Mark 2:1-12 – And when he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. [2] And many were gathered together, so that there was no more room, not even at the door. And he was preaching the word to them. [3] And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. [4] And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him, and when they had made an opening, they let down the bed on which the paralytic lay. [5] And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “My son, your sins are forgiven.” [6] Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, [7] “Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” [8] And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, “Why do you question these things in your hearts? [9] Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’? [10] But 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, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.” [12] And he rose and immediately picked up his bed and went out before them all, so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this!”

Jesus saw their faith (verse 2). What did Jesus see? Did He peer into the hearts of each of the men who had lowered their friend before Jesus and see what no one else could ever see? That may be exactly what the text is suggesting. Jesus seeing their faith is more than just seeing an act of kindness and surmising that this is based on true faith. The Scribes “questioning in their hearts” (verse 6) and Jesus “perceiving in his spirit” (verse 8) that they were questioning “within themselves”  is more than mere intuition.

There are ways in which we can mimic Jesus here and some ways in which we cannot. We can see actions as the outgrowth of faith. Faith without works is dead and we need to be reminded that real faith, whenever it is present, will always, always, always, result in a life that demonstrates that faith. Faith will always produce action, change of behaviour. Those actions and behaviours will be observable and we will be able to conclude that real faith has produced real service to God. But no matter how much good a person does or talks, we can never be absolutely certain that what a person is doing is because of real saving faith in Jesus Christ. Paul hints at this in I Corinthians 13 when he says that a man may offer his body to be burned and still not be loving. Great acts of sacrifice, commitment, dedication, even self-immolation, do not necessarily mean that a person has a real vibrant faith. We can be fooled by such things. The person who speaks of faith in Jesus, attends a Bible believing church, gives money, time and talent in his service to the church, will not be thought of as lacking real saving, work producing faith. But we cannot see into the soul. We all know of people we were sure were sound in faith, and yet were caught in some act of immorality or deception that really proved the falsehood of their claims to faith. And no matter how often things like that happen, there are always those we are absolutely sure are as sound as can be and of whom we are sure such revelations will never come.

But Jesus is never surprised when they happen. He can see right into the soul. Is that what Jesus did here? It appears that is exactly what happened. He saw their gracious, compassionate act and peered into their hearts and saw that what spurred them on to do this thing was a real faith in Jesus as the Messiah and the belief that He could and would heal their sick friend. In similar manner He looked into the hearts of the scribes and knew what they were thinking when they mused in their hearts that Jesus was a blasphemer.

Any discerning believer could say that they saw real faith in the men who lowered their friend down through the roof so that Jesus could heal him. But we would not be able to say it with absolute certainty that their action was the result of a real saving faith. And we could never know what others in the crowd were thinking. The fact that Jesus could and did, and does, is both comforting and terrifying. It is comforting because if our faith were to be judged by anyone else they could get it wrong. Jesus will not. He knows our hearts and when we stand before him no one will be able to contradict Him and say that we are not truly His. It is terrifying for the same reason. Jesus cannot be fooled. There will be those who stand before King Jesus at the end of the age and claim the right to eternal life based on the fact that they preached and healed and cast out demons (Matthew 7:21-23). There will be those who will claim that they did indeed visit Jesus and gave him food and drink and clothed and visited him (Matthew 25:44). But Jesus cannot be fooled. He knows who really serves Him. He knows who really believes. For the true believer no amount of opposition or lies about them or persecution or false accusations will be able to influence Jesus in the least. All who trust in Him shall inherit eternal life. For the hypocrite no amount of pleading one’s righteousness, sacrifice, effort, or service will be able to convince Him that He is making a mistake. They may have been able to fool themselves but they will never fool God, the Son.

We are called to examine ourselves to see if we are in the faith (II Corinthians 13:5). The First Letter of John is given to explaining the marks of real fellowship with God. We do well to heed such calls upon us. There is nothing more pathetic than self deception. Fooling people is easy. Fooling ourselves is tragic. Fooling the Saviour is impossible.