In the ancient world people associated sickness and sin very closely. People thought that if a man was ill then he must be cursed by God. People thought that these people who sat at the side of the road and begged for a few pennies were not worth bothering with. They thought that God had put them there like this, and that there was nothing more than could be done for them. The crippled man, or the leper, or the blind man would be sentenced to a life of hardship and ridicule, suffering by the side of the road. An understanding of this helps us to see how odd this story, one of the better known in scripture, really is.
Looking at verses 1-4, we see the basic facts of this story as mark recorded them. Jesus’ fame had already spread. Last week we closed with Jesus preaching and saying ‘repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.’ Here, a little later on in His ministry we see that people are listening to His message. We see in verse two that Jesus had gained so much fame that when they heard He was in town ‘straightaway many were gathered together, insomuch as there was no room to receive them, no, not so much as about the door, and He preached the Word to them.’ Jesus already had such a reputation that people were desperate to be near Him and hear Him preach. This is still the way it is in some places today.
If you go to Central America, or parts of Africa and Asia, you’ll still see people standing for hours to hear the Bible preached, waiting in the heat of the day to be prayed for and spending hours at church just to enjoy the fellowship. We see this as a fulfillment of where we left Jesus last week. He promised that as He preached the Kingdom of God would be near. And it is, the sick are getting healed, the poor are being fed, the powers of darkness were in retreat. It’s not wonder that people wanted to be near Jesus. It’s no wonder that these four men wanted to bring their friend, sick of the palsy, to Jesus.
Lets pick up the story in verse 3: and they came unto Him, bringing one sick of the palsy, who was borne of four. And when they could not come nigh unto Him for the press, they uncovered the roof where he was; and when they had broken it up, they lay down the bed where the sick of the palsy lay. We’ve already mentioned the crowds who were pressing in on the house, and here we the effect of it. These men wanted to bring their friend through, but they were told, it seems, to get to the back of the line. But they’re weren’t to be put off, they wanted their friend to be near Jesus, they wanted to see Him. I love this next bit, they climbed up onto the roof, maybe ten feet, dragged their friend up with them, and dug their way in. Isn’t that cool? They must’ve thought ‘well, if they won’t pay attention to us in the line, they’ll have to pay attention to us when there’s a bed landing on their heads.’
Imagine what it must’ve been like in the house as well, you’re sitting there, it’s loud and hot and probably a bit dark, you’re trying to get near Jesus so he can touch you, or at least so that you can hear what He’s saying… And then, what’s that noise? Why’s there dust and bits of hard mud falling on my head? Good gracious, is there…there’s someone coming through the roof! I don’t know whether when they made the hole in the roof they just dropped the guy with the palsy on the floor, or whether some people jumped up to help, but somehow, he ended up on the floor, by Jesus.
And we think…that’s some effort, how can Jesus top that? Surely that’s the most surprising thing about this story. But no, Jesus is always the hero of every story in the Bible. Every story. Lets see what happens next in verses 5-7: when Jesus saw their faith, He said unto the sick of the palsy “Son, thy sins be forgiven thee”’ But there were certain of the scribes sitting there, and reasoning in their hearts, ‘why doth this man speak blasphemies, who can forgive sin but God alone?’ What does Jesus see? Their faith. What does Jesus do? He tells the man to get up and walk… No He doesn’t! He tells him his sins are forgiven Him. And we think, well that’s nice Jesus, but you’ve missed the point, this man wants to be healed of the palsy, he doesn’t want his sins forgiven, whatever that means. His friends carried him in here; they don’t want to have to carry him out again. We’re not the only ones thinking these things. We see that there were some people there, who wondered why Jesus was talking like this. Mark tells us these guys were the scribes, they were like the record keepers in the temple, and they were probably there to report on Jesus to the Pharisees, the guys who ran the temple. These scribes, even though throughout the Gospels there are the bad guys, they’re the ones always fighting Jesus, actually ask the most important question of the story. They wonder, in their hearts, who can forgive sins but God alone?
This is so important to grasp. Who can forgive sins but God alone? No one. Why? Imagine for a moment that when I finish tonight I walk across the parking lot and break into Justinshouse. He's the one I’ve offended right? He’s the one who I need to forgive me. Imagine if after I’m caught Rachel comes up to me and says ‘Ed, I forgive you for breaking into Justin’s house.’ You’re going to think that’s crazy. not the one I offended, she’s not the one who should forgive me, Justin is, because he’s the one I’ve sinned against. Why can only God forgive sins? Because God is always the most offended party. God is always the one, ultimately, that we sin against.
In Psalm 51, when David is repenting for sleeping with Bathsheba he says ‘against you and you alone have I sinned oh Lord.’ And we think, well what about Bathsheba? You’ve sinned against her, and you’ve sinned against her husband, and you’ve sinned against the child in her womb, and you’ve sinned against Israel by forming your military strategy on the basis of getting a man killed. But David understands that because God is God, because He is King of the universe, because He is the most moral being in the universe, all our sin is against Him. I remember my teachers at school used to say ‘if you don’t work hard you’re only cheating yourself,’ but they were wrong. Laziness is an offence against God. Lust is an offence against God, pride is an offence against God, greed is an offence against God. No one can forgive sins but God, because God is always the one you have offended. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t seek forgiveness from people we’ve hurt, we should, but we need to remember that God is the one we’ve upset the most. That was supposed to be a small part of my message!
So what’s Jesus doing saying that He can forgive sins? He’s assuming the identity of God. Lots of people say that Jesus never claimed to be God, and that’s partly because they don’t understand the Trinity, but actually He did. He claimed to be able to forgive sins. That is claiming to be God. Lets see how Jesus deals with this in verses 8-11: why reason ye these things in your heart? Whether it is easier to say to the sick of the palsy ‘thy sins be forgiven thee’ or to say ‘arise, take up your bed and walk’, but ye may know that the Son of Man hath authority on earth to forgive sins.’ (He saith to the sick of the palsy) I say unto thee arise and take up your bed and go thy way into thine house.’
Jesus shows us physical evidence for a spiritual truth. It’s easier for Him to say your sins are forgiven than to say ‘get up and walk’ because there’s no way to prove whether sins have been forgiven or not, but if Jesus had said get up and walk first it would have been easy to prove Him wrong…Jesus healing the man with palsy is a visual demonstration of what He has done spiritually. The scribes, and the rest of the people there, and now us need to know that Jesus has authority on earth to forgive sins as we see in verse 10. This is such an important truth for us. We don’t need Jesus the therapist or Jesus the vegetarian or whatever; we need Jesus the forgiver of sins… We need Jesus the savior. This is an amazing story, it’s no wonder that people said, in verse 12 we never saw it on this fashion. This is something totally new, this is the Kingdom of God coming near.
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