Power to Heal, Authority to Forgive
Passage: Luke 5:12–5:26
Jesus is good news for broken people. Jesus is the healer of the world’s brokenness.
What is the one thing that you think would make your whole life better? You think that if you just had that one thing, everything would change. Life would be easier. You could relax. You would be less stressed and anxious. Everything would be better.
Maybe you think, “If I just had a little more money, things would be easier.” Or, “If work wasn’t so difficult, I would be less stressed.” Maybe you have a health issue and you think if that would just go away, you’d be happy. Maybe it’s a relationship - with a spouse, with a child, with a family member, with a coworker. You think that if the other person would just do [blank], then you could relax and everything would be better.
Today we are continuing our sermon series in The Gospel According to Luke called “To Seek and To Save”. This series is going to give us an up-close picture of who Jesus is and what it means to be his disciple.
We will see two stories today that build on and complement one another. In them, Jesus encounters two people who have deep hurts and big needs. These two men each had one thing in mind that they thought would make their whole life better. If they had that one thing, everything would change. They both pursue Jesus with intensity, overcoming obstacles in their way of getting to him, because they believe Jesus can give them that one thing that will change everything. Both stories highlight Jesus’ power and authority. That’s what drives them to him: because of what they believe about him, what he is like, and what he is able to do.
Where do you take your deepest needs and greatest hurts? Who or what do you pursue in order to relieve them? Who or what do you rely upon? Who or what do you trust in? I often rely on myself. I try to relieve my deepest needs and greatest hurts on my own. I think I can figure it out. Or maybe I will look to food or Netflix to relieve them. I pursue a solution on my own or I pursue something in creation to give me the healing I desire. What do you pursue when you have deep needs and great hurts?
The Leper (5:12-16)
Verse 12 begins by connecting us back to Jesus’ mission statement in 4:43 where he said that he must preach the good news of the kingdom to the other towns as well besides Capernaum then he went preaching in the synagogues of Judea. Verse 12 locates us in one of those cities.
In one of these cities, a man full of leprosy came to him. Perhaps you don’t really know what leprosy is. The modern disease of leprosy was renamed to Hansen’s disease in 1873 after the last name of the scientist who discovered the bacteria that causes the disease. (It’s not one of my life goals to have a disease named after me: Mitch’s disease. Bleh.) Leprosy in Bible times didn’t refer specifically to modern-day leprosy, or Hansen’s disease. The Greek word for leprosy in the Bible could refer to a variety of skin diseases, not specifically to the leprosy we know today. There is disagreement about whether the word “leprosy” in the Bible includes what we call Hansen’s disease.
Even if this is the case, learning about Hansen’s disease can give us some insight into leprosy in Bible times. Hansen’s disease often shows itself on the skin, perhaps through bumps or other alterations. It eventually damages the nerves which leads to infections because people cannot feel when they have been cut or burned and this can lead to permanent damage or the body reabsorbing the limb. Hansen’s disease is easily curable through antibiotics but it is devastating when it goes untreated.
Hansen’s disease is difficult to catch from someone. It doesn’t spread by touching someone or sitting next to them. It spreads through air droplets but isn’t highly contagious like the flu. However most people won’t even become infected because 95% of adults have an immune system that is strong enough to fight off the bacteria. It seems that the leprosy of Bible times was possibly considered contagious because people infected had to isolate themselves. But the purpose may have also been more for religious reasons. A person with one of the various skin diseases labeled with the word “leprosy” were declared ritually “unclean” and unable to participate in the normal rhythms of society and religion. If someone touched a person with leprosy, they were considered unclean. The separation could have the dual purpose of teaching a spiritual lesson while also quarantining the person to protect others from infection.
Even though Hansen’s disease today is easily treatable, the CDC writes this about it: “Despite effective treatment, leprosy is one of the world’s most stigmatized diseases, and people living with leprosy-related disabilities in many countries are shunned, denied basic human rights, and discriminated against. The stigma of leprosy affects the physical, psychological, social, and economic well-being of those with leprosy, contributing to the cycle of poverty in the affected regions” (https://www.cdc.gov/leprosy/world-leprosy-day/index.html). Modern leprosy has this in common with the leprosy of the Bible times. To have one of these various skin diseases was devastating because it meant you were separated from your family, society, and religion and that you couldn’t work but were dependent on charity. Living with a constant physical ailment is difficult enough but you would also live with the stigma and isolation of his sickness.
