Decision Time! Mark 2: 3-12 (Part 2)

 Some men came, bringing to him a paralysed man, carried by four of them. Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralysed man, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’ Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, ‘Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?’ Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, ‘Why are you thinking these things? Which is easier: to say to this paralysed man, “Your sins are forgiven,” or to say, “Get up, take your mat and walk”? 10 But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.’ So he said to the man, 11 ‘I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.’ 12 He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, ‘We have never seen anything like this!’

 (New International Version)

Horsham, 20th January 2024

This is one of the classic stories of Jesus. You may recall these bits from Sunday School. A paralysed man. The sheer determination of the friends who want him to see Jesus. A crowd of people who meant that they couldn’t through. The damage to the roof of a house.  A healing, and maybe some grumpy leaders.

When you read this slowly, and think about what you are reading, there is so much more going on in this familiar story.  In Part 1 we looked at the first couple of verses, leaving the story when the paralysed man was lowered through the roof to land at Christ’s feet. That’s where we’re picking it up in this post.

At the front of the crowd, watching and listening to Jesus’ every word, are the religious leaders. They have every reason to be there and to see what this young rabbi was up to. ‘Jesus was so popular that the Jewish leaders dared no ignore Him.’(i).  Actually they seem to have came ready to criticise and to spy on Jesus.

Jesus looks down at the sick man. He sees straight into his heart and recognises his need for forgiveness. Jesus forgives. Jesus, the man, declares that his sins are forgiven. The Jewish leaders were shocked. Really shocked. They don’t say anything – they’re probably so angry they can’t talk – but Jesus knows exactly what they are thinking. He looks straight into their hearts, doubtless unsurprised that they saw his declaration of forgiveness as outrageous – as blasphemous. ‘

Jesus knows that they are agitated and angry. Turning to them He asks them a question. ‘Which is easier, to say that the man is forgiven or to heal him.’ In context it’s a really awkward question, and the text suggests that they don’t answer. Only God can forgive sins, and surely only God can offer healing. Having already made them really  angry, now he’s embarrassing them.

Let’s be honest, we all get irritated with people occasionally. Jesus teaches that we are to avoid being angry and all of us – I’m including myself – need to learn that. So, confession time. I have occasionally been angry. Once or twice I’ve been really angry. I’m not proud of it. Some years ago, some people who were, at the time, in authority over me took a series of decisions which have had a profound and lasting negative impact on me and my wife. From my perspective, their action was arrogant, selfish, unnecessary, undermining and outrageous. (Of course, they would tell this story rather differently, and in fact the whole episode was damaging for all of us). To this day I think they were in the wrong, but that isn’t the point, and it certainly doesn’t justify the level of anger which I felt. I was so angry I was almost breathless. I couldn’t speak. I was absolutely furious. I felt physically ill.

Now, in the light of Christ’s teaching I found that confession rather embarrassing. I hope you’ve never experienced anything like that and that you never do, but I rather think that this was the closest I have ever come to the sense of outrage which was felt by the religions leaders who witnessed these events. They knew the Jewish Law and were in absolutely no doubt that Jesus was in the wrong. At this point, they saw Jesus as grossly offensive. I think that they are absolutely apoplectic with rage. Of course it’s easy to say your sins are forgiven, but you just can’t say that! You must not say that. Only God can forgive sins, and here is Jesus who has just told the paralytic in front of all these people that his sins were forgiven. In those few words, Jesus was putting himself in the place of God. He was claiming to be God!’(ii) In terms of crime, few things come close to blasphemy. It is punishable by death. This man is still paralysed on his bed , but Jesus has already said enough to justify a charge which deserves death.

‘But,’ says Jesus, (He’s now speaking directly to the leaders) ‘I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.’ Now, it’s so easy for us to miss the weight of that phrase ‘Son of Man’. Jesus is rubbing salt in the wound. Here’s the thing. The phrase ‘son of man’ appears repeatedly in Ezekiel (eg Ez: 2:1), where it indicates a human being. But in the book of Daniel ((Daniel 7:13, 8:17), the phrase Son of Man refers to one who is seen in a vision of God and is the one to whom God gives authority. Psalm 80:17 refers to the son of man at the right hand of God himself. You begin to get the picture. The Son of Man refers to someone who is human, and to someone who is God. Jesus just applied this name to himself, and tagged on that  He has again claimed the authority to forgive sin.

Just when they thought they couldn’t be any more angry…  Jesus does something more. Something which to everyone else in the crowd tends to prove that he is God. Jesus heals the man. In front of dozens of witnesses, a man who has been paralysed – everyone knows that he was paralysed – gets to his feet, picks up his bed, and walks around for everyone to see. He does this because this outrageous young Rabbi declared him to be healed. You can’t see the forgiveness, but you can literally see the healing. It’s visible, complete and undeniable. The Jewish leaders and everyone else in the crowd had to come to a decision. You can’t sit on the fence. Either Jesus is a blasphemer, or is He in some way God.

‘This is the question still facing us. You cannot have Jesus just as a great man. You cannot have him as a preacher or a teacher or a healer and say ‘He was a good man, follow him.’ – because either he was the greatest blasphemer in history or he was God. (iii)

In this familiar story, where Jesus – the celebrity healing rabbi – makes the unequivocal claim that He is God. Here is the point where lots and lots of people, a growing crowd of people, were convinced to follow Him. Yet here is the reason why the Jewish leaders see Jesus as fit for nothing but the death penalty. Here, crystal clear, is a huge step on the road to Jerusalem and the cross. Yet even here, is an image of the absolute forgiveness of Christ, and the gift of new life which it offers to those who come to Him.

‘This story is a tiny version of the whole gospel: Jesus teaching and healing, Jesus condemned for blasphemy, Jesus vindicated. The paralysed man’s healing points forward to the new life that Jesus himself will have in the resurrection, and will share with everyone who wants it.’ (iv)

  • Wiersbe p32
  • Wiersbe p33
  • Pawson, p56
  • NT Wright, p.16


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