CHRIST'S AUTHORITY TO FORGIVE
'And again He entered into Capernaum after some days; and it was noised that He was in the house. 2. And straightway many were gathered together, insomuch that there was no room to receive them, no, not so much as about the door; and He preached the word to them. 3. And they come to Him, bringing one sick of the palsy, which was borne of four. 4. And when they could not come nearly to Him for the press, they uncovered the roof where He was: and when they had broken it up, they let down the bed wherein the sick of the palsy lay. 6. When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the sick of the palsy, Son, your sins be forgiven you. 6. But there were certain of the scribes sitting there, and reasoning in their hearts, 7. Why does this man thus speak blasphemies! who can forgive sins but God only! 8. And immediately when Jesus perceived in His spirit that they so reasoned within themselves, He said to them, Why reason you these things in your hearts? 9. Whether is it easier to say to the sick of the palsy, Your sins be forgiven you; or to say, Arise, and take up your bed, and walk! 10. But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins, (He saith to the sick of the palsy,) 11. I say to you, Arise, and take up your bed, and go your way into your house. 12. And immediately he arose, took up the bed, and went forth before them all; insomuch that they were all amazed, and glorified God, laying, We never saw it on this fashion.' --- Mark ii. 1-12.
Mark alone gives Capernaum as the scene of this miracle. The excitement which had induced our Lord to leave that place had been allowed 'some days' to quiet down, 'after' which He ventures to return, but does not seem to have sought publicity, but to have remained in 'the house' --- probably Peter's. There would be at least one woman's heart there, which would love to lavish grateful service on Him. But 'He could not be hid,' and, however little genuine or deep the eagerness might be, He will not refuse to meet it. Mark paints vividly the crowd flocking to the humble home, overflowing its modest capacity, blocking the doorway, and clustering round it outside as far as they could hear Christ's voice. 'He was speaking the word to them,' proclaiming His mission, as He had done in their synagogue, when He was interrupted by the events which follow, no doubt to the gratification of some of His hearers, who wanted something more exciting than 'teaching.'
I. We note the eager group of interrupters. Mark gives one of the minute touches which betray an eye-witness and a close observer when he tells us that the palsied man was carried by four friends --- no doubt one at each corner of the bed, which would be some light framework, or even a mere quilt or mattress. The incident is told from the point of view of one sitting beside Jesus; they 'come to Him,' but 'cannot come near.' The accurate specification of the process of removing the roof, which Matthew omits altogether, and Luke tells much more vaguely, seems also to point to an eye-witness as the source of the narrative, who would, of course, be Peter, who well remembered all the steps of the unceremonious treatment of his property. His house was, probably, one of no great pretensions or size, but like hundreds of poor men's houses in Palestine still --- a one-storied building with a low, flat roof, mostly earthen, and easily reached from the ground by an outside stair. It would be somewhat difficult to get a sick man and his bed up there, however low, and somewhat free-and-easy dealing with another man's house to burrow through the roof a hole wide enough for the purpose; but there is no impossibility, and the difficulty is part of the lesson of the incident, and is recognised expressly in the narrative by Christ's notice of their 'faith.' We can fancy the blank looks of the four bearers, and the disappointment on the sick man's thin face and weary eyes, as they got to the edge of the crowd, and saw that there was no hope of forcing a passage. Had they been less certain of a cure, and less eager, they would have shouldered their burden and carried him home again. They could well have pleaded sufficient reason for giving up the attempt. But 'we cannot' is the coward's word. 'We must' is the earnest man's. If we have any real consciousness of our need to get to Christ, and any real wish to do so, it is not a crowd round the door that will keep us back. Difficulties test, and therefore increase, faith. They develop a sanctified ingenuity in getting over them, and bring a rich harvest of satisfaction when at last conquered. These four eager faces looked down through the broken roof, when they had succeeded in dropping the bed right at Christ's feet, with a far keener pleasure than if they had just carried him in by the door. No doubt their act was inconvenient; for, however light the roofing, some rubbish must have come down on the heads of some of the notabilities below. And, no doubt, it was interfering with property as well as with propriety. But here was a sick man, and there was his Healer; and it was their business to get the two together somehow. It was worth risking a good deal to accomplish. The rabbis sitting there might frown at rude intrusiveness; Peter might object to the damage to his roof; some of the listeners might dislike the interruption to His teaching; but Jesus read the action of the bearers and the consent of the motionless figure on the couch as the indication of 'their faith,' and His love and power responded to its call.
