Alfred Place Baptist Church

5:17-26 Jesus Christ has the authority to forgive sins

Luke 5: 17-26 “One day as he was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law, who had come from every village of Galilee and from Judea and Jerusalem , were sitting there. And the power of the Lord was present for him to heal the sick. Some men came carrying a paralytic on a mat and tried to take him into the house to lay him before Jesus. When they could not find a way to do this because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and lowered him on his mat through the tiles into the middle of the crowd, right in front of Jesus. When Jesus saw their faith, he said, ‘Friend, your sins are forgiven.’ The Pharisees and the teachers of the law began thinking to themselves, ‘Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?’ Jesus knew what they were thinking and asked, ‘Why are you thinking these things in your hearts? Which is easier: to say, “Your sins are forgiven,” or to say, “Get up and walk”? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins….’ He said to the paralysed man, ‘I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.’ Immediately he stood up in front of them, took what he had been lying on and went home praising God. Everyone was amazed and gave praise to God. They were filled with awe and said, ‘We have seen remarkable things today.’”

This beloved incident in the life of our Lord is also recorded for us in the gospels of Matthew and Mark. Even for those of you who do not yet believe that the Bible is wholly inspired and reliable there must be a ring of truth about these words. The whole incident, the way the man was brought to Jesus, the opening up of the roof, the dialogue with the teachers of the law, the healing of the man, the general amazement in the crowd of onlookers – all such events speak of eyewitnesses who had been present and never forgot the events of that day. This really happened. These words were truly spoken by the Lord. This man was transformed by him, and because this is true there is a line that goes directly from that house in Capernaum to our house of worship today. That line is the truth of God. What happened there is enormously important for you. We are urging you today to come away from the shadow lands in which you are wasting your existence and enter the bright reality of this person the Lord Christ who once stood in our world and breathed our air, a man who is bone of our bones and flesh of our flesh and yet is also Jehovah Jesus.

We are impressed with the size of the crowd. They had come from everywhere; “ One day as he was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law, who had come from every village of Galilee and from Judea and Jerusalem , were sitting there” (v.17). Not a Galilean village did not have a representative there. Even from Judea they had walked to this place, and the sophisticates of Jerusalem , the men who considered themselves the leaders of the nation, came to listen to Jesus teaching. He was making an impact on the whole land. This is a directive to us today about the future health and growth of this congregation. It is saying to us that something must happen here. There must be such authority, clarity, life, saving power and love in the word of God that people are drawn here from all over our county. That is revival. Notice how we are told these striking words, “And the power of the Lord was present for him to heal the sick” (v.17). There are some occasions greater than those good and holy and blessed times that we have known. There are times when the power of the Lord is present.

Two weeks ago I was at the Banner of Truth ministers’ conference in Leicester . There had been a panel discussion, and then, at the end of it, the chairman saw me sitting in the front row and he invited me to close in prayer. I believe I can say in truth that I had never publicly prayed as I did on that occasion. I was given that prayer from God, interceding for ourselves and our land and churches. I was as conscious praying it – as anyone sitting and hearing me in the conference – of listening to myself praying and thinking ‘what will he pray next?’ I was simply borne along as I cried out to God for help. “O help us Lord! Help us.” On and on I cried to him who hears and answers prayer. I remember little about the actual words now, just the experience of being wrought upon by God and receiving a spirit of intercession for those 200 men who were there sitting before me, many of whom known and loved by me. In the next hours men came on to me, one immediately and others the next day still moved by the whole prayer. One man, who had sat under Dr. Lloyd-Jones’ ministry in Westminster Chapel, wept as he spoke to me, lamenting the absence of intercession in the churches. “What hope is there without God coming in answer to our prayers?” he asked me. He added, “That prayer was the best thing that happened in the whole conference.” The other two said that kind of thing, interrogating me about the praying. They didn’t want to let me go but wanted to examine what had happened that afternoon. How had I prayed like that? I was as much in the dark as themselves. Some of the men who spoke to me were in their 70’s, men I greatly respect. I explained how detached I had been as I prayed it, knowing I had to keep my emotions in check; I could easily have wept. I told them that I do not feel that I myself am a man of prayer, alas, but if I could be given a prayer like that then so could anyone. I had an Email this week from a brother in South Africa who had been told about the prayer, and so it was not just my own feeling. Maybe this was an earnest of what is happening across the land just now, that God is raising up men to pray with particular authority. Wouldn’t that be a sign that God was going to do better things for the church? One explanation for that prayer of mine was in these words of Luke, “ And the power of the Lord was present” (v.17). God is sovereign to bring a mighty saving message, or a prayer, or to heal someone when they are beyond the help of man. So here we are told a man was brought to Jesus, and that the power of the Lord to heal was manifest.

