“I know God has forgiven me, but I can’t forgive myself.” Have you ever whispered those words? Written them in your journal? Confessed them to a friend?
However noble it sounds, “Thou must forgiveth thyself” is 1) not in the Bible, 2) not something God asks us to do, and 3) not possible.
Only Jesus has the power to forgive sins. And his forgiveness is enough. Enough to cleanse us, heart and soul. Enough to set us free.
Step with me into a scene from two thousand years ago. The Lord has just returned home to Capernaum, and the news has already spread: Jesus is “in the house” (Mark 2:1 ASV). Oh baby.
So many gathered that there was no room left, not even outside the door,… Mark 2:2
It was SRO at Peter’s place: “so full that there was no place to stand” (ERV). We can imagine the people of Jesus Town, “jamming the entrance so no one could get in or out” (MSG), stepping on each other’s toes, jabbing neighbors with their elbows, craning their heads to see.
Whyever they’ve come and whatever they’re seeking, Jesus gives them what they need most.
…and he preached the word to them. Mark 2:2
Call it what you will—“speaking” (CEB), “preaching” (CJB), “teaching” (CEV), or “discussing” (AMP)—Jesus is “telling them God’s message” (WE).
The people of Galilee are straining to hear Jesus speak the truth in love. One man in particular is rather desperate to get closer. He doesn’t simply want to hear Jesus: he wants to be changed.
Some men came, bringing to him a paralytic, carried by four of them. Mark 2:3
We’re not told how many others surrounded this “paralyzed man” (NASB), but four guys in particular are carrying him, each bearing a quarter of his weight. What a perfect picture of how we’re to bear one another’s burdens! Notice it’s not just one person struggling beneath the weight, but four people sharing the task equally, with others nearby, ready to help.
Oh, Lord, if only our churches looked like this.
Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd,… Mark 2:4
No one makes room for this paralyzed man on a mat. No one gives up their place. Though I’d love to picture myself as one of those kind stretcher-bearers, I fear I’m more like the crowd in the house, unwilling to step aside, too worried about having my own needs met. Sigh.
… they made an opening in the roof above Jesus and, after digging through it,… Mark 2:4
Wait. What kind of roof is this? Matthew Henry sees it as a one-story house with a flat, tiled roof, easily dismantled. Others describe a roof made of rushes. Whether they “removed” (NASB), “stripped” (CJB), “uncovered” (KJV), or “made a hole” (NIRV), the men break through the ceiling.
They will not be denied. They will not go away, disappointed.
Just give me Jesus.
Summoning all their strength, they get this man where he needs to go.
…lowered the mat the paralyzed man was lying on. Mark 2:4
Some call it a “bed” (KJV), but it’s more like a “thickly padded quilt” (AMP), something flexible enough for the men to slip cords around, so they can lower their friend through the new opening in the roof.
We can feel their muscles straining, see their faces grimace beneath the weight, imagine the crowd looking up in astonishment as a man on a mat enters the room through a door of his own making.
Except he didn’t have a thing to do with creating that opening. He’s paralyzed. Can’t move. Can’t help.
This is how we come to God, beloved. It is not of our own doing. The Holy Spirit is our stretcher bearer, delivering us to the only One who can save us.
When Jesus sees these men, he doesn’t notice the color of their hair or eyes, the strength in their arms, or the sweat on their brows. He sees what matters most. He sees what brought them there.
When Jesus saw their faith,… Mark 2:5
Their faith, not just the paralytic man’s faith. It’s plural in every translation. All of them are demonstrating a huge measure of faith. Like the woman who stretched out her hand to touch the hem of Jesus’ garment, these men are reaching down, trusting.
Jesus “saw that they believed he would be healed” (WE). He saw their faith. Faith itself may be invisible, but the evidence of it is clear in their actions.
Faith is the only thing these men have to offer, and the only thing they need. However much pain our paralytic may be in, however stiff his limbs, however hopeless his situation may appear to the crowd, this man and his friends have come to the right place.
Jesus is “Impressed by their bold belief” (MSG), and so speaks directly to the man lying before him.
…he said to the paralytic, “Son…” Mark 2:5
So personal. So like Jesus. You are family. You are mine.
…“your sins are forgiven.” Mark 2:5
His sins? We thought the man was merely sick. Stricken with a malady. In need of a physician.
Jesus isn’t nearly so concerned with the state of the man’s body as the state of his soul. Like every other human being on the planet, this man on the mat is paralyzed with fear, with shame, with guilt.
Being able to walk again will only solve his problem for a season. Walking in newness of life, free from the burden of sin, will solve his problem forever.
With a word from Jesus, the deed is done. Forgiveness is offered: “The penalty is remitted, the sense of guilt removed, and you are made upright and in right standing with God” (AMP). Hallelujah!
Of course, not everyone in the crowd is happy to hear this.
Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, Mark 2:6
The teachers of the Law of Moses—the “legal experts” (CEB), the “Torah-teachers” (CJB), the “religion scholars” (MSG)—are supposed to be the good guys. Yet this is their standard m.o. in the New Testament. Complaining. Judging. Criticizing.
Notice they’re only thinking, not speaking. Simply “turning these things over in their minds” (NET). But when Jesus is in the house, even our thoughts aren’t safe from his gentle probing.
“Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming!”… Mark 2:7
Quite a charge that. “He’s insulting God” (CEB), “dishonoring God” (GW), “not giving God respect!” (WE) Worst of all, “He is speaking as if He is God!” (NLV)
Despite all their mental whining, these scribes hit the nail on the head.
…“Who can forgive sins but God alone?” Mark 2:7
It’s a rhetorical question; they know the answer: “Only One can forgive sins and that is God!” (NLV) So, if no one can forgive sins except God, Jesus must be…
Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, “Why are you thinking these things?” Mark 2:8
We’ve talked in weeks past about confessing our sins. Here’s the best reason in the world to do that: Jesus knows everything we are doing and everything we are thinking. Nothing is hidden from him.
Even so, he loves us. Even so, he died for us.
He’s not belittling these teachers. He wants them to learn too. “Why do you question this” (NLT), he asks. “Why are you so skeptical?” (MSG) I’m smiling as I read, “Why do you raise such questions in your hearts?” (NRSVA), when Jesus is now the one asking questions!
“Which is easier: to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’?” Mark 2:9
Hmm. As far as the words themselves go, they’re equally easy to say. But what Jesus wants them to see is proof that the man’s sins have been forgiven. And that will take a miracle.
“But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins…” Mark 2:10
There it is, the point of this scene: to demonstrate that God alone has the power to forgive sins and that, since Jesus has that power, he too is God. “You will be able to see if I really have this power or not” (ERV) he tells the skeptical scribes—and everyone else in the crowded house, who are watching this unfold with bated breath.
Finally Jesus turns his attention to the man who came through the roof.
He said to the paralytic, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” Mark 2:10-11
The man arrived unable to do any of those things. He couldn’t stand, he couldn’t hold his mat, and he definitely couldn’t walk home. Whatever happens next will not be because of him, but because of Jesus.
He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. Mark 2:12
We can almost hear the crowd gasp. Paralyzed no more, he is fully obedient to Christ’s commands.
This is how it works for us as well. We are able to walk and move and act according to God’s plan because of Jesus. He sets us free. He gets us unstuck. He makes obedience possible. It isn’t our goodness. It’s God’s goodness.
This amazed everyone… Mark 2:12
We still stand in amazement, two thousand years later. Wow, Lord.
…and they praised God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!” Mark 2:12
Jesus isn’t showing off to earn their applause. He is simply proving what the teachers of the Law were thinking: Only God can forgive sins.
Waste no energy on trying to forgive yourself, beloved. God’s grace is sufficient. God’s forgiveness is enough.
Now, it’s your turn:
After the early chapters on embracing doubt and sin, it’s a relief to be moving toward grace, isn’t it? I’ll make my answers to this week’s questions brief, since your responses are the ones that matter most. Pick any one of the questions below, or simply share a discovery you’ve made while reading this week’s chapter.
- What was your best Christmas present ever, and why was it so special? What makes the gift of grace even more precious to you?
As I describe in the book, my favorite gift was a spinning toy, shaped like a colorful tulip. Watching the petals unfold to reveal a dancing ballerina was what made the present so special. God’s gift of grace is infinitely more precious, of course, and never ceases to astound us. It is the key to joy and peace on earth, and to life everlasting in heaven.
- Are you a wall builder, hoping to protect yourself? Or a ladder builder, trying to climb your way to heaven? What obstacles, if any, stand between you and the Lord?
Definitely a ladder builder. Sigh. Forgive me, Lord, for wanting to earn my way upward, when you alone make eternity possible.
- In what area of your life is it time to let go of the adversary’s lies and receive God’s complete forgiveness?
I’ve never been entirely confident of my mothering, so the enemy of our souls has gone overboard on that score, repeatedly pointing out my many mistakes over the years. Now that our children are grown, I am humbled to see what fine adults they’ve become, despite my shortcomings. God has not only forgiven me, he has also overruled me—doing what I could not do, loving when I could not love, comforting our children when I was not there to comfort them. For those blessings, and ten thousand beside, thank you, thank you, thank you, Jesus.
Your sister, Liz