Raising the Bar – February 5, 2012
Psalm 103:1-17, Luke 5:17-2611
February 5, 2012
When we pick up the story of Jesus today, his fame and popularity were still growing. Just before this story, Jesus heals a man with leprosy. And in doing so, he does the most shocking thing, he actually touches the man! The words in that story that say, “he reached out and touched him” should have been in italics! (I don’t know if they had italics in Greek or not!) But the point is, no one would touch a leper! That was unheard of! Lepers were required by law to shout “unclean” whenever people approached, so that no contact could occur! So, just by itself, that was an astonishing story!
Then look what it says at the end of the story. “The leprosy left the man immediately!” (another italicized word!) And Luke tells us, “But so much more the report went abroad concerning Jesus, and great multitudes gathered to hear.” In other words, the buzz about Jesus grew! Even more people were coming see him! This image of “Jesus the Rock Star” was growing! And, at the very least, the curiosity about him was growing! I don’t know that people were necessarily ready to follow him, but they sure wanted to come and hear and see this miracle worker.
So, as we start our story for today, the crowds were gathered again. The “mobs” were there! And Luke is careful to point out that there were “Pharisees and teachers of the law sitting by.” And apparently there were a lot of them. It says, “They had come from every village of Galilee, Judea, and Jerusalem.” That’s pretty much the whole northern part of Israel!
So why were they there? The religious leaders are always a curiosity to me. And sometimes I’m still not sure what to make of them. Were they watching Jesus? Were they concerned with the “correctness” – the orthodoxy – of his message? I’m sure that was part of it. They were, after all, the “keepers of the faith.” It was their job to deal with false teachers. And there were a lot of them in those days!
Were they concerned with the danger Jesus was creating with his vast popularity? Remember, the Romans were about. And the two things the Romans feared were rebellion, and large crowds. That’s because large crowds always had the potential to lead to rebellion. And they were ruthless in putting down rebellion! So the religious leaders were worried for the people’s safety!
I also wonder if they were compelled to be part of what Jesus was doing! Some clearly were. We know that certain important religious leaders became followers of Jesus. Nicodemus, and Joseph of Arimathea, were two of them. And there were certainly more. And clearly, if Jesus was legit, if he really was the biggest religious thing to happen in Israel in centuries – or possibly ever – the religious leadership would have wanted to have some part in this. Think about it. If some huge religious movement took place in a similar way in our age, and all of our people were going to check it out, we ministers would want to be there!
So there was an even “huger” crowd than ever that day. The mob was so big that nobody could get near Jesus. And these guys carrying their poor paralyzed friend on a cot, didn’t have a prayer! So, as this familiar story goes, they climbed up on the roof, and made a hole, and let the man down through it.
Now, I’ve been asking you to “tweak” your mental imagery. And I know when I used to think of this picture, I saw a nice whitewashed house, with a bunch of people around Jesus, (Again, probably not nearly enough!) and a nice rectangular opening in a roof, with a man suspended on ropes and laying before Jesus – and smiles on everyone’s faces. Maybe your mental image is similar.
But if you really think about it, this scene was anything but clean, whitewashed, rectangular, and happy! To get through the roof, these men either had to tear up tiles, or as one historian said, they had to “dig through the roof!” Either way, the debris and dust that fell into the room had to have been considerable! And imagine what it was like on the inside! Jesus was likely in mid-sentence, and some noise from above caused him to pause, and then debris and dust started falling down – on the people! Light started coming down through as the hole opened, then through the dusty shafts of light came the shadows and the form of this man on a bed. And it probably wasn’t a rigid bed, but more like a hammock. The man lay there in front of Jesus, and the look on people’s faces was certainly anything but smiles. I’m sure they were shocked. They were angry. And they were wondering what Jesus would do!
Have you ever been at an event where some kind of distraction happened? Maybe a power failure? Maybe a wind storm? Maybe a medical emergency? What was the reaction in the room? Gasps? Yells? People scurrying around trying to help? Can you imagine all that in this scene? Is this picture coming a little bit clearer? The more I read these stories, the more shocking they become! And so they should!
