Faith, Forgiveness, Friendship and Five Guys
So here’s the picture: Jesus is teaching a room packed with people, and sitting in the front row is a delegation of religious stuffed shirts with their folded arms and scowling faces just waiting to catch Jesus in a theological misstep. You could feel the tension! If I were in Jesus’ position, I’d be praying for a quiet, uneventful service so as not to give these guys any ammunition. Let’s just sing a couple hymns, have a non-controversial bible study, and then call on Brother Bartholomew to close us with a prayer. And Lord, please, please, don’t let anything weird happen.
And that’s when it happens. They hear a commotion above them, and suddenly there’s a hole in the roof and four guys are lowering a paralytic down on a mat right in front of Jesus. Jesus looks up and he sees four faces looking down from a hole in the roof and Luke records, when Jesus saw their faith…Not his faith, their faith. They believe he will perform a miracle for their friend.
You’ve got tension emanating from the stuffed shirts, you’ve got the power of God to heal emanating from Jesus, and you’ve got this childlike faith coming from the paralyzed man’s four friends. But Jesus doesn’t do or say what we’d expect him to. We expect Jesus to say, “be healed” but instead he says “Man, your sins are forgiven you.” Why would Jesus say that? Didn’t Luke go out of his way to tell us the power of God to heal was in the room? Isn’t it obvious that these men want their friend to be able to walk again? After all, how much sin can a guy who needs to be carried everywhere by four men get into to? He’s not sinless, but his options for sin are pretty limited. Why would Jesus respond to their faith by saying your sins are forgiven you?
I think there are two reasons. First, Jesus knows he is answering this man’s deepest need and heart’s desire. Look at the tender way he addresses this man. The ESV translates Jesus calling him “man” but the Greek word is an endearing term closer to our word “friend”. Matthew’s account adds two important words. Jesus said, “Friend, take heart, your sins are forgiven”
Take heart. What was crushing this man’s heart wasn’t his paralysis, it was his sin. His heart is weighed down with guilt and sin and shame and he is as helpless to do anything about that as he is about his paralyzed limbs. In this sense, we are all that man. We might be able to lift our legs up and walk, but we can’t lift ourselves out of our own sin. We have no power to cleanse ourselves of guilt and shame. We have no power of our own to walk with God in this life or stand in His presence on the Day of Judgment. Paul says in Ephesians 2 that more than being paralyzed; we were dead in our transgressions. Dead means we couldn’t do even the smallest thing to lift ourselves out of our desperate state. Spiritually speaking, we were that man. There were no sweeter words that man could have heard, and no sweeter words that we can hear than, “friend, take heart, your sins are forgiven.” Jesus said it because it was what this man needed most to hear.