Which is easier: to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’?
When Adam and Eve had fallen into sin and were hiding from the Lord God among the trees of the garden, he came seeking them not with a rebuke but with a question: “Where are you?” (Genesis 3:9.)
Obviously, divine questions are never asked to get information. God knew where they were, they didn’t hide so well that he couldn’t find them. So the question “Where are you?” was meant to be answered on a deeper level. He asked the question because he wanted Adam and Eve to discover things that they were hiding from themselves.
Answering God’s questions teaches us truths about ourselves that we would otherwise not know. The penetrating questions of God prepare us to hear the rest of what he will say, the words of comfort, challenge, warning, correction, promise, prophecy, salvation, and hope.
Mark 2:1-12 (ESV) 1 And when he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home.
2 And many were gathered together, so that there was no more room, not even at the door. And he was preaching the word to them.
With amazing speed the news spread that a miracle-working Teacher had come to Capernaum; and wherever our Lord went, great crowds gathered. They wanted to see Him heal the sick and cast out demons.
Jesus had already attracted the crowds. Because of that he had attracted the notice of the official leaders of the Jews. The Sanhedrin was their supreme court. One of its great functions was to be the guardian of orthodoxy. For instance, it was the Sanhedrin’s duty to deal with any man who was a false prophet. It seems that it had sent out a kind of scouting party to check up on Jesus; and they were there in Capernaum.
3 And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men.
4 And 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.
WHAT DOES FAITH LOOK LIKE?
Verse 4 tells us that these four companions dug through the roof to lower their paralyzed friend to Jesus, bringing us to the questions of the physical circumstances in which this event took place. Capernaum is not an easy place in which to maneuver if you are disabled. The roads are not paved smoothly, stairs and vertical rises make it difficult to get around, and you must rely on your friends to help you travel there if you’re not ambulatory.
The homes were small. The crowd filling this home might have numbered fifty, at most one hundred, and we know they were spilling out into the street. The walls were made of stone, but the roofs had beams across them, between which straw and thatch were packed together with clay.
Most homes had stairways leading to the rooftops so people could ascend on hot evenings and enjoy the breeze, using the roof as a sort of porch. Apparently what these men did was climb up the exterior stairway to the roof, dig out the clay and the thatch from between the beams to open a hole in the roof, and lower their friend down to Jesus.
Let’s consider why Jesus concluded that he was seeing faith as this man descended before him from the hole in the roof. These men were audacious enough to believe him! They were boldly saying, “If you say so, we are going to trust that you care more about people than buildings, and we are going to tear a hole in your roof and put before you one of the very kinds of people you said you have come to help.”
They believed the things that he had said about himself and they acted on their belief. They were willing to go to lengths that other people would question.
They were deeply concerned about their friend and wanted to see him helped. They had the faith to believe that Jesus could and would meet his need. They did not simply “pray about it,” but they put some feet to their prayers; and they did not permit the difficult circumstances to discourage them. They worked together and dared to do something different, and Jesus rewarded their efforts. How easy it would have been for them to say, “Well, there is no sense trying to get to Jesus today! Maybe we can come back tomorrow.”
There comes a time in every relationship when a decision must be made that will change everything. And when God himself draws near and we hear his voice, postponement can lead to a hard heart.
5 And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”
6 Now 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?”
8 And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, “Why do you question these things in your hearts?
When they heard Jesus say to the man that his sins were forgiven it came as a shattering shock. It was an essential of the Jewish faith that only God could forgive sins. For any man to claim to do so was to insult God; that was blasphemy and the penalty for blasphemy was death by stoning (Leviticus 24:16).
At the moment they were not ready to launch their attack in public, but it was not difficult for Jesus to see how their minds were working. So he determined to fling down a challenge and to meet them on their own ground.
It was their own firm belief that sin and sickness were indissolubly linked together. A sick man was a man who had sinned. So Jesus asked them: “Whether it is easier to say to this man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’?” Any charlatan could say, “Your sins are forgiven.” There was no possibility of ever demonstrating whether his words were effective or not; such a statement was completely uncheckable.
But to say, “Get up and walk” was to say something whose effectiveness would either be proved or disproved there and then. So Jesus said in effect: “You say that I have no right to forgive sins? You hold as a matter of belief that if this man is ill he is a sinner and he cannot be cured till he is forgiven? Very well, then, watch this!” So Jesus spoke the word and the man was cured.
The experts in the law were caught in a dilemma: on their own stated beliefs the man could not be cured, unless he was forgiven. He was cured, therefore he was forgiven. Therefore, Jesus’ claim to forgive sin must be true.
Jesus must have left a completely baffled set of legal experts; and, worse, he must have left them in a baffled rage. Here was something that must be dealt with; if this went on, all orthodox religion would be shattered and destroyed. In this incident Jesus signed his own death warrant-and he knew it.
The first part of Jesus’ two-part question in this passage is “Why are you thinking these things?” The second part is “Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’?”
As illustrated earlier by God’s question to Adam and Eve when they were hiding in the Garden, Jesus didn’t ask the teachers of the law, “Why are you thinking these things?” because he didn’t know. Rather, he wanted them to answer the question, to consider why it was that what they believed about God led them to anger and rejection of the possibility of forgiveness of sins rather than hope.
9 Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’?
The second part of Jesus’ question is more logic-based. He asked them to draw a conclusion, and then he acted to prove the point: “If I can do the apparently more difficult, visible, thing, then doesn’t it seem that I can also do the invisible thing?”
10 But 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, pick up your bed, and go home.”
12 And he rose and immediately picked up his bed and went out before them all, so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this!”
The need this man had was for his sins to be forgiven. The paralysis was not the main point, and the hole in the roof was not something that concerned Jesus, because people were more important to him than buildings. Jesus’ focus, then and now, is on what is important, not on the curiosities of the moment.
WHAT SORT OF GOD DO YOU SERVE?
Finally, let’s return to the two questions that Jesus asked the teachers of the law. He had forgiven the paralytic’s sins and given him relief from his desperation over all the things he had done to drive a wedge between himself and God. The man was free of his urgent spiritual burden. The knocking of a hole in the roof was of no consequence to Jesus.
Knowing all of that, Jesus still asked them the question, “Why?” I believe what he was truly asking was, “What kind of God do you serve?”
It is the kind of problem religious people always have: The more knowledge we gain, and the more we are involved in churches and Bible studies and Christian groups and so on, the more we learn to hide sin rather than see it forgiven.
The simple point is, Do we serve a God who is passionate about forgiving sins, who loves to remove burdens from people, who is generous with grace and mercy, who characteristically does good for us rather than raising his eyebrow at us and remaining distant? Of course. Of course his Son will speak of mercy and love, the removal of burdens, and the giving of life. That is God’s nature.
I believe the problem these teachers of the law had was the problem that folks like us have, so it is worth asking, “Why do we have so much trouble forgiving ourselves? Why do we have so much trouble welcoming hardened sinners or difficult people and sharing with them a word of forgiveness? Why would we rather live with cover-up than with forgiveness?”
DOES JESUS HAVE AUTHORITY TO FORGIVE?
Jesus’ other question is one of logic: “If I can do the more difficult, external, visible thing, isn’t it likely that I can also do the invisible thing?” This addresses the question of whether Jesus Christ has the authority to declare, “Your sins are forgiven. The struggle is over. You and God are in perfect relationship again. There is nothing from your past that clings to you any longer.”
Jesus said, “Child, your sins are forgiven.” This is his message to people like us-people who are aware of our failure, who know there are things about us that we would be ashamed if anyone else ever knew, who long for some relief from the struggle, who want to believe that God will be for us, not against us, who want to start today’s battle with a sense that God is on our side, not removed from us by some distance or barrier, who need the hope that goes along with forgiveness.
1 John 1:5-10 (ESV)
5 This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.
6 If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.
7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.
8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
To “confess our sins” means to agree with God that an act or thought was wrong, to acknowledge this to God, to seek forgiveness, and to make a commitment to not let it happen again. Augustine observed that confession of sin is a sign that truth, which is itself light, has already begun to illuminate people’s sin-darkened lives.
But I don’t feel forgiven? 1. Believe God. 2. See yourself as God sees you (cleansed by the blood of Christ).
Jesus has the authority to forgive sins. Let us shake off paralysis, pick up our mats, and walk.