Step into the study, pour yourself a cup of coffee, get comfortable and let’s enjoy the Gospel of Mark.
Our passage today is Mark 2:-12 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. 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. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “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 the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’? 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. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!” (NIV)
Liberal critics often assert that the closer we get to the original sources of Christianity, the further we will be from any sense that Jesus is a divine figure. The Jesus of primitive Christianity, these critics assume, was a teacher and political figure who would be completely surprised at discovering he is worshiped, invoked as divine or equated with God. These same critics often say that the Gospel of Mark is largely free from any evidence that Jesus saw himself in these terms, instead portraying Jesus as a servant and prophet within Judaism. Our passage today demonstrates how wrong this sort of assumption really is and how Mark’s presentation of Jesus goes beyond the known categories of prophet and preacher to something unique and powerful.
Our passage begins as another healing story, this time mentioning the enormous response Jesus was receiving in Capernaum. It is interesting that Mark says Jesus had come “home” in verse one. Apparently, Jesus was living in Capernaum and it was the anchor for his early ministry. The passage- as written- is most naturally interpreted as happening in Jesus’ own house! This simply shows how much different the gospel portrayal of Jesus is than the “approved” version which has Jesus as always itinerant. Many commentators say this story is happening in Peter’s house because it is mentioned in chapter one. But if the story is an independent unit (which is far more likely) then Jesus’ own home in Capernaum is the more natural meaning. (For another unusual factoid about Jesus ministry, see who paid the bills- Luke 8:1-3!)
Jesus ministry at this particular opportunity is to “preach the word.” This may mean to comment on the scriptures, but I believe this is the message of the Kingdom summarized in chapter one, perhaps including the use of parables we will encounter later. We are again reminded that Jesus saw the central aspect of his ministry as the delivery of a message. Miracles and healings were not center stage but illustrations of the power and reality of the Kingdom Jesus was proclaiming. The house-crowding response is in line with what all the Gospels show us about Jesus early ministry- the mobs were overwhelming, particularly when healing or feeding miracles occurred. This is clearly the reason the religious and political leaders are interested in Jesus from the outset. His ability to draw a crowd was proven and potentially dangerous to the status quo.
I heard many sermons growing up about the four men who brought the paralyzed friend to Jesus, but this is not the center of the passage, rather it is the “memory device” used to isolate this story for recollectio. Such details show that these stories were memorized and repeated long before they were written. The persistence of these men apparently reflects the persistence of the paralyzed man himself, who is insisting on seeing Jesus in order to be healed. His confidence in Jesus is so bold that no barrier- be it crowd or roof- will prevent him from getting to Jesus. It is interesting that Jesus sees “their” faith. It is not only the paralyzed man’s faith, but the faith of the men that is commended.
Evangelical Christianity is hyper-individualized and resists the idea of a “community of faith.” Covenant Theology is more comfortable with the idea that faith is a corporate matter from first to last, even as we are personally accountable and must personally believe. I believe it is Biblically impossible speak of faith outside of a community of faith that believes before we do, nurtures us as we learn to believe, supports us as we believe and believes when we stumble in belief. God’s covenant with his “people” is a community covenant that does not down-play individual faith, but places God’s covenant with the community at the center of his dealings with human beings. All this underlines why it is vitally important for every Christian to be part of a believing community and not just a “lone ranger.”
In the Gospels, surprise is often the center of what is meant to be communicated and Mark certainly surprises us when Jesus’ words to the paralyzed man are “Son, your sins are forgiven”! The forgiveness of sins seems to have nothing to do with this story. The paralyzed man was coming for healing of his body. What does this mean? No wonder that the teachers of the law are immediately awakened from their dozing by this little sentence.
Some could jump to the conclusion that this passage teaches that sin causes sickness. Such as claim needs a comment. In the Bible, all aspects of our fallen condition are the result of our separation from God and the curse that results from it. In this sense, sin is the cause of sickness. (See Romans 8:18-22) But in any sense that a particular sin causes a particular sickness, we must be very, very cautious. While there are some instances where such a conclusion is drawn (See I Corinthians 11:30 for instance), this sort of cause and effect thinking is generally discouraged. (See John 9:2ff) I do not believe Jesus is drawing such a conclusion. It is the case, however, that Jesus message of the Kingdom does teach that the end of separation between God and man is manifested in every area of human existence, including physical healing.
The crux of this story is the extension of Jesus’ Kingdom authority to that final and most profound area of human life- the forgiveness of sins. Sin is the basic human problem, the problem that occupies Genesis 1-11 and leads to the plan of God beginning with Abraham and continuing through the entire Bible. The Kingdom of God is an invasion of territory claimed by Satan but held by the power of sin. Salvation is the victory of God over sin and the victory is manifested first and foremost in forgiveness. The most basic of human needs is for the guilt we have before a holy God to be removed. Such an event is impossible in human power alone. We cannot forgive ourselves or do enough good to persuade God to forgive us. God forgives out of mercy and grace, prompted by the work of his Son in the incarnation, cross and resurrection. God may now forgive sinners because their penalty has been paid and his justice satisfied. The entire Old Testament pointed in this direction and Jesus now proclaims forgiveness as a free gift. May we never lose the wonder of this most important Good News of the Gospel.
The scandal here is for Jesus to proclaim forgiveness as the one doing the forgiving! The teachers of the law recognize this as blasphemy and they are exactly right. For Jesus to proclaim forgiveness when he is only a man would be blasphemy for “only God can forgive sins.” This probably seemed particularly scandalous when proclaimed to a man who was “cursed” with a disease and was not repenting in any visible way, merely showing his confidence in Jesus to heal him. Only proper sacrifice and acts of repentance held out any hope of forgiveness to the Pharisees. To simply give forgiveness simply by a word was to act in the prerogative of God alone.
Jesus, if we properly understand him, is always leaving us no choice but to interpret his words and actions as either 1) insane, 2) calculatingly evil, 3) blasphemous or 4) consistent with the confession that jesus is the Son of God. This is not something Christians have created and assigned to Jesus, it is essential to knowing how he understood and presented himself. The idea that we can look back and find the “pre-Christ Jesus” is simply absurd. From the very beginning, Jesus identity as divine was essential to everything the Christian message believes and proclaims. Any version of Christianity that ignores this is a modern reworking.
Mark also presents Jesus as knowing what men are thinking in their hearts. This is also unique and is consistently testified in all the Gospels. This is not just reading moods or body language but a manifestation of knowledge that only a divine person could have; the sort of searching knowledge of human thoughts and motives that allows God to know us as we are and to judge us with absolute integrity.
Jesus makes this incident into a referendum on his authority. This authority has already been demonstrated in teaching, healing and exorcism, but now Jesus combines his authority to heal with his proclamation to forgive sins. The simply words of forgiveness are easy for anyone to utter, but who can demonstrate the integrity of such a claim by healing a paralyzed man on the spot? Jesus makes the Pharisees objection absurd, because with the same word that he heals he also forgives sin. For Jesus, there is no limitation on his authority in any area of life. He can speak to sin, to disease, to demonic oppression, to guilt, to self-hatred- to anything that holds us in bondage- and set us free and make us whole. The meaning of salvation is always holistic in real Christianity. We look to Christ’s work to be applied in every area, according to God’s working through the Spirit and in history. Any believer who ministers in Jesus name is doing God’s work- no matter what area of human existence they are working in: social work, medical missions, evangelism, education, counseling- all are the authority of the Kingdom working out in human relationships and experience.
Before we leave this chapter, we must note that Jesus refers to himself as “Son of Man” and this self-titling by Jesus has caused endless scholarly speculation. Ezekiel (and Daniel) the prophet used this same title and so Jesus may have been referring to himself as the humble prophet, but I doubt this is the source of the title. The use of this title in Daniel 7:13 in reference to the end-time Messiah is simply too obvious to ignore. No one would use this title thoughtlessly. To use this title to refer to yourself at the same time you are claiming to forgive sins and heal a paralyzed man—- I do not see how anyone can miss Jesus claim that he is, in fact, the one Daniel saw and predicted.
Next week we move on to the calling of a tax-collector and jesus extraordinary attitude towards “sinners.”
1. How would you respond to the claim that “Christianity has taken the simple man Jesus and made him into God.”?
2. Michael mentions that Jesus may have had a home in Capernaum. What is the effect on our reading of the Bible when we already have a detailed picture of what we think Jesus was like?
3. Jesus drew crowds that were overwhelming. What must this have been like for him personally? What problems would it cause? What would the religious and political authorities think?
4. Must Christianity always draw a crowd to be effective?
5. Do you agree that modern Christianity is hyper-individualized? How do you see this in your experience? What are the effects of “Lone Ranger” Christianity?
6. How has your life been affected by being part of a “community of faith?”
7. Michael says the faith community sometimes believes for us when we stumble. Do you have an experience that bears this out?
8. What do you think was the reaction of the paralyzed man and his friends when Jesus said “Your sins are forgiven?”
9. What is the relationship between sin and sickness?
10. Why is the forgiveness of sin at the heart of Christianity? How is all of life effected by sin and by the forgiveness of sins?
11. What are the options for what to think of anyone who claims to forgive sins?
12. Is there any way in which one Christian can say to another “Your sins are forgiven?” (See John 20:23)
13. Jesus knows your every thought. What difference does that make?
14. Christians tend to think of evangelism as Kingdom work, but other kinds of ministry as “second-class.” Explain how all types of ministry are equally Kingdom ministry.