If I were to write in my Bible a title for Luke 5:17-26, I would write above the healing of the paralytic: “Opportunity Lost!” This incident occurred at the very beginning of our Lord’s ministry, the first three weeks to be exact. Jesus had been offering himself to the people as their Messiah. Up to this point, his home town of Nazareth had rejected him, and Capernaum, his new residence, didn’t seem to be all that happy with him either. It was autumn in Galilee and the time of the Fall Festivals (Leviticus 23). Nearly all of the Sabbaths that are mentioned in these chapters (Mark 1-3; Luke 5-6) indicate the Holy Day Sabbaths that fell in the seventh month of the Jewish calendar.
During the time of the annul Festivals leaders from all over Judea would come to celebrate with friends and family throughout the Holy Land (Luke 5:17). It was during this time that Jesus healed the man of palsy (Luke 5:24-25). Yet, although Jesus healed this man, the intent of his power was to heal the leaders of the Jews. His power that day was to heal them (Luke 5:17) of their hard hearts.
Jesus was in his own house in Capernaum (Mark 2:1), and a crowd had gathered there so no one else could even fit in the doorway (Mark 2:2). When men removed the ceiling tiles to lower a friend to Jesus for healing, Jesus said that his sins were forgiven. The leaders of the Jews thought this was blasphemy, but Jesus asked which was easier to say: “Your sins are forgiven” or “Rise up and walk?” Both phrases said the same thing, according to the then current religious thought among the rabbis. This man was in his condition because of sin (John 9:2, 34). When the man rose up and walked, all were amazed; all glorified God; and all were filled with terror over what they admitted to be a very unexpected development.
The problem was: the leaders came face to face with having to admit error or place their trust in Jesus. “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” Yet, this man, Jesus, clearly forgave sins, because, if his sins caused this man’s palsy, and Jesus healed him of his infirmity, clearly his sins were forgiven. Either their teaching about sins causing illnesses was in error or Jesus was God in the flesh! There didn’t seem to be a third way of looking at the problem, and this was what put fear in their hearts.
The problem with belonging to a ‘school of thought’ is: an attack on one’s fellowship is often seen as a personal attack. Saving face becomes important, because one fears what others may think of him or her, if error in Scriptural understanding is admitted. Admitting doctrinal error may bring upon that one the wrath and ostracism of his beloved fellowship. What usually occurs in this kind of setting is: one delays his decision, which is exactly what the scribes and Pharisees did. They could not place their trust in Jesus without reasoning together in private (Luke 5:26; cp. Mark 2:12). By the time we get to Luke 6 the same leaders of Judaism are laying a trap for Jesus in and effort to cause him heal on the Sabbath (another taboo, according to their Scriptural understanding). Rather than admit error and take the consequences among their friends and associates in Jerusalem, we find these men seeking to find fault with Jesus. They couldn’t find fault with the healing or the implications that pointed to, but rather than agree with their Messiah, they sought to find fault with him, so they would have to face the consequences of his doctrine.
Often, when we come to a point where we must make a difficult and uncomfortable decision, we would rather find fault with the alternative in order to feel safe in what would otherwise be wrong. Sadly, what was meant for healing (Luke 5:17), never reached the hearts (Luke 5:26) of the Jewish leadership. Faith and apparent safety are often at odds! The timing of our response to Christ is vitally important. Lord, help us to see.