1. HOW NEEDY THIS MAN WAS.

We are told just one thing about him and that is that he was a paralytic. Nothing else. We are not told his name, his age, his marriage status, the job he once had. We are given information about one thing, that he could not move. Nothing else was as significant as that. Nothing else was relevant. It didn’t matter that he might have been a fisherman named Benjamin whose eyes were brown and he had a wife and three children. He could not move. Do you realise his pain? The cramp, the stiffness of the joints, the bedsores, and all the indignities of his condition. Think of his despair. Nothing lay ahead of him but more suffering and the grave, his stiff body lifted into a coffin and buried. He remembered a time when he played as a boy, and worked hard, but now he could do nothing and he was a burden to everyone. What a wretched life. He could not wake up in the morning and say, “Today I shall get up off my bed.” He was a paralytic. He could not say, “I have had enough of this and so I shall send for the doctor and he will give me the wonder-drug.” He was a paralytic and there was no one who could cure him. You have heard men use the word ‘paralytic’ today just in one context, when they are sniggering about a drunkard, unable to control himself, finding it impossible even to stand erect, swaying, staggering and helpless. His acquaintances mock him – “he’s paralytic” – but Christians cannot laugh at the effects of sin, any more than we would laugh at this poor man carried about on a mat. There but for the grace of God lie I. The Bible uses the concept of inability when it talks of your own helplessness as a sinner: “the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God” (Roms.8:7&8). There is a hostility to the gospel in the hearts of men. We all recognise that. That man in Capernaum could not ‘believe himself better.’ He had no inward resources at all to change himself. He was a paralysed and on his way to the grave.

2. HOW BLESSED WAS HE TO HAVE FOUR COMPANIONS.

We infer that they were his friends. They are always referred to as his friends, but Matthew, Mark and Luke all call them “some men” (v.18). There was a great preacher, and theologian, and evangelist named Charles Haddon Spurgeon who died over a hundred years ago. Through his ministry the whole true church of Jesus Christ was blessed. One day as an unbelieving teenager in a snowstorm in Colchester he went into a Primitive Methodist Church and ‘some man’ preached and told him to look to Jesus Christ and be saved. No one knows who that preacher was – some man or other who knew the power of Jesus Christ to save sinners. I was once preaching in Johannesburg in a Methodist church and Dudley the pastor there told me of his restoration after long years of backsliding. He was on vacation in London , and he decided to go to the famous Speakers’ Corner in Hyde Park and listen to the orators and political agitators. But ‘some man’ was preaching the gospel, his face yet bearing the marks of having lived years without God and without hope, but now he knew the power of the livingness of Christ. An educated man began to interrupt him: “You are ruining my Sunday morning stroll with your nonsense,” he cried. The preacher was unperturbed and continued to speak of the Lord Jesus. “We don’t need religion today,” the man shouted, “this is a scientific age. I know what I’m talking about. I’m a graduate of Cambridge University .” “Sir,” the old preacher replied, “I envy you having gone to university. I never went to any college, but I’ve been to Calvary .” Those words are so artless, and almost a cliché in our circles, but God’s Spirit used that phrase of ‘some man’ to humble and restore Dudley and put him back in the gospel ministry. There are thousands of such examples of unsung anonymous men and women whose identities we can never discover but who have known something of the living power of Jesus Christ. God used them to bring another to his Son, who in turn brought multitudes to Jesus.

