Jesus Forgives Sins
If you have been in church long, you have heard several sermons on this passage. But you have likely heard them preached as a model of evangelism, telling you to be persistent in bringing your friends to Jesus. But that is not the point of the story. The point is what Jesus does and who he is.
Verse 17 tells us that Jesus had grown so well known and popular as a teacher, that people came from all over Israel to hear him. Although he had confined his ministry to Galilee, in the north of the country, we see that people came from Judea and all the way from Jerusalem. In fact, Luke says they came from every village.
Also in this crowd were Pharisees and teachers of the law. The Pharisees were an influential group of Jews dedicated to the preservation of and obedience to the law. They had also added many rules and regulations to the law.
The teachers of the law are sometimes called scribes or lawyers. They were dedicated to copying the scriptures and to public teaching. They belonged to the sect of the Pharisees.
These men came to hear this new preacher’s message so they could decide if he was a legitimate teacher. There is nothing wrong with that. Every preacher and teacher should be subject to examination by the church, represented by those who are qualified to teach.
Jesus was also healing. Verse 17 also says the “power of the Lord was with him to heal”. “The Lord” here means the Father. I do not think this means sometimes Jesus had the power to heal and sometimes he did not, but just that he had the power and was using it.
Jesus was evidently teaching in a house or building. Some men brought their paralyzed friend to be healed by Jesus. They could not get in the door, so they went in through the roof, removing tiles until they could drop their friend at the feet of Jesus.
The faith and persistence of the friends is laudable (praiseworthy). Jesus saw their faith. It appears that the friends and the paralyzed man believed Jesus had the power to heal.
Jesus, however, does not do what we expect. We have read of him healing many people, including a leper. But Jesus did not say “be healed” he said “Man, your sins are forgiven you”. (20)
This may mean that the man’s sins were the cause of his paralysis. That would be a common view of the Jews in the audience. But it could also be that Jesus simply chose this man to demonstrate his deity. Remember the story of the blind man Jesus healed. (John 9:1-12) The disciples asked who sinned to cause the blindness. Jesus answered that it was no one, it was not a matter of sin, but it was so Jesus could demonstrate his glory. Jesus said it was “that the works of God might be displayed in him”.
Jesus’s words regarding forgiveness caused a problem for the Pharisees in attendance. They accused him of blasphemy because only God can forgive sins. (21) They were correct in their second point: only God can forgive sins. That is exactly the point Jesus intended to make. If he forgave sins, he implied that he had the authority to forgive sins. If he had that authority, he was God.
The Pharisees were wrong, of course, to accuse him of blasphemy. One way to commit blasphemy is to claim to be God. If Jesus were only a man, his statement would have been blasphemy. But as deity, as the second person of the Trinity, the Son of God, he indeed had the power and authority he claimed. He could forgive sins.
Jesus confronted the Pharisees on this point. He first asked them a question: is it easier to your sins or forgiven or rise up and walk? Either takes the authority of God, but one creates no visible action and one does. So, Jesus said, I will give you the visible proof so you will know I have this authority. Then he told the man to get up and go home and the man did.
This healing again proves that Jesus is the Son of God. Jesus had the power of God to heal, as Luke pointed out in verse 17. He also had the power and authority to forgive sinners.
The healed man went home glorifying God. The crowd glorified God. (26) But subsequent events will show us the Pharisees did not believe and did not glorify God for what Jesus did.
We should glorify God when we see him work. We clap to do this often in these days, which if fine, but we glorify God when we see a saved sinner baptized. This same Jesus forgave that sinner based on this faith in Jesus as Savior and Lord. As the man and the crowd in the story glorified God, so should we whenever we see a person baptized.
Jesus Calls Levi (Matthew) To Be A Follower
Levi was a tax collector. (27) Jesus went to his tax booth to call him. This is similar to his going to the boats to call Simon, James and John. He went to their place of business.
Jesus simply said “follow me”. In this context, this is a call for Levi to leave his job, his wealth and his ambitions to follow Jesus, learn from him and obey him. Levi did just that. (28) We will later come to know Levi as Matthew.
But Levi did more than that. Levi gave a great feast at his house. (29) He invited his fellow tax collectors and others. He wanted them to meet Jesus, for whom he had given up everything. You can just picture them reclining at a table, eating and drinking, having a great time. Tax collectors did not get invited to many homes for dinner.
They also would get introduced to Jesus by Levi. Jesus would converse with them during the meal, laugh with them and make friends. Levi would probably have asked Jesus to say a few words. He would have presented the gospel.
The Pharisees were unhappy with this because Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners. (30) Tax collectors were despised because they represented the Roman government and often over-charged in order to make more money. They were considered traitors and thieves. “Sinners” were anyone not living up to the standards of the Pharisees. It also included despised tradesmen such as herdsmen, peddlers and tanners. It included the physically deformed. They shunned Samaritans and Gentiles.
For the Jews, eating a meal with someone was an honor. It was fellowship with another person. These who were unclean were not worthy of fellowship for Pharisees. They were not worthy. The Pharisees believed they would be unclean if they did so, and it was important to them never to be ceremonially unclean
The Pharisees did not complain directly to Jesus, but to his disciples. They may have been outside the area where the feast occurred, looking in along with the disciples.
But Jesus answered them directly. He may have been reclining at table, heard them and turned around to address them. It is a dramatic confrontation with an audience of tax collectors and sinners, disciples and Pharisees all witness to Jesus’s words.
Jesus compared himself to a physician, who goes to tend the sick, not those who are well.(Luke, a physician, must have loved discovering this story.) Likewise, Jesus said he came to call sinners to repentance, not the righteous. And that is why he was eating with them.
Of course, no one was righteous unless they had come to Jesus in faith for forgiveness. But the Pharisees thought they were righteous and not in need of forgiveness. Because of that, they missed the opportunity to receive forgiveness and eternal life.
The Pharisees also saw tax collectors as beyond redemption, as beyond God’s love. We make similar assumptions. We decide not to share the gospel with someone because they are too mean, or too rich or too unlike us. But it is not for us to decide whom God will save. It is for us to share the gospel with everyone.
We must also take care in how we treat believers who are different from us, whether of different race or nationality, or social class, or in appearance or wealth. People tend to get close to people like themselves. My mother used to say “birds of a feather flock together”. There are books that advise not trying to cross social or class lines, but to only seek those like your core group.
But that is not what Jesus wanted in evangelism or church fellowship. He wants us to take the gospel to the whole world and he wants us to accept every person he saves into our fellowship.
So be careful. Do not avoid the person who comes in who is different than you. Do not avoid the poor, or the unlovely or the uneducated, or the rich, or the cultured or anyone. Sometimes the best way to avoid this is to seek out the person you feel uncomfortable with and make friends. Do not be the Pharisees.