We pick up with Jesus preaching. This has been an emphasis in Mark’s Gospel for us. Two weeks ago, we talked about the marks of Christ’s preaching, boiling them down to four:
*His preaching is distinctively gospel preaching, cf. Mark 1.14-15. When Jesus preaches, He uniquely preaches Himself.
*His preaching aims to discern wheat from chaff. Many believed in Jesus because of His deeds, but the gospel that undergirded His deeds distinguished true from false faith.
*His preaching was His weapon of choice in battle. Mark casts the preaching of Jesus in the context of spiritual warfare. While the devil is a defeated foe, he is not a dead one. So Christ, so we preach and light overwhelms darkness, love attacks hatred, justice assaults injustice, sins are exposed, the fowler is stripped of his camouflage, snares are uprooted, God’s glory is seen, His kingdom advanced, etc.
*His gospel-saturated, faith-producing, kingdom-advancing preaching was for the Jew first, and then for the Gentiles. His preaching had a global backdrop. The gospel is for all nations. Every ethno-linguistic people group is to hear the gospel and respond with faith in King Jesus, lest by unbelief they perish. The means of faith is hearing the Word of Christ.
Now Jesus has returned to Capernaum, to His home, and He is preaching the word to them, 2.1-2. And we find that He is interrupted by five men. Now Jesus has been interrupted before by a man with an unclean spirit (cf. 1.23-26). But this is not a demonic interruption; the exact opposite. Jesus is interrupted by faith, 2.3-5.
What are we to see? 1. WHERE THERE IS FAITH, NO OBSTACLE, NO MATTER HOW GREAT, WILL KEEP THE SINNER FROM COMING TO CHRIST.
1. No doubt heard the reports about Jesus, and that Jesus was back in their neighborhood.
2. They place their paralytic friend on a poor man’s bed and carry him to the house.
3. When they cannot get to Jesus, they climb atop the house, make a hole the size of a bed in the roof, and let down the bed on which the paralytic lay.
4. They will not be hindered from bringing this man to Christ. Strength will not fail them. Space is no obstacle. Vandalism will not hinder them. The irritability of the crowd, some now covered in dirt and thatch, will not keep them from seeking the mercy of Christ.
Now Jesus might have been bothered by the interruption. After all, He is preaching the Word to the crowd. He might have been angered that there was now a huge hole in the ceiling of the house. He could have apologized to the crowd for such interruption and disturbance, least of all to those covered in the materials of a roof. But what does Jesus see? What does He say? 2.5.
From this, I want us to derive a principle that we have already seen in passing, but now I want us to place some emphasis upon it: If the value we assign to an object is greater than the value we assign to it’s obstacle, we will never be hindered in coming to that which we prize most highly. For example, I assign a value to achieving a certain body weight. Then I go to the Keune’s, and Melissa has made pumpkin cake. If the value I assign to my diet is greater than the value I assign to Melissa’s pumpkin cake, then I’ll leave off the pumpkin cake (though that is hardly ever the case!). But if the pumpkin cake is of greater value, then I’ll partake at the expense of my waist line.
So it is that a sinner will never come to Christ because the love of sin in their lives is greater than the value they assign to Christ. But where there is the gift of faith, there is a valuing of Christ that overwhelms every obstacle or hindrance that would keep you from coming to Him. And this gives us a workable definition of true faith: Faith is the gift of God that has an unconquerable love for Jesus at it’s center. It comes complete with new affections that have, as Chalmers put it, an expulsive power. Faith expels the resistance of other, lesser affections because it regards Christ supremely:
The leper overcomes the fear of further rebuke and even the condemnation of law in coming to Jesus, 1.40-45.
The five in this passage overcome many things, distance, human strength, closed space, roof, public opinion, fear of rejection. No matter, faith exists.
In Mark 5, one of the rulers of the synagogue will not be hindered by social status in bringing Jesus to his little girl. In the same chapter, an unclean woman with an issue of blood will not be denied access to Jesus in spite of her uncleanness, physical weakness, and the risk of further social injury. Why? Faith exists.
One more, Mark 7, a Gentile woman approaches Jesus to have Him free her daughter from demonic oppression. She casts off ethnic barriers, cultural-fopas related to sex, and even an initial rebuke from Jesus to lay hold of Him and His many benefits. Why? Because she believed in Jesus. Where faith exists, Christ reigns in the will and affections, and no obstacle will stand in the sinner’s way in laying hold of Him. So why will a person not come to Christ?
Because they are blind to the infinite value of Christ that is seen by the divine gift of faith. Fundamental to the rejection of Christ is the making of everything else in the world what only Christ has the right to be in your hearts and lives: supremely worthy of your love and worship. It is the suicide of the soul to be content in anything less than Christ, to pursue lasting joy in things that cannot deliver on that desire — games, athletic events, money, possessions, political hope, entertainment, popularity, public opinion, sex, relationships, spouses and children. Faith puts all of these, even the greatest of these, in their rightful place, infinitely beneath the glory and weight of Christ in your life; and so none of these are a hindrance to coming to Christ, unless you love them more.
Many people are in hell because they loved their families too much; many well-meaning politicians because they hoped in a form of government too much; many rich people who trusted in their money and possessions too much; many poor people who treasured a new start in life too much; many nice people who grinned at their niceties too much; many talented people who sought the acclaim of men too much. And all these are thus hindered from coming to Christ because, across the board, they loved Christ too little.
To see and savor the incomparable value of Christ and all His saving benefits, this is the brilliance of faith. And this is what Christ sees in the actions of these five men. And what does Jesus do in response to their faith? He rewards it, and that brings us to the second truth of the text,
2. WHERE THERE IS THIS FAITH, THERE IS REWARD: “YOUR SINS ARE FORGIVEN”, 2.5
This is one of the most beautiful and important verses in Mark’s Gospel because it teaches us about many essential and biblical truths. I think there are four truths to highlight:
1. When Jesus looks at the paralytic, He bypasses appearance and goes straight to the heart. His greatest need of the hour is not a remedy to his physical paralysis but the sin which has him in a state of spiritual paralysis. We have seen this before, we will see it again. And it cannot be said enough. Sin is our greatest problem, and the grace of Christ by which we are forgiven of our sins is God’s only remedy. We must have this drilled into our hearts because it certainly appears to be at the center of Christ’s heart. It is not a good doctor who looks at a patient with a paper cut in his finger and a bullet through the heart, and deals first with the paper cut. Jesus is the Great Physician, and He thus cares, first, for that which separates the man from God, his sin. There will be no more physical paralysis in heaven, but it will because spiritual paralysis has been irreversibly remedied by Christ.
2. We find that true faith in Christ, and that alone, effects Christ’s will to forgive sins. Let’s see the relationship in the text: “when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘My son, your sins are forgiven.” There is nothing else present but true, active, unconquerable faith in Jesus. And upon seeing their faith, Christ’s judicial declaration: “your sins are forgiven.” Biblical Christianity stands alone at this point. Central to the gospel that Christ, that we proclaim is that by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, our personal sins are forgiven.
Listen brothers, sisters, friends: when we talk about sin, we are talking about more than sexual immorality, drug abuse and drunkenness. We are talking about everything done in intentional rebellion against all that is pleasing to God. We are talking about what is natural to us as sinners, as water to fish. We are talking about more than deeds. We are talking about thoughts, intentions, motivations, speech, an entire life lived devoid of God. That is the sinfulness of sin, that it, from raping a woman and killing her husband to impatience with a screaming child at the end of the day, is godless.
And when we are talking about God, we are talking about One who looks not strictly at the appearance of things, as men do and can be fooled. He sees the heart, the thoughts, the intentions, the motivations; He hears the words uttered in secret; and He knows the actions also. And all of our sins are personal sins against God, ultimately (Psa 51.4). And what is doubly fascinating here is that this man’s personal sins, a man whom Jesus had never met, were committed against Jesus; and yet, in incomprehensible grace, Jesus completely and unchangeably absolves this man of his sins. With a word, Jesus assures him that in his case, God has nothing to condemn. By faith in Christ, his sins are forgiven, full and free.
3. This word from Jesus, which we are likely to assume, was and continues to be scandalous to a Jewish audience. Why? Because Jesus made a prerogative of God His own. He claims to have authority to forgive sins.
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, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty.”
Psalm 103.2-3, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits, who forgives all your iniquity.”
Isa 43.25, “I, I am He who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.”
The forgiveness of sins is the prerogative of God. This is what would have been ringing in the ears of the scribes. We can hear their frothing dismay at Jesus (and listen to the contrast they make because it tells us what they heard in Jesus’ declaration), “Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” Did you hear it? They are looking at the man, Jesus, declare what only God has the right to declare. And they want to kill Him for it; blasphemy is punishable by death (Lev 24.16)! And they are right, unless Jesus has divine authority on earth to forgive sins.
So the question now is “does He? Does Jesus have divine authority on earth to forgive sins?” The answer is the rest of our passage, 2.8-12.
THE SON OF MAN HAS AUTHORITY ON EARTH TO FORGIVE SINS
It appears that the scribes not only questioned the authority of Jesus to forgive sins, but that they also inwardly smarted off, “well, that’s easy, that’s convenient for you to say, for no one can know whether this man’s sins have truly been forgiven but God.” So what Jesus does is pit two equally divine works against one another. The difference is that one is unseen, while the other is seen. And if by His Word, the paralytic is cured, then three irrefutable realities come in to play: first, Jesus has authority to forgive sins; secondly, God Himself, by displaying His glory in the healing, shows Himself to agree with Christ’s declaration of forgiveness; and thirdly, this man’s sins are really forgiven by God.
So how does it play out?
Jesus turns to the scribes and proceeds with His challenge, 2.8-10.
Mark has a flare for the dramatic, 2.10, then 11. In the middle of Christ’s words, Mark pauses and refocuses Jesus on the paralytic before proceeding with Christ’s command. Mark desires for us the experience of the paralytic. Jesus has already declared this man’s sins to be forgiven. The scribes have challenged His authority to do so. And now Jesus is putting the authority of His Word to the test — if by the command of Christ, this man arises, picks up his bed and walks, he may be assured that by the declaration of Christ, his sins are forgiven.
This man was a paralytic. He had no feeling in his body, no movement. He was incapable of the very things that we so often take for granted, sensation, walking, jogging, sex, the coolness of rain, the warmth of the sun. But now Jesus turns to him to speak a word, and if it possess divine authority, that of the Son of Man, then the man will be wonderfully restored to these mercies of life. And infinitely more than that, if he begins to have tingling in his toes, sensation in his fingers, twitching of the nerves, he can full assurance that the paralysis of his soul has been alleviated also. This sits on the cusp of Christ’s turn to the paralytic, verses 11-12, “‘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 all amazed and glorified God, saying ‘We never saw anything like this!’” And we discover, this man’s sins were forgiven indeed.
4. This is a free and a costly word, “Your sins are forgiven.” It is free to us, free to sinners. No meriting. No earning. No charge. Jesus paid it all, and so while it is free to us, it was costly to Christ.
The One who has authority on earth to forgive sins is the Son of Man, 2.10. This title is Jesus’ favorite self-designation. It comes, mainly, from a passage in Daniel 7.13-14. There, one like a son of man comes to the Ancient of Days with the clouds of heaven, and the Ancient of Days gives the Son of Man everlasting dominion, glory and an indestructible kingdom in which all peoples, nations and languages will serve Him.
The Son of Man has divine authority to establish the kingdom of God. But why does Jesus make use of this title here? It is to show what will mark this everlasting kingdom: the absence of sin. It is an everlasting kingdom because where sin is not, the penalty of death is removed, and when Christ raises His people from the dead, it shall be to everlasting life and glory and joy. But one question remains: how does the Son of Man take away sin?
14 times Mark uses this title and always on the lips of Jesus. 9 times does Jesus use the title in the context of His suffering and death:
Mark 8.31, “He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again.”
Mark 9.31, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when He is killed, after three days He will rise.”
Mark 10.33-34, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn Him to death and deliver Him over to the Gentiles. And they will mock Him and spit on Him, and flog Him and kill Him. And after three days He will rise.”
Mark 10.45, “even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.”
It is a costly word, “Your sins are forgiven.” Jesus declares this in full view of the cross. It is not without sacrifice that Jesus declares this. It is in full view of His own, the one, true, final sacrifice of the Lamb of God. Our sins are forgiven because the Son of Man was condemned in our place.
Two thoughts in closing:
1. To our unbelieving friends: is the response of the crowd adequate? They glorified God. They were all amazed. They spoke wonderfully of Christ’s work. But did they repent of their sins and come to Christ in faith? That is the only adequate response to Jesus.
2. To my brothers and sisters: how is your assurance that your sins are forgiven? I would have us all to see that Christ provided evidence for this man. He knew that his sins were forgiven because he got up, picked up his bed and walked home. Every movement of his body was evidence from Christ that his sins were forgiven. Do you not have evidence that your soul is no longer in paralysis? Are you not alive to God? Have you not been born of God? If so, the apostle John tells us, “Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as (Christ) is righteous” (1 Jn 3.7). You have not been forgiven of your sins or declared to be righteous by Christ apart from a new birth that has enabled you to practice righteousness. Insofar as you are practicing righteousness, Christ has not left you without evidence that your sins are forgiven.