Cheap Words and Hard Deeds (Mark 2.1–12)

Leon, Joseph, and Clyde all thought they were Jesus Christ. In reality, they were chronic mental patients at a hospital in Ypsilanti, Michigan. They suffered from psychotic delusional disorder, grandiose type. In the 1960s, psychologist Milton Rokeach put Leon, Joseph, and Clyde together in a small group. He hoped that interacting with one another might cure them of their delusions, since—logically speaking—there could only be one Jesus Christ. John Ortberg comments on the results:

“The experiment led to some interesting conversations. One of the men would claim, ‘I’m the messiah, the Son of God. I am on a mission. I was sent here to save the earth.’

“‘How do you know?’ Rokeach would ask.

“‘God told me.’

“And one of the other patients would counter, ‘I never told you any such thing.’

“Aim for the three Messiahs and you end up playing the Three Stooges—Larry, Moe, and Curly arguing over their place in the Trinity. As we read about this, we don’t know whether to laugh or cry.”

To be honest, I laughed out loud. Any lunatic, it seems, can claim to be the Son of God. But wait! In Mark 2.1–12, Jesus claimed the power to forgive sins—to do what only God can do. Does that mean Jesus was a lunatic?

Take a close look at Mark 2.1–12. Jesus had just returned to his adopted hometown of Capernaum. People gathered to hear him preach, including the friends of a paralytic man, who brought him on a mat for Jesus to heal. They couldn’t make their way into the house where Jesus was staying using the front door, so they climbed onto the roof, opened up a hole, and lowered their friend through it on a mat. Seeing the man, Jesus forgave his sins. That set off a short, intense theological controversy with some theology professors who were in the house:

“Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, ‘Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?’

“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?  Which is easier: to say to the paralytic, “Your sins are forgiven,” or to say, “Get up, take your mat and walk”?  But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins . . . .’ He said to the paralytic, ‘I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.’ He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all.”

Notice Jesus’ argumentative strategy. He knows that words are cheap; he admits as much to the theology professors. But deeds—especially miraculous deeds—are hard to refute. So, to prove his power to forgive sins, he heals the paralytic. The truth of his words is proved by the power of his deeds.

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