At the height of his popularity, Rudyard Kipling was one of the most widely read authors of all time. At one point it was estimated that each word he had in print was worth twenty-five shillings. A group of students at Oxford University pooled their change and sent twenty-five shillings to Kipling, and the accompanying letter read, "Send us your best word." Before long, the reply came back. And so with great anticipation, the students opened the envelope from Kipling to find a single word printed on the piece of paper. It simply said, "Thanks."
The Bible talks about giving thanks to God for His name. For example, Psalm 30:4 says, Sing praise to the Lord, You saints of His, And give thanks at the remembrance of His holy name. In the Bible, a person's name stood for who he or she was. It stood for the character behind that person.'s name. What that means, then, is that we are to be thankful for who God is and what He is like. Today I invite you to join me in looking at the Gospel of Mark, Chapter 2, for this very reason. Now, when we read that chapter or any other part of the Bible, the question I believe we should ask is, "What does this say about God? How does this help us to know God better?" Here in Mark 2 we notice a conflict between different perspectives on what is right ultimately a conflict between two very different portrayals of God.
So let's look at the stories in that chapter. First there is the story of the paralyzed man. Mark 2:1-7, And again He entered Capernaum after some days, and it was heard that He was in the house. Immediately many gathered together, so that there was no longer room to receive them, not even near the door. And He preached the word to them. Then they came to Him, bringing a paralytic who was carried by four men. And when they could not come near Him because of the crowd, they uncovered the roof where He was. So when they had broken through, they let down the bed on which the paralytic was lying. When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, "Son, your sins are forgiven you." And some of the scribes were sitting there and reasoning in their hearts, "Why does this Man speak blasphemies like this? Who can forgive sins but God alone?"
Jesus forgave and we read ho later He healed this paralyzed man. But the scribes definitely did not like what they heard. Their understanding was that only God can forgive. And so because they thought Jesus was a mere man, and not God, they believed that Jesus was committing blasphemy. And that's when Jesus then asked them a very important question. Notice Mark 2:9-12. "Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven you,' or to say, 'Arise, take up your bed and walk'? But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins" -- He said to the paralytic, "I say to you, arise, take up your bed, and go to your house." Immediately he arose, took up the bed, and went out in the presence of them all, so that all were amazed and glorified God, saying, "We never saw anything like this!"
Now, the background to all of this for the scribes was a very different picture. This was too radical for them. "God is the only One who forgives," they said to themselves. Well you have to realized that even under the ceremonial system, the priest that presided over the sacrifices never actually spoke words of forgiveness to those who were bringing the sacrifices. The priest's acceptance of the sacrifice, in and of itself was felt, symbolized God's acceptance of the confession. My hunch is that these scribes' actual understanding of God was that God is so far away He doesn't really care, and that if He gets involved at all with us it's to punish sinners with sickness. You see, they believed people were sick not as a natural consequence of sin, but it was because God punished them.
In fact, that view was so prevalent that even the disciples later on asked Jesus, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" 2
As I drive to church here on Lee Highway, this morning and many times I've driven that road, coming from Cleveland down this way, there's a house that has a chain-link fence around it, more or less right across from the Bradley County Sheriff's Department. There's a sign on this chain-link fence that says, "Trespassers will be shot." It also says, "No questions asked, no warnings given." It not only has one sign, it has two signs exactly like each other. As I drive that way, I see that sign and it always me wonder, "What kind of person stands behind that sign?" I'm not sure I want to know that kind of person.
As you see the actions and the reactions of these scribes and Pharisees and such, you see their ways, their words, their reactions of how they said what they said against Jesus, and you really wonder what kind of a portrayal of God stands behind their lives. What kind of picture of God do they have? Well, the beautiful thing is that Jesus demonstrates the truth, and that God is not like that at all. That's not the God that we believe in, or shouldn't be. Our God is not distant. He's there in the form of Jesus, right there, communicating and speaking and touching people. Our God is a forgiving God.
Let's go on to the next story, because we'll see an amazing picture here in this chapter. As we look at this whole chapter and all of it's stories we're going to se an amazing picture here.
We come to the story of Levi's party of tax collectors with some amazing implications of what God is like. Mark 2:13-16, Then He went out again by the sea; and all the multitude came to Him, and He taught them.
As He passed by, He saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax office. And He said to him, "Follow Me." That was an invitation to be Jesus' full-time disciple. So (Levi) arose and followed Him.
Now it happened, as He was dining in Levi's house, that many tax collectors and sinners also sat together with Jesus and His disciples; for there were many, and they followed Him.
And when the scribes and Pharisees saw Him eating with the tax collectors and sinners, they said to His disciples, "How is it that He eats and drinks with tax collectors and sinners?" Now, you can even word this in apparently what I believe is the emphasis that they would have given to that, in a kind of Yuk, tone of voice. "How is it He eats and drinks with these tax collectors and sinner?" Well, now, wouldn't it have been natural for Levi, also called Matthew, to invite Jesus to dinner? Oh, but look who else the cat dragged in all those considered by the pious practitioners of Judaism to be the disreputable and notorious sinners of the town. And so the scribes and Pharisees complained about that. One version even puts it this way,"Why does Jesus eat with such scum?" 3< "Why does Jesus eat with such scum?" The wonderful truth here is that Jesus had no problem being there with those people because they were hungry for truth; they were open to learning the truth. But the teachers of religious law didn't like it one bit because their picture of God was that God hates both sin and sinners. Their God would stay far away from them. But nothing could be further from the truth. Oh, yes, God hates sin, but He loves sinners. Jesus portrays a God who cares about the lost. He portrays a God who cares about those who are sick with sin and He comes to bring healing much as any compassionate doctor would to apply the healing arts for someone who is sick and ill. God is not someone who waits for us to straighten ourselves out before He comes near to us. No, He comes to us just as we are, seeking to win us back to Him in love and trust and faith.
Don't you love the words of Jesus in Mark 2:17 ? "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance."
Have you ever felt like you were so imperfect that you wondered if there is any hope for you? This verse tells us there's hope for us because the primary requirement in order to receive God's help is that we recognize that we are in need of help. Those who are well have no need of a doctor, but those who are sick. Jesus comes to bring healing to us.
Now, the next story is all about whether to fast or not to fast. That starts in Mark 2:18. The disciples of John and of the Pharisees were fasting. Then they came and said to Him, "Why do the disciples of John and of the Pharisees fast, but Your disciples do not fast?" And Jesus responds to them in verse 19. And Jesus said to them, "Can the friends of the bridegroom fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them they cannot fast." Have you ever been to a wedding where people are fasting and going around mournful and sorrowful and maybe they put dust and ashes on their heads and wear sackcloth to the wedding? No, I don't think so. And Jesus is telling us that our relationship with God should be like this; a wedding where there's joy, where there's peace, where there's happiness. The question behind the ones who were complaining could actually have been something like how pious do you have to be in order for God to hear you? How much do you have to grovel before God?
The Pharisees and the disciples of John the Baptist believed in and practiced fasting as a religious practice. It wasn't for health reasons. Most likely it was to impress other people or to impress God. My guess would be that their underlying picture of God was that God is someone who desires us to seek to earn His favor with rituals and ceremonies, perhaps to appease or assuage the anger of an offended God. But the truth shines wonderfully in Jesus' words: there is, he said, no fasting allowed at a wedding party. What that tells me is that God is the kind of Person that simply desires us to happy in His unselfish and generous love. He doesn't require us to grovel before Him. He desires us to trust in His love. That's what God wants most. He wants trust and He wants trustworthiness, and He wants us to allow Him to heal us. As the prophet Micah put it so well, With what shall I come before the LORD, And bow myself before the High God? That's as if to say, "What do I need to do for God to give His attention to me?" Shall I come before Him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? What's the answer? What does God want most from us? He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God? 4
The last story in Mark 2 is a story that has to do with the Sabbath, picking grain on Sabbath. That's what the disciples were doing. Notice Mark 2: 23,24; Now it happened that He went through the grainfields on the Sabbath; and as they went His disciples began to pluck the heads of grain. And of course, have you ever tried to eat grain straight off the stalk? It doesn't work too well. It's kind of rough. So they have to take those little kernels rub them in their hands, rub off the chaff and then eat the little berry. But the Pharisees notice this. And the Pharisees said to Him, "Look, why do they do what is not lawful on the Sabbath?" As Jesus and His disciples were walking together it just happened to be on the Sabbath the disciples were hungry and so they were passing through McDonald's. It was fast food, so to speak. There was no financial transaction involved. There were no credit cards. There was no cash. There wasn't anything. They were just picking the heads of grain and eating them, from hand to mouth. But this was something the Pharisees did not like. And they complained about it as if to say, "Jesus, what kind of teacher are you? You're letting your disciple do such wicked stuff." According to their overly defined use for Sabbath- keeping requirements. The disciples were involve in the work of harvesting on the Sabbath.
Harvesting! Of course, you and I know the difference between purposefully seeking to harvest a field as opposed to grazing and eating the fruits of the land because you are hungry. It's like walking through an orchard and picking a pear off the tree and rubbing it on your shirt and then eating it. But these guys didn't see the difference. They didn't like that. he problem, though, with their extreme views was that it held the truth about God captive. It converted a loving picture of God to one in which God is a tyrant who creates people just so there can be someone to obey His laws.
I love what Jesus said to the in Mar 2:27; And He said to them, "The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath." Think of the implications of what Jesus just said. Jesus was not setting aside the fourth commandment of the decalogue. He was correcting an error that cast a false image of who God is. God is not a tyrant. God is a loving God who created the Sabbath to be a blessing for us. And it is not an arbitrary requirement of God either. It was meant to be beneficial for us. It has roots and connections in our history and how God created us. It was never designed to be something that would invalidate genuine human need.
So, as I read through these stories I asked myself, "What do they teach us?" What are they trying to tell us? Do we see merely the conflict of different religious perspectives and practices? I don't believe so. So what do we see? Here's my question for you: Couldn't these stories teach the lesson that whenever we become imbalanced in our religious teachings and in our approach to religious practices and lifestyles, what suffers the most is the truth about our loving God? What we see in this chapter of Mark is a God who cares enough about our thinking to demonstrate what He is really like. And in this chapter we see, first of all, God is a forgiving-by-nature God Who steps out of His world into ours in order to demonstrate what He is like in the person of Jesus.
And, secondly, God is not vengeful. He does not hate sinners; He loves them. And third, we see that God doesn't require us to earn His favor or interest by our religiosity or our rituals or our ceremonies. He desires us to be happy in His presence, trusting in His loving mercy. And fourthly, God is not a tyrant who created us just so that He could have people who could entertain Him by keeping His laws. No, He created us with loving purpose, with a desire to fellowship with us and to commune with creatures that He endowed with freedom of choice and with dignity and individuality and personality. And He gave the Sabbath to be a blessing so we could relate to Him.
Here's the picture that I'm seeing from Mark 2: Whenever we stray from the original intentions in God's word, we create misunderstanding as to what God is really like. And we give false witness to the God that we love and serve. We hold the truth about God hostage. Today I'm thankful that God demonstrates that He cares about our thoughts and wants to show us the truth, and He wants us to be free from Satan's deceptions.
Today I'm thankful that God is so worthy of our trust and our cooperation. In fact, faith, which is trust and trustworthiness, is what this is all about. In the words of one author: "Faith . . . is a word we use to describe a relationship with God as with a person well known. The better we know Him, the better this relationship may be. "Faith implies an attitude toward God of love, trust, and deepest admiration. It means having enough confidence in Him, based on the more than adequate evidence revealed, to be willing to believe whatever He says, to accept whatever He offers, and to do whatever He wishes without reservation for the rest of eternity." 5
I'm glad that our God is like that, aren't you?
Endnotes: 1. See John 9:2. 2. New Living Translation. 3. Luke 13:1-5. 4. Micah 6:6-8. 5. Nashville: Can God Be Trusted? (Nashville: Southern Publishing Association, 1977).
Hymn of Praise: #10, Come, Christians, Join to Sing Scripture: Mark 2:27, 28 Hymn of Response: #602, O Brother, Be Faithful
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last updated 4/12/04 by Bob Beckett.