The glad tidings which Jesus proclaimed were met with severe opposition. In this chapter we see that the scandalous nature of His ministry consisted of two things: He forgave sins, and He feasted with sinners. This is just the first sign that Jesus’ Kingdom is going to be met with stiff resistance from Israel’s religious leaders. But Jesus doesn’t skirt the scandals. Instead, He is setting the stage for the greatest scandal of all, the death of Christ for sinners.
And again he entered into Capernaum after some days; and it was noised that he was in the house. And straightway many were gathered together, insomuch that there was no room to receive them, no, not so much as about the door: and he preached the word unto them. And they come unto him, bringing one sick of the palsy, which was borne of four. And when they could not come nigh unto him for the press, they uncovered the roof where he was: and when they had broken it up, they let down the bed wherein the sick of the palsy lay. When Jesus saw their faith, he said unto the sick of the palsy, Son, thy sins be forgiven thee. […]Mark 2:1ff
Summary of the Text
Mark doesn’t let off the gas in telling the story of Jesus. After Jesus’ escapades in surrounding towns (Cf. 1:38), He now returns to Capernaum, His home base for much of His ministry (v1). The news of His return causes a stir (v2), while He preaches to the people, four friends bring a paralyzed man to the house; being thwarted in getting their friend to Jesus due to the crowd, they hop on the roof, dig through it, and lower their pal down in front of Jesus (vv3-4). Jesus sees their faith and extends forgiveness to their friend (v5). This offer of forgiveness sparks spiritual heartburn for certain religious scribes, as they are angered by what they perceive as blasphemy (vv6-7). After all, only God can forgive, right? Jesus perceives their incredulity and doubles down on His divine prerogative to forgive sins (v8). He exposes their inner thoughts (v9) and then confirms His divine office as a new Son of Man (Adam) and commands the paralytic to rise up and walk home with his mat (vv10-11). Immediately, the man did as Jesus commanded, and the people glorified God for this marvelous thing (v12).
The next episode in this chapter is the calling of Levi (Matthew) by the seaside (v13); and Levi leaves his money-grubbing and obeys Christ’s call to follow (v14). He welcomes Jesus into his home to feast with him and his unsavory friends (v15). This feasting with sinners elicits more opposition from the scribes & Pharisees (v16). Jesus leans into the controversy. Our Lord likens Himself a doctor, but a doctor for sin-sick souls; as such a doctor He will not leave sinners in the misery of their sin, but He calls such sinners to repentance (v17, Cf. Mk. 1:15).
John’s disciples join in the Q&A to raise another objection. The Pharisees & John’s disciples fast, so why don’t Jesus’ disciples (v18)? Jesus answers with a series of riddles. Do wedding guests fast when the bridegroom is present (vv19-20)? Do you patch up tattered garments with luxurious new fabric (v21)? Do you put bubbly new wine into well-worn casks (v22)? No, no, and no again. Jesus is asserting here that He is bringing about a new order of things. The old order is like a husk which must fall aside in order for the new life to burst through. The sorrow of exile is on its way out, and the joy of the Messianic Kingdom is upon them. For those who had ears to hear, and eyes to see, the shadows were fading away and the morning of Christ’s Kingdom was breaking in upon them.
This new order which Jesus is bringing is one in which Yahweh, by His Messiah, will dwell with His people, feast with them, and rule them personally. Mark shows us that Jesus has the authority to rearrange the order of things by recounting a story of Jesus defending His disciples from the Pharisees’ accusations of Sabbath breaking. The disciples plucked grain on the Sabbath (v23), and the Pharisees, like snitches, accuse them of breaking the law (v24; Lev. 23:22). Jesus puts Himself forward as a New David, and likens His situation with David’s eating the holy bread in the days of Abiathar (vv25-26); this also means the Pharisees are playing the role of the scoundrel spy of Soul: Doeg the Edomite. The Sabbath breaking controversy carries over into the next chapter, but this section ends with Jesus’ strongest claim yet for being the Messiah: He is the Son of Man, and thus, He is Lord of the Sabbath (vv27-28).
Which is Easier?
The first episode in this chapter addresses the pride found in the heart of the self-righteous. Jesus’ question “Which is easier?” still provokes the self-righteous. As we saw in Mark 1, Jesus has been cleansing the land of demons and diseases; but now He takes it a step too far for the Pharisees: He forgives the paralytic’s sins. Prophets of old had performed healings (Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, etc.). But Jesus has taken up not only the prophetic mantle but the priestly one: forgiving sins.
The self-righteous want forgiveness to be something that is kept locked away, unavailable, out of stock, to be dripped out like an IV. And the self-righteous always want to be in charge of how forgiveness is administered. They want it to be hard to obtain. But when Jesus comes, forgiveness comes too. When God brings our nation to its senses, there will be an avalanche of forgiveness. Forgiveness for abortionists, transgender doctors, market manipulators, porn stars, pedophiles, angry dads, manipulative moms, slothful sons, and unchaste daughters.
Jesus uses some deep irony here. It is easier to say “Your sins are forgiven” than to say “Rise up, paralytic, and walk.” But Jesus tells them that He is healing the paralytic so that they would know that Son of Man has power on the earth to forgive sins. The greater work of forgiving sins is demonstrated in the lesser work of healing the body. This is a Messianic claim to universal power and dominion (Dan. 7:13-14, Cf. Ps. 80), accompanied with a Messianic sign to validate the claim (Is. 35:6). This also supplies us with an apologetic argument for those who say that Jesus never claimed to be the Messiah; here it is in big, bold letters.
Accusation & Assurance
Throughout this chapter, Jesus and His disciples are on the receiving end of a series of accusations. The Scribes, Pharisees, and even John’s disciples get in on the action of accusation. Accusation is the Serpent’s work. And accusation works. It causes your heart to race, your mind to swirl, your will to quail. The police lights in your review mirror cause a hot flush to rise to your face, because they are accusation in flashing red and blue. You are a lawbreaker. The voice of the Accuser keeps men in fear, keeps them cowards, keeps them from being free.
This is seen in a number of ways in our own tangled legal code. Some legal experts argue that the average American commits three felonies a day. A cheery thought. This is not due to the moral purity of our legal code. Rather, this is because we have forsaken God’s law and entered the labyrinth of man’s unstable preferences. Jesus breaks the spell of accusation. He doesn’t say we haven’t sinned, but He offers forgiveness for our sins, and fellowship at His table.
The stinging word of accusation can hang over your head for a lifetime. Bad student. Loudmouth. Failure. Cult member. Right-wing extremist. Little brat. Terrible friend. Not cool enough. Criminal. Jesus response to the accusations leveled against him in this chapter show that the Accuser is about to be cast down, and He offers assurance of welcome. Your sins are forgiven. David’s Greater Son has come, and invites you to His sabbath feast. So then, the end of Satan’s empire of accusation should not be met with gloomy fasting, but with exuberant feasting.
The God Who Feasts
The action doesn’t slow down at all as this chapter closes. Mark shows us Jesus as a New David, and thus has authority to rearrange the order of things. The Sabbath follows His rules. The Sabbath was a blessing from God to His people, to indicate the leisurely feast He invites His people to. The Pharisees had turned the Sabbath into an intricate web of uncertainty, Jesus declares it to be the domain of David’s Son. These elders of Israel call Jesus a glutton, but Jesus, as one commentator puts it, “is continuing God’s behavior from the Old Testament”.
Jesus’ Gospel is that sinners can not only be forgiven but also feast with God. There is no asterisk on this invite to dine with Yahweh. This causes a response of envy and accusation from the self-righteous. Instead of rejoicing in the sweet forgiveness which Yahweh was bringing through the person of Jesus, the Pharisees begin to adopt an adversarial attitude towards Jesus. They are scandalized by the forgiveness and feasting.
Jesus the Messiah, like His ancestor David, has a troop of misfits whom He names mighty men. They can partake of the Holy Bread, because He has recruited them into His army. The Pharisees called the disciples lawbreakers; Jesus, in effect, calls them Mighty Men. The Pharisees say you should be morose and fast; Jesus says, “Rejoice for the Kingdom has come.” The Pharisees say sinners shouldn’t be seated at Yahweh’s table; Jesus says, “Come and welcome.”
Charge & Benediction
There’s a clear application of all this. Is your table as welcoming as God’s table? Christian hospitality is one of the clearest ways we preach this Gospel of sins forgiven and welcome through Christ. So open your table.
Jude 1:24-25 (KJV) 24 Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present [you] faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, 25 To the only wise God our Saviour, [be] glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen.