I. WE MUST HAVE A PERSISTENT FAITH (5:17-19)
The scripture we take up to study is Luke 5:17-26, where we will learn about persistent faith, our need for forgiveness, and the one who has the power to forgive all our sins.
Luke 5:17 And it came to pass on a certain day, as he was teaching, that there were Pharisees and doctors of the law sitting by, which were come out of every town of Galilee, and Judaea, and Jerusalem: and the power of the Lord was present to heal them.
Luke 5:18 And, behold, men brought in a bed a man which was taken with a palsy [a paralyzed man]: and they sought means to bring him in, and to lay him before him.
Luke 5:19 And when they could not find by what way they might bring him in because of the multitude, they went upon the housetop, and let him down through the tiling with his couch into the midst before Jesus.
There was a paralyzed man with some friends who had a great amount of love and compassion for him. When they heard that Jesus was in the area (according to Mark, this took place in Capernaum), they decided to take their friend to Jesus to get healed.
But when they got there, they found that the house in which Jesus was teaching was packed like sardines with people. There was no getting through the crowd, which apparently did not want to move aside for the man and his friends.
In Bible times, the houses had flat roofs. The roofs were used as a place to cool off (Remember, David saw Bathsheba when he was on the roof). They would have had a ladder or stairs going up to the roof. By the way, this is why the Bible talks about having railings on roofs to keep people from falling off (Deuteronomy 22:8, cf. Proverbs 21:9, cf. Proverbs 25:4).
The roofs were made of reeds and mud. Some homes, especially the ones that used the roof as a living space, would have stone slabs laid down on the rafters, then reeds and topped with mud. That’s what Luke means when he mentions that they lowered the paralyzed man “through the tiling.” They scraped away the mud and reeds, jammed a stick into the crack of one of the stone slabs and pried it up and over. I suspect that it happened very quickly, as it doesn’t seem that Jesus and the crowd stood there looking at the dust falling from the ceiling for a long time.
Then they lowered the paralyzed man down on his “couch” (perhaps something like an stretcher). Maybe they tied rope to the corners. Maybe a couple of the friends jumped down first and grabbed one end of the stretcher first. The ceilings weren’t quite as high as we’re used to in our culture, so it wouldn’t have been a great distance.
At any rate, the man was lowered down through the ceiling and placed right in front of Jesus. And then we are told in verse 20, that Jesus “saw their faith.” Their faith was displayed in at least two ways:
1) They came to Jesus to have their friend healed. They trusted that Jesus was both willing and able to help their friend, and the paralyzed man himself would have also trusted in Jesus as well.
2) The remarkable thing about their faith that comes through in this narrative is the persistence of their faith. They are like the widow that Jesus speaks about in the parable in Luke 18. She comes again and again to a judge for justice to be given her. At the end of that parable Jesus says, “when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8). Well, in these men before him that day, he did find faith!
True biblical faith persists. It endures. Sometimes the Bible talks of the overcomers having eternal life, like in Revelation 3:5, where Jesus says:
5 He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels. (Revelation 3:5)
It does not mean that a person has to work hard and overcome to be saved. It means that those who have true faith will overcome. It’s just that simple. Faith is persistent. Those who appear to have faith and then walk away from Christianity never really had faith in the first place—
19 They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us. (1 John 2:19)
Faith is persistent. If you truly have faith in Jesus, it will persevere through every trial and storm that comes your way. You may be knocked down, you may even doubt God’s love for a time, but you will never cease to have faith.
Because of their faith, Jesus does something surprising.
II. WE NEED FORGIVENESS FIRST (5:20)
Luke 5:20 And when he saw their faith [of the men who brought the paralyzed man and the man himself], he said unto him, Man, thy sins are forgiven thee.
Instead of healing the man, Jesus forgives the man! Why?
