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  • Writer's pictureRev. Joel L. Tolbert

Marks of Jesus - Forgive

Five Marks of Jesus, a New Year series (1 of 5) on five key traits of Jesus from the Gospel of Mark, preached Jan 14, 2024



Scripture Mark 2:1-17

2 When he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. 2 So many gathered around that there was no longer room for them, not even in front of the door, and he was speaking the word to them. 3 Then some people[a] came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. 4 And when they could not bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him, and after having dug through it, they let down the mat on which the paralytic lay. 5 When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Child, your sins are forgiven.” 6 Now some of the scribes were sitting there questioning in their hearts, 7 “Why does this fellow speak in this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” 8 At once Jesus perceived in his spirit that they were discussing these questions among themselves, and he said to them, “Why do you raise such questions in your hearts? 9 Which is easier: to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and take your mat and walk’? 10 But so 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, stand up, take your mat, and go to your home.” 12 And he stood up and immediately took the mat and went out before all of them, so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!”


Jill’s dad had Master’s badges since the 1950s. Way back then, they were an interesting ticket, and people cared about them but they weren’t a big deal. Eventually, the Master’s became one of golf’s four Majors, and the badges today aren’t that expensive, face value, but are hard to get.

Jill’s dad first took me in 1987, and I got to go 31 years straight. Jill’s dad didn’t always go but he loved to dole them out to family and friends at face value, making sure as many people as possible had access to go in. In the late 1990s, he gave that job to me and Jill. We loved taking people who had never been, getting them inside. I’d ask them what they want to see, or who, and I’d help navigate the course for them so they would get to the best viewing spots early enough to be at the rope by the time the important thing could possibly happen. I loved being inside for myself, but I loved even more getting lots of other people in for their first time, and watching them pet the grass, grin ear to ear, and devour BBQ sandwiches down at Amen Corner.

Since Jill’s dad died, 7-8 years ago, we lost access to those badges. I miss him, and I miss that perk, but I’ve got the course implanted in my mind, and my feet. I can see and smell every hole. Now, what I really miss most is getting other people in when they thought they might never see it, experience it.

I suppose the people carrying this paralyzed person felt they might never get in, because of the crowd. They had heard about the important event in town, Jesus, at home, teaching. They really wanted to get in, and not just for themselves, but for the paralyzed one. He could have been a friend. Or, maybe they didn’t really know this person, maybe they had just seen him on the street corner or park bench as they were headed to work. Maybe they had offered money, or a coffee, or a sandwich every now and then. But today, with the big event, Jesus in town, they hoped they could get in, and get the paraylzed one in with them, to Jesus. After all, the buzz about Jesus was that he wasn’t just saying beautiful things, he was doing them too, and just might be able to heal him.

We know this event is very important not just because of the sell out size of the crowd, but WHO is in the crowd. Like the cameras panning the ball games to pick out politicians and celebrities, this event was important because the Scribes had come to see and hear Jesus for themselves.

Let’s pretend we don’t know the Scribes are part of the gang that will follow Jesus everywhere, doubting him, trying to trick him, and plotting to kill him. This is only Mark 2. Jesus is just getting started. So let’s just think of them as community religious leaders, and they are interested and curious. They believe they are sincerely trying, faithfully, to interpret and teach and live the will and words of God, to help people, so they’ve come to meet their new colleague, little Jesus, all grown up and teaching and preaching himself now.

Yep, this is a huge event, a sell-out crowd. Celebrities. No way to get a ticket, or get past security. Every doorway and pathway and window is blocked. Will these give up, quit, turn around, and go home? Watch on YouTube later?

They will not give up. They find another way around the crowd. They dig through the roof and lower the paralyzed man, on his mat, to Jesus’s side. As the group lowers their friend down, the story goes that Jesus says, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”

That’s not what the ones on the roof wanted. They wanted him healed. Does the paralyzed man immediately hop up and dance a jig on the spot in celebration? No. I wonder if they almost corrected Jesus. I imagine they looked down through the hole and saw Jesus extending a hand and gently touching his face, and maybe they saw a comfort and peace on the paralyzed man’s face they had never seen before, a warmth of Spirit and they could feel up there, and maybe they even say a tear roll down the man’s cheek from eyes that had forgotten years ago how to cry. And maybe, they cried a little too, and almost forgot they brought him to be healed, not just forgiven.

But in the story, Jesus offers forgiveness first, and the man is still lying there, paralyzed, bed ridden.

The ones on the roof aren’t the only ones disappointed. The Scribes were also disappointed. Religious leaders back then, and still today, don’t like it when forgiveness is that… easy. Religious leaders back then, like the scribes, made an assumption about forgiveness and sin. Sins have consequences, like sickness, and paralysis. So if you are paralyzed there must have been some sin that led to this paralysis. And if your sins were truly forgiven THEN you could stand up and take your bed and go to your home. Scribes think they understand God and connect personal sin and personal suffering.

In our time, it still happens, just a bit differently. Today, under the umbrella of the Christian faith, some religious leaders say things like hurricanes and floods, cancer and car crashes, Wars and terrorism, are signs of God’s judgment on sinners. Or on a smaller scale, some religious leaders will tell those who come to worship, you are a sinner, and you can be forgiven IF you pray the sinner’s prayer, truly repent, get baptized, change your wicked ways. The brokenness in your life is due to YOUR sin and you must repent of all your sins to be forgiven. THEN you can be healed. That’s sadly what some religious leaders then and today say the Bible says.

