Have you ever had a situation either for yourself or for someone else that you prayed about? I know I pray frequently for my friends and family who don’t have a saving relationship with Jesus. How about you? Do you ever wonder if God hears our prayers? Today we will see a story about four friends who interceded on behalf of a paralyzed friend. They would stop at nothing even when it seemed impossible to reach Jesus. We will be reading from Mark today:
A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. They gathered in such large numbers 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 paralyzed man, 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 by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man,“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 this paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’? But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the man, “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!” (Mark 2:1-12)
Let’s take a minute to backtrack. Before this passage we saw Jesus healing the sick either all over Galilee or Judea, depending on whose account you read. Now we find him a few days after his healing tour in Capernaum. Jesus was probably at Peter’s home because we have no record that Jesus actually had his own home. The word about him had spread far and wide and they were gathering in droves to see Jesus. So much so that they had the house surrounded and you couldn’t get in or out and we find Jesus standing in the doorway preaching to them. Who was in the crowd? Well, just about everybody, including some teachers of the law were there. Who were these teachers of the law? We know from Luke that there were some Pharisees present (Luke 5:21). We don’t know what other specific kinds of teachers were there.
Anyway, we see Jesus preaching to a crowd when four men come carrying a paralyzed man. The word paralyzed here is a compound word. It comes from the words “to loose” and “along side”. Some scholars argue that the the man may have had a stroke, paralyzing the one side of his body. Once again, no one really knows but we do know that he was unable to move at least part of his body. Let’s talk about sick people from back in the day. They were pretty much out of luck. As we saw in our last study, Jesus Heals the Leper, sick people were often considered ceremonially unclean and were forced to live alone outside the camp or city. This man’s only way for caring for himself was the kindness of others. But the others weren’t supposed to be around him or they would become unclean, too. It was a vicious cycle really. Let’s get back to our paralyzed man. It would have been remarkable to find even one person who would’ve been willing to help him but to find a group that would be willing to 1. get close to the man and 2. be willing to break the law to bring him into the city was remarkable. Before they even get to Jesus we see that they had faith in his healing power. Why else would they take such a risk. This brings me to my first point. Often, faith without risk is not faith at all. I don’t mean that we can’t have faith when life is peachy keen. Of course we can, but if we are constantly seeking the calm between the storms, if we are content to ride along smoothly in our boat and not get out of it when circumstances call for it then we don’t have an active faith. We may have a saving faith, but it is not a healthy faith. I would say a healthy faith is constantly seeking ways to be used- whether that is praying about the smallest thing or trusting God about a big decision in your life. For example, as I learn more about God and grow closer to him, I have started to call upon him for even the smallest needs. When I’ve lost something I ask God to help me find it… and I expect him to actually help me. This isn’t a cursory, “God, where did I put my keys now?” You know the kind of thing you just mutter to yourself when you get frustrated. This is, “God, I know you know where my keys are. Guide me to them.” He has yet to let me down. It may be something small, but it is a stretching of faith- it is depending on God in the small stuff. When you allow God to constantly stretch your faith, you allow God to have control. And this is the true calling of a Christian- to give God authority over your life. I could go on about this but that’s a whole separate post.
So we see that the men had faith even before they got to Jesus. Then can you imagine their dismay when they can’t even get close enough to get to Jesus? Some people would be discouraged and go home. But not these guys. Houses back then often had steps that led to a flat roof. The houses were usually wood frames and the ceilings were grass or reeds laid across beams with clay on top. So get this image in your head. Jesus is teaching when there begins to be a commotion coming from the roof. Pieces of clay begin to fall and then dust everywhere as the men really begin to make progress. Sunlight begins streaming into the house as the hole, first just a pin point of light and then the filling the whole house with daylight, appears. Can you imagine Peter as all of this is going on? I can just see him yelling and being his loud impetuous self as Jesus just stands there… watching and smiling. The men lower the paralyzed man down through the hole. Jesus seeing their undaunted faith says to the man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Wait, a minute… What? They didn’t bring him there for this! They brought him there so he could regain use of his limbs. Can you picture the men? I bet they were standing there with their mouths wide open. Not only did they expect Jesus to physically heal their friend but only God could forgive sins. Was their work all for naught?
Let’s take a break from the friends for a minute and focus on what Jesus says. He says, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” The word son here in the original language was a term of endearment. Literally it means, child. I love that Jesus doesn’t heal the man’s physical disability first. Instead he cuts right to the heart of the matter… The man’s spirit was in need of healing and that is more important than anything else. And isn’t that the case for all of us? What good is being healthy if our souls are bound for Hell? It is better to have a saved soul and a sickly body than a sick soul in a healthy body. In the words of Toby Mac, “I don’t want to gain the whole world and lose my soul,” (Mark 8:36). The Jews knew that only God could forgive sins. It should have been a natural jump that Jesus was God after seeing Jesus perform miracles and his fantastic teaching… you would think anyway. But we know that was not true. The text says, “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?'” (Mark 2:6-7). They were so close to putting the puzzle together and yet they just don’t get it! Mark goes on, “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.'” So not only has he healed the sick and cast out demons (in the past) and is a phenomenal teacher, but he also knows the hearts of men! It’s kinda like reading minds and even with this sign the people don’t get it! If Jesus was on trial today for being the Messiah and all of this evidence was presented, the jury would have to find him guilty as charged! Yet they missed it. With as much faith as the paralyzed man’s friends had, the teachers of the law lacked by as much.
Jesus poses as question to the disbelieving teachers, “Which is easier: to say to this paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk?'” It is easier to say that his sins are forgiven because there is no visible evidence one way or the other that the sin was actually forgiven. If Jesus were to say get up and take your mat and the man wasn’t healed, then the evidence would be obvious. Jesus was not God. But there is no way to prove that his sins are healed… unless Jesus is able to heal the man and then the outward physical healing becomes a symbol for the inward healing that already occurred. This is what Jesus means when he says, “But I want you to know that the Son of Man has the authority on earth to forgive sins.” He is going to heal the man outwardly to prove that he can also heal the man inwardly. “So he said to the man, ‘I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home,'” (verse 11). Then the guy got up, took his mat and went on his way in full view of them all. This was not a miracle done in secret like the healing of the leper in our last study. Jesus is announcing to the world that he is God incarnate. He is the long awaited Messiah if only they would have the faith to see it!
There are several lessons we can learn from this passage:
- Sometimes God allows times of trouble in order to draw us and others closer to himself. The paralyzed man probably didn’t know it but God was using his circumstance to bring others to a saving relationship with him. Psalm 119: 67 & 71 says this: “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey your word. It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees.” This is why we as Christians can have hope even when things seem to go terribly wrong. God is always working for the good of those who love him (Romans 8:28). It may not be easy but remember faith without risk is weak faith. During my step-mom’s hospital stay this week this has been my prayer: First and foremost that God would be glorified somehow through her struggles and second that God would use this opportunity to draw our family closer to him. And I can see him working in the hearts of some and I can say with confidence that if it means that our family members gain a relationship with Christ, she would have chosen to go through it all again.
- Sometimes our greatest needs are below the surface. The friends thought the man needed physical healing but Jesus looked beyond the broken body to the broken soul. I’ll take it one step further… sometimes people seem to have it all together on the outside. There seems to be no need, they have enough money, a close family, a good job, nice friends, a place to live, their health but deep down inside they are sick. Their soul is dirty because they don’t know they are sinners or they know they are sinners and they don’t want to change or they want to change but they are afraid or don’t know how. There are plenty of people out there that seem to have it made and yet are going to Hell.
- The primary reason Jesus does anything is to bring himself glory. I may lose some of you on this one but think about it… Jesus didn’t heal the man so that he could get better and he didn’t forgive the man’s sin so that he could be sinless. This was a means to an end. It was a way to get others to glorify God. Jesus said it himself, “But I want you to know that the Son of Man has the authority on earth to forgive sins.” Why did he want them to know? So that God would be glorified. And this is what happened, “This amazed everyone and they praised God,” (2:12). Everyone means everyone, even the skeptical teachers of the law, at least on this occasion, praised God.
- Sometimes God uses “second-hand faith” to act. It never says to much about the paralyzed man. For all we know the paralyzed man could’ve been in a vegetative state. In which case he would’ve been incapable of faith. What we do learn about is the faith of the friends. The faith of the friends enabled the healing of the paralytic. This is good news for those of us praying desperately on behalf of someone else who may or may not be Christian. I think about non-Christian family members that I pray for salvation for. Will God change their hearts? I don’t know but I know he can and if he doesn’t it won’t be because I don’t have faith. I have faith that God is fully capable of drawing them to himself if he is willing.
I bet you didn’t expect to find all this good stuff when we started this passage. I know I didn’t but I found, once again that God has much to teach us if we just meditate on his Word. Thanks again for being patient while I took care of my family this week and I hope to see you again in another couple of days when we study the calling of Matthew.