Son, Your Sins Are Forgiven | Mark 2:1-12

And when he 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!”

Mark 2:1-12 ESV

While I know that what I am about to say is true of every passage of Scripture, as a finite man, I am only struck by it on occasion. Every nugget of Scripture is like a prism that dances light at different angles and colors as it is gently turned about. Given time, attention, and mediation, all Scripture repeatedly proves to be inexhaustible. It is a well with no bottom, a cavern of crystals without end. Our present text particularly reminded me of that reality this week. While studying, I soon realized that we could easily spend the entire month of June gazing only upon these twelve verses and in the end still find that we have only begun to understand them. While we will not be embarking upon such an endeavor, I trust that the Spirit will guide us in our study of this passage.

A CROWDED HOME // VERSES 1-2

Mark begins chapter 2 with Jesus’ return to Capernaum after His first round of itinerant preaching in Galilee. Just as people were longing to see Jesus before He moved along (1:37), so the whole town was overjoyed to hear of His return. Even as He settled into His home, many were gathered together, so that there was no more room, not even at the door. I believe that we have not clearly read Mark’s brisk Gospel if we are not longing for rest by the end. After all, Jesus’ life was an outpouring, a perpetual outpouring. He came to serve, remember, not be served (10:45). The work and ministry of Jesus appear to be relentless. Yet we should note that Jesus never appears to be marked by busyness. He did not snap at Simon for interrupting His prayer time; rather, He moves along to the next task or, more properly, returns to His ultimate task. Likewise, Jesus give no sign of being overwhelmed by the crowds flooding His home after returning from His travels; instead, He uses it to fulfill His mission: he was preaching the word to them.

As chaotic and overstuffed as our present day is, we should particularly learn from Christ’s inexhaustible focus. He met the busy demands around Him by being flexibly single-minded. Here, as in the Gospel as a whole, Jesus is utterly prioritized. He has a mission to fulfill, yet He received every circumstance as an opportunity to accomplish that goal.

Brothers and sisters, our lives are often chaotic messes (or rather our responses are chaotic messes) because we do not have the laser focus that Jesus did. We juggle so many dreams, desires, and expectations, both from our own hearts and from others that we do not know what our ultimate mission and goal should be. We live under the tyranny of the moment, passively drifting through life, from one task to the next. The answer to this futility is the kind of purpose and resolve that Christ had. As we see with the crowd, He often met unexpected circumstances, yet His mission gave Him grounding and flexibility in meeting the challenge.

Beautifully as believers in the authority of Scripture, we do not need to develop our own sense of purpose. Instead, like Jesus, our mission is to accomplish the will of the Father. We are commanded to proclaim the gospel of the kingdom, to make disciples of Jesus, and to love both God and others. This is our task, our calling, our mission, throughout all of life. Therefore, we ought to structure our lives accordingly as well as meeting challenges.

Two thoughts. First, Tiff and I did away with our television for just this reason. We became convinced that it only distracted from our mission rather than aiding it. So, we removed it. Second, since so many of us have smaller children, let me speak a word specific to this season: like the crowds of Capernaum, our children often crowd around us when we are prepared to rest, demanding our attention. Learn to apply Jesus’ pattern here. Your children are not a distraction to your mission and calling; they are your task and calling. If you lament purposeful discipleship in your life while you have small children, you are likely not being intentional enough with them. They will soon grow, and the season will pass. But for now, they are gathered in our homes, let us, therefore, teach them God’s Word.

FAITH & FORGIVENESS // VERSES 3-5

Next, we are told in verse 3 that a paralytic was brought to Jesus by four men; however, the crowd prevented them from getting near to Jesus. They answered this problem by hauling the man onto the roof, ripping the roof open, and lowering the paralytic down in front of Jesus. Verse 5 then fittingly notes that Jesus saw their faith.

Faith, of course, “is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). It is belief and trust in what lies beyond our eyes and beyond the present. Yet if faith itself is an assurance and a conviction, how can it be seen? We see its fruit in action. The paralytic and his friends had resolute faith that Jesus could heal him. But how was that faith seen? It was through their extraordinary efforts in bring the man to Jesus. Just as bacteria, though unseen, are evidenced by their effects, so it is with faith. This is James’ point in 2:18-26 where he speaks of being justified by works. He is not contradicting Paul in Ephesians 2; instead, James is emphasizing the importance of works as evidence of faith. “But some will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works” (2:18). Jesus, therefore, saw the faith of the men through their actions, through the trouble that they endured to present their friend to Jesus.

Notice the response of Jesus to their efforts of faith: Son, your sins are forgiven. Such a blatant declaration can easily be seen as insensitive by today’s standards. Now that victimhood has become a cultural beatitude, we generally operate under the unspoken notion that those who have suffered greatly are except from any form of rebuke and even perhaps are purer than everyone else. Indeed, Hollywood increasingly is catechizing us into the belief that no one is really evil, just traumatized. Jesus, however, knew that the man’s paralysis had not hindered his ability to sin.

Because of this, Jesus also knew that paralysis was not the man’s deepest problem. Timothy Keller explains:

Everyone who is paralyzed naturally wants with every fiber of his being to walk. But surely this man would have been resting all of his hopes in the possibility of walking again. In his heart he’s almost surely saying, “If only I could walk again, then I would be set for life. I’d never be unhappy, I would never complain. If only I could walk, then everything would be right.” And Jesus is saying, “My son, you’re mistaken.” That may sound harsh, but it’s profoundly true. Jesus says, “When I heal your body, if that’s all I do, you’ll feel you’ll never be unhappy again. But wait two months, four months—the euphoria won’t last. The roots of the discontent of the human heart go deep.”[1]

Thankfully, God has a track record of going far deeper than we ever dreamed possible. Think about Adam and Eve’s exile from Eden and the consequence of death. What at first appears to be nothing more than punishments for disobedience is also, upon deeper inspection, a merciful act of God. For presumably if Adam and Eve had continued to eat of the tree of life, they would have remained forever in their living death of their sin and corruption, similar like Satan and the demons. Therefore, while death is certainly an enemy to be defeated, God uses it as an opportunity to be spared from the deathless dying that sin produces.

Similarly, while Jesus’ coming as the Suffering Servant was a major disappointment to those who longed for Him to overthrow Rome and reestablish the kingdom of Israel, He ultimately came to strike at the root of our problem, not a simply a symptom. A story is commonly told of a newspaper asking for people to submit their answer to the question, “What’s wrong with the world?” G. K. Chesterton supposedly sent this reply: “I am.” While probably apocryphal, the scene hits the point on the head. Sickness, poverty, injustice, wars, corruption, etc. are all symptoms of a deeper disease, a disease that slithers through each of our hearts. The world is broken because we contribute to its brokenness. We bring chaos rather than order. We corrupt rather than redeem. We sin against God rather than obeying Him. Our greatest need, therefore, is not physical or material but a cure for our infection of the heart and the corrosion of our desires: sin.

Just as Jesus was not swayed from preaching the gospel by healings, He also did not allow this man’s paralysis to overshadow his deepest need: forgiveness.

THE AUTHORITY TO FORGIVE SINS // VERSES 6-11

After granting the man forgiveness of sins, some of the scribes nearby began to question, Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone? They were rightly perplexed. The answer to their final question is, of course, no one. Only God is able to forgive sins because all sin is ultimately and finally against Him. After committing adultery and murder, David prayed, “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight” (Psalm 51:4). I do not think that David failed to understand how his sin wounded Bathsheba and her husband, Uriah; instead, like Jesus, David saw the heart of the matter. After all, in Psalm 14:3 he wrote, “there is none who does good, not even one.” King David knew that all of our goodness is on loan from God Himself. Without God’s active grace (commonly poured out upon all mankind and particularly given to His people), we would all descend into lightless voids of sin. Indeed, there are only two possible outcomes for all people for all eternity: we either become fully and finally engulfed in the grace of God, never to sin again; or all grace is removed for good, making the damned soul just as demonic as Satan and his fallen. I believe this is the reason why we will not weep over our loved ones who die unrepentant. On the day of judgment, we will see that all goodness and loveliness came from God’s hand, and without His gift, there will be nothing left to love. On the other side, all who are in Christ will spend an eternity rejoicing the wonders of God as they are radiating out of those around us. But this is all to say that because goodness is intrinsic to God alone, sin is also against God alone; therefore, God alone is able to forgive the sin committed against Him.

The scribes, therefore, were right to be amazed, and if Jesus was not who He claimed to be, they would have also been right that such a declaration was blaspheme. Indeed, while we believe and proclaim the forgiveness of sins that is found in Christ, none of us has the authority to declare that anyone else’s sins have been forgiven. Even as a pastor, I can only help you to understand what Scripture says about sin and about forgiveness and then give assurance of any fruits of repentance that I am able to see. I cannot, however, absolve anyone’s sins. No one can. Only God. This is, of course, what the scribes were missing. They failed to see the divinity of Jesus, that His declaration that the man’s sins were forgiven was not a mistake or heresy rather it was a declaration of deity. Jesus was speaking on God’s behalf, as being one with God the Father.  

In another display of His divinity, Jesus did not need to hear the words of the scribes because He perceived in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves. So He responded to the thoughts of their heart:

“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.”

Even though the scribes were correct in believing that only God can forgive sins, Jesus is now attacking a fatal flaw in their theology. He asked them a deeply probing question: which is easier? Is mending a disabled body or reviving a soul dead in sin the greater miracle? The presumption seems to be that even these scribes viewed the physical healing as greater. Since both are ultimately only possible through the power of God, Jesus restores the man’s body in order to show that He also has the authority to forgive sins. The healing then acted as visible display of Jesus’ divine authority that also enabled Him to grant the forgiveness of sins. Yet while both miracles are equally impossible for us, Jesus’ emphasis that His authority to heal bodies is an outward sign of His authority to revive souls is clear answer that forgiveness is a greater miracle than healing a broken body. One, after all, is a temporal repair, while the other is matter of eternity.

There is a passage in Luke that gives us a similar view of reality. It takes place after Jesus sent out seventy-two of His disciples:

The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!” And he said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” (Luke 10:17–20)

This is another angle of the wondrously good news of our forgiveness. Neither a restored body nor a forcefully obedient demon is more glorious than being forgiven and adopted by the Father. Again, this wonder of wonders is why Paul spent the first half of Ephesians rejoicing in what Christ has accomplished for us. Read those three chapters again this week and ask the Spirit to enlighten the eyes of your heart to behold anew the glory that the Father “has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 1:3). Pray for grace to see that forgiveness of sin and communion with God is the greatest miracle ever worked.

AMAZEMENT IS NOT REPENTANCE // VERSE 12

Our passage ends on an encouraging note:

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!”

Everyone was amazed and glorified God! What more could we desire? Sadly, it seems that the people of Capernaum’s amazement did not translate into actual repentance. In Matthew 11:23-24, Jesus pronounced woe upon the city where His Galilean ministry seemed to be based, saying:

And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you.”

J. C. Ryle remarks:

It is good for us all to mark well this case of Capernaum. We are all too apt to suppose that it needs nothing but the powerful preaching of the gospel to convert people’s souls, and that if the gospel is only brought into a place everybody must believe. We forget the amazing power of unbelief, and the depth of man’s enmity against God. We forget that the Capernaites heard the most faultless preaching, and saw it confirmed by the most surprising miracles, and yet remained dead in trespasses and sins. We need reminding that the same gospel which is the savour of life to some, is the savour of death to others, and the same fire which softens the wax will also harden the clay. Nothing, in fact, seems to harden man’s heart so much, as to hear the gospel regularly, and yet deliberately prefer the service of sin and the world. Never was there a people so highly favored as the people of Capernaum, and never was there a people who appear to have become so hard. Let us beware of walking in their steps.[2]

While we have not physically been in the presence of Jesus, we have been highly favored as well. Never before in human history has any people had access to the wisdom of the those who lived before us as easily available as it is today, yet we give minds and hearts away to the petty and vain entertainments of the world instead.[3] We have more free time than ever before,[4] yet we often squander it on things that bear no eternal fruit. “Everyone to whom much is given, of him much more will be required” (Luke 12:48). We would do well to remember that truth.

Many would, in theory, like to know Jesus. They may certainly believe that He is the Christ, that He died and rose again, and that He will return again. However, they never move from acknowledging Him as the Christ to knowing Him as their Christ. Calling Jesus the Savior is not enough; He must be your Savior. We must not content ourselves with believing the report that others tell us of Jesus; instead, we must go to Him through His Word and by prayer. Eternal life is not knowing about God; it is knowing God. Let us not be merely amazed by Jesus without falling at His feet and receiving His forgiveness. Let us not merely taste the goodness of God’s Word, but let us repent and believe in the gospel.


[1] Timothy Keller, King’s Cross, 28.

[2] J. C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on Mark, 22.

[3] This is not to say that all entertainment is wrong. Rather, today there is also an increase of God-glorifying stories that point to the ultimate realities instead of enmeshing us within the ways of the world. Novels like those by Andrew Peterson or N. D. Wilson take up the mantel that Tolkien and Lewis have left behind. They capture our imaginations and give us a greater longing for the future redemption that is still to come.

[4] While this point may seem incorrect given how busy so many of us are, a deeper glance reveals that much of our present-day busyness is self-inflicted. We choose the extra-curricular activities, the side gigs, hobbies, and living standards.

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