Jesus’ Powerful Word and Works (vv. 17-19)
Drew Enemies to Watch and Scoff (v. 17)
From Eden to the coming of the Son of God into the world, mankind was divided into two groups: the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent. The former embrace God’s promise of mercy and believe in God’s deliverer; the latter reject God’s word. This same division was evident in Jesus’ day, even when he preached. Luke is not recording in this section of his gospel a sequence of events but giving us snapshots of Jesus’ works and words so that we are led by the Spirit to hold tightly to him. We might think that when he preached, everyone loved his words and believed in him, but this was not the case. He had a serious run-in with the Jewish leaders when he first purged the temple (John 2:12-20), and some of them came into Galilee to hear him. They were not interesting in believing the gospel. They only wanted to hear something they could use against him. It was one of our Lord’s constant trials that while he spoke the words of life, Satan’s agents leered at him. Even so, Jesus continued preaching in their teeth, and his power was present to heal. The “them” refers to those who believe upon him, not to the Jewish leaders. Ever in Jesus, word and works go together. He has power to give what he promises; what he teaches he is able to accomplish in us by the Holy Spirit.
Prompted Tremendous Faith (vv. 18-19)
There were others, the forgotten and trampled by the world, often poor and always ridiculed, but who still held fast to the ancient promises of God. It was not their poverty that made them virtuous but their faith in God. While Jesus was preaching in a house in Capernaum, a small group of men brought their cripple friend to Jesus. They likely had heard him preach. They knew that Jesus could take away the disease that had withered and paralyzed. Too many people to enter by the front door of the house; they might have squeezed in, but the bed and its occupant would never make it. They went up on the roof, perhaps by the side stairs that were common. They began breaking up the tiles, as Luke described the scene, or pulling up the hard clay materials – we need not think a fancy terra cotta roof. It is so telling that critics get all worked up by Luke’s description of the roofing materials but are hardly moved a bit by the faith of these men. Enemies of God do not want us or themselves to be confronted by the glory of Jesus Christ. He looked up, of course, when he heard the noise, and the house full of people watched with wonder as a hole opened above them, large enough to let down the bed. It began to descend by ropes. Faith could not get to Jesus the normal way, so it went through the roof – like Peter on the waves. This is what faith in Jesus’ words and power, and we might add assurance of his love, will do to us – inspire tenacious pursuit of him, ignore obstacles, and refuse to stop until he and his graces are firmly grasped!
Same Mixed Reactions Today
Secularism in its various forms – by which is meant our modern life built upon a foundation of ultimate allegiance to science and technology, man’s wisdom, governments and institutions, all set free from God’s word – denies the existence of transcendent, absolute truth beyond what man can discover through his reason and experience. Biblical religion is completely opposed to secularism, but it finds friends among those who deny the exclusivity of Christ’s claims, salvation through his atoning sacrifice alone, and an inspired Bible. In other words, God’s word is still dividing the human race. The seed of the woman – believers and their children – embrace God’s word and come to Jesus Christ for healing, help, and wisdom to frame their lives according to his will. The seed of the serpent – including wolves within the church that lead the faithful astray through clever and false doctrines – will not have “this man to rule over us.” They do not build their lives upon God’s word. We cannot find a common ground between the two seeds in commonly held opinions and beliefs, or in ways of assessing truth claims. The only real common ground is that each is made in God’s image and therefore able when he quickens to hear our Father’s voice calling us out of darkness into his marvelous light. We shall not find a gospel version that the world will accept. We shall not find a form of Christian practice or ethic that the world will approve.
Take sexual ethics. The world says, “If you feel it, it is good; do it; if others do not approve your desires, they do not love you.” The Bible says that we are all born with various lusts that alienate us from God and that all forms of sexual expressions beyond marriage between one man and one woman are sins against God. There is no middle ground between these two convictions. One springs from divinely implanted purity by God’s grace, for which we can take no credit, for by nature we are children of wrath. The other springs from Satan’s desire to be as God, determining good and evil for himself. As we watch the Jews’ mixed reactions to Jesus’ words and works throughout Luke’s gospel, we should pray to God to give us a little thicker skin when it comes to holding fast for his truth, and much more realism about the world’s attitudes toward God. As Jesus said, “If the world hates you, you know that it hated me before it hated you” (John 15:18). And, “I have given them your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world” (John 17:14). God’s sovereign grace divides the world (1 Cor. 4:7), and when he gives truth and light to us, it sets us at odds with the world of sin and unbelief. Satan’s slaves (2 Tim. 2:26) hate Christ’s freed men and women. This does not lead to despair, hatred, or cynicism but if our hearts are humbled by God’s grace to us (1 Cor. 4:7), to much more fervent and constant prayer for God to open the womb of regeneration in our day and brings all the families of the world to find in Jesus Christ deliverance from sin and judgment.
