In the Furnace of “Why?”

Sweating in the late afternoon, Sanhedrin agents shouldered among shopkeepers, tax collectors and fishermen in Peter’s living room. The high priest had tasked them to investigate an itinerant rabbi. His flock was calling him “The Lamb of God,” and some even dared to call the man “Messiah.”

 The threat of a violent purge hovered over the Jews. Roman overlords required their Jewish subordinates to capture or kill zealots before they gained an influential following, and the 70-member Sanhedrin in Jerusalem feared that growing Messianic myths surrounding Jesus might tip the scales toward another fruitless, bloody Jewish revolt.

And when the Roman government crushed an uprising, they butchered the innocent along with the guilty. (John 11:48).

In Peter’s house, the Pharisee agents stood out like corn-stalks in a field of cabbages. They were professors of the law and had walked 80 miles from Jerusalem to judge how passionate Jesus’ supporters were. But in Peter’s living room in Capernaum, they detected nothing in Jesus’ homily that inflamed listeners to overthrow Rome. Along with the audience, the Pharisees, too, remained spellbound — until debris from the roof began pelting their heads.

Jesus paused.

A human form lay upon the mat, his boney limbs frozen in a semi-fetal pose.

Jesus stared at a commotion above him, bemused at a bundle swaying to-and-fro from ropes. Jesus’ listeners jumped to their feet, alarmed, and the rabbi hopped aside in time for a man-sized woven mat to land at his feet.

A human form lay upon the mat, his boney limbs frozen in a semi-fetal pose. From sunken eyes the man stared heavenward, acknowledging four accomplices peering down from a hole in the roof. Then the man’s eyes locked upon Jesus, unblinking.

The rabbi appeared unruffled by the rude interruption — as if it was expected — but the Sanhedrin’s agents had seen quite enough. They indignantly brushed particles from their delicate headdresses, and huffing to one another, sidled toward the door.

Then the scene grew stranger.

Rabbi Jesus knelt and addressed the paralyzed man. He spoke with force, loudly enough for everyone in the crowd to hear: “Friend! Your sins are forgiven!”

His audience froze. Their eyes darted from Jesus to the Pharisees, who stood as mute as ears of Capernaum corn.

Was Jesus ignorant of the sacred rite that secured a Jew’s forgiveness?

Outrage filled the room like a Mediterranean tide.

From the time of the Exodus, blood from a sacrificial lamb marked the sole and exclusive door to forgiveness and peace in a Hebrew’s heart. The poor paralyzed creature staring at Jesus likely deserved God’s judgment, and the rabbi had usurped God’s apparent verdict!

Outrage filled the room like a Mediterranean tide.

Didn’t Jesus know that the Pharisees could incite devotees of the Law of God to stone him for blasphemy?

For what seemed an eternity, the onlookers waited for the Pharisees to explode — but it was Jesus who broke the silence.

Fixing his eyes upon each of the Pharisees, he asked, “Why are you thinking these evil things in your hearts?”

Like confused fallow deer the agents gaped at one another. Was he speaking to them

“Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’?” Jesus asked them, until name-calling suddenly interrupted him.

“Blasphemer!” people screamed, and Jesus held up his hands as if halting a caravan of camels.

His eyes bored into the Sanhedrin agents and he knelt beside the paralyzed man again. “I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins,” Jesus said, and the storm in his eyes faded.

Jesus braced himself as the man fell against his chest, weeping. Then abruptly the former paralytic stopped. He remembered the rabbi’s challenge “to take up” his mat and “go home…”

He gently gripped the paralytic by his crooked shoulders. “Take heart, son. I tell you, get up. Take your mat and go home.”

Jesus’ disciples shifted nervously, wondering how on earth their rabbi might vindicate himself — this time.

And the paralyzed man stirred.

Like a child waking to a father’s morning call, he struggled to sit up. His body quivered. Blood flowed painfully into his hands, and he uncurled fingers. Knots in his elbows and knees dissolved, and joints loosened. He spread his arms apart as his heart pumped vigor to muscles and sinews and skin and…

He moved his legs! And feet!

