The Authority to Forgive

I recently invited our student ministry to bring rolls of duct tape with them to our Sunday night worship service. Adhesive rolls sporting candy brands, neon colors, and camouflage proliferated the facial features and wardrobe of attending students. Each small group was assigned with the task of creating a stretcher using the required duct tape and a plethora of assorted objects including American flags, cardboard, balsa wood, and air filters. Creativity ensued as construction began. In addition, the assignment dictated a member of each group must lay on the stretcher in mid-air for no longer than thirty seconds.

This short exercise, fun-filled and laughter inducing, seemed appropriate in introducing our text that evening: Mark 2:1-12.

In the passage, Jesus heals a paralytic lowered through the roof where he was staying.

Three questions emerged from the text that evening.

The Statement

Question 1: Why does Jesus say “Son, your sins are forgiven?”

Mark 2:2 says, “And many were gathered together, so that there was no more room, not even at the door.” We are not surprised by Jesus’ popularity because Mark 1 recounts miraculous healings and exorcisms (1:32-34) within the city of Capernaum. After this town gathering at the door (v.33) of Simon and Andrew’s home (v. 29),  Jesus rose for an early prayer excursion. Desperate to find their master, and perhaps appease the restless crowd with his presence, Peter and his companions searched for him saying, “Everyone is looking for you” (1:37).

Jesus responds with an intriguing command to leave Capernaum and travel to Galilee. It is after this preaching and healing ministry that we understand the excitement of Jesus’ return to Capernaum in Mark 2:1, “And when he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home.” News quickly spreads and throngs of people have amassed Simon and Andrew’s tiny dwelling “so that there was no more room, not even at the door” (Mark 2:2).

It is here, within this small structure that the Master healer and exorcist receives visitation from five strangers. Four of these men carry a crude stretcher, and on this mat lies a paralytic man. Unable to enter the home where Jesus resides due to the crowd, they proceed to access the exterior steps to the roof made of branches, sticks, and “clay tiles” (Luke 5:19). Displaying tremendous resourcefulness and commitment, the companions of this paralytic “made an opening” in the roof and lowered the stretcher into the room (Mark 2:4).

Precisely at this moment, seeing the faith of these rooftop dwellers, Jesus issues a profound statement proclaiming the sins of this paralytic are forgiven.

And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” (Mark 2:5). 

Jesus establishes his identity and authority as divine. Jesus knows that apart from the act of absolution on the Day of Atonement, not even the chief priest could forgive sins, or give promise of such. Jesus knows that declaring this man’s sins forgiven will draw one conclusion in the minds of those around him, “Who can forgive sins but God alone?”

Immediately following Jesus’ bold proclamation of a forgiven son, the question concerning God’s exclusive right to forgive sins reverberates in the minds and hearts of those witnessing this incredible scene. Mark 2:6-7 identifies the troubled men saying, “Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, “Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?”

These scribes were teachers of the Law, versed in Torah. They knew the words of the Old Testament. They knew the words of David in Psalm 103, “Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all his benefits-who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases” (2-3).

These men knew the words of the prophet Micah, “Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy” (Micah 7:18).

These men knew that God, and God alone, can forgive sin. Only He is the redeemer, pardoner, and bestower of forgiveness. The scribes are bewildered, “Why does this man speak like that?” Disgust, disdain, and even accusations of blasphemy slip through the lips of these keepers of the Law. The act of blasphemy carried a penalty of capital punishment, many in the vicinity prepared to follow the letter of the law with Jesus.

Jesus remains unphased by his own seemingly life-threatening actions. He knows the minds of these Jewish scribes and perceives in their spirits, “Why do you question these things in your heart? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk”? (Mark 2:8-9).

In a profound series of questions, Jesus proceeds to lay the foundation of his authority as the Son of God. He utilizes a test of logic to prepare the stage for this demonstration. The logic is quite simple, telling a man his sins are forgiven is difficult to prove. However, the difficulty proving this hidden accomplishment does not immediately disqualify its truthfulness. In order to combat doubting from the crowd, Jesus poses an additional question concerning the difficulty of healing a paralytic because of the immediate and evidential response one must receive. Either the paralytic will stand or will not dependent upon the power of the one asserting the command. Jesus initiates a question poised to allow him to perform a miraculous exterior healing to affirm the miraculous interior one.

The Purpose

Question 2: What was the purpose of healing the paralytic?

Mark 2:10-12 says, “But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic— “I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.” 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 purpose of healing the paralytic is for these doubting men to “know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” (Mark 2:10).

Jesus delivers a physical healing to affirm the spiritual healing beforehand. The outward evidence affirms the inward condition.

There is a deeper truth here. The evidence of a changed life affirms the evidence of a changed disposition. Paul describes fruits of the Spirit in the Galatians 5 as the outward evidence of an inward change. We apply the same logic Jesus utilizes in Mark 2 when we analyze our lives before faith and after.  

Jesus heals the paralytic to affirm his authority on earth to forgive sins. In addition, we find assurance of his authority to forgive our sins, remembered no more by God, and the evidence of this forgiveness exists in our increased fruitfulness.

The Response

Question 3: What was the response to the healing of the paralytic?

The crowd stands amazed as this paralytic rises from his bed and leaves the crowded room unassisted. Many shouted “We never saw anything like this!” but the key response is that all “glorified God” (Mark 2:12).

The authority of Christ to forgive sins first and foremost gives glory to God. The glorification of God in scripture is not only evident in the healing of the paralytic but paramount to the scene.

The purpose of this healing is not for the paralytic man to walk unassisted. In fact, one day this man will die despite the condition of his legs. The purpose of this healing is to show the authority of Christ to forgive sins but ultimately, the response of this healing is the theme of this passage.

The glory of God is utmost to the life of Christ. Bringing glory, honor, and praise is central to the person of Jesus and the response of the crowd affirms this. All fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23) but in Christ we see the “radiance of the glory of God” (Hebrews 1:3). Through faith in Christ we are reconciled to the glory of God. Reconciliation comes through the authority of Christ to forgive sins. As Paul wrote to Timothy, “To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen” (1:17).

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