The times that Christ lived in were very different times from our own. There were no news cameras or newspapers. It wasn’t possible to take a picture with a cell phone and post it on the internet. In those days, news travelled mouth to mouth or through messengers that would run or ride on horseback to deliver important information. Yet the human race was still very much the same as we are now. They cared about the same kinds of things and spread the same kind of gossip. Sometimes that worked for the good. Sometimes it wasn’t helpful at all.
Jesus had performed an amazing miracle. He had healed a man with leprosy. Word about it spread far and wide. The popularity of Christ was growing. Even though His ministry was far in the north of Israel around the Sea of Galilee, people down south in Jerusalem were hearing more and more about Him. The priests were getting curious. Who was this Jesus who had been so bold in the Temple? What were these rumors of miraculous healings in Galilee all about?
A few days after Jesus healed the leper, He got into a boat and crossed the Sea of Galilee back to His own town of Capernaum. It didn’t take long for everyone to learn that He had come home.
The Pharisees and teachers of the law had come from all the villages of Galilee. But it was not only the local religious leaders that were there. Pharisees from Judea and Jerusalem had been sent as well. They wanted to check out this Man who presumed to preach the Kingdom of Heaven to the masses. They wanted to test His healing power to see if it was real. And if necessary, they planned to put a stop to His ministry if it didn’t fit their idea of what it should be. These men saw themselves as protectors of the faith. But would they try to protect the Jews from their own Messiah? Would they recognize Him now that He was finally here?
On the day of this story, Jesus was teaching in a home. So many people came to hear Him that the house was packed. People were crammed in every doorway, and there was no room for anyone else to come in.
As Jesus spoke, there came a noise from the roof. Some men had heard about Jesus’ remarkable healing power, and they thought He might be able to heal their friend. He was a paralytic, and it was painful to watch him struggle. How they wanted to see him walk again! What excellent friends.
The room was so full that they couldn’t get in through the door, but there was another way. The roofs of homes at that time in Israel were flat. They were made with tablets of clay. There was usually a staircase on the outside of the house leading up to it. These devoted friends carried their friend up to the roof of the house and began to move the clay tiles out of their way! They were going to lower their friend down to Jesus if they had to!
Imagine what is was like to be sitting in the room, listening to Jesus. Imagine hearing the footsteps of these men over your head, the clay tablets shifting and scrapping and lifting up, and the light streaming in! Now picture a mat lowering down from ropes right into the center of the room. Can you see it in your mind as the shriveled, paralyzed man on the mat came down to rest right at the feet of Jesus? What was Jesus going to do with this interruption?
He could have gotten mad at the interruption of His important message (for surely it was important.) He could have said, “Not now…not in front of these guys from Jerusalem. They want to take me down!” He could have ignored the man and kept on going, or refused to heal Him because it would be one more wearying exertion of His power.
Jesus was moved by the faith of these bold friends and this broken man. He turned to the one at His feet and said, “‘Take heart, son, your sins are forgiven.’”
Wow. The Lord had just wiped away every bad thing the man had ever done. He was totally clean in the eyes of God.
When the Pharisees and teachers of the law heard this, they knew exactly what He meant. They thought, “‘Who is this man who speaks blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?’”
That was a good question. It is true that only God has the right to forgive sins. If Jesus claimed to do so, He was claiming to be God himself! That was blasphemy! It was the worst sin someone could do. It offended the majesty and glory of God himself! Either Jesus was the worst of sinners, or He really was God! He didn’t leave room for any other explanation! These religious authorities were going to have to make some decisions. They either had to curse Him as a blasphemer, which was a sin worthy of death, or accept Him as Lord.
When the religious leaders heard Jesus claim to do something only God could do, they could have chosen to believe. The evidence was there. Stunning miracles seemed flow from every direction wherever He went. They could remembered their prophets who said this would happen when the Messiah came. They could have rejoiced at seeing people set free from their suffering. Instead, they stood there, accusing Jesus and raging against Him in their minds.
Jesus knew exactly what these Pharisees were thinking. The Spirit of the Lord was with Him, showing Him everything He needed to know. So He said to them, “‘Why are you thinking evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, and walk’? But in order that you may know that the Son of Man has Authority to forgive sins…’”
Then Jesus did something very bright and bold. He turned to the paralytic and said, “‘Rise, take up your bed, and go home’”*
The man did just as Jesus said. What faith it must have taken to rise up in front of all those people! But he did. His shriveled legs that had been useless were now strong and whole. He picked up his mat and walked right out of the room! Can you imagine his joy as he walked home with his friends? How many years had it been since he could take himself anywhere? The Lord Jesus had given this man strength that the terrible Curse had robbed him of, and now he could step out into a whole new life!
You would think that everyone who saw this amazing miracle would be out of their minds with excitement! You would think that it would convince even the hardest heart that this Jesus was truly from God. But the religious leaders were full of their own pride. They had their own ideas about what the Messiah should be like, and their hearts were not open to anything else.
What a tragedy to miss His glory! Think about what they were missing! The Maker of the earth was standing in the room with them, and all they could do was fester about their own small ideas about God! Would they continue in their deception? Would they ever have eyes to see?
The rest of the Jews in the room were not so hard hearted. They saw the beauty of what happened for the paralytic and they were filled with amazement and wonder. They began to give glory to God, praising Him and saying, “‘We have seen remarkable things today!’”
*quotes are from the NASV Matthew text