A writer by the name of Tom Tool tells the true story about a florist who had two orders going out one day. One was for a business that was having a grand opening in a new store and the other was for a family that had a funeral. But unfortunately, the bouquets got swapped and each were delivered to the wrong party.
So, the next day the business owner came in angry because the bouquet for his new business said, "Rest In Peace." Not exactly the message you want to send on your opening day.
The florist looked at him and said, "I’m so, so sorry. But for what it’s worth, you think that's bad? We got your order mixed up with a funeral here in town and the people who had the funeral were furious because their bouquet said, 'Good luck in your new location.'"
Ouch. Sadly and regrettably, neither the business owner or the grieving family received the message they were hoping for or expected to receive. And in some respects, that’s a little bit of what’s happening in our story today. Where four faithful friends bring a paralyzed man to Jesus with the hopes of seeing their friend healed, with the hopes of seeing their paralyzed walk, but yet (at least, initially) they did not receive the message or blessing that they were hoping or expecting to hear.
And I highlight this fact that this was a message that they weren’t expecting to hear because of all that we’ve read and seen regarding Jesus’s ministry in the passages leading up to it. Where as we’ve been studying the Gospel of Luke together, and as we’ve witnessed the early stages of Jesus’s public ministry, we’ve seen him primarily focused on a couple things:
The first being teaching and preaching about the good news of the Kingdom of God, and the other being performing miraculous healings. Whether it be healing Simon’s mother in law of a high fever and a man covered with leprosy, Jesus has been healing person after person of their physical illnesses. And in fact, he’s healed so many people that the text right before our story says this, “The news spread about [Jesus] all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and be healed of their sicknesses.”
And so, as we reach our story today, when we read about a paralyzed man being brought to Jesus, the natural assumption as a reader would be, “Oh, okay, another healing story. Jesus is going to heal this man and help him be able to walk.”
And of course, that’s not only our expectation and assumption as readers, but for the people in the story as well. Clearly, they’ve been hearing about this man Jesus who has the power to heal people and so they're probably naturally thinking, “Maybe just maybe Jesus can heal our paralyzed friend too.”
And yet, there’s a problem. The house where Jesus was so jam packed that they couldn’t get through. And so they come up with an absurd yet innovative idea: they’ll just go through the roof instead. (And side note: I so badly wish Luke would have recorded the homeowner’s thoughts in this moment. Like, what was going on his mind during all of this?) But yet more importantly, why is this part of the story so important? Is it to illustrate that desperate times call for desperate measures – that it’s okay to tear apart someone’s roof if you’ve got a good enough reason? No, probably not.
No, here’s why I think this part of the story is so important. Is that it so poignantly illustrates in these friends their desperation, their perseverance, their faith, this sense of, “We will do whatever it takes to see this man walk. We will go to any lengths necessary to see our friend be healed.”
And they do. Some way, somehow they lowered the paralyzed man through the roof. (Did they create a pulley system? Did they bring rope with them? Were they anticipating this possibility? Guess you just had to be there … ) Anyway, what do you know, they did it! As they lowered this man right in front of Jesus they must have been nervous, giddy, filled with anticipation. Their friend is about to be healed!! And so as they waited with baited breath, Jesus watching this whole scene unfold, sees the faith of these four men and says to the paralyzed man, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.”
That’s right. “Friend, your sins are forgiven.” Not the words, not the message they were expecting to hear. I have to imagine the four men and the paralyzed man, hearing this, are probably just in stunned silence, are probably thinking, “Wait, what? Did we hear him right? His sins are forgiven … I mean, thank you … I guess … but what our friend really wants is to be able to walk.”
Now obviously Jesus is up to something here, and yet, what is it exactly? What does it mean when Jesus says, “Your sins are forgiven” and why would he say this to a paralyzed man, who has an urgent physical need?
Well, let’s first clarify what it probably doesn’t mean. And that is, when Jesus says to this paralyzed man, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.” I don’t think Jesus is trying to draw a straight line here between his sinfulness and paralysis and saying that some kind of particular sin in his past is what made him paralyzed in the first place.
Rather, what I think Jesus is getting at here is the fact that we all have sin in our life, and when he’s saying “Your sins are forgiven” he’s trying to help the paralytic, his friends, and the entire crowd see the kind of healing we most desperately need.
Because think about it this way. The paralyzed man and his friends are coming to Jesus hoping for a miracle, a physical healing, to see this paralyzed man walk again. And they would be perfectly content, if Jesus healed the man and said, “Get up, take up your mat and walk.” They would be thrilled. They would go home thinking, especially the paralyzed man, “Now there’s nothing else I could ever want or need. I’m set for life. That miracle worker, that healer Jesus just gave me the greatest gift anyone could ever give.”
And so as Jesus tells this man, “Your sins are forgiven,” I think what he's saying is, “Friend, I can’t let you leave here thinking that your physical healing and you being able to walk is the best thing I have to offer. I can’t let you walk away from here thinking that you just received from me the best thing I have to give. I can give you more than that. I came for more than that. I’m more than a miracle worker. I’m more than a healer. I am God in the flesh that has come down to this earth so that once and for all people can receive forgiveness for their sins.”
You see, the paralyzed man and his friends came to Jesus in hopes of physical healing and yet, what the paralyzed man received instead, at least initially, was spiritual healing.
All of which brings us to what I understand to be the main idea of this passage: Friends, our greatest need is the forgiveness of our sins and Jesus has the authority to do just that. Our greatest need is spiritual and Jesus has the authority to bring us the ultimate spiritual healing through the forgiveness of our sins.
And so with that story summary and central idea in place, let’s now turn the corner and think through some application and consider what this all means for you and me. And as we do, we’ll think through our application in two categories. We’ll look inside and start personal, and then look outward and consider what this means in our interactions with our neighbors and the wider world.
First, finding spiritual healing from Jesus for ourselves. Second, pointing others to Jesus and finding spiritual healing for themselves.
So first, finding spiritual healing from Jesus for ourselves.
You all, part of what makes our scripture passage today so shocking and so powerful is that the man is paralyzed, he has a real, desperate need. This man wants to be able to walk, which is something most all of us take for granted, I know I do. And yet Jesus is saying, “Even still, you have a greater need. There’s a greater healing that you need.”
Think about the impact that would have on the crowd and everyone witnessing this. They would probably be thinking, “Oh wow, I was going to ask Jesus if he could help me make rent this month, or if he would help me get an A on my test, or if he would keep me safe while I travel, or if he would help me get through to my kids. If having your sins forgiven is the paralyzed man’s greatest need, then it must be mine too.”
And yet, all that said, please don’t hear what I’m not saying. I don’t mean to communicate that asking Jesus for those kinds of things, those daily needs, big or small, those are bad things to ask Jesus for, no they’re good! You should go to Jesus in prayer for those kinds of things. Jesus is not indifferent to our physical needs. After all, our story finishes with Jesus saying to the paralyzed man, “Get up, take your mat and go home.” You see, Jesus does not turn a blind eye to our physical, tangible needs. And yet I think this passage is a gentle reminder to us where Jesus is saying, “Hey, don’t forget, I can give you more than that too.”
Besides, all those who are in Christ will spend eternity with Jesus, where everything will be made right. Where our bodies will be made new. The blind will see, the deaf will hear, the lame will walk, the bald will have full heads of hair. And all of that is predicated on people being right with God, receiving forgiveness through Jesus.
Friends, do we recognize and acknowledge that the greatest healing Jesus can grant us is a spiritual one, the forgiveness of our sins. May that truth inform our greatest hopes and prayers.
Second, pointing others to Jesus and helping them find spiritual healing for themselves.
Each and every Sunday you and I pray for those in our church family and those in our wider community when we share praises and prayer requests for one another. And just about every Sunday, we pray for someone that we know who is sick and in need of prayers of healing.
And yet here’s the convicting thing I’ve been ruminating on this week, when we share those prayers with one another. Are we as concerned with their spiritual life and their need for spiritual healing as we are with their physical condition and need for physical healing? If they don’t know the Lord, are we also getting on our knees praying that Jesus would not only heal them of cancer or what have you, but even more that they would come to put their faith in Christ and find forgiveness for their sins?
Because as people made in the image of God, we don’t simply inhabit physical bodies in need of physical healing, we are eternal souls in need of spiritual healing. And people are searching for both.
For the past few months, I’ve been serving as the hospice chaplain here in our county and a few weeks ago I was asked to visit a woman who was in her final days. I drove over to her apartment, knocked on the door, there were a dozen family members there, smoke filled the room, and as I sat down with her and her son, the rest of the family cleared out. It was just the three of us. The room got quiet and she looked at me and said, “Pastor, I need to know if I’m going to heaven or not.”
As I’m processing her question, inside I’m like an athlete getting warmed up before a big game, “Okay, here we go, this is the moment.” Rarely, do I get asked the question that pointedly. And so, I gathered my thoughts and considered how I wanted to approach it. As a chaplain, I’m supposed to stay rather neutral and refrain from going into full on evangelism mode and so I asked her, “What are your thoughts on this one? What kind of person do you think makes the cut? And she began to tell me that throughout her life that she had always strived to be a good person and do the right thing, but that she wasn’t perfect, she had once been unfaithful to her spouse, and as she said that last detail, you could see it weighed heavy on her heart. We sat there in silence for a minute and I’m processing what I should say next.
And it’s at this point I took my proverbial chaplain hat off and put my pastor hat on. The stakes were too high for me to hold back. Eternity hung in the balance. I knew it and she knew it. And so I asked her, “May I tell you my thoughts on the subject and why I have the hope of heaven?”
