To Heal or To Forgive?

In Mark chapter 2, we read the familiar story of Jesus healing the paralytic who is lowered by his friends down through a hole in the ceiling to where Jesus was preaching to a packed house. 

Jesus healed often during His years of ministry on earth.  The Gospels tell us that when Jesus saw the sick and afflicted, He was moved with compassion and healed out of that compassionate heart.  But healing the sick was not really the main reason He was there.  When the crowds began to push in to see and seek healing, Jesus said that preaching was really why He came (Mark 1:38).  His compassion led Him to heal sickness of body, but His mission was to heal sickness of soul.

So the four friends lower the paralytic down through the roof, and Jesus is moved by their faith.  But rather than simply saying, “Be healed,” Jesus declares to the paralyzed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven” (Mark 2:5).  That’s a strange way to start a healing, no?

The religious scribes in the audience notice.  Can you see their eyes popping open, their jaws hitting the floor?  And Mark tells us that in their hearts, they were thinking, “He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins except God alone?” (2:7).  Their thoughts may have been silent, but they were not hidden from Jesus, and the Rabbi from Nazareth saw a teachable moment.

The ideas of sin and suffering were inextricably linked in first-century Judaism.  You remember well the question asked of Jesus in John 9:2: “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?” Jesus would deal in that interaction with the faulty premise of that question.  But it shows that the connection already existed in people’s minds that suffering is a result of sin.  So the people gathered in Simon’s house that day already assumed that the paralytic’s problem was two-fold.  And they’ve come to expect Jesus to deal with the consequence of the man’s sin – to heal his paralysis. That’s what they’ve come to see, really.  But does He have the authority to deal with the spiritual problem as well?

So Jesus asks them in verse 9: “Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven;’ or to say, ‘Get up, and pick up your pallet and walk’?”  What an interesting question.  Let’s say you were a charlatan – a false prophet.  You have a confirmed paraplegic in front of you.  Would it be easier to say that you forgive his sins or to make him stand up and walk?  Which would be easier to prove?

A fake healer is easily spotted, but one cannot really prove that they have forgiven a man’s sins. So Jesus tells them, “So that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins…I say to you (the paralytic), get up, pick up your pallet, and go home” (v. 10-11).  And the guy gets up! He was paralyzed – everyone knew it – and he got up right there in front of everyone!

Jesus did heal the man’s physical infirmity.  But He did so in order to demonstrate that He had the authority to forgive sins.  He used the proof of His power to heal as evidence of His authority to forgive.  In doing so, Jesus showed that He not only could deal with the man’s paralysis (which the people saw as a consequence of sin), but that He also could deal with the man’s spiritual need as well.

Sin has consequences.  And Jesus can certainly help us pick up the pieces of the damage sin does to our lives.  Those are the things we so often ask Him to do for us.  But how much greater is His authority to deal with our spiritual need! Jesus can bring healing to the broken things in our lives, but the greater gift He offers is forgiveness.

~ Matt Kinnell, NHIM Board Chair


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