Mark 3:20-35 – The Family of God

Then the multitude came together again, so that they could not so much as eat bread. But when His own people heard about this, they went out to lay hold of Him, for they said, “He is out of His mind.” (Mark 3:20-21, NJKV).

It isn’t too difficult to see why Jesus’ family thought he was crazy. Jesus had thrown away a steady career and any hope of financial security. He was assaulting the socio-religious order of his day. His so-called followers were comprised of crude fishermen, tax collectors, and other disreputable individuals. And He was basically generating a mob of people wherever He stepped foot. It’s not hard to see the family’s point of view! I feel that Jesus’ example, however, serves as a reminder to us that we, too, may be called to do things that may look to well-meaning friends and family like we are also “out of our minds.” At least we can know that we are in good company. 🙂

“And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, ‘He has Beelzebub,’ and, ‘By the ruler of the demons He casts out demons’” (vs. 22). The family simply thinks that Jesus is crazy, but the religious rulers accuse Jesus of something far more insidious. In their viewpoint, the only explanation for Jesus’ unprecedented spiritual power is that He must be in alliance with Satan himself.

So He called them to Himself and said to them in parables: “How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand… No one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. And then he will plunder his house.” (Mark 3:23-27)

In His response, Jesus first points out the logical fault in the scribes’ accusation. Next, Jesus pulls back the veil on what is actually going on in the unseen spiritual realm. Satan seeks to control his dominion as a strong man guards his house, but One who is stronger is actually in the process of binding Satan in order to plunder his goods and release his captives! And that should be very, very good news for us!

As Jesus continues His response, however, He makes a subsequent statement that has left many unsettled and disturbed: “’Assuredly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they may utter; but he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is subject to eternal condemnation’— because they said, ‘He has an unclean spirit'” (vss. 28-30).

What is Jesus talking about here? Is a word or thought of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit really the unpardonable sin? Most theologians agree that the “unpardonable sin” is understood in Scripture as a continual (rather than a one-time) rejection of God’s influence on our lives. It is a repeated “grieving” of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:30) to the point that we are no longer even capable of discerning God’s voice in our hearts—to the point that our consciences become “seared with a hot iron” (1 Timothy 4:2; see also 1 Thessalonians 5:19). In our churches, we almost always discuss this topic in the context of obedience and avoiding sin. Now, while I don’t necessarily disagree with that premise, I think Jesus is actually making a slightly different point here that we don’t want to miss. Mark here makes a very clear connection between Jesus’ warning about the unforgivable sin and the Pharisees’ accusation of Jesus’ power originating from Beelzebub. So what the Pharisees are actually being condemned for here is that they were looking directly at a manifestation of God’s power and calling it the working of Satan! That means that Jesus is sternly warning His listeners (us) that we can also be in danger of grieving the Holy Spirit anytime we see at an outworking of God’s power and yet condemn it as a manifestation of evil!  Interestingly enough, in the parallel passage in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus drives this point even further by adding: “But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:36-37). The Greek term here for “idle word” (rema argos) can also be rendered “unprofitable word,” and, in our passage’s context, this would encompass unjustly condemning or accusatory words as well. Among other things, Jesus’ statement should be a sobering warning for us to be slow in judgment when our brothers and sisters in Christ do something differently than us, whether in worship style or faith practices. Just because something doesn’t fit nicely into our narrow theological “God box,” doesn’t mean the Spirit isn’t working… Rather, we should always carefully examine the “fruit” (Matthew 12:33) while prayerfully “dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).

Then His brothers and His mother came, and standing outside they sent to Him, calling Him. And a multitude was sitting around Him; and they said to Him, “Look, Your mother and Your brothers are outside seeking You.” But He answered them, saying, “Who is My mother, or My brothers?” And He looked around in a circle at those who sat about Him, and said, “Here are My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of God is My brother and My sister and mother.” (Mark 3:31-35)

This last passage of chapter 3 focuses in again on the disapproval of Jesus’ family. Jesus uses this opportunity to point out that a new life in Christ can sometimes mean the loss of earthly relationships. (Jesus makes similar statements in Luke 14:26 and Matthew 10:35.) But rather than focusing on the possibility of loss, I want us to see the beautiful promise of gaining new relationships which Jesus is offering. Jesus is extending an invitation to be a part of the very family of God! In fact, I like to imagine that I am sitting in that very circle as Jesus looks at each and every individual around Him and says, “Look, here are My mother and My brothers and My sisters!” It’s an invitation that Jesus is still offering each of us. And it’s an invitation to a reality that doesn’t have to wait until heaven. Jesus is willing and ready to make good on the offer today!

“Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My sake and the gospel’s,  who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time—houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions—and in the age to come, eternal life.” (Mark 10:29-30)

Advertisements

Mark 3:7-19 – “That they might be with Him”

But Jesus withdrew with His disciples to the sea. And a great multitude from Galilee followed Him… So He told His disciples that a small boat should be kept ready for Him because of the multitude, lest they should crush Him. For He healed many, so that as many as had afflictions pressed about Him to touch Him. (Mark 3:7-10, NKJV)

We like to think of of the ministry of Jesus as being characterized by the tender miracles of healing, the thoughtful teachings on a peaceful mountainside. But this passage reminds us that the ministry of Christ was not always a pleasant affair to be a part of. Jesus was essentially mobbed everywhere He went. People smothered Him—seizing, grabbing, grasping at Him! He even had to take precautions so that the multitude wouldn’t trample Him! Sometimes it’s not pretty for us to follow in the footsteps of Jesus either. We’re called into messy situations; we sometimes have to get involved with dysfunctional people and sticky relationships. However, whatever the challenges we might be facing on our path, we can know that our faithful Master has gone before us.

And the unclean spirits, whenever they saw Him, fell down before Him and cried out, saying, “You are the Son of God.” But He sternly warned them that they should not make Him known. (Mark 3:11-12, NKJV)

This is a good place to discuss an important thematic element in the book of Mark which is sometimes referred to as the “Messianic Secret.” Why is Jesus so insistent that His identity as the Messiah not be publicly revealed? We saw this peculiar situation for the first time in Mark 1:43-45 when Jesus heals the leper and instructs him not to tell anyone. Other examples can be seen in our Mark 3:12 passage, as well as in Mark 5:43; 7:36; 8:26; 8:30; and 9:9. What could be the reason for all of this? What we have to remember is that we are the “privileged reader” in Mark’s Gospel narrative— we have “inside information” about Jesus’ identity. At this point in the Markan story, only Jesus, John the Baptist, and we as the reader know of the heavenly voice which spoke, “You are My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11). So this information is not yet public knowledge, and Jesus apparently does not want it to be. Why? We have to remember what the arrival of the Messiah was believed to mean by the Jewish nation. The Messiah was understood to be a conquering warrior, a hero that would mobilize a full-scale rebellion and defeat the Roman oppressors, ushering in a new socio-political reign of Jewish independence. And yet Jesus comes as as a suffering servant, the misunderstood Son of God. The Jewish people—even Jesus’ own disciples—are simply not ready to receive their Messiah as a suffering Servant-King. “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45, NLT). The “messianic secret” of Jesus will continue to act as a one of the primary themes throughout the Gospel of Mark, climaxing in the Confession of Peter in chapter 8, verses 27-30.

We continue reading in verses 13-19:

And He went up on the mountain and called to Him those He Himself wanted. And they came to Him. Then He appointed twelve, that they might be with Him and that He might send them out to preach, and to have power to heal sicknesses and to cast out demons: Simon, to whom He gave the name Peter; James the son of Zebedee and John the brother of James, to whom He gave the name Boanerges, that is, “Sons of Thunder”; Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew [or Nathaniel], Matthew [or Levi], Thomas, James the son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus [or Jude or Judas], Simon the Cananite [or the Zealot]; and Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed Him. (Mark 3:13-19, NKJV)

Jesus now begins the official inauguration of His kingdom. As theologian William Barclay writes, “It is significant that Christianity began with a group. The Christian faith is something which from the beginning had to be discovered and lived out in a fellowship.” But why this particular group? Fishermen, tax collectors, revolutionaries… What in the world was Jesus thinking? What could He possibly hope to do with this ragtag group of social misfits? Despite their different backgrounds and different viewpoints, the one all-important attribute that these men all shared in common was that they were with Jesus. “They would have their tests, their grievances, their differences of opinion; but while Christ was abiding in the heart, there could be no dissension. His love would lead to love for one another” (E. G. White). In the context of community, Christ’s love would transform these men (those of them who were willing) from the inside out.

And Jesus called them not to be His slaves or His subordinates, but to be His friends…

They were very ordinary men. By our standards of judgment, not a single one of them would have been considered disciple material. Tax collectors. Fishermen, peasants, simple folk, unlettered for the most part with no special qualifications. But as Christ chose them He was seeing, not so much what they were, as what they were to become. The clue to their selection was that they were to be with Him. That was the beginning of their development and their transformation. He created a fellowship which was a deep content for Him, but for them was all in all…. For three years they saw with their eyes and heard with their ears. They heard the music of His voice. They watched His slow smile. They saw the sunlight dancing on His hair. They saw Him perform miracles. They heard Him tell unforgettable parables. He told them that when they had seen Him they had seen the Father.

