OT Reading: Psalm 32.
It was quite a gathering that day. The local religious big-wigs turned out in force and some even came from as far away as the capital city down south, Jerusalem. The house was packed – standing room only and that had all gone too. If you turned up late that day you wouldn't have got in.
And they had all turned up that day because Jesus was there!
Some came with a critical judgmental sprit, their minds already made up against him.
Others were doubtless just curious and turned up hoping to see something special.
Still others came hoping to be made well again from their sicknesses.
And the last group was desperate – four healthy men came bringing a fifth carrying him on a mat because he was paralayzed – who knows this may be the only opportunity they would have of getting to Jesus.
People still react to Jesus in similar ways today – some come in hostility or in cold indifference, others are idly curious while yet others are conscious of need, great need. Some folk are very certain they know what their needs are but not so with others. Some come with striong robust confidence while others come conscious only of how weak their faith actually is.
I wonder how you would classify yourself.
Let's look together at who came that day and let's consider just why they came.
Pharisees and Teachers of the Law v.17 (Scribes v.21)
These formed a relatively small minority within the nation of Israel but they were very influential in religious matters. They focussed upon law-keeping as the means of getting right and staying right with God. But their understanding of the law itself was often very poor as they relied heavily upon a host of traditions that had built up over time. They were proud of themselves and despised those who weren't like them.
They came that day because they had heard about Jesus. They had heard reports about his preaching and teaching – but he wasn't like one of them, he spoke with an authority that they didn't have! They heard that he performed miracles and the reports were fresh and undeniable. They had heard too that he was growing in popularity and was having an influence upon the common people.
Despite what they had heard the Pharisees and Scribes were not inclined in the slightest to be sympathetic towards this man. They hadn't seriously considered what all this might mean – instead they took an instant and irrational dislike to this man.
Basically they didn't like what they heard about this man and they saw him as a threat to their own entrenched position. And so they had come from all over the region, some even from the capital. They wanted to keep an eye on this man, maybe they'd be able to catch him out, they certainly didn't want his influence to keep on growing and get out of control.
The House was Full
There was a crowd that filled the place – being who they were the Pharisees and Scribes had made sure they got seats but others had come too. Did they want to listen to what Jesus had to say? Or were they merely hoping to be spectators as more miracles might be performed? Some had probably come hoping that they might benefit themselves of a miracle as they were sick – after all Luke quite specifically tells us that "the power of the Lord was with him to heal." v.17.
The Gang of Five
They were late and the meeting had started already. But they were concerned and they weren't going to give up now and go home. But what could they do? The four healthy men had carried their paralyzed companion to the house but the crowd made it impossible for them to get in and that's where Jesus was! This group was not antagonistic or hostile towards Jesus and neither were the men merely curious. They had come with purpose of seeing Jesus and they came in need, desperate need. They also came with remarkable confidence and faith. They were certain that this man Jesus could help them.
If their spirits dropped when they saw the crowd it wasn't for long – this was their opportunity and they weren't about to let it slip by.
We all know the importance of us recognising such moments of making the most of them – it's highlighted by a couple of common every day expressions such as: "strike while the iron's hot" "make hay while the sun shines" etc.
Now houses in the region would have had flat roofs made of sticks and branches covered over by a mixture of mud and straw that when dry formed a solid though relatively fragile covering. The space on a roof was often used as a storage space and was accessed by stairs going up the outside walls of the house. These men couldn't get in the door but they could go up the stairs and onto the roof so that is what they did.
The Interruption and Jesus Responds
Luke's account might lead us to think that there was a trap door or something like that on the roof – not so! The men dug a hole through the tiles. Can you imagine what that must have been like for those inside the house. First a few odd knocks, some scraping sounds, some dust and some dirt falling and then a hole appears and light shines through. The meeting down below was well and truly interrupted as a man on a mat was lowered down through the hole onto the floor right in front of the visiting preacher!
I wonder how the man felt as every eye was turned on him. What would happen next? What would Jesus do? Would he take kindly to this interruption? Would he look favourably upon this man?
We have no record of the man saying anything at all to Jesus but it was surely unecessary – it was evident to all who could see that this man was in trouble. Perhaps he was well-known too - he was the paralyzed man, the one who couldn't do anything for himself but who was always dependent upon others.
Jesus too looked on him and understood in an instant what he was going to do and it was going to send yet more shock waves through the congregation!
The congregation was already in a state of anticipation – what else was possible when a man comes down through the ceiling like that? Something had to happen – the crowd didn't know but watched on eagerly – perhaps some special miracle was about to take place, you never could tell with Jesus!
And didn't it present Jesus with a wonderful opportunity of demonstrating his power and authority in front of all those suspicious, critical Pharisees and Scribes!
But Jesus used the opportunity in a totally unexpected way. Instead of immediately demonstrating his power and perhaps currying favour with everyone present Jesus did something else entirely – he made a remarkable declaration. He told the paralyzed man that his sins were forgiven!
This is very important and I don't want you to fail to understand what Jesus was doing. I want to underline two matters for you.
1. Man's Greatest Problem
Different people have differing opinions concerning just what is the greatest problem facing us. George Osborne might well suggest that getting the national deficit under control is the most important thing; President Obama might want to say that making sure that all Americans are treated equally before the law is the thing; others might want to speak about tackling fundamentalist extremism; membership or not of the European Community, immigration. But I agree with the words of the American preacher John MacArthur back in 1979 when, explaining some of Jesus' words, he declared:
"The greatest problem facing man today is the greatest problem facing man in all of his history. It is sin. That’s the problem."
That was exactly what Jesus was declaring when he told the paralyzed his sins were forgiven.
Oh, looking at him others might be duped into thinking that his problem was his lack of physical health and many today will still talk as though health is the most important thing. After all health does matter and poor health is often very easy to spot. But the problem of unforgiven sin in a person's life is not visible to the naked eye. The healthiest, happiest looking individual is nevertheless a sinner and unless his trust has been placed in the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation he remains in a state of condemnation before Almighty God and should he die in such a state an endless lost eternity is all that stretches out ahead of him.
Jesus went straight to the main problem that this paralyzed man had and the same problem needs to be dealt with in the lives of all of us.
When Jesus said what he did he was not implying that this man was paralyzed because of some specific sin that he had committed he was simply saying that sin was a bigger problem for him than his paralysis ever was. The same is true for us; whether we are prepared to face up to it is another matter enitrely.
The fact that Jesus prioritized the forgiveness of sins must not be taken to mean that he did not consider sickness and illness to be real problems, they are. In compassion Jesus was about to restore this man to full health – the man who had been carried to the house that day would soon be walking down the road going home carrying his own bed! Double blessings for him that day!
2. Clarity about Jesus
We've mentioned earlier that Jesus taught with great authority. We've also referred to his ability to perform great and powerful miracles. But while many were aware of these things they didn't manage to put it all together. The religious experts, the Pharisees and the Scribes really had no excuse here as the very Scriptures they said were so important had spoken of the coming of the Messiah as the coming of the LORD God himself. Now confronted with a great deal of evidence that Jesus was indeed this Messiah they refused to accept it.
They were guilty in fact of having preconceived ideas, they had already made up their minds about this itinerant from Nazareth and they weren't about to let their thinking be influenced by the facts! Sadly, there are plenty of people just like them today. "Don't confuse me with the truth, my mind is made up."
I do hope that you are not one of them!
Jesus said on another occasion:
Jn.8:3 "If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free."
Now Jesus in his words to the paralyzed man is forcing those who are listening carefully to him to think. He doesn't want them simply to see what he does and hear what he says, he wants them and he wants us to understand what it all means. He wants them to join up the dots as it were and to come to the right conclusions.
The Pharisees and the Scribes however are stubborn as stubborn can be as their reaction shows.
As Jesus spoke to the paralytic that his sins were forgiven the Pharisees and Scribes at once began grumbling and questionning in their heart and amongst themselves. They didn't speak out loud to Jesus but were boiling with rage on the inside against him.
Now why was that? Well, they reasoned the only One who can forgive sins is God alone. And they stopped there. This man can't be God. He can't be the divine Messiah. He must therefore be a blasphemer. Not for a moment did they weigh the evidence, not for a moment were they ready to revisit their prejudices.
Perhaps they thought that Jesus was fudging the whole matter. Maybe they thought he was a charlatan after all and he simply couldn't do anything for this poor paralytic…
But Jesus knew what they were thinking – in the same way he knows now at this moment exactly what each of us is thinking, he knows whether we are trusting him or whether we are highly skeptical – and he forced the issue.
It's an easy thing to say "Your sins are forgiven" because there's nothing visible that will show. Ah, but if you say to a paralytic arise, take up your bed and walk" it'll become instantly apparent whether the power and authority are indeed yours.
Who can say that sort of thing to a paralytic but God? So Jesus spoke and the paralytic responding in faith did what he had been totally unable to do before he walked. In this way Jesus tied the miracle to the statement about forgiving sins – if they wanted proof here it was.
The Charge of Blasphemy is Exploded
When a person blasphemes he dishonours God. How different the outcome of Jesus' words and actions turned out to be! Far from dishonouring God he caused others to glorify him.
The paralytic doubly blessed with the blessing of having his sins forgiven and his health restored went home glorifying God as he went – indeed how could he have gone home any other way?
The crowd which was present and observed all that had taken place had one united response:
v.26 "amazement seized them all, and they glorified God and were filled with awe, saying, "We have seen extraordinary things today.""
Luke had already told us that the power of God had been present with Jesus to heal. It would surely not have been exercised if in so doing a blasphemy was endorsed! No, Jesus was no blasphemer, he was no ordinary man but the Son of God come into the world to be the Saviour of the World.
Are you hardened or softened in your attitude towards Jesus Christ as you have been thinking about him this morning? Salvation is to be found in Jesus Christ and it was certainly found by the paralytic that day. The crowd were moved along – whether they later came to faith or not we're not told but they certainly would have wanted more of Jesus after all they had seen then. But the Pharisees and Scribes witnessing exactly the same events became ever more hostile towards Jesus.
Will you mix faith with what you have heard today? Will you come to Jesus Christ and ask him to meet your greatest need, the forgiveness of your sins?
Perhaps you feel the need to find out some more and in that case I would encourage you to do so. But do be careful that you don't keep putting off to the future what is really an urgent pressing matter now. Why don't you "strike while the iron is hot"? You will never know all there is to know but you already know enough to put your faith in Jesus.
And to God alone be the Glory