Sunday, December 27, 2015
Think about all those really cool miracles in the Bible. Have you ever wished you could see one? I have. Have you ever thought to yourself, “If only I could see one of the miracles Jesus did in person, I think it would help strengthen my faith”? I have. I mean, wouldn’t it be cool to see a leper, appendages gone, lips, eyelids, noses rubbed off – wouldn’t it be cool to see him completely restored right before your eyes? Wouldn’t it be great to see someone with a bona fide case of paralysis, stand up right in front of you? Wow. The blind made to see, the deaf made to hear? How about seeing someone raised from the dead – right at a funeral. Stop the pall bearers, lift the coffin lid, and see the dead person sit up. How about demon possession – wouldn’t it be something to see someone flopping around on the floor, foaming at the mouth, and speak a word, and watch the demon leave?
Wouldn’t it be great to see Jesus take five loaves and two fish, and feed five thousand hungry men? To see Him stand up in the middle of a hurricane and say, “Peace, be still,” and watch the winds come to an immediate and abrupt halt, and to see the ocean become like glass. Wouldn’t it be cool to walk on water?
We’re studying Mark’s gospel together, and we’re seeing Jesus do some amazing miracles – driving out demons, healing people of whatever illness they have, to include the dreaded disease of leprosy. And we have been impressed – more than that, we are supposed to be asking the question, who is this Man, and coming up with only one answer – this is the Christ, the very Son of God. That is, after all, the primary purpose of these miracles – to demonstrate Jesus’ authority – to prove who He is – He was the Messiah, He is the Son of God, and God in the flesh.
But again, have you ever wished you could see one of those miracles? You ever feel like you were living at the wrong time? “If only I could have been one of those who walked with Him, saw Him, heard Him, watched a miracle, then my faith would be stronger. I wouldn’t have the doubts.” I know Jesus told Thomas, blessed are those who have not seen, and yet believed. But come on, seeing is believing. I have some good news for you today. Jesus still does miracles. In fact, He still does the most amazing, most mind-boggling, most stupendous of miracles all around us, all the time. We read about it in our text in Mark 2:1-12. Read.
Isn’t that amazing? They had no issue with the paralytic walking – they took issue with his sins being forgiven – because only God do that. You ever feel left out – ever feel like you’d like to see a miracle? I have good news for you. Every time Jesus forgives sin, He performs the greatest miracle of all. When He said to you, or someone you know, “Your sins are forgiven,” He performed His greatest miracle – one that only God can do. Jesus can still heal people – He can still calm storms – He can still drive out demons. But He can also meet your greatest need – He can still forgive your sin. He can still give you a clean conscience. He can still give you a brand new heart. That’s a miracle. The message today is amazing – Jesus forgives sin.
Let’s look at the story together. While it’s another miracle story, it actually transitions us to the rising opposition Jesus is going to face, This is the first of five stories that leads to the religious leaders seeking to destroy Him – as early as chapter 3. I’ve got this outline, but we’re really just going to make our way through the story.
- The Return to Capernaum (1-2)
- The Plight of the Paralytic (3-4)
- The Spiritual Miracle (5-10)
- The Physical Miracle (11-12)
Last week, we saw after Jesus healed the leper, contrary to Jesus’ command, the man went around telling everybody about the miracle. As a result, Jesus could no longer go publicly into cities, but had to stay in unpopulated areas. There, the crowds came to Him. At some point – several days later, Mark says, Jesus returned to Capernaum. We know by now He’d made Capernaum the base of His Galilean ministry. But, He was too popular to hide His arrival, and people heard He was home – probably at Peter’s house.
So many gathered – so many there was no room in the house – not even near the door. And we read Jesus was speaking the word to them – that is likely, the message of the Kingdom of God – repent and believe the gospel – that is, the good news of God’s salvation. Of course, His salvation culminates in the work of Christ.
So that’s the setting – big crowd, Jesus teaching the word. Which brings us to the plight of the paralytic. Four men came, carrying this paralyzed man to see Jesus. It’s seemed obvious Jesus could do something about the man’s physical condition – word had spread everywhere that Jesus was a healer. Maybe, the man thought, I can get a miracle. Maybe, the men thought, we can see a miracle. If the greatest miracle is seeing Jesus take out a heart of stone and put in a heart of flesh – forgive someone’s sin – maybe if we want to see a miracle, we should be bringing dead people to Jesus. So they came, but they were unable to get near because of the crowd. By the way, the word crowd is used almost forty times in this book – and almost always with negative connotations – here, they were preventing a man from getting to Jesus.
Now, most houses then were single storey, or two stories, and the second floor was usually a large open room, sort of a meeting area. Remember, later in Jerusalem, they would observe the last supper in this kind of upper room. The roof was flat, where people could go to cool down in the evening – it was like the outside decks on our houses. Usually, there were stairs to the roof from the outside. We read these four men carried their paralytic friend up to the roof and made a hole big enough to lower the man down on his bed – either a mat or a cot.
So, this man was a paralytic, lying on a bed. We don’t know if he was a paraplegic or a quadriplegic, but in some way he was paralyzed. What caused his paralysis? We don’t know. People were paralyzed then the same way as today. Maybe, he had an accident, broke his neck, severed his spinal cord, which left him in this state. Maybe he was born that way, with some debilitating disease that caused paralysis. Maybe, because medical technologies were so limited, he had some minor disease or virus that wrecked his central nervous system, leaving him an invalid. We’re not given enough information.
But, we need to stop and notice something – this is unusual. This is not the normal healing routine. You see, this particular man’s sin was called out. Now, we understand sickness and death are the result of sin generally speaking, and sometimes, frankly, it is the result of specific sin. For example, in I Corinthians 11, Paul says some of the people of that church were sick – some had even died – because of their sinful disregard of their brothers and sisters during the Lord’s Supper. Also, in James 5 we read, when we’re sick, we’re to call for the elders of the church. Very interestingly, in the context of healing prayer, James adds – and confess your sins. And if you have sinned, you’ll be forgiven. That kind of comes out of left field. Unless, James is leaving open the possibility that a specific sin may cause a specific sickness.
So, why in this healing, does Jesus mention the man’s sin? Because it’s very possible this man brought on his own problems – and everyone knew it. It’s possible this man was paralyzed because of his own sin. We don’t know for sure – but it’s possible, maybe even likely.
One thing we know for sure. I made reference to this last week when we talked about the leper, but understand that people like this were outcasts in society. Because then, if you were sick – you were a sinner, period. And so people like this – lepers and paralytics – were seen as people who somehow deserved what they got. Again, it was commonly held this kind of sickness was the result of somebody’s sin. Someone was responsible for his condition – either him or his parents or his grandparents – somebody sinned, most likely him, and he was paying for it.
Remember that story in John 9? There was a man who was born blind whom Jesus was about to heal. The disciples asked Jesus, “Who sinned, this man or his parents that he was born blind?” That was the prevailing thought: if you’re sick, if you’re diseased, if you’re maimed or blind or deaf of paralyzed, it’s your fault. You’re getting what you deserve. It was like wearing a sign that said, “I am bad. I did it.” As a result, these people were usually shunned by society. They may not have to yell, “Unclean,” but they were seen the same way.
Remember Job? Job was called a holy and blameless man by God. Then he lost his wealth, his family, then he lost his health. Then the righteous people – his friends came to see him and said, “It’s obvious, this is your fault. You’ve got some sin. You did it wrong. What’d you do Job?” They even made stuff up.
Again, we do understand all sickness is a result of sin. We talked about this – when sin entered the world, it drug in with it some other things – namely, sickness and death. We’ve seen Jesus deal with one of the symptoms, namely sickness. We’re going to see Him deal with death later. But now, He’s going to deal with the root problem, sin itself. Regardless whether this man was a horrible sinner who got this specific illness – he was a sinner.
This sickness is a picture and a reminder of the awfulness of sin – and the consequences of sin. There is nothing you can do about your condition. And so, this man had to bear the stigma of not only being sick, but being full of sin. And with every stare, this man was indicted.
So get that picture. Here’s a guy who stayed away from crowds all his life – except maybe to beg. People didn’t like him. He was dirty, he was unclean. And then came the news Jesus was back in town. He had no doubt healed others of paralysis. So his friends carried him to the house where Jesus was staying. He’s on the inside, teaching. There’s such a crowd gathered that they can’t get in the door – certainly not four men carrying a stretcher. His hopes begin to sink, but someone has an idea. Let’s take him to the top and lower him through the roof. We’ll make a hole if we have to.
