As Jesus’ reputation as a healer and teacher grew, crowds gathered to be near Him. Friends of a paralyzed man, hoping for a miracle, brought him to see the miracle worker Himself. Although the man had a clear physical need, Jesus first addressed his greater spiritual need. Alistair Begg reminds us that while we often look for temporal solutions to the brokenness we experience, only Jesus has the authority and ability to address our greatest need: the forgiveness of our sins.
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I invite you to turn with me to the Gospel of Mark and to chapter 2. Mark chapter 2. And as you’re turning there, I say a sincere thank-you to Jim and the others who have welcomed my wife and myself and one of my daughters, one of my granddaughters, one of my son-in-laws so kindly. It’s an immense privilege to be here always, and now to have a third generation along is to join ranks of others who have preceded us in this and to recognize that, for more reasons than we’re even able to recount, we have a deep sense of gratitude to God for every occasion that we’ve been allowed to meet in this way and to make memories that will follow us all the way through our lives. I look forward to this week, as I trust you do too.
“And when he”—that is, Jesus—“returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. And many were gathered together, so that there was no more room, not even at the door. And he was preaching the word to them. And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him, and when they had made an opening, they let down the bed on which the paralytic lay. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’ Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, ‘Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?’ And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, ‘Why do you question these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, “Your sins are forgiven,” or to say, “Rise, take up your bed and walk”? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins’—he said to the paralytic—‘I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.’ And he rose and immediately picked up his bed and went out before them all, so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, ‘We never saw anything like this.’”
Thanks be to God for his Word.
A brief prayer:
Make the Book live to me, O Lord,
Show me yourself within your Word,
Show me myself and show me my Savior,
And make the Book live to me.
For your Son’s sake. Amen.
In February, for those of you who are avid Wall Street Journal folks, you may recall that there was an article in the review section about the impact, the revolution, that is continuing to take place in the realm of technology. Those of you who remember things graphically may actually remember this. I cut it out to keep it for myself. And in this particular article, entitled “Is Smart Making Us Dumb?,” the writer of the piece was recognizing that from cars to dustbins and to teapots, various inanimate objects are now enabled to talk back to us and are able also to guide our behavior.
And so, for example, I’ll just tell you what’s up here. There’s a washing machine up here, and the washing machine says as you go to it, “Your water usage is high. Could you go a couple of days between loads?” The toaster says, “Toast, really? Don’t you think you should be laying off the carbs?” Perhaps more ominously, the pedal bin from the kitchen: “I see you’ve failed to separate plastics from metals. Haven’t we been over this before?” And the scales in the bathroom: “That’s ten pounds you’ve gained so far this year. I’ve made an appointment for you with a trainer.”
Now, it wasn’t actually a humorous article; it was a very serious article. And it quoted the CFO of Google, who said as follows: Google “is really an engineering company, with all [their] computer scientists that see the world as a completely broken place.” That was the phrase that struck me as I began to read the article. They “see the world as a completely broken place.” The article also quotes Jane McGonigal, who is described as a futurist and a video game designer. She also is prepared to acknowledge that “‘reality is broken,’ but,” she says, “can be fixed by making the real world more like a videogame, with points for doing good.” And in short, technology in the form of these smart objects is seen as a mechanism for repairing, for fixing, individual behavior in a broken world.
Now, I hope when you read your Bibles, you also read your newspapers, and when you read your newspapers, you do so with the Bible clearly in your thoughts. Because that immediately provides us with an opportunity to speak to our friends on a Monday morning, able to say to them, “Did you read the article where the Google scientists were suggesting we live in a broken world? I hope you did. Because I was reading my Bible, and it describes the fact that we do live in a broken world, at a far deeper level than that which may be accounted for by technology.” The Bible actually makes clear that human experience also confirms the reality of broken homes and broken hearts and broken dreams. And some of you may have actually come up here this particular Sunday because you’ve decided that there are a number of bits and pieces in your life that need addressing—repairs that need to be done, broken parts that need to be fixed.
And the good news that the Bible gives to us is that the Jesus about whom we have been singing so wonderfully has come to deal with our broken reality. And as Mark begins his Gospel, he makes this perfectly clear. Jesus stands on the stage of human history, and he says, “The time is fulfilled, … the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe [the good news].” Luke, in a similar introductory statement, describes Jesus quoting from the Old Testament prophet and announcing the fact that the expectation of the prophet has been fulfilled in him: that he has come “to proclaim good news to the poor,” “liberty [for] the captives,” “recover[y] of sight [for] the blind,” and freedom for the “oppressed.”
With that in mind, we’ve turned to these familiar verses, for those of us who know our Bibles, because here we have Jesus dealing with one man’s brokenness—not, of course, the brokenness with which he was preoccupied, as we’re about to discover.
Now, if you have your Bible open, I’ll just walk you through it. Mark describes the scene for us. In verse 2, he tells us that the crowds are flocking to Jesus—that there are so many people who are coming that there is now no longer room inside, nor is there room outside. No possibilities of a video feed to someone else’s house next door or to the Buirkle Center next door, and therefore, anyone else who wants to come has an immediate problem.
The crowds are flocking to Jesus, and what is Jesus doing? Well, I think it’s very important that we notice that little sentence at the end of verse 2: “And he was preaching the word to them.” “He was preaching the word to them.” That had really caught his followers off guard when they had announced to him—you’ll see this towards the end of chapter 1—when they had announced to him, when they discovered him in the early hours of the morning out by himself in a solitary place and at prayer, when they’d told him that everything had gone terrifically well on the previous evening. The crowds had come, and folks were set free from demons, and others were healed. And the inference and the expectation of the disciples is that Jesus, having begun in such a wonderful way, should just keep this going. And Jesus had rocked them on their heels when he said, “Let’s get out of here. We’re going to go to another place. We’re going to go to villages around here, so that I can preach the gospel to them, for that is why I have come.”
That’s very, very important. Jesus is involved in the ministry of the Word. Jesus is involved in proclaiming the Word. He is the living Word. He proclaims the Word of God. And in this crowd that is gathered in this home on this particular day, he is doing what he said he had come to do: teaching them the Word, explaining to them what the prophets were saying, bringing them forward in their understanding of things. He wanted them to understand what it meant to repent and to believe the good news, to turn around, to stop going in their own direction, to begin in his direction, to leave a broad road that is full of people and leads to destruction and enter through a narrow gate and to a narrow road that leads to life, which few people actually find. I wonder, have you entered through that gate? I wonder, have you done that turnaround? Or, I wonder, are you here this morning just as somebody who is interested in these things, involved perhaps tangentially with the affairs of Christianity, and yet yourself never touched and changed by the power of Christ?
C. S. Lewis was actually like that. C. S. Lewis was brought up within the framework of orthodox Christian faith, turned his back on it around the ages of twelve or thirteen, decided that he’d had enough for a lifetime, and moved on. And then, in his little autobiography Surprised by Joy, he describes that wonderful occasion when the penny dropped, and when the understanding dawned, and when he knelt by his bed in Cambridge and declared himself, presumably, at that time to be “the most … reluctant convert,” he said, “in all [of] England.”
Later on, in writing, he described how, when he arrived in Oxford, he got off the train, and he turned the wrong way. And as a result of turning the wrong way, he was walking out of Oxford rather than walking into Oxford. And he describes how, as he walked away, he was saying to himself, “This isn’t much of a place at all.” He was unimpressed by the buildings—they were getting worse rather than better—and the shop fronts didn’t look much to him. “Until,” he said, “I stopped and turned around. And when I stopped and turned around, then I saw the magnificence of Oxford. Then I saw the spires. Then I saw the towers. Then I knew where I was.” And on making that observation, he says, “And this little adventure was an allegory of my entire life.” Have you ever stopped and turned around?
Jesus gathers this crowd and speaks to them the Word. The crowd gathers, Jesus preaches, and a paralyzed man appears. Verse 3: “And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men,” four of his friends, clearly determined that they will get him in to see Jesus and, encountering the circumstances, determine there is only one solution, and that is they should go through the roof. It’s a drama; there is no doubt about that. You can imagine the mixture of vegetation and clay being pulled apart, and then, finally, as they interrupt the events below, they begin to lower the man down into the presence of Jesus. Although it’s not as drastic an action as it may be given the rooftops of some of our homes, it nevertheless was dramatic.
And picture the scene, if you can: a vast crowd; Jesus is addressing them, preaching the Word of God to them, and down through the roof comes this man, unable to move and brought there by his friends. They are presumably watching eagerly to see what will happen. They have brought the man there so that Jesus might do for them what they anticipate. But none of them could have been ready for what they heard. None of them would anticipate the first words from the mouth of Jesus: “They … made [the] opening, they let down the bed on which the paralytic lay. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven [you].’”
What? The man had an obvious problem. They believed that Jesus had the answer to his problem. But what a strange response! They had brought this man there for a visible change, not for an invisible forgiveness. Surely for Jesus to react in this way was inappropriate, if not entirely irrelevant. After all, there’s nothing to suggest that there was any correlation between the man’s illness and his sinfulness, as if he was a paralytic because he had sinned badly. The book of Job warns us against equating someone’s sin with their suffering. So why does Jesus say, “Your sins are forgiven”? The answer ought to be obvious: because he’s putting his finger on the man’s greatest need—that is, the need for forgiveness.
Jesus wasn’t disinterested in the man’s physical condition. As we’re going to see, he heals him. Nor is Jesus unconcerned about your health or your marriage or your relationships. But listen to me carefully, and check in the Bible to see if you don’t discover that Jesus did not come to add to the sum of our total happiness. He didn’t come simply to repair superficial relationships. He didn’t come simply to make our lives a little better as we wend our way through this weary tale of our existence. No! He didn’t do that. He came to restore us to a relationship with the living God, for whom we were created. For after all, as the Scottish Catechism reminds us, “the chief end of man,” the reason for man’s existence, “is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” But man has turned his back on God. We enjoy ourselves more than we enjoy pleasing him. And so Jesus puts his finger on the man’s essential need.
Well, you might expect, with a phraseology like that, that the religious establishment that was present would immediately say, “Now we’re going! That’s the kind of thing we should be dealing with.” But the reverse is the case. Verse 6: “Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts.”
Now, Jesus has already been opposed. You only need to go back to chapter 1, and you discover that he is immediately opposed by the devil in the wilderness. He’s then opposed by the demons in the synagogue. But now, in this particular house, in the context of compassion and forgiveness, we might have expected that the religious establishment would have been on his side. It’s not so much that their theology is horrible. It’s quite good. But their deduction is off.
What do they say? Well, listen: “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” Well, the answer to that is “nobody.” So they’re perfectly right on that one. But they then say, “But this man must be blaspheming.” Why? Because they assume that Jesus Christ is a mere man. They assume that Jesus is not the Messiah. They assume that Jesus cannot be God. It is impossible for them to conceive of such a thing. And therefore, for an individual—not least of all a Galilean carpenter—to show up in this kind of context, no matter what he’d been doing the previous few days, and to make a pronouncement like this is absolutely wrong.
So Jesus, perceiving what is in their hearts, says, “Well, I’ve got a question for you.” “Which is easier,” verse 9, “to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’?” It’s a great question. Jesus is masterful when he turns the tables on the religious establishment. He does it with consummate skill, doesn’t he? Just twists their nose, just a little bit, just to make them go “Ooh!”—and sometimes worse than “Ooh!”
So, what are they going to say for this? Which is easier: to say, “Your sins are forgiven,” or to pick up your mat? Well, from one perspective, it is far easier to say, “Your sins are forgiven,” isn’t it? I could say to you, “Your sins are forgiven.” That’s unverifiable. How would you know whether they were or whether they weren’t? There’d be no way to tell. But if I were to say to you, paralyzed, lying on the floor, “Pick up your bed and go home,” then immediately someone’s gonna find out whether I know what I’m doing and whether I have the power to bring about the transformation. “So,” says Jesus, “since I’ve done the easier part, from your perspective—to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven’—and in order that you might know who I am, then I’ll just say, ‘Take up your bed and walk.’” Actually, he says more than that. He says, “[In order] that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins…”
Now, that was a very important little piece of the puzzle for the Jewish mind. They knew the Son of Man. They knew what that meant. They knew the prophecy of Daniel:
And behold, with the clouds of heaven
there came one like a son of man,
and he came to the Ancient of Days
and was presented before him.
And to him was given dominion
and glory and a kingdom,
that all the peoples, [the] nations, and [the] languages
should serve him;
his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
which shall not pass away,
and his kingdom one
that shall not be destroyed.
That’s the terminology Jesus uses. He says, “You don’t know who you’re talking to. So in order that you might know that the Son of Man”—which is his favorite personal designation—“in order that you might know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins, let’s just have this fellow take his bed and go home and see his wife. Stand up, take up your mat, and go home.”
No, you see, the authority of Jesus to forgive sins is on the basis of his identity. On the basis of his identity. When we as Christians say to our friends, “Look, Jesus Christ came to save sins,” we have to talk first of all about sins, about our embracing of that which is opposed to God or disinterested in God. And when we’ve at least got… And if you can’t get your artistic friends to agree on sin, find a golfer. Golfers know about sin! They know because of the jealousy of their hearts, they know because of their temper, and they know because of the white stakes and the red stakes. They know when something is in; they know when something is out. They know when they call a penalty on themselves. That is all based on a sense of moral rectitude. So, actually, in a postmodern world, it’s good to find a few golfers to talk to about Jesus, because at least you’ve got a starting point.
But when we then say that Jesus has authority to forgive sins, we’re not being proud, we’re not being presumptuous. Jesus is the only one in the entire universe who can forgive sins. Jesus is the only Savior, because he is the only one who is qualified to save. There is no one else can do it! These fellows regarded it as blasphemy. Some of our friends regard it as ridiculous. On what basis can he make such a statement? Because as Jesus looks into the eyes of that man, whom he addresses in this way, he realizes where he’s heading: he’s going to the cross. And the forgiveness that he proffers, which is free to all who believe, comes at great cost to himself. Because in the cross, Jesus was going to bear the punishment that sin deserves, in order that men and women who trust in him might enjoy a forgiveness that by nature we don’t deserve.
Pharisees, who are trying to work their way to heaven, will never understand this. Our contemporaries, who, if they have any notion of God, believe essentially that a good God will reward nice people if they simply do their best, they have no place, then, for a cross which stands before them at the very crossroads of life.
This is why, loved ones, the cross of Jesus is absolutely central to our proclamation of what we do. It’s possible for me to do Mark chapter 2 and talk to you this morning about four men who were very nice to their friend, and they wanted him to meet Jesus so badly that they even tore a roof off, and they dropped him down; and then to lay a big guilt trip on you, which goes like this: “And how many roofs have you torn off recently in order to bring your friends to Jesus? So get out here and bring your friends to Jesus!” And the person says, “I just taught the Bible.” No, you didn’t. No, you absolutely didn’t! There is a subpoint in passing, but it is not the emphasis of the passage. It can’t possibly be! No, because the whole Bible is a book about what God has done for us in Jesus. It’s not ultimately a book about what we do for Jesus in order to please God. You can’t put the cart before the horse.
I love it when I find stories about people in Scotland. And in my notes, I was thinking that, since we’ve come to the cross, it makes me think of hymns about the cross. And then it made me think of a verse from a hymn, which goes,
O safe and happy shelter,
O refuge tried and sweet,
O trysting place where heaven’s love
And heaven’s justice meet!
“Trysting place.” T-r-y-s-t-i-n-g. Exam: “Tryst: define.” What is a tryst? I shall tell you, because I can see you’re staring at me. “An appointment to meet at a certain [place or time], especially one made some[where] secretly by lovers.” “An appointment to meet at a certain [place] and [time], especially one made … secretly by lovers.”
“Oh,” I said, “now that is interesting. I’ve got to find out about the lady who wrote this hymn.” So I checked. I found out that her name was Elizabeth Clephane. She lived, in her life, in the borders of Scotland, in Melrose. She died at the age of thirty-nine, unmarried. She had two sisters. She was known affectionately in the small town as “Sunbeam.” She should have written “Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam,” but that is not what she wrote. She wrote this. So I thought to myself, “Isn’t it quite remarkable that a lady who presumably had seen her friends engaging in trysts in the beautiful, lush, sheep-filled landscape of the borders should have said to herself, ‘You know, here is my trysting place; here is the place of appointment where someone has loved me with an everlasting love’?” And she dies at the age of thirty-nine, gathered up into the arms of the only one who loves with an everlasting love, the one who makes an appointment to meet at a secret place.
Have you ever carved your initials in a tree? Did you ever try to put “AB loves SMJ”? Probably not. I did. My knife was no good; it didn’t work. But at least the desire was there. I wanted to leave it so that we might say, “And in that place and at that that tree, we said that about our love.” It is at a tree, my friends, that Jesus has made the trysting place with us. There on that tree he signs, as it were, his initials in an initiative-taking love for those who have no interest in him, for those who are the least interested in him. Do you understand what an amazing thing it is? Do you understand why it is that Jesus says, “Hey, listen, give a guy his legs back? What is that? I will forgive his sins. Because if he had legs back for all of his life and still went into eternity without forgiveness, he would be lost forever, you see.”
We don’t believe that, many of us. I wonder, do you believe it this morning? I wonder, have you wondered as I have done… And with this I will draw to a close. That means we’re at least within sight of the airport. Have you ever wondered… And this is pure conjecture on my part. What did the fellow do with his legs when he got them? Well, he went home. What an event that must have been when one of the children said, “Hey, Mom, I think I saw Dad just coming up the path.”
She goes, “What, with his friends?”
“Oh, no, he just came by himself.”
“It’s not possible. He couldn’t have come by himself.”
“Oh, I’m sure he did!”
And into the house he came, and his wife said, “What in the world happened to you?”
He said, “Well, you know, my friends took me to see that Jesus fellow. I thought I was just gettin’ my legs back, but it’s far better. He forgave my sins. Suddenly, the sacrifices make sense to me. They’re pointing forward to what this man is about to do. I need to tell you all about this. You don’t need your legs. You’ve got your legs! But you need forgiveness. And so do you, son, and so do you, daughter, and so do the people next door.” I wonder, did he use his legs to make his way to the cross? Was he standing there at the crucifixion of Jesus, realizing in that moment at what great cost his forgiveness came? Because after all, he’d gone to see Jesus in order that Christ might deal with his legs, only to discover that he came to deal with his heart.
There is a very real danger in contemporary America, in Christian circles, that our churches are increasingly filled with people who have a genuine interest in Jesus taking care of their felt and superficial needs but have never understood nor have been prepared to acknowledge that “my greatest need is the forgiveness of my sins.”
This is a serious article, isn’t it? “Technology’s gonna help us.” Well, it will, in part. But education doesn’t fix us. And we love education. Christians are at the forefront of education, have been in this great nation—many of the best of them coming from Scotland, I must say. And so we’re committed to education, but we know that education can’t change a heart.
Horace, the Latin dramatist, when he was encouraging his students to write, said to them, “When you’re writing a drama, do not introduce a god to the drama unless the plot demands it. Don’t just put gods everywhere in your drama. Save a god for when you need one.” Well, into the drama of human experience comes God.
Lennon and McCartney wrote so many songs, didn’t they? “We Can Work It Out.” In 1965, Lennon wrote “Help!” Maybe we can just end there. Here I am, confronted by the great predicament of my life. You’re here this morning. God searches and knows your heart. What do you wanna say? “We can work it out; I’ll fix this; I can ‘get by with a little help from my friends’”? Or do you want to, from your heart, say, “Help”? “Help.” Christ responds to the cry of “Help,” addressing not only what we find to be our superficial needs but the deepest longings of our hearts.
Just a prayer together:
Gracious God, we bow before you. Look upon us in your mercy, we pray. Grant that all that is true and right may find a resting place in our hearts. Anything that is extraneous or untoward, banish it from our recollection. And meet us, Lord, where we are.
We began by saying, “Show us ourselves.” Some of us have come up here thinking that if we could just fix one or two superficial elements in our life, everything would be squared away, and yet now we are beginning to wonder: perhaps it is this broken relationship, this alienation, that is the basis of all of our alienations.
We want to say with that lady, Elizabeth:
Beneath the cross of Jesus
I fain would take my stand,
The shadow of a mighty rock
Within a weary land;
A home within the wilderness,
[And] a rest upon the way,
From the burning of the noontide heat,
And the burden of the day.
I take, O cross, your shadow
For my abiding place;
I ask no other sunshine
Than the sunshine of [your] face;
Content to let the world go by,
To know no gain [n]or loss,
My sinful self my only shame,
My glory all the cross.
Now unto him who is able to keep us from falling, to present us faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, to the only wise God, our Savior, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, now and forevermore. Amen. Amen.
 R. Hudson Pope, “Make the Book Live to Me” (1943). Lyrics modernized.
 Patrick Pichette, quoted in Evgeny Morozov, “Is Smart Making Us Dumb?,” Wall Street Journal, February 23, 2013, https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424127887324503204578318462215991802.
 Mark 1:15 (ESV).
 Luke 4:18 (ESV).
 Mark 1:38 (paraphrased).
 See Matthew 7:13–14.
 C. S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life (New York: HarperOne, 2017), 279.
 Lewis, 225–26. Paraphrased.
 Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q. 1.
 See Mark 1:12–13.
 See Mark 1:21–26.
 Daniel 7:13–14 (ESV).
 Elizabeth C. Clephane, “Beneath the Cross of Jesus” (1868).
 Dictionary.com, s.v. “tryst,” https://www.dictionary.com/browse/tryst.
 See Jeremiah 31:3.
 Horace, Ars Poetica, lines 191–92. Paraphrased.
 John Lennon and Paul McCartney, “We Can Work It Out” (1965).
 John Lennon and Paul McCartney, “With a Little Help from My Friends” (1967).
 Clephane, “Beneath the Cross.” Language modernized.
Copyright © 2022, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.