She looks at me and says yes. And I say, and nowhere near as articulate as I’m rehashing to you now, I look at her and I say, “Okay, I want you to remain calm and take a deep breath, because what I’m about to say might shock you a bit. That stuff about trying to be a good person, about striving to be perfect, you getting into heaven has got nothing to do with that. It’s not about being good or good enough. In fact, it’s even better news than that, it’s about putting your faith and trust in the one who truly was good, who really was perfect, Jesus, the Son of God, who lived the life we should have lived and died the death we should have died so that we can have eternal life.”
I said, Do you know this Jesus? Yes, I do.
Friend, do you believe that Jesus can cover over and forgive your deepest and darkest sins? I do.
Do you believe in this Jesus? And do you believe in him as your Lord and Savior? I do.
Well, friend, then based on everything I know, as for heaven, Lord willing, I’m going to see you there.
And to my knowledge, this woman died a couple days later, with what I hope was a peace from Jesus she didn’t have before.
Now friends, I know that in my role as pastor that I am privileged to have those kinds of conversations that aren’t always so available to the rest of us. In fact, I know that for those who serve in medicine or other professions you might not be allowed to have those kinds of spiritual conversations unless the person were to initiate first. And I get that.
But yet, you can still pray for them. Not only for their physical healing, but for their spiritual healing as well and that they would come to know this Jesus that we know and find forgiveness for their sins.
In fact, In prayer, with dogged perseverance, carry your friends to Jesus like the men carrying the paralyzed man did long ago. Go through the dang roof if you have to.
And even more, ask God to open up opportunities and conversational doors for you as you engage with your relatives, your neighbors, your co-workers or other parents. Ask that God would give you opportunities to share about the hope that you have because of Jesus in natural, organic and winsome ways.
Over the past year I’ve been thinking a lot about how our church approaches Outreach and Missions on a local and global scale. And more recently, I’ve been reflecting on how the emphasis and force of this passage ought to inform our own church’s corporate Outreach and Missions focus.
And here’s the tension that every church must reckon with: Should we give our attention to addressing people’s physical needs or spiritual needs? Physical healing or spiritual healing? Caring for people’s bodies or souls? Focused on evangelism or mercy ministry? Sharing Christ’s love through words or deeds?
Friends, I believe with all my heart that the answer is both. It must be.
Following Jesus means giving our attention to people’s physical needs. For notice, when the four friends brought the paralyzed man to Jesus, he forgave the paralyzed man’s sins, not because of his faith, but rather his friends faith. Jesus so admired the care and compassion and creativity and reckless abandon of the friends faith, for wanting to see their friend walk again. And yet, as the paralyzed man lays at Jesus’s feet, seeing an eternal soul in front of him, gives him spiritual healing first, before healing his body from paralysis later on.
And so is Outreach and Missions about striving for people’s physical healing or spiritual healing? It must be both.
And so, if you were on Zoom with us for the Annual Congregational Meeting a few weeks ago, you heard about an idea that our session has mulling over recently, about serving two local communities in particular: The Legacy Assisted Living facility, a place that a number of our older members call home, and Parkview Elementary, where many of our kids go to school.
And Lord willing, we’ll meet physical, tangible needs, serving as tutors in classrooms, volunteering for crosswalk duty, throwing staff appreciation parties, running crafts and activities at the Legacy, maybe even putting on a Sunday afternoon worship service for those with limited mobility. We’ll meet physical, tangible needs.
All while investing in those communities for the purpose of building long term relationships. Rubbing shoulders with the community, those who maybe would never dare step inside these walls, walking alongside teachers and parents and students and caregivers and the elderly so that maybe just maybe, someday down the road, they might ask us why we do what we do, why we serve the way we serve. And as trust is built, maybe just maybe they’ll confide in us when their marriage is struggling, or when they lose their job, or grieve the loss of a loved one, and in that very moment, a door will be opened for you and I to tell them about the hope that we have in Christ.
Outreach and Missions. Both physical needs and spiritual needs. Both spiritual healing and physical healing. Both body and soul. Just as God intended it to be.
Our story finishes this way …
So, he [Jesus] said to the paralyzed man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” 25 Immediately he stood up in front of them, took what he had been lying on and went home praising God.
Jesus is saying, “Yes, I can heal this man and I will. But I want you to know that this healing is a small sign of a greater healing I came to bring. I came to bring healing in a deeper way and I will. I came that people may receive the forgiveness of sins.”
Friends, Jesus has authority over it all. He can heal us in ways big and small, but yet his greatest healing was for our greatest need, the forgiveness of sins.
I’m convinced that you and I often go to Jesus not asking for too much, but rather asking for too little. Do we see that Jesus has authority over everything – authority to teach, authority to heal, authority to forgive sins? Are you experiencing guilt and shame right now? Do you know someone who is? Does someone you love need to experience the transforming power of knowing Jesus and receive forgiveness for their sins? It’s not too much to ask for. After all, it’s the very thing that Jesus came to bring.