When the forgiven paralyzed man doesn’t hop up and dance a jig, the Scribes huddle… “Did he say ‘Your sins are forgiven’? Only God can forgive sins. Who does he think he is, God? He’s just saying ‘Your sins are forgiven.’ He’s not actually forgiving sins. If he could forgive sins, then the man would have stood up and walked away. But he didn’t. He’s still lying there, pitiful as ever, paralyzed by his sins, just like before. This is blasphemy.”

The scribes do not believe that someone can be forgiven and still suffer. Nor do they see that they themselves are blind to the way God works. They were unable to see the paralyzed man on the mat as one God loves, and favors, as one that God forgives, and calls… They were blinded by their judgmental religious assumptions that assume happiness and health as signs of God’s blessing, and suffering and sorrow of God’s judgment.

But above, the ones who had a bigger faith in a bigger God than the ones the scribes worship… the ones who dug a hole in the roof and lowered the paralyzed man down to Jesus, they did not see God or the brokenness of our world like the Scribes.

If the scribes of then or today are right about God, then maybe the paraylzed man gets lowered down in front of Jesus, and Jesus asks him if he repents and wishes to be healed. The man would have responded with some sincere yes, and Jesus would have baptized him and lifted him up to walk.

But that’s not how things happen. Remember, it wasn’t the paralyzed man’s faith Jesus saw. We don’t hear the paralyzed man say or do anything, nor do we hear Jesus expect anything from the one suffering before him. Jesus looked up, and saw THEIR faith, the ones on the roof, who brought him and dug through and lowered him to Jesus. When Jesus saw THEIR faith he said to the paralyzed man they lowered, ‘Son, YOUR sins are forgiven.’”

That’s what forgiveness is like. It comes from a trust, a belief, a confidence that God loves us all, and will not ever stop trying to mend all broken things, reconcile all divisions, and bring wholeness, healing, and peace to all God’s children. Forgive is not an item we purchase with our faith, but a gift God has always given and keeps on giving out despite our inability to believe it or recognize it for ourselves or others. Forgiveness is submission to God’s boundaries and commands, and acceptance of God’s justice which does have consequences. But forgiveness trusts the judgment to God alone, and never dares assume suffering is consequences of personal sin. Forgiveness embodies loving and embracing and encouraging everyone, especially those who suffer, especially those we once assumed were too sinful or out of bounds, and not because they personally repented or conformed, but because the community of Christ carries them constantly before Jesus, trusting God’s forgiveness is for us and them too, even if they didn’t ask for it yet.

The confidence, trust, obedience we show in our daily lives is not faith if it’s only for our personal benefit. The God we meet early in Mark, in Jesus, is looking for faithfulness in anyone, maybe looking for our faith, in order to make forgiveness AND healing true, not just for us, but for the sake of others.

The faithful ones lowered a man who was paralyzed into the presence of God, and when God saw their faith, the man was forgiven. He could not walk yet but he was forgiven. He might have settled into his bedsores and soiled sheets with a little less weight. The faithful ones might have heaved a heavy sigh, and then begun to pull him back up. But Jesus grips the rod through the side of the cot. He stops them, and they look back down. Jesus is a forgiver of sins, and more. He asks the crowd, including the Scribes, “Which is easier, to say ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say ‘Stand up and walk?” Then, on their faithfulness, Jesus not only forgives him, but heals him.

Over 20 years ago, had I attempted to leave the corporate world and walk into pastoral ministry on my own faith, I would not have made it. Even now, after seminary and pastoring three different churches, I’ve felt so many times just how much my faith alone is not, nor ever shall be enough. Back then, by the faith of my wife, and her family, and our friends at Fourth Presbyterian in Greenville, and Immanuel Presbyterian in Montgomery, and Henry Memorial Presbyterian in Dublin, and Northminster Presbyterian Church in Macon, GA, and Druid Hills and Decatur Presbyterian, and Columbia Seminary, all in Atlanta, I felt lowered through the tiles into God’s presence on their faith.

And since, from the faithful roof diggers of Rehoboth Presbyterian in Decatur, GA or Oconee Presbyterian in Watkinsville GA, and now the Presbyterian Church of Chestertown, I again feel you all lowering me when I need to be lowered through the roof to Jesus, where your faith, your faithfulness makes God’s forgiveness of me real, not because of my own faith, beliefs, words, and actions, but because of yours on my behalf.

I hope you feel that too when you come here. You don’t have to be faithful for yourself. In a way, you can't be. But here, this church will always have enough people who see your pain, your struggle, your suffering, and will come to you. This church will always carry you when you can't take another step. We will come get you, and bring you close, and if need be, we will bust through doors, dig through roofs, cut through red tape to get you up close to the holy one. You won’t have to say to do anything to be seen and loved here, and forgiven. You cannot and will not be expected to earn God’s forgiveness through your faith, beyond any honest questions and doubts. All of those are welcome here too. We believe God’s forgiveness of you is yours already, before you ask for it, or even know you need it.

And then, when you are feeling that warmth, that trust that you are forgiven, and when you feel strong enough to walk with us, let’s go through Chestertown and find tax collectors and lepers, homeless and victims of abuse, Pharisees and Scribes, adulterers and addicts, and carry them all to the house, even dig through the roof for them, so they might find we have faith God loves them and forgives them, no matter what.

Let’s pray…




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