Artwork credit to Jan Rombouts
“One of those days, as he was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there, who had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem. And the power of the Lord was with him to heal.” Luke 5:17
Don’t you find it interesting that Luke doesn’t say, “As Jesus was teaching, all the sick people were sitting there…” Neither does he say, “As Jesus was teaching, all the common people were sitting there…” And again, he doesn’t say, “As Jesus was teaching, a mixed crowd was sitting there, Pharisees, teachers of the law, sick people, and lots of other people as well…” No, when Luke paints the picture for us, he points out the effort the Pharisees and teachers of the law made to come to see Jesus.
Why were they here? To listen to his teaching and believe? That doesn’t appear to be what the evidence of Scripture says. It’s more likely they were coming to find fault in him and prove that he wasn’t who he said he was. They came to find fault, not truth. But there is good news for those of us who are like the Pharisees and teachers of the law. Despite our agenda, God’s agenda is stronger! The King James Version says, “…and the power of the Lord was present to heal them.” Heal who? So far, the only people Luke has mentioned are the Pharisees and teachers of the law. God can heal even the hardest of the hard-hearted. That is good news.
I wasn’t there, but I wonder if my picture of that day is skewed. I mean, I know there is a crowd and today, crowds can become dangerous when they mob and riot. Crowds are often political motivators now-a-days. But what was this crowd? Were crowds normal things? It appears that in Greek thinking, the crowd was not a good thing, associated with the lowest strata of the population mobbing. The whole idea stood against democratic thought. For the Romans, it spoke of irregularity. So these people gathered today, during Roman rule in Israel on this day, let’s just consider it all an immense irregularity that could defy the way people usually conduct their lives, even defying their “rationality.”
We know that Jesus was inside a house because we are going to read of these men who lowered their paralytic friend through the roof so that Jesus could heal him. So let me see this picture. Jesus is in a house. He’s been prepared for this day, because he has taken time to withdraw in the wilderness and pray sometime before this takes place. Now, here he is, inside this house teaching. Hopefully, I’m not assuming wrongly, but I’m reading that the main people in that house that had gathered around him, sitting there, are the Pharisees and doctors of the law who had come from afar. I think that house was full of Pharisees and teachers of the law, so full that no one else could fit inside. And I wonder if they would have anyways, or would it have been frowned upon for your ordinary person to sit down in that crowd gathered there?
Was it regular for so many Pharisees and lawyers to be gathered together in one place? Were their thoughts the regular thoughts of the men of their religious leadership? Who is this crowd? What is the purpose of the crowd? Will something good come from this crowd?
Enter the men and their paralytic friend. There are too many people to bring him in the house into the presence of Jesus. They are forced to do something irregular as well. They go to the roof. Was there a crowd outside? I have no idea. Does it matter? The crowd inside was the problem. The crowd inside had their own agenda and they could care less about anyone outside, especially some ordinary guys and a paralytic sinner on a mat. Maybe the quietest crowds can be the most dangerous, huh?
Usually a crowd is thought of as rabble, but what if that wasn’t the case with the crowd today. What if the rabble was what was going on in their minds? What if the crowd mentality was fighting not against democracy, but against God’s will? What if the crowd mentality needed healing and that is why Jesus was there that day, to heal this crowd of Pharisees and teachers of the law who were acting like rabble without even realizing it?
What if these men and their paralytic friend were a God send, sent for the healing of these religious men sitting in this room, this crowd gathered inside around Jesus? What if I need to read this like Luke said, that the “power of the Lord was present to heal them,” to heal the ones sitting on the floor in that room, those religious leaders and the men and their friend being lowered from the ceiling was the lesson for their healing?
Look at the picture. All these religious leaders who each should have been leading sinners to Jesus, but what was happening? All these religious leaders were holding people back from Jesus, back from God. Here comes someone seeking healing, but they can’t find it through the religious leaders. Why? The leaders are uninterested in the plight of the men. The religious leaders are too focussed on their own plans, their own agenda. So God takes a different route.
He sends the men up on the roof. They do something irregular. They take apart the roof and go directly to Jesus. Why? Because they can’t get to Jesus through the people they are supposed to get to Jesus through. So God takes the leaders out of the picture and sends the men in need directly to the Source. They lower down their friend, before Jesus and before the whole crowd of religious leaders. They demonstrate faith. These sinners who weren’t “worthy” of the religious leaders’ attention, are the ones demonstrating faith! And Jesus says, “Man, your sins are forgiven you.” What?!
Now all the scribes and Pharisees are in an uproar because only God can forgive sins. Obviously, no one there believes that Jesus is of God. Well, except for the men with faith on the roof and the paralytic. None of these leaders believe Jesus is who he says he is. None of them believe he is who God says he is. Then again, anyone can say, “You are forgiven.” Those are just words, right? So you could argue over whether that guy is forgiven or not. Words are just words. Words are not necessarily proof, right?
