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Feb 22 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

February 20, 2011

But when Simon Peter saw that, he fell down at Jesus’ feet, saying, “Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” For amazement had seized him and all his companions because of the catch of fish which they had taken . . . Luke 5:8-9 (read verses 1-32)

INTRO: There’s a little problem we have to fix before jumping into this chapter

Like Luke, both Matthew and Mark also report the stories about Jesus healing Peter’s mother-in-law and his invitation to Peter, James and John to follow him and become disciples
– but Luke reverses the order in which these two stories occur
– we need to ask why Luke would change the sequence of events
– why does Luke want the story of Peter’s encounter with Jesus to go here? We will have to look at the whole chapter to find the answer

The section we are looking at today begins with the call of Peter and concludes with the call of Levi (aka: Matthew)
– between those stories there are two inner stories that illustrate and affirm what we learn from Peter and Levi
– a theme ties all of these stories together and I think explains why Luke switched things around
– we find the theme in the statements
“I am a sinful man”
“Your sins are forgiven”
“Why do you eat and drink with sinners?”

Unfortunately, this theme can be overdone
– as a friend recently wrote in an email, “It seems that Christian preachers are more interested in telling us that we are lost than that we have been found.”
– so let’s back up and try to come at the sin-theme from a different angle

The Genesis story paints a picture of perfect human existence

If we were to describe that perfect human existence in a word, we could use intimacy. The man and the woman enjoyed intimacy with God, with each other (beautifully described as “naked and unashamed”), intimacy with the natural world, and I think an intimacy or integration within themselves, each of them being a whole person

When their ideal world dissolved, they were thrown into a new condition: Alienation
– they were alienated from God (Ge. 3:8), from each other (Ge. 3:15 & 19), from the natural world (Ge. 3:17-18), and alienated from their own person or being

Alienation describes the human condition
– at some point it rises to the surface of consciousness for almost every person
(For example, a few years ago, a survey taken among American adults found that a greater percentage of married couples than singles complained of experiencing times of great loneliness)

Alienation also creates a division in human societies: the alienated and those who have overcome alienation, or the righteous and the sinners
– but things are not always as they seem

Verses 1-11, Jesus climbs into a boat to catch Peter

Let me show you something that is profound but subtle:
– in verse 3, the boat Jesus got into was Simon’s and in verses 4 and 5 he is again referred to as Simon
– but immediately after the great catch of fish, he is Simon Peter
– suddenly he has two names – and one of them has not even been introduced yet! (6:14)
– he was not the man he was capable of becoming
Luke pinpoints the exact moment that Peter became conscious of his own alienation
– alienated from his true self, he also feels alienated from Jesus
– immediately he tells Jesus, “Go away away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man”

I cannot overemphasize how important it is to make a confession like Peter’s
– that a person is sinful (or has sinned) is not a problem for Jesus – it isn’t a disqualification
– Jesus can still work with that person
The problem arises when we don’t confess it or realize it
– that leaves no room for God to work 
– see for example the story of the Pharisee and the tax collector in Luke 18:9-14 (which one of them left room for God to work in his life?)

Suppose a friend has betrayed you 
– in time, you are ready to forgive and you want to be reconciled with that person
– only, your friend is not aware of having ever done any wrong
By his refusal (or inability) so see how he betrayed you, he keeps the betrayal fresh – it is, in fact, an ongoing betrayal
– he continues to wound you precisely because he can’t see how what he does is betrayal
– how do you forgive that?
– how can you forgive or resolve a wrong that the other person doesn’t acknowledge?

Later in Luke we will come to the story of the prodigal son
– the story is really about the older brother – the one who was righteous
– he could not be reconciled with his brother, but he was unable to enter even his father’s house
The person who cannot see that he has done any wrong is also many times the one who is unwilling to forgive the one who confesses his wrong

We are naturally self-justifying –  it is a function of our brain; to provide rational interpretations for our behavior
– like the Pharisee or the older brother
– but that doesn’t justify us or make us right with God (Lk. 18:14)
– it only makes it harder

He who conceals his transgressions will not prosper, But he who confesses and forsakes them will find compassion. (Pr. 28:13)

Dag Hammarskjold, wrote in his journal that even when the devil gets us to sin, “he can still be defeated by the manner in which we accept the consequences of our actions.”

A man who hardens his neck after much reproof
Will suddenly be broken beyond remedy.
(Pr. 29:1)

Sometimes it takes a shock to wake us up
– in scripture, it is sometimes a radical encounter with God that brings people to the realization
– Peter saw himself in the mirror of Jesus
– and he immediately found the freedom to be honest with Jesus

The Lord’s response to Peter amazes me
– he does not say, “Your sins are forgiven you” (as he will to the paralytic in v. 20)
Jesus tells Peter, “Do not fear” – that will no longer define you
– neither will fishing on this lake define you; you are becoming something new
– Peter said, “I am a sinful man,” and Jesus said, “Do not fear”
Jesus did not go away from Peter like he said, but he went away with him

Verses 12-14, Jesus’ heart is tested

The reason Peter told Jesus to “go away,” is because a holy man who came into contact with a sinful man risked contamination
– association with known sinners could ruin a person (especially in honor/shame cultures)

The leper presents us with a graphic example of this danger
– the contamination of the leper was social and legal as well as religious (Le. 13:45-46)
– Luke says the man was “covered with leprosy” – there was no way you could not know he was a leper

This story has always been one of my favorites
The leper said, “If You are willing . . .,” he did not say, “If You can cleanse me, please give it a try”
– he does not make his appeal to Jesus ability (his ability is assumed), but to his sympathy, his compassion
– the heart of Jesus is revealed here when he says, “I am willing”

Jesus will make a similar request in the Garden of Gethsemane,

Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done (Lk. 22:42)

The Father, however, was not willing
– not that God was not compassionate, for a different word is used here (to wish or want; i.e., “If you want to”)

As Jesus said, “I am willing,” he “stretched out His hand and touched him”
– he did not simply touch the man, but he stretched out his hand
– he covered distance between them – he bridged the distance between them
– Jesus overcame the alienation between them and between the leper and others

“I am willing . . .”
– I am willing to love you, to care for you, catch you in My net. I am willing to lay down My life for you, outcast that you are and whom everyone else avoids

Verses 15-16, Jesus personally overcomes alienation

The crowds that were coming to Jesus could have easily turned the head of any other person
– many people lose themselves in their own ego
– even humble leaders sometimes lose sight of their limitations and their boundaries dissolve

Also, loneliness is never greater than in a crowd where not one person knows you

Jesus maintained his intimacy with the Father through solitude and prayer

Verses 17-26, Jesus’ authority is tested

Does he have the authority to forgive sins?
– this, too, is graphically illustrated and established definitively

Jesus has come to reconcile everything that was torn apart in Eden
– to restore the intimacy that lost humanity once enjoyed

Verses 27-32, Jesus enters the world of sinners

Notice Levi’s instinct – he wanted to immediately introduce others to Jesus
– and by connecting them with Jesus, help them overcome their alienation

You cannot find an ounce of sympathy among the Pharisees
– there is no, “I am willing” heard from their lips
– rather, “I am unwilling”
“I am Unwilling to risk my reputation on you. Unwilling to risk contamination by being around you”

I want you to be aware of how this group treats Jesus and the apostles
– because rigid Christians treat other believers who are trying to follow Jesus’ example the same way
– they appoint themselves as gatekeepers – of morality, correct doctrine, and religious practice

As for you, go where Jesus goes, accept those he accepts, love those he loves

CONC: I have been reading in Leviticus and Numbers this last week about the regulations regarding animal sacrifices

Over and over, the priests and the people are told how to “present” their offerings
– Paul uses this worship terminology in Romans 12:1, where he tells us to present our bodies as a living sacrifice
– it occurred to me that we are always present-able to God

Our sin and alienation does not stand in the way of what Jesus will do in us
– it is exactly our sin and alienation that he has come to address
– it is over sin and alienation that he has authority

You do not have to prove anything to Jesus
– you do not have to be special
– you do not have to distinguish yourself in any way
You only need to be someone in whom God does his work

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