“Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Rise, take up your bed and walk'?” (MAR 2:9).
I love having Bible study with young people from other countries who are new to the Bible and new to Christianity. Sometimes, their questions bring out things in our discussions that shed a new insight or perspective that I’ve never thought of. And their questions always make me think deeply about what I believe and why I believe it.
As we were studying Mark’s Gospel account of Jesus forgiving the sins of the paralytic, we came to the part where Jesus says: “Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Rise, take up your bed and walk'?” (MAR 2:9).
One of our Asian students looked puzzled about the question and responded: “What sins could the paralytic need to be forgiven of? If he was paralyzed, maybe he didn’t have that many sins?” Another student, from an African country, added, “So, maybe it was easier to forgive his sins than to heal him?”
Now, I’ve been in several past church Bible studies with other Christian and we always seem to take for granted that it is easier to physically heal someone than to actually forgive their sins. Even the scribes and Pharisees in the text knew that! After all, they had thought to themselves, who does this guy think he is?? Only God can forgive sins (MAR 2:8).
Church people understand that only God can forgive sins. We’ve been trained, after all.
But it wasn’t until I had to walk some folks brand new to the Bible through the sinfulness of sin that I realized how much we probably all take this for granted – And how much more we are like the paralytic than we even know.
You see, a paralytic is similar to the Pharisee, in a strange sort of way. A Pharisee (in the most negative connotation that we often use) measures holiness primarily by outward adherence to rules. “Don’t handle, don’t taste, don’t touch!” If we can keep our outward circumstances in check, then we will rule out temptation to commit outwardly sinful acts. This is exactly what our international students were picking up on! The paralytic has (probably) never committed adultery, murder, theft, or serious rebellious acts.
So, observing the lame man strictly from an outward vantage point, as we humans are so prone to see other people, one might imagine that this man’s sins are not all that great. On the other hand, we know that his physical disability is very great. So, in our human nature, we are prone to think that it is more difficult to be healed physically than to be healed spiritually – that is, to be forgiven from our sins.
By the work of the Holy Spirit in us, we do come to believe and understand what Jesus taught later in the Sermon on the Mount: If we hate our brother or sister, we are guilty of murder in our hearts. If we look lustfully on another person’s spouse, we are guilty of adultery. If we covet another’s position, wealth or goods, we are guilty of theft inour hearts. And on and on it goes. If we live and breathe, we’ve committed enough sin in our thoughts alone to separate us from our Holy, Majestic, Perfect Creator for all eternity. If we understand the human heart’s wickedness, we know that no matter how good we look to the world, we are always in desperate need of a Savior who can forgive our sins!
Make no mistake, the most difficult thing that Jesus did while he was incarnate and dwelled among us was to pay the penalty for our sins by suffering a cruel death on the cross, enduring the Father’s wrath for every sin of ours – past, present, and future. Being separated from his Heavenly Father as he became sin for us caused Jesus to cry out: “My God, My God! Why have you forsaken me?” Yes, by His Wounds We are Healed! But the hands-down most significant healing he gives us is the healing of our souls, by the forgiveness of our sins.
One day. One day, dear brother, dear sister in Christ. We who have received the forgiveness of our sins by faith in Christ, one day will have perfect bodies! Fully healed bodies – without any more pain or disease or suffering! This, Jesus promises us!! And today we can pray for the consummation of his healing in our physical bodies, and we praise the doctors who are able to fix us temporarily. Even unbelievers can be healed supernaturally or by medical doctors in this temporal life that we live, and so we can pray for them. But only by faith in Christ are we forgiven our sins.
One day, these mortal bodies of ours will pass away (unless we are alive at the resurrection). But then, the worst thing that we can imagine happening to us in this life as a result of the decay of sin, our physical deaths, will usher us into the absolute best thing that we have been given in Christ – Our eternal communion with Him!! The forgiveness of our sins through the blood of Jesus Christ IS the gift of eternal life.
So, now we ask again with Jesus, “Which is easier?”
I hope the "textbook answer" has a greater meaning to you after reading this explanation. It has to me!
Application to those of us in the church:
After we fill our prayer lists with all of the abundant physical needs that God has laid on our hearts to pray for -- the great needs which we see around us everywhere -- let us also ask by God’s mercy for whom do need to pray that Jesus will forgive their sins? And let us confess our own sins to one another, so that we may repent and be set free, and so that we can encourage one another.
Let us go to any lengths (as the paralytic's friends did by digging a hole in the roof and lowering him down in front of Christ) to bring all of these to the foot of the cross of Jesus Christ that they and we may hear His Word and receive His forgiveness of sins. To the glory of our holy God!