THE GOSPEL OF MARK
The Beginning of the Messiah's Ministry
Although there are many passages in the OT are quoted by the NT, four books in the OT especially play a significant role in the NT: Genesis, Exodus, the Psalms, and Isaiah. Of these 4 books, Isaiah seems to dominate more than the other 3. In Isaiah we read that one day God is going to pour out His Spirit upon mankind and upon the universe itself to bring about a new age, the new age of the kingdom of God. The blind and lame would be healed. There will be a new heaven and a new earth. God Himself will teach our sons and daughters (Is. 54:13). God's people will actually be called by a new name (62:2), "sons and daughters of God."
This day, the day of God's kingdom on earth, doesn't just suddenly appear. God doesn't just simply pour out His Spirit. Rather, God will place a Fountain of His Spirit upon the earth from whom will flow the Spirit. That Fountain according to the NT is Jesus. In fact, in one of the most dramatic moments in the life of Jesus, He cries out: "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink" (John 7:37). John goes on to explain that Jesus is speaking about the pouring out of the Spirit (John 7:39).
With the arrival of John the Baptist, the One Crying in the Wilderness (Isaiah 40:3), the time has come for the Fountain of God's Spirit, the Messiah ("the Anointed One"), to appear on the scene and bring in this new day, the kingdom of God. As was predicted, in the power of God's Spirit, He will now proclaim the gospel to the captives; He will release the prisoners; He will heal the sick. In the passage before us, we see Jesus, the Fountain of God's Spirit, performing just these very acts.
Jesus does something though in this passage which surprises many of those who observe Him. When these Jewish observers read Isaiah, they thought that Isaiah was speaking only of physical prisoners and physical illnesses. Little did they realize that an illness can be spiritual as well as physical. Little did they realize that this Fountain of the Spirit, the Messiah, would heal people not only physically but spiritually. As a result of their refusal to admit that the Messiah was also a spiritual healer, they reject Him. We see the beginning of this rejection at the very beginning of Mark's Gospel.
Many times people are perplexed by the hostile reaction Jesus received from His people, the Jews. Although Jesus will deal specifically with this later on in His ministry, at this point in the Gospel, we should not be surprised. Right after Jesus had been baptized, He went into the wilderness to combat Satan. Yes, there will be many reasons why the Jewish people rejected Jesus; HOWEVER, behind all these reasons lies the reality of a Satanic force which energizes those hostile to Jesus. Other reasons will later be given, but for right now, in light of the fact that Jesus had just battled Satan in the wilderness, we should not be surprised by the hostile response Jesus receives from many of the Jews.
THE HEALING OF THE PARALYTIC (2:1-13)
In fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecies, Jesus has been healing the physically sick and also exorcising demons from the demonic oppressed. In the episode before us, an additional element comes into play: Jesus dealing with a man's spiritual condition.
1 When He had come back to Capernaum several days afterward, it was heard that He was at home. 2 And many were gathered together, so that there was no longer room, not even near the door; and He was speaking the word to them. 3 And they came, bringing to Him a paralytic, carried by four men. 4 Being unable to get to Him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above Him; and when they had dug an opening, they let down the pallet on which the paralytic was lying. 5 And Jesus seeing their faith said to the paralytic, "Son, your sins are forgiven." 6 But some of the scribes were sitting there and reasoning in their hearts, 7 "Why does this man speak that way? He is blaspheming; who can forgive sins but God alone ?" 8 Immediately Jesus, aware in His spirit that they were reasoning that way within themselves, said to them, "Why are you reasoning about these things in your hearts? 9 "Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven'; or to say, 'Get up, and pick up your pallet 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, get up, pick up your pallet and go home." 12 And he got up and immediately picked up the pallet and went out in the sight of everyone, so that they were all amazed and were glorifying God, saying, "We have never seen anything like this." 13 And He went out again by the seashore; and all the people were coming to Him, and He was teaching them.
Even if this episode did not have so much to say about Jesus' identity, the healing part of the story alone would make it worth reading. Because of His healing ministry, Jesus has become so popular that it is almost literally impossible to get to Him. Four men though are determined to help their friend who is paralyzed get to Jesus so that He might heal him. Jesus is in a house, the doorway being blocked by the crowds. The four men, undeterred by the crowd, take their paralytic friend on a stretcher, up to the roof of the home, dig a hole through the roof, and then lower their friend down to Jesus through the hole! That is compassion, great friendship, and determination. It is surely going to touch Jesus' heart to see all these elements at play here.