The outrage in Peter’s house drained away as the paralyzed man inclined up, up, and stood on bare feet. Women gasped, overcome with tears.

The man stared down at his toes and wiggled them. He laughed aloud, and people laughed with him — except for the stoic, confused Pharisees.

Jesus braced himself as the man fell against his chest, weeping. Then abruptly the former paralytic stopped. He remembered the rabbi’s challenge “to take up” his mat and “go home…”

He would WALK home! He haphazardly gathered up his mat and tested his first steps while former skeptics opened a path to the door.

They had come to Capernaum to pass sentence upon a zealot, but stumbled upon the Almighty, Jehovah.

On the street, where, for years, his family had carried him like a lump of dough, he paused, disoriented. He worked his jaws, testing facial expressions, then settled upon a route home.

An unfamiliar “noise” gained a psalmist’s force inside him, and from untested bellows he set it free: “Bless the Lord, oh my soul, and ALL that is within me!”

Was this voice his? It echoed in the streets! He marched like a centurion, and his four rooftop accomplices flanked his steps, while the Sanhedrin’s agents nursed stubborn disapproval — though not all.

A few Pharisees slipped into Peter’s house again, where Jesus busied himself sweeping up rooftop debris. Peter’s voice rumbled from the upper story, where disciples helped him replace roof tiles, and eager listeners crowded into his living room once more.

A few Pharisees sat closer to Jesus this time, mulling how to explain to the high priest back in Jerusalem what they had witnessed. Who was this man? Could he be the Messiah, the Forgiver of Sins?

They had come to Capernaum to pass sentence upon a zealot, but stumbled upon the Almighty, Jehovah.

The house grew quiet as Jesus sat down. In the waning light, a breeze relieved the listeners, and oil lamps lighted attentive faces.

“We have seen remarkable things today,” someone whispered, and everyone, from Pharisee to fisherman, nodded in agreement.

(Matthew 9:1–8, Mark 2:1–12 and Luke 5:17–26)

Feature Continued Below…

I write this vignette with 18 grandkids in mind — ages two years to 22 years old. While each one is weighing their values and experiences to form a satisfying worldview, they may wonder what Grandpa believes. I hope that some of what I have learned (and am learning) will inspire them to follow Jesus, the God of the Bible. He is the Person who shepherds me through all the difficult questions and contradictions that I face in life.


The Person in the Paradox”

The paralytic man must have wrestled with the ugly specter of “Why?” for most of his life — and God answered his cries with the unexplainable.  

An ancient Greek word is used (in Luke 5:26) to describe the onlookers’ amazement at the impossible becoming possible. The word is “paradoxos,” and it denotes something strange, wonderful, astonishing, incredible or unexpected.

Our English word “paradox” (associated with the Greek rendering) shines light on the meaning of unexplainable events and situations: A paradox defines an occurrence or occasion that opposes logic and appears inconsistent with what we know is possible.

A paradox is “evidence” that appears irrational or often personally unacceptable. “Paradox” characterizes an experience that leaves us neck-deep in questions.

In our world, paradoxes take many shapes, some evil and some good — and in every one lurks the question, “Why?”

 After his healing, the paralytic man may have reflected upon the paradoxes in his life:

  • “Why did God allow me to live most of my life immobile?”
  • “Why didn’t God heal me sooner?”
  • “Why did God allow me to be paralyzed at all!?”

Have you ever dissected the paradoxes in your life? A paradox can weaken our faith or cement convictions — it all depends upon whom we choose to pilot us through our storm of doubts and questions.

Seconds before Jesus revealed his deity by forgiving the man and healing his paralysis, he challenged the Pharisees by asking: “Which is easier: to say ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk?’”

