This is our second week in looking at the miracles of Jesus.  Now, we are told in the dictionary that a miracle is “a surprising and welcome event that cannot be explained by nature or science and is therefore considered to be the work of a divine agency, such as God.”  In the Bible, in Roman histories, and in Jewish writings, all from the time shortly after Jesus lived here on earth, there is the acknowledgement that Jesus performed wonderful works or miracles.  In the Bible, the source of Jesus’ power to do the miracles is attributed to God.  In the Roman histories, the source of Jesus’ power is never mentioned.  In the Jewish writings the source of Jesus’ power is Satan. The same event, a miracle, and the source is authority is taken to be God, unsaid, or Satan.  How can the same event have such widely differing views on the source of the miracle?  The answer rests not in the miracle itself but instead rests in the belief of the person making meaning of the miracle.  We are always engaged in making meaning out of events in life.  Think of it this way.  On Saturday morning, you get ready to go out and you discover it is raining. You call this a lousy day because the rain is spoiling your plans for a picnic.  The farmer down the street discovers it is raining and calls it a great day because his crops will be watered.  We have the same event and two people making very different meanings of that event.

          Last week, we looked at the meaning of Jesus’ first miracle recorded in the Gospel of Mark, while Jesus was in Capernaum, the hometown of his newly called disciples, Peter, Andrew, James, and John. It was in Capernaum that Jesus, in the middle of a synagogue worship service, removed a demon from a man.  We saw that the meaning of that miracle was much more than the change in the man’s physical and spiritual condition.  The deeper meaning of the miracle was that in the kingdom of God, evil will be silenced and expelled.

Today, I wanted us to look at another miracle of Jesus to see what meaning was made then of Jesus’ miracle and what we make of this miracle.  While this miracle of Jesus, is addressed in all four of the Gospels, we will continue, as we did last week, to look at the miracle through the earliest gospel, the Gospel of Mark.  The miracle is found at the beginning of chapter 2.

As we come into Chapter 2 of Mark, we would know that after removing the demon while in Capernaum, Jesus and his disciples traveled to other villages and towns within Galilee.  Jesus preached the message that the kingdom of God was near, and Jesus performed many miracles by driving out still more demons and healing the sick.  More and more people in Galilee were hearing about Jesus’ miracles and were seeking him out to be healed.  It must have been an exciting time full of expectant people.

Mark wrote that, “1 A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. 2 They gathered in such large numbers that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them. 3 Some men came, bringing to him [Jesus] a paralyzed man, 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 by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on” (Mark 2:1-4).  The scene Mark described here is probably familiar to many of us.  We have read this story and listened to many sermons coming from it.  The friends of a paralyzed man went through some extraordinary efforts to place their friend before Jesus for a healing of his body.  The house where Jesus was teaching was packed with people.  The only way to Jesus was through the roof. We can well imagine that as the man was lowered through the roof there was great anticipation of seeing the man restored.

Finally, the man with this incurable paralysis safely landed in front of Jesus.  Mark wrote, “5 When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven’” (Mark 2:5).  No. Wait.  What did Jesus say?  “Son, your sins are forgiven.”  You can almost hear from the paralyzed man’s friends as they leaned their heads into the hole they made in the roof calling down to Jesus, “We traveled all this way and dug our way into this house for you to heal him not forgive him!  We want him to walk home and not be carried home!” You can sense for some people this was a moment of great disappointment and confusion.  They had gone through all this effort and no miracle.  There was no “surprising and welcomed event that cannot be explained by nature or science.” 

Instead of healing the man, Jesus said to the man that his sins were forgiven.  Jesus’ statement was concerning.  First, as we will talk about in a moment, the religious leaders present considered Jesus’ statement a grave sin against God because only God, and not person, can forgive sins.  And secondly, Jesus said something that could not be verified.  How could anyone see for themselves that this man’s sins had been forgiven?  We can neither see the accumulation of sin within ourselves, nor can we see that accumulation in another person.  So, how can we see that those sins have been wiped clean?  We can see if a person was healed.  But how do we see if his or her sins are forgiven?

The essential conflict then in this miracle story is not the man’s paralysis but rather what meaning did people make and do we make of Jesus forgiving the man’s sins.  There was no possible way to verify Jesus’ statement, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”  And when we cannot verify something for ourselves, but we accept the truth of that statement we call that faith.  Let’s consider for a moment what Scripture says of faith:

  • “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).
  • “For we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7).
  • “For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith” (Romans 1:17).

Faith is at the heart of the miracle.  Although it seems evident the man and his friends believed the man’s most urgent need was healing, Jesus believed forgiveness was the man’s most urgent and enduring need.  And Jesus believed that understanding the forgiveness of God was the most urgent need for the witnesses to this miracle and the most urgent need for those, like us, who would read the record of this miracle.  At this point, Jesus was starting to move people away from the idea that he was a miracle worker and toward an understanding that faith and forgiveness were fundamental elements of the kingdom of God.

Well, how did the people present that day see this event?  Mark wrote, “6 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?’  8 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?’” (Mark 2:6-8).  Jesus was intensely aware that the religious leaders were displeased that Jesus said, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”  These leaders had first expected Jesus to say something or do something about the man’s paralysis and that did not happen. And second, these religious leaders did not expect Jesus to be so bold as to claim that he, Jesus, could forgive the man his sins.  The religious leaders were conflicted because they could not reconcile Jesus’ words with their understanding of who Jesus was, a roaming rabbi, and the authority that he was claiming.

To help the religious leaders in their conflict thinking, Jesus asked them a question.  Jesus asked, “9 Which is easier: to say to this paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’?” (Mark 2:9).  Of course, it is easier to say, “Your sins are forgiven,” because that statement, unlike “Get up, take your mat and walk!” cannot be proven or disproven and requires no physical movement by the paralyzed man.

Jesus continued, “’10 But I want you (religious leaders) to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.’  So he (Jesus) said to the man (the harder statement), 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!’” (Mark 2:10-12).  The religious leaders and the people were in awe at what they had seen.  An incurable paralyzed man was able on his own to get up and walk.  There was no doubt to those there that this event, this miracle, “a surprising and welcome event that cannot be explained by nature or science” and that it occurred through the power and authority of Jesus who stood in front of them.  It would be hard not to be astonished.  But believing in the miracle required no faith because the miracle of healing this man was seen.  We remember that “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).  So the deeper meaning of the miracle, the faith building experience, must be found in what was not seen.

When Jesus said, “Son, your sins are forgiven,” that was an unseeable act in which Jesus acted on behalf of that paralyzed man.  Jesus was, as it were, taking the man who had been separated from God by sin and placing the man back into the palm of God’s hand.  Jesus stopped the inevitable ravages of sin that would consume this man’s life.  There was nothing ambiguous about what Jesus said he had done for this man in forgiving his sins just as there was nothing ambiguous about restoring the man’s mobility. This man’s forgiveness and this man’s healing are different sides of the same coin.

What then are we to do with this scene from the Gospel of Mark?  How do we sort out the significance of this scene to our daily life? I think there are three points for us to consider.

First, Jesus acted in an unmistakable manner by forgiving the man’s sins and by empowering the man to walk.  Because Jesus actions cannot be mistaken, Jesus compels us to make a personal decision about Him.  Who is Jesus and what do we do with what Jesus says to us?  Because of his acts to forgive and heal, we cannot honestly see Jesus as just a teacher of loving principles.  We must decide something much deeper about him.

This brings us to our second point.  To decide something deeper about Jesus we cannot do that based on visible evidence. If our beliefs about Jesus were based on the visible evidence alone, we would conclude Jesus was a miracle worker and we would never go any deeper than that.  If this is how we saw Jesus, then we would need a constant source of new miracles to keep us connected to Jesus.  This was the mindset of the religious leaders.  After many miracles, they came to Jesus and said, “Give us a sign, a miracle, that we might see and believe.”  Jesus said no such sign would be given to such a wicked and adulterous generation.  The religious leaders had accepted that Jesus could perform miracles, but they remained unchanged by them.  Even while Jesus was nailed to the cross, the religious leaders hounded Jesus for a miracle. They said, “He saved others, but he can’t save himself! He’s the king of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him” (Matthew 27:42).  The religious leaders never came to know Jesus the Christ.

          The unmistakable acts of Jesus to forgive and to restore the paralyzed man to health requires that we decide by faith, not be sight, what we believe about Jesus.  We must decide without seeing whether Jesus is the Son of God, the Lamb of God who takes away sin, and the one who forgives us and places us back into the hand of God as a child of God.  If we conclude Jesus is not who he says he is, then we can just stop here, there would be no reason to go to the third point.  But if we believe by faith that Jesus is our Lord and Savior, then we come to our third point.

          When by faith we come to accept Jesus as Lord and Savior, it is then by the aid of the Holy Spirit do we begin to understand that Jesus acted to forgive the man all his sins and in doing so took the Word of God and made it an integral part of life.  We see right away that forgiveness is not a matter of teaching but rather acting in faith.  We come to see that to receive forgiveness and extend it to another person is an act of submission to God.  Jesus said, “16 My teaching is not my own. It comes from the one who sent me. 17 Anyone who chooses to do the will of God will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own” (John 7:16-17). This means that only those who submit themselves to God in faith will come to fully understand who Jesus Christ truly is. 

          As we think about this question, who Jesus is, we do so as we are about to partake in the Lord’s Supper.  The Lord’s Supper, like a miracle, is not a thought, it is an action.  The Lord’s Supper is an action we take to remind us that we believe by faith Jesus’ words when he said that the bread is his body, and the cup of juice is his blood. And because we have accepted Jesus and we are doing God’s will by celebrating the Lord’s Supper, we can know the deeper meaning of the Lord’s Supper as an act of remembering and loving Jesus who placed us into God’s hand by forgiving us just as he had forgiven a paralyzed man in house in Capernaum.  Let’s pray.