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  • Writer's pictureTim Hemingway

Clarifying Some Things from Yesterday


 

"Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true." Acts 17:11


Unpacking the revelation of God is serious and therefore I think it's important to acknowledge when, in the throws of preaching, we might have overstated things, or obscured the meaning, or just plain got something wrong! We're human, we don't have the gift of perfect knowledge, or expression for that matter.


To that end, I'm grateful to those who have gently pushed my nose back into the bible. I love your faithfulness!


The reason I'm writing this is because I want to clarify two things I said yesterday morning in the sermon. The first was when I said that Jesus, by touching the leprous man became a sinner. And the second was when I said that to forgive sins is magnitudes harder than to make the paralytic walk. I'll deal with each in turn.


In Leviticus 5, God makes clear in the law of Moses that anybody who, even unwittingly, touches something unclean has to do the following: 'when anyone becomes aware that they are guilty [of touching human uncleanness (v.3)] they must confess in what way they have sinned. As a penalty for the sin they have committed, they must bring to the Lord a female lamb or goat from the flock as a sin offering; and the priest shall make atonement for their sin' (v.5-6). And from what I quoted in Leviticus 13 it's clear that the leper Jesus touched was unclean.


So based on Leviticus 5 & 13, Jesus fell foul of the law of Moses and I think it's inconceivable to think that Jesus didn't know the law of Moses well enough to know what he was doing and what law he was about to fall under when he touched that man.


In the sermon, I made the connection with 2 Corinthians 5:21 where it says that 'God made him who had no sin (Jesus) to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God'. That is what happened on the cross, and I said that Jesus was making that connection ahead of time and showing the trajectory he was on.


However, when Paul says that God made Jesus 'sin for us' I do not think that he means that he made Jesus a sinner. Jesus never sinned! Paul says so in 2 Corinthians 5:21 - God made he who had 'no sin' to be sin for us. What Paul means is, that on the cross Jesus willingly adopted all of our sin - thereby becoming sin. It does not mean that he sinned or became a sinner, it means our sin was laid on him.


So when I said in the sermon that Jesus became a sinner by touching the leper, I think I did overstate the case. I said more than should have been said. I don't think that was honouring to Jesus and I've repented for that exaggeration.


What about Leviticus 5? I think that in the case of the leper, Jesus does fall foul of the law of Moses, just like he falls foul of the law of Moses in lots of places. Jesus is always plumbing the depths of the Mosaic law. He's always stretching the laws, and elevating them and even in some cases replacing them. He comes as a new law giver and in so doing he gets himself in a lot of trouble with the teachers of his day.


I don't believe he truly became a sinner in the case of the leper, I think he apparently became a sinner. I think he knows exactly what his Father had in mind in Leviticus 5 and I think he knows exactly how he wants to take that law and present a new spiritual application of it - he came to fulfil the law (Matthew 5:17). And I think he knows how he wants to rewrite the law - in terms of love. It's not surprising then that he becomes intimate with the one he wants to heal - his mode is love.


So, no I don't think that Jesus became a sinner, but I do think he may have looked like one to the onlookers - and I should have said so in my sermon. That's the first clarification.


The second is about the question Jesus asks the teachers of the law: 'which is easier to say "your sins are forgiven", or to say "get up and walk?"'


In the sermon yesterday I said it was far easier for Jesus to make the man get up and walk than to forgive his sins, because of the nature of sin. As I prepared for the sermon I came across one person saying that Jesus means us to understand that the two are equally difficult. And another, that Jesus is conveying that to say ‘your sins are forgiven’ is the easier of the two. And then there’s what I said.


So, quite a confusing picture. Basically, I think the answer is: it depends which angle you’re coming at it from. If from a human angle, then clearly they are equally impossible. From the point of view of an observer however, the healing is visible and therefore harder to say because it has to be demonstrated to the watching crowd. Forgiveness, on the other hand, is inward and therefore easier to say because it can't be demonstrated. Jesus can make the claim without any evidentiary support whatsoever and be right.


But it seems to me that Jesus is primarily responding with his question to the thoughts of the teachers who think he's blaspheming. That is what prompts his question - not what he’s about to do in performing the healing. In other words, I think Jesus is saying: I did that which was easier (healings), but which looked harder because it was outward, to prove that I can do that which is harder (forgiveness), but which looks easier because it is inward.


The teachers are so driven by the outward appearance that they fail to spot the significance of what they see with their own eyes. So when Jesus asks what is easier to ‘say’ what he’s really conveying is, the thing that's harder to say is the thing that’s harder to show and that points to thing that’s harder to accomplish. It’s harder to say get up and walk because it’s harder to show get up and walk, but that’s really pointing to the thing that’s even harder to say - namely 'your sins are forgiven' because that’s really the hardest thing of all to accomplish.


Paul builds on Jesus' teaching when he says, 'A person is not a Jew who is one only outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a person’s praise is not from other people, but from God' (Romans 2:28-29). I think this is what Jesus was teaching the Jewish leaders that day.


I hope this has helped to put straight some things that might have sounded odd, or out of place, or just plain wrong, yesterday morning.


Your pastor in Christ,

Tim

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