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. 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. 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? 9 Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’? 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!”
Dennis Swanberg often shares a humorous story from his pastoring days about some well-meaning men in the church who sought to inspect some ceiling damage while the Easter morning worship service was going on. To Swanberg’s and the congregation’s great horror, the man who had crawled up above the ceiling came crashing through to the ground during worship! It is truly a funny story to hear and Swanberg dresses it up as only he can until it becomes absolutely hysterical!
It is a strange sight, a man crashing through the roof during worship. Of course, something like this happened in Mark 1:1-12 with the (more scandalous) difference that it was not an accident. It was highly deliberate. While Jesus was a preaching, a paralytic man was lowered down through the roof! It forms one of the most memorable stories in the New Testament and, if read rightly, one of the most touching stories as well.
Saving faith is what emerges when deep need marries genuine hope and moves toward Jesus with undeterred determination.
Jesus, having earlier fled Capernaum because of how the ever-growing crowds made it almost impossible for him to do what He needed to do there, now returns, presumably to the house of Andrew and Peter.
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.
Shortly after Jesus returned, the utterly predictable happened: “it was reported that he was at home and many were gathered together.” Again, this is the basis for a problem that dogged Jesus as His fame grew: the popularity that grew as a result of His miraculous works threatened to overshadow the intended balance of His ministry. The balance was to be one of both Kingdom word and Kingdom deed, of preaching and miracles. In his famed Church Dogmatics, theologian Karl Barth made this point very well.
…the New Testament tradition has presented the revealing activity of Jesus as an inextricable interrelation of word and act and indeed of word and miracle…the teaching, which is, of course, presented here, is not meant to be understood apart from but only through the interpretation of the action which invariably accompanies it…The acts which invariably speak and are to be heard as well are miraculous acts…God’s act as it takes place visibly, the totality of a gracious act on man, emphasizes that the word spoken is God’s Word…Who is the One who, obviously speaking representatively for this higher authority, can speak thus because He can act thus and act thus because He can speak thus?
Barth’s point is that Jesus’ miracles and Jesus’ sermons were intended to go hand-in-hand, the one informing the other. However, as we saw in the first chapter of Mark, the people continued to grasp only onto the miracles. It is therefore telling to see Mark’s description at the end of verse 2: Jesus “was preaching the word to them.” But, in the midst of this preaching, another miracle opportunity presents itself.
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.
How very powerful and how very touching this is! A paralytic man, a man who is paralyzed, is carried to the house by four of his friends. The house, of course, is surrounded by people and they have no chance of getting their friend to Jesus. But they were not deterred. Determined to create a moment between Jesus and their friend, they carried him to the roof, created an opening above where Jesus was, and lowered the man down.
What an utterly fantastic disruption this was! One wonders at the reactions of the listening crowd. Perhaps there were traditionalists there who began frantically looking at their bulletins to find where this unexpected happening was scripted. Perhaps there were wealthy folks sitting under this dug out opening who were incensed at the dirt and dust that fell on their nice robes. Perhaps there were children there who were elbowing each other and giggling at what was unfolding. Kids love things like this, especially when they happen at inappropriate times! Perhaps Peter and Andrew instinctively were outraged that their house was being thus destroyed.
Who knows what those who sat beneath this unfolding scene thought? We do know, however, what the paralytic’s friends were thinking. The paralytics friends were thinking that if they could simply somehow get their friend to Jesus, Jesus would make it ok. And so great was this conviction that they were determined to allow nothing to frustrate their plans.
This is called “faith.”
Saving faith is what emerges when deep need marries genuine hope and moves toward Jesus with undeterred determination.
I ask you: have you ever needed Jesus like this? They say that necessity is the mother of invention. “They” are correct. It is. But faith is oftentimes the mother of necessity. It was because the men believed that only Jesus could heal their friend that they then believed they simply had to get their friend to Jesus. They were driven by radical, saving faith.
One cannot help but wonder if the Church today often evidences this kind of faith? To eyeball the Church in our country, we seem so very comfortable, so very easily dissuaded, so quick to find excuses to stay away. Jesus, for us, is more of a pal or buddy than the Savior. Perhaps that is unfair, but it is a reasonable deduction when one considers the often saccharine ways in which we speak of Jesus and sing about Jesus. One also wonders if the Jesus of American Christianity can even engender such a radical faith as the paralytic’s friends showed? Once we preachers have gotten through with Jesus and the Christian bookstores have gotten through with Him and the Christian radio stations have gotten through with Him, is this Jesus still awe-inspiring enough to make us want to claw through a roof to get to Him?
There is not doubt that Christ as He is, Christ the preaching, miracle-working, saving Son of God, can and did and still does engender this kind of radical faith. We are witnessing this fact here in our text. Notice the reckless faith of the friends, the complete disregard for decorum, for ceremony, for the safeguarding of their own dignity and reputations, even for the value of the property of others. Notice that sheer, wondrous determination of their faith! They had to get to Jesus. They had to have Jesus. They must get to Jesus!
Is your faith like this? Is mine?
Jesus sees our needs more clearly than we do and so provides more fully than we expected.
And Jesus, in turn, was deeply moved by their faith!
5 And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”
Let us first consider Jesus words to the paralytic: “Son, your sins are forgiven.” This is interesting, perhaps it is even eyebrow-raising, for neither the paralytic nor the men who lowered him are depicted as having asked for forgiveness of sin. Why, then, does Jesus offer it? Does this mean that Jesus saw human illness and infirmity as the result of human sin? On this point, we must be careful, for it is precisely here that a great deal of false teaching has taken place in some quarters of American church life and it is precisely here that great misunderstanding and, as a result, great damage can take place.
Simply put, Jesus clearly did not believe that every instance of illness and infirmity was a result of the sin of the sick or diseased or handicapped person. This seems clearly enough from the story in John 9 concerning the man born blind.
1 As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3 Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.
So there are many reasons why a person might be sick or handicapped or have a deformity. To be sure, there are, at times, direct relationships between human sinfulness and physical problems. One things, for instance, of an alcoholic who wrecks his liver through drinking. That would be a direct cause. So sometimes it is the case that one can trace physical problems to sin. But not always. This is important because if you do not understand this you will be tempted to give a spiritual misdiagnosis to any and every kind of illness. But that is unjust. Sometimes people just get sick.
Even so, if one were to take a step further back and look at this issue in larger and more sweeping terms, there is indeed a broader connection between human sinfulness and all that results from it: relational decay, environmental decay, spiritual death, and, yes, all physical and psychological illness and infirmity. In other words, in a general sense, all that is wrong with the world can be traced back to the fall of man and thus all that is wrong with the world is, in that sense, connected to human sinfulness.
In our text, it is obviously and simply the fact that Jesus knew the man needed forgiveness. Jesus knew precisely what he was doing. But this might also be read from a meta perspective as a statement of how Jesus’ ministry was aimed at undoing all that the fall of man had wrought and restoring the joy of paradise. I think New Testament scholar William Lane put it nicely when he wrote:
Healing is a gracious movement of God into the sphere of withering and decay which are the tokens of death at work in a man’s life…Sickness, disease and death are the consequence of the sinful condition of all men. Consequently every healing is a driving back of death and an invasion of the province of sin. That is why it is appropriate for Jesus to proclaim the remission of sins…Jesus’ pronouncement of pardon is the recognition that man can be genuinely whole only when the breach occasioned by sin has been healed through God’s forgiveness of sins.
So much is happening here that transcends the individual case before Jesus. We should also say that Jesus sees our needs more clearly than we do and so provides more fully than we expected. This dear man and his friends simply want his body to work again, but Jesus goes deeper and forgives his sins! This is what Jesus does. He provides for us in ways that go beyond our feeble expectations.
We are silly and foolish people to think that we are in a position to diagnose our own problems before God, as if we ourselves know what we really need. It is like the man who walks into the doctor’s office and announces what he would like the doctor to do. In truth, the man is not in a position and does not have the necessary knowledge to make such a request, well-intentioned though it may be. It is for the doctor to examine the man and apply such remedies as he in his knowledge and wisdom knows to be necessary. It is not for the patient to claim to have the knowledge and wisdom of the doctor.
So it was with this paralytic. Did he need to be healed? Yes he did. Were his friends wrong to seek healing for his paralysis? Of course not. But he needed more.
So do we. We come to Jesus with our own diagnoses confident that we have a full and sufficient grasp of the situation. “If only Jesus would fix this and this, my life would be grand!” But we do not see the deeper issues and the deeper causes. We do not see them because we are predisposed not to want to see them. After all, the deeper cause for a lot of our problems is oftentimes us! I can certainly say that about my own life.
We want Jesus to addresses symptoms but not the root disease. If He will just take away the symptoms then we can carry on our own lives all the while projecting to others that we are fine. But Jesus is not in the business of window dressing. Jesus wants to heal us to the core!
“Son, your sins are forgiven!”
How very like Jesus! How very unexpected, unsettling, and, to some, as we will see, how very offensive!
The five words Jesus said were indescribably offensive to the religious elites because of what those five words suggested about who Jesus is. They are no less scandalous today.
Jesus’s response to the paralytic was only five words.
“Son, your sins are forgiven!”
Yes, only five words, but what a scandal these five words created!
6 Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts,
I cannot help but point out one tangential observation: what you bring to church is what you will find at church when you get there. “The scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts…” In truth, they did not just begin questioning at that moment. They came in with questioning and critical spirits, determined to find something wrong. And, shockingly, they did find something wrong. It is the same with us.
Here is something I have simply come to believe is the truth: the attitude you bring with you will determine how you view everything that happens around you. I have seen this in church and so have you. Unhappy people, critical people, people who want to find something wrong: these are the people who not surprisingly find things to be unhappy about, things to be critical of, and things that are wrong!
Church, hear me: what you bring to church is what you will find at church when you get there.
Back to our text, what were the scribes questioning in their hearts?
7 “Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?”
I do not know about you, but I love when lost people inadvertently connect the dots and get a glimpse of the full and shocking implications of Jesus’ words and actions. “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” they ask. It was a natural thing for them to ask. Ben Witherington explains:
As Hooker remarks, “there is nothing in Jewish literature to suggest that any man – not even a messiah – would have the authority to forgive sins…It is also true that nothing is said in Jewish literature about such authority being given to the Son of man, but it would certainly be appropriate for a figure who acts as God’s representative on earth and shares in his judgment to be given this power.” But Irenaeus rightly queries this sort of conclusion, saying, “How can sin be rightly remitted unless the very One against whom one has sinned grants the pardon?”
These five words from Jesus were indescribably offensive because of what they suggested about Jesus! One cannot help but chuckle at the scribes’ question, “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” Do you not wish you could have been there to look back at them and say, “Touche! You are correct! Not keep walking down that path until you connect the dots you do not want to connect. If only God can forgive sins, and Jesus just forgave the man’s sins, then Jesus is _______. Now fill in the blank!”?
This was an astonishing revelation from Jesus, and one the religious establishment was not eager to receive.
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? 9 Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’?
Jesus, knowing their thoughts, next asked an interesting question: “Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’?” The answer, of course, is that the former statement, “Your sins are forgiven,” is easier to say because it cannot be immediately proven or disproven. In other words, Jesus merely saying to somebody that their sins are forgiven does not prove to the watching skeptics and critics that the man’s sins were forgiven. All it “proved” to them was that Jesus was a blasphemer, a liar, and possibly insane, that is, it proved their prejudices and assumptions about Jesus.
But what if Jesus said to a paralytic, “Rise, take up your bed and walk”? Well, that is a whole new ballgame because that is something that calls for an external and therefore verifiable response. If Jesus says, “Rise,” and the man does not rise, then there is the proof that Jesus is a liar. But if Jesus says, “Rise,” and the man does rise, then that means that Jesus does indeed have authority and therefore possibly even the authority to forgive sins!
Jesus, in other words, “upped the ante.”
I love the delicious drama of this moment! All turn with bated breath to see what will happen! The scribes quickly cut their eyes uneasily at each other. The men up on the roof steal a quick glance at each other too then crane their necks further in so that they might see what happens next. And then, it happens:
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!”
Oh, friends, there are so many lessons to learn here! We see a lesson about how the preaching of Jesus and the miracles of Jesus really do go hand-in-hand, informing and assisting one another. We see a lesson about the sheer power of Jesus and His sovereign rule over all sickness and disease. We see a critically important lesson here about the nature of Christ: He is who He said He is and He has the authority both to heal the sick and to forgive…and if He has this authority, He is nothing less than God with us! We see a lesson about who Jesus is in His provocative use of the “Son of Man” title, a title that alludes to Daniel 7 and its powerful description of the one who bears this name:
13 I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. 14 And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.
Ah! We see, then, many lessons and each one is an ocean the depths of which we could never plumb. But we also see in this amazing story a simple truth that our hearts most need to hear: Jesus Christ loves hurting people who have faith enough to come. Again, this is a theologically rich and suggestive passage, but certainly one of the most beautiful theological truths we find here is the truth of salvation by grace through faith!
The paralytic received the grace of God and the grace of God was sufficient to heal him and forgive him. So it was and so it is. You do not need to perform for or attempt to impress the Lord Jesus. You only need to come and fall at His feet as sovereign Lord and King!
We are the paralytics. There is nothing we can do to merit the grace of God in Christ. But we can fall at His feet in all of our brokenness and weakness and infirmity and we can know that this same Jesus will raise us up, forgiving us and offering us healing. Sometimes this healing is bodily and now. Sometimes it is not. But He always offers ultimate healing, ultimate joy, and ultimate peace and forgiveness. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and He never stops looking with compassion upon hurting humanity.
Faith that dares to believe.
Grace that is revealed in Jesus.
See the gospel!
See the Lamb of God who comes to seek and to save the lost!
 Karl Barth, The Doctrine of the Word of God. Church Dogmatics. Eds., G.W. Bromily and T.F. Torrance. I.1 (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2004), p.400-401.
 William L. Lane, The Gospel According to Mark. The New International Commentary of the New Testament. Gen. Ed., F.F. Bruce (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1974), p.94.
 Ben Witherington III, The Gospel of Mark. (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2001), p.116.