When Jesus Saw Their Faith (v. 20)
He Immediately Forgave the Cripple’s Sins
The Author and Finisher of faith loves faith coming to him, fighting fear, overcoming obstacles, desiring him – as he desires his own. He saw the man being lowered; he saw faith rising to heaven, desiring him. He also saw the sin behind the disease. That he granted forgiveness on the spot indicates his knowledge of this man beyond anything we know. He intended to heal him also, but this man also felt keenly his need of Jesus’ cleansing. He knew himself to be a sinner. And perhaps in his case, although not in every case (John 9:3), his paralyzed and helpless state was brought on by some particular sin. It is surely true that all disease and suffering is indirectly brought on by our fallen and corrupt state; it is sometimes true that our troubles are brought on directly by our sins. This is the reason a sick season should always be a praying and repenting season. Then, we truly improve our sick bed, not that when we binge watched all the world’s latest offerings but when we starve the flesh, turn from our sins, and fill ourselves with God’s promises.
He Invites Us to Come to Him for Grace and Mercy
“Man” is not opposed to the “son” as recorded by Matthew and Mark. No term of address can hide the tenderness of Jesus’ looking at this man, reading his soul’s guilt, and forgiving him instantly. The cripple’s faith thus obtained something greater than healing – it obtained peace and relief for a soul burdened with sin and guilt. Physical healing is a wondrous blessing, but multitudes enjoy healing but carry their sins and judgment in their bosom. Believers who never shake their diseases but know in their souls that they are released from sin’s bondage and without a charge before God have the greatest blessing and peace. This is the gospel Jesus commanded us to preach – the gospel of forgiveness. The cripple still lay where he was, but his soul was at peace. I am sure his soul’s smile shone on his face. We see in him the Lord’s usual way of working in this life – leave us somewhat weakened outwardly, but give us the true healing inwardly. He will heal us bodily forever at the resurrection, but in this life he leaves us weak or painful so that the inward man may grow in strength. And why did he forgive this paralyzed man? What did he see in him? Ardent longing for Jesus, earnest laboring to find him, seeking him with his whole heart, enlisting others to help and pray for him. Jesus invites us to seek him this morning. We shall find him willing and ready to forgive our sins. But please, do not come as many do, thinking that if only Jesus can heal my infirmities or make my circumstances better, he will let me hold on to my sins. All will be well, if I could just have this or that. Desire far more for him to forgive your sins and purge your corruption; ask him to change you. Then, whatever cross he wants you to bear, you can bear it with joy and peace, if you know your sins are forgiven.
Jesus Confronts His Critics (vv. 21-24)
You Speak Blasphemy – They Understood His Claims (v. 21)
To forgive this man’s sins without expressed words of repentance from him but knowing his heart fully – who but God can read a man’s heart in this way? And no one but God can remit, do away with our sins, so that they are not remembered (Isa. 43:25; Heb. 10:17), mentioned (Ezek. 18:22,24), or held against us (Col. 1:22), and thrown into the depths of the sea (Mic. 7:19), leaving us clean and pure (Isa. 1:18)? When they heard Jesus forgive this man’s sins, the Jewish leaders immediately accused Jesus of blasphemy, for they rightly understood that no one but God can forgive sins. This is one of the several places in the Gospels that give us but two legitimate options for assessing Jesus Christ – he is either the Son of God or a colossal hoax. A madman is out of the question; if he was mad, the world is far madder, for billions have found in his words the life we lost because of sin and in his blood the cleansing that sets the conscience free to serve God. The Jews chose a version of the former – they knew he was claiming to be God, but they rejected his claim. But there was no mistaking that in forgiving this man’s sins, he at least claimed to exercise divine prerogatives. And for us, this is the reason we believe upon his name – where else can we go? He alone has the words of eternal life. He alone can cover our sins, blot them out by his sacrifice, endure their curse, and give us righteousness in place of our filth. We bow before the One whom the Jews accused of blasphemy. If he cannot forgive our sins, there is no one else. If he did not bear our curse, rise from the dead for our justification, and ascend to be our advocate, we are lost forever. Our sins will haunt us in hell forever. But we have believed upon his name and received his “You are forgiven.” Let us sing and praise, love and obey, trust and serve our blessed Savior!
He Knew Their Hearts (v. 22)
As the Jews understood who Jesus claimed to be, so he knew their hearts. Since he knows us, may he find us feeling our need of his mercy, rather than questioning him, and humbled before the word of his power! Why do you reason in your hearts – why are you deliberating, questioning in your minds? Do you not know that “the entrance of my words give light?” We must never stand back questioning the words of Jesus Christ but eat them as the living bread from heaven. His words alone are “spirit and life” – all our thoughts not governed by his words are flesh – worthless, impotent, an impenetrable labyrinth of darkness from which we shall not be able to escape (John 6:63). Listen to my words, he said to them, and he says to us now. For in the preaching of his Scriptures, he preaches the name of the Father to us. He knows what our hearts need this morning. He knows the walls of doubt we build and hide behind, the really useless questioning – if I give myself to Jesus, what will happen to me? If I yield, how can I fight for my rights? If I confess my sins, what will others think? The answer is glorious – what will happen to you is what Jesus wants for you! If you give yourself to him, if you renounce your right to think and do what you want, you will find his light scattering your darkness. Ah, I am finally free from the tyranny of my own feelings and thoughts and sins – let me yield to Jesus’ thoughts. He knows me better than I can ever know myself. Doubt gone; fears dissipated; sins forgiven.
