A HEALING MINISTRY Luke 4–5
“The people brought to Jesus all who had various kinds of sickness, and laying His hands on each one, He healed them” (Luke 4:40).In describing the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, Luke focuses our attention on Christ’s healing and forgiving power. What Jesus did as well as what He said shows Him to be the Son of God.
After being tempted by Satan (4:1–13) Jesus began a ministry in Galilee (vv. 14–15). Jesus chose Nazareth to identify Himself as the Messiah (vv. 16–21), where He was angrily rejected (vv. 22–30). Moving on, Jesus drove out evil spirits (vv. 31–37) and healed (vv. 38–44). He also called His first disciples, typified by Peter (5:1–11). Jesus proved He has the power to forgive sins (vv. 12–26) and transform character (vv. 27–32), yet His hearers asked only trivial questions (vv. 33–39).
Understanding the Text
“Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit . . . was led by the Spirit” Luke 4:1. These chapters too emphasize the ministry of the Holy Spirit in Jesus’ life on earth. The Spirit led Christ into the desert to be tempted (v. 1). Jesus began His ministry in the power of the Spirit (vv. 14–15), and announced that the Spirit of the Lord was on Him to preach the Good News and proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. All that Jesus did was infused with the dynamic of God’s Spirit. But there is something else to note. We realize that the Spirit enables us to serve the Lord. But we seldom think of Him leading us into trying times. Here Luke reminds us that the Spirit may even lead us into temptation! When life brings difficulties and challenges, let’s not doubt the Spirit’s leading—or His power to make us victorious. “He was tempted by the devil” Luke 4:2–13. Reading 197 (Matt. 4) discusses the specific temptations Jesus overcame. Here we need to distinguish between three types of temptation. (1) When Satan tempts, he lures a person into doing evil. Satan was successful in tempting Adam and Eve (Gen. 3), but failed completely in his attempt to tempt Christ. (2) When we tempt God (cf. Deut. 6:16), we act contrary to faith and demand He prove Himself to us. (3) When God places us in a difficult situation, He does so to test us—in order that we might pass the test rather than fail it! James 1:13 assures us that “God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He tempt anyone.” God has given us His Spirit in order that we, like Jesus, may be victorious whenever we are tempted to sin. “He went up to Nazareth” Luke 4:14–21. Jesus chose the synagogue at Nazareth to publicly announce Himself as Israel’s expected Messiah. He did this by reading part of a well-known messianic passage from Isaiah. Both what Jesus read and what He left out are important. He focused on the Spirit’s empowering to preach the Good News, especially announcing to the poor, the prisoner, the blind, and the oppressed—all who had no hope except for hope in God—that the moment of God’s favor had arrived. The coming of Jesus meant, and still means, there is hope for the hopeless. What Jesus left out was a phrase found in the original Isaiah text: “the day of vengeance of our God.” Christ’s first coming was to pour out God’s favor on humankind. Only at His second coming will vengeance and wrath overflow. In this announcement Jesus set the agenda for the church as well. We are called to announce the grace of God today—and to display it as Jesus did, in acts of love and kindness. “All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this” Luke 4:20–29. Why did Jesus’ neighbors react as they did? The phrase “spoke well of Him” is probably an inaccurate interpretation of emaryroun auto, “bore Him witness.” The people were already disturbed, first that a neighbor’s Son should dare to make such a claim (v. 22), and second that Jesus had left out the day of vengenance to speak only of grace (e.g., “gracious words”). When Christ went on to suggest that His message would prove a blessing to Gentiles (vv. 25–27) and not be reserved for Israel alone, the people became furious enough to try to kill Him (v. 29). Jesus had disappointed their fondest hopes, and rejected their claim to exclusive possession of the divine favor. The Jews wanted a Messiah to throw off the Roman yoke and exalt their nation. They did not want a Messiah who would merely heal and forgive sins. The thought that they would not be favored above the hated Gentiles drove the crowd wild. Let’s be warned by the reaction of Jesus’ neighbors. We must be careful to come to God without conditions or expectations. We cannot dictate to Him what He will do. And we must realize that God’s love is universal. While we are special to Him, others are just as special as we. It takes true humility to relate to God in this age of grace. We must be humble in relation to the Lord, seeking only to do His will. And we must be humble in relation to others, and willing to put them first. “A demon, an evil spirit” Luke 4:31–37. Luke, a physician, makes a careful distinction between normal sicknesses and demon possession. There is no “superstitious belief that all sickness is caused by the demonic” in Luke’s Gospel! What there is reminds us that Jesus is all-powerful. “With authority and power He [still] gives orders to evil spirits and they come out.” “When the sun was setting” Luke 4:38–44. The people waited until sunset, because it was considered unlawful to carry a burden on the Sabbath (cf. v. 38), even though the burden might be a sick person. Jesus, however, had healed Peter’s mother-in-law on the Sabbath Day. You and I never have to wait to bring our burdens or needs to Christ. “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man” Luke 5:1–11. One of Luke’s literary techniques was to tell his story through vignettes of individuals. Here he portrayed Christ’s call of His disciples by focusing on Peter, the chief disciple. The story is rich in psychological insight. Jesus acted in a way that Peter saw as miraculous. Even though what Jesus did was for Peter’s benefit, Peter was suddenly stricken with a sense of guilt, and begged Jesus to go away. Like Adam and Eve in the Garden, Peter’s first reaction when he became aware he was in the presence of the Lord was one of flight. Jesus, however, was not put off. He had come to find sinners just like Peter—and to transform them into “fishers of men.” Some non-Christians, but not all, will feel much like Peter, uncomfortable at the thought of being in God’s presence. It’s up to us to reassure them. Jesus isn’t worried about being contaminated by sinners. He came to save sinners, and has the spiritual power required to make even the most wicked good. “Who had come from every village of Galilee and . . . were sitting there” Luke 5:17–26. Luke made it clear that the “Pharisees and teachers of the Law” present were an official delegation, come to check on the young Preacher and Teacher of Galilee. In the first century a person could be recognized as a teacher of the Law—a rabbi, or sage—only after going through a lengthy period of training under an acknowledged master. Jesus had no such training, and so a skeptical ecclesiastical commission came down to observe Him. Jesus could sense their condemnation when He forgave the paralytic’s sin. He then announced He would heal the paralytic to prove that He had the power to forgive sin. If He failed, God had not heard Him, and His announcement of forgiveness was meaningless. But an actual healing would show that God was working through Him, and confirm His claim to be able to forgive. Ecclesiastical commissions still have a tendency to stand in judgment on the working of the Holy Spirit through people who have no “official” recognition. Many a woman today with significant spiritual gifts is unable to exercise them in the church. But the key to effective ministry remains the same—God’s gifts, and His calling. And evidence of God’s call is still seen in the transforming results of an individual’s ministry to others. “Yours go on eating and drinking” Luke 5:33–39. I remain amazed at the mentality of people who can witness wonderful works performed by God and then argue about the insignificant. Good heavens! Jesus was casting out demons! He was healing the sick! He was claiming, and proving, His ability to forgive sins! And some folks asked Him a question about fasting! Jesus’ answer, basically, was this. Get rid of the old categories in which you’ve thought about religion and relationship with God. You must not try to fit what I say and do into your old ways of thinking, but you must put My “new wine” into “new wineskins.” How much we need to be open to what Jesus is doing in our world, and what He teaches in His Word. Our best theology cannot contain God’s thoughts or purposes. If we become rigid in our thinking about God, we will fall into the trap of those who ignored Jesus’ wonders to wonder about what might better have been ignored.
That Three-Letter Word (Luke 5)
Most parents tend to watch out for four-letter words. But today many adults have at least as strong a dislike for a three-letter word: sin. It’s certainly gone out of style today, and anyone who talks about it is likely to be accused of trying to “impose his (or her) morality on others.” According to folks like Norman Lear and his People for the American Way, talking about sin is the biggest sin of all! Actually, the Bible doesn’t treat “sin” as such an awful word at all. In fact, sin is one thing Scripture is quite confident God is able to deal with. Why avoid it then, if it’s really no longer a threat? Luke 5 contains progressive stories about sin. Verses 1–11 tell how Peter came to realize that Jesus was truly Lord (note v. 5, and then v. 8), and that when He did Peter was suddenly aware he was a sinful man. He begged Jesus to leave, but Christ wouldn’t go. Instead Jesus held out the prospect of a new life to Peter: “from now on you will catch men.” Jesus isn’t repelled by our sin either. He knows that He has power to change us, and to change our lives. Verses 17–26 show us how Jesus deals with our sins. He forgives them. As He broke the power of the paralysis that kept the man immovable on his mat, so His forgiveness breaks the bonds that paralyze our ability to do good. And verses 27–32 demonstrate just that power. For Levi, the tax collector and social outcast, was none other than Matthew, the disciple who wrote the Gospel that bears his name (cf. Matt. 9:9). Christ not only calls sinners to repentance, but those who do repent He transforms into servants of God. So don’t be put off by that word “sin,” and don’t apologize for it. Sin is still a reality that every human being needs to face. The good news we have to share is that sin isn’t a problem . . . for God. In Jesus there is forgiveness and renewal.
Call a sin a sin to bless others, not to curse them.
“Who does not know what it is to rise up from a fault—perceived, confessed, and forgiven—with an almost joyous sense of new energy, strength, and will to persevere?”—H.L. Sidney Lear