Before I went on holiday, we had spent a few weeks on Mark’s gospel. Mark’s gospel is the good news concerning Jesus Christ, the Son of God. And so far we’ve read about John the Baptiser, who was this voice, calling in the wilderness, summoning the people to prepare for the coming of the Lord Jesus. And then we read how the Lord appeared and he was baptised by John in the Jordan, and he was anointed by the Holy Spirit, and then he was sent out into the wilderness where the Devil tempted him and wild beasts surrounded him, but the angels ministered to him. And then we read how he called his first disciples to follow him; and then he drove out that evil spirit from the man in the synagogue in Capernaum where the Lord was teaching the people.
And then we read how, in Capernaum, the Lord healed all kinds of people from their illnesses. But when more and more people were looking for him to heal them from their diseases, he announced to his disciples that he had to leave Capernaum and go elsewhere in order to preach, because that was why he had come. He was telling them that his priority at that time, wasn’t to heal; and it wasn’t to drive out demons; his priority at that time was to preach about the kingdom of heaven and about how sinners need to turn from their sins in repentance and believe the good news about salvation.
However, do you remember? The last time, when we studied the final verses of chapter 1, we saw that though he was determined to preach, he still continued to heal, because this poor leper came to him, humbly, confessing his need; and the Lord healed him of his disease and made him clean. And it’s a picture — isn’t it? — of what he will do for all who come to him, humbly, confessing their need, because whenever we come to him, humbly, confessing our need for forgiveness, he cleanses us from all our guilt and sin and shame.
Throughout the course of chapter 1, we’ve been struck by the Lord’s authority. In verses 1 to 20 we saw his authority to call those who would become his apostles. He called them to leave behind their work and their families to follow him. And then, in verses 21 to 28, we saw his authority to preach and to drive out demons. When he was teaching in the synagogue, the people were amazed by his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, unlike the teachers of the law who normally taught them in the synagogue. And when the evil spirit interrupted the meeting, the Lord demonstrated his authority over demons by driving that evil spirit away. And then in verses 29 to 34 we saw his authority to heal the sick. All kinds of people with all kinds of illnesses came to him; and he healed them all. So, we’ve seen his authority to call his apostles; we’ve seen his authority to teach; we’ve seen his authority to drive out demons; we’ve seen his authority to heal the sick. In today’s passage, we see his authority to forgive sins. You see, the key verse today is verse 10, where the Lord said to the teachers of the law:
But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins….
He’s the Son of Man; and by healing the paralytic, he demonstrated that he not only has authority to heal, but he has authority to forgive our sins.
And you see, that’s so important. These days there’s a big emphasis on equality, isn’t there? There’s a big emphasis on how we’re all equally valuable and important; and no person and no group in society should be made to feel that they’re less important, less significant, less valuable in society than anyone other group. And so, Gay Pride marches are held because those in the gay community want to make clear that they’re just as important and valuable as everyone else and mustn’t be treated differently. Then there were the reports in the news a few weeks ago about how women in the BBC were being paid less than their male counterparts; and people were saying: that’s not right; and women are just as good and important and valuable as men; and their pay should be equal. There’s a big emphasis these days on equality and on how everyone should be regarded as being equally important and significant and valued. That’s the emphasis today. However, in the Bible, the emphasis isn’t so much on how important and valuable we all are; no, the emphasis in the Bible is on how guilty we all are. All of us, every one of us, is guilty before God. One person may have committed big sins; another person may have only committed little sins; but all of us, every one of us has broken God’s law. And so all of us, every one of us is guilty before God.
And that means that all of us, every one of us, needs forgiveness so that we won’t be condemned by God and punished for ever for all that we have done wrong. And the Lord Jesus Christ has the authority to give us the forgiveness we all need. And so, we’re going to look at this passage today to see what it says about the Lord Jesus and his authority to forgive. But before we get to that, let’s look at what this passage says about the faith of those who came to the Lord Jesus.
And so we read in verse 1 how the Lord returned to Capernaum; and the people heard about it and a crowd gathered at the house where he was staying. There were so many people there that there was no room left, not even outside the door.
And what was the Lord doing? Well, according to verse 2, the Lord was preaching. We’ve thought about the priority of preaching a few weeks ago: how it was the Lord’s priority at that time; how it became the priority for the apostles, who didn’t want to be distracted in any way from prayer and the ministry of God’s word; and you’ll remember how Paul wrote to Timothy, that young pastor in Ephesus, to remind him of the priority of preaching God’s word; you’ll remember too that the reason for the priority of preaching is because faith comes by hearing; and so God sends preachers into all the world, so that sinners everywhere will hear the good news and believe and call out to the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation. So, that’s the priority of preaching, which we all need to remember when we think about the work of the church.