Well, if the physical scene wasn’t startling enough, take a look at what Jesus said! I want you to see that, and I want you to see the reaction from the Pharisees. They had a lot to worry about with Jesus. His popularity, his authority, the crowds he drew, were all tough enough to keep a handle on. And originally, they may have thought this was all good for Israel. But when he started breaking their conventions, when he started healing, (which he did a lot of!) when he started challenging them, they started to become worried.
Now, on this day, Jesus was “raising the bar.” The man is laying in front of him on a hammock, there’s dust and roof debris everywhere, and the crowds are in a startled silence. Jesus looks at this scene, he sees the faith of the men who brought this man to him, and he looks at him and says, “Your sins are forgiven.” That was more startling than the scene before him. Now the Pharisees really “began to question him.” Now, for the first time, they use the “B” word! They called this “blasphemy!”
So, Jesus raises the bar again. And in doing so he proves his authority. “Which is easier,” he asks, “saying, ‘your sins are forgiven,’ or saying ‘rise and walk’?” That of course was a hugely rhetorical question – which, of course, nobody answers. So Jesus drives his point home by saying, “So you will know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins…” he turns to the paralyzed man he says, “Rise and walk.” And of course, he did. And the people said, “We have seen strange things today!” What a huge understatement!!!
Now the other thing Jesus does here, which I’m sure was not lost on the Pharisees was to refer to himself as “The Son of Man.” That raises the bar, too. “Son of Man” is an Old Testament term. And it was originally used as an artistic or poetic way of saying “humanity.” For instance, the psalmist wrote, “When I look at thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars which thou has established, what is man that thou art mindful of him, and the son of man that thou doest care for him.” (Psalm 8:4) Do you see that? That happens a lot in the Old Testament.
However, in the book of Daniel, things change. In that book, the term “Son of Man” becomes Messianic. In his apocalyptic vision, (which is reminiscent of the book of Revelation!) Daniel says this. “And I saw in the night, visions. And behold, with the clouds of heaven, there came one like a son of man. And he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.” (Daniel 7:13-14)
I think using that same term was actually pretty shrewd on Jesus’ part. It was meaningful, and yet ambiguous enough so that it could give the impression he was somebody important, without actually coming out and saying he was the Messiah. Remember that throughout the Gospels there was this a sense of “timing” that seemed to be very important to Jesus. He knew it would not be prudent to come on the scene and announce right away that he was the Messiah. (If he did, they might have found for him a robe with extra long sleeves that tied together in the back!!) So this was the perfect term!
While you’re thinking about that, think about the other people in that house. What did they think? Did they shout “blasphemy,” too? I’m sure some did! If something came along in our world that was controversial, and I as your leader said it was blasphemy or heresy, some of you would go along with me. (After all I’m the “Teaching Elder!”) But for some that day, it might simply have been a matter of Jesus “raising the bar” a little too high.
So here’s the question. Do we accept Jesus on his terms or ours? Do we say, “I’ll believe certain things, Jesus, but would you tone some of it down a bit?” Jesus raises the bar for all of us. He calls us all the time to a higher level of faith and devotion. And when we think of our image of Christ, we need to remember how Paul told us that we are being changed into the image of Christ. I’ve been asking you to “tweak” your images of Christ and the way he ministered. And that’s good. But I also want you to remember that we are called to be changed into those images. What does that mean? Which images? And where is the bar set?
I ask you to consider again today, perhaps every day you wake up, “Who is Jesus to you? Is he just a curiosity? Is he a celebrity? A “Rock Star?” Or is he what he would later claim to be? – Savior and Messiah!
Eternal God, we thank you that you have come into this world to show us your kingdom. Help us to know what it means to follow our Lord, Jesus. Help us to seek him on his terms, and to strive to do his will. And do help us indeed to grow in his image. For we pray in his name, Amen.