Tuesday, May 22, 2012
John the Baptist and the Sanhedrists
About the time Jesus was in Capernaum the Baptist was visited by a delegation from the Sanhedrin to check whether he was the long-awaited Messiah. Indications were that all Israel was in expectancy that their Deliverer would soon be with them because of the prophecy of Daniel 9, i.e. that 483 years after the issuing of the edict to rebuild Jerusalem, Messiah the Prince would come. The population of Jerusalem had increased year on year in expectation of the unveiling of the ‘Coming One’. To many John seemed a likely candidate (Luke 3:15). But John rejected the possibility saying: “I am ‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness: “Make straight the way of the LORD,” as the prophet Isaiah said.”” (John 1:23; cf. Isa.40:3).
The visit of the delegation from Jerusalem was part of the process laid down for the examining of Messianic credentials of any Messianic claimant. It would soon be repeated with the Lord Jesus. But when John declared that he was not the One, the process was soon aborted.
However, John did indicate that the Messiah was close at hand and was as elevated above him as a king is elevated above a beggar. John (whom Jesus said was the greatest prophet born of woman) (Matt.11:11; Luke 7:28) asserted that he was not worthy even to carry Messiah’s sandals (Matt.3:11).
Jesus heals a leper
Luke, in his biography, soon comes to a very important healing. It was a severe case of leprosy. “Behold, a man who was full of leprosy saw Jesus; and he fell on his face and implored Him, saying, Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean. Then He (Jesus) put out His hand and touched him, saying, I am willing; be cleansed. Immediately the leprosy left him.” It is significant that this first recorded case of leprosy that was treated by the Messiah was a person “full of leprosy”. The disease had such a hold that it had almost extinguished life. It had run its course and had the decaying man firmly in its grip. Since leprosy is called the ‘living death’ and is, according to the Mishnah, a “father of uncleanness”, and is listed next to “corpse uncleanness”, how remarkable is the action of the Messiah, “He put out His hand and touched him”. The creeping death fled before the Lord of life. The touch of “the resurrection and the life” regenerated the dying body of the diseased man. Jesus instructed the leper to report to the priest, and offer those sacrifices that were required by the law.
The ministry to lepers does not have as much prominence in the gospels as the ministry of exorcisms. Nevertheless, there are those touches to show that it was an integral part of the overall mission of the Messiah. When John sent to Jesus for confirmation of His Messiahship, the Messiah offered His miraculous ministry as proof. Included in the catalogue of attesting signs was the ministry to lepers. “Jesus answered and said to them, Go and tell John the things you have seen, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them” (Matt.11:4,5). Observe that Jesus used the word ‘cleansed’ not healed. Like the casting out of demons, Jesus also delegated this ministry to the apostles, to offer further proof to the nation that He was truly Israel’s Messiah.
The case of the leper was dire. The isolation imposed on him not only took him out of any social contact with others, but also removed him from any support the Temple and its sacrifices might give. Rabbinism confessed itself powerless in the presence of this living death. So this first healing of a leper was bound to cause some excitement and the news of the miracle spread very quickly.
The healing of leprosy was a de-facto Messianic claim and Jesus, wishing to bring His claim to the attention of the Sanhedrin could have done nothing more to arouse their interest that sending the healed man to the priests in Jerusalem to follow the prescribed procedure.
In the administration of the law of the leper, the priest would require answers to three questions.
(1) Had he really been a leper? The priest would need either a testimony, or a priestly record, or better still, both.
(2) Is he now clean? The priests would examine him over a period of seven days to confirm that there was no trace of the disease.
(3) What was the agency of his cleansing? Was it the result of an intervention by someone?
The leper of Luke 5 would have the following answers. To the first question – Yes, he had been a leper, indeed a very severe case, as many would testify. As to the second question, after the seven-day period of examination the priest would confirm his healing. Third and last, the leper would confirm that the Messianic claimant, Jesus of Nazareth did it!
Next Time : Investigating a Messianic Claim
Posted by Mountjoy at 10:06 AM
Monday, May 7, 2012
Messiah's Early Ministry
|Synagogue in Israel|
Power over Demons—A Messianic Sign
Having been rejected by those in the synagogue in Nazareth, the Messiah travelled to Capernaum. There He entered the synagogue. A man with the spirit of an unclean devil was troubled at the presence of the One who is stronger than Satan. Jesus commanded the demon, “be quiet and come out of him”. With a last defiant flourish, it “cast down” the poor, possessed individual and then left him. This demonstration of Messianic control over Satan amazed everyone who talked of His authority and power. The phrasing of Scripture at this place is quite significant. The man had “a spirit of an unclean devil”. The Jews made a difference between an unclean spirit and an evil spirit; ‘evil spirit’ being the general term for the demon while ‘unclean spirit’ was the description of a demon that found its element among the tombs and other places that were most unclean (that is, ritually unclean). The Talmud speaks of the necromancer who visits burial places to be better inspired of an unclean spirit. Similarly, they under-stood those with the spirit of python, or the prophesying spirit, to be of the same kind. Here then is the significance of the Messiah’s first recorded exorcism, that it demonstrated the power of the Messiah over Satan, especially Satan seen as the Serpent (the spirit of python) (cf. Acts 16:16), and Satan as an unclean Spirit, who had the power of death and produced in humans the fear of death (cf. Heb. 2:14,15).
It is clear that the grip of Satan on the population would have to be broken before Israel could be free to accept (or reject) Jesus as their Messiah. The ministry of exorcism, conducted by the Messiah and His disciples, was essential to accomplish this. By the end of this particular day many of those possessed by demons had been healed, their devilish tormentors confessing as they were dismissed: “You are the Messiah, the Son of God” (Luke 4:41). Here is an indicator that demons were compelled to acknowledge the deity of Jesus as well as His Messianic office. These victories over demons were consequent upon the successful stand taken by Jesus in the wilderness, from which He had returned in the power of the Holy Spirit.
The gospels also mention other individual exorcisms, such as the Gadarene demoniac (one who, like the ‘unclean demon’ of Luke 4 inhabited ritually unclean locations like cemeteries) and Mary, who had been possessed by seven devils. There will be the very important case in Matthew 12 when the Sanhedrists charge Jesus of being a servant to Beelzebub (which we will examine in due course). Jesus delegated this power over Satan’s domain to His disciples when He sent them out to the towns and villages of Israel: “Behold, I give you the authority to trample on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall by any means hurt you.” (Luke 10:19) They exercised this power in the name of the Messiah. Matthew described the power delegated to the twelve apostles: “And as you go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand. Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out demons. Freely you have received, freely give.” (Matt.10:7) The early Church continued this ministry (Acts 8:7; 16:18; 19:12).
Next time: John and the Sanhedrists
Posted by Mountjoy at 10:38 AM