“When He entered Capernaum again after some days, it was reported that He was at home. So many people gathered together that there was no more room, not even in the doorway, and He was speaking the message to them. Then they came to Him bringing a paralytic, carried by four men. Since they were not able to bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above where He was. And when they had broken through, they lowered the mat on which the paralytic was lying. Seeing their faith, Jesus told the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” But some of the scribes were sitting there, thinking to themselves: “Why does He speak like this? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone? ” Right away Jesus understood in His spirit that they were thinking like this within themselves and said to them, “Why are you thinking these things in your hearts? Which is easier: to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, pick up your mat, and walk’? But so you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins,” He told the paralytic, “I tell you: get up, pick up your mat, and go home.” Immediately he got up, picked up the mat, and went out in front of everyone. As a result, they were all astounded and gave glory to God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this! ” (Mark 2:1-12 HCSB)
Some things in life are easy and some things are hard. Some things that come easy for me are hard for others, and vice versa. Some folks my age struggle with technology and just can’t seem to make it work but I seem to have an unusual aptitude for it. I’ve worked for the last 30+ years as a technician building, supporting and managing the network systems of several organizations. While I’m completely comfortable with computers and related technology, I struggle with higher forms of mathematics. In fact, the worst grade I made in college was due to a mathematical equation problem in one of my computer classes. I’m fine with standard mathematical calculations and formulas but don’t ask me anything about Trigonometry, Calculus or such. Sorry, I can’t help you with that.
Sometimes the hard questions that get asked have nothing to do with mathematical equations, though. Sometimes those hard questions have nothing to do with things you learn from books or lectures, either. Sometimes they have more to do with fear, failure, faith, truth, hope, life and God. Especially about God. This week, we are going to focus in on one of those hard questions. Not one that Jesus is asked, but one that He asks of others and of us. Let’s get started…
Jesus has come back home to Capernaum. It appears He’s slipped in without anyone noticing, but not for long. Mark says that word got out that “He was at home”, but doesn’t specify who’s home. While it is possible that Jesus had a personal home in Capernaum early in his ministry, it seems highly unlikely. More likely, this was Simon and Andrew’s family home and probably served as their base of operations when they were in and around Galilee. In fact, there’s a building that has been excavated by archeologists that appears to be Peter’s home. The common home was obviously built around this time (early first century AD) but contains Christian “graffiti” and symbols on the plaster walls. This indicates that the small home was later converted to a Christian house church, then preserved and expanded over the centuries.
This particular home that has been excavated, fits the description given here with a small (16 feet by 16 feet) walled courtyard outside the front doorway that extended around the side of the house for another 25 feet or so. Mark describes the crowd as having gathered outside the doorway and filling the available indoor and outdoor courtyard space until there was just no more room. As the crowd pressed in to try and see, hear and, no doubt, attempt to touch Jesus, He was “speaking the message” to them. This message was the one He’s been preaching regarding the arrival of God’s kingdom on earth and the impact it would have on their lives.
What kind of impact? The very things they seek but not in the places or they are seeking them. They desire freedom and Jesus offers freedom, but not by throwing off the oppression of the Romans. He says, “you will know the truth and it will set you free.” They seek healing and He offers that, too. But again, not in the manner or method they’re expecting or desiring. This particular story highlights that very issue. While He was speaking to them regarding the kingdom of God, four men show up carrying their paralyzed friend on a mat. They’ve obviously heard about Jesus’ healing miracles and they desperately want to get their friend to the miracle man from Nazareth. They arrive at Peter’s home and the crowd has engulfed the house. They can’t even get near the place. Everyone is clamoring for a chance to get near Him and touch Him. They need another way.
I don’t want to focus in on the eyewitness details that Mark gives regarding this story and gloss over the main point, but I feel it is important to catch the hope and determination in the hearts and minds of this paralyzed man’s friends. They arrive at Peter’s home having heard about Jesus and the many miracles He’s performed and they are determined to find a way to get their friend in front of Him. Honestly, Jesus is their friend’s only chance and they know it. They are focused, determined, persistent and it shows. They aren’t going to let a little thing like a crowd or an inaccessible entrance stop them. Why let a roof stand in their way when Jesus is the only hope for their friend’s healing and future.
Do we see the issues confronting our friends, family and coworkers in the same way? Do we view Jesus as the only hope for their healing and their future? Are we as determined to get our friends and family to Jesus as this man’s friends were to get him to Jesus? Are we willing to push aside the obstacles and tear off a few roofs if that means healing and wholeness for them and their lives? Do you find yourself marveling at their persistence and faith? Perhaps that’s because we’ve yet to face the blunt reality that Jesus is the only hope for our lives. Faith is often the result of exhausted possibilities in human solutions. We often turn to God when we’ve no other options and no place left to turn.
Yes, I know we should and must do everything we can in our power to find reasonable solutions and activate available resources when faced with needs. I completely get that. But we must also be willing to admit the fact that the biggest need our culture faces cannot be satisfied with human solutions. Most of you reading this know that Jesus is our greatest need and the answer to our problems, but we seldom act like it. We’re hesitant to “tear off the roof” in order to get our friends to Jesus. I’m not sure if this is due to a false sense of courtesy, the fear of cultural embarrassment or just weak faith, but it desperately needs to be addressed in our lives.
Now, notice Jesus’ response because it hits at the heart of what I’ve been saying: Seeing their faith, Jesus told the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” The biggest need this man has could NOT be addressed with the physical healing of his paralysis. So, Jesus addresses his biggest and most pressing need, first and foremost… his sin condition and the restoration of his relationship with God. Until we see our sinful spiritual condition and our broken relationship with God as the biggest issue that needs to be addressed in our lives, we’ll remain broken, paralyzed and separated from God, too.
Next, pay close attention to how the scribes react to this. We’re given a brief glimpse into the deity of Jesus in this moment when He perceives their thoughts regarding His statement to the paralytic regarding his forgiveness. The scribes were thinking to themselves, “Why is He speaking like this? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” This last phrase, God alone, is the same phrase that is in the Shema (Deut. 6:4) that is translated “God is one.” Thus the charge of blasphemy because Jesus has equated Himself with God. (Note: Some liberal scholars argue that Jesus never claimed to be God and that the early disciples never considered Him equal to God, but this passage clearly indicates that is not true.)
So, Jesus recognizes the conflict in their hearts and in their minds. This incongruity between what they believed and what they were hearing and seeing in Jesus’ actions and words. You can’t help but be impressed by the miracles and taken back by His authoritative teaching. But blasphemy? That’s serious stuff. Blasphemy is the most egregious offense in the Jewish law and belief system and proven allegations on the charge of blasphemy would result in a judgment of death by stoning. If Jesus knew that’s what they were thinking and He WASN’T making the claim to be God, you’d expect Him to quickly clear up that issue, but He doesn’t. He does something entirely unexpected…
Jesus knew their thoughts and where those thoughts were taking them, a head on collision with an allegation of blasphemy. How does He respond? He addresses the issue head-on and leaves no doubt as to His claim: “Why are you thinking these things? Which is easier: to say ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, pick up your mat, and walk?’ But SO you may know (my emphasis) that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins, He tells the paralytic, “I tell you: get up, pick up your mat, and go home.”
Interesting question isn’t it? “Which is easier?” Is it easier to tell a sinful man that his sins are forgiven or is it easier to tell a paralyzed man to stand up and walk? On the surface, anyone can say that someone else’s sins are forgiven and only God would know if it was true or not. So, Jesus could “claim” the authority and power of God over sin and no human could prove whether His claim was true or not. It’s easy to claim spiritual authority and power but it’s something entirely different to authenticate that authority and power in a demonstrative way. We see this all the time with people who claim to be speaking or acting with the authority of God. “God told me to tell you…” or “God told me to do this…” or something similar. I’m sure you’ve heard them. In fact, some might say that’s what I do when I write and speak. I’ll tell you right now, I have no human authority. If you’ve read my words on this blog for very long, I hope you recognize that I believe the authority lies with God and His Word. It doesn’t really matter what I say, but it matters a GREAT deal what God says and that all comes down to your view on the authority, infallibility and inerrancy of scripture.
So, I think there might have been a moment of silent emphasis between Jesus’ question and His response (between verse 9 and 10). It’s referred to as a “pregnant pause” by some. A momentary pause in Jesus’ words that is full of expectation. A moment exploding with meaning and anticipation. Then He continues, “So YOU may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins, He tells the paralytic: Get up! Pick up your mat and go home.”
Wow! That’s just incredible. I don’t believe this was accidental or coincidental in any way. This was a very intentional and measured response. In fact, I believe this was a moment orchestrated by the heart and mind of God and executed perfectly by His Son and His Spirit. God knew these scribes would question Jesus’ deity and His authority and power to forgive sins. He could have left the question hanging, unanswered. Instead, He answered definitively and put an exclamation mark on it!
Which is easier? From a human perspective, it is much easier to say that someone’s sins are forgiven because it can’t be scientifically verified or proven. That’s a big part of the struggle that our culture has with religious beliefs and faith in God. Prove it to me. Well, He did exactly that in this instance. So you may know… Jesus demonstrated His authority to forgive sins by doing something that could only be attributed to God. He did what only God could do, He gave a paralyzed man the ability to walk, again.
Which is easier? From God’s perspective, it is much easier to make a paralyzed man walk. You might be a bit surprised by that statement. However, it is much easier to restore the strength of atrophied muscles, to straighten bent bones and to reinvigorate dead nerves than it is to restore men’s hearts, overcome rebellious souls and satisfy the demands of redemption. Hebrews 9: 22 says, “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” Hebrews 10:4 says, “For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” Sin is much, much more serious than we realize.
Now, let me turn that question around and ask it of you. Which is easier, to claim you’re forgiven or to live like it? You see, it is easy to say you’re a follower of Jesus and that your sins have been forgiven. Nobody can prove otherwise, at least not scientifically. Right? And that’s what we’ve seen in the church over the last 20 or so centuries. Lot’s of folks who claim forgiveness but may not show much evidence of it. But, if God has truly forgiven you and transformed your heart, soul and mind then I believe something very much like what happened in the life of this paralytic has happened to you. You were crippled by sin and now God has enabled you to walk, again. To walk with Him and live life by His Spirit and He’s telling you to “get up, take your mat and walk!”
God is demonstrating to the world Jesus’ authority over sin through your forgiveness, too. He’s calling for you to get up and walk! Walk each day in the power of His Spirit living in obedience to His Will and His Word. When you do so, you show the world the authority that Jesus has to forgive sins.