In Jesus we see the authority of God. So far in Mark we have seen Christ's authority over temptation, authority over the lives of men, authority over nature, authority to establish truth, authority over demons, authority over sickness. Now we will see a new authority revealed it is Christ's authority to forgive sin.
Having shown how Jesus had revealed His power and authority as the Son of God in chapter 1, Mark now goes on to reveal what Jesus Himself said about Himself, and how He reveals Himself as the introducer of a new age. He does this by selecting five incidents from the life of Jesus.
Mark 2:1 through 3:6 consists of five accounts of disputes between Jesus and opposing interpreters or interpretations of the Jewish law. The sequence as a whole is very artfully constructed to reveal the chasm between ways in which God's will is understood by Jesus in the dawning new age and by those of pharisaic Judaism now threatened by Jesus. At the same time, the conflict between Jesus and the defenders of pharisaic Judaism intensifies.
Let's read verses 1-12 to get the whole picture, and then we'll break it down:
Mark 2:1-12 (NASB) And when He had come back to Capernaum several days afterward, it was heard that He was at home. 2 And many were gathered together, so that there was no longer room, even near the door; and He was speaking the word to them. 3 And they came^, bringing to Him a paralytic, carried by four men. 4 And being unable to get to Him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above Him; and when they had dug an opening, they let down the pallet on which the paralytic was lying. 5 And Jesus seeing their faith said^ to the paralytic, "My son, your sins are forgiven." 6 But there were some of the scribes sitting there and reasoning in their hearts, 7 "Why does this man speak that way? He is blaspheming; who can forgive sins but God alone?" 8 And immediately Jesus, aware in His spirit that they were reasoning that way within themselves, said^ to them, "Why are you reasoning about these things in your hearts? 9 "Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven'; or to say,' Arise, and take up your pallet and walk'? 10 "But in order that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins"-- He said^ to the paralytic-- 11 "I say to you, rise, take up your pallet and go home." 12 And he rose and immediately took up the pallet and went out in the sight of all; so that they were all amazed and were glorifying God, saying, "We have never seen anything like this."
The last chapter ended with Jesus having healed a leper. The news of that miracle had been spread abroad to the point that Jesus had been forced to leave the cities and retreat for a time to the country.
Now several days have passed. The initial excitement has died down a bit, and Jesus returns to the seaside town of Capernaum, located on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee.
Mark 2:1 (NASB) And when He had come back to Capernaum several days afterward, it was heard that He was at home.
"At home," - no particular house in Capernaum is explicitly indicated, but we assume that it is Peter's house.
The news quickly spreads that Jesus is back. Once again a great crowd gathers so that it is a packed house.
Mark 2:2 (NASB) And many were gathered together, so that there was no longer room, even near the door; and He was speaking the word to them.
Here's the situation: the word gets out that Jesus is back in Capernaum, and folks start showing up. Not only is it standing room only, there is no more room; it's full. The only problem is there are more people who still want in.
The word "speaking" is an imperfect tense of laleo, which means: "He continue speaking the word to them over a period of time."
Luke tells us that there were Pharisees and Doctors of the Law present:
Luke 5:17 (NASB) And it came about one day that He was teaching; and there were some Pharisees and teachers of the law sitting there, who had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem; and the power of the Lord was present for Him to perform healing.
This was probably a delegation sent to check this new preacher out and report back to the Sanhedrin.
Mark 2:3 (NASB) And they came^, bringing to Him a paralytic, carried by four men.
While Jesus is in the house teaching, a group of men come to Him bringing a paralytic.
"Paralytic" is a transliteration of the Greek term paralutikos; a compound word made up of para ("along side of") and luo ("to lose or destroy"). It was a general word describing one who had lost control of his body. Paralutikos is in a verb tense indicating the man was not born this way, but something had happened to cause it - perhaps an accident or illness at some point in his life. This man could have been the victim of a stroke or some type of nerve disorder. It is impossible to say anything definite about the nature of the man's affliction beyond the fact that he was unable to walk.
We are told just one thing about him, and that is that he was a paralytic; nothing else. We are not told his name, his age, his marriage status, the job he once had. We are given information about one thing, that he could not move. Nothing else was as important as that. Nothing else was relevant. It didn't matter if he were a fisherman named Benjamin whose eyes were brown, and he had a wife and three children. He could not move. He would have most likely been in pain from cramps, stiffness of the joints, bedsores, and all the indignities of his condition. Nothing lay ahead of him but more suffering and death.
Somehow these men had heard about Jesus. Maybe they heard about Him healing the leper, or Peter's mother-in-law of a fever, or that when the people from the community had brought to Him people sick with various diseases that He had healed every one of them.
So these men had knowledge that Jesus Christ was able to heal their friend, and they knew that He was in Capernaum. So they picked up this helpless man and carried him to Jesus. But when they arrived at Jesus' street, they saw they had a problem:
Mark 2:4 (NASB) And being unable to get to Him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above Him; and when they had dug an opening, they let down the pallet on which the paralytic was lying.
We need to get a little background here in order to understand this event: This was a typical small town house. It would probably be a one story house and would have stone steps in the back which led on to the roof, which would be flat. This was a place where those who lived in the house could go for quiet and privacy.
There are a few times in Scripture where we see descriptions of the roof being used by men and women:
Acts 10:9 (NASB) And on the next day, as they were on their way, and approaching the city, Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray.
The roof is also recorded as being used in 1Sam. 9:25-26, 2 Sam. 11:2.
There was also a specific commandment in the Mosaic Law concerning the need for an outer raised extension to the house walls to prevent anyone from accidentally falling over the edge of the building (Deut 22:8).
The roof would be made of beams and rafters set slightly apart and covered with either mud or tiles. In the case of a mud roof, it would be covered with matting, brushwood, branches and twigs, followed by a final covering of mud, which would then be trodden hard. The result was a waterproof roof.
This roof would have most likely been empty, because it would have been a barrier to the sound of Jesus speaking below. And the stairs would have also been empty. So these men carry their friend up the stairs to the roof and begin tearing a hole in it. The Greek text says simply, "they unroofed the roof." So they tear a hole in the roof and let there friend down into the crowded room.
Can you imagine the crowds reaction? Jesus is in the middle of giving the word, and they hear some kind of commotion on the roof. Then some particles start falling through into the house, and the quantities of dirt which cascaded to earth must have made listening to Jesus somewhat difficult. They look up to see several faces staring back down. The hole in the ceiling widens, and then a pallet is lowered to the floor. On it lies a man. He may not even have been able to speak. We are not told that he made any request. He has only been placed at the feet of Jesus.
Mark 2:5 (NASB) And Jesus seeing their faith said^ to the paralytic, "My son, your sins are forgiven."
What amazes me is that none of the five men evidently said anything to Jesus. It was not their words or pleas that brought about the exercise of divine authority; it was their faith. All three of the Synoptic writers note that Jesus, upon seeing the roof being opened and the paralytic descending from the skies, "saw their faith..."
The word used for faith here is pistis. What is faith? Can you define it?
Faith is understanding and assent to a proposition! If I say to you, "The check is in the mail." You either believe me or you don't. If you believe me - that is faith.
Saving faith is understanding and assent to the prepositions of the gospel. Jesus Christ died for our sins. Do you believe that? If you do, that is faith.
These men had obviously heard about Jesus and the people He had healed, and they believed what they heard about Him - they believed He could heal.
It was not easy to bring this man to the Lord. They had to carry him, who knows how far, through the streets of the city - perhaps many blocks. And when they found the doorway blocked, they had to carry him up an outside stairway to the roof. We do not know how heavy he was, but it is not easy to carry a full-grown man up a flight of stairs. Yet these men managed this difficult task.