If that is true, that God alone can forgive sins, is there a way that Jesus can prove that He has been given the authority by God to forgive sins? Jesus tells them to follow out their reasoning. If that is true, there should be a way to prove it. If God alone can forgive sins, and Jesus can forgive sins, then they should be able to come to an obvious conclusion about Jesus. So he takes it a step farther. Is it easier to say, “Your sins are forgiven?” or is it easier to say, “Rise up and walk?”
Well, which is easier? It’s easy to say either one. Both are just words. Well, both are just words if that is all they are. Any words are easy to say. I could say, “I am the Son of God.” It’s easy to say, but for me it wouldn’t be true. It would just be words. But that’s not the case for Jesus. It’s just as easy for him to say “You are forgiven.” as it is for him to say “Rise up and walk,” because He has the power and authority of God to do both. It’s not only easy for Him to say. It’s easy for Him to do. The lesson wasn’t for the friends that day, although they benefited tremendously. The lesson was for the skeptical religious leaders. When Jesus forgives, God is forgiving. He has the authority of God because He is God’s Son, the Messiah. He and the Father are One. When He says “Rise up and walk,” it happens, because He has the power of God to forgive sins and do the will of God. That day, they heard Jesus forgive sins, and they saw him heal a paralytic.
The power of the Lord was present that day to heal them, all of them if only they would be healed. You know, I wonder if Nicodemus was there that day, or maybe even Joseph of Aramathea? Wouldn’t it be a shame to be offered the power of the Lord for your healing and pass it by? I don’t know how many other people were there, but Luke says, “they were all amazed, and they glorified God, and were filled with fear, saying, ‘We have seen strange things today.’” For a moment, they were caught up in astonishment. Their regular thinking was all shaken up. All of them, every one of them, was in a dilemma because their thoughts were all displaced. This was not what they expected. This was divine. This blew their ideas out of the water. This was evidence and they had to deal with it one way or another. They had to glorify God. The man was healed. That was undeniable. And it frightened them. Why?
Do we ever become frightened when we know the truth and don’t want to do it? If they honored the truth, that Jesus was who He and God said He was, their lives would have to change. They would have to hand authority over to Him. They would have to say that He was right and they were wrong. They would have to suck up their pride before all the people. That’s a scary thing. And, it’s a scary thing to decide to go against God as well. I suppose there was a lot to be afraid of that day. It was scary. It was a paradox before them. This was all contrary to their expectations. What they called absurd, you know, Jesus being able to forgive sins, was being shown to be true, fact.
So why weren’t all these religious leaders believers after that? Maybe Paul sheds some light on that. “For although they knew God, they did not honour him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God,” ( Romans 1:21-23) for other things and other thoughts. They didn’t rearrange their thinking to line up with the truth they learned that day. They just held on to their own thinking, and clung to their foolish pride, and dishonoured the God who sent healing their way. We can do the same thing.
Sometimes we get too caught up in glorifying ourselves. We allow ourselves to be temporarily amazed by God and then we slide right back into our own glorification. That wasn’t so with Jesus. He didn’t glorify himself. He always let God glorify him. (Hebrews 5:5) These religious leaders were so busy with their own glory, that they were no longer glorifying God and He could not, therefore, glorify them. They should have been speaking for God’s glory, not their own. They should have been serving by His strength, but they were serving in their own strength. (1 Peter 4:11) They were glorifying themselves and there is no glory to God in that. Their purpose should have been to glorify God and give Him dominion, but they were so busy thinking and wanting others to think they were flawless teachers and unerring in Scripture so that they wouldn’t even check out Scripture to verify the truth of Jesus.
I don’t want my pride to cause me to act foolishly. I don’t want my pride to cause me to lessen what You are doing in my life or what You are showing me because I refuse to act upon Your truth. I don’t want to be like Babylon in Revelation 18:7, who glorified herself and lived as she pleased and said “I sit as queen, I am no widow, and mourning I shall never see.” I don’t want to rule myself. I want You to rule me. I want to be the daughter of the King; I don’t need to be queen, nor do I want to be. I am a widow, even though my earthly spouse is still alive. Why? Because I am desperate for Your care. I am wholly dependent upon You for my provision of spiritual well-being as well as physical well-being. And I know that I will see mourning, because You tell me in this world there will be troubles, but I am also encouraged by Your words that You have overcome, and because I am not my own, and I am not alone, and I am in You and You in me, I too am an overcomer because of You. Don’t ever let me miss the lessons You present to me. Don’t let me get caught up in myself so that I miss the truth of You.
“The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in loving-kindness and truth, who keeps loving-kindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin.” (Exodus 34:6,7) Thank You for being this Lord God that day in that room to those religious leaders. Just because many of them missed their healing, doesn’t discount who You are. Because the truth is, You are still reaching out to us just as compassionately and graciously. And the truth is, it’s still up to each of us whether we will accept Your healing and compassion or turn from it. I want to grasp it with everything I have.