I"ve been meditating on Luke 5:17-26
Last week I listened to a podcast from the Gospel Coalition, an evangelical Christian ministry. It featured an interview with New York Times columnist and political writer David Brooks. Brooks was raised in a secular Jewish family. Throughout most of his adult life he would have identified as either an atheist or an agnostic at best. But recently something changed, and in this interview he described his conversion to Christianity.
He said he knew he had a profound spiritual problem 15 or 20 years ago… when his dreams came true; when he satisfied what he believed was his heart’s deepest desire; when he wrote his first New York Times-bestselling book. Isn’t this what all aspiring authors dream of? To land a book on top of the bestseller list! Brooks thought, “If only I could write and publish a #1 bestseller, my problems would be solved. My life would change dramatically! I could have lasting happiness and joy. If only...” Yet he said that when his publisher called to give him the good news that he had a bestseller, he felt “completely empty.” It didn’t make him happy. It didn’t change his life for the better. It didn’t fulfill him—even though it meant greater fame, more career opportunities—not to mention more money.
He needed something more… something else… Someone else to satisfy him.
And I believe the paralyzed man and his friends in today’s scripture aren’t so different from David Brooks. They undoubtedly had an “if only” condition as well. I’m sure that before he encountered Jesus, the paralytic thought something like this: “If only I could walk again, then I would be truly happy, then my life would be everything I want it to be, then my problems would be solved.”
If so, you can imagine their surprise and disappointment in v. 20: “And when he saw their faith, he said, ‘Man, your sins are forgiven you.’”
“Your sins are forgiven you”?
Perhaps we wouldn’t blame these friends of the paralytic if they said something like this: “No, Jesus, you don’t understand. We didn’t go to all this trouble so that you would forgive our friend’s sins; we went to all this trouble because we needed a tangible, practical, down-to-earth, empirically verifiable miracle—a physical healing—so that our friend would be able to walk again. As anyone in this house can see, that’s his biggest, most important, most urgent need: physical healing.”
But Jesus obviously disagreed. A physical healing was not the man’s most urgent need.
What about us? Is there something about which we say, “If only I had that! If only this happened to me! If only that other thing didn’t happen!” If so, it probably sounds something like this…
“If only I had gotten that promotion at work… if only I could meet the right person… if only I had married the right person… if only I hadn’t gotten sick… if only I had gotten into the right college… if only my business hadn’t failed… if only I hadn’t gotten laid off… if only I hadn’t gotten divorced… if only I had been able to have children… if only my parents had money growing up, then I would have all those advantages that these other people have… if only I could lose 15 lbs.! if only I had a larger church—after all, I’m better than that guy over there! (You think I don’t have an “if only” in my life just because I’m a preacher?
But consider this: Suppose Jesus had given the paralytic and his friends what they originally wanted. Suppose Jesus had fulfilled their “if only.” No doubt about it, this man and his friends would have walked away happy… elated… relieved. Until tomorrow… or next week… or next month. Because another “if only” would have taken the place of the “if only” that they had before.
The good news is, Jesus knows that what we really need is not some short-term solution to an immediate problem; what we really need is him; what we really need is to be in a saving relationship with God through Jesus Christ and his atoning work on the cross; what we really need is spiritual healing. If only he’ll give us that… we can handle anything else that life or the devil throws our way! Even something really bad… like not being able to walk.
You say, “Not so fast, Pastor Moore! Jesus also healed the man of his disability!” Yes, but look at v. 24: Jesus indicates that the only reason he gives the man a physical healing is to prove that he has the power to give him a spiritual healing. If the Pharisees hadn’t been questioning that he had the power to forgive sins, he was perfectly content to leave this man with his disability. And God’s Word is telling us that this man would have been O.K. even if he hadn’t been physically healed.
Because it’s infinitely better to be unable to walk and have Jesus than to physically healthy and not have him! It’s infinitely better to suffer with Jesus than to have a life of comfort and ease without him!
The apostle Paul provides a living example of this truth. Turn with me to 2 Corinthians 11, beginning around verse 23. Here Paul gives a summary of some of the suffering that he has endured as a result of his faithfulness to Jesus. He begins by saying that he’s experienced many imprisonments, “with countless beatings, and often near death.”
Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one.Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.
Now turn a few letters over to Philippians 3:7-8. Here Paul describes his life before and after Christ. He writes,
But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him.
Do you hear what he’s saying? Because of his faithfulness to Jesus, he’s lost everything that a young Jewish man in his culture would hold dear—plus, as we just read, he’s “gained” a lot of suffering. Yet what does he say? Because he now has Christ, losing everything and suffering everything is totally worth it! It’s no comparison! Because Jesus is worth everything to him!
There is no “if only” with Paul. Because Paul has Jesus, he has everything he needs!
Jesus wants to be everything you need! He wants to be your only “if only”! He wants to be enough for you!
Do you believe that Jesus is enough for you?
One more thing: Look at v. 23: “Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’?” What’s the answer?
On the one hand, of course the answer is that it’s easier to say, “Your sins are forgiven,” because you can’t prove it one way or another. If they are forgiven, that’s an inward, invisible reality that no outside observer could see. Whereas if you say, “Take up your bed and walk,” well… either the man will walk or he won’t. But you can prove that!
So in that sense it’s easier to say, “Your sins are forgiven”—at least from our human point of view.
But consider this: Is it hard for God to perform a physical miracle? He created the universe and everything in it, including you and me, so of course it’s not hard for God to perform a physical miracle. And Jesus is God, God in the flesh, the Second Person of the Trinity. So it’s no sweat for Jesus to perform a physical miracle.
By the way, this is why I don’t quite understand Christians who struggle to believe the miracles in the Bible. Is it hard for God to make a man survive for three days inside the belly of a big fish? Of course not! The Creator of the universe has the power to do that!
But you know what is hard?
Sweating drops of blood in the Garden of Gethsemane and saying, “Father, if possible take this cup away from me, but not my will but yours be done.” Being mocked, beaten, spat upon. Being rejected by the world you created. Having nails driven through your hands and feet. Suffering the punishment for all our sins. Crying out, “My God, my God, why have your forsaken me?” and experiencing—for the first time in eternity—separation from your Father, which is nothing less than hell itself—which Jesus did on our behalf, so we wouldn’t have to. That was hard, infinitely hard!
See, we have it backwards! We think that forgiveness is the easy thing; and the physical miracle is hard thing. It’s not even close!
But when you’re in heaven with Jesus and you ask him, “Jesus, was it worth it to do all those hard things for me—so that you could have me with you in eternity forever? Am I worth it to you?” Do you know what he’ll say?
He’ll say, “It was totally worth all the suffering to have you with me forever!”