READ : Luke 5:23-24
“Which is easier, to say, `Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, `Rise and walk’? But 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, take up your bed and go home.”
Luke 5:23,24 rsv
If you had been watching, you would have witnessed a remarkable scene. Let me read you about it from Luke, chapter 5, beginning at verse 17:
On one of those days, as he was teaching, there were Pharisees and teachers of the law sitting by, who had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem; and the power of the Lord was with him [that is, with Jesus] to heal. And behold, men were bringing on a bed a man who was paralyzed, and they sought to bring him in and lay him before Jesus; but 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. And when he saw their faith he said, “Man, your sins are forgiven you.” And the scribes and Pharisees began to question, saying, “Who is this that speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God only?” When Jesus perceived their questionings, he answered them, “Why do you question in your hearts, Which is easier, to say, `Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, `Rise and walk’? But 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, take up your bed and go home.” And immediately he arose before them, and took up that on which he lay, and went home, glorifying God. And amazement seized them all, and they glorified God and were filled with awe, saying, “We have seen strange things today.”
A STRANGE PROCESSION
Those were strange things, weren’t they? Here’s a touching mini procession coming. Four burly men are carrying a paralyzed friend on a stretcher. They want to bring him to Jesus, confident in the Lord’s healing power. But they have a problem. There’s a huge crowd around the house where he’s staying. It would be difficult for even one of them to wedge his way through the crowd and get to the door. For all of them together, with their sick friend, it’s simply impossible.
The four are keenly disappointed. They’ve come all this way with their beloved burden and with high hopes. Is it all for nothing? No. These men are not content to give up and go home. They notice a stairway outside the house, leading up to the roof. They take their friend up there, dig through the tiles in the roof and lower him on his bed through the opening.
Can you picture the scene inside? The owner of the house hears a commotion above him and looks up with understandable concern. Suddenly a jagged hole appears there. Sunlight comes streaming in. Debris is falling in the center of the room. As the aperture gets larger, he sees someone being lowered down through the roof. It’s an outrage. What utter disregard for his property!
But the men on the roof see it as a service of love. They want more than anything else to get their friend to Jesus. They’ll settle later with the owner. They’ll make it good. But for now, the only thing that matters is reaching the presence of the Lord. They won’t let anything stand in their way.
Isn’t that a beautiful picture of faith, faith in Jesus? Doesn’t it speak loudly of faith’s persistence and of the way it is fired by love? These men were trusting the Lord and acting on that trust, not for themselves but for someone they cared about. Jesus was impressed. He was moved. The marvelous things that followed were all preceded by this. When He, Jesus, saw their faith, that made all the difference. Beautiful!
A SURPRISING WORD
Now comes another surprise. Jesus begins to talk about, of all things, forgiveness. When He saw their faith (the faith of the four men surely, perhaps the faith of the paralyzed man too), He said, “Man, your sins are forgiven you.” That was a peculiar thing to say. Who had said anything about sins? A man had been brought to Jesus, at much trouble and cost, to be healed. He desperately wanted to walk again. He didn’t need a lecture. He needed new strength in his body.
Why did Jesus say what He did? He obviously did not believe that all sickness and affliction result from sin. His disciples once asked Him about that in the case of a man born blind, “Master, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” “Neither,” Jesus replied. That wasn’t the point at all. There’s no necessary connection between our personal and family sins and the afflictions we may suffer. But Jesus sometimes discerned in particular cases that there was a connection. He did in this instance. He knew that the paralyzed man’s deeper problem was spiritual: he needed to be right with God, cleansed on the inside. So Jesus gave Him the best gift first, the most profound of healings.
Some of the religious leaders in the crowd were more than surprised at this; they were scandalized. Who was Jesus to say a thing like that? Only God can forgive sins, they insisted. For a man to claim that authority was blasphemous, an insult to God’s majesty. At this, the scribes and Pharisees lost all respect for this Galilean teacher. What arrogance! What wicked presumption. How could Jesus dare to make such a claim?
WHICH IS EASIER?
They didn’t come right out and say that. But their indignation was all too evident to Jesus. “Why do you question in your hearts?” He asked. Then this: “Which is easier, to say, `Your sins are forgiven you?’ or to say, `Rise and walk’?”
“Wait a minute, Jesus,” they must have muttered. “We’re not talking about that. We just heard You say, `Man, your sins are forgiven you,’ as though You had the right to forgive! The only one who can forgive an offense is the one who has been offended. This man’s sins have been against God. Only God can say to him, `You are forgiven.’”
But Jesus had shifted the ground on them. He had asked this troubling question, “Which is easier?” In one sense, healing a man is much easier than forgiving his sins. Jesus was healing people every day, from every imaginable disease and affliction. He could do it by a touch, by a word, or simply by willing it to be so. But to win forgiveness for us was much harder. That took forsakenness and bitter agony. It took the cross. It meant bearing our sins and sorrows, stepping under the awful stroke of judgment we had deserved. Forgiveness is difficult in a way beyond our comprehension. It comes at dreadful cost.
But simply to say “Your sins are forgiven” seems easier than healing someone. Anyone could claim to pronounce forgiveness without having to subject the reality of that to some kind of test. Who could prove it hadn’t happened? Healing, on the other hand, would be impossible without yielding the kind of evidence that anyone could verify. Jesus pressed home the question, “Which is easier?”
But He didn’t wait for an answer. “But that you may know that the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sin.” He said to the man who was paralyzed, “I say to you, `Rise, take up your bed and go home.’” Now it appears that Jesus plans to do both. He’s not playing one off against another. Both are miraculous. Both require a putting forth of divine power. One is outward and physical, the other inward and spiritual. One transformation is visible; the other cannot be seen by human eyes. But Jesus does the healing in order to demonstrate that the forgiveness is real.
No one knows how much this man needs forgiveness and the transformation it will bring about in His life. But they can see how much his health needs to be restored. They can watch him walk with new vigor out of that crowded room. So Jesus gives the one gift in order to confirm that He’s giving the other. And what’s behind all of that? That everyone there that day and all of us today may know that the Son of man (that is, Jesus, who stands before them), has authority on earth to forgive sins.
That phrase “the Son of man” was a familiar one on Jesus’ lips. It was perhaps His favorite self-designation. It pointed His Jewish hearers back to the prophecy of Daniel, chapter 7. Listen to these words:
I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed (v. 13,14).
This remarkable figure is a son of man, a human one, and yet he comes trailing clouds of glory. He’s a man, but his origin is heavenly. He is given dominion on the earth as the leader of the saints of the most high. He comes as one with authority to act as the heavenly ruler and judge.
When Jesus spoke of Himself as Son of man, He was making this astounding claim: He, living on earth as a human being, was at the same time one with the Lord of glory. He was the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, taking upon Himself human form, living here in this world. His healings didn’t point Him out as a human prodigy. Nor was His word of forgiveness a human boast. He did what He did as the Son of man, the Son of God, God Himself in a human life.
WHO IS JESUS?
Now we’re at the central issue being raised in this passage, as in so many others in the gospels. The deepest question is not, “Who can forgive sins?” or “Which is easier?” It’s this, “Who is Jesus?” He’s able to heal and forgive because He is the Messiah, the holy Lord visiting His people.
None of the healings then, none of the miracles, were ends in themselves, like magic tricks to stupefy a crowd. They were signs of the kingdom of God breaking into history. They were pointers to Jesus, the Word made flesh. People were meant to see in Him the grace and power of God in saving action.
Some of them did. Most notably, the man who was healed. Jesus said to him, “I say to you, `Rise, take up your bed and go home.’” The paralyzed man did just that. He got up from his bed, picked up the pallet on which he had been lying and walked out of the house. That wasn’t all. He did so, Luke tells us, “glorifying God.” There was no doubt in his mind about what had happened and how it had come about. He knew he was a walking miracle. He had been made whole, and God had done it.
In a sense, healing came through the dogged persistence of his friends. It was by the word of authority from Jesus. But behind all of that was the mercy of the Most High. So the man walked home, one foot saying, “Glory!” and the other “Hallelujah!” His heart was overflowing with praise to the Lord.
Now listen to the reaction of the others present. You don’t hear much about the Pharisees now. They seem to have melted away. But the general reaction was this: “And amazement seized them all and they glorified God and were filled with awe, saying, `We have seen strange things today.’”
Strange indeed. Starting with that invasion from the roof, then the tense interchange with the Pharisees, culminating in a stupendous miracle. Think of it – a man who when he came into the house on that bed couldn’t move his arms and legs! Imagine him walking out of there with a spring in his step, carrying his own bed! Strange things. The people were amazed. Who wouldn’t have been? But they also were not only shocked at what had happened, dazed at the wonder of it. They too glorified God. Along with their wonder came worship. “Thanks be to God for the great things He has done! Hallelujah, for the Lord God Almighty reigns! Nothing is too hard for Him!”
For those onlookers, what Jesus had done, God had done. And that was just the way He wanted them to see it. He came not as an independent miracle worker but as the Father’s Son, doing the Father’s work. It gave Him great joy when the people, in their astonishment and gladness, gave glory to God.
Is that your response to these things? When you see how Jesus can forgive people and give them a new start, can turn their lives around, does that fill you with awe and lead you to praise God? Especially, what is your response as these things happen to you? If you have known forgiveness and healing, if the Lord has brought about wonderful changes in you, are you honoring Him today? Singing His praises? Oh, let that be the sign that you really grasp the heart of the truth. Here it is: In Jesus, God has come to save us.
Prayer: O God, whatever our needs and struggles today, may we receive from You the best of all gifts. Through Jesus Christ, may we know forgiveness. Amen.