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. 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. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” 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?” 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’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic—“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!”
(Mark 2:1-12 ESV)
Which is easier, to say, “Your sins are forgiven,” or to say, “Rise, take up your bed and walk.”?
The point that Jesus is trying to make is that both are impossible. I have a dear friend who is paralyzed from the shoulders down. And, by the way, who sinned, this man or his parents, that this should befall him? Was his paralysis, which came as the result of falling off a cliff, divine punishment? The passage from Mark 2 doesn’t ask this particular question, but it is a question that was asked of Jesus about a man born blind, and since the question of sins is on the table (or bed, in this case), we may as well go all the way and ask the other question as well.
The remarkable thing about this moment is that the in Jesus’ day the origin of all disease and infirmity was assumed to be sin. If we are sick, we are at fault. And so it is absolutely reasonable that Jesus addresses the question of the man’s sin first. By erasing the stigma of the man’s sin, and essentially declaring the man ceremonially clean, Jesus has welcomed this paralyzed man back into the mainstream of society. If his sins are forgiven, no matter that he lies paralyzed on a bed, he is to be treated as any able bodied person from here on.
The question the people asked themselves is a valid one. Only God can forgive sins. But Jesus is saying something very important about faith when he tells the man his sins are forgiven. Was it Jesus’ faith and trust in his Father that gave him the authority to forgive sins? Was it the faith and trust of the people who lowered the paralyzed man into the room that made it possible for the man’s sins to be forgiven? Was it the faith of the man himself? That isn’t even mentioned, though we have to assume that he wasn’t there entirely against his will.
When someone acts against me, I can forgive his offense and all is cleared up. But sin is offense against God. And while I may commit an offense that touches you, the heart attitude that caused me to sin is between God and me. We see this most vividly displayed in Psalm 51. So, though my crime may be against man, my sin is against God.
Was the man healed because his sins were forgiven? The man was healed because of Jesus’ love for the man, his love for the people who lowered him into the room and his love for the people who stood there questioning his ability to forgive sins. The healing was a demonstration of that love. So, of course, was Jesus’ offer of forgiveness.
But Jesus had the ability to forgive the man’s sins. Jesus also had the authority to forgive sins. Having the authority moves the whole thing from merely the fact of forgiveness to the act of forgiveness. I may say to you, “look friend, your sins are forgiven.” I’m announcing a fact. But I’m not the author of your forgiveness. That’s why only God can forgive sins, because he is the one whom you and I have sinned against and he is the only one who can forgive sin. That is why David, in Psalm 51 said, “Against thee, thee only have I sinned and done that which is evil in thy sight.” You and I can announce forgiveness, but we cannot authorize it.
The healing of the paralyzed man is more than announcement. It is a testimony to authorization. And God wants you to know your sins are forgiven. I am announcing this to you. I don’t have the authorization to tell my son’s friend to rise and walk. I’m not authorized to do any more than tell you your sins are forgiven. The rest is up to you. Whether you pick up the offer is between you and God.