Review and Reflect on Mark 12:28-34 – Loving God and Loving People is the sum of what God requires of us.

Over the last chapter, Jesus has displayed his wisdom and authority over nearly every group among the influential leaders of Jerusalem. The Scribes, Pharisees, Elders, Priests, Pharisees, Herodians, and Sadducees all have tried to catch Jesus in his words and trap him, yet he eludes them. Their attempts to discredit him or have him arrested for something he says have failed. After seeing and hearing all of this, there is one from among these groups who comes to Jesus privately. He is struck by Jesus’ wisdom, and wants to talk to him further in Mark 12:28-34.

There was somewhere around 600 or more specific laws found in the Law that many of the Jews of Jesus’ day worked to follow. It was also commonly known that completely adhering to all of the law was nearly impossible, so in several places outside of the Scriptures there are discussions ranking the laws. A common way to debate this was to consider which laws were heavier and which were lighter. So, when Jesus is approached with this question, it wasn’t so out-of-the-ordinary. Most translations will translate verse 28 with the word “important” because that makes it easy to understand. But the phrase is more nuanced than this. A better way to understand it would be which command is “primary” or “foremost”. All the laws were important. The question is, “is there a law from which the whole law can be derived?” Which law must we be sure to uphold most of all? Which law is the weightiest? Which law sums up the others? This is what Jesus is being asked.

Jesus answers with a dual response. He says in verses 30 and 31 that Loving God and loving people is the sum of the Law. All of the laws or rules in the Law were given so that Israel would properly love God and properly love people. He gives his answer in such a way that we can’t view these as two separate laws, but as one law together. Like faith and works, like belief and practice, loving God and loving people cannot be separated biblically. This is why the message of the Gospel must be responded to with belief and repentance. It affects mind and body, thoughts and actions. You can’t love God without loving your neighbor and you won’t love your neighbor without loving God.

He begins with a passage from Deuteronomy 6. This passage is a foundational passage for understanding who God is, and Jesus points to this passage in response to the question about the greatest commandment. Jesus gives four ways in which we are to love God – with our heart, soul or life, mind or will, and strength. In other words, with everything we have, do, and are, we’re to love God. There is nothing that we possess or nothing that makes us who we are that we are not to love God with. If it’s connected or related to us in any manner, we are to love God with it.

Secondly, in verse 31 Jesus says we are to love our neighbor. This is from Leviticus 19:18 (but you all knew that already because of your familiarity with Leviticus). The context of that chapter includes paying employees in a timely manner, leaving parts of your field unharvested so the poor could come and glean, and avoiding slandering people. We understand these as ways to show love to other people. Leviticus 19:18 sums these up by saying, “love your neighbor as yourself.” You’ve heard of “do to others as you would have them do to you” as the Golden Rule and that is certainly an expression of loving others, but there is more to it. It’s not just doing things for people and treating them right, we are supposed to love them. This means, patience, forgiveness, generosity, and all sorts of things.

In verse 31, he says “there is no commandment greater than these”. All of the other 600 or more laws flow out of these two. The remainder of the Law describes the ways to love God and others. The remainder of the laws describes how the people of Israel were to love, but this dual law that Jesus gives describes who we are to love. Jesus takes something that was very complex and simplifies it. In many ways Jesus simplifies the 10 commandments of Exodus 20. The first 4 related to God and the final 6 related to people and Jesus summarizes them both under the singular command to love.

An author named Tom Wright illustrates the nature of God’s commands by describing a road with guard rails and I have adapted his illustration here. Life with Christ is a life of love. Love is the name of the highway we are travelling. It has two lanes since we love God and love people, but it is one road. The Scriptures give us commands to shape that love and to direct it properly. These are the guard rails on the road. If we follow the guard rails we will go the right directions, but it’s a lot more fun to drive without hitting the rails all the time. Breaking the commands are like driving through the guard rail and you get banged up and damaged. They are there for our good, to teach us how to love God and others. But we aren’t meant to drive down the road bouncing off of the guard rails, we are meant to love God and others. As Jesus continues to renew us until eternity, we will be able to stay in the middle of the road all the more and enjoy our journey. The commands of Scripture aren’t to be avoided, but embraced, because they shape us and make us into the people God designed us to be.

At Shore Community Church, our mission statement is Loving God and Loving people simply, deeply, and authentically. This statement was formed largely as a result of what Jesus teaches here. Loving God and others cannot be separated. This is the goal and completion of our religion and our relationships. Whatever it is that we do as a church or as individual followers of Jesus must be related to this love for God and others.

At SCC, we are striving to love God and other people. There are three values that guide the way we do this – simplicity, depth, and authenticity. Christianity is difficult. It’s not easy. But it is simple. The Gospel is simple enough to explain to a child, yet deep enough to keep theologians busy for centuries. Jesus died for you and rose again to give you eternal life. It’s Simple. But this simple truth is so deep it will change everything about you. The more we know and obey God, the more we grow to love him. It’s Deep. However, none of us live perfectly before God, so there is no sense in pretending. Rather than being hypocrites, we are going to be authentic. Authenticity means humility. It means we know we need one another and we need God’s grace if we are to walk rightly before God.

Jesus sums all that God requires of us up in a few simple words: Love God and love people. In verse 32, the man Jesus was talking with responds to his answer and he says “well said”; “right on!” In verse 33, he says to love is better than offering sacrifice, which is significant since they are standing in the Temple where sacrifices are happening while they are talking. This is another way that Jesus is showing that everything God promises and commands is fulfilled in him. We love God by following Jesus, not by offering sacrifice. We love God and others, not by keeping a strict law code, but by living out the Gospel of Jesus’ death and resurrection in our lives every day. In verse 34, Jesus tells this other teacher, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.” This man understood that loving God and others was the sum of the Law. He even understood that love was the reason sacrifices had to be made for sin. What he didn’t understand was that Jesus was making that possible by living to fulfill the Law and bringing God’s Kingdom through his sacrificial death and bodily resurrection. He was close to the Kingdom, he only needed to take one more step and follow Jesus.

There are a lot of people who understand eternal life is only possible through what God has done in Jesus. They are not far from the Kingdom. What remains is that step of obedience in following Jesus. If you are following Jesus, this means that you love God and others. Any refusal to do so in our hearts or in our actions is rebellion and we need to repent of that. If you believe in Jesus, but you haven’t yet begun to follow him, you may not be far from the Kingdom. Decide today to follow him by not only believing, but responding to him by aligning your life with him, living for him.

Acknowledgements and Sources

Review and Reflect on Mark 7:14-23

Last week, we looked at the first part of this story, found in Mark 7:1-13, where Jesus teaches that true religion isn’t only about what you do, but why you do it.

Read the remainder of the story in Mark 7:14-23.

In verse 14, we see Jesus take this private debate out into the crowd and the scribes are no longer mentioned. Jesus is through debating them. Jesus explains the reasoning behind his teaching on the cleanliness laws. He begins to discuss the principle of being unclean or defiled which underlies the purity laws of Leviticus 11 and 17 and the scribal tradition. Jesus moves the focus from the “how” to include the “why” because the scribes were only concerned with the outward “how” not the inward “why”. He takes this far beyond the issue of ritual hand washing. His main point is that defilement comes from the inside not from the outside. Sin isn’t only an external problem, it resides deep within us. This is why true religion isn’t only concerned with the “what” but also the “why”; not just the action but the motivation.

In verse 17 after this, Jesus retreats privately with his disciples. He calls this teaching a “Parable”. This is different from other parables, yet it is still a story with a cloaked meaning. In typical fashion, in verse 18 the disciples don’t understand what in the world Jesus is talking about. Then in verses 18-19, he explains to them in the simplest terms possible, you can almost feel the sarcasm as he explains the digestive system. “When you eat, it goes into your stomach, not your heart”. Verse 19 goes on to say “it is expelled”, which is the polite way of translating what it literally means, “It goes down into the latrine”. This is how we can be confident that Jesus is frustrated and getting annoyed with his disciples, his words are bordering on being crass.

Then there is a parenthetical application of Jesus’ words. “In saying this, he declared all foods clean.” This is important, because soon after Jesus rises from the dead, the Gospel spreads to lots of non-Jewish people who like to eat pork chops and lobster. This allowed these people to become followers of Jesus without being bound to the books of the Law or the subsequent customs that had been set up in an effort to protect Judaism. It is also a significant comparison with Moses. Moses said certain things about dietary laws in the Book of Leviticus. Here in verse 19, Jesus is now saying new things about the diet of the people of God which supplants Moses’ words. How can he do this? Because he is fulfilling these laws. The Laws don’t make a person clean, Jesus does.

The Law couldn’t remove a person’s moral defilement and it couldn’t cleanse our sinful hearts. Only Jesus can do this. There is something similar to the chicken/egg controversy going on here, but we cannot practice true religion unless our hearts have been changed. Also, if our hearts have been changed, there will be outward and external evidence of this.

Remember, Jesus is greater than Moses. He doesn’t just proclaim the Law; he gave the Law to Moses. He doesn’t just repeat the Law, he fulfills it. Jesus points out that the deficiencies of these laws and customs is that they do not deal with the person’s heart. “Heart” is a term used metaphorically to refer to one’s essential personality. Biblically speaking, it doesn’t refer only to emotions, but also to spiritual and intellectual process: the will. In our day, we speak of the heart in more soft and emotional terms, it is the place that we feel deeply. But biblically speaking it communicates much more than this. It is a person’s individuality, what makes them who they are. This is our primary aspect of personhood that is affected by a relationship with God. Jesus points out that our hearts are not affected by what we eat or drink. Food is of nutritional significance, but not spiritual. Gluttony and drunkenness are spiritual problems manifested in the vehicles of food and alcohol, but the objects themselves have no effect on our hearts. It is sin in our hearts that cause them to be abused. Many things may be “vehicles” for our sinfulness without actually causing our sinfulness.  Jesus expands this with a list of different sins which reside in our hearts in verses 21-22.

The way this list reads would lead you to think that “evil thoughts” is one of the sins, but the list is actually different examples of evil thoughts or you might even read it is as “evil plans” which reside in our hearts. The list is extensive, but not exhaustive. In other words, we all will certainly find one or more of these things in our hearts, yet, to our great encouragement, more sins than these probably can be found in our hearts. We see a list like this, and we say “Who, then, can approach God saying ‘I am clean!'”? Only those who have been made clean in Jesus, forgiven by his blood payment of our penalty.

Christianity is not an inner religion or an outer religion. It is both. There is no dualism; we are one person, body and soul. Those that practice Christianity only inwardly are prone to neglect dealing with the outward sins. Those that practice Christianity only outwardly are prone to be arrogant in their morality and judgmental, neglecting the sin which resides in the heart. We know both of these deficient practices of Christianity in a more proper term: hypocrisy. Christianity deals with the heart and the actions, neither to the exclusion of the other. Rather, the mature Christian will see how the two dance together. To truly cultivate a heart for God, our behavior must reflect the character of our King. And to truly live morally and properly, our hearts must be enamored by our King. When we read a list like this, we have to be careful not to allow our attention to drift to other people. The point of a list of attitudes and behaviors like this is to delineate specific areas where our hearts must be aligned to the way God intends for us to live. This list is not intended to be exhaustive, but to be a point of reflection and repentance for each of us personally.

Some might easily check off sins like theft or murder, but slander and pride are not so easily dismissed. There is an interrelationship among these as well. Coveting leads to theft. Sensuality leads to sexual immorality. So there is a progressive nature to our sin as well that must be curtailed before we reap what we sow. The inward sins lead to the outward sins. The Pharisees added customs to prevent from breaking the laws. But Jesus says, your preventative measure should have been dealing with the sin in your heart, not adding outward duties to your religion. In this passage, Jesus is dealing with people who are prone to practicing the outer aspects of religion yet neglecting the inner aspects, the matters of the heart. Jesus shows that whether we commit these sins or they remain in our hearts, they cause us to be unclean. In the Old Testament, being unclean meant you had to be separated. Separated from other people and from the tabernacle or Temple. The physical uncleanness was taken seriously because it pointed to the spiritual uncleanliness. The outward sinfulness points to the nature of our sinful hearts. Measures we would consider drastic were taken when a law was violated. Stoning was proscribed. People had to leave town because of their uncleanness. This was to teach that spiritual uncleanliness, which we also call sin, causes us separation. Separation from God and from other people. Sin is the opposite of holiness which is one of the essential characteristics of God. No sin resides in him, nor is there evil in his motivation or meditation. So when men and women, who have sin in our hearts approach God, because of his character, he must reject us as unclean and as those who have committed rebellion and treason. The only proper place for someone like this is death and hell.

A person who commits treason and rebellion against the King has no way of rescue. Such a person has earned his punishment…unless the King extends his grace. So in his infinite love and providence, God ordained a way to accept men and women, and yet exact the death penalty for their rebellious sin in order to protect his holiness. For God so loved the world, he gave his one and only Son, so that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.

Review and Reflect on Mark 7:1-13

Up to this point Jesus has appeared as a figure of powerful action rather than a teacher, and has been received with popularity. But at the beginning of chapter 7 controversy comes and it is met by even more controversial teaching. The religious leaders reenter the picture for the first time in a few chapters and they come back with a vengeance. Jesus doesn’t back down though, and his words only stoke the fire of their hatred. Jesus has just returned to town after some time away and the crowds of people immediately gather around him. Along with the crowds come the religious leaders who were known as Scribes and Pharisees. This next passage is about one of confrontations Jesus had with them.

Start by reading Mark 7:1-13.

Jesus’ teaching here puts him at odds with accepted religious norms. In the next passage, we will see him push the envelope even further. The Pharisees and the scribes from Jerusalem show up again to confront Jesus. Here again is the reminder that Jesus is making the wrong people angry and as his ministry and notoriety grows, so does the danger that he is going to have to face the consequences of his actions and words. The last time these scribes showed up they told Jesus he was demon-possessed, so we don’t really expect it to go much better this time. They take issue with Jesus over some of the customs of the day called Food laws or Dietary laws. Food laws were a major distinction between Jews and non-Jews. There were several things that separated the Jewish lifestyle from a pagan one and some of the major things were circumcision, Sabbath, and the food laws. Now, in the book of Leviticus there are many rules about how one might become ritually unclean and therefore not allowed in the Temple area, or potentially even in the camp or town. To these Laws, in Jesus’ day, the religious leaders had added other customs to make sure they wouldn’t even come close to breaking the laws. Hand washing was one of these customs that was not found in the Law. So, when the religious leaders see Jesus’ disciples eating without washing, they confront Jesus in verse 5, asking why he allows them to do this and why they do not follow tradition. His answer is a remarkable and gutsy one.

He quotes Isaiah 29:13 saying, “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; 7 in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men”. Then in verse 9, he applies Isaiah’s words to these Scribes and Pharisees saying they reject God’s commands to establish their own. With the Isaiah quotation he confronts their thinking in which they believe that by doing the right things God accepted them. In other words, Jesus is challenging the belief that God accepts us based on what we do or our ability to outwardly conduct ourselves in a way that earns God’s favor. Jesus is not advocating moral license or saying we can abandon all the rules of proper behavior. What he is getting at is that God doesn’t only look at what we do, but also our hearts.

Following Jesus isn’t only about what you do, but why you do it. Doing the right things for the wrong reasons is just as offensive in the sight of God as doing the wrong things. Some might then say, well then, shouldn’t we just enjoy doing the wrong things? That question stems from a misunderstanding or a denial of the destructive nature of our sinfulness. Passages like this one show us that God doesn’t allow people to skirt by on a technicality. You don’t technically obey God’s law, but not really. This is the attitude Jesus is confronting in these people.

If the only thing that separates the people of God from people who do not know God is technicalities, then something has been lost. Jesus is showing that there is something much more important than what is seen on the outside. There is something deeper than external behaviors that separate God’s people from the others. He has taught before, primarily in chapter 4 about what separates those in the Kingdom of God and those outside the Kingdom of God. Here he is back to this again, but this time in reaction to the religious leaders confronting him on the issue. They were saying in effect, we know we are God’s people because we are obeying the tradition which says we wash our hands. Jesus is saying, that’s not how you know you belong to God. He must have your heart as well.

In verses 10-13 he offers them an example of what he is talking about. Jesus says, you know that Moses says to honor your parents, but you have devised a way to manipulate God’s law for your own purposes through a custom called “Corban”. It means, “something offered or dedicated to God”. Though it’s not completely clear, it appears that it was possible for a son’s property to be declared “Corban” so that it technically became divine property and thus no longer accessible to the parents. But, somehow it still allowed the son to retain the benefits of the property while denying the benefits to his parents or relatives. This elevated the rule to keep vows over the rule to honor one’s parents. It has nothing to do with the purity customs they were debating, but illustrates how tradition was being misused to avoid honoring the Law. Jesus is showing that the purity laws were not to cause people to be excluded from God’s people, but to show them how to be included. The laws weren’t so anyone could gain leverage over another, yet these people are using them to manipulate people.

Jesus draws careful attention to their misuse when he says in verse 10 “Moses said…” and in verse 11 “but you say”. He is telling these leaders, they are claiming an authority over Moses. In doing this, Jesus says in verse 13 they are “making void” the Law. In other words, they rule the word of God unlawful. We see the evil in this; it’s obvious to us, even if it wasn’t obvious to them. But, If we aren’t careful we can be guilty of the same type of practice.

We like to elevate the spiritual things we are good at, and ignore the things we find difficult to practice. We can make all kinds of judgments about the way other people live, and all the while ignore the glaring deficiencies in our own lives. In our day, we use the same word Jesus did. It’s perhaps the most biblical part about our culture! We know a hypocrite when we see one. This is the only passage in Mark’s Gospel where Jesus uses this word. He uses it tons of times in Matthew, but since it is only used once in Mark, it needs to carry some serious weight. Jesus is going to great lengths to express his disgust with these people. Then, Jesus decides to take this little discussion to the crowd, and we will look at this in the next blog post.

 

Review and Reflect – Mark 2:23-28

Read Mark 2:23-28.

The Law allowed for people to eat grain from a field as they were walking by it or through it. Anyone who wanted could grab a few handfuls of grain to eat, but they weren’t permitted to harvest without permission. So what Jesus’s disciples are doing isn’t illegal, it was perfectly fine. The problem is that they are doing this on the Sabbath. Harvesting on the Sabbath wasn’t allowed, but the disciples aren’t harvesting, they are eating, which was permitted on the Sabbath. It’s quite possible they were cutting through the field to avoid walking too far and violating the Sabbath customs that way and while they were cutting through the field they ate. Jesus is presented as someone who faithfully upholds the Law, not as someone who forsakes it. In upholding it, he fulfills the Law, and he opposes the way in which the religious leaders like the Pharisees used and manipulated the Law for their own purposes. We’ve seen this in expressions of the church in our day as well. Some groups say if you don’t act like this or do these things or refrain from doing these other things, then you can’t possibly be someone who knows Jesus.

This is similar to what the Pharisees were doing. They thought if you didn’t follow their standards, then you were living the way in which God intended his people to live. Since they were plucking grain out of the field, the Pharisees take issue with Jesus believing him to have violated the Sabbath. The story has the feeling of the police officer who pulls you over for going 2 miles over the speed limit downhill. It creates such a frustration in you that you can’t believe these guys. I mean really, you think that because we were eating, we were violating God’s command to observe the Sabbath day?

In verse 24 the Pharisees don’t say why what they are doing is unlawful, they simply declare it. And Jesus doesn’t even bother to argue with them. He simply asks what they think of a story from 1 Samuel 21 were David eats bread that only priests were allowed to eat. David was fleeing Saul and came to the place where the tabernacle was set up. He needed provisions and there was no food available. So he made the priest give him bread for him and his men even though the bread was the sacrificial bread on the altar.

