Authority to forgive (Mark 2:1-12)

Jesus is drawing a lot of attention.  We saw in Mark 1 that he had urged the healed leper not to go out and about telling people about him but he does, as presumably do others that are healed.  This starts to cause challenges for Jesus, restricting his movement. An example is seen here when Jesus is teaching in a house and the people are flocking to hear him, packed in like Sardines.

This also causes a challenge for those who want to get near to Jesus who are in great need. One bunch of friends turn up to the party too late. They have brought one of their friends with them who is paralysed.  They find that the house is rammed. However, they are not going to give up just yet.  They get up onto the roof. It would have been a flat roof, a place where people would go to sit out.  Then they start tearing up the roof.  Imagine being the homeowner watching people do terrible damage to your house. Then they lower their friend in to where Jesus is. That’s one way to get everyone’s attention.

Jesus sees “their faith” -note the plural there. This might be worth pausing over and discussing.  I think the point here is that he sees how important this encounter is to them, the lengths that they will go to in order to get their friend what he needs. And this means that Jesus also sees what the man truly needs.  Jesus is able to read his thoughts and to see his faith, to know what he truly longs for.

So Jesus speaks.  He doesn’t immediately offer the man physical healing. Rather, he says something surprising. He says:

               “Your sins are forgiven.”

There are some of the scribes of the pharisees present and they are shocked by this. They consider it blasphemy. Jesus is claiming authority that no man can claim. King David had recognised in Psalm 51 that ultimately our sin is against God alone and so only he can offer forgiveness.  Jesus is stepping into God’s place.  This is important because it tells us something about Jesus’ identity.

Just as he can see the faith of the friends and knows the heart need of the paralytic, so, Jesus is able to know the thoughts of the scribes.  He challenges them with a rhetorical question about which is the easier thing to do, to heal or to forgive. I suspect that we would be tempted to say that It is easier to just say “I forgive” than to do a miracle but they would have understood that pronouncing forgiveness was no light matter. If Jesus was just seeking power and fame then he could have simply done another miracle. Offering forgiveness was costly.

Now, however, he acts to demonstrate his authority and power. He instructs the man to get up and to walk.  The man does so and this causes the people, perhaps quickly forgetting the awkward moment of controversy, to glorify God.  Jesus is demonstrating here that he has real power and that his words are not blasphemous because they have not resulted in judgement on him and a removal of his power.

Some people have suggested that there was a direct link between the man’s paralysis and his sin in this case. It’s possible but none of the Gospel writers suggest this so we would do well not to speculate.  This is important because people can have confused thoughts and feelings about the relationship between sin and sickness. These days, it is most particularly true still of mental illness.

We want to be clear therefore, that sickness and suffering are not automatically a direct result of sin.  It is true that sometimes my sinful decisions can cause direct suffering. For example, if I’m injured as a result of drink driving, you can see the obvious connection. However, we are not meant to try and delve, detective like into a person’s past and the deep recesses of their conscience to find the hidden, long forgotten sin which is holding a curse of suffering over them.

Rather, we see that suffering and sickness are simply part and parcel of what it means to live in a fallen world. In that sense, yes it is true that sin is the cause of suffering but not in the sense that a person’s own specific sin causes specific suffering but rather in the sense that we see how Adam’s sin (and our ongoing participation in sin as a human race) means that this world is under curse, longing and groaning for its redemption when Jesus returns. Until Christ comes back we must expect to live with sickness, suffering and death.[1]

The presence of sickness and suffering though do remind us that we live in a fallen world and highlight the horrific cost of sin. In that sense, when we are ill, it should be a reminder to us of our need of Christ’s forgiveness and so believers should take time to thank God that we are no longer under the penalty of sin. 

In this encounter though, Mark’s primary purpose in retelling the story is to highlight our greatest need. Our greatest need is not for healing and health, it’s not to see our prayers about work and relationships answered. This doesn’t mean that those things don’t matter. It simply means that there is something far more important still.

Your greatest need and mine is to know that we have been forgiven at the Cross. Jesus has authority to forgive sin because he is fully God as well as fully man and because he is the saviour who came to take our place and bear the punishment we deserve.

[1] Regular readers will recall that I was insistent that the COVID pandemic should not be seen as a specific judgement on Britain for whatever national failing people were particularly concerned about at the time. Rather, it was part of living in a fallen world and certainly was a reminder of the cost and pain that sin brings which therefore should still provoke repentance.

You may also like to take a look at part 2 of First Look “Who is this man” which looks at the same event as retold by Luke.

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