I’m constantly amazed by how much information is present in even small portions of Scripture. The past week, we looked at Luke 5:17-26, just 9 verses, but it is chock full of interesting questions and subjects. It touches on the topics of faith, miracles, sin, forgiveness of sin, Jesus’ claim to divinity, and one’s response to the miraculous. And in order to understand these topics well, it will require extensive study and reflection which an hour bible study cannot afford. Each time I revisit these familiar passages, I see something new and I see something that I have not seen before. Of these various topics that I mentioned above, I wish to focus in on the matter of faith, because this passage shows us something about biblical faith which can be give us some new perspective in our current culture.
Let’s start with the verses. Luke 5:18-20 (ESV)
And behold, some men were bringing on a bed a man who was paralyzed, and they were seeking to bring him in and lay him before Jesus, but finding no way to bring him in, because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the midst before Jesus. And when he saw their faith, he said, “Man, your sins are forgiven you.”
Something that stands out to me immediately is Luke writes that Jesus saw their faith. Whose faith? The faith of this paralyzed man’s friends. But he saw it. Faith is a word that we throw around pretty freely, and often times it can mean an internal thing that one possesses and is kept personal. Here, it is different: faith is visible. How did Jesus see their faith? It was through their action. They tore through a roof to get their friend in front of Jesus. What does that say about the friends and about their relationship with the paralyzed man? First, the friends must really care and love their friend such that they would go through such risky behavior. They damage someone’s house and they do it in the witness of a crowd. They can’t get away with this, and they will be responsible for paying the damages. Second, they are taking a risk socially because of the disturbance they cause and the potential disrespect they may show to the host and to Jesus. Third, there is risk in the fact that they had to find a way move their friend up and down the house. That may have required some planning to get the right equipment to do it. So, it doesn’t seem like it was on a whim. And on top of that, they risk not being able to actually do it and risk being turned down by Jesus. Yet despite all these things they still did it anyway.
But why? They knew something about Jesus that compelled them to do this. And how did they convince their friend to go through with it? The paralyzed man was also risking being put to shame and being disappointed. He is putting his life literally in the hands of his friends. What if they drop him? What if Jesus doesn’t heal him? But his friends believed something about Jesus that was strong enough to move past all these barriers. They believed in what Jesus could do. They put their trust in Jesus. And because of their belief, they were compelled toward action. Their faith was in something. Their faith was in a person. And that faith moved them to action. That is what made their faith visible. With that said, when was the last time you did something for a friend out of faith like these friends did in this passage? When was the last time someone said to you, “I saw your faith?”
And picking up on the theme from the last post regarding the connection between the physical and the spiritual realms, we see this connection in this passage as well. Jesus says in Luke 5:23-25,
Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” —he said to the man who was paralyzed— “I say to you, rise, pick up your bed and go home.” And immediately he rose up before them…
Jesus uses the power he has to effect change physically in the man to point to the power that he has to effect change in the spiritual realm. We begin to see how the physical condition of a person can be a window into his spiritual well being or vice versa. For example, in the previous passage we saw Peter in the boat which was sinking under the weight of the fish he caught. The physical crisis matched the spiritual crisis: he was in the presence of someone whom Peter could not bear. Here with the paralyzed man, the reverse is happening. The physical freedom that he has and the rejoicing and praising of God that is taking place are the physical indicators of how he is doing spiritually. When we receive God’s forgiveness we ought to resemble the paralyzed man who has been healed. It can’t be faked. It’s not wishful thinking. If this paralyzed man wasn’t truly healed, he couldn’t just fake it. In a similar way, when God says that he forgives our sins, it is not wishful thinking, it is a deep truth and reality. And our joyous response becomes an outward expression of a deep spiritual reality. But we can only do so if it were true. As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:12-17,
Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. (emphasis my own)
If Jesus wasn’t real, if he wasn’t God incarnate, and if he didn’t die and resurrect, then we are still in our sin. Then forgiveness of sin before God doesn’t exist, and as Paul writes, “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied,” (1 Corinthians 15:19). The paralyzed man’s reaction was a result of genuine transformation and healing. Our response to God’s forgiveness ought to look like the paralyzed man’s response. This is possible only if what Jesus said and did actually happened. Otherwise it is only wishful thinking, and we are tricking no one but ourselves.
Biblical faith is not just a nice idea. It is visible. It is tangible. And it is grounded in truth and reality. It has power to change the lives of others. It has the power to affect the physical and spiritual realms. There is power in this kind of faith.
The last comment on this passage for now is something one of the students brought up. Looking at the paralyzed man, one student said, “The paralyzed man is like a mini Jesus. He rises and Jesus also rises.” Picking up on that motif, we see something else going on here.
When he saw their faith, he said, “Man, your sins are forgiven you.”
That is a microcosm of God the Father who sees Jesus’ faith and forgives our sins. On the cross, Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” (Luke 23:34). And Peter wrote, “[Jesus] himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed,” (1 Pet 2:24). We are forgiven because of what Jesus did, not because of what we did. “By grace you have been saved,” (Eph 2:5).
There is much to be said about the atonement, and much more to unpack in this passage. But I will end this post by saying that throughout Jesus’ teachings, he was showing the importance of faith, the interconnectedness of the spiritual and physical realm, and the undeserved kindness of God’s forgiveness.