The Temple is Here! (Mark 2:1-12)

We have seen in the first chapter of Mark that Jesus speaks as God speaks, sees as God sees, and touches as God touches.  Mark is revealing the character and divine dignity of Jesus Christ at a breathless pace.  Jesus is turning the tables on sin and disease and the power of Satan.

As this second chapter opens, Mark surprises us further by the radical nature of Jesus’ response to the paralytic man.  As the man is being lowered down in the midst of a crowded and packed room, everyone present looks up and sees the man’s paralysis – that is how we see.  But Jesus looks up and sees faith.  He sees as God sees.  And then Jesus speaks as only God can speak: “Son, your sins are forgiven.”  The teachers of the law who are present at once recognize the significance of this utterance.  “Why does this fellow talk like this?  He’s blaspheming!  Who can forgive sins but God alone?”  Even out of the lips of Jesus’ opponents, the gospel is being proclaimed – indeed, who can forgive sins but God alone?

Now when someone offends you or me, we can say “I forgive you” because the offense has been against us.  We understand this way of thinking and speaking.  But we cannot speak a word of forgiveness on behalf of someone else – the offended person must be the forgiving agent.  Now, Jesus has never met this man before, and yet He speaks as though He is the offended party.  This man’s sins are against God, and Jesus speaks in the place of God with the words, “I forgive you.”  Jesus is speaking with authority the word of forgiveness as only God, the offended party, can speak.  Jesus is forgiving as only God can forgive.  He has the authority to forgive sins, which no human being has.  This is why the religious leaders were right in saying that this was blasphemous – unless, of course, Jesus is indeed God.

It is interesting to note that in John 20:22-23, Jesus breathes upon his disciples to receive the Holy Spirit, and then pronounces, “If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”  Jesus is giving the church the authority to announce His forgiveness in the lives of those who come to Him in faith.  We do not have the innate ability to forgive anyone’s sins against God, or to withhold God’s forgiveness of sins from anybody.  But Jesus has given the church the authority to act as His regents or representatives in the world, and to speak on His behalf.  We can declare that “God forgives you” with all the authority of Jesus, because we are not declaring our forgiveness, but rather His forgiveness in Christ.  We are merely pronouncing the forgiveness made possible by the sacrifice of Christ.  If someone repents of their sins and trusts in Jesus, the church can say with full authority, “You are forgiven,” and the Father in heaven will honor that.  If, on the other hand, someone refuses to believe the gospel and repent of their sins, the church has the authority to say “Your sins are not forgiven.”  It is upon the authority of Jesus Christ Himself who is the very regent of the Father, and who has commissioned us to be His representatives in the world, that we are able to say, “Your sins are forgiven.”  This great doctrine of pronouncing forgiveness begins right here in Mark’s gospel – as we witness Jesus Himself having the authority and power  to forgive sins, even as the Father forgives.  Jesus forgives as God forgives.

And now we come to the culminating climax of this encounter with Jesus.  There was a religious procedure in Judaism whereby a sinful Jew could go to the Temple, make an appropriate sacrifice before the priest, and hear the words “Your sins are forgiven.”  This was a familiar procedure for the Jews, because the sacrifice took place at the Temple to cover the sin, and the high priest was there as God’s regent to pronounce forgiveness.  But it could only happen at the Temple.  Jesus, however, doesn’t say to the paralytic, as He did to the leper, “Go, and show yourself to the priest.”  He doesn’t say, “Go, and make a sacrifice at the Temple for your sins to be forgiven.”  By simply declaring, “Your sins are forgiven,” Jesus is saying, in effect, “You don’t need to go to the Temple; you are already at the Temple!  You don’t need to go to the High Priest; you are already in the presence of the High Priest!  You don’t need to go to the mercy seat of the altar; you are already at the altar!”  Jesus is the Temple – the place where God’s presence dwelt among humanity.  Jesus is the altar; He is the mercy seat; He is the sacrifice; He is the high priest!  Jesus is saying, “The Temple of God is here in my person.”

This is the main point of the story.  The physical healing of the man afterward serves as an authenticating sign in visible, tangible form that the forgiveness of sins has, indeed, been accomplished.  Which is easier to say: “Your sins are forgiven” or “Be healed, take up your mat and walk”?  Both are overturning the effects of the fall, and bringing forth the rule and reign of God into this man’s life.  But so that we might believe and know that Jesus has the authority on earth to forgive sins (something we cannot see), Jesus gives an authenticating sign that we can see.  And the paralytic “got up, took his mat, and walked out in full view of them all!”  Everyone was amazed – not just because they had seen another miracle of healing, but because that miracle was bearing witness to the forgiveness of sins which only God can give.

In Jesus Christ, the Temple is here!  All the wondrous benefits of the Temple which every devout Jew understood and cherished are now available anywhere in the world where two or more are gathered, because Christ is present.  The church is not merely a gathering of people who look back and remember the wonderful acts of God 2,000 years ago.  The church is an ongoing expression of God’s in-breaking into the world, because Christ has promised to be present by the Holy Spirit whenever the church gathers in His name.  The “Temple” is wherever Christ is, and Christ has promised to be present wherever two or more are gathered in His name.

Jesus Sees as God Sees (Mark 1:29-45)

In this passage, we witness Christ’s first public healings.  The whole town gathers at Jesus’ door to bring their sick and demon-possessed to Him.  The apostles observe this and begin to realize that Jesus has the power to draw a really big crowd.  They put themselves forward as managers to help schedule and maximize His unique gifts and abilities.  Before they wake up the next morning, however, Jesus has already left and gone to a solitary place to pray.  The contrast here is noticeable between verse 33, where the whole town is gathered at Jesus’ door, and verse 35, where Jesus has disappeared to pray in the hills alone.  When the disciples find Him, they say “Everyone is looking for you!”  They are surprised that Jesus has withdrawn to a lonely place rather than soak in the adoration of the crowds.  The disciples are basically telling Him that they have plans for His schedule that day.  They have plans for how to manage His time and maximize His popularity and healing opportunities.  It was Jesus who just a few days ago had said to the disciples, “Come, follow me…”, but now it is the disciples who are saying to Jesus, “Come, follow us.”  There is a saying that in the beginning God made us in His image, and we have been trying to repay the favor ever since.  We want to make God into our image. We want him to fit into our plans.  We want him to conform to our idea of what God should be like.

There is a danger that we will fall in the very trap that the first disciples fell into when we, like they, tell Jesus how we want to manage Him.  To the very one who broke into our lives and said, “Come, follow me” we will say, “Come, follow us.”  We want God to fit into our idea of who God should be.  We want Him to do things according to our schedule, our timing, our ideas of what is best. In today’s market-place of entertainment-oriented Christianity, we’ll do almost anything just to keep growing and accommodating the crowds.  And so the disciples say to Jesus, “Follow us, and we’ll show you how to really fish for men – lots of them!”  But Jesus’ priorities are different, and He makes it very clear when He says, “Let us go somewhere else…so I can preach there also.  That is why I have come.”  Jesus did not come to accommodate the crowds.  He did not come just to heal, and He certainly did not come to be popular and well liked.  He came to preach the good news of the Kingdom.  The order of the following statement in verse 39 is very important: “He traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons.”  Jesus came to preach first, and then the consequence of His preaching was the fleeing of demons, and, as we shall see, the fleeing of illness.

In verse 40, a leper approaches Jesus and begs to be made clean.  It is here that we learn more about Jesus’ divine character and nature.  Earlier, we learned that Jesus speaks as God speaks; here, we find that Jesus sees as God sees and touches as God touches.  When we see someone with a horrible disease, we shrink back in revulsion.  I have spent quite a bit of time in India where it is not uncommon at a train station or some other public place to see someone deformed or diseased in some dramatic way.  I know what it feels like to be repelled by contagion and disease.  In our natural state, we are repelled by disease, and we flee from sickness and death.  Lepers were forced to live apart from the rest of society.  If anyone approached them, they had to call out, “Leper, leper leper!” so that the person could flee from the horrible illness lest they too should be contaminated.  When Jesus sees the leper, however, He doesn’t see the man’s sickness; He sees his great need.  He isn’t filled with repulsion, but rather with compassion.

