The Palsy and the Publican

Mark 2:1-17.

I desire, beloved brethren, to bring before you this evening both these cases. They are very different in themselves, so much so that it would be, perhaps, difficult at first sight to discern what the real connection is between the cure of the palsied man and the call of the publican; and yet I think we shall find that there is a much closer connection between the two than you would at first sight suppose. In the one case it is a diseased man, in helplessness, and weakness, and powerlessness; in the other, it is a man, as esteemed by his fellows, disreputable, without character; because that is what the publicans were; they were, as you know, the leviers of the Roman tax, and were detested by their own people, partly because they were the standing witness of their subjugation to the Roman yoke; so much so, that none but the very outcasts amongst the Jews, and those who would be supposed to have lost all sense of respect, not only for themselves but for the dignity of the chosen nation, would be found occupying such a position as a levier, or perhaps more strictly a farmer, of this Roman tax. Now I think you will see in a moment that there is a great point in the Spirit of God putting both these cases here, in close position, in connection with the ministry of the great Prophet in the midst of God's people: because whether it was the case of helplessness in a man's body — which, after all, according to the words of our Lord Jesus Christ here, proceeded from the great root of all, which is sin — or whether it was the position of disrepute and lowness of character which a man was supposed to occupy before his fellow men in this world, the same grace and kindness, and the same consideration and tenderness that dealt with one dealt with the other. And that is a reason, I believe, why they are put together on this occasion, to show that, in the great Prophet — and that is who Jesus is, as presented to us in the Gospel of Mark — there was not merely tenderness of heart for the needs and distresses and wants of the bodies of people, but there was also consideration, kindness, grace, compassion, and even more than that, beloved friends, there was favour bestowed upon a man who was supposed to be, by his occupation and by his position amongst men, outside all consideration of every kind. Hence, I believe, you have them both linked together.

And I will further tell you why it seems to me to be so. Oftentimes we are affected by sights of misery and distress in this world; the sight of a person with a weak and helpless and worn-out frame and body would affect wonderfully some people who seem to be insensible altogether to a condition of things, which is just as great, only it is moral. You will find that there are persons who are greatly affected by the external bodily wants of those in distress in this world, who seem to have no sense at all of the desolations oftentimes that the souls of men are in; and that is a reason, I believe, why both these are brought together here. He can touch the one as He can touch the other; and it matters not how varied the kinds of distress are, nor how diversified the kinds of desolation that came in His blessed pathway as He moved through this scene; still there was a heart in Jesus Christ that entered into all the circumstances and all the sorrows and all the difficulties; and everything that made men what they were before their fellow men. He entered into it, He saw it, He touched it. Hence, I believe, you have both these apparently diverse and opposite kinds of cases put in juxtaposition, as it were, in our scripture to-night.

