Sometimes people have trouble believing that God loves them and wants them to be happy.  Some people have never believed it and others used to believe it.  I was reading Luke 5 the other day and encountered four men with these same struggles.

The first was Peter.  He was having a bad day because he had had a bad night.  Out all night on his boatbad day fishing, trying to make a living, provide for his family, and didn’t catch a single fish.  Not even a minnow.  He was cleaning his nets when along came Jesus.  Peter had heard of this Jesus guy.  Supposed to be some new phenom rabbi who went around preaching, teaching and supposedly healing people.  Large crowds followed him wherever he went, and this day was no exception.  They were jostling him, pushing babies at him to bless, and begging to be healed.  Jesus needed some space.  He saw Peter’s boat on the shore, and asked Peter if he would row him out away from shore.  Peter sighed heavily, looked at his nets, and then at Jesus.  He stood up, walked towards his boat, helped Jesus in, then got in himself and rowed out always.  “At least I get a front row seat to the Jesus show” he thought to himself.

Peter was strangely moved by this itinerant preacher.  He could see why people were taken with him.  He had an engaging smile, told interesting stories, spoke with authority that Peter had never heard before.  He was actually a bit disappointed when the good teacher was through.  But then discovered that although Jesus was finished preaching, he wasn’t finished with Peter.

2.  The second man Jesus encountered knew he was a sinner.  His body was full of leprosy, a judgement from God for his sins, at least that’s what everyone had told him, although he had trouble thinking what sins he had committed that merited such punishment from God.  He was upset at God and couldn’t believe that God loved him and wanted him to be happy.  There was a time in his life when he thought That was true.  When he was caressing his beautiful wife and playing with his children.  Now that had all changed.  He wasn’t even allowed to be close to his family since the leprosy invaded his body.  Now he was an outcast, societies reject, who had to live alone, or with a few other lepers.  Anytime he went near another person, or someone approached him, he had to warn them with cries of “Unclean.  Unclean.”  He couldn’t remember the last time he had touched someone, or that someone had touched him.  Happiness was now a foreign idea to him.  A loving God was none existent.

3.  The paralyzed man could identity.  He wondered how a loving God could see him in his condition and not do anything to help him.  He too, thought about sin, and wondered if he had done something so bad that he had to endure punishment from a wrathful God.  That was the majority opinion at the time, and while a few kind people would occasionally help him out with a shekel or two, he figured they were thinking that he brought this malady on himself one way or another.  “At least I have my friends” he thought.

4.  Levi didn’t know and didn’t much care if God loved him and wanted him to be happy.  He believed that you have to make your own happiness, and for him, making happiness meant making money, and lots of it, even if it meant taking it out of your brothers pocket and putting it in your own.  Levi was a hated tax collector, working in collusion with the Roman government who ruled Israel.  With these two strikes against him, he was despised and rejected by his fellow citizens.  Never invited to his neighbors parties or celebrations.  Banned from the synagogue.  “Who needs them?”  He often exclaimed.  “I have the nicest house in town, eat the finest foods and drink the best wine!”  This was his outward persona, but inside he felt something was missing.  He was restless, always looking for the latest, greatest pleasure that would finally drown the gnawing feeling of discontent that he struggled with continuously.

I think that if we put ourselves in these guys sandals, we might also have trouble believing that God loves us and wants us to be happy.  Christians all over the world, everyday, struggle with pain, rejection, financial difficulties and disappointment with God.  By seeing how Jesus stepped into the lives and situations of the four men from Luke 5, we can get a glimpse of how he might make a difference in our lives and situations.

With Peter, after his teaching the crowd, Jesus told Peter to go into the deep water, let down his nets, and see what would happen.  I’m sure Peter was skeptical.  Jesus was a good teacher and healer, but what did he know about fishing?  It turns out, plenty.  Peter’s net was bursting with fish.  His heart was bursting with shame.  He realized that more than a man was in his boat, and Peter recognized his sinfulness and unworthiness to have Jesus in the same boat with him.  Peter asked Jesus to leave because he felt so unworthy.  The compassion of Jesus flowed into Peter when Jesus, told him, “Follow me, and you will become a fisher of men.”  A bad day for Peter turned into one of the best days of his life.  That’s what happens when we let Jesus into our boat.

The leper had heard about Jesus the healer, and hoped it was true.  But even if it was true, would he have anything to do with a filthy, sinful, leper.  He wanted to find out.  As Jesus passed by the leper fell with his face to the ground before Jesus and begged him, saying, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.”  Unbelievably, Jesus reached out his hand and actually touched the leper, something prohibited by Jewish law, but something greater than the law was present.  The compassion of Jesus – and the leper was healed.  He knew indeed, that God loved him and wanted him to be happy.

The paralyzed man wanted to experience the healing touch of Jesus.  His friends took him to the  house where Jesus was teaching and healing people.  They couldn’t get the guy and his mat into the house because of a huge crowd of people trying to get at Jesus.  One of the friends had an idea.  They went to the roof, took off a few roof tiles, and the next thing you know, the man was being lowered down before Jesus very eyes.  Surely the paralyzed man was excited, expecting Jesus to heal his crippled legs, and oh the joy that would fill his soul.

Jesus looked at the paralytic, called him “Friend”, and then said in a loud voice for all to hear, especially the Pharisees, “Your sins are forgiven.”  I imagine the man on the mat was somewhat confused.  He had come to be healed, and now Jesus is forgiving his sins.  What is that all about?  The paralyzed man’s greatest problem was not with his legs, but with his heart. His heart was crippled by sin and resulted in guilt, inner turmoil, and separation from living in right relationship with God. First things first.  Jesus dealt with the heart situation first, and in the process let the large crown in on a little secret, that he was not just a man, but that he was also a compassionate God who heals hearts as well as bodies.  After forgiving his sins, he heals his legs and the guy walks out, carrying his mat, rejoicing in the new found knowledge that God loved him and wanted him to be happy.

Finally, Jesus makes a difference in the life of Levi the tax collector.  Jesus went up to Levi, greedily collecting the peoples money, and spoke to him.  “Follow me.”  Something incredible happened to Levi.  Again, it was a heart thing.  A heart change.  Open heart surgery or a heart implant, where the Holy Spirit opened the spiritual eyes of Levi, softened his heart, and made him realize that there was more to life than money and materialism.  Luke 5:28 tells us that Levi got up, left everything and followed Jesus.  Now Levi’s life had real meaning, a true purpose and he was filled with great joy.  God loved him and wanted him to be happy.

God comes to people lives in many different ways and usually at the most unexpected times.  Sometimes it happens when we seek him, other times when his presence is the last thing we are looking for.  But he always shows up to let us know that he loves us and wants us to be happy!

*****          *****          *****          *****

compassion

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