Saturday, October 27, 2007

Jesus and the Paralytic

Chapter one of Mark ends with Christ engaged on a preaching tour of Galilee (v. 39). While "preaching in their synagogues throughout Galilee" Jesus also healed those who came to Him; such as the leper that is mentioned in vv. 40-45. The focus of Christ's ministry has been established. He came to preach the gospel of belief and repentance (vv. 15, 38), but He was not dispassionate to the physical sufferings of the people for whom He would eventually die. His healing, compassionate touch of the leper powerfully demonstrated that fact.

As Mark continues his narrative in chapter two we find Christ has returned from His Galilean preaching tour. He is back in Capernaum, the town which had become His home. Matthew 4:13 states that Jesus moved to Capernaum near His ministry's beginning: "And leaving Nazareth, he came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is upon the sea coast". According to Luke 4:28-31 Christ did not just leave Nazareth, the Nazarenes threw Him out! As Jesus said, "No prophet is accepted in his own country" (Luke 4:24). Following that incident Jesus relocated in Capernaum, and He had most likely taken up residence in Simon Peter's house. That house is where the story of Mark 2:1-12 takes place.

And again He entered into Capernaum after [some] days; and it was noised that He was in the house. And straightway many were gathered together, insomuch that there was no room to receive [them], no, not so much as about the door; and He preached the word unto them. And they come unto Him, bringing one sick of the palsy, which was borne of four. And when they could not come nigh unto Him for the press, they uncovered the roof where He was: and when they had broken [it] up, they let down the bed wherein the sick of the palsy lay. When Jesus saw their faith, He said unto the sick of the palsy, "Son, thy sins be forgiven thee." But there were certain of the scribes sitting there, and reasoning in their hearts, "Why doth this [man] thus speak blasphemies! who can forgive sins but God only!" And immediately when Jesus perceived in His spirit that they so reasoned within themselves, He said unto them, "Why reason ye these things in your hearts? Whether is it easier to say to the sick of the palsy, '[Thy] sins be forgiven thee'; or to say, 'Arise, and take up thy bed, and walk!' But that ye may know that the Son of Man hath power on earth to forgive sins", (He saith to the sick of the palsy,) "I say unto thee, Arise, and take up thy bed, and go thy way into thine house." And immediately he arose, took up the bed, and went forth before them all; insomuch that they were all amazed, and glorified God, laying, We never saw it on this fashion.

Those twelve verses crackle with energy.

Jesus sat in a nondescript Galilean house, which was packed tight with uninvited but undaunted guests. Mark has sketched a dramatic image of this crowd flocking to the humble home, overflowing its modest capacity, blocking the doorway, and clustering around outside, straining to hear Christ's voice or, more likely, see what He is doing. Foremost among the crowd were "certain of the scribes", people whom Luke described as "Pharisees and doctors of the law" (Luke 5:17). No doubt, these men were seated near to the amazing, young Teacher.

These were no rapt students of the Lord, however; this was an investigation committee. Yes, they hung on and scrutinized every word that Jesus uttered, but only because they sought to find fault with what He said and did.

What was Jesus saying?

He was communicating the word to them. The word translated preached in the original Greek is "laleō", and it means "to use words in order to declare one's mind and disclose one's thoughts". It is dialogue. Christ was not preaching in the sense of standing before an audience and publicly declaring the word. This was a conversation, most likely with the scribes who were seated before Him. The crowd was listening to the discussion.

The word "laleō" does not indicate a change in Christ's subject matter; just a difference in delivery. One does not speak in private the way one does in public. Christ was communicating the gospel message; the nearness of the kingdom and the necessity for faith and repentance. This is what He began to do back in v. 15. This is what He continued to do throughout His ministry. This is what He has commissioned His church to continue doing until His glorious Return!

This evangelistic exchange was interrupted, however, in very dramatic fashion.

Jesus and the Persistent

Mark writes of four men who were carrying a paralytic man, most likely one at each corner of a quilt or mattress supported by a thin wooden frame. The paralytic man wanted to see Jesus, this amazing Man who taught with authority and healed the sick and the lame. You should not assume that the paralytic was an unwilling passenger, borne by these four men against his will. It seems clear that this man wanted to be brought to Jesus, and these four friends were his only hope of seeing the Lord. It is also obvious that these men were not unmotivated hired hands. The four stretcher bearers were obviously friends, perhaps even relatives of the paralytic man. Clearly, they cared for the man, and they were determined to place their friend before Jesus.

The problem was the crowd. The crush of people was so thick that normal entry into the house was impossible. Nevertheless, these men were not to be dissuaded.

The incident is told from the perspective of an eye witness: "they come to Him" (v. 3), but "cannot come near" (v. 4). Of course, Mark was no eye witness to this incident, but Peter, Mark's primary resource, was present. After all, this happened in his house. He well remembered all the steps of the unceremonious treatment of his property, and no doubt he retold the story years later with a smile creased face.

It is obvious that the four friends were certain that Jesus could heal their paralytic friend. Had they been less certain of a cure, and less eager, they would have been defeated by the impassable crowd. They could have said, "We tried, but it didn't work." Here is what the 19th century Scottish Baptist pastor Alexander MacLaren wrote about the persistence of these men:

But "we cannot" is the coward's word. "We must" is the earnest man's. If we have any real consciousness of our need to get to Christ, and any real wish to do so, it is not a crowd round the door that will keep us back. Difficulties test, and therefore increase, faith. They develop a sanctified ingenuity in getting over them, and bring a rich harvest of satisfaction when at last conquered…it was interfering with property as well as with propriety. But here was a sick man, and there was his Healer; and it was their business to get the two together somehow. It was worth risking a good deal to accomplish.

About these four men we know that:

  • They loved their paralytic friend. They worked hard and sacrificed much to get their friend before Jesus.
  • They were persistent. They did whatever it took in order to bring their friend to Jesus.
  • They were creative. They were not the only ones who desired an audience with Jesus, but they were the first ones to rip up the roof.
  • They believed. We also know that they had saving faith because of Jesus' response to their faith – "When Jesus saw their faith, he said unto the sick of the palsy, 'Son, they sins be forgiven thee'" (v. 5)

Neither the four men nor the paralytic spoke a word throughout the whole incident. How do we know they believed? Their actions and his condition scream "We believe!" It is inconceivable to think that these five men did not believe that Jesus could and would heal the paralytic. It was their faith and hope in Christ that caused the four to carry their friend to the house, up the stairs, and then down the hole in the roof of their own making. It was the faith of the paralytic man that allowed his friends to bear him thus, and to precariously lower him from the rooftop before Jesus. Faith is written all over their actions. "Faith, if worth anything, comes to the surface in act[ion]."

Jesus and the Paralytic

Mark described the man borne of four as "sick of the palsy". The Greek word is "paralytikos", and it literally means a paralytic. The man had either lost his motor functions, or his paralysis was the result of a birth defect such as muscular dystrophy or polio. Clearly he was unable to help himself.

There is an unfair stigma attached to paralytics in modern times; even more so in antiquity. Biblical examples abound of people assuming some sin as the basis for physical illness or deformity. John 9 and the entire book of Job are prime examples. In one sense sickness is linked to sin, because if there were no sin, there would be no sickness. But this does not prove that all sicknesses are directly related to specific sin(s). However, we do this know with certainty; all sickness is a graphic demonstration of the destructive power that's at work in the world because of sin.