Now I want you, beloved brethren, to look with me, seeking God's help, at both these for a moment or two. And first of all, when we speak of this man with the palsy, it is exceedingly solemn and interesting to remember where it was. He was at Capernaum. Every time that word comes up before us there seems to be an exceedingly solemn voice in it to every one of us. Capernaum, you know, was the most exalted city of its time; as He says Himself, "exalted to heaven;" "Thou Capernaum, which art exalted to heaven." It was privileged; it witnessed the greatest acts of Christ, and the most marvellous displays of His goodness and kindness here in this world; it was at Capernaum that some of His mightiest and greatest works were accomplished. Now ought we not to remember that? Quite true that we do not live in the days of the ministry on earth of the Son of man; quite true that we do not live in times when He might have walked even through this great city, and when His works of mercy and His acts of kindness might have been witnessed in this great city; but, beloved friends, we live in this time when God in His infinite grace and mercy has unfolded to us not merely the goodness and kindness of God manifest in flesh in Christ incarnate here in this world; but when God has unfolded to us the glories of the exalted, heaven-crowned Son of man. And remember that that title, Son of man — and it is used here for the first time in the Gospel of Mark — Son of man, takes in not merely all that He was in lowly grace here in this world, but Son of man is equally applicable to Him in the place of glory and the circumstances and scenes of glory in which He is. There Stephen saw Him when he said, "I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man," etc. So that in a certain sense, and I would like to press that upon my brothers and sisters here to-night, we really are in this day in the full blaze of the light of truth as God has brought it out (and there never was a time when truth was more distinctly brought out in all its fulness and brightness than at the present moment), I say, we are solemnly responsible; increased privilege is increased responsibility; never let us forget that. For mark this, if we forget it, the tendency of the heart is to pride oneself upon the acquisition or the possession of the truth; and if we do not allow our hearts to come under the full weight and full influence of the fact, that to whomsoever much is given, of him shall much be required, and if the closer and the nearer we come to the truth and light of God, and the more it shines round about us, and the oftener we see it, and the more we read of it, if, I say over and over again, if we have not the sense in our souls that it lays us under the most weighty responsibility, we shall certainly turn round and pride ourselves upon the possession of the truth. And that will be no better than the Jews were in their day. Did they not turn round and cast it in the face of the Lord of life and glory when He was here, "We be Abraham's seed and were never in bondage to any man: how sayest thou then, Ye shall be made free?" Where did that come from, beloved friends? It came from the terrible pride and vanity of their hearts. They could pride themselves upon being the genuine descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the very offspring of the patriarchs, and of Abraham especially, the friend of God, and could turn it round to their own purposes without a sense that the people of God in origin are expected to be the people of God in practice. And I see the same danger now; and therefore I think this word Capernaum has a loud voice to us; it was "thou, Capernaum," of all cities and of all places "exalted to heaven." So much on the place, and on the way the second chapter opens.

Now I want to call your attention first of all to another beautiful touch here of the writer of this gospel, and it is, how this chapter brings us specially into contrast with the attractiveness of Jesus Christ. I wish I could — I know I cannot, but I long that I could — give your hearts some little sense of the precious attractiveness of this blessed One. O how He drew poor needy hearts to Him; how there was in Him a response to every desolation that could sweep its withered leaves over the heart! And mark how beautifully you have it here, "there was no room to receive them, no, not so much as about the door," the press was so great. What made it? Ah! there was One there whose fellow was never to be found, whose equal was never known, who was, in every sense of the word, a stranger here. That is what it was. I quite own that there was need and want and difficulty and distress; but do you think you would find need and want and difficulty and distress collected round the door of the great magnates or potentates of the earth at the present moment? Never. What brings need and want and distress into circumstances such as are depicted in Mark 2, is that there was a heart there who could enter into all the details of the need. And I want to press that upon you, my beloved brothers and sisters, here to night; there is in that blessed heart in heaven that which no other heart has; you can go and confide in Him when you feel as if you deserved the earth to swallow you up; you will never find a reproach from the lips of Jesus glorified, any more than from the lips of Jesus humbled; you will find in Him One that will enter into all the circumstances and details and history of your sorrows; One who can guide you out of them; One who can comfort you in them; One who will receive you, One who will welcome you, One who will be gratified by your confidence. That, beloved friends, is what is so wonderful to me, One who is gratified by the confidence of an outcast! Think of that! And that is what collected this company of people round the door here.

My mind is called back, when I think of that scene, to that touching incident in the gospel history, when the poor man, with his child torn and lacerated by a demon, came to the disciples of the Lord, supposing that men that were in such close proximity to the great prophet would imbibe something of His spirit and some thing of His power; but he was bitterly disappointed. "I spake to thy disciples, that they should cast him out; and they could not." Ah! dear friends, that is the history, not merely of the people of God ever since, but that is the sad history, alas! of the church of God. No ability to use the power that is there. But this is the word that always attracts my heart in that scene; He says, "Bring him to me." Thank God! Now do not despair, dear brother or dear sister here tonight; if you have an aching brow, a broken heart, if you have sorrows or desolations or pressures upon you, and nothing has ever relieved you, do not despair; there is One that says, "Bring him to me." Now beloved friends, that is a great thing for our souls, and I feel that is just what we want. Woe be to us if the day should ever come that in our extreme clearness of doctrine we should lose the sense of a living Christ! And I feel that in this lies our great deficiency; we do not seem to get hold of His Person. It is the common condition and state so often of the church of God everywhere, a living Christ is not known. People say, Oh! that is true of Him; these are wonderful things about Him. Yes, quite true; no question of that for a moment; there are wonderful things about Him in the past as in the future; scenes of moral glory in the days of His humiliation, and scenes of literal glory to be enacted and displayed in the day of His coming kingdom. But, beloved friends, that is not Christ; very blessed, but that is not Christ; and that will not satisfy your heart. Your hearts long for — all hearts do, the human heart does, and He knows very well what our hearts want — our hearts long for a Person, and that Person as the object. That is peculiar to Christianity. The whole power of Christianity is in an object, and that object is a living Person. Further, this is the attractive power of Christianity; it is the displacing power of Christianity; it is the forming power of Christianity; it is the strengthening power of Christianity. And where that is not really laid hold of in the heart, you find desolation and trial and defeat and disappointment and vexation. And here it meets us exactly; here was a living person, a living man; He was the great Prophet-Teacher, but it is the Person.

And another thing, it is not only that He gives the instruction, that is the second part, but I do not think it is the greatest part. It is a peculiar word in the original, "He preached the word;" it is more the sense that He spake the word; still it is set before us in His ministry in a very blessed way that He was a preacher; and it is a great thing to think of, that our own blessed Master was the great preacher in this world. But this point I press on you, the accessibility of Jesus Christ is so wonderful. He was the most accessible of men; any one might go to Him; there was an open door for all who came to Jesus Christ; the vilest was as welcome as the least vile; indeed, the greater the need the greater the welcome; the greater the vacuum in the heart the more the excess of the grace there to fill it immediately. That is what meets us here, the accessibility of Jesus Christ. He instructs, He teaches, He preaches; but there is many a man who stands upon a high elevation, as it were, and does that, but you could not approach him in the least. Here is One you can always approach, and He will never misunderstand you, never put a different meaning upon your words from what you intend, never keep you on the torture and the rack of a hard, cold suspicion; He is gracious, accessible, tender, considerate, long-suffering. Oh! how blessed it is to think of Him! That is the scene of Mark 2.

And now let us look at this first case. There comes into His blessed presence a most harrowing, a most depressing case, that of a poor, needy creature, who is brought to Him. And, beloved friends, what I think is so interesting, at least to me, was that this case was one amongst the poor. What proves that beyond question or doubt is that the word that is employed for "bed," or "couch," is the word that is always used to describe the miserable pallet upon which the poor lay; therefore it is a case of extreme poverty. I say, Thank God for that: because, you see, that brings the grace all the more clearly out before our souls. Look at it for a moment; look at the many things that combined; look at the remarkable way the Holy Ghost, by the evangelist, throws them into what I call a divine picture in these verses. Here was a poor, powerless, helpless frame, a weak, shattered, palsied body, and there were willing hearts that brought this case of distress to Jesus. Look at their earnestness; they do not adopt any ceremony; they do not ask any permission, as if they were intruders; the place was full and He was occupied, but they read that heart so well, and understood the affections of that heart so clearly, that they knew that all times and circumstances were alike to Jesus to show mercy in. And these men come without ceremony, without leave, without formality, and break up the roof in the earnestness of their hearts, to get the case of distress into personal contact with the great Prophet, and they lay him down there. It is one of the most wonderful scenes I know of in scripture! Oh! dear brethren, would to God we could do that with our cases of spiritual palsy and spiritual distress. O that we had such a sense of the heart of Jesus Christ, and the readiness and willingness of Jesus Christ, as well as the power of Jesus Christ, that we could go and break through all difficulties and all opposing things, so as to get the objects of mercy into personal contact with the only one that can bestow mercy. That is what they do here. I do not question for a moment that the sick of the palsy had faith himself; I believe their "faith" alludes to all, takes in all: "Jesus saw their faith." Do you not think that was grateful to Him? Do you not think that sorrowing, lonely heart, that found so little cheer in this world, that met so little response to the grace and the kindness that was in it, was pleased by any confidence? I am sure He was. I love to think of how that confidence gratified the heart of my blessed Lord and Master here. What it was to Him to be trusted, to be looked to, to be used by distress and misery! "When Jesus saw their faith," look how He vindicates it. What a comfort to us! May we learn from this. "When Jesus saw their faith" what does He say? The first word that comes from His blessed lips is "son." Oh! the sweetness of that! Did not that fall like showers on the parched grass on the ears of that poor, helpless man? "Son, son." What divine goodness and divine grace were there! I was speaking to you last week about the divinity of love