And again he entered into Capernaum after some days; and it was noised that he was in the house. 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 unto them.
And they come unto him, bringing one sick of the palsy [paralyzed], which was borne [carried] of four. And when they could not come nigh unto 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. When Jesus saw their faith, he said unto the sick of the palsy, Son, thy sins be forgiven thee. But there were certain of the scribes sitting there, and reasoning in their hearts, Why doth this man this speak blasphemies? who can forgive sins but God only?
And immediately when Jesus perceived in his spirit that they so reasoned within themselves, he said unto them, Why reason ye these things in your hearts? Whether is it easier to say to the sick of the palsy, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Arise, and take up thy bed, and walk? But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins, (he saith to the sick of the palsy,) I say unto thee, Arise, and take up thy bed, and go thy way into thine house. And immediately he arose, took up the bed, and went forth before them all; insomuch that they were all amazed, and glorified God, saying, We never saw it on this fashion.
There are two great things that take place in these verses. The paralyzed man is healed and is able to walk, and the sinner’s sins are forgiven. It ought to be obvious which is greater.
So, let us consider Jesus’ authority to forgive sins.
When I say “desired,” I am referring to the faith of the paralytic and his four friends as they come to Jesus. Jesus calls attention to their faith in verse 5: “When Jesus saw their faith.” Their faith was something that Jesus saw. It was very evident. They had, in their coming to Jesus, a strong desire to be with Jesus, to be at the feet of Jesus. And they come to Jesus because they know He is the One who has the power to heal.
Now, I think it is obvious in this passage that the main purpose of their coming to Jesus was to have their friend healed. But Jesus uses this situation to press deeper into their consciousness their real need of Him, so that when He is finished here, this man has come to Jesus for forgiveness. When He saw their faith, He said, “Son, thy sins be forgiven thee.”
This strong desire to be with Jesus was for the healing of this paralytic. But in their faith for this lesser thing, there are certainly things for us to learn about faith for the greater things, that is, forgiveness of sins.
Now, as you think about the forgiveness of sins, the greater thing, the question for us is: Do I desire forgiveness? How strongly do I desire? Is this why Jesus and the goodness of the gospel are important to me? Do I have the faith of these friends, who bring their paralyzed friend to Jesus for healing? Verse two tells us that many were gathered there. That is an understatement! How many were gathered we do not know, but we know that the house was packed full, with standing room only, an overflow. You could not squeeze another person in. They were standing around the outside of the house, by the windows, to hear what Jesus was saying. And they kept coming like bees to a hive. Remarkable faith these five had. We see their trust. They were convinced, they believed beyond all doubt, that Jesus could and would heal their friend. They believed His power. There was a positiveness. There was not any skepticism as they came to Jesus. Do we have that kind of faith—that the mighty God, strong to save, is our God? James says that when we come to Him in prayer, we should come “nothing doubting.” There was a firmness and a trust and a confidence in their faith.
And there is a deep concern for their friend as well. Their friend is in need. And they know that if they get their friend to Jesus, there is the power for his healing. Do you have that kind of faith, that even demonstrates itself in a concern for the spiritual welfare of other sinful, hurting, dying men and women? Do you want them to be brought to Jesus? They brought him to hear the voice of Jesus.
And they were determined. Carrying a bed, a stretcher, of their paralyzed friend. And they were men on a mission. They come, verse 4, to the house. And they could not come near Him for the press. So, they uncovered the roof. You see here their persistence, their determination, their resolve. They look around. There is no way in. So they go up on the roof (most likely a flat roof with steps going up there). And they got their friend up there on the roof. They find the approximate place where Jesus was in the house, and they remove the roof. Now, this was not like just removing a few tiles or pieces of wood. But these were roofs that were made with wood that was laid crisscross and then packed down with branches and then with mud and clay. So, really, they begin to dig on the roof.
You can well imagine the disruption inside, for the multitude that are pressed in the house around Jesus. If you were near Jesus, you would have heard a noise above your head and then seen a shaft of light coming into the room. And soon a face or two peering down, debris falling from above into your hair and on your clothes. And they keep digging and digging until they have dug a hole that is big enough to let a bed through.
Faith is the victory that overcomes. You see that here in their faith, a persistence, a perseverance, an active faith.
And they let him down with some rope to the feet of Jesus. Here is a paralyzed man at the feet of Jesus who is proclaiming the good news of the gospel. What a picture: a believing, paralyzed man at the feet of Jesus.
There is a sign here of who we are by nature. This man’s faith has brought him, powerless in himself, to the feet of Jesus. Do you see yourself in him: helpless, coming to the feet of Jesus to hear the good news?
Then we have in the passage forgiveness declared. Jesus’ response is worthy of note. Did Jesus respond, “I’m busy preaching, this is more important. You have interrupted me”? No, He sees their faith. And when you look at the gospels, Jesus often calls attention to strong faith. He wants the people to see this. He never responded by turning those away who came with a strong faith. When the parents were bringing their children, and the disciples tried to turn them away, Jesus rebuked them. When the Syrophoenician comes and Jesus says, “No, the food of the table is not for the dogs,” she says, “Yes, but the dogs get the crumbs.” When the Roman centurion comes and says, “You don’t have to come to my house. You just speak the word and he’ll be healed,” Jesus marveled and said, “I never saw such faith, no not in Israel.”
And here, by this miracle, He calls attention to their faith. He sees their faith. He sees beyond what they have done, into their hearts, and He stops His preaching. He says the most unexpected thing: “Son, thy sins be forgiven thee.” Wonderful words that you and I want to hear from Jesus. But unexpected! “Son.” He brings this man, by His words, into the family of God. Thy sins be forgiven thee. This is the good news, this is the gospel that Jesus preached. We see it already in chapter 1, verses 14 and 15: He preached the gospel of the kingdom of God and He said, “Repent ye and believe the gospel.”
And now, here are filthy, hell-bound, law-breaking sinners, despite their sins, brought into the household of God. That is the gospel. That is the good news that we preach.
This is what He was preaching. He was preaching the good news and here this man was. Really, He continued the sermon: “Son, thy sins be forgiven thee.”
In that declaration, there are important things for us to learn about the forgiveness of sins, especially as we look at, as it were, this first movement of this story. Before the miracle, first you see here that the forgiveness of sins is the primary, the most important need that we have. All other needs are secondary. They bring him with a physical need, an obvious physical need. He cannot walk. He is paralyzed. And Jesus says, as it were, “I’ll get you your legs in a minute, but let’s talk about your sin before God. Let’s talk about your heart. This is why I came. My power to do miracles is incidental to this real work. This miracle is only a sign.” You see how primary this is. This is our need, our great need. Whatever your needs today, physical, spiritual, relational, emotional, personal—this is your real need: to hear the declaration of the Savior: “Son, daughter, your sins are forgiven.” Everything else is secondary.
And we see here also the necessity of the forgiveness of sins. Jesus does not treat this need of forgiveness lightly. He does not say, “Well, I see you’re here. Let’s not talk about sin now. That might upset you.” He saw forgiveness of sins as necessary. Though this man has other needs, his primary need was this. And the church today that overlooks and treats sin lightly, and does not proclaim the righteousness of God and forgiveness in the blood of Jesus Christ, has lost the gospel, the good news.
We see here, too, that forgiveness is divine, it is a divine declaration. God alone can forgive sins because all sin, in the end, is committed against God, and none but God has, as it were, access to the records of heaven and the freedom to forgive. This declaration comes from the mouth of God, not with regard to what man has done, but it comes in justification as a declaration in spite of what we have done, in spite of who we are. So this forgiveness is free, it is sovereign and free. God determines who will be forgiven and He forgives freely and unconditionally. You cannot buy forgiveness. You cannot sell forgiveness. You cannot earn forgiveness. God gives it freely.
If ever a man could do nothing, it was this man. Paralyzed, like the thief on the cross. What could he do? There is nothing greater than for us to know that forgiveness of sins comes freely, graciously. We do not do to receive, but it is freely granted. This forgiveness is full, complete. Notice the plural. Jesus says, “Son, thy sins.” That word represents in the plural all of this man’s sins—past, present, and future. And when God justifies the ungodly, in his justification every sin is forgiven, every sin is laid on Jesus Christ and the price is paid for our sin.
So this man is forgiven in an instant. He leaves forgiven. Like the publican who went up to the temple to pray, he went home to his house justified. Jesus, in the word “forgive,” sent away all his sins and all the handwriting of them that was against him. That is forgiveness declared by Jesus. If never he walked again, he was a happy man, forgiven!
“Son, thy sins be forgiven thee.” Jesus said that for the audience. Here were the scribes and Pharisees. Jesus said that to provoke them. There were in that house certain of the scribes and Pharisees, we read. Who were they and what were they doing here? The scribes and Pharisees are the educated, religious elite, heads full of knowledge. And they were here to listen to Jesus and to trap Him in His words. This is early in Jesus’ ministry and already they are after Him. They are malicious hypocrites. They are not here to be instructed by Jesus but to be critical and to be contentious. It is striking that we read in verse 6, that there were certain of the scribes sitting there. They assumed a sitting position before Jesus. Jesus is on trial before them. That is the point. His ministry is hardly begun. This is the first time they have heard him publicly speaking, but already He is on trial.
And you see that in verse 7, in their censorious thoughts, “Why doth this man thus speak blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God only?” “And immediately when Jesus perceived in his spirit that they so reasoned within themselves.” They were judging. Who can forgive sins but God only? And their conclusion: This is blasphemy. What is blasphemy? Blasphemy is to say something that is irreverent and profane against God! And the way that they saw this as blasphemy (you see this later when Jesus is on trial before His crucifixion) was that “He makes himself equal with God.” That is the blasphemy. Who can forgive sins but God only? That is their reasoning. And they were right. Nobody can forgive sins but God only. They knew the Scriptures. They could have quoted Psalm 130: “If thou, Lord, shouldst mark iniquity, O Lord, who should stand. But with thee, there is forgiveness.” God who did it. Isaiah 43: “I, even I, am he that blotteth out thy transgressions for mine own sake and will not remember thy sins.” Nobody else, God only! And that is because, as we have seen, all sin is against God, no one else. No religious institution, no system, no ritual, no baptism, no sacrament, no membership, no obedience can earn forgiveness of sins. God only forgives.
So they sit there. Jesus says, “Son, thy sins be forgiven thee.” And they begin to question. Does this man have the right to forgive sin? That is the idea of power here. He has the authority to forgive sins (v. 10). Blasphemy!
What we should see here on clear display in the hard hearts of these scribes and Pharisees is the depraved heart of man. This is man as he is by nature before the good news of the gospel. This is the unregenerate response to spiritual things. The natural man receiveth not the things of God, for they are spiritually discerned. That is what you have here: men whose minds are hardened, are dark to the mysteries of the gospel. And the only way for their eyes to be opened is that God does this by the power of His Holy Spirit. It was God, by His Holy Spirit, who brought these four friends and this paralytic to Jesus. God gave them faith.
You have certainly run into that before in your life, have you not? A neighbor, a family member, a friend, and acquaintance at work. You talk to them about Christ and the good news of the gospel. You give them things to listen to. You give them things to read. You pray fervently for them. You go back to them. You follow up, but, you see, until God opens their hearts, they are blind. That does not mean that you stop. You keep on bringing Christ. But it is God who effectually works the call of the gospel in the hearts of man. And what we have in the Pharisees is a spiritual illustration of the paralytic. They walk in darkness.
How does Jesus respond to them? Verse 8: “And immediately when Jesus perceived in his spirit that they so reasoned within themselves.” He did not wait—immediately. You can imagine their surprise as Jesus exposes their heart with a question: “Why reason ye these things in your hearts?” Another demonstration of who He is, not just perception, but His knowledge as God. He puts them on the defensive with that question, and then He asks another question in verse 9: “Whether is it easier to say to the sick of the palsy, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Arise, and take up thy bed, and walk?” And what is important for understanding the question of Jesus here is the word “say.” What is easier to say? And He gives them two options: Is it easier to say, “Your sins are forgiven,” or is it easier to say, “Arise, take up your bed and walk”? In which can a man’s authority be verified? Of course, it is much easier to say, Your sins are forgiven. Who can see that—that witness of the Spirit in the heart of the individual. It is much more difficult to say, “Rise, take up your bed and walk.” And Jesus’ point now is this: If He says, “Rise, take up your bed and walk,” and the paralytic rises, there would be an indisputable proof of who He is and His authority and His right.
So, Jesus turns (and you can see how He is provoking the scribes and the Pharisees), Jesus turns to the man and He says this: “That ye may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins,” I am going to say what is more difficult. Then He turns to the man and He says, “Rise, take up thy bed, go thy way into thine house.” This will be the moment of truth. No doubt the room was dead silent. Either He was deceiving them, or He was, as He claimed, the Son of man, the Messiah. And the One who had the power to forgive sins.
Now, many in that room knew exactly what would happen. They followed Jesus. They had seen His miracles. But now He has demonstrated to them something even greater. Here is not just the Son of man, but the Savior of men. And so they watched. And, as Jesus spoke those words, unseen to any human eyes, the same power that had made heaven and earth began to work in this man’s limbs. His two legs were healed. His muscles were made strong in a moment. His strength became full. He arose, he folded his bed under his arms, and he walked out of there. No therapy. He did not crawl. He did not need someone to help him get off the ground. He did not lean on anyone to get out of the room. He simply got up and he walked out. There was no way, just minutes earlier that this man could come to Jesus, to get into this room. And now, here he is. And in amazement, they moved back, and the man leaves the scene.
Irrefutable proof is given by Jesus here that He had the power and the authority to forgive sins. And we know that this power that is demonstrated in the miracle looks ahead to and is rooted in the cross. Jesus would come to the cross. He would be put to death. But He is declaring here at the beginning of His ministry what He would accomplish by His death. So, we read at the end of verse 12 that they were “amazed and glorified God, saying, We never saw it on this fashion.” We have never seen anything like this before!
They glorified God. That is worship. They worshiped God on account of this man’s forgiveness. What a moment. Jesus is pressing into their consciousness who He is and why He has come. In chapter one that was, “I come not just to do miracles but to proclaim the good news of the gospel.” “Now, I’ve come not just to proclaim the good news of the gospel, but I’ve come to declare the forgiveness of sins. This is who I am, and where the divine Person empowers.” Amazed, they worship Him in awe.
We close with these three thoughts.
First, we have here on display the authority of Jesus. He preached with authority, He cast out demons with authority, He healed the sick with authority. And now that is taken to a whole new level. Who can forgive sins, but God only. Who has the right to do this, but God only. No angel in heaven; no man upon earth; no church and council; no minister of a denomination can take away the sinner’s load of guilt from his conscience and give him peace with God. All that a man can do is point him to the fountain of forgiveness. They cannot put away sin from God’s sight. God only. And now here, without blasphemy, is the One who says, “I come to forgive.” God in the flesh.
Second. Is not that wonderful? To know that this is the power of our Savior? Jesus Christ is our Mediator, the One who stands before a just God who will by no means clear the guilty, and between us, guilty sinners. And, do you not see in your guilt and before the wrath of God the need of covering, the need of forgiveness? Here is Jesus, the High Priest that we need: strong to save, mighty to forgive. Merciful. Hebrews says that with such a High Priest, let us come boldly to the throne of grace.
And that really leaves us with a question, in the third place, why do you come to Jesus? Do you come for pardon? There are many reasons that one might come. You come with your family. You come to save your reputation. Here they came for miracles. Today, health and wealth—you come for prosperity, some for purity or friendship. Why do you come to Jesus? Do you come for pardon? And do you come with the faith of these five? Come to Jesus. With Him there is full and free forgiveness.