Now I want you to turn with me to Mark's gospel chapter 2 for what is our thirteenth study in this Sunday morning series on Mark's gospel. The title this morning is 'Four Soul-Winners And The Forgiveness Of Sins'. This is a story that is well-known to many of you, and has great gospel applications to it, and also to us regarding how we ought to be soul-winners for the Lord Jesus and bringing others to the knowledge of the forgiveness of sins.
Verse 1 of chapter 2: "And again he", the Lord Jesus, "entered into Capernaum after some days; and it was noised that he was in the house. And straightway many were gathered together, insomuch that there was no room to receive them, no, not so much as about the door: and he preached the word unto them. And they come unto him, bringing one sick of the palsy, which was borne of four", carried of four men. "And when they could not come nigh unto him for the press, they uncovered the roof where he was: and when they had broken it up, they let down the bed wherein the sick of the palsy lay. When Jesus saw their faith, he said unto the sick of the palsy, Son, thy sins be forgiven thee. But there was certain of the scribes sitting there, and reasoning in their hearts, Why doth this man thus speak blasphemies? who can forgive sins but God only? And immediately when Jesus perceived in his spirit that they so reasoned within themselves, he said unto them, Why reason ye these things in your hearts? Whether is it easier to say to the sick of the palsy, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Arise, and take up thy bed, and walk? But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins, (he saith to the sick of the palsy,) I say unto thee, Arise, and take up thy bed, and go thy way into thine house. And immediately he arose, took up the bed, and went forth before them all; insomuch that they were all amazed, and glorified God, saying, We never saw it on this fashion".
The story of four soul-winners and the forgiveness of sins. Now, as you can imagine, the word spread quickly of this miracle Man who touched lepers, and raised those who are sick of the palsy, and did many great mighty works that we have been reading about in our studies of chapter 1. In verses 1 and 2 of chapter 2 we see the magnetic attraction of Christ at home as well as abroad. In chapter 1 and verse 45 we read there that this man, the leper who He healed, went out and began to publish what Christ had done abroad, 'and to blaze abroad the matter, insomuch that Jesus could no more openly enter into the city, but was without in desert places: and they came to him from every quarter'. So wherever the Lord Jesus was abroad, He had this magnetic attraction.
Now in chapter 2 verses 1 and 2, even when He's at home, or at least someone else's home, He still has this magnetic attraction. People were asking: 'Where is He? Where can we see Him? Where is He to be found?'. Eventually the Capernaum communication network had located His whereabouts, and people were saying: 'He's in so-and-so's house' - probably Peter's house or Andrew's house, that He had been in in chapter 1. That is a lesson to us all: that Jesus' presence cannot be concealed for long. Before long we read, as Mark says, immediately a great crowd gathered to that house and packed into it, to the very door. The little house was bursting at the seams with people who had a sense of expectancy that something unusual was going to happen in that house, perhaps even happen to them. The atmosphere was charged, they were anticipating that God would do something.
Now why is that? Luke tells us in Luke 5:17 on another occasion: 'the power of the Lord was present to heal them'. When Christ was there, wherever He was - in the wilderness, in the home, on the street - there was power, the power of God to heal men's and women's lives. Praise God we can say, as the church of Jesus Christ in the 21st century, that the case is no different this very day early in March 2007: that the power of God is still present in Christ, who died but is risen again, and who is present in the preaching of the Gospel to heal men's and women's lives. It's still the case that wherever God moves in power today, people are attracted. They will come to that place. People are still intrigued, and ask the question: 'What kind of power is this? We've never seen anything like it!'. That's what they said in verse 12 in Jesus' day.
Maybe you have come into this meeting this morning, I don't know your circumstances, and you are intrigued by the power of God. Maybe it's the power of God that you have seen in another person's life, just like these people saw in the leper's life, and in the demoniac's life, and in the life of Peter's wife's mother - but you have never experienced it in your own life, and because of that you're curious, you're searching. If that's the case, that's tremendous, and it's great to see you here with us today. But what I want you to notice is that Jesus didn't immediately give this crowd of people in Peter's house what their curiosity demanded, rather He gave them what they really needed. They wanted to see a miracle, they wanted to see a healing, but Jesus, it says here: 'He preached the word to them', verse 2.
There's a lesson here for all of us, whether we belong to the church of Jesus Christ or we're not converted, Christ is and was the greatest miracle worker of all - and yet He felt that His primary responsibility was to preach God's word. What was the message He preached? Well, let me remind you of it in chapter 1 verse 14: 'After John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, And saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel'. The Bible, from cover to cover, is filled with that message, Old and New Testament alike - that God requires all men everywhere to turn from their sin, that is what repentance is; and to believe the gospel, that is the good news of the Lord Jesus: that God sent His Son into the world not to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. That's why He died on the cross, that's why He rose three days later, that's why He ascended to heaven, that's why He's coming in a day that we do not know but we believe is very soon.
As the church of Jesus Christ today, may I remind you that that is our responsibility. In a day and age where healing crusades are advertised all around us, and you could go to many a healing crusade and not hear one word about the good news of Jesus dying on the cross, rising again, or the need that is upon a sinner to turn from sin and believe the gospel - we need to cry it out! It's not that we demean healing, I believe God can heal and does heal, but the primary thing that men need is a healing of the heart, the salvation of the soul. Sinner this morning, if you're here with us and you're without Christ; and saint, your greatest need too is the word of God - for a miracle might heal the body, but as Hebrews 4:12 says: 'The word of God is quick', alive, 'and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart'. The thing that you need most is God's word, for it will spiritually diagnose your greatest sickness, and surgically remove the cancer of sin from your soul. It is God's word that will apply the healing medicine of the gospel.
Sadly some people, like this crowd, run to meetings to get healing, or to get wealth. You turn cable TV or satellite television on, the God Channel and all the rest, and you hear all these false prophets talking about how God wants you to get rich quick. Healing, health and wealth gospel, it tantalises people. There are others who are intrigued about the future, and they run to meetings about prophecy - not that there's anything wrong with prophetic meetings, but often it's just the motivation: 'I want to know the future!' - and sometimes for individuals it can be no different than why a person goes and looks into a crystal ball, or gets their palm read or their tea leaves interpreted! Yet perhaps deep in their hearts they have never had the healing of the gospel through the preaching of the word of God!
Maybe you're here this morning and the obstacle to your conversion has been that God just hasn't given you your demands. You've gone here, there and everywhere, and maybe prayed much about something, and God just doesn't seem to want to answer your prayers. Could it be that God is trying to bring you to the point of learning the lesson that He wants you to put first things first, and that is to obey the word of God in the gospel, to repent of your sin and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. Have you done that? You need to do it. That's God's message to you today, that's why you're here, that's why you're hearing this.
Next we encounter in Capernaum some characters which I've called 'the concerned quartet', or 'the concern companions' of this man with the palsy, the paralysed, handicapped man. Like the rest of the crowd, they had heard the commotion caused by the power that Christ had displayed that we read of in chapter 1, and they immediately thought of their poor friend. 'Our friend needs to be healed, like that leper was healed, or that demon-possessed man was healed'. So they brought their poor friend to Jesus. Now there's tremendous teaching in this for those of us here this morning who are Christians, because here was a man who, in a sense, had a need - but his need was hindered because he couldn't get to Jesus because of the crowd that was around Him. We are the crowd that's around Jesus today, aren't we? We are the Christians, we are the folk in the house. Could it be that at times we, as believers and members of the church, can be a hindrance to those who are the most needy in coming to Jesus?
We need to ask ourselves the question today, as we look at these four companions of this paralysed man: do we bring people nearer to Christ, and help people get nearer to Christ, or do we necessitate that they do spiritual gymnastics in order to get nearer to us, let alone get nearer to the Lord Jesus? Now, praise God, there are still some concerned souls who will improvise, who have imagination to overcome hindrances of the crowd around the Lord Jesus Christ. These four that bore this man to Jesus were ingenious with their faith. They climbed the outside stairs to the roof of the house, they uncovered a portion of the roof, and they lowered the man down to the ground - bringing him nearer to the Son of God. Now can I challenge you this morning, believer in Christ: how many people have you lately brought near to the Son of God? Some of you never think of even bringing someone near to the place where the word of God is preached.
Now I want you to note in verses 3 and 4 that the faith of these four men was visible. That's very significant, because we read that Jesus saw, in verse 5, their faith. James goes to great pains in his epistle near the end of the New Testament to tell us that faith without works is dead, and Jesus here saw their faith. James tells us that Abraham was justified by works. Now we are justified by faith alone in the spiritual sense, but what James was talking about was that his life and faith was evident and justified before men in the life that he lived and the works that he did. Others could see it, just as Jesus saw the faith of these four individuals. I imagine that a smile came to the Lord Jesus' face when He saw these men digging through the roof, because He recognized action as the manifestation of faith that could not be hid - just like Jesus' presence could not be hid in the house. This was faith that laughed at any barriers or obstructions, that was prepared to bulldoze them down, as the hymn puts it: a faith that laughs at impossibilities, and cries 'It shall be done!'.
