Who is this man?
John D. Rockefeller built the great Standard Oil empire. Not surprisingly, Rockefeller was a man who demanded high performance from his company executives. One day, one of those executives made a two million dollar mistake. (In 2015 dollars, this would be a $57,000,000 mistake.[i])
Word of the man’s enormous error quickly spread throughout the executive offices, and the other men began to make themselves scarce. Afraid of Rockefeller’s reaction, they did not even want to cross his path.
One man did not have any choice, since he had an appointment with the boss. So, he straightened his shoulders and walked into Rockefeller’s office.
As he approached the oil monarch’s desk, Rockefeller looked up from the piece of paper on which he was writing.
“I guess you’ve heard about the two million dollar mistake our friend made,” he said abruptly.
“Yes,” the executive said, expecting Rockefeller to explode.
“Well, I’ve been sitting here listing all of our friend’s good qualities on this sheet of paper, and I’ve discovered that in the past he has made us many more times the amount he lost for us today by his one mistake. His good points far outweigh this one human error. So I think we ought to forgive him, don’t you?”[ii]
Two million dollars is a lot of money. The enormity of this man’s mistake is even more obvious when translated into today’s currency. Fifty seven million is a large number.
None of the executives had the power to forgive their fellow executive. The reason for this is that it was not their money. Rockefeller was the boss because it was his money.
The other executives did not suffer loss. They had nothing to forgive unless Rockefeller decided to take the loss out of their combined salaries. Then they would feel the loss, and have something to forgive.
Rockefeller was the offended party. He paid the price for the man’s mistake.
Forgiveness works this way. The offended party gives up the offense and the right to collect on it. The offended party gives up the right to get revenge or to collect payment, and thus chooses to accept the loss or pay the cost.
As Mark is telling the story of Jesus’s ministry, He shows us at the start that Jesus is God without saying it directly. Mark 2:1-12 shows us that Jesus is God, and it does this through a story of forgiveness.
In order to understand the setting, we must go back a few days before the events recorded in Mark 2.
In Mark 1, we learn that Jesus “traveled throughout the region of Galilee, preaching in the synagogues and casting out demons.” (Mark 1:39, NLT)[iii] Matthew 4:23 says of this early part of Jesus’s ministry, “Jesus traveled throughout the region of Galilee, teaching in the synagogues and announcing the Good News about the Kingdom. And he healed every kind of disease and illness.” (NLT)
Mark ends chapter one of his account with a story about the healing of a man with leprosy. Then he ends with this statement, “As a result, large crowds soon surrounded Jesus, and he couldn’t publicly enter a town anywhere. He had to stay out in the secluded places, but people from everywhere kept coming to him.”
His teaching, His authority over demons and His ability to heal drew people to Him. People were curious about who Jesus was. The demons knew, but Jesus would not let them speak. People would see the miracles, hear the teaching and say, “Who is this man?” Even the disciples were reduced to asking in amazement, “Who is this man?” (Mark 4:41)
In Mark chapter 2, we find Jesus returning to His base in Capernaum after having spent time traveling throughout the region of Galilee. Verse 1 says, “He was back home.” Whether this was Peter and Andrew’s house or some other base of operations is unclear. Mark calls it “the house where he was staying.” (Verse 2)
The word spread quickly that Jesus was home, and there was soon such a great crowd of people that there was not even room outside the door.
Among the crowd were experts in religious law. These men were teachers. Their life’s work was to know and teach spiritual truth. Certainly, one of the questions on their mind that day was, “Who is this man?”
Jesus’s name was on everyone’s lips. Word was spreading even to foreign countries. Moreover, Jesus was teaching. It was the purview of these experts to know what was being taught. As experts and those versed in the things of God, they were there to pass judgment on the teaching, whether it was orthodox or not, whether it was of God or not. They wanted to know, “Who is this man?”
Men make a name for themselves in many ways. Rockefeller made a name for himself by making lots of money and giving some of it away.
If we look at verse 1 of Mark 2, we see that Jesus made a name for Himself in just a few short days. There had not been enough time for people to get the measure of the man. He could heal every kind of sickness, cast out any demon and teach, but who was He?
Four men carried their paralyzed friend to Jesus. The crowd was so thick that they could not get near Jesus, so they climbed up on the roof and proceeded to dig a hole. “Then they lowered the man on his mat, right down in front of Jesus.” (Mark 2:4, NLT) I love the audacity of these men. “Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralyzed man, “My child, your sins are forgiven.” (Mark 2:5, NLT)
Jesus could see their faith. We can see their faith. Their faith made them bold, and inspired their creativity. They knew that if they could get their friend in front of Jesus, Jesus would heal him; so, they found a way to do get him there. They worked through (or should we say over) the obstacles.
Jesus does something different. The friends brought the man to Jesus for healing, but Jesus starts out by forgiving His sins.
This gets an immediate response from the religious teachers. They know exactly what this means. Only the offended party can forgive offenses. They say to themselves, “What is he saying? This is blasphemy! Only God can forgive sins!” (Mark 2:7, NLT)
What is blasphemy? The dictionary says, “the act or offense of speaking sacrilegiously about God or sacred things; profane talk.” “To slander, hence to speak lightly or profanely of sacred things”[iv]
How is it that Jesus is blaspheming?
The teachers say, “Only God can forgive sins!” Thus, their question, “What is he saying?”
Jesus responds, “Why do you question this in your hearts? 9Is it easier to say to the paralyzed man ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or ‘Stand up, pick up your mat, and walk’? 10So I will prove to you that the Son of Man has the authority on earth to forgive sins.” (Mark 2:8-10, NLT)
Jesus is answering the question that brought them to Him. Who is this man? How is it that He is able to heal and cast out demons? The answer, “He is God.”
Jesus will confront this question throughout His ministry.
Three years later, toward the end of His ministry we see this exchange recorded in John.
“Who are you?” they demanded
“Jesus replied, ‘The one I have always claimed to be.’”
“I tell you the truth, before Abraham was even born, I AM!” 59At that point they picked up stones to throw at him. (John 8:25, 58 & 59)
Jesus showed, demonstrated and explained that He was/is the Son of God. Mark 2 shows us how early in His ministry He began by gently pointing out this truth, by doing something that only God could do. He forgave the paralyzed man’s sin.
Sometimes I am like one of the executives that worked for Rockefeller. I expect God to explode with anger at my foolish mistake.
Some of the people I read are like the experts in religious law; they are there to pass judgment and it seems that God often does not meet their approval.
Sometimes I lack faith and tremble in fear lest He be unwilling to forgive me.
Faith can make us bold. 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.” Like the men who carried their friend to Jesus, we should let no obstacle keep us from coming to Jesus for forgiveness, healing and deliverance.
Acts 4:12 tells us, “There is salvation in no one else! God has given no other name under heaven by which we must be saved.”
We have a choice. We can waver in unbelief. We can pass judgment and decide God should do things different. Or, we can come to Jesus in faith for the grace we need.
[ii] Swindoll, Charles R., The Tale of the Tardy Oxcart, Copyright 1998, Word Publishing, Inc., pg. 215
[iii] Scripture quotations marked NLT are taken from the Holy Bible: New Living Translation. Copyright 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.