Authority to Forgive

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Mark 2:1-12 (Jesus Heals the Paralytic)

INTRODUCTION: Do you have the authority to forgive someone’s sins? If somebody sins against you, and you forgive them, are their sins forgiven? Where does forgiveness come from, and who ultimately has the authority to forgive? That is the main question at play here in this incident of Jesus healing the paralytic.

This incident with the paralytic begins a series of stories in Mark which focus on the growing conflict between Jesus and the religious leaders. The conflict probably began back in chapter one when Jesus was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum, where we read that: “The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law.” (Mark 1:22) The people were putting Jesus’ teaching above that of the teachers of the law, and so you can see why they would feel threatened by him. Well, this conflict will continue to build all the way through chapter two until we read in chapter three that “the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.” (Mark 3:6) We’ll talk more about that when we get to chapter three.

Anyways, if they felt threatened by Jesus’ authority back in chapter one, they would feel even more threatened now, because in this incident Jesus demonstrated an even greater authority than he had before. Only God can forgive sin; and Jesus showed that he has the authority to forgive.

I. The faith of the friends (verses 1-5)

The story begins with the faith of the four friends. Look at verses 1-3:

A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. So many gathered that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them. Some men came, bringing to him a paralytic, carried by four of them. (Mark 2:1-3)

    A. They brought their friend to Jesus.

These four friends demonstrated faith first of all by bringing their friend to Jesus. Remember, their friend was paralyzed, which means he couldn’t come by himself. We are not given a lot of details about the paralytic. We do not know whether this was a long-term paralysis or something new in his life. We don’t know whether it was the result of an illness or an accident. All we know is that he was paralyzed and could not get around by himself. And so these four friends carry him to Jesus.

Meanwhile the news had spread that Jesus had returned, and the people were crowding all around the house once again. But this time Jesus was not busy healing but rather speaking to the people. As the people gathered, Jesus preached to them the word or the message about God’s kingdom.

It was standing room only, and there were so many people that the crowd overflowed out the house so that there wasn’t even any room near the door. This is what we call in church growth language a good problem to have! And this should be our constant prayer as a church – that we would outgrow every building God would give us as we share the good news of Christ with other people.

    B. They persevered through the obstacles.

Well, the big crowd was a good thing for those who were listening to Jesus preach, but it created an obstacle for the four friends who were bringing their friend to Jesus for healing. And that is a second aspect of their faith that is highlighted for us in this passage. Not only did they bring their friend to Jesus, but they persevered through the obstacles. “Our friend is paralyzed? No problem, we’ll pick him up and carry him. There is a big crowd at the house? No problem, we’ll work our way through. We can’t get to the door? No problem, we’ll get creative.” And they did. Look at verse 4:

Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus and, after digging through it, lowered the mat the paralyzed man was lying on. (Mark 2:4)

Now, you have to understand how homes were constructed in Jesus’ day to make any sense of this at all. Most houses were small, single room dwellings, so these men didn’t have to guess what room Jesus was in or where to dig the hole. Also the homes didn’t have sloped, shingled roofs like we have today. The roofs were flat, and they were made by laying branches across the rafters and then overlaying the branches with mud or clay. Most homes had an outside staircase leading up to the top, and the roof was used as an extra outdoor room for the house.

So the roof was sturdy enough to hold these men’s weight, but they could also dig through the clay or the mud to make a hole large enough for their friend. And that’s what they did. I am sure it made quite a commotion, and there would have been dirt and mud falling into the room as they dug out the hole. They must have had some rope, too, and you can just imagine the faces of everyone in the house as they lowered their friend into the room, mat and all. These four friends had faith.

    C. Jesus forgave their friend’s sin.

Verse 5 tells us:

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

Now I am guessing that was probably not what they were expecting to hear. I am sure they were hoping Jesus would heal their friend, but instead Jesus pronounces the man’s sins forgiven.

You might wonder what is the connection between sickness and sin. The Bible teaches that all sickness is a result of sin in the world, that there would be no sickness if there had been no sin, but not all illness is a direct result of the sick person’s sin. In other words, you cannot assume that if a person is sick, it is because they sinned. However, you cannot just rule it out, either. Some sickness is a direct result of sin, and it is possible that this man’s paralysis came about because of some sin in his life. Either way, Jesus sees the faith of his friends, and perhaps the faith of the paralytic is included here as well, and he pronounces the man’s sins forgiven.

Before we move on to verse six, let me just say a word about this man’s friends. They were obviously convinced that the best thing they could do for their friend was to bring him to Jesus. And let me remind you, that is the very best thing you can do for your friends as well. There may be any number of obstacles keeping you from bringing your friends to Christ, but that’s when we need to remember the faith of these four friends. They were willing to do whatever it took to get their friend to the feet of Jesus. And so we need to be creative, we need to keep praying, but most of all we just need to be convinced that bringing our friends to Jesus is the best thing we can do for them. Once we are convinced of that, everything else will fall into place.

II. The condemnation of the leaders (verses 6-7)

So, let’s move on now from the faith of the friends to the condemnation of the leaders. Look at verses 6-7:

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?” (Mark 2:6-7)

    A. They accuse Jesus of blasphemy.

These teachers of the law, also called scribes, were probably already not happy with Jesus. Remember, the people were saying that Jesus taught with authority and not like them. Unless you had faith in Jesus yourself, it would be hard not to take that personally.

So, if these teachers of the law did not have faith, what were they doing there listening to Jesus? I am sure they wanted to check him out and hear what he had to say just like everyone else. Maybe they even liked what they heard up to this point. But when Jesus told the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven,” they got upset real fast. They didn’t speak out, but Mark tells us they sat there thinking to themselves, “Blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone? How dare this man talk like that?”

    B. “Who can forgive sins but God alone?”

I love the question they ask. “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” It is a rhetorical question to which the answer is, “Nobody! No one can forgive sins but God alone!” Psalm 130 says, “If you, O LORD, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness; therefore you are feared.” (Psalm 130:3-4) Only God can forgive sin, and so for a mere man to pronounce another person’s sins as forgiven was nothing short of blasphemy.

Do you know why only God can forgive sin? It is because all sin is ultimately committed against God. Although we can and do sin against other people, it is God’s law that we break when we sin. For example, when King David committed adultery with Bathsheba, he sinned against Bathsheba, he sinned against Bathsheba’s husband, and he sinned against the people of Israel whom he was supposed to rule with righteousness. And yet when he confessed his sin, he prayed to the Lord: “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight.” (Psalm 51:4) Why did he pray this way? Because all sin is ultimately sin against God.

I can’t forgive you for what you have done against someone else. If you rob someone else’s house, I can’t forgive you. The offense wasn’t against me. In the same way I can’t forgive you for the offenses you have committed against God. Even if you robbed my house, I can forgive you for what you did to me, but I still cannot forgive you for what you have done against God. All sin is against God, and therefore only God can forgive sin.

The teachers of the law knew this, they understood this, and so when Jesus told the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven,” all they could think was “Blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?”

III. Jesus’ authority to forgive (verses 8-12)

Now Mark tells us that Jesus knew what they were thinking. I believe this was more than Jesus just having a general sense that they were not happy with his words. I believe Jesus had direct supernatural knowledge of their thoughts. He knew exactly what they were thinking, and he responded with a question of his own. Look at verses 8-9:

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 the paralytic, `Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, `Get up, take your mat and walk'”?(Mark 2:8-9)

    A. Jesus’ question: “Which is easier to say?”

Notice how Jesus phrased his question. He didn’t ask, “Which is easier to do?” Rather, he asked “Which is easier to say: ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’”?

Now I could say to someone, “Your sins are forgiven,” and there’s no way to know. How can you tell? There is nothing visible that takes place to confirm or deny it. But if I say to a paralyzed man, “Get up,” he will either get up or he won’t. So which do you think is easier to say? It is far easier to say “Your sins are forgiven” because the results are not visible. It is far harder to say, “Get up, take your mat and walk,” because everyone will immediately know whether you had the authority to say it or not.

    B. Jesus’ demonstration: “Get up, take your mat and walk.”

Jesus asks the question, because he intends to demonstrate his authority to forgive sins by healing this man in front of them all. Look at verses 10-12:

“But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins….” He said to the paralytic, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. (Mark 2:10-12)

This was an astounding miracle. It would have been amazing for Jesus to heal a paralyzed man in any context. But it was even more amazing, because Jesus used this miracle to demonstrate his divine authority to forgive. Yes, only God can forgive sin, and so it is blasphemy for a mere man to say, “Your sins are forgiven.” But Jesus just demonstrated his authority to forgive. Therefore, Jesus is not a mere man. Only God can forgive sin; Jesus has authority to forgive; therefore Jesus is divine.

    C. The people’s reaction: amazement and praise

Verse 12 finishes it out:

This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!” (Mark 1:12)

I am guessing that the “everyone” in this verse did not include the teachers of the law. Maybe I am selling them short here, but as you read through the chapter, you continue to see a growing conflict between Jesus and the religious leaders. So from what we see of their attitudes elsewhere, I believe they were not happy with this incident, and they were not happy with the people’s reaction. And in many ways, this incident only served to increase the sense of conflict between Jesus and the teachers of the law.

CONCLUSION: So what are some applications we can carry away from this passage?

    1) We need to bring our friends to Jesus.

First of all, I believe we can learn from the faith of the paralytic’s four friends. They truly believed Jesus was the only hope for their friend. They knew their friend couldn’t come to Jesus on his own. And so they overcame all the obstacles in their way, and they brought their friend to Jesus. We need to do the same for our friends and loved ones who do not know Christ. We need to bring them to Jesus. How do you bring a friend to Jesus? You pray for them; you show them Christ’s love in a thousand different ways; you look for openings to talk to them about God, to share with them about Christ, to invite them to church with you The best friend in the world is the friend who brings his or her friends to Jesus. We need to bring our friends to Christ.

    2) We need to recognize that not all people will accept Christ.

Secondly, we need to recognize that not all people will accept Christ. The teachers of the law were not open to Christ. I believe their problem was pride. Everyone was praising Jesus. He was getting better press than they were. He taught with an authority they did not have. They felt jealous of him; they felt threatened by him; and as we will see, they would eventually plot to kill him in order to get him out of the way. Not everyone will be receptive when you tell them about Jesus. That’s okay. Tell them anyways. Our job is just to plant the seed. It is up to God to make it grow. It’s sad, but we need to recognize that not everyone will want to receive Christ.

    3) We need to come to Christ for the forgiveness of our sins.

And then finally, we need to come to Christ for the forgiveness of our sins. Acts 4:12 says, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12) When Jesus healed the paralytic, he was demonstrating his authority to forgive. Are you a sinner? Are you in need of forgiveness? Then come to Jesus. He loves you. He died for you. He has never turned anyone away. Only Christ can forgive your sins. Let me encourage you, come to him today.

© Ray Fowler

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