Authority to Forgive

Posted: August 19, 2013 in Mark

Mark 2:1-12, “Authority to Forgive”

Ever hear (or say) this: “Well, who died and left you in charge?” Some people tend to assert their authority when they have none.  Like two twins arguing with each other, and one claiming his rights because he’s the “elder” brother by 5 minutes.  There’s always someone out there trying to make themselves into a more important person that what they actually are, and it can often cause headaches for everyone else around who has to deal with their ego.

It’s when someone actually has the authority that they claim that the rest of us tend to sit up and pay attention.  It’s one thing when kids play “cops and robbers,” but another when there are flashing lights in your rear-view mirror.  Real authority makes all the difference.

That’s what the issue was in this particular instance with Jesus.  Jesus had returned to Capernaum, and was engaged in His usual practice of teaching when He was presented with an unusual situation when a paralytic is lowered to Him.  Instead of healing the man outright, He forgives the man his sins – and that sets off a reaction among the religious leaders who were present because of the issue of authority.  Did Jesus truly have the authority to forgive this man’s sins?  In their minds, that kind of authority belongs to God alone.  In that much, they were right.  That authority does belong to God, and guess what?  Jesus HAS that kind of authority because Jesus IS God.

Mark 2:1–12
1 And again He entered Capernaum after some days, and it was heard that He was in the house.

  1. Jesus had been touring Galilee, preaching the gospel and casting out demons, but Capernaum seemed to have been His home-base – His home away from home when He wasn’t in Nazareth. Mt 9:1, "His own city."  He was here so often that many people seemed to assume it was His birthplace, when obviously it was not.
  2. Did He continue to stay at the home of Simon Peter and Andrew? We don’t know. Certainly He was there in an earlier visit in Capernaum, but the disciples aren’t mentioned in this particular story at all. None of the Synoptics say anything about them at all. Most scholars seem to assume this is the home of Peter, based off of the earlier event in Ch. 1, but potentially this is a different house altogether, though not a place owned by Jesus (He didn’t have a place to lay His head…).
  3. When did He arrive? We don’t know. Apparently some number of days passed while Jesus was traveling around the region. Whether it was only a few days or weeks or months is uncertain.  What we do know is that Jesus had to come into the city in secret. Due to the news of His miracles (especially after He cleansed the leper), Jesus was not able to enter towns openly. The crowds were too great, and He was followed wherever He went.
  4. That seems to have been the case here as well. Jesus had snuck into town, but news got out about His arrival, and people began flocking to Him. See vs 2…

2 Immediately many gathered together, so that there was no longer room to receive them, not even near the door. And He preached the word to them.

  1. People couldn’t get enough of Jesus! They came by the droves, to the point that the entryway to the home in which Jesus was staying became so crowded that no one could get in or out. (Fire marshalls wouldn’t approve!)  We don’t know how big the house was where Jesus was staying.  It’s possible that there was an inner courtyard where a few folks could gather, but it’s also possible that it was a single-room dwelling large enough for the family who lived there & no one more.  In either case, it would not have taken long for the house to be completely filled and for the crowd to spill over into the street with people straining to hear Jesus, even if He was blocked from their view.
    1. People come where Jesus is! No doubt that much of the crowd would later abandon Jesus. Even in Jerusalem as people recognized Him as the Messiah King on Sunday and multitudes sang His praises, the same multitudes called out for His vicious execution. But it is undeniable that masses were drawn to Jesus. There was something about His person and presence to which people were drawn.
    2. People will still come to where they see Jesus! Because so many Christians have seen little fruit in evangelism, we can tend to talk ourselves out of this. We say, "Oh it’s natural for people to reject Jesus," – and it is. But people who reject Jesus must first have an encounter with Him to reject. Overall, people haven’t changed. People are still lost and need to hear the gospel. The fields are still white for the harvest, and Jesus is still able to save those who come in faith. When people aren’t coming, we might need to do some self-examination and ask ourselves if others are actually seeing Jesus in the Church.
  2. It’s interesting that out of the gospel accounts, only Luke says anything about healings during all of this.  Even then, he doesn’t record any healings other than this one instance with the paralytic.  All he writes is that “the power of the Lord was present to heal them.” (Lk 5:17)  Supernatural healing seems to have taken place, but it was rather minor in the overall scheme of things at the time, until the event that is now shown.  The one activity that IS recorded through the rest of the day is Jesus’ preaching. Jesus "preached the word," and it seems that is what people came to hear. Even the scribes and Pharisees came out to hear Jesus’ preaching and teaching (Lk 5:17).  If there is one aspect of Jesus’ ministry that Mark (Peter) has consistently reminded us of, it is His teaching. To be sure, much has been written of His miracles thus far, but His miracles have always come in the context of Jesus’ preaching. Jesus always put a priority on proclaiming His word, and so should His Church.
    1. Why is it we come to Jesus? For the miracles, or for His teaching? No doubt His miracles are important. If He wasn’t able or willing to give new life to us, it would be difficult indeed to hear what He has to say. But in His word is life!  If all you’re looking for is some free stuff (like the loaves and fish, or miracles, etc), you might experience a bit of grace in your time with Jesus, but you won’t be forever changed. It is those who come for the words of eternal life that experience the truth that sets us free…
  3. There is at least one miracle that takes place that day, and that is what the context of Jesus’ preaching sets up. See vs. 3…

3 Then they came to Him, bringing a paralytic who was carried by four men. 4 And when they could not come near Him because of the crowd, they uncovered the roof where He was. So when they had broken through, they let down the bed on which the paralytic was lying.

  1. The four men and their paralytic friend remain unnamed, but their actions have been remembered in all three synoptic gospels. The truly unusual thing about this event is that there is nothing at all said about the faith and/or actions of the paralytic (at least until Jesus heals him). Instead, all of the focus is on the four friends (or potentially, four servants of the paralytic…no description of them is given). That’s not to say that the paralytic had no faith of his own (as is sometimes imagined); after all, we’re not told the extent of his paralysis. It’s possible he was a stroke victim or even a quadriplegic and unable to do anything for himself.  As evidenced by Jesus’ response towards him, he likely had just as much faith (or more) as the friends, and truly desired to see Jesus.
  2. It’s their desire which is vibrantly on display. They so badly want to get to Jesus, that they don’t let anything stand in their way. The crowds made it impossible to get through the door – the walls of the home made it impossible to come through the sides – no doubt the windows were too small through which they might shove their friend. What to do? All they know is that they are desperate to get to Jesus, and they don’t know that they will ever get an opportunity to get to Him again. So they do what needs to be done: climb up on the roof of the house, tear a hole in the thatched roof, and lower their friend to Jesus.
  3. Historically, roofs were flat in ancient Judea, with a ladder on the outside of the home giving access to it.  They were usually constructed out of mud and sticks, sometimes with tile added in order to give it strength (as did this particular home – Lk 5:19).  It would not be unusual at all for people to sleep on their roofs in the hot summer months, and they could support quite a bit of weight.  Apparently, the 4 men took advantage of this fact & when they found they could not get to Jesus through the crowd, they climbed up on the roof, dug a hole & carefully lowered their friend to the Master.  Keep in mind Jesus seemed to have been teaching the whole time.  What a sight it must have been to have dirt start falling from the ceiling in the middle of Jesus’ message!
  4. This is faith! They needed to get to Jesus, and they weren’t going to let anything stand in the way.  They were persistent.  Roofs could be repaired, apologies to friends could be made, but Jesus couldn’t be missed. To get to Jesus was more important than anything else. No cost was too great, and no relationship more important than to get in front of the Savior. He was their only possible option for help, and so all their minds were fixed upon Him.
    1. Likewise, this is the true faith of the person who has acknowledged their need for Jesus… Nothing is more important than meeting the Savior and experiencing His grace… They’ve counted the cost…reprioritized all relationships, etc…

5 When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven you.”

  1. Question: why did the friends bring the paralytic to Jesus? From his physical situation, we always assume that they brought the man to be healed of his paralysis, but nowhere in the Scripture are we explicitly told this.  Considering Jesus’ response to the man, perhaps the man understood his most pressing need, and that’s why he sought Jesus so desperately.  Ancient Jews believed the physical ailments were often the result of God’s punishment of sin in their lives (even the disciples had this misunderstanding until corrected by Jesus – Jn 9:3), and perhaps the man sought Jesus to intercede to God on his behalf for forgiveness so that he God would release him from his paralysis.  Whatever the original reason he was brought, Jesus does not address the obvious physical issue as of yet, but instead pronounces the man forgiven of his sin. Forgiveness was the priority.
    1. We don’t always see this pattern detailed for us in Jesus’ healings, but that’s what happened here & this is the need for the world today.  It’s not that people don’t need circumstances in their lives changed (of course they do!), but forgiveness is always the priority – that is what they need most of all.  So many people get this backward.  They believe they need to “get their lives right” before seeking the Lord Jesus for forgiveness.  If they could just cut out the XYZ sin in their own life, that’s when they’d turn their life over to God.  If they could just get their issues resolved, that’s when they’d get around other Christians.  That’s completely backwards.  That ignores the priority.  The priority is forgiveness because the problem is sin.  All of the other things in our lives are simply symptoms of what sin does…  Sin is at the root of it all.  When Jesus takes care of the sin, the symptoms often have a way of resolving themselves.
  2. What is forgiveness? Release.  The word used in vs. 5 is often translated “left/leave” in other contexts, and is really its primary idea.  What Jesus is telling this man is that he had been released from his sins.  Whatever punishment that the man had incurred had been sent away, and he now had freedom in the sight of God.  The Bible often uses the analogy of slavery to speak of sin, and the idea of forgiveness as release/freedom carries a lot of weight in that context.  Imagine a Rescuer coming into a place in which men and women are enslaved, and pronouncing them free – they would be overjoyed!  Spiritually speaking, that is exactly what takes place when Jesus pronounces us forgiven.  When we put our faith in Christ, God releases us from our sin.  We are no longer bound to its punishment – we are no longer bound to its power – we are no longer doomed to serve it in the future – we are free!
    1. We need to be released from the grip sin has on us! And only Jesus can do it.
    2. With that in mind, it’s so tragic when we walk back into the slavery in which sin had us bound!  Romans 6:15–17, "(15) What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not! (16) Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness? (17) But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered." []
  3. Of course all of this catches Jesus’ attention for one reason: He had seen "their faith." Whose faith? Most likely this is a reference to all 5 of them, but at least it is the faith of the 4 friends. Jesus saw their actions on behalf of their friend, and recognized it for the faith that it took. There’s no record of a word that they spoke, or a prayer that they prayed, but their outward actions made their inner faith obvious.  They believed Jesus could and would do something to help the paralytic, and they proved their belief by doing whatever they could to get to Jesus.  Jesus recognized their faith, and commended it when He declared the man forgiven.
    1. Faith and action always go hand-in-hand.  If someone truly believes something, they will act in accordance with that belief.  If a person believes that they have cancer, no doubt they are going to make an appointment with an oncologist to see what can be done.  As long as a person denies the possibility, they might never go to the doctor & suffer serious consequences as a result.  What they believe drastically affects the way they act.  A person who truly believes that their sin will kill them and leave them forever judged by God is going to react totally different to the gospel of Jesus Christ than the person who doesn’t see sin as an issue or Jesus as the Savior.  The way we act towards Jesus speaks volumes regarding what we truly believe about Him.
  4. One other thing about the faith of the friends: this speaks to the value of intercession!  The grammar is very specific that this was a plural…Jesus saw the faith of multiple people.  Did the friends have their own needs?  No doubt.  But they came together on behalf of their friend.  They interceded for him, literally bringing him to Jesus.  That act of intercession was not lost on Jesus.  He saw it & responded to it.
    1. Who is it you’re interceding for in prayer?  Your prayers are not in vain…

6 And some of the scribes were sitting there and reasoning in their hearts, 7 “Why does this Man speak blasphemies like this? Who can forgive sins but God alone?”

