Bible Study

Why Do You Think Such Things?

“We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ.” – Romans 3:22 by Major Valerie Carr

The discography of The Beatles was the soundtrack of my childhood. Their albums were always on repeat. My dad instilled in me a love for their infectious melodies and the ability to know almost any given Beatles’ lyric by memory. On the iconic “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” album, Ringo Starr sings the famous phrase, “I get by with a little help from my friends.” It’s a phrase that brings to mind the idea that human beings can accomplish a lot more together than as individuals. 

This month’s Bible study focuses on a story in which a group of friends come to Jesus for help and all walk away with their sins forgiven. This group of friends was able to help each other through their faith in the Lord to do more than just get by. As we look at this short story in the Gospels, we are drawn to consider the people in our lives who might need our help to get closer to Jesus and the ways the people around us are part of our own journey of salvation. 

The story of Jesus healing the paralyzed man carried in on a mat by his friends is found in three of the Gospel accounts: Matthew 9:2–8, Mark 2:1–12 and Luke 5:17–26. A crowd has gathered to hear Jesus teaching. Many have come because they heard about His miracles. Luke helps us understand the sheer size of the crowd with a parenthetical note: “It seemed that these men showed up from every village in all Galilee and Judea, as well as from Jerusalem” (5:17). Mark tells us that it was “so packed with visitors that there was no more room, even outside the door” (2:2). There were people everywhere. The Gospel writers also point out that Pharisees and teachers of religious law had also come that day to hear Jesus (Luke 5:17).

The interesting part of the tale begins when we are introduced to a group of friends, one a paralyzed man on a mat (Matthew 9:2). The group carrying their friend in need knew that if they could get him to Jesus, He would help them. The crowd was impossible to get through. There was no room to squeeze through while carrying a person on a mat. Elbows and hips pushed them back as they tried edging towards the open door where Jesus was just inside teaching. 

Finally, they got the bright idea that if they could not go through the crowd, they would just have to go over it. “So they went up to the roof, took off some tiles. Then they lowered the sick man on his mat down into the crowd, still on his mat, right in front of Jesus” (Luke 5: 19). Jesus’ first response is to offer forgiveness to the man, which upsets the religious leaders in attendance. “Jesus knew what they were thinking” (Luke 5:22) and challenged them by asking “Why do you think these things?” (Luke 5:22 GNT). He continued to reveal the surprising nature of God’s forgiveness by continuing His questions: “Is it easier to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven’ or ‘Stand up and walk’?” (Luke 5:23). And with that Jesus immediately healed the man, who picked up the mat he was carried in on and left praising God (Matthew 9:6–7; Mark 2:10–12; Luke 5:24–25).

The story is built around several characters: Jesus, the crowd, the religious leadership and the friends in need. The Pharisees and the teachers of the law are focused on the wrong thing in this moment. Luke tells us the internal monologues of these religious elitists: “Who does he think he is? That’s blasphemy! Only God can forgive sins” (5:21). They struggled with the idea that forgiveness could simply be given away. They didn’t recognize Jesus as being one with God, and therefore didn’t believe He had any right to offer forgiveness to anyone, especially not a paralytic party crasher. Their frustration with Jesus exposes the belief that forgiveness is impossible to reach and a finite resource. The bar is too high and there is not enough forgiveness for Jesus to go handing it out to just anyone who cuts a hole in a roof. 

We can sometimes behave in ways that convey that we feel the same way about the nature of God’s forgiveness. We imagine that there must be something that has to be done to earn it. We think of religious hurdles and levels of perfection that are required to be worthy of forgiveness. We sometimes forget that it really is as simple as: “We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ” to take away our sins. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are (Romans 3:22). 

We act like Pharisees when we internalize the wrong belief that we must earn God’s forgiveness. We see life with Jesus as a check list of “do’s and don’ts,” leading us to compare our behaviors and lifestyles to those we deem less than us. We speak in a way that defines forgiveness as a limited quantity that cannot be shared with just anyone. We begin to act in ways that imply some people don’t deserve forgiveness. We see other Christians who are living in the freedom of Jesus’ mercy and our first question is “Who do they think they are?”

In John Dear’s book, “The Questions of Jesus: Challenging Ourselves to Discover Life’s Great Answers,” the author states: “Jesus is wildly extravagant with forgiveness … the world cannot tolerate such outlandish forgiveness.” The truth is forgiveness isn’t ours to earn, and we don’t get to determine who deserves it. Thankfully, Jesus is openly offering it to all of us. Paul writes in his letter to the Galatian church, “Yet we know that a person is made right with God by faith in Jesus Christ, not by obeying the law” (Galatians 2:16). The eighth doctrine of The Salvation Army puts it this way, “We believe that we are justified by grace through faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.” The issue in this story isn’t what can be forgiven but how anyone can be forgiven.

The promise we find is nestled in a small group of friends who truly believed that Jesus can do miracles. They believed it enough to carry their friend on his mat to the only person who could make a difference in his life. We don’t know how long the man had been paralyzed or how far his friends had carried him. Imagine their aching shoulders and backs. Imagine their frustration at seeing the path blocked. The promise in this group is that they refused to let anything hold them back from getting to Jesus. 

In all three Gospel accounts it is interesting to note that the phrase is “When Jesus saw their faith” (Matthew 9:2; Mark 2:5; Luke 5:20 NIV). It is the faith of the group that moves Jesus’ compassion on the need of their friend. Forgiveness is His first response because this group of friends believed that Jesus was the answer to their need. The paralyzed man not only receives forgiveness because of the faith of this group, but he also receives a miracle: he walks away from Jesus forgiven, healed and full of praise (Luke 5:25). Commentator Thomas W. Walker points out that this story offers us an understanding of the “holistic picture of the restorative power of God that is often lost in our compartmentalized understanding.” The friends never considered that Jesus had a limited resource to offer them. They knew that they could find their whole need met if they could just get their friend to Jesus. They weren’t deterred by difficult circumstances that stood in their way of getting closer to the Lord. Together, they found a way through the impossible to get to the abundant life Jesus was offering (John 10:10).

The hope for us today is that Jesus’ forgiveness is available to all of us. The challenge we find in this story is for the faithful to help others find forgiveness and healing in Christ. It was the faith of the friends that changed the paralyzed man’s life. Whose life might be changed by our own faithfulness to bring them to the healing hands of the Savior? We can be counted among this group of friends when we let the forgiveness and mercy of God fuel each day. We determine to get ourselves, our family, our friends, our church and our community as close to Jesus as possible. 

We are challenged to do what it takes to get us and them in front of Him. We refuse to let a mere roof keep us and the people we love from Jesus’ feet. We don’t accept that forgiveness is handed out on a merit-based system or that God’s mercy is only for the “deserving.” We believe without a doubt that Jesus will help us get through our circumstances. We trust His forgiveness even when there are others who may remind us of our past and limitations. We are set free and healed by the Savior from what brought us to His feet in the first place. 

Questions to ponder

  • Who could you pray for today that needs a miracle from Jesus?
  • In what ways do you see the attitude of the Pharisees reflected in the Church or in your own heart when it comes to the abundant, free nature of the mercy of God?


You can receive the free gift of salvation through Jesus Christ by praying something like the following:

Dear God, know I am a sinner. I need your forgiveness and grace. I believe that Christ paid the penalty for my sin, and He died in my place, and He rose from the dead. I invite Jesus Christ to come into my life as Savior. Thank You for saving me from my sin and making me Your child. Help me to grow and learn how to serve You. Amen.

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