Luke tells us that the response to Jesus’ healing of the man stricken with palsy in connection with his saying that the man’s sins were forgiven was paradoxical. The scribes and Pharisees claimed that they “saw strange things today!” (Luke 5:26) The Greek word for strange things is paradoxos (G3861), from which we get our word paradox. The question is then, ‘what was the paradox that Jesus laid before the Pharisees and the doctors of the Law that they found so difficult to embrace? The healing, itself, astonished everyone—both the people and the leaders. Nevertheless, the power or authority behind the healing is what left the leaders of the people speechless and without a comfortable explanation. In fact, Mark tells us that these leaders had never seen their beliefs carried out in this fashion (Mark 2:12).
When Jesus told the man stricken with palsy that his sins were forgiven (Luke 5:20), the Jewish leadership responded among themselves that such a saying was blasphemous, because only God could forgive sins (Luke 5:21). While the basic thought is true—only God could forgive sins—they were at that point failing to obey the Law, which states that the words of the prophet should be judged by the end of the matter, not one’s initial understanding of the prophet’s message (Deuteronomy 18:21-22). From the very beginning the problem with the Jewish leadership was that they already believed they knew the word of God. They would not consider the message of anyone who didn’t speak and act, as they both spoke and acted (cf. John 7:15, 48).
Luke doesn’t tell us how long the man was paralyzed or to what degree. It is assumed he is paralyzed at least from the waist down. Otherwise, why would he need to have been carried by friends? If the man was stricken with paralysis for quite some time, his muscles would have begun to atrophy or were fully so. Even if he were immediately healed, he would necessarily have needed exercise to build up his muscles before his legs could support his body. That atrophy was an issue is implied in the astonishment of all who witnessed the miracle. If the palsy was a recent condition, it could be argued that everyone’s amazement is out of place, because obviously the man’s weakness was only temporary. Jesus merely excited some psychosomatic condition that returned the man to good mental health. While this may have been a good thing for the man, it would hardly astonish the leaders of the community. They might have concluded, “Well, that’s nice, but what about these sins that you forgave?”
The astonishment in the Synoptics (Luke 5:26; Mark 2:12; Matthew 9:8) is misplaced, unless atrophy was also an obvious condition of the man stricken with palsy. Therefore, unlike Peter’s miracle in Acts 3:7-11, where it was evident that the man needed to exercise his muscles before he would have been able to walk on his own, Jesus healed the man so that he could rise up and carry his bed home. In Acts the man’s muscles and bones were healed, but exercise was needed to completely restore the his ability to walk on his own, for he needed to lean one Peter and John as he walked and leapt for joy in the Temple.
Two things seem apparent from Luke’s record of this miracle. First, the obvious conclusion that only God is able to forgive sins must mean that Jesus is God, come in the flesh. While I have to power to forgive anything anyone has done to me, I do not have this same authority for problems that exist between others. I might be able to successfully mediate between two offended parties, but it is they who must come to the point of forgiving one another for issues that exist between them. Only God is able to forgive sins committed by whomsoever and under any and all circumstances. Therefore, what Jesus did (Luke 5:20) was a Temple thing—a God thing.
The second thing Luke implies in this account fits in with the above but wraps flesh around it. Namely, Jesus is God in the flesh and forgives sin. God who is wrapped in flesh has visited his people. God has visited mankind, but not in a manner in which we would have expected him to do, if, indeed, such a thing would occur. Rather, God had come to us to dwell with us, just as we are. On the face, he was subject to the same weaknesses and limitations that we are. On the one hand, Jesus was no more powerful than any other man (Philippians 2:6-7), but, on the other hand, the Spirit of God rested upon him and filled him (Luke 4:1, 14, 18-19) and not in measure (John 3:34). Nevertheless, Jesus taught and worked within the realm of the will of the Father (Philippians 2:8; cf. John 5:17).
This was, indeed, a paradox. Their own teaching commanded them to believe Jesus was God in the flesh, but all they could permit themselves to say was “we have seen strange things (paradoxes) today” (Luke 5:26). Embracing what they thought they knew about the Law, they had no faith. They simply couldn’t trust the One who showed them he was able to do what only God in the Temple was able to do. Jesus was, indeed, a paradox that reason was unable to answer, but the paradox loses its mystery when faith in Jesus is exercised. He is who he claims to be!