So Close: Jesus, the Pharisees, and His Divinity (Luke 5)

By the language of the text, it appears to have been an average day during the Lord’s ministry in Galilee. The multitudes had flocked to the Good Master wishing to hear him speak and to request of him to heal their infirmities. In this particular case, the Lord was teaching in a house and a paralyzed man was dropped down through the roof by his inventive and determined friends.

They trusted that Jesus could heal him, but it seems safe to ponder that they did not expect the Lord’s gracious response. Luke chronicles the narrative in the following manner:

And behold, some men were bringing on a bed a man who was paralyzed, and they were seeking to bring him in and lay him before Jesus, but finding no way to bring him in, because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the midst before Jesus. And when he saw their faith, he said, “Man, your sins are forgiven you.” (Luke 5:18-20 ESV)

The Lord’s first response was to give the paralyzed man pardon. The Jesus cancelled the man’s transgressions. He overrode the situation and removed the burden of the man’s sins. What a profound event!

Many today wonder why the Lord forgave the man of his spiritual infirmities first, instead of meeting the principal need for which the man was brought – physical restoration. It could be the case that He had already intended to substantiate his Divine claims to forgive sins by means of a miracle, but we simply do not know why with any degree of absolute certainty.

In some sense, the question is irrelevant because the Lord’s activities are interrupted by the scribes and Pharisees. This gives rise to a unique situation where the Lord boldly argues for and asserts His Divine prerogative to forgive sins.

We continue Luke’s narrative:

And the scribes and the Pharisees began to question, saying, “Who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” When Jesus perceived their thoughts, he answered them, “Why do you question in your hearts? Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the man who was paralyzed—”I say to you, rise, pick up your bed and go home.” (Luke 5:21-24)

The miracle was immediate, the crowd was amazed, and the scribes and the Pharisees received an answer they would never forget – Jesus of Nazareth possess the ability and right to forgive sins!

On the Divinity of Christ

Tremendous amounts of energy and ink has been spent discussing the Divinity of Christ. The canonical documents are quite clear as to the Lord’s divinity. John 1:1-3 describes the existence of the Word, who was the agent to create the universe at the beginning (Gen 1:1; cf. 1 John 1.1). In conjunction with these thoughts are the words of John 1:14 that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us (cf. Phil 2:5-10). The divine Word has made a human and his habitation was among mankind: he was a living and breathing human (in form and substance) capable of dying.

Paul speaks of the supremacy of Christ by saying that in Jesus the universe stands in “perfect equilibrium,” for in him it is “held together” (Col 1:17; Grk. sunistemi). If Jesus pre-existed in eternity, and then became human, and lived a human life in preparation for his divine ministry, it is not surprising, therefore, that Jesus incorporates the miraculous in His ministry. And though we cannot precisely and neatly slice Jesus’s into his divine and human sides, this is the great mystery of God in the flesh (1 Tim 3.16).

Yet for some who initially beheld his ministry, this was difficult to absorb. The scribes and the Pharisees, the noted Jewish leaders of the day, heard the words of Jesus, “your sins are forgiven you,” and immediately catalogued His action as blasphemous. How did they come to this conclusion? They properly reasoned “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” If Jesus is the son of Joseph and Mary, then it is logical to assume that Jesus is only human.

They were so close! The presupposition of the scribes and Pharisees is correct. Their working knowledge of biblical data and their perception of the situation is, upon face value, true. This act of Jesus of Nazareth was therefore viewed as an arrogant hostile takeover of the prerogative of God (Exod 10:17, 32:31-33; Jer 31:34 etc.).[1]

Had Jesus simply been a mere mortal, they would be completely correct; however, they were dealing with a unique situation – Jesus is no mere mortal. He is the “Everlasting Father” (Isa 9:6), a Hebrew idiom meaning that he has an eternal existence (Micah 5:2; John 1:1).[2] Jesus is Immanuel, which means God among us (Matt 1:21-23). The Lord forgave the paralyzed man of his sins because He had the authority to do so. His authority derived from His Divinity.

Was Jesus a Moralist?

Many have stumbled and erred regarding the nature of Jesus. To some, he is a great teacher, one that should stand at the top of the world’s “Top 10” of most influential religious leaders of human existence. They over emphasize his humanity and praise his ethical and moral teachings (e.g. the golden rule). However, they cannot view him as a wonderful teacher of ethics and morals and at the same time deny his claims to divinity.

He was not a mere moralist who “inherited” and “perfected” a preexisting moral tradition from the Jews! And those who are so persuaded to think of Jesus in this light, C. S. Lewis stressed the inconsistency of this view:

I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: “I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.” That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said [in his teaching and about himself] would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic – on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg – or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronising [sic] nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that [option] open to us. He did not intend to.[3]

We believe that the Pharisees and Scribes held a similar view that many hold  – that Jesus was a just great teacher. They were so close, but still so tragically far away from the real nature of God-Man Jesus.

Are You Close, or Yet so Far?

What will you do with Jesus? How will you view his teaching? His claims to Divinity? His claim to be your Redeemer? You will make a decision either way – actively or inactively – and that decision will ripple its effects in the deepest crevices of your life. Again, we ponder over this decision with the words of Mr. Lewis:

We are faced, then, with a frightening alternative. This man we are talking about either was (and is) just what He said or else a lunatic, or something worse. Now it seems to me obvious that He was neither a lunatic nor a fiend: and consequently, however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that He was and is God. God has landed on this enemy-occupied world in human form.[4]

The is a passage in the Gospel accounts that is often nicknamed “the Great Invitation.” It is in Matthew 11.28-30. In it, Jesus invites all who believe in him and his teaching.

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

He promises that the life that he promises stems from his gentle and lowly heart, and promises rest for your soul. Someone has wonderfully said, that in verse 30 the pressure to successfully live out the teaching of Jesus “fits just right” according to each person’s burdens. We finally ask you: will you come so close to the truth of Jesus and his claims to divinity, or will come so close but yet stand so far off from the good life he promises. The answer is left into your hands. God bless you to do the right thing.

Endnotes

  1. Note: Special thanks to Dr. Earl D. Edwards, Head of the Freed-Hardeman University Graduate School of Bible, for introducing me to this observation in a Bible class. It is not enough to simply observe that the Pharisees and scribes were wrongly charging the Lord with blasphemy, but we must also appreciate that they had correctly reasoned that a human did not have this right or power – this was the sole possession of God.
  2. Wayne Jackson, Isaiah: God’s Prophet of Doom and Deliverance (Abilene, TX: Quality Publications, 1991), 25.
  3. Clive S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, rev. ed. (New York, NY: HarperSanFrancisco, 2001), 52 (emphasis added).
  4. Lewis, Mere Christianity, 53 (emphasis added).
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