Un-Paralyzing the Paralytic

The Text: Mark 2:1-12 – Again, He entered Capernaum after some days; and it was reported that He was in the house.  And immediately, many were gathered together, insomuch that there was no room to receive them, no not even at the door: and He preached the Word to them. 

And they came to Him, carrying a paralytic, who was lifted up by four men.  And when they could not come near to Him because of the multitude, they uncovered the roof where He was: and when they had broken it up, they let down the bed on which the paralytic was laying.

When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, “Child, your sins are forgiven you.”

But there were certain of the scribes sitting there, reasoning in their hearts, ‘Why does this man thus speak blasphemies?  Who can forgive sins but God only?’

And immediately, when Jesus perceived in His spirit that they reasoned this way within themselves, He said to them, “Why do you reason these things in your hearts?  Which is easier to say to the paralyzed man: ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say ‘Arise, take up your bed and walk’?  But so that you may know that the Son of man has power on earth to forgive sins,” (He says to the paralyzed man) “I say to you, ‘Arise, and take up your bed, and go your way into your house.’”

And immediately he arose, took up the bed, and went forth before them all; insomuch that they were all amazed, and glorified God, saying “We never saw such.”

Introduction

Jesus has already been revealed in Mark’s Gospel Account to be a King—a different kind of King.  He’s a King with great power, with great authority, and with compassion.  But He’s also a King whose Kingdom had not yet been established.  Remember that He was preaching to the people that “The Kingdom of God [or, God’s Empire] was at hand” (Mark 1:15).  His mission—and the mission of His herald, John the immerser—was to prepare people for the coming of His Kingdom.  But this Kingdom, Mark’s readers could tell, was not like other Kingdoms.

The Text, part 1 – The Crowd Rushes In (Mark 2:1-2)

It’s been some days since Jesus healed the leper who “blazed abroad” the news about Jesus’ amazing healing powers.  And people from all over Galilee, Judea, and Jerusalem (Luke 5:17) have come to find Him, to hear Him, and to witness His power for themselves.

Again, He enters into Capernaum after days.

Jesus’ first several miracles in Mark’s Gospel Account were done in Capernaum, beginning with the casting out of the demon in the synagogue, then the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law, and then healing “many that were sick of various diseases” and casting out “many demons” (Mark 1:21-34).  After making a preaching and healing tour in Galilee (1:39-45), Jesus is now coming back to Capernaum, to Simon and Andrew’s house, which served as a kind of headquarters for Him while He was in Galilee.

We’re not told how long this preaching tour lasted.  Mark literally says “He entered Capernaum after days.”  Most translations insert a qualifier, like “some days” (KJV), “a few days” (MLV, NIV), “many days” (Living Oracles), or “several days” (NASB), but Mark just says “after days.”

And it was reported that He was in the house

With Jesus preaching and healing all over Galilee, and the news that He had cleansed a man of leprosy, Jesus’ fame was growing even more (see 1:28).  So it is no surprise that when someone found out that Jesus was in Simon and Andrew’s house (the only house mentioned in the book thus far), word spread—and quickly.

Immediately, many were gathered together, insomuch that there was no room to receive them, no not even at the door.

Can you imagine the excitement that there must have been in order to pack the house that tight?  We don’t know how big Simon and Andrew’s house was, but even if it was the largest house in Capernaum, it still didn’t have room for everyone that wanted to come in and hear Jesus.

Mark says that there were so many people in the house, there was no room to receive them, not even at the door.  Elsewhere, this word is translated “contain” (John 21:25, 2:6).  In other words, the house was overflowing with people, people were outside the door, wanting to get in, but unable to.  Most likely, we’re talking hundreds of people inside and around the house—could your house stand up to this?

And He preached the Word to them.

Amidst the fame and hubbub, in a house overly crowded with people (which probably made things quite warm), Jesus didn’t lose sight of His mission, which was to “preach the Word” to them.  That is, Jesus preached the “kingdom of God is at hand” “repent, ye, and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:14-15).  You know that there had to be people in there who were thinking, I’m wantin’ to see some healin’, Jesus.  People who weren’t interested really in the message, but in the spectacle itself.  But it’s like Jesus said several verses earlier, “Let’s go into the next towns so that I may preach there also, for into this I came forth” (Mark 1:38).

The Text, part 2 – The Paralytic is Carried In (Mark 2:3-4)

The crowds were gathered around, and everyone wanted in to see Jesus.  But some were willing to go further than others to accomplish their goals.

They came to Him, carrying a paralytic, lifted up by four men.

What we’ve got here are five men—four of them working together, carrying the fifth one on his bed.

In the East [including Palestine] bedsteads were practically unknown.  An Oriental (that is, middle-eastern) bed is a thin mattress of pallet, just large enough for a man to lie upon; and those generally used by the poor today are made of sheepskin with the wool on it.  Such a bed could easily be carried by four men, if each took hold of a corner. (McGarvey, Fourfold Gospel).

The KJV and ASV both say that the man was “sick of the palsy.”  The word “palsy” is a shortened form of the word “paralysis.”  Every possibility, it seems, has been suggested for this man.  Some suggest that he was incapacitated on one side because of a massive stroke; others that he was gripped with mental anguish over something he had done in his past, which literally paralyzed him (Barclay); still others suggest that he was a quadriplegic.  What we know for certain is that he was bedridden, unable to move freely on his own.  Paralysis had no cure.

If Mark’s readers thought healing leprosy was impressive, they’re about to be even more impressed.  At least with leprosy, you can still talk and breathe with relative ease, and can walk around where you need to go.  With some forms of paralysis (possibly including that which the man was enduring), breathing is a chore and talking is next to impossible.

And when they couldn’t come near to Him because of the multitude…

The KJV says “because of the press,” but the word is the same as is translated “multitude” throughout the New Testament.  The crowd of people was so thick that there was no way of going through the front door and into the house where Jesus was speaking.

They uncovered the roof where he was: and when they had broken it up, they let down the bed in which the paralyzed man lay.

Let’s backtrack a moment here.  In order for them to “uncover” the roof and break it up, they first had to get to the roof, which isn’t exactly a quick and easy task.  Many books say that these men probably used a set of stairs that were on the outside of the house, leading to the roof.  The problem with that, is that such staircases are “almost unknown” in Palestine.  Most houses had their front door, which led to a “porch” area, and it is there that the stairs to the roof could be located.  But, of course, there was no room to get in at the door.  That leaves really only two choices: (1) either these men found a way of climbing to the roof and jointly hoisted the man up, or (2) they went inside a neighbor’s front door, up the narrow stairs onto their roof (if you’ve ever tried to carry something heavy upstairs, you know that isn’t easy), and then climbed over the ledge between the two houses (houses built side by side are common in that area).  However they got up there, it wasn’t easy, but they thought it was worth it to bring their friend to Jesus.

Getting on the roof was part one.  Now, they had to get through the roof so they could get their friend to Jesus.  According to the historians, the roofs in that area were built with wooden beams a few feet apart, then brush was laid across it very tightly, then mud, then mortar, then it was covered with earth and grass.  Luke adds the detail that they broke through the “tiling” (5:19) which is the Greek word Keramos, where we get our word ceramic.  So these men broke through the ceramic/clay layer, the mortar, the mud, and the brush, making a hole in the roof large enough that they could let their friend down, bed and all, in the room next to Jesus.

The Text, part 3 – The Sins are Carried Away (Mark 2:5-11)

Mark first records the actions of the men, but now he changes to Jesus’ point of view.

Jesus saw their faith.

What wonderful words are contained here!  What glorious evidence that the doctrine of “faith only” (that is, belief only) saves is false!  Faith is not something that is felt.  Faith is not merely belief.  Faith is something you can see!  Thus, it isn’t really faith if there are no works to go along with it!  For “faith without works is dead, being alone” (James 2:20).

If we were to put this in the words of Hebrews 11, we might say “By faith, four men lifted up their paralyzed friend, letting him down to Jesus, trusting that the Lord could heal him.”

But let us not neglect to recognize that this paralyzed man also had faith, otherwise he could have refused to be carried and jostled around in his weakened condition.  The faith that Jesus saw, then, was the faith of the five—not just of the four.

Jesus…said to the paralyzed man, “Child, your sins are forgiven you.”

The compassionate King certainly realized what was happening, for breaking up the roof would not have been a noiseless task.  So slowly but surely, He sees the hole appear and get bigger, and then sees a bed—more like a thick rug—being lowered down beside Him.  Jesus was impressed by their faith.  Then He looks down at the man laying helpless on the ground, and says “Son [literally, Child], your sins are forgiven you.”

Why exactly did Jesus announce “Your sins are forgiven you,” instead of just healing the man like He did with everyone else?  Here’s some possibilities suggested by different writers:

  1. The man’s sins were the cause of his paralysis. Perhaps through a life of constant sin (perhaps drunkenness), he had somehow injured himself or caused himself nerve damage which led to his paralysis. This is pure conjecture, but it is mentioned frequently by writers as a possibility (some even say it is the “likely” answer).
  2. The man had bought into the idea that sickness and disease were caused by sin, and he therefore thought of himself as a wretched sinner, regardless of whether Jesus healed him or not. This, like the previous one, is also conjecture, though we do have several biblical passages which show that this idea was prevalent (throughout the book of Job, and also John 9:1-2). If this is the case, it would be as though Jesus was saying, “Don’t fear, child.  God forgives you,” thus easing the man’s troubled mind.
  3. The one that, personally, I think is most likely is that Jesus said this because there were religious leaders present (Luke 5), and He was now making a little bit more known about Himself and His mission. As will become obvious momentarily, Jesus’ claim to forgiving sins was the same as proclaiming that He was God. He had a point to make, and in doing so, Jesus was showing His authority—still following the idea of the King proving that He had power to overthrow the Kingdom of Darkness.

But there were certain of the scribes sitting there.

It’s most likely that the majority of the crowd was standing while the “privileged” religious leaders got to sit (probably in the front, closest to Jesus).  Luke adds that the Pharisees from Judea and Jerusalem were there as well.

Scribes…reasoning in their hearts, “Why does this man speak these blasphemies?  Who can forgive sins but God only?”

Something interesting here is that the scribes reasoned in their heart that sins could only be forgiven (literally, “sent away”) by the God.  The word “the” appears in the original, just like in 1:1.  In other words, there is only one God that can take away sin.  Mark is reminding his readers that their pagan worship system is false.  After all, most of the religious ceremonies to the Greek and Roman gods dealt with appeasing the various so-called deities, hoping to keep them happy so as to avoid their wrath.  They never really dealt with the idea of cleansing from sin.

But the scribes (and Pharisees), after hearing Jesus pronounce this man’s sins forgiven (literally, “sent away”) weren’t thinking about Roman gods at all.  They began to murmur and think to themselves that Jesus was blaspheming God, by pretending to be able to forgive sins, when only the God—Jehovah—had that capability.  In short, their thoughts were that Jesus was blaspheming by claiming He possessed God’s power.  What they didn’t realize is that since Jesus is God, He therefore has the power to forgive sins.

The word “can” is actually the word translated “power” in many instances.  Their question, literally translated, is: “Who has power to send away sins except only the God?”

Now, for a moment, place yourself in the shoes (sandals) or Mark’s readers.  You’ve read about Jesus, seen His authority, His healings, His compassion, and perhaps you’re withholding judgment.  But now these scribes show up and start mentally bad-mouthing Him.  Probably without even realizing it, you start to defend Jesus.  That’s wrong, scribes, Jesus has that power because He’s Son of the God.  After all, that’s the very first thing you read in this book.  And the main character in the narrative has done nothing but good, but now He is being mischaracterized and accused of evil.  Almost every unbiased reader, whether reading it as a story or reading it looking for the truth, now pictures the scribes as some of the bad guys, and sympathizes with Jesus.

