Encountering Jesus: A Paralytic

William C. Brownson Uncategorized

READ : Mark 2:10

Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, `Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, `Rise, take up your pallet 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, take up your pallet and go home.”

Mark 2:9-11 rsv

I want to talk to you today about the deepest need of every human being, the greatest miracle God ever performs, and the most precious gift we can receive. I can sum that up in one lovely word: forgiveness.

It all comes to focus in the meeting of Jesus with a paralyzed man. Do you remember hearing about the day in Capernaum when Jesus was teaching in someone’s house? It may well have been the home of Simon Peter and his brother Andrew. At any rate, word had gotten around that Jesus was there and a large crowd had assembled. Inside the house people lined the walls, draped over every piece of furniture and hunched together on the floor. Many more were outside the door, peering in for a glimpse of Jesus, straining to catch His words. As others walked by, they inquired about what was happening and then lingered on the fringes of the crowd. All were pressing toward that open doorway.

Had you been standing there, you would have witnessed something quite remarkable. Down the street came four strapping fellows carrying a sick man on an improvised stretcher. They had heard of Jesus’ healing powers and had come from some distance seeking help for their paralyzed friend. Weary and perspiring, they neared the home where Jesus was and tried to edge their way to the door. It was impossible. There wasn’t room for a small child to wriggle through that mass of people – much less four men with a heavy burden. After repeated efforts, they were baffled and frustrated. All this way for nothing!

What was to be done? They looked again at their lame friend’s pleading eyes and knew they couldn’t give up. There must be a way! Just then one of the four noticed the steps by the side of the house leading up to the roof. After a hurried conference, the four picked up the pallet again and detoured around the crowd to the stairway. Moments later they were on the roof. “What good is this?” murmured one, “no doorways up here, not even a window.” “Well, we’ll make one!” retorted the leader. And with that he began tearing away at the dried mud and heavy straw that made up the roof.

Inside the house, Simon and Andrew must have looked up with alarm. They had heard the footsteps above them, the thumping and scraping, but now debris was falling on their heads. To their astonishment, they suddenly saw an opening appear in the roof. Sunlight came streaming in. As they began to shout in protest, the opening grew larger and a pallet was lowered into the room. The men on the roof were exultant. Mission accomplished! They had gotten their man to where Jesus was.

By now the bewildered paralytic was being borne up by a dozen strong arms in the center of the room. The owners of the house were furious at the disturbance, not to mention the damages. But I can imagine Jesus looking up toward that shambles of a roof, throwing back His head and laughing. Moments later the whole house may have been shaking with mirth. But then the room grew suddenly quiet as Jesus moved toward the man on the stretcher. “Son,” He said, “your sins are forgiven you.”

OUR DEEPEST NEED

What a strange thing to say! The men watching from the roof were taken aback. “Doesn’t he know that this man can’t walk? We want a miracle here. We want to see our friend on his feet again. He needs healing. He needs strength. Not a sermon!”

Why did Jesus say what He did? Why did He talk about sin and forgiveness? Couldn’t He see what the man’s real need was? Didn’t He realize that he was paralyzed? Yes, but apparently He saw something more. The gaze of Jesus fixed on a more profound need. Sometimes it seems to us that nothing could be more important than our health. Whatever will keep us alive and well – that surely must be our prime concern. For that we need good food, water to drink, exercise, shelter from the elements, and when we’re sick or afflicted, we need healing. But even all of that can’t keep us whole and healthy. None of those gifts can prolong our life and vigor indefinitely. And there’s a reason for that.

If we had eyes to see it, we would know that behind our physical ailments, our bodily weakness and decay, is a more serious affliction. We human beings are somehow estranged from God. In our stubborn rebellion, in our insistence on having our way, we have turned our back on the One who made us. We have forfeited His fellowship. We have lost our true life. Now everything about us is touched by the spell of death. All our illnesses, all our infirmities, all our aging speaks to us of the sober fact that we must die. And that is not a natural, normal situation for people made in God’s image. Something has gone radically wrong.

At certain times in our lives, we all feel acutely this need for physical healing. But what we suffer from then is not the root of our problem. It’s only a symptom. What we cry out for, all of us, sometimes without knowing it, is to be whole within, to be restored at the center of our being, to be at peace again with God. And that happens, dear friends – that really happens – when we are forgiven.

There were some in the crowd that day who were deeply offended at what Jesus said. They were the scribes, men schooled in the Jewish law. They saw themselves as the official guardians of the faith. When they heard Jesus say, “Son, your sins are forgiven,” they were outraged. What was this man – a charlatan, a fake? Was He trying to conceal His helplessness to heal by talking instead about forgiveness? In any case, for Him to speak in that way seemed blasphemy to the scribes. Every human being should recognize, they felt, that only the God of heaven and earth can forgive. And only one of God’s special representatives could ever pronounce absolution, as Nathan once did to David, “Your sin is forgiven.” But who was this unschooled Galilean? “Jesus,” they fumed, “How dare you assume as your own a divine right? How can you claim to do what only God does?”

GOD’S GREATEST MIRACLE

Moments later, they were to see that Jesus’ word about forgiveness was not a dodge. He wasn’t skirting the obvious need for physical healing. He met that need. Jesus said to the helpless form before Him, “Rise, take up your pallet and walk.” And to the amazement of everyone in the house, the man did. He got up, shouldered his mattress and pushed his way out the door.

The crowd was in a tumult. “May God be praised!” they cried. “We’ve never seen anything like this.” But extraordinary as the healing miracle was, to Jesus it was secondary. Before He restored the paralytic, He had flung this question in the face of the scribes: “Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, `Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, `Rise, take up your pallet and walk’?” Some were doubtless thinking, “These words about forgiveness sound impressive, but talk is cheap. How can anyone be sure about this? How can anyone check it out? It’s easy to speak of a divine transaction that no one can verify. But a healing – now that would be really something! It would take the power of the Almighty to make this man well.”

But here is Jesus, implying by His question that the physical miracle is by far the easier of the two. He catches the scribes in their own words: “Yes, who but God can forgive sin?” It’s a far greater miracle for God to do that for a man than to make him walk again. To Jesus, the healing is simply a pointer to the ultimate gift. “That you may know,” He says first, “that the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sin.” What Jesus did was an act of beautiful compassion – no doubt about that. It was a manifestation of divine power – most certainly. But above all, it was a sign that God’s forgiveness was coming to people on earth through Jesus.

What is the hardest thing of all for God to do? To heal the sick? To restore the afflicted? No. He’s doing that every day, sometimes through doctors and medicines, often in ways we don’t fully understand. And when He came to the world in the person of Jesus, He could banish the most deadly plague with a word, or open blind eyes with a touch. Talk about healing the sick – He could call people out of their graves to live again!

But to bring them forgiveness took infinitely more. For that, God needed to come among us and share our humanity. For that, He had to take upon Himself the whole weight of our guilt and rebellion. He had to suffer and be forsaken in our stead. He had to die on a cross for our sins. That’s how difficult, how costly it was for the Almighty God to forgive sins.

What a dreadfully serious thing then must our guilt and sin be to God! The just Judge could not condone it. The Holy One could not wink it away. No power in heaven or earth could seem to make things right. Nothing would do but that God should bear it Himself, out of His great love for us. That’s why you and I can be forgiven.

THE BEST GIFT

Well then, if forgiveness is our deepest need and God’s grandest miracle, there’s nothing in all the world we ought to seek more eagerly, both for ourselves and for others. Think of how those four men in Capernaum sought healing for their friend. They were willing to spend time and toil to transport him to Jesus. And when nothing else would help, they were ready to defy convention and even risk a lawsuit to get this paralyzed man into the Lord’s presence. Bold, resourceful, utterly determined, these men simply would not be denied. And we seek healing that way, don’t we, for ourselves and those we love? We’ll go any distance, suffer any inconvenience, incur any expense if there’s even a hope that we or our dear ones can be made well again. You know that’s true. Other values fade into the background then. Nothing else seems to matter much when we’re on a quest for healing for someone we deeply love.

But now, what about forgiveness? Here’s something even more to be coveted. How ardently do you seek that for yourself? To what length will you go so that someone else can receive the forgiveness of God? Actually, of course, there’s no great thing that any of us can do to gain this blessing. The great thing has already been done. We need what those men had in Capernaum long ago – the faith to believe that Jesus Christ can meet the need. Then we won’t rest satisfied until we and others we know and love can come into His presence. It was trust in Him, in Jesus, that led to the healing miracle, wasn’t it? “When Jesus saw their faith,” Mark says, “he said to the paralytic, `My son, your sins are forgiven.’” Isn’t that remarkable? Faith still opens the way for marvelous things. Now it isn’t faith in a Jesus who sits in a Palestinian home somewhere but in One who died on a cross and rose again one Easter morning and who lives today as Lord over all. Trust Him today to forgive you. Trust Him for His saving power in the lives of those around you as you labor to lead them toward Him. Who is it that you can think of in that kind of need, whom you can bear up before God in faith and prayer, to whom you can bear a Christian witness?

And remember this, He is very near to you today. You can go to Him freely. No crowds will block the way and shut you out from His presence. You won’t have to go through some ritual or a detour route. He, the loving, living Lord, is already looking for you. Wherever His word is being spoken, wherever His love is being proclaimed, Jesus is there. And if you this day will turn toward Him and confess your deepest need, He will do for you His most wonderful miracle. He will give to you, as He gave to that paralytic, His very best gift. Oh, believe that! Jesus Christ, who died for you and rose again, will say, “Son, daughter, I love you. I died for you. Your sins are forgiven.”

PRAYER: Father, help us to realize how serious our sins are that we may have some appreciation of all that You have done in giving Christ to die for us. And may that faith leap up in our hearts whereby we trust in Him and experience the miracle of forgiveness. In the name of Christ. Amen.