(A) Introduction. (Read the passage.)

The passage, like the many other descriptions of healing in Luke's gospel, has much to teach about the Great Physician and his cure of sinners.

(B) The Critics.

Jesus had a critical audience. Amongst the crowd whom Jesus was teaching were experts giving him the once over. The Pharisees, a small, select group of about 6000, devoted themselves to keeping the Law and the numerous rules and regulations that had grown up around it. The experts in the law could be Pharisees, Sadducees or neither. They interpreted and applied the Law of Moses with all its elaborations, clarifications and additions. Both groups ended up going much further than God intended. For example, there were hundreds of definitions of work that could not be done on the Sabbath.

Some characteristics of Christ's critics; they were:

(1) Guardians of orthodoxy.

The Pharisees and Lawyers saw themselves as the conscience of the nation. They were determined to maintain standards and came down like a ton of bricks on anyone not keeping the Law and attendant rules and regulations. Jesus fell foul of them over his observance of the Sabbath and his failure to wash his hands before meals to ensure ceremonially cleanliness.

Now I am afraid that many different Christian groups have within them those determined to defend and protect a clearly defined doctrinal position. The present Pope, for example, used to head the department of the Roman Catholic Church responsible for upholding the distinctive doctrines of Catholicism. At the other end of the theological spectrum the Grace Baptist Association to which my fellowship belongs has within it militants anxious to expose and oppose any deviation by any individual or associated church from the Calvinistic Articles of Faith.

I think those of a Pharisaical tendency do well to remember the words of Jesus to his disciples who told a man to stop casting out devils in Jesus name because he was not one of them: "Do not stop him. No-one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us." Mk9v39to40.

(2) Judgemental

The Pharisees and Lawyers listened to Jesus to detect error. They waited for him to make a mistake in the hope of putting him right. So when Jesus said, "Friend, your sins are forgiven", they pounced. Their first reaction, like that of so many guardians of orthodoxy, was to mutter indignantly among themselves: "Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?" v21.

It is both inhibiting and unrewarding to preach to a judgemental congregation. Meanness of spirit is just like the first sharp frost of autumn that blights the last flowering plants of summer. Generosity of spirit on the other hand encourages talent to blossom and bear fruit.

(3) Blinkered.

It is quite true that only God can forgive sins but what the Pharisees failed to take into account was that if Jesus was Messiah God could have given him authority to do so. Many, although not all, the religious leaders never considered for a moment that Jesus was the LORD'S anointed. They were blinkered.

Christians who hold strong views tend to be blinkered. A Christian fundamentalist took our morning service not so long ago and said during the course of his sermon, "You can't preach the gospel if you do not accept that the book of Jonah is literally true." This is, of course, nonsense. The preacher let his view of the Bible blind him to the possibility that anyone who held a different opinion was capable of proclaiming the gospel. I think there are good reasons for believing that Jonah is a story written by a radical prophet who wanted to get across the unpalatable truth that God was concerned for Gentiles as well as Jews. The miracle is that it was ever included in the canon of the Old Testament. Now, I deny any reader of this web site to say that I do not proclaim the gospel.

(4) Cowardly

When Jesus challenged the religious experts by asking: "Which is easier: to say, 'Your sins are forgiven.' or to say, 'Get up and walk'?" they didn't reply. They were too cowardly to commit themselves.

I have argued with some of the pastors of the Grace Baptist Association over their insistence that only churches that can make a commitment to the Articles of Faith in their entirety should remain in the Association. I have asked these self-same pastors whether they exclude from church membership Christians in their congregation who are unable to make that commitment. Invariably the pastors refuse to answer my question.

(5) Obdurate

The Pharisees were unyielding. Even after Jesus had healed the paralytic most remained opposed to him. The raising of Lazarus, dead three days in the tomb, made no difference to his enemies. Indeed, they redoubled their efforts to do away with Jesus. There was no shifting them. Nothing demonstrated more conclusively Jesus' God given powers than the raising of Lazarus but the religious leaders, like Pharaoh of old, hardened their hearts.

Religious people can be the most obdurate on earth - there is no changing them. That is why there are 20,000 different Protestant groups all of whom think they are right. They obviously cannot all be right! But there is absolutely no hope of reconciliation because so few Christians are prepared to admit that they are wrong about anything.

