Hey I’m Josh Hawkins and this is episode 58 of Opening Up the Gospels. In episode 57, I looked at some of the events that Luke and Mark describe in Jesus’ early Galilean ministry, specifically the healing of a demonized man, the healing of Peter’s mother in law, and the healing of so many of the sick and demonized in Capernaum. Jesus had stayed up into the late hours of the night ministering to the crowd, laying his hands on each one of them. And then he got up early the next day before the sun rose to go pray. In the morning, His four disciples sought him out and told him the crowd was already looking for Him again. But instead of going back into Capernaum, Jesus set out to the other cities of Galilee, making Himself known to them and calling them to bear the fruits of repentance.
In this episode I want to take a look at a few more events in this part of Jesus’ ministry - but before I get into that, let’s take a quick look back at our timeline so we can get a feel for where we are at. Remember, Jesus had gone back up to Galilee after John the Baptist had been put in prison, which seems like it was sometime in the summer of 27AD. He had not yet formally called His disciples yet. So we see him spending some time ministering in a circuit to the cities of Galilee. Then, we see Him rejected in Nazareth, where they wanted to throw him off the cliff into the valley of Jezreel. Then we see Him heading south to Jerusalem for the feast of wood offering - that was probably in August. He returns and calls his first four disciples by the sea, when Peter catches a miraculous amount of fish. Then we see Him in Capernaum on the next Sabbath where he teaches and heals a demonized man. Today, we’re going to look at these next couple of events in Jesus’ second circuit through the cities of Galilee - the healing of the leper and the healing of the paralytic. Like the first circuit, there really is not much said about this one. It seems like these events are taking place in the fall of 27, but there really is no way we can be sure about this timing specifically. Perhaps these events happened before the feast of Wood Offering in August? Remember, a specific chronology of the Gospels is not possible, but a general chronology is entirely possible, and that’s what we’re going for here. In other words, what’s clear is that these events would fit sometime generally in this period, and wouldn't necessarily belong in the latter half of Jesus’ ministry. So again, a general chronology is entirely possible here.
Let’s read from Mark 1:
"And a leper came to him, imploring him, and kneeling said to him, “If you will, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, “I will; be clean.” And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. And Jesus sternly charged him and sent him away at once, and said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, for a proof to them.” But he went out and began to talk freely about it, and to spread the news, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter a town, but was out in desolate places, and people were coming to him from every quarter."
(Mark 1:40–45 ESV)
This is such a beautiful scene that shows Jesus’ compassion once again as He heals a leper. Knowing some of the background to this scene really makes it come alive. For us, it’s pretty hard to understand how shunned and excluded people with leprosy would be in the time of Jesus. The culture was so focused on ritual purity with so many regulations about hand washings, garments, and purification rites - some of those of course are from the Old Testament Law, and others are traditions or customs and not part of the Law. Because of that, lepers were required to shout “unclean, unclean” wherever they went in order that nobody else would be defiled by their impurity. Some rabbis even threw stones at lepers to keep them at a safe distance. Put yourself in that situation - if you were a leper, how would you feel? Well, in this scene all of that protocol is shattered by Jesus. The leper actually came to Jesus and knelt before Him. That’s unthinkable! He was supposed to stay as far away as possible! What was it, was it Jesus’ eyes? Jesus’ demeanor? What gave him the confidence to break through all the normal societal etiquette and kneel before Jesus? This gives us such a beautiful picture of what Jesus is like. He was approachable and inviting in such a profound way. He was happy, joyful, unique, powerful, and confident. And more than just not casting the leper away, Jesus heals Him! But he didn’t just heal him with a word. Look at what Mark 1 says:
Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, “I will; be clean.”
Jesus stretched out His hand and touched Him. What in the world is that all about!? The leper is unclean, and Jesus just touched him. Do you see what just happened here? By touching him, Jesus just became ritually unclean - and he’s totally fine with it! Imagine what the Pharisees and the Jewish authorities thought of Him when they heard what He did! How could someone of Jesus’ stature and reputation make himself unclean by touching a leper? Put yourself in the leper’s shoes for a second. When was the last time he felt the gentle touch of a human hand? Maybe he hasn’t felt a hug or a handshake or an embrace in decades. But both Mark and Luke are explicit about the fact that Jesus touched him.
Jesus told him to not tell anyone what had happened, but he couldn’t help it and the news spread everywhere. This event was really one of the main catalysts for so much more of Jesus’ fame exploding in Galilee. Everywhere he went, he couldn’t even enter a town because of the mob. So he had to go out to the desolate areas outside of the towns, and the people came to him from everywhere. Luke 5 adds a detail here that Mark leaves out - Jesus is out in desolate places not only to teach, but also to pray.
"But now even more the report about him went abroad, and great crowds gathered to hear him and to be healed of their infirmities. But he would withdraw to desolate places and pray."
(Luke 5:15–16 ESV)
Once again we see Jesus often talking with His Father. It’s so precious and is so significant. Let’s pick up in Luke 5 with the next event that the Gospels tell us about - the healing of the paralytic.
"On one of those days, as he was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there, who had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem. And the power of the Lord was with him to heal. And behold, some men were bringing on a bed a man who was paralyzed, and they were seeking to bring him in and lay him before Jesus, but finding no way to bring him in, because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the midst before Jesus. And when he saw their faith, he said, “Man, your sins are forgiven you.” And the scribes and the Pharisees began to question, saying, “Who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” When Jesus perceived their thoughts, he answered them, “Why do you question in your hearts? Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the man who was paralyzed—“I say to you, rise, pick up your bed and go home.” And immediately he rose up before them and picked up what he had been lying on and went home, glorifying God. And amazement seized them all, and they glorified God and were filled with awe, saying, “We have seen extraordinary things today.”"
(Luke 5:17–26 ESV)
So after traveling throughout Galilee, we see Jesus in Capernaum again, either in Peter’s house or perhaps His own family’s house there in the town. People hear that He’s back, and they flock to where He is so much that there isn’t any room to bring anybody any closer to where He is. Luke said that Pharisees and teachers of the law from all over the place were there. And if we know Jesus a little bit by now, we know He’s going to pick a fight with them, right? So what happens? The guy who gets let down from the roof is expecting to be healed by Jesus, but what does he say? “Man, your sins are forgiven you.” This is just crazy on a few levels. First, in Jewish understanding, sin and sickness were often interwoven. Many there likely assumed that this paralytic was sick because he was a sinful man. So when he gets lowered down, they’re probably thinking “what is this sinful man doing in front of Jesus?” So for Jesus to say “your sins are forgiven you” isn’t necessarily a random statement once we understand the Jewish background. But the other reason why this is so significant is because before all the Pharisees and teachers of the Law, Jesus is asserting His divinity and His authority to forgive sin. This is why they say “who can forgive sins but God alone?” Do you see how Jesus is coming right at them again with the truth of who He is as the LORD, the one true living God? It’s so significant. And while the Pharisees and scribes sit in confusion and anger, the paralytic gets up and goes home, and the rest of the crowd freaks out and worships. Oh, what a scene this must have been!
I’d encourage you to take some time to ponder and meditate on these scenes - think about the things Jesus said, how you would have felt, what it was like to be in the crowd. And think about all of the other things that could have happened during this part of His ministry that we don’t have recorded in the Gospels. Surely Jesus did so many more things than we have written down, and all of these events are not random - they are part of the way the writers are helping us to believe that Jesus really is who He says He is. We can’t forget that as we continue through our journey in the Gospels.
Well, if you’ve missed any of the episodes in the series, you can find all of them on my website, www.joshuahawkins.com. Next time, we’ll talk about the calling of Matthew as one of Jesus’ disciples. I hope you’re able to tune in. God bless, and see you next time.