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The Authority of Jesus

Mark  2

Mark brings us three vignettes which outline the authority of our Lord.

Lord over Sin

The Holy Bible, New International Version

1A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard
that he had come home. 2So many gathered that there was no room left, not even
outside the door, and he preached the word to them. 3Some men came, bringing
to him a paralytic, carried by four of them. 4Since they could not get him to Jesus
because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus and, after
digging through it, lowered the mat the paralyzed man was lying on. 5When Jesus
saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”

6Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves,
7“Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins
but God alone?”

8Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in
their hearts, and he said to them, “Why are you thinking these things? 9Which is
easier: to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take
your mat and walk’? 10But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority
on earth to forgive sins ….” He said to the paralytic, 11“I tell you, get up, take
your mat and go home.” 12He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of
them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, “We have never
seen anything like this!”

Why am I still alive?

Let me begin this section with a letter from a friend named Don. Don is serving the end of a long sentence for some very serious crimes. He has just received what for him is good news: he has been declared a mentally disordered offender. It’s good news to him because it means he will be paroled to a state mental institution – instead of the streets. It’s good news for the rest of us too, for in his present state he would be a “threat to society.” In part of his letter, he wrote this:

“I still want to write more things about my way of life; that God has still kept me alive and allowed me to go through (for some reason, I can’t guess why). Do you both think that it was important for me to go through 12 years of weird things, then live and survive on the streets and juvenile halls and hospitals? To be a better man after 40 years old. I sure can’t figure why or what reason why I’m still alive and still a little sane, through all the drugs, crime, prison and the little true freedom…”

(I’ve cleaned up the spelling and most of the grammar, but the incoherency is in the original). It is not pertinent for you to know his catalog of childhood horror and life of crime. It is sufficient to know that asking “why I’m still alive” is not an idle question. If anyone’s life could make that question worthwhile, his is the life.

Our paralytic might have asked that too. Why am I still alive? I can’t move; other people have to take care of me every day. Why?

I had to write back to Don. I told him the details of my recent eye surgery, and then said this:

The reason I went into a lot of detail in this, Don, is to answer one of your questions. You said you couldn’t figure out why – what reason – you’re still alive. Don, I don’t know the reason for this eye surgery. It sure hasn’t helped my vision any great amount. It’s a big pain (think about having stitches in your eyeball). When the first surgery came up, I asked God to make it the last surgery. It wasn’t. When the second one came up, we asked God to make that one the last. I don’t know if the third one is really the last one; but so far that’s the case.

Don, for the life of me I can not tell you why God put me through this. He sure hasn’t explained it to me! That’s pretty much His way of doing things. He just allows things to happen, and he doesn’t explain it. But over time people have found some reasons for these things.

  • Do you remember the story in the Bible of the man who was born blind? Jesus’ disciples asked Him whose fault it was – the man, or his parents. He had been blind for 37 years. Jesus answered and said it was neither – the reason he was born blind was so that the disciples might see the glory of God when Jesus healed him. 37 years – so that somebody else might get the message. Sounds unfair, doesn’t it? But remember – that man will spend all of eternity with God. What’s 37 years compared to all of eternity?
  • You can also look at it this way: God will permit no evil unless there is a way to make a greater good out of it. Sometimes these things are just his way of testing us to see if we really mean to do things right. God isn’t going to hold you accountable to the same level he holds me. Why? He knows what you’ve been through. But he is going to hold you accountable for doing the right things you know to do. Maybe what he’s trying to teach you – and the world – is this: it doesn’t matter how messed up you are. He’s still God, and He can handle it. There is no human being so bad that God cannot redeem them. Remember: things that are over your head are still under His feet.
  • One last thing: you’re looking at it from “now.” I don’t know how it will look tomorrow, but think about how things looked to you when you got to this prison. Things have gotten better since then, haven’t they? It’s the same with me. I don’t like the fact that my right eye is blurry. But it’s a lot better than it was last week. Remember, God isn’t through with you yet. What He might have in mind, I don’t know. But if you will stay faithful to Him, He will work His purposes through you. And when He returns you will see a very different picture.