Immediately, when Jesus perceived in His spirit that they so reasoned within themselves, He said to them, “Why do you reason these things in your hearts?”

Jesus could read their minds.  It wasn’t that He looked at their faces and could read their expressions, deducing from them what they were thinking.  Mark says that they thought this, and then immediately Jesus perceived what they were thinking.  This mind-reading is often overlooked when people read this passage, because it is overshadowed by the healing of a paralytic and the proof that Jesus truly forgave the man’s sins—but it is still there!  Only God can know the thoughts of men; and since Jesus knows the thoughts of men, He is God!  This point almost certainly was not missed by Mark’s readers.  He has power over sickness, demons, injuries, and can read minds too?

He said…“Which is easier to say to the paralyzed man: “Your sins are forgiven you;” or to say “Arise, and take up your bed and walk”?

This was a pointed question, and one that gave great evidence as to the nature of Jesus.  The obvious answer, though the scribes considered it blasphemy, was that it was easier to say “Your sins are forgiven you.”  This is because there was no tangible, visible way of proving it one way or the other.  You can’t see sins being carried away from your soul.

The harder statement, of course, is to tell the man to “Arise, and take up your bed and walk.” Because without miraculous power, given by God Himself, those words would do no good.  You would be exposed as a fraud and a charlatan.  Words alone cannot heal a paralyzed man.

He said… “But so that you may know that the Son of man has power on earth to forgive sins,” (He now says to the paralyzed man) “I say to you, ‘Arise, and take up your bed and go your way into your house.”

Jesus forms His argument in this way:

  1. It’s easier to say “Your sins are forgiven you,” because you can’t see it take place.
  2. It’s harder to say “Arise, take up your bed and walk,” because that would require the power of God.
  3. I am saying both—and if the man gets up and walks, it shows that I possess the power of God, and thus have proven that I have the power to forgive sins.

The sub-point to this is, “and you are actually the ones blaspheming, not me.”

The last verse of Mark’s Gospel Account explains the point here, “They went forth and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs [miracles] following” (Mark 16:20).  Miracles were given as confirmation of the message that was spoken.  If Jesus was truly blaspheming God, then He would have no miraculous abilities.  If He was, however, able to heal the paralyzed man, then that proved He was not a blasphemer at all.

One other thing that is interesting is that Jesus calls Himself “the Son of man” for the first time (at least in Mark and Luke’s accounts) here.  For Mark’s readers, this is their introduction to the dual nature of Jesus, as Deity in human flesh.  This is a vital element for them (and us) to understand, because without Jesus being the “Son of man,” He couldn’t have endured the temptation (James 1:13, Hebrews 2:16-18) or died on the cross if He had not come to this earth as a human.

The Text, part 4 – The Bed is Carried Out (Mark 2:12)

Immediately he [the paralytic] arose, took up the bed, and went out in front of them all.

There’s no telling how long this man was paralyzed; no telling how long he’d been bed-ridden.  In all likelihood, the man’s leg muscles had deteriorated greatly, and his joints had no strength at all when he was brought to the Lord.  This miracle was more than just a “you’ve now got the ability to move again,” it was a miraculous re-strengthening of the muscles and joints, this man didn’t have to go through physical therapy to learn how to walk again, either.  The healing was instantaneous and complete, just like the others Jesus had healed.

He was carried in by friends, his sins were carried away by Jesus, and now he—with new strength—carries his own bed out.  Luke adds that as he was walking out with his bed, he was “glorifying God” (Luke 5:25).  The joy this man must have felt was incredible.  We’re told what the reaction of the crowd in the house was (they were amazed), but for a moment, instead of looking at that man with his this mattress, instead of looking at the crowd, look up to the hole in the ceiling and imagine the smiles and tears of joy that almost certainly on the four faces that looked in from above.  Their faith had been rewarded, and they no doubt joined in with the others in glorifying God for this wonderful show of mercy.

