Reconsider Jesus – A fresh look at Jesus from the Gospel of Mark
A devotional commentary by Michael Spencer
Compiled and Edited by: Michael Bell
Table of Contents
(Note: I wanted to take a moment to give a bit of an update on this project. Each post in this series usually takes me between three and six hours to put together. What you read however is not the final version. Dana, who we know from her very perceptive comments at Internet Monk, has become my de facto editor. She reads these posts and spends about an hour providing me with needed edits. Last post was the record so far: 36 recommended grammatical and wording changes! In contrast with Mark Chapter One, Chapter Two is going to consist of just four sections. After Chapter Two is complete, and Dana’s edits compiled back into Chapter One and Two, I will be seeking a publisher. Please send in your expressions of interest if you have not already done so, the more I have before approaching a publisher the better. )
The Forgiver of Sins
1 A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. 2 They gathered in such large numbers that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them. 3 Some men came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. 4 Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on. 5 When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”
6 Now 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?”
8 Immediately 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?9 Which is easier: to say to this paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’? 10 But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the man,11 “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” 12 He 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!”
Mark 2:1-12 – NIV
Mark chapter two begins with another healing story, this time mentioning the enormous response Jesus was receiving in Capernaum. It is interesting that Mark says in verse one that Jesus had come “home”. Jesus was living in Capernaum, