We’re back in Mark. Today we enter a new section of the book – “five stories of conflict” which runs from chapter 2 through chapter 3:6. These stories demonstrate that although Jesus is loved by the crowds – mostly for what he can do for them – his message and his display of authority created opposition from many, especially the Jewish leadership.
In our story today, the first of the five, the conflict is over Jesus’ authority to forgive a person’s sins.
1And when he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. 2And many were gathered together, so that there was no more room, not even at the door. And he was preaching the word to them.
Last time we saw how Jesus expanded his ministry into all of Galilee (1:38). And now “after some days” he returns to Capernaum, his home base. But he does so quietly because of the press of the crowds (1:45). Nevertheless word gets out and he is once again swamped by a crowd. The house, most likely Peter and Andrew’s, is packed with people.
We also saw last time that his priority is preaching (1:38). And this is what he’s doing in the house, “preaching the word.” As stated in 1:15, he proclaimed, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”
3And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. 4And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him, and when they had made an opening, they let down the bed on which the paralytic lay.
So this man is so disabled that he can’t walk or otherwise get to Jesus, but must be carried by four friends. The word used for “bed” here refers to a poor person’s mat or mattress.
Well, on their way to Jesus they encounter an obstacle, the crowd around Jesus is blocking their way. Undaunted they make their way up the outside staircase onto the flat roof – both typical features of a Palestinian home at this time.
It says literally that they “unroofed the roof” and they were “digging it out.” That is, they removed the material between the roof beams to make a hole for the man to be lowered through. (Luke says there were tiles involved – 5:19)
Can you imagine the mess that would have fallen on those below? And I wonder what Peter and Andrew thought of their new sun roof? Whatever others were thinking, Jesus saw faith.
5And when Jesus saw their faith. . .
When Jesus says “their faith” this includes the faith of the disabled man, who is surely a participant in this quest to get to Jesus.
And here is a lesson on faith from these five men. First, it overcomes all obstacles to get to Jesus. Faith is persistent and doesn’t give up. And also it can be seen. Our verse says, “Jesus saw their faith.” He could see it because faith is not just about words, but is demonstrated in actions that can be seen.
. . . he said to the paralytic, “My son, your sins are forgiven.”
This is surprising to us. He came for healing not forgiveness. But this would not be surprising to a Jewish audience. In Scripture, sin and sickness are often connected (Deuteronomy 28:25ff; Numbers 12:9-15; 2 Chronicles 26:16-21; Isaiah 38:16-17; James 5:14-16;1 Corinthians 11:27-30; Psalm 41:3-4; Psalm 103:3; Psalm 107:17; Isaiah 33:24). There’s a connection in general – sickness is a part of a fallen world marked by sin. But also an individual’s specific sins can bring sickness upon them.
Now, Jesus is clear that there is not always a direct connection, as he points out in the case of the blind man in John 9:3 (See also Luke 13:1-5; 2 Corinthians 12:7; Galatians 4:13-14; and, of course, the book of Job). But this doesn’t mean that sometimes there isn’t a direct connection (See John 5:14). And there is a direct connection here, according to Jesus. None of this would have been controversial to his audience.
What’s controversial is that Jesus personally forgives the man’s sins. (The phrase “your sins are forgiven” could be interpreted as a divine passive so that Jesus is saying, “God forgives yours sins.” But this wouldn’t be controversial (2 Samuel 12:13). The conflict that follows and Jesus’ further statements only make sense if he is personally forgiving this man’s sins. See also Luke 7:48-49) In Scripture, only God forgives sins. How could someone who is not God, a mere human, do this for God?
6Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, 7“Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?”
Scribes are experts in the Law of Moses. Their response is understandable. It is true, only God can forgive sins. (The phrase “God alone” can also be translated “except the one God” – a reference to the Shema). Forgiveness is a divine prerogative or right. And for a mere human to claim this is to blaspheme. And the penalty for blasphemy is death by stoning – Leviticus 24:10-16. (He is later executed based on this charge – Mark 14:63-64.)
Now notice that they do not say these things out loud, they think them in their inner person.
8And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, “Why do you question these things in your hearts?
Jesus has already displayed the ability to know what is in a person’s heart when he knew what the disabled man’s sins were and forgave them. Now here he knows what the scribes are thinking. But they take no notice of this.
Jesus continues in his response to their thoughts.
9Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’?
The argument Jesus is making is from greater to lesser. He’s saying, if he can do the more difficult thing, this guarantees that he can do the easier thing. It is easier to say “your sins are forgiven” because there’s no way to see that the person is or isn’t forgiven. But the results of saying “be healed” can be seen. The person is either healed or is not healed. This is harder.
So his ability to heal the man, the harder thing to say, shows that he can also forgive the man, the easier thing to say.
And in context these two things are connected. Since Jesus sees the man’s ailment as a consequence of his personal sins and the others would almost certainly agree his healing would demonstrate his forgiveness. God would not heal the man unless his sins were forgiven. So the fact that, as we will see, he is healed shows that Jesus’ pronouncement of forgiveness was indeed effective. It becomes a visible evidence that he’s forgiven.
And finally, God would not honor the words of a blasphemer. But here the man is healed.
10But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”-
The phrase Son of Man is how Jesus characteristically refers to himself in the Gospels. Jesus seems to like this title because it concealed his identity to those not interested in following him, but revealed who he is to those who were.
It conceals in that in the Old Testament it mostly just means “a human” or “a mere person” – in contrast to God (Psalm 8:4; Ezekiel). And Jesus is talking in the 3rd person. So the outsider would ask, “Who’s he talking about?”
But for his followers they know he is talking about himself and he is referring to Daniel 7:13-14, which refers to a human being who is given “authority which will not pass away . . ..” (LXX) and who is involved with God in the judgment of the nations.
Jesus is saying, “This is who I am; and I have this divine prerogative to forgive – not just on the final day in the courts of heaven, but also now ‘on earth.'”
To demonstrate that he has this authority, picking up the end of v. 10 –
he said to the paralytic— 11“I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.” 12And he rose and immediately picked up his bed and went out before them all . . .
So he gets up off the ground, then bends over to pick up his bed and then walks home – a clear demonstration of his healing. If he had trouble getting through the crowed before, I bet he doesn’t now!
And after this it goes on to say about the crowd –
. . . so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this!”
The crowd is astonished and gives praise to God. They have never seen a man forgive sins like God does and then prove it by healing the person.
Let me end with 3 more brief lessons from this story.
Jesus has all authority. As we have seen he has authority or power to teach new things; to cast out demons with a word; to heal people by simply speaking; and now we see that this includes forgiving people their sins. Jesus has all this power.
And we learn about Jesus’ unique identity in this story. He tells us that he is the Son of Man of Daniel 7; the somewhat mysterious, exalted figure who is with God when the nations of the world are judged on the final day.
And even more than this he is the Son of God in human form. In answer to the question of the scribes, yes only God can forgive sins, which is why Jesus can forgive sins. Here we see again Jesus’ divine identity.
And then finally, in all this Jesus is making the kingdom of God present. He does this when he sets people free from Satan – exorcisms; when he brings new life – through healings and making people whole; and here when he forgives sins, extending God’s mercy (Jeremiah 31) and bringing people into new relationship with God.
(Now, he forgives, not by saying sin doesn’t matter, but on the basis of his coming death which atones for sins (Mark 10:45; Mark 14:22-24.) This is the basis of all these kingdom blessings. And his death is alluded to in our story. For the charge of blasphemy is a capital offense and is indeed why he was eventually executed on the cross (Mark 14:64).)
Jesus makes the kingdom real in people’s lives.
As we think of who Jesus is and what he does in this story, we too should respond as the crowd does by giving praise to God.