STUDY FOUR: Mark 2:1-12

© Rosemary Bardsley 2013

In Mark 2 Jesus returned to the lakeside town of Capernaum, where his teaching and miracles had first amazed the people [Mark 1:21ff]. While the crowds again gathered, Mark also reports the beginning of negative questioning and opposition. This opposition came from some teachers of the law, particularly those who were Pharisees, and from the Pharisees.



In this account of the healing of the paralytic the teachers of the law picked up an extremely important point. They understood what Jesus said and did, but they did not even consider its implication. It is the point over which they will stumble again and again.

Let us look at the facts of this incident.

Task #1: What does Mark tell us about:

[1] The four friends?


[2] Jesus?




[3] The teachers of the law?


[4] The man?


[5] ‘everyone’?


At first glance Mark’s report in 2:1-12 appears to be simply another healing miracle. But it is far more than that, and we are likely to miss its deep significance if we simply classify it as a healing miracle. In addition, because of the human thoughts that have been laid down in our minds on top of the truth, we stand in danger of copying the teachers of the law in failing to understand this incident.


A.1 The four friends
An interesting fact in this incident is that the only faith mentioned is that of the four friends.

They believe that Jesus has the power to heal their paralysed friend. That is obvious in the fact that they brought him to Jesus.

Their extreme action in going up onto the roof and ripping it open is testimony to the urgency, strength and their determination of their faith/hope.

They have heard reports of, or perhaps even personally witnessed, the amazing things that Jesus had done in this town a short time previously. With their evidence-based faith in Jesus’ power to heal they bring their friend.

It was in response to their faith that Jesus acted. Whether or not the man himself had any faith is not mentioned. This should immediately raise a question over the popular perception that ‘if we had enough faith’ we would be healed. Maybe he did have faith, and the friends brought him at his request. But we are not told this. Maybe his friends brought him against his will, helpless against their determination. We are not told this either.


A.2 Jesus
A.2.1 Jesus’ primary purpose
Jesus, inside the house, was preaching the word to the assembled crowd. This was his primary purpose in these three years prior to his death. He knew that over and above their need for physical healing, over and above their need to be freed from demonic possession, was their need for truth, their need to know who the true God actually is and how to reconnect with this one true God.

Task #2: Read these verses. What is Jesus committed to in these verses? To heal or to teach?

Mark 1:14-15

Mark 1:21

Mark 1:38

Mark 2:13

Mark 4:1,2

Mark 6:2

Mark 6:34

A.2.2 Jesus divine knowledge
There are a number of things in this passage that Jesus knew that no one else knew:

He knew that the four friends came with faith in his power to heal. Mark records that ‘When Jesus saw their faith …’

He knew that the paralysed man carried a far greater burden than his physical condition. The four friends expect that Jesus will heal the man physically, just as he had already healed many. They expected, they sought, nothing else. They do not see, as Jesus the divine Son sees, that this man has a far more pressing need than physical restoration. Jesus sees past the wretched body to the wretchedness of the man's soul. He sees that this man is far more concerned with the guilt that eats him out inside, robbing him of peace, separating him from God, than he is about his physical disability.

It is to this deep spiritual need that Jesus addresses himself. Without a moment's hesitation he says to the man ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’

He knew what the teachers of the law were thinking in their hearts. They do not even speak. But Jesus knows. He knows that they think his words are meaningless and powerless. He knows that they are thinking he is just a man making a useless statement, just a man assuming he has the power and the authority to do something that only God can do. He knows that it does not enter their heads that he actually does have that power and that authority, and that this man was indeed, at that very moment, forgiven.



A.3 The teachers of the law
When Jesus says ‘Son, your sins are forgiven’ the teachers of the law are immediately troubled, thinking to themselves ‘Why does this fellow talk like that? He's blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?’

Why do they think this?

They know the law. They know that all sin is sin against God, and because all sin is sin against God, only God has the authority to forgive it. God is the one offended by sin.  Only he has the right to remove the offence, and only he can decide and dictate how the offence can be removed. [A study of the book of Leviticus reveals the intricate and specific details of how, according to Law, a person or nation must approach God in order to obtain forgiveness. We also learn from Leviticus how totally our lives are permeated by the sin factor, so totally that it is impossible for us to realise either the magnitude or the multitude of our sins.] God alone knows how sinful we are; God alone can make the blanket statement made by Jesus: your sins are forgiven.

They are right. Only God can forgive sin.

But they are also wrong in mentally accusing Jesus of blasphemy. They are wrong in assuming that he is just a man taking upon himself the power and the authority of God. And they are wrong in assuming that Jesus is powerless to forgive.



A. 4 Jesus again
Equally immediate as their mental and emotional reaction to his words is Jesus' knowledge of it. He takes up the challenge: What is easier? he asks. To say ‘Your sins are forgiven?’ Or to say ‘Get up, take up your mat and walk?’  If he says ‘Your sins are forgiven’ no one can prove or disprove that it has actually happened. There is no visible evidence to confirm Jesus’ power and authority to forgive sins. The evidence is hidden in the mind of God and in the heart of the one forgiven. But to say ‘Get up. Take up your mat and walk’ has people holding their breath as they watch to see what will happen. If this actually happens it will demonstrate the power and authority of the words of Jesus, and indicate that the first word, the word of forgiveness, also happened (2:10). The second proves the first, not because the paralysis was related to the sins, but because it demonstrates that the words of Jesus are powerful and authoritative.

Jesus did this second thing, this physical healing, to demonstrate the powerful authority of his word; he did it ‘so that’ they would know that he had the authority to forgive sin. He did it as a confirmation of his deity.

A.4.1 Jesus the Son of Man

Task #3: Read Daniel 7:13,14 for details about the Son of Man.

[Note: you will find extra information in this study: .]




A.5 ‘everyone’
The people get the message. They had by this time seen Jesus perform many healing miracles, yet they say in amazement ‘We have never seen anything like this!’  The healing is amazing, but over and beyond the impact of that is Jesus' pronouncement of the forgiveness of this man's sin, which was verified by the authority of his word to heal. Because they cannot dispute that the second word of Jesus healed the man: they must therefore acknowledge that his first word forgave the man. They cannot escape the logic of Jesus' words and actions. They stand confronted by it. This man, who calls himself the Son of Man, has authority on earth to forgive sins. (2:10)

But if only God can forgive sins, who then is this man who has forgiven sin? There is only one conclusion, a conclusion they do not want to think about. Jesus is God.


A.6 The man
The man is for the most part a quiet observer in this story that revolves around him. He does not speak. The only thing he is reported doing is that ‘he got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all’. He walks tall in front of them all – not only healed of his physical disability, but also with the more disturbing and spiritually disabling burden of shame and guilt lifted from him. He walks tall in the forgiveness declared by Jesus Christ.



B.1 Misconceptions about sin, sickness and faith
It is quite common for people to draw a direct connection between their individual sins and their sickness. We are told that we are suffering this or that particular illness because we are living with a certain unconfessed, unrepented sin. We are told that we should confess all known sins in order to be healed of our sickness. Another thing we are told is that if we had enough faith, or the right kind of faith, we would enjoy perfect health, and that the illnesses we suffered until we got such faith would now be removed by the exercise of that faith.

Task #4: Recall instances when things like this have been said to you.




In the case of this paralysed man Jesus has ample opportunity to make these two connections; but he doesn't.

[1] Neither in this incident, nor in any other healing, does Jesus require the ‘patient’ to confess his sins in order to be healed.

[2] The man was not automatically healed when his sins are forgiven, which should have been the case if the paralysis was caused by the sin.

[3] The only faith mentioned in the incident is that of the four friends. Jesus did not even ask the man if he himself had faith.

B.2 Misconception about Jesus’ miracles
Some people believe that when Jesus did miracles he was acting as a human with perfect faith, and that we also could do the same miraculous things if we had the same kind of perfect faith. But this narrative about the paralysed man intentionally draws attention to the divine authority of Jesus Christ, not to his human power. The teachers of the law unwittingly draw our attention to this – only God can forgive sins. Jesus’ response to them also draws attention to this: he says ‘But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins’ … and proceeds to heal the man to demonstrate his divine authority, not to demonstrate his human power. The ‘Son of Man’ is the glorious divine figure of Daniel 7 and Ezekiel 1. He is the one who has authority over all peoples and nations. He is the one who to whom worship is directed. He is the one whose dominion is everlasting and whose kingdom will never pass away.

John, in his gospel, tells us that he recorded the miracles of Jesus, not so that we will see what perfect human faith can do, but rather so that we will believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God [John 20:30,31].   

Task #5: How has this incident impacted:

[1] your understanding of who Jesus Christ actually is?


[2] your confidence in forgiveness?


[3] your perception of suffering?