From paralysis to pardon - Mark 2:1-12
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“Never, never, never give up.” Words which could only have been spoken by Sir Winston Churchill. And of course he exemplified them perfectly didn’t he? : overcoming enormous odds in his early years with a disapproving father, a speech impediment, and possibly mild dyslexia. Then there was the political isolation of the 1930’s, the most appalling bouts of depression and set back after set back during the early years of the Second World War. But he never, never, never gave up. However, it has to be admitted that we all have our limits. There comes a point for all of us when we at least feel, ‘enough is enough.’ But what do we do then? Well, this morning we turn to an episode in the life of Jesus where the question of having had enough was on everyone’s mind. And it is there in Mark chapter 2.
So what happens, when you’ve had enough? That was the position of this poor man and his friends, vv 3-4. ‘Some men came, bringing to Jesus a paralytic, carried by four of them. 4 Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus and, after digging through it, lowered the mat the paralyzed man was lying on.’
The man is an invalid. He can’t stand, he can’t walk. His limbs are bent, his body is twisted. His is a world which doesn’t reach above the waste, he sees feet passing by, not faces. It could be that he had palsy, a body ruined from the very day he was born. While other children ran and jumped, he just sat and stared. Whilst his brothers and sisters used to shout and sing, his words just slurred and slipped. You probably noticed that in the whole episode the man himself said nothing to Jesus-perhaps he couldn’t. He may never have known what it was like to be a whole person
But perhaps he had been healthy once. Maybe there was a time when he had been known for his ability rather than his disability. He was the fastest boy in his class on sports day. He had been the one chosen to give the acceptance speech at the school prize giving. His hands had been nimble on the flute- so everyone wanted to be like him. But then came the day of the accident-the careless tumble down the stairs and the awkward landing from which his body never fully recovered. Or the unexplained pain at the base of his skull which wouldn’t go away and which resulted in an increasing numbness in his arms and legs. He could see his limbs but he couldn’t feel them, let alone use them.
So, whether he was born paralysed or became paralysed, the result was the same, a life of total dependency on other people. Someone had to feed him. Someone had to wash his face and bathe his body. He couldn’t blow his nose or go for a walk. If an insect crawled over his face he needed someone to swat it away. The only time he ran was in his dreams and so even sleep was no escape, only a painful reminder of his own tragic predicament.
So what would you have said this man needs? The answer is obvious isn’t it? In fact it is a no brainer- he needs a new body. That is what his family would have thought. He needs hands to grip, arms that swing, feet that dance. When people looked at him, they didn’t see as man, but a need, a body in need of a miracle.
At least that is what his friends thought and so they did what anyone would do for friend, they tried to get help. But help in the miracle department was not exactly rife. But then something happened, word had got around that someone special was in town. He was a friend of two of the town’s well known sons- Peter and John, indeed he seems to have made the fishing town, Capernaum, his adopted home -v1.
And as we see in v2 as the word spread the people came. They converged on the town like crowds pouring into a football stadium: Women with their sick babies and broken hearts. Father’s with their sons who couldn’t speak. Seekers, desperate to know the reality of God, his kingdom. In fact it looked like the whole world and his uncle had come that day to see if what they had heard was real. Whether it was really true- God’s messiah had finally arrived.
So by the time the four friends arrived with their arms aching from carrying their hopeful friend, the situation looked hopeless. The doorways were jammed. People were craning their necks to get a glimpse of Jesus through the windows, other strained on tip toe looking over shoulders. So what do you do? You have a choice - give up or go on. They decided to go on. The man had had enough and so had his friends such that in a classic case of lateral thinking, undeterred the intrepid quartet huddle over the paralytic to hatch a plan. And the plan they came up with was to climb to the top of the house by the outside stairs, cut through the roof and lower their friend with their sashes to Jesus teaching below.
You had to admit it was risky- they could fall. It was dangerous-he could fall. It certainly was unorthodox- as antisocial an act as you could possibly get-drilling into someone’s roof. But at least it was a chance, maybe their only chance of getting close to Jesus.
But that is what faith does doesn’t it? It does the unexpected. It takes risks. It finds ways of getting through to God and will not easily take ‘no’ for an answer. Faith is always active, never passive. It lurches forward and doesn’t hold back. And such faith is rewarded as we see here in v5. ‘When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, "Son, your sins are forgiven."’ The very thing Jesus had been looking for, he now found- faith- people taking him at his word and trusting him. Here were four men who had enough hope in Jesus and enough love for their friend that regardless of the cost they took a chance. Someone was willing to risk embarrassment and injury to get close to the man from Galilee. And maybe that is what God is calling you to do this morning. You have some interest in Jesus otherwise you wouldn’t be here. You want to find out more and perhaps wouldn’t mind going along to Christianity Explored or After 8 or Men at the top -but to be honest it is plain risky. What would you family think or your mates at work? It could be acutely embarrassing for you. Perhaps you have tried before and had such a bad experience of church that you can’t face the possibility of experiencing that sort of rejection all over again- so better play safe and live with the pain. But what would have happened here at these men taken that attitude? ‘Oh, there are too many people. We tried, we came this far, but it is all too much of a drag to go any further, so let’s go home.’ Then the man would still have been on his bed and the friends would have been for ever filled with remorse, wondering if they had done the right thing. To come to know the true God and what he offers requires some effort on our part, some risk taking- some guts. Someone once put it like this: ‘Like every other religion, Christianity can be fully understood only from the inside. Objectively the study of facts from the outside carries you to the edge of the deep water and strongly suggests that good swimming is available. But to find out what the water is really like, you have to take a deep breath, dive in and swim for yourself. To make a cult of objectivity is to purchase life membership in the association of bystanders.’ And maybe that is you. The time has come to stop looking at a distance at Christianity but to draw close, take a deep breath and dive in.
But for Jesus enough wasn’t enough. What was it that the friends wanted and the man wanted? The answer: healing of the body. That wasn’t enough for Jesus. He wanted to give more-the healing of the soul. He leapfrogs the physical to deal with the spiritual. And why? Well because healing the body lasts only for a moment, whilst healing the soul lasts for an eternity. Don’t misunderstand me, what the friends were wanting was valid, but in Jesus’ mind it was rather timid. Expectations were high, but not high enough. They expected Jesus to say, ‘I heal you’ what he actually said was, ‘I forgive you.’ Now notice how Jesus addresses him, he calls him ‘Son’, a term of friendship and affection. Don’t you hear the tender compassion in Jesus’ voice? ‘Son, your sins are forgiven’ literally, ‘At this very moment your sins are forgiven.’ And what happened? His body remained the same, no change there. But his standing before a holy God had been transformed. No longer is he cut off from God, he is reconciled to God. The change is from foe to friend. You see, God gives what he sees we need and not just what we ask.
And when you think about it a jolly good job too. Which one of us here this morning would ever have dreamt of saying to God, ‘God, would you please hang yourself on a tool of torture as a substitute for every mistake I have made and every sin I have committed’? Then who would dare add, ‘After you have forgiven me would you please prepare for me a place in your presence, so close to your throne that I can almost touch the hem of your glorious robe.’? And if that were not enough would then add, ‘And please enter into my life, dwell in me, guide me, shape me, strengthen me and bless me more than I could ever deserve or imagine.’ Which one of us would even begin to think of asking for those things? Yet, those are the very things God gives in Jesus. No, like the four friends we are content with the small fry. So we pray for good health, a good job, a good family and leave the more important stuff like heaven and hell to oneside. But not Jesus- he offers what we really need not just what we want.
But for the religious leaders, Jesus had gone too far- for them enough was enough – look at vv 6-7 ‘Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, 7"Why does this fellow talk like that? He's blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?"
Now on this occasion, the theological experts were actually quite right. Only God can forgive, the Bible says so- Isaiah 43: 25 ‘I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.’ If Lee sins against me, then I have a right to forgive him if I wish to, since I am the injured party. But it is not as simple as that. Someone else has been offended too and that is God. Ultimately every sin committed against someone else is a sin committed against God even if we have not deliberately had him in mind. Why? Because he is the moral ruler of this world, we do not behave like that in his world with his creatures. If I have offended God then that offence has to be forgiven by God and only God can do this. So do you see why these churchmen are having apoplexy and reaching for the valium? Jesus is either acting as if he were God- going around forgiving sins, or claiming authority to forgive sins which exclusively belongs to God. Either way he is bordering on blasphemy. Their logic is impeccable, but their premise is faulty. If this is merely a man, then it would be blasphemy, but suppose he is God then what? And how would you know?
So Jesus tackles this head on because he knows what they are thinking, maybe from the indignant look on their faces, but more than likely through a supernatural reading of their hearts v8 : ‘Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, "Why are you thinking these things? 9Which is easier: to say to the paralytic, `Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, `Get up, take your mat and walk'? 10But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins . . . ." He said to the paralytic, 11"I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home." 12 He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, "We have never seen anything like this!"
Which is easier; to say ‘your sins are forgiven’ or ‘take up your mat and walk’? On the face of it is easier to say ‘your sins are forgiven’ isn’t it? Any one can say anything- words can come easily. But how is any one to know that sins have been forgiven? What evidence is there? And so Jesus connects the two- authority over sin and authority over sickness- the latter is proof of the former. The paralytic walks away a healed man as a sign that he is a forgiven man. Do you see? If he had been such a blasphemer would God have given him the power to heal having just said such a terrible thing? No, of course not. The crowds at least saw that much hence them praising God in v12 and shouting ‘we have never seen such a thing.’ Seen what? They had seen healings before, bucket loads of them back in v 32. But what they had not seen was the forgiveness of sin. The one thing a Jew longed for, prayed for, offered sacrifice for day in day out and yet still remained elusive-forgiveness -Jesus gave there and then. And look at the results. The physical restoration of the man was but a visible, tangible expression of his spiritual restoration. He was no longer bound, he was free. The symbol of his captivity- his mat- he picks up and then walks away.
But when you think about it, from another point of view, for Jesus to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven’ was the hardest thing to say, much harder than saying ‘Take up your mat and walk’. Let me explain why.
This so called ‘blasphemy’ of Jesus was eventually going to cost him his life at the hands of these very same religious people who took exception to his behaviour. They were the ones who were eventually to say ‘enough is enough’ let’s get rid of this man. It is not that easy, is it, saying something you know is going to put your safety at risk? That takes a lot of courage- a lot of courage, but Jesus did it.
Elsewhere Jesus talks about ‘giving his life’ as a ransom for our sin. So which causes Jesus less pain- providing the man with health or providing the man with heaven? You see, to heal the man’s body took a simple command; to forgive the man’s sins took wooden cross. The first was done in the house of friends; the second was done on a hill with thieves. One required a spoken word, the other a broken body.
Now do you see what our greatest need is and what God’s priority is? If our greatest need was physical Jesus would have remained a healer. Think of what he could have done with 60-70 years of an extensive healing ministry. Many a family would have been rejoicing over that. But in less than two years after this incident he was going to be killed. And why? Because that was God’s means of curing our greatest sickness which is our sin. This is not to say physical needs are unimportant, but it is to say that they are not the most important. And you can see why. We were made for a relationship with God- that is the purpose of our existence, to know him, to love him and be loved by him. Sin reverses all of that. Instead of embracing God’s kindness we feel the chilly wind of his judgement and it is a frightening and painful thing. Life never gets sorted while we are in that state. And if we were to leave this world in that condition then the most appalling fate awaits us, a condition for more serious than the paralysis this man suffered- eternal paralysis. And God is so stirred by our plight that he moves heaven and earth to spare us by sending his Son to be paralysed for us on the cross as he bears away our sin for ever.
Now imagine that just for a moment, the angels in heaven allow this man a brief visit to be with us here at St John’s this morning. That would be an astonishing thing in itself. He comes to the lectern and he begins to speak. He says, ‘I have heard a lot about you in Hull and it is a pleasure to be with you. I want to tell you that when I met Jesus for the very first time, myself and my friends hoped very much that he would take pity on me and heal me. And when he did it was the greatest experience of my life. I leapt up and ran out of that house praising God. I had 20 years of active life after that. I married, had children, a rich and full life in so many ways. But I have now been with Christ for 2,000 years and I now realise that the first words Jesus spoke to me were by far the most important. If I had to choose between the two things Jesus did for me, there is no doubt now what it would be, although at the time it would have seemed like madness. I now know that terrible though my paralysis was, the forgiveness of my sin was by far the greater need. And I thank God that he sent Jesus to put first things first and do the hardest thing God could ever do- forgive a sinner like me.’
If you are Christian here this morning- what will you be praising God for in 20,000 years time? -because you will be around then. That God cured you of back pain once? Or that he saved you and made you his child for all eternity? So why not start now? And if you are not yet a Christian- what do you make of this amazing person Jesus? Is he just a historical novelty to be brushed aside or is he the one who alone can make sense this business called life? If it is that, then can you really afford to ignore him? This man didn’t and neither can you.
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