Luke 5:12–26 . . . Bible Study Summary with Questions

Two Healings, Many Lessons

Although Jesus' ministry efforts commence in chapter 4 (and we are midway through chapter 5), about a year has passed since the beginning of his public preaching. Up till now, Jesus has been preaching and teaching in synagogues (4:15). At Nazareth, the town where Jesus had grown up, his teaching was initially enthusiastically received; but when the fuller implications were spelled out (namely the blessing that the Messiah would bring to the Gentiles (vv. 23–27), he was cast from the synagogue and nearly thrust down to his death. Jesus then went to Capernaum, where he preached and underscored his message by casting out a demon (vv. 31–37). Healing Peter's mother-in-law seems to have led to an all-night healing session (vv. 38–41), but after a time of private prayer, our Lord felt compelled to press on elsewhere so he could carry out his primary task of proclaiming the coming of the kingdom of God (vv. 42–44).

If chapter 4 focused on the ministry of our Lord to the masses, chapter 5 begins its focus on the ministry of our Lord with respect to Israel's leadership. In the two healings recorded in today's text, the Lord discloses himself to the priests (5:14, shown below) and to the teachers of the law (vv. 17, 21, etc.). Not only do we find opposition to Jesus on the part of Israel's leaders beginning here, but we also see some of the reasons for their opposition. Let's look carefully at our Lord's two healings to see what lessons were to be learned by the nation, and hopefully by us.

Healing #1: The Leper (vv. 12–16)

When our Lord came upon a leper, Doctor Luke tells us that this was no ordinary leper, but rather a man "covered with leprosy" (v. 12), which was indeed a serious condition. The man prostrated himself before the Lord Jesus, imploring him to heal him. His petition shows a great deal of insight into the person of our Lord: The leper didn't doubt the Lord's ability to heal; the only issue was whether or not it was his will to do so. Many people wanting to be healed today could learn from this leper. The critical issue wasn't the leper's faith or the Lord's power; it was the Lord's sovereign will.

The Lord gives a very stern two-part warning to the man, first instructing him not to make his healing public, which would have been a difficult challenge. Can you imagine being completely healed of leprosy and not being able to share your joy with others? It's hard to fault the man for letting others know of his healing.

The second part of Jesus' command to the former leper was to "show yourself to the priest," as the law (Leviticus 13, 14) instructed. How unusual this cleansing would have been and how great a testimony it was to the priests. How quickly word would have spread among them. This was another way of Jesus serving notice to the priests that the Messiah had indeed arrived.

Word did get out, perhaps from the leper or perhaps from those who might have witnessed his healing. Luke informs us that Jesus frequently retreated to lonely places for the purpose of prayer (v.16). Why did our Lord need to pray, and for what might he have prayed? Our Lord desperately yearned for fellowship with the Father. At this early point, and certainly later, no one fathomed the purpose of our Lord's coming. People flocked to Jesus, but with only a partial and distorted grasp of what he was to do; only the Father understood. Prayer was a time of fellowship and communion between Father and Son. The miracles and the misunderstanding of the people only intensified our Lord's yearning to be alone with the Father.

Healing #2: The Paralytic and the Pharisees (vv. 17–26)

Having returned to Capernaum, a number of people now knew that Jesus was able to heal the sick. Four men had a friend who was paralyzed, whom they wanted to bring to Jesus for healing. It seems to have taken considerable time and effort to get the paralyzed man from where he was staying to the house where Jesus was teaching. By the time they arrived, the house was filled and a large crowd apparently had gathered outside. Perhaps the Lord could see the commotion going on outside, caused by the four who were determined to get the paralytic to Jesus.

Undaunted by the difficulties, the men elected to "go up on the roof and lower him on his mat (a.k.a. pallet)." The scene, as viewed from below, must have been amazing. With the house filled with people, Luke tells us that many of them were the "Pharisees and teachers of the law" to whom Jesus had become a major threat.

Jesus' teaching was immediately recognized as newer than, different from, and better than that of the scribes and Pharisees. It wouldn't have taken these teachers of the law long to recognize that Jesus' popularity spelled trouble for them. No doubt the word circulated quickly among the teachers of Israel; this gathering at Capernaum was perhaps one of many summit conferences called to figure out what could be done about Jesus' teaching; Luke informs us in v. 17a that that gathering of teachers wasn't small, but a representation of all the teachers in Israel who gathered to hear Jesus, pass judgment on him, and then, undoubtedly, to decide what course of action to take concerning the threat that he posed to them.

What a sight it must have been to watch these prim, proper, and proud teachers as the roof was being removed. It would have been a very dirty and dangerous undertaking. Mark's account tells us that they dug through the roof (Mark 2:4), implying that there was some dirt or crud that likely came tumbling down on those seated below so proudly and properly. Once the man was finally lowered in front of the Lord, things began to happen. Notice that nowhere is it said that the four men, nor the paralytic, made a specific request of our Lord. Either our Lord acted before the request was made or the men felt that Jesus wouldn't need to be asked specifically, having seen the man's need. All three gospels report virtually the same response on the part of our Lord: "When Jesus saw their faith, he said, "Friend, your sins are forgiven (v. 20).

The paralytic must have been startled by Jesus' words. The man had come primarily to be healed, not forgiven. He'd risked the perils of his journey, especially those related to his being lowered through the roof. Being told that his sins were forgiven must have disappointed him who'd come to be healed. After all, didn't his four friends assure him of that? And the four men must have felt similarly. They'd brought the man a considerable distance and fought their way through the crowds; they'd gone to the trouble of getting him down through the roof; they'd hoped for a healing but received the Lord's forgiveness; the five must have felt "let down" (pardon the pun).

The Pharisees and teachers of the law were indignant, seemingly caring little whether or not the paralytic was healed. Instead, they were angered by Jesus having the audacity to pronounce the man's (any man's) sins forgiven, which is something only God can do they reasoned, and rightly so. Thus, to tell a man that his sins were forgiven was to claim to be God. Just who does this fellow think he is? they must have shouted. The question of authority had reared its ugly head; this is the bone of contention between the teachers and Jesus who, so the crowds thought, taught with authority unlike them. Now seeing Jesus himself claim to have God's authority, they're indeed overflowing with "righteous" indignation.

Jesus had intended all along to heal the paralytic. However, this miraculous healing was to be a teaching tool. The paralytic's primary desire to be healed was about to be fulfilled; such healing would prove that our Lord had the power to forgive sins. Jesus asked a simple question: "Which is easier: to say, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Get up and walk'?" (v. 23). Answer: It's easier to say, "Your sins are forgiven," because there's no need for visible proof that one's sins have been forgiven. But to command a paralyzed man to "Get up and walk" would be challenging since it would require him to do so. Thus, Jesus set up this circumstance to show that he has both the power to forgive sins and allow the paralyzed to walk.

When our Lord commanded the paralytic to get up, pick up his mat, and go home, he did so immediately, leaving the house and glorifying God, as did all the rest, excepting the Pharisees and teachers who were still stewing about the "blasphemy" uttered by our Lord. Likely, the crowd that praised God was that group that waited and watched from outside the house. They'd have watched the man's friends help get him onto the house and through the roof to land near Jesus. They'd then have soon seen the former paralytic emerge from the house with his mat under his arm. How they must have rejoiced!

Our text today contrasts the faith of the "mat carriers" with the unbelief of the Pharisees and teachers of the law: (a) The mat-carriers believed in Jesus, while the Pharisees and teachers were skeptical; (b) the mat-carriers were persistent in their efforts to reach Jesus, while the Pharisees and teachers were resistant, increasingly drawing back from Jesus; (c) the mat-carriers overcame various obstacles to get to Jesus, while the Pharisees and teachers became obstacles that kept others from Jesus; (d) the mat-carriers wanted others to benefit from the blessings that Jesus bestowed on men, while the Pharisees and teachers rejected his blessings, caring little about others needing to meet Jesus.

It Makes You Wonder . . .
  • Q.  Think of an example in your life when you were a genuine "mat carrier." How well did you exemplify the positive characteristics highlighted in (a) through (d) shown in the closing paragraph?

This Week's Passage
Luke 5:12–26

New International Version (NIV)
[View it in a different version by clicking here; also listen to chapter 5]

Jesus Heals a Man With Leprosy

12While Jesus was in one of the towns, a man came along who was covered with leprosy. When he saw Jesus, he fell with his face to the ground and begged him, "Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean."

13Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. "I am willing," he said. "Be clean!" And immediately the leprosy left him.

14Then Jesus ordered him, "Don't tell anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them."

15Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. 16But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.

Jesus Forgives and Heals a Paralyzed Man

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 the sick. 18Some men came carrying a paralyzed man on a mat and tried to take him into the house to lay him before Jesus. 19When 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.

20When Jesus saw their faith, he said, "Friend, your sins are forgiven."

21The 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?"

22Jesus knew what they were thinking and asked, "Why are you thinking these things in your hearts? 23Which is easier: to say, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Get up and walk'? 24But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins." So he said to the paralyzed man, "I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home." 25Immediately he stood up in front of them, took what he had been lying on and went home praising God. 26Everyone was amazed and gave praise to God. They were filled with awe and said, "We have seen remarkable things today."