Consider this group of men. There seems to have been more than four who came with the paralytic to the Lord Jesus, but four took it in turns and they carried this dead weight to where Jesus was. However many there were they were all as helpless to heal this man as he was to heal himself. They had no medical competence, and no supernatural powers of miracle working. There were no drugs nor treatment nor doctors they were aware of which could help their friend. What did they have? One great fact. They had knowledge of Jesus Christ. They have gained this in the last weeks by what they had seen and heard. Had they been to his meetings? Had they met people whose lives had been transformed by him? Had they heard from people whom they considered trustworthy and sensible who told them plainly and simply what Jesus taught, that we have to repent because of our sins and believe in him the Messiah sent into the world by God. They also told of his extraordinary power to heal any and every kind of illness. Somehow they were told of the reality, power and wisdom of this Jesus who was living in Capernaum . Do you have this knowledge? Have you read the New Testament? Have you read this gospel of Luke? Do you come here on Sunday mornings and evenings and listen to the preaching of Jesus? Do you know of Jesus of Capernaum who lived on this earth two thousand years ago, the promised Messiah, sent from heaven to be the Saviour of his people? The companions of this man knew this. What did they know?

i] They knew that Jesus was able to heal a man of leprosy! His skin had become a soft and unmarked as a newborn child. Jesus had been able to heal Peter’s mother-in-law of a fever. When the people from the community had brought to him people sick with various diseases Jesus had healed every one of them. “We cannot heal him, and he cannot heal himself, but Jesus Christ is able to heal him,” they said to one another. “So let’s carry him there.”

ii] More than that, they knew that Jesus was willing to heal men because they had been told of the leper who said to him, “If you are willing you can make me clean,” (Lk. 5:13) and Jesus had said to him, “I am willing. Be clean!” Though he was the Son of God he was ready to stretch out his hand and hold a leper and cleanse him. There was no superiority and disdain. “If we make our way to him his stern disciples won’t turn us back and bid us depart. He himself will give an audience to our friend. Jesus is willing.” What wonderful knowledge they had, that the Lord was able to heal and willing to heal their friend.

iii] But more than that, they knew where Jesus was. He was in Capernaum in his home. We know where Jesus Christ is today. He is in the midst of the throne of God. He is in heaven, all his sufferings in this world are over. He lives who once was dead. His body has been raised from the grave and glorified. He has conquered our last enemy death. It does not have the last word, and he has ascended to the place from whence he had come thirty years earlier. He is the delight of heaven, the theme of the praises of men and angels. We know that that is where Christ is. More than that, he is here, when we gather in his name, that is, to have dealings with him, to study his word, to celebrate his great redemption, to break bread and to baptise, to learn how we may love and serve him better – then he is here. Where there are two meeting in Christ’s name then there are three, and when there are three there are four. That is why we cannot stay away from the two services on Sunday, and the midweek meeting. What an honour to meet with Jesus Christ.

So these four men had knowledge that Jesus Christ was able to heal their friend, and willing to heal him, and they knew that he was in Capernaum . But there was something more than that, God had given them a strength which he had removed from their companion. God had discriminated in his sovereign grace, giving them the energy and determination to carry this helpless paralytic to the Lord Jesus. “The only difference between us and him is the grace of God,” they could have said. They determined to pick him up and bring him where Jesus was, and not give up half way. One of them might have said, “he aint heavy he’s my brother.” So they lifted up this helpless man and carried him all the way to Jesus, but when they arrived at our Lord’s street they saw they had a problem in completing their mission: “they could not find a way to do this because of the crowd” (v.19). The street was full of the overflow crowd. People had come there from everywhere, some hostile and cynical, others curious, others wanting Jesus to explain the meaning of life, how they could be saved, who God is and how they could be certain of going to heaven. He was sitting in this little house and it was packed with listeners, and so was the passage, the doorway, the windows and the street outside. No one would give way. They were craning their ears to hear him, and all they would say to the four men carrying the paralysed man was, “Back off! Hush!”