1) It’s possible that the man was paralyzed because of some sin in his life. We are cautious about saying this (cf. John 9:1-3), but personal sin does have consequences, sometimes serious consequences like a severe disability. Perhaps he was trying to steal something, and when he was discovered, jumped out a high window to escape and broke his back. Jesus could have been setting the stage for a full healing by first forgiving the man of what caused the paralysis in the first place.
2) Even if it was not a personal sin that caused the man to be paralyzed, the forgiveness of his sins was still his greatest need.
In the 1920’s, Martyn Lloyd-Jones was an up and coming doctor in Great Britain. His career as a medical doctor was going to be stellar. But he became a Christian and soon began to see all that he was doing was healing people physically and sending them back into an immoral lifestyle. The help he was giving was temporary—his patients would still die and go to Hell. So, much to the shock of his colleagues, friends, and family, he gave up being a doctor and became a preacher. He said:
“We [Doctors]…spend most of our time rendering people fit to go back to their sin!”…I saw I was helping these men to sin and I decided that I would do no more of it. I want to heal souls…a man with a healthy body and a diseased soul is all right for sixty years or so and then he has to face an eternity of hell. Ah, yes! We have sometimes to give up those things which are good for that which is the best of all. (Steven J. Lawson. The Passionate Preaching of Martyn Lloyd-Jones [Kindle Locations 455-460]. Reformation Trust Publishing. Kindle Edition)
In forgiving the man of his sins before healing him physically, Jesus points to this truth that our greatest need is spiritual healing. We need forgiveness first of all. Thankfully…
III. THE SON OF MAN HAS THE POWER TO FORGIVE (5:21-26)
Jesus’s forgiving the man of his sins provoked the ire of the “scribes and Pharisees”—
Luke 5:21 And the scribes and the Pharisees began to reason, saying, Who is this which speaketh blasphemies? Who can forgive sins, but God alone?
Here Luke introduces the “Pharisees.” These were a group of Jewish teachers who, along with the Sadducees, dominated the religious culture of the day. The Pharisees were very concerned about keeping God’s law, which is a good thing. However, they added their own ideas to God’s law, and set themselves up as the final authority on what was right and wrong. A number of them from all over the country had come to listen to Jesus teach. After Jesus’s shocking statement, they asked questions:
1) “Who is this which speaketh blasphemies?”
Blasphemy is when someone claims to be God, claims to do only what God can do, or takes the name of God in vain. It was a very serious offense. In fact, the Bible says, under Old Testament law, that it was punishable by death (Leviticus 24:16). The Pharisees weren’t out of line in charging this, if Jesus had been a fraud. However, he wasn’t a fraud, as he would soon prove to them.
2) “Who can forgive sins, but God alone?”
The Pharisees were correct about this, no one can forgive sins but God alone. It was also correct for them to examine Jesus’s teaching—he was a new teacher on the scene. They were not wrong in examining Jesus’s teaching (although perhaps their minds were made up before they even asked the questions). The error that the scribes and Pharisees ultimately made was was to refuse to believe who Jesus was, even after he gave proof of his divinity.
Luke 5:22 But when Jesus perceived their thoughts, he answering said unto them, What reason ye in your hearts?
Luke 5:23 Whether is easier, to say, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Rise up and walk?
Now, human beings can do neither of these things, but that is not the point. Which is easier to say? That is, what is easier to say and have proof that what is said is true? Obviously, it’s not easy to say, “Rise up and walk” to a paralyzed man because, if he didn’t get up (which he most likely wouldn’t), you would be proven false.
But it would be easy to say to someone, “Your sins are forgiven” because nothing concrete happens when our sins are forgiven. Forgiveness is invisible. Nothing about our appearance or even our feelings changes when we are forgiven by God.
So Jesus is going to prove that he has the right to say the easier thing, “your sins be forgiven thee” by saying the harder thing, “Rise up and walk.”
Luke 5:24a But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power upon earth to forgive sins…
Why does Jesus call himself the “Son of man”? This title is used eighty-one times in the four Gospels (and only three times in the rest of the New Testament). Almost every single time it’s used, it’s used by Jesus to refer to himself. Why? The phrase is sometimes used in the Old Testament to refer to humanity (e.g. Numbers 23:19). So you could say that he’s humbly identifying himself with humanity. But look at the verse, “that you may know that the Son of man hath power upon earth to forgive sins.” That’s not humility, that’s rightfully declaring his power.
The way Jesus uses the title, “the Son of man,” comes from the book of Daniel. Daniel, in a prophetic vision says:
13 I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. 14 And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed. (Daniel 7:13–14)
Here the Son of Man has power and authority over all people and nations. He is a powerful figure, he is God himself. The way that Jesus uses the title makes it clear that he was declaring himself to be God (e.g., John 5:26-27; Matthew 12:8). When Jesus used the term “Son of man,” nobody around him thought, “Oh, gee, he’s being humble.” Quite the opposite, it was the equivalent of saying that he was God himself.
Now, remember, the Pharisees had correctly pointed out that only God could forgive sins. When Jesus said that he was “the Son of man,” he claimed to be God—and if he is God he has the power and authority to forgive sins. So is he the Son of man? Is he God himself? Does he have the power and right to forgive sins? Jesus turns to the paralyzed man:
Luke 5:24b …(he said unto the sick of the palsy,) I say unto thee, Arise, and take up thy couch, and go into thine house.
Luke 5:25 And immediately he rose up before them, and took up that whereon he lay, and departed to his own house, glorifying God.
Luke 5:26 And they were all amazed, and they glorified God, and were filled with fear, saying, We have seen strange things to day.
And there it is—proof that Jesus is the Son of Man who can forgive sins. Luke records that both the man and the crowd (including, it seems, the scribes and Pharisees) went away glorifying God.
Spurgeon, describing the paralyzed man now healed, wrote:
I think I see him! He sets one foot down to God’s glory, he plants the other to the same note, he walks to God’s glory, he carries his bed to God’s glory, he moves his whole body to the glory of God, he speaks, he shouts, he sings, he leaps to the glory of God. (C. H. Spurgeon, “Carried by Four,” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, vol. 17 [London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1871], 167)
The take away from this is that they got it. They understood that Jesus was no ordinary man. That he had the ability not only to heal someone, but also to forgive their sins.
What does this teach us?
1) Our greatest need is the forgiveness of our sins. Unbelievers have many excuses for not wanting to believe—They need to have God explain to them why there is suffering in the world. They need God to let them live their lives the way they think is best…he needs to change his rules. It’s all centered around what they think they need. But what we all need is the forgiveness of our sins.
2) It’s Jesus that we must come to for forgiveness. We must pursue him in faith, even if it means that we have to tear through the roof of our lives and rearrange the ceiling tiles a bit. We may have family that won’t understand us and why we’re having such a thing with all this Jesus stuff. We may lose a job because of coming to faith in Jesus. Our lifestyle may have to change. All those things are just ceiling tiles that we tear off to fall at the feet of Jesus in faith.
3) Our faith, if it’s real, will be persistent. Jesus told a parable about a farmer sowing seeds in different kinds of soil. In two of the soils, the rocky and the thorny, the seeds sprouted. But they soon died because of the sun or weeds. He explained that some people appear to have faith, but then trials or materialism show that their faith was nothing. I had several false starts before becoming a real Christian at the age of 19. Now I can’t imagine leaving Jesus.
4) Jesus is enough. That he declared himself to be the Son of Man means that he declared himself to be God. As we learn in Daniel, he is is the one who will rule over all kingdoms and peoples and nations and languages. He has the authority to forgive our sins, and he also paid the penalty for our sins. You don’t need to look anywhere else for forgiveness…as a matter of fact, there is no where else—no religion and no ritual—that you can get forgiveness.
6 Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me. (John 14:6)