Let me confess something to you here today: I get tired of hearing people say: 'Look, all you need to do is preach the word of God, and God will do the rest'. I know there's an element of truth in that, and I believe strongly in the sovereignty of God even in salvation, and I know it's the entrance of God's word that brings light - but that's not the responsibility of the preacher or the Christian over, once we deliver God's word. Listen to what James says in James chapter 2 and verse 18: 'But someone will say, 'You have faith and I have works'. Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works'. What James is saying there is that it is all well and good saying that you have faith but your life doesn't show it, but the better way to preach and proclaim the Lord Jesus and the wonder and power of the gospel is to go to someone and say, or not even say, but show by your life that you have faith in Christ. It's not enough just to preach, we've got to live the word of God. There has to be visible faith in our lives.
Now may I ask us all today, including myself: what visible acts of faith do I need to do, do you need to do, in order to bring others to Christ? What visible acts of faith - like the carrying of this palsied man by these four friends - what do you need to do? What do I need to do? There is something that needs to be done more than preaching. Now I can't give you specifics this morning, because, well, that would be foolish to start off with, but we wouldn't have the time to do that. What I can do is give you the general characteristics of what these four men did, and you can apply those general characteristics to think what you might do, based upon what these four men did.
Here's the first thing that we might have to do to bring others to Christ: we might have to expend our energies. I'm sure it was no easy task carrying this man up those stairs, and letting him down through the roof. They had to get past the crowd, they had to get up the stairs, they had to dig at the roof, and then they had to lower him down, taking the weight and the strain. It's the same with soul-winning for us. We might get tired doing it, and tired in it, we might have to be put out at times for it. It will cause inconvenience, inevitably, but we must expend our energies. The problem is: a lot of us don't want to do anything that will drain us or inconvenience us.
Another thing that might happen is that it might entail climbing to uncomfortable dizzy heights that we are not used to. Maybe it's going to places that we don't like, or visiting situations that we're just not practically used to. It might even be in a spiritual sense that we have to climb to heights that we have not known, in prayer, in fasting, in spiritual warfare and wrestling - not against flesh and blood, but against spiritual entities in order to win people for the Lord Jesus. One thing it will certainly involve that it involved here, it will necessitate co-operation with others. Now in the work of God I have found, and all of us I suppose at times are guilty of wanting to be the mighty man of God - and the reasoning behind that simply is that we want glory for ourselves. Yet when God's people work together, just like these four men co-operated, we find that no man gets the glory, and God has it all. In a day of individualism we need, as the church of Jesus Christ, to be united together in the local assembly, but even united with those who preach the gospel further afield. The more we work together the more we will see souls being won for Jesus.
It meant here also that these men had to be too self-conscious. Self-consciousness had to go out the window as they went through the roof! They had to forget about being embarrassed, people thinking they were mad. They had to even disregard those who thought they were doing something wrong. This was vandalism in one sense! Often when we reach out to those who need saved, and as we saw last week we begin to touch the untouchables, just as Jesus did the leper, people think we're doing something wrong - but we have to be prepared to live with that and disregard it! How often did the Scribes accuse Christ of doing something wrong because He disregarded some of their interpretations of the law, and contravened their traditions? But He went ahead!
It will also entail us being sacrificial. In other words, it will cost you to see people one for Jesus. How would you have felt if this had been your roof that someone was digging through? There's a lesson here: we will have to make sacrifices to bring other people to the Lord Jesus. But here is my problem: I want to make sacrifice on my own terms, not on another's. I want to give when I see fit to give, I want to give to the extent that I'm comfortable with, but the owner of this house had no prior warning that these four men were going to dig through the roof! But he obviously went with the flow - now that's tremendous, and we don't even know the name of the owner of this house - though it might have been Peter or Andrew - but why did they just stand there and let those four men dig through the roof? Well, I have a hunch: because Jesus was in the house! When Jesus is in control of something, good things have got to happen.
Now I imagine that if this had been any ordinary afternoon and hoodlums were starting to tear this man's roof off, he would have had something to say or even do about it - but when Jesus was moving in the house, whatever happened had to be right. So, whoever this owner was, he had obviously consciously, or unconsciously in the spirit of the moment, given up everything to Jesus' presence in his home. That's often the problem: we have little compartments for our lives - and 'that's the religious and spiritual end', but 'this is my end', and it's the car and the house, and it's the pension and it's the retirement, and it's the holiday. 'Christ, You can have the Sunday, and You can have the Monday, and You can have the Thursday, and You can have wee bit more than that - but all that is mine, and You're not touching it'.
Friends, in the early 1900s there was a move of God here in Belfast through the preaching of W.P. Nicholson, and many of the shipyard men came down the Ravenhill Road to Ravenhill Presbyterian Church not too far away from here. The history stories tell us that the railings of the church were pulled down, and some of the windows were broken as these men were teeming in to hear God's word, as Jesus was in the house. Now do you think the presbytery - I don't know the history of it, maybe they were - but do you think their primary concern was the windows and the railings? No, Jesus was moving in the house, so it had to be right. It was right, and if Jesus is moving in our house and in this house, it might mean that we have to make some difficult decisions according to the greater need. Let me ask you: was the greater need for this man's roof to remain intact, or for this paralysed man to meet Jesus? What was the greater need? Was it the financial consideration that was pre-eminent, or the personal predicament of this paralytic? We need to ask ourselves: are we willing to make sacrifices in order that others can bring people to Jesus? If that means giving, if it means lending, if it means relinquishing things, so let it be.
R. Kent Hughes in his commentary on Mark tells a bit of the story of Francis and Edith Schaeffer, and he says: 'Few Christians have impacted the church more in our day than did Francis and Edith Schaeffer, but it was at a cost. Schaeffer wrote in his book, 'The Church at the End of the 20th Century', these words' - listen - 'In about the first three years of L'Abri', which was their Christian Fellowship group, 'In the first three years all our wedding presents were wiped out. Our sheets were torn. Holes were burned in our rugs. Drugs came into our place. People vomited on our rugs. How many times have you had a drug taker come into your home? Sure, it is a danger to your family, and you must be careful - but have you ever risked it?'. Have you ever risked it? The secret of this man, whoever he was, who let Jesus come through the roof was: it had already been surrendered. If we have surrendered lives to the Lord, it means that at any time, in any way, we are willing to pay any price to bring others to God - and that's the message of the cross.
You see, this is the gospel of the cross, Mark's gospel, who tells us in his key verse: 'For even the Son of man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many'. He is the Suffering Servant of Jehovah, and we are to be His servants, and do as He did, and give our lives for others, and serve others - not wait to be served ourselves! As Paul said in 2 Corinthians 8:9: 'Ye ought to know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, who was rich, yet for our sakes became poor, that ye through his poverty might be made rich' - and he speaks that in the context of financial giving to the cause of the gospel, that we ought to become poor that others might be rich through the good news.
Someone has nicknamed these four friends: 'Sympathy', 'Cooperation', 'Originality', and 'Persistence'. All those things are needed if we are to overcome the hindrances to bring others to Christ: sympathy, cooperation, originality and persistence. Oh, I ask you today: are you hindering or helping others come to Christ? Do you know what I find? Most people who are stuck not coming to Jesus, have been stuck by a Christian that has not lived up to their testimony. Mark Twain turned away from Christianity, it is reputed, because he heard Christians condoning slavery, using foul language, and engaging in shady deals. Some historians believe that Mohammed agreed with the Jews and Christians that there is one true God, but he was turned off that one true God by their lives. Brian Goodwin comments: 'A little more love to Christ and to others might have changed the course of history for what is now the Muslim world'. It has been reported about Gandhi that he once said: 'If it weren't for Christians, I would have become one'. The message was great, but their lives didn't measure up!
We see this spirit in verse 6 in the Scribes, and it would be very easy to miss this statement. The Scribes were sitting - now just imagine that for a moment or two! In a house where there was standing room only, these boys were sitting down. They weren't there, they didn't know how to serve the needy, they were a hindrance rather than a help. Now we find in this section of Mark's gospel from chapter 2 to verse 6 of chapter 3, that we have five accounts that are all marked by controversy. Jesus and the disciples are challenged by the Pharisees and the Scribal interpreters of their tradition because they are contravening the accepted norms. Here again in verses 6 to 12 in this first account of controversy, the Scribes question the Lord Jesus' authority to forgive this man's sins.
He said to him, as they let him down before Him: 'Thy sins be forgiven thee', and they said, 'Who does He think He is, speaking such blasphemy? There's none who can forgive sins but God'. Now we have witnessed already in this gospel in verses 21 and 22 of chapter 1 that Jesus had authority in His teaching. Then in verses 23 to 28 of chapter 1, He had authority over demons; in verses 29 to 34 of chapter 1, He had authority over sickness; and also in verses 40 to 45, He had authority to touch the leper and heal him. Now we see the Servant's authority to forgive sins - but here's the point: the Pharisees said, 'Who can forgive sins but God?', and Jesus replied, 'Which is easier to say to this man, 'I forgive your sins', or 'Arise and walk'?' - and He told him to get up and walk. Do you know what He was telling them? It's easy for anybody to say 'Your sins be forgiven you', and these Pharisees and Scribes had an assumed authority because of their position and the tradition of the culture in which they lived - but Jesus demonstrated His authority through miracles, through His mighty words, through the touch of His hand. What He was saying is: 'Anybody can tell you your sins are forgiven you, but I'm going to tell this man to get up and walk, and that proves that I have authority on earth to forgive men's and women's sins'.
The point was: He didn't just claim it, He demonstrated it. By God's authority He rose this man to walk, and He proved that He not only had God's authority, but He had the very nature of God in Him, He was God's Son. In that the Pharisees and Scribes were right: only God can forgive sins. Praise God, Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever, and we can still - those of us who are converted - say, 'Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me praise His holy name; and forget not all His benefits, who forgiveth thy sins and healeth thy diseases'.
You see Jesus has authority to forgive men's sins on earth. You don't need a priest, you don't need a Pope, you don't need a minister, all you need is the Lord Jesus Christ - and that gives confidence to the Christian to go serving, to go knowing that all power has been given unto Him. We can go and take this gospel and it will reach those, and if we touch the untouchable with it, they will be healed just like lepers. But it brings certainty to the sinner in believing, that if you believe in this Christ, He has authority to cleanse you from all sin, past, present and even future.
This man's sins may have been connected to his suffering, we don't know for sure - but Jesus dealt with the primary problem first, He dealt with his sin. You might be here this morning, and you're suffering in your life because of sin, because of habitual sin. It's not hard to work out: if you drink too much you suffer for it, if you smoke too much you suffer for it, if you gamble too much you suffer for it, if you sleep around too much you suffer for it. The wages of sin is death, and the way of the transgressor is hard, and my friend: it's no use looking to God and praying the odd prayer that God will take your problem away if you won't let Him take your sin away!
Jesus came to this man and dealt with the real problem. Can you see him rising? Lifting his bed, the crowd 'Ooohhing' and 'Aahhhing', the four looking down from the hole in the roof 'Yahooing', jeering! Do you think the man danced? Probably, and skipped out of the door! Did the crowd follow him as he waltzed down the road home in joy, and shouting to the glory and praise of God? Because it was more than a bed he carried out of that house that day, or even a new body, he was born again because Jesus has the authority on the earth to forgive sins. His body would decay one day again and lie on a similar bed, but now his heart was new and there was a well of water springing up unto eternal life. My friend today, whoever you are, you can go out of this same house with the same Jesus, and the same power, and the same joy, and the same life by the same way: faith.
Have you turned from your sin? You say: 'I haven't got the power', He'll give you the power to do it if you're willing. Have you believed in the Lord Jesus, and the Lord Jesus alone, and said: 'Lord, I'm sorry for my sin, and I want You to save me, save me now'? Do that today, by faith, sincerely from your heart, and He will forgive your sins, for He alone has the power. Believer this morning, this is exactly how we must confidently serve others, with the knowledge that Christ has power on earth to forgive sins. Let me leave you with His parting words to His disciples, He said unto them: 'All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world'.
We might have to expend our energies, we might have to climb uncomfortable dizzy heights, we might have to cooperate with others we don't agree with fully, we might be self-conscious, we might be embarrassed, people might think we're mad, they might even think we're doing things wrong, we might have to be sacrificial and make difficult decisions - but that's why God's word says: 'Be content with what things you have'. What do we have? The Lord has said: 'I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee. So, go', Jesus says, 'make disciples, and whatever you lose, I'm with you always'. Is that enough? You see, that's the problem for us: that's not enough - it ought to be enough. It was enough for four soul-winners who saw this man experience the forgiveness of his sins.
Lord, give us a faith that can be seen, give us faith with works, works of faith - not in the flesh, not legalistic works, but works that are inspired by Your Spirit, works that You have taught us are foreordained from the beginning of time for us to do after our salvation. So, help us to be open and willing, and waiting to find out what they are, and do as occasion serves us in order to bring lost men and women and boys and girls to the feet of the Lord Jesus to experience the power and authority that He has to forgive sins. Lord, if there is someone who has never had their sins forgiven, and they're with us now, may the Lord Jesus say to them: 'Thy sins be forgiven thee'. Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Evangelical Church in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the thirteenth recording in his 'Studies In Mark' series, entitled "Four Soul-Winners And The Forgiveness Of Sins" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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