There should be no doubt that the paralytic came to Jesus primarily because of his sin, not his sickness. That is why Jesus said to him, "...Son, thy sins be forgiven thee" (v. 5). The most despairing aspect of this man's life was not his paralysis but his sinful lost condition. This man's greatest need, and the greatest need of all men, was (is) forgiveness of sins – salvation. Here again is MacLaren:

…before He touched the bodily ailment… [He] met the sufferer's deepest and most deeply felt disease. He goes to the bottom of the malady with His cure. These great words are not only closely adapted to the one case before Him, but contain a general truth, worthy to be pondered by all…It is of little use to cure symptoms unless you cure diseases. The tap-root of all misery is sin; and, until it is grubbed up, hacking at the branches is sad waste of time. Cure sin, and you make the heart a temple and the world a paradise. We Christians should hail all efforts of every sort for making men nobler, happier, better physically, morally, intellectually; but let us not forget that there is but one effectual cure for the world's misery, and that it is wrought by Him who has borne the world's sins.
Forgiveness is a divine miracle that ranks above all other miracles. As a result of his faith this man's sins were dismissed.

"Forgiven" is the most blessed word for the sin burdened soul. The past is pardoned! The record is removed! The conscience is cleared! When the Lord sends our sins away, He sends them as far as the East is from the West, buries them in the depths of the deepest sea, and remembers them no more

  • Psalm 103:2-3, 12 – "Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits: Who forgiveth all thine iniquities; who healeth all thy diseases; As far as the east is from the west, [so] far hath he removed our transgressions from us.
  • Micah 7:19 – "…He will have compassion upon us; he will subdue our iniquities; and thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea."
  • Jeremiah 31:34b – "…for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more."
  • 1 Timothy 1:15 – "This [is] a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief."

Forgiveness was the greatest work accomplished that day, and it was solely accomplished by the power, grace, mercy, and love of Jesus. It was also the greatest work because it cost Jesus His life.With the words, "Son, thy sins be forgiven thee" the Lord gave the greatest gift that dealt with the greatest need.

Jesus and the Pharisees

Those were also the words that kindled the Pharisees' fury. Since they lacked the courage of their convictions, the snarling scribes reasoned within themselves: "Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?" These men were already suffering from professional jealousy. After all, no houses were crowded to overflowing just to listen to them teach. Whole sections of the country were not descending upon them as they were Jesus. Now they hear this young teacher blaspheme God, because it is blasphemous to claim what only God can do, and only God is able to forgive sins. The prophet Isaiah wrote in 43:25, "I, [even] I, [am] he that blotteth out thy transgressions for mine own sake, and will not remember thy sins."

However, they were wrong about Christ, because He is God. In fact, the divine ability Jesus demonstrated by reading their thoughts – "…He perceived in His spirit that they so reasoned within themselves…" – was evidence of His omniscience: He knew what was in the heart of the sick man and He knew what was in the minds of the scribes and Pharisees because He is God.

Christ challenges the Pharisees with a question, "Which is easier to say, 'Your sins are forgiven' or… 'Rise, take up your bed and walk'?" The fact is that both are easy to say, and to affect either is equally beyond man's power. However, only one statement is verifiable. It is all very well to pretend to do what cannot be tested. Jesus, however, came out into the daylight and performed a miracle which could be seen and tested. If all that Jesus had said was, "Your sins be forgiven," those watching would have never known that He actually did that. Therefore, by saying, "Arise…take up thy bed, and go thy way into thine house", and the paralytic actually standing up and doing as he was commanded (Christ's commandments are His enablements) they would conclude that Jesus had forgiven his sins because the two are inseparably linked. Jesus was demonstrating His power to heal as evidence of His power to forgive sin. Jesus accomplished the visible miracle, thus proving He had the power to do the invisible one.

For one last time, here is MacLaren:

Jesus makes us able to do what He bids us do. The condition of healing is faith, and the test of faith is obedience. We do not get strength till we put ourselves into the attitude of obedience. The cure was immediate; and the cured man, who was 'borne of four' into the healing presence, walked away, with his bed under his arm, 'before them all.' They were ready enough to make way for him then.

Jesus' forgiveness of sin is the greatest message we have to give. I hope you have experienced that forgiveness. When the crowd departed, there were those who were forgiven and those who were furious. Christ offers forgiveness, blots out all the past, and washes away all the sins of the past, present, and future. The greatest news you'll ever hear is that forgiveness is available to you.

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