Healing of the Palsied Man (Mark 2:1-12)
The Lord’s early Galilean ministry was still in progress, the events of Mark 2 following closely upon those of Mark 1. Capernaum was the center from which Jesus worked out to other parts of Galilee in the early summer or late spring of a.d. 28.
The presence of Jesus in any particular place soon became known, as on this occasion when the word went out that the great healer was again in the city that He had chosen for His home. Crowds filled the house where He was staying and pressed about the door as He proclaimed the message He had come from Heaven to deliver, the word of the kingdom. This was His chief mission during His three and a half years of ministry. Healing sick bodies was secondary, though to the people it doubtless seemed to be the most important. But sickness of the soul is far more serious than physical ill-health, and to bring to men the message of life is far more important than delivering them from bodily ailments.
“One sick of the palsy, which was borne of four.” Without help, this poor helpless paralytic could not make his way to Jesus, but he had four friends who were apparently firmly convinced that the Lord would give strength to the palsied limbs of the sick man. These energetic friends were determined not to fail in their endeavor to bring the afflicted sufferer directly to the wonderworking, compassionate Savior. Since they found all ordinary access to Jesus blocked by the crowd surging about the door, they carried him up onto the flat roof, generally reached by an outside stairway. There they lifted off the tiles and thatching and made a space so large that by passing cords under the pallet on which the paralytic lay, they could let the sick one down to where Jesus was teaching. One can imagine the stir and excitement of the people as the reclining man was carefully lowered to the very feet of Jesus. To Him it was no rude or unwarranted intrusion or interruption, but mute evidence of the faith of the five, who counted on Him to exercise His power on their behalf.
“When Jesus saw their faith.” Faith is evidenced by works. The four friends of the helpless man showed their faith by their works. Their persistence and energy demonstrated the reality of their faith in Jesus’ readiness to meet the need. Assured that their sick friend needed Jesus, they were determined that nothing would prevent his coming into the Savior’s presence. Are we as much concerned about bringing our unconverted friends to Jesus as they were? It was a joy to Christ when He saw the faith of these men, for faith always glorifies God. He recognizes its presence in every honest, seeking soul and is ever quick to respond to the desire of the believing heart. He recognized the faith of the friends, and seeing that the paralytic needed something far greater than healing of the body—namely, the forgiveness of his sins—”He said unto the sick of the palsy, Son, thy sins be forgiven thee.” It was a dramatic moment, and His words must have amazed the listeners, for never had they known man to speak like this.
“Certain of the scribes…reasoning in their hearts.” These were legalists who knew nothing of grace and who denied the claims of Jesus to be the Son of the Father. They did not go to the Scriptures for light, but they debated among themselves what it could all mean. Filled with prejudice and determined not to believe in Jesus, they at once took issue with Him. To them it was the rankest kind of blasphemy for anyone to pretend to have authority to forgive sins. This prerogative belonged to God alone. They did not know that God revealed in flesh stood in their midst!
“Jesus perceived in his spirit that they so reasoned within themselves.” They did not speak aloud, thus audibly expressing their indignation and objection to His words, but Jesus knew their thoughts (Psalm 94:11) and He answered them accordingly. “Why reason ye…in your hearts?” To be able thus to read the inmost secrets of their thought-life was another evidence of deity, for only God knows our thoughts “afar off” (Psalm 139:2).
“Whether is it easier?” So far as they were concerned, they could no more heal the sick than forgive the sinner. Jesus could do both. He chose to do the more important first.
“That ye may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins.” He would perform a miracle to reveal His authority to deliver from both sin and its effects. He therefore turned to the still helpless paralytic and commanded him to rise up and carry his bed— a pallet easily rolled together—and return healed to his home. There was power in His word. As He spoke, strength came to those limbs and the man arose, to the astonishment of all who were looking on.
The palsied man had been literally “without strength” (Romans 5:6). In his weakness he pictures all men in their sins. The word of Christ spoke strength into his paralyzed limbs, just as that same word gives new life to the one who receives it in faith.
As the people saw the paralytic rise to his feet and go away carrying his bed at the command of Jesus, they realized that divine power was active in their midst, and they gave God the glory for working so wondrously through His servant Jesus. Doubtless many wondered if He were not indeed the promised Messiah as they exclaimed, “We never saw it on this fashion.” It was a new and striking exhibition of the grace and power of God.
Calling of Matthew (Mark 2:13-17)
Leaving the house where He had healed the palsied man, Jesus “went forth again by the sea side,” and there taught the multitude who followed Him. He revealed to them the great truths connected with the forthcoming kingdom of God, for which Israel had waited so long.
“He saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the receipt of custom.” Levi, otherwise called Matthew (Matthew 9:9-13), the author of the first Gospel, was a member of the despised publican class. He was one of the tax-gatherers in the service of Rome. They were hated because they farmed the taxes, grinding down their Jewish brothers to enrich themselves. At Capernaum there was a Roman customhouse, where all the fishermen had to bring their catches and pay a certain percent as tax. Levi was perhaps connected with this office. Evidently he had heard Jesus before and was convinced in his heart that He was the Messiah; so when the call came, he responded immediately. There was instant surrender to the claims of Christ. We see in the ready obedience of Levi, an example of what should be characteristic of all whose hearts have been won by Christ.
Christ is not only our Savior. He is also our Lord. Redemption involves much more than salvation from the guilt of and the judgment due to sin. Redemption includes our deliverance from the power and authority of Satan, the god of this world, and our glad subjection to the One who has purchased us with His own precious blood. We read, “Ye are not your own… ye are bought with a price” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). Because of this, we are to acknowledge the Lord Jesus as the supreme Master of our lives. Gratitude to Him for all His grace has done would in itself demand our wholehearted recognition of His dominion over us. We are not saved by following Jesus, but because we are saved we are exhorted to follow Him.
Loyalty to Christ demands that we surrender our wills to His and seek to glorify Him in all our ways. We often hear it said that our wills must be broken, but that is poor psychology and worse theology. A broken-willed man is no longer capable of making definite decisions. Tennyson wrote, “Our wills are ours, / To make them Thine.” And this is what Scripture emphasizes. We are voluntarily to yield our wills to Him who has given Himself for us, that our service may be the glad, happy obedience of those who delight in the will of God above all else. We need to beware of calling Jesus “Lord” if we are slighting His commands. It is by obedience that we prove our love for Him (John 14:15), as did Levi.
As he began his new career, Levi made a feast to which he invited many of his former friends and Jesus and His disciples. It was his way of testifying to the new allegiance, and this testimony must have made a great impression on his old associates.
“The scribes and Pharisees saw him [Jesus] eat with publicans and sinners.” In the eyes of these religious formalists this was a very serious offense. But it showed how little they understood the nature of the mission of Jesus. As a physician ministers to the sick rather than to the well, so Christ came to bring the message of grace to needy sinners rather than to seek out those who fancied they were already good enough for God. Actually, “there is none righteous” (Romans 3:10), but there are many who pride themselves on a righteousness they do not really possess. For such there is no blessing. It is the confessed sinner who finds mercy.
Defending His Disciples (Mark 2:18-22)
A question arose concerning fasting. Jesus took occasion to open up important truth in this connection. It was the disciples of John and those of the Pharisees, the orthodox party in Judaism, who raised the question as to why the disciples of Jesus did not follow their example in regard to fasting. Both groups evidently thought of refraining from food at certain times as meritorious, or at least advantageous in producing holiness of heart and life. It seemed therefore to them that Christ’s disciples, in this respect at least, moved on a lower plane than they. Jesus answered them by putting a question: “Can the children of the bridechamber fast, while the bridegroom is with them? as long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast.” Jesus was saying that there was no occasion for His followers to mourn before God and to afflict their souls while He Himself, the source of all blessing, was with them. But Jesus foretold the time when He, the bridegroom, would be taken away from them, and then they would fast in a very real sense. Their fasting would be characterized by abstinence from the follies of the world—that world which was to be arrayed against them in bitter opposition to the teachings of their Master.
Moreover, those who raised the question about fasting did not realize that Jesus had come to introduce an altogether new order. We are told elsewhere that the law was given by Moses—and there was much in the law that had to do with fasting—but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ. It was not in accordance with His program to call men and women to subject themselves to legal principles. To do so would be but to attempt to sew a piece of new cloth on an old garment, which would only result in making the tear worse. Or it would be like putting new wine into old skin bottles; when the wine began to ferment, the bottles would burst and the wine would be lost. It is not possible to put the new wine of grace into the forms and enactments of the law; the one necessarily nullifies the other. As we read in Romans 11:6, “And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work.” By His answer our Lord clearly distinguished between the legality of the past and the grace He had come to reveal. This was in measure illustrated in the incident related next.
Answering Questions on Sabbath Day Observance (Mark 2:23-28)
As the disciples walked through a grainfield on the sabbath day they began to pluck some of the heads of grain, rub them in their hands, and eat the grains. This was in full accord with the provision made in the law, for God had said through Moses, “When thou comest into the standing corn of thy neighbour, then thou mayest pluck the ears with thine hand; but thou shalt not move a sickle unto thy neighbour’s standing corn” (Deuteronomy 23:25). But the Pharisees immediately found fault because the disciples were plucking the grain on the sabbath day, and so those legalists immediately objected.
There was nothing in the law that declared this act contrary to anything that God had commanded, but the Pharisees had added so many traditions to the law that the disciples seemed to be violating a divine precept. In reply Jesus referred to what David did when he and his men were hungry and came to the tabernacle in the days of the high priest Abiathar. David asked for food for himself and his retainers. The priest Ahimelech, the father of Abiathar, replied that they had no bread at hand except the shewbread that had been taken from the holy table and was the food of the priests (Leviticus 24:9; 1 Samuel 21:6). At David’s request, however, the shewbread was given to the hungry men, and no judgment followed. When God’s anointed was rejected, it was far more important to minister to him and to the needs of his followers than to preserve punctiliously the order of the tabernacle, for after all, men are more important to God than ordinances.
After referring to David Jesus declared, “The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath: Therefore the Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath.” With these words He was announcing His own deity, for again and again the sabbath is called “the sabbath of Jehovah.” When Jesus declared Himself to be Lord of that day of rest, He definitely confessed Himself to be the God of Israel, revealed in flesh. If the Pharisees had ears to hear, they would have understood.
I do not here go into the critical question as to the expression, “in the days of Abiathar.” This has been discussed by many, and perhaps it will never be fully explained until we know even as we are known. We should remember that it would be a simple matter for some copyist to substitute by mistake “Abiathar” for “Ahimelech.” On the other hand, there may be some divine reason for setting the father to one side and recognizing the son as the rightful high priest at that time.
We have noticed already that our Lord performed miracles in order to relieve human misery and to authenticate His messiahship. We would also emphasize the precious truth that these miracles were intended to reveal to men: the grace and tender compassion of God. Through Christ God demonstrated His deep concern for those who had brought such dire trouble and affliction on themselves by turning away from Him. The entire human race was suffering because of sin. Israel in particular had been promised immunity from disease if obedient to the law of God (Exodus 23:25). Every blind, deaf, crippled, or diseased person among them was a witness to Israel’s failure in this respect (Deuteronomy 28:15ff.). In healing the sick, Jesus was undoing the work of the devil (Acts 10:38) and fulfilling what had been predicted concerning the Servant of Jehovah, Israel’s promised Messiah-King (Isaiah 35:4-6). When Jesus was on earth proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, it was specially fitting that the blessings of the coming age should be revealed. Through Christ’s ministry the people were given a sample of what Israel and the whole world will enjoy in its fullness when God’s King reigns on mount Zion and blessing goes out to all the earth.
Physical healing and forgiveness of sins were intimately connected in the Old Testament (Psalm 103:3; 67:2; Isaiah 58:8). This connection between healing and forgiveness was equally true in our Lord’s earthly ministry, as Mark 2:1-12 makes clear. John prayed for Gaius that physical health and prosperity of soul might go hand in hand (3 John 2). And there is a sense in which the connection is still true, even though our blessings now are spiritual (Ephesians 1:3) rather than temporal. Where physical health does not accompany spiritual health, we may be assured it is because God our Father is working out some hidden purpose of blessing. But we are always free to pray for one another that we may be healed (James 5:16).
Every form of disease healed by our Lord Jesus seems to picture some aspect of sin, which is like a fever burning in the soul, a leprosy polluting the whole being, a palsy making one utterly unable to take a step toward God, and a withered hand incapable of true service. Whatever form sin may take, Jesus can give complete deliverance from it.
All healing is divine, whether it be by miraculous power, by means of properly controlled physical habits, diet, and exercise, or by direct medical treatment. It is God alone who can give renewed health and strength. He whose power brought us into being and gave us these marvelous bodies with all their wonderful functions, is the only One who can keep us well or restore us from illness.