as well as the divinity of power; here is the divinity of kindness. Oh! dear friends, let us learn, through grace, to be kind, for I must say to my brethren to-night, I think if there is anything we are deficient in, it is just in that — kindness. I fear there is a solemn lack of it amongst Christians, a sorrowful want as to it somewhere. Indeed, some people seem to me to think that there is some sort of merit attached to being hard; where it is, I cannot divine nor understand. It requires no great effort or self-denial to be a stick or a stone; I doubt not it is more or less according to our nature but, O to be like Jesus Christ! O to have the compassions and the tenderness of Himself in our souls, and to have been so touched by it ourselves, to have come so in contact with it ourselves, in our own histories, that we understand what it is to deal with others in the same way that we ourselves have been dealt with by Him. And this is where the great want is, a personal dealing with a personal Lord — "Son." Beautiful word. And there is not merely that beautiful expression which implies relationship and which carries love with it — because this word of relationship has words of grace and love and kindness couched beneath it. But mark how He goes to the root of the disease that is here. There is no question about the palsy, because He deals with it; but first of all the great Physician and the great Prophet deals with the root of the thing, and therefore He goes at once to the needs of the man's soul. Now we are living in a day when the needs of people's bodies seem to have a greater interest to many persons' hearts than the needs of their souls, and I think we have to watch much about this. It will be a poor thing for us merely to be philanthropists in this world; it would be a poor thing for us if we merely thought of the needs and distresses and wants — though I know they are many — of the bodies of men in this poor scene; of the desolations, and the death, and the woes, and the pain, and the pressure, and the rack, and the misery that abound all around us, and especially in this great city. I have often thought and said that it is well for us, perhaps, that we live so far away from its sorrows: there are but few who could really face it so as not to be affected by it, and so lose the balance of their hearts, if not of their minds. But while that is true, I think it is a great thing for us to see here that the first thing, and that which lies at the root of all the misery that is in this world, the root-tree of all the woes and miseries of men, was just this, "thy sins:" and therefore He goes to the root of the thing first, He deals with the man's soul first — "thy sins," He says. How instructive that is for us; and does not it call our thoughts back to what was said of Him to His parents after the flesh with regard to His name when He was about to be born into this world? Very instructive were those words, "Thou shalt call his name Jesus," which, you know, is Jehovah-Saviour, Jehoshua, Jesus. "Thou shalt call his name Jesus." Why? The Jews would have been very glad to have accepted Jesus if He came to save His people from the Roman yoke, and the pressure of their enemies, under which they were lying under the governmental hand of God; but, "Thou shalt call his name Jesus, for he shall save his people from their sins." The miseries of men's bodies do not shut them out from God, but the weight of their sins would. "He shall save his people from their sins," because sins unforgiven, unwashed, unpardoned, will shut for ever a person out from God. Therefore that comes first, because, as I have said already, it lies here at the root and is the producing cause of all the misery that is in this world, even with regard to people's bodies. Sin entered into the world, and all the sins and woes of men's bodies and death along with them. And therefore it is so blessed to look at it, and to think of the great Physician here of both the souls and bodies of men, for He applies that title to Himself. It is not like what some one has said of the physicians of the world, namely, that they are men who put drugs that they do not know much about into bodies that they know less about; but observe what we have here; mark the wonderful skill, how every part of the divine blessedness and perfection of this blessed One is displayed in its proper place; how the inward state, the inner man, so to speak, is dealt with, "Thy sins are forgiven thee."

Then you get the reasonings of the rationalists of that day; and the scribes were the rationalists of the Lord's days, the most heartless of people, and they began to talk about blasphemies. And it is a wonderful thing to me — I cannot help saying it in passing — how quickly and readily people can use that word; there seems to be a marvellous acquaintance with it with some people. "This man speaks blasphemies." Ah! many a word of that kind is a revelation of the state of the person that utters it. How little people think of that! "Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks." And mark the way the Lord meets this. He says, "Whether is it easier to say, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Arise, and take up to thy bed, and walk? But that ye may know that the Son of man" — now mark this, I beseech you; the title is used here for the first time — "that ye may know that the Son of man has power on earth." I suppose the Jews would own there was power in heaven; of course they recognised that God only could forgive sins, and so far they were right; but they were blind to the very last degree in not seeing that Jesus was God. The fact was that the blindness of their heart would not permit them to see it, and the obstinacy of their will, that awful tyrant of man, which you cannot put over on God's side and which you cannot subdue, and which will not resign nor abdicate — that fierce, unsubdued tyrant of man, his will, so blinded and deceived them that they could not see in that lowly Man who was before them the veiled glory of the Godhead. Hence they say, "Who can forgive sins but God only?" Perfectly true; but He was God. But mark what the Lord says further. "But that ye may know" — that ye may have the tangible, visible proof before you — "that the Son of man" that title, "Son of man" is connected with the place He was pleased to take as becoming a man here in this world — "that the Son of man has power on earth" — wonderful words these are — "to forgive sins (he saith to the sick of the palsy), I say unto thee, Arise, and take up thy bed, and go into thine house. And "immediately" — you get not merely forgiveness, but healing for his body, and power; you get forgiveness, healing, and power, all combined here, "Son, thy sins are forgiven," "take up thy bed" — healing; "go into thine house" — power; "that ye may know" — now that is an immense thing for our hearts to take in, and there is a peculiar blessedness in it — "that ye may know that the Son of man has power on earth to forgive sins." Thank God! That is the great truth, that there was power on earth. It is quite true that the great work of atonement had to be wrought; and the claims of God in holiness met in the atoning work of Calvary; but Jehovah Himself could administer that blessing, as He could administer every other blessing, in the Person of the One who was there, who was in after-time to do the work; and, beloved, it is an immense thing for our souls to get hold of this; "that ye may know that the Son of man has 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."

Now let us look for a moment or two longer at the second case. The first case brings out the grace and kindness and goodness of our Lord Jesus Christ; but the second case is not quite such a one. It is not a case of helplessness like the palsy; it is not like a man that had to be borne forth, and have the roof broken up, and be let down into the midst before Jesus, in his weakness and feebleness, but here is the case of a man who was engaged in the most detestable of all occupations amongst the Jews, and therefore would be looked upon as a man that had lost his character. He is a publican, the tax gatherer, the levier or farmer of the Roman tax. And Jesus passed by and called him. What a comfort that is to our hearts, to think that Jesus Christ calls disreputable people. What a comfort for you and me to-night, beloved friends; disreputable characters, people without name, are welcome to Him! And not only that, but He actually calls them, as you see here. And mark what He says: "As he passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the receipt of custom, and said unto him, Follow me." Do you think I thank that man for going after Him? I do not. Do you think I admire Levi for responding to that call? No, what I admire is the grace that called him, the kindness that could look upon him and say, He is not too bad for me. It was a saying of Luther's, the great reformer, that Jesus Christ received the devil's outcasts. Thank God, He did; it marks the exceeding riches of His grace. "Follow me," He says to one esteemed as a disreputable man, engaged in a detestable occupation. Do let our hearts just drink in the sense of grace that is in that.

And not only so, but look how He proceeds further in it, because a little while afterwards we find Him actually sitting down in company with publicans and sinners. I do not know anything more sweet than to see the combination set forth here between the grace of Christ that would accept hospitality in such a company as that, and the knowledge that this Roman tax gatherer must have had of Jesus Christ when He entertained Him suitably to that knowledge. You know we entertain people suitably to what we know of them; and so Levi says, as it were, Well, I could not get together a company with which to entertain more suitably this blessed Master according to His own heart, than to bring together the very lowest class of society, the publicans and sinners. How it speaks of His grace; and how well that man read the heart of Jesus Christ; how he had profited by all the grace that shone in Him. How precious are those words that we often were blessed in hearing from a tongue that is silent now, "there was not a grace in God that He did not bring down into man, and there was not a sorrow in man that He did not take up into God." He brought every grace in God down into man; He took every sorrow in man up into God. O how blessed to think of that, and how blessed to see the effect of it upon hearts where it entered in and abode!

And mark this, too, a moment more; now you have the devil's congregation. The devil always has his congregation, and here it is. What do they say? Now mark it well, I beseech of you. First of all, they hurl the charge of blasphemy at Himself, and now they seek to undermine the authority of Jesus Christ with His disciples. These are very sad yet instructive ways of evil for us to get before our thoughts. These wretched scribes and self-righteous Pharisees, these proud sticklers for the law, actually now in an underhand way attempt to undermine the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ with His disciples. And I believe, beloved friends, all mischief more or less is underhand; spite and malice and hatred are all underhand, crawling things; and that is what you find here. They come to the disciples, and they say to them, "How is it that he eats and drinks with publicans and sinners? That is an insinuation, designed to cast a slur upon the authority of Christ with His own disciples. His answer is perfectly lovely. He says, "They that are whole have no need of the physician." It is beautiful that He should apply that word to Himself. I think that there is a reference there, which you can search out at your leisure, to a verse in the fifth and sixth chapters of the prophecy of Hosea, and that it was in the Lord's mind, too; where it is said of Ephraim that Ephraim was conscious of his wounds and of his sores, but that he flew to other resources except to God; and then when God wrought on Ephraim's soul, according to the first verse of Hosea 6, they say, "Come, and let us return unto the Lord: for he has torn, and he will heal us." And I believe the Lord had that prophecy with regard to Israel in His mind, and that He applied this word to Himself, "They that be whole have no need of the physician." It is the sick man that needs the physician; it is the man that is sick in soul that needs the great Physician of souls; it is the man that is diseased, that has got festering wounds and sores, either in his body or else in his soul, that needs the great Physician. "They that be whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick." I came not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance." And how welcome that must have fallen on the hearts and ears of poor things that were there. If there was a weary, broken, miserable heart, just think of what that must have brought to it. Think of the warmth and comfort and cheer those words must have brought to a poor, disconsolate one. Beloved friends, I know I am speaking to saints of God here to-night; but believe me, we need that too for our poor hearts, just as much as poor, wretched creatures out in this world need the grace of Christ. Do you think saints do not need the grace of Christ? It is just the very thing they stand in need of. And I will give you a touching little illustration that came before me a short time ago, which will help to show the blessedness and kindness and goodness that were in that heart, that made every poor, needy thing welcome. I believe it is an ascertained fact, and naturalists will tell you so, that sometimes in the state of the atmosphere in storms, small birds are driven very far out to sea, and get out of their reckoning altogether, and almost lose themselves. It is related by a traveller, who was crossing the ocean, that on one occasion, after a very severe storm, there was a little lark seen hovering over the vessel, as if weary and worn out and longing to descend and rest itself, but seemed too afraid. At last, through sheer fatigue, the little creature did alight upon the deck of the vessel, and was in such a state of emaciation through fatigue and hardship that it was easily captured. But when this little bird was in the warm, kind, gentle hand that grasped it, the poor little thing, after a moment or two, began to enjoy the warmth of that hand, and sat down upon it, and got its poor little frozen feet under its feathers, and looked about with its sharp eye without the smallest fear. And there is a hand, my brother and sister, that you may go into to-night, in the fatigue and weariness and sorrow and trial of your heart; and there is a warmth, a tenderness, a gentleness in that hand; and not only that, but there is a protection too. It is the very figure that He uses Himself. He says, "I give unto them eternal life" — what a precious gift that was — "and they shall never perish, neither shall any" — it is not any man, but neither devil nor man — "neither shall any pluck them out of my hand."

The Lord in His infinite grace just give our hearts to take the colour of this grace, first of all to enjoy it for ourselves, and secondly, to remember His own words — and I leave them with you "Go and do thou likewise," for His name's sake.