When they get to the roof, they begin the demolition process. Literally, the wording is, they unroofed the roof. At this time, there were crossbeams across the top of the walls, which were covered with thatch, then packed down with mud to make it firm so you could stand on it. Put yourself in the room. You’re listening to Jesus. He’s speaking, as usual, with authority, with words you’ve never heard before. Suddenly, there’s a commotion above you. The roof literally starts to come apart. Once the dirt and dust settles, you look up to see a man being lowered on a cot. Slowly, every eye turns to Jesus. What will He do? I mean, He’s teaching here, and this guy just interrupted. Will Jesus rebuke the man? “I’m right in the middle of a talk, dude. What are you doing? Who’s gonna fix the roof?”
Put yourself in the man’s cot. You’ve been shunned, called names, cursed, maybe all your life. You’ve carried with you the stigma of being a sinner, of doing it wrong. Some of the people there know you. They began whispering among themselves. You can hear them – but you can’t see them. You’re lying flat on your back, looking at the hole in the ceiling as your friends lower you down. You’re not sure where Jesus is – you look to the left, you look to the right as you get to the eye level of the people. And then you see Him. Your eyes lock. Your eyes are filled with terror – with fear. What will happen? Will the people start to berate you as they had done so many times in the past? More importantly, what will Jesus do? Which brings us to our next point, the spiritual healing of Jesus.
Verse 5 – “Seeing their faith” – whose faith? The faith of the four friends the paralyzed man – their faith that Jesus could something could do something about his condition – Jesus said to the paralytic, ‘Son: your sins are forgiven.’” Wait, what? What did He just say? He called him son – it’s a term of endearment – it could be translated child. Child, you have no reason to fear. As your eyes lock, yours are filled with terror, His were filled with compassion. There’s no reason to fear. You see, Matthew tells us Jesus said, “Take courage.” Don’t be afraid. But that’s not all He said. You thought you were coming for physical healing. You hoped that you would walk out of there. But never in your wildest dreams did you think you would hear those words. Your sins are forgiven. Could it be?
What was Jesus doing? He was meeting this man’s greatest need. While the man wanted to walk, Jesus was able to look into his heart and see he had a greater need. He didn’t just remove his paralysis, He removed His sin.
You see, that’s the reason He had come to the earth – to seek and save those who were lost. To give His life a ransom for many. He could have come and healed every person of every disease and every sickness that plagued mankind. Every leper restored, every blind eye made to see, every lame man made to walk, every paralyzed person made whole. Everyone with cancer made clean. But physical healing isn’t our greatest need. Calming storms isn’t our greatest need. Casting out demons isn’t our greatest need. Those are all just symptoms – the effects of our greatest need. It didn’t matter whether this man caused his own paralysis. Sickness is the result of sin. Maybe not specific sin – but sin drug sickness in with it. And this man needed spiritual healing more than physical healing. Our greatest need is to have our sins forgiven. To be restored to God. To hear those words, your sins are forgiven. Do you understand what I’m saying? The greatest miracle is not that the paralytic walked – it is that he was forgiven.
Can you imagine the emotion that must have filled this man. People perhaps hated him – but Jesus loved him. People rejected him, but Jesus accepted him. People avoided him, but Jesus received him. People had cursed him, but Jesus blessed him. Just like you – just like me.
Of course, not everyone was impressed with the event, which brings us to the response of the scribes. There were religious people there – Luke tells us there were Pharisees as well. The Pharisees and the scribes began saying to themselves, “Why does this man speak this way? He is blaspheming; who can forgive sins but God alone?”
Why were they calling this blasphemy? Because they understood that no one but God could forgive sin. They just didn’t get it – they didn’t understand that they were standing in the presence of very God.
And you have to understand something else. They didn’t like the fact that Jesus would actually forgive a paralytic who had not earned forgiveness. Religious people always want you to work for what you get. That’s what they were doing. They thought they were acceptable to God because they kept rules. Here was a man who couldn’t keep the rules even if he wanted to. And Jesus looks at him and says, “Your sins are forgiven.” Wait just a minute, Jesus. What do you think you’re doing? Only God can forgive sins. They were right about that – they just didn’t realize who Jesus was.
But not only that, you can’t just forgive sins like that. He hasn’t done anything to deserve it. He hasn’t kept our rules, he hasn’t done what we think is necessary to be accepted. And that’s where they were wrong. You see, this man is a perfect picture of what Jesus looks for to forgive. He was paralyzed. There was nothing he could do. He was broken – there was nothing he could do to help himself. And Jesus said, you meet the qualifications – you only have faith – that’s all you need. Your sins are forgiven.
Christianity is the only religion in the world that teaches the forgiveness of sin as a free gift through another. Hear that this morning. You’ve got to come to Jesus, as it were, lying on a mat, clinging to nothing but faith. Clinging to nothing you can do. And Jesus says, I like that. I can heal that. I can forgive, that. Don’t bring Me your works – you’re paralyzed – you’re dead – you can’t do anything about your condition, but I can.
Jesus, knowing the thoughts of the scribes and Pharisees, does a little teaching. He starts by asking a couple of questions. “Why are you reasoning about these things in your hearts? Which is easier to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’?” Don’t miss the irony here – they’re upset that Jesus is doing something only God can do – and here He is reading their minds – which seems to be something only God can do.
How would you answer that question? What is easier to say? Jesus is making a point. There is a sense, physically speaking, in which saying, “Your sins are forgiven,” is easier. How so? Because there’s no way to verify it. Anyone can say it. I could say it to you, and how would you know it’s true? People all over the world say, do this, and your sins will be forgiven. But there’s no way to verify it.
But, if I say, “Get up and walk,” that’s verifiable. You either do, or you don’t. So, saying that is much more difficult, humanly speaking. But now, spiritually speaking, which is more difficult to say? Obviously, “Your sins are forgiven,” because only God can say that.
But, what about for Jesus – what is more difficult to say? Exactly. Neither one. He can say and do whatever He wants. But so that you can know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins, Jesus says, I’ll do the one for you that would be more difficult – and to the man He said, “Get up, pick up your pallet, and go home.” And the man did. One author said it this way, “He did the miracle which they could see that they may know that He had done the other one they could not see.”
By the way, this is the first of 14 times Jesus uses His favorite term to refer to Himself – Son of Man. It certainly points to His identification with humanity in the incarnation – and His future sufferings as a man – but it’s also a reference to His authority on earth as the Messiah.
The point is this. Jesus says, it’s no big deal for me to say, “Get up and walk,” or, “Your sins are forgiven.” But I’ll say “Get up and walk,” so that you will know I can also say, “Your sins are forgiven.” In other words, if I prove that I can deal with the effects of sin – what sin drug in with it, namely, disease and death, then you can know that I can deal with sin, too.
As I’ve been saying, one of the primary messages in the miracles is this: Jesus is God. He has authority over disease, He has authority over nature, He has authority over demons, and praise God, He has authority over sin. He demonstrated that power. And so we can know that He has the power to deal with our greatest need. Some of you need to hear that this morning. You need to know – no matter how secret, how debilitating, how paralyzing, how awful your sin is, Jesus has the authority and the power to forgive sin. He can forgive yours. Every time He heals a sick body, every time He drives out a demon, it points to the greatest truth, the greatest miracle of all – He can heal your heart – He can make you clean – He can forgive your sin.
The people’s response? They were amazed, glorifying God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this.” Like what? A paralytic walking? Sure. Sins forgiven by the Son of God? Exactly.
Which brings us back to the beginning as we close. Have you ever felt like you wanted to see a miracle? You did. If you know Jesus Christ as your personal Savior – if you ever said to Him, Jesus, I know that I’m a sinner and I know that You died for my sin – please forgive me – He did. He performed the greatest miracle ever performed in your life. You haven’t missed a thing.
You want to see a miracle today? Then be like the four friends here. Do whatever it takes – tear holes in ceilings, if necessary, to take people to Jesus. Someone who is lying helpless and hopeless. Who can do nothing about his or her condition. Who, at the end of the day, despite all their best efforts, needs a healing touch. Take that person to Jesus. Tell them what Jesus can do to meet needs – the greatest need of all. Tell them how Jesus can forgive sin – not just any sin – his sin, her sin. Then, listen to him or her pray to receive grace – to receive Christ. And witness again the greatest miracle of all.
Finally, it may be that’s just what some of you need here this morning. You need to hear those words, not from me, not from your spouse, not from your parents, not from your kids or your coworkers. You need to hear it from God Himself – your sins are forgiven. And by the authority and truth of Jesus, I say to you, your sins can be forgiven today.