But these men knew that Jesus was both able and willing to save their friend, and they were determined to bring him to the Lord. So they used every bit of ingenuity and initiative that creatures made in the image of God, driven by love for their friends, are able to show. They couldn’t tunnel their way to Jesus; the only way into the presence of Christ was from above. They somehow got onto the roof carrying this sick man, and Luke tells us that they proceeded to remove enough of the tiles to make a large enough hole to let him through and lower him “into the middle of the crowd, right in front of Jesus” (v.19). Mission accomplished! He was in the presence of Christ.

These men who came to the Lord certainly had faith in Christ, didn’t they, even to make a hole in a stranger’s roof to bring a helpless paralytic to Jesus to be healed? God tells us about their faith in the twentieth verse. The men looked down at Jesus through the hole they had made and it was with the greatest expectancy. They were going to see their friend transformed. They were not going to carry him back. They would all walk and run and jump and dance all the way back home. It was a faith that the paralytic shared in to this extent, that he could have flatly said, “No way! You are not taking me to that fake!” He didn’t. He too had heard the stories, maybe even meeting other healed people. He was told why they were taking his pain-wrecked body on this believing enterprise and he acceded to the whole plan.

How important is their faith? It is all important. Without faith it is impossible to please God. Without faith they wouldn’t have considered the long journey, their keeping up their sick friend’s hopes, their unroofing a section of the roof, their lowering of him down before Jesus Christ. They wouldn’t have had the stubborn determination to bring their friend to him through all those obstacles. Faith is a connecting grace; it joins us to Jesus Christ. We believe right into him, in and in and into him. Faith is knowing that Jesus is able and willing to save, and our lives showing we believe this by our actions. Faith says that Jesus Christ is God and worships him. Faith without such works is dead. Faith works through love. It is faith that obtains promises and achieves righteousness. Such faith can subdue kingdoms and men’s power structures. Paralysis and helplessness and distance and crowds are all overcome by the Jesus we trust in.

So one lesson this passage is teaching us is to come where Christ promises to be, to bring our friends to the Christ who reigns in heaven’s glory. Invite them to the services here because we know that the Son of God is always here. Don’t let their first refusals put you off. Many of you have read my biography of Ernest Reisinger and you will remember that 52 times in that first year after they had met as workmates Elmer Albright invited Ernie to come to church, and 52 times Ernie had an excuse and declined the invitation. Then finally at the 53rd time he came, but then he didn’t return for weeks. Finally he came back, and he never missed a Sunday service for the rest of his life. You understand that all through those 52 weeks Wilmer was bringing Ernie to Jesus Christ at the throne of grace? His wife said to Ernie when he finally met her, “So you are Ernie Reisinger. My husband would often come home in the evenings and though I had his dinner ready he would go straight to the bedroom and I would go down the passage and listen outside his door and I would hear him praying for this ‘Ernie’ and I would pray that you would either move, or get converted.” We bring everyone to the feet of Jesus. So we have looked at the need of this man and the faith of his companions.

3. THE GRACE OF JESUS CHRIST.

So what was the response of the Lord Christ? It was threefold:

i] The Lord made a declaration . “When Jesus saw their faith, he said, ‘Friend, your sins are forgiven.’” (v.20). He looked at the four faces peering down from the hole in the roof and the expectancy of the paralytic looking up, and the Lord understood the energy and belief evidenced in bringing this man to him. Then Christ was able to say to him, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.” Isn’t that an unexpected word? Maybe you think that this is a disappointing word. Many would expect Jesus to look up and say, “Well done boys. You have done your part and now I will do mine,” and heal him pronto. 50% man and 50% God. That is the way many think new life comes to men, that God waits for us to act and when we have then he can do something. But the Lord Jesus puts the whole dynamics of this situation at a new level. This man is sick, and he needs to be healed, but that is not his primary need. Even if he gets healed then one day in the future he will contract another illness and on that occasion he will die. This man’s greatest need was not deliverance from paralysis; it was eternal life. Your greatest need too is the life of heaven in your soul. Think of the most memorable words in the Bible: “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life” (Jn. 3:16). We are going to die. Is there life beyond the grave? If a man die shall he live? The answer of the Bible is in deed and word. Jesus rose from the dead on the third day. Lazarus is raised from his sepulchre. The widow of Nain’s son is delivered from the cart taking this boy to the cemetery. Jairus’ daughter is raised from her deathbed.

If I am to live as long as God himself then my first need is forgiveness for my sins, that I may face eternity pardoned by God, reconciled to God, washed and cleansed for ever. That is far more important than living a long life, or being healed and healthy. Can my sins be forgiven? Is there mercy with God? How can he be just and straight, a God who hates sin, and yet cover all the guilt of mankind? How can he shrug his shoulders at terrible wickedness? How can he be just and yet the justifier of sinners? That is the greatest question in the Bible. Its answer is ‘at great eternal and divine cost.’ The sending of God the Son into the world. The incarnation in Mary’s womb. The humiliation of the Lord of glory. The bloody agony of Gethsemane . The laceration of the scourging. The nails through hands and feet, and the darkness and anathema of Golgotha is the price paid by God. The coldness of the tomb where Jesus’ body lies is the cost. Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! That is what the Lord Christ was sure of as he said to this man, “Your sins are forgiven.”

Have you known this? Do you have the inner witness of the Spirit to your own soul that though your sins have been many and are like scarlet, Jesus Christ, because he loves you, has taken all your guilt and shame and borne it in his body on the cross, so that your sins are forgiven, all your sins, your past sins, your present sins, your future sins, your worst sins, those concerning which you are still most tender: that sin of which you are tempted to think, “but not that sin”? Yes that sin. All your sins without exception, forgiven when you go in faith to the feet of Jesus. No one has ever been to that place and gone away guilty. I met the son of a converted Jew in South Africa whose name is Roland Eskinasi. His father was a Jew working in Egypt who was forced to leave Cairo with many other Jews during the Suez crisis in 1956. He went to live in what is now called Zimbabwe where some Pentecostal Christians spoke to him and he became a new person in Christ. He had a sign printed which always stood on his desk for everyone entering his office to read: “Jesus Never Fails a Repentant Heart.” Roland his son always noticed that sign, though it was many years before he experienced its power in his life.

The words of Jesus are saying that your greatest need is not deliverance from drugs and drink. Your greatest need is not a husband or wife. Your greatest need is not for a job. Your greatest need is for forgiveness of your sins, and that can be found in this living One who said to this helpless man, “Your sins are forgiven.” Come to Christ and find that mercy today. Do nothing else until you are sure that you have received it.

ii] The Lord asked a question . We are told that sitting in Jesus’ house were some teachers of the law. They weren’t sweating and weary having carried a man some miles to meet with Jesus. They weren’t covered with dust having opened up the roof. They were sitting there watching everything instead of directing the crowds and helping needy people come to Christ. They were not enjoying being in the presence of Jesus. They were there waiting for him to make a mistake. They were the critics, the opposition, the people who knew all about religion. They had not come there in their need. They came as self-appointed judges.

When they heard Jesus say to this man that his sins had been forgiven they immediately saw the red warning lights flashing: “Who is this who speaks blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (v.21). The question was sensible. You recently robbed a bank and killed a security guard and then came and confessed it to me. I cannot say “I forgive you that sin. Go in peace.” I have no authority to say that. You took a man’s wife and you confess it to me. I cannot tell you that I forgive you the sin. I have no authority to do that. But if you steal my car or spread malicious stories about me than I can forgive you because you have sinned against me. God alone can forgive sins.

Christ knew what they were thinking. He knows our thoughts this morning, all the niggles and resentment, the bitterness and grudges, the criticisms. “Jesus knew what they were thinking” (v.22). So he turned to them and he asked them two questions, “Why are you thinking these things in your hearts? Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’” (v.23). The first question probed their motives for having a questioning spirit. Why do we come where Jesus is and disapprove of what he says? What does that say about our inner condition? The first question confronted their consciences.

