The house was crowded and Jesus is teaching. It was on of those times when Jesus was especially empowered with the gift of healing. Jesus’ teaching was immediately recognized as newer than, different from, and better than that of the scribes and Pharisees. It would not have taken these teachers of the law long to recognize that the popularity of Jesus spelled trouble for them. The teachers of the law had gathered to hear Jesus, to pass judgment on Him, and then, undoubtedly, to decide what course of action to take concerning the threat which He posed to them.
The Pharisees and teachers of the law were “sitting” – a position of authority. To have stood would have been to concede Jesus’ authority as a teacher, the very thing they were inclined to challenge. It is this large group of hostile hearers who take up the room inside this house, and who keep the paralytic from being brought before Jesus.
Once Jesus saw the man’s need the response is swift: “And seeing their faith, He said, ‘Friend, your sins are forgiven you’” (Luke 5:20). But he had not come to be forgiven, but to be healed. And now the Pharisees and teachers of the law were indignant. Forgiveness of sins is something which only God can do, they reasoned, and rightly so. Thus, to tell a man his sins were forgiven was also to claim to be God.
1. Why did Jesus offer the man forgiveness of sins when what he really wanted was physical wholeness?
Jesus, by His actions, was teaching that the forgiveness of sins is more important, more valuable, than mere physical healing. If one had to choose between one or the other, forgiveness of sins is of much greater value than physical recovery.
2. How can Jesus forgive this man’s sins, based on the faith of the four friends?
Forgiveness of sins should be based upon individual repentance and faith, shouldn’t it. But we love him because He first loved us (1 John 4:19). We have faith in him because he first opens our hearts (Acts 16:14). Faith itself is the gift of God (Eph. 2:8-10). Therefore grace is not prompted or initiated by man’s actions, it is prompted by God’s compassion and grace. God’s good gifts are the result of God’s goodness, not man’s good words, to which God must respond. God’s blessings do come by faith, and that in this case the faith which is in focus is that of the four men, not that of the man on the stretcher.
3. How can Jesus forgive a man’s sins when only God can do so?”
Simply because he is God.
This healing was to be a teaching tool, not just a miracle. Strangely, it is actually easier to say, “Your sins are forgiven,” than it is to say, “Rise up and walk.” The reason is because there is no visible proof that sins have been forgiven. One can make such a statement without having to prove he has done it. But to command a paralysed man to walk is something very difficult. To command a paralysed man to walk requires him to do so. He is “killing two birds with one stone,” so to speak.
The stretcher-carriers has faith
The Pharisees showed unbelief.
The stretcher-carriers believed in Jesus,
the Pharisees and teachers were sceptical.
The stretcher-carriers were persistent in their efforts to reach Jesus.
The Pharisees and teachers were resistant, increasingly drawing back from Jesus.
The stretcher-carriers overcame various obstacles to get to Jesus;
The Pharisees and teachers were obstacles, keeping others from Jesus.
The stretcher-carriers wanted others to benefit from the blessings which Jesus bestowed on men;
The Pharisees and teachers rejected His blessings and cared little about others benefiting from Jesus.
Not once in any of the gospels do you find a teacher or a Pharisee bringing anyone to Jesus for mercy and grace. You find them opposing and resisting people who wish to draw near to him. At best, you find the Pharisees and teachers passively tolerant. The Pharisees and teachers had to reject their own logic and theology to reject Jesus as the Son of God, which their hardened hearts compelled them to do. They saw themselves as righteous and suspected Jesus to be a sinner. After all, He associated with them.
The bottom line is simply this: Are you a stretcher-carrier or a sermon critic? Stretcher-carriers are those who recognise Jesus’ power and authority and who seek to share him with others, often at great personal effort and sacrifice. Sermon-critics are those who may listen to the teaching of the Bible, but with minds already made up, just waiting for some pretext for their unbelief and rejection.
Even Christians are inclined to become sermon critics, rather than stretcher-carriers. They come to hear a preacher, only to see if he conforms to their preconceived doctrines and ideas. They want only to discover if he agrees with them. They do not want their prejudices exposed and challenged. They do not want to be under the authority of God’s Word.
May God grant that you and I become stretcher-carriers, and not sermon critics.