(C) The Collaborators.

There are five things to notice about the collaborators:

(1) They were true friends.

I think the paralytic probably had four friends to carry his stretcher, get it onto the roof and then down through the roof to Jesus. It would have been rather hard for just two people to manage.

We are surely grateful to those who brought us to Jesus! I enjoyed reading in a recent issue of Evangelical Times how Dennis Hill brought his lonely, rather embittered, old grandfather to Jesus. Dennis talked to his grandpa John about Christ and the Bible. One day he read a leaflet to him that explained the gospel. When Dennis finished his grandfather prayed and asked Jesus to be his Saviour. He only lived another 3 months before being called home to glory. Surely grandpa John will be thankful through all eternity to his grandson for bringing him to Jesus.

I have a special relationship with the handful of people I have brought to Jesus. So did Paul - although in his case it was far, far more than a handful. One only has to read his epistle to the Philippians to see the immense pleasure Paul took in the fruits of his ministry.

(2) They had faith in Jesus.

The paralytic's friends believed that Jesus could heal him and give him a new life. They would hardly have carried the handicapped man to Jesus if they did not have faith in him.

Surely that should be the conviction of every Christian. However bad a man is, however deep seated his problems, however low he has sunk - Jesus can help.

In the incomparable words of Charles Wesley:

            He breaks the power of cancelled sin,
            He sets the prisoner free;
            His blood can make the foulest clean,
            His blood availed for me.

(3) They overcame difficulties.

It wasn't easy to get the paralytic to Jesus. They could not find a way to do this because of the crowd. v19. It was one thing for the cured man to walk out from Christ's presence with his stretcher; it was quite another for four men carrying a stretcher to find a way through the crush of people to Jesus. There was a barrier keeping the paralytic from Jesus.

Many Christians bring their loved ones to the Lord in prayer but something seems to hinder them from actually coming into the presence of Jesus. There are so many barriers - prejudice, inertia, apathy, fear and contentment with the Christless life.

(4) They were determined and resourceful.

The four friends devised a way of getting the paralytic to Jesus. It was unorthodox and required initiative and nerve. The helpless invalid had to be hauled up onto the flattish roof of the house - possibly Peter's Capernaum abode. Then the friends dismantled the roof and let the paralytic down into the Saviour's presence. Luke, writing for a Gentile audience, indicates it was a tiled roof. Mark, on the other hand, writes about digging into the roof. It is likely that Mark's account is the more accurate. The roof was probably a simple construction - twiggy branches thrown across parallel beams covered with turfs. A space between the beams could be made by removing a few turfs and pulling aside the twiggy branches. It wouldn't require too much work to repair the roof afterwards! (This always worried me as a boy!)

Christians have shown resourcefulness in bringing sinners to Jesus. They have used a great variety of methods - young people's camps, holiday clubs, films, popular literature, friendship groups, the Alpha Course, open air preaching, medical and many others sorts of aid. It is to the credit of Christians that through their efforts the church has never stopped growing.

(5) They were acknowledged.

Luke records: When Jesus saw their faith .... . The faith of the paralytic's friends did contribute to his healing. Jesus honoured the faith of the stretcher-bearers. I am sure that Jesus and his Spirit still honour the faith of those seeking to bring others to Jesus. My little church saw men and women converted when we organised holiday clubs for children. These drew parents into the church and some became Christians. It is only when we have sufficient faith to take the initiative that men and women are brought to Jesus.

(D) The Condition.

The condition of the paralytic was:

(1) Helpless.

The paralytic could not change the way he was. This has been the experience of many sinners through the years. It was the experience of John Bunyan after he had been profoundly moved by the testimony of three poor women in Bedford High Street. For a year he set himself to live by the Ten Commandments and greatly impressed his neighbours who were much pleased with the change in him. However, inwardly he was conscious that he did not deserve their esteem and commendations; for he writes, had I then died, my state had been most fearful.

(2) Restricted.

A paralysed man is restricted to his mat. He has very little freedom. One of the sad things about growing old and becoming immobile is the loss of freedom that this entails.