And then same ebbing popularity and the shadow of the Cross. Was their fellowship to end with His death? Their testimony is that it did not—that the fellowship not only survived death, but was consummated after it through His Resurrection. It is an astounding claim to make. They claim that in the days between the Resurrection and the ascension Jesus established this friendship so that it would be available to men in all ages. (Dr. Peter Marshall)

He called to Him those He Himself wanted. And they came to Him. He chose them, that they might be with Him… The truth, friends, is that Jesus is still choosing… He is calling each one of us, even now, that we too might be with Him. The question is, will we come to Him?

 

Mark 2:1-3:6 – The Kingdom Agenda

The events of Mark chapter 2 (and part of chapter 3) are meant to show us what Jesus’ kingdom agenda is all about. It’s an agenda that is revealed by way of direct contrast with the counter-agenda of the established religious order. Jesus is here to turn the paradigm of religion upside down! After studying this chapter for a number of weeks, I finally noticed the fascinating common structure to the “controversy passages” that take place in these verses. For this particular blog entry, I just wanted to explore some of these study notes together. Let’s take a look:

Jesus forgives/heals a paralytic, Mark 2:1-12

  • The Pharisees’ accusatory question: “Why does this Man speak blasphemies?”
  • Jesus’s response, as a question: “Why do you reason like this in your hearts?”
  • Key points: Jesus demonstrates His divine power to forgive as well as to heal. He also claims the messianic title, “The Son of Man.”

Jesus attends a feast with sinners, Mark 2:15-17

  • Accusation: “Why does He associate with sinners?”
  • Response: “I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.” (NLT)
  • Key points: Jesus shows that sinners are accepted by God, thus deeply threatening the socio-religious constructs that the Pharisees have imposed.

Jesus’ disciples do not fast along with Pharisees, Mark 2:18-22

  • Accusation: “Why don’t your disciples fast?”
  • Response, as a question: “Can a bridegroom’s friends fast while he’s with them?”
  • Key points: By implication, Jesus is ominously warning the Pharisees that they themselves are missing out on God’s great wedding feast. And there is no place for meaningless, self-imposed religious rituals. The old system, the old spirit, cannot live on with the new. “New wine cannot be put into old wineskins.”

Jesus’ disciples pluck grain to eat on the Sabbath, Mark 2:23-28

  • Accusation: “Why do your disciples do what is not lawful on the Sabbath?”
  • Response, as a question: “Haven’t you read what David did when he was hungry?”
  • Key points: Human need is always the most important factor in God’s eyes. As the Son of Man, Jesus claims divine lordship over the Sabbath and frees it of its burdensome, man-made restrictions. Echoing back to the creation account, Christ places the Sabbath back in its proper relationship to mankind within God’s Law — as a gift from our Creator for our enjoyment and spiritual/physical renewal.

Jesus heals a man’s hand on the Sabbath, Mark 3:1-6

  • This healing miracle/controversy acts as a chiastic counterpart to the first miracle in Mark 2. Once again, the Pharisees do not make a verbal allegation against Jesus, but they “watch Him closely so that they could accuse Him.” Jesus responds once again with a pointed, motive-exposing question: “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?”
  • Notice the parallel language with the prior Sabbath controversy: The Pharisees accuse Christ’s disciples of doing “what is not lawful” on the Sabbath, but now Jesus turns their own accusation around on them, exposing what is truly “not lawful” in God’s eyes.
  • This is also the second time in Mark’s Gospel that we read of Christ experiencing strong emotions. In Mark 1:41, we read that Jesus was “moved with compassion” (splagchnizomai) and now we read that Jesus looks around “with anger, being grieved by the hardness of their hearts” (3:5, NKJV). Other versions read the He was “deeply hurt”, “sorrowful”, “saddened”, “distressed” at the “callousness of their hearts.” I think we sometimes think of Jesus as placid, controlled, and stoic, that He lived above the volatility of human emotions. But I believe these passages show us the Christ experienced the depths of human sorrow, anger, and joy on a scale more extreme than we might ever be able to imagine.
  • Then the Pharisees went out and immediately plotted with the Herodians against Him, how they might destroy Him” (verse 6). The implicit irony here is strong. The Pharisees despised the Herodians (supporters of Herod), considering them corrupt sell-outs. Yet, the two opposing sects come together in their unified purpose of destroying Jesus. It is also darkly ironic that, on the sacred Sabbath day, these two groups “immediately” went out and began to plot how to kill their own Messiah. “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?”

So what do we learn from all of this? Jesus is here to forgive the unforgivable, heal the untouchable, call the unwanted, and befriend the friendless. He’s here to turn religion on its head and redefine what it really means to live out the Law of God. Despite the mounting opposition, in the coming section of Mark chapter 3, we will see Jesus officially inaugurate His kingdom in the appointment of the twelve apostles.

Mark 2:15-22 – New Wineskins

Now it happened, as He was dining in Levi’s house, that many tax collectors and sinners also sat together with Jesus and His disciples; for there were many, and they followed Him. And when the scribes and Pharisees saw Him eating with the tax collectors and sinners, they said to His disciples, “How is it that He eats and drinks with tax collectors and sinners?” (Mark 2:15-16,NKJV)

Before we go any further, I want to pause for a second on a line from verse 15: “and sinners also sat together with Jesus…” Just reflect with me for a moment on what this verse really means! We have a Savior who is not afraid to associate Himself with sinners! He’s not afraid of our dirt; we don’t have to worry about making Him uncomfortable with our baggage. That’s good news, isn’t it? BUT, at the same time, Christ has a very determined purpose in this interaction, as shown by His response to the scribes: “When Jesus heard it, He said to them, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance’” (vs. 17, NKJV). Jesus’ purpose is to call us to repentance and to bring healing to our lives. Sometimes we’re quick to jump on the first part of Christ’s response — so that we can put those self-righteous snobs in their place! However, we must never forget our own desperate need of healing life transformation. I appreciate how the New Living Translation renders this passage: “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.” Theologian William Barclay further expands on this point:

Mark 2:17 is a highly concentrated verse. It sounds at first hearing as if Jesus had no use for good people. But the point of it is that the one person for whom Jesus can do nothing is the person who thinks himself so good that he does not need anything done for him; and the one person for whom Jesus can do everything is the person who is a sinner and knows it and who longs in his heart for a cure. To have no sense of need is to have erected a barrier between us and Jesus; to have a sense of need is to possess the passport to his presence. (Barclay’s Daily Study Bible, Mark)

Jesus’ actions here are of course deeply threatening to the socio-religious constructs that the scribes and Pharisees have worked so hard to erect, and in the next scene cut, Jesus is once again at the center of religious controversy. We pick up in verse 18: “Once when John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting, some people came to Jesus and asked, ‘Why don’t your disciples fast like John’s disciples and the Pharisees do?’” You see, in Christ’s day, the Pharisees went far beyond the Torah’s prescribed yearly fasts and actually practiced fasting on a regular weekly basis. When the Pharisees fasted, they would wear tattered, disheveled garments and would even whiten their faces so that it would be unmistakably obvious that they were fasting. This, of course, was all done for public show, so that the common people would admire the Pharisees’ austerity. That’s why Jesus would later teach, “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting” (Matthew 6:16, NIV). So in our Markan passage, it is apparently one of these self-imposed fasting cycles that Jesus and His disciples are accused of not observing. Let’s read Christ’s response to the confrontation:

Jesus replied, “Do wedding guests fast while celebrating with the groom? Of course not. They can’t fast while the groom is with them. But someday the groom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast.
“Besides, who would patch old clothing with new cloth? For the new patch would shrink and rip away from the old cloth, leaving an even bigger tear than before.
“And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. For the wine would burst the wineskins, and the wine and the skins would both be lost. New wine calls for new wineskins.” (Mark 2:19-22, NLT)

For his first counter-example, Jesus picks the most joyous occasion in the Jewish culture. Wedding celebrations would go on for days of feasting and partying! Custom forbade participants from fasting during this time so that nothing would risk spoiling the joyful mood of the occasion. So by implication, Jesus is basically warning the Pharisees that if they don’t recalibrate their thinking—if they remain stuck in their “old wineskin” mentality—they’re going to miss out on God’s own great wedding feast! The Bridegroom of Israel is present, living and walking among them, and they don’t even have a clue. How very, very sad… I am reminded of this excerpt from E.G. White which I find here to be particularly meaningful:

The Prince of heaven was among His people. The greatest gift of God had been given to the world. Joy to the poor; for Christ had come to make them heirs of His kingdom. Joy to the rich; for He would teach them how to secure eternal riches. Joy to the ignorant; He would make them wise unto salvation. Joy to the learned; He would open to them deeper mysteries than they had ever fathomed; truths that had been hidden from the foundation of the world would be opened to men by the Saviour’s mission.

John the Baptist had rejoiced to behold the Saviour. What occasion for rejoicing had the disciples who were privileged to walk and talk with the Majesty of heaven! This was not a time for them to mourn and fast. They must open their hearts to receive the light of His glory, that they might shed light upon those who sat in darkness and in the shadow of death. (White, The Desire of Ages)

You know, the more I have studied this passage in Mark, the more convicted I have felt lately to reflect and ask myself: Where in my life could I be missing out on “God’s party next door”? All because I’m stuck in an “old wineskin” mentality and spirit? Where in my heart do I need to allow God to recreate me into a new wineskin, so that I can receive the fresh blessings and the new opportunities that His Spirit wants to pour out on me? 

As we approach the end of Mark chapter 2, we see that this chapter was written to teach us that the old garment can’t just be “patched up.” The old cynical, judgmental mode of thinking which seeks to exclude people who don’t measure up to our biased standards… The old legalistic approach to religion which seeks to impose burdensome, man-made rules in our relationship with God… These old attitudes, biases, and prejudices have absolutely no place in the New Kingdom that Christ is here to proclaim! “New wine calls for new wineskins.”

Mark 2:13-14 – As Jesus Passed By

“Then He went out again by the sea; and all the multitude came to Him, and He taught them. As He passed by, He saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax office. And He said to him, ‘Follow Me.’ So he arose and followed Him.” (verse 13-14, NKJV)

As Jesus passed by… We all pass by a thousand things each day that we never take a single moment’s notice of, don’t we? People, interactions, opportunities… We simply “pass by” on our way to somewhere else. But when Jesus passes by, He sees things that others don’t. He saw Levi “sitting at the tax office.” Any one of us would have glanced Levi’s way and have simply muttered to ourselves, “What a hopeless sell-out.” But when Jesus saw Levi, He saw a heart hungering for acceptance and love. Aren’t we so thankful that when Jesus passes by us, He looks our way, too?

In Mark’s Gospel, Christ’s call to discipleship and Levi’s immediate response of obedience is abrupt and unexpected. The sudden encounter is one which even leaves us a bit uncomfortable perhaps. Dietrich Bonhoeffer reflects on the abruptness of this interaction:

The call of Jesus goes forth and is at once followed by the response of obedience… How could the call immediately evoke obedience? The story is a stumbling-block for the natural reason, and it is no wonder that frantic attempts have been made to separate the two events… Thus we get the stupid question: Surely, the publican must have known Jesus before, and the previous acquaintance explains his readiness to hear the Master’s call. Unfortunately our text is ruthlessly silent in this point, and in fact it regards the immediate sequence of call and response as a matter of crucial importance. It displays not the slightest interest in the psychological reasons for a man’s religious decisions. And why? For the simple reason that the cause behind the immediate following of call by response is Jesus Christ himself. It is Jesus who calls, and because it is Jesus, Levi follows at once. This encounter is a testimony to the absolute, direct, and unaccountable authority of Jesus… Jesus summons men to follow him not as a teacher of a pattern of the good life, but as the Christ, the Son of God. In this short text, Jesus Christ and his claim are proclaimed to men. Not a word of praise is given to the disciple for his decision for Christ. We are not expected to contemplate the disciple, but only him who calls, and his absolute authority. According to our text, there is no road to faith or discipleship, no other road – only obedience to the call of Jesus.  (Bonhoeffer, Discipleship)

An unexpected call, and an immediate response… You know, I used to look at this story and shudder in awe at the magnitude of Levi-Matthew’s sacrifice. To be honest, I always found the account intimidating. Would I have been able to walk away from everything known and comfortable in my world? After all, Levi’s decision was an irreversible one! Theologian William Barclay points out:

Of all the disciples Matthew gave up most. He literally left all to follow Jesus. Peter and Andrew, James and John could go back to the boats. There were always fish to catch and always the old trade to which to return; but Matthew burned his bridges completely. With one action, in one moment of time, by one swift decision he had put himself out of his job forever, for having left his tax-collector’s job, he would never get it back. It takes a big man to make a big decision, and yet some time in every life there comes the moment to decide. (Barclay, William Barclay’s Daily Study Bible, Mark)

But, you know what, as I reflect on this passage more fully, I think I now understand why Levi could and would immediately choose to follow the call. Through his whole life, Levi-Matthew had struggled to find meaning and purpose, to feel like he belonged somewhere. And now, here was that opportunity standing before him, in the form of a Person named Jesus. Levi was being offered an invitation to be a part of a community, a family. He was being called into an eternal friendship with the very Son of God. As Bonheoffer concludes, “At the call, Levi leaves all that he has – but not because he thinks he might be doing something worth while, but simply for the sake of the call. Otherwise he cannot follow in the steps of Jesus… When we are called to follow Christ, we are summoned to an exclusive attachment to his person.”

He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose. ~Jim Elliot

Mark 2:1-12 – Healing Forgiveness

After a brief preaching circuit around the Galilean region, Jesus returns to his hometown. Mark 2 picks up the account:

When Jesus returned to Capernaum several days later, the news spread quickly that he was back home. Soon the house where he was staying was so packed with visitors that there was no more room, even outside the door. While he was preaching God’s word to them, four men arrived carrying a paralyzed man on a mat. They couldn’t bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, so they dug a hole through the roof above his head. Then they lowered the man on his mat, right down in front of Jesus. (Mark 2:1-4, NLT)

Before we go any further, I can’t help but pause here and reflect on one line in this passage that I find particularly disturbing: “They couldn’t bring him to Jesus because of the crowd” (verse 4, NLT). We like to think of ourselves as “the crowd around Jesus,” don’t we? We’re Christians, we’re church-goers, we’re part of the “in group.” But have we ever stopped to think about how we might sometimes actually be a hindrance for others trying to get to Jesus? Can’t we so easily discourage seekers by the way we judge others in our churches? Or perhaps by the way we criticize or gossip about other believers? What about when we try to make others follow all of our self-imposed rules once they get into our churches? (“You can’t be baptized until…”) How many times have sincere seekers been turned away or discouraged from coming to Jesus by the church-going crowd around Jesus? A sobering thought.

But, I love how the rest of the story goes. I like to imagine it played out something like this:

Perched from his seat in the center of the room, Jesus teaches to the eager crowd. They’re most likely in Peter’s house. Closest around Jesus are Peter, Andrew, James, and John, each posturing themselves as protective body guards. They’re keeping an eye out, in case anyone tries any, you know, “funny business.” In the middle of Jesus’ illustration, an awful scraping and clattering noise interrupts the discussion from directly above. Suddenly, a torrent of straw and dust and mud flakes rain down on the heads of Jesus and the disciples. What could possibly be going on? Peter gives a shout of indignation and starts for the back portico door—that’s his roof after all! But Jesus quickly reaches out and gently grabs a hold of Peter. “Wait..” Jesus whispers. Then, looking up with a quizzical smile, Jesus waits to see what will happen next… Suddenly, four heads pop over the ceiling’s gaping hole. A moment later, the heads disappear and grunts of lifting and staining can be heard. The next thing everyone knows, a pallet of some kind is being lowered with ropes through the opening. (Everyone is still too surprised to say anything!) Once the load reaches eye level, a gasp ripples across the room. There’s a man on the pallet! Slowly, the bed is lowered all the way to the floor, directly in front of the Teacher. All eyes are on Jesus now. The crowd breathlessly waits to see what Jesus will do. Jesus looks intently at the paralyzed man for a long while. He then thoughtfully gazes up at the four heads popping through the roof. Finally, resting His eyes back on the young man, Jesus says with a loving smile: “My child, your sins are forgiven” (verse 5, NLT).

“Uh, Jesus…” We think to ourselves. “Are you sure you got that right? Isn’t this man’s plight rather obvious? Don’t you think the poor guy would rather just be able to walk!?”  But no, Jesus knows exactly what’s going on in this man’s mind and heart. What kind of physical experience can possibly compare with the spiritual, emotional peace that comes from a forgiven soul? Christ’s words fall like music on the paralytic’s ears…

The burden of despair rolls from the sick man’s soul; the peace of forgiveness rests upon his spirit, and shines out upon his countenance. His physical pain is gone, and his whole being is transformed. The helpless paralytic is healed! the guilty sinner is pardoned!

In simple faith he accepted the words of Jesus as the boon of new life. He urged no further request, but lay in blissful silence, too happy for words. The light of heaven irradiated his countenance, and the people looked with awe upon the scene. (E. G. White, Desire of Ages, p. 268)

Yet not everyone can appreciate the beauty of the moment. From this point in Mark’s gospel, we see the first flicker of the mounting controversy between Jesus and the Jewish religious leaders: “But some of the teachers of religious law who were sitting there thought to themselves, ‘What is he saying? This is blasphemy! Only God can forgive sins!’” (vs. 4-6, NLT) How sad. These so-called spiritual authorities have become so calloused and jaded that they can’t even sympathize with the paralytic’s needs. Their jealousy of Jesus’ popularity has been growing by this point and so they immediately jump on an opportunity upon which they can criticize Jesus. But I just love how Jesus responds to the situation:

But immediately, when Jesus perceived in His spirit that they reasoned thus within themselves, He said to them, “Why do you reason about these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Arise, take up your bed and walk’? 10 But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins”—He said to the paralytic, 11 “I say to you, arise, take up your bed, and go to your house.” 12 Immediately he arose, took up the bed, and went out in the presence of them all, so that all were amazed and glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this!” (Mark 2:6-12, NKJV)

With one stunning miracle, Jesus traps the scribes in their own logic! As theologian William Barclay writes: “On their own stated beliefs the man could not be cured, unless he was forgiven. He was cured, therefore he was forgiven. Therefore Jesus’ claim to forgive sin must be true.”

As Mark’s “first time readers,” we learn a couple of important points from this story about the life and ministry of Jesus. Number one, we see for the first time, that Jesus not only heals sick people and cleanses lepers, but He also forgives sins! (We’re not just dealing with a powerful prophet anymore!) Next, we see Jesus affirm faith as an integral part of the healing/forgiving process. Finally, we begin to see the forebodings of an irreparable rift between Jesus and the religious leaders. Where is all of this going to lead from here? 

