Mark 2:1–12 | “Jesus and the Paralyzed Man”

by Glenn on January 9, 2017

If you’ve ever listened to a child tell a story, you know how exciting it can be, at least for the teller. There’s a breathless quality about a little kid telling a story. They’ll tell you something and then they’ll say, “And then …” Then they’ll tell you something else followed by, “And then …” On and on it goes.

After a few rounds of “and then …” you the adult listening start to have a question running through your brain. The question is: “Is this story going anywhere?” The answer is No, not really. But that’s just fine. That’s how little kid stories are.

As adults, we’re used to and appreciate stories that have a beginning, a middle, and an end. There’s conflict. And there are themes, like bravery or love, that run through the story. Little kid stories, while certainly exciting for the story teller, aren’t always that stimulating for the story listener. Which is why at some point we say, “Okay, take a bite,” or “Time to go to school,” or “Do your homework.”

I mention this because for me the gospel of Mark has that same breathless quality. The church where Nancy and I attend has begun a series on the gospel of Mark and our pastor has encouraged us to read through the whole thing, perhaps even at one sitting. Some weeks ago, I knew I would be in a waiting situation and thought it was a good time for me to do this little assignment. I’m a slow reader and was in a distracting sort of environment and it took me a little over an hour.

As you read through the gospel of Mark, the narrator will say things like
“Another time …”
“Then Jesus …”
“Again Jesus …”
and, “A few days later …”

It’s a fast-paced story. Breathless, like a child’s story. But now that we’re a number of weeks into this series, you begin to see that while Mark is telling a fast-paced story, he’s not telling a child’s story. These are stories that children like, but there’s a lot to chew on for adults. Every little passage has something to add to the larger story Mark is telling, which we call “the gospel of Jesus.” Our passage on November 13 was no exception.

The scripture passage was Mark 2:1–12.

There are things we’re not told in this story and I wish Mark would have added some details.

For example, where is the homeowner? There are some scholars who believe this home belonged to Simon Peter’s mom. But we don’t know. The passage doesn’t say. Don’t you want to know what the homeowner was thinking? Was this the best day of their life, because Jesus was in their home? Or were they outside chewing out the disciple who had made the arrangements: “I said you could use my home, not destroy it!”

If someone during the middle of a church service started sawing through the roof, besides being pretty distracting, don’t you think someone would have something to say? We’re not told anything about the homeowner, though. It’s not that important for the story Mark is telling.

And while we’re told that Jesus was preaching “the word,” we don’t know what that word was. We know from an earlier passage in Mark that what he did say had an authority about it that made people want to listen. In this case, what he was preaching wasn’t as important as what was about to happen.

I have three observations about this story and a question based on each observation.


OBSERVATION No 1: Not everyone is in the house.

There’s a huge crowd stuffed into the home where Jesus is preaching. Outside, people are gathered around the doors and the windows. There were no sound systems, so I sort of imagine that people at the window are telling people outside what’s being said inside.

While this big crowd has gathered around Jesus to hear him preach, there’s another group that hasn’t. There’s a group of guys who knew someone who needed to get to Jesus who couldn’t get there on his own because he was paralyzed. I imagine this group of guys goes to the paralyzed man and tells him, “We’re taking you to see Jesus.” Presumably he wanted to go. This wasn’t a kidnapping. And so they literally carried this man to Jesus.

And it had to be a little demoralizing after they grabbed our guy and carried him to this home where they heard Jesus was preaching to see that there was no way they were going to get in. Which is when someone gets the brainy idea to carry this man to the roof and dig a hole. I’ve read that first-century home construction often consisted of stone walls with wood beams laid across with some combination of reeds, thatch, mud, clay and tiles to create a roof, therefore the language in the passage about digging a hole. The point is: These men were willing to do whatever it took to get their friend to Jesus.

And the passage says an interesting thing about these guys:

“When Jesus saw their faith …”

We normally speak of faith in an individual sense. We talk about a personal relationship with Jesus, which is important because it has eternal consequences for you and me. The decision to follow Jesus or not is one each of us makes ourselves. No one can follow Jesus for us; no one can deny Jesus for us.

In this passage, though, I’m struck by these guys not as individuals, but as a community of faith. And Jesus responds to that. It’s a moving part of the story. We certainly must trust God for our salvation, but these guys teach me that faith isn’t just for ourselves—it’s for others, too. That’s convicting. That’s the first observation: “Not everyone is there.”

Question: How’s our faith? As Christ followers are we ready to help bring people to Jesus? For that to happen, we need to be a community of faith—a people who are going to do whatever it takes to bring people to Jesus.

I once heard a preacher say that it can be helpful to imagine yourself in the Biblical narrative. With this story, I find it easy to imagine myself among the people gathered around to hear what Jesus was saying. It’s convicting to think about those guys who were more concerned about helping others to get to Jesus.

We often talk about the personal work that God wants to do for us and in us. But there is also a work that He wants to do through us. God works where there is faith. I once heard Lloyd Olgivie, when he was the chaplain of the US Senate, tell about the sign he put above the office door:

Without God, we can’t; without us, He won’t.

How’s our faith?


Observation No 2: Jesus deals with first things first.

This paralyzed man is lowered to Jesus and what does Jesus say to the man: “Son, your sins are forgiven.” When you read this passage, does Jesus seem a little cruel—or at least insensitive?

If I’m one of the guys who carried him and helped lower him to Jesus and I hear this, I say, “That’s great, but that’s not why we brought him. Maybe you haven’t noticed he can’t move. We didn’t bring him to you so you could say nice things to him, we want him healed.”

Jesus is not cruel. He’s dealing with first things first. He’s actually compassionate and clarifying.

Let’s see how he was compassionate. There was a thought in the time of Jesus that if you had a physical affliction, it meant someone had done something wrong. Something wrong with you meant you or your parents had sinned and so you were afflicted.

Maybe you remember that story over in John 9:

“As [Jesus] went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.”

Even Jesus’ disciples had this idea that if something is wrong with someone, they must have done something wrong. You sinned—that’s why you’re suffering.

The reality is that all have sinned. Psalm 14:3 reminds us,

“All have turned away, all have become corrupt;
    there is no one who does good, not even one.”

In this culture, though, you looked down on people with physical afflictions.

All his life this man has wondered, “What did I do?” or “What did my parents do?” And you wonder how many times from his heart had he cried out to God in true repentance, “Oh, God, I am sorry for my sins.”

Later in the passage, we learn that Jesus is aware of what people around him are thinking and I wonder if Jesus had heard a silent cry of repentance from the heart of this man. There’s no hint that the man asks for forgiveness. But Jesus says, “Your sins are forgiven.” You and God are okay. You’re not being punished. And Jesus is saying to everyone in that home who had ever looked down on this man, You’re wrong in your assumptions. Your need to be forgiven is as great as his. It was compassionate.

But it was also clarifying.

By saying, “Your sins are forgiven,” Jesus was addressing the man’s most serious problem first. Jesus is saying, in effect, that he wasn’t just a miracle worker—he was on a rescue mission. I’m not a showman. I’m a savior.

We all have problems. Undoubtedly, problems we have may be causing us to suffer. Jesus is letting us know that in spite of whatever suffering we are experiencing from whatever problems we face, we actually have a more serious problem—sin, which separates us from God.

I grew up in a time and church culture where you didn’t do certain things. It was a more legalistic time. When you went to see your grandma, you didn’t play cards. That was a sin. Some people didn’t go to movies. Smoking, gambling—those were pretty big sins.

One day, when I was a teenager, I was at church like I was most weeks. Sunday School was over and there was some time before the service began and my friend John and I decided we should get a snack before the service. So we walked to the corner store—it was a liquor store—where we got chocolate milk and a doughnut. The breakfast of champions. No big deal.

But after the church service, John and I were pulled aside by one of the older men in the congregation. He was nice. But he made it clear “We don’t go into places like that. Particularly on a Sunday.” Now, in some worlds two teenage boys walking into a liquor store to buy chocolate milk and a doughnut would be a reason to applaud. But in that time and place, it was a no-no.

Today, what is sin? Certainly it’s the bad things we do and the good things we leave undone. But it’s also ignoring God in the world He has made. Frank Sinatra used to sing: “I did it my way.” That’s the theme song of our culture. It’s also, I believe, the essence of sin.

Question 2. How are you dealing with sin?

First, you have to become aware of sin. We’ve done a pretty good job in this culture of defining it away. There are things we shouldn’t do; and there are things we haven’t done that we should do. We should call these what they are—sins.

Second, we have to let go of being self-righteous—trying to deal with sin on our own.

How do you get less self righteous? A good way to do that is to read “The Sermon on the Mount” every once in a while. If you’re ever tempted to feel self-righteous, just read through Matthew 5-7—that’ll set you straight.

Over in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus will say, “You’ve heard it said, ‘Don’t murder anyone.’ (And most of us can hear that commandment and think, ‘Wow. I’m doing great. Haven’t killed anyone.’) And then Jesus says, ‘I’m telling you that if you get angry with someone in your heart and call them a fool, you’re in danger of hell.’” I’ll be honest. The other morning I was driving to work and I may have called another driver an idiot.

Among the things that Jesus does in the Sermon on the Mount is he looks past our outward behavior and gets down to our thoughts and motives. Jesus want us to live a Christian life from the inside out. He doesn’t want us to look good. He wants us to actually be good.

In a moment, we’re going to meet a group of characters who will oppose Jesus all the way through the gospel. They’re known as “the teachers of the law.” Sometimes Mark will refer to “The Pharisees and the teachers of the law.” When you think about them, think about the number 613. 613 is the total of 248 “do this” commandments and 365 “don’t do that” commandments from the Law in the Hebrew Scriptures that these people worked really hard to keep. In another place, Jesus says that even that level of righteousness isn’t good enough.

One of the things you notice in this passage is that this paralyzed man had nothing to offer God. That’s the way to come to God. Forgiveness is something we receive, not earn. I saw this quote the other day:

“Are you living to justify yourself, or are you living because you are justified?” Or as others have said it: “The essence of religion is: Do. The essence of Christianity is: Done.”


Observation No 3. The teachers of the law are right … sort of.

“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?’”

In other words, Who does this guy think he is? You can’t forgive people for sins they committed agains others. They are right. You can only forgive a sin if it’s against you.

I love Timothy Keller’s story about Tom, Dick, and Harry. Tom punches Dick in the nose and pushes him to the ground. Harry sees this, runs up to Dick and says, “I’ll handle this.” And Harry turns to Tom and says, “Tom, I forgive you for hitting Dick.” And those of us watching this scene think Harry is crazy. You can’t forgive people for sins that aren’t against you.

When Jesus says, “I forgive your sins,” it’s quite a statement. He’s saying, “I’m your Creator. Anything you’ve ever done wrong has ultimately been against me.”

Jesus wants to help the teachers of the law see him for who he is. So he’s going to give a sign of his power, doing what no mere human can do. But first he asks a question. And it’s kind of a trick question.

“Which is easier: to say to this paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’?”

Now if it’s me, I’m going with, “Your sins are forgiven,” because I don’t have a healing gift. Obviously, for me it’s easier to say “Your sins are forgiven.”

But for Jesus, which was going to be easier: to heal the man or to forgive him his sins? Think about that one for a moment. I think it was going to be pretty easy to heal the man. It was going to be really hard to forgive his sins.

There’s a passage in the Hebrew Scriptures that talks about Jesus before he showed up on earth. It’s Isaiah 53:4–5:

“Surely he took up our pain
    and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
.     stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
.     and by his wounds we are healed.”

Timothy Keller in describing this scene in Mark says that as soon as Jesus asks the question, “Which is easier?”, the shadow of the cross falls over the scene. Why could Jesus forgive the man’s sins? Because he was going to die for them.

Which is harder? It’s going to be harder to forgive the sins.

The end of the story is that the man is healed. I love how one person put it: “The man left carrying the thing that had carried him.” And everyone in the room with Jesus and all of us this morning have to wrestle with, “Who is Jesus?”

Question 3. How’s your view of Jesus? Is it becoming clearer who Jesus is both in this unfolding story in Mark but also the unfolding story of your life? It’s interesting—Jesus doesn’t come right out and state who he is. In fact, it won’t be until chapter 8 that he asks his disciples that famous question, “Who do you say that I am?”

I have a lot of sympathy for the teachers of the law. For whatever reason, they can’t see that God is right there with them. Part of me gets that.

In the Old Testament—the Hebrew Scriptures—you couldn’t go anywhere near God. When Moses climbed the mountain to receive God’s commandments, even he had to hide. The rest of the people were told, “Don’t go anywhere near the mountain or you will die.” In the Hebrew Scriptures, God was a consuming fire. And now that consuming fire is wrapped in a human body and sitting in the living room? That’s a big change. That’ll keep you up at night.

Their view of Jesus was too small. They didn’t realize that scriptures like Isaiah 9:6–7 were written about the man sitting there in the room.

“For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
.  and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
.  Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
 .  there will be no end.”

Their view of Jesus was too small. How small is our view of Jesus?

A prayer based on Philippians 2:5–11:

Christ Jesus:

You who, being in very nature God,
.   did not consider equality with God something to be used to your own advantage;
rather, you made yourself nothing
.   by taking the very nature of a servant,
.   being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
.    you humbled yourself
.   by becoming obedient to death—
.       even death on a cross!

 Therefore God exalted you to the highest place
  and gave you the name that is above every name,
 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
.   in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that you, Jesus Christ are Lord,
.   to the glory of God the Father.