Well please do take a Bible in your hands and turn with me once more to Mark's gospel, chapter 2. As we continue in our journey through Mark's gospel, Sunday mornings, we've come this morning to the first in a series of five accounts that highlight the growing conflict between Jesus and the scribes and the Pharisees, the religious leaders of the day. You'll find it on page 837 in the church Bibles. Let me invite you to turn there, please. Mark chapter 2, verses 1 through 12.
We are going to examine the passage under three headings. First, in verses 1 through 5, I want you to notice the reach of grace. The reach of grace. Just how far, how deeply does it penetrate? How far does it go? What is the reach of grace as we see the paralyzed man lowered down in front of Jesus? The reach of grace. Then secondly, 6 through 12, the source of grace. Where does it come from? We’ll look at Jesus’ interactions with the offended scribes, which actually are designed to help us truly identify who Jesus really is. The reach of grace. The reach of grace – how deeply does it go? The source of grace – where does it come from? Then thirdly, we’re going to think about receiving grace. How do I get it? How can I get my hands on this grace? How can I make it my own? And we’ll look at the different things people saw that day, the different perspectives, and we’ll land finally on Jesus’ perspective as He observes these five men, four of them carrying the fifth, the paralyzed man to bring him to Christ. So the reach of grace – how deeply does it go? Verses 1 to 5. The source of grace – where does it come from? Six through 12. Receiving grace – how do I get it? How can I have it for myself? In the rest of the passage as a whole.
Before we look at those headings and consider the passage, let me ask if you would bow your heads with me one more time as we pray. Let’s pray together.
O Lord Jesus, we come to You with Your Word spread before us asking You to speak the same good news You spoke to the paralyzed man and preached to the crowd that day in Capernaum. Grant to us ears to hear and hearts receptive to Your Word, for we ask this in Your name. Amen.
Mark 2 at verse 1. This is the Word of Almighty God:
“And when he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. And many were gathered together, so that there was no more room, not even at the door. And he was preaching the word to them. And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. 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. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’ Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, ‘Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?’ And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, ‘Why do you question these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed 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, pick up your bed, and go home.’ 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!’”
One of the sad things for me about living in Mississippi has to do with the storms. You know, I get terrible headaches when the barometric pressure changes. Long before the clouds have really begun to burst and long before there's a thunderclap or a burst of lightning – I can usually tell when a storm is coming. I start to feel wretched. Mark chapter 2 begins like the clear blue sky of a Mississippi summer day. Everything is fine. Jesus has crept back to Capernaum after too many nights camped out in the wilderness because of His sudden notoriety. Word of His return home – notice that word by the way. He returns "home" – that word has leaked out that He is at home. It seems Capernaum is now His home base for this part of His ministry. Word of His return home has leaked to the community around and before you know it there's a huge crowd jostling for the best spot right outside His front door. So we’re told He “preached the word to them.” So far so good, right? This has been more or less the constant pattern of Jesus’ ministry in Capernaum thus far.
But then these five men show up, five friends; four of them carrying the fifth, a paralyzed man hoping for healing from Jesus. And when they can't get in because of the crowd, they resolved to take a rather direct action. And up to this point, there's hardly a cloud in the sky, we might say. But as these four men haul their friend up the stairs leading to the flat roof of the home where Jesus was staying, the barometric pressure begins to change. A storm is brewing. Tensions begin to mount as these men dig their way right through the roof in order to lower their paralyzed friend down into the living room in front of Jesus. You can picture the scene, can’t you? It’s pretty dramatic. Jesus is seated in the middle of the room. Around Him are the disciples, perhaps their friends and family too. The scribes, of course, the religious elites from the local synagogue are all there judging every word that comes from the mouth of Jesus. In fact, the whole house we are told is chockablock. It’s full of neighbors and acquaintances and spiritual seekers from all over town. Those who couldn’t get inside are all listening at the window or craning their necks to hear a word or two at the doorway.
And Jesus’ sermon is now well underway when the noise of digging and grunts of exertion from the men on the roof begin to distract. And then the dust and the debris begins to fall as these men dig their way in. The language that Mark uses is quite emphatic. When he describes what they did, literally he says something like, “they unroofed the roof and dug a hole.” Luke’s account in Luke’s gospel tells us this was a tiled roof and so they had to remove the tiles. Then, there would have been several inches of hard packed dirt to dig through and then there would have been thick planks forming the ceiling that would have had to be removed. This was not a quiet, subtle, covert operation. And so as those who were listening in that congregation at home that day are beginning now to brush the debris from their shoulders, not even Jesus can continue His sermon as suddenly a shaft of light fills the room and it’s then blotted out by the silhouette of this man being lowered down right into the middle of the room.
