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Bible croppedContinuing a study of the passages from Luke’s Gospel which have been omitted from the three-year Lectionary for public worship, today’s post is part of my ongoing series Forbidden Bible Verses, also essential to understanding Scripture.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur (‘A Saving Faith for a Paralyzed Man’, ‘Only God Forgives Sin, Part 1’, ‘Only God Forgives Sin, Part 2’).

Luke 5:17-26

Jesus Heals a Paralytic

 17On one of those days, as he was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there, who had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem. And the power of the Lord was with him to heal. 18 And behold, some men were bringing on a bed a man who was paralyzed, and they were seeking to bring him in and lay him before Jesus, 19but finding no way to bring him in, because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the midst before Jesus. 20And when he saw their faith, he said, “Man, your sins are forgiven you.” 21And the scribes and the Pharisees began to question, saying, “Who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” 22When Jesus perceived their thoughts, he answered them, “Why do you question in your hearts? 23Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? 24But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the man who was paralyzed—“I say to you, rise, pick up your bed and go home.” 25And immediately he rose up before them and picked up what he had been lying on and went home, glorifying God. 26And amazement seized them all, and they glorified God and were filled with awe, saying, “We have seen extraordinary things today.”

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If you read last week’s post covering Jesus’s previous creative miracle — healing the leper — you have noticed that these two miracles are somewhat different. Whereas He told the leper to go to the temple straightaway and for the ritual offerings and meet with the priests about his cleansing, here Jesus tells the paralytic his sins are forgiven. Also note that the leper asked to be physically cleansed (lepers were referred to as ‘unclean’), the paralytic is going to Jesus for forgiveness of sins. He leaves our Lord’s presence not only absolved but restored to full health!

My mentioning that is not to cast aspersions on the leper but, rather, to illustrate the individuality of human nature and the expectations or primary concerns of those who approached Jesus. In Luke 4, we read that Peter and his family approached Jesus on behalf of his fevered mother-in-law: They ‘appealed’ to Him to help relieve her illness. The woman with the long-term blood discharge in Mark 5 sought merely to touch the hem of His garment; she had faith that by the merest contact with Jesus, she would be healed. Jesus acknowledged her faith when He spoke to her. Also in Mark 5 (continued here), Jairus asked Jesus to go to his house to touch his daughter and bring her back to life. The infirm man at the pool of Bethesda (Bethsaida) in John 5 merely asked Jesus to help him into the water. These are but a few examples.

In today’s miracle story, Jesus was teaching in a private house. Among those listening to Him were Pharisees and other experts in Jewish law from the surrounding area (verse 17). The verse also reminds us that God put the power of healing into Jesus. Some of those in attendance no doubt had good intentions. Yet, others, like the Pharisees, were there with malicious intent.

Mark 2:1-12 carries the same story with additional information which helps to put the location and other details into context (emphases mine):

Jesus Heals a Paralytic

1And when he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. 2And many were gathered together, so that there was no more room, not even at the door. And he was preaching the word to them. 3 And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. 4And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him, and when they had made an opening, they let down the bed on which the paralytic lay. 5And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, Son, your sins are forgiven.” 6Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, 7“Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” 8And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, “Why do you question these things in your hearts? 9Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’? 10But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic— 11“I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.” 12And he rose and immediately picked up his bed and went out before them all, so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this!”

John MacArthur says that Jesus’s home in Capernaum was with Peter and his family; this might have been the house in this passage. Note how the Pharisees were out to attack our Lord so early in His ministry. MacArthur explains (I’ve added links to the Gospels below):

So Jesus had already generated heat on Himself. This goes way back when He began His ministry down in Judea before He came to Galilee, you remember the first thing He did was make a whip and clean out the temple which didn’t make Him popular with the Jewish authorities by any stretch of the imagination. You can read about that in the second chapter of John [John 2:13-22]. So He already had the ire of those leaders and it didn’t dissipate because of His further ministry in Judea for about a year, then He went up to Galilee and as He began to minister in Galilee there was an explosion of interest around Him. For all intents and purposes, He banished illness from the Galilee during that period of time. He went from town to town to town preaching. It tells us in verse 44 of chapter 4 [Luke 4], “He kept on preaching in the synagogues of Judea.” Verse 43, “He was preaching the Kingdom of God and that was the reason He was sent.” So here He was going preaching and everywhere He went He was also healing. Back in verse 40, “All who had any sick with various diseases brought them to Him and laying His hands on every one of them He was healing them.” His healing ministry was spreading. Chapter 5 verse 15, “The news about Him was spreading even farther. Great multitudes gathering to hear Him and to be healed of their sicknesses, so much so…verse 16 says…that He had to slip away into the wilderness to get away from the crowd and have time to pray.” So the word about Him was spreading like wildfire and the already hostile authorities in Judaism were getting more and more angry and if you get the tone of John 5:16 [John 5:1-17] and you put it in its chronology, they already wanted Him dead. And they kept pushing that issue until they finally got the Romans to crucify Him eventually.

So they are now dogging His steps and they’re looking for things that He does for which they can indict Him, some reason to kill Him. They tried to kill Him in Nazareth just for preaching that He was the Messiah, the fulfillment of Isaiah 61, that He was the one who had come anointed by the Spirit of God to bring riches to the poor, freedom to the prisoners, sight to the blind and to deliver the burdens from the oppressed. He was the fulfillment of all messianic prophecy and for that they tried to kill Him. So the word about Him is moving fast, that He claims to be the fulfillment of Old Testament promise, the Messiah, that He can heal and His message literally is the opposite of the current Judaistic theology. He is saying that God will forgive. He is saying, “I’ve come to those who know they’re spiritually bankrupt, not to the spiritually elite and self-righteous. I’m come to know…to tell the truth to those who understand and know that they are spiritual prisoners, they are in prison, they are in bondage. I’ve come to those who know they can’t see and are blind and have no hope and no sight. I’ve come to those who are under the tremendous burden of sin and guilt. That’s who I’ve come for. And you remember He illustrated that by saying that the Lord even in the Old Testament knew there were many widows in the land of Israel but He didn’t help any of them. And there were many lepers in the land of Israel but He didn’t help any of them. He went to Gentiles because their hearts were right. They knew they were the poor, prisoners, blind and oppressed.

Well the Jewish leaders didn’t believe they were the poor, prisoners blind and oppressed, just like the people didn’t. That’s why they tried to kill Jesus. They were offended. They were outraged that they could be identified as such. They were the spiritually rich in their minds. They were the free, the liberated. They were those who could see the truth. They had been delivered. Jesus offended them. And if He offended the people sitting in the synagogue in Nazareth and He did that from town to town to town and preached the same message, believe me, He offended the leaders who were supposedly, at least in their own minds and the minds of the peoples, the paragon of righteousness.

The more I read the Gospels, the more it seems that the same thing would have happened in our own time. Can you imagine Jesus decrying Catholic and Protestant liberation theologians, saying that His Good News is about eternal life not wealth redistribution? Can you imagine how angered leftist Christian leaders would be? Can you see Jesus criticising ministers in the emergent church movement with their denial of eternal death and dabbling in pagan practices? Can you see Him attacking mainline Protestant ministers for their ambivalent attitude towards sexual sin? And what would He have said to Catholic priests who think that their defilement of young people is truly hidden? Can you hear him telling religious communities worshipping Gaia or Pachamama that they were committing idolatry? All of these church leaders — clergy and religious orders — would have been furious. They would have labelled Him cruel, harsh, unforgiving, disdainful of the poor and more. They would have wanted rid of him — possibly imprisoned or exiled somewhere, perhaps dead in  mysterious circumstances.

And look how it turned out in Jesus’s time. Did the mob want Jesus to go free? No. They clamoured for the release of Barabbas — a political activist, a possible Zealot — a well-educated, well-placed nationalist revolutionary who supported himself by thievery.

Something to think about. There is no reason to believe leaders in our era would have treated Jesus any differently. They would have engineered a public campaign for a notorious Marxist terrorist to go free instead of Jesus, whom they would have sought to silence and banish.

Back now to today’s passage. Verses 18 and 19 describe the determination of the four men to get their paralysed friend right in front of Jesus. Nothing else would do. Think about what must have been happening: clinking noises from above as the men removed tiles, with dust and rubble falling on Jesus and His audience. They lowered the man to Jesus, who, in His divinity, knew what the paralytic was thinking. He immediately told him his sins were forgiven (verse 20)! Observe that Mark uses the word ‘son’ instead of ‘man’, indicating our Lord’s affection for this man who was more concerned with his sin than his physical immobility.

Matthew Henry’s commentary offers this analysis:

When the centurion and the woman of Canaan were in no care at all to bring the patients they interceded for into Christ’s presence, but believed that he could cure them at a distance, he commended their faith. But though in these there seemed to be a different notion of the thing, and an apprehension that it was requisite the patient should be brought into his presence, yet he did not censure and condemn their weakness, did not ask them, “Why do you give this disturbance to the assembly? Are you under such a degree of infidelity as to think I could not have cured him, though he had been out of doors?” But he made the best of it, and even in this he saw their faith. It is a comfort to us that we serve a Master that is willing to make the best of us. (2.) When we are sick, we should be more in care to get our sins pardoned than to get our sickness removed. Christ, in what he said to this man, taught us, when we seek to God for health, to begin with seeking to him for pardon.

MacArthur explores the attitude the people of Jesus’s time had towards illness and sin. For many, they were inextricable. Illness was God’s punishment for sin. I do not think this has changed all that much since then. Even other world faiths believe in karma, some sort of retribution from the gods. I have often wondered if — in a few isolated cases — illness has followed stubborn unbelief, the greatest sin of all. I am a firm believer in asking for more grace along with increased faith and that physical relief (not necessarily a cure) will follow.

We do not know if the paralytic had been that way since birth or if something happened during his life. MacArthur senses that the man connected his illness with sin and offers a possible cause:

It is also very possible that this could have been caused by syphilis which had this effect, a venereal disease that caused forms of paralysis in ancient times. People who were in this condition were generally left out society. They weren’t like lepers in that they had a highly communicable disease such as leprosy which with such vividly deadly effects, disastrously manifest in the physical form of the face and the extremities of the leprosy victim. And so they were allowed, of course, into society but they were stigmatized. This man bore a social stigma that would have alienated him, made him somewhat of an outcast and he would have been typically shunned. And people tended, super-sort of pious people, to think that people like that were like that because of some sin. Remember in John 9 when they went to Jesus about the man who was born blind and they said, “Who sinned, this man or his parents?” And Jesus said, “Nobody sinned, this is an illness for the glory of God.” But they always felt that in their self-righteousness people who were physically diseased or injured perhaps were simply bearing the consequences of their sin. So he would have been somewhat of a social outcast …

He may have connected his sickness to his sin and it may have been, if indeed it was syphilis, that that was the cause. That is something we can’t be certain about. But the man wanted forgiveness and along with the forgiveness, of course, the healing.

The Pharisees jumped on Jesus’s granting forgiveness (verse 21). They were anxious to convict Him of blasphemy. John’s Gospel records continuous confrontations which they instigated. It’s an exhausting read; their attacks are dogged and obstinate.

Jesus knew what they were thinking (verse 22), so he asked them what was easier to say. It’s important to remember that verb. It isn’t ‘do’, it is ‘say’. Of course, it was easier for a Jewish leader to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven’ rather than ‘Rise and walk’. Forgiveness of sins is intangible; healing involves the tangible. This is why it is hard to understand why more and more churches are offering ‘healing’ services. How can they heal by touch? No one is cured by human touch alone, unless it involves surgery. We have no direct power in ourselves to forgive sins or cure people. A clergyman may forgive sin in God’s name, but that prayer of absolution carries an acknowledgment that he is God’s earthly representative; he does not do it of his own power.

Jesus made it clear to his critics that He alone has the authority to forgive sin (verse 24). And, because the paralytic’s primary concern was forgiveness, Jesus demonstrated it through a miracle. As soon as He told the man to pick up his bed — a lightweight portable one, probably with a wooden frame and canvas body — the man arose and walked home (verse 25). Most importantly, he was ‘glorifying God’. He was a man of faith.

It is important for us to not make the Sermon on the Mount Jesus’s primary teaching. He came to die for our sins and bring us to eternal life with Him. The Jewish leaders found His condemnation of them deeply troubling, and many of us today also find Christ offensive; both groups deny His divinity. MacArthur makes this point:

You can’t come to Jesus with any patronizing nonsense about being the good teacher. He’s either God or He is a blasphemer. You understand that? Some people have said, “Well, you know, the Jewish people, they rejected Jesus cause they didn’t quite get what He was saying.” Yeah, they got what He was saying. They rejected Him because they did get what He was saying. They were exactly right. Who can forgive sin but God alone? Answer? Nobody. So either Jesus is God or He’s the rankest blasphemer that ever lived. There aren’t any other options. 

As for the paralytic and the rest of the crowd in attendance — as the fully restored man left the house praising God, so did they (verse 26). They were ‘filled with awe’ — utter amazement but also a healthy fear of the divine God.

Did the man understand who Jesus was? MacArthur says:

… you can be sure now he knew who Jesus was. He may not have had a … fully defined Christology before this event but he had one now. He knew that he had just met God. His sins had been forgiven and he had been created new. You could just imagine him kind of feeling around his body and just being in shock over what had happened in the creative miracle that he had just experienced. And here he goes one way, glorifying God, and there go the Pharisees and the scribes the other way, full of anger, resentment, further down the satanic path of rejection, deeper and deeper into their own darkness, seeking to kill God, as it were.

For those readers who would like to read more about the Jewish hierarchy’s confrontations with Jesus, John’s Gospel is an excellent place to start. See my Essential Bible Verses, which has an analysis of many of them, supported by Henry’s and MacArthur’s commentaries. It is a dreadful thing to fall into obstinate unbelief and rejection of Christ — which is, by extension, denial of the living God.

Next time: Luke 5:27-32

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