A Greater Resolve
We cannot make sense of the absurdity of sin. Only Christ alone, by his comprehensive ministry, can resolve the consequences of the Fall.
And when he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. And many were gathered together, so that there was no more room, not even at the door. And he was preaching the word to them. And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him, and when they had made an opening, they let down the bed on which the paralytic lay. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Now some of the scribes were sitting there,questioning in their hearts, “Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, “Why do you question these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic— “I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.” And he rose and immediately picked up his bed and went out before them all, so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this!” (Mark 2:1-12)
Sin and its effects on our world surround us. The easiest to categorize are those cases in which the moral sin of one affects others. For example, when those tasked with telling the truth lie in order to protect their preferred politician. Or when a hypocritical Christian proclaims the gospel one minute and abuses his fellow image-bearer the next.
More difficult for us to understand and explain are natural disasters and those instances in which the consequences of the Fall wreak havoc on people for no immediately conceivable reason. By no fault of their own, many in Texas, especially those in disadvantaged communities, are suffering from the worst winter storm in a century.
How do we make sense of this?
The Apostle Paul, in his letter to the Romans, says that “the whole of creation has been groaning” under the weight of Adam’s first sin. It appears that man’s original sin does not just apply to the moral universe, but the natural one as well. As today’s passage demonstrates, the aftermath of the Fall results in sinners, victims, and paralytics alike.
But such a state of reality demands restitution. Instinctively, we know this is not how it is supposed to be. What can resolve this dilemma?
Many Christians have wrongly applied such teaching to blame the specific sins of specific people for specific disasters. To be clear, that is not what is going on in Mark’s story of the paralytic. There’s no evidence this man deserved his lamentable condition because of his sins or those of his parents.
But in a different way, this creates even more difficult questions; especially for those of us inundated in such a legalistic and meritocratic culture as our own. We often find comfort in axioms like “pick yourself up by your bootstraps,” “you should not have put yourself in that situation,” and all the rest.
Not that there isn’t a kernel of truth in each of those sentiments on their own, but how do they stand against a man who is paralyzed from birth? Or a young mother whose home has been without power for days?
The reality is they don’t. There is something deeper, more sinister, and more complex going on that our pithy replies cannot simply resolve.
We need a greater Resolve.
In the second chapter of Mark’s gospel we get just that. By his own faith, and the faith of his friends, the paralytic comes to Jesus trusting this miracle-worker can fix his broken body. Imagine his confusion when Jesus first tells him “your sins are forgiven.” Does Jesus not appear to contradict everything we have said above?
Perhaps, at least if we were to stop the story here. But Jesus’ reply elicits a response from the Pharisees; one it seems Jesus was expecting: “Who can forgive sins but God alone?”
In that moment, Jesus fully reveals his identity, commanding the paralytic to “rise, pick up your bed and go home.”
For the Pharisees, the problem was not that God would resolve the moral and physical consequences of sin. It was that this Jesus of Nazareth claimed to have authority to do just that. In short, they failed to identify and worship Jesus as the God-incarnate Messiah.
But for us today, perhaps our difficulty proceeds from our inability to recognize Jesus as the Savior who comprehensively resolves the problem of sin and its effects, both spiritual and physical.
In doing so, he subverts our modern expectations.
This not a redeemer who promises mere material relief. He does not come to overthrow the Jews’ political oppressors or dispense financial prosperity. After all, political power, wealth, and the things of this world are doomed for decay without spiritual healing.
Nor is he a kind of ascetic, spiritual guru. He does not abolish the laws of justice because “everyone sins.” For to love mercy also requires doing justly.
In truth, Jesus is a far greater Savior than either of these. He is the God-man, who comes to redeem all creation. He has been given authority not just to cure disease, calm storms, and perform exorcisms, but also to address the root of the problem: mankind’s depraved spiritual condition. He forgives our sins, brings us into right relationship with our Father in Heaven, and secures us a peace for all eternity. From thence flows the promise of all things being made new.
With a Savior like this, we have not else to do but respond with the crowd: “We never saw anything like this!”
Robert Hasler is the Director of Communications for Ministry to State and co-host of The Will & Rob Show.