We find Jesus teaching again. To this point it’s his most often chosen activity. You’d almost think he was here for that very reason. : )
Cue diabolical music. Enter the Pharisees and teachers of the law. (Crowd boos exhuberantly.) This is the first appearance in this Gospel of the Pharisees and teachers of the law. The Pharisees were known as purists, both from the culture around them, and from the majority of the supposed religious Jews who were really hypocrites. Through the ages their task had evolved into being a group who kept to a strict observance of the law, and tried their best to hold others’ feet to the flame also. Because the Jewish people wanted to be known as deeply religious, the Pharisees had a certain strength of voice and influence in the community. They had the bulk of the nation as their ally. They generally avoided political involvement unless the government interfered with the practice of law.
They taught the reality of hell, and threatened people with eternal punishment for impurity. They also taught the reality of heaven and rewards for the faithful. They taught the existence of angels and demons. They asserted that everything was accomplished by faith. You know what? Not being mean, but they sound like a lot of today’s pastors to me.
In contrast to today’s pastors, though, they certainly avoided all physical contact with the heathen, as did all Jews, in order to avoid being defiled. They also, however, avoided physical contact with any non-Pharisees, even among other Jews. (Jesus’ contact with publicans, sinners, and lepers gave them great latitude to find fault with him.)
Even though Jesus and the Pharisees both cared deeply about the law, they clashed in that Jesus refused a slavish adherence to the letter of the law, and instead obeyed the law strictly, but at times elected to obey the spirit of the law rather than the letter of it. Jesus had no patience for the multiplied minute precepts and distinctions that enslaved people to the law, and instead spoke of the heart: true piety lay not in outward forms but in substance. The Pharisees found great fault in this position. They thought he was leading the people into loose living.
It turns out that on this particular day they are there en masse. There was a cultural expectation that the Pharisees and teachers of the law would help to sort the good teaching from the bad, the heresy from quality, and advise the people about whom to listen to—who was telling it straight, sort of like in our culture where we would expect the pastors and elders of the church, or the seminary professors, to help us keep everything on the up and up. Jesus had obviously garnered such attention that the “pastors” gathered from all over the country to listen and evaluate. (And Jesus isn’t intimidated in the least.)
“And the power of the Lord was present for him to heal the sick.” Interesting. You mean he couldn’t just heal whom and when he wanted? He had to wait for the power of the Lord to be present? Luke’s point is this: Jesus was in total submission to the Father. He taught with the words his Father gave him to say. He healed when the power of the Lord was present for him to heal. His every breath and every action was an act of love and sacrifice, presented to the Father as worship. He never acted on this own, and that’s Luke’s point.
The house is jammed. The street is jammed. People are crowding and jostling. Jesus is beyond popular: he’s downright famous. People were ready to drop their day’s obligations to hear what he had to say and see what he would do. How different he is from the Pharisees who avoided the crowds as much as possible because they didn’t want to be defiled by people. Jesus is so radically different, probably much to their dismay and judgment: He couldn’t be that religious around all this defilement!
You know the story. These guys were desperate, and weren’t about to have come all this way for nothing. Their hope is like an army tank that refuses to be stopped. They climb up on the roof via the outside stairs and bash a hole in the roof. Voila: problem solved creatively. They want extra credit for their work.
Jesus simply refuses to act predictably. He will not be put in a box. It doesn’t say he saw their courage, or their creativity, or their hope, or their persistence, or even the hole in the roof. He saw their faith, and that’s what he responded to. “Friend, your sins are forgiven.” Jesus just keeps pushing the envelope. Sure there are all these prophecies about him that have already been brought to light, as well as the voice from heaven, and the clarifications at the temptation. But then he heals the sick, and casts out demons. But when he stood in the synagogue at Nazareth to teach, he claimed to be the fulfillment of the prophecy about the coming one from heaven. It almost got him killed at the hands of people who were very particular about their religion and especially sensitive about blasphemy. Here, though, Jesus steps over the edge of a cliff of his own making: “Your sins are forgiven.” You know, he could have played it safe. He could have just healed the man as he had a thousand others. But there’s a point to be made here, and Jesus won’t let the opportunity slip by. He has the audience of the “pastors” and “professors” from all over the land. It’s the time to drop the bomb of deity.
It’s a declaration of deity, because unless he is God, the sins have not been committed against him. Now it is quite natural for a man to forgive something you do to him. Thus if somebody cheats me out of $5, it is quite possible and reasonable for me to say, ‘Well, I forgive him, we will say no more about it.’ What on earth would you say if somebody had done you out of $5 and I said, ‘That is all right, I forgive him’?
I mean, it seems so inappropriate and even irrelevant to the immediate situation. But since in the Old Testament disease and sin, and healing and forgiveness were interrelated concepts, it’s not so far-fetched.
Jesus used the moment to teach about resurrection. He could give life to dead legs, and he could give life to dead souls. And he knew the difference between genuine faith and just being religious.
Well, we all just could have predicted the backlash for this one. Most likely the Pharisees were there to cause trouble anyway, because you just know they’re not going to agree with the guy. And Jesus hasn’t danced around the bush for one second, but instead lit the forest fire himself.
And what he said doesn’t slip by them. They make the big bucks to pay attention and put out forest fires, so today is their day. But it’s not just Jesus’ teaching, but the doggone little guy from Nazareth just claimed to do something that is God’s prerogative alone. Can you see the sneer on their faces? Jesus just blasphemed. Maybe they thought he would teach the law like they did, but they never expected this. They know their scripture, though, and they know the chapter and verse of where the Bible says only God can forgive sins. It’s a no-brainer.
Jesus doesn’t rebuke them, but challenges them with a question: Why are you thinking what you’re thinking? I bet now their sneer has turned to a smirk. What a joke this guy is. They’re shaking their heads in disbelief. Oh, brother.
But then Jesus throws down the gauntlet. Which is easier to say, “Your sins are forgiven” or “get up and walk?” (The “sins” part is easier because no one can tell whether or not it came true!) But so that you know I am the “Son of Man” of Daniel’s prophecy, and that I have the authority of God Almighty to forgive sins right here and right now…(and he turned to the man on the mat), …(the room is dead silent, every eye riveted on the Man In White, every ear listening to every pin that might drop…) “Get up and walk!”
CAN YOU HEAR THE GASPS OF AMAZEMENT when the man immediately stood up IN FRONT OF THEM and walked, maybe jumped, praising God? The people are simply buzzing with excitement, and the Pharisees’ jaws are on the ground. You can hear their big gulp, and their lips turning dry. “What in the WORLD just happened?”
But Jesus had claimed equality with God, had acted with the power of God, and had made good on his claim. What do you DO with that?