The word used here for compassion is where we get our word for spleen, because people in the ancient world believed that the spleen was the inner most organ of the human body.  When the text says that Jesus was filled with compassion, it means that He was moved deeply within at the innermost part of His being.  We find here that Jesus doesn’t see as we see; He sees as God sees. When God sees you and me, He sees us with compassion. We’re encountering something different here, something like what Samuel encountered when God told him that “the Lord does not look at the things man looks at.  Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).

Filled with compassion, Jesus then reaches His hand out and touches the leper.  He does not fear to touch him as we would, for if we touched the leper, we would catch leprosy; when Christ touches the leper, the leper catches health!  Our whole lives are spent running from disease, affliction and death.  Here we see Jesus facing it.  In fact, the leprosy flees from the presence of Jesus!  Something altogether new is at work here in the person of Jesus.  Jesus turns the tables on the contagion of sin, disease, sickness, and death.  Rather than Jesus catching disease and uncleanliness Himself, the sinners “catch” righteousness, purity, and health from Jesus’ touch.  Instead of Christ fleeing from the leper, the leprosy flees from Jesus.  Jesus speaks as God speaks, with authority and creative power; He sees as God sees, penetrating to our heart and looking with compassion where others see only sickness; and He touches as God touches, for from His touch comes healing power that overturns all the realms of Satan’s decay.  Mark is slowly revealing the identity of this God-Man who speaks and sees and touches as only God can.  Sin and sickness are fleeing from the Holy One of all creation.  Is it any wonder that when death itself places its hands on Jesus, it is overturned by the resurrection?

In this Advent season, remember the power of human touch.  Today, I encourage you to take time to reach out and touch someone who is hurting or in pain.  Allow the power of Jesus to work in and through you.  Jesus did not walk through this world as we often do, consumed with our own concerns and withdrawn from others’ pain.  He walked through this world, seeing and touching with the Creator’s extravagant love for His creation.  As His followers, let us live as Jesus lived, and ask Him to help us see the world and touch the world with His compassion.

Jesus Speaks as God Speaks (Mark 1:14-28)

We have heard Jesus’ identity attested to by John the Baptist, the ancient prophets, the Holy Spirit, even the Father Himself at Christ’s baptism.  We have witnessed the emergence of Jesus on the stage of human history, but we have not yet had a single word uttered from the mouth of Jesus Himself until here.  In this passage, Jesus speaks, and we find that He speaks in a way that is different from the way that we speak.  We find that Jesus speaks as God speaks.

He begins by announcing that the time has come, the right time, the decisive time in history, and that the Kingdom of God is near.  The word Jesus uses for “time” is not the ordinary word we use for clock time or calendar time.  Jesus uses a word for time which means “the decisive time.”  A whole new time is breaking into the history of the world, a time which we have not seen since Adam sinned in the Garden of Eden.   God’s time is a timeline governed by the Kingdom of God, a time when the rule and reign of God is joyfully received.

The world, then as now, had forgotten who was in charge, but Jesus comes as the embodiment of the divine, sovereign right over all creation.  By this very identity, He will divide the whole human race in half.  The prophet Simeon understood this when he held the child Jesus in his arms and said, “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against” (Luke 2:34f).  Jesus divides the whole human race into two groups, groups that have nothing to do with Eastern and Western, black or white, rich or poor.  This is a division of the human race that cuts across everything we can imagine, dividing those who accept and rejoice in the reign of God from those who do not.  Jesus therefore says, “Repent and believe the good news.”  To repent means to renovate our whole way of thinking and living.  It is not just being sorry for our sins.  We must be gutted out and rebuilt from the inside out.  To believe means to act in a way which is consistent with the truth.  It is a way of living.  Repent and believe.  Christ embodies the kingdom of God, God’s divine rule over the world, and so He speaks as God speaks when He calls us to acknowledge that reality and rejoice in it.

