Recently I saw a clip of Hanna Gadsby, the Australian comedian. She was on TV talking about being sick of ‘good men’. They are the ones who criticize the ‘bad men’. She warned the ‘good men’ about being careful where they draw the line. The ‘good men’ skim the rulebook and have a different line when it suits them. Preach it sister! We all draw the line to mark out those who are bad. To be honest, the reason why we think we are good is only because we have skimmed the rulebook.
Some say, “I’m good, because I’ve never been to jail”—as if that makes us ‘good’! But even in prison they draw their own line: one prisoner said to me once, “I’m a good person. I’m not like the pedophile rock spiders!” I said, “Yes, but you murdered your wife!” As long as we find someone worse than us, we can draw the line that says, “I’m good”.
Jesus says that everyone is on the wrong side of that line, which means no one is good. We all need forgiveness. The only person on the right side of that line is Jesus. But instead of judging us, Jesus wants us on his side of the line. But that only comes to us by being forgiven. And Jesus alone has the right to forgive. That is what today’s passage is about.
Jesus has been moving from one town to another, preaching and dragging a little bit of heaven with him wherever he went, Mark 2:3-4:
Some men came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, 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 by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on. (NIV)
This man was either a paraplegic or quadriplegic. He couldn’t walk. That is why his friends carried him. These four men, try as they could, cannot force their way through the crowd. These were not the days of disabled parking zones. These four men were desperate to meet the only one who they believed could make their friend walk. This disabled man does not have a name but you can be sure that he has a story.
My cousin Paul has a story. Paul was 10 years older than the rest of us. He was the firstborn of the cousins. We all looked up to him. At 20 years old he had a fiancée, a great job, and loads of respect. What ever he liked, we liked. He loved Elvis, so we love Elvis. He was a mad St George supporter, and we turned out being sad St George supporters. One day he was nailing sheets of iron on the back shed. It was only three meters high. As he was nailing the sheets down, the roof collapsed underneath him. He landed square on his backside. His brother rushed to his side and asked if he was all right. He said, “Joe, don’t worry. I can’t feel a thing!” And that would be the problem from then on. He would never again feel from the waist down.
They rushed him to Royal North Shore Hospital. They put him through a bunch of operations, hoping that the next one would fix him, but it never did. He has never been the same since then. That happened over forty years ago. He had lost so much. Within six months his fiancée broke the engagement. She went off to marry another guy. He would wait thirty more years before he got married. He lost his lover, his mobility, and his dreams for the future. My sister would tell me of how she would visit him in hospital, and how he would weep for hours.
That is how desperate these men are to bring their friend to Jesus. So these four men do the unimaginable. They punch a hole through somebody else’s roof. This happened in Capernaum. I was there in May. So they climb onto the flat Palestinian roof. They work out which room, and which part of the room, Jesus was in. And they dig a hole directly above where Jesus is speaking. As riveting a preacher as Jesus was, all eyes were now on the hole in the roof, as it got bigger and bigger. The owner of the house may have already begun to estimate the cost of repairs—I’m probably telling you more about me at this point! Three minutes, five minutes, ten minutes, and eventually the hole is large enough to lower the paralyzed man through it, and place him in the middle of the crowd and at the feet of Jesus. (It’s strange how we can find room when we need to.)
At that point, it could have been almost embarrassing. What is the worst thing that could have happened at this point? Nothing! Imagine if Jesus himself said, “I’d love to help you, friend, but I can’t. How about I pray for you to cope with the disability?” Jesus, however, saw that all five men had placed their confidence in him. He knew that the disabled man was looking up from his mat and was in essence saying, “I trust you, Jesus, with the most important thing I have, my life. Do something!”
So Jesus says what we would expect the Son of God to say: “Get up, take your mat, and walk?” But he doesn’t, Mark 2:5:
When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” (NIV)
I don’t care how much faith this guy had, he did not come for a time of confession. He wanted Jesus to work on the body, not the soul. He came wanting to do what I am doing now: to stand on his own two feet. He wanted to walk, to get around without the help of his friends.
Do you understand what Jesus is saying? He is saying in big neon lights to these men and to you, “Do you know what your biggest problem is?” It is not your broken back. It is not that you can’t find someone to love? It’s not that you’re about to be bankrupt. It’s not even that your marriage is in trouble—even though all these things are serious matters and worthy of many tears. The problem is much more profound.
The word for our problem is ‘sin’. It means to miss the mark. If the target is for us to love God and love each other, we have, each and every one, fallen short of the bull’s eye. The short-term result is death. The long-term effect is hell.
Being disabled is a terrible thing. But meeting God unforgiven is an absolute nightmare. You don’t have to be a murderer or molester for God to take our sin seriously. Whether you feel guilty or not makes no difference. God has a case against the lot of us. That is not to say that some of us have not sinned more than others. If you miss a bus by three minutes, or miss a bus by three days, guess what? Either way, you’ve missed the bus. We have all missed the bus.
If we are not forgiven, it will result in us being cut off from God forever. That is how desperate the situation of this disabled man is, and that is how desperate the situation is of each one of us. And into that bleak situation, Jesus says, “I have terrifically good news for you. I have the authority, the power, the right to forgive every sin you have committed. I and I alone have the right to wipe the slate clean, and remove the sins that come between you and God.”
