Scripture Reading: Mark 2:1-22
You know the old saying, “it’s like drinking water from a firehose”?
Well it’s like that when you read the Gospel of Mark. Last week we looked all the stories covered in the 25 verses we read, and this week we read another 22 verses and there’s a bunch more stories of Jesus. In reality there’s only two events happening, but it’s just crammed with things that we can easily over look.
There’s the healing of the paralytic, which takes up roughly half our reading this morning. Then Jesus calls Levi (who’s later known as Matthew) the tax collector to follow him. Then Jesus was invited to dinner at Levi’s home, which then led to a series of interactions with the scribes, and also some other people we aren’t exactly sure who they are with.
Again with Mark, we cover a lot of ground in just a few verses, and I probably could have pulled three sermons out of this text alone. But, we’ll keep up with the readings prescribed and follow along as best we can.
Even while Mark moves us through these stories at an incredibly rapid pace, we need to be careful to slow down and make sure we’re picking up on the points which are being made along the way.
In today’s reading there were three questions asked of Jesus. Did you pick up on them?
In the healing of the paralyzed man we read there was such a huge crowd around the house Jesus was in that 4 men who were carrying their friend could not find space to enter the house. These guys clearly have heard about how Jesus has been healing people, and they are so desperate for their friend to be healed they pull him up on to the roof and begin to rip open a hole to gain access.
So not only do you have a huge crowd pressing in just to get close to Jesus, which no doubt comes with its own noise, we have now added to this congestion some chaos from above as the roof is pulled back and faces look down for Jesus. Which is then followed by a man on a mat being lowered down amidst the crowd.
I can’t even imagine what it would have looked like in that moment. What sort of faces the crowd would have been making? Shock? Confusion? Anger?
And as the man was lying at the feet of Jesus, we hear that Jesus was moved by the faith of not him who was paralyzed, but by the faith of those who went through such extreme measures to bring him.
And what does Jesus say? He looks to the man and says, “Your sins are forgiven.”
Here’s where the first question comes in. The funny part is no one actually says it aloud. Jesus knows they have these questions in their hearts. Verse 6 says, “Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, ‘Why does this fellow speak in this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?’”
To which Jesus replies, “Why do you raise such questions in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and take your mat and walk’? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins, I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go to your home.”
And the man does. He stands up, picks up his mat and walks through the crowd and out the door.
Jesus initially says to the man, “Your sins are forgiven.” But nothing appears to happen, except for the questions of doubt in the hearts of the scribes. Which then causes Jesus to respond with a question of his own. “Which is easier?”
Is it easier to say “Your sins are forgiven” or to say to a paralyzed man “Get up and walk”?
Now, that is a tricky question Jesus asks of the scribes.
It’s not one they have chance to answer because Jesus just does it. He tells the man to get up and walk and he does!
Jesus shows everyone he has not only the authority to forgive sins, (which may or may not have attributed to the man’s condition, we don’t know) Jesus shows he has authority over our own physical condition as well. Both of these things we have no control over.
So what is the response to all of this? Verse 12 says, “…they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, ‘We have never seen anything like this!’”
What began with questions of doubt has moved into expressions of awe. But, it seems a theme is emerging: People are beginning to question the legitimacy of who Jesus claims to be and what he is doing.
We next read Jesus is moving about between locations and comes along a tax collector working in his booth. Tax collectors are well known as having reputations for being corrupt. These people work for the Roman empire collecting taxes from the citizens in the region. However while they are representatives, they are not paid by the empire. Tax collectors are paid by adding their own tax on top of what the government requires. Effectively they are paid whatever they feel they can get away with.
Levi is working away in his booth and Jesus comes along and calls him out to follow him. And we hear that’s exactly what he did. Levi left his booth and followed Jesus.
It’s kind of telling just how well respected tax collectors are when we read the description of the dinner gathering later in the day. Verse 15 says, “And as he sat at dinner in Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were also sitting with Jesus and his disciples…”
And then when the scribes see Jesus eating in this company they ask, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
Tax collectors are so hated they can’t even be lumped together in a generic characterization like “sinners”, they need their own whole category!
