Chapter 1 shows conflict between Jesus and the power of Satan. Chapter 2 introduces a new factor in the conflict: resistance to Jesus by the religious establishment. The religious leaders, accustomed to giving lip service to the idea of a coming Messiah, found that Jesus threatened their power and prestige. Jesus challenged their authority, questioned their teachings, and trampled on their way of doing business. Mark illustrated their reactions and rejection of Christ with five clashes that form chapter 2 and the beginning of chapter 3.
Jesus Heals a Paralyzed Man / 2:1-12
2:1-2 Jesus returned to Capernaum, which had become his base of operations while he was in Galilee. Everyone in Capernaum had been looking for him (1:37), so when the people heard that he was back, they packed the house. Instead of healing, however, this time he preached the word to them. The basic message remained the same: The long-awaited Messiah had come to break the power of sin and begin God’s personal reign on earth. The miracles Jesus performed served as a sign to Jesus’ identity, as well as revealed his compassion and love for the people he had come to save.
2:3-4 As Jesus was preaching, four men arrived carrying a paralyzed man. The crowd had filled the house and the doorway (2:2), so the group couldn’t get to Jesus. But these friends would not be deterred. Determined to get their friend to Jesus, they dug through the clay roof above his head. In Bible times, houses were built of stone and had outside stairways that led onto flat roofs. Roofs were made with joists covered with a mixture of mortar, tar, ashes, and sand. So they had to “dig” through the roof (see also Luke 5:19). They attached ropes to each corner of the pallet and carefully lowered the paralyzed man in front of Jesus.
2:5 We might expect a popular preacher in the middle of speaking to an expectant crowd to be annoyed at this intrusion. Obviously, several minutes were spent as the crowd watched these men take apart the roof above them. But Jesus saw their faith acted out in their determination. If they could but get their friend within Jesus’ touch, they knew their friend would be restored.
Among the first words Jesus said to the paralyzed man were “My son, your sins are forgiven.” The man needed spiritual healing, so Jesus forgave his sins. Then Jesus healed the man.
2:6-7 These teachers of religious law were the legal specialists in Jesus’ day. Jesus’ teaching and his popularity had prompted special investigation by the powerful leaders of the Jewish faith. These teachers had been dispatched from Jerusalem to Capernaum (Luke 5:17) and had made their way into the crowd that filled this house. Jealous of Jesus’ popularity and power, these men hoped to find something to criticize or even condemn in Jesus’ teaching. When they heard Jesus tell the paralyzed man that his sins were forgiven, they were shocked. For Jesus to claim to forgive sins was considered blasphemy, defined as claiming to be God or to do what only God can do. In Jewish law, blasphemy was punishable by death (Leviticus 24:16). The religious leaders were correct in their statement that only God can forgive sins (Exodus 34:6-7; Psalm 103:3; Isaiah 43:25; Daniel 9:9), and they also rightly understood that Jesus was claiming to be God. But in labeling Jesus’ claim to forgive sins as blasphemy, the religious leaders showed they did not understand that Jesus was God. Jesus had God’s power and authority to heal bodies and forgive sins. Forgiveness of sins was a sign that the messianic age had come (Isaiah 40:2; Joel 2:32; Micah 7:18-19; Zechariah 13:1). Unfortunately, it did not occur to these Jewish leaders that perhaps this man was their Messiah.
2:8 Jesus knew what they were discussing, and their hostility and anger at Jesus’ words could not be hidden. Jesus asked them, “Why do you think this is blasphemy?” Would the teachers of religious law respond, or did they too believe this man to be the Messiah? Jesus knew the teachers’ dilemma and offered to prove his authority.
2:9 The teachers of religious law knew about Jesus’ ability to heal, and they probably had expected Jesus to immediately heal the paralyzed man. Instead, Jesus forgave the man’s sins. To the teachers, this sounded like blasphemy, and it also sounded like an easy out. Anyone can just say someone’s sins are forgiven, but it would take someone with great power and authority to heal a paralyzed person. Jesus asked them the question that they were asking themselves. He wanted to show that he had the power to forgive sins by showing that he had the power to make a paralytic pick up his mat and walk.
2:10-11 By recording this incident, Mark hoped to prove to his audience beyond any doubt that Jesus was the Messiah. The Son of Man has the delegated authority of God the Father to forgive sins. The teachers asked, “Who but God can forgive sins!” (2:7). The answer is, “No human except one delegated that authority by God himself. And the Son of Man has that authority.” However, people cannot “see” sins forgiven; they can see physical healing. Therefore, Jesus turned to the paralytic, still lying on the mat in front of him, and told him to stand up on his previously useless legs; take his mat with arms that may also have been previously useless; and go on home.
2:12 The man did not doubt Jesus’ words; when Jesus told him to get up, he did so—before the stunned onlookers including Jesus’ critics. The healing showed Jesus’ power and authority. The teachers of religious law who questioned Jesus’ ability to forgive sins (2:6-7) saw the formerly paralyzed man get up and walk. Jesus’ question in 2:9 forced their answer: Jesus had the power to make the paralyzed man walk; so he also had the authority to forgive his sins. The people in Capernaum had already seen numerous healings by Jesus on his previous visit. But the crowd’s amazement is expressed in Mark’s words, they all praised God. While the religious leaders questioned and debated, the people recognized God’s power and realized that Jesus had been given authority by God.
Jesus Eats with Sinners at Matthew’s House / 2:13-17
The next clash between Jesus and the religious leaders revolved around the company he kept. Not only had Jesus not separated himself from distasteful characters, he sought them out. Jesus was charged with befriending sinners. Just as Jesus entered the world to save sinners, he still enters sinful human lives to rescue those he loves.
2:13 Jesus left Capernaum and went back to the lakeshore (that is, the Sea of Galilee). A crowd of people gathered, and Jesus taught them. While Jesus often spoke in synagogues or homes, he also taught groups of people on hillsides (Matthew 5:1) or on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. The hillsides and sloping shoreline of the Sea of Galilee provided a convenient place for large crowds to gather and listen.
2:14 Levi (also called Matthew, and later the author of the Gospel of Matthew) was a Jew who worked for the Romans (specifically for Herod Antipas) as the area’s tax collector. He collected taxes from the citizens as well as from merchants passing through town. (Capernaum was a customs post on the caravan route between Damascus to the northeast and the Mediterranean Sea to the west.) Tax collectors were expected to take a commission on the taxes they collected, but most of them overcharged and kept the profits. So, tax collectors were hated by most Jews because of their reputation for cheating and because of their support of Rome. A Jew who accepted such an office was excommunicated from the synagogue and shamed his family and friends. So, a Jewish tax collector was looked down upon for valuing money over reputation, respectability, purity before God, and concern for his own people, who had to pay extremely high taxes to the imperial power.
The tax-collection booth was an elevated platform or bench. Everyone knew who Levi was, and anyone passing through the city who had to pay taxes could find him easily. Levi’s tollbooth taxed commercial goods being transported from the sea to land routes. This was probably not the first time Jesus saw Levi, for Jesus walked these shores many times.
Mark’s words emphasize the brevity of Jesus’ call and Levi’s radical obedience. Jesus’ words, “Come, be my disciple,” are in the imperative mood, meaning this was a command, not an invitation. Levi recognized that Jesus wasn’t inviting him; Jesus was calling him. So Levi got up and followed.
Levi’s radical obedience is amazing for the change it would effect in his life. Already ostracized by family and friends, following Jesus probably made no difference in this regard. But Levi was probably very wealthy—tax collecting was a lucrative occupation. Levi had been an outcast; now he was wanted as a member of a group. But he would have to learn to live in poverty.
2:15 Levi responded, as Jesus would want all his followers to do; he followed his Lord immediately, and he called his friends together to meet him too. He held a dinner for his fellow tax collectors and many other notorious sinners so they also could meet Jesus.
In Levi’s house there gathered a crowd that Jesus could not reach in the synagogues. The tax collectors had been excommunicated. The term sinners referred to the common people who were not learned in the law and did not abide by the rigid standards of the Pharisees. The Pharisees regarded these people as wicked and opposed to the will of God because they did not observe the rituals for purity, which enabled them to eat with others. In any case, Jesus had attracted a following among these people. These people gathered at Levi’s house, where they knew they had a welcome, and they too sat with Jesus and his disciples at dinner and listened to the message this marvelous teacher had for them.
2:16 Many of these teachers of religious law were also Pharisees—a strict religious group of Jews who also advocated minute obedience to the Jewish laws and traditions. Their job was to teach the Scriptures and the Law and to protect them against anyone’s willful defiance. They saw themselves as righteous and everyone else as sinners. When Jesus sat down to a meal with these “scum,” the Pharisees were quite surprised. Here was a man who seemed to have the entire law at his fingertips, who taught with great authority, yet who stooped to the level of the poor, unlearned, common people (even sinners!). So the Pharisees pulled his disciples aside and asked why Jesus did this.
2:17 The question apparently made its way to Jesus’ ears, and Jesus had an answer for the self-righteous, influential religious leaders. The first part of Jesus’ answer was from a common proverb on the healthy and the sick. People who are well don’t seek out a physician; the physician’s waiting room is filled with people who are sick. They recognize their need and come to the one who can make them well.
Jesus carried the proverb a step further and explained his messianic mission. Jesus did not come to call those who think they are already good enough (used ironically—those, like these Pharisees, who thought they were righteous) to repentance, for the self-righteous did not recognize their sinfulness. But these sinners saw their need. This was Jesus’ audience.
Religious Leaders Ask Jesus about Fasting / 2:18-22
At every turn, Jesus challenged the Pharisees’ way of looking at life. They lived by appearance; he challenged motives. They constructed elaborate behavior patterns to indicate their holiness; Jesus taught that good behavior done for the wrong reasons has no spiritual value.
In response to their questions about fasting, Jesus turned the discussion from proper behavior to the reasons for fasting. Jesus made it clear that fasting was not a self-justifying action. It was right in its proper place, but there was also a proper place for feasting and joy. To further underscore this truth, Jesus added two other analogies (clothing repair and wineskin care). A worn item of clothing cannot be repaired with a new piece of cloth that shrinks when washed. A well-stretched wineskin filled with new wine will expand and burst when the wine ferments. So also the new spiritual age brought by Christ would not fit the old system; indeed it would burst the confines of the old system.
2:18 John’s disciples refers to the remaining disciples of John the Baptist. These men and the Pharisees were fasting—that is, they were going without food in order to spend time in prayer repenting and humbling themselves before God. The Old Testament law set aside only one day a year as a required day of fasting for all Jews—the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:29). The Pharisees, however, fasted on Mondays and Thursdays (see Luke 18:12) as an act of piety, and most likely promoted this among the people.
John the Baptist was in prison, and his disciples erroneously sided with the Pharisees on this issue, fasting when they should have been feasting with Jesus. Naturally this caused a question: “Why do John’s disciples and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples don’t fast?”
2:19 The Pharisees fasted as a show of piety; the disciples of John the Baptist fasted as a sign of mourning for sin and to prepare for the Messiah’s coming. But, like Jesus’ disciples, they did not need to fast because the Messiah was with them! To be with Jesus the groom is as joyous as a wedding feast. Wedding guests do not mourn or fast; a wedding is a time of celebration and feasting. Likewise, Jesus’ coming was a sign of celebration, not mourning and fasting. Jesus did not condemn fasting—he himself fasted (Luke 4:2). He emphasized that fasting must be done at the right time for the right reasons.
2:20 While Jesus walked the earth, his presence was a cause for celebration—the Messiah had come! The people did not need to mourn, they needed to rejoice. But Jesus knew that soon he (the groom) would be taken away from them. The word someday refers to the day of Jesus’ crucifixion. On that day, Jesus’ disciples would indeed fast and mourn.
2:21 Jesus’ arrival on earth ushered in a new time, a new covenant between God and people. The new covenant called for a new way of expressing personal faith. The newness of the gospel and its relationship to people could not be combined with the religion of Judaism any more than a piece of unshrunk cloth should be used as a patch on a worn-out garment. When the garment is washed, the patch will shrink, pull away from the old garment, and leave a bigger hole than before.
2:22 In Bible times, wine was not kept in glass bottles, but in goatskins sewn around the edges to form watertight bags called wineskins. New wine expanded as it fermented, stretching its wineskin. After the wine had aged, the old wineskin (that had gotten brittle with age and couldn’t stretch anymore) would burst if more new wine was poured into it. New wine, therefore, needs new wineskins.
Like old wineskins, the Pharisees and indeed the entire religious system of Judaism were too rigid to accept Jesus, who could not be contained in their traditions or rules. They were the self-appointed guardians of the “old garments” and the “old wineskins.” Christianity required new approaches and new structures.
The Disciples Pick Wheat on the Sabbath / 2:23-28
Jewish life in Jesus’ day revolved around the Sabbath. Elaborate laws had been designed so that everyone knew exactly how to “keep the Sabbath.” The fourth clash between Jesus and the power of Satan recorded by Mark occurred on a Sabbath. The way Jesus kept the Sabbath irritated his critics to the point of fury. The religious leaders, by imposing a bewildering system of Sabbath laws, had in fact made themselves masters of the Sabbath and so masters over the people. They made the seventh day dreaded rather than enjoyed.
By claiming the title “Lord of the Sabbath,” Jesus was stating his own divinity. But this claim was also an affront to the position of the religious leaders. His remaking the Sabbath into a day of refreshment, worship, and healing pried open the tight-fisted control the Pharisees held on the people. No wonder Jesus’ approach to the Sabbath led his enemies to plot his death.
2:23-24 Mark prepares us for a conflict with the opening words, one Sabbath day. Jesus, determined not to be confined to the Pharisees’ petty rules, always seemed to be doing something against those rules on the Sabbath.
Jesus and the disciples were walking through some grain fields. As they walked, they began breaking off heads of wheat to eat. The Pharisees (who apparently were following them around) pointed out that they were breaking the law against harvesting grain on the Sabbath. The Pharisees had established thirty-nine categories of actions forbidden on the Sabbath, based on interpretations of God’s law and on Jewish custom. Harvesting was one of those forbidden actions. By breaking off heads of wheat to rub in their hands to eat, the disciples were technically harvesting, according to the religious leaders. However, Jesus and the disciples were picking grain because they were hungry (see Matthew 12:1), not because they wanted to harvest the grain for a profit. The disciples, who were not farmers, were not doing their daily work on the Sabbath. Neither were they stealing grain, for God’s law allowed for this kind of sharing among his people (see Deuteronomy 23:25). So, though they may have been violating the Pharisees’ rules, they were not breaking any divine law. The Pharisees, however, could not (and did not want to) see beyond their legalisms.
2:25-26 This story is recorded in 1 Samuel 21:1-6. Each week twelve consecrated loaves of bread, representing the twelve tribes of Israel, were placed on a table in the house of God, here meaning the Tabernacle. This bread was called the bread of the Presence. After its use, it was to be eaten only by priests. On one occasion, when fleeing from Saul, David and his men were given this special bread to eat by the high priest. The priest understood that the men’s need was more important than ceremonial regulations. The loaves given to David were the old loaves that had just been replaced with fresh ones. Although the priests were the only ones allowed to eat this bread, God did not punish David because his need for food was more important than the priestly regulations.
The Pharisees knew the Scriptures thoroughly, yet Jesus’ question, “Haven’t you ever read,” reveals their ignorance of the true meaning of the Scriptures that they claimed to know so well. Yes, they had read this story many times, but they had obviously not discerned or applied its meaning. Jesus justified his disciples’ action on the grounds that they were hungry and that their need superseded the technicalities of ceremonial law. When Jesus compared himself and his disciples to David and his men, Jesus was saying, in effect, “If you condemn me, you must also condemn David.” Jesus was not condoning disobedience to God’s laws. Instead, he was emphasizing discernment and compassion in enforcing the ceremonial laws, something the self-righteous Pharisees did not comprehend. People’s needs are more important than technicalities.
2:27 The Pharisees, having added all kinds of restrictions for the Sabbath, had completely forgotten God’s purpose in creating the Sabbath. God mercifully provided the Sabbath as a day of rest for his people—a day to set aside the normal duties of the workweek and spend time resting and worshiping (Genesis 2:1-3). But the Pharisees had only succeeded in making the Sabbath an impossible burden. Jesus made clear that the Sabbath was made to benefit people by providing them a day of rest. God did not create people in order to place impossible restrictions and burdens on their lives.
2:28 Who created the Sabbath? God did. Therefore, because Jesus, the Son of Man, is God’s Son, given authority and power by God himself, then he is master even of the Sabbath. By saying this, Jesus claimed to be greater than the law and above the law. To the Pharisees, this was heresy. They did not realize that Jesus, the divine Son of God, had created the Sabbath. The Creator is always greater than the creation; so Jesus had the authority to overrule their traditions and regulations.
Tomorrow we’ll look at chapter 3, I am praying for you to KNOW Christ better.
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