Mark 2 – Controversy with Religious Leaders
A. The power of Jesus to forgive and to heal.
1. (1-4) Jesus teaches and is interrupted.
And again He entered Capernaum after some days, and it was heard that He was in the house. Immediately many gathered together, so that there was no longer room to receive them, not even near the door. And He preached the word to them. Then they came to Him, bringing a paralytic who was carried by four men. And when they could not come near Him because of the crowd, they uncovered the roof where He was. So when they had broken through, they let down the bed on which the paralytic was lying.
a. There was no longer room to receive them, not even near the door: Mark 1:28 says that after a dramatic rescue of a demon-possessed man, immediately His fame spread throughout all the region around Galilee. At this point in His ministry, Jesus attracted crowds wherever He went.
b. And He preached the word to them: Mark doesn’t tell us what Jesus preached, yet he still emphasized the preaching ministry of Jesus as he did in Mark 1:28 and Mark 1:38-39.
i. “It is clear that he was avoiding the streets because they had been turned into a healing campaign. Everywhere he went people besieged him with requests for healing and the casting out of demons, so that he was unable to do what he had come to do primarily, which was to preach the Word.” (Steadman)
c. When they could not come near Him because of the crowd, they uncovered the roof where He was: Because of the crowded room, the friends of the paralyzed man had to lower him down through the roof. This was an unusual way to interrupt a sermon.
i. Uncovered the roof: The roof was usually accessible by means of an outside stairway and was made of thatch, dirt or tile laid over beams. It could be taken apart, and the friends of the paralyzed man lowered their friend down to Jesus.
ii. Morgan on they uncovered the roof: “Such a rendering is entirely misleading. The force of the word is that they broke up the roof of the house, tearing up the fabric, in order to lower the man down on his pallet into the presence of Jesus.”
d. So when they had broken through, they let down the bed on which the paralytic was lying: This proved the determination and faith of the friends of the paralytic man. They counted on Jesus healing their friend, because it would be a lot harder to bring him back up through the roof than lowering him down. They counted on him walking out of the room.
2. (5-7) Jesus forgives the sins of the paralyzed man.
When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven you.” And some of the scribes were sitting there and reasoning in their hearts, “Why does this Man speak blasphemies like this? Who can forgive sins but God alone?”
a. When Jesus saw their faith: Jesus looked up at the four men struggling with crude ropes tied to each corner of the stretcher with a paralytic on it. He looked at them and saw their faith. Their faith could be seen. Their bold, determined action to bring their friend to Jesus proved they had real faith.
b. Son, your sins are forgiven you: We can imagine how the friends on the roof felt. They went to a lot of trouble to see their friend healed of his paralysis, and now the teacher only wants to forgive his sins. We might imagine them shouting, “No, he’s paralyzed! We wanted him to walk, not to be forgiven!”
i. Yet, Jesus knew what the man’s real need was and what his greatest need was. What good was it if the man had two whole legs and walked right into hell with them. Whenever there is a problem, almost always, sin is the real problem. Jesus got right to the problem.
ii. Jesus did not mean that the paralyzed man was especially sinful or that his paralysis was directly caused by sin. Instead, He addressed the man’s greatest need and the common root of all pain and suffering – man’s sinful condition.
iii. “Forgiveness is the greatest miracle that Jesus ever performs. It meets the greatest need; it costs the greatest price; and it brings the greatest blessing and the most lasting results.” (Wiersbe)
c. Who can forgive sins but God alone? The scribes used the right kind of logic. They correctly believed that only God could forgive sins, and they are even correct for examining this new teacher. Their error was in refusing to see who Jesus is: God the Son, who has the authority to forgive sins.
i. “The words suggest a gradual intensification of the fault-finding mood: first a general sense of surprise, then a feeling of impropriety, then a final advance to the thought: why, this is blasphemy!” (Bruce)
ii. “Again and again during the life of Christ the same dilemma was to re-appear. If he were not divine, then he was indeed a blasphemer; there could be no third way out.” (Cole)
3. (8-12) Jesus demonstrates His authority to forgive sins and His power to heal disease.
