Text: Mark 2:1–12
Main Idea: Jesus has full authority to forgive sins.
I. An Act of Unrelenting Faith (Mark 2:1–5a)
II. A Scandalous Declaration (Mark 2:5b–7)
III. An Irrefutable Act of Confirmation (Mark 2:8–12)
When I was serving as a missionary with Training Leaders International, I usually served in countries that practiced Theravada Buddhism. Now from the outside, this version of Buddhism appears to offer a wonderfully peaceful alternative to Western life. Buddhism is quiet, contemplative, compassionate, and jam packed with ornate rituals. In addition to this, Theravada Buddhism upholds many of the moral virtues that Christians hold dear.
They must pursue:
- The right resolve, by renouncing sensual pleasures and by not harming any living creatures.
- The right speech, not lying, slandering, or verbally abusing others.
- The right behavior, not stealing, committing adultery, or destroying living creatures.
- The right occupation, earning their living without doing harm to others.
- The right effort, striving to overcome any evil tendencies they have and pursuing good behavior instead.
- The right contemplation, being observant, alert, and free from desire and sorrow.
See, on the outside it sounds really good. But, the problem is that these pursuits are driven by the steadfast conviction that humans attain a state of spiritual enlightenment and ultimately Nirvana in their own power. But, here is the catch. It’s all up to you! So you’d better man-up / woman-up and make it happen because no one else is going to do it for you. And if you fail it’s all your fault.
This is what makes Christianity so different! Christianity is not an individual pursuit of moral transformation and spiritual enlightenment. The gospel is the good news that through faith, sinful, undeserving humans receive forgiveness and are restored to fellowship with God at Christ’s expense. From the very beginning of his Gospel, Mark has been emphatic. Jesus wasn’t just another man teaching people how to become more moral or spiritual— Jesus teaches with authority, binds demons with authority, and cleanses with authority because he is God incarnate. And while each of these reveal his divine authority none of them rival the main point of our passage today.
Main Idea: Jesus has full authority to forgive sins.
- An Act of Unrelenting Faith (Mark 2:1–5a)
- A Scandalous Declaration (Mark 1:5b–7)
- An Irrefutable Act of Confirmation (Mark 2:8–12)
An Act of Unrelenting Faith(Mark 2:1–5a)
Just picture the scene. A small little house is packed with people and it is surrounded by an ever growing mob… When four men carefully push their way through the crowd with a stretcher. They climb onto the roof, and begin hacking a hole in someone else’s roof.
Archeologists tell us that most homes in Capernaum were constructed of basalt rock and covered by a generally flat roof comprised of wooden crossbeams that were cross-laid with thatch and finally waterproofed with a thick layer of compacted soil. In daily life, these roofs served much like a deck does today. They provided a semi-private location to enjoy the sunshine and fresh air. They also provided and a place to dry laundry, eat, pray, and even sleep on warm summer nights.
But, on this day, the flat dirt-covered roof simply provided the clearest path to Jesus. No barrier was too big. No cost was too great. These men were willing to do anything in their power to get their friend to Jesus because they whole-heartedly believedthat he was the only one who could heal their friend.
Now just imagine the moment these four men peered down into the sun-drenched room. Jesus and his audience are covered in dirt and debris, others are simply struggling to breath and see as dust permeates the room. But, where everyone else in the room sees nothing but a destructive interruption, Jesus sees faith (2:5a).
Now we could blow right past this familiar word. But, we might miss something very important. First, this is the first time faith is mentioned in the Gospel of Mark. Second, their faith is clearly manifest in their actionsand nottheir thoughtsand feelingsalone(which is how modern Christians usually talk about faith). Faith in the book of Mark is never an issue of repeating the right words. No. Rather, throughout the entire book, true faith is always manifest in a persistent conviction that preservers despite every opposition and obstacle.
In this we see that, Enthusiasm for Jesus and proximity to Jesus are not the same as faith in Jesus. And that is because, Faith is more than knowledge about Jesus. Faith is active trust that Jesus is more than sufficient for my deepest need and the deepest need of my friends.
And these 4 men have done everything in their power to get their paralyzed friend to Jesus. Yet, at the very moment that they expected to hear, “arise take up your mat and walk” they hear the scandalous declaration, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”
A Scandalous Declaration (Mark 1:5b–7)
The Declaration(Mark 2:5b)
Why in the world does Jesus choose to forgive this man’s sins when his friends clearly brought him to be healed?
Well on one hand, most first-century Jews believed that disease and physical death were be caused by individual sins. But, on the other, Scripture is very clear this is not always the case. Sin and illness do not share a simple cause and effect relationship— it’s not a simple one-for-one correlation. I don’t believe that Jesus is drawing a direct connection between the man’s sin and his paralysis. If this were the case, his forgiveness would produce instantaneous healing… but it didn’t.
I believe Jesus is forgiving this man’s sin for at least two different reasons:
First, he is looking beyond the man’s obvious need to his ultimate need. Healing in this life will only last for this life. But, forgiveness of sin leads to eternal life.
So what is sin? “Sin is any attitude or desire or action that explicitly breaks a commandment of Scripture, or comes from a heart of unbelief or is not done for the glory of God.”
In this definition we see that no matter howwe sin or whowe sin against, we are ultimately sinning against God himself! If you lie on your timecard so you can get more pay than you deserve: yes you are sinning against your employer BUT even greater than that, you are sinning against God himself. If you commit adultery, you are sinning against your spouse and the other person’s spouse BUT even greater than that, you are sinning against God himself. If you are rebelling against your parents, you are sinning against your parents BUT even greater than that, you are sinning against God himself.
This is how David puts it in Psalm 51 after he committed adultery with Bathsheba.
Psalm 51:3–4 For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. 4Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment.
Now, on the surface, it seems like a bold faced lie— David sinned against, Uriah, Bathsheba, his military commander, and the entire nation. But in this confession, David is pointing us to the reality that sin against other people is ULTIMATELY rebellion against God. Rebellion which carries everlasting consequences.
Second, Jesus is clearly revealing his divine identity to the scribes (religious professionals) so that they might respond in faith as well.When Jesus forgives this man’s sins, he is acting as if he is the one who was sinned against—he is telling his audience he is God!
The Proper Question(Mark 2:6–7)
When the Scribes instantly respond in their hearts, “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” They are asking the proper question.
Exodus 34:6–7 The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, 7keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”
Isaiah 43:25 I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.
A priest could only affirm forgiveness when a worshiper came in repentance, with the proper restitution, and sacrifice (Lev. 4; 5; 16; 17:11); BUT Jesus is to be claiming that he is be able to cancel sins as if he were God himself. Therefore, the Scribes have two possible solutions available to them. They can believe that the kingdom of God is truly at hand! That God is fulfilling his promises in Isaiah 33.
Isaiah 33:22 For the Lord is our judge; the Lord is our lawgiver; the Lord is our king; he will save us.
Isaiah 33:24 And no inhabitant will say, “I am sick”; the people who dwell there will be forgiven their iniquity.
Or they can conclude that this is nothing but blasphemy against God—something worthy of death (Lev. 24:16).
The scribes clearly understand Jesus’ claim. But, the problem is they instantly jump to the second conclusion without considering the first. See, their question was right, but their conclusion was wrong. But, this is all part of Jesus’ plan. Jesus is setting them up for an irrefutable act of confirmation.
An Irrefutable Act of Confirmation(Mark 2:8–12)
The Explanation: Lesser to Greater(Mark 2:8–9)
Jesus has been planning to heal this man from the very beginning! But, he wanted to set the stage for this very moment, in that, he presents these religious leaders with a common rabbinic argument known as “lesser-to-greater.” The argument simply works like this, if someone is able to do the “greater” (the harder) activity, then logic dictates they can certainly do the “lesser.”
From a human perspective it is easy to say “Your sins are forgiven,” since the statement cannot be falsified. It’s not like the man has a “find forgiveness soon” indicator light on his forehead that automatically goes out when he is forgiven.
So Jesus’ question is this: “Is it easier to prove my authority by making a theological proclamation about this man’s sins OR provide empirical proof that the man’s sins have indeed been forgiven by a divine healing that enables him to walk away.”
The Immediate Confirmation (Mark 2:10–12)
The healing was instantaneous and it wholly confirms Jesus’ authority to forgive sins. “He did the miracle that they could see so that they might truly know that he had accomplished the miracle that they could not see.” And the man walked out “in front of them all,” providing vivid empirical evidence that Jesus was right and they were wrong.
The saddest aspect of this encounter is that the Scribes listened intently to Jesus preaching and witnessed his authority over demons, sickness, even sin. But, throughout the book they persistently respond in unbelief instead of embracing Jesus by faith.
The spiritual reality in this text is that scribes are just as dependent on Jesus than is the paralytic. They need Jesus. They need forgiveness. But, their academic accomplishments and religious standing in the community merely blinds them to their true need for the gospel of Jesus Christ.
As true believers it is easy to think that powerful gospel preaching will compel everyone to believe. Yes, on one hand personal salvation is inextricably linked to gospel proclamation. But on the other, we can forget the blinding power of unbelief and the depths of mankind’s rebellion against God. We can forget that these people in Capernaum heard the most faultless preaching, saw it confirmed in powerful miracles, an yet, they remained dead in their transgression and sins.
Matthew 11:23 And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day.
Enthusiasm for Jesus and participation in things related to Jesus—Church, Awana, small groups, in-depth Bible studies, mission trips—are not the same thing as faith in Jesus. Countless good, moral, church-going people live in the perilous state—a state we call Nominal Christianity.
These people (maybe even you today) believe that God exists, that Jesus died on a cross, that He rose 3 days later, that He ascended into Heaven. But, they are unregenerate, they are still dead in their sins. They have never actually come to faith in Jesus, turning away from any hope in their ability to be right with God and whole-heartedly embracing Jesus and his promise by faith.
In many ways Nominal Christiansare merely living a Christian version of Buddhism. A life dedicated to the good moral pursuits of a great teacher in hopes of a happy after life. The problem with the Nominal Christianis that he or she thinks “Christianity is true, and I’m saved” when in reality, he or she is not saved. And that is because, Faith is more than knowledge about Jesus. Faith is active trust that Jesus is more than sufficient for my deepest needs and that I experience my greatest joy and satisfaction in life when I am actively pursuing his glory.
If you have someone like this in your life, I pray that you would be as tenacious as the four friends in this account. Enlist help from other believers and never give up.
If you are here today and you are beginning to see that you have never come to faith in Jesus, I pray you would believe today; embracing him as your only hope of forgiveness, your only hope of eternal life, and your authoritative King in every sphere of life.
James R Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 74; Mark L. Strauss, Mark, vol. 2 of Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament(Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014), 120.
Strauss, Mark, 120.(Cf. 5:23, 25–34, 36; 7:24–30, 32; 8:22; 9:24; 10:46–52)
Deut 28:27; Ps 107:17–18; John 5:14; Acts 5:1–11; 1 Cor 11:30; 1 John 5:16.
Job 1:8; Luke 13:1–5; John 9:2–3.
John Piper, “A Baptist Catechism,” 1 January 1986, §18, https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/a-baptist-catechism.
David E. Garland, Mark, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 94.