Many people feel trapped - imprisoned by the way that they have become. Charles Wesley aptly described the condition:

            Long my imprisoned spirit lay
            Fast bound in sin and nature's night;

Some are bound by addictions - to sex, drink, drugs, gambling, violence, food, TV or computer games. Others are paralysed by superstition and fear. Kim Fraser, a Buddhist nurse from Malaysia, describes in her testimony in Evangelical Times, (December: 2007) how even after her conversion she had to deal with superstition. She hung on to a Buddhist charm that she wore, and was never without, to ward off evil spirits. It was only after she burned it before Christian friends that she knew real peace.

People can also be inhibited by low self-esteem and feelings of worthlessness. I discovered as a schoolteacher that a pupil's low opinion of self was chronically disabling.

(3) Inactive.

A paralytic is not able to exercise. There is no possibility of going for a run or a brisk walk. Strenuous activity floods the body with endorphins and greatly increases our sense of well being. If ever I spend the day sitting about I feel the worse for it.

There are sluggish, lethargic folk who never discover the satisfaction and spiritual benefits of doing good works. Listless, dispirited individuals never experience the benefits of Christian service. There is nothing better for spiritual health and strength than being useful in some small way to God.

(4) Dependent.

The paralytic was dependent upon others to do everything for him. Modern paralytics are very reliant on external stimuli for their well being - success at work, fulfilling ambition, the accumulation of possessions, leisure, recreation and entertainment. Take these away and suddenly life is empty and not worth living. One afternoon whilst I was in a traffic hold up on the A14 I got talking with an elderly man who was in the car delivery business. He worked in the stores of a local agricultural engineer until retirement. The man tried retirement for 12 months - then he had to go back to work because he was at such a loose end and felt so wretched.

(5) Guilt ridden.

The paralytic thought his condition was due to sin; it was God's punishment for sins he had committed. This is very, very unlikely! Paralysis has natural causes quite removed from personal sin. It can result from brain damage at birth caused by carelessness, strokes, polio, spinal injury and so on.

It is likely that the paralytic was morbid about his sin - examining his life for thoughts, words and conduct that displeased God.

A great number go through life carrying the guilty burden of their sin - made miserable by their failings and failures. Self-loathing is damaging and destructive.

(E) The cure.

(1) Jesus took notice of the paralytic's faith.

Luke records: When Jesus saw their faith, he said .... . v20. Now I am sure that the 'their' includes the paralytic. He had co-operated with his friends. He wanted to be better. He came to Jesus for help.

Personal faith is essential to salvation. It doesn't have to amount to much - but it must be present.

I am reading at present Alice Taylor's gentle memoir about living in an Irish village. She describes work at the mill like this: Two men hauled the bags up into the mill with a pulley; one was known as Jerry the Miller while the other had earned himself the title "Try me" because whenever he was asked if he could do a job he answered simply, "Try me". That is precisely the reaction of Jesus to any who wonder if he can help them with their lives. He says, "Try me".

(2) Jesus assured the paralytic that his sins were forgiven. "Friend your sins are forgiven."

Jesus knew that he had to begin with the paralytic's sins. That is usually where Jesus has to start because sin is the root cause of many of our problems.

Jesus was aware he had authority to forgive sins. He said: "But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins ..." v24. Jesus liked the title, 'Son of Man'. It is an enigmatic title and typical of Jesus. It would be pointless calling yourself, "The Son of Man", if, in fact, you were not rather more than the son of man. We are all sons of men!

The forgiveness of sins was no easy matter for Jesus. It was far harder to accomplish than healing men from bodily diseases. Jesus forgives the paralytic his sins in anticipation of his saving work at Calvary. Without that sacrificial death there can be no forgiveness of sin. But Jesus did offer himself to God as the ultimate sacrifice for sin and God accepted the payment Christ made on behalf of us all. So, Jesus, and Jesus only, can save men from their sins: Salvation is found in no-one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved. Acts4v12. Peter realised this at the very beginning of the church era.

Jesus is not only willing but he is able to save. To quote Joseph Hart's fine hymn again:

            Lo, the incarnate God, ascended,
            Pleads the merit of his blood;
            Venture on Him, venture wholly,
            Let no other trust intrude:
            None but Jesus
            Can do helpless sinners good.

(3) Jesus gives the paralytic new life.

