If you could only ask God for one thing and knew that he would give it to you, what would it be?
Maybe it would be fame, fortune, love, relationship, stuff. There are all sorts of things that we think ‘if only I had...’ then life would be ok. Read Luke 5:17-26
If you want a definition of friendship then you see one here, (18)these men bring their paralysed friend on his mat to see Jesus, who has been healing people, and when they realise they can’t get in the door they aren’t put off. They are so determined that their friend must see Jesus that they go up onto the roof of someone’s house and rip part of the roof up and lower their friend down at Jesus feet. So there Jesus is with this man at his feet looking up at him expectantly, a slightly dusty crowd around him, these four faces looking down, and no doubt one slightly miffed home owner staring up open mouth at his new skylight.
What is everyone; the man, the friends, the crowd expecting Jesus to do? They are expecting Jesus to heal him. You can see their thinking it’s simple and its logical: The man is paralysed, Jesus can and has been healing the sick, put two and two together: Jesus will heal their friend. It’s why what comes next is just such a shock, because what does Jesus say? “Friend, your sins are forgiven.”
You can imagine their disappointment, you can imagine the crowds surprise, everyone is expecting Jesus to say to this man get up you are healed and for the man to walk off happily ever after into the sunset. You can imagine the man’s confusion, his problem is obvious he is paralysed, he doesn’t lay awake at night thinking ‘If only my sins were forgiven’ he lays awake thinking if only I could walk. What is Jesus playing at?
But what Jesus is actually saying to the man is; you have a bigger problem than not being able to walk and I love you enough to deal with that too. I love you enough to take you deeper than what you think you need. You see if Jesus heals the man’s paralysis that’s great and for a while he will be happy, but eventually there will be another ‘if only...’ Great my legs work and I’m grateful for that but if only I was in a relationship, or if only I had a job. Being healed physically will not heal this man’s deepest problem, it will only provide a temporary fix not a lasting answer.
Cynthia Heimel has worked with a variety of people who have been struggling actors or actresses but finally made it big. When they struggled, waiting tables or working in bars while awaiting their big break they lived life saying ‘If only I could make it in the business, if only I had this or that, I’d be happy.’
We aren’t any different are we? We think that something will bring us fulfilment, answers, that if we could just have our ‘if only...’ we’d be happy.
But she goes on to say, when they got the fame they had been seeking so desperately they were unhappier than before here’s what she wrote “I pity celebrities. No, I do. Celebrities were once perfectly pleasant human beings... but now... their wrath is awful... More than any of us, they wanted fame. They worked, they pushed... The morning after... each of them became famous, they wanted to take an overdose... because that giant thing they were striving for... that was going to make their lives bearable... provide them with personal fulfilment and... happiness, had happened. And nothing changed they were still them.”
Later on she adds this “I think when God wants to play a really rotten practical joke on you, he grants you your deepest wish.” Isn’t that a really interesting idea; when God wants to play a really rotten practical joke on you, he grants you your deepest wish.” because actually we live life pursuing our deepest wishes our ‘if onlys...’ and think it will make us happy not unhappy.
Here is this paralysed man and what he wants is to walk, it’s his deepest wish because he thinks it will give him happiness. But Jesus loves him so much that he says I will give you something better, he won’t just heal the man’s legs so weeks later he realises he still isn’t happy. He will heal his heart, that is what Jesus is doing when he says “Friend, your sins are forgiven.”
We share the same problem that this man shares we are all searching for meaning in life, something which will bring us happiness. We might try to find it in a relationship and for a while we may think that we have found it but eventually we realise it isn’t working and so we move on to the next relationship and the next and so on. Or we might try to find it in a career, or in education, or the search for fame, or anyone one of a hundred other ‘if onlys...’ But Jesus says those solutions are only skin deep, they are temporary solutions, they will never fulfil you, they will work for a little while, like a lemsip alleviates the symptoms of a cold, but when that pleasure has worn off we will have to search for the next thing.
Our problem is that we so often in our search for meaning we exclude God. The bible calls that sin, when we try to build our identity on something other than God on our ‘if onlys’. But do you see how much Jesus loves this man, he doesn’t condemn him for wanting to walk, he doesn’t say you are asking the wrong question and stand waiting, tapping his foot until he asks the right one he lovingly deals with the real issue. Just as Jesus says to us; I want to move past giving you your ‘if onlys’, I love you too much just to do that, I want to heal your heart.
You see if we think meaning will come from fame or career what if we don’t get it, if we think it will come from a relationship what if we never achieve it, and because it is what we are relying on for meaning we are likely to stifle it or crush it, if we think it will come from our looks or how we feel about ourselves what when our looks fade, or more likely wrinkle. Do you see how much Jesus loves this man; he loves him so much that he sees past his ‘If only I could walk...’ Jesus does the same for us as he says it isn’t an ‘if only’ problem it is a heart problem. You will never know contentment while you reject me as the one who will bring meaning to your life, you will never know contentment while you try to fill a God shaped whole with temporary stuff.
Do you notice what happens next – The religious people realise that Jesus is claiming to be God. You see only God could forgive sin because all sin is against God. Imagine for a minute that Pete punches Tim in the face. Who has to forgive Pete. Only the person who has been wronged can forgive, I couldn’t do it, you couldn’t do it. All sin is against God but Jesus here says he can forgive sin because he is God.
(22-26)Jesus asks a great question – which is easier to say your sins are forgiven or to say get up and walk, well I guess it is easy to say but harder to do. Any healer could say take up your mat and walk but only God can forgive sin. And Jesus proves he can do it by healing the man as a sign outwardly that he has the power to do what is happening inwardly.
But we all know forgiveness isn’t cheap. You can’t just sweep injustice and sin under the carpet. It has to be paid for. As Jesus utters these words he knows what it will cost him, at the end of Luke’s gospel we see Jesus declared innocent yet die condemned by men and cut off from God. And as he dies he utters these words “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” That cry for forgiveness is not just for the soldiers dividing up his clothes, or for those who mock him, it’s for the paralysed man who lived his life as his life without reference to God, it’s for you and for me who similarly live life without God in the picture.
Jesus is not a divine genie he is more loving than that he comes to be our Saviour, he dies as our saviour, he pays for our sin securing our forgiveness. And freeing us from our ‘if onlys...’ freeing us from looking for anything else for meaning in life because we can know the love of God.