Authority to Forgive
Topic: Faith Passage: Mark 2:1–2:12
Turn with me to the gospel of Mark chapter 2. When we read the gospels we not only want to read the individual stories but that we also need to take a step back and see the larger themes woven into the gospel accounts and how the individual stories fit into that larger picture. Matt and I pointed out that the larger theme of chapter one was the authority of Christ and as we come to chapter two and the story of the paralytic being lowered through the roof, we don’t want to miss that we also come to the first of five consecutive stories that describe the growing opposition of the religious leaders towards Jesus.
Their hostility will grow and intensify until it culminates in chapter 3:6 and I want us to quickly turn there so we see where all this is going. The intensity of their hatred will grow and grow until they are ready to make allies of enemies in their mutual commitment to kill Jesus. We see the first step of how they got to that point in our reading today.
Calling this section of five stories: Conflict in Capernaum Part 1: Authority to Forgive
1. Jesus sees a faith that goes through the roof!
Last week Matt pointed out how Jesus’ fame had grown in Capernaum to the point that the disciples interrupted his morning prayer time with the news that everyone was looking for him. To them that was a mandate to get back to town and meet the crowds (and keep building the momentum) but to Jesus it meant it was time to move on to other towns – he didn’t come to build momentum, he came to preach the gospel of the kingdom of God throughout Israel. So at the peak of his popularity he leaves Capernaum.
As chapter two opens some time has passed and Jesus returns to Capernaum and his popularity, if anything, has only grown and immediately the house where he was staying was filled to overflowing with crowds who were hungry to hear the word of God preached. And verse two tells us that Jesus was preaching the word to them.
While he is in the house teaching, four men are making their way to Jesus carrying their paralytic friend on a mat with the hope that Jesus will heal him. But when they get to the house, they find it’s so packed they can’t even get near Jesus. But that didn’t stop them and verse 4 describes the lengths they go to get to Jesus:
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.
These four friends believed in the familiar saying, when God closes a door, He opens a window. And when He doesn’t open a window, He provides a roof that you can rip an opening in.” OK, that’s not really a saying, but the point is they don’t take no for an answer. Mark records in the first part of verse 5:
And when Jesus saw their faith…(5a)
With all due respect to the paralytic, I think it was the faith of his friends that impressed Jesus. They really believed that if they could get him to Jesus, Jesus would heal him, and nothing was going to stop them from getting their friend to Jesus. Their faith literally went through the roof! And I think we find a good lesson for us in their example:
Faith isn't quick to interpret obstacles as God’s denial
When they get to the house and they can’t get anywhere near Jesus for their friend to be healed, how easy it would have been to give up; how easy it would have been to think it just wasn’t God’s will. They could have rationalized, God is sovereign and He knew we were coming so if He were in this surely He would have made an opening to get to Jesus. This must be God’s way of saying it’s not His will. Apparently they didn’t see God’s sovereignty that way – and neither did Jesus.
We need to be careful that we don’t become tea-leaf reading Christians, always trying to read into situations some kind of “sign” from God. If we come to an obstacle or a challenge along the way, we read it as a “sign” from God that it’s not His will.
I remember a conversation I had years ago in the church I pastored on LI a member of the church came to my office and began to express a very strong difference of opinion about some things we were doing at the time. No problem there – differences of opinion are healthy things! But I was surprised when he told me that God was disciplining me to get my attention. When I asked him what he meant, he reminded me of a couple of “obstacles” that had occurred in my life recently. One was that a week or two earlier I had gotten a flat tire while driving through town in the afternoon. The other was that my family had packed up for a trip to Illinois to visit my family and at the last minute my mom needed to go for surgery and we couldn’t go. It was a Sunday morning and we literally had the car ready to leave right after the service. He read these things as signs that God was opposing me because of this difference of opinion. I was surprised because it had never occurred to me to see these things as anything other than normal events in life.
It had never occurred to me to associate a flat tire with the discipline of the Lord – even cars owned by Christians get flat tires. And I remember very clearly that Sunday morning all packed up for vacation and had nowhere to go. We decided we really needed to take a vacation so we called Janice’s sister and family in Maine and in 10 minutes our plans were rerouted to Maine and we had one of the most refreshing and enjoyable vacations ever. We even extended it by 3 days we were having such a great time. And the Lord used it to minister encouragement to our hearts too. The Lord was in it, but it was for our good – it turned out to be exactly what we needed.
