He Stood Up … Luke 5:17-26

I was running an early morning devotion for a group of school leavers on a camp recently. In true camp fashion, we’d sung a few hymns, read some Scripture and were discussing its meaning and implications before praying for one another.

The passage was Luke 5:17-26—where some people lower their paralysed friend through a hole in a roof to get to Jesus.

The surprise of the text is that Jesus says “your sins are forgiven” … the man’s friends had clearly brought him there for physical healing.

As we discussed the passage and tried to find out the meaning through questions and re-reading, the campers began to see Jesus’ authority—and also the way he prioritises forgiveness.

The surprise of the text is that Jesus says to the paralysed man, “your sins are forgiven”. It’s surprising, not just because that’s only something God can declare (since sin is ultimately an offence against him), but because the man’s friends had clearly brought him there for physical healing. You could imagine those present thinking, “Jesus, read the room! They’re here for something else …”

If the friends of the paralytic were disappointed they didn’t get the miracle they’d come for, the Scribes and Pharisees on the scene were furious that Jesus was audacious enough to grant forgiveness of sins. That is God’s prerogative alone. Perceiving their thoughts, Jesus asks the important question in v23: “Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’?”

Obviously, it is easier to say “your sins are forgiven” precisely because it is non-falsifiable or verifiable. It is, in one sense, an invisible reality. So, Jesus demonstrates his authority to forgive sins by telling this man to “get up and walk.” And the man does so “in front of them” (Luke 5:25). The crowds are “amazed” and praise God.

Thus Jesus demonstrates his authority and his priorities—both of which come from his divine identity as the Son of God. It was a great opportunity to teach the campers how to study Scripture and also some theology about the forgiveness of sins.

But then I asked them how it works for us: “what assurance do you and I have that our sins are forgiven?”

They thought for a moment before the attempts came in:

“The Cross?”

“Feeling the Holy Spirit’s presence?”

“A changed life?”

They were all good answers, but they aren’t what Jesus, or the apostles, or Luke himself point to as the grounds of our assurance of forgiveness.

So, I pressed them, “what objective, verifiable demonstration do we have that our sins are forgiven? What can we all point to as the reason that Jesus’ death was an effective payment for the penalty of sin?

No answer.

I got them to look again at v.25: “Immediately, he stood up.” The word there for our English, “stood-up” is the same Greek word for “rise up”, from which we get “resurrection”. The word “resurrection” literally means “to stand up / rise up”. [1]

The objective, verifiable demonstration of God’s power and pardon for sins is the ‘standing-up’ again of Jesus from the dead.

I think Luke is not-so-subtlely pointing to a greater truth that he emphasises in both this Gospel (e.g. Luke 23:7) and its sequel (i.e. the book of Acts)[2]: that the objective, verifiable demonstration of God’s power and pardon for sins is the resurrection; the “standing-up” again of Jesus from the dead.

This is the centre of Luke’s message in his written accounts to Theophilus: Jesus is the resurrected Saviour and Lord of the world. The objective, verifiable basis of our our assurance of forgiveness is the standing-up again of Jesus from the grave. It is in him we place our faith and confidence.

The story of Jesus forgiving and healing the paralytic is incredible and worth retelling. But it also points forward to the greater proof that our sins are forgiven—the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

[1] Mark 2:1-11 also recounts this incident however, Mark doesn’t use the word anestamei to describe the man “standing-up”. He uses the “rise-up” word egeiro. Both are accurate descriptions of what occurred. However Luke, in his usual pattern, shows both a historical and theological dimension to this story.

[2] When the apostle Peter preaches his first sermon in Acts 2 it was the fact of the resurrection that he points to as proof of Jesus’ divine identity, kingly role, and the forgiveness of sins.
In Acts 17, Paul similarly tells his Gentile hearers that God commands:
… all men everywhere to repent, because he has set as the date he will judge the world with justice, and has given proof to this by raising him [Jesus] from the dead. (30-31)