One day He was teaching; and there were some Pharisees and teachers of the law sitting there, who had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem; and the power of the Lord was present for Him to perform healing. And some men were carrying on a bed a man who was paralyzed; and they were trying to bring him in and to set him down in front of Him. But not finding any way to bring him in because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down through the tiles with his stretcher, into the middle of the crowd, in front of Jesus. Seeing their faith, He said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven you.” (Luke 5:17-20 NASB)
The power of the Lord was present for Him to perform healing. This is a difficult thing to render in English from Greek because of some Greek grammatical constructions that make little sense in English. Greek can use infinitives in much more creative ways than we can. We have to create the sense of what they mean in English without the grammatical constructions. So the meaning isn’t lost in English, it just sounds really weird.
And why is the scene set with both religious teachers and the power of the Lord to heal? Luke is doing something by setting the scene in this way clearly stating both things present, but I can’t figure out what. The setting is set, and the actors, the friends carrying a paralyzed man on a stretcher, appear. They can’t get in because of the crowd, so they dig through the roof and lower him down in front of Jesus. Jesus, seeing the faith of all them, forgives the paralyzed man. How is that ‘healing’?
How Is Forgiveness Healing?
The power of the Lord is present to heal, and Jesus responds to the faith of these men with forgiveness. It just sounds wrong, or at least dramatically deviates from what I would expect. With the leper previously, Jesus heals. He touches first, but He heals. And yes, Jesus will heal here too, but he begins with forgiveness. It’s as if the healing is an afterthought. And yet could that be why Luke sets the scene as he does, to allude to Jesus’ purpose all along?
I suppose that, like the touch and the declaration of His desire for the leper, the forgiveness of the paralyzed man does heal, just deeper into the soul than the physical healing of his body. In this way, the real depth of the problem of the paralyzed man is his need for forgiveness, not to be able to walk or move or whatever. But then this opens up a new question for me. What does it mean to forgive? What sins had this man be able to commit paralyzed? On that note, what does sin mean?
What Is Sin, What Is Forgiveness?
I believe, and I think Scripture supports this throughout, that sin is anything that God doesn’t like or want. Sin is simply actions or decisions made contrary to His purpose, design, or command. The truth is that I find places in Scripture where sin, or lack of sin (i.e. obedience) seems to have little to do with ‘morality’ or what we would call ethics. God doesn’t want us to be moral, He instead wants us dependent upon Him for our moral decisions, our sense of right and wrong. It’s what we lost in the Garden of Eden. We promptly replaced it with shame, and I freely admit, I’m not a fan of the trade.
With such a definition of sin, forgiveness of sin truly would lie entirely with God (so the religious teachers would be right). And the ‘wages’ of sin is separation from God (which is how I define death). Therefore the solution any of sin has to include a way to bring God and the ‘sinner’ back together. So, does reuniting God and a sinner ‘heal’ the person? If separation from God is the root of many of life’s problems (again, I think Scripture supports this), then in a sense the reunion does heal something in a person. It just doesn’t have the drama of a paralyzed man getting up and walking away with his stretcher.
An Offer of Healing Rebuffed
Like the healing of the leper, healing is offered, but in Jesus’ declaration of forgiven sins, the offer of healing is being made to the religious teachers. The reason I think they are so prominently listed at the front of this account is tied to two things in the previous account. First, Jesus wants to reach them with His good news of the Kingdom of God. Which is why Jesus tells the former leper to go show himself to the priests and make the offering listed in the law of Moses. Second, as Jesus utters a passive command to be healed, here Jesus declares what only God can, forgiveness. The offer of healing to the religious leaders is to grasp what only they in the room are poised to grasp; that Jesus is in fact God in the flesh. He makes the impossible declaration, then heals to seal the ramifications in their mind.
But sadly, this offer of healing made to the religious leaders is not accepted, at least we’re not told any of them accepted it. Only John refers to Nicodemus as one exception to this. All the rest seem to have rejected this offer of healing. But the offer is not rejected by the paralyzed man. What ever caused his paralysis, he never seems to balk at the forgiveness part. I wonder if, as Jesus said that he was forgiven, the man finally relaxed; mentally and emotionally. He still couldn’t move, but he stopped fighting it, agonizing over his paralysis. Of course, I’m not sure what he could have done paralyzed to indicate his acceptance of the forgiveness (maybe smiled?), and Luke doesn’t give us any clues. I’m guessing that the point for Luke lies with the challenge to the religious teachers more than with the effect of forgiveness on the paralyzed man.
Expanding the Purpose of The Power of God
The religious teachers were present, the power of the Lord to heal was present, queue the guys with the stretcher. And Jesus forgives, challenges the teachers, then heals the paralyzed man (not a passive command this time). The power of the Lord was present with the purpose of healing, but Jesus says, “So that you might know that the Son of Man has the authority to forgive sins…” and then He heals. Jesus’ purpose in healing is to demonstrate authority to forgive. The power’s purpose in being present was to heal. So Jesus used the power of the Lord for its purpose, but also for His own. Okay, yes, He is the Lord, and so the purposes would be the same, but still, you see my point. Luke states one thing up front, and I believe he does so to illustrate Jesus’ use of the power God provides, even provided with a purpose. He can heal the paralyzed man, and reach these religious teachers for the kingdom at the same time. So, He heals, but first He forgives.
I suppose the multi-layered point I’m making here is that I believe that God’s intent in empowering His people has some latitude. If we seek first the Kingdom of God, then He provides all our needs, but I believe He also provides “power tools” to use to further His Kingdom. And I think there may be times, when the power of the Lord is present for a purpose, when we are to use this power much like a tool. It has a purpose, and we are to use it for its purpose, but we can also include Kingdom Work in that purpose, widening the result. Of course, this would be conditioned on having a Kingdom focus.
So, my point is multi-layered. But so, I think is this account. I think Luke stacks it deeper than a Dagwood Sandwich. I think he placed the account of the Leper alongside this account with an intent. I think Luke set the stage as he did to make a point. I think Jesus’ forgiving and healing of the man would have meant the same on the surface if Luke had left out the part about the power of the Lord present to heal. But I also believe it adds a layer of meaning to include it.
I know I am afraid of the Power of the Lord. You may not be, but when I read how prophets like Elijah and Elisha went so much wider with their use of God’s power than the description God gives, I cringe. I’m waiting in a sense for God to punish them for being so ‘creative’ in their use of His power. Yet He seems to reward it, to go with it, show up and is dramatic with it. All on their “creativity”, He responds to their creative interpretation and use of the power He gives them. And it’s not because they’re perfect and don’t make mistakes, even right after God shows up dramatically Elijah runs in fear from a terrified queen. Silly man, and yet endowed with the latitude to use God’s power creatively. Here Jesus uses God’s power for the intended purpose, but also creatively to make a point specific to a certain slice of His audience. Can I do that? I think I can but I’m sure I’m not comfortable even thinking of doing it.
What about you? Are you comfortable creatively using the power of God for the purpose He intends, but also creatively for His Kingdom? Do you already? Do you seek to reach people with the power of God wider than the intended purpose? If you do, please let me know your story. My faith seems to need more bolstering. If you don’t, come back periodically, someone may have left a story that will help you too. I know it happens, but I also know it doesn’t happen with me, and I suspect it’s because of my lack of faith, confidence in God, not just my lack of confidence in myself in His service.
What’s your view through the knothole? I wait with baited breath.