Now God can use an accumulation of things going against us to get our attention and even chastise us but we need to be careful not to quickly read into things that happen to us or to others. We need to be careful that we don’t look at all obstacles as God’s stop sign, or all smooth roads as God’s green light. We don’t ignore obstacles and we don’t ignore doors opening or things going smoothly either, we just don’t invest them with the authority to guide us. They are simply a part of the equation.
Jesus said his sheep would hear his voice not that they would read his signs. Jesus wants to guide us through speaking to us – through his Word, through his Spirit, through godly counsel, and yes, through circumstances. Our goal should not be to “read the signs” but to hear his voice, and to receive his counsel. His guidance is a relational more than it is situational.
In the case of the four friends, the obstacle of a packed house simply revealed how strong and determined their faith was to get to Jesus– and often God will press on us as well so that our faith become strong and not quit at the first sign of resistance. God wants to develop a strong and persistent faith in us as well.
2. Jesus’ surprising response to their faith (vs. 5)
So picture the moment with me: the house is crowded with people, Jesus is teaching, and there’s some ripping and tearing at the roof above them and suddenly a hole appears and a mat with a paralytic man is lowered down from the hole right in front of Jesus. And Jesus looks up and sees four eager faces looking through the hole at him and he sees their faith. But Jesus’ response isn’t what they expected and it’s not what we expect either: “Son, your sins are forgiven.”
This man wasn’t there to be forgiven, he was there to be healed. The faith written on their faces was faith that he would walk again. That Jesus would take his hand or speak the word and tell him to rise, take up his mat and walk. But Jesus assures him that his sins are forgiven. Why?
I think we find a little more insight from something that the gospel of Matthew records in this same account: Matthew records that Jesus said, take heart, my son, your sins are forgiven. Jesus knows this man wants to walk, and he will heal him physically, but he also sees this man’s broken state, he sees in his countenance the despair and hopelessness of a man who is aware of his guilty heart and is as helpless to do anything about it as he is to do anything about his paralyzed limbs.
In that way we are all like this poor paralyzed man. We are able to walk physically but unable to walk in the way of holiness as God would have us walk. Sin paralyzes us from obeying God, from loving one another, from fleeing immorality, from pursuing righteousness. When it comes to walking in holiness, sin has made us all cripples. And we are helpless to do anything about it – we need the forgiveness of Christ to set us free and enable us to walk.
Jesus forgave this man because that is what he needed most – more than being able to walk again. Physical healing will only last for a few years and then we fail and eventually die. But the forgiveness that Jesus offers heals our souls and restores us to God. Jesus’ mission wasn’t primarily focused on the temporary relief from sickness, but the eternal relief from sin.
But Jesus’ pronouncement of forgiveness wasn’t applauded by everyone in the room. Let’s continue on beginning in verse 6.
3. Jesus’ authority to forgive (vv. 6-12)
These religious leaders weren’t in the room by coincidence. Luke tells us that they had come from “every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem.” This was a delegation of Pharisees and teachers of the law who had come to check out this young new preacher who was gaining such notoriety. They came to examine Jesus and the fact that they were sitting probably gives us a clue about their attitude. In those days it was the teacher who sat and the students who stood, so even their body posture reveals they’re not there to learn from Jesus – they’re there to judge Jesus! You can picture them there, arms folded, scowls on their faces, just waiting for Jesus to say or do something wrong – just hoping that he confirms their suspicions and does something that doesn’t meet their approval. And Jesus doesn’t disappoint! When he proclaims forgiveness over the paralytic, they are certain he has blasphemed God – for only God can forgive sins!
Jesus knows that all this is going on in their minds and so he asks them a question: Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’?
It seems like an easy question, but the answer is actually a little tricky. It’s definitely easier to say ‘your sins are forgiven’ than ‘rise and walk’ because there’s no way to verify if someone’s sins are or aren’t forgiven. With rise and walk it’s immediately verifiable and if you don’t have the authority or power to do it you are immediately exposed as a fraud. It is easier to say “your sins are forgiven”.