I hope this helps, Don. Sometimes we say to ourselves, “God, I just don’t see how you’re going to make anything good out of this.” Just remember, He never said you’d see how – He just said He’d do it.

Paralysis of the body is earthly; sin is a disease of the soul, and is eternal. But take heart; Jesus is Lord over sin, and He is the hope that abides.

The role of faith

“Faith is full of inventions,” said Spurgeon. Look at this man’s friends. Perhaps they were the ones of faith; they certainly took it to extremes. (If you don’t think so, remember it wasn’t their roof they were digging through). Sometimes we are told, “just have faith.” As if it were a magic cure!

  • Faith is not a commodity – but points at a person, Jesus, the Christ. Having faith that “something will turn up” is not the same thing.
  • Faith is not faith unless it results in action – they dug through the roof.
  • Faith is not faith unless it takes action based upon the person of Jesus. Not faith in a system of belief; faith in the person, Jesus. Faith says, “I know this Jesus; I know he will do what I ask.”

In nothing is this more important than the matter of sin. Sin is the eternal disease and must be cured. So then, we are right to ask – can he cure it?

Authority over sins

The Pharisees here, to give them their due, have a logical point. Only those who are the offended can forgive. I cannot forgive you for what you did to someone else. But it is equally clear that God can forgive all – for any sin is first an offense against him and his righteousness. And since none of us can approach God with clean hands by our own righteousness, we are forced to accept that forgiveness for others – for he is the righteous judge.

Ah – but it’s easy to say, “you are forgiven.” Roman Catholic priests do it all the time. But how do we know that God agrees? That’s the point of “take up your mat and go home.” If God follows the words of Jesus with such a miracle, who can deny the authority? God would certainly not allow a bogus forgiveness to be followed by such a healing.

So there we have it: Jesus has the authority to forgive sins. But some of us would say, “That’s all right – on a small scale. What about those of us who’ve lived a life of sin, thoroughly corrupted?”

Lord over sinners

The Holy Bible, New International Version

13Once again Jesus went out beside the lake. A large crowd came to him, and
he began to teach them. 14As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus
sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” Jesus told him, and Levi got up
and followed him.

15While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and
“sinners” were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who
followed him. 16When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating
with the “sinners” and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat
with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?”

17On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor,
but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

What’s a quote sinner

The New International Version is using an early form of political correctness in this passage. The argument is that there is really no difference between those who commit only a few sins (and try to live a righteous life) and those who commit all they please with no effort at righteousness. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God – so there is no difference.

However, this is a distinction which we understand instinctively. We have the idea that God is going to treat those who try to be righteous a lot better than those who don’t. They had the same idea, formalized in the law. The righteous, to be sure, sinned – but when they thought they did, they brought the appropriate sacrifices to the Temple. The ‘sinners’ gave up on trying.

It’s those quote sinners – from now on, ‘sinners’ – that we will be talking about in this section. Levi (he’s also called Matthew, and wrote the Gospel of that name) is just such a prize. He’s a tax collector.

Now, being an IRS agent in our time wins you no friends. But in this time it was much worse. A tax collector was a toad for the invading, conquering Romans. He made his living largely by extracting excess taxes from the people, and pocketing the difference between that and what the Romans got. If you want to know the social stature, think of a drug dealer today. He may drive a nice car, have lots of money – but we aren’t going to let him join the country club. And he certainly isn’t dating my daughter.

Now you know what a ‘sinner’ is.

Respectability and righteousness

In many ways respectability parallels righteousness. Certain sins are socially acceptable; greed, when properly disguised as “being an entrepreneur,” will be greeted warmly. When found in the drug dealer, it is not. Sometimes we make the mistake of substituting respectability for righteousness.

The idea permeates our culture. My son is a lawyer. He tells me that social status among lawyers is determined by their clientele. Corporate attorneys are at the top of the scale; below them are the divorce court specialists, and at the bottom are the criminal lawyers. Note that there is no real difference in function; just in respectability.

