“Iniquities and Diseases”
This passage in the first of five narratives of conflicts prompted by the actions of Jesus. The conflicts developed around Jesus’ relation to the forgiveness of sin (2:1-12), his friendship with sinners (2:13-17), his ignoring certain traditions of fasting (2:18-22), and two controversies concerning human need and the purpose of the Sabbath (2:23-3:6). The language does not demand that we see these events as chronologically related. Rather, it seems that Mark has arranged these narratives to give an indication as to the kind of conflicts that Jesus had at various times with the religious authorities among the Jews that caused their deep opposition and even hatred of him (see 3:6). Eventually their plots would culminate in his execution at the hands of the Romans (15:10, 11, 31).
I. Ministry at the “House” (verses 1, 2) – The word is literally “house,” but is also used for “home” and it is translated that way by both the ESV and the NASB. “In the house” says the KJV and “in somebody’s house” so Phillip’s paraphrase said. The NIV reads, “he had come home.” Jesus told a would-be follower that “the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Matthew 8:20). Though Jesus had a house in Nazareth, he had left it in order to go all around preaching the good news that the time was fulfilled and that God’s kingdom had arrived. When, therefore, he was received amicably, that was considered “home.” When Matthew recorded this event he prefaced it with the words, “So he got in a boat, crossed over and came to his own city.” It was in Capernaum that Jesus paid the temple tax (Matthew 17:24), a tradition that required a twelve-month residency.” So it appears that Capernaum was his city and the house of Peter was his “home” when a rest from itinerating was needed.
A. Jesus had healed Peter’s mother-in-law in this house in Capernaum after having cast a demon out of man in the synagogue. After her healing she served Jesus along with Peter and Andrew and John and James.
B. During that visit, “the whole city gathered at the door” and Jesus “healed many who were ill with various diseases and cast out many demons” (1:34).
C. On this occasion, he sat at the door and “was speaking the word to them.” He was explaining the meaning of his message concerning the kingdom of God, the time now being fulfilled, and the meaning of believing the gospel (cf. 1:15). So many were there that they could not get near the door.
II. A Paralytic who needed forgiveness (verses 3-5)
A. Four men came with a friend who was paralyzed. They brought him on a pallet, but could not get near the door because of the number of people crowding together in order to hear Jesus teach.
B. This difficulty, however, would not deter them from their goal—to get a friend to Jesus. They were even willing to be seen as intruders—rude and destructive—to place their friend before Jesus. They had seen what he did in his earlier brief stay in Capernaum—his victorious confrontation with evil spirits, his healing of diseases from which people were seldom if ever relieved, and his message of the kingdom—and would let nothing keep them from this opportunity.
C. So after removing the barrier of the roof of Peter’s house, they lowered their friend down through the hole and set his mat in front of Jesus. Even so insistent was the blind man, son of Timaeus, when he heard Jesus was coming (Mark 10:46). Likewise the Gentile woman from Syrophoenicia whose daughter had an evil spirit dared to engage Jesus with an urgent request in spite of Jesus’ initial silence, the opposition of the disciples, and Jesus’ testing her resolution by setting forth the priority of his mission to the Jews (Mark 7:24-29; Matthew 15:21-28). The “Rich Young Ruler,” however, did not persevere with sufficient determination and desperation for eternal life (Mark 10:17-27). Those who see clearly and know in their conscience that Jesus alone can meet the need of their soul will not be put off by apparent hindrances to the manifestation of their faith.
D. Jesus “saw their faith.” The friends who carried him and the man himself had faith. Jesus not only saw their determination to get to the healer, but, by supernatural insight (cf John 2:23-25) saw that they desired not only the healing but the spiritual life that Jesus alone could grant. For this reason, his first words were dealing with the root problem of all sickness and disease—both physical and spiritual—sin. When he saw their faith Jesus said, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”
III. The response of the Scribes (verses 6, 7) – The Scribes had become a professional class among the Jews. They spent their lives studying and interpreting the Law. They were learned and adept at this task and used their expertise for achieving social dominance (Matthew 23:5-7) as well as economic advantage (Mark 12:39, 40). They would have been listening to this teacher who was attracting such large crowds and who taught with such confidence though he had never studied with the rabbis.
A. When they heard him proclaim, “Your sins are forgiven,” They reasoned both correctly and incorrectly.
- They knew from an abundance of Old Testament passages that all sin was, in its primary focus, against God. Every sin is a transgression of God’s law and thus only God can forgive sin. The implication of their question, “Who can forgive sin but God alone?” was perfectly in accord with Scripture.
- Their conclusion, “He is blaspheming” was wrong and came from a failure properly to evaluate his actions and teachings in terms of other Old Testament connections. In light of his teaching and healing, they should have concluded that indeed, in spite of his appearance as a man, he was the Lord, the Messiah. This would have been the ultimate radical conclusion but not antithetical to what they should have expected from their knowledge of Scripture. Forgiveness of iniquity and healing of diseases is designated as a mark of the goodness of the Lord: “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases” (Psalm 103:3).
B. As Jesus knew then, and as proved to be the case later, they were not genuinely concerned about doctrinal purity and faithfulness to the law of God, they were concerned only abut their dominance. Jesus later told them, in the parable of Lazarus and the rich man, what would have been relevant even at this point, “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead” (Luke 16:31). Again he pointed to the basic misunderstanding, yes even disbelief of the Scripture that they so loudly invoked, “For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?” (John 5:46).
IV. Jesus knew and challenged their thoughts (verses 8-12). In the same way that Jesus knew the paralytic had saving faith, so he knew what the reasoning of the scribes was. “Why are you reasoning about these things in your hearts?” Jesus was not calling into question the normal and expected activity of the human mind of reasoning. That is a God-given power that is expressive of the image of God and the Bible has many examples of highly sophisticated reasoning in the defense of revealed truth. He is referring to the conclusion of their reasoning which was unwarranted from the evidence.
A. He made a theoretical proposal that would draw out their hypocrisy. He would show that their rejection of him and their thought that he was a blasphemer was not based on evidence from the Scripture but blind prejudice.
B. He then sets before them the relationship between two realities by asking, “Which is easier to say,” ‘Your sins are forgiven’ or to say, ‘Get up, and pick up your pallet and walk’?”
- It is easier to say, “Your sins are forgiven you.” This is a statement for which there would be no immediate, observable, empirical evidence. How could such a statement ever be proven actually to have taken place?
- On the other hand, “Get up, pick up your pallet and walk” would need an immediate action if one were to expect others to believe that the power of such healing was actually in his words.
- So it is easier to say, ”Your sins are forgiven,” but it is actually harder to do. If Jesus could not do the easier, it is certain that he could not do the harder. However, to say Pick up your pallet and walk demands an immediate response.
- Both of these, however, done on the word of a person, witness to an immediate authority that could be true only of God. Immediate power over the forces of nature and over the physical effects of the fall is properly true of God alone. In the same way, forgiveness of sins is also the prerogative of God alone. A person who possesses the authority for the one also possesses the authority for the other.
C. Jesus, therefore, determined to give evidence of his authority that would be irrefutable. “I have power and authority,” Jesus was saying, “to recreate a physical reality merely by my word.” In the beginning by the word of his power the heavens and the earth were created and they presently are sustained in their being by his ongoing unintermitted upholding of all things (Genesis 1:1; Colossians 1:16, 17; Hebrews 1:2, 3). Both the Colossians passage and the Hebrews passage tie together the act of creation and work of redemption in a way that assumes that only one who has the power to create also has the power to redeem. Showing that his listeners should know that both of these spheres of reality were under the immediate authority of God, Jesus said, “But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins,” then turning to the paralytic, Jesus spoke, “I say to you, get up, pick up your pallet and go home.” The die was cast. Would he or would he not be able, as a paralytic, to obey the command to get up?
D. He got up and immediately picked up his pallet and “went out in the sight of everyone.” What could they say now? Jesus had forgiven his iniquity and had also healed his disease. He did this in the sight of everyone so that none could doubt the happening. So it was with the healing of the blind man in John 9 and the raising of Lazarus in John 11. But unbelief does not yield to evidence.
E. We can assume that the words, “They were all amazed and were glorifying God,” does not include the scribes. It only served to solidify their determination to rid the world of this usurper, Their irrational resistance to the evidence of Jesus’ authority, and thus divinity, led him to issue his warning about blasphemy against the Holy Spirit (3:28-30).
F. Evidence should convince an unbiased mind. But the strength of a bias makes void the accumulation of evidence and sways the person in favor of his predisposition. The greatest predisposition that is invincible from a natural standpoint is one’s bias against God. So deeply embedded in the mind and affections it is that only by supernatural exertion of omnipotent power can it be altered and moved in a different direction. To this reality the article on Scripture in the Second London Confession witnesses: “The testimony of the church of God may stir and persuade us to adopt a high and reverent respect for the Holy Scriptures. Moreover, the heavenliness of the contents, the power of the system of truth, the majesty of the style, the harmony of all the parts, the central focus on giving all glory to God, the full revelation of the only way of salvation, and many other incomparable qualities and complete perfections, all provide abundant evidence that the Scriptures are the Word of God. Even so, our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority of the Scriptures comes from the internal work of the Holy Spirit bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts. … we acknowledge that the inward illumination of the Spirit of God is necessary for a saving understanding of what is revealed in the Word.”