  1. Luke tells us that some Pharisees were present for this whole event as well, but both Matthew and Mark focus upon the scribes. These were experts in the law of Moses, and the ones with the primary responsibility to teach the Scriptures to the Jewish people. As the scribes witnessed the scene and heard the pronouncement of Jesus, their stomachs surely dropped. Without needing to say a word, they knew as a group that serious words had just been uttered by Jesus. He had just gone from the part of a prophet and healer to a priest, speaking the words of forgiveness on behalf of God. In effect, this Man from a non-descript family and a non-descript town just put Himself on the same level as Almighty God.  Even if they had considered the possibility that Jesus might be the Messiah, not even the Messiah (in their opinion) that the right to forgive sin.  They saw the Messiah as a human king along the lines of David, and a prophet along the lines of Moses – and as great as a mas as that would have been, that person still would not have the authority to forgive sin.  That belonged to God alone.
  2. The interesting thing is that if it had been anyone else in the room that day, the scribes would have been 100% correct. Even the greatest of great humans can never forgive someone else their sins.  We can only forgive the sins that have occurred against us, and we have no ability to speak to the sins that have been committed against someone else.  When Jesus forgave the man of his sins, He was plainly speaking of ALL of the man’s sins, which could only be addressed by God.  Truly only God has the authority to forgive sin, because all sin is ultimately an offense against God Himself. 
    1. We have a tendency to forget this. We think of sin on a horizontal, human level. God sees sin on its true vertical level: an infinite offense against an infinite God.  Even when we sin against other people, we are breaking the command of God to love one another.  David recognized this regarding his adultery with Bathsheba & murder of her husband Uriah.  Psalm 51:3–4, "(3) For I acknowledge my transgressions, And my sin is always before me. (4) Against You, You only, have I sinned, And done this evil in Your sight— That You may be found just when You speak, And blameless when You judge." []  David had offended a lot of people in his sin – even including Joab the general of the army, whom David commanded to allow Uriah to get in a situation in which he would be killed.  But ultimately, all of David’s sin was against God.  All of it broke the perfect law of God & all was an offense against God’s holiness.  David needed God’s forgiveness, and that is where he turned in repentance.
    2. Because sin is against God, we need God’s forgiveness. And sometimes we don’t realize how badly we need it!
  3. The scribes have the correct reasoning, but they came to the incorrect conclusion. They thought that since only God can forgive sins, then Jesus had uttered blasphemies. In actuality, only God can forgive sins, and only God DID forgive sins that day because Jesus is God!  This is one of the many clear instances that Jesus explicitly demonstrates His deity without directly coming out and saying the words “I am God.”  Cults sometimes jump on the notion that Jesus never directly claimed to be God (which is inaccurate – He did, though perhaps not as direct as some would like), but there is absolutely no doubt in the Bible that Jesus repeatedly acted in ways that only God would have the right to act.  That’s actually the point of this whole event!  This whole healing is an example of Jesus’ right to claim His deity.  He IS God, and that is the consistent message of the whole NT.
    1. Cults & other religious groups go to great lengths to deny Jesus’ deity for good reason: if Jesus is God, then everything people teach contrary to the Bible is false.  If Jesus is God, then only Biblical Christianity is true.  He really is the only way, truth, and life, and no one can come to God the Father except through Him (Jn 14:6).  Only through belief in Him does God grant everlasting life (Jn 3:16).  Only be receiving Jesus as Lord will people be made children of God (Jn 1:12).  Jesus has very exclusive claims, but Jesus can back them up.  How so?  Jesus is God.
  4. Question: if only God can forgive sin, then what did Jesus mean when He told the apostles that if they forgave someone’s sins that their sins were truly forgiven? (Jn 20:23). As born-again believers, we are a kingdom of priests. When we act on behalf of God, doing the things that God has commanded, then we can be sure that as we pronounce someone else’s forgiveness through the grace of Jesus, that they have been truly forgiven.  It’s not that individual Christians have the authority to directly forgive someone else in place of God; it’s that we have the authority to declare them forgiven by God when they have placed their faith in Jesus Christ.  We are simply proclaiming that which God has already done, based on the authority of His word.

8 But immediately, when Jesus perceived in His spirit that they reasoned thus within themselves, He said to them, “Why do you reason about these things in your hearts? 9 Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Arise, take up your bed and walk’?

  1. The scribes had been reasoning these things within their hearts, and Jesus knew exactly what they were thinking. Whether Jesus read their minds, or was just perceptive enough to guess what they were thinking is somewhat an irrelevant distinction.  As God, there’s no doubt that Jesus knew what they were thinking.  Jesus knew what their reaction was going to be before the man was ever lowered into the room – none of these things were a surprise to Him.  (No doubt the scribes were shocked to learn that Jesus knew exactly what was unspoken in their hearts!  It should have been a rather big clue that they were not dealing with some ordinary Man.) 
  2. The skepticism that was in the heart of the scribes provided a wonderful opportunity for Jesus to demonstrate His authority.  Sure, anyone could say that someone’s sins might be forgiven, but those words don’t mean anything at all without the authority to back them up.  If you got a traffic ticket, a neighbor of yours might declare the fine to be fulfilled, but unless your next-door neighbor happens to be a county judge, he’s got no authority whatsoever to dismiss your ticket in reality.  Words are cheap.  Authority makes all the difference.  Jesus has real authority!  As God, Jesus has all the authority of God.  He has the authority to speak creation into existence, and He has the authority to declare your sins so forgiven and made right again in His sight that it is as if your sins had never occurred in the first place.  No mere man can do that; only God has that authority – and only God exercises that authority as Jesus did when He proclaimed the man’s forgiveness.
    1. The same thing happened when Jesus proclaimed YOUR forgiveness.  Christian, do you truly believe that Jesus forgave you and freed you from your sin?  Do you have faith in the authority of Jesus?  Too many people run to Jesus for forgiveness and eternal life, but don’t really believe Him when He declares it granted.  It’s as if they believe it’s possible that Jesus might forgive them through faith, but that Jesus doesn’t really do it in actuality.  He does!  He has that authority!  When He declares you clean & a new creation, that is what you are – because Jesus has the authority to speak that into existence.
  3. The comparison Jesus makes is valid.  Forgiveness is easy to speak, but difficult to demonstrate.  After all, how exactly can someone know that they’ve actually spoken with the Person who has the authority to forgive their sins?  There have been many self-proclaimed prophets and religious leaders in the world – there have been many people who claimed to be the sole voice that speaks for God.  How can anyone tell which one has real authority & which ones do not?  That’s where a miraculous sign can come in.
    1.  We still have a miraculous sign: the resurrection!
  4. Of course, the cross was still a long time off, so Jesus proposed a different sign: healing.  See vs. 10…

10 But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins”—He said to the paralytic, 11 “I say to you, arise, take up your bed, and go to your house.”

  1. Note that the reason for this miracle is specifically to demonstrate Jesus’ “power,” or more specifically, His authority (ἐξουσία).  That the man would experience a changed life from the supernatural healing is almost incidental to the entire thing.  Jesus said He would heal the paralytic not for the glory of the paralytic, but for the glory of God.  It was a demonstration of the authority of the “Son of Man” – Jesus Himself as the Incarnation of God.
  2. Don’t get the wrong idea.  It’s not that Jesus did not care about the physical well-being of the paralytic.  Of course He did.  He loved the paralytic enough to forgive the man’s sins just because he was brought by his friends.  We’re not even told that the man said anything to Jesus.  Seemingly, he was lowered to Jesus, and Jesus immediately spoke to his need for forgiveness.  Jesus knew everything about this man, and showed incredible compassion to him apart from the physical healing altogether.  If the man had asked for physical healing, no doubt Jesus would have healed him, just like Jesus healed countless others.  But that wasn’t the primary reason for the healing.  The primary reason was to demonstrate the authority of Jesus as the “Son of Man.”  It was to give glory first and foremost to Jesus as God.
    1. That’s always the primary reason for miracles.  There are some who try to harness miracles, package them & sell them, ensuring that their name is at the forefront & that they are getting all of the attention and glory from the supposed miracle taking place.  If there is any healing that does happen, it’s because God gave healing in spite of the guy on stage; not because of him.  The primary reason for miracles is to give glory to God, as He showcases His power, authority, grace, and love.  It’s so that people would know that Jesus is indeed God, and that because the power of God is shown through the name of Jesus, everything else about Jesus is true.  Jesus really IS God in the flesh, crucified for men, risen from the grave, offering life and forgiveness to all who ask in faith.  Jesus really is the Lord who reconciles mankind back to God and reverses the curse of sin and death, setting right the universe that went wrong through the fall.  It’s so that people would worship HIM in spirit and truth.
  3. In all of this, keep in mind which miracle is actually easier.  The words for forgiveness are certainly easier to grant than for healing, but the actual power to forgive is far more difficult.  After all, with enough medical training and equipment, all sorts of people might experience similar sorts of healings that the people who encountered Jesus received.  The right antibiotic stops the spread of leprosy.  The right vaccinations prevent the onset of polio, which sometimes causes paralysis.  Even the right motorized wheelchairs and other devices grant freedom to people otherwise paralyzed that would enable them to pick up a pallet bed.  It might not be total healing as Jesus would give, but it would be miraculous as far as the person was concerned. … But forgiveness – that’s impossible apart from God.  When we realize that our sins are sins against the infinite Creator God, how is it possible to experience true forgiveness?  Even the best attempt someone might make according to the OT Scriptures would simply set aside their punishment for a while, as a proper sacrifice was made in the temple – but it couldn’t completely wipe out ALL of someone’s sins against God.  Forgiveness is an impossible miracle to experience, unless the person granting it is God Himself.
  4. And that’s the point.  Jesus had already pronounced the man forgiven.  If He could cause the man to stand again, that would be the far easier thing to do.  If Jesus didn’t have the authority to heal, certainly He wouldn’t have the authority to forgive.  But Jesus DOES have that authority.  Vs 12…

12 Immediately he arose, took up the bed, and went out in the presence of them all, so that all were amazed and glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this!”

  1. No waiting – no back-room changes – no illusions – no set-up.  Jesus spoke, and “immediately he arose.”  The (former) paralytic was completely healed!
  2. It was a public miracle, and it provided a public testimony.  This was done in the presence of all of the crowd (the same folks who had been so packed in that they blocked the doorway), and all were witnesses to Jesus as the Son of Man with the authority to forgive sins.
  3. What did they do? They “glorified God.”  Exactly as was intended…  They saw the healing, and they simply couldn’t argue with the results.  They had never seen anything like that in the past.  Sure, there had been other religious teachers with all sorts of claims.  There had likely been other supposed miracle-workers who claimed to have the power of God.  But there had never been anyone with such authentic power.  Someone who not only taught the word of God with authority, but backed up His teaching with such incredible display of the power of God.  They were amazed, and they were virtually left speechless by what they saw.
    1. What an incredible testimony to the power and reality of Jesus!  May it be said of His Church, as well…

We need to have our sins forgiven, and Jesus has the authority to forgive sins!  What incredibly good news!  Our most desperate need can be addressed by the Lord Jesus, and He easily demonstrates that He has the authority to back up His words.  When Jesus declares forgiveness, it’s not mere lip-service or cheap words, but it is true & total forgiveness that sets us free from every hold that sin has upon us.  That can only be granted by God, and that is what He gives as God by His grace.

In this particular instance, why did Jesus forgive?  Because He saw persistent faith.  Between the paralytic and his four friends, they weren’t going to let any obstacle stop them from getting to Jesus.  Whatever they needed to do was worth it, just as long as they could get in front of Jesus because they knew that in Jesus was their only hope.  Jesus saw that kind of faith and responded to it.

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