What Are You Prepared to Do ?
This was a famous line from the movie, “The Untouchables” uttered with great drama by Sean Connery to Kevin Costner. Costner’s character—Elliot Ness had been trying to bust Al Capone with no success at all. Connery played the part of an experienced cop who had been reduced to walking a beat in Chicago because he refused to take a bribe. Costner was lamenting how he just couldn’t achieve his goal, when Connery interrupted with the pivotal line in the movie. The rest of the movie was about Elliot Ness’ response to Connery’s question, “What are you prepared to do?”. What sacrifice will you make? What risk will you take? What burden will you carry? How far will you go? How hard will you work? These same questions must have been posed to four amazing friends in the town of Capernaum around about 30 AD. Their friend was paralyzed with no hope of recovery—except that these men believed in the one man in the whole history of the world who had been sent into the world by God to do and say amazing things. This man Jesus, was in their town teaching in a home (probably the home of Simon Peter). There was a major problem in that the crowds following Jesus were so large that they would not be able to get anywhere near Him, much less carry their paralyzed friend right up to Him. In fact when they carried him on his bed to the neighborhood of Peter’s house, I’m sure they were told to go away, there is no room. It cannot be done. The major question for them that would determine their fate and the fate of their paralyzed friend was—WHAT ARE YOU PREPARED TO DO ?
The Capernaum Caper
This story can be found in Mark 2:1-12 and Luke 5:17-26. Involved in this caper would be vandalism, destruction of private property, breaking and entering, angering public officials, interrupting the teaching of the Master, and all the debts and damages incurred in the commission of this caper. These four men were trying to bring their paralyzed friend to Jesus, but they could “not find any way to bring him in because of the crowd”.
Imagine the scene in first century Capernaum. The typical house was stone and mortar. There would be an outer courtyard, then a small house (by today’s standards) with a flat roof. There may have been some small precarious steps to get up on the roof. The roof would have been about two feet thick, formed by laying poles cross ways across the house then overlaid with a matting of branches and dried mud and then covered with tiles. Mark’s account mentions that they removed the roof and dug an opening. Luke added that there was tiles on the roof. What were they prepared to do? They were prepared to take any risk, cause any mess, pay any damages, carry any burden, interrupt any meeting, and go to any difficult place to take their friend to Jesus.
They carried the paralytic on his bed through the crowd, up on the roof, and then I imagine they laid him down while they tried to figure out where Jesus was in the house. I imagine they tore off a lot of tiles and poked holes all over that roof before they found the exact location. Needless to say when they were through, that house needed a whole new roof, and what would the crowd below in the house be saying? I’m sure words were exchanged. They would have been none to happy with all the dirt and debris raining down on them—especially the Pharisees. I wish I could have been there with a camera to get Peter’s reaction to his house being destroyed. Can you imagine what he said when it was over? “Come back anytime, nice having you over”. When the four men on the roof located Jesus below, they made an opening big enough to lower the paralytic down to Him. There was probably only one guy there who was not angry—Jesus
Making Intercession—the Vicarious Nature of God’s Forgiveness
Luke 5:20 says Jesus noticed the faith of the four men on the roof, not the paralytic. Jesus rewarded their love, faith, and persistence in bringing the poor man to Him. In fact throughout the Bible God rewards faith, love, and persistence. Everyone that is forgiven by God receives forgiveness based on the intercession of someone else. Our salvation which leads to our forgiveness is based on the vicarious atonement of Jesus on the cross. In Exodus 32, God told Moses that He was going to destroy all the children of Israel because of their terrible sin of idolatry with the golden calf they made. Moses entreated the Lord for the people and interceded on their behalf. In Ex.32:32, Moses even offered to die for them. God relented because of Moses’ intercession.
Upon seeing what these men had done for this guy, Jesus said something totally unexpected, “Friend, your sins are forgiven you.” Now what would you say if you went to the doctor for some serious problem, and he said, “your sins are forgiven” ? More than likely you would be shocked and answer, that’s nice but what about this other problem I came for? Therefore, I imagine the paralytic and the guys on the roof are very surprised, but there is another group of people there who have a different agenda and a different reaction. The Pharisees were in attendance and were scrutinizing everything Jesus said and did. The Pharisees were respected religious leaders who were the keepers and teachers of the Law of Moses. They were well educated and thought of as righteous men in first century Israel. The problem was that they had a totally different view of who the Messiah would be. They were looking for a political/military leader to free them from Rome and restore Israel to peace and prosperity, instead this Jesus was a humble carpenter from Nazareth who hangs out with common people and sinners. Their pride and self-righteousness gave them a warped view of Jesus and the Scriptures that foretold of Him. Jesus was also a threat to their power, position, and traditions.
These Pharisees were grumbling to each other about what Jesus said to the paralytic, “who does this man think he is to forgive sin? Only God can forgive sins.” Jesus knew what they were thinking and that their reaction would be to accuse Him of blasphemy so He confronted them. Jesus knew that He was going to heal the paralytic, but He did it this way to draw out the Pharisees and confront them with the truth. Using His usual incredible wisdom, Jesus connects His right to forgive with His power to heal the paralytic. In Luke 5:23 He said, “Which is easier to say ‘Your sins are forgiven’, or to say, ‘rise up and walk’? Then Jesus gives the purpose statement for the miracle—“But in order that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”, I say to you, “rise up, take your stretcher and go home”. Immediately he got up completely healed and went home glorifying God. Jesus had verified the moral miracle of forgiveness by the physical miracle of healing.
Why Did Jesus Do This Miracle ?
Assuming Jesus did these miracles for a purpose beyond just pure compassion, I can see at least three reasons: 1. It proved who Jesus was by connecting His power to forgive with His power to heal. Only God can command a paralyzed man to get up and walk, and only God can forgive sins. By doing the healing which was objectively proven, He also proved that He could forgive the guy, which also proved His deity.
- He confronted His opposition, the Pharisees. Jesus drew out their unbelief and then proved them wrong. Jesus had made a calculated, provocative statement. Knowing the Pharisees were looking for a reason to discredit Him, He gave it to them, and then turned the tables on them. Now after this, only a very hard heart could disbelieve.
- He rewarded the love, faith, and persistence of the four men who interceded for the paralytic. As the Scriptures say—all that seek Him will find Him.
Our Greatest Need
We tend to focus on the here and now. We are all concerned for the needs of the moment. We pray the hardest when we are seriously ill, or when we are “in the foxhole” so to speak. Many ministers speak mostly of social ills in society, good deeds that need to be done, or an obedient lifestyle that we need to keep. Nevertheless, we find out in this story what our greatest need is. We find out what Jesus primarily came to do. Jesus was sent by God the Father primarily to deal with man’s sin problem. Jesus came to free us from our bondage to sin. Without Christ, we are all dead in our sins, separated from God with no hope for reconciliation. Physical well being is not the essence of Christianity. Health and wealth is not the essence of Christianity. Reconciliation with God is the essence of Christianity. We should remember this if God doesn’t answer our prayers about our physical problem. He is more concerned with your spiritual eternal needs.
The Pharisees asked two very valid questions that all people everywhere must answer— “Who is this guy (Jesus)?”, and “Who can forgive sins, but God alone?” People want to say that Jesus is a great religious leader, a good moral teacher, or a prophet; but He is much more, He is the Son of God and the Son of Man. Jesus is the exact essence of God in the flesh. Jesus successfully answered both of their questions, thus, this miracle was a great teaching miracle for that audience and for us
- Has God ever said to you, “Your sins are forgiven” ? Do you know that you are forgiven? The angel told Mary in Matt.1:21 “Jesus shall save His people from their sins”, and in Acts 10:43 Peter said, “Of Jesus all the prophets bear witness that through Him everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins”. John wrote in Rev.1:5, “And from Jesus Christ…unto Him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood.”
- What price would you pay for others? What risks would you take? Would you tear up roofs? Would you carry heavy burdens? Would you go to difficult places?
WHAT ARE YOU PREPARED TO DO FOR JESUS ? It goes without saying we would go to great lengths for ourselves, but what are you prepared to do for others?
- What is the value God puts on persistence? Jesus taught two different parables illustrating the value of persistence. In Luke 11:5-8, you go to a friend at midnight asking for bread, but naturally he says to go away. Yet if you persist, he will get up and give you bread, not because of friendship, but because of your persistence. Then in Luke 18:1-6, Jesus taught on the value of persistence in prayer. He told the story of the crooked judge who would not give justice to a widow; yet because of her persistence he relented. Jesus gave them a “from the lesser to the greater argument”. How much more will God bring about justice for His people who cry out to Him persistently?