The ministry of Jesus started with a bang!
The life and times of Jesus officially took off the day he walked alongside Galilee looking for John’s lost disciples. This walk took him by the boat of Andrew and Simon as they were casting their nets. Jesus called them and they came. These two and their colleagues James and John followed as a result of their fledgling belief in Jesus as the Messiah. Healings, exorcisms, and compelling preaching were yet to come and these would draw the masses. Inklings, thoughts, beliefs, hopes were the foundations on which these 4 men followed.
Jesus came to preach and soon after these first four disciples accepted the call to follow they went with Jesus to a synagogue in Capernaum. There the masses began to perk up. The message was so clear that even the devils spoke up. The amazement of the people at the teaching and the submission of demons welded into the minds of the people the uniqueness of the man Jesus. The uniqueness was further established after the sun set that Sabbath and the healings commenced.
Jesus was balanced through time alone with God the Father
Jesus did get to bed that evening, but he did not sleep long. The clamor which had begun would only accelerate and Jesus’ response was to get up early and go connect with God. Sure enough by early morning Peter was out trying to find Jesus because of the masses of people had returned. The clamor was to be over spiritual things though and so he set around himself boundaries that would keep him on point rather than degrade him into a miracle dispenser. He left immediately to go preach.
Jesus returns to his home base
So when we come to Mark 2 we see the itinerating Jesus return to Capernaum. This section is usually remembered in its relationship to the men who lowered a paralyzed man through the roof of a house to a place before Christ. I want to be careful, though, that we like the masses of that day do not just stand agape before the bodily healings. Those things were of tremendous import, but we do poorly to forget the purpose of Jesus was to preach repentance and belief. Simon had subtly charged him with negligence for praying when people were looking for him. Jesus said that he had a different mission. He had gone on that mission and now was returning.
The stage is set
In the first two verses a report is given on Jesus’ return to Capernaum. His reputation had already grown to a point where he did not openly enter cities. Even so knowledge of his return spread and the town gathered where he was staying. The gathering was beyond standing room only and the draw was significant enough that even the religious leaders had arrived (it may have been standing room only, but these guys seemed to be sitting in the living room right near Jesus himself).
What did Jesus do? He preached. That was why he had come. The message that he brought would have centered on the same themes: repentance and belief. All people needed this message from the religious leader to the paralytic.
The child’s story that wasn’t
One of the biggest draws to Jesus was his ability and willingness to heal. Jesus did not charge exorbitant fees for ineffective cures. He provided exorbitant cures with fees paid in faith. So when the word traveled around Capernaum that Jesus was back these four men gathered up their friend and carried him to Jesus. Since they did not have the credentials of a Pharisee getting to Jesus was impossible by ordinary means. The extraordinary means they used was to march right up onto the roof, dismantle part of that roof and then with ropes lower the man down in front of Jesus.
Jesus healed him.
That is a frequently told Bible story in our children’s church classes. It was not a child’s story for the paralytic and neither was it such a story for the friends. Jesus did not see it as trivial either and immediately addressed what was going on in the minds and hearts of these 5 men. Shortly a massive collision and opportunity would arise for the religious leaders, but that had yet to develop.
Remember what Jesus preached: repentance. It is safe to assume that was in some manner the topic of the lesson in that house that day. Also remember that many in that era firmly believed that disability was the signal of great sin. We know this from other interactions between the disciples and Jesus over their years together.
So when the paralytic is dropped down before Jesus he and all those there would not have had to think about the sin-repentance issue. It had already been raised by Jesus. John the Baptist preached repentance and then offered baptism. Jesus here though simply said that his sins were forgiven. We do not know the backstory of this man. Jesus did. The people there may have. Perhaps he was paralyzed that God might be glorified. Perhaps he had committed some foul deed and was injured in the process. In any event he was repentant that day.
Jesus in the context of his message said, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”
The lightning strikes
The lightning strikes the hearts of the blasphemy detectors sitting on the bench watching Jesus. Jealousy was surely bubbling in the hearts of those who sought the first places. The religious leaders, the Pharisees, were in the house that day. They were given seats of honor, but the seat of honor they really wished for was what Jesus was receiving from the people.
When Jesus who was preaching about repentance said that he forgave the sins of this man the sparks immediately flew. Jesus spoke as one who could forgive sins.
The religious leaders thought the truth: Who can forgive sins but God alone? Exactly.
Jesus tries to help the Pharisees see who he was
Verse 8 reports what Jesus said in response to knowing the Pharisees reaction. Generally, these men had already embraced unbelief. Skepticism was shaping and molding their beliefs. A toxicity had begun to grow and color their entire viewpoint on Jesus. Jesus spoke directly to this unbelief, this harmfulness when he asked them, “Why are you thinking these things?”
The whole community around this part of Galilee had seen great things done by Jesus. These leaders had neither repented nor believed, but responded with skepticism and were steadily being hardened into a bitter and angry shape. Jesus loved Pharisees as they were people too and needy people on the wrong path. So he challenged their unbelief as it was being expressed in their hearts.
In an effort to restrain their skepticism Jesus offered up evidence that might be helpful to them. By this time in the event the paralytic seems to yet be lying on the mat. Forgiven internally he was not yet fixed externally. A showdown was in the making though. The real showdown was on the streets of the Pharisees hearts. The Pharisees, though, would have perceived it otherwise.
The key issue was that the leaders saw what Jesus was claiming. He claimed then and there, at the beginning of his ministry, in his hometown that he had the authority on earth to forgive sins. They saw that and it hardened them. Jesus perceiving this drew their minds to it and THEN healed the paralyzed man. Would God allow Jesus to heal right after Jesus did what only God had authority to do? That was what the Pharisees were to see. It was as if Jesus threw down the gauntlet before God giving God the opportunity to strike Jesus dead if he blasphemed in front of such an audience AND THEN in by God’s power healed him.
That is what the Pharisees did see. Nothing evil happened to Jesus after he healed that man’s paralysis. In fact praise to God was evoked among the greater body of people that day.
A parallel from the book of Acts
To further establish this type of thing consider Paul after he was shipwrecked and in the building of a fire was bitten by the viper. The people the island assumed his wickedness and observed. When they saw that Paul did not die they THEN drew their conclusion. The conclusion they drew was that they needed to consider what Paul had to say. The Pharisees were in a similar circumstance. In essence Jesus said, “watch this so that you man know.” These Pharisees though were stuck in toxicity and did not respond as well as the islanders did to Paul’s safety with the snake.
Jesus invited the Pharisees to know that he had the authority to forgive sins
It is so crucial that we see the shape of things happening early in the ministry of Jesus. The Pharisees became mired in unbelief very rapidly. Reactions were angry and would become all the hotter as the years went on. Domination of the Pharisees was not Jesus’ approach. Invitation was offered to them, but the Pharisees themselves had to submit to this. They did not and so became arch enemies of their own Messiah.