Jesus does two things here. First, he challenged the Pharisees from a place in the Bible where technically, one might say David violated the Law. But it was a matter of life and death for David and his men, so the Law was suspended. Also David was able to suspend custom because he was King. The second thing Jesus does here in verse 25 is compare himself with David. Jesus is able to suspend custom because he is King, just like David. Jesus was the one who gave the Law, and he had authority over the Sabbath because he had invented and instituted the Sabbath.

Then, in verse 27, Jesus confronts the Pharisees in the way they are observing the Sabbath. He says, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” In other words, God commanded rest on the Sabbath because Man needed it. The Sabbath was instituted to keep an orderly society and preserve health. Along with the Sabbath, there were rules about your servants and animals not working either. There were also Sabbath laws that applied to debt and to land. Crop rotation was a Sabbath Law from Leviticus. These Sabbath rules were given to help God’s people, not to restrict them. The Pharisees had lost this at some point in their zeal. Israel is known to have practiced the weekly Sabbath, but the rules related to debt forgiveness and an application of the Sabbath called the year of Jubilee from Leviticus 25 were never observed.

The Sabbath was a good thing. But, the Pharisees had become so concerned with making sure no one violated the Sabbath, they themselves had forgotten to observe its purpose. They were not resting. They were not worshipping. There is an important point we learn about the Sabbath from this passage: When the negative overwhelms the positive in the Sabbath, something important has been lost. 

Jesus understands this and sets the Pharisees straight. He says in verse 28 the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath. This is the first use of “Lord” by Mark. It refers to authority. Jesus’ authority is superior to the Pharisees, and even to the law of the Sabbath because he is Lord. Rather than debate with the Pharisees as to what activities you can and cannot do on the Sabbath, Jesus calls their attention to the purpose of the Sabbath and to his own authority over it.

This is important for us to understand when we read any of the commands of Scripture. Jesus gives us the commands of his word for our good. Not to restrict us or to withhold good things from us. We read, forgive one another, serve one another, be kind to one another because this is a way teaching us what the eternal kind of life looks like. The commands he gives in the Bible can be summed up in the great command: Love God and Love People. It’s not a matter of earning God’s favor by obeying, it’s a matter of Loving God in the manner in which he shows us in his commands. This is what it looks like to live out the Gospel.

Jesus instructs us about anger, lust, and greed to show us qualities that should not be present in the lives of those who follow him. Jesus gives commands to follow that do not have loopholes. You either follow them or you don’t, you can’t “technically” love God and people, either you do or you don’t.

The commands of scripture are like guard rails on a road (thanks to N.T. Wright for this illustration). They help to keep you going the right direction, but it’s better to use your steering wheel. They will keep you out of the ditch, but you’re gonna get banged up if you keep bouncing off of them. Jesus’ commands are for our good. They are boundaries to keep our hearts in check and devoted to him. The Pharisees didn’t understand this about the Sabbath. If we love God and people we will obey the commands of Scripture. Following the commands is legalism. Obeying the commands as a means to following Jesus is the way the Gospel works. It’s difficult to not confuse the two. We will spend our lives sorting it out. But the commands are for our good and to define the boundaries of a Gospel driven life. Focusing on the commands causes us to miss the point. We are to focus on Jesus. We don’t worship the commands, we worship Him. The commands are the guard rails, but we drive on the road called Loving God and loving people. The Pharisees and other groups lost this somewhere as their zeal drove them to define acceptable behaviors on the Sabbath.

The worst tragedy is that they were too concerned for other people’s morality and not concerned enough for the darkness of their own hearts, a darkness that caused them to miss their Messiah. We should guard our hearts in such a way that we don’t fall into similar tragedy.

Review and Reflect – Mark 2:1-12

First, read Mark 2:1-12.

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.

Review and Reflect on Mark 1:40-45

Read Mark 1:40-45.

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.