“Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’?” (Mark 2:9)
In Mark 2:1-12, Jesus famously healed a paralysed man who had just been lowered through the roof of the house that Jesus was preaching in. Lots of details of this story are interesting. Personally I want to know what the reaction of the home owner was. I suspect that he wanted to know who was going to fix his roof. The crowd surely wanted to know whether Jesus would heal the man (cf. Mark 1:44-45).
However, none of these questions are addressed—at least not at first. We don’t hear about Jesus’ reaction to seeing the hole in the roof, but only that he saw the faith of those who had lowered their friend through it. They firmly believed that Jesus could meet their friend’s great need. And, in response to that faith, Jesus gave the man the extraordinary blessing that all Christians receive by faith. Jesus promised him: “son, your sins are forgiven” (Mark 2:5).
They firmly believed that Jesus could meet their friend’s great need. And, in response to that faith, Jesus gave the man the extraordinary blessing that all Christians receive by faith.
The religious teachers in the room all thought this was highly blasphemous. Surely forgiving sins was God’s job alone! Only God can promise that someone’s sins will never be brought under Judgement (Mark 2:7).
Jesus’ response was to challenge them with a question: “Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’?” (Mark 2:9)
Jesus quickly moved on to make his main point, which was that he could, in fact, offer forgiveness of sins. Forgiveness is an invisible action. Jesus healed the man visibly to prove that his invisible act of forgiving sins was also effective. It’s hard to conceive of how Jesus could blaspheme God in one moment and then heal with God’s power in the next. His healing therefore demonstrated that he had authority from God to do both.
What’s the Answer?
But what’s the answer to Jesus’ question? Which is easier to say?
It’s an excellent youth-group or Bible study question. Get people to choose a side and argue their case. On the one hand, miraculous healings are impossible for us. It’s easier for us to say anything rather than actually heal someone. On the other hand, Christians know that full forgiveness of sins before a just and holy God was a far more significant undertaking than any miracle ever was. God effortlessly parted the Red Sea for Israel to escape Egypt, but it took nothing less than the death of God’s Son to achieve the forgiveness of sins (Hebrews 10:10-14). The fact is that it was far easier for Jesus to heal the man than it was to forgive him.
Forgiveness of sins before a just and holy God was a far more significant undertaking than any miracle. God effortlessly parted the Red Sea, but it took nothing less than the death of God’s Son to achieve the forgiveness of sins
However, this isn’t only true because of the cross. It is also true because of who was watching.
We are naturally concerned with appearances. We are keenly aware of how enormous a fool Jesus would have appeared if he had publicly ordered a paralysed man to walk and nothing had happened. He would lose face in front of the crowd. His detractors would have scorned and ridiculed him. Few of us would dare invite that kind of reaction by promising a healing. So, if forced to choose, we would have to say it is easier to say: “your sins are forgiven”. After all, who can really know for sure?
But that’s atheist logic. Jesus was keenly aware that the most important gaze upon him on that day was not that of the crowd, but that of God his Father. It is one thing to look a fool in front of a crowd. It is another thing entirely to offend God. Jesus’ career was marked by living before the sight of God his Father (Hebrews 10:7). He would endure whatever shame the crowds might throw at him for the sake of pleasing his Father (Hebrews 12:2). It is clear that the criteria against which Jesus considered what was ‘easier to say’ was what God thought of his actions, not what people thought. Risking upsetting people is a small matter compared to disobeying God. Jesus only ever acted with his Father’s authorisation (cf. John 5:19).
All of us will give an account of our words and deeds to God (Hebrews 4:13). Like Jesus, we must be concerned with God’s evaluation of our conduct rather than how other people might judge us. It is far better to look a fool in the eyes of the world than it is to offend God.
Image: Charles Reuben Ryley (after James Newton), 1795, public domain