Ever wonder about those little stories in the Gospels? You know the ones: “The woman at the well”, “the feeding of the thousands”, “the blind man”, “the marriage at Cana”, etc. They’re such wonderful stories revealing what must be limitless insight into the person and work of the Lord Jesus. But have you ever looked at the position of the stories relative to one another and considered whether or not they’re related? I’m sure you won’t be surprised if I said the stories in the Bible are not ordered haphazardly. Taken together, these stories often add dimension we might otherwise miss.
One such place can be found in back-to-back stories starting in Luke 5:1 and continuing through Luke 5:16.
Story 1 (Luke 5:1-11):
“And it came to pass, that, as the people pressed upon him to hear the word of God, he stood by the lake of Gennesaret, And saw two ships standing by the lake: but the fishermen were gone out of them, and were washing their nets. And he entered into one of the ships, which was Simon’s, and prayed him that he would thrust out a little from the land. And he sat down, and taught the people out of the ship.
Now when he had left speaking, he said unto Simon, Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught. And Simon answering said unto him, Master, we have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing: nevertheless at thy word I will let down the net. And when they had this done, they inclosed a great multitude of fishes: and their net brake. And they beckoned unto their partners, which were in the other ship, that they should come and help them. And they came, and filled both the ships, so that they began to sink.
When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord. For he was astonished, and all that were with him, at the draught of the fishes which they had taken: And so was also James, and John, the sons of Zebedee, which were partners with Simon. And Jesus said unto Simon, Fear not; from henceforth thou shalt catch men. And when they had brought their ships to land, they forsook all, and followed him.”
Story 2 (Luke 5:12-16):
“And it came to pass, when he was in a certain city, behold a man full of leprosy: who seeing Jesus fell on his face, and besought him, saying, Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean. And he put forth his hand, and touched him, saying, I will: be thou clean. And immediately the leprosy departed from him.
And he charged him to tell no man: but go, and shew thyself to the priest, and offer for thy cleansing, according as Moses commanded, for a testimony unto them. But so much the more went there a fame abroad of him: and great multitudes came together to hear, and to be healed by him of their infirmities.
And he withdrew himself into the wilderness, and prayed.”
Examining these stories together, we can observe similarities between them. For example, in one He demonstrates supernatural power over the fish in the sea and He “astonishes” Peter and the others. OK. This is good. He has power over the fish. In the other He heals a man with leprosy. Also very good. He has power over illness. … But look deeper. In the first, the Lord Jesus demonstrates that Peter may catch fish (or men, as the Lord says later), but just who is it exactly that has the power to put the fish in the net? Not Peter. He tried all night and was skunked. And in the second story, the Lord Jesus tells the man “…to shew thyself to the priest, and offer for thy cleansing, according as Moses commanded,…” The priests who operated under the law of Moses had the authority to pronounce a leper “clean” (see Leviticus 13:1-14:57) … but that priest had no power to actually cleanse the leper, as the Lord Jesus did. Each story shows limits and how the Lord Jesus surpasses those limits.
But look again. There’s even more between them …
In the first story after Peter catches all those fish he is confronted in his understanding with just who this man Jesus is – and by contrast who (or rather what) Peter, himself, is. Simon Peter ” … fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord …” Peter, recognizing himself to be a guilty sinner in the presence of the Holy, sinless Lord, could not remain on his feet. Furthermore, the words he comes up with are “Depart from me…” Consider that phrase. “Depart from me,” he said. He appears unable to bear the thought of this Holy One being confined in his sinful presence. Depart from me. … But the Lord doesn’t depart from him. Instead, he says, “fear not.” Think of it. The Holy Lord tells this humbled man, upon confessing his sinfulness, to “fear not.” What joy it is for the acknowledged sinner to hear those words from the Almighty, “Fear not.” (compare Mat 17:7, Rev 1:17). The Lord Jesus doesn’t depart from the sinner at all. In fact, He puts the sinner to work!
For the second story, it is helpful to understand that throughout the Bible leprosy is used as an illustration for sin itself. This is understood more through the characteristics of the disease and God’s instructions regarding it as well as the Scriptural contexts in which it is discussed. Perhaps this can be explored more thoroughly another time. But for now, we’ll move into the second story where a man “full of leprosy” falls on his face before the Lord Jesus (sound familiar?) and beseeches Him saying, “Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean.” Can you hear his desperation? All at once, the man, knowing what he is, recognizes what can be done by the man standing in front of him and acknowledges His power to heal: “if thou wilt,” says the leper. According to the law of Moses, a leper was unclean and everyone in Israel would know to avoid all contact with the man. I’ve often wondered how long it might have been since this man had any human contact at all. Years? Decades? Who would dare touch a leper? Not me. But touch a leper is exactly what the Lord Jesus did. He “… put forth his hand, and touched him …” He touched him and said, “I wilt,” and He healed the man. Not only did He touch the unclean thing, but He wanted to, desired to, willed to cleanse him. Wonderful thing in itself. I imagine myself as that diseased leper crying for the Lord to cleanse me. He’s not afraid to touch the untouchable. (Just for fun, go ahead and read Leviticus 6:18 and 27 and let me know if you see something really, really neat.) … OK. Back to the story. Did you notice the wording when He healed the leper? “And immediately the leprosy departed from him.” This could have been recorded any number of ways: “he was cleansed”, “He healed him”, etc. But God chose these words, “And immediately the leprosy departed from him.” Do you remember what Peter said in the first story? He said to the Lord, “ … depart from me … ” The same word. In the first story, the Lord would NOT depart from Peter, the humbled sinner, but rather told him not to fear. And in the second story, he sends the “sin” away (or the thing that represents sin) from the man who recognized the Lord could cleanse him by an act of His will.
Individually, the stories are amazing and we could discuss either one for hours. But taken together they illustrate even more. In fact, together, they present a more complete picture of the Gospel itself than either story does by itself. They enhance our understanding and even enjoyment of what is clearly stated in plain words in the epistles (or letters) of the New Testament. To be forgiven we must, as Peter did, understand what we are in His presence: we’re guilty sinners and the Lord owes us nothing; He is completely within His right to depart from us. We must understand this. But He doesn’t want to depart from us. Rather, He wants to cleanse us from our sin, casting it away, and leaving us without the fear of judgment. He desires to abide with us forever (see John 14:3). 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” And when a person does take that humble place before almighty God, he may enjoy the fact that his sin, by the power and will of the Lord has been sent away. “As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12).