Before we wrap up today’s study, however, I’d like to highlight a few more life-application points for us to reflect on throughout the rest of the day:

  • Notice that after the crowd hinders the paralytic from being brought to Jesus, the four men must tear through the roof to make a way to Jesus. The thought occurs to me: Are these some things in my life I might need to tear down to ensure that I am never a hindrance for others coming to Jesus? Are there some practices of our churches that we might need to deconstruct in order to foster a better community of acceptance and love for those who seek Jesus?
  • Verse 5 says: “When Jesus saw their faith,” then He spoke to the paralytic… So, whose faith are we talking about here? Was it the faith of the four friends or the faith of the paralytic? I believe it’s both! The paralytic had to be exercising some faith in order to ask his friends to carry him to Jesus in the first place, and he was certainly acting in faith as he jumped up from his bed! But Jesus was also affirming the faith of the four friends in caring for their brother. We also have a responsibility to intercede in prayer and come along side our brothers and sisters in their difficult life seasons. “Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2, NLT).
  • The Pharisees and scribes were beginning to become trapped in a fault-finding mode of thinking. They were becoming jealous and suspicious of Jesus and so they were just waiting to pounce on an opportunity to criticize Him, even when that so-called opportunity was a beautiful act of the miraculous. Shouldn’t we carefully examine ourselves when we find our hearts falling into the same kind of critical spirit of other individuals or groups, even if they may do things a little differently than we do?
  • Which character, or set of characters, do you most closely identify with in this story? The crowd, the friends, the disciples, the paralytic? Why?

Mark 1:21-45 – The Touch of the Savior

We concluded our last study with life’s single most important question: Why should I also follow Jesus? This is the bottom-line question that each Gospel writer seeks to answer by telling us who Jesus is and why He should matter to us. Matthew, for instance, introduces us to Jesus by letting us listen to what Jesus says via the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). But Mark chooses to introduce us to Jesus by letting us watch what Jesus does.

21 Then they went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath He entered the synagogue and taught. 22 And they were astonished at His teaching, for He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.

23 Now there was a man in their synagogue with an unclean spirit. And he cried out, 24 saying, “Let us alone! What have we to do with You, Jesus of Nazareth? Did You come to destroy us? I know who You are—the Holy One of God!”

25 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be quiet, and come out of him!” 26 And when the unclean spirit had convulsed him and cried out with a loud voice, he came out of him. 27 Then they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, “What is this? What new doctrine is this? For with authority He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey Him.” 28 And immediately His fame spread throughout all the region around Galilee. (Mark 1:21-28, NKJV)

From here, the pace of the story rapidly picks up! Right after church, Jesus goes straight to Simon’s house and heals his mother-in-law with a simple touch. It doesn’t take long for the entire city to figure out that something wonderful is happening in their neighborhood: “At evening, when the sun had set, they brought to Him all who were sick and those who were demon-possessed. And the whole city was gathered together at the door” (verses 32-33). I like how Luke expands on this: “and He laid His hands on every one of them and healed them” (Luke 4:40). On every one of them… I love this. Not one of us is excluded from the touch of our Redeemer’s hand! Not one of our situations is too far gone, too wretched, too advanced, or too difficult for our Savior’s healing: “No matter what their diseases were, the touch of his hand healed every one” (verse 40, NLT).

“Now in the morning, having risen a long while before daylight, He went out and departed to a solitary place; and there He prayed” (verse 35, NKJV). The pace of the story has been fast and intense up to this point, but finally as the reader, we catch a break. We can finally take a deep breath… And what an appropriate opportunity to do so. It is crucial that we don’t skip past this verse. Take a moment with me to simply pause and drink the scene in… Jesus, finally alone with His Father. At last, the opportunity to rest in God’s Presence and to listen for His Father’s comforting whisper. Jesus is preparing Himself for what will come the following day. He is “storing up” the Spirit-given wisdom that He will need to discern His Father’s will in every coming challenge and circumstance. If Jesus, the sinless Son of God, needed His quiet, alone time in the secret place with the Father, how badly must we need it, too?

Yet, Jesus quiet hours of solitude and prayer are interrupted all too soon. Jesus will now put into action the discerning direction given by His Father from His night of prayer:

36 And Simon and those who were with Him searched for Him. 37 When they found Him, they said to Him, “Everyone is looking for You.”

38 But He said to them, “Let us go into the next towns, that I may preach there also, because for this purpose I have come forth.”

39 And He was preaching in their synagogues throughout all Galilee, and casting out demons. (Mark 1:36-39)

Although the community pleads with Jesus to stay, Jesus knows that His true mission has begun and He must move forward in His ministry. Those who carry the mission of God cannot—must not—remain comfortably, stagnantly in the same place. We must learn from Jesus’ example. Sometimes we, too, must say “no” to the din of demands and competing “responsibilities” in our lives. Sometimes we must say NO to a hundred reasonable, logical obligations “to ourselves” and “to others,” so that we can say YES to the one call that really matters. I love what Oswald Chambers writes:

“My determination is to be my utmost for His Highest.” To get there is a question of will, not of debate nor of reasoning, but a surrender of will, an absolute and irrevocable surrender… An overweening consideration of ourselves is the thing that keeps us from that decision, though we put it that we are considering others… Shut out every other consideration and keep yourself before God for this one thing only—my Utmost for His Highest. I am determined to be absolutely and entirely for Him and for Him alone. (Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest).

As we follow Jesus and His small band of followers as they continue their journey, we are next confronted with one of the most dramatic and shocking accounts in the Gospel story. Bear with me for a moment as I attempt to imagine the scene:

Jesus and his followers carefully make their way down the rough Galilean trail. As dusk begins to settle, they reach the outskirts of their next city. Peter, Andrew, James, and John are excitedly conversing about the miraculous events they have witnessed over the last few days. Suddenly, a cloaked shadow plunges in front of their path. What is it? Is it an animal? A man? The figure stops for a moment, as in a daze, and then stumbles straight toward Jesus. In the clumsiness of his effort, the figure’s hood falls back behind his head, exposing one of the most revolting sights to be seen. A leper! (Luke describes this man as “full of leprosy” which means he was in the most advanced stage of the disease!) The disciples recoil in disdain and disgust. The man’s exposed face looks like that of a demonic monster, half of his disfigured face has been eaten away by the putrefying infection. Andrew stands back in paralyzed silence, but Peter, James, and John quickly grab heavy and sharp stones to hurl at the repulsive creature, a man cursed by the very finger of God! Only the quick and decisive hand motion of Jesus stops them from heaving their stones.

The air hangs heavy with unnerving silence. Only the quiet, gentle, unflinching stare of Jesus gives the leprous man the courage to take the last few steps forward. He collapses to his knees and prostrates himself on the ground. Groveling at the feet of Christ and struggling to control his labored breathing, the man hoarsely wheezes, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean” (verse 40). Jesus doesn’t say anything at first. The disciples take this as their signal to ready their arms for strong, swift blows at the man—a man who has blatantly broken the Jewish laws of leprosy, daring to contaminate others with his curse. The disciples await the slightest signal from Christ to heave their weapons. The man presses his face to the dirt and braces himself for the sharp impact of hurled stones. But Jesus doesn’t give the awaited signal. Instead, Jesus slowly closes his eyes in distress and His face contorts, as if in pain… Jesus is experiencing splagchnizomai—literally in Greek, to be moved to the bowels with gut-wrenching compassion.

The disciples watch in shocked horror as Jesus then slowly stoops to the rotting, living corpse and extends His hand to do the unthinkable.  Instead of the painful blows of stones, the man feels a touch. A gentle yet firm touch. Jesus’ hand tenderly unfolds on the man’s bare head and then lovingly, almost-caressingly moves down his neck, finally resting in a firm grip on the his shoulder. The man shudders beneath the touch. He has not felt the hand of a human hand in years.  The touch is horribly uncomfortable to his benumbed body, almost painful. The man quivers in silence, not even daring to hope for what might come next. Jesus then speaks for the first time. His words pierce the oppressive silence: “I am willing; be cleansed.”

Emanating from the heavy hand on his shoulder, an electrifying shock of sensation pulses through the man’s entire being. In an instant, he feels everything—the tingling skin of his fingertips, the coarse rub of his tattered garment, the ticklish trace of the shoes on his feet, even the pain of his tender face pressed against the stony ground! The man abruptly looks up and his eyes are immediately met with the loving gaze of Jesus. He is cleansed; he is healed!

In that moment, the gospel is proclaimed—a more dramatic, exhilarating demonstration of the gospel message than could ever have been imagined! Friends, this is the unfolding revelation of the good-news message that Mark so desperately wants us to see. Mark chapter 1 begins with a vague hope, barely a whisper, of the good things that we might be able to expect from this Man who claims to be the Son of God. The chapter then progresses through the escalating miracles that this Man can perform and authority that this Man holds. And it all culminates to the unthinkable touch of the Savior’s hand –a touch that has the power make the sick well, the demoniacs restored, the broken whole, and the unclean cleansed. A touch that can change the course of history!

Mark chapter 1 ends in a cliff-hanger, I guess you could say. From such a fast-paced, short-term exposure to the narrative, we as “the first time reader” still know hardly anything at all about this Jesus guy. But one thing is certain: We absolutely must find out what happens next!