Summary: Jesus' most audacious act gives us personal hope.
Last Sunday I introduced Jesus as the Great Gasper. He is the one who causes gaspers – making other people gasp. And he has done some pretty amazing things to make people gasp – casting out demons, healing the sick, even cleansing lepers. Sometimes, though, it is the audacity by which he speaks and acts. Mark’s first report of the people being amazed was over the way Jesus spoke with authority. Here was someone who indicated that he did not need any other human authority to back up what he had to say. If you can remember, I had also pointed out that the way he cast out demons and healed diseases indicated that he did so more out of exercising authority rather than power. Demons were compelled to obey him; the ease by which he healed indicated that the very diseases obeyed.
And then consider last Sunday’s passage in which Jesus cleansed a leper. There he did what had not even been imagined before. Jesus, the holy, touched the leper, the unclean, and made him clean. The act itself caused a great deal of gasping, because, as we saw in Scripture, such contact should have brought defilement on Jesus and judgment on the leper. There is no precedence for what Jesus did. Where did he get the audacity to even attempt such a thing? No rabbinical authority, and no biblical authority for that matter, indicated that he could touch a unclean person without becoming defiled. He seemed to be acting on an authority of his own.
Authority, Mark seems to be raising the question before us – what kind of man possesses such authority? In our passage this morning he clearly is raising this question. It is this issue that initiates his first run-in with religious authorities. But more importantly for us, the answer to the question gives us the basis for our own hope of salvation.
Jesus returns to Capernaum. The last verse of chapter one stated that he could not enter a town openly because of the news of his healings. He has managed to slip in probably Peter’s home, which has become like a home to him. Nevertheless, word gets out and Jesus again is surrounded with people. This time the crowd is so great that there was no room even outside the door of the house.
Interestingly enough he wasn’t healing; he was preaching the word. We already have been given a synopsis of that word in 1:15. He taught about the kingdom of God, specifically that it was near, and he taught about repentance and faith. We have to remember, healing is not the ministry Jesus had come to do; it was to preach the good news.
But healing certainly was the goal of five men, one to be healed and the other four to get him healed, as verse 4 shows: 4 Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus and, after digging through it, lowered the mat the paralyzed man was lying on. Probably the men got on the roof by climbing stairs that would have been on the side of the house leading up to the flat roof. This was common as roofs were used for a variety of purposes – sleeping in the evening to take advantage of the cooler air, storing supplies, and so on. There would have been a 3-foot balustrade around the perimeter according to biblical law.
It was not common, however, to dig holes through roofs. They would have had to remove the tiles paving the top and then dig through the hard beaten earth or rubble to the framework supporting it, which would then have been broken through. It would not have been a small hole. They had to lower through it a man stretched out on a cot. Carrying the paralytic up the stairs and lowering him through the roof onto the ground must have been a laborious task.
Clearly, these men were determined and expectant. They had the same belief as the leper that Jesus could heal, and they had the further expectation that he would. The only obstacle for them to overcome was getting to Jesus, and that they were determined to do. Apparently they did not want to take any chances of missing him. Perhaps they had been among those waiting for Jesus the first time he was in Capernaum and had slipped away in the morning. They were not going to let that happen again.
You’ve got to wonder what was happening in the house while the men are digging through the roof. It’s not as if they found a trap door that they could quietly open and then lower their friend before anyone realized what was happening. Surely Jesus and the crowd would have first heard the digging and certainly would have noticed parts of the ceiling falling down on them. Here is another time for gasping even for Jesus. What would Peter have been thinking, assuming this was his house? On second thought, we probably do not want to know what Peter was thinking!