We use respectability as a social club. This can be good – a sense of shame can motivate you to improve your behavior. But it has the drawback that it must exclude some. That runs contrary to our Lord’s will: that all might be saved. So in this passage Jesus makes it clear: He came to seek and save the lost, all of them.

Lord over “who I am”

Can I go back to Don for a moment? One of his great, burning desires is to “get out into society.” By that he does not mean just release from prison; he calls that “back on the streets.” He longs – as do most of us – for the approval and acceptance of others. He’s worried about how to behave “in society.” Can you imagine how he would value someone who would be his guide to such?

Levi could. For the first time in his adult life someone who was righteous, if not exactly respectable, said, “come with me.” Be included in my band of followers. Levi’s reaction is simple: he wants to share such a wonderful blessing – so he invites all his fellow rats to dinner to meet the man. Respectable society protests; surely this Jesus has some sense of dignity?

He has the dignity befitting the King of Kings – and the one who came to serve. He has his mission and will stick to it. But in calling Levi he makes it clear: he is Lord not only over sin – but sinners. He is capable of dealing not only with what you’ve done but who you are.

Think about that for a moment. Can you list all the sins in your life? No. But can you tell God what kind of person you really are? He can deal with that too. He can say to the drug dealer, “I came looking for you – to seek and save the lost. You too are invited in.”

Christ now extends this dominion – to the righteous.

Lord even of righteousness

“I’m preaching on the subject of sin,” said the preacher. “I’m against it.”

Most of us are. Most of us are (if I may modify the form a bit) the quote righteous, hereafter ‘righteous.’ We shall define those as the people who try their best to do what is right, attempting to live a righteous life. Jesus is Lord over these as well:

The Holy Bible, New International Version

18Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. Some people came
and asked Jesus, “How is it that John’s disciples and the disciples of the
Pharisees are fasting, but yours are not?”

19Jesus answered, “How can the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is
with them? They cannot, so long as they have him with them. 20But the time will
come when the bridegroom will be taken from them, and on that day they will

21“No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. If he does, the
new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse. 22And no one
pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins, and
both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, he pours new wine into new

23One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and as his disciples
walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. 24The Pharisees said to
him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?”

25He answered, “Have you never read what David did when he and his
companions were hungry and in need? 26In the days of Abiathar the high priest,
he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only
for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.”

27Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the
Sabbath. 28So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”

There is nothing wrong with being ‘righteous.’ We’re not talking about hypocrites here; we’re talking about those who try to be righteous as best they can. That’s a good thing. But as Oswald Chambers observed, “the good is often the enemy of the best.”

In this passage Jesus makes a claim that is every bit as astounding as his claim to forgive sins. He claims to be Lord “even of the Sabbath.” Here is a man whose simple presence sets aside the Law of Moses, given by the finger of God on Mount Sinai. Keeping the Sabbath is one of the Ten Commandments. The “violation” here is one of interpretation, but Jesus does not correct the interpretation. Rather, he points out an example from the Old Testament – and lets them draw the appropriate conclusions.

Lord over the law-keepers

If the Law is over me, and Jesus is over the Law, then Jesus is over me – that should be clear. So then, those who strive for righteousness should see in Jesus the ultimate fulfillment of their desires – the one who is righteousness itself.

This also should clear up one other little fallacy. He is Lord over righteousness – therefore, whatever righteous things I have done, not one of them create any obligation in him. He is righteousness itself. We owe him, not the other way around.

Born Again

So what, then, does Christ expect of the ‘righteous’? Please note that ‘sinners’ were called to repentance. But as Jesus tells us here, it’s the sick that need the doctor.

Only once does Christ meet a ‘righteous’ man who seriously asks the question. His name is Nicodemus. To the ‘sinner’ Jesus says, “repent.” To the ‘righteous’ he says, “You must be born again.” Throw out the attempt at righteousness; accept the gift of the Holy Spirit – and start again. This time, Follow Me.

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