6 Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, 7 “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?”
8 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? 9 Which is easier: to say to this paralyzed 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!”
(Mark 2:6-12 NIV)
Before we pick up the second half of the story from yesterday, remember that four friends of a paralytic show tremendous faith and dig a hole in the roof of a house in order to get their friend in front of Jesus. The men believe with all their hearts that Jesus can heal their friend; their job is to arrange that meeting between Jesus and their friend.
As we discovered yesterday, Jesus sent shock waves through the crowd by telling the man his sins were forgiven. In the Jewish mind, sickness was directly linked to sin, either in the life of the person or somewhere in their family lineage. This mindset was exemplified in the story of Job. Job’s ‘friends’ told him that they thought his troubles were due to sin in his life. Eliphaz asked Job, “Who, being innocent, has ever perished? Where were the upright ever destroyed?” (Job 4:7).
Conversely, healing was often directly linked to forgiveness. Jeremiah 3:22, Hosea 14:4, and numerous passages in the Psalms link repentance and forgiveness together with healing. We pray 2 Chronicles 7:14, asking God to bring repentance, revival, and healing to our respective nations.
We need to pause for a moment and ask if this link between illness and sin is a universal truth, or if other Scriptures also apply. We certainly see many examples in the Bible where sin and illness are clearly linked. But we also see other passages where there is no link between illness and sin. Scripture tells us that Job was a righteous (forgiven) man, confessing his sins and the sins of his family regularly before God; his troubles were not because of any sin in his life. When Jesus’ disciples asked Jesus who was to blame for a man’s blindness (the man or his parents), Jesus told them that neither was responsible – it was so that God could be glorified in the man’s life (John 9:1-3). Even the Apostle Paul prayed for healing from his “thorn in the flesh”, but God said no. God allowed Paul’s illness (whatever it was) so that God’s power might be manifested in Paul’s life (2 Corinthians 12:7b-10).
Going back to Mark’s story, there was clearly some link between this man’s sin and his paralysis. We don’t know how much was actually physical, and how much of his incapacitation was due to the overwhelming guilt of his sin on his mind, causing his muscles and joints to “lock up”. Whatever the case may have been, Jesus extended healing to all the man’s infirmities – physical, mental, emotional, and social.
In the crowd listening to Jesus’ teaching were some scribes – the guardians of the Jewish orthodoxy. They were there to check out Jesus and His teachings to make sure that Jesus was not a heretic or a false prophet that would lead the people away from God and God’s Law. Unfortunately, their basis of comparison was not the Old Testament Law as God had given it to His people. Instead, they used their oral traditions, passed down from generation to generation as their basis of comparison and judgment of all teachers.
As part of their tradition, they believed that only God had the power to forgive sins. But here was Jesus (whom the scribes and Pharisees had already decided was not the Messiah), forgiving this paralytic’s sins. That was out-and-out blasphemy, punishable by stoning, according to God’s Law (Leviticus 24:16).
Jesus immediately knew what was in the scribes’ hearts. Before they could even ask, “What did you just say?”, Jesus asks them a question: “Which is easier: to say to this paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’?” (v. 9).
It would be easy for anyone to claim to forgive sins, but how would they prove it? The proof would be in the physical change (the healing) of the man’s paralysis. Bible scholar William Barclay explains this confrontation between Jesus and the scribes so well:
“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? Vey well, then, watch this!” So Jesus spoke the word and the man was cured.”
“On their own stated beliefs this 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.”
(William Barclay, The Gospel of Mark, Revised Edition (Louisville, KY: The John Knox Press:1975), p. 50)
Notice that the man does not move when Jesus tells him his sins are forgiven. Even he does not connect the dots between forgiveness and healing. But as soon as Jesus told the man to get up, he arose immediately and walked out in front of everyone.
Do we believe that Jesus does indeed forgive our sins? Or do we continue to try to earn our way into God’s favor by being good or doing good?
How do we see God? How would we have expected God to respond if we were the paralytic on the mat, knowing that God knew all our secrets and sins? Would we be cowering and expecting the wrath of God, awaiting His justice, judgment, and condemnation, along with our well-deserved punishment?
Instead, we see God’s character displayed through Jesus – His love, tenderness, and compassion toward this man who was crippled in body, mind, and soul. We see Jesus eager to forgive and restore, to offer wholeness once more.
May we receive Jesus’ gift of forgiveness and the healing that He offers.
May we be a faithful friend to those who need help to come to the Healer.