Which is Easier?

1 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’? 10 But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic— 11 “I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.” 12 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 ESV

Mark has noted that Jesus “went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons” (Mark 1:39 ESV). One of the miracles He performed on that ministry junket was the healing of the man with leprosy. Jesus had physically touched the unclean man, removing all traces of the disease and leaving him completely whole and ceremonially pure. And while he had been warned by Jesus to tell no one, the man couldn’t keep his mouth shut. Eager to spread the news about his restored condition, “he went out and began to talk freely about it, and to spread the news, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter a town, but was out in desolate places, and people were coming to him from every quarter” (Mark 1:45 ESV).

Eventually, Jesus returned to Capernaum, the small town on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee, where He had established His base of operations. But as news of His miracles continued to spread throughout the region, the crowds grew in number and intensity. They had heard the rumors describing how Jesus had “healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons” (Mark 1:34 ESV). 

These fantastic reports created a sense of hope and longing among others suffering from sickness and affliction. Their desperate desire for healing and restoration drove them to seek out this miracle-working Rabbi from Nazareth. And Mark indicates that they showed up in Capernaum, surrounding the place where Jesus was staying. This was most likely the home of Simon and Andrew, where Jesus had healed Simon’s mother-in-law.

The emboldened crowd pushed its way into the home, filling it to capacity and spilling out into the street. And Jesus took advantage of this captive audience by “preaching the word to them” (Mark 2:2 ESV). The Greek word is logos and it can literally be translated as “word.” But it refers to the communication of a particular concept or idea. Earlier in his gospel, Mark indicated that Jesus had picked up the ministry that John the Baptist had begun by “proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel’” (Mark 1:14-15 ESV).

So, those who had crowded their way into the home of Simon and Andrew were forced to hear a sermon from Jesus. They had come seeking healing but were given a lesson on their need for repentance. The good news was that the kingdom of God was near. The bad news was that they were not prepared to enter that kingdom. They had sins for which they needed to repent. That had been the whole purpose behind John the Baptist’s ministry in the Judean wilderness.

John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. – Mark 1:4-5 ESV

And it seems likely that “the word” that Jesus spoke that day contained ample references to the need for confession of sin. But confession without forgiveness is incomplete. As John wrote in his first letter, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9 ESV).

Confession and repentance, while necessary, will not provide anyone with entrance God’s kingdom. Without forgiveness, the stain of their sins will remain, leaving them unworthy to enter into God’s presence. The whole sacrificial system of the Jews was based on the fact that “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Hebrews 9:22 ESV). Sacrifices had to be made. An innocent life had to be taken. Blood had to be spilled.

So, as Jesus preached to the people, He likely declared their need for forgiveness. They had come seeking physical healing but He made sure that they understood their need for something far more significant. And in the sovereign will of God, an opportunity presented itself to demonstrate just what Jesus was trying to communicate.

As Jesus was preaching, four men showed up carrying their paralyzed friend on a pallet. When they found it impossible to get through the mass of people crowded into the small home, they made their way to the roof. In an act of desperation, they created a hole in the roof and lowered the pallet into the room where Jesus was speaking. The noise they made and the debris that rained down as a result of their frantic efforts must have brought Jesus’ sermon to an abrupt end. All eyes were fixed on the ceiling as the bed containing the paralyzed man was lowered into the room.

What happens next is significant. Mark states that upon “seeing” the faith of the friends who had lowered the man into the room, Jesus spoke. But before we look at what Jesus said, it’s essential that we examine how He “saw” their faith. Like everyone else in the room that day, these men had come with a specific purpose in mind. They had gone through all the effort to carry their friend to the home, dig a hole in the roof, and lower him into the room because they believed that Jesus could heal him. Their faith was clearly evident. They longed to see their friend made whole and they believed that Jesus had the power and authority to make it happen.

They believed that Jesus could heal. But what they did not know was that Jesus could also forgive sin. And, upon seeing their faith, Jesus spoke. He turned to the man laying on the pallet and said, “Son, your sins are forgiven” (Mark 2:6 ESV). Rather than offering the man physical healing, Jesus declared him to be spiritually whole. Jesus gave him something no one in the room had ever expected to receive that day.  And this statement left the crowd in stunned silence. They didn’t know what to say.

But Mark lets us know that there were some scribes in the room who heard what Jesus said and immediately declared Him to be a blasphemer.

“Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” – Mark 2:7 ESV

They had come expecting to see Jesus perform some miracles. They were curious as to whether the rumors about Jesus were true. But when Jesus offered the paralyzed man forgiveness for his sins, they were shocked and appalled. In the minds of the Jews, sickness was directly correlated to sin. Sickness and disease were considered punishments from God for sins committed against Him. And the worse the disease was, the more egregious the sin that caused it must have been. They considered this man’s debilitating paralysis a punishment from God and here was Jesus declaring that his sins were forgiven. And yet, they must have keenly observed, the man remained completely immobilized and unable to move from his pallet.

Jesus, well aware of the debate that His words had stirred up, posed a question to the scribes:

“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’?” – Mark 2:8-9 ESV

In their minds, Jesus had committed the unpardonable sin. He had dared to place Himself on equal standing with God, who alone could offer forgiveness for sins. But Jesus pointed out that offering forgiveness of sins was easy. Anyone could do it. The question was, did He have the power and authority to do so. If given the chance, they would have responded with a categorically emphatic, “No!”

But to prove that He had the power and authority to forgive the man’s sins, Jesus proceeded to do what was obviously the more “difficult” thing. And He makes sure they understand the motive behind the miracle He is about to perform.

“So I will prove to you that the Son of Man has the authority on earth to forgive sins.” – Mark 2:10 NLT

Then He proceeded to do something that was going to leave everyone in the room slack-jawed and surprised.

Then Jesus turned to the paralyzed man and said, “Stand up, pick up your mat, and go home!” – Mark 2:10-11 NLT

Again, speaking those words was easy. Anyone could have done it. But when Jesus spoke amazing things happened, and this time would be no different than all the others. As soon as the words left Jesus’ mouth, “the man jumped up, grabbed his mat, and walked out through the stunned onlookers” (Mark 2:12 NLT). In a split second, the man’s paralysis was completely gone. He had been miraculously restored to full health and vitality. And, if this man’s sickness had been the result of sin, then his sins must have been forgiven. It would have been obvious that he was no longer under any form of divine punishment or condemnation.

By doing what He did, Jesus was not confirming the scribes’ belief that the man’s illness was a result of sin. He was demonstrating that He had the God-given power and authority to restore both physical and spiritual health. He could irradicate the effects of sickness and eliminate the condemnation of sin.

The formerly paralyzed man was not made sinless by Jesus’ actions. He was made physically whole. The sad reality is that, in his newly restored state, that man went on to live a life marked by sin. It was inevitable and unavoidable. But by healing the man, Jesus was demonstrating His divine power. If He could restore a paralyzed man’s capacity to walk, He could also restore the spiritual health of a humanity paralyzed by sin. And that is exactly why Jesus had come to earth.

The people “were all amazed and glorified God, saying, ‘We never saw anything like this!’” (Mark 2:12 ESV). But which was easier, “to say to the paralyzed man ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or ‘Stand up, pick up your mat, and walk’?” (Mark 2:9 NLT).

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson