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Lesson 20: Helping Our Friends Find Forgiveness (Luke 5:17-26)

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A young boy, dirty and dressed in scruffy clothes, came into a Christian bookshop in an English village. His head reached just above the counter. He asked the shopkeeper, “How much are yer Bibles, mister?” The man pulled his cheapest Bible off the shelf, one with children’s pictures, but the £1.5 in the boy’s grubby hand was not enough.

“Hang on, I’ve got more money in my sock,” the boy said. He sat down on the floor, pulled off a shoe and then a long, woolen sock. “The Bible’s not for me; it’s for me mate. I want him to know Jesus like I do.”

“You can have the Bible,” the shopkeeper said. “Shall I rub the price off?” Putting his sock and shoe back on, the boy answered, “No, leave it on. I want me mate to know how much I like him.” As he walked out the door with the Bible, he stopped, turned and said with a grin, “It’s a good book, ain’t it mister?”

By seeking to bring his friend to Jesus, that boy was being the best kind of friend in this world. I want to talk about how we can help our friends find God’s forgiveness.

To help our friends find forgiveness, we must bring them to Jesus who has authority to forgive sins.

This is the message of the colorful story of the paralytic man whose friends lowered him through the roof as Jesus spoke in a crowded house (Luke 5:17-26). It’s a humorous story. Mark tells us that it happened in Capernaum. Peter lived there and Mark, who got his information from Peter, is the most elaborate in describing the men digging through the roof. If this was Peter’s house you can imagine how he, not to mention his wife, felt to have his house jammed with people and then to see these four guys dig a hole through his roof to let their friend down in front of Jesus!

As a preacher, I find the story humorous because I can relate to the problem of dealing with distractions while you’re preaching. As Jesus was speaking, some of the people in the front row began feeling dirt raining down on their heads. As they looked up, they saw a patch of daylight through the ceiling. As they kept looking, it grew until they saw four sweaty-faced men who proceeded to lower this guy on a stretcher right in front of Jesus. How do you stick to your message when that happens! I once had an elderly lady on the second row pass out in the middle of my sermon. I didn’t know whether she had died or what! I had to pause while they carried her out of the church! We used to have the local ambulance driver in our church, and his alarm wasn’t a beeper; it was a loud horn. When that baby went off, anyone napping through my sermon thought that the last trump had sounded!

Jesus had a minute to think about His response. He startled everyone by saying to the paralytic, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.” It must have startled the guys on the roof. One of them had his head down through the opening so he could hear. The other guys were asking, “What did Jesus say?” He relayed, “He said that his sins are forgiven.” “His sins are forgiven! Didn’t He heal him? You mean we went to all the trouble of digging this hole in the roof and letting him down just so he could get his sins forgiven? We want him healed!”

It startled the Jewish religious leaders in the audience. Luke tells us that they weren’t just the locals, but that they had come from “every village in Galilee and Judea and Jerusalem” (5:17). They weren’t there to get blessed by Jesus’ teaching. They were there on official business, to check out this popular young upstart and catch Him in some heresy. Jesus gave them their money’s worth! His words were deliberately calculated to create a dilemma from which these scribes couldn’t escape without admitting that Jesus was God in human flesh. He said to this paralytic, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.” His words show us that …

1. Forgiveness of sins is the main need of every person.

Here is this poor man lying helplessly in front of Jesus. In that day, they didn’t have wheelchairs, ramps, or handicap parking places. He could not earn a living, except to beg. He was dependent on his friends to carry him anywhere he needed to go. He couldn’t dress himself or take care of his bodily functions. It would seem that his main need was for physical healing. But first Jesus said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.” To heal the man’s body would have made his life more comfortable. But without healing his soul, he would have died and faced God’s righteous judgment. His main need was forgiveness of sins, not physical healing.

Some may look at this poor man and say, “His main need is for emotional healing. Imagine what he must feel like, being totally dependent on others for everything he does. Imagine what it must feel like to lie in the streets and beg every day. We need to help him see that he is a worthwhile human being, created in the image of God.” But Jesus did not say, “Friend, I want you to feel good about yourself.” He said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.”

Others may have said, “What this man needs is economic and educational help. Let’s give him food stamps, government health care benefits and some job training.” But Jesus said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.”

Forgiveness of sins is not just a little option, thrown in with the total benefit package of the abundant life. If the Bible’s message about death and eternal judgment is correct, then forgiveness is the main need of every person! People don’t primarily need their marriages fixed. They don’t primarily need their emotional problems resolved. They don’t primarily need economic help. People need to know with assurance from God that their sins are forgiven. All other needs are secondary. As Jesus taught on another occasion, “What profit is it to gain the whole world and lose your soul?” (Matt. 16:25). There’s something much more important than having a healthy body and plenty of money: Having God forgive your sins.

Sometimes a severe problem—a health problem, an emotional problem, a family problem, a financial catastrophe—can be the best thing in the world for us. Later, this man would have looked back on his paralysis and thanked God for it, because if he had never been paralyzed, he never would have begged his friends to carry him to Jesus. He never would have heard those words, “Your sins are forgiven.” With the psalmist, he could say, “Before I was afflicted, I went astray, but now I keep Your word” (Ps. 119:67).

Jesus wasn’t necessarily implying that the man’s paralysis was the direct result of his sins. It may have been. In opposition to the rabbis of His day, Jesus taught that while all suffering is due to the fall of the human race into sin, not all suffering is due to specific sin on the part of the individual (Luke 13:1-5; John 9:1-3). But Jesus knew that the main need of every sinner is not to get our health or emotional or financial or whatever problems solved. Those problems should drive us to seek God. When we do that, it becomes clear that our main problem is our alienation from Him due to our sins. Thus forgiveness of sins is our main need.

2. Forgiveness is such a pressing need that we should do all we can to bring our friends to Jesus.

Probably these four friends (Mark 2:3 tells us there were four) were motivated more by their friend’s physical need than they were by his spiritual need. But their actions in getting around this crowd by letting the paralytic down through the roof is a great illustration of how we should do all we can to bring our needy friends to Jesus. Note some of the qualities pictured in their actions:

*Creativity—Hey, why not the roof? The homes of that day usually had an outside stairway leading up to a flat roof. Scholars differ over whether this caused major or minor damage to the homeowner. But these men had the philosophy, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” If there was a closed door, they found an open roof. If you can’t reach somebody one way, try another way. If you can’t get into a closed country as a missionary, why not get in as a businessman or some other way?

*Urgency—Why not wait until the crowds had dispersed? There was always tomorrow. They could have told their friend, “It must not be God’s timing.” But these men knew that their friend needed help, so they didn’t let the crowd stop them. While we can’t force the gospel on people, we should communicate the urgency of eternal matters: “Now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6:2).

*Sacrifice—If you want to reach people for Christ, you may have to sacrifice some material things, including a perfect house. Your carpet may get coffee or food stains on it. Your kids’ toys may get broken. I’m not suggesting that you let people run wild and destroy your home. That’s not good stewardship. But neither is it good stewardship not to have people over because you want to preserve everything. Don’t view your home as a museum. View it as a missionary outpost.

*Persistence—We need tact, and we shouldn’t pressure a person who is not open to the gospel. But if we try once to talk about spiritual things and a person is not open, do we back off and conclude that he must not be one of the elect? Or do we keep at it?

A family that had moved into a new apartment was besieged by salesmen. One busy day a dairyman came to the door. “No,” the woman said firmly, “my husband and I don’t drink milk.”

“Be glad to deliver a quart every morning for cooking.” “That’s more than I need,” the woman replied, starting to close the door.

“Well, ma’am, how about some cream? Berries comin’ in now, and ...”

“No,” the woman replied curtly, “we never use cream.”

The dairyman left and the woman congratulated herself on her sales resistance. Actually, she had already ordered from another dairy, but she hadn’t said so. But the next morning, the same dairyman was back at the door, a bowl of dewy strawberries held carefully in one hand and a half-pint bottle of cream in the other.