Jesus then comes upon two fishermen, Simon Peter and his brother Andrew, and He says to them, “Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”  Through the preached word Jesus calls us today in the same way He called those first disciples so many years ago.  He did not call them to a bunch of rules and regulations.  He called them to Himself.  Jesus exercises the authority to make us precisely what He has called us to be.  “Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”  The translation here literally means, “I will create you fishers of men.”  He is not limited by our natural abilities or expected aptitudes.  The Holy Spirit requisitions everything for His good and His glory.  Jesus, like a great alchemist, is in the business of turning base things into priceless gold.  As Paul would later express in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”  Christ embodies the creative power of the universe, and so He speaks as God speaks when His words create a new powerful reality in our lives.

And then, in verses 21-28, we find that those who hear Christ speak are “amazed” because He teaches as one who has authority.  The reason that those first century hearers were so amazed is that it had been a long time since anyone had spoken with this kind of authority.  Their own teachers always quoted the earlier great teachers of the Law.  If they thought back even further, the great prophets always spoke in the Name of God, not of their own authority.  Even Moses and Abraham had not spoken this way.  The last time the human race heard words spoken with this kind of authority was in Genesis when God created the world:  “Let there be light – and there was light.”  Now, that is authority!  Jesus does not speak descriptively, as we do.  He speaks authoritatively, as God does.  When God speaks, things happen.  His word is His deed.  We write reams of books describing and defining light.  But God said, “Let there be light…and there was light” (Genesis 1:3).

So when a leper comes to Jesus and says, “If you are willing, you can make me clean,” Jesus says, “I am willing.  Be clean!” (Mark 1:41).  For Jesus, there was no difference between teaching with authority and casting out a demon with authority, because in both cases His words and His acts have equal power.  In the midst of His teaching, a man possessed by an evil spirit cries out, “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth?  Have you come to destroy us?  I know who you are – the Holy One of God!”  (Mark 1:24)  Jesus’ response is “Be quiet!  Come out of him!”  He shuts down the accusations of this demon, this member of Satan’s dominion.  Satan is known in the Scriptures as the “accuser of the brethren” (Rev. 12:10), and his job is to accuse us before God.  This is Jesus’ first encounter in His public ministry with one of Satan’s operatives, and He says that there will be no more accusations.  The word of Christ triumphs over the word of the accuser.  Satan, the chief prosecutor, has been sacked, and there is no longer any basis for his accusations against us.  He has no more authority in our lives because Christ has already publicly dismissed him.  Christ embodies the victory of God over all the powers of Satan, and so He speaks as God speaks when He expels Satan with authority.

Jesus creates men and women anew with His calling. He embodies the Kingdom of God.  By His presence, He divides the whole human race.  He speaks with God’s creative power, and He demonstrates his authority over Satan!  Who is this Jesus?  In this passage, we see the beginning of a revelation about Christ’s identity through His own words and actions. Mark chooses not to spell it out for us.  Instead, he lets Jesus’ words and deeds speak for themselves. Jesus speaks as God speaks, for He is the very Son of God!

The Messiah is Revealed! (Mark 1:1-13)

During the Christmas season, we reflect upon the mystery of the incarnation – God Himself becoming a man.  In these next few blog posts, I would like you to reflect with me upon that mystery through the eyes of Mark, the writer of the second Gospel.  We will walk together through a few of the early passages of Mark’s gospel, and see how Mark reveals the nature of who Jesus is through his unfolding story of actions and power.

Mark begins his gospel with a dramatic opening line:  “The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mk. 1:1).  The Jews had long awaited a Messiah who would deliver them.  Mark begins his gospel by announcing that the long awaited Messiah has come!  The name Jesus means savior or deliverer; the word Christ is not a name, but a title.  It means messiah or anointed one.  However, Mark wastes no time in declaring that Jesus is not just a human Messiah, or an earthly deliverer.   He declares that this Messiah is also the Son of God!

Mark will spend his entire gospel demonstrating that this Jesus is God Himself who has come among us.  The eternal God, the author of all history, has stepped into our history.  I have heard that William Shakespeare occasionally liked to play a small part in one of his own masterpiece plays.   He enjoyed entering into the play which he himself had written.   The Apostle Paul tells us that it was through Jesus that God the Father created the world (Col. 1:16).  Yet, now – through the incarnation – Jesus steps into human history.  The author of all history becomes part of our history.  Rather than stepping into a small minor role, however, Jesus’ entrance into the human race becomes the central most important fact in the history of the entire world.  The world will never be the same now that God has stepped into our history.  Jesus is God’s sermon to the world.  There has never been a sermon like this one!

