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God’s Word for You

Luke 7:21-23 The gospel of forgiveness

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Monday, February 19, 2018

Although the meeting between John and his disciples was privately done in a prison in the desert, the two disciples were with Jesus while he was publicly preaching and performing miracles. Luke summarizes those days with a few words:

21 At that time Jesus healed many people of their diseases, afflictions, and evil spirits. And he gave many blind people the ability to see.

Luke the physician lists three kinds of cures: healing diseases (noson), healing afflictions (mastigon), and healing people with evil spirits. Diseases would include leprosy and other things. My son and his classmates were debating whether skin cancer would fall under the Bible’s category of leprosy, and I think my son Peter was right: any disease affecting the skin would have fallen under the general umbrella term “leprosy,” including skin cancer. According to a 2016 article in National Geographic, two ancient examples of cancer include a tumor discovered in a thousand-year-old mummy in Peru, and a reference by the Egyptian physician Imhotep who was perplexed by “a bulging mass in the breast” of a patient that was resistant to any known therapies (Imhotep was a physician of the Old Kingdom who lived, if Egyptian chronology can be trusted, about 500 years before the birth of Abraham).

An affliction is any kind of suffering. The word mastix, mastigon is related to the verb “to whip, to beat with the lash.” It is a word used by the early church to describe many kinds of suffering, including the afflictions of the sinner (“my pain is ever with me,” Psalm 38:18; “many are the woes of the wicked,” 1 Clement 22:8), the plagues of Egypt (“God judged Egypt with the plagues and torments that fell on them,” 1 Clement 17:5), and even “the lash of the tongue” (Job 5:21). The afflictions healed by Jesus included blindness, lameness, deafness, and even death. These were all things that fell outside Luke’s abilities as a physician and which proclaimed Jesus’ divinity. The most recent resurrection from the dead was of course the youth at Nain whom Luke has only just described (Luke 7:11-17).

The curing or driving out of evil spirits has been mentioned twice by Luke before this. Jesus drove out a demon in the synagogue in Capernaum (Luke 4:33-35), and he drove out more demons just before beginning the sermon in chapter 6 (Luke 6:18-19).

John’s disciples had heard about many of these things, but now they were seeing them happen with their own eyes.

22 Jesus answered them, “Go, tell John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are healed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. 23 Blessed is the one who does not fall away on account of me.”

If John had wanted these men to go and learn from Jesus, they certainly had the opportunity. Why did Jesus send them back again? Perhaps to show John that they now understood, or at least to testify that everything they were hearing was true.

The warning Jesus gives is this: “Don’t fall away from your faith just because your idea of the Messiah isn’t exactly what I truly am.” He showed them his deeds so that they could compare what the prophets said about the Messiah with what Jesus was actually doing. Isaiah had said, “He will come and save you. Then the eyes of the blind will be opened, and the ears of the deaf will be cleared. The lame will leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute will sing for joy” (Isaiah 35:4-6, Wartburg Project draft).

Jesus added, “The good news is preached to the poor.” This is the most important statement and the most important event. What false prophet ever proclaimed the gospel of the forgiveness of sins? Yet Jesus shows that this is also the proof that he is truly the Christ. The true gospel is the declaration that man’s sins are forgiven through the blood shed by Christ on the cross. This is the same gospel proclaimed throughout the Old Testament and the New. The clarity of the details of this good news was not the same for Abraham as for Peter and John, but Abraham was saved by his faith in this very promise (Genesis 15:6). This is a flaw in the teaching of many Reformed churches, who sometimes assert that before Moses people were justified by the natural law (the conscience, etc.), after Moses by the revealed law (the commandments, etc.), and only after Christ by the gospel. But the law—natural and revealed—did not deliver anyone into eternal life. “We were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed” (Galatians 3:23). If Abraham had this faith in the coming Savior, indeed if Adam and Eve had this faith, then why did anyone need to wait for a special revelation from Moses or from the Evangelists? God simply set Israel apart for the approaching special purpose through Moses. In Christ we see the true event, but everyone who believed before Christ came had faith in Christ as the One who was coming, just as we have faith in Christ as the One who has already come. His work is now complete, but our faith is the same trust that Abraham had. The miracles of Jesus throw spotlights and exclamation marks around Jesus’ message, but the gospel is the message. Keep trusting it, as you keep trusting him.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim SmithAbout Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. His wife, Kathryn, attended the Chapel from 1987-1990 while studying Secondary Education (Theater and Math) at UW-Madison. Kathryn’s father, John Meyer, was also the first man to serve as a Vicar at Chapel.

To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.

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