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The Life of Jesus - Series 3: Episode 8

The healing of the paralysed man

| Martin Charlesworth
Luke 5:17-26
Matthew 9:1-8
Mark 2:1-12

Jesus is investigated by religious leaders. A paralysed man is let down through the roof and healed. This healing demonstrates Jesus' power to forgive sins which only God can do. The title Son of Man from Daniel is introduced.

Jesus is investigated by religious leaders. A paralysed man is let down through the roof and healed. This healing demonstrates Jesus' power to forgive sins which only God can do. The title Son of Man from Daniel is introduced.


Hello and welcome to Series 3, Episode 8 and we're going to talk today about 'The healing of the paralysed man' We're going to read from Luke 5: 17 - 26.

Introduction and Recap

We're in the middle of Jesus' very exciting ministry around Galilee. We found out from earlier episodes that, although based in Capernaum village by the Sea of Galilee, he doesn't spend a huge amount of time there. He's travelling around to many towns and villages all over the northern district of Galilee, the northern part of Israel. We've noted some remarkable miracles and that he went to Nazareth (his home-town), spoke in the synagogue and explained his ministry, gave what we call the ‘Nazareth Manifesto’ (that's in Episode 3 of this Series). We've seen his influence and reputation growing. We've seen people travelling from ever greater distances to get a glimpse of Jesus, to hear him teach, particularly to receive his healing touch - because he had a reputation to heal sicknesses of many descriptions and to cast out demons from people. Something remarkable is happening and it involves huge numbers of people travelling to hear Jesus as he travels around. We've also found out along the journey from an earlier part of Luke chapter 5, that Jesus is gradually building up a more coherent group of committed disciples, who are on the journey with him. In a particular incident (Luke 5: 1 - 11 and the parallel passages), he called Peter, Andrew, James and John to leave their fishing business, their family trade, and to travel with him around Galilee.

These are some of the things that are happening in the background but there's something in the immediate background that is very important to help us understand what's happening in this particular story. The previous episode (Episode 7) dealt with the healing of a man with leprosy - the first account of a leper in the New Testament - and I described in the previous episode that this man came from social exclusion because he and all other lepers had to live outside the community, on their own, in order to prevent them infecting anyone else by touching and contaminating them and getting this skin infection with all the secondary health implications. This man, we saw last time, came into the town where Jesus was - which he shouldn't have done, really, as it was against the social convention and the rules - and threw himself at Jesus feet and begged him to have mercy on him and heal him and, of course, he was healed instantaneously. At the end of that story, something interesting happens which connects directly to what we're going to talk about now.

At the end of that story, which is recorded also in Luke 5: 12 - 16, Jesus asks the healed leper to go to the priests in the Temple at Jerusalem and present himself to them because they were the ones who had the right under the Law of Moses (based on Leviticus 13 and 14) to decide who has leprosy and who doesn't, who's been healed and who hasn't, who is allowed to be part of the community and who needs to be separated so we don't get any infection and transference of the illness (the skin disease) on to others. This man was asked to go to Jerusalem; he would have been inspected by the priests and he had to make a sacrifice to God to thank him as part of that process. No doubt, he did this - although it's not recorded in the text - and of course the priests would then make a note on record that someone had been healed of leprosy. They would have asked who it was who healed him and he would have said, “Jesus of Nazareth, the prophet from Galilee.” They already knew about Jesus; he'd been up in Jerusalem once before - as recorded in John 2 - so Jesus was on the radar, was in the minds of the authorities in Jerusalem. The religious system of Israel was coordinated and led by a group of 70 men (a ruling council known as the Sanhedrin). They would probably have had a report about Jesus from the incident from the last episode; quite apart from the fact they had seen him in Jerusalem and he'd cleansed the Temple (which was a very dramatic event); and from the fact that they knew all about John the Baptist and how John the Baptist had endorsed Jesus as the coming Messiah, ‘the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.’ They had all this information gathering and, as we enter into this particular story, you'll notice that there is a reference to religious leaders observing Jesus. The system in Israel then was that the Sanhedrin, the ruling council, had to investigate any person who was assuming the role of Messiah (Son of God, Saviour) and it's almost certain that the information they already had from these different sources, and triggered by this leprosy miracle, would have encouraged them to make an investigation - to send people first of all to observe; later on to question; and finally to make a decision about whether Jesus was the true Messiah or not. This is part of their religious system, it's not stated in the Gospels, but it's in the background and it explains things that happened - so keep that in mind as we read the story. So this is Luke 5: 17 - 26:

‘One day Jesus was teaching, and Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there. They had come from every village (in) Galilee and from Judea and Jerusalem. And the power of the Lord was with Jesus to heal the sick. Some men came carrying a paralyzed man on a mat and tried to take him into the house to lay him before Jesus. When they could not find a way to do this because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and lowered him on his mat through the tiles into the middle of the crowd, right in front of Jesus. When Jesus saw their faith, he said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.” The Pharisees and the teachers of the law began thinking to themselves, “Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” Jesus knew what they were thinking and asked, “Why are you thinking these things in your hearts? Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the paralyzed man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” Immediately he stood up in front of them, took what he had been lying on and went home praising God. Everyone was amazed and gave praise to God. They were filled with awe and said, “(We've) seen remarkable things today.”

Luke 5:17-26, NIV
Investigation of Jesus

Indeed, they had seen very remarkable things! Do you notice the dynamics of this story? First of all, the Pharisees and the Teachers of the Law had come from a variety of different places. This looks like a coordinated effort and we haven't seen this before in the narrative. The reason they've come is the reason that I've given you - an investigation has been triggered in Jerusalem by the leper coming and presenting himself to the priests and all the other evidence that I mentioned. They're present; they're watching; and they are assessing who Jesus is and what they think about him. We need to keep them in mind because the way Jesus handles this situation is partly based on sending a clear message to these investigators - we'll discuss that in a moment.

The Paralysed Man

The other extraordinary thing about this story is that we have this paralysed man with men carrying him coming and not being able to get access to Jesus. They'd brought him some distance to this particular place, which is Capernaum (that's stated incidentally, in Mark's account in Mark 2). They've come to Capernaum with this paralysed man and they're frustrated because they want to bring him to Jesus in order for him to pray for him, or to heal him. They know that other paralysed people have been healed; it said that in the text in earlier verses. They have a lot of expectancy - but they can't get to Jesus. They simply can't get through because there's a crowd and he's in a house, which obviously restricts the access as there's only so many people that can get in a house. Many people gathered outside, waiting for Jesus to move on but he was spending some time in the house. We see this extraordinary incident take place, in which the men who bought the paralysed man on a stretcher decide that they're going to really press through and try and find a way of drawing Jesus' attention to the paralysed man - so they go on the roof of the house! (Bearing in mind the roofs were flat in those days in the Middle East, as indeed is still the case in parts of the Middle East, and people would use the rooftop as an extra room, a place to sit, to rest and so on) They went on the flat roof and began to take it to pieces. We don't know what the owner of the house was thinking; he is not mentioned here. What would you feel if you were the family, the father or the mother or the children, in that house? I'd be very agitated if I was the father and I found that my house roof was being taken to pieces bit by bit,  in order for this stretcher to get through - and you'd have to make a pretty big hole in the roof in order to get a stretcher through down into the main part of the house.

However, this is what happened and nobody actually stopped them, which is interesting. Maybe the presence of Jesus meant people were less focused on these things and they're just aware that something remarkable was happening in the house at the time. Whatever the dynamics were behind-the-scenes, what we can see from the story is what actually happens: the man is being lowered down in front of Jesus. This presents an incredibly dramatic moment in the life of Jesus. You've got the men up there waiting expectantly for a miracle; you've got the paralysed man vulnerable, in the public eye, lying there unable to help himself; you've got Jesus there with a crowd around him - no doubt the family and the Pharisees and Teachers of the Law, who were critically, negatively, assessing Jesus at the time. Jesus' response is interesting.

