Jesus’ Astonishing Authority to Heal Body and Soul
by Blake Schwarz
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!”
First century Jews saw humans as highly integrated beings. They were much less likely than we are to see a sharp distinction between the body and soul. In the Gospel of John, Jesus passes a man blind from birth, and His disciples ask, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (9:2).
They lived in a world where physical brokenness and spiritual brokenness went hand in hand.
I think it is safe to assume that a similar belief was held by the scribes who were sitting and listening to Jesus’ preaching in this home in Capernaum. When the roof opened and a paralyzed man was let down by his four friends in front of Jesus while He was preaching, the scribes saw someone under the curse of sin. He was broken. The physical brokenness was an outward expression of spiritual brokenness. I suspect they were asking, “Who sinned that this man is paralyzed?” or maybe, “What sin deserved this?”
We know little about the content of Jesus’ preaching in Mark at this point (in Matthew, this story comes after the Sermon on the Mount). At this point in Mark, all we know is that he said, “The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the Gospel” (Mark 1:15). Jesus’ message was a message about a kingdom, and it came with a call of repentance. Repentance, a turning from sin, is also a turn toward life in the Kingdom with all the spiritual, physical, social, and cultural healing that breaks in with God’s presence.
The whole audience knows that physical healing is needed, but Jesus wants them to understand His whole message. He is not merely a physician with the ability to heal the sick. He wants them to see the total healing offered in the Gospel. Thus, He gives us a glimpse of what life will be like in God’s presence when there is no more mourning, crying, or pain (Revelation 21:4). We must not forget that all of the signs and wonders recorded are included “so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:31).
The forgiveness of sins, the restoration of the paralytic to a right relationship with God, is merely the beginning.
In the flow of the story, we read that Jesus perceives the question of the scribes (vs 8). They wonder “Why does this man speak like that?” (vs 7).
We have the same challenge from the world today that Jesus faced from the scribes in this story. When we come with a message of the forgiveness of sins, as central as that is, often the dying world cannot hear it. They are saying, “Why is he talking like this?” “Surely this cannot be true.” “It is ridiculous.” If you are like me, you are tempted to throw your hands up and say, “Well, at least I am being faithful to the truth.” But that is not what we see modeled by Jesus in this story. Jesus perceives this challenge – a challenge that the message of grace by faith is easy to talk about. Or that this message might be a comfort to some poor wretched person, but many listening will not think that it applies to them. Thus, He responds by giving the crowd a glimpse of the total healing offered in the Gospel: “Rise, pick up your bed, and go home” (vs 11). At the outset of His ministry, Jesus wants the scribes to know that He has the authority to do this. The healing of the body confirms His message of healing the soul and the presence of the Kingdom of God– “But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins...” (vs 10)
It is the complete healing, the act of Jesus that restores this man’s ability to walk, that confirms Jesus’ message about the Kingdom and forgiveness. Without the demonstration of the breaking in of the Kingdom, we do not reach the climax of the story where “they were all amazed and glorified God” (vs 12).
Our call, as redeemed and restored Christians, as ambassadors of Christ and His Kingdom in this broken and dying world is to follow Jesus in both His message and method. We must experience and share the freedom of the cleansing forgiveness and healing offered in the Gospel.
As we process Jesus’ message and method, it should challenge us to ask what faithfulness to Christ looks like when we seek to carry others to Jesus. It should not merely stop at the proclamation of the truth, but it should be expressed in some amazing, God-glorifying concern for the whole person we seek to carry.