The second question addressed their minds. Is it easier to talk about forgiveness or to talk about raising this paralysed man? The answer of course is that it is easier to talk about religion and forgiveness and mercy than to talk about actions which can be checked immediately. I once went to our late Member of Parliament to explain to him my concerns about abortion. Did he reply to me, “I agree. I shall go to the House of Commons on Monday and raise a private members’ bill to change the law, and I will make a speech about it this week to show where I stand”? No he didn’t. He said this to me, “We believe in a caring society.” What did he toss me? A cliché. It was as an attempt to fob me off. What is easier? To talk about ‘a caring society’? Or to say, “I shall be doing something in the Houses of Parliament on Wednesday”? Of course it is easier to silence with vague words. Talk is cheap. Religious people talk all the time, and people are so used to it that they think it’s God’s job to forgive us our sins however we live.

Of course it was easier for Jesus to say the words, “Your sins are forgiven.” There was no possibility of an operation on this paralytic’s soul by which we could extract it and see that it was ransomed, clean, forgiven, and then replace it. There is no religious scanner extant that can show that any man’s sins have been forgiven, or not. I can make a promise to you that if you trust in Jesus Christ alone and ask him to become your personal Lord and Saviour then he will do something wonderful to you, he will forgive you your sins. Though they be red like crimson they shall be whiter than snow. I can assure you of that, but all I have are words to tell you these things, but I believe that the Holy Spirit accompanies our words and that he applies them to the hearts of favoured men and women so that they know these things are true. But I have no other proof to the rest of you that this is so except that Truth Incarnate assures us in the Bible that it is the case.

Some of you say, “Words. Words. I have heard them all before. Only words. How do I know that they are true? How can anyone know?” See here how the Lord Jesus acknowledges that it is easier even for him to talk about the forgiveness of sins. But now there is one more thing he will say.

iii] The Lord gave a command . “But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins . . . he said to the paralyzed man, ‘I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.’” (v.24). This was the moment of truth wasn’t it? We can all talk the talk, but do we walk the walk? Will this man walk? Is it all ‘talk’ with Jesus? The eyes of all were now fixed on the man lying helplessly there. What happened next? “Immediately he stood up in front of them, took what he had been lying on and went home praising God” (vv.12). It took their breath away. They gave praise to God. Men don’t worship God when they see a conjurer do his tricks. They laugh and applaud and ask one another “How does he do that?” No one laughed or applauded that day in Capernaum . “They were filled with awe and said, ‘We have seen remarkable things today’” (v.26).

The miracles of Jesus Christ were all signs that attested to his divine authority and truthfulness. I told you that this incident actually happened. This man was paralysed. These men brought him to Jesus and opened the roof to get him right under his nose. Christ assured him that his sins were forgiven, and then showed that these weren’t mere words by raising him up, transforming him, giving him his health, loosing his limbs and sending him home a new man. The people there didn’t think it was a trick. They said soberly, “We’ve seen remarkable things today.” They praised God.

I told you that there was a line from this man to you. There is only one man in the whole world who could do this. There was not a group of healers in Israel and Jesus was the best. There was no other healer in all Israel , nor in all the Mediterranean basin, not in Europe, Asia, Africa or the Americas who could do what Christ did. There is still nobody else. Nobody else preached the Sermon on the Mount. Nobody else claimed “I and my Father are one.” Nobody else walked on water. Nobody else raised the dead. Nobody else is offering you forgiveness of your sins today. You can search the religions of the world throughout the centuries. Only in Christ is personal mercy for personal sins to be found. Don’t let delusions keep you from coming to Christ – that there are other Saviours and other ways to God available in other places. Don’t let such thoughts hinder you. There is just one name, and just one who offers forgiveness. That is this Christ who healed this man and who has healed most of us here from the sickness of sin, and he can heal you all. Cry mightily to him that he will do so, and continue until you are assured that he has answered you.

13 April 2008 GEOFF THOMAS