Forgiveness of Sins

For the first time in his ministry he makes a point of identifying forgiveness as the primary issue. “Friend, your sins are forgiven.” He knew what was in the man's heart; he must have seen faith in the man's heart. He could have looked in his eyes, and maybe he spoke to him, but he could see there was faith there and he could see that he had a need for his sins to be forgiven as well. Why did he make this point before he'd even healed him? Almost certainly, to make a statement to the Pharisees and Teachers of the Law who are coming to investigate Jesus. It was a statement about the fact that he was the Messiah, the Son of God. He wasn't just a healer, he wasn't just a prophet, he wasn't just a rabble-rouser, he wasn't a political dissident, he wasn't a terrorist or a revolutionary or some political campaigner - all these ideas would have been circulated at the time. No! He had the power to forgive sins. Everybody in Judaism at the time knew that no man had the power to forgive sins, it was purely the prerogative, or the right, of God himself. Yahweh, the God of Israel, was the one who could forgive you, whose forgiveness you needed, so to say, “Friend, your sins are forgiven,” is to make a staggering claim about Jesus. He is making the claim that he is equal with God, that he is, literally, the Son of God. The Pharisees were shocked. Jesus goes on, in a wonderful way, to link together the healing and his statement about forgiveness:

“Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’?”(both require miracle)“But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the paralyzed man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home” (and) immediately he stood up in front of them.”

Luke 5:23-25, NIV

Jesus' healing here is a demonstration of his power to forgive: he's got the power to heal and the power to forgive. The man picks up his stretcher, goes home, praises God and a huge story emerges that enhances Jesus' popularity even further. It's a remarkable story and it leads to tremendous amazement: ‘They were filled with awe and said, “We have seen remarkable things today.”’ As I come to think about the significance of this and to make some reflections, I want to think very strategically about Jesus' claim to forgive sins - this is really important, something that we need to think about carefully. You'll notice in the phrase where he describes his authority he says, “I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” He uses a title there which gives a clue to what he's talking about - ‘Son of Man.’ We've seen that title once or twice, just a few times in John's Gospel. We've never seen that title used yet in Jesus' public ministry in Galilee as described by Matthew, Mark and Luke. Jesus introduces the term here; he'd probably used it earlier, but he strategically introduces this term here to identify who he is.

Son of Man

This term ‘Son of Man,’ what does that mean? It's a religious phrase from the New Testament that maybe you're familiar with, maybe you've heard it before, maybe you think it's just a casual way of talking about Jesus. It's much more than that because the term, the ‘Son of Man,’ is taken by Jesus directly from a major prophecy in the Old Testament and I'm going to pause for a moment and talk about this prophecy and the significance of it. Jesus had a number of titles - Messiah, Son of God Son of David and other titles - that are all significant, but the title Son of Man is one of the most important titles of Jesus. It seems to be his favoured title because, as you follow the Gospels through, you'll find that he uses it frequently. It's taken from Daniel 7. I'm going to read a very small extract for you. Daniel has a dream about various imperial powers - political imperial powers ruling the world. They are four beasts in his dream and we're not going to try to interpret that in detail but the dream culminates in a vision of God on his throne - what we would describe as God the Father and described here as the Ancient of Days (Daniel 7: 9): God, Yahweh, the God of Israel. The authority of God over all these human rulers is being demonstrated here and I'm just going to read a passage because in this passage introduced the character called the Son of Man, and this is where Jesus takes his identity from and uses the term in the New Testament. Let's read Daniel 7: 9,

‘As I looked, “thrones were set in place, and the Ancient of Days took his seat. His clothing was as white as snow; (and) the hair of his head was white like wool. His throne was flaming with fire, and its wheels were all ablaze. A river of fire was flowing, coming out from before him. Thousands upon thousands attended him; ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him. The court was seated, and the books were opened.’

Daniel 7:9-10, NIV

This is a clear and prophetic picture of God, the Ancient of Days, God the Father, sitting with authority to judge and rule in heaven.

‘“Then I continued to watch because of the boastful words the horn was speaking.’

Daniel 7:11, NIV

The horn is a character in the dream, a representation of human power and evil.

‘I kept looking until the beast was slain and its body destroyed and thrown into the blazing fire. (The other beasts had been stripped of their authority, but were allowed to live for a period of time.)’

Daniel 7:11-12, NIV

Then comes the crucial part, verses 13 and 14, this is the bit I want to focus on.

‘“In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.’

