September 11 - Message Update

On Good Authority – Mark 2:1–3:6 – Elder Chris Wu

 

We hate it when it feels like the systems/policies/rules that are meant to make our lives better are the very things that are powerless to help in our actual problems. Or worse, they’re so wooden and out of touch, they’re actively creating problems in our lives. It irritates us when people appear to have the power to fix things for us, but we find out later they didn’t know what they were doing or that it was way past their delegated authority.

 

That is, we know how frustrating it is to need good authority and not find it. Which actually connects us to Mark and the message he has for us this morning. We heard from Pastor Brian last week as we began our journey in Mark, setting us up to receive the gospel of Jesus Christ through these rapid, action packed vignettes of Jesus and His ministry. And here in chapter two running into the beginning of chapter 3, Mark is eager to show us that in the gospel, Jesus has unique authority as the Son of Man. A good authority, that’s better than we’ve come to expect.

 

Or to put it another way in our central truth, we’re given the good news that Jesus’ authority upsets our expectations in the best possible ways.

 

We can see some of those expectations most clearly in this passage through the voice of the scribes and Pharisees as they begin to oppose Jesus - the questions they have show us how Jesus’ words and actions were turning their understanding upside down. (And their questions, as it turns out, are not so different from our own outside of faith.)

 

And we can see the truth about Jesus in His responses to these questions. Jesus’ words and actions repeatedly show us what He’s really about, and therefore what life is really about. Here’s where Mark is doing more than just teaching us abstract truth. Jesus is not just rebuffing and countering the establishment - He’s shattering the lies and distortions we’ve built our lives upon and replacing them with glorious, fulfilling truth. You see, Mark knows the gospel is not just factual truth and ideas – it’s a person. It’s a warm, calling-us-home, living truth that speaks directly to our needs.

 

We’re going to see that Mark picks two particular ways to show us that here in chapter 2:

a)  Jesus is the Son of Man whose healing cuts straight to the heart, because He has authority to forgive sins.

b)  Jesus is the Son of Man who rules over the Law because He’s the end of the Law.

 

No authority that’s come before can do anything more than spot treat our problems and point us toward the perfect solution to come. So yes, the upset to our expectations is really good news.

 

In the passage, look for people’s expectations of Jesus, and listen for how He answers. Compare and contrast, to see just how good Jesus is.

1)  The True Healer - The Son of Man Has Authority to Forgive (2:1–17)

First, we have the paralytic’s friends and the people crowded around Jesus: they clearly expected Jesus to be a miraculous healer and good teacher. That’s why they packed the place: to hear what He’d say and see what He’d do. That’s why the friends went to extraordinary lengths to bring their buddy to Jesus and wouldn’t take “no room” for an answer. They’d heard the news, and believed Jesus was the only hope for their buddy, so they pushed and made things happen.

 

And did you notice? The scribes were right there with everyone else. They weren’t outside the house rolling their eyes at the scene, they were front and center to listen and watch. Maybe they didn’t think much of Jesus in either direction yet, maybe they were already a little skeptical – but they expected something from Him, or they wouldn’t have bothered to come at all.

 

So how about Jesus’ response? Verse 5: And when Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” (We’ll come back to that in a moment.)

 

And that sets off questioning coming from the scribes, albeit silently in their hearts: “I don’t know who this guy thinks He is, but everyone knows that no one can forgive sins but God alone. Doesn’t He know scripture?”

 

But Jesus knows exactly what’s going on and cuts them off at the pass: Verse 8–11: And immediately Jesus, perceiving in His spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, “Why do you question these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”— He said to the paralytic— “I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.” And then just like that, our paralytic friend is healed and the house is blown away.

 

Now before we critique our scribal friends here and pick up on why Jesus’ response was so important, be honest – did you find your own expectations thrown off here? These people have all come to see Jesus, and this group of friends has gone to crazy lengths to get their friend to the great Healer and Teacher. And once the stricken man is finally in front of Him, naturally, Jesus says… “Son, your sins are forgiven”! Wait, how does that help at all? Ok Jesus, that’s nice and all to have your sins forgiven, really truly that’s great. But how does that help that guy right now? His life is miserable laid up on that mat – didn’t you notice?

 

Here’s where some context will help us out a little. You see, the curse of sin and physical disease were very closely correlated with each other in Jewish understanding. If you were sick or diseased, the automatic conclusion was that some kind of sin – your’s or your household’s – was at the root. The physical reality was an indication of a spiritual reality.

 

And so, Jesus’ response is actually not some weird change of subject. When the paralyzed man is placed before Him, He recognizes two things at once: the man’s deepest need, the thing rooted more deeply than his physical ailment, and the crowd’s expectation that the physical ailment was all that Jesus (or any powerful prophet) could heal.

           

What Jesus has done here is to overturn everyone’s expectation of Him as just a great prophet and healer. While a great prophet could be used by God to heal a person’s body, Jesus is the Son of Man who has authority on earth to forgive sins (v. 10). In other words, the prophet is a decent battlefield medic. Jesus is the master physician. He doesn’t just treat the surface wounds – He cuts to the cancer deep inside and eradicates it.

 

As one commentator put it: “Sickness, disease and death are the consequence of the sinful condition of all men. Consequently, every healing is a driving back of death and an invasion of the province of sin. That is why it is appropriate for Jesus to proclaim the remission of sins.” (William Lane)

 

Translation: When Jesus forgave this man his sins, He did the ultimate heal. He did the harder thing. He did the thing that only God can do.

 

This upset is incredibly good news for us. Because don’t we find ourselves in need of such a physician? Aren’t we so frequently busy looking for band-aids to patch over all our flesh wounds when we know deep inside what we need is to be freed of the guilt and shame in our hearts? The isolation we experience from God and from others because of the conflicted and corrupted mess at the center of our being? And isn’t so much of society built on selling us the bandages of job security and personal achievement and fashionable clothing and gourmet meals and beautiful houses and fantastic vacations, when we know those things on their own can only provide a temporary salve for the great wounds of our souls?

 

And so, the scribes are upset because they can’t believe Jesus could possibly offer the cure-all He just spoke. Any good Jew knows that only God can forgive. And surely this man is not God. And as for this reference to “Son of Man”? Well, that’s a term from the Old Testament with big messianic connotations. Daniel 7 had taught Jews to expect their Messiah to be “like a Son of Man” from heaven, who would overthrow the evil rulers of this earth and reign forever as God’s anointed. But this Jesus? Couldn’t be.

 

So, there it is. Mark has put it front in center for us early in his gospel. Jesus is the Son of Man who has the authority to forgive sin. He isn’t a con-man distracting us with tricks. He isn’t just a great prophet being used by God to exhort us. He is God Himself, and He’s come to heal sinners. This is also why Mark puts the story of verses 13 through 17 directly next.

 

Jesus is the Son of Man who has authority to forgive sins. So of course, He calls, of all people, the tax collector, Levi (Matthew), to be one of His disciples. So of course, He breaks bread with and extends fellowship to other tax collectors and sinners.

 

As He puts it to the next group of scribes/Pharisees whose expectations of Him have been totally subverted: verse17, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”

 

For us who are sick and needy sinners, stricken like that paralytic man in every way that really matters, Jesus’ authority upsets our expectations in the best possible way: He is the one true healer of our souls. The Son of Man has authority to forgive sins.

2) The True End of Religion - The Son of Man is Lord of the Law (2:18–3:6) Ok so again, what did you see? What did you hear? What expectations came out? It’s probably safe to split this into two parts: there’s the issue with fasting, and then there’s the scrap about the Sabbath.

 

Fasting - The expectation - so first with the fasting – we have an unspecified group of people who don’t seem to be affiliated with any group in particular, but do know about the habits of John and his disciples and the common practice of Pharisees and their followers.

 

Their question seems innocent enough – “Hey Jesus, we noticed these other respectable groups of religious Jews take up the practice of fasting. It’s kind of the norm now. Any particular reason why You and Your disciples don’t?”

 

So, the context: fasting wasn’t all that different from how you might think of it today. It was a voluntary act of discipline, consecration, commitment, etc. to abstain from food for a period of time in order to grow in some spiritual/religious sense. For Jews, the Old Testament only specified one day of required fasting, on the Day of Atonement, and even that was more implied than a really clear, direct command. So, all fasting that became common practice in those days (and to this day) was really a matter of personal practice and was specific to the traditions of a particular line of teaching.

 

Bottom line, fasting was more of an issue of personal piety than anything else. And Jesus and His disciples weren’t doing it. The people expected they would, because other devout Jews were doing it. So why didn’t they?

 

Jesus’ Response - Jesus’ response to their expectation is interesting – He doesn’t really say anything negative about fasting or admonish them for asking the question. But He still manages to turn things on their head by answering with a mini proverb: His disciples don’t fast for the same reason wedding guests don’t fast while they’re at the banquet with the bridegroom: it’s a time of joy and celebration.

 

In other words, Jesus is at the center here. Because He’s here, there’s no reason for His disciples to afflict themselves and mourn. Rather, they’re enjoying fullness of life with their master! Fasting would be the opposite thing to do for such a time.

 

There will be a time when He’s no longer physically with them – speaking in advance of His death, resurrection, then ascension – and those times of absence will be when fasting makes sense.

 

But even then, Jesus is still at the center. Whether His disciples fast or not has everything to do with His presence. In other words, this religious practice is shaped around Jesus.

 

Sabbath – The expectation - In this next bit, the Pharisees observe Jesus and His disciples plucking grain to eat on the Sabbath and straightaway challenge Him, asking why they’re doing “what is not lawful on the Sabbath.”

 

Here again some context will help us understand the charge – it was perfectly legitimate to hand pick grain from someone’s field. There’s a gracious provision in God’s Law for this, to care for the poor and transient. What one couldn’t do is “reap” or harvest someone else’s field. So, this wasn’t stealing.

 

But rather, the Pharisees were concerned about whether Jesus and His disciples were doing “work” on the Sabbath. As you might imagine, it was a much clearer line if you went out and harvested your field on the Sabbath – that’s hard work, no argument about it, and explicitly forbidden by God on the day of rest. What the Pharisees were on about was extending that line so that even picking some grain in order to have a meal that day – that was, in their view, also against the Law!

 

Jesus’ response - We’ll have to be brief here to respect the time, but Jesus’ response to all of this is to pull from a story where King David and his men seemingly went afoul of the rules when they also were hungry and needed food. In David’s case, they asked for and ate the holy bread that is typically reserved for the priests.

 

This seems like an odd comparison at first blush, not necessarily what anyone expected. But Jesus is doing two things at once by bringing up this old story: 1) He’s demonstrating the priority of God’s anointed to operate in a grey area according to the law, in order to prioritize feeding Himself and His people, and 2) He’s linking Himself to King David. That is, the comparison is particularly valid because He’s like David – or even more accurately, David is like Him.

 

In that context, Jesus’ healing of the man with the withered hand and His conclusion prior to that makes sense: 2:27–28: And He said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.”

 

In other words: rules and traditions are not ends in themselves. God has given us commands and rules not as a restriction to life, but to preserve and uphold life. He gave the Sabbath in order to give rest to man, not to shackle him with onerous restrictions and make life harder. God provides for man through the Sabbath, and that’s the principle that should drive the Pharisee’s interpretation instead of a narrow, legalese-style interpretation.

 

Furthermore, “The Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.” That’s right, there it is again, “the Son of Man”! It’s no coincidence that Jesus uses this term here again, the two only times in our whole passage that this title comes up. Jesus has authority over the Sabbath, because it belongs to and is about Him. Jesus is the Son of David in charge of the Law. He is the One to whom all has been pointing.

 

Back up to the question about fasting and can you now see why Mark has given us these two snippets together? Jesus is the end of religion. He’s the point of religion and the end of the line for religion. In one case, He’s the point of religious activity like fasting. And in the other case, He’s the point of God’s commands and is Lord over them.

 

And so again we have an upset that is really good news for us. Because how often do we find ourselves perplexed and exasperated that life has not gone well despite how careful we’ve been to follow God’s commands, to obey the rules, to do and say all the things we’re meant to say? How often do we find ourselves empty despite making every Sunday service, reading every devotional book, giving every offering, attending every small group meeting, listening to however many sermon podcasts…the list could go on. Jesus’ authority upsets and confronts our propensity to make our lives about doing and submitting to plans and practice and obedience as the lords of our lives, when He stands before us as the Lord of the Sabbath. The Lord of religious practice. The Lord of life itself.

 

It’s as if Jesus looks at us and says, “Ok fasting, that’s good. Observing the Sabbath and just in general being obedient, that’s really good. But didn’t you know, those are all about Me? You can do all those things, but if you aren’t seeing them in relation to Me, you’ve missed the whole point! You don’t have Me!”

 

Paul knew that Christians could lose sight of this and fall back on religious practice. He spoke to this exact issue in his letter to the Colossians: Col 2:16–17, “Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.”

 

Yes, the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath. This is where Jesus’ authority even pushes up against how we treat the Bible. Hear me on this when I say that Jesus is challenging the notion that Scripture is a “handbook for life.” Turns out, it’s not! It’s not a handbook for life, but an expression of the giver of life. It all points back to Him. Don’t get me wrong, the commands and wisdom of God are true and deserving of our attention and obedience. But it’s not the commands and wisdom that we worship and draw near to. It’s the Lord of life Himself. Jesus told these people and He’s telling us – you fast, not because it’s pious and good Christians do it, but you fast because you long for Him, you yearn for His return. You don’t observe the Sabbath and bankrupt your family out of house and home because wooden obedience comes before everything else – you seek days of rest because it reminds you that Jesus has promised and bought eternal rest for you, and you rejoice and trust in Him because of it!

 

For us who have wearied ourselves with so much toil, who have worried over the right things to do and say, have worked so hard to get things right – Jesus’ authority upsets our expectations in the best possible way: He is the true end of religion, the Lord of life.

 

Conclusion

Mark brings the gospel to us early on here with good news about Jesus’ authoritative place in our lives. He is the True Healer who has authority to forgive, to cut to the heart and provide life and vitality where no one else has claim, defeating the rule of sin and death. And He’s the true end of religion as Lord of the Law, freeing us from a life of blind obedience and endless religious activity in bringing us to Him as the center of life.

 

His authority will never disappoint, because His is unlike any other. His is not a reign of bureaucratic policy and stall tactics. His rule doesn’t look like a wooden set of regulations and temporary fixes. Instead, we see Him in His authority sitting down to eat and dwell with sinners. We see Him healing and feeding where we didn’t think it was possible or kosher. We hear Him say, “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”

 

This is the authority, the Son of Man we gladly bow down to. The one who we’re glad to have overturn everything we’ve come to expect in this world.

 

Praise Songs:

There is a Fountain, Jesus Lord of Heaven, Psalm 90 (Satisfy Us With Your Love), Good Good Father, Doxology