Unlike Matthew and Luke, Mark does not tell us about Jesus’ miraculous birth in Bethlehem.  And unlike John, Mark does not reflect theologically about the preexistent nature of “the Word made flesh” (John 1:14).  Instead, Mark dives immediately into the action of Jesus’ public ministry, demonstrating by the unfolding acts and deeds of Jesus that He is the very Son of God.  The early church for whom Mark is writing was in the midst of intense persecution under the reign of Emperor Nero.  Peter had been crucified upside down and Paul had been beheaded.  Mark (often called John Mark) had traveled with Paul, and had been a close companion and helper to Peter, especially near the end of Peter’s life.  His gospel very likely reflects Peter’s eye witness account of Jesus which he handed down to Mark.  This gospel was written to encourage the persecuted church to remain faithful in the midst of trials.  It is concise, direct, to the point, and full of action – and it is through that action that Mark reveals the true identity of Jesus Christ.

To draw you into the drama of Mark’s presentation of Jesus, I would like you to think about three pictures.  First, picture a wild, crazy looking preacher.  He is wearing clothes made of camel skins, he is eating locusts and honey, and he has a big leather belt around his waist!  This is no polished speaker with a fancy suit on.  He has long hair, he hasn’t shaved, and he comes in the spirit and power of Elijah, announcing a message from God which fulfills the great prophet Isaiah.  His message and manner must have struck those first hearers as very radical and strange!

His message was about baptism.  Baptism speaks of an entrance into something.  To be baptized means to enter into a new community of some kind.  Mark begins his account with this wild preacher named John the Baptist proclaiming that everyone needs to be baptized.  The Jews were accustomed to being on the inside of whatever God was doing.  Now, John is declaring that God is doing a new thing, and the whole of humanity is on the outside of it, but are being summoned to this new thing.   John the Baptist isn’t just announcing “good news.”  He is announcing the need for baptism – a baptism of repentance which is the only way to gain entrance into this new community.  It is as if he were saying, “Something new is coming!  Something very dramatic is about to be revealed!  And the way to be a part of it is to come by faith and repentance, for the Messiah is about to arrive, and He is far greater than I am!”

The second picture which Mark gives us is of a dry and uninhabited place, a desert.  Think of a place which is hot and dry and devoid of all life.  We hear a voice crying out in the wilderness.  Jews associated the desert with their forty years of wilderness wanderings or the 70 years of Babylonian exile.  It was a place that they wanted to avoid.  But, we must recognize the desolation of our lives apart from God’s divine presence.  We also discover Jesus coming up out of the wilderness, having fasted for forty days.  Jesus symbolically re-enacted the forty years of wilderness wanderings, and entered our place of desolation prior to beginning His public ministry.

This brings us to the third and final picture which Mark gives us as he opens his gospel:  the emergence of Jesus Christ on the stage of human history.  Jesus comes and is baptized by John the Baptist.  As Jesus emerged from the waters of baptism something dramatic happened.  First, the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus like a dove.  Then, God the Father spoke from heaven and declared, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”  Thus, the entire Trinity is already present in the first chapter of Mark.  In fact, John has now given us a three-fold testimony to the authority and authenticity of Jesus: The testimony of the prophets (vs. 2, 3), the testimony of the Holy Spirit (vs. 10) and the testimony of God the Father (vs. 11).  This is dramatic!   This Jesus really is the promised Messiah.  Jesus re-enacted Israel’s 40 years in the wilderness through His 40 days of fasting and temptation, remaining faithful and sinless in every trial in which humanity had failed.  Now, He is ready to begin his public ministry.  Up to this point, despite all the drama, we have not heard a single word from the lips of Jesus.  It is in verse 14 that we first hear Jesus’ words, which mark the formal beginning of his public ministry:  “The time has come!  The kingdom of God is near!  Repent and believe the good news!”

In the flesh, God Himself has come – the Messiah is here at long last!  And Mark will show through powerful actions and words and deeds that Jesus speaks as God speaks, and sees as God sees, and touches as God touches, and acts as God acts – for this is “the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God!”