So there was our second question, and it’s getting a little more pointed. The scribes ask, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
And what does Jesus say?
It’s a great response, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.”
When do we go see our doctor? Is it when we are feeling great? No, we go because we have a question about something we are feeling in our body that doesn’t seem quite right. We go when we’re sick.
Jesus is saying he hasn’t come for those who are righteous, which is to say those who already know God and follow His commandments. Jesus is saying he has come for those who need to be fixed or healed.
There’s a great saying, “The church is not a museum for the saints, it is a hospital for the broken.”
I believe this saying got its inspiration from what Jesus said. Jesus came to the earth so that people would come to know God through him, not for people who already know God.
The church is the expression of Jesus and his teaching in the world today. So who are we here for? Are we here so that we have somewhere to be comfortable and pat ourselves on the back for being great people? Or are we here to take these teachings to heart and make a difference in the world?
Martin Luther said, “Christ, the Son of God, was given, not for righteousness and for saints, but for unrighteousness and for sinners. If I were righteous and without sin, I would have no need of Christ…”
Are we a club for those who are righteous and sinless, or are we a hospital for the spiritually broken who come to be healed by God?
Jesus came to make a difference to the people in society who were broken, forgotten, neglected and hurting. At this part of the Gospel of Mark we are only days, maybe weeks into his ministry, and already he has healed hundreds, possibly thousands of people.
These are people who need him. People who need to know God cares for them. Broken people who are broken no more once they encounter Jesus.
This leads us into our final question.
It is noticed by some people that the disciples of Jesus don’t fast like disciples of the Pharisees and of John the baptist. So they ask Jesus about it. They say, “Why do John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?”
And again Jesus offers a beautiful response. He says, “The wedding guests cannot fast while the bridegroom is with them, can they? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast on that day.”
It’s simple, when the guest of honour is at the party, people take part in the celebration! There will be opportunity for fasting when the time is right, but not now.
Fasting is used as a tool of preparation, a method for getting closer to God. It’s a way of cleansing oneself to prepare to receive the holiness of God.
Well, in Jesus the holiness is right here! There’s no need to prepare because it’s too late. Jesus has come. God is here!
Jesus then goes on to explain, “No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old cloak; otherwise, the patch pulls away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost, and so are the skins; but one puts new wine into fresh wineskins.”
Jesus is the new wine, and we cannot put him into the old wineskins. We cannot expect him to fit into something he was not meant to fit. Like an improper patch on a jacket.
Jesus is a totally new thing, he is a new life! He has come to show us a new way of living. Gone are the old ways of guilt and punishment for our sins, instead we encounter forgiveness which is given freely. Jesus took the punishment for us.
All your guilt and shame, all your sin, he took it for you on the cross. Pouring out his blood for you.
In three questions, Jesus taught us much.
The first question… “Who can forgive sin but God alone?”
Jesus can. And he does. Because he is God among us.
The second question, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
Because these are who he came for. Jesus did not come for those who had no need for him. He came for those who need a Saviour. He came for those who are broken and in need of healing. He came because we need him in our broken lives too. We aren’t perfect, but he shows us God’s love regardless.
And the final question, “Why don’t his disciples fast?”
They don’t fast because they don’t need to prepare to be closer to God. God is already with him. They will learn far more in his presence than spending time fasting.
They will learn he is the new wine. They will see God’s love in action. They will receive his healing, they will experience new life with him.
They will realize their old beliefs, their old understanding of life and of God are far different to what God really desires when they come to know Jesus Christ.
I hope you realize the same.
When we slow down and look closely at what Jesus teaches us in the whirlwind of activity we find in the Gospel of Mark, we see the true identity of Jesus shown in his words and actions. We see how in following him we receive a new life of our own because only he has the power and authority to do what does. And he does it all for us.
Jesus Christ is God among us.
Jesus Christ is the way. Jesus invites us to know him personally. He invites us to share in his teaching. And he offers us healing of our souls, a healing only God can bring.
May Jesus speak into your heart and your life, so you may know Jesus Christ, the Son of God, in a new and powerful way. And may you be healed of your sin by him.