The Pharisees and the teachers of the law wanted to hear what Jesus taught to the crowds, not out of any desire to learn from him. They were concerned. Their gathering included men from every village of Galilee and Judea. Even the prominent religious leaders from Jerusalem came. They were very concerned! Early in his public ministry, our Lord had made claims that upset the religious establishment (cf. John 2). Jesus was being watched. The religious leaders saw that he was gathering a group of disciples around him and was proclaiming that God’s kingdom (saving reign) had arrived. So they watched him. As they watched, they would hear Jesus give teaching that would greatly trouble them. They had to watch him.
The crowds came to Jesus also, but not to watch him, but in order that their sick and disabled might be healed (5:15). The Lord did not disappoint the common people. Jesus healed them by the power of the Holy Spirit. (This is what the “power of the Lord” means, cf. Luke 4:18-19.) At this point, Jesus was in a house. Picture him sitting in a great room, surrounded by the home owners, some of his disciples, many Pharisees and teachers of the law, and as many common people as could push themselves in. See a narrow path from the door to Jesus, where people could lead their family and friends to Jesus for healing. It must have been a hot and exciting scene.
Some men carried a friend on a mat to try to get him to Jesus. Simply carrying a paralyzed man on a mat was a difficult task, but it became harder. When they reached the house, they could not get their friend inside because of the crowded conditions. Intent on getting their friend to Jesus, they decided on a bold plan. They carried the paralyzed man up on the flat roof, probably by using an outside stairway. (Sharon and I went up on a rooftop this way in Mali, West Africa during a visit to that country, though we weren’t carrying anyone). Next, they tore up the roof; the sounds and then the sight of this must have been startling to those inside the house. Imagine the debris falling into the room, along with the light and the much-need oxygen. With the roof opened, they lowered him on the mat right in front of Jesus. There was probably a lot of loud talking of various sorts going on throughout this process.
Finally, everyone became quiet, and all eyes were turned on Jesus. Picture the Messiah looking at the man, next up at his friends on the rooftop, back down to the room of people, and then back to the man. Everyone waited to hear and to see what Jesus would do.
Let’s pause the story for a moment. If this is your first time reading the story of Jesus, you might be expecting him simply to heal the man and send him back to his friends filled with joy. But some of us have read or heard this story so many times, that it does not excite us or fill us with wonder. We nod our heads and think, “Yeah, that’s typical Jesus.” We expect what Jesus said. And so the glory of the story doesn’t grip us. However, I assure you that no one in that room, including the paralyzed man expected what Jesus was about to say. Okay, let’s hit the “play button”.
When Jesus saw their faith, he said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven” (Luke 5:20 NIV). This was very unexpected! I can feel their stunned silence for a few minutes. Think about this. Did the friends of the man decide to go to all that effort to hear Jesus say to him, “Your sins are forgiven?” Is that what the paralyzed man wanted to hear? If you had been on that mat, is that really what you would have wanted to hear at that moment? What of the homeowners whose roof was partially torn apart? Did the disciples expect Jesus to forgive instead of heal? It undoubtedly caught the Pharisees and the law experts off-guard, too, though Jesus (in their eyes) had just handed them a golden opportunity. Jesus did the unexpected. And it is his unanticipated responses that provide us with occasions to wonder and to worship.
As we conclude today’s article, I want us all to ask ourselves, “If I want something big, like healing from paralysis, would I be content if Jesus simply said to me, “Friend your sins are forgiven”? To be a follower of Jesus means that we learn from him, that we learn from him how that he is able to meet our greatest need. It means that we will learn to say, “Praise God, Jesus has done the best thing for me, even when I assumed he would do something else.” Please let this work into all our souls until next time.
Grace and peace, David