The thing about forgiveness is that only the person you have sinned against can forgive you. Imagine if I go to your car parked outside and slash your tires. There is no point in Steve coming along and saying to me, “Ray, I see you are under pressure. I want you to know that I forgive you for what you did.” But you are the one sinned against, and only you have the right to forgive me, the person who owns the car whose tires I slashed. Since this is God’s world, and every person is made in God image, when we wrong each other, we do wrong to God. While we may long to receive forgiveness from each other, it is God’s forgiveness that we desperately need. It is God’s forgiveness that we need. If we have sinned, ultimately that sin is committed against God. It is God alone who has the right to forgive.
A Jewish man named Reisenthal was working in a hospital during World War Two. One day a German soldier was admitted to the hospital. He was severely injured and deeply upset. He had been involved in burning down a building that housed two hundred Jews. The German soldier asked to speak to Reisenthal, and pleaded with him for forgiveness before he died for the acts that he had committed. Reisenthal thought for a minute, and then walked away, leaving the soldier to die without a human pardon. Reisenthal lived with the guilt of that decision, and wrote about his dilemma. One Jew wrote to him and said, “You had no right to forgive him. He had not killed your loved ones.” There is a point in that. Only the person you sin against is the person who is in a position to forgive.
When Jesus forgave this paralyzed man, the religious experts in the room knew that he was making himself equal with God, Mark 2:6-7:
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?” (NIV)
They were absolutely correct. And yet in a God-like way, Jesus knew what they were thinking. So he turns to them and asks them this question, Mark 2:9:
Which is easier: to say to this paralyzed man, “Your sins are forgiven,” or to say, “Get up, take your mat and walk”? (NIV)
These are good questions. Both are possible when you are God. Both are impossible if you’re a human. Let’s face it, you can train a budgie to say, “My son, your sins are forgiven.” But how can you prove it, one way or another? The thing about forgiveness is that you don’t look any different when you receive forgiveness.
In this room, there are forgiven people, and there are unforgiven people. I can’t tell which ones are which by looking at you. It’s one thing saying it—“you are forgiven”—but it’s another thing doing it. Every miracle Jesus did was obvious to the eye: the leper was healed, the storm was stilled, the fever left, the dead came back life. But the miracle of forgiveness is invisible. So Jesus gives the proof that the man is forgiven, Mark 2:10-11:
“But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” (NIV)
Jesus did the visible miracle, so that you and I would know that the invisible miracle took place. Jesus says, “I will prove to you that I can forgive him, because I can heal him.” Then we are told, Mark 2:12:
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!” (NIV)
Wow! Notice that he didn’t limp out, but walked out. When Jesus heals, he heals instantly and completely. And when Jesus forgives, he forgives instantly and completely. Friends, there is nothing that Jesus can’t forgive. That is crucial, because any sin left unforgiven will disqualify us from heaven.
There are some wonderful pictures of forgiveness in the Bible. God says, “When I forgive you, it’s like I take your sins, and put them behind my back, so that all I see when I see you is perfection.” God says, “When I forgive you, it’s like I take all your sins, and place them at the bottom of the ocean, left there never to be brought up against you.” Jesus takes your sins and leaves them at the cross, never to be used against you on the day of judgement.
On this day, Jesus handed this man a blank cheque. Like any cheque (or credit card for that matter), if there is no money in the bank account, the cheque is just a worthless piece of paper. But three years later, Jesus will have to make good on this promise. At the cross, Jesus would pay the debt for this man’s sins—and yours, too. You can only pray the sinners’ prayer because Jesus first died the sinners’ death. Now as the living Lord of the universe he calls all people everywhere to turn and trust him.
It is ironic that the religious leaders did not want people to enjoy Jesus’ forgiveness. For forgiveness was the very reason why Jesus’ came. Jesus came for sin and for sinners.
Twenty-one years ago, Salmon Rushdie wrote a book called The Satanic Verses. It offended Muslims in Iran so badly—and the Ayatola in particular—that they put a fatwa or contract out on him. The Muslim Iranian leaders have regularly said that even if Salmon Rushdie were to repent (and he has), it would make no difference. There would be no forgiveness. He must die. Allah has been offended.
In one way, they have understood something very important about God. To sin against God is a serious matter. Next time you see a dead body, you know how serious God takes sin. More serious still, it is a matter of life and death: eternal death. The religious leaders have ignored that Jesus has the right to forgive. He wants to forgive. There is nothing he can’t forgive.
I remember the first man we baptized in our baptism pool. He was from Iran. He said, “Ray, it’s as if Jesus is looking for an excuse to forgive.”
God’s biggest priority is to solve your biggest problem. But unless you see it as your biggest problem, you will miss out on it. You have a condition called sin. If left untreated, it will result in hell. Is it not time to ask Jesus to forgive you? It is not time to finally deal with the biggest issue in your life?
I am a sinner and without you I don’t have a chance. Thank you, Lord Jesus, for forgiving all my sins. Thank you for giving me a clean slate. I will follow you whatever the cost. Thank you for making me your friend.