What a change occurred in the paralytic's life after Jesus said to him: "I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home." v24.

He was:

    (a) Empowered. Immediately he stood up ...
    The paralytic was no longer prostrate, no longer helpless - he stood tall - dignity and manhood restored.

    (b) Independent. .... took what he had been lying on ...
    The handicapped man was carried into Christ's presence but he left Christ's presence carrying his stretcher. He no longer needed any props or aids in life. Stephen Novak writing about his conversion in the Evangelical Times for Dec 2007 said it was like beginning a new life. His desire for parties, drinking, surfing and drugs was replaced by an intense hunger to know God better. He began to study the Bible, pray and seek opportunities to serve his new master. Stephen was finally able to do without life's props and crutches.

    (c) Set free. ... went home.
    Jesus sets men and women free from guilt, fear and superstition just as he set the Malaysian nurse free from the dread of evil spirits. We are set free, like Stephen Novak, from a relatively futile existence to serve and worship the living God.

    (d) Joyful. He went home praising God ... .
    Great joy nearly always accompanies dramatic conversions. This was true of Grandpa John's conversion - described by his grandson in the Evangelical Times (Dec 2007). Grandpa John wept and kept saying, "Its a miracle! It's a miracle! The Holy Spirit gave him a deep assurance of God's redeeming love. In the days that followed his grandson saw something he had never seen before in the sad and lonely man - serenity and joy. Grandpa John had experienced the grace of God and mercy of a loving Saviour.

    After John Bunyan had tried to please God for a year by keeping the Ten Commandments he was still intensely concerned about his spiritual welfare. The Holy Spirit prompted him to consider the words of the writer to the Hebrews: You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire ....... . But you have come to Mount Zion ..... to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. Heb12v18to24. The words: But you have come ... to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, opened Bunyan's eyes to God's grace. He wrote: That night was a good night to me; I have had but few better; I longed for the company of some of God's people, that I might have imparted unto them what God had shown to me. I could scarcely lie in my bed for joy, and peace, and triumph through Christ. All my former darkness had fled away, and the blessed things of Heaven were set in my view. These words have oft since that time been great refreshment to my spirit. Blessed be God for having had mercy on me!"

    I like Bunyan's description in 'Pilgrim's Progress' of how Christian felt when the burden of his sin rolled away: Then was Christian glad and lightsome, and said with a merry heart, He (Jesus) hath given me rest by his sorrow, and life by his death. Then he stood still a while to look and wonder for it was very surprising to him that the sight of the Cross should thus ease him of his burden. .... Then Christian gave three leaps for joy, and went on singing. I just love those 'three leaps for joy'.

    (e) Public. Immediately he stood in front of them all ... .

    I shouldn't think the healed man was ashamed that Jesus had healed him! If Jesus has forgiven your sins and given you new life then you should be glad to witness publicly to his transforming power. John Bunyan wrote: I longed for the company of some of God's people, that I might have imparted unto them what God had shown to me. Christ's mercy in saving us is something to noise abroad.

(F) Conclusion.

(1) God was praised: Everyone was amazed and gave praise to God. v26.

Nothing gives Christians more happiness than the salvation of a sinner. There is undoubtedly joy in childbirth. Recently my young friend Sarah gave birth to daughter Poppy. It was a cause of great rejoicing on the part of all the family - everyone's spirits were lifted. There is even more joy in the family of God when someone is born again and we get another brother or sister to love.

(2) Men wondered: They were filled with awe ... .

When the Holy Spirit moves in a community men are awed. Changed lives cannot be gainsaid or easily explained away.

(3) Men testified: "We have seen remarkable things today." v26.

The sad thing is that many of those who thus testified remained uncommitted to Jesus. Nothing will convince some folk that Jesus is the Saviour they desperately need. Remember the sad words of father Abraham in the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus: "If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead. Luke17v3.

Well Jesus has risen from the dead - but the vast majority of people in England remain singularly unimpressed. Yet he can do such great things for everyone who puts their faith in him.

            Come, every soul by sin oppressed,
            There's mercy with the Lord;
            And He will surely give you rest
            By trusting in His work.

            Only trust Him! only trust Him!
            Only trust Him now!
            He will save you! He will save you!
            He will save you now!