Jesus - The Miracles - Luke 5:17-25
The phrase 'Back to Basics' doesn't have a good ring to it - ever since a recent government took it as a slogan and then made a mess of applying those basics in the lives of its own members. That's unfortunate, because we all need to keep going back to basics if we're to keep doing anything well.
The most experienced golfer has to remember to keep his head still and over the ball as he takes his swing. The fastest driver cannot neglect keeping his hands on the wheel, looking in his mirror and using the gears properly.
The richest businessman mustn't forget that if he stops giving his customers what they want, he won't be in business for long.
There are certain basics, or essentials, or fundamentals to all walks of life. And it's the same in the Christian life. It's when we forget them, or think that we're somehow above them, or that we don't need them any more, that things start to go wrong and we come unstuck. The golfer can't hit the ball straight, the driver can't keep his car on the road, the businessman calls in the receivers. The Christian loses touch with Christ.
I am unashamedly taking us back to basics this evening.
Luke sets the scene for us. verse 17. Jesus is teaching, and he's surrounded by teachers. All the bigwigs from the diocese have come to hear the new curate, about whom they've heard so much. Not only is the vicar there, sitting in his stall, but also the archdeacon, a couple of professsors from the theological department of the university, even the bishop and the archbishop.
If that's not enough for tension, he tells us, And the power of the Lord was present for him to heal the sick. Something is going to happen - and it looks like it will be a healing. Jesus already has a reputation for that. And something does happen. There's a sermon more powerful, and more outrageous, than the religious watchdogs had bargained for. And there's a healing which amazes everyone. In the midst of it all, there's a lesson we mustn't ignore. Jesus drew it to their attention and Luke draws it to ours. So, I'm going to ask and answer three simple questions: What is the lesson? Who is it for? Why do they need it?
1. The lesson verse 24. What's the lesson? The son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins. How could we miss it? Quite easily, it seems. Did you notice the paragraph heading in the church Bibles? Jesus Heals a Paralytic. It's not wrong, is it? He does. It just isn't the main point.
It isn't even the point of the healing. Jesus tells us what that is. He heals the man to demonstrate his authority to forgive him.
He poses the question in verse 23: Which is easier to say, "Your sins are forgiven,", or to say, "Get up and walk"? The point is, you need to be God to do both. The power to heal and the authority to forgive come from the same place. The difference is one is visible and the other isn't. When a parlysed man walks everyone can see it. When an unforgiven man is forgiven his sins, who can see that it's happened? Can you look round this place tonight and tell me who has been forgiven and who hasn't? No, but you can tell me who can walk. So, Jesus does what can be seen to show that he has done what cannot be seen.
We must say a word in favour of the clergy in the story. They don't miss the point of what Jesus is saying. They don't like it one bit, but they understand it clearly. They've even grasped it before Jesus states it for everyone to hear. They know as soon as Jesus opens his mouth. The paralysed man arrives in the meeting room. It's not the most dignified entrance, coming through the roof, but it was very effective. It made sure he'd be noticed by Jesus - and by everyone else. So, here he is, lying at the feet of Jesus. Jesus is teaching. He has the power to heal. What's going to happen? Verse 20-21. The clergy see it straight away.
When we still lived in London, we came back from a day out to our second story flat - only to find our two-inch solid wood front door smashed through at the lock. It didn't require a genius to work out what had happened - we'd been burgled. As we looked round the flat, we found every drawer pulled out, every cupboard opened as the thieves looked for valuables. They'd done a very thorough job. They'd obviously had plenty of time. We started making a list of what was missing: a fountain pen, a pair of cuff-links. That was it. I don't know which is more insulting - to be burgled or to have so little taken.
Now, suppose I'd been telling this story to Matthew before the service, full of extra colour and my feelings about the matter. After hearing me out, he says, "It's all right Chris, you don't need to worry about it any more. You can forget it. You see, I've forgiven them." I'll leave you to imagine how you might reply to Matthew if you were in my shoes. I think I'd have said something like this: "What do you mean, you've forgiven them?
On whose authority? What right do you think you have to do that? Who do you think you are?"
That's just what the religious leaders are thinking: On whose authority do you forgive this man his sins? What right do you think you have to do that? Who do you think you are? They can see he's claiming the authority of God himself. Because only God can forgive sins. Because sins are offences against him.
Jesus is saying that he is the place to come for forgiveness. And he still is. That lesson was shocking and offensive then. It still is today. Jesus is no longer on earth, but it is to this same Jesus, the one who was on earth, the Jesus of the Gospels, to whom we must come for forgiveness. He is now in heaven, but it is to his throne of grace that we must come to receive mercy.
It is the Son of Man, Jesus, who has authority to forgive sins. Not the Pharisees. They prided themselves in staying clear of sin and sinners, but they couldn't forgive sins. Nor could the teachers of the law. They could teach you about the forgiveness of sins, but they couldn't do the forgiving. And nor can the religious leaders and teachers of today, however fine. The best we can do is to point you to Jesus, who can.
2. The audience Who, then, needs this lesson? At first it seems to be for the Pharisees and the teachers of the law. They are the ones Jesus is speaking to when he says that you may know that... And they need to know. Jesus is insisting that they made no mistake when they heard him forgive the paralysed man. And he's telling them that he made no mistake in doing it. He wants them to know that he has the authority.
These men have got a problem with Jesus. They have their framework, their set of beliefs, their worldview - just as we all have. Then along comes Jesus. He quite simply does not fit in. God alone can forgive sins. Here is a man on earth forgiving sins. They're forced to choose: will they adjust their framework to accommodate Jesus, or will they abandon Jesus to preserve their framework? The same choice faces us with Jesus. We can't just squeeze him into what we already know.
But Jesus' leson isn't just for the religious leaders, even if it is spoken to them. Isn't it also for the man himself? It assures him that his sins really are forgiven - as really forgiven as he is really walking a moment later. What a precious lesson it was for him!
And it doesn't finish with him. Jesus speaks in the hearing of the whole crowd. They need to know that here, in the Son of Man, is the forgiveness of sins. It's not with the Pharisees, or the teachers of the law, or the priests. It's always been God who forgives. Now, in Jesus the Son of Man, that God has come down to earth to bring his forgiveness.
But it doesn't even end there. This lesson is for us too. Come with me to the end of the Gospel to see what Jesus says after his resurrection: 24 v45-47. Here he's instructing his disciples on what has happened and what will happen when he returns to heaven. There'll be some preaching. What will be preached? repentance and forgiveness of sins. Where is that forgiveness to be found? in his name. Who is this message for? all nations. In chapter 5, Jesus said The son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins. In chapter 24, he won't be on earth much longer, but he still has the same authority. So he says forgiveness is in his name. What will a church look like if it has taken this lesson on board? Won't it be a church which is open to everyone - not just nice people, not just people like us, not just people with something to offer us. And not just open, but open to introduce people to the one who can forgive them. A church which keeps providing opportunities for people to hear that Jesus has this authority. A church which keeps removing obstacles - every time it finds that one person or another has been prevented from hearing that message.
3. The need Everyone needs this lesson. But why do they need it? Why do we need it? When you know you need a particular lesson, then you sit up straight and listen carefully. It's amazing how attentive the revision class becomes when they've done no work all year and the exams are looming! We've had a sick car this past week. It's been limping from place to place, only able to do the shortest journeys safely. When my mechanic took a look at it, and told me what had to be done, I was listening, very carefully.
What is our need? Why do we need this lesson, that Jesus has authority to forgive sins? It is simply that we are sinners in need of forgiveness. If we need forgiveness, we need to know where we can find it. I told you we were going back to basics tonight. And we need to, because we keep forgetting them.
Forgiveness wasn't the man's most obvious need when the crowd saw him. They could see he was captive to his paralysis and unable to walk. Jesus saw that, worse than that, he was captive to his sins and unable to please God. They could see that this man was an outcast from his family and from society. Jesus sould see that, while he remained unforgiven, he was an outcast from God and shut out from heaven. They could see that he needed to be healed. Jesus could see that he needed to be forgiven.
Some then jump to the conclusion that this man was paralysed because of his sins. He had sinned so badly that God had punished him with paralysis. Now, God may punish some sins like that in this life. But there is no evidence that he had in the case of the paralysed man. In fact the evidence is that there was no connection. Think about it. If the man was paralysed because of his sins, wouldn't you expect him to walk as soon as he's forgiven? One basic problem requires one miracle to solve it. But, no. Jesus forgives him, and he's still paraluysed. That's because he's got two problems, requiring two miracles: the miracle of forgiveness and the miracle of healing.
The healing is a separate miracle which illustrates the miracle of forgiveness. It's a picture, a visual aid of what it meant for him to be forgiven. He's released from his bondage, he's restored to his home, he's raised to lead a new life. If we're to be faithful to Jesus, we must see with his eyes - seeing that this man's, and everyone's, real need is the forgiveness of sins.
One man who saw people's real need clearly was Martin Lloyd-Jones. He trained as a doctor and was on the verge of a promising career in Harley Street. But he gave it up to become a preacher of the gospel. When he did so, people asked him why. He says, 'I felt like saying to them, "if you knew more about the work of a doctor you would understand. We but spend most of our time rendering people fit to go back to ther sin!".... I saw I was helping these men to sin and I decided that I would do no more of it. I want to heal souls.' [First 40 Years, p80].
Wouldn't you love to see the paralysed man interviewed on Parkinson, or another chat show? Parky asks him, "Tell us about that day in Capernaum. Looking back on it all, what do you make of it now?"
"How could I forget it? It was the best day of my life. To tell the truth, I wasn't that impressed when Jesus said, "Your sins are forgiven." Don't get me wrong, it was a lovely thing to say, but I mean, couldn't he see what I really needed? I couldn't walk. That's why I'd come to see him - and my friends had brought me. They didn't take the roof apart for nothing. I wanted to be healed. And I was, later. What power! With just a word it was done: I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home. And I did. I can't describe the feeling of carrying the mat that had carried me all those years. And soon I wasn't just walking, I was running. I was able to get married and have children. I led a full and happy life. All the more special because of the years I had lost. It was marvellous - while it lasted, forty years or so. But then my joints began to seize up, I was getting old and... well, eventually I died.
Now I know what I didn't fully appreciate then. What really mattered that day was that my sins were forgiven. That's the truly special thing Jesus did for me. In that instant, I was put right with God, the slate was wiped clean of all the filth that had been in my life, and I was given a new start with God. I began to live with him as my Father, to walk with him day by day. I've been doing that for almost 2000 years now and it only gets better. Not only do I now have a new body which doesn't ache or grow old or tire or get sick, but I know and love God and he knows and loves me.
If I was to live that special day again and was forced to make the choice, to walk or to be forgiven, there's no doubt what I'd choose. How can a few years walking followed by an eternity in hell be compared with a few years of pain but an eternity with God in heaven?
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