Insomuch that they were all amazed

Capernaum wasn’t a huge city, so most of the people probably knew (or at the very least, knew of) the paralyzed man.  So there was no denying that this was a miracle.  Even those who weren’t from the area could probably tell just by looking at the man that he had serious medical problems.  They were all amazed, as were Mark’s readers, by what had just taken place.  Paralysis was supposed to be incurable.

They…glorified God

Even though the scribes and Pharisees might not have accepted the consequences of what they just saw (that Jesus is indeed Deity), they could not deny that a powerful miracle had been performed in their presence.  As such, they, along with everyone else there, glorified God.  You might think it strange, but try to remember that there had been no miracles performed for hundreds of years.  It had been over 400 years since the last inspired prophet of God had walked the earth.  It’s not like these people had seen miracles their whole life—this was something completely new to them, and they gave God the glory for having done it and allowing them to see it.

Saying, “We never saw such!”

These people were amazed, glorified God, saying “We’ve never seen anything like this!”  And yet it still wasn’t enough to cause them to repent (Matthew 11:23-24).  The rich man in torment tried to convince Abraham to send Lazarus back, because “if one went to them from the dead, [my brothers] would repent,” but the answer was “If they will not hear Moses and the prophets [that is, the inspired message of God], neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead” (Luke 16:30-31).  For a while, the citizens of Capernaum were excited and entertained by the miracles; and so long as the miracles were being done, they were interested in following Jesus.  But it seems that they ended up wanting more entertainment and less doctrine—and they received the condemnation of Jesus for it.  There’s a lesson in that for us, no doubt.

Application

Don’t Lose Sight of Your Mission

Amidst the hustle and bustle of life’s busy ways, we often get distracted to the point that we forget what we’re here for.  We simply think about the here and now, the things we’ve got to do, what’s for dinner, where we’re going next week, etc.  And we let the cares and troubles of our lives distract us from our mission of teaching the gospel.  We don’t have near the stress that Jesus did—yet He kept His sights on the mission.  We’re told to “look unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who, for the prize that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2).

Preach the Word

Jesus taught with authority, because He preached the Word.  He wasn’t teaching for doctrine the commandments of men, He preached the Word.  I spoke with an old preacher who retired from local work years ago about a congregation he’s familiar with.  He said that he’s never heard anything unsound out of the new preacher they’ve got there, but that those sermons could be preached—word for word—in pretty much any denominational building across the United States.  When Jesus preached the Word, it included preaching repentance (Mark 1:15).  When Jesus preached the Word, it included preaching obedience (Matthew 7:21—Not all the say to me “Lord, Lord,” shall enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but he who does the will of my Father which is in heaven. Luke 6:46 – Why do you call me “Lord, Lord,” and do not the things that I say?).  When Jesus preached the Word, it included preaching the Kingdom of God—the church to which saved people are added (Mark 1:14-15, Acts 2:47, Colossians 1:13).

What Lengths are You Willing to go to?

These four men carried a man on his bed however far it was from his place of residence to Simon and Andrew’s house.  When they realized there was no way of getting in the house normally, they didn’t turn back.  They looked for another way to get him to Jesus.  Whether they scaled the side of the house or climbed up stairs, they still worked hard to get this man there.  Then they tore up the roof and let him down in front of Jesus.  In short, they went through an awful lot of work in the hopes of getting their friend saved from his paralysis.  Jesus took note of their great show of faith.

How much faith do we show in trying to bring others to Jesus?  Do we give up at the first obstacle?  Do we try to find ways of bringing people to Jesus Christ?  How far are you willing to go—what lengths are you willing to go to in order to bring a soul to the saving blood of the Savior?  Let these men and their faith be an example to all of us!

Invitation

Do you really have faith?  Faith in Jesus comes from hearing the message about Him (Romans 10:17), and is an absolute requirement if you want to please God (Hebrews 11:6).  But faith must be alive and working, leading you to repentance while acknowledging Jesus as the Son of God, and causing you to submit to Jesus in faithful obedience through being immersed into His death (Romans 6:1-5).  Faith—true saving faith—will make you want to “walk in the light,” and “be faithful.”  Won’t you come?

-Bradley S. Cobb

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