Then they risked the disapproval not only of the owner of the house, but also every person there by interrupting the meeting in order to get their friend to Jesus.
And somebody had to pay for that roof. Imagine the face of the owner, sitting there at the feet of Jesus, when he hears this banging on the roof. He looks up, and, to his amazement, daylight appears, and suddenly he has a large hole in his roof! I do not know what his thoughts were. He probably wondered if his homeowner's policy would cover it or not. Or maybe he was mentally adding up the bill to present to these men. But somebody had to pay that bill, somebody repaired that roof, and surely it was one, if not all, of these men. They exerted a lot of effort and took some risks, because they believed Jesus could heal their friend.
The paralytic obviously shared their faith. He could have said, "No way! You are not taking me to that fake!" He didn't. He heard the stories; maybe even meeting other healed people. He knew why they were taking his pain-racked body on this believing enterprise.
Their actions of carrying their friend, coming to Christ, going up to the roof, tearing the roof away just to get their friend into the presence of Christ was a result or manifestation of their faith, which came from their belief in what Jesus could do.
Faith, either at salvation, or in the Christian way of life, or in regards to the Word of God, must never be seen as a subjective, self-centered ability or technique. When we say we have faith we are saying we trust in the object of faith, and when the object of our faith is God, we then, and only then, have something worthwhile.
What did Jesus see in these men? I think he saw five men desperately dependent on Him. Look, you don't get on a roof, dig through, and lower this pallet down unless you believe Jesus has got the goods.
Notice what Jesus says to this paralytic man:
Mark 2:5 (NASB) And Jesus seeing their faith said^ to the paralytic, "My son, your sins are forgiven."
"Your sins are forgiven" - is an aoristic perfect and thus means "are this moment forgiven." We would think it obvious that the man needed to be healed. Yet Jesus does the most surprising thing by declaring that the paralytic's sins are forgiven. "But he wanted to be healed," we might reply, "so why did Christ provide forgiveness instead?" As we have noticed in previous studies in this Gospel, the Jewish and even ancient concept of illness and misfortune was interwoven with the guilt of sin. So in the paralytic's mind, to be forgiven of his sins would be ultimate deliverance. He probably did not understand all of the theological ramifications of healing and the atonement, but he did know that he was in desperate need beyond the physical realm. He knew that his sins had laid him low, and whether healed of paralysis or not, he still needed forgiveness of sins.
"My son, your sins are forgiven." This is the reason that Jesus came to the earth. It was so that He could provide a way of forgiveness of sins. The most distinctive message of Christianity is the reality that sin can be forgiven. We can forgive someone for a wrong done to us personally, but we have no authority to declare a person forgiven from all of his sins. That authority belongs to God alone.
"Your sins are forgiven." All of them? Every bad thought, every bad action, every rejection of God's rightful rule in his life, every unwillingness, every denial of his dependence on God all of that's forgiven? Well, friends, we'd better figure out what he did, if all that's forgiven. Did he give a lot of money? Did he do some great act of service? What was it that caused Jesus to say, "Your sins--all of them--are forgiven"?
Here's what he did. He came to Jesus Christ in faith. He came in desperate dependence, and when Jesus saw that faith, He was moved to say, "Your sins [all of them] are forgiven." And friends, that's one of the things that sets Jesus Christ of Nazareth apart from every other spiritual leader of all time. Jesus proclaims salvation by faith in Him, not good works. If you look at any other religious system, any other religious leader, you've got to follow these rules, you've got to do this or that. You've got to make sure your good works outweigh your bad. But Jesus is in effect saying, "None of that! Salvation is by faith in Me, not good works."
The way this life works, if you do you get. Here's what I remember from my high school days: The good students with the good grade points were the ones who made the honor roll. And the good athletes who performed on the field were the ones who were the starters on the volleyball or football or basketball team. And the way it works on the job is if you do well, you get the promotion. You do you get. And then Jesus says, "It's free." Free? By grace through faith?
