Jesus Heals a Paralyzed Man
Several years ago Cynthia Heimal wrote an article in The Village Voice about discontent. Over the years Cynthia had known several aspiring actors and actresses in New York City. They worked as waitresses, ticket takers at theatres, etc., making ends meat, hoping one day to be famous. They were stressed, driven, and easily upset. They would tell Cynthia, “If only I could make it in the business, if only I had this or that, I’d be happy.” Heimal writes that when they actually did get what they wanted, when they attained fame and success, they became insufferable. They were unhappier than they were prior. She writes,
“I pity [celebrities]. No, I do. [Celebrities] were once perfectly pleasant human beings…but now…their wrath is awful….More than any of us, they wanted fame. They worked, they pushed….The morning after…each of them became famous, they wanted to take an overdose…because that giant thing they were striving for, that fame thing that was going to make everything okay, that was going to make their lives bearable, that was going to provide them with personal fulfillment and…happiness, had happened. And nothing changed. They were still them. The disillusionment turned them howling and insufferable. I think when God wants to play a really rotten practical joke on you, he grants your deepest wish.”
Every one of us knows that longing – the longing for something that will make life good. If you’re single, that longing might be for a spouse. “If only I could get married, I’d be happy.” Maybe you’ve been trying to get pregnant, and you see all of the babies that fill the nursery here at CCC, and you think, “if only I could have a baby, I’d be happy.” Maybe you’re a teen, and you think that whenever you can get out of your parents house, everything will be better. You could be dealing with illness, or chronic pain and not a day goes by that if you were only pain free, life would be good. Maybe it’s money, fame, education, retirement, a certain job. If only I had that, then life would be good. I’d be happy. Everything would be ok.”
As we continue our study in the Gospel of Mark this morning, this is the issue at hand. What do we want, and what do we need? Chapter 2 begins, 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. Remember chapter 1 ended with Jesus’ fame beginning to spread. And now, after preaching in and around Galilee for a time, he comes to where he’s staying in Capernaum. Notice verse one says he was at home. The setting for this pericope is Jesus’ home. Whether he actually owned the house, we do not know, but he was there to the extent that it was home.
He gets there and there’s a crowd waiting for him. The house is full, and people are outside the door. An important literary note for us as we move through Mark, crowds are a bad thing. The crowds gather to see miracles, and be fed. The crowd yells crucify him on Maundy Thursday. In contrast it is a small group of disciples that are at the transfiguration, or that get explanation of the parables. Mark is warning us, don’t always be impressed with a crowd.
And we see in verse 2 that Jesus is doing what he’s consistently been doing throughout chapter 1, he’s preaching the Word. In chapter 1.14, Jesus is proclaiming the gospel of God. In verse 21 he entered the synagogue and was teaching. In verse 39 he went throughout all Galilee, preaching. Now Jesus gets home to Capernaum, to a large crowd, and we ought not be surprised that he starts preaching the word to them. Preaching and teaching are the God-ordained means of grace for salvation and sanctification. Be encouraged, it’s a good thing that we gather to do this. When the Son of God – the 2nd person of the Holy Trinity – took on flesh, and lived among us, he spent a majority of his time preaching and teaching.
Verse 3 goes on, 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. Four guys are carrying a paralyzed man on a bed, and they’re trying to get to Jesus. Surely they’ve heard about Simon’s mother-in-law, the leper, and the other healings, and they want their friend healed as well.
We bought our house in 2013. When we first moved in there was some work that needed to be done including cleaning out the gutters on the garage. So Andrew and I got my dad’s ladder, climbed up on the roof, and started working. After a bit I heard a familiar voice, “hi dad!” Alex Jr., who was maybe 2 at the time, was at the top of the ladder about to climb onto the roof. He was not supposed to be on the roof, and neither were these men, but they needed to get to Jesus.
Before you let the familiarity of this narrative distract you, consider the scene: four grown men carrying a fifth grown man on a 1st century stretcher. The crowd is so large that they can’t get in the house. They carry the man up the stairs on the side of this one story Palestinian home to the roof. The roof would’ve had tree trunks as the structure and thick layers of mud and tile. These men literally dig a hole in the roof big enough to lower a grown man down. This would’ve been hard work. It would have taken a while and it would have made a lot of noise. That’s not to mention the mess and the destruction of personal property.
When they get him down, look at what Jesus says. Verse 5, and when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Um…that’s great and all Jesus, but um, we’re not here for that. If we wanted forgiveness for sin, we would’ve taken a sacrifice to the priest at the temple. We’re here because we need you to heal his paralysis. Just like those actors in NYC, this man thinks that if only he could walk, everything would be ok. And can you blame him? But Jesus knows better. Jesus knows that his true need, his deepest need, isn’t the healing of his body, but the forgiveness of his sins. If this man were merely healed of his paralysis, he would certainly be high on life. And it might last a week, a month, even a year, but eventually, he’d get used to it. Yet he’d still be dead in his sins. His greatest need is he needs his sin forgiven. He needs Jesus.
Obviously being healed from paralysis is a good thing, but good things are no substitute for God; they make lousy saviors. And that’s why those actors were more miserable when they got what they wanted. They had all the money, all the fame, all the sex, everything, and yet they were still them. Marriage, children, education, money, sex, retirement, work, these are all good things, but they are terrible saviors. They can’t satisfy you, and they can’t forgive your sin. Jesus looks past the surface level need, and he digs deeper.
Here’s the problem though, there’s some Jewish religious experts there at Jesus’ house and they’re offended. 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?” They are 100% correct. The OT teaches that YHWH is God and there is only one God. He alone can forgive sins. Leviticus teaches that to blaspheme YHWH is a capitol offense in the nation of Israel. Jesus is a blasphemer…unless he’s YHWH.
Verse 8, 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’? Mark tells us that the scribes were thinking this stuff about Jesus, but they didn’t vocalize it. Jesus reads their thoughts and calls them out. Which is easier? On the surface it’s certainly easier to say, “your sins are forgiven.” Who can know whether it’s true or not? It is much more empirically difficult to actually tell a paralyzed man to get up and walk. That is verifiable. If he doesn’t get up, Jesus looks like an idiot.
And so when Jesus actually does tell the paralyzed man to get up, and he actually does, the logical conclusion is that Jesus is correct about his ability to forgive. But the truth is that it’s actually much easier to tell a paralyzed man to get up and walk. A miracle worker could do such a thing. Modern medicine has given the disabled and handicapped such miraculous ability. But only God can forgive sins. And that’s what Jesus is doing. He is actually forgiving the sins of this man because he is God.
Jesus peels the curtain back for us in verse 10, but that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins…” Turn to Daniel 7. The title Son of Man is Jesus’ favorite reference for himself. When he calls himself the Son of Man, their minds would’ve gone to Daniel 7.13-14:
“I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.
In STJ period there were many titles for the Messiah, but Son of Man wasn’t one of them. Jesus is cluing them in that he’s bringing the kingdom. But the king is going to bring the kingdom through the cross. Jesus can only forgive the paralyzed man’s sin because in 13 chapters he’s going to die on the cross for his sins. And then in chapter 16 he will resurrect on the 3rd day, vindicating his claim of deity and his sacrifice in the place of sinners.
You’ll notice that the paralyzed man doesn’t say anything in this story. He literally doesn’t do anything at all until Jesus tells him to get up, and then he does. It’s almost as if the story is told from his perspective. What I think the Holy Spirit is doing here is he’s showing you that you’re the paralyzed man. We’ve all got these paralyses. And we think that if we could just walk, everything would be good. If I could just have X amount in the bank when I retire, if I could just have this job, if only I were married, pregnant, healed, etc. then I’d be happy. Then I’d be complete. Jesus is looking at you this morning saying, that’s not your greatest need. You need the forgiveness of your sins. You need Jesus Christ. God’s not playing a really sick practical joke on you. He’s offering you forgiveness and eternal life, but only through Jesus. Will you rise?