tHE MINISTRY OF MESSIAH (14)

 

In our last study we finished at the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount.  Following Jesus’s words, great multitudes followed him as he came down from the mount.

We next find Jesus with people pressing upon him by the lake of Gennesaret, or the Sea of Galilee.  Whether it was the same multitude or not, we do not know.  Simon Peter and Andrew his brother, and James and John, the sons of Zebedee, were now followers of the Master, so Jesus was possibly either at Bethsaida, or Capernaum.  Bethsaida was the home of Andrew and Peter (Jno. 1:44).  Perhaps Jesus had been staying a while at Peter’s house.  Simon Peter’s boat, and James and John’s boat were nearby, but they had gone out of them and were washing their nets.  Because the crowd was pressing upon him, Jesus entered Simon’s ship, and asked him to thrust out a little from the land and he sat down and taught the people from the ship.

What Jesus said to the people is not recorded.  When his speech is recorded there is a reason for it, and when it is not recorded there is a reason for it.  We see this from John 20:30-31.  Therefore there must be something else in this incident that needs to be emphasised.  We hope to show what this was as we consider it more carefully.

Jesus then turns to Peter and says, “Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught.”  “Launch” means to lead out upon the sea for a draught a hunting catch.  The net used was a drag net which had one edge weighted down and the other provided with floats which they dragged vertically along.  Peter protested that they had toiled all night and had caught nothing.   This only emphasised the greatness of the miracle.  Night was the time when they should have caught fish.  Yet now in daylight through the word of Christ, they caught such a multitude of fish, that the net brake and they filled both boats with the fish so that the boats began to sink.  This had a profound effect upon Peter, as we see from verse 8.  This supernatural feat by Christ caused Peter to recognise his sinfulness.  There is a similar situation in Isaiah 6:5.  Peter saw the glory of Christ in his power, and here the prophet saw a vision of the glory of Christ in his kingdom which caused him to recognise that he was a man of unclean lips.   Similarly in Acts 16:29, when the Philippian jailor associated the earthquake with the singing of Peter and Silas, he recognised his need for salvation.  Hence his words is verses 29-30.  The same applied to those people who heard Peter’s speech on the day of Pentecost concerning the resurrection of Christ as we see from Acts 2:37.  As this great miracle of Jesus caused Peter to see his own wretchedness, so the gospel causes us to see our need for salvation; truly it is “the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth”.

In response to Peter’s words, instead of the Lord departing from them, he called upon them to depart from their fishing, and give their time completely to assisting him in his work as we see from verses 9-11.  It is not without significance that there was a miracle of the draught of fishes at the beginning of Christ’s  ministry and at the end.  This one at the beginning showed the disciples the work that they had to do during his ministry, whereas the one at the end showed them the work which they had to do after their Lord had ascended to the Right Hand of the Father.  These men were moved by the greatness of Christ, but their faith is shown in that they were willing to forsake their natural father or family, and for Peter this meant his wife and their means of livelihood to follow Christ.  There reward will be great, as we see from Luke 18:28-30.

They filled the two ships, first Peter’s, and then the one belonging to James and John, his partners, until the boat began to sink.  Does the filling of the second ship typify the Gentiles, showing that the work of catching men had to extend to the Gentiles?  Perhaps this is why what the Master spoke to the multitude is not recorded.  The main object of the incident was the preparing of Peter, James, and John for their work of becoming “fishers of men”.

One assumes that Peter, James and John are now with Christ when he comes to this certain city: the sense of the word is one city.  There he found a man full of leprosy.  Could it have been Chorazim, Bethsaida, or Capernaum which Christ later denounced (Luk. 10:13-15)?  Surprisingly it speaks of the man being in the city, whereas he should have been without.  Did the man full of leprosy represent the city?

THE LEPER

Leprosy is a living death.  Its final symptoms are the hair falling from the head and eyebrows, the nails loosening, decaying and dropping off, the fingers and toes shrinking and falling away, the teeth disappearing, and the nose, eyes and tongue and palate slowly consuming away.  WM Thompson, on meeting a crowd of lepers in Jerusalem wrote: “They held up to me their handless arms, unearthly sounds gurgled through their throats without palates—in a word, I was horrified” (The Land and the Book, p. 651).  Under the Law, the leper was put without the city, with a covering on his upper lip, and when anyone approached he had to cry out “Unclean!, Unclean!”  Leprosy in the Bible represents sin.  It is a disease in the flesh—and flesh represents sin, as we see from Romans 8:5-8.  Jesus no doubt found him without the city, but the account reads as though he was in the city.  Perhaps  this was done to link the disease with he city.

The man must have known the power that Christ had.  Perhaps he had heard of the miracle of the draught of fishes. He fell down on his face and besought Christ: “Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean”.

I would like to read an extract about this which I think is very telling:

“He had faith in Jesus’ power to perform the miracle, but doubted his willingness and compassion.

But in that he misunderstood the one who stood before him.  The Lord, like his heavenly Father, has a great sympathy for suffering humanity, and was greatly moved by the abject condition of the man.  The poor leper, grovelling in the dust, with clothes rent, with the hideous deformity of the disease apparent for all to see, aroused in the Lord that keen sense of pity which was part of his character.  He stepped forward and did a thing that just have caused his disciples to look askance, for putting forth his hand, he touched the leper … It was revolting to his disciples to see their Lord touch that leper, but he was teaching them that to cure men of sin, one must make contact with them without being influenced by the evil they reveal (Jno. 17:5, Heb. 4:15).  Thus as his hand made contact with the leper, he answered him, saying: “I will, be thou clean”” (SOB Vol. 8, no. 10).

Immediately the leprosy departed from him.  I quote these words because the leper did not appreciate the innate sense of pity and kindness in the Master.  Perhaps we do not always appreciate this in our great High Priest.  May we also, brethren and sisters, strive to manifest that pity and kindness towards others.

Jesus then said to the leper: “Go, and show thyself to the priest, and offer for thy cleansing, according as Moses commanded, for a testimony unto them” (see Luke 5:14).  Why for a testimony unto them?  Perhaps they were not carrying out these laws as they should have done, but were leaving the lepers to die without caring for them as the law required.  Jesus later said to them that they “have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith” (Mat. 23:23).

Although Jesus told the leper to say nothing to any man, he blazed what had been done to him abroad, which hindered Jesus’s work of preaching, for he could not openly enter the city but had to remain without in desert places.  However they came to him from every quarter.

We read that Jesus “withdrew himself into the wilderness, and prayed.”  It is possible that the next incident, namely the healing of the man sick with the palsy was and answer to this prayer.  Jesus had to be “the faithful witness,” he had to fulfil these words in the Psalm:

“I will declare thy name unto my brethren: in the midst of the congregation will I praise thee.”

In order to do this, he had to be manifest to all Israel.  The next miracle provided this opportunity.  Mark tells us that Jesus was in Capernaum (Mk. 2:1).  So much had this city become a centre of Christ’s preaching that Matthew describes it as “his own city” (Mat. 9:1).  He was “in the house” there, possibly Simon Peter’s house.  Jesus’s fame had spread abroad, for we read that “there were Pharisees and doctors of the law sitting by, which were come out of every town of Galilee, and Judea and Jerusalem”.  The words which follow perhaps reveal that this was an answer to Jesus’ prayer: “the power of the Lord was present to heal them”.

Notice, “them”.  These men were spiritually sick.  Jesus had the power to heal them.  They were represented therefore by the man sick of the palsy, borne by four.  The encampment of Israel was foursquare.  As the items of the tabernacle were carried by four men, so this man sick of the palsy was carried by four.  These leaders of Israel were as paralysed as this man on the bed.  The power of the Lord was present to heal them, but they would not be healed.  But Christ showed that he could use this power on the lame man.  The four men showed faith.  Perhaps they were typical of the faithful in Israel who were in a  sense carrying the leaders of the nation.  So widely had the Master’s fame spread that a multitude filled the house and the men could not gain access through the door.  They therefore climbed onto the roof and lowered the man down through the tiling so that he lay before Jesus.  When Christ saw the faith of these men, he said to the sick man: “Man, thy sins are forgiven thee.”

This provoked the scribes and Pharisees, as we see from verse 21.  But Jesus could read their thoughts.  Hence his reply in verse 22-26.  Let us note that the people glorified God.  Truly in this miracle the greatness of Christ was revealed, his greatness being that “the Son hath power on earth to forgive sins”.  On the one hand no doubt it was the common people that glorified God, but on the other hand the scribes and Pharisees began to hate him, accusing him of blasphemy.  There was some truth in what they said: “Who can forgive sins, but God alone?”  But Jesus was God manifest in the flesh.  He was Emmanuel: God with us, “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them.”  He was Yahshua, Yahweh is Salvation, or “he who will be salvation”, therefore, “the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins.”

God’s ways are higher than our ways, and we see this in those who responded to the call of the Master.  Firstly, Christ was brought up and the Apostles were called from despised Galilee, “the land of the shadow of death”.  The call was beyond what man would have chosen.  Who would have thought that humble fishermen would have been chosen to be the men who would accompany Christ in his ministry?  Of all the doctors of the law who came to the house where Christ was preaching in Capernaum, Christ responded to the faith of the four men who lowered the man sick of the palsy down through the roof.  Then it was the hated class, the Publicans, who responded to the call of Christ.  This we shall see in the call of Matthew, which we propose to consider in our next study, God willing”

(To be continued)

Carlo Barbaresi