I Forgive and Heal – I am the Son of Man (vv. 23-24)
Which is easier to say – your sins are forgiven, or rise, take up your bed and walk? A fool might say the former, and he would not need to prove it. Many religious hucksters have gone out into the world. “Rise up” is more outwardly challenging, for if someone says these words to a cripple man, and he does not stand up immediately, then everyone will know that the healer’s words were worthless. But – and our Lord’s argument is somewhat inverted – if I raise this man immediately from his shriveled and impotent state, then you ought also to believe that I have power to forgive sins. If I do the more difficult, humanly speaking, for it requires immediate and incontrovertible proof, then you ought to believe the other. Jesus is telling them that his word is powerful. Yes, he began in this instance with a claim that is not verifiable by normal sense, but he can back it up with direct power over issues of body and disease. He heals – “Rise up and walk” – to vindicate his higher claims – that he is the Son of man. This is Jesus’ favorite title. Perhaps it comes from Daniel 7:13. It is definitely a mediatorial title. It emphasizes his true humanity, that he is the “best man,” the true man, but also that he is more than man, the God-Man, the Mediator of the covenant, to whom my Father has given universal dominion and power. I have power to lay down my life and take it up again (John 10:18). I have power to forgive sins. Do you want proof? “Rise up and walk.”
We can barely take this in; at least I cannot. That these words are so understated is a compelling proof of their divine inspiration, and therefore of the glory of Jesus Christ as the Son of God and Mediator of the covenant. Part of “Son of man” is surely our Lord’s humility. He humbled himself so low for us, but he did this to fulfill an office, to be the Mediator between God and man, to be the covenant, for all God’s promises are “yes and a-men” in him (2 Cor. 1:20). Why did he heal this man in the way he did? Surely, he had a tender regard that this particular man was laden by guilt and needed forgiveness and immediate absolution from God. Has anyone ever come to Jesus like this, with such urgency that he compelled his friends to open up a roof and let him down to Jesus? He would not let Jesus get away. When Jesus healed his body, he did so to verify the higher claims – as the Son of man, as the exalted God-man, I have power to forgive sins. I stand in the place of God to sinners. I am God, as well as man. Let us worship. Let us make direct appeal to him to forgive our sins. Does his lowliness not encourage us to do so? Does not his willing identification with us in our weakness, his tenderness toward this cripple man, his omniscient comprehending all his miseries in a moment of time and giving him instant relief, encourage us to do so? It must. There is salvation in no other name. Come now. Do not remain in misery another moment. Come soon, for the Lord is at hand. Come urgently, having your friends carry you to Jesus, if need me. But come. He will forgive your sins. He has the right and power to do so. No else can heal your soul and pronounce you clean and innocent but Jesus Christ.
The Cripple Forgiven and Healed (vv. 25-26)
Jesus instantly, powerfully healed the cripple. The house and its occupants gasped! Could this be the One whom Daniel saw – so weak and lowly, so full of sympathy? Is forgiveness of sins our great need and his great glory? Surely we need something else – deliverance from the Romans, a land flowing again with milk and honey, the land of Abraham freed from Roman slime – no, above everything else, our sins must be blotted out, forgiven by God, their penalty declared “paid in full.” This we have only in Jesus Christ, and his mercy to us must define all else we do, color our other activities, influence our words and attitudes, cheer us on the sick bed, humble us when successful, and perhaps above all, empower us to forgive as we have been forgiven – all that I am I owe to you, my blessed Savior. The man got up! He took up his bed and went home, glorifying God all the way, all his life thereafter, and now in the presence of the exalted Son of man at the Father’s right hand! And the people who saw these things? Strange, wonderful things they confessed to have seen. They also glorified God and were filled with fear.
I pray the world will be more filled with wonder at our wonder in God’s mercy to us in Christ. It is one of faith’s leading labors and true glory to keeping adoring God for forgiving our sins and to boast only in our Savior’s cross. And as we adore, we shall praise. Our lives shall bear up under all manner of trouble, for a sense of God’s mercy in Christ frees from anxiety and fills with joy as nothing else can. It also enables Christians to be the most forgetful people in the world when it comes to other people’s sins against us! O, if they only knew the mercy that I have received through Jesus Christ! If we thought more upon this wonderful work of Jesus Christ, that he forgives sins, we would sing and rejoice, trust and obey. Those around us would take notice, for a taste of mercy changes everything. Soon, some would join us glorifying God, and then others, until all the ends of the earth remember, and turn unto the Lord. This is ongoing now, especially among them who confess with joy that Jesus Christ has forgiven my sins.