We have been going through a challenging and unusual time within our church family. So many have suffered a number of difficult physical situations, from cancer diagnoses to a whole host of spinal and back issues, not to mention other besetting and even life-threatening conditions. It is bad enough to see people whom we love go through these complications in the modern era of medicine, let alone imagine how horrendous such medical issues would have been 2,000 years ago. Resources like Johns Hopkins Hospital and the University of Maryland Medical Center were not just an hour down the highway.
Along with seeing so many grave diagnoses, we must also be faithfully quick to say with praise and thanksgiving that we have witnessed a significant number of divine interventions, granting successes to medical efforts and applications. But 2,000 years ago, this would not have been at all common. People did not largely bounce back from series maladies … like paralysis, for example.
But along comes a religious teacher who has a growing reputation for healing people of terrible physical problems. It is almost too much to believe. Believing required the mental content that this man was more than just another man with great talent, he had to be directly divine.
Human ingenuity always amazes me, because I have so little of it when it comes to how to make practical hands-on things happen … like how to lower a paralyzed person through the roof of a house without him dropping and dying from a head injury.
OK… I debated about adding this story, but it actually is kinda funny. Over 20 years ago my father-in-law passed away in Texas, and after a memorial service at his church we had the task of taking his ashes back to their ranch to bury him at the place he had built into a masterpiece. The actual burial plan fell to me to facilitate! You’ll probably be glad to hear at this point that I’ve never buried anyone before (or since). And this was kind of like burying a car battery in size, shape and weight. So I used a posthole digger to dig a hole in the soft East Texas sand – that part was easy to do. With two ropes crisscrossing under the urn, thus with four ends, I reasoned my brother-in-law and I could gently lower it into the hole with great dignity. After some appropriate words, we began the descent. Within a foot of lowering, a corner of the box caught upon the side of the hole, and it slipped off the ropes and hit the bottom with a loud “thump.” I was terrified and devastated. The collection of about a dozen grandchildren all ran to look into the hole at what happened. The moment was salvaged by my mother-in-law breaking out into a laugh of hilarity. I wanted to say, “Sorry Roy for dropping you!” But, I couldn’t. Having so often dropped the other end of the board when we were building something (he built our entire 2500’ square foot colonial home in New Jersey), he probably would have thought it appropriate that I dropped him into his grave.
Back to the story … fortunately, the paralytic’s friends were more capable than Roy’s son-in-law, as they removed some roof tiles and lowered their good buddy immediately in front of Jesus. What a statement of faith and devotion by all of them!
A part of this story that is often forgotten is that the immediate crowd who prevented the friends from a more standard meeting with Jesus was that there was a collection of top-dog religious folks from all over Galilee, Judea, AND Jerusalem. The reputation and legitimacy of this Jesus character needed to be investigated. This is the first occasion that Luke mentions this leadership in Israel – a theme that will be critical to understanding the presentation of Christ to the nation as their Messiah.
Obviously, the man needed healing from paralysis; but what does Jesus say first? “Friend, your sins are forgiven.” Hey, we’re talking medicine here, not religion! So that was an odd first statement. And we may rightly note that it was uttered more for the onlookers than the paralytic, who along with his friends had definitive faith to do what they had done.
Jesus knew what the religious leaders were thinking … “Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” Jesus as much as says, “Yep, your answer in in your question… this is God who is forgiving and healing… just as the prophets said the Messiah would do.”
Saying something is easier than doing something. It is easier to say he could forgive sins, as how could that be proven? It was more difficult to heal, as the evidence – positive or negative – would be immediately evident. But the healing would give validation to the bold statement, and that was the point to be made. And the man is healed, picks up his mat and walks home. (And hopefully the friends repaired the roof.)
The people are amazed, evidently including even the leadership gurus. But that doesn’t mean they were willing to believe and follow and allow their cushy religious system to be entirely upset, as the rest of the story will prove.
Many people who are confronted with the truths of Scripture about the claims of Christ (along with the evidentiary changes that can be seen in the lives of people who have become his followers) remain unwilling to actually submit to Jesus and become a follower in faith. They cite the need for more evidence. And whereas it is reasonable to provide evidence and “give a reason for the hope” that we have, often the issue remains that, at the heart of the matter, they do not really want to believe and change their entire worldview and way of thinking about life. And for even those who have “entered in” through faith, there is often a reticence to completely yield and follow. More on that idea tomorrow …
Luke 5:17 – One day Jesus was teaching, and Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there. They had come from every village of Galilee and from Judea and Jerusalem. And the power of the Lord was with Jesus to heal the sick. 18 Some men came carrying a paralyzed man on a mat and tried to take him into the house to lay him before Jesus. 19 When they could not find a way to do this because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and lowered him on his mat through the tiles into the middle of the crowd, right in front of Jesus.
20 When Jesus saw their faith, he said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.”
21 The Pharisees and the teachers of the law began thinking to themselves, “Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?”
22 Jesus knew what they were thinking and asked, “Why are you thinking these things in your hearts? 23 Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? 24 But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the paralyzed man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” 25 Immediately he stood up in front of them, took what he had been lying on and went home praising God. 26 Everyone was amazed and gave praise to God. They were filled with awe and said, “We have seen remarkable things today.”