Ah, to be set free! You were shackled by illness and now you’re not. That’s nice. But there are worse shackles, aren’t there? And isn’t it interesting that we seem to lift up the shackles of illness or poverty or oppression and overlook the shackle of sin. I kind of think that some, who believe with all of their bitter heart to be following Christ, are carrying around shackles, not for themselves, but for others. They go around clanking shackles on the stuck in sin sinner, arrogantly rejoicing in their set free status. But Jesus didn’t come to shackle. He came to proclaim freedom, release, forgiveness, to the captive. Is it possible to be unshackled, only to grasp the very chains that bound us, and clasp them firmly on others? Following Christ will never turn us into spiritual jailers.
Jesus is the fulfillment of Isaiah 61:1-2. It is important to keep that in mind. He is the one who was sent by God to set free. And we have already seen him release the Demon oppressed, the shackled by sickness; the unclean leper. In Luke 5:17-26 we witness two kinds of releases. It happened in one of those days in which the crowds came to hear and to be healed. He was in a house and in that same house were some Pharisees and teachers of the law or scribes. These religious elite were most likely there to check Jesus out to make sure he wasn’t some kind of false prophet leading the people astray. It is likely that they came with minds already made up. It is important to realize that not all Pharisees and scribes were like this. But the sect of the Pharisees – the very meaning of the term means “separate” – leant itself to legalism. They believed the mission of God was to weed out the undesirables and to save the righteous. That put them at odds with the one who came on a rescue mission.
The house was packed with people and the power of the Lord was present with Jesus for healing. I don’t think the point is that this power came and went and now was. It stands as a reminder. This is Jesus sent by God to set the captive free. He has been given the ability to accomplish his task. Arriving late on the scene are some people carrying a paralytic. They seek for and fail to find a way to Jesus. I would have looked at my friend and said, “We tried man. Let’s go home and watch the game.” They, however climb the stairs to the roof and lower the man through the tiles. Mark tells us that they dug through the roof. Did this make a racket? Did the debris fall on Jesus as he was teaching? Luke emphasizes that the man was lowered in the middle of the crowd and before Jesus. That seems like a pretty good place to be.
Seeing the faith of the friends, and probably the faith of the paralyzed man, Jesus said, “Man, your sins have been forgiven.” That is not the oppression this man came to be set free from. It doesn’t seem likely that Jesus is here connecting the man’s physical condition to his spiritual malady. He begins with a breaking of the shackles that are the most oppressive; the bonds that are often overlooked because of the physical junk in this world. He was also stirring up conversation. And Jesus was a pro at stirring things up. The Pharisees and the scribes logic through the statement and ask, “Who is this speaking blasphemies?” One of the ways you could blaspheme God was to claim an attribute that belonged to God alone. Like forgiving of sins. The Jewish people had an eschatological expectation that God would have a final forgiveness of sins moment. Jesus is claiming to be the fulfillment of their expectation.
Some have tried to answer Jesus’ question. Which is less trouble to say? And there are good arguments for either one being easier. On the one hand if you say “get up and walk” you’re going to have to prove that one. On the other hand if you say “your sins are forgiven” that goes beyond mere healing. Which is less troublesome? They are scandalized by the forgiveness of sins comment, which cannot be proved. How will they react to the physical healing, which can be proved. Jesus gives the command, the paralytic gets himself up and glorifies God, the crowd gets amazed and terrified and also glorifies God. They witnessed something hard to grasp; hard to define; hard to believe.
Jesus came to rescue, not condemn. He came to set free, not to shackle. Now, that is good news because I like freedom a whole lot more than I like shackles. Our message is about freedom; our message is the good news of the Savior. It is not the depressing news of the shackler. And though I want to be set free from the oppression of illness, poverty, prejudice – it is the oppression of sin that is infinitely more significant. Jesus is the Son of Man who has authority to forgive. Be forgiven! Be set Free! Grace, Walter