Jesus continued to travel throughout the region surrounding the Sea of Galilee in Northern Israel and after he teaches, heals, and casts out demons in the area for some time, he returns to Simon’s house in the town called Capernaum.
Jesus is the great healer; at least he was last time he was in Capernaum. This is one of the reasons why so many people came to hear him. Because he teaches with uncommon authority, because he casts out demons, and because he heals. So why all of a sudden in verse 5, is Jesus telling this guy that his sins are forgiven? In verses 6-7 the Scribes appear in the story again. Remember how everybody thought Jesus was such a better teacher than them? Well for whatever reason, they come to hear him teach too. Then they hear him claim to forgive this man’s sin. They call this blasphemy because they are thinking, “this guy didn’t sin against Jesus, he sinned against God, so he can’t do that.” Who can forgive sins? They ask themselves, “only God”. You see how the Gospel of Mark is unfolding Jesus’ identity? In doing this, Jesus is presuming to be God, and for those of us who know the story it’s understandable. But for the people in the story, can you imagine how audacious this would be?
These Scribes assume their typical disposition of doubting, criticizing, and opposing Jesus. There is a notable contrast between the faith of the men who brought their friend and the lack of faith of the Scribes. Of all the people who should have understood that Jesus comes to fulfill promise and prophecy, it was the Scribes, but they missed it. But these men who presumable knew nothing about textual history or the ancient prophecies believe in Jesus with complete faith. This contrast appears often in the Gospels. The religious and righteous people are those that oppose and ultimately crucify Jesus, while the sinful and sick are the ones who believe in Jesus. Every time we read stories like this it should cause us to check our hearts. Which am I? Which are you?
In verses 8-9, Jesus, perceiving these Scribes’ issue with him, asks them a question. Which is easier, to forgive or to heal? Well, for a Scribe, both were impossible so it’s actually humorous that he would ask them this. In asking this question, Jesus is effectually saying, “You can’t do either one and I can do both, so stop doubting and believe.” Then in v 10, he tells them about his authority. He can do both and so they will realize that he can forgive, he will prove it by healing. And the paralyzed man gets up and walks out. Verse 12 says everyone was amazed and they glorified God. “We’ve never seen anything like this before” is their response. Who does this kind of thing? How is this possible? Well, it’s possible because Jesus is God. God does this kind of thing.
To be forgiven, a person had to go to the Temple and offer appropriate sacrifices. But Jesus is offering forgiveness in someone’s living room. You can’t do that! God only meets with the priest in the innermost part of the Temple on one day of the year, the Day of Atonement. But, remember what Jesus has been teaching. God’s Kingship is near. The time is fulfilled. God’s presence with Israel is now no longer limited to a day and to a room in a temple, but God is with his people. He is near them, they can touch and see and hear him. And what happens when God gets this close to his people? He heals. He overwhelms Satan’s dominion. He speaks truth. And he forgives sin. The King has come announcing his rule and here in this story he pronounces his kingly proclamation that those who come to him in faith will be forgiven of sin. Only Jesus has the mercy and grace to make this proclamation. Only Jesus has the authority to make this proclamation.
In verse 10, Jesus calls himself the “Son of Man”. He calls himself the Son of Man, here and then about a dozen or so more times in Mark’s Gospel. He heals the paralyzed man so they will understand the authority the Son of Man has to forgive. It is a loaded term and an ambiguous term. Jesus seems to refer to himself as Son of Man because it has scriptural background as referring to the Messiah. He does this because in his context, referring to himself as “Messiah” would have had some pretty serious political and military connotations. In effect, he is helping these people re-learn what the Messiah is by referring to himself as the Son of Man instead of the more charged title of “Messiah”. The people had a conception of the Messiah in their minds and Jesus didn’t come to fulfill that conception but to be the Messiah. This is another reminder that we must be careful to allow God to form an understanding of himself in our minds rather than letting our minds impose an understanding of what God should be upon him. Unless God reveals himself to us in the pages of Scripture, we form an understanding of God that is too much like ourselves. He is God, there should be things that we have difficulty believing and there should be things we don’t like, because at times we like things that are wrong and sinful. We must make sure that we let God speak for himself rather than imposing our belief of who he should be upon him.
The term “Son of Man” is used nearly 100 times in the OT and most often in Ezekiel. The phrase was a favorite by the prophet Ezekiel and perhaps Jesus uses it to echo back to his prophecies about the Messiah. There is a passage in Daniel 7 that is explicitly messianic. That Jesus used the title Son of Man this way must have driven the Scribes crazy. Is Jesus calling himself just another man, a prophet, or the Messiah? Jesus has been doing all of these things, all of this healing, all of this confronting demons, all of this teaching, because he is going to deal with the root cause of it all – sin. As Messiah, he wasn’t going to do physical battle with Israel’s oppressors like Rome, he was going deeper and to something more important.
His Messiahship means that he is addressing eternal and spiritual realities and confronting sin and death and Satan’s dominion. Without dealing with the sin, the healing is only physical. Without dealing with the sin, the demons may lose the battle, but they win the war. Without dealing with sin, Jesus doesn’t make disciples, but his teaching simply results in more scribes. The time being fulfilled and God’s kingship coming near has everything to do with the problem of humanity’s sinfulness and the King had to come to deal with this himself. He set up the Law, but it was given to a sinful people so it never dealt with their sinfulness, only their sinful actions. The King comes to deal with this. Jesus says this Son of Man has authority to deal with sin but he doesn’t explain that he has this authority because this Son of Man is the King, the Messiah. Jesus leaves the Scribes and the crowd with the reaction “We never saw anything like this!” This paralyzed man is brought for healing, but Jesus gives him forgiveness.
Tim Keller talks about this story in his book and he explains Jesus’ words saying, “I understand your problems. I have seen your suffering. I’m going to get to that. But please realize that the main problem in a person’s life is never his suffering, it’s his sin.” He says that all this man must have wanted was healing. If he could only walk, then his life would be perfect. But Jesus knows better. Jesus offers this man forgiveness, because without it, even if he can walk, he is still alienated from God and will still be unsatisfied with his life. People often say to themselves, “If I could only get that job, if I could only get married, if I could only get a raise, If I could only do this, or get that, or get rid of something else.” Jesus shows us that if we have everything we desire apart from him, we will still not have enough.
Knowing God is infinitely more important than the other things we might gain or accomplish. In this story Jesus shows us, that when we pursue so many other things with our lives, we are often running from ourselves or our circumstances. He tells us what we need isn’t success or stuff, what we need is him. What are you pursuing more passionately than Jesus? What are you sacrificing to gain in your life or career that you are unwilling to sacrifice to gain Jesus? Our lives are filled with many pursuits, and many of them are noble and worthwhile. But all other pursuits must pale in comparison to our pursuit of Jesus.