II. Note the unexpected gift with which Christ answers this faith. Neither the bearers nor the paralytic speak a word throughout the whole incident. Their act and his condition spoke loudly enough. Obviously, all five must have had, at all events, so much 'faith' as went to the conviction that He could and would heal; and this faith is the occasion of Christ's gift. The bearers had it, as is shown by their work. It was a visible faith, manifest by conduct. He can see the hidden heart; but here He looks upon conduct, and thence infers disposition. Faith, if worth anything, comes to the surface in act. Was it the faith of the bearers, or of the sick man, which Christ rewarded? Both. As Abraham's intercession delivered Lot, as Paul in the shipwreck was the occasion of safety to all the crew, so one man's faith may bring blessings on another. But if the sick man too had not had faith, he would not have let himself be brought at all, and would certainly not have consented to reach Christ's presence by so strange and, to him, dangerous a way --- being painfully hoisted up some narrow stair, and then perilously let down, at the risk of cords snapping, or hands letting go, or bed giving way. His faith, apparently, was deeper than theirs; for Christ's answer, though it went far beyond his or their expectations, must have been moulded to meet his deepest sense of need. His heart speaks in the tender greeting 'son,' or, as the margin has it, 'child' --- possibly pointing to the man's youth, but more probably an appellation revealing the mingled love and dignity of Jesus, and taking this man into the arms of His sympathy. The palsy may have been the consequence of 'fast' living; but, whether it were so or no, Christ saw that, in the dreary hours of solitary inaction to which it had condemned the sufferer, remorse had been busy gnawing at his heart, and that pain had done its best work by leading to penitence. Therefore He spoke to the conscience before He touched the bodily ailment, and met the sufferer's deepest and most deeply felt disease first. He goes to the bottom of the malady with His cure. These great words are not only closely adapted to the one case before Him, but contain a general truth, worthy to be pondered by all philanthropists. It is of little use to cure symptoms unless you cure diseases. The tap-root of all misery is sin; and, until it is grubbed up, hacking at the branches is sad waste of time. Cure sin, and you make the heart a temple and the world a paradise. We Christians should hail all efforts of every sort for making men nobler, happier, better physically, morally, intellectually; but let us not forget that there is but one effectual cure for the world's misery, and that it is created by Him who has borne the world's sins.
III. Note the snarl of the scribes. 'Certain of the scribes,' says Mark --- not being much impressed by their dignity, which, as Luke tells us, was considerable. He says that they were 'Pharisees and doctors of the law … out of every village of Galilee and Judaea and Jerusalem itself, who had come on a formal errand of investigation. Their tempers would not be improved by the tearing up of the roof, nor sweetened by seeing the 'popularity' of this doubtful young Teacher, who showed that He had the secret, which they had not, of winning men's hearts. Nobody came crowding to them, nor hung on their lips. Professional jealousy has often a great deal to do in helping zeal for truth to sniff out heresy. The whispered cavillings are graphically represented. The scribes would not speak out, like men, and call on Jesus to defend His words. If they had been sure of their ground, they should have boldly charged Him with blasphemy; but perhaps they were half suspicious that He could show good cause for His speech. Perhaps they were afraid to oppose the tide of enthusiasm for Him. So they content themselves with comparing notes among themselves, and wait for Him to entangle Himself a little more in their nets. They affect to despise Him, 'This man' is spoken in contempt. If He were so poor a creature, why were they there, all the way from Jerusalem, some of them? They overdo their part. The short, snarling sentences of their muttered objections, as given in the Revised Version, may be taken as shared among three speakers, each bringing his quota of bitterness. One says, 'Why does He thus speak?' Another curtly answers, 'He blasphemes,'; while a third formally states the great truth on which they rest their indictment. Their principle is impregnable. Forgiveness is a divine prerogative, to be shared by none, to be grasped by none, without, in the act, diminishing God's glory. But it is not enough to have one premise of your syllogism right. Only God forgives sins; and if this man says that He does, He, no doubt, claims to be, in some sense, God. But whether He 'blasphemes,' or no depends on what the scribes do not stay to ask; namely, whether He has the right so to claim: and, if He has, it is they, not He, who are the blasphemers. We need not wonder that they recoiled from the right conclusion, which is --- the divinity of Jesus. Their fault was not their jealousy for the divine honour, but their inattention to Christ's evidence in support of His claims, which inattention had its roots in their moral condition, their self-sufficiency and absorption in trivialities of externalism. But we have to thank them for clearly discerning and bluntly stating what was involved in our Lord's claims, and for thus bringing up the sharp issue --- blasphemer, or 'God manifest in the flesh.'
IV. Note our Lord's answer to the cavils. Mark would have us see something supernatural in the swiftness of Christ's knowledge of the muttered criticisms. He perceived it 'straightway' and 'in His spirit,' which is tantamount to saying by divine discernment, and not by the medium of sense, as we do. His spirit was a mirror, in which looking He saw externals. In the most literal and deepest sense, He does 'not judge after the sight of His eyes, neither reprove after the hearing of His ears.'
The absence from our Lord's answer of any explanation that He was only declaring the divine forgiveness and not Himself exercising a divine prerogative, shuts us up to the conclusion that He desired to be understood as exercising it. Unless His pardon is something quite different from the ministerial announcement of forgiveness, which His servants are empowered to make to penitents, He wilfully led the cavillers into error. His answer starts with a counter-question --- another 'why?' to meet their' why?' It then puts into words what they were thinking; namely, that it was easy to assume a power the reality of which could not be tested. To say, 'Your sins be forgiven,' and to say, 'Take up your bed,' are equally easy. To effect either is equally beyond man's power; but the one can be verified and the other cannot, and, no doubt, some of the scribes were maliciously saying: 'It is all very well to pretend to do what cannot be tested. Let Him come out into daylight, and do a miracle which we can see.' He is quite willing to accept the challenge to test His power in the invisible realm of conscience by His power in the visible region. The remarkable construction of the long sentence in verses 10 and 11, which is almost verbally identical in the three Gospels, parenthesis and all, sets before us the suddenness of the turn from the scribes to the patient with dramatic force. Mark that our Lord claims 'authority' to forgive, the same word which had been twice in the people's mouths in reference to His teaching and to His sway over demons. It implies not only power, but rightful power, and that authority which He wields as 'Son of Man' and 'on earth.' This is the first use of that title in Mark. It is Christ's own designation of Himself, never found on other lips except the dying Stephen's. It implies His Messianic office, and points back to Daniel's great prophecy; but it also asserts His true manhood and His unique relation to humanity, as being Himself its sum and perfection --- not a, but the Son of Man. Now the wonder which He would confirm by His miracle is that such a manhood, walking on earth, has lodged in it the divine prerogative. He who is the Son of Man must be something more than man, even the Son of God. His power to forgive is both derived and inherent, but, in either aspect, is entirely different from the human office of announcing God's forgiveness.
For once, Christ seems to work a miracle in response to unbelief, rather than to faith. But the real occasion of it was not the cavils of the scribes, but the faith and need of the man and His friends; while the silencing of unbelief, and the enlightenment of honest doubt, were but collateral benefits.
V. Note the cure and its effect. This is another of the miracles in which no vehicle of the healing power is employed. The word is enough; but here the word is spoken, not as if to the disease, but to the sufferer; and in His obedience he receives strength to obey. Tell a palsied man to rise and walk when his disease is that he cannot! But if he believes that Christ has power to heal, he will try to do as he is bid; and, as he tries, the paralysis steals out of the long-unused limbs. Jesus makes us able to do what He bids us do. The condition of healing is faith, and the test of faith is obedience. We do not get strength till we put ourselves into the attitude of obedience. The cure was immediate; and the cured man, who was 'borne of four' into the healing presence, walked away, with his bed under his arm, 'before them all.' They were ready enough to make way for him then. And what said the wise doctors to it all? We do not hear that any of them were convinced. And what said the people? They were 'amazed,' and they 'glorified God,' and recognised that they had seen something quite new. That was all. Their glorifying God cannot have been very deep-seated, or they would have better learned the lesson of the miracle. Amazement was but a poor result. No emotion is more transient or less fruitful than gaping astonishment; and that, with a little varnish of acknowledgment of God's power, which led to nothing, was all the fruit of Christ's mighty work. Let us hope that the healed man carried his unseen blessing in a faithful and grateful heart, and consecrated his restored strength to the Lord who healed him!
From the Expositions of the Holy Scripture - St. Mark by ALEXANDER MACLAREN, D. D., Litt. D. Lightly upated to the language of the 21st century by D. N. Pham (c) 2012.
Insights of the past for the present
Mark Gospel 1/4 - A MacLaren
ON THE BOOK SHELF
May your insights be worthy.