Title: The Messiah’s authority to forgive sin
Scriptures to Read: Read Mark 2:1-12, Matthew 9:1-8, Luke 5:17-26
This miracle happens in Capernaum
Now the first thing to note is where this event occurs. This is the advantage of the thematic approach to studying the Gospels. Mark’s account, verse 1, specifies that the event occurred up in Capernaum. And that is a three day walk away from Jerusalem.
The First Stage of Investigation: Observation
Now look at Luke’s account in verse 17: “On one of those days, as he was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there, who had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem. And the power of the Lord was with him to heal.” He tells us that spiritual leaders from all over the country have come up to Capernaum. And the question is: why are they all up there? This is their response to the healing of the Jewish leper. But more specifically, this is the first stage of the Sanhedrin’s investigation, the stage of observation. Normally they wouldn’t all have to go. A small delegation such as the one they sent to John would have been sufficient. But this time they are not responding to someone who is merely baptizing people. Now they are responding to someone who performed a miracle that has never happened before. So they all choose to go up there for this occasion. Also remember that in the stage of observation they could ask no questions and they could raise no objections. All they can do is observe.
The faith of four men and their paralytic friend
And while they are observing and hearing what he is teaching, four friends of a paralytic try to get him over to Jesus to have him healed, but could not do so because all the leaders were there blocking the doorway. So they go to the opposite side of the house. Every house back then had an outdoor stairwell that will lead to a flat roof. And with some effort they got the man up there. Mark verse 4 points out they went ahead and broke the roof apart. And when the hole was finally big enough they lowered the man down on his pallet, down to where Jesus was teaching.
Jesus declares His deity by forgiving the sins of the paralytic man
In Luke verse 20, when Jesus saw the faith of these men, he declared: “Friend, your sins are forgiven you.” Also notice that sins are forgiven in the passive voice, which is significant because in the Hebrew text the only time you find the passive voice is in the book of Leviticus chapters 4-6 which deals with sacrifices in reference to the atonement. So saying, “Friend, your sins are forgiven you”, using the passive voice, means that Jesus was speaking as if he was God.
Jesus proves His deity by healing the paralytic man
The Jewish religious leaders were not allowed to verbalise anything in the observation stage. All they could do was observe. Notice how two of the gospels make the point. See Mark’s account at the end of verse 6: “reasoning in their hearts”. And Matthew verse 3: “And some of the scribes said to themselves”. Once you understand the Jewish background then these small phrases begin to make sense. And their unspoken objection is found in Mark verse 7: “Why does this man speak that way? He is blaspheming; who can forgive sins but God alone?” And their theology here is correct. No-one can forgive sins in a salvation sense except God alone. So if he claims to have the authority to forgive sins it means one of two things. Either he is a blasphemer, or he is who he claims to be: the messianic God-man. Jesus responds to them with his own question. I mentioned earlier that a common way of Jewish teaching is to go from the known to the unknown. A second common way of Jewish teaching is responding to questions by asking questions. If you go to a rabbinic class in some rabbinic school for example, you will observe this happens all the time. And the purpose is to get the student to reason through his own question to see if he can come up with the right answer without being told what the right answer is. And Jesus frequently uses the same method: questions for questions. The question he raises is in verse 9 of Mark: “Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven’; or to say, ‘Get up, and pick up your pallet and walk’?” Jesus uses a bit of rabbinic logic called “qal va-chomer”, which means light and heavy, and the system is that you prove the easier by doing the harder. He says to them I will prove to you I can do the easier, your sins are forgiven you, by doing the harder, healing the paralytic. Only then does he proceed to heal and there is instantaneous evidence. Mark verse 12: “he got up and immediately picked up the pallet.” Luke says in verse 25: “Immediately he got up before them.”
The second stage of investigation is now to follow
The stage of interrogation is now to follow. From now on, everywhere he goes a Pharisee is sure to follow. But now they are asking questions and raising objections, looking for a basis to accept or reject a person’s claim.