“The time has come,” Jesus said, “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (1:15)
That was Jesus’ great announcement that is at the start of Mark’s gospel, at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee.
In Mark’s gospel account, he wants to tell us three things.
One is the news that Jesus is the kingly Messiah.
Two, Counter to people’s expectation of what the Messiah would be like, Jesus as Messiah would be God’s suffering Servant.
Three, because people’s plans for the messiah are not in line with Jesus’ cross walk, Jesus keeps his identity secret until the week before his crucifixion.
In Mark’s gospel we also have three groups of people…
One: Those called to be followers/disciples who have to choose to follow, to obey, to take up their cross.
Two: Those labelled the crowd, amazed by his teaching, stunned by the healings, shocked by the exorcisms, drawn along by miraculous provisions, who will in the end individually have to choose to leave the crowd, repent, believe and follow, or join the opposition.
Three: The Pharisees, the teachers of the Law, the scribes, the authorities and supposed guardians of God’s kingdom, who time and again find themselves on the wrong side of the equation, who will have to decide what to do with this challenge to their authority, what to do about this trouble-maker who claims equality with God.
As we walk along with Jesus in Mark’s gospel, time and again we will hear the good news that Jesus is the kingly Messiah bringing God’s kingdom, and that His messiahship is in terms of the suffering servant of God. But that this announcement though open is also veiled so that His mission is not distracted or derailed by other people’s agendas. Time and again as we hear this good news we will be faced with the reactions of the crowd, the disciples and the authorities. Time and again we will be pushed to see ourselves in their shoes, time and again we will be called to give up our own agendas and authorities, step out of the safety of the crowd and follow Jesus along the road of the cross.
So, in today’s reading we have Jesus forgiving sins, healing sickness, and calling sinners to follow Him, all of which is way beyond the remit of a prophet or a teacher. And it is no surprise that we have the three groups responding…
The authorities who ask, ‘Who does he think he is?’ and, ‘Doesn’t he know who those people, those sinners, are?’
The crowd who say: ‘We have never seen anything like this!’
And then the individuals, like the paralysed man, and Levi the tax collector, who respond to the call to follow, and who rise up from sickness and sin to new life.
Now, last time we were in Mark’s gospel we spent some minutes answering the question about whether our Scriptures are corrupted and we discovered that God in His Sovereignty has worked through the frailties of human authors, human language, human transmission and even human translation, and yet, the evidence shows us that we can have confidence in God’s written word and in our modern English translations.
This week we have another issue that people often face, and that is the question, ‘Did Jesus ever say he was God?’
Now, because of this Messianic secret that Mark highlights we see that Jesus didn’t go around shouting out, ‘I’m God, I’m the Messiah, I’m the Son of God, worship me now!’ And because of this, when we are faced with this question, it is easy to pause and think, ‘Hang on, I can’t remember a time when Jesus actually said, “I am God”’.
Now, if you ever face this question, I want you to do two things. Number one, you need to point to the cross. Jesus didn’t get crucified for being a wise teacher. The Romans had to deal with His kingly claim and the religious authorities used that fact in His trial because they weren’t allowed by the Romans to stone Jesus for blasphemy and they knew the Romans weren’t interested in dealing with supposed blasphemers.
So, number one, the cross, is massive evidence that the religious authorities believed that Jesus was claiming again and again to be somehow equal to God. And that in their eyes was blasphemous, because they couldn’t see how it could possibly be true that God would clothe himself in human frailty.
Number one, point to the cross, and number two, get out your bibles and read through the gospels with the person questioning you.
And here in Mark chapter two barely a page or so into the narrative you have Jesus being charged with being a blasphemer, charged with claiming to be equal to God. Jesus says, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’ And the authorities say, ‘He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?’
Time and again through the four gospels you will see Jesus saying things that when you think about it for a second in the context of the Old Testament are claims to equality with God. “I am the good shepherd”, “I am Lord of the Sabbath”, “You will see me seated at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven”, “my words will never pass away”, “Before Abraham was born, I am”, “one greater than the temple is here”.
Add to those statements the many miracles that were clearly pointing as signs to His identity… One who speaks in his own authority to demons, storms, sickness, and even death. One who provides bread from heaven, and wine from water, and fish from nowhere.
Sceptics have tried to strip away claims of Godhead from Jesus’ life and words, and they are left with nothing and no explanation for why He was so dangerous that He had to be killed.
So here in Mark 2:1-17 we have two scenes, one where there is some house demolition, the other involving an unlikely party, and both scenes are about Jesus ripping a hole in the roof of religion - claiming to be equal with God, claiming to forgive sins, claiming to be the doctor who can perform heart-surgery on sinners.
The first scene at the crowded house is basically the gospel story in miniature, and everyone in this crowded room today needs to identify with the helpless body dropped into Jesus’ presence.
Jesus preaching the word to the crowd, out of the crowd a person is dropped in front of Jesus, and to the dead heart the words, ‘Your sins are forgiven’ and to the lifeless limbs, ‘Rise up / Resurrection!’. This rips a hole in the roof of religion.
Religion says that you have to move your limbs and do your best and make yourself acceptable to God and you might be able to make the grade or he might lower his standards if you are lucky.
The gospel says, you are dead in your sins, lifeless on the mat and only Jesus’ words can bring forgiveness and resurrection.
In forgiving the man’s sins, Jesus is not suggesting that a specific sin has directly led to the man’s paralysis. Jesus is merely cutting through the surface to the humanity’s heart problem that then shows itself in the brokenness of the world where some are paralysed and sickness, disease, and natural disasters are all signs that things are broken and groaning waiting for rescue and release. Jesus could’ve just healed the man and left him with his heart problem. Jesus could’ve gone around fixing the surface issues of the world, providing bread, healing disease, stopping storms, but not addressing the issue behind those surface manifestations. By forgiving the man’s sins, Jesus highlights the greater need of you and me, and his ultimate destination – the cross, to deal with our sinful hearts. A reminder to our mistaken priorities that it is better to enter the kingdom and await a future physical wholeness, than to receive physical healing now and fail to enter the kingdom of God.
On the surface it may look like Jesus is doing the easy thing by pronouncing on something that no-one can see. But Jesus demonstrates that he has done the hardest thing of forgiveness, by then doing the lesser miracle of healing.
And the helpless man whose previous efforts were zero, who was dead in all but name, is resurrected from his old dead life. The one who couldn’t even get through the door to Jesus, walks out the door to a new life.
Levi, in our second scene, is also on the margins, on the outside unable to get in, ostracised from family and religion… And he is summoned from his dead, old, so-called life, to a life of following… and the party begins.
There is a problem if you don’t identify with the paralysed man and with Levi. You may think you can stay in the crowd and say ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’. But in the end you will have to choose to condemn Jesus as a blasphemer or to follow Jesus as the Doctor of the Universe.
The authorities ask Jesus, ‘Who do you think you are?’ and ‘Do you know who they are?’
Jesus answers their challenge with a demonstration of His authority and the reality of the need for His heart surgery for those who cry out, ‘Who will rescue me?’.
If we think we don’t need the Doctor of the Universe we are more sick than we can imagine. If we can’t see ourselves as dead in our sin, all our best efforts as the equivalent of the twitches of paralysed limbs, we will surely be shut out of Jesus’ presence for ever. But if we recognise our helplessness, our sin, if we allow ourselves to be dropped, helpless in front of Jesus. We will discover the resurrection life that He alone can offer, and we will be welcomed into a party, the most amazing party, that we definitely didn’t deserve getting invited to.
And as Jesus’ followers. As those who have been summoned from our old lives, to get up and follow Him… As those who have been raised up from sin to new life… we also need to be those who carry our friends, our neighbours, our family, our colleagues, to Jesus and tear down any roofing or stuff that might get in the way of them being brought into Jesus’ presence… so that they might be raised up to new life and called to follow and join the party of sinners restored.
Let’s pray… one, that we would see ourselves afresh / or for the first time being lowered into Jesus’ presence as a gaping hole is torn in the roof of religion.
… that we would recognise the condition of our hearts, outside of Jesus, that we would see our own helplessness, that we would rejoice in the efforts of those who have brought us into the presence of God the Son… that we would hear afresh / or for the first time… Jesus words of forgiveness and the pronouncement of resurrection life… and that we would get up…
Let’s pray… two, that God would give us the name of one person who he wants us to bring to Jesus… maybe we need to team up with three other friends to tear away any barrier there may be in this person meeting with Jesus… but let’s ask God for a name… and for opportunity even this week, even today, to see resurrection life come to that one person… Lord, give us a name…