And so, here’s the Lord Jesus, preaching in Capernaum. And there are so many people there to hear him, that there’s no more room in the house. And then we read in verse 3 how some men came, bringing with them a paralytic, a man who cannot walk, and who needed to be carried by these four men. And it’s clear that they want to get to the Lord Jesus. But they can’t get near him because of the crowd of people. But they weren’t deterred; instead they climbed up the stairs at the side of the house which led to the roof. And when they got to the roof — and the roof of the house would have been flat and made of timber, covered in mud — when they got to the roof, they made a hole and they lowered their friend down through the hole in order to get him to the Lord Jesus. And so we read in verse 5, that when the Lord saw their faith, he said to the paralytic:
Son, your sins are forgiven.
The Lord saw their faith. How did he see their faith? Well, by what they did. They believed the Lord was able to heal their friend; and because they believed, they brought their friend to the house, and they climbed the stairs, and they made the hole, and they lowered their friend. They did all of that, because they believed the Lord was able to help him.
This will not be the only occasion when Mark points out to his readers the importance of faith. Later, in chapter 4, Mark will tell us about the time when the disciples were afraid whenever that storm started when they were crossing the Sea of Galilee. And after the Lord calmed the storm, he asked them why they were afraid? He said: ‘Do you still have no faith?’ He was saying:
You ought to have believed in me.
Then, in chapter 5, there’s that story of the woman who had been sick for 12 years. And she came up to the Lord, to touch him, because she believed that if she touched him, she would be cured. And do you remember? The Lord turned to her and said to her:
[Your] faith has healed you.
And then, in chapter 6, we read how the people of his hometown took offence at him when he was teaching in the synagogue; and he wasn’t able to perform many miracles among them; and he was amazed by their lack of faith. And then in chapter 10, there’s the story of Blind Bartimaeus. When he heard the Lord was coming, he began to shout out for help. And the Lord stopped and asked Bartimaeus what he wanted him to do for him. And after Bartimaeus asked to be healed, the Lord replied:
[Your] faith has healed you.
On several occasions, Mark points out to his readers the importance of faith, because faith — you see — is the key which unlocks all the treasures of God’s grace and mercy. By faith we cling to Christ, and receive from him all the benefits of his life and death and resurrection for sinners. And so, when these men came to the Lord Jesus, carrying their friend, the Lord saw their faith; and immediately he stopped what he was doing in order to help this man.
There are three ingredients to faith. First of all, there’s knowledge. In order to believe in the Lord Jesus, we need to know who he is and what he’s able to do for us. Secondly, there’s assent. In other words, we have to accept that what we have heard about the Lord Jesus is true. Many people have heard that Jesus is God’s Son and he’s able to help us. They have heard it, but they won’t accept that it’s true; they think it’s all nonsense. So, not only must we know who the Lord is and how he can help us, we must accept that these things which we have heard about him are true. And thirdly, there’s trust. We need to trust the Lord Jesus to help us. We need to rely on him and count on him. So, think of these four men: they heard that the Lord was able to heal their friend; they believed that this was true; and so, they came to the house where he was staying, and they didn’t let anything stop them, because they were relying on him and they were counting him, and they were trusting in him to help their friend.
It struck me this past week, when I was visiting some people in hospital, and some people in nursing homes, and some people in their homes, that one of the things I’m doing most frequently is reminding people of how we’re to trust in the Lord with all our heart. Someone is unwell and wondering if they’ll ever get better; someone is afraid and anxious about the future; someone is concerned about their salvation. And my response is always the same: I’m always trying to remind them that the Lord is faithful and we ought to look to him and trust in him for all the help we need. And that’s true for everyone here today. You need to trust in him with all your heart, to lead you and to guide you and to help you. Parents: this is what you’re to teach your children. We want to teach our children many things, don’t we? Teach them right from wrong. Teach them to be polite and to have good manners. Teach them to ride a bike. We send them to classes to learn to play the piano or to dance or play football. We want to teach them many things.
But the most important thing is to teach them to trust in the Lord with all their heart and to look to him continually for the help they need each day. And if you have the opportunity to talk to others about the Christian faith, that’s what you’re to do: to teach the person you’re talking to that they’re to trust in the Lord with all their heart: trust him for what they need for this life and trust him for what they need for the life to come.
These four men were relying on the Lord to heal their friend. But before he healed him, the Lord did something else for this man. Look at verse 5 again:
When Jesus saw their faith….
Incidentally it’s quite possible that Mark is not only referring to the faith of the friends, but to the faith of the paralytic as well, who presumably heard that the Lord was able to help, and who believed it was true, and who was now counting on the Lord to help him. So, we read:
When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’
So, before the Lord healed the man, he forgave him for his sins.
You see, that was his real problem. He thought — and his friends thought — that his biggest problem was the fact that he couldn’t walk. But that was not his biggest problem. His biggest problem is that he was sinner who was under the wrath and curse of God and who would remain under the wrath and curse of God until he received forgiveness from God. And that’s our biggest problem as well: we’re sinners who have sinned against the Lord continually; and until we receive from him forgiveness for what we have done wrong, then we’ll remain under his wrath and curse and we’ll remain liable to all the miseries of this life and to punishment in hell forever. That’s our biggest problem. And so, before he healed the man, the Lord forgave the man.
Now, the teachers of the law who were there, began to complain in their hearts. They said to themselves:
Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone!
And, of course, in one sense, they were right: who can forgive sins but God alone? But what they didn’t know is that the Lord Jesus Christ is God the Son and he has the authority on earth to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. He had the authority to forgive, because not only is he God the Son, but he was also going to take our guilt and shame upon himself and he was going to suffer and die on the cross to pay for our sins, so that all who believe in him are not condemned, but are forgiven. The Lord Jesus Christ has the authority to forgive our sins, because he’s the Son of God who has paid for our sins in full by his death on the cross; and whoever believes in him, whoever believes in him, is forgiven.
But the teachers of the law didn’t understand this. They didn’t believe he was able to forgive sins. And so, to demonstrate that he was able to do what he said, and to show that he had the authority to forgive sins, he turned to the paralytic and said to him:
I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.
All he had to do was speak, to say the word, and the man was cured: he was able to get up, and take his mat, and to walk out of that house in full view of them all.
The man thought and his friends thought that his biggest problem was that he wasn’t able to walk. But his biggest problem was the fact that he was a sinner who needed forgiveness. And that’s our problem too. Yes, we have all kinds of other problems. And when the Lord comes again, to bring in the new heavens and the new earth, he will transform and glorify our bodies so that they will become like his glorious body. And on that day, when the Lord comes again to make everything new, he’ll heal us of all our diseases; and every weakness we suffer in this life will be removed from us forever. When he comes again, the Lord will heal his people who have believed in him once and for all from all our diseases and troubles. That’s what we can expect in the life to come. But before that day, he’s able to pardon our sins and give us peace with God. And he’s able to do that for us and for all who believe in him, because he’s the one who took the blame for us on the cross and who paid for our sins by his death.
In one way the other people in that house that day were nothing like the paralysed man. He was a paralytic; they were not. And in that one way, they were nothing like him and they wouldn’t be able to identify with his troubles and the challenges he faced everyday and the needs he had. But in another way, they were exactly like him, because just like him, they were sinners who needed forgiveness.
And though all of these people lived two thousand years ago, and though they lived in Capernaum and not in Belfast, and though we so unlike them in many ways, nevertheless we’re still exactly like them in one important way. We’re exactly like them in that we’re sinners who need forgiveness from God. And the way to receive God’s forgiveness is by believing in God the Son, who left the glory of heaven and came down to earth as a man; who became one of us, so that he could take the blame for us and die on the cross to pay for our sins before rising again to everlasting life. So, believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, the only Saviour, and you will be forgiven for all that you have done wrong. If you’ve never believed, then now is the time to put your faith in the Lord Jesus. And it’s very easy; it’s not complicated; it’s not hard. All you have to do is confess your sins to God; give thanks to him for sending his Son to die for sinners; and ask him to forgive you for the sake of Christ. So, trust in him, and receive his forgiveness.
And, of course, if you’re a believer, don’t think this story has nothing to say to you, because you’re still a sinner, aren’t you? And you still sin against the Lord continually, don’t you? Think back over this past week and remember the ways you have disregarded his word and fallen short of doing his will. Think back over this past week. Think back over this morning, even. You’re still a sinner, aren’t you? And so, you still need to trust in the Lord Jesus Christ for forgiveness. And the good news is that the Lord Jesus Christ is the one who has authority to forgive sins; and he’ll pardon whoever comes to him, humbling, confessing their need and asking for his forgiveness.