To this point, our passage is kind of a "feel-good" story. Four guys climb up on a roof; they let the paralytic down; there's healing and forgiveness of sin; Jesus turns His attention to people of faith it's a good story. However, in verse 6 there is a transition coming. The first word we read is "but" so we know there is a change coming.
Mark 2:6 (NASB) But there were some of the scribes sitting there and reasoning in their hearts,
These were the local Scribes, doctors, and teachers of the Law (see Luke 5:17). Being local they were almost certainly Pharisees (Some Scribes were Sadducees). They were looked to by the people to interpret the Law and did so on the basis of oral tradition passed down among them, much of which was the result of scribal decisions in the past. There would appear to have been three types of such oral tradition: (a) some oral laws, which were claimed as having come from Moses as given by the great lawgiver in addition to the written laws; (b) decisions of various judges, which became precedents in judicial matters; and (c) interpretations of great teachers (rabbis), which came to be prized with the same reverence as were the Old Testament Scriptures. In order to become Scribes, they had to become learned in these oral traditions. They were called "the tradition of the Elders." They looked on themselves, and were generally looked on by the people, as the guardians of the Law. They had almost certainly come to sound out this new teacher so as to make a judgment on Him.
The word "reasoning" is from the Greek word dialogizomai, meaning: "questioning, criticisms, intellectual debate." It refers to inward reasoning of the mind; we get our English word "dialogue" from this Greek word. It is used chiefly of thoughts and considerations which are more or less objectionable.
Now please notice that they are not saying anything; they're just thinking it.
Mark 2:7 (NASB) "Why does this man speak that way? He is blaspheming; who can forgive sins but God alone?"
When they heard Jesus saying, "Your sins are forgiven," it bothered them, because they knew that only God is able to forgive sins. They were familiar with the words of the Lord as recorded in the prophet Isaiah:
Isaiah 43:25 (NASB) "I, even I, am the one who wipes out your transgressions for My own sake; And I will not remember your sins.
2 Chronicles 7:14 (NASB) and My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray, and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.
These Scriptures were right. Only God can forgive sins. And for a mere man to say what Jesus was saying is blasphemy.
You could commit blasphemy by: denying one of the attributes of God, adding attributes God does not possess (he's fickle), making yourself on par with God. This is what Jesus is claiming.
Don't miss this! You cannot listen to what Jesus has just said and conclude that He is only a good man. He is either a liar or a lunatic or He is the Lord. There is no other choice.
Let put this in a syllogism:
Major Premiss: Only God can forgive sins
Minor Premiss: Jesus Christ forgave this man's sins
Conclusion: Jesus Christ is God
The scribes could not comprehend that God had drawn near. All of the promises given to Abraham of his "seed" being the source of blessing to the earth, and David confessing loyalty to his kingly heir, and Isaiah's prophecies of Emmanuel (God with us) fell upon deaf ears. The real paralysis was in their minds and hearts as the scribes saw the testimony of Christ's authority, but would not believe it because it did not fit into their concept of God or concept of forgiveness.
Mark 2:8 (NASB) And immediately Jesus, aware in His spirit that they were reasoning that way within themselves, said^ to them, "Why are you reasoning about these things in your hearts?
Notice how Mark put this. These scribes were questioning "in their hearts." They did not say anything; they did not even talk among themselves. Jesus read their thoughts and read their hearts. He knew in His spirit that they questioned within themselves. You can imagine the startled looks on their faces when our Lord turned to them and said, "Why are you fellows thinking that way? I know what you're thinking."
How did Jesus know what they were thinking? I know that some interpret this as evidence of what they call the omniscience of Jesus, and conclude that He was acting as God here. I don't think so. In His incarnation Jesus operated in dependence upon God, not on His divine nature. Jesus reading their minds is not omniscience; this is, rather, the manifestation of the spiritual gift of "a word of knowledge."
1 Corinthians 12:8 (NASB) For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit;
The Word of Knowledge is tied to logos, so it is a speaking knowledge. It was a gift by which the Holy Spirit enabled a first-century believer to grasp the truth about a present situation-seeing, knowing, and understanding as the Holy Spirit sees, knows, and understands.
You see Peter doing the same thing:
Acts 5:3-4 (NASB) But Peter said, "Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit, and to keep back some of the price of the land? 4 "While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not under your control? Why is it that you have conceived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men, but to God."
How did Peter know they were lying? He must have been very sure that they were, because they died as a result of it.
Acts 16:27-29 (NASB) And when the jailer had been roused out of sleep and had seen the prison doors opened, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. 28 But Paul cried out with a loud voice, saying, "Do yourself no harm, for we are all here!" 29 And he called for lights and rushed in and, trembling with fear, he fell down before Paul and Silas,
How did Paul know the guard was about to kill himself and that the prisoners were all still there? It was a flash of omniscience from God himself, revealing what the person normally would not know. The T.V. evangelist who claims to know who is sick and where they live is not exercising this gift. That is often done with technology, not the Spirit's power.
Christ used this gift, Christ had all the gifts.
John 3:34 (NASB) "For He whom God has sent speaks the words of God; for He gives the Spirit without measure.
His miracles were done in the power of the Holy Spirit and not by his divine nature.
Mark 2:8 (NASB) And immediately Jesus, aware in His spirit that they were reasoning that way within themselves, said^ to them, "Why are you reasoning about these things in your hearts?
I believe that this is a demonstration of the spiritual gift, the word of knowledge. Christ knew this only because the Holy Spirit revealed it to Him. In His incarnation He wasn't omniscient. He walked to the fig tree only to find out if it had any figs on it. He asked the crowd, "Who touched me?"
Jesus is portrayed as man dependent upon God. Yes the man is perfectly God in human form, but He is, nevertheless, operating on earth as a man obedient to the will of the Father and not living outside in His own strength.
Mark 2:9 (NASB) "Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven'; or to say,' Arise, and take up your pallet and walk'?
Notice how he put that. He did not say, "Which is easier to do?" Because obviously it is much easier to heal a man physically than to forgive his sins. Only God can forgive sins; they are right about that. It is much easier to heal a body -- a physician can do that. But he said, "Which is easier to say?" Obviously any charlatan, any religious racketeer, can say to a man, "Your sins are forgiven," and no one could prove whether it happened or not. So that is easier to say.
The statement "you are healed" is falsifiable - it can be proven wrong. Who can prove you wrong if you claim you have forgiven someone's sins? It is an invisible act. Thus, Jesus proves He has accomplished the invisible act by likewise accomplishing the visible act.
To SAY, "Your sins are forgiven" is easier because no one can tell if it happened or not. There is no religious scanner in existence that can show that any man's sins have been forgiven, or not. You can't validate it. This could be applied to all the false religions which claim that their way is the right way to God. They claim that their system will get you to heaven, and their followers won't know until it is too late. Therefore, He then heals the man, which is the visible task, to prove that He can forgive sins too.
So it's easier to SAY that your sins are forgiven than to heal. But with God which is easier to heal or forgive sins? I know that God is omnipotent so He can do anything as easily as He can do anything else. But just for the sake of argument, which is easier for God to heal or forgive?
For Almighty God, healing is easy. God created all things from nothing, so restoring the man's malfunctioning legs is no effort for God. But for God to forgive sins against His utter perfection, His holiness? That was hard. It cost Him the greatest price ever paid: the life of His only begotten Son:
John 3:16 (NASB) "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.
A righteous God cannot allow sin to go unpunished. We wouldn't think too much of a judge who had a murderer or a rapist brought into his court if he said, "Well, I know that you are guilty, but I want to be a nice guy, and so I am going to let you go." Such a judge would be unjust.
God is not an unjust judge - He must punish sin. He came forth with a plan that would provide a just judgment for sin, and yet still provide salvation for men. That plan was the cross. When Jesus died upon the cross, it was as our substitute. He died in our place and suffered the penalty that we deserved. And because of that, God can forgive our sins.
As much as we desire it, physical healing is very visible, but temporary - for this life only. Forgiveness, on the other hand, is invisible, but everlasting - for time and eternity. Jesus gave His best gift first. Then He also healed the man to prove His authority to forgive sins, the authority of God.
Mark 2:10-11 (NASB) "But in order that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins"-- He said^ to the paralytic 11 "I say to you, rise, take up your pallet and go home."
The purpose of this particular miracle is "that you may know." Jesus would perform a miraculous healing so that you would know that He has the authority to forgive sin. The Greek word "eido" translated "know" means: "to gain specific knowledge by observation without any personal relationship or connection."
"Son of Man" in Mark's gospel refers to the figure named in Daniel 7:13 and is described in Hellenistic Jewish apocalyptic as God's designated appointee who will come down upon the clouds to inaugurate the Age-to-come, raise the dead, exercise judgment over all, and establish God's reign upon the earth.
"Forgive" is the present infinitive, "to go on forgiving sins" as a personal activity. And we notice that the words are spoken directly to the Rabbis. It is they whose thoughts He is challenging.
Our Lord is in effect saying to these men, "You question my ability to forgive sins. I'm going to demonstrate to you that I not only have the power to forgive sins, but the power to heal as well - which is easier to do, but harder to say, because you can verify that." By performing a sign that is empirically verifiable, however, Jesus argues that He is God's authorized agent, and therefore, has authority . . . to forgive sins.
Mark 2:12 (NASB) And he rose and immediately took up the pallet and went out in the sight of all; so that they were all amazed and were glorifying God, saying, "We have never seen anything like this."
Picture the scene. The scribes have not said a word. Nobody has spoken except Jesus. And now He tells the man on the pallet to stand up. Suddenly the man moves. He rises from his cot on sturdy legs, picks up his cot, and makes his way from the crowded room. The crowd opens up around him in amazement. Outside, his four friends meet him. He doesn't even need their help in carrying his bed. Where before there had been skepticism and unbelief, now there is a sense of amazement and awe.
Jesus makes the claim to be God and then backs it up with a public display of supernatural power. That sets Him apart from every other religious leader and every other spiritual leader in the history of humankind. Jesus claims to be God and supports that claim with public miracles.
Do you understand, when Jesus said, "Take up your pallet and walk," the guy didn't lay there and think: Well, I do feel stronger, I think I can move my toes a little. No, he got up, picked up his pallet, and he walked out! And the crowd was left wondering, How do we explain it?
The awestruck crowds were "glorifying God, saying, 'We have never seen anything like this.'" We realize that they did not fully understand the Incarnation. But they did recognize the humanity of Christ and the uniqueness of this One endowed by God with authority. And as weak and pitiful as they were in understanding, we still find them worshiping. That's what happens when Christ's authority to forgive sins grips us we worship Him. We begin to ascribe the worth, glory, and blessing due to His name unto Him.
Why was this man able to get up and walk?
1. Because of the command of Christ
2. Because he had friends.
We must see, today, the determined faith of these men for their friend. It was because of their faith that he received healing. Our faith can have such effect on others. Because of our faith, others' lives can be touched, just as this man's life was touched.
This is a turning point in Jesus' ministry. Up to this point, the healings were merely physical. Now we see that the physical healings really point to a deeper spiritual reality, p which is the ultimate healing - the forgiveness of sins. The last miracle, the cleansing of the leper, pointed to this because leprosy was the model disease for the problem of sin. But here we have the forgiveness idea directly stated. The miracle is a means to an end - not the end itself. It teaches us something about the person of Christ. He can forgive our sins.
The writer of Hebrews tells us:
Hebrews 13:8 (NASB) Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today, yes and forever.
Jesus still forgives the sins of all who come to Him in faith. Be a friend and tell somebody about Jesus.
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