This makes this man’s appearance in the city with everyone else surprising. But it also shows his faith in Jesus to meet his desperate need. He risks going into public because he believes Jesus can help him. When he saw Jesus, he fell on his face and begged him, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” The man knows Jesus can make him clean, the question is whether Jesus desires to.
Jesus responds by doing the unthinkable: he stretches out his hand and touches him. Jesus is not disgusted. Jesus is not repelled. Jesus is not afraid of becoming contaminated and infected or becoming unclean himself. Jesus touches the man and says, “I will; be clean.” Jesus is not contaminated by touching this person with leprosy; instead he removes the leprosy from the person. Instead of the man’s skin disease transferring to Jesus, Jesus transfers cleanness to the man. In this act, Jesus changed this man’s life. He is not only released from this disease and restored to health, but now he can be restored to his family, to society, to religious life, to work.
Then Jesus charges him to tell no one. Instead, Jesus says “go and show yourself to the priest, and make an offering for your cleansing, as Moses commanded, for a proof to them.” This is what the Law required for someone to be declared “clean”. Priests did not make someone clean but inspected and pronounced “clean” if the person was so. This was the process for reentering society. Jesus wants him to go through the proper channels. Jesus both breaks the law by touching someone who is unclean and also upholds the law by telling the man to complete the proper acts required by the law to be pronounced clean.
Despite telling the man to be silent, Jesus’ fame continued to spread and great crowds gathered to both hear him and be healed of whatever illnesses they had. In contrast, however, Jesus would withdraw to desolate places to pray. This is the third time Jesus has withdrawn to the wilderness. The first was right after his baptism when he was tempted by Satan. The second was after a day of teaching and healing in Capernaum. Jesus’ pattern was to engage in ministry then withdraw. This was the source of Jesus’ strength. As his followers today, we cannot expect to engage in the ministry of Jesus if we don’t have the priorities of Jesus. Jesus had a priority of being alone with the Father.
The Paralytic (5:17-26)
On another day, Jesus was teaching in someone’s house. At this teaching session, Pharisees and teachers of the law were present who had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem. In other words, they’ve traveled from all over. The Pharisees and their scribes were a group whose concern was the kingdom of God. They desired for God to return to Israel and set up his kingdom on earth. They believed that this would happen when the nation kept God’s law. If people are faithful to God’s commands, God will set up his kingdom. His presence will return to the temple in Jerusalem. He will liberate them from their oppressors.
Because of this belief, they took God’s commands and laws very seriously and wanted to help the nation keep the law. They interpreted and applied the law to daily life so people could live it out and even created a “fence” of other traditions around the law to keep people from breaking it.
Since their concern was the teaching law so the kingdom of God would come, it makes sense that they would travel from all over Israel to check out this teacher and proclaimer of the kingdom of God who is gaining so much popularity. Luke intentionally tells us they were sitting while Jesus taught. In the synagogue, the person who was teaching would sit and here it may show them taking a position of authority to judge Jesus’ teaching.
Jesus is not only teaching, but the power of the Lord was also with him to heal. This sets up what will happen during the teaching session. A group of men carry a paralyzed man on a bed to the house but because of the crowd they aren’t able to enter. There would have been a set of stairs leading to the roof so they used those to go up to the roof and began removing the roof tiles made of dried mud slabs. After creating a hole big enough for the paralyzed man to fit through, they lowered him to Jesus.
What will Jesus do? They just interrupted his teaching. They made a hole in whoever’s house this is. Will he rebuke them for interrupting? Will he tell them to wait their turn? No, Verse 20 says:
20 And when he saw their faith, he said, “Man, your sins are forgiven you.” (Luke 5:20)
Jesus saw their faith, the faith of both the paralyzed man and his friends. We aren’t even told that they said anything. Jesus can see their faith by their actions. He can see what they believe by what they do. They have not let anything stop them in getting to Jesus. What’s interesting is that Jesus’ first action is not to heal the man. Instead he says to him, “Man [or friend], your sins are forgiven you.” Did they carry this guy to Jesus just to be forgiven? Is that what they wanted? Is that what the paralyzed man wanted? Surely we can imagine he’d like to be able to walk again.
Our greatest need in life is not physical but spiritual. Jesus does not first restore his physical ability to walk but his spiritual ability to walk with God. It can make us ask: what is it we most want from Jesus? What do we pursue him for? Why do you go to him? What do you hope he will do for you? What do you think the best thing he has done for you is?
The Pharisees and scribes react to Jesus’ pronouncement that this man’s sins are forgiven: “Who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” In other words, “Who does this guy think he is? He doesn’t have the authority to forgive sins.” Jesus will pronounce forgiveness on someone again in chapter 7 and those present will react the same way. There was a prescribed way to be forgiven of your sins by God. You had to bring a sacrifice to the priest at the temple who had the authority to represent you before God, offer your sacrifice, and thus you could be forgiven. But here, Jesus is forgiving someone without the temple, without a sacrifice, and without a priest. He took upon himself the authority to pronounce forgiveness. Who does he think he is?
The charge of blasphemy is serious. If the conviction can be proved, you could be stoned according to the Old Testament law (Lev. 24:10–16, 23). Blasphemy is what Jesus is charged with by the assembly before his death (22:71). Blasphemy occurs when someone violates God’s majesty or his name. One instance is when someone claims for themselves an attribute or action that belongs only to God. It takes what rightfully belongs to the Creator and gives it to the creation.
It was God’s exclusive right or privilege to forgive and no one else’s. This is why Jesus’ actions are labeled as blasphemy. In the eyes of the Pharisees and scribes, Jesus does not have the authority to forgive. That authority belongs to God and the human agents he has delegated authority to are the priests who represent him. They are the ones who can pronounce forgiveness on earth.
Jesus perceives the thoughts of their heart and responds at the end of verse 22.
“Why do you question in your hearts? 23 Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? 24 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.” 25 And immediately he rose up before them and picked up what he had been lying on and went home, glorifying God. 26 And amazement seized them all, and they glorified God and were filled with awe, saying, “We have seen extraordinary things today.” (Luke 5:22b-26)
This man’s sins are against God and so God is the only one who can forgive him. For instance, I cannot forgive your sin against someone else. And God has set up a human representative on earth to facilitate forgiveness: priests. What gives Jesus the authority to forgive when he is not a priest, they are not in the temple, and a sacrifice hasn’t been offered? Jesus proves his authority
Jesus backs up his words with action. He knows it’s easy to tell someone “your sins are forgiven.” That’s easy. But does he have the authority to do so? In the eyes of the religious teachers, he doesn’t. So Jesus offers a proof. It’s not easy to make a paralyzed man walk again. So as Jesus talks to them, he turns to the man and tells him to rise, pick up his bed and go home. Immediately, he did so. These words of healing that accomplish what he says are meant to prove that his words of healing accomplish what he says, namely the forgiveness of sins. He really is forgiven by Jesus’ words just like he really is healed by Jesus’ words.
Now, what about this phrase “son of man”? Why does Jesus say, “But that you may know that the son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins”? Jesus uses “son of man” to refer to himself here and this is actually his favorite way of talking about himself. He doesn’t say, “that you may know that the Messiah or Christ has authority on earth to forgive sins.”
The phrase son of man can simply mean “son of a human”, like “son of a plumber”. In the book of Ezekiel, God addresses Ezekiel saying “son of man” to emphasize his humanness. So Jesus could just be saying, “that you may know a human or this human has authority on earth to forgive sins.”
But “son of man” is also a phrase used in the book of Daniel, chapter 7. There Daniel sees a vision of God whom he calls the Ancient of Days. Verses 13 and 14 say this:
and behold, with the clouds of heaven
there came one like a son of man,
and he came to the Ancient of Days
and was presented before him.
14 And to him was given dominion
and glory and a kingdom,
that all peoples, nations, and languages
should serve him;
his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
which shall not pass away,
and his kingdom one
that shall not be destroyed. (Daniel 7:13-14)
So this one “like a son of man” comes into God’s presence and is granted kingship and a kingdom. He is given dominion, glory, and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him. And he will have an everlasting kingdom that will not be destroyed. Is this sounding familiar? This is how the New Testament talks about Jesus. He is the king of an everlasting kingdom that will never be destroyed. All authority on heaven and earth have been given to him. We are to make disciples of all nations. People from every tribe, tongue, and nation will worship him around his throne. Later in this vision, it is also shown that this kingdom will come through suffering. The son of man and the people he represents will be opposed by other kingdoms.
But is Jesus really claiming to be this “son of man” figure from Daniel 7 who receives an everlasting kingdom from God? He could just be saying “so that you may know a human has authority on earth to forgive sins.” And here is why he uses this phrase to refer to himself instead of calling himself “Messiah”. [Illustration] Remember the game of Pictionary? When you are playing Pictionary, you can often guess what someone is drawing before they are done. People think they know what it will mean for someone to be the Messiah. People had boxes they thought the Messiah would fit into. They had boxes that they thought God would fit into when he returned to set up his kingdom on earth through the Messiah. So Jesus wants to keep his role as the Messiah somewhat hidden. He is redefining what it means for someone to be the Messiah according to the Scriptures. He wants to fill in the whole picture before they call him that. So calling himself “the son of man” allows him to fill in the picture himself. Is he claiming to be the son of man from Daniel 7? Is he just calling himself a human, a son of man like all of us are? But those with eyes to see and ears to hear, the eyes of faith, they see who he is. Eventually, they will see that Jesus is Israel’s God in the flesh offering forgiveness to his people. When Jesus is put on trial, he quotes from Daniel 7 that he will come on the clouds and be seated at the right hand of God, making clear he is this Son of Man figure. The religious leaders say Jesus has condemned himself with his own words.
We start to see here the different responses to Jesus. This controversy with the religious teachers about forgiveness is the first of five controversies in a row that Jesus will have with them. The prophet Simeon warned Jesus’ mother, Mary, that conflict would surround Jesus. He will expose what is in people. We already saw the first controversy in Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth when they wanted to throw him off a cliff and stone him. Here we see the first controversy with the religious teachers. Some come to Jesus with their desperate needs, like the leper and the paralytic. Some come to Jesus to evaluate and judge him, like the religious teachers. Like Simeon told Mary, some people will be lifted up because of him but others will fall.
So what about us? Who are you in this story? Are you falling at Jesus’ feet, bringing your desperate need to him as the only one who can meet it? Or are you sitting in judgment of Jesus, waiting for him to prove himself? Waiting to hear if he really is who he says he is?
Are you laying everything at his feet? Are you trusting in him as your only hope? Have you bowed yourself before him as the one with the power and authority to release you from what burdens you and to restore you to who you were made to be? Or are you standing back, keeping your distance, trying to decide if he can be trusted? Are you withholding from him?
Jesus is good news for broken people. Jesus is good news for people who are struggling, suffering, and who have sinned their way into a mess. Jesus is good news for people who are held captive, oppressed, pushed down and pushed out, who have realized they don’t have the resources to deal with their problems. Those people come and lay themselves at Jesus’ feet because they know he’s the only one who can set them free and liberate them. He’s the only one who can break the shackles and relieve the burden. Jesus is good news for people with problems - for people with sin, sickness, suffering, and selfishness. Jesus is the healer of the world’s brokenness.
But for those who think they are pretty well off. For those who think they are keeping all the rules. For those who think they can handle life on their own. For those who don’t see themselves as needy, as weak, as sinful. For those who think they have it together or who are still trying to convince themselves and other people that they have it all together. For those people, Jesus is more of an intrusion. He’s someone to assess. He’s someone who can be kept at arm’s length. He’s someone to evaluate and learn about.
For us, maybe Jesus is someone to read about. Maybe he’s someone to learn more about. Bible reading or a Sunday sermon is about information so we can know more. But surrendering to Jesus is not a matter of life or death; instead he’s someone to respect and learn about. He’s not there to heal us, to free us, to restore us, to forgive us. He did stuff long ago, but now we can just study him.
Which one are you? How desperately do you think you need Jesus? How desperately do you pursue him? For me, I can convince myself that I’m pretty well off. Christianity for me can become more about what I do than about what Jesus has done. I read Scripture. I avoid sin. I try to love people like God tells me to. I try to be a good husband, father, and pastor like God tells me to. Through what I do, God’s will is done and his purposes accomplished. And when I start thinking like that, I’m starting to sound a lot like those religious teachers. Instead, do I know, believe, and feel that I have a desperate need for Jesus?
Who or what do we think will release and restore us? Where do we take our needs, hurts, and brokenness, looking to that to release and restore us? We know something’s wrong. Where do we look to fix it? If only this would happen. If only I could do this.
These two men show us an example of prayer. They come to Jesus and ask him for something. I find this quote helpful about prayer. “Be sure to remember that nothing in your daily life is so insignificant and so inconsequential that the Lord will not help you by answering your prayer. Some day you may perhaps be looking for some keys that you have lost. You must have them, and you are in a hurry, and you cannot find them. Go trustingly to God and tell Him your predicament. Or, perhaps your little boy is out playing. You need him at once to run an errand for you. But you cannot take the time to look for him or to run the errand yourself. Tell it confidently to your Father in heaven...Do not forget, however, what we mentioned above, that prayer is ordained for the purpose of glorifying the name of God. Therefore, whether you pray for big things or for little things, say to God, ‘If it will glorify Thy name, then grant my prayer and help me. But if it will not glorify Thy name, then let me remain in my predicament. And give me power to glorify Thy name in the situation in which I find myself’” (Prayer by O’Hallesby, 131).
I imagine the words Jesus spoke to these two men were some of the most relieving, comforting, and life-changing words they’ve ever heard. Jesus speaks words to them that they longed to hear. “I will; be clean. Friend, your sins are forgiven. I say to you, rise, pick up your bed and go home.” This is Jesus’ good news for them and for the world: bring your needs to me, bring yourself to me.
How desperately do you think you need Jesus? Do you fall down at his feet in prayer? Do you fight to be in his presence at all costs? What we believe about ourselves and what we believe about Jesus will determine the intensity with which we pursue him. It will determine the amount of obstacles and the size of the obstacles we will overcome to be with him. Do we believe we have a desperate need? Do we believe Jesus is the one who can meet it?
His heart for us is release and restoration. Release from what holds us down and holds us back. Restoration to who God made us to be. Restoration to true humanity. Jesus makes us even more truly human. He releases us from what breaks us and restores what’s broken.
What do you need from Jesus? What do you think he will say in response? Notice, both of these men’s faith is expressed in clear action. Jesus can see their faith. What do you do that allows Jesus to see your faith?
Jesus’ heart for us is release and restoration. Sometimes when we bring something to him, he tells us there is greater blessing in the struggle. He tells us that this struggle is what will actually bring you true freedom. The pattern for transformation goes from death to life. Suffering then glory. The path to true freedom is the cross. It’s the path Jesus walked. It’s the path he calls us to. And God is clear that he is powerful enough to use suffering, hardship, challenges, and difficulty for our good. God, in love, will use the suffering of this world - physical, aspirational, relational, and so forth - to free us from the worst enslavers of all: sin and Satan. God brings new life from the ashes. We hope this world will be for us what only Jesus can be and do for us. Holding tightly to it. Placing a burden on creation it cannot bear and on ourselves. This world will never be heaven.
Miracles are not the disruption of nature. Sin, sickness, disease, and death are the disruption. They are what doesn’t belong. A miracle is not a suspending of the laws of nature but a restoration of our nature to what is supposed to be. Someone who believes in Jesus is a miracle. Someone who is healed is a miracle. Revelation 21:1-5a. What happens to these men is a taste of what his future kingdom will be like. Through his death, he makes it available to us. In the end, if we are in Christ, everything that is his becomes ours.
The focus of this passage is on who Jesus is, his power to heal and his authority to forgive. This has implications for evangelism. It starts with us. Do you believe Jesus is good news for your life? Do you believe he can handle whatever it is you have going on? Then it goes out to others. Do you believe Jesus is good news for another person’s life? Are you saying, “I have to get to him no matter the cost. I have to get others to him no matter the cost.”
If I’m honest, I don’t always believe that. I can believe I’m inconveniencing someone by talking to them about Jesus. I’m bothering them. This isn’t good news. If that’s the case, we need to go back and look at whether we believe Jesus is good news for us.