We have seen in the first chapter of Mark that Jesus speaks as God speaks, sees as God sees, and touches as God touches. Mark is revealing the character and divine dignity of Jesus Christ at a breathless pace. Jesus is turning the tables on sin and disease and the power of Satan.
As this second chapter opens, Mark surprises us further by the radical nature of Jesus’ response to the paralytic man. As the man is being lowered down in the midst of a crowded and packed room, everyone present looks up and sees the man’s paralysis – that is how we see. But Jesus looks up and sees faith. He sees as God sees. And then Jesus speaks as only God can speak: “Son, your sins are forgiven.” The teachers of the law who are present at once recognize the significance of this utterance. “Why does this fellow talk like this? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” Even out of the lips of Jesus’ opponents, the gospel is being proclaimed – indeed, who can forgive sins but God alone?
Now when someone offends you or me, we can say “I forgive you” because the offense has been against us. We understand this way of thinking and speaking. But we cannot speak a word of forgiveness on behalf of someone else – the offended person must be the forgiving agent. Now, Jesus has never met this man before, and yet He speaks as though He is the offended party. This man’s sins are against God, and Jesus speaks in the place of God with the words, “I forgive you.” Jesus is speaking with authority the word of forgiveness as only God, the offended party, can speak. Jesus is forgiving as only God can forgive. He has the authority to forgive sins, which no human being has. This is why the religious leaders were right in saying that this was blasphemous – unless, of course, Jesus is indeed God.
It is interesting to note that in John 20:22-23, Jesus breathes upon his disciples to receive the Holy Spirit, and then pronounces, “If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” Jesus is giving the church the authority to announce His forgiveness in the lives of those who come to Him in faith. We do not have the innate ability to forgive anyone’s sins against God, or to withhold God’s forgiveness of sins from anybody. But Jesus has given the church the authority to act as His regents or representatives in the world, and to speak on His behalf. We can declare that “God forgives you” with all the authority of Jesus, because we are not declaring our forgiveness, but rather His forgiveness in Christ. We are merely pronouncing the forgiveness made possible by the sacrifice of Christ. If someone repents of their sins and trusts in Jesus, the church can say with full authority, “You are forgiven,” and the Father in heaven will honor that. If, on the other hand, someone refuses to believe the gospel and repent of their sins, the church has the authority to say “Your sins are not forgiven.” It is upon the authority of Jesus Christ Himself who is the very regent of the Father, and who has commissioned us to be His representatives in the world, that we are able to say, “Your sins are forgiven.” This great doctrine of pronouncing forgiveness begins right here in Mark’s gospel – as we witness Jesus Himself having the authority and power to forgive sins, even as the Father forgives. Jesus forgives as God forgives.
And now we come to the culminating climax of this encounter with Jesus. There was a religious procedure in Judaism whereby a sinful Jew could go to the Temple, make an appropriate sacrifice before the priest, and hear the words “Your sins are forgiven.” This was a familiar procedure for the Jews, because the sacrifice took place at the Temple to cover the sin, and the high priest was there as God’s regent to pronounce forgiveness. But it could only happen at the Temple. Jesus, however, doesn’t say to the paralytic, as He did to the leper, “Go, and show yourself to the priest.” He doesn’t say, “Go, and make a sacrifice at the Temple for your sins to be forgiven.” By simply declaring, “Your sins are forgiven,” Jesus is saying, in effect, “You don’t need to go to the Temple; you are already at the Temple! You don’t need to go to the High Priest; you are already in the presence of the High Priest! You don’t need to go to the mercy seat of the altar; you are already at the altar!” Jesus is the Temple – the place where God’s presence dwelt among humanity. Jesus is the altar; He is the mercy seat; He is the sacrifice; He is the high priest! Jesus is saying, “The Temple of God is here in my person.”
This is the main point of the story. The physical healing of the man afterward serves as an authenticating sign in visible, tangible form that the forgiveness of sins has, indeed, been accomplished. Which is easier to say: “Your sins are forgiven” or “Be healed, take up your mat and walk”? Both are overturning the effects of the fall, and bringing forth the rule and reign of God into this man’s life. But so that we might believe and know that Jesus has the authority on earth to forgive sins (something we cannot see), Jesus gives an authenticating sign that we can see. And the paralytic “got up, took his mat, and walked out in full view of them all!” Everyone was amazed – not just because they had seen another miracle of healing, but because that miracle was bearing witness to the forgiveness of sins which only God can give.
In Jesus Christ, the Temple is here! All the wondrous benefits of the Temple which every devout Jew understood and cherished are now available anywhere in the world where two or more are gathered, because Christ is present. The church is not merely a gathering of people who look back and remember the wonderful acts of God 2,000 years ago. The church is an ongoing expression of God’s in-breaking into the world, because Christ has promised to be present by the Holy Spirit whenever the church gathers in His name. The “Temple” is wherever Christ is, and Christ has promised to be present wherever two or more are gathered in His name.