“Paralyzed No More”
Mark 2:1-12

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

The man on the mat was paralyzed.  His legs didn’t work at all; perhaps his arms didn’t work so well, either.  He couldn’t move or get Himself anywhere.  He was stuck.  He’s a picture of all of us in one way or another, sooner or later.  To one degree or another we feel the paralyzing effects of sin’s curse in our physical health.  Our bodies are wearing down.  The legs don’t work like they used to.  We will all know the full effects of paralysis in death.  

And there are other aspects to it beside the physical ones.  Many people whose bodies are just fine still find themselves paralyzed and immobilized–by fear and uncertainty, by hopelessness and despair of God’s help.  They’re stuck and can barely move.  Sin can paralyze us that way, too.  Instead of boldly confessing our faith and loving our neighbor, we fear what’s going to happen to us or what others will think of us, and so we just do nothing and stay in our safe zones.  Or we’re trapped in bad habits and addictions that enslave us, that keep us in bondage, turned in on ourselves instead of outward, leading lives of faith and love.  We must all confess that we are like that man on the mat needing Jesus’ help.

The paralytic was carried by four of his friends to Jesus.  In the same way, we can’t we move one step toward God by our own power or reason or strength; we’re immobilized by sin and death.  We must be carried, like babies brought to baptism, or like the people you might invite and bring to church or to adult instruction class to hear the healing and life-giving Word of Christ.  You wouldn’t say to a paralyzed man lying on the ground, “You need to get yourself to a doctor, son.”  Neither should you say to a fallen sinner, “You need to find your own way to Jesus. You need to give your heart to the Lord and decide to follow Him.”  No, we all need help from outside of us.  That’s why it’s so important for you to provide that help by speaking the words of Christ and getting people to Jesus who are paralyzed and immobilized in sin.

The four men who help the paralytic picture for us the four evangelists, the four Gospel writers–Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John–who carry us to Christ through their accounts of His life and words.  It is only through the preached Gospel of Christ that we receive the help that we truly need.

And we see here that what we need is often different than what we think it is.  It is written that Jesus sees their faith, their determined trust in Him that ignored the crowd and that was literally willing to go through the roof to get to Him, and He does a rather surprising thing.  He says to the man on the mat, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”  He absolves him.  Do you think that’s what the four friends had in mind when they took such great risks to get their friend to Jesus?  An absolution?  Not very likely.  They were expecting a healing, a miracle.  They were hoping Jesus would lay His hands on their friend and say the healing word and their friend was going to walk home.  I wonder if, at this point, they were feeling a little bewildered and disappointed.  And besides, isn’t Jesus embarrassing the paralytic by implying that He needs forgiveness, making an example of him in front of everyone, blaming the victim?  Some people might say that Jesus’ words were almost cruel.

I think that’s why many people today are a little bit bewildered and disappointed and maybe even a bit offended with what happens in church and in the liturgy.  People are looking for advice, for something practical that can help them out right now and make their life better in this world, for spiritual and emotional excitement, for something out of the ordinary and supernatural.  But what’s the main thing that happens here each week?  Well, for one thing, we start off the service with the confession of sins–there’s a great way to welcome people–you poor, miserable sinners.  And then Jesus comes to you and says to you–not just once but several times in several ways–“I forgive you all of your sins.”  

“But I have problems,” we say.  “I know that. Your sins are forgiven.”  “But I need answers.”  “No you don’t. Just ask Job. You need mercy.. Your sins are forgiven.”  “My life’s a mess. Don’t you have a program or something?”  “I don’t deal in programs. Just death and resurrection. Your sins are forgiven.”  “How about a miracle? I could sure use a miracle!” “You already have it. Your sins are forgiven.” (Cwirla)  Though we don’t always see it, forgiveness is the best and most practical gift our Lord can give.  For it addresses not just our perceived needs, but our real and deeper needs.

We don’t often recognize that Jesus performed His greatest miracle first in this story, when he absolved the paralytic.  The healing was marvelous and wonderful.  But the forgiveness went right to the heart of the matter and gave the paralyzed man an eternal blessing.  Jesus asked the question, “Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say ‘Arise, take up your bed, and walk’?”  Though it may not seem like it, it’s actually harder to forgive sins (in the fullest sense of the word the way Jesus does), because forgiveness involves both soul and body.  It’s possible to cure the body but not the soul.  Doctors can restore the body temporarily while the inward curse of death remains.  We still haven’t gotten to the root of the problem.  But forgiveness does.

Forgiveness is harder because it requires the cross.  There is a price to be paid to purchase this healing, the price of our Lord's body sacrificed in your place and His blood shed to redeem you and His soul tormented that you might be set free from death and hell.  Jesus became paralyzed with your sin, helpless, immobile as He was nailed to the cross.  He was then carried and lowered into the depths of the grave on your behalf to break its power over you.  But He also would arise and walk so that you would rise with Him in the body to life that is free from disease and paralysis and heartache and pain.  It is all of this and more that Jesus is declaring to you when He says, “Your sins are forgiven.”  You are loosed from them, released, set free.  They’re not your burden anymore.  Jesus took them and answered for them, and that’s the end of the story.  Let your conscience be clear.  Jesus’ words to the paralytic and to you aren’t cruel.  They may be humbling when He speaks real, life-giving forgiveness to your real, deadly sins.  But this is in fact the greatest gift that He can give to you and the only source of lasting comfort.  God is not angry with you.  You need not be angry with Him for whatever it is you have to endure.  Be at peace.  All is well in Jesus.

In order to show that His absolution was real, Jesus does go on to perform the more visibly obvious miracle.  He looks down at the paralyzed man lying there on his stretcher and says, “Arise, take your bed, and go to your house.”  Jesus’ words do what they say.  The man arose, and immediately he took his pallet within sight of a whole house full of people walked out.  And the people were astonished and glorified God.  “We’ve never seen anything like this.”  It was just a small foretaste of the astonishment that the disciples would have at the resurrection of Jesus Himself, when people like Thomas, who had never seen anything like it before, would kneel and say of the risen Jesus, “My Lord and My God!”  That’s how the world knows for certain that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.  He got up and walked out of His tomb three days after He died to pay for your sins.

Our Lord Jesus is still alive to bring you His healing forgiveness at His table.  Here is the remedy that heals you, the medicine of immortality, the living body and blood of Jesus given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins, to enliven you and make you whole.  Here is the gate of heaven, where you commune with God.  Surely God is in this place, and like Jacob, you have been given to know it.  Here you partake of Him who is the Life in the flesh, who incorporates your bodies into His own, and who will therefore raise you from the grave just as He was raised.

So be of good cheer.  You are paralyzed no more.  Christ has spoken to you His words of life. You are forever free.  Your sins are forgiven you.  And where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation and the resurrection of the body.

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