Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Dawn of Deity

  Life of Christ 47

          Well into Jesus' first year of ministry He pauses in the midst of His preaching tour of Galilee, and stops off at His home base of Capernaum. When He arrives He discovers that His reputation has spread so high and far that a delegation of 'doctors of the law' from Galilee, Judea, and Jerusalem were waiting to speak with Him (Luke 5.17-26). Accompanying them was the new normal, a huge crowd of people that seemed to throng whatever house He happened to be in while in town.
          Meanwhile, a palsied man had the fortune of having some good friends who were determined to get him an audience with Jesus. As he could not walk they carried him, in his pallet, to the house where Jesus was, but they found the crowd so thick it was impossible to force their way through carrying the palsied man on his pallet. They decided to risk an unorthodox attempt at entry via the roof.
          Most roofs of ordinary houses in the Palestine of Jesus' day were not solidly constructed of timber, plywood, and shingles all nailed together such as ours are. The climate was mild, and consequently they were often flat, instead of peaked, and consisted of thin limestone tiles three feet long glued over rafters. Additionally, there was often no additional ceiling below this simple roof. Thus, it would have been relatively easy to pull up a few of those tiles, and then to repair the minimal damage afterward.
          This is exactly what these friends do, and I can picture the crowd in the rooms below shrinking back in alarm as the roof ceiling begins to open up. The friends then carefully lowered the palsied man through the gap and down into the space created inside as the people pressed backward.
          I want to pause the story for a moment, and explain an important doctrinal point that has direct bearing on what is to come. Up to this time, all through Jesus' first year of ministry, He had not yet mentioned publicly His claim to be God. He had clearly, repeatedly, and publicly asserted His claim to be the Messiah, but those two things (being messiah and being the Son of God) were not synonymous in the Jewish mind of the day. In fact, when you read the extant rabbinic writings of the time, although they frequently discuss the prophecies surrounding the promised messiah, and wander way out in the left field of expectation, they most assuredly do not expect this messiah to be divine.
          Jesus, of course, well understood this, and He realized that if He had launched His ministry and His claim to the messiahship by declaring Himself to be the Son of God He would have been immediately written off as crazy or stoned for being blasphemous. Jesus was a revolutionary, but He wasn't rash. He knew that He needed to build a solid base of support in the mind of His followers, and the general public, first so that when He did reveal His claim to deity people would be already prone to believe Him.
          If you stumble out of a darkened room into the brilliant sun of full noon you are not much helped, but rather blinded, and you do not welcome it so much as resent it. So it was with Jesus and the Jewish people. Gradually, as the sun climbs its way up the eastern sky, He revealed to His people the precious truth that He was not only their Messiah, but also their God come in the flesh. This story is the first blush of that rosy fingered dawn.
          Every word that Jesus was spoke was carefully considered, and wisely chosen. Fascinating, then, isn't it, that His first words to the palsied man were 'Thy sins are forgiven thee' (Luke 6.20)? Why start with that? Why not, 'hello'? Why not, 'What brings you here?' Why not, 'How can I help you?' or some version of that? Very simply, because in saying 'thy sins are forgiven thee' Jesus was launching a well placed cannon shot across the bow of the assembled delegation of Israel's religious leadership. By stating this, He was implicitly taking upon Himself the power to forgive sin, a power reserved in Jewish theology for God alone. Ergo, He was calling Himself God.
          John Cunningham Geikie, a 19th century Presbyterian preacher from Scotland said it this way:

The Law knew no such form as an official forgiving of sins, or absolution. The leper might be pronounced clean by the priest, and a transgressor might present a sin-offering at the Temple, and transfer his guilt to it, by laying his hands on its head and owning his fault before God, and the blood sprinkled by the priest on the horns of the altar, and toward the Holy of Holies, was an atonement that “covered” his sins from the eyes of Jehovah, and pledged his forgiveness. But that forgiveness was the direct act of God; no human lips dared pronounce it. It was a special prerogative of the Almighty, and even should mortal man venture to declare it, he could only do so in the name of Jehovah, and by His immediate authorization. But Jesus had spoken in His own name. He had not hinted at being empowered by God to act for Him. The Scribes were greatly excited; whispers, ominous headshakings, dark looks, and pious gesticulations of alarm, showed that they were ill at ease. “He should have sent him to the priest to present his sin-offering, and have it accepted: it is blasphemy to speak of forgiving sins, He is intruding on the divine rights.” The blasphemer was to be put to death by stoning, his body hung on a tree, and then buried with shame. “Who can forgive sins but One, God?”

          Jesus was doing several things here. He was presenting, for the first time, His claim to deity. Additionally, He did it in the presence of the 'doctors of the law', so that they had direct first-hand knowledge of it. This would allow them not only to carefully establish the circumstances, but also to see the proof for His claim that He was about to furnish them. He is also making this claim for the sake of the people watching, both those that already believed on Him and those that didn't. It was time they began to see Him for Who He really was, and especially for His followers to understand this. And, of course, He was also actually ministering to the palsied man in question.
         Jesus well knew that the reaction of the 'doctors of the law' would be theological horror, which it was. 'And the scribes and the Pharisees began to reason, saying, Who is this which speaketh blasphemies? Who can forgive sins, but God alone?' (Luke 6.21). Jesus proposes, then, a simple test. He will heal the palsied man as an evidence that He does have the power and authority to forgive sin. After all, it is certainly harder to immediately and publicly bring a clearly palsied man back to vigorous health than it is to simply say, 'Man, thy sins are forgiven thee.'
          So He does. The palsied man goes away both healed and saved. His friends are also likely saved, if they weren't already.  As well, Jesus, for the first time, plants the thought of His claim to deity in the minds of the Jewish people, and Israel's religious leadership is put on notice of those claims, and furnished with an immediate and convincing proof of their authenticity.
          You see, contrary to what so many modern religions assert, Jesus most emphatically did claim to be God. Of course, this is not the only time; it is, indeed, only the first time. Yet somehow Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, Christian Scientists, Muslims, and scores of others all say differently. We will see, however, as this blog progresses, that Jesus asserted His claim to deity again and again and again. It is absolutely crystal clear in the New Testament, and the only possible way to miss it is to want to miss it. In fact, it was this claim that was precisely the religious motivation behind His assassination.
          Beloved, one of the fundamental truths we must firmly embrace, against all comers, at all costs, is the deity of Jesus Christ. He wasn't just a prophet. He wasn't just a good man. He wasn't just a religious leader. He wasn't must a moral ethicist. He wasn't just a social activist. He wasn't just another in a long line of influential and helpful religious leaders. He was God in the flesh, come down from Heaven, sent to be the only acceptable sacrifice for the sins of the whole world.
          This story contains yet one more exceedingly precious application. Since He is God He does have the power to forgive sin. Go ahead, try to name a sin that Jesus cannot forgive. Idolatry? Swearing? Breaking the Sabbath? Disrespecting your parents? Murder? Adultery? Theft? Lying? Coveting? Greed? Gambling? Smoking? Drinking? Drug Abuse? Rape? Homosexuality? The simple truth is that some people may be so far gone in their sins as to not want to be forgiven, but Jesus Christ can forgive anybody of anything. Including you.
          He can do that. He is God.

If you would like to listen to the audio version of this blog you may find it here on our church website. Just press 'launch media player' and choose We Preach Christ 22, 'The Son of Man Hath Power to Forgive Sins'.

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