But Jesus, though His sermon is interrupted, is not in the least bit upset. Is He? Look at verse 5. “When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’” What an interesting thing to say, don’t you think? “Son, your sins are forgiven.” I wonder if these four men who had sweated and labored, peering in you know from the roof, dripping sweat, are now more than a little disappointed. After all, they’d brought their friend for healing and Jesus, instead, pronounces a word of forgiveness. But whatever their expectations, actually Jesus is addressing not this man’s felt need, his obvious felt need, but his real need, his deepest need, his most pressing need. After all, what’s the value of the use of all our limbs if we continue to yield the members of our bodies as instruments of sin? What good, if after having restored his health, the man remains under the wrath and curse of God?
Reach of Grace
You see, as Jesus gives grace, the grace He gives goes deeper than we know we really need. The reach of grace is greater than we’re prepared for. Jesus has a way of getting in under our guard of penetrating to the issues behind the issues of speaking not to what we think we need, what we think we want Him for, but to what we really need whether we know we need it or not. And what we really need, what my heart really needs, what your heart really needs is to be forgiven. You might not think that’s your most urgent need. You may have a host of life problems facing in on you, you’d really, really like for Jesus to fix. “I don’t know what to do with my troubled teen.” “I‘ve made some bad choices; now I’m in a terrible financial bind.” “My doctor called and the news is not good.” Sure, we’d love for the Lord Jesus to come and deliver us from our trials, and you know very often in His amazing grace He is delighted to do so. You remember the hymn, “O, what peace we often forfeit! O, what needless pain we bear! All because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.” He loves to hear His children when they call to Him in their trials and with their burdens and oftentimes He delivers us from them or gives us the grace to sustain us in the midst of them.
Our Greatest Need
But there is a difference, isn’t there, between bringing to God our daily needs, our need for daily bread in the trials and challenges of everyday life as we seek to follow Him through every dark valley. That’s one thing. It’s something else entirely to come to Jesus only in the foxholes when the bullets are flying after we’ve exhausted every alternative. All our best efforts to fix life on our own have finally proven futile. You know, the reservoir of our own resources is finally empty and, I guess as a last resort, no other option available, we plead with Jesus to get us off the hook. In those moments that’s what we think we need Jesus for. But our passage is reminding us that He’s not nearly as interested in fixing our messes as He is in cleansing our hearts. He’s not nearly as interested in fixing our mess as He is in cleansing our hearts. What we really need is to hear in our hearts and consciences the voice of Christ saying to us, “My dear child, son, daughter, your sin is forgiven.” Those may be the most precious five words ever spoken, surely. “Son, your sins are forgiven.”
To everybody else that day in Capernaum, perhaps they sounded woefully inadequate. Here is Jesus, after all, confronted with an embodiment of weakness and suffering and need, this paralyzed man. Lowered – what a pathetic sight he must have made – lowered down from the ceiling. “Jesus, we thought You were a miracle worker. That’s the best You can do? It must be beyond Your ability, surely.” “Your sins are forgiven.” “Talk is cheap. Show us what You’re really made of.” Whatever the others thought, however, no doubt for this man himself, these were words he’d never forget; words upon which his whole life from this moment on would pivot and turn. He came seeking healing. What he found was far more wonderful. You see, grace, what grace really gives when it erupts into our hearts, when it reconciles us to God and washes us clean is far more wonderful than any momentary deliverance from an earthly trial. He found forgiveness and he would never be the same again.
Let me ask you what you’re here today for. Why are you here? What is it you’re looking to Jesus to do for you? Whatever it is, the heart of the matter, our passage is saying, is the matter of your heart. That’s what Jesus is most interested in. You need forgiving. Me too. Jesus is the only one who can give it to us. Have you gone to Him? Have you? Jesus can forgive. That’s what you really need and it is His to bestow. So that’s the first thing I want us to see – this surprising reach of grace beyond our felt needs all the way to the heart, to what we really need – the forgiveness of our sins.
Source of Grace
Then secondly, would you notice what we’re told about the source of grace. Where does it come from? The reach of grace – it goes all the way to the heart. The source of grace – where does it come from? Look at verses 6 through 12. Clearly, the scribes are not at all impressed. Are they? I picture them a bit like Statler and Waldorf. You don’t remember who Statler and Waldorf are? The two grumpy muppets in balcony always grumbling and complaining. Nothing’s ever good enough for Statler and Waldorf! That’s the scribes and the Pharisees. As they see and hear Jesus in action, they are outraged, aren’t they? They are offended at the audacity of this man who presumes to forgive sins, so they begin to grumble. Verse 7, “Why does He speak like that? Who does He think He is? He is blaspheming. Who can forgive sins but God alone?”
Now you see their logic. Follow the syllogism with me for a moment. Point one – only God forgives sins. Point two – but Jesus is a man! Point three – therefore, Jesus is blaspheming by claiming for Himself a role and a power and an authority that belongs only to God. You see their logic? Now here is the root, the real root of the emerging conflict with Jesus that Mark is going to track for us through the remainder of his gospel. Jesus, we’ll see, will butt heads with the religious establishment a number of times over issues like Sabbath observance and the proper interpretation of the law. But behind all of His conflict is this one fundamental issue. It’s not really a concern over Jesus’ behavior, but more fundamentally a concern over Jesus’ identity. “Who does He think He is? Who is this man?”
And to answer that question, notice how Jesus responds in verses 8 through 11. He asks them directly which is the easier to say – “Your sins are forgiven” or “Take up your bed and walk.” To say, “Your sins are forgiven,” that is unfalsifiable. No one can tell if it’s happened or not happened. It’s not demonstrable so it’s relatively easy to say. You can’t prove it. But to say to a paralyzed man on whom every eye is now fixed in the middle of the room after having been lowered through a hole in the ceiling, “Rise, take up your bed and walk,” we’ll you’d better be able to follow through on those words and actually restore the man to health, otherwise you’re suddenly exposed as a charlatan. So who would ever dare make a statement like that but to demonstrate that He has, in fact, the authority to forgive. He now demonstrates He has the power to heal. He turns to the paralyzed man and says, "'Rise, pick up your bed and go home.' And he did." It's so matter of fact in the way Mark recounts it. Jesus turns, speaks to him, and the man simply obeys; health is restored with a word.
And as the implications of that sink in, I wonder if you can see the way that Mark structures these twelve verses to put right at the very center of the passage the logic of the scribes in verse 7. Scholars call it a chiasm. Imagine concentric circles like ripples in a pond, emanating from the epicenter. And so the outer ring, the widest ripple, verses 1 and 12 – the crowds come to Jesus and then the crowds leave amazed after having heard and seen Jesus in action. That’s the outside circle. Then, verses 3 and 4. The paralytic and his friends come to Jesus looking for healing. Verses 11 and 12, the paralytic receives healing. That’s the next circle in. And then verse 5, Jesus pronounces forgiveness, while in verses 8 through 10 He defends His pronouncement of forgiveness. That’s the third circle in. And right at the very heart of it all is verse 7 with the nice, neat logic of the scribes.
Deity of Jesus Christ
Now, why would Mark put the logic of these skeptical scribes at the very heart of his account? He does it to show us that they say more than they see. They say more than they see. They’re actually making, though they don’t recognize it, a great argument for the deity of Jesus Christ. Follow their logic. “Only God can forgive sins. Jesus forgives sins. Therefore – what? They conclude He’s merely a man and a blasphemer, but the healing demonstrates He is so much more. He is the God-Man, the one our sins have offended, to whom alone belongs the prerogatives both to forgive sin and to restore the sick. Mark is highlighting the scribes’ stunning blindness. Their own logic ought to have driven them to see the truth about Jesus, but their spiritual blindness could never admit that in Christ God Himself has come down to dwell among us full of grace and truth. You see, Jesus, Jesus is the source of grace, the source of pardon, because Jesus is the Lord God whose law we are have all transgressed and of whose glory we have all fallen short.
The storm front of conflict that is just beginning here in chapter 2 between Jesus and the religious elite, of course, begins to build and build and gather momentum until it reaches its climax at the end of Mark's gospel in the arrest and crucifixion of the Lord Jesus Christ. And it looked like a moment of final victory for Christ's opponents. Doesn't it? But we know that actually here is the victory of the Lord Jesus because now we discover that in answer to the question, “Which is it easier to say?” actually for Jesus, the easier to say is, “Rise, take up your bed and walk.” The far more costly thing to say is, “Sons, your sins are forgiven.” It would cost Him His lifeblood to secure. In order to deliver pardon for sinners, Christ must be condemned in their place under the wrath and curse of God that He may say not only to this paralyzed man but to each of us who come to trust in Him, “Today as you trust Me, My dear child, your sin is forgiven.” He was condemned that we might be pardoned. Much harder for Jesus actually to say, “Son, your sins are forgiven,” than to heal and restore this poor man to wholeness and to health. Because of the cross. “Because the sinless Savior died, my sinful soul is counted free. For God the just is satisfied, to look on Him and pardon me.”
The reach of grace. The source of grace. The reach of grace was all the way to the heart. It delivers not just what we think we need but what we really need – pardon, forgiveness, cleansing. The source of grace – Jesus, the God-Man, who gave Himself, the just for the unjust, to bring us to God.
Then finally, let’s think about receiving grace. How do I get my hands on grace like this? How do I make it mine? Let’s look at the different things people saw that day. Think for a moment about the crowds. Perhaps the crowds pressing into the house to hear Jesus saw, as the man was lowered down into the middle of the room, a moment of delicious scandal brewing. “Let’s wait and see what’s about to happen next, shall we?” We know for sure that the scribes and the religious elites in the room saw a moment of outrageous impiety. After all, what self-respecting rabbi would ever have time for a paralytic. Probably the man deserves everything that he endures. Certainly, he doesn't deserve Jesus' attention and as Jesus begins to speak with him and interact with him, they're scandalized. That was the scribes. Then, there's Simon's mother-in-law in whose house all this action probably takes place. I'm sure she was thinking more about the hole in her roof than anything else. Then, there's Simon himself. I suspect he's thinking about the trip to Lowe's he'll have to make to repair the roof; the "Honey Do List" that's now suddenly and greatly expanded.
But notice what we’re told Jesus saw. Look at what Jesus saw. He saw what? He saw their faith. The faith of a paralyzed man, utterly helpless and powerless who could do nothing. He has to be carried to Christ. He can’t even get there under his own steam. Here’s a picture of our true condition if ever there was one – utterly helpless, placed before Christ, cast entirely upon Him for mercy. That’s faith, actually. It’s not doing anything; it’s entirely trusting Christ to do all. The faith of these four men who would stop at nothing to bring this man to Jesus. Their faith was unmistakable and evident for everyone to see. It’s their faith that draws from Jesus the declaration of the forgiveness of sin. The scribes have nothing for Jesus but contempt. “Who does He think He is – this carpenter’s son from Nazareth, blaspheming?” But the paralyzed man and his friends knew better. Didn’t they? “Jesus is the source, the fountain of grace. Jesus has what my heart needs. I must get to Jesus.” Faith like that always receives the pardon our hearts require. You go to Jesus believingly and He says to you, “Today, as you trust Me, you’re clean. Today, as you trust Me, you’re forgiven.”
Some of us are wrestling with shame and guilt. Our consciences sting and we condemn and reproach ourselves. And it is a vital and urgent need we feel so keenly in our hearts – "Where can I get out from under this massive burden of guilt that I feel?" There's only one place to go and only one thing you need to do. You must go to Jesus as helpless as the paralyzed man with no arguments, no attempts to persuade, with nothing to be done but casting yourself on Christ. When you do, you will always find that His heart answers yours with more grace than you need. Jesus is the source of forgiveness. You will hear in your heart and in your conscience, the assurance of the Gospel – "My beloved daughter, My dear son, your sin is forgiven." Do you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ? Trust Him. Don't delay. Trust Him now. Come like this poor man, helpless, but abandoned entirely to the mercy of Christ, and it’s mercy you will receive. I wonder if when Jesus looks at you does He see your faith? It’s the only way to receive the forgiveness He can provide.
The reach of grace goes all the way to our hearts. The source of grace – the Lord Jesus, the God-Man, who gave Himself that we might be pardoned. Receiving grace – you take hold of it with the empty hand of true faith. May the Lord help us all, whether for the very first time or anew, to go to Him and to receive the pardon our hearts need. Let’s pray together.
O Lord Jesus, we're so grateful to You that You loved us and gave Yourself for us. Because You died, we live. Because You were condemned, we are pardoned. By Your stripes, we are healed. And so we bless Your great name. We know the truth is there’s nothing we can do to manipulate pardon from You, to leverage grace from You, so like this paralyzed man, helpless and powerless, unable to save ourselves, we are abandoned to Your mercy. And as we give ourselves up entirely to You, crying, “Lord Jesus, save. Lord Jesus, forgive. Lord Jesus, rescue,” we pray that by Your Spirit You might speak to our hearts the same assurance You spoke to that man long ago – “My dear child, Your sin is forgiven.” For we ask this in Your name, amen.
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