Daniel 7:13-14, NIV

In this vision, Daniel clearly sees a human figure, the Son of Man, who is also divine, coming into the presence of the Ancient of Days - another deity, given equal authority and power by the Ancient of Days, by God the Father, who gave him authority. ‘He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him.’ He's worthy of worship - that means he must be God - but he's also a son of man; he's human. This is an end time prophecy about how things turn out at the end of the world (we're not going into the details) but it's interesting that this prophecy indicates that God himself has a son, the Son of Man, who is both human and divine, who will be worshipped by all the nations of the world and who's given great power and authority and glory. He's given the very authority of God. This term ‘Son of Man’ appears here in the middle of the story. As soon as the Pharisees and Teachers of the Law heard that phrase, they would know what it meant. They would know the reference back to Daniel 7; they would know that Jesus is claiming to be the Messiah (the God-man, deliver of this world who is both divine and human).


In my concluding reflections on this remarkable story, I want to say a few things. First of all, this is a very clear moment of Jesus' self revelation. He reveals himself, decisively, as much more than a healer - although he conducts a remarkable healing miracle. He shows himself to be the Son of Man (the divine Son of God, human and divine together, the one prophesied in Daniel 7) who, as an aspect of his deity (or divinity or his God-nature) has power to forgive sins - therefore he must be God. We have a tremendous self-revelation of Jesus and we also see that one of the central parts of his ministry is the forgiveness of sins. This will become an increasing theme and as we go through the Gospels; he forgives the sins of people and we see that the mechanism, as it were, the means by which that forgiveness becomes real for us is his death and his resurrection: his death on the cross which was a substitutionary atonement in our place. That forgiveness he's offering here is prefiguring the forgiveness that is offered through the Gospel to all people who believe in Jesus Christ in all generations, including today. That's an important message, possibly, for some of you following who haven't yet experienced that cleansing and that forgiveness of sins. That paralysed man experienced it! He wasn't just healed in his body; his soul was healed that day because he came to believe in Jesus the Messiah, fully, and all the wrong things he'd done in his life were forgiven and taken away from him. This is a wonderful reality which keeps emerging in the Gospel narratives as a central part of Jesus' ministry.

Another thing that's worth saying is that humanity's greatest need is forgiveness of sins; it's an even greater need than healing of our bodies and of our minds and of our emotions. We need spiritual healing which is the forgiveness of our sins.

The final thing that I want to reflect on is the sheer faith and determination of the people, the men, who brought the paralysed man. The paralysed man had to have a lot of courage himself, but the people who carried him there had a huge responsibility - they were literally carrying him. I don't know how many kilometres they had to go, I don't know whether they lived locally in Capernaum or whether they travelled in - the implication is probably they travelled some distance. They had to push through. They had to be determined. They had to go through the uncomfortable and difficult situation of making a nuisance of themselves. They possibly had to incur the cost of rebuilding the roof. Who knows who paid the cost of rebuilding the roof! They probably said to the owner, “Please let us do this, we'll pay you back, we'll come back in a few days time and mend your roof for you.” They paid a heavy price. They were determined. They were pushing through on behalf of their friend. That sheer determination appears again and again in the Gospels. It's one of the most common themes. When you think about the people who come to Jesus, so often they're filled with absolute determination to get through to Jesus and to receive his help and these people are a very good example - as is the leper in the last story, that we read in the previous episode, who showed tremendous determination. Jesus seems to be keen to reward determination to seek him and to find his will and to find his blessings and to find his purpose. I want to encourage you to take from this story something of that faith that those men showed when they came to Jesus. For some of you reading this, you will need real faith to either come to believe in Jesus and confess him as Lord in your cultural context and your social background and your family background, or possibly to bring the needs of other people to Jesus in prayer - which is essentially similar to what these men were doing. They were determined on behalf of somebody else. If we're determined on behalf of someone else we have to often work really hard to bring them to a place where they can receive Christ or his blessings. We do that through prayer and through witness to them.

This is a very thrilling passage, lots of things to think about in the passage, lots of applications we can make for our lives and I trust that it has been a blessing to you.

Study Questions

The following questions have been provided to facilitate discussion or further reflection. Please feel free to answer any, or all the questions. Each question has been assigned a category to help guide you.

  • Exploring Faith
    Exploring Faith
    1. Try to imagine being one of the people in this event. What do they say, think, feel, do? Depending on the size of your group, share out the characters
  • Discipleship
    1. Is it more important to be physically healed or to have your sins forgiven? When praying for people, which do you ask for? Jesus has the power to do both.
  • Further Study
    Further Study
    1. Use tagging to explore how Jesus uses the title Son of Man throughout his ministry.
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