28 March 2021
Series: Hope Emerges
Book: Mark

Is Forgiveness a Want or a Need?

Bible Passage: Mark 2:1-12

Is Forgiveness a Want or a Need?

What is your greatest need from God? Is it forgiveness or something else? Bible study of Mark 2:1-12.

Ever notice how we all seem to confuse wants and needs.  With all the money our future grandchildren are giving us, many of us are going to be awfully tempted to spend it on wants rather than wisely saving it for needs, mainly the inheritance they will need from us to pay off this insane national debt we are accumulating! But apart from that, we have an uncanny ability to make wants out to be needs so that we justify spending money on things ahead of our actual needs.  There is nothing wrong with attaining wants, it’s just foolish when we do it at the expense of our needs. Now, as we go through the Gospel of Mark we arrive at a story where Jesus presents his deity by addressing two needs.  Although we don’t need to be healed of our physical infirmities to experience eternal life, I don’t think anybody would argue that a person who is paralyzed could truly put to use being healed!  So, this was a need Jesus chose to address but he did it, in part, to address our greatest need!

1 And when he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. 2 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. 3 And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. 4 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. 5And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” 6 Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, 7 “Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” 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? 9 Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’? 10 But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”–he said to the paralytic– 11 “I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.” 12 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!”

There are 3 parts to Mark 2:1-12 that demonstrate the ultimate need Jesus came to fulfill.

The Context, Jesus preaching the Word at His House! (2:1-2)

1And when he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home.

“Jesus chose this town in Galilee (cf. Matt. 4:13) as His headquarters. It was located on a major caravan route from Damascus to Egypt.” 1

‘He was at home’ Whether this was Peter’s or Mary’s house, or a rent house is uncertain.” 2

Remember last week Jesus left Capernaum to go preach in other towns.  He had healed Peter’s mother-in-law, presumably only to the knowledge of Peter and the other disciples who entered Peter’s house with him; but, because of what Jesus had done in the synagogue in casting out a demon, crowds gather around the house wanting to be healed of disease and have demons cast out. Jesus did this for a while but in the morning, rose up early before anyone else, and snuck off into the wilderness outside of town.

From there Jesus took his disciples and went to other towns and cities to preach but He ran into the same situation when He healed a leper.  The leper went and told everyone, despite the fact Jesus told him not to, and the responding crowds forced Jesus to have to do his ministry outside of the towns because of the overwhelming crowds.   So now, after a short trip around the region to preach the Gospel, has come back to Capernaum with a celebrity status that he had no desire to have.  Watch what happens.

2And many were gathered together, so that there was no more room, not even at the door. And he was preaching the word to them.

So, the crowds are pressed in all around and inside his house and Jesus is preaching “the word to them”.

“The “word” refers to Jesus’ recurring message stated in 1:14–15.”

In chapter one we understand Jesus was preaching to the people about the Kingdom of God, that is the Good News of all that the Kingdom is and thus all that He is as the ruler of the Kingdom.  His demand/challenge was to repent, believe and follow Him. Key point is that people are crowding into his house because they have heard he heals people of disease and even demon possession, just as we saw in chapter 1, but Jesus continues to make his focus preaching and not healing.  The sad truth is that we later learn in the Gospels that the people in Capernaum never actually listened to what Jesus was saying.

No city in Palestine appears to have enjoyed so much of our Lord’s presence during his earthly ministry as did this city. It was the place where he lived after he left Nazareth (Matthew 4:13). It was the place where many of his miracles were worked, and many of his sermons delivered. But nothing that Jesus said or did seems to have had any effect on the hearts of the inhabitants. They crowded to hear him, as we read in this passage, “there was no room left, not even outside the door” (verse 2). They were amazed. They were astonished. They were filled with wonder at his mighty works. But they were not converted. They lived in the full noon-tide blaze of the Sun of Righteousness and yet their hearts remained hard. And they drew from our Lord the heaviest condemnation that he ever pronounced against any place, except Jerusalem: “You, Capernaum, will you be lifted up to the skies? No, you will go down to the depths. If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you” (Matthew 11:23–24). 3

It is good for us all to take good note of this case of Capernaum. We are all too apt to suppose that it needs nothing but the powerful preaching of the Gospel to convert people’s souls and that if the Gospel is only brought into a place everybody must believe. We forget the amazing power of unbelief and the depth of man’s enmity against God. We forget that the Capernaites heard the most faultless preaching and saw it confirmed by the most surprising miracles, and yet remained dead in their transgressions and sins. We need reminding that the same Gospel which is the savor of life to some is the savor of death to others and that the same fire which softens the wax will also harden the clay. Nothing, in fact, seems to harden people’s hearts so much as to hear the Gospel regularly, and yet deliberately prefer the service of sin and the world. Never were people so favored as the people of Capernaum, and never did people appear to become so hard. Let us beware of walking in their steps. We ought often to use the prayer of the litany: “From hardness of heart, God Lord deliver us.” 4

So, the people of Capernaum were literally ground zero for the ministry of Jesus, but they never listened, they were never open to what Jesus was actually saying, even when he made it as abundantly clear as He did on this occasion.  They wanted to follow Jesus WITHOUT repenting and believing, but truly following Jesus doesn’t truly begin until there is repentance and belief.  What happens next should have caused an instant revival of repentance and belief!

The Catalytic Event, Jesus forgives a paralytic man’s sins. (2:3-5)

A catalyst is something that stirs a reaction.  What stirred the reaction on this day was not the miracle of healing, but rather Jesus forgiving a man’s sins!  Watch!

3 And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. 4 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.

In Palestine during Jesus’ time, houses normally had one story with a flat roof. Roofs were constructed of beams laid across and resting on the walls of the house. Between the beams were interlaced sticks and reeds, and within these was woven a kind of thatch. On top of the thatch lay several inches of mud. This mud was packed down hard against the thatch because builders in the ancient world used rollers to pack and smooth this mud until it was very hard and stable. Stairs outside the building led up to the roof, which was the place where people would go for fresh air. They would often eat their meals on the roof and receive company there. So, the roof served as something like a deck, as we would have on our houses today.  5

These men saw their friends so significant that they rip the roof off the house.  If this was Peter’s house, or somebody else’s that Jesus was staying in they had to be wondering if it was worth letting Jesus live there at this point!  There are so many people trying to get in that they are literally ripping the roof off your house to get to Jesus!

5 And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”

I love the fact that it’s “their” faith.  It’s not just the paralytic man, but his entire group of friends that are risking the consequence of destroying a person’s roof to try and get their friend healed! Jesus responds to the paralytic man by calling him “son.”  This is an intimate term for sure, but more importantly to the context, it’s a word that demonstrates authority over a person.  Jesus was not doing this in some egocentric way but was highlighting His authority to say what he said next!

He addressed him as an adult would a child, as a superior would a subordinate. He called the man “son” and told him his sins were forgiven.” “In His statements which preceded this miracle Jesus made a point often overlooked: He elevated salvation to a higher status than even health (and does mankind in general not recognize that health is more to be desired than wealth?) So, forgiveness is the highest value, according to Jesus! 6

So, Jesus has just looked at the man; his faith, and the faith of his friends, and announced that the man’s sins are forgiven.  That is clearly not why they ripped the roof off the house, but it is what Jesus saw as His greatest need.  So why is this so catalytic?  What is so catalyzing about Jesus asserting authority to forgive sins?  Well, that takes us to the 3rd part of the story.

The Critical Assertion, Jesus heals the man’s paralysis to demonstrate His Deity and His authority to forgive sins. (2:6-12)

6 Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts (note they didn’t say this out loud yet!), 7 “Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?”

The scribes” – “These were experts on the oral and written Law. They were either (1) an official delegation from Jerusalem sent to keep an eye on Jesus or (2) local interpreters of the Jewish traditions for the townspeople. They must have come early to get into the house, or they expected to be allowed to move to the front because of their social status. 7

Two issues were clear here. #1 It was well understood that the only one who can forgive sins is God because sins are only against Him!

They tenaciously held the position that God and God alone has the authority to forgive sins. It seemed to them that Jesus was acting as though He had the authority of God Himself.  Some groups today, such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses, argue that the New Testament does not really teach the deity of Christ. Somehow, they overlook the explicit teachings of the New Testament in the epistles and in narratives such as this one, where we see a clear implication of Jesus’ claim to deity. What the Jehovah’s Witnesses and like-minded groups fail to see; the Jews of Jesus’ day saw. They understood that Jesus was claiming divinity. That is why they were so exercised. 8

You can’t forgive somebody on behalf of somebody else.  That is if you do something against me, Keri can’t jump in and so, “I forgive you so your good!” But even more specific is the fact that there was a HUGE Messianic expectation in the 1st Century.  And although not understanding how the Messiah was going to forgive sins, they did believe the Messiah was going to be The Eternal Son of God and as such exercise the right to forgive sins.  Listen to some of the Messianic prophecies in the Old Testament,

24 And no inhabitant will say, “I am sick”; the people who dwell there will be forgiven their iniquity. (Isaiah 33:24)

17 Behold, it was for my welfare that I had great bitterness; but in love, you have delivered my life from the pit of destruction, for you have cast all my sins behind your back.  (Isaiah 38:17)

25 “I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins. (Isaiah 43:25)

So, in questioning Jesus they are not just suggesting He is not God (because only God can forgive) but they are even more specifically rejecting Jesus as the Messiah.  As many as 50 different people had claimed to be the Messiah.  So, there is no doubt these Scribes had come to investigate Jesus, however, they had also clearly already made up their minds.  Hearing Jesus preach and clearly hearing what He was doing and saying nothing that appeared to be rallying the people to overthrow the Romans, would have only added to their presupposition.  Jesus knew why they were there, and he knew their hearts, therefore He responds with this,

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?

And so, Mark adds, that Jesus knew by his Spirit: which means, that what was concealed in their hearts could not be perceived by man, but that Christ by his Divine Spirit knew it thoroughly. 9

9 Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’? 10 But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”–he said to the paralytic– 11 “I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.”

Before I address the question in verse 9, it’s important for me to explain the title Jesus gave himself.  This is the first time it has appeared in the Gospel of Mark – “the Son of Man.” 

It was used in Dan. 7:13 in a unique context which implied both the humanity and deity of the person addressed by this new eschatological royal title (cf. Mark 8:38; 9:9; 13:26; 14:26). Since this title was not used by rabbinical Judaism and therefore had none of the nationalistic, exclusivistic, militaristic implications, Jesus chose it as the perfect title of both veiling and revealing His dual nature, fully man and fully divine (cf. 1 John 4:1–6). 10

The title Son of Man occurs more than eighty times in the New Testament, and in every case except two, Jesus used the title of Himself.  Who is the Son of Man? The book of Daniel describes the appearance and character of the Son of Man. He is a heavenly being appointed by the Ancient of Days (7:9) to be the Lord of the earth and to receive the kingdom forever (Vv. 13–14). The Son of Man, having descended from heaven, returns there and is enthroned in glory. So, when Jesus called Himself the Son of Man, He was not practicing humility. He was saying: “I have descended from heaven. I am heavenly, not from this earth.” That title was pregnant with theological significance concerning Jesus’ deity and office. That was why Jesus used it here; He wanted to show His divine authority to forgive sin. 11

Now, in this particular instance Jesus is using the title in the context of His power and right to forgive sins, and thus.

Putting verses 9 and 10 together in the context of Jesus healing the man AFTER declaring his sins are forgiven, means that Jesus was highlighting His Deity and as such that He was the promised Messiah who would also be The Son Of Man prophesied by Daniel.  This would force the religious leaders to have to squarely accept or reject Him as the Actual Eternal Son of God.  If Jesus actually healed this man that meant from this point forward, they would be without excuse, as was everybody else in Capernaum!

Jesus claimed to be able to forgive sins. This was an out-right claim to deity, for only God can forgive sins, and this point was not missed by the nation’s leaders who immediately pounced on it as blasphemy. But the order of events is vitally significant, for Jesus had not yet healed the man. Any attempt to heal him from this point on could only be regarded as a challenge to God to disprove Jesus’ claim to forgive sins, as healing, too, comes from God. Jesus clearly articulated this argument (e.g., Mark 2:9–11) and only then healed the palsied man! 12

12 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!”

They had seen and heard of healing; they had seen and heard of Jesus healing, however, they had not seen and heard of one forgiving sins and using healing as an outward sign that those sins had been forgiven!  This miracle was well understood for what Jesus framed it to be, a demonstration of His Deity, and thus a demonstration of His authority to forgive sins, something only God could do!

This is the thing that no one but God can do. No angel in heaven, no person on earth, no church in council, no minister of any denomination, can take away from the sinner’s conscience a load of guilt, and give him peace with God. They may point to the fountain open for all sin. They may declare with authority whose sins God is willing to forgive. But they cannot absolve by their own authority. They cannot put away transgressions. This is God’s prerogative, and he has put it in the hands of his Son Jesus Christ. 13

But sadly, in all their amazement and astonishment, their hearts still refused to see, hear or accept that they needed a savior to rescue them from sin.  All they were concerned with was their situation with the Romans and their situation of physical wellness.  They had no concern or care for the most serious issue of all, the condemnation and enslavement of sin!

So today, as you hear of this miracle, what’s your takeaway?  What are you looking for Jesus to do first and FOREMOST in your life?

CHALLENGE:  What’s your greatest need from God? Forgiveness and freedom from sin or something else?

Twenty-five years ago, a psychiatrist who had a very prosperous practice in South Florida asked me to come on his staff. He offered me what at that time would have been a princely salary to join his team. I said: “I do not have a degree in psychiatry. Why do you want me?” He said, “R. C., 95 percent of my clients do not need a psychiatrist. They need a priest because their lives are being destroyed by unresolved guilt.” Do you ever wish that Jesus would put His hand on your head and say, “Your sins are forgiven”? Well, He says that to us in His Word, and that should be enough. By the power of His blood, through the work of His cross, our sins are forgiven. 14

The sad thing is that when most people realize that their guilt is their underlying problem, their knowledge that they have fallen short of God’s expectations, they try to resolve the issue by religious deeds.  They try to prepare themselves by their own works to be worthy of standing before God.  But it fails miserably, even in their own hearts.  The prophet Amos described it this way, it’s

19 as if a man fled from a lion, and a bear met him, or went into the house and leaned his hand against the wall, and a serpent bit him. (Amos 5:19)

But, if you accept that Jesus is indeed the promised Son of Man, the promised Messiah, the eternal son of God; then you have every reason to believe that He has indeed applied all His grace to you if you have repented from living for yourself and this world, believed Him to be who He said He is and as such committed to following Him.  If you have repented, believed, and committed to following Him then you should have all confidence that He has indeed done for you #1 what He promised, and #2 what only He can do!

If Jesus says your sins are forgiven, then they are. This is amazing in humanity because we don’t forgive well at all.  We cling to at least a shred of it to use as future leverage against a person, but God clings to nothing! The debt is totally erased, gone, no longer on the books! There is nothing left for God to say we owe Him. There is no debt left for me to pay off!  Therefore, we owe Him our lives not to pay off a debt, but rather because He paid our debt at no price to us, a debt we could not pay!

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    Footnotes

    1. Utley, R. J. D. (2000). The Gospel according to Peter: Mark and I & II Peter (Vol. Volume 2, p. 30). Marshall, Texas: Bible Lessons International.
    2. Utley, R. J. D. (2000). The Gospel according to Peter: Mark and I & II Peter (Vol. Volume 2, p. 31). Marshall, Texas: Bible Lessons International.
    3. Ryle, J. C. (1993). Mark (p. 19). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.
    4. Ryle, J. C. (1993). Mark (p. 20). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.
    5. Sproul, R. C. (2011). Mark (First Edition, pp. 38–39). Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust.
    6. Sproul, R. C. (2011). Mark (First Edition, p. 39). Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust.
    7. Utley, R. J. D. (2000). The Gospel according to Peter: Mark and I & II Peter (Vol. Volume 2, p. 31). Marshall, Texas: Bible Lessons International.
    8. Sproul, R. C. (2011). Mark (First Edition, p. 40). Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust.
    9. Calvin, J., & Pringle, W. (2010). Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists Matthew, Mark, and Luke (Vol. 1, p. 395). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.
    10. Utley, R. J. D. (2000). The Gospel according to Peter: Mark and I & II Peter (Vol. Volume 2, p. 32). Marshall, Texas: Bible Lessons International.
    11. Sproul, R. C. (2011). Mark (First Edition, p. 41). Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust.
    12. Mills, M. S. (1999). The Life of Christ: A Study Guide to the Gospel Record (Mt 9:1–Lk 5:26). Dallas, TX: 3E Ministries.
    13. Ryle, J. C. (1993). Mark (p. 21). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.
    14. Sproul, R. C. (2011). Mark (First Edition, pp. 41–42). Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust.