Here is a video that organizes a lot of what we have talked about the last few weeks. I didn’t make this video, but I think it brings together many elements in an understandable way:
As the soldiers brutalize and mock Jesus, they tell him to prophesy. Jesus had already told Peter he would deny him and Peter fulfills Jesus’ prophecy. So in their mocking, again, the soldiers don’t realize the truth of their statements. Jesus tells Peter he is going to reject him not once, but three times, and this is exactly what happens in Mark 14:66-72. Peter is a long way from when he responded to Jesus’ question saying, “You are the Christ”. This passage presents a contrast between Jesus and Peter under interrogation. Jesus is faithful, Peter is not. Jesus is faithful, and the man who is to become one of the most important people in church history is a miserable failure.
Peter first denies Jesus with a small denial, then a large denial, and then a great denial complete with curses and oaths. Sin starts out small, but then grows to something unmanageable. In Psalm 1, verse 1 says, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers”. There is a threefold progression in the verse. This is something that can be found in several places in Scripture. First we walk with sin, then we stand for it, then we sit in it. Peter’s rejection reflects this. He is minding his own business when someone recognizes him as one of Jesus’ followers. He denies it to the girl and walks away. Then, this same girl, remarks to those standing with her, saying “That guy is one of them”. Peter denies it to the group of people. Then a group of people begins to recognize him. And he calls down curses and swears to them that he doesn’t know Jesus. Verse 72 says, “Immediately the rooster crowed a second time.” Peter heard it, and he remembers what Jesus said, and he breaks down and cries.
We have all failed God in small ways. Most of us have failed in great ways. Most of us have seen how sin progresses in our lives when we accept it and then get used to it and then justify it. But it’s that destructive pattern of sin that runs its course in our hearts that Jesus died to break us free from. Don’t buy into the lie that we can live comfortably with sinful habits or thought patterns. We will eventually and inevitably reap what we sow. But, as we will see, Peter was restored. Jesus doesn’t condemn us in our sin; he was condemned in our place, for us. His desire is to restore us to proper relationship with God and others so that we love God and others properly. Sin hinders that love, it contradicts and opposes that love. So part of the restoration is removing the sin and sinful patterns from our lives. This can take time, this takes regular repentance on our part, and this takes God’s grace. God’s desire is to forgive our sin and restore us. So don’t run away from him, run to him. Go to him in confession and repentance and let his grace work forgiveness in your heart and life. Whether you need to do that for the first time today, or for the hundredth time, let God work his grace in your life and forgive your sin and restore you today.
God takes the man who publicly denied Jesus three times and uses him to point 3000 people to Jesus in his first sermon. Don’t you think he can use people like me and you?
Amid the cheers of the crowd, riding on a colt, Jesus displayed himself as Israel’s King. Everything about what Jesus was doing was showing how he fulfills God’s promises. Jesus was riding into Jerusalem as Israel’s King, just like God had promised. When he arrived at the Temple, he looked around and saw a disturbing site. So he leaves. He goes to a neighboring village for the night, and the story continues in Mark 11:12-14.
Jesus is on his way to the Temple in Jerusalem and stops at a fig tree for breakfast. The tree looks fine on the outside, but upon close inspection, there is no fruit. A fruit tree with no fruit is good for nothing. Jesus curses the tree because it has no fruit, and we know this is more important than simply the reaction of a hungry man because it says in verse 14, “his disciples heard him say it.” This seemingly irrelevant little story will become important after what Jesus does next when he gets to the Temple in verses 15-25.
The Temple had become both a patriotic and a religious symbol. It was a source of national pride for Israel. It came to be recognized as a symbol of God’s favor upon Israel and as a symbol of Jewish identity. And this may not sound all that bad, but it wasn’t supposed to be any of those things. The Temple was for worship. Allowing commerce and politics and nationalism to enter into it was a degradation of its intention. The Temple wasn’t supposed to be just another place, it was a place to meet with God. Jesus opposes this corruption of the Temple and for the next several passages, until Mark 13, we’ll hear him talk about these things. Jesus wasn’t against the Temple, but he was against what the Temple had become. It was no longer a place to worship or pray, it was the center of politics and commerce. It wasn’t only that people were being exploited by the money changers and animal salesmen, people were buying things in the Temple and walking through the Temple courts on their way to do other things. So, by the time we get to Mark 13, we will hear Jesus say that the Temple will be destroyed and replaced. Worship impacts all of life, and they were letting life impact their worship. Things were upside down. People made money there. People were networking and politicking. People were walking through the courts because it was closer to their destination than walking around. The time for formal worship was to place all other aspects of life in perspective, and they had rearranged worship to fit aspects of life into it.
Bring this to our present day. We gather for worship as a church for a small period of time weekly. This time allows the rest of our lives to be focused and ordered accordingly. Worshipping God is focusing on what is most important and it also shows us how the rest of our lives can be focused on God. These people looked at God through the lens of life, rather than looking at life through the perspective God gives his people. We experience this same temptation in our day. Business, networking, politics, and many aspects of our lives are brought into worship when they should be left outside. Our worship of God informs and directs all of those things, but if we aren’t careful we will approach God with all of those things. We’ll worship business, social life, and politics and we will ask God to bless it; when we should worship God alone, and ask him to direct our involvement in all other various aspects of life for his glory. Not that those other aspects of life aren’t important, but their importance hinges upon God being placed in the center of our lives. Without taking regular time to specifically devote ourselves to worshipping God and aligning our hearts with him, we are in danger of moving his place in our lives from the seat of Lordship to the guy who helps me do the stuff I want to do. This is called idolatry and this is what Jesus saw in the Temple that day.
In Verse 15 Jesus addresses everything going on in the outer court of the Temple. He doesn’t single out those who were selling, but also addresses those who were buying. In Verse 16 it says people were carrying merchandise through the courts. The Temple had several layers leading up to the innermost place called the Holy of Holies where the high priest went once a year to make sacrifices on the Day of Atonement. Where Jesus is at this point, is in the outermost court called the Court of the Gentiles. This was where Gentiles (non-Jews) who wanted to worship God could come and do so. In verse 17, Jesus begins to teach after he has just wrecked the place and his words are from Isaiah 56 and Jeremiah 7.
Isaiah 56:6-8 is about foreigners who don’t belong to Israel that God will include in his people. Jesus was calling attention to the plan of God to allow foreigners to come to worship him. The people who oversaw the Temple had allowed things to be put in place that hindered this. Jesus saw the place where Gentiles were permitted to worship become commonplace and no longer sacred. The commerce and activity happening everywhere in the Court of the Gentiles wasn’t worship, and Jesus acts to restore the sacredness of that place. His actions included knocking over tables and scattering money everywhere. He stopped people who were cutting through the Temple courts and told them to leave. In doing this, Jesus references the passage from Isaiah which talks about God including foreigners in his plan when he restores God’s people and rescues them from their exile.
The other passage he quotes is from Jeremiah 7:2-11. This passage is a condemnation of the people of Israel. Although they had a temple to worship God, it hadn’t translated into a life that worshipped God. They trusted in the existence of a Temple rather than loving God and living rightly. In Jeremiah 7:6, the reference is again to the foreigner in addition to orphans and widows. Jesus is quoting these two passages from Isaiah and Jeremiah to condemn Israel’s religion. They thought that just because they had the Temple, this meant they were right with God. But they had neglected to love God and people from their hearts, and their religion was only outward, not from their hearts. Isaiah and Jeremiah condemned Israel when they turned away from God. They warned God’s people of a coming exile if they didn’t turn back to God. They refused to do so, and were taken away to foreign lands. Jesus is calling Israel to true worship again, and in Mark 11:18 we see that the response of Israel’s leaders is to try to kill Jesus. Just like Israel in the days of Isaiah and Jeremiah, in Jesus’ day they refuse to worship God properly, but live for their own desires and pursuits. Verse 18 says that the leaders were afraid because the crowds were amazed at Jesus’ teaching. They were going to have to do something quickly, or Jesus would be made King and the leaders would lose their positions of influence and comfort that they had.
In verses 19-25, it’s clear now that Jesus cursed the fig tree, not because he was hungry and it didn’t feed him, but as a symbol or metaphor for what was happening in Israel. The barren temple is illustrated by the withered tree. This is why the story about the fig tree has the story of Jesus cleansing the temple in the middle of it. Jesus is effectively saying that Israel has become a tree without fruit. They bear all the marks of religion yet they don’t know God. About this passage, Tim Keller says, “Jesus was returning to a place that was religiously very busy, just like most churches…but the busyness contained no spirituality. Nobody was actually praying.” Jesus goes into the temple and there is no worship. No one was praying.
Of all the things we might do as a church and as individuals, we must worship God. There are different ways to do this, but primarily in the church, it has to do with singing, praying, and reading and preaching the Scriptures. If we neglect worship, we are club, or a benevolent organization, but we are not a church. So, among the other things that churches do, our primary focus must be worshipping God when we gather. No other place does this, only the church. We can get advice from all kinds of places, but we only know God through his word.
The day after Jesus goes to the Temple; Peter recognizes the fig tree and points it out to him. Then, Jesus begins to talk about praying. The focus of the Temple should have been prayer, but that had been replaced. So Jesus is teaching that although the Temple has now become an example of Israel’s fruitlessness, prayer remains an essential aspect of worship. He is also teaching that prayer doesn’t have to happen only in the Temple, but you can pray anywhere. Jesus tells his followers that prayer is the way in which the power of God is translated into daily life.
Verses 24 and 25 give us two instructions regarding prayer. First, if we ask God believing that he will give it, it will be ours. Secondly, when we pray we are to release anything we hold against anyone by forgiving. We talk a lot about the first and not so much about the second. God has the ability to throw a mountain into the sea, it says in verse 23, and when we believe in God’s power, we will pray accordingly. But our prayers are a place where theology and life intertwine. Loving God cannot be separated from loving people so we when we pray our theology that informs us of God’s ability, must be joined with the practice of forgiving others of their wrong against us. God doesn’t count our many sins against us, and we have no right to count the sins of other against them. Prayer is affected by our view of God and our view of others. God made a way for us to be reconciled to himself so in our application of that reconciliation, we must also reconcile ourselves to one another. In talking about prayer, here Jesus speaks to the vertical and horizontal aspects of the Gospel.
Jesus died for our sins and rose again giving us eternal life. But that eternal life is not just with him, but with all who turn to him in faith. So, it’s likely that you will spend eternity with people you don’t particularly care for. In fact, it’s possible that you might spend eternity with people you might actually hate. God hasn’t turned me or you away, and he won’t turn away anyone else who comes to him believing and trusting what Jesus has done. The Gospel affects us in a God-ward way and an others-ward way. At Shore Community Church, we say that our goal is to Love God and Love people. Jesus teaches that here with his instructions on prayer. He says, believe that God can do anything you ask, but your prayers are affected by whether or not you forgive other people.
Working through books of the Bible like this is a good thing. It helps us to understand broad passages of scripture and themes that run through scripture. Another thing it does is forces us to deal with some of the more difficult passages. Mark 10 brings us to one of those types of passages. Jesus talked about things that many people would rather not hear. But, if Jesus takes on a subject, it is certainly worthwhile for us to hear what he says about the matter. In Mark 10:1-12, Jesus teaches about divorce, but this passage is about more than divorce.
All of us are deficient in our relationships with other people. God designed us to live together, not isolated, and he designed us to love one another, not to look out for ourselves foremost. But, all of us eventually and inevitably will put ourselves first in some ways in our relationships with other people. One example of this fracture in our relational abilities has been divorce. Divorce has been a human problem across cultures and throughout history, and it’s no different in our day. Most studies will show that around %50 of marriages end in divorce. There’s a University of Connecticut sociology professor named Bradley Wright who published a book in 2010 called “Christians Are Hate-Filled Hypocrites…and Other Lies You’ve Been Told”. In this book, he deals with how research is conducted and how statistics about Christianity are interpreted. He challenges his readers to view statistics about Christianity with critical eyes. One thing he discusses is the statistics of divorce amongst Christians. He takes on the stat that 50% of Christian marriages end in divorce. He analyzes it from a different perspective because a lot of how you interpret that statistic depends on who you understand to be a Christian for the purposes of the study. About 6 out of 10 Christians who rarely or never go to church have marriages that end in divorce. About 4 out of 10 Christians who attend church regularly have marriages that end in divorce. That means that you are %50 more likely to get divorced if you are a married Christian who doesn’t attend church. But, again, statistics are only as valuable as their accuracy and their interpretation. One example is that studies like this often count two people who are divorcing one another and this changes statistics as well. What this does show, is that regular church attendance makes a large difference in our marriages. So, be encouraged because statistically speaking, all you have to do is show up!
Divorce is symptomatic of the larger human problem of sin. If husbands and wives weren’t sinful people, divorce wouldn’t be a problem. One of my favorite principles about relationships is “sinners react sinfully when sinned against”. This means that when people are sinned against, our reactions are often sinful. This is something that leads to divorces, but it also leads to sibling rivalry and severed friendships. In examining Mark 10:1-12, our task isn’t to figure out how to avoid getting divorced. This isn’t a “5 steps to a successful marriage” passage. Our task is to understand what Jesus says about divorce and how, by teaching about divorce, he is calling us (married or not) to believe the Gospel and align our lives with it.
There are four lessons that we can learn from this passage:
First, divorce is a case study in human sinfulness. In verse 1, it says he was teaching the crowd which was his custom. And verse 2 says, the Pharisees came to test him. Their custom was to try to undermine Jesus’ authority and ministry. Jesus was not teaching about divorce, he was teaching what he had always been teaching: the time being fulfilled and the Kingdom of God coming near. But the Pharisees’ bring up a tricky and obscure aspect of the law as a ploy to try to undermine Jesus’ authority and make him mess up in front of the crowd. So, when they ask him about divorce, he simply says in verse 3 “What did Moses say?” In verse 4 they say, Moses said there were rules that had to be observed if divorce was going to happen. Then Jesus does what he did over and over in verse 5. He explains why the Law says what it says and in doing this, he also explains why the Law is deficient to cure our hearts of their sinfulness. He explains the background to the laws just like he did with the dietary laws in Mark 7. He says Moses allowed a concession to the best way of living in Marriage because of the people’s sinfulness, because of their hard hearts. The reason there was a law about divorce, or murder, coveting, and bearing false testimony or dozens of other laws, is because people could not live properly in relationship to one another. Nothing about that has changed. Even if divorce never happened, our ability to live properly in relationship with one another would still need help. All the laws were given because people had hard hearts. God gave the Law to Moses to teach people boundaries that they couldn’t find themselves because of their sinfulness.
Jesus teaches that there is a better way. The better way is that we would love one another. If people loved one another as God intends, there wouldn’t need to be laws about murder or theft. If spouses loved one another, humbled themselves, and placed the other first every day and in every way, there wouldn’t be any need to talk about divorce. Jesus says there was an intention in marriage from the outset when God first brought man and woman together, but ever since then it has been corrupted. Our hard and sinful hearts have wrecked our ability to live properly with one another. This is why we see adultery, prostitution, and multiple spouses, among other deviations from what God intended for marriage. I’m not even talking about what can be seen on TV or in the Movies; this is what we see in the Bible. In verse 6 and following, Jesus describes what God intended in the beginning, but with sin came corruption. It corrupts every aspect of our environment and our being, so of course it affects our marital relationship. But this is certainly not limited to divorce.
In verse 7 Jesus speaks to the separation that comes from parents when two people are married. There are countless marriages that one spouse or another hasn’t figured out how to keep his or her parents from meddling. In verse 8 Jesus speaks to the unity that marriage brings and yet there are countless marriages where people resemble roommates more than they resemble God’s intention. Rather than unity in marriage, there is competition in marriage. This is seen when each spouse has to have their own identity separate from the other. The desire for their own friends, hobbies, and places is something seen in many marriages that is opposed to God’s ideal for marriage where there should be oneness and unity.
The Pharisees’ highlight the problem of divorce, but divorce is often the end result of two people who cannot figure out how to place the other before themselves. And again, this isn’t only a problem in marriages and divorces, but in any relationship that any of us have. We have to learn from Jesus by following him, how to put others before ourselves. The Pharisees’ highlight the problem of divorce, but they don’t really care about it. This is a question about Jesus’ authority more than on divorce. They aren’t asking if divorce is a desirable situation, they ask if it is lawful. They expect Jesus to oppose Moses, but Jesus affirms what Moses taught and in the process he reveals the sinfulness in the hearts of those who attempt to discredit him.
Secondly, even in passages like this we need to remember that Jesus is more concerned with our hearts than our ability to uphold a moral standard outwardly. The Pharisees feel free to ask questions about divorce, because none of them were divorced. This was a way for them to declare their moral superiority over other people who had been divorced. But Jesus won’t let them get away with that. We’ve probably all seen this in the church or other Christians too. Because I don’t sin the way you do, does that put me on a higher moral plane before God? Jesus says absolutely not. The Pharisees lived impeccable lives and were nearly flawless morally. Yet, Jesus continually takes issue with them, because many of them didn’t love God from their hearts. If you’ve never gone through divorce, you should thank God for that. But you should also guard your heart against thinking yourself better than anyone who has. There absolutely are outward moral standards that we need to live according to. But, simply because we uphold a moral standard, doesn’t mean God has our hearts. Just because a couple isn’t divorced doesn’t mean that their marriage reflects God’s ideal for marriage. Jesus says the problems people have in marriage arise from hard hearts. Instead of desiring God’s best for our lives and the lives of others, our hearts are inclined to demanding our preferences and placing ourselves first. In a marriage, this often leads to divorce, but even if it doesn’t lead there, it leads us away from God’s ideal for our lives.
Having a hard heart has nothing to do with whether or not we are married. If we allow our lives to be directed by our own preferences and ambitions rather than being directed by God’s love for us and our love for him, we are leading ourselves to destruction. The Law was given to a sinful people who couldn’t figure out how to love God and one another more than they loved themselves. This is the human predicament in our sin. It doesn’t mean that we always love ourselves more, but everyone will at some point place themselves before others in some way. This problem can’t be fixed by trying harder or by disciplining ourselves. We need rescued. We need forgiven. We need restored. We need new hearts. This is why Jesus comes. He comes to give us life in him where we grow in the church learning how to love God and others more than we love ourselves. He comes so that one day we can live together with him forever in the Kingdom of God where we all place one another before ourselves. Can you imagine what that would be like? It will be heaven, because of course, it will be heaven! God designed us to live a certain way, and when we deviate from that way, we are opposing his plan.
Third, Jesus taught that divorce is opposing the plan of God. This isn’t intended to lay a guilt-trip or to make anyone feel bad. We have all opposed God’s plan in some way and at certain times. But anyone who has gone through or been around divorce knows that although sometimes it’s necessary, and sometimes it’s unavoidable, it’s still terrible. It still leaves scars. There are still repercussions. Even if it was the best thing for the long-term, it still brings problems. God’s plan for our lives is for our best and when we oppose it we see the chaos and the pain that is brought about. This is illustrated over and over again as people go through divorce. This is why it’s important to look at divorce as an example of what all of our sin does. Whether, we’ve been divorced, or we are greedy, or we are angry, or we are selfish, or we are lustful, there are consequences and chaos that comes from our sin. Sometimes we need to be reminded of this so our flirtation with sin or our tolerance for sin in our own lives will bring us to repentance. Jesus deals with sin. He does so because it is not just wrong, it’s harmful, it brings chaos, it is the opposite of loving God and loving one another.
Last of all, Jesus deals with sin…period. He doesn’t exclude divorce, but he also doesn’t highlight it as the worst sin.Jesus shows in this passage that divorce is wrong for many reasons, but that having a hard heart is worse than being divorced. All sin is harmful, destructive, and painful. Healing only comes in Jesus Christ. Forgiveness can only be found in Jesus. This applies to unmarried people, to people with horrible marriages, and even to people with great marriages. Our sin causes us to have problems with one another. It also causes us to have problems with God. Jesus doesn’t sit on his throne in heaven pointing his finger, he steps out of heaven and takes on human flesh. He places himself amongst sinful people who misunderstand and mistreat, and who reject him and kill him. But in his holy perfection, he loves them in the midst of it. Because of our King’s great compassion on his people, he allows the rebels who nailed him to the cross to be forgiven and set right and he allows us to become citizens of his Kingdom. He forgives us and he renews us and one day he will complete his work in us. He calls us today to believe in what he has done to deal with our sin, and to repent, to align our lives with his way of living. So, whether you need to repent of the ways you are living in your marriage in relationship to your spouse, or the ways you are sinning against your family, your friends, your neighbors, or even yourself, Jesus invites us to come to him and deal with our sin. He bore the punishment of our sin in his death. In his resurrection, he displays the promise of the life he is bringing us to eternally.
Jesus continued to travel throughout the region surrounding the Sea of Galilee in Northern Israel and after he teaches, heals, and casts out demons in the area for some time, he returns to Simon’s house in the town called Capernaum.
Jesus is the great healer; at least he was last time he was in Capernaum. This is one of the reasons why so many people came to hear him. Because he teaches with uncommon authority, because he casts out demons, and because he heals. So why all of a sudden in verse 5, is Jesus telling this guy that his sins are forgiven? In verses 6-7 the Scribes appear in the story again. Remember how everybody thought Jesus was such a better teacher than them? Well for whatever reason, they come to hear him teach too. Then they hear him claim to forgive this man’s sin. They call this blasphemy because they are thinking, “this guy didn’t sin against Jesus, he sinned against God, so he can’t do that.” Who can forgive sins? They ask themselves, “only God”. You see how the Gospel of Mark is unfolding Jesus’ identity? In doing this, Jesus is presuming to be God, and for those of us who know the story it’s understandable. But for the people in the story, can you imagine how audacious this would be?
These Scribes assume their typical disposition of doubting, criticizing, and opposing Jesus. There is a notable contrast between the faith of the men who brought their friend and the lack of faith of the Scribes. Of all the people who should have understood that Jesus comes to fulfill promise and prophecy, it was the Scribes, but they missed it. But these men who presumable knew nothing about textual history or the ancient prophecies believe in Jesus with complete faith. This contrast appears often in the Gospels. The religious and righteous people are those that oppose and ultimately crucify Jesus, while the sinful and sick are the ones who believe in Jesus. Every time we read stories like this it should cause us to check our hearts. Which am I? Which are you?
In verses 8-9, Jesus, perceiving these Scribes’ issue with him, asks them a question. Which is easier, to forgive or to heal? Well, for a Scribe, both were impossible so it’s actually humorous that he would ask them this. In asking this question, Jesus is effectually saying, “You can’t do either one and I can do both, so stop doubting and believe.” Then in v 10, he tells them about his authority. He can do both and so they will realize that he can forgive, he will prove it by healing. And the paralyzed man gets up and walks out. Verse 12 says everyone was amazed and they glorified God. “We’ve never seen anything like this before” is their response. Who does this kind of thing? How is this possible? Well, it’s possible because Jesus is God. God does this kind of thing.
To be forgiven, a person had to go to the Temple and offer appropriate sacrifices. But Jesus is offering forgiveness in someone’s living room. You can’t do that! God only meets with the priest in the innermost part of the Temple on one day of the year, the Day of Atonement. But, remember what Jesus has been teaching. God’s Kingship is near. The time is fulfilled. God’s presence with Israel is now no longer limited to a day and to a room in a temple, but God is with his people. He is near them, they can touch and see and hear him. And what happens when God gets this close to his people? He heals. He overwhelms Satan’s dominion. He speaks truth. And he forgives sin. The King has come announcing his rule and here in this story he pronounces his kingly proclamation that those who come to him in faith will be forgiven of sin. Only Jesus has the mercy and grace to make this proclamation. Only Jesus has the authority to make this proclamation.
In verse 10, Jesus calls himself the “Son of Man”. He calls himself the Son of Man, here and then about a dozen or so more times in Mark’s Gospel. He heals the paralyzed man so they will understand the authority the Son of Man has to forgive. It is a loaded term and an ambiguous term. Jesus seems to refer to himself as Son of Man because it has scriptural background as referring to the Messiah. He does this because in his context, referring to himself as “Messiah” would have had some pretty serious political and military connotations. In effect, he is helping these people re-learn what the Messiah is by referring to himself as the Son of Man instead of the more charged title of “Messiah”. The people had a conception of the Messiah in their minds and Jesus didn’t come to fulfill that conception but to be the Messiah. This is another reminder that we must be careful to allow God to form an understanding of himself in our minds rather than letting our minds impose an understanding of what God should be upon him. Unless God reveals himself to us in the pages of Scripture, we form an understanding of God that is too much like ourselves. He is God, there should be things that we have difficulty believing and there should be things we don’t like, because at times we like things that are wrong and sinful. We must make sure that we let God speak for himself rather than imposing our belief of who he should be upon him.
The term “Son of Man” is used nearly 100 times in the OT and most often in Ezekiel. The phrase was a favorite by the prophet Ezekiel and perhaps Jesus uses it to echo back to his prophecies about the Messiah. There is a passage in Daniel 7 that is explicitly messianic. That Jesus used the title Son of Man this way must have driven the Scribes crazy. Is Jesus calling himself just another man, a prophet, or the Messiah? Jesus has been doing all of these things, all of this healing, all of this confronting demons, all of this teaching, because he is going to deal with the root cause of it all – sin. As Messiah, he wasn’t going to do physical battle with Israel’s oppressors like Rome, he was going deeper and to something more important.
His Messiahship means that he is addressing eternal and spiritual realities and confronting sin and death and Satan’s dominion. Without dealing with the sin, the healing is only physical. Without dealing with the sin, the demons may lose the battle, but they win the war. Without dealing with sin, Jesus doesn’t make disciples, but his teaching simply results in more scribes. The time being fulfilled and God’s kingship coming near has everything to do with the problem of humanity’s sinfulness and the King had to come to deal with this himself. He set up the Law, but it was given to a sinful people so it never dealt with their sinfulness, only their sinful actions. The King comes to deal with this. Jesus says this Son of Man has authority to deal with sin but he doesn’t explain that he has this authority because this Son of Man is the King, the Messiah. Jesus leaves the Scribes and the crowd with the reaction “We never saw anything like this!” This paralyzed man is brought for healing, but Jesus gives him forgiveness.
Tim Keller talks about this story in his book and he explains Jesus’ words saying, “I understand your problems. I have seen your suffering. I’m going to get to that. But please realize that the main problem in a person’s life is never his suffering, it’s his sin.” He says that all this man must have wanted was healing. If he could only walk, then his life would be perfect. But Jesus knows better. Jesus offers this man forgiveness, because without it, even if he can walk, he is still alienated from God and will still be unsatisfied with his life. People often say to themselves, “If I could only get that job, if I could only get married, if I could only get a raise, If I could only do this, or get that, or get rid of something else.” Jesus shows us that if we have everything we desire apart from him, we will still not have enough.
Knowing God is infinitely more important than the other things we might gain or accomplish. In this story Jesus shows us, that when we pursue so many other things with our lives, we are often running from ourselves or our circumstances. He tells us what we need isn’t success or stuff, what we need is him. What are you pursuing more passionately than Jesus? What are you sacrificing to gain in your life or career that you are unwilling to sacrifice to gain Jesus? Our lives are filled with many pursuits, and many of them are noble and worthwhile. But all other pursuits must pale in comparison to our pursuit of Jesus.
Leprosy is a horrible skin disease that had no cure in biblical times, and, in fact, a cure for it was only developed around the 1940’s and 50’s. It wasn’t until 1981 that the World Health Organization was actually able to recommend a series of drugs to cure the disease and it still takes 6 months to a year to be cured. For 1000’s of years and in some places still today, leprosy is a destructive disease, causing disfigurement. Lepers were often placed in colonies, or settlements together, and their disease was often viewed as punishment for their sin or the sin of an ancestor. A leprous person was thought to be cursed, unclean, and frankly, under the judgment of God. In many places people who are leprous are quarantined and not allowed to come into contact with other people. You can even read about this treatment of people with this type of disease in the book of Leviticus in the Bible. The reason this person was considered unclean is that leprosy is infectious, so isolating a person with leprosy kept it from spreading. A person coming in contact with leprosy may not exhibit symptoms for months or even years, but it was able to be spread.
This man who Jesus encounters on this particular day is living out in the country, by himself. Often people like him would sit beside busy roads and beg because they were unable to do any type of work to earn a living. Mark 1:28 says Jesus’ ”fame spread everywhere throughout all the surrounding region of Galilee,” and this is the reason why this leprous man who sat by the road begging recognizes Jesus. Even out in the country and even to a leper who had little to no human contact, Jesus’ reputation had come. He sees Jesus coming down the road and he approaches him on his knees begging. It doesn’t take much of an imagination to picture this sad sight of a disease infested lonely man begging for Jesus to heal him. The law required him to wear clothes that were torn and baggy and have his hair disheveled. But, instead of calling out “unclean, unclean” like the law requires, he comes to Jesus begging to be made clean. Verse 41 says that Jesus was moved with pity, or compassion. Then Jesus does the one thing you must never do when you see a leper, he touches him. To touch a leper was to make one unclean for 7 days and you had to go through a cleansing ritual with the priest. But something happens, instead of Jesus becoming unclean, this leprous man becomes clean. This is not a case of something unclean defiling what was clean. This is the case of something clean making something unclean clean. This didn’t happen. There’s no law for how to deal with this in Leviticus because it never happened. But when Jesus touches this man, he is made clean.
According to Leviticus, the priest doesn’t actually make a leprous person clean, he would only confirm that he had been cleansed so he could come back into the town and there wouldn’t be concern about anyone getting infected. But Jesus is greater than the priest, he can actually heal and cleanse. This is the first instance in Mark’s Gospel of Jesus interacting with a legal issue. There isn’t a law for this kind of thing because Jesus is supplanting the Law. The Law didn’t make people clean, it only verified that they were clean or unclean. They would be declared clean if they were clean. But Jesus cleanses this man of this illness that had made him unclean. Jesus didn’t just make this man ceremonially clean, he actually cleansed him.
After doing this, verses 43-44 say he sternly charged him and sent him away at once and told him to say nothing to anyone. Jesus tells this man to be quiet. The wording here is displaying an attitude in Jesus that is very serious to the point of anger. The words “Sternly Charged” have the connotation of yelling or scolding. It even can be used to describe “animal fury”. Jesus isn’t just giving this guy some advice. It’s like he heals this guy and then grabs him by his shirt and says, “now, let me tell you something, don’t tell anyone about this, and go see the priest and offer your sacrifices”. You see, if people realized that there was a man out there who could actually make people clean, this would do away with the whole sacrificial system. This would put a lot of priests out of a job. Again the priest could only verify that you were clean and then administrate the appropriate sacrifices. This didn’t help someone who had leprosy or other diseases for which there were no cure because they had to be healed before they could be clean. But this man doesn’t see Jesus as someone who just declared him unclean because of his disease that he couldn’t control like the priest. This man sees Jesus as someone who can remove his shame, who can heal him, and can set him right before God and before humanity. He sees Jesus as much greater than a priest, so Jesus tells him to shut up about it and to observe what the Law required anyway.
He references Moses in verse 44. Moses commanded an elaborate cleansing process involving sacrifices and shaving one’s head and it took 8 days to perform. You can read about it in Leviticus 14 if you are feel particularly inquisitive today. An interesting thing about the Levitical requirements though. It required sacrificing two male lambs and one ewe lamb. But if a person was poor, he could sacrifice two doves or two pigeons instead. There was even mercy in what we often perceive was a harsh system. The system wasn’t harsh, it just couldn’t cleanse someone from leprosy. This guy wasn’t to shirk the Law, but to follow it and in the process of doing it, not say how it came about that he was healed from this incurable disease. But unlike the demons that Jesus commands, verse 45 says he talked freely and “spread the news” or spread the word about his healing.
God sends his Son to us to accomplish something that we could not do ourselves, nor could the Law accomplish it. We stand before God as people who have messed up. We’ve offended other people at one point or another, and certainly we have offended God. But what can we do about it? What can be done about our sin? We have no way to get rid of it, to make ourselves clean, or to atone for it. But Jesus comes; he stretches out his hands to us, and touches us. When he does this, our sin is taken away.
God doesn’t step into history to confirm our sinfulness, we can figure that out on our own, we have guilt and conscience that make us keenly away of our inadequacy and our sin. God steps into history and humanity in Jesus the Messiah so that he can touch a sinful and unclean people and make us pure as snow. When he does this, we no longer have to live outside of the camp, out in the country all alone, but we are welcomed into his presence. Because of Jesus, he eradicates our sin and the death that awaited us and gives us eternal and abundant life forever with him. This eternal-kind-of-life begins the moment you cry out to Jesus, heal me, forgive me, like this leper does. He is willing, don’t hold back any part of your life, but ask him to come and cleanse you, to come and make you whole.