set up a time for coffee conversation #4.