And when he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. And many were gathered together, so that there was no more room, not even at the door. And he was preaching the word to them. And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him, and when they had made an opening, they let down the bed on which the paralytic lay. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “My son, your sins are forgiven.” Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, “Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, “Why do you question these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed 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 say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.” And he rose and immediately picked up his bed and went out before them all, so that they were amazed and glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this!”
Mark’s Gospel announces the good news that in Jesus of Nazareth, the God of heaven has begun his saving reign upon the earth. Through Jesus, the Creator has begun to take back this world and its creatures from the enslaving power of idolatry and sin and the destructive powers of evil. And, what I want us to continue to see from this passage is that, on an individual level, this carries with it great news as well. The good news means that, for people enslaved to idolatrous powers, addictions, greed, selfishness, hopelessness, or whatever, Jesus offers a new way of begin human. That is what I desperately want you to realize as we go through Mark.
I don’t just want you to see and understand the grand story that Mark tells us about Jesus, but I want you to see yourself in this story about Jesus. I what you to find your life in the life of Jesus, your story in his. That is why Mark wrote this Gospel. Jesus was not just another compelling figure in the ancient world whose life he thought was worth telling and would make an interesting and inspiring biography. No! Jesus is the key figure in human history. His life changed the world. Unlike any other person who had ever lived, death was not the end of his story but just the beginning as through it he triumphed over the powers that held humanity in their grasp.
Jesus is the central figure of history and, as Lord and King, is still the central figure of the world today. His life and his story demands our souls, our lives, and our all. And, what I desperately want us to see from this passage is that Jesus offers to each one of us a new way of being human! To put it another way, Jesus offers us a way to be truly human, to live life as God intended and created us. What I want us to see is that, when we come to hope in him, Jesus sets us free from enslaving powers, restores us to God, and empowers us to live out our purpose. He includes us in a new people—a new humanity. Along with all his people, we become his royal priesthood and holy nation whose task it is to change lives and the world through the same self-giving love and faithfulness that Jesus himself demonstrated at the cross. That’s what I want us to begin to see as we look at Mark’s story about Jesus and the paralytic.
THE SON OF MAN’S AUTHORITY TO FORGIVE SINS
The first truths that I what us to see from this story concern Jesus. Mark intends to communicate to us a few things about Jesus through the title, “Son of Man,” which Jesus claims for himself in verse 10, and through the fact that, as Son of Man, Jesus has the authority to forgive sins.
First, it is significant that Jesus calls himself the Son of Man. The background of the title, Son of Man, comes from Daniel 7. In Daniel 7, Daniel sees a vision in the heavenly realm in which the Almighty grants one like a Son of Man authority over the entire earth, including all the beast-like kingdoms of this world under the enslaving powers of evil and responsible for much of the violence upon the earth. As this vision is interpreted for Daniel, we come to find out that it is through this Son of Man that the kingdoms of this world are overtaken and given to the people of God as they come to inherit and reign over God’s creation instead of the beasts.
In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus identifies himself as this kingdom-conquering, history-altering Son of Man. However, he adds to it a fuller meaning than we are first introduced to in Daniel. For instance, we will come to see that, as the Son of Man, Jesus defeats the enslaving powers of this world and overcomes sin and death through giving his own life for others rather than through some brute show of force or through political calculations. But, since I don’t want to get ahead of ourselves or Mark’s story, I want to focus on what Jesus reveals about himself in this passage. And, in this passage, we see that as the Son of Man Jesus has the authority on earth to forgive sins.
In verse 5, when Jesus saw the faith of the four men who knew no boundaries when it came to getting their paralyzed friend to Jesus—so much so that they dug through the roof of Jesus’ house!—he proclaimed to the paralytic, “My son, your sins are forgiven.” Now, I want us to think about this for a few moments, because what Jesus did here was extraordinary. I am not sure if the average Joe in the room would have recognized what had just happened when Jesus said, “My son, your sins are forgiven.” But the scribes, who knew the Scriptures well, understood exactly what had just happened. And, what Jesus did was this. He took upon himself a divine prerogative. It was God’s business and God’s alone to forgive sins, and the Jews believed that God had chosen to forgive by means of Temple, sacrifice, and priesthood. Therefore, a priest might be able to inform a person that God had forgiven one’s sins through the proper channels, but that is not what Jesus did here. As one author puts it, “Jesus utters no intercessory prayer to God for forgiveness and healing. He completely bypasses any priestly atonement ritual. . . . He is not speaking on behalf of God as if he had ‘God’s power of attorney.’ Jesus remits sin on his own authority as if he were God.”
Jesus takes upon himself God’s prerogative and forgives this person’s sins, and the scribes immediately recognized the biblical and theological significance of what had just happened. These particular scribes, in this particular instance, were good students of Scripture and good theologians, but in their hardness of heart and refusal to see what was right in front of them, they came to a terrible conclusion. They realized that Jesus’ proclamation about this man’s sins meant one of two things: either Jesus was ushering in God’s kingdom, bringing the history of Israel to its climax, or Jesus was a blasphemer of the grossest kind.
The scribes knew that the Prophets had said that God’s saving reign in the last days would come through forgiveness and healing. Therefore, either God’s saving reign had come at last in Jesus, or Jesus was guilty of the worst kind of blasphemy and deserved to die. Even though Jesus proved to them conclusively in verse 11 that the former was the case rather than the latter, the scribes assumed the worst.
Mark, however, does not want us to make the same mistake. Jesus the King, Son of God, and Son of Man has the authority to forgive sins because he is the very embodiment of the LORD, the God of Israel, and through him God’s saving reign that sets captives free has come to this earth. Jesus is the Son of Man. He has authority over heaven and earth. He is the one through whom God’s people come to possess and rule over God’s creation. Through him, the meek shall inherit the earth! And, for the person who has become enslaved to the powers of sin and death, he has the power to forgive sin and restore life. He has the power to forgive your sin and restore your life, if you would turn to him, today!
JESUS OFFERS A NEW WAY OF BEING HUMAN
This brings us to the second truth that I want us to see from this passage. As the Son of Man, Jesus offers us a new way of being human. I want us to see this in the way that he brought healing and forgiveness to the paralytic, and I want to talk about what this means for each one of us today.
First, it may seem strange to us that when four determined men brought their paralyzed friend to Jesus that Jesus forgave him his sins. In our minds, the man’s physical condition and his spiritual condition were two separate things. But, for Jesus’ audience and for Mark’s original readers they were connected. They recognized that the reason that people are subject to disease, death, and decay is that humanity has become enslaved to evil powers through sin. Now, at other points, Jesus brings more clarity to this truth by pointing out that one’s physical ailment may not be the direct result of one’s own sin. However, the reason that death and disease had become the rule for humans on the earth is that as a whole the human race turned against God and became enslaved to evil forces in this world. We desired our own way apart from God and God gave us over to the powers our hearts most desired. And, life apart from God inevitably leads to death.
Life in the shadows apart from the light and author of life inevitably leads to death and darkness. Therefore, in their minds, to be restored to God and to God’s family required not only physical healing, but also a solution to the root problem, sin and alienation from God. And, in this story, Jesus, the Son of Man, who has the authority on earth to forgive sin, restored this man completely by first forgiving him his sins and then healing him of his paralysis.
Humans were not meant to be enslaved to sin, to suffer from debilitating physical conditions, and to live in fear of death. Rather, we were meant to rule over the earth in fellowship with God as his image-bearing servants. Through forgiving this man his sins and restoring to him his physical health, Jesus shows us that he came to restore to people what was lost in the Fall. That is what it meant in Daniel 7 for the Son of Man to be the Son of Man. He took control of the kingdoms of this world in order to give them back to those whom they rightfully belonged, those people who had come to belong to the LORD and to reflect his good character to the world around them.
Now, what does all of this mean for us? Well, it means the same for us that it did for those in the house with Jesus almost two thousand years ago. Jesus, the Son of Man, has the authority on earth to forgive sin, and he offers to each of us a new way of being human. Each one of us was created to worship and to know God. We were created to reflect God’s goodness—his steadfast love, compassion, mercy, and faithfulness—in whatever capacity or roles in which we find ourselves. He created us to have dominion over this earth, not to be dominated by addictions, selfishness, greed, oppressive systems, disease, and death. He created us to enjoy his rest and the blessings of his kingdom forever.
And, Jesus came to redeem us from the curse that has robbed us of that purpose. His own resurrection from the dead is the sign of our resurrection and at the time of his appearing when we too will be transformed no longer to suffer from debilitating diseases or the fear of death. Jesus came to redeem us from the curse of the law by bearing in himself our transgressions and sins. He died so that we could be forgiven, cleansed, changed, and empowered finally to live out our purpose in fellowship to God and service in his kingdom.
Through the good news, God calls people everywhere to turn from their sin and to follow Jesus, the Son of Man, the one who has been given all authority over heaven and earth. He makes people whole again and gives us new life and a purpose. He reconciles us to God and empowers us by his Spirit to live lives that are pleasing to God. Jesus offers us all a new way of being human.
THE NEW WAY OF BEING HUMAN
This brings us to the last thing that I want us to do today. I want us to think about what it means to be truly human, to live out the new life and purpose that Jesus the King has restored to us as people. I want to talk about a few general ways, and also one specific way that we find right here in this passage.
First, having our sins forgiven and becoming empowered by God’s Spirit means that we have been reconciled to God himself. We have been granted peace with God. The sin that separated us from our God and kept us enslaved to lesser powers has been dealt with once and for all, and we can approach God and worship God in freedom and confidence.
Second, having our sins forgiven and having been granted the Spirit, God calls us to live in service to him in his kingdom. In both the Old and the New Testaments, the image that the inspired writers use to describe God’s people is that of a royal priesthood and a holy nation. The Israelites were to be a royal priesthood and a holy nation. They were to bring order to God’s good creation through spreading justice and righteousness and reflecting God’s good character in all that they did. However, in the Old Testament, the Israelites worshipped idols, were enslaved to sin, and fell short of God’s glory.
In the New Testament, the inspired writers declare that something has fundamentally changed so that God’s people can now live out that purpose. Jesus’ death has freed his people from enslaving powers, forgiven their sin, and empowered them through the gift of the Spirit to live lives pleasing to God. Again, Peter borrows the terms royal priesthood and holy nation and applies them to the church—Israelites and non-Israelites who hope in Jesus the King.
Generally speaking, Jesus has made us whole—has forgiven us and empowered us—so that we can live in justice and righteousness and reflect his good character in all our roles and capacities as people who inhabit this world. God has called us to bring order to our families and communities by living as peacemakers and people who help the down and out. He has called, forgiven, and empowered us as spouses to reflect his good character in the way that we love and serve one another. He has called us as parents, employers, employees, neighbors, and business partners to mirror his patience and trustworthiness, compassion and mercy in the way that we conduct ourselves.
Finally, and this is what I want us to see from this passage as we close, he calls us, forgives us, and empowers us to be his witnesses. He invites us to be witnesses to the fact that through his death the world has changed, to be witnesses to the fact that his resurrection is proof that people can live and look forward to a better life, to be witnesses to the fact that Jesus, the Son of Man, has been given the kingdoms of this world and calls everyone everywhere to repent and believe the good news. We are called to be his witnesses, royal priesthood, and holy nation.
We are called to do what these four friends did here in this story. They demonstrated that they believed in Jesus’ authority to forgive sins and heal by means of the way in which they did not give up hope but were doggedly determined to bring their paralyzed friend to Jesus. Do we really believe that Jesus offers our lost friends, neighbors, and family members a new way of being human? Do we really believe that he can forgive their sins and break the stranglehold of deep-rooted, paralyzing habits in their lives?
If we really believe that, then let’s be his witnesses. Let us not give up hope but continue to work to bring them to Jesus. If we have to climb up on someone’s roof and dig through to the floor, let us do so in faith that the Son of Man has the authority on earth to forgive sin, to restore life, and to set the captives free!
David E. Garland, A Theology of Mark’s Gospel (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2015), 284.
If you’re in the Paducah area and want to talk more about King Jesus and what it means to live in his new world, I would love to sit down with you over a cup of coffee (my treat!). Contact me, and let’s meet! I also invite you to come and worship the King with me at Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church. We meet for worship weekly at 10:30 on Sunday mornings.