Jesus has shown His supremacy over temptation, over sickness and suffering (healing multitudes), over the powers of evil (casting out demons), and over nature (bringing boatloads of fish to fishermen). In this text, He shows His supremacy over the most feared disease of His time (leprosy) and – most impressively – over sin itself. Jesus has come into the world to conquer sin and all its ramifications and to give a foretaste of a kingdom where they don’t exist.
Jesus told the people of Capernaum that He had to go to other cities in Galilee and Judea to preach the kingdom of God (4:43). It is while He’s in one of those cities that He’s approached by a man full of leprosy (of the gospel writers that record this event, only Luke the physician describes him this way – apparently the man has an advanced condition, which likely means he has significant tissue damage and may be greatly disfigured). If Jesus is in the city proper, then the man violates the law by coming into the city and violates it again by approaching a non-leper. The man is obviously intent on getting to Jesus.
He approaches Jesus in humility and faith. He falls down before Him and expresses the certainty that Jesus can make him clean if He wants to. Apparently, the man is familiar with Jesus’ healing ministry and has faith that Jesus can heal him too. The leper parallels sinners that will come to Jesus in the future in response to the gospel. He has no hope apart from Jesus. He has a fatal condition that can’t be healed and that’s tearing his life apart. He’s excluded from meaningful relationships (as the sinner is excluded from God) and is utterly alone in his misery.
Jesus could heal him with a word, but instead reaches out His hand and touches the man. This is completely unheard of. To touch a leper not only makes someone ceremonially unclean, it also risks contagion. Jesus, however, is not just someone. By touching a man who likely hasn’t been touched in a very long time, He shows compassion (and repeats what He did at Peter’s house – 4:40 – see also Mk 1:40-41). And he isn’t defiled or infected by the touch because the man is instantly healed.
Jesus tells the ex-leper not to tell anyone (which perhaps means Jesus is either alone when this occurs or there are not many people around – although see Matt 8:1), just as He told the demons to stay quiet about His identity (4:41). Jesus isn’t a wonderworker trying to attract people looking for signs or hoping for an earthly Messiah. He wants to preach the kingdom of God and perform miracles that advance that message.
Jesus tells the healed leper to show himself to the priest as the law requires. This will allow him to publicly be declared clean and enable him to rejoin society (testimony to them).
Apparently, the man doesn’t listen to Jesus’ command because the news about Him spreads and the crowds who want to hear Him and benefit from His healing grow ever larger. He is now known throughout the land and people come from everywhere to be a part of it and have their diseases and conditions healed.
Even with His ministry growing and the demands on His time becoming greater, Jesus maintains His practice of getting away by Himself for times of prayer. The way Luke phrases it (and it’s interesting that he puts verses 15 and 16 together), it appears that as the demands on His time grow, His need for prayer grows too. Far from deciding that He has less time to pray, He makes MORE time for it as His responsibilities and influence expand.
Jesus shows that the excuse, “I don’t have time to pray” is never accurate and always foolish. As our life becomes more demanding and our responsibilities more onerous, we should spend MORE time in prayer, not less. If the SON OF GOD needed quiet times of concentrated prayer, what does that say about us??
Per Matthew (9:1), Jesus is in Capernaum when this event takes place. He’s teaching as He typically does, and a special audience shows up. Pharisees and teachers of the law from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem come to hear Him. For anyone other than the Son of God, this is an extremely intimidating group. It shows how much His fame has spread that He attracts religious leaders from all over the country.
Luke makes an interesting comment at the end of verse 17. He says …the power of the Lord was present for Him to perform healing. At first glance, this sounds like there are times when Jesus does not have this power but on this day He does. This is likely not Luke’s meaning. What he probably wants to highlight is that Jesus has the power to heal even with the religious leaders present. There’s nothing unique about this day as far as what Jesus can do, but the point is that this scene isn’t about the religious leaders; it’s about Jesus as the divine Messiah.
Jesus teaches in a house, and some men try to bring a paralyzed man on a stretcher to Him to be healed. They can’t get to Jesus because of the crowd (and they obviously need more room because of the stretcher) and so they climb up to the roof (very typical for houses to have outdoor stairs that allow people to go on the roof in the cool of the day) and remove roofing tiles (per Mark 2:4, they remove the roof and dig an opening, which may mean the ‘tiles’ are made of mud or that there’s more to dig through after removing the tiles – neither writer touches on what the homeowner’s response to this is) to make a hole. They then lower the man through the roof right in the center, in front of Jesus.
This is a fascinating scene, and of course all three gospel writers that record it say nothing about anyone’s reaction to a man suddenly being lowered through the roof. The people in the house surely hear the men removing the tiles before they see anything, and then once the stretcher appears it has to be an amazing sight. The man’s entrance brings everything to an immediate halt – including Jesus’ teaching – and all eyes are on him. For a paralytic who likely has almost no place in society, this is an incredible experience even if nothing else happens. And for everyone else, it changes everything about what’s taking place in the room.
The text says Jesus speaks to the man after seeing their faith (20). Note the plural adjective. He doesn’t just respond to the man on the stretcher; He responds to the faith of everyone involved. The ones who brought the man and went to so much trouble to get him to Jesus show amazing faith and confidence that Jesus can heal him. It’s their collective faith that causes Jesus to act. There’s a lesson here, isn’t there? Apparently, we can bring others to Christ and have Him address their issues based on our faith. This story should impact our intercessory prayer. We can pray in faith that Jesus will act and have confidence that He will. This is a reminder that we can always come to the throne of our Father alone, but we can bring others with us too.