What happens next though stuns the audience, especially the religious segment of the audience, a group of scribes. The scribes basically made up the legal profession in ancient Israel. At first, their responsibility was to tranSCRIBE the OT, making newer and newer copies as the older ones began to disintegrate. (In the same way, for approximately 1000 years, Christian theologians were to a large degree the lawyers of the Europe of the Middle Ages because its law was based on Biblical laws.) Because the Law made up so much a part of the OT, soon these scribes became proficient in their knowledge of the Law. A group of these Jewish lawyers have come to observe Jesus to make sure He does not transgress the Law, especially the Law as THEY viewed it. Instead of just simply healing the man, Jesus first tells the man that his sins have been forgiven him.
Now this statement stuns the scribes. They rightly believe that God alone has the right to forgive sins in an ultimate manner. "But don't WE forgive people their sins?" Yes, we do, but only when they have sinned directly against US. God alone has the right to forgive sins one person directs against another when He is not the direct recipient of the sin. Well, Jesus does just that: He forgives a man who has sinned against somebody else. Since the scribes KNOW that Jesus is NOT God, then they claim that He has blasphemed. They claim that He has declared Himself to be God [the Son] by forgiving this man's sins absolutely.
What happens next is extremely interesting. Many people try to "rescue" Jesus at this point. They claim, "Oh, He did mean to claim that He was God [the Son]. He just simply meant that He was God's representative, like Moses was God's representative." Well then, Jesus sure had a strange way of correcting their misunderstanding because the one thing He does NOT do is correct their misunderstanding. In fact, if these rescuers are right and Jesus did not declare Himself to be God [the Son], then He really messed up because He will go on to ask:
"Which is easier, to say to the paralytic,
'Your sins are forgiven'; or to say, 'Get up, and pick up your pallet 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, get up, pick up your pallet and go home."
Instead of trying to "rescue" Himself from His "misstatement," Jesus proves that He is divine by healing the man.
How does this healing "prove" that Jesus is God the Son? As one Jewish friend of mine asked, "But the prophets did miracles and yet they were not God." That is true; however, there is a vast difference between Jesus performing miracles and the prophets performing miracles. First, you need to realize that God alone can do miracles, especially the kind of healing miracles Jesus and the prophets performed. Second, the prophets only claimed to be FROM God; they never claimed to be God. The fact that God did miracles through them showed that they were indeed FROM God. Jesus, though, is claiming to be God [the Son] Himself. Now if God performed miracles through Jesus when indeed He was not God the Son, then GOD LIED TO US! Because He led us to believe by performing miracles through Jesus that He indeed WAS God the Son; in that case God affirmed a blasphemer and a deceiver. Our problem ultimately then would not be with Jesus but with God the Father Himself. Well, because God is good, He would not do that. If Jesus claimed to be God the Son and if God performed these miracles throug Him, then He is truly God the Son as He claimed.
An interesting note here. Jesus never told the Jews that they were misunderstanding Him whenever they accused Him of blasphemy. The fact that He never corrected them shows that He wanted them to understand that He actually WAS declaring Himself to be God the Son.
Before we leave this passage, we need to note that it is here that Jesus applies to Himself the title, "Son of Man." This title is based upon Daniel 7:13, 14:
13 "I kept looking in the night visions, And behold, with the clouds of heaven One like a
Son of Man was coming, And He came up to the Ancient of Days And was presented before Him.
14 "And to Him was given dominion, Glory and a kingdom, That all the peoples, nations
and men of every language Might serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion
Which will not pass away; And His kingdom is one Which will not be destroyed.
Why would Jesus apply this title to Himself when He could have used the title "the Messiah" ("the Anointed One"). First, the title "Messiah" had so many negative connotations in Jesus' mind that He tried to avoid using it as much as possible. He will only admit to it publicly at His trial. The reason He avoided it is that when the Jews used the title "Messiah," they used it in a political and military sense: the Messiah was going to free His people by killing all the Romans. That was not the kind of liberation that Jesus was going to bring to His people. Second, this title ("Son of Man"), though scarcely used by the Jews, was a perfect title for describing who Jesus really was. In the Daniel 7 passage, we see that the Son of Man is a divine figure who stands near the throne of God, saving God's people, and ruling over all the nations. Later Jesus will inform us that this divine Son of Man gains His kingdom by suffering and dying on the cross.
THE HEALING OF THE SPIRITUAL PARALYTICS (2:14-17)
14 As He passed by, He saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting in the tax booth, and He said to him, "Follow Me!" And he got up and followed Him. 15 And it happened that He was reclining at the table in his house, and many tax collectors and sinners were dining with Jesus and His disciples; for there were many of them, and they were following Him. 16 When the scribes of the Pharisees saw that He was eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they said to His disciples, "Why is He eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners?" 17 And hearing this, Jesus said to them, "It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners."
As was said at the beginning of this lesson, the Jews of Jesus' day thought that the healing passages in Isaiah referred only to physical healings. Jesus, though, has already touched on the connection though between the physical and spiritual in the previous episode. By forgiving the man's sins, Jesus was basically teaching that sin is the root problem for all the evil and suffering (physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual) in the world. You can't ultimately have physical healing if you don't have spiritual healing as well; the body and spirit are too interrelated for that to happen. As if the previous miracle did not make that point obvious to the Jews, Jesus' next action definitely does.
As Jesus was passing by, He comes upon a Jewish tax collector, a member of one of the most hated groups in ancient Israel. Why were tax collectors hated so much back then? First of all, like people of today, the Jews didn't like to pay taxes; everybody views the IRS as a necessary evil, necessary but also evil, in a non-evil sort of way! In the same way, the Jews despised their version of the IRS, the Jewish tax collector.
Something else though was intensifying the anger the Jews felt towards their tax collectors. Whereas today our IRS collects taxes for a government the majority of the US elected, the Jewish tax collectors were collecting taxes for the hated Roman overlords, their oppressors. Many of the taxes didn't even stay in Palestine but instead headed off for imperial Rome to fatten Caesar's coffers and to pay for wars the Jews couldn't have cared less about. The JEWISH tax collectors then were to some degree viewed as Roman collaborators, that is, traitors to Israel. The only thing that protected them was the Roman sword.
But it is even worse. Whereas the Jewish tax collectors had to collect a certain amount in order to forward on to the Roman government, they were also free to increase that amount in order to line their own coffers. The Romans didn't care how much the Jewish tax collectors charged as long as they got their cut. Well, since the Jewish tax collectors were going to be hated by their own people any way, no matter how much they charged them, why not fleece the people? Darned if you do and darned if you don't. So they chose darned if you did. This group of Jews was considered beneath contempt by their fellow countrymen.
So whom does Jesus choose to be one of His disciples? Levi, better known as Matthew, a Jewish tax collector. Jesus extends to him the same call He extended to Peter, Andrews, James, and John, not an inferior calling, but one equal to that of the GREAT and RESPECTED disciples. Upon hearing Jesus' call, Levi/Matthew immediately responds by following Jesus.
What Jesus did stunned and amazed Levi so much that he basically threw Jesus a party, a banquet in his own home, inviting all his friends who naturally just happened to be JEWISH TAX COLLECTORS! After all, who would even associate with a Jewish tax collector except for another Jewish tax collector? That was the only kind of friend Levi could attract.
At this point some scribes of the Pharisaic party begin to complain about Jesus to His own disciples (they were probably trying to drive a wedge between Jesus and His own disciples). Jesus, upon hearing this, rebukes the scribes. Any good doctor doesn't spend his time around well people; he naturally goes to the sick, the very ones he entered into the profession to serve. In the same way, as a spiritual doctor, as a healer of the entire person, spiritual as well as physical, in order to be true to His profession, Jesus must go to those who are spiritually sick. Jesus concludes this: "I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners."
What does Jesus mean by this statement? Since He as the Great Physician has come to call us all, He is basically claiming that we are ALL sick. Unlike the tax collectors who knew that they were sick and needed Jesus, the Pharisees refused to admit their spiritual sickness. The fact that the Pharisees even criticized Jesus, God the Son Himself, shows us how sick they really were. But even if they were not grossly unhealthy spiritually like the tax collectors, they were still sick spiritually; otherwise, they would have rejoiced over Jesus going after the spiritually sick. In fact, if they had been healthy spiritually, they would have assisted Jesus in going after those very sick spiritually. The fact that they did not just shows us how sick they really were.
I think that this says a lot to many in the church today. We are glad that we are not involved in the grosser sins. We do try to be good, attend Bible study and worship, and give to the church. Yet we are not involved in the very thing Jesus is involved in--reaching the down and out. Oh, we may let them into our SS classes, but are we ever going to invite them into our homes and actually become our friends?
One of the neatest things that has happened to me has been to meet all different kinds of young people while teaching at the local college. Some seem to be quite well-off; some very intelligent; some not so well-off; some not so intelligent; some not as clean as others. Yet I see the same hopes and dreams in the eyes of those not as well off, as I do in the eyes of those who are well-off. I see a lot of hurt in some of those less fortunate than you and me; they want to hear a kind word and get some direction for their lives. These are the ones Jesus is reaching out to today.
When it is all said and done, Jesus has NOT changed. He is involved in the same kind of ministry today that He was involved in 2,000 years ago, healing the spiritually sick. In order to demonstrate the healing Christ has produced in our lives, then not only are we going to rejoice in the healing ministry Jesus is engaged in today, we are also going to get involved in that ministry too, a ministry especially to the Christian poor, to the Christian down-and-out (Matt. 25:31-46).