11. The Forgiver


Mk 2:5-7 When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Now some teachers of the law were sitting there thinking to themselves, “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?”

We have seen previously, Jesus saying things which the Jews listening to him realised were blasphemy – unless of course he was God! This is another of those times but with a different focus. To us, some of these things might appear minor or trivial, but that is simply because we do not understand the Jewish culture that prevailed at that time. Unlike today, when a minority in the West worship God, in Israel there was at least a token acceptance that He was their head. In some ways they were very God-focussed or God-aware, and this meant, although in their daily lives the outward working of their relationship with God seemed rather frail, they still nevertheless had much understanding of who He was and what He could do and what they couldn’t do!

Now we come to this quite well known incident, where Jesus is teaching in a home in Capernaum, when suddenly there is a disturbance from above and a hole appears in the roof and four men lower down their paralytic friend before Jesus. Clearly the crowd had been so great that they could not get into the house but so desperate were they to reach Jesus that they decided to come in through the roof. Jesus, it seems, is almost thrilled with their faith. They are so sure that Jesus can heal their friend that they will let nothing get in their way to reach him. Now Matthew adds that when Jesus saw ‘his’ faith, he forgave him, and so it seems that it is a collective thing, all five men have faith in Jesus.

One of the things we see about Jesus when we read the Gospels is that he read people’s minds, he knew what they were thinking, he knew why they acted like they did. In this case it seems apparent that the man at least believes that his being paralysed is linked with a past sin. Now we don’t know why he was paralysed or what he had done. It is almost as if the writers say, don’t worry about that, that was not the issue. We see the same thing in John 9 when they encounter the man blind from birth and the disciples debate over whether this was caused by his sin or the sin of his parents. Jesus refuses to get drawn in to that and simply focuses on healing him. We, so often, want to apportion blame, or show others up as failures. Jesus is more concerned to restore us rather than reveal our failure to the world. He knows what it is and he knows when we are repentant. These men would not have brought their friend to Jesus if he hadn’t been repentant about his sin. He wouldn’t have let them take him if he was still unrepentant for they all seem to have this clear understanding that sin of often linked to illness or infirmity.

Now I say all this because of the way Jesus deals with this man. He doesn’t immediately reach out and heal him, for he sees that there is still an inner concern in this man. He feels guilty. He’s sorry for what he’s done in the past, but he still has this inner nagging about his guilt. There can be no other reason why Jesus approaches this case as he does. He simply proclaims forgiveness over this man. Do a study of the Bible and you will see that God only forgives where there has been repentance. Our problem sometimes, is that we may have repented but we need to hear God’s voice affirming our forgiveness.

John the Gospel and letter writer was to eventually write, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 Jn 1:9). He learnt that clear principle: when we repent and confess our sins God WILL forgive us. So Jesus forgives the man. At that point it seems, as they say, the fat is in the fire! There are some seriously religious characters in the crowd listening to Jesus and they know their Bibles (Old Testament scrolls). They know that only God can forgive sins. Only God has the right to say that a man’s sins are cancelled and that man’s issues before God are resolved.

We may not think sin is a big issue, but before God it is! The whole sacrificial system within the Law of Moses was about dealing with sin. Try reading the book of Leviticus and you’ll see that. From our point of view today, sin was and is so important that God had to send His only Son to deal with it – but that’s later in the story! Oh no, sin was important and only God could say that it was dealt with and, up until then, it appeared that only offering a sacrifice in the Temple could properly deal with it. Then suddenly Jesus appears and declares over this man, you are forgiven.

The religious experts are not happy! They are quite specific in their thinking: He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone? There it is again. They have no doubt that Jesus is claiming to be God, taking the role of God. We cannot emphasise this enough. It may not be a big thing to us, but they were quite clear – this was blasphemy, this was Jesus claiming to be God.

But is doesn’t end there. Jesus wanted them – and us – to see that he DID have the right to forgive. See what follows. Listen to Jesus: “Why are you thinking these things? Which is easier: to say to the paralytic, `Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, `Get up, take your mat 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 tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all.” (Mk 2:9-12) Words are easy. We may disagree with them, but they are easy to say. OK, says Jesus, by implication behind what we see him actually saying, you see a link with sin and sickness. So, if the sin is dealt with, the sickness can be removed. Right? That would have been the logic behind all this. Sometimes we just see the power behind this healing and it is wonderful in itself, but it is the logic behind it which undermines these religious men.

If sin causes sickness, then while sin remains then obviously the sickness or infirmity will remain. But if the sin is repented of, and forgiveness is granted then we may assume that healing can come. So he heals him to make the point that forgiveness HAS been granted – he IS the Son of God with authority from heaven to forgive sins. This is why this healing is so significant. It is Jesus claiming Sonship by declaring forgiveness and then proving it by bringing the healing. Again, this is one of those occasions when, as we start to realise the dynamics of the situation, we realise that this is yet just one more of those instances where Jesus is claiming and demonstrating his divinity. We have no alternative – this IS the Son of God.

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