The Paralytic

Francis Bourdillon, 1864

Mark 2:1-12
"A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. So many gathered that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them. Some men came, bringing to him a paralytic, carried by four of them. Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus and, after digging through it, lowered the mat the paralyzed man was lying on.
When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, "Son, your sins are forgiven."
Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, "Why does this fellow talk like that? He's blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?"
Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, "Why are you thinking these things? Which is easier: to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Get up, take your mat 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 tell you, get up, take your mat and go home."
He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all.
This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, "We have never seen anything like this!"

There are few who move our pity, more than those who are deprived of the use of their limbs. All feel it sad to see the poor cripple, in the prime of life perhaps and yet so helpless, unable to do anything for himself, with scarcely power to move hand or foot.

Such a one was brought to Jesus. He was paralyzed, and so severely that he could not walk a step. But he had found friends; poor, afflicted people generally do find friends, and so four kind men carried him on his bed to the house where Jesus was.

But when they got there, they found an unexpected difficulty. Jesus was preaching, and there was such a crowd of people in the house and around the door, that they could not get near Him. What should they do? Should they go back and wait for another time? No, they would not disappoint the poor sick man they would try at all events.

A house in that country was, and still is, very different from our houses. The roof was flat, with steps outside by which to get up to it; and the house was built around a small courtyard or room, open to the sky; and sometimes there was a canvas covering which could be drawn over this in wet weather, or when the sun was hot. Most likely it was in this open part of the house that our Savior was preaching to the people. So the four men carried the bed up to the housetop; and then, after uncovering as much of the roof as was necessary, they let it down into the midst before Him.

What was the palsied man thinking all the while? What was in his mind while he was being carried to Jesus? Certainly he had an earnest desire to be made well; that was one thing. And he had a hope that Jesus could make him well; for we read that "Jesus saw their faith," meaning the faith of them all, the sick man and his four bearers. But was this all? Was he thinking only about his palsy? If we may judge from what Jesus said to him, it seems likely that he was thinking of and wishing for something else even more than to be made well. "Son, your sins are forgiven"; or, according to Matthew, "Take heart, my son, your sins are forgiven." Son, be of good cheer, take courage! Why? Not for I am going to cure your palsy, I am about to restore to you the use of your limbs; but, "Your sins are forgiven." If it was this which was to make him happy had not this been his chief trouble before? Is it not likely, from what Jesus said to him, that his chief thoughts and desires had been not for his palsied body, but for his sin-burdened soul? We do not know whether it was so or not. But even if not, Jesus knew that the forgiveness of his sins was the man's greatest need; so this was what He gave to him first: "Son, your sins are forgiven!"

God often blesses us, not according to what we desire but according to what He knows us to need most. But Jesus did not disregard the poor cripple's desire to be cured of the palsy. He who felt compassion for the soul laden with guilt pitied the helpless body too. This sufferer was to receive a double blessing.

The scribes murmured at the words of Jesus. "Who," they said within themselves, "who can forgive sins but God alone?" not believing that Jesus was God. Jesus knew their thoughts and answered them thus: "Which is easier: to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Get up, take your mat 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 tell you, get up, take your mat and go home."

Even while He spoke, He put forth His almighty power; and no sooner were the words said, than the sick man "arose and immediately picked up his bed and went out before them all." Thus, by one act, our Lord bestowed an unspeakable blessing on the cripple, and gave to the scribes such a proof of who He was, as no honest mind could refuse to admit. He who could cure the sick by a word could also forgive sins; and He who could forgive sins must, even according to the scribes themselves, be possessed of the power of God Himself.

How great a change to the sick man! How different his return from his coming! He came a helpless cripple, carried on his bed, hoping, fearing, believing, trembling; perhaps oppressed besides with a sense of sin; an object of pity to all. He returned strong, well, and happy. No need of help now. He could walk as well as any. He took up the bed on which he himself had just before been carried and returned to his house. His palsy was gone; his sins were forgiven; his heart was light; he was happier than he had never been before.

1. Now mark that all this was obtained by going to Jesus. If he had not gone to Jesus then not one of these blessings would have been his.

In the same way, we may go to Jesus. The way is always open to us. No crowd can hinder us and no time is unseasonable. Prayer can bring us into His presence at all times. We may take to Him every need, every fear, every trouble, every sin. We may take to Him all that grieves, burdens, vexes or terrifies us. See what this man got by going to Jesus. Jesus is not changed.

2. We may take our friends to Jesus too; we may pray for them, as well as for ourselves. Jesus saw "their faith" the faith of those who brought the man, as well as that of the man himself. He does not disregard the prayer of those who pray for others; the prayer of a mother, for instance, for a sick child or for an ungodly son.

The friends of this man could do nothing themselves to cure his palsy, but they could carry him to Jesus. And often we can do nothing for another, but pray for him. But that is much to do, for thus we lay his case before One who can do ALL. We can pray for those who are far away. We can pray for those who will not listen to our words. We can pray for the sick to whom no medicine seems to do good.

Nay, even the sick themselves can pray for others. Many a prayer for others goes up from a sick-bed; many a person who seems quite laid aside by illness and unable to do good to any, is thus doing unknown good by laying the case of others before God in prayer.

But let that prayer be the prayer of faith. "Jesus, seeing their faith" not, Jesus, hearing their words for, as far as we are told, they had asked Him nothing; yet He saw their faith. This is what He notices; this is what He will bless.

True, for the greatest of all blessings, the pardon of sin, there must be a personal faith; the mother's faith will not save an ungodly and unbelieving son. But how often, in answer to a mother's prayer, is faith given, and the son's heart changed by grace and brought to God!

3. "When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic: Son, your sins are forgiven!" Mark 2:5

Yes, the pardon of sin is the greatest of all blessings, and our chief need. There could not be a stronger proof of this than the case before us. Look at the poor cripple brought on his bed. See, he lies helpless; he cannot move; what he wants, he must ask of others; all comfort in life, as to outward things, is gone.

What does that man chiefly need? Surely, to be made well, to have the use of his limbs, to be like other men. No, not so! He has a greater need still. He is a sinner, and his chief need is the forgiveness of his sins. If that man had gone from the presence of Christ, strong and well, but not forgiven then he would not have been truly happy. He would have received a great blessing but not the greatest; a great need would have been supplied but not his greatest need of all.

So it is with us all. Our greatest need, and therefore our greatest blessing, is pardon of sins. Some know this well, and know it in the happiest way. They have sought and found pardon and are living continually in the sense of it.

Others there are who are persuaded that forgiveness of sin is what they chiefly need, but who have not yet sought and found it. Conscience tells them that this is what they need for safety and for happiness yet they have not gone to Him who alone can give it.

There are others still, alas, many others, who do not feel this need. They do not really feel themselves to be sinners. Conscience is not aroused; no burden is felt, no sorrow for sin; they are careless and unconcerned. Yet it is true of them also, that pardon is their chief need. Unpardoned sin will be their ruin.

All that the world can give cannot make up for the lack of pardon. A man may be rich and prosperous, strong and healthy; the world may go well with him, and he may seem to lack nothing; yet, if he is without the pardon of his sins he lacks that which is better than all that he has got.

On the other hand, one may be sick and poor and friendless, and yet happy, if this blessing be his; and such are to be found.

4. Lastly, Jesus Christ both can and will forgive sin. He CAN. His precious blood has been shed for sinners, and so their debt has been paid and a full atonement made for all their guilt. Our Lord, when upon earth, claimed this power: "But that you may know that the Son of man has power on earth to forgive sins." That power is His still. At this very time, He has power on earth to forgive sins. None can condemn, where He forgives. "There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus" (Romans 8:1).

He can forgive, and He WILL forgive. No poor sinner will He turn away. He said so Himself: "Him that comes to Me, I will never cast out" (John 6:37). This forgiveness is a present forgiveness. What did our Lord say to the sick of the palsy? "Your sins are forgiven," not shall be, but are. So that he went away, a pardoned man.

In the same way are all forgiven, who go to Christ in true penitence and faith. His blood is applied to wash their sins away, and they go free. How gracious were His words, "Son, be of good cheer, your sins are forgiven." He seems to speak here as "the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace" (Isaiah 9:6). In that character He seems to say, "Take courage, My child, fear not; your sins are forgiven!"

And thus He does in fact speak, in His Word and by His Spirit, to every humble and contrite heart that looks to Him: "Take courage, My child your sins are forgiven! My blood has been shed for you. My grace is sufficient for you. Go in peace." Happy are all such! Happier far than the world, with all its gifts, could make them.

Never surely can the palsied man have forgotten the sweet sound of those words, "Son, be of good cheer your sins are forgiven!" They were not heard once for all, and then lost; they must have lived in his memory and cheered his spirit all his life afterwards. Not so great a comfort was it to him to go about like other men, to walk, to work, to enjoy life, to do things for others, in return for what they had done for him in his need, as to live in the knowledge that his sins were forgiven.

This is how our Lord would have us live; this is the happiness that He would have us enjoy believing that His blood has washed us clean, loving Him above all, serving Him with a free spirit, and, amidst all other sources of joy, rejoicing most in this, that our sins are forgiven us for His Name's sake, and that "He has made us accepted in the beloved" (Ephesians 1:6).