But it’s harder to do. It’s much harder to actually accomplish the forgiveness of sins than the healing of a paralytic. Healing a paralyzed man is a wonderful miracle – a display of God’s amazing power. But it would take more than God’s power to accomplish the forgiveness of sins – it would take the cross. God’s power couldn’t miraculously wipe our slate clean of sin apart from Jesus dying on the cross to pray for the sins of the world. The cross is the power of God for our salvation. So it’s much harder to accomplish the forgiveness of sins than the healing of a paralytic.
But in order to demonstrate that Jesus had the authority to accomplish what couldn’t be verified (the forgiveness of sins) he accomplished what could be verified:
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!” Mark 2:10-12
The crowd knew that God’s power was at work and glorified the Lord. The paralytic would have a deeper assurance that his sins also had truly been forgiven and left there not only walking, but with his guilt removed, his sins cleansed.
But not everyone was amazed or convinced or was praising God. The religious leaders had only one of two choices: either Jesus was the Messiah and had authority to heal and to forgive, or he was an amazing charlatan who was guilty of blaspheming God. They chose the second option and never moved from it –which explains why they would eventually begin to plot his death. Those guilty of blaspheming God were, according to the law, to be put to death, so they felt they were being obedient to the law. Over the next weeks and months we’ll watch this opposition and hostility towards Jesus grow.
Jesus’ most powerful accomplishment was to make it possible for us to be forgiven of all our sins. When we come to Jesus Christ in faith, repenting of our sin and asking him to wipe the slate clean he promises to do just that – and he has the authority (power) to do it. And forgiveness becomes the atmosphere we breath. As we close let me share two ways we are to apply this precious truth of forgiveness.
a. We should trust Jesus to cleanse us of all our sin
Sin is crippling. Guilt is crippling. Forgiveness – when we know that we are really and truly forgiven of our sin – is liberating. It will lift the crushing, crippling weight of our guilt and shame off of us and we find we have strength to rise and walk.
If guilt and shame of sin is crippling you – confess your sin to God, repent of it (in other words, turn from it) and ask Jesus to forgive you. He promises he will if we come to him in repentance and faith.
b. We should pronounce forgiveness to one another
Christians should not only be the rich recipients of forgiveness, but we are to be the dispensers of forgiveness as well. We don’t have the authority as Christ did to forgive other’s sins against God, but we do have the ability to pronounce God’s forgiveness based on God’s word when a believer sins but confesses and repents of that sin.
Just this past week, Ambassadors of Reconciliation released a report detailing areas where SGM is strong and where we need to grow. One area they identified where we need to grow is the area of pronouncing forgiveness. We preach grace, we take sin seriously, but when there is confession of sin, we aren’t as quick to pronounce forgiveness based on the forgiveness of Christ. It’s a deficiency we need to correct, and here at GCC we want to grow in pronouncing God’s forgiveness over one another when there is confession and repentance of sin. And this is vitally important when someone sins against us.
Paul says in Eph. 4:32: forgiving one another as God in Christ forgave you.
Sin cripples our relationships – through hurt, anger, bitterness, malice, suspicion, jealousy, withdrawal, gossip, critical spirits, self-righteousness, and other ways. And then it cripples the person who is guilty of sin as they feel guilty, ashamed, unwelcome, unworthy, unwanted. How many relationships have been broken by sin? How many relationships have been damaged by sin? How many relationships have been crippled by sin?
It’s not enough when you have been sinned against to try to forget it and move on. The Bible doesn’t say “forget as God in Christ forgot what you did”. It says, forgive. Let’s cultivate the heart and the habit of pronouncing “I forgive you, even as God in Christ forgave me. And based on the work of Christ, I want you to know that you are forgiven by God.” Forgiveness is much, much more than forgetting and moving on. It is purposely absorbing the hurt and wrong committed against us and wiping the slate clean – never to bring it up again or hold it against that person again. It’s what Jesus did for us and because he did it for us, we should walk in the same spirit of forgiveness that he does – and pronounce it over one another! Let’s pray.
More in Gospel of Mark
March 31, 2013Shock and Awe at the Empty Tomb
March 31, 2013Shock and Awe at the Empty Tomb
March 24, 2013A Glorious View from the Mt Everest of Our Redemption