Then, by healing the man, the author of paradoxes played havoc with the Pharisees’ theology and logic. Old notions of “how God should work” vanished like a stone down a well. Everyone in Peter’s living room knew that Jesus stood at the center of the paradox they were witnessing.

In our world, paradoxes take many shapes, some evil and some good — and in every one lurks the question, “Why?”

And we often find ourselves at the feet of the only person who fully understands our wonder and our anguish imbedded in the question.

Jesus gets it.

While hanging on a Roman cross, he experienced God’s inexplicable silence. He shuddered in physical pain and felt abandoned the same way we do at times.

Jesus’ lament echoes ours, “My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?”

So, how did Jesus endure God’s silence? What kept Jesus on the cross? Was it the iron spikes driven into his hands and feet?

What holds a believer steady when we feel that God ignores our cross?

The Son of God clung to the same concrete certainty that we too must secure when “why” assails us:

Jesus knew that his anguish had a purpose and a reasoned conclusion.

Like Jesus, we are sealed by God’s purpose and conclusion. He speaks His promise to us through the Apostle Peter, a man also martyred on a cross:

And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. I Peter 5:10 ESV

Purpose: He has called you to his glory.

Conclusion: Jesus will restore, confirm, strengthen and establish you.

As for the doubts that pierce us: Every “why” we suffer is nailed to the cross, along with Jesus’ hands and feet. Jesus identifies with our agony now. Our sense of betrayal is his — now. Jesus empathizes with us when our Father responds to our cries with a necessary silence.

It was during the Creator’s dynamic silence that he fulfilled his role as Ruler of Heaven and Earth AND heartsick Father — the ultimate wrenching paradox embraced by an omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient God.

In his dynamic silence, Jesus suffered his Father’s abandonment, but accomplished a purpose that transcends human wisdom: He rescued generations of humanity from self-destruction and crossed the “It is finished!” line to glory.

...after he had provided purification for sins [by dying on a cross], he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. Heb. 1:3-b NIV

…for the joy set before him he [Jesus] endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Heb. 12:2-b NIV

It troubles us that God hides the details of “why?” from our eyes, but he NEVER hides the overriding purpose of all suffering: to save our children. Save our grandchildren. Save our friends and neighbors.

Jesus’ blood binds us (believers) to this same mission, no matter how uncomfortable a paradox may feel.

How the Creator of the Universes goes about achieving his goals cannot be understood with our finite minds. We cannot know God’s way of thinking or see with clarity the scope of consequences waiting at the end of a thing. God exploits good and evil for his purposes—without consulting us. (Romans 8:28).

Two thousand years ago Jesus healed broken bodies and minds when he walked the earth as a man, and he still heals today (Hebrews 13:8). Jesus twisted natural laws like a pretzel, and he still does today. And from the beginning of time until today, good and evil are mystically locked into God’s redemptive plan for humanity.

We must accept that God deliberately sprinkles paradoxes in our lives, and we must expect to experience his dynamic silence at times — but his silence is thermonuclear in nature, and his purpose gestates within unseen dimensions. If we allow paradoxes to instruct and strengthen our faith, the strands of our imperfect lives merge with God’s sovereignty where an unexplainable cooperation exists between God and us.

Often we feel buffeted by evil in the world, but we can be certain that our reconciliation with God vanquishes all consequences that would pursue us through eternity. The author of all life is writing the last chapter of his ages-old story, on pages where we play a minor but meaningful role.

We hold fast to our personal redemption, and forcefully agree with God, who inexplicably merges our will with his sovereign will. We submit to him imperfectly, shocked that we are working hand-in-glove with him in spite of our inconsistencies. Paradoxes cannot be ignored, nor can we overlook the powerful redemption God forges in the furnace of “WHY?”

But we know the Person in every paradox. We know that his purpose and a reasoned conclusion to our suffering is sealed by the blood of Christ, who created the ensemble of universes, all sentient beings, and fathomless microscopic domains.

Jesus invites us to choose our destinies, anchored in his predestined will —which is the sweetest paradox of all!


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