Isaiah 12:1-6, Luke 5:17-26
February 7, 2010
In our story from Luke, these men let their friend down through a hole they made in the roof. So I thought this title was a fun little play on words. Because not only was that what these men literally did, but it also describes the reaction of the Pharisees, who seemed to get angrier and angrier about the actions of this Jesus. They “went through the roof!” Have you ever been angry enough that you could be described as “going through the roof?”
I also had another idea for a title. I thought of calling it “Bringing Down the House.” And the reason I thought about that is that I once heard this event wonderfully described by a biblical historian. He said it was probably a messier scene than we often picture. These men had to “dig” a hole through the roof. And with the construction of the time, that was probably not a matter of simply removing some of nicely fitting roof tiles and letting their friend down through an nice clean hole. He said there was probably some destruction of property going on here. There were probably pieces of the roof raining down on those inside. There was a column of light that all of a sudden projected downward, lighting up the dust and dirt in the air, and silhouetting the pieces of roof falling into the room. And then in the middle of that column of light came this man, slowly lowered on a stretcher, suspended by ropes. What a bizarre scene that must have been!! So “Bringing down the house” would have worked, too!
This story takes place early in Jesus’ ministry. It was not long after he began to perform miracles of healing in the second half of Chapter 4 in Luke’s Gospel. After that he tells how people brought to him many who needed to have that same healing touch. And that was just a part of the reason for his quick rise in popularity. By the time chapter 5 began, the crowds had gotten so large that Jesus had to get in a boat and push off from the shore so he could speak to the people from out on the water. Do you remember that story from last week?
So a large part of these two chapters are taken up with stories of Jesus healing people. And remember that Luke was a physician! So I’m sure that part of Jesus’ ministry was especially interesting to him! And I know that being a physician in those days probably bore little resemblance to that same profession today, but still, Luke was concerned with people’s health. And he knew at least some of the important things about diseases.
In the story immediately preceding the one we read today, he tells of Jesus healing the leper. And I’m sure Luke knew not just that leprosy was a bad disease, I’m sure he also knew that it was incurable! And it’s interesting how he describes the man Jesus healed. He didn’t just say he “was a leper,” or that he “had leprosy.” He described the man as being “full of leprosy.” That’s obviously a man who was in an advanced stage of that disease, a disease that would eventually take his life!
So this man – full of leprosy – came to Jesus and fell on his face, asking to be healed. And Jesus did the unimaginable! (Which he often did! And I hope you see that about him!) He did the unimaginable! He touched this man. Luke is very specific about that! And what is unimaginable is that no one would do that! As I said, they knew at least a little about the spread of disease! And because of that, people with leprosy were required by law to stay away from healthy people. Not only that, but by law, they were also required to warn anyone who came anywhere near them by shouting “Unclean!”
So Luke the physician knew that no one would willingly touch a leper! But Jesus did! And as I think about this, I would expect that gasp would have gone through the crowds. But then, the man was healed. Even in his advanced stage of leprosy, he was healed! And I’m sure that incredible event, led to our story for today! For here we find this great crowd gathered in and around this house where Jesus was speaking. And these men were willing to do what ever it took to get their friend close to him. They did so because they had compassion for their friend, and because they wanted that healing touch for him, too!
I hope you were able to get a good mental image of that scene as I described it. I hope you could picture the crowd filling the house blocking all the doors, this hole appearing slowly in the ceiling, the dust and debris raining down, the column of light, and this man being lowered on ropes in front of Jesus. Because I want you to see that Jesus, again, did the unexpected! This time, he didn’t touch the man. He didn’t even ask him if he wanted to be healed. What he did do was to say to the man, “Your sins are forgiven!” And a gasp probably went through the crowd – again. That was shocking! And the Pharisees who were there were quick to react. And they were actually right in saying what they said. Sometimes we don’t think they get it. But let’s give them the benefit of the doubt here. They were right!! “Who is this man that speaks blasphemies? Only God can forgive sins!” (And I’d be willing to bet that Jesus would have agreed with that!)
Look how he answered them, though. He turned to them and said, “I know what you’re thinking!” “How can I say such a thing?! It does sound like blasphemy, doesn’t it?!” “But you tell me. What’s easier to say to this man, ‘Your sins are forgiven.’ or ‘Rise and walk.’?” And I’m sure there was an awkward silence. And then, in a moment I don’t think we can really take in, he turned back to the paralyzed man and said just that! “Rise and walk!!” And to the shock and amazement of that huge crowd, (and more gasps, I’m sure!) the man did!!
What an amazing story! And I hope in telling it to you, and filling in some of the picture, you can see how amazing it was. Too often we read things like this in one of two ways. (Or both!) We read in our “bible voice” – you know, where we make it sound very “holy” and “spiritual,” but we don’t give much thought to its power. Or we read it only from our modern perspective – where we are on the other side of the Resurrection, where we simply know that Jesus “could do these things,” and we “aren’t all that impressed!” I think it’s helpful to try to put ourselves into not only these people’s shoes, but into their time! They didn’t know who this Jesus was, really. They didn’t know what the next three years would hold. All they knew was the sensational, amazing events that were taking place before their very eyes! And that’s something we miss!
We need to think about their amazement! And I mean more than just the astonishment or even the shock of what happened. I also mean the amazement that here was a totally new thing! Here was a man unlike anyone else. He was teaching them things that kept them riveted, and kept them coming back for more. And he was doing things that no one could do. And I think without having all the “Church History” we have, that had to be absolutely astonishing!!!
So, obviously I can get excited about this ancient story. But what about you? Do you feel some of the amazement? Do you feel a little more excited about this man Jesus? Have I helped a little with your “mental imagery?” I hope so. But let me ask you, what does it do for you? What did it do for the many who were there? Are you like the people in this story who stood amazed and said, “We have seen strange things today!”? Are you just glad you witnessed something special? Or are you glad that this Jesus is a part of you?
I truly believe that God makes liberal use of the dramatic. He wants to “rock our world.” He wants to act in big ways so that we will see and remember in big ways. He wants to reach out to us and change our hearts so that we will always make room for him there.
That’s what I want out of this. Not just to bring some excitement into an old story, but to have God touch your heart. I want you to be glad you’ve given your life to him, and not just because of his salvation – which is wonderful, of course – but also because of his wondrous love, and this joy and abundance that is poured into our lives – if we let it.
Maybe this man who got up and walked after being paralyzed can be a symbol for us. Maybe we can be people who have heard the words of Jesus, felt his power in us, and become free from those things that would paralyze us. May we, through this story, know once again that we are fully alive in him!
Merciful and loving God, we give ourselves to you, for you have so fully and wonderfully given yourself to us. Help us to know your joy, and the freedom of your spirit. Help us to feel the abundance you have already given us. May we rise and walk and live our lives fully in you. For this we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.