"...they let down the pallet on which the paralytic lay." - - Mark 2, 4
7th Sunday after the Epiphany
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
Mark 2:1-12 Sermon
February 19, 2006
Hymns (from The Service Book and Hymnal):
428 "O For A Thousand Tongues To Sing"
463 "Pass Me Not O Gentle Saviour"
397 "Love Divine All Loves Excelling"
292 "O Take My Hand Dear Father"
TEXT (vs. 3-5): “And they came, bringing to him [Jesus] 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 pallet on which the paralytic lay. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘My son, your sins are forgiven.’”
Almost everyone here would be familiar with a Nebraska home football game. A number of times each year, 80,000 plus fans gather together at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln to watch a football game. The crowd is an obvious thing—everyone can see that there are a huge number of people there to watch the game.
What might not be so apparent are those who are there for other reasons—particularly those who are there in the capacity of emergency medical service. Certainly there are those who are in the forefront—the paramedics, the ambulance attendants, and the like.
But a little more in the background are the Red Cross personnel. These people are not paid or remunerated in any way, except that they can see some of the football game for free; that is, if they’re not busy with other tasks.
Throughout the stadium, placed in strategic places are Red Cross people called “rovers.” These rovers are trained Emergency Medical Technicians who are armed with a basic medical kit, and a two-way radio. If someone develops a medical problem, a rover usually isn’t too far away, and they can be at the person’s side in a matter of minutes. And with a quick call on the radio, they can have additional manpower and medical help on the way in very short order.
So if a person needs medical transport out of their seat in the nosebleed section of Memorial Stadium, how do they do it? Well, throughout the stadium, you can find what is called a “Stokes Litter” located in strategic spots.
A Stokes Litter is a device that looks like a big basket. It is basically a welded metal frame that is lined with chicken wire or nylon mesh; although there are some made entirely out of fiberglass. On the average, a Stokes Litter is 23 inches wide, 83 inches long, weighs 31 pounds, and has a weight capacity of 2,500 pounds. A person can be placed inside this litter, and then they are secured by four straps that resemble automotive seat belts. If the person has been strapped to a backboard, then they are placed in the Stokes Litter still attached to the backboard. Once a person has been secured in the litter, then they can be carried to where they can receive medical attention or transported to a hospital.
I would imagine that you all have seen, or at least have seen pictures of a Stokes Litter. Every fire department, rescue squad, or military installation has them. Now I’m not too sure as to the history of them, except they were probably invented by someone with the name of Stokes. There’s record of such devices existing at the time of the Civil War.
The Stokes Litter is designed for medical rescue from difficult situations. I’ve seen television footage of mountain climbers being rescued with them. Rescue workers somehow get to the victim. A Stokes Litter is then lowered by rope from a helicopter to where the victim is. The victim is then strapped in, and ropes are snap-hooked to each corner. And then, the Stokes Litter is hoisted up to the helicopter, where the person is then transported to the hospital. I must admit, it is kind of scary seeing this litter dangling in mid-air, hundreds of yards off the ground, as it is being hoisted to the helicopter. But I also realize that this is the only way some people can be rescued and survive, especially from a dangerous or perilous situation.
As we look at our text for today, we can see an obvious parallel here. A man who was paralyzed needed to get to Jesus for healing. There was a crowd involved, and so there was no easy way to get this man to Jesus. So with all of the technology of the Stokes Litter, this man is delivered right to the feet of the only person who could help him.
As we consider our text for today, let’s take a brief look back at what had been happening up to this point. Most of our Gospel lessons for this Epiphany season have been from Mark’s Gospel, which have focused upon the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. For the last three Sundays, we have had a healing miracle presented to us. Two weeks ago, it was the healing of Simon Peter’s mother-in-law. Last week, it was the healing of the leper. And now this week, we see how Jesus healed the paralytic.
The one thing that is obvious through these past three weeks is how popular Jesus had become. After he healed Simon Peter’s mother-in-law, other people from the town sought him out for healing. Then after he healed the leper, Jesus asked the leper to not say anything about how he was healed, most likely because people would be seeking him out for the wrong reasons. But the leper could not keep quiet, and he let many people know about Jesus and what he did.
So now, as we look at our text for today, Jesus had concluded his preaching tour in Galilee, and had returned to his home in Capernaum. His popularity had become so great, and so many people had gathered, that people who really needed his healing touch, like this paralytic, could not even get close to him. He couldn’t shove his way through, he couldn’t ask people to move and let him through. The crowd was so thick that it was impossible to reach Jesus by any normal means.
I don’t know how you react to crowds. Personally, I am not someone who enjoys large crowds, especially when it means waiting in line. I remember going to Disneyland in my younger years, and the one thing I remember so well is all of the people queued up to get to the various attractions. It’s a very frustrating feeling, having to wait the better part of an hour to get on a ride that lasts five minutes. Even now, if I am going out to eat and see a restaurant with a line of people extending out the front door, chances are I’ll drive on by and go to a different place to eat. I don’t like the frustration and the waiting.
Our story focuses on the faith of five men—the paralytic who needed healing, and the four men who were bringing him to Jesus. When they got there, they were faced with the obvious dilemma—how could he reach Jesus?
I wouldn’t doubt that these men felt the same kind of frustration that I’ve felt when I encounter a mob of people at my favorite restaurant. The initial inclination is to give up, and maybe come back later or maybe not. A value judgment has to be made—is what you are after worth the crowd and the frustration?
Remember that our text indicates that these men were men of faith. They knew that whatever it took to get to Jesus would be worth it. They were willing to do what was needed to get the job done. And so they meet this situation with what I would like to call “creative persistence.” They weren’t about to give up.
The roofs on the houses at that time were flat, and usually had a parapet around the perimeter. They were constructed with slate tiles, which were overlaid by pieces of sod. It certainly wouldn’t be as difficult to deal with as a more modern shingled roof with a 10/12 pitch, but it was still a challenge.
I can almost visualize the situation. These men are not dissuaded by the crowd of people and the inaccessibility of Jesus. They just had to get to him. They believed that Jesus could heal the paralytic. They had a genuine faith. And so, they hoist this man in the stretcher to the roof, and begin tearing away at it. And then, with all the skill of a rescue team with a Stokes Litter, the four men lower their paralyzed friend through the roof so he is at Jesus’ feet.
It’s at this point that we need to remember that not all of the people who were with Jesus on that day were kindly disposed to him. Among the crowd were some of the Jewish teachers of the law, or the Pharisees. They were out to discredit Jesus and his ministry. They felt threatened by him. And so, they sought out every bit of evidence they could find against him. They hung on his every word in order to find something to discredit him.
Jesus’ opening remark is very noteworthy. He could have simply healed the paralytic, and been done with it. But that wouldn’t have served the more noble purpose Jesus had in mind.
So Jesus says to the man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Jesus knows this man’s heart, and thereby knows that something far worse than paralysis was troubling him. Sin was also a problem, and we can be certain that this man’s sins were troubling him as much as his paralysis. So that’s where Jesus starts.
The Pharisees however did not appreciate Jesus’ opening comment to this man. They immediately react by accusing him of blasphemy. “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” they ask. They had no intention of opening their hearts to Jesus’ message. They saw Jesus as a rival who was there to kick them out of their place of esteem and authority.
But he did have the authority to forgive sins. On the day Jesus was baptized, God the Father gave the testimony about the power and authority of Jesus. But even with that and all the other testimony about Jesus’ divine nature, they still rejected him.
So Jesus poses the question to them in verses 8-9 of our text: “Why do you question thus in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your pallet and walk?’” Is there a difference?
In the mind of the Pharisees, there was a difference. A person could say “Your sins are forgiven,” and there would be no tangible proof of that. There was no way they could verify that forgiveness had taken place.
But actually there is little difference, because whether it is forgiveness of sins or a physical healing, these are things that only God can do, or those to whom God has given the authority and power. By Jesus’ words and actions, he proved that he was indeed true God with full power and authority.
Once again we need to see the parallel between physical and spiritual healing. The connection is made so clear in this story about Jesus healing the paralytic. The forgiveness of his sins and the healing of his paralysis are brought together in this one man’s life.
It is important to note as well that a person’s faith isn’t a necessary ingredient for physical healing. There were certainly those whom Jesus healed who lacked faith. A good example would be when Jesus was arrested and Simon Peter cut off the ear of one of the soldiers. Jesus healed his ear without even being asked.
But for the Christian, faith, healing, and forgiveness all go together. Sinful man can be equated to the man on the stretcher, unable to do anything for himself at all. Sometimes a person doesn’t even want to be healed. People will often want to continue in a state of sinfulness, as the devil tries to set up roadblock after roadblock in the way of the Saviour.
But thankfully, God has provided a clear path to Jesus. The Holy Spirit carries us to our Saviour’s arms where we will experience the forgiveness for our sins. In our Old Testament Lesson for today, in Isaiah 43, 25 we hear the voice of God saying, “I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will remember your sins no more.”
Through faith in Jesus, we experience first-hand what God is promising through the prophet Isaiah. Our sins are blotted out and not remembered any more. Whatever disease of sin we have suffered, we are forgiven and healed through faith in Christ our Saviour.
As I think about the healing of this paralytic, I like to picture someone being rescued from certain death by faithful people and being carried off to safety and treatment in a Stokes Litter. A life has been saved which would have otherwise been lost.
We have a God who is in the business of saving souls, and a Saviour who came for that very purpose. Through faith in him, we have what Jesus originally provided the paralytic: The absolute assurance that our sins have been forgiven. Whatever happens to us physically, we know without a doubt that we have been completely spiritually healed. Regardless of the roadblocks and frustrations Satan tries to throw in our way, we know that through Jesus our path is completely unobstructed to God.
God says in our Old Testament Lesson, from Isaiah 43, 18-19: “Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?”
We have been rescued and healed. Our sins have been forgiven. Through Jesus, we are completely new creatures. Therefore, we can say with the hymnwriter Charles Wesley:
Finish then thy new creation,
Pure and spotless let us be;
Let us see thy great salvation
Perfectly restored in thee!
Changed from glory into glory,
‘Till in heaven we take our place,
‘Till we cast our crowns before thee,
Lost in wonder, love, and praise.