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Mark 2 and the Paralytic’s Greatest Need — Extraordinary Encounters with Jesus

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In 2013, the Wall Street Journal published an article titled “Is Smart Making Us Dumb?” The writer reasoned that technology and technological advancement might be able to fix human behavior in a broken world. One way that we could leverage technology toward this end, the article explains, is by “making the real world more like a videogame, with points for doing good.”1

This article is a good reminder for Christians to be reading with our Bibles in one hand and our newspapers in the other. (Of course, the former is immeasurably more important.) The Bible has something to say about our broken world. In truth, Scripture plumbs far deeper into the brokenness of human experience than technology ever could.

Jesus is the only one in the entire universe who can forgive sins.

The good news that the Bible provides is that Jesus has come to deal with our brokenness. Indeed, Jesus’ kingdom ministry principally involved addressing it. (See, e.g., Luke 4:18). And in Mark 2:1–12, we witness Jesus confronting one man’s brokenness in particular—though, as we’ll discover, it wasn’t the brokenness with which the man was initially preoccupied. In His encounter with this man, we see Jesus forgiving sin and facing opposition.

Forgiving Sin

Mark describes the scene in verse 2: “Many were gathered together, so that there was no more room, not even at the door. And [Jesus] was preaching the word to them.” People were flocking to Jesus. It was standing room only in the house as the crowds gathered around to hear Him, the living Word, proclaim the written Word. And His teaching ministry, we may safely presume, would have involved an explanation of the Old Testament writings. He wanted the people to know what it was to repent and believe the Gospel (Mark 1:15), to turn around and walk the narrow path that leads to life (Matt. 7:13–14).

Jesus’ message calls each of us to self-examination: Have we repented, doing an about-turn from sin and toward God? Are we walking on the narrow way? Or are we merely interested in Christian ideas, ourselves unmoved by the power of God in Christ? C. S. Lewis fell into the latter group in his early adult years. Later, reflecting on his conversion, Lewis would describe himself as “the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England.”2 Yet though reluctant, he was changed. God’s light had shone in his heart through the Scriptures, leading Lewis to embrace Christ as Lord. And so God does for all who walk the narrow path by faith.

The drama in Mark 2 continues. The crowd gathers, Jesus preaches, and a paralyzed man appears (v. 3). His four friends, determined that he would see Jesus (we are not told why), think up an unusual plan: bypassing the crowds, they would lower their paralyzed friend through the roof. We can picture the scene: amid a vast crowd, Jesus is preaching, and suddenly He is interrupted by the sound of vegetation and clay being pulled apart above His head—before a paralytic is lowered and presented to the Lord.

No one could have prepared for what happened next. Jesus, seeing the faith of the man and his friends, said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven” (Mark 2:5). What a strange response! The man had an obvious problem. His friends believed Jesus had some sort of solution. But rather than heal him, Jesus forgives him.

Our free forgiveness came at a great cost to Christ.

The genius of Jesus in this passage lies in His laying hold of the paralytic’s greatest need—the need for forgiveness. He wasn’t uninterested in the man’s physical condition; He later heals him (vv. 11–12)! Nor is Jesus unconcerned with our health, marriages, or relationships. But God’s Son didn’t come merely to help us through temporary trials, making our lives more comfortable. He came to restore us to a relationship with the living God for whom we were created. Forgiving the man’s sins, He dealt with a brokenness far deeper than his inability to walk—and so He does for us still.

Facing Opposition

We might expect that the religious establishment would have responded with delight to Jesus’ words—but the reverse was the case. “Now some of the scribes were sitting there,” Mark tells us, “questioning in their hearts, ‘Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?’” (2:6–7).

Jesus encountering opposition wasn’t anything new. Earlier in his Gospel, Mark records Him already having been opposed by the devil in the wilderness (1:12–13) and by demons in the synagogue (1:21–26). But in this instance, in the context of compassion and forgiveness, it was the religious leaders who opposed the Lord’s work. Their question, admittedly, is a reasonable one: “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” The answer is: nobody. They were right on that one. But then they went wrong by accusing Jesus of blasphemy, assuming He was merely a man. In their minds, it was wrong for an ordinary Galilean carpenter to claim to forgive sin. Only God could do that.

Perceiving what was in their hearts, Jesus proceeded to pose a masterful question. Turning the tables on the religious establishment, He asked, “Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’?” (Mark 2:9).

From one perspective, it’s far easier to say “Your sins are forgiven.” It’s unverifiable. Anyone can utter those words without knowing whether or not the saying accomplished anything. But for a paralyzed man to walk would be indisputable. So the logic of Jesus’ question is striking. Since He had already done the supposedly easier of the two deeds—telling the paralytic his sins are forgiven—He would now go on to do the second: He would tell the man to walk.

The terminology Jesus uses in verse 10 is crucial to understanding the message of this passage: He heals the man, we’re told, in order that the Jewish leaders “may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” The title “the Son of Man” is a reference to Daniel 7:13–14, where the prophet speaks of a divine-human “son of man” who would one day rule over God’s people. It was a messianic prophecy with which the Jews would’ve been familiar. By invoking this language, Jesus made known that His authority to forgive sins was grounded in His very identity.

When we say that Jesus has authority to forgive sins, we’re not being presumptuous. Jesus is the only one in the entire universe who can forgive sins. He’s the only Savior, because He’s the only one who is qualified to save. And the forgiveness that Jesus offers—the kind that He gave to the paralytic man, as He does to all who approach Him in faith—came at great cost to Himself. Free to believers, our forgiveness cost our Lord His very life.  At the cross, Jesus bore the punishment that sin deserves in order that those who trust in Him might enjoy a forgiveness that we don’t deserve. Indeed, the whole Bible is a book about what God has done for us in Christ. He entered our brokenness and met our greatest need.

Trysting at the Tree

In an old hymn, the writer describes Jesus’ cross as the “trysting place where heaven’s love and heaven’s justice meet.”3 A tryst is an appointment, usually made secretly between two lovers, to meet at a certain place or time. And it’s at a tree, the hymn writer says, where Jesus set His “trysting place” with us. Jesus declared His love for His bride, the church, on the tree at Calvary.

Only the free forgiveness of God in Christ fixes our brokenness and saves our souls.

We can see from the story of paralytic man why the cross is central to our interpretation of Scripture. If the paralytic would have gained function in his legs without having his sins forgiven, then he would have had a healthy body with a perishing soul. His presenting issue wasn’t his deepest need. Initially, he wanted healing for his body; Jesus instead began by forgiving his sins—a forgiveness that would be purchased at the cross.

And so we’re reminded: Healthy bodies won’t save our souls. Technology won’t fix our brokenness. Only the free forgiveness of God in Christ accomplishes these things. There is no doubt that every man and woman stands in need of Christ’s healing help.  And when we cry for it, He responds by addressing not only what we find to be our superficial needs but also the deepest longings of our hearts.


This article was adapted from the sermon “A Man with a Need” by Alistair Begg.

An Extrordinary Encounter

  1. Jane McGonigal, quoted in Evgeny Morozov, “Is Smart Making Us Dumb?,” Wall Street Journal, February 23, 2013, https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424127887324503204578318462215991802. ↩︎

  2. C. S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life (1955), chap. 14. ↩︎

  3. Elizabeth Cecilia Clephane, “Beneath the Cross of Jesus” (1868). ↩︎



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