Jesus responds to the faith of the men, but He doesn’t respond as we would expect. It’s glaringly obvious what the man is here for, so we assume Jesus will speak the words and the man will rise up and joyously begin to walk. That’s not what happens. Jesus looks at him, and – as if it’s the most natural thing to say at this point – says, “Friend, your sins are forgiven you.” This is shocker number two for the people in the room. First the man appears out of the ceiling, then Jesus pronounces his sins to be forgiven.
It’s interesting to contrast this scene with the healing of the leper. Jesus didn’t tell the leper his sins were forgiven before healing him. The reason He does so here is either because the man is paralyzed because of his sins (and the Jews typically believe sickness and disability are related to sin, so they likely assume this to be the case – see Jn 9:1-3), or Jesus wants to make clear that while paralysis is awful and obviously what this man wants to be delivered from, it’s not his biggest problem. The broken body is temporary; the soul is eternal, and forgiveness of sins is ultimately a much bigger issue than any disease or condition. [Which is why our Father always answers prayers for forgiveness but does not always answer prayers for physical healing.]
There may be a more subversive reason too, however. Who wasn’t there when Jesus healed the leper? Religious leaders. Here in the house with the paralytic, there is a whole audience of religious leaders from all over the country. It’s likely that Jesus publicly pronounces forgiveness for this man because He wants to provoke a standoff with the self-righteous men who watch His every move. They’re here to assess and judge His ministry; He makes sure they have plenty to talk about. He’s already healed multitudes by this point, and we haven’t seen Him publicly forgive anyone else’s sins until now. It can’t be coincidence that He does so just when it will cause the most controversy.
Sure enough, the Pharisees and teachers of the law are appalled at what Jesus says. Only God can forgive sins, and this man just took it upon himself to do so. They’re horrified and call Jesus a blasphemer, but it’s not clear if they actually speak this amongst themselves or just all have the same thought, because Jesus says to them, “Why are you reasoning in your hearts?” This has to sober them a bit. He responds to their THOUGHTS. You’d think this alone would cause them to think twice about condemning Him.
The question Jesus asks in verse 23 is hard to understand. He asks if it’s easier to tell someone their sins are forgiven or to tell them to rise and walk. We assume He doesn’t mean which words are physically easier to speak, but what He does mean is hard to know definitively. What He could mean is that it’s easier to tell someone his sins are forgiven because there’s no way to know if it actually happens, as opposed to telling him to walk and it being very obvious if the miracle occurs or not. Alternatively, He could mean the opposite; it’s easier to heal – as others have done (specifically in the Old Testament) and as the religious leaders know Jesus has done – than forgive sins because only God can forgive sins (and it’s worth noting that Jesus never disagrees with the religious leaders over their contention that only God can forgive sins).
Either way, He proves that He has the power to accomplish both by telling the man to rise, take up his stretcher, and go home. Immediately the man does just that. He stands up, picks up his stretcher, and goes home glorifying God. Note that the man fully appreciates who heals him. Unlike the scribes, he sees Jesus as wielding the power of God.
By healing the man, Jesus shows that He didn’t blaspheme when He forgave the man’s sins. If He blasphemed, would God give Him the power to heal? And note that He calls Himself the ‘Son of Man’ before telling the man to walk, so His identity is proved by the healing too. The miracle answers the Pharisees and has ramifications they now have to grapple with. If He’s able to heal, it means He really CAN forgive the man’s sins. If He can forgive sins, it means He really IS the Messiah (the Son of Man). They probably don’t allow themselves to reach this conclusion, but they likely leave the house worried and frightened (and perhaps enraged and vengeful).
It’s important to note what Jesus says right before telling the man to walk. He actually gives the reason for healing him in verse 24 – “But in order that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins…”. Notice what He DOESN’T say. He doesn’t say, “Out of compassion for this man and to give him his life back…” Jesus does have compassion on him, but the ultimate reasons for the man’s restoration are Jesus’ glory and proof of divinity. We can never forget that ultimately Jesus came for God’s glory and that God’s glory is at the heart of everything He accomplishes in the world. God created and redeemed to glorify Himself. The amazing truth, however, is that we always benefit when God seeks His own glory. Note that the paralyzed man doesn’t complain about Jesus’ motives for healing him. This world isn’t about us, and we should thank God every day that it’s not.
The crowd in the house responds to the miracle and Jesus’ words in three ways (Luke doesn’t clarify if the religious leaders are included in this response – we can probably assume they aren’t). The people are astonished, they’re frightened, and they glorify God. These are perfectly appropriate responses to what they just witnessed. They saw the power of God and the compassion of God wielded by the Son of God. They know whose presence they were just in, and they’re overwhelmed with awe and yet full of praise. This is the dichotomy of relationship for the believer. We have a loving and compassionate Savior who’s also the sovereign, omnipotent God of the universe. We can come boldly before His throne, but it IS a throne. We should never let our status as God’s children make us forget just who He is, but we should never let who He is make us forget that He’s our Father in heaven.
- Our Savior is compassionate and loving and wants to minister personally to each of us.
- Our Savior sets a clear example that prayer should be the highest priority of our time.
- Our Savior is the Son of Man – fully God and fully man.
- Our Savior glorified the Father on earth and as a result we can be redeemed.