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’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins”; He said to the paralytic, I say to you, arise, take up your bed, and go to your house.” 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!”
a. Jesus perceived in His spirit that they reasoned thus: In a stunning moment, these scribes knew Jesus could read their evil hearts. This should have helped persuade them that Jesus really was God, having power to forgive sins.
i. It is hard to know if Jesus perceived this by His divine nature or by His human nature with the spiritual gift of discernment or a word of wisdom. Trapp finds Scriptural basis for either approach: “That is, by his Deity, as 1 Timothy 3:16; Hebrews 9:14. Or by his own spirit, as 1 Peter 3:8, not by inspiration, as 2 Peter 1:21.”
b. Which is easier: For men, both real forgiveness and the power to heal are impossible, but for God, both are easy. It is a logical assumption that if Jesus has the power to heal the man’s disease, He also has the authority to forgive his sins.
i. In a way, it was “harder” to heal the man than to forgive his sins, because forgiveness is invisible – no one could verify at that moment the man was forgiven before God. Yet it could be instantly verified whether or not the man could walk. Jesus is willing to put Himself to the test.
ii. Jesus also met the scribes on their own scholarly ground. “The Rabbis had a saying, ‘There is no sick man healed of his sickness until all his sins have been forgiven him’… to the Jews a sick man was a man with whom God was angry.” (Barclay)
c. The Son of Man: Jesus often referred to Himself with this title. The idea is not of “perfect man” or “ideal man” or “common man,” but a reference to Daniel 7:13-14, where the coming King of Glory, coming to judge the world, has the title Son of Man.
i. Jesus used this title often because in His day, it was a Messianic title free from political and nationalistic sentiment. Jesus could have more commonly referred to Himself as “King” or “Christ,” but those titles, in the ears of His audience, sounded like “the One Who Will Defeat the Romans.” Son of Man was “Christ’s favourite designation of himself, a claim to be the Messiah in terms that could not easily be attacked.” (Robertson)
d. Immediately he arose: Imagine the tension in this scene. The scribes were tense because Jesus challenged them and said He would demonstrate He was the Son of God. The paralyzed man was tense because he wondered if Jesus really would heal him. The crowd was tense because they sensed the tension of everyone else. The owner of the house was tense because he wondered how much it would cost to repair his roof. And the four friends were tense because they were getting tired by now. The only one not tense was Jesus because He had perfect peace when He said, “arise, take up your bed, and go to your house.” The man was immediately healed. The power of Jesus to heal and the authority to forgive sins were immediately vindicated.
i. Imagine if Jesus had failed. His ministry would be shattered. The crowd would slowly leave the house. The scribes would smile and say, “He can’t heal or forgive.” The four men would struggle to pull up the paralyzed man who looked more dejected and embarrassed than ever. The homeowner would look at his roof and think it was all for nothing.
ii. But Jesus did not and could not fail because all He needed to heal this man was His word. There is wonderful healing power in the word of Jesus, in the promises of Jesus, for those who come to Him in faith. This man came to Jesus in faith, even if it was the borrowed faith of his friends.
e. All were amazed and glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this!” Jesus carried the day, and the people were amazed to see the power of God in action.
i. “The experts in the law were hoist with their own petard. 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.” (Barclay)
B. Jesus eats with sinners.
1. (13-14) Levi is called to be a disciple.
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.
a. He taught them: Jesus fulfilled the focus of His ministry as described in Mark 1:38: Let us go into the next towns, that I may preach there also, because for this purpose I have come forth. Jesus knew how to stay on focus.
b. He saw Levi… sitting at the tax office: Levi (also known as Matthew in Matthew 9:9) was a tax collector. In that day, tax collectors were despised as traitors and extortioners.
i. The Jewish people rightly considered them traitors because they worked for the Roman government and had the force of Roman soldiers behind them to make people pay taxes. They were the most visible Jewish collaborators with Rome.
ii. The Jewish people rightly considered them extortioners because they could keep whatever they over-collected. A tax collector bid among others for the tax collecting “contract.” For example, many tax collectors might want to have the “tax contract” for a city like Capernaum. The Romans awarded the contract to the highest bidder. The man collected the taxes, paid the Romans what he promised, and kept the remainder. Therefore, there was a lot of incentive for tax collectors to over-charge and cheat any way they could. It was pure profit for them.
iii. “When a Jew entered the customs service he was regarded as an outcast from society: he was disqualified as a judge or a witness in a court session, was excommunicated from the synagogue, and in the eyes of the community his disgrace extended to his family.” (Lane)
c. And He said to him, “Follow Me”: Understanding how almost everyone hated tax collectors, it is remarkable to see how Jesus loved and called Levi. It was a well-placed love because Levi responded to Jesus’ invitation by leaving his tax collecting business and following Jesus.
i. In one way, this was more than a sacrifice than some of the other disciples made. Peter, James, and John could more easily go back to their fishing business, but it would be hard for Levi to go back to tax collecting. “Tax collector jobs were greatly sought after as a sure way to get rich quickly.” (Wessel)
2. (15-17) Jesus is accused of fraternizing with sinners.
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?” 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.”
a. As He was dining in Levi’s house, that many tax collectors and sinners also sat together with Jesus and His disciples: Most people consider this a “going-away” party Levi threw for his friends upon leaving the tax collecting business. Jesus sat and ate with tax collectors and sinners and eating at the same table with people was a sign of friendship and relationship.
i. Here lies the scandal – Jesus was the friend of sinners. Of course, the sinners knew this and responded to Jesus’ love and friendship: for there were many, and they followed Him.
b. When the scribes and Pharisees saw Him eating with the tax collectors and sinners: The Pharisees objected to Jesus keeping company with sinners. The Pharisees were a respected conservative religious group but were often at odds with Jesus.
i. The name Pharisee meant “separated ones.” They separated themselves from everything they thought was unholy, and they thought everyone except themselves was separated from the love of God.
c. Those who are well have no need of a physician: Jesus’ answer was both simple and profound. Jesus was the physician of the soul, and it made sense for Him to be with those who were sick with sin.
i. Jesus is the perfect doctor to heal us of our sin.
· He is always available.
· He always makes a perfect diagnosis.
· He provides a complete cure.
· He even pays the doctor’s fee.
C. Controversies about fasting and the Sabbath.
1. (18-20) Why don’t Jesus and His disciples fast?
The disciples of John and of the Pharisees were fasting. Then they came and said to Him, “Why do the disciples of John and of the Pharisees fast, but Your disciples do not fast?” And Jesus said to them, “Can the friends of the bridegroom fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them they cannot fast. But the days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast in those days.”
a. Why do the disciples of John and of the Pharisees fast, but Your disciples do not fast? The Pharisees were well known for fasting twice a week (Luke 18:12). It made sense for the disciples of John to fast because his ministry stressed repentance. Yet Jesus and His disciples did not have the same emphasis on fasting as these other spiritual men.
i. God is not against fasting; He is for fasting. But fasting has its time and place in the Christian life. Most of us have no time or no place for fasting, and so we are out of balance. These questioners came from the other side.
b. Can the friends of the bridegroom fast while the bridegroom is with them? By using the illustration of a wedding (the bridegroom), Jesus drew on a powerful picture among the Jews. During the weeklong wedding celebration, rabbis declared that joy was more important than observing religious rituals.
i. In the days of Jesus some Rabbis declared that if the observance of any law came in the way of having a good time during a wedding, you didn’t have to keep the law. You could just go and have a good time. “Marriage feasts were times of extraordinary festivity, and even of riot, among several people of the east.” (Clarke)
ii. Jesus’ message was bold and clear: “I’m not like the Pharisees or John the Baptist. I am the Messiah, the bridegroom to the people of God. Wherever I am, it is appropriate to have the joy we associate with weddings.”
c. The days will come… they will fast in those days: Jesus knew His physical, immediate presence would not always be with the disciples. When He was physically gone, it would be more appropriate to fast.
2. (21-22) The illustrations of garments and wineskins and their relation to the new work of Jesus.
No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; or else the new piece pulls away from the old, and the tear is made worse. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; or else the new wine bursts the wineskins, the wine is spilled, and the wineskins are ruined. But new wine must be put into new wineskins.
a. No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment: The danger of trying to put something new on something old is clear in the illustration of a garment and its patch. But the same principle was true for wineskins. A wineskin expanded under the pressure of fermentation. So if new and unfermented wine was put in an old and brittle wineskin, it was sure to burst.
b. New wine must be put into new wineskins: Jesus’ point was made clear by these examples. You can’t fit His new life into the old forms. Jesus traded fasting for feasting; sackcloth and ashes for a robe of righteousness; a spirit of heaviness for a garment of praise; mourning for joy; and law for grace.
i. Through the centuries, old rigid forms could rarely contain the work of the Holy Spirit. Through the generations, God often looks for new wineskins because the old ones won’t stretch any further.
ii. Jesus came to introduce something new, not to patch up something old. This is what salvation is all about. In doing this, Jesus doesn’t destroy the old (the law), but He fulfills it, just as an acorn is fulfilled when it grows into an oak tree. There is a sense in which the acorn is gone, but its purpose is fulfilled in greatness.
3. (23-24) Jesus and His disciples are accused of breaking the Sabbath.
Now it happened that He went through the grainfields on the Sabbath; and as they went His disciples began to pluck the heads of grain. And the Pharisees said to Him, “Look, why do they do what is not lawful on the Sabbath?”
a. His disciples began to pluck the heads of grain: There was nothing wrong with what they did, because their gleaning was not considered stealing according to Deuteronomy 23:25. The issue was only the day on which they did it. The Rabbis made an elaborate list of “dos” and “don’ts” relevant to the Sabbath, and this violated one of the items on this list.
i. When the disciples began to pluck the heads of grain on the Sabbaths, in the eyes of the religious leaders they were guilty of four violations of the Sabbath. They violated traditions against reaping, threshing, winnowing, and preparing food.
ii. At this time, Rabbis filled Judaism with elaborate rituals related to the Sabbath and the observance of other laws. Ancient Rabbis taught that on the Sabbath, a man could not carry something in his right hand or in his left hand, across his chest or on his shoulder. But you could carry something with the back of your hand, with your foot, with your elbow, or in your ear, your hair, or the hem of your shirt, or your shoe or your sandal. Or on the Sabbath, you were forbidden to tie a knot – except a woman could tie a knot in her girdle. So, if a bucket of water had to be raised from a well, you could not tie a rope to the bucket, but a woman could tie her girdle to the bucket.
b. Look, why do they do what is not lawful on the Sabbath? Jesus never violated God’s command to observe the Sabbath or approved of His disciples violating God’s command to observe the Sabbath. But He often broke man’s legalistic additions to that law, and He sometimes seemed to deliberately break them.
4. (25-28) Jesus responds with two principles.
But He said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he was in need and hungry, he and those with him: how he went into the house of God in the days of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the showbread, which is not lawful to eat, except for the priests, and also gave some to those who were with him?” And He said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. Therefore the Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath.”
a. Have you never read what David did: In referring to David’s use of the “holy bread” in 1 Samuel 21:1-6, Jesus showed an important principle – human need is more important than religious ritual. The Sabbath was meant to serve man (the Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath).
i. This is exactly what many people, steeped in tradition, simply cannot accept: that what God really wants is mercy before sacrifice (Hosea 6:6); that love to others is more important than religious rituals (Isaiah 58:1-9); that the sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart; these, O God, You will not despise (Psalm 51:17).
ii. “Any application of the Sabbath Law which operates to the detriment of man is out of harmony with God’s purpose.” (Morgan)
b. In the days of Abiathar the high priest: Some find a problem here because according to 1 Samuel 21:1, it says that Ahimelech was the high priest at that time, and that his son Abiathar served as high priest after him (1 Samuel 22:20 and 1 Chronicles 18:16). Most people reconcile 1 Samuel 21:1 with Jesus’ statement here by saying that both father and son together served as co-high priests at that time, or by saying that Jesus simply said this happened in the days of Abiathar, that is while he was alive, not while he held the office of high priest.
i. Wiersbe has a different solution: “Also it is likely that our Lord used ‘Abiathar’ to refer to the Old Testament passage about Abiathar rather than to the man. This is the way the Jews identified sections of the Word since their manuscripts did not have chapters and verses such as we have today in our Bibles.”
c. Therefore the Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath: The second principle was even more dramatic. Jesus declared that He was the Lord of the Sabbath. If He, the very Lord of the Sabbath, was not offended by His disciple’s actions, then these sideline critics should not have been offended either.
©2018 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission