Isaiah 6:1-8, Luke 5:17-26
February 4, 2007
There were strange things happening that day. That’s what it says here. In the last verse we read, “Amazement seized them all, and they glorified God and were filled with awe, saying, ‘We have seen strange things today.’” I’m guessing the same would have been true of us. If we had witnessed this event, if we had seen this healing – or any of the miracles performed on the scale that Jesus often performed them – we too would say that we had seen strange things. Wouldn’t we? How do we react to these stories? What do we think about the miraculous power of God? That’s what I want us to think about today.
Actually, I think there were a lot of strange things happening that day. Here’s another one. The Pharisees were there that day. They were witnessing this same event. And their reaction is strange to us. They criticize Jesus as being blasphemous! And that was a serious charge for them! It wasn’t just a “theological opinion.” And, while Jesus was speaking and acting on behalf of God, not only did they criticize him, but they began to see this Jesus as a threat! Instead of seeing God’s hand in all this, they began a campaign to oppose Jesus, to discredit him, and finally to silence him! And it was a campaign that would end in his crucifixion. That was a strange reaction to all this!
But that brings up an even stranger part of this whole story of Jesus! In an incredible twist of fate and irony, the Pharisees’ campaign to silence Jesus actually worked out to be part of God’s plan! That’s really strange in all of this! But without their engineering his trial and crucifixion, there would be no atonement. Without their part in this story, the whole reason for Jesus’ coming – his restoring our relationship with God – would not have happened! (At least not the way we’ve come to understand it.) To me, that’s an incredibly strange and bizarre part of this story! And it makes me wonder. Did these people who opposed Jesus in this way actually have a choice in the matter? Was their part in this strange twist of fate inevitable? Perhaps even “preordained,” or even, as we Presbyterians like to say, “predestined.”
I know it’s not as simple as that question. But it is very ironic that their hard-heartedness is the very thing in all people that separates them from God. That’s a big part of what Jesus came to heal! Did they have a choice? That’s hard to answer. Their plight is strangely similar to our understanding of the relationship between free will and God’s omniscience. And that’s hard to fathom. Does God know all our actions – past, present, and future? And if he does, does that mean we still have the freedom to choose those actions? Believe me, I don’t pretend to have the definitive answer to that question either. But isn’t this an amazing the twist of this story, that those who rejected Jesus became the means by which the people who reject God can come to God! (That’s mind boggling!)
The real question for us, though, is where we fit into this story. How do we react to this story? And how would we have reacted to this event, had we been there? I think the tendency, knowing the story, knowing who Jesus is, is for us to say, “Of course, we would have believed!” Never mind that these who were questioning Jesus were the religious leaders! Remember, they were highly respected in that society. They were the ones who people had been looking to in matters of faith and religion all of their lives! I have to think that a big part of what was meant by “strange things” in verse 26 was the very fact that here was a great miracle, performed by this new amazing Rabbi, and these their own religious leaders did not accept it! That had to be strange and confusing to these people. And I think Luke meant us to see that!
If we do, then we have to ask, “Is the Pharisees’ reaction an isolated case?” I think you’ll agree it’s not. Their reaction is a living example of the many people over the years who have encountered Jesus in one way or another, have even known that Jesus is who he said he was, and yet have refused to accept it for themselves.
It’s a funny thing. But most people do know the story of Jesus. I’ve often said, you could go out and stop anyone in the street, and ask them who Jesus was, and most people would probably give you a pretty good, orthodox answer. People who would want nothing to do with him would still tell you that he was the Son of God. Some would even say that he died to set us free from our sins. People know the story. But you see, it’s not a matter of knowing the story. It’s almost not a matter of believing the story to be true. It’s a matter of accepting and trusting God with their lives.
Just think about this. How many of God’s people have seen “strange things,” miraculous things, and refused to accept them? How many people in the Church are uncomfortable with “the spiritual?” We talked about that last week when we talked about what happens “When the Spirit is upon us.” Many Christians draw a line when it comes to spiritual, supernatural occurrences of faith. They only want to deal with what they consider to be “the believable.” And at best they “tolerate” the spiritual experiences others have. But they want nothing to do with those experiences. And they wouldn’t think of seeking the touch of the Spirit on their own lives! That’s a tough one for a lot of people to accept!
Contrast all of that to these men who brought their disabled friend to Jesus. They believed Jesus could do something for him. So they picked him up on a stretcher and carried him to the house where Jesus was teaching. But the place was mobbed! So, when they couldn’t get in because of the crowds, they took their friend on his stretcher up to the roof, and there they cut a hole and lowered him down. Now, was that faith, or what?!
Can you imagine this scene? This is one of which I like to get a mental picture! There’s Jesus in the semi-darkness of an enclosed building. He’s teaching the people. He’s speaking about the kingdom and of faith in God. And then there’s a noise from the roof – maybe a chopping, or a scraping, or a tearing sound – then broken beams of light coming down, illuminating clouds of falling dust and debris. Then a large shaft of light as the hole is completely opened. And through the dust and haze this shape of a man on a stretcher being lowered down in the middle of the people onto the floor.
Did these men worry about what others would think of them? Did they critically examine Jesus’ theology? Did they even care about the destruction they caused? Did you ever think about that? You know, the guy whose voice is significantly absent from this story is the guy who owned the house! His voice is strangely silent to me. I want to see him standing there, and then coming forward saying, “Hey! What are you doing?!” “Jesus, who’s going to fix this hole in my roof?!” That’s what I want to hear! “Gee, I hope my homeowners’ insurance covers vandalism!”
This was all so amazing. These were “strange things” they saw. Yet it still came down to whether or not people were open to God’s working, or to believing God’s miraculous power. And we humans have the uncanny capacity to explain away almost anything. People have done that with the miracles and supernatural events in the Bible. And they still do it today, when they explain away what’s happening in other Churches that are experiencing amazing miracles of God, and incredible growth! The attitude of the Pharisees is still in this world. It’s still in the Church.
My friends at Eddington, let that not be said of us. Let it be said of us that we are open to the power of God. Let it be said that we await anxiously, the touch of God’ mighty hand, and the power of God’s Spirit in our midst. Let us be sure we set aside all pretense, and that we look to God with more and more faith each day.
I’m not saying we will see such “strange things” as these. We may or may not. But it will be possible. And we will recognize so many more miracles that God is already performing in and around us every day. That will happen hen we are open to the things God is able to do in our lives!
There are many people who couldn’t be more closed to the workings of God because they are only interested in life as they are willing to accept it. But as Paul told the Church in Ephesus, “God is able to do far and above what we could ever ask or think or imagine.” As we remember those words, let us consider in our own lives what we are willing to accept about the power of God in our lives.
Will we see strange things happening? I guarantee it!
Eternal God, we are your people. You have called us to be so. And we ask for your help as we struggle to be open to the way you would work in our lives through your Spirit. Help us to see your kingdom in our midst. Help us to know your power. Show us that your power is beyond our greatest imagination. And to you be the glory and praise. Amen