“Lady,” he said, as he poured the cream over the berries and handed them to her, “I got to thinkin’—you sure have missed a lot.” The woman changed dairies. (Reader’s Digest, [5/82].)

That’s the kind of positive persistence we need in sharing the berries and cream of the good news.

*A team effort—It took four men to get this one man to Jesus. That is often the case. We dare not get jealous over who gets the credit. The main thing is getting the person to Jesus. It’s great when several people work together in bringing a common friend to the Lord. It almost always takes more than one.

So we’ve seen that forgiveness of sins is the main need of every person and that it is such a pressing need that we should do all we can to bring our friends to Jesus.

3. Only Jesus has authority to forgive sins.

Luke has been establishing Jesus’ authority: in 4:32, in His teaching; in 4:36, over demons; in 5:1-11, over the disciples and over creation; in 5:13, over the worst of diseases; and, here, His authority to forgive sins and His authority over the Jewish leaders. This is Luke’s first mention of the Jewish religious leaders and their opposition to Jesus. They needed to submit to Him as Messiah.

By leading off with the pronouncement, “Your sins are forgiven,” Jesus set up a dilemma for His critics. He knew that they would grumble by asking, quite correctly, “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” But when He spoke the word and healed the man, it was obvious that God’s power was present. If Jesus were speaking blasphemy by forgiving the man’s sins, then how could they explain God’s granting Jesus the power to heal him?

Jesus used this miracle to prove His claim to have authority to forgive sins. His power in the visible realm over paralysis established His authority in the spiritual realm to forgive sins. He read His critics’ minds and then asked them, “Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins have been forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’?” (5:23). From a human standpoint, it’s easier to say, “Your sins are forgiven,” since there’s no way to verify it. From God’s perspective, to forgive sins is more difficult, since it involved the sacrifice of His Son. Jesus took that which is humanly more difficult—healing the man—and used it to verify His claim to forgive his sins.

To help a friend find forgiveness, we need to explain two important truths:

A. Only God can forgive sins and Jesus is God.

If you offend me, then I can properly say, “I forgive you.” But if you have offended others, it would be ridiculous for me to say, “I forgive you for offending all those other people, too.” I don’t have that right.

For Jesus to forgive all of this man’s sins must mean that they all were committed against Jesus, which is only possible if He is God. Jesus knew the reasoning of the Pharisees (“only God can forgive sins”) and He didn’t correct them, as any God-fearing Jew would have done if people were accusing him of taking on some action that belongs only to God. He didn’t clarify things by saying, “I only meant that God offers forgiveness to this man.” Rather, Jesus confirmed their reasoning by the miracle.

Jesus’ deity is further attested by the title “the Son of Man.” It was Jesus’ favorite designation of Himself (over 80 times) and comes from Daniel 7:13, where Daniel had a vision of the Messiah coming in the clouds to receive His future kingdom from the Ancient of Days. If I were to call myself a “son of man,” you would say, “So what else is new?” It’s no big deal. But for Jesus, it was a big deal to be not just “a son of man,” but “the Son of Man,” because He is the eternal God who took on human flesh through the virgin birth, the Son of Man who will fulfill Daniel’s prophecy. Clearly the title had overtones of deity (Luke 9:26; 21:27; 22:69).

The point is, if Jesus is not God, He cannot forgive our sins because our sins have offended the holiness of God before whom we all must someday stand. But if He is God, then He does have authority to say to any who come to Him in faith, “Your sins are forgiven.”

B. Only man can bear man’s penalty for sin and Jesus is man.

The title “Son of Man” also points to our Lord’s humanity. Jesus used it especially when referring to His own suffering and death (Luke 9:22; 9:44, 18:31-33, 22:22, 48). It points to Him as the representative Man, fully human apart from sin, who bore the penalty for our sins on the cross. As a sinless man, Jesus Christ could bear the sins of the human race; as God, His death had infinite value. Jesus, and only Jesus, has authority to forgive sins. To help our friends find forgiveness, we must help them see that Jesus Christ is fully God and fully man in one unique person.

But is knowing that enough? Is there anything that a person must do to be forgiven by Jesus?

4. Jesus grants forgiveness of sins by grace through faith.

Grace means unmerited favor. You can’t do anything to earn it. This man didn’t have to get cleaned up before he came. He didn’t try to impress Jesus with how he could walk with crutches. He didn’t tell Jesus about his perfect record of synagogue attendance as a reason he qualified for forgiveness. Jesus granted forgiveness as a free gift, with no merit on the paralytic’s part.

The only condition mentioned is, “seeing their faith” (5:20). Whose faith did Jesus see—the four friends’ or the paralytic’s? Both. Alexander Maclaren explains, “As Abraham’s intercession delivered Lot, as Paul in the shipwreck was the occasion of safety to all the crew, so one man’s faith may bring blessings on another. But if the sick man too had not had faith, he would not have let himself be brought at all, and would certainly not have consented to reach Christ’s presence by so strange and, to him, dangerous a way ...” (Expositions of Holy Scripture [Baker], on Mark 2:1-12, p. 64).

Like this paralytic, lost people can do nothing in themselves to be saved. They cannot even believe apart from God, since faith is His gift. Yet they must believe! Just as here Jesus commands this paralytic to do something impossible—rise, take up his bed, and walk—even so, He commands sinners to repent and believe. Since salvation is totally of God, including the faith to believe, He gets all the glory (5:25, 26). No one was praising the faith of the five men. The healed man didn’t go away boasting, “I got healed by my own free will.” Everyone glorified God because they knew that He alone could do this mighty deed. Since the saving of a sinner requires the mighty working of God, He alone should get the glory.

While we are saved by grace through faith alone, saving faith always issues in obedience. Jesus could see the faith of both the friends and the paralytic because they had acted on it by coming to Him. When Jesus said, “Rise, take up your bed, and go home,” the man not only believed His words; he acted on them. That’s what each person must do: Personally trust Jesus Christ to forgive your sins and give you eternal life and then live in obedience to Him.


Luke draws a marked contrast between the Pharisees and the four men who brought their friend to Jesus. The Pharisees had no sense of their own spiritual need. They were there as critics for the purpose of finding fault with Jesus. They had no concern for the paralytic man. They felt no great joy when Jesus healed him. In spite of the miracle, they left that day even more critical, ready to take their charge of blasphemy back to their comrades.

But the four men came as seekers who realized that they had a friend with a major problem that only Jesus could fix. Even though they encountered obstacles that would have stopped others, they persevered by faith until they received from Jesus what they had come for. Both sets of men were present at the same event. Both saw the same miracle. Because of their pride and critical spirit, the Pharisees went away empty. But because they were needy and came in faith, the four men and their friend went away rejoicing with the friend’s sins forgiven and his body healed.

If you come to church as a proud skeptic, watching for something you don’t agree with to pounce on, you’ll find it. You’ll go away convinced that you’re right and that Jesus has nothing to offer you. But if you will come to Jesus as needy in soul as this paralytic was in soul and body, believing that Jesus truly can forgive your sins and reconcile you to the holy God, you will go home forgiven, rejoicing and glorifying God.

Although they meant it critically, the Pharisees asked the crucial question about Jesus: “Who is this man?” (5:21). The fact that He could speak the word and heal this paralytic should have answered their question: He is God in human flesh. It’s a question each of us must face. If you answer it as the Pharisees did, you will die in your sins. If you answer it as the paralytic and his friends did, you will know the joy of God’s gracious forgiveness.

An African proverb says, “There is only one crime worse than murder on the desert, and that is to know where the water is and not tell.” We who know Jesus know where the living water is. Let’s tell our friends, so that they can find forgiveness.

Discussion Questions

  1. If forgiveness is people’s main need, is it wrong to help them solve other problems as a means to sharing the gospel? Why/why not?
  2. How do we determine which methods of evangelism are acceptable? Does the method matter?
  3. How can we develop friendships for the purpose of leading others to Christ and yet avoid being manipulative?
  4. Why is a proper understanding of who Christ is crucial in evangelism?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 1998, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Hamartiology (Sin), Soteriology (Salvation), Evangelism, Forgiveness

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