The account of the healing of the lame man in Mark 2:1–12 includes a somewhat abrupt moment in which Jesus’ declares that the man’s sins are indeed forgiven before He heals the man’s physical condition. It is obvious to everyone there that the man did not come to Jesus for absolution but rather for healing of his lifelong paralysis. Jesus, however, addresses first the problem of his sin by proclaiming, “Your sins are forgiven.” His health condition is of secondary import.

Christ’s forgiveness is broad and general. It is not like the paralytic offended Jesus earlier in the day and now Jesus is forgiving him. Christ offers him something so much better by pronouncing upon him wholesale forgiveness for his sins.

Unexpressed Rebuke, Unspoken Faith

In the scene, the scribes get the magnitude of His declaration, but they are savvy enough not to rebuke Him publicly. Their rebuttal is silent (2:6–7). In Mark’s telling of the story, at least, Jesus is addressing an unexpressed rebuke when He says out loud, “Why do you question these things in your hearts?” The scribes have not verbalized their complaint, but He knows their subtle, unspoken inclination to rebuke His divine authority.

And this is true of the paralytic as well. He is silent. The most passive, quiet, inactive man in the room is the paralytic. Everyone else is doing something in the account. The friends lower him down on the stretcher. The scribes titter in their hushed critique. The whole scene closes on the crowd audibly glorifying God. And during all of this activity is the paralytic—unmoving, unspeaking, impotent. He is a completely passive character, apart from the fact that at the end, he stands up and leaves the room.

How much more incredible is it that Jesus perceives the man’s heart and calls him “son” (2:5). In telling it this way, Mark is highlighting a truth about Jesus’ role in salvation, which is that He is the agent of salvation. He is the lone actor. Jesus alone rightly, reliably perceives faith in a human heart. He alone whispers the sweet sentence, “Son, your sins are all forgiven.”

We are not told much about this man’s life story, but we can imagine that he probably thought of his paralysis as his greatest curse. It was his worst suffering, his most obvious lack, and his most felt need. But in this moment, Jesus engaged his most felt need in order to satisfy his deepest need.

It was his paralysis that made it possible for him to come before Jesus in the only way that is appropriate. And this is how it works for those in the Christian life, isn’t it? Repentance and faith mean presenting oneself before Jesus helpless, without excuse, without an alibi. No “Yes, buts”—just a sinner dressed in failures, wounds, guilt, and worst moments.

That is where the Messiah meets you.

There is a reason why the stories that Christians tell about their first meaningful encounters with Jesus so often include some sort of difficult moment in their lives, some moment when they felt helpless, afraid, lost, or abandoned.

Our felt needs give us the opportunity to have our deepest need, the need for forgiveness, satisfied.

An elderly gentleman close to me was a staunch agnostic until he was diagnosed with lymphoma and fell in love with Jesus while he lay in a hospital bed, his body destroyed by chemotherapy. He lived a new life in the years of his remission. But it isn’t always so dramatic. It can be subtle, nagging sense of dissatisfaction with all of your personal treasure, goals, broken relationships, and deep loneliness. Then there is a turning to God.

The paralytic’s faith that Jesus could heal him of his paralysis signifies a deeper inclination in his heart, an inclination that Jesus recognizes and lays hold of. His felt need gave him opportunity to have his deepest need, the need for forgiveness, satisfied.

In John 10:27, Jesus claims, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” What we see in Mark 2 is a case of the sheep responding to his Shepherd. The knowledge is mutual.

There are really two kinds of people in the story of the paralytic: those who belong to Jesus and those who reject Him. That fact is made clear by that way that Jesus addresses each group before they even open their mouths. He knows their hearts.

Jesus’ salvation and judgment are affairs of the heart.

The Big Show

But everyone standing in the house watching this scene unfold is waiting to see the fireworks. They want to see a healing.

Imagine you are watching one of those reality shows where they make over a person’s house. The person is a tragic but sympathetic character—a needy mother, a father with a special need, a social worker who has fallen on hard times.

Then imagine that on the day of the show, the construction team shows up with a backhoe and cameras, and the whole neighborhood is on his front lawn to shout words of encouragement. And the host approaches the foreman and says, “Your sins are forgiven.”


People came to see the big show, and Jesus gives them this personal absolution, “Son, your sins are forgiven”? How about seeing this man stand up and walk? How about you doing what everybody came out here to see you do?

So when Jesus asks, “Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’?” it’s an honest question, but He alone knows the answer. He alone is Savior, and He alone has the knowledge of what it means to be Messiah. He knows the death that awaits Him, and the accusation of blasphemy from the scribes must cut Him like a knife as he listens to the accusation that finally will condemn Him to the cross.

In this way, the scene sets the stage for the rest of the gospel of Mark—Jesus standing between His accusers and the one He came to save. He perceives the hearts of the scribes; He perceives their conspiracy already taking root. He sees the heart of His son and He gives him everlasting life.

Book Review: The Life and Theology of...

The Smallest Stage