I love questions that make me think. For example, consider the question: “Which three books would you take with you if you were alone on an island for six months?” Or “If you had to choose one ethnic food to eat for the rest of your life, which would it be?” Such questions make you think and evaluate things before you answer them. Well, Jesus asked questions that caused people to think deeply about what they had said or what he was doing. The question that Jesus asks in this passage is a “which is easier?” question. For example, we may say, “Which is easier: to perform delicate brain surgery or to solve a complex mathematics problem?” In these circumstances, both are incredibly difficult to do unless you are a surgeon or a mathematician.
I. Let’s look first at the faith of some friends in verses 1-5.
Remember that Jesus is in Galilee at this point. Before he started his ministry, he went out into the desert to be tempted and to show that he is ready to take on and defeat Satan and the powers of sin. He has been showing his power by healing many, many people. And as a result, more and more people have been going out to him to be healed. Now Jesus has returned to the area of Capernaum. But by now the officials and rulers in Jerusalem have heard about this new teacher and miracle worker and have come to check him out.
The home where he stayed in Capernaum is likely the house of Peter and Andrew. Soon a large crowd gathered within the house and outside the doorway. Mark says that Jesus was speaking “the word”, that is the word of God about the nearness of the kingdom of God and the necessity for repentance and faith. While he is teaching, Jesus was interrupted by the arrival of a small group of men who were carrying a paralyzed man on a mattress. When they couldn’t get through the crowd they went up a stairway on the side of the house to a flat roof which they then opened up to lower the man before Jesus. Jesus recognized this bold action as an expression of faith; the four clearly believed that he had the power to heal this man! They were hoping that Jesus would speak a word of healing to their friend.
But what Jesus says closely reflects what we find in the Old Testament where sin and disease, forgiveness and healing are frequently closely related to each other. In Hosea 14:4, God promises to help his people and says, “I will heal their waywardness and love them freely, for my anger has turned away from them.” The Scriptures make it clear that sickness, disease and death are consequences of the sinful condition of all people. That is why it is appropriate for Jesus to proclaim the forgiveness of sins. Jesus is not thinking of a specific sin that this man had done and needs forgiving. When Jesus pronounces that this man’s sins are forgiven, he is saying that he has come to cancel all the sin that caused such problems in the first place. This, however, creates a big problem for the Jewish leaders who had come to investigate.
II. Let’s look at the Scribes’ silent rebuke.
The Jewish Scribes, or Teachers of the Law, were highly schooled in the written Law of God and its oral interpretation. The scribes who were present here were clearly offended by Jesus’ declaration. They believed that the Old Testament taught that only God can forgive sins. They believed the Messiah would destroy the godless, crush demonic power and protect his people, but it was never expected that the Messiah would forgive sins. When Jesus forgave this man’s sins it was an offence to the majesty and authority of God; in short, what Jesus did was blasphemy! The punishment for blasphemy was death and already here we get a hint of the problem the Scribes would have with Jesus at the close of Jesus’ ministry. They object to Jesus’ statement that he can speak for God and forgive sins!
Now let’s think about this a moment. In Matthew 16:19, Jesus said that what we bind on earth will be bound in heaven. There are many things that Jesus says we have that we have trouble believing. I mean, how many honestly believe that we can throw a mountain into the sea? Yet, that is the kind of power we have if we believe. Yet we have a power that is even more profound: we can pronounce God’s forgiveness to others if they truly believe.
Imagine a man who has been a terrible person: he’s had people killed, killed some himself and has caused untold pain and grief on many others. But one day, through some miracle, God changes him and he sees clearly for the first time that God wants him to change and stop doing all those things. He confesses, is tried and sent to prison to pay for his crimes. He stops his evil and is paying his debt to society but he is dogged by unrelenting guilt for all the things he has done. Imagine that you go and visit this man in prison and you tell him – proclaim to him with no hesitancy – that he if he believes, truly believes in Jesus, all the things he has ever done wrong are completely forgiven. Imagine the relief and the joy this man would have and the joy you would have to be the one who can remove that burden of guilt. We have that power and authority to tell others that their sins are indeed forgiven if they confess them and believe in Jesus!
Jesus knew the disapproval of the scribes before they said it aloud and then pointed it out in a very effective and pointed question: which is easer: to heal or to forgive? Jesus’ point is that both are things that ultimately only God can do. And so it’s not that one is harder or easier than the other; it’s that with an ordinary human being, neither can be done. He is about to prove that he is indeed divine and can both forgive and heal. It is the declaration of forgiveness which is more essential and the more difficult of the two actions but he still proceeds to do both.
Now Jesus’ pronouncement in verse 10 is a bit peculiar for it is not clear whom Jesus is talking to. Jesus had been talking to the Scribes, but his response appears to be addressed to the paralytic. This statement is best seen as a comment by Mark to his readers many years later. Mark is effect telling his readers to pay attention to what is about to happen and they’ll see that Jesus is indeed the Son of Man, the Messiah, the divine Son of God. Or in other words, “Ok, readers... watch this and you’ll know who Jesus is.” And then Jesus tells the paralytic: “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” Verse 10 shows that the one who can heal miraculously can also forgive sins. The early Christian readers may be assured that Jesus has both the right and the authority to forgive sins.
The conclusion brings this home even more strongly. Verse 12 says, “He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all.” This forced all in the house to recognize that Jesus’ declaration of forgiveness had been effective. Having received the forgiveness of God, the paralyzed man receives healing. But this is precisely the nature of the salvation that Jesus brings. This healing is more than merely a display of mercy to a wretched man. This radical healing was a sign that the Kingdom of God has come! The paralytic received the fulfillment of God’s Messianic promise that the lame would share in the joy of the coming salvation. In Isaiah 35:6 Isaiah prophesied, “Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy.” Mark then adds, “This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, ‘We have never seen anything like this!’” The demonstration that God had really come near to his people was startling. All present glorified God because God was now clearly redeeming his people.
IV. Jesus both heals and forgives us.
Jesus does heal us. Now clearly we have to be cautious here for clearly not every person who believes in Jesus or who follows him has full and completely restored health. Hospitals are filled with Christians who suffer from all kinds of diseases and whom have not been miraculously healed. And as much as some may preach and teach that God will heal everyone as long as they have enough faith, this is not what Mark is saying. Mark’s point for us to remember is that Jesus is bringing in the new kingdom of God. The back of sin has been broken and the day is coming when all the effects of sin will be completely removed. So while some may continue to struggle with health problems, we are now living in the age where sin has been defeated and it’s only a matter of time before all the effects and stains of sin are completely removed.
Jesus has defeated Satan and sin and the effects of sin are only temporary. We can take great comfort in the fact that the time of restoration is coming. I recently upgraded my operating system on my laptop but had some big issues. Things weren’t working right after I installed the new software and things were only getting worse. Soon hardly anything was working at all. So I did a complete system reset. I was able to keep my documents but the computer was returned to its previous original state. Being returned to a “previous original state” sounds theological, doesn’t it? But that is grace and that is what God does for us. And some day, everything will be restored completely because that is what Jesus is announcing and what he has done in his death and resurrection.
And as a result, we have freedom to be what God wants us to be! In her book “The Warmth of Other Suns,” Isabel Wilkerson talks about the great migration of black sharecroppers who moved from the Southern states to the north to find a better life from 1920's to the 1970's. These people streamed up north hoping and expecting to find acceptance, good jobs and a completely new life where they were completely free. Yet when they got there, they didn’t find freedom but instead found more oppression and closed doors; in many ways worse than in the south they left. The hoped for promise of freedom was not fulfilled. We have true freedom from all and we praise God for that! We have freedom in Christ and freedom from sin. Even though we still struggle with sin and the effects of sin, we already now have the promised forgiveness and freedom because of what Jesus has done.