Describe a time when you experienced the euphoria of achieving a major ambition or of having your hopes unexpectedly met. How long did those feelings last?
What hopes and ambitions do you have for yourself now?
Jesus enthralled with his words and actions, attracting large crowds and a growing number of followers. However, while many found his teaching exciting and liberating, others found it dangerously subversive. One such group were known as the Pharisees.
The Pharisees commanded great popular respect in first-century Palestine for resisting the moral corruption of Roman culture (Palestine was occupied territory). They promoted strict adherence to the laws of the Jewish Scriptures, which were elaborated with great detail by legal scholars (the scribes). Throughout Luke’s account we see these influential groups becoming increasingly disturbed by what Jesus is saying and doing.
17 One day Jesus was teaching, and Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there. They had come from every village of Galilee and from Judea and Jerusalem. And the power of the Lord was with Jesus to heal those who were ill. 18 Some men came carrying a paralysed man on a mat and tried to take him into the house to lay him before Jesus. 19 When they could not find a way to do this because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and lowered him on his mat through the tiles into the middle of the crowd, right in front of Jesus.
The setting for the paralysed man’s encounter with Jesus couldn’t be more dramatic. What do the extreme lengths this group go to in order to get the paralysed man in front of Jesus suggest about the man’s situation? What do they suggest about their expectations of Jesus?
Try to imagine you’re the paralysed man. You’re lying in the middle of the room amidst all the dust from the roof. Your friends are looking down expectantly from above you. Everyone in the crowded room is quiet, waiting to see what is about to happen. What are your hopes and anxieties about what Jesus will do?
20 When Jesus saw their faith, he said, ‘Friend, your sins are forgiven.’
21 The Pharisees and the teachers of the law began thinking to themselves, ‘Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?’
Jesus’ words take everyone by surprise. What do you think would be your first reaction to Jesus’ words in verse 20 if you were the paralysed man?
Why do you think the Pharisees respond as they do to what Jesus has said? What is Jesus implying about his own identity?
The Jewish conception of ‘sin’ that Jesus and the Pharisees shared was that it is fundamentally something committed against God the creator. God made us for the purpose of loving him, loving one another and caring for the creation. Failing to do this by living self-centred lives is to reject God and his purposes for us. This is what sin is. The premise underlying the Pharisees’ accusation of blasphemy was therefore quite right – God is the only one who can forgive our sins. When Jesus says to the man ‘Your sins are forgiven’, he is saying ‘Your sins have actually been against me – and I forgive you.’ But who has any right to say that but God alone?
22 Jesus knew what they were thinking and asked, ‘Why are you thinking these things in your hearts? 23 Which is easier: to say, “Your sins are forgiven,” or to say, “Get up and walk”? 24 But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.’ So he said to the paralysed man, ‘I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.’ 25 Immediately he stood up in front of them, took what he had been lying on and went home praising God. 26 Everyone was amazed and gave praise to God. They were filled with awe and said, ‘We have seen remarkable things today.’
Jesus perceives the unspoken accusation of the Pharisees. He responds by asking them a perplexing question and follows it up with an astonishing demonstration. Consider how to answer Jesus’ question. Why might it be easier for Jesus to say ‘Your sins are forgiven’? Why might it be easier for him to say ‘Get up and walk’?
Jesus then commands the man to get up and walk… and he does! What message does this send to the Pharisees? What message does this send to the paralysed man?
In this encounter Jesus seems to prioritise the man’s forgiveness over his undeniably great need for physical healing. Why do you think this is?
27 After this, Jesus went out and saw a tax collector by the name of Levi sitting at his tax booth. ‘Follow me,’ Jesus said to him, 28 and Levi got up, left everything and followed him.
29 Then Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them. 30 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect complained to his disciples, ‘Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?’
31 Jesus answered them, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but those who are ill. 32 I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.’
Straight after this remarkable episode we read of Jesus’ encounter with a tax collector. In Jesus’ day Jewish tax collectors were despised as traitors for taxing their fellow Jews on behalf of the Roman occupiers. What is more, they were notorious for their corruption and greed.
Levi had turned his back on his religion and his community in order to pursue wealth as a tax collector. Yet here we read that he abandons this secure and prosperous job in order to follow Jesus. He then throws a massive dinner party, inviting all his friends.
What do you think could have motivated this profound change in Levi’s life and priorities?
To the Pharisees, Levi and his friends are ‘the sinners’. How could Jesus, a supposed man of God, spend time with such people? What does it say about Jesus that he is so indifferent to the assessment of this influential religious class?
What does Jesus’ explanation of his choice of friends show about how he views himself and his purpose?
Throughout Luke’s account, we repeatedly read of how Jesus transforms the priorities of those he meets by doing and saying things that surpass their hopes and expectations. Here a paralysed man is not only raised to his feet but forgiven his past. Levi is so delighted by being invited to follow Jesus that he leaves his career and throws a party.
The famous British journalist Malcolm Muggeridge spoke eloquently about a similar change in priorities following his conversion to Christianity:
"I may, I suppose, regard myself, or pass for being, a relatively successful man. People occasionally stare at me in the streets – that’s fame. I can fairly easily earn enough to qualify for admission to the higher slopes of the Inland Revenue – that’s success. Furnished with money and a little fame, even the elderly, if they care to, may partake of trendy diversions – that’s pleasure. It might happen once in a while that something I said or wrote was sufficiently heeded for me to persuade myself that it represented a serious impact on our time – that’s fulfilment. Yet I say to you, and I beg you to believe me, multiply these tiny triumphs by a million, add them all together, and they are nothing – less than nothing, a positive impediment – measured against one draught of that living water Christ offers to the spiritually thirsty, irrespective of who or what they are."
What do you think it is about Jesus that has such a profound impact on people when they meet him?
The gospels are full of people telling their stories - people asking questions, seeking relationships, searching for something more.
A central character, woven throughout each story, is Jesus, a historical figure surrounded by mystery. Join us as we explore these stories, and build up a picture of Jesus through the people he meets and the accounts that are written about him.