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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Preached At:Langley Canadian Reformed Church
 Langley, B.C.
Title:The Son of Man *has* power on earth to forgive sins!
Text:Mark 2:1-12 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 148
Hymn 7:9 (after the law)
Hymn 5:4
Hymn 22
Psalm 103:1-4

Reading: Daniel 7:1-14
Text: Mark 2:1-12

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved in the Lord Jesus Christ,

The story took place in the early 1950s, but it could just as well have taken place in many parts of the world yesterday or today.  Yae beached his canoe at the Sawi camp, along the shores of the Hanai River in Papua, Indonesia.  These Sawi were of the Kangae clan and Yae was from the Mauro.  The Kangae were angry at the Mauro for some reason that is no longer clear.  Yae had come to make things right.  As he got out of his canoe, he made it clear that he’d come in peace.  He brought gifts for the Kangae and they were pleased.  They welcomed him as a friend and gave a feast for him.  It appeared that they were on the way to being reconciled.  Over the next few months, Yae continued to visit the Kangae clan and try to keep things going in the right direction.  Each time he would return home, he would tell his fellow clansmen of the progress he was making.  One day, Yae came to the village just as he’d been doing for some time.  He was warmly welcomed and led into the manhouse and a feast of toasted sago grubs was prepared.  As they talked about an upcoming feast, the Kangae men looked at one another and gave a non-verbal signal.  At just the right moment, they pounced on Yae with their spears and daggers.  As he ran bleeding out of the manhouse, the village children shot their arrows at him and the women clubbed him.  Right before he died, Yae heard these words, “We have been fattening you with friendship for the slaughter!” 

In many cultures around the world, forgiveness is seen as weakness.  It was certainly that way with the Sawi in the 1950s.   For many people, revenge is a moral duty.  Just think of the situation in the Middle East.  Though perhaps not as dramatic, it’s the same way in our culture.  People have no problem extending and accepting apologies.  After all, an apology can be rationalized in many different ways.  I may feel sorry today, but perhaps I won’t tomorrow.  I may simply feel sorry that you were offended (and I’m sorry that you’re so sensitive!).  I’m sorry that I was caught.  And so on.  Apologies are cheap and easy.  By themselves, they do little to heal relationships and if you rationalize them long enough they are entirely compatible with revenge.  At its root, forgiveness is a completely different matter.

At its root, forgiveness is a promise.  That’s what makes forgiveness different from an apology.  When someone asks for and receives forgiveness (and in the process will express sorrow for the wrong), the offense is taken out of the way.  The obstacle to a full, healthy relationship is removed and the one doing the forgiving promises never to bring it up again, never to hold it against the person ever again.  The obstacle is gone and it will remain gone!  Forgiveness is a promise of restored relationship. 

That’s the forgiveness God promised in the Old Testament in passages like Jeremiah 31:34, “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”  Forgiving and forgetting are parallel in that passage, they go hand in hand.  That points to a restored relationship.  It’s that divine forgiveness that the Lord Jesus was offering to the paralytic in Mark 2 and it’s that forgiveness that we need to learn as well.  Here in God’s Word we find the Lord Jesus shown to us as the Son of Man who has authority on earth to loose people from their sins.  So, the text can be summarized with this theme and these points:

The Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins!

We’ll consider:

  1. The display of his power.
  2. The dispute of his power.
  3. The defense of his power. 

1.  The display of his power.

At the end of chapter 1, the Lord Jesus was staying in desert places and trying to avoid the crowds.  But yet, no matter where he went, the crowds followed him.  It was impossible to avoid the people.  Some time later, Mark tells us, Jesus came back to Capernaum.  You may remember that this was the place where Jesus had healed the mother-in-law of Peter.  This town on the Sea of Galilee was Jesus’ home base, you could say.  In fact, from verse 1 it appears that the Lord Jesus had a home for himself in this place.  Verse 1 ends by telling us that the crowds had heard “that he had come home.” 

Well, it didn’t take long before the word spread near and far and Jesus’ house was packed full of people.  This wouldn’t have been a large house to begin with.  And now there were so many people packed in that they were overflowing past the door. 

Then at the end of verse 2, we read that Jesus “preached the word to them.”  This is worth noting especially because of what was going on in the first chapter.  Towards the end of that chapter, there is a tension between two things.  There’s a tension between what the people wanted from Jesus and what Jesus saw as their need.  There was a tension between his desire to preach the gospel and their desire to see and experience healings and other miracles.  He emphatically said in 1:38 that he had come to preach – but all the people really wanted were his miracles.  Most of them weren’t that interested in what he had to say about sin and salvation, they just wanted him for what he could do for them. 

Now as he returns to Capernaum, he does what he came out to do:  he preaches.  He preaches “the word.”  Let’s stop and consider for a moment what that means.  In 1:14, the Lord Jesus went about “proclaiming the good news of God.”  He told them that the kingdom of God had come near and that they had to repent and believe the good news.  He taught and preached this message in the synagogues of Galilee, including in Capernaum.  And now he’s come back and he continues to preach that same message.  He’s telling people the good news that salvation has come, the promises are being fulfilled, the kingdom of God is near.  As he’s preaching in his own home, he’s telling them that they have to repent and believe the gospel.  He’s telling the people what they really need to hear – the same message we too need to hear and respond to with faith and repentance.

As he was preaching, something remarkable happened overhead.  Some men had come down the road to Jesus’ house.  They were carrying a friend of theirs, perhaps a family member, on a stretcher or a mat.  The fellow was a paralytic – he had no use of his legs.  Now before we go any further, we shouldn’t gloss over the seriousness of this condition.  It’s not a simple matter of not being able to use your legs.  Paralysis can lead to all sorts of complications, some of which may result in death.  Paralysis was and still can be a dangerous condition.  So it’s no wonder that these four men felt compassion for their friend and brought him to Jesus’ house.  They’d heard about how Jesus had healed so many others and they had faith that he would be able to do the same for their friend. 

But when they arrive at the house, they find that there’s no way to get inside.  The crowd is thick and dense, inside and outside the house.  However, these fellows were creative.  They noticed the stairs going to the flat roof and they had an idea.  They climbed the stairs and got to work.  Roofs in those days were nothing fancy.  There would be some beams going across.  These beams would be covered with smaller branches and then a layer of clay or mud would be placed on top.  It wouldn’t take long to dig through this and create an opening big enough to let down a stretcher.  So that’s what they did.  Before long, Jesus stopped speaking as a man came down through his roof.  Now they didn’t ask Jesus before they did this, they just went right ahead and destroyed part of Jesus’ roof.  Of course, they did it to help their friend and the roof would be fairly easy to fix, but that still doesn’t take away from the cheekiness of these fellows.  They’ve got some gall to come to Jesus’ house, take apart his roof, interrupt his preaching, and then expect him to heal their friend.  You can imagine the scene as pieces of the roof are falling down on Jesus’ head and he’s looking up at the growing hole and then the man descending on his mat or stretcher.  Amazing. 

That was the first surprise that day.  The bigger surprise was the first words that came out of Jesus mouth when he saw the paralytic laying before him with the clear blue sky over his head.  I mean, what would you say if someone tore up your roof and did something like this?  Most likely something like, “What do you think you’re doing?  Couldn’t you wait until some other time?  Did you really have to see me right now?”  But that’s not the way Jesus responds.  No, we’re told that he sees their faith.  Don’t miss that detail.  Whose faith is he seeing?  It’s the faith of the man and his friends.  They believe that Jesus is going to heal.  They believe that Jesus is going to overlook the destroyed roof and have compassion.  And note, too, that he sees their faith.  He sees it in their actions, but most importantly he sees it in their hearts.  He knows what’s driving them to this extreme measure of tearing up a rabbi’s roof. 

He sees their faith and then he utters the words we would all love to hear directly from Jesus’ lips, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”  Whoa.  This blows us away.  His roof gets torn up, his preaching gets interrupted, and then he says, “Son, your sins are forgiven”?  Notice that the paralytic didn’t ask to have his sins forgiven -- at least not that Mark mentions.  Perhaps he did and it just hasn't been recorded in Scripture.  The fact that it isn't mentioned tells us that the focus here is on what Christ does, regardless of what the paralytic did or felt.  He is the one who forgives sins.  We need to focus on Christ the Forgiver, and not so much the paralytic the forgiven.   

Now let’s look even deeper at these words, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”  Note that Jesus uses a term of affection and calls him Son.  It’s like he’s putting his hand tenderly upon his shoulder, “Son.”  The Lord does have compassion upon this man – in fact, his compassion stretches to the man’s greatest need.  Perhaps the man knew this need.  Perhaps he was bothered by the connection that the Jewish people often made between sin and sickness.  The text doesn’t tell us.  What we do know is that the Lord Jesus certainly did know.  He knew that what this man really needed was the restored relationship with God that he had come to bring.  The roof wasn’t a big deal.  Being a sinner was.  What the paralytic needed most wasn’t healing, wasn’t a word pardoning him for the destruction of Jesus’ roof, but a word of pardon cancelling his debt against the holy God.  That’s what Jesus gave him and that’s what he gives us in the holy gospel as well.  Seeing the faith that the Spirit has worked in our hearts, he comes to us, to you!, with his word of good cheer:  Son or daughter, your sins are forgiven! 

This is the opening of the kingdom of heaven that we confess from the Scriptures in Lord’s Day 31, “According to the command of Christ, the kingdom of heaven is opened when it is proclaimed and publicly testified to each and every believer that God has really forgiven all their sins for the sake of Christ’s merits, as often as they by true faith accept the promise of the gospel.”  That’s a beautiful way of putting it, isn’t it?  Loved ones, accept again the promise of the gospel and know that God really has forgiven your sins for the sake of Christ’s merits.  Just as he forgave the paralytic, he also forgives you and receives you in his grace.

The forgiveness spoken of here means that God takes your sins and puts them out of the way.  There are no obstacles in your relationship with him.  And even though you sin every day, every day time and again, repenting and believing the gospel, he will remove your sins and open the way for fellowship.  He promises not to hold your sins against you. 

In all this, we see a brilliant display of Christ’s power to forgive sins and it encourages us.  However, in his day there were those who disputed this power and let’s now briefly consider that…

2.  The dispute of his power.

This is a text full of surprises and verse 6 introduces another surprise into this scene.  We see some people here that we haven’t yet met in Mark’s gospel:  teachers of the law.  From the parallel passage in Luke, we know that these men had come from all over, from Galilee, Judea, and even from as far away as Jerusalem.  They’d come to check out what Jesus was preaching, teaching and doing.  They were the “watchmen” in Israel. 

And now they could congratulate themselves because they were finally rewarded with some heretical words from this man’s lips.  Interestingly, Mark doesn’t tell us that they said anything out loud.  Instead, they were “thinking to themselves,” “reasoning within their hearts,” as some other translations have it.  They were thinking that Jesus was a blasphemer for talking like this, because after all, only God can forgive sins. 

The fact is, these teachers of the law were right.  They knew their Bibles.  In Isaiah 43:25 God says, “I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.”  Only God could forgive sins – and “sins” by definition are offenses against God.  Moreover, the Jewish rabbis knew that, according to the laws of the Old Testament, a priest could declare God’s forgiveness of sins on the basis of repentance, restitution and sacrifice – but that wasn’t the same as actually forgiving the sins.  God did the forgiving and the priest made the announcement.  That’s not what’s happening here in Mark 2 and the teachers of the law knew that.

When they heard Jesus say, “Son, your sins are forgiven,” they understood very clearly that Jesus was making himself out to be on the same level as God.  He was taking a divine prerogative – doing something that only God could do.  In so doing, they believed that he was blaspheming God, being defiantly irreverent towards God, injuring God’s majestic reputation.  He was stealing God’s authority for himself. 

The teachers of the law were right, but only on the assumption that Jesus was a mere man.  And that, of course, is where they went wrong.  They couldn’t fathom the idea that a human being would have the authority to forgive sins committed against the most high majesty of God. 

To understand what’s happening here and its significance, we need to look a bit beyond our text.  As we get deeper into Mark’s gospel, these teachers of the law and other Jewish leaders begin to feature more prominently.  They first appear at this point in the history of Jesus’ ministry on earth and they become bigger and bigger players, until they put Jesus to death.  What we see happening here is the foundation being laid for first the smear campaign against Jesus and then later the death warrant.      

Now, let’s move on and consider Jesus’ defense of his power to forgive sins.

3.  The defense of his power.

Mark tells us in verse 8 that right away Jesus knew what they were thinking.  Just like he could see the faith in the hearts of the paralytic and his friends, so he could also see into the hearts of the teachers of the law.  How could he do that?  You see, that’s another amazing thing in this text:  the teachers of the law look at him as a mere man, but from the fact that he can look into hearts, we know that he’s much more than a man.  In fact, the only way that he could do this was by the exercise of his divine power.  He was true man and true God.  As true God, he could look into hearts and know what people were thinking and what was driving people.  Of course, today he still has the same power.  He knows what lives in your heart – he also knows who lives in your heart.  He knows that his Spirit is living in you and through him, working with the Word, he is transforming you into his image. 

But that’s not what was happening with the teachers of the law.  They were clearly showing, as Jesus would say in John’s gospel, that they were children of the devil.  That may sound strong, but the fact is that the same Word that taught the people of God that only God can forgive sins, that same Word also taught that a Messiah was coming who would be both God and man.  When the sheep heard the voice of the Good Shepherd, they recognized it and followed him.  But for many of these teachers of the law, their ears were not capable of hearing his voice for God himself had closed them.  They refused to listen to the whole Word of God – they would just pick and choose which parts suited them. 

So Jesus challenges them about what they were thinking in their hearts.  He asks them why they would be thinking these things and then he presents them with a question.  Which is easier, to forgive the sins of the paralytic or to heal him?  That’s a remarkable question that captures the tension in Jesus’ ministry up to this point.  The people wanted him to do nothing but heal, but Jesus wanted to preach so that people would receive forgiveness of their sins and be restored to relationship with God.  The fact is, the question put the teachers of the law in a knot.  Why?  Because they believed that both healing and forgiveness were things that only God can do!  Neither is easy for a man, in fact, both are impossible for a mere man.

Having asked the question, Christ goes on to tell us that he is no mere man.  In verse 10, he calls himself the Son of Man.  This is an unusual expression drawn from the Old Testament, in passages like we read from Daniel 7.  In Daniel 7, God takes a man who has been attacked, vindicates him and gives him divine authority so that he can dispense just judgment.  In Mark 2, God himself comes as a man who is attacked, but a man who has authority to dispense not only justice, but also grace and forgiveness!  The Son of Man is human, but more! 

Then the Lord Jesus goes on to heal the paralytic and he does that to teach that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.  This is not easy to understand, so you’ll have to listen carefully.  If this man can heal, if he can do what only God can do in that area, then certainly he also has the authority and power to forgive sins on earth too.  And notice how the tension between healing and preaching is resolved here.  Both are parts of Christ’s ministry on earth, but the forgiveness of sins is the main thing.  The healings are there to point God’s people to the forgiveness of their sins in Christ.  If he can heal them, certainly he also has power to forgive them! 

And so the Lord Jesus does heal the paralytic and tells him to take up his mat and go home.  And the paralytic does exactly what Jesus told him to do.  Mark tells us that “This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!”  Do you get the sense of surprise in those words?  We should never read these verses ourselves and stop being amazed at who our Saviour is and what he’s done for us.  We should never stop being filled with praise for the God of our salvation.  Because the good news preached by Christ is also good news for us today.  A believing people is a forgiven people.  We know and believe that the Son of Man does have authority to forgive our sins today. 

He announces the forgiveness of sins upon the earth through his appointed means.  Of those means, one of the most prominent is the church.  In John 20:23, the Lord Jesus told the apostles, “If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”  In this passage, the church of Christ is called to extend his forgiveness of sins upon the earth.  The church does that through the Word as it’s preached and read in the worship services.  Of course, we can also seek and receive his forgiveness as individuals in our own private prayers.  But the only place that we corporately receive forgiveness, that we seek and receive forgiveness from God as a community, is in the worship services.  We are often afflicted with the individualism of our broader culture and we fail to see that God not only deals with us as individuals, but also as a covenant community.  Forgiveness applies not only to the individual, but also to the people of God as they’re gathered together in local churches.  That’s why it’s important that we continue the Biblical practice of humbling ourselves together before God’s law each Sunday, confessing our sins together, and being driven together each time again to the cross of Christ.  Like the paralytic, our greatest need is forgiveness, and that applies as equally to us as a community as to individuals within that community. 

And having received forgiveness and being assured of the gospel promises, we’ll also in turn increasingly become a forgiving people.  We sons of men increasingly reflect the image of the Son of Man, also in this respect.  When others hurt us and offend us, we will be willing to forgive.   Believing the gospel of Jesus Christ makes this happen in our lives.

It did so for the Sawi too.  In the 1950s and the 1960s, the gospel came to that region of Papua.  Tribesmen who were formerly consumed with revenge, hatred, and murder were converted under the preaching of Christ.  They learned of the depth of his forgiveness for them and they in turn learned, albeit imperfectly (just like with us), how to forgive one another.  The result is the same as what we see at the end of our text:  praise is given to God.  Let us too praise God for what he’s done for us and among us in Jesus Christ, the Son of Man.  AMEN. 


Father, we thank you that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive our sins.  We thank you that he came with authority and might to bring the good news.  Help us with your Spirit to believe the good news we have just heard.  Please give us more grace so that, having received your forgiveness, we would also be strengthened to forgive others.  Father, we love you for what you have done in sending your Son.  Lord Jesus, we praise you for what you did with that paralytic 2000 years ago.  Holy Spirit, we extol you for giving us the Word that sets this all before our eyes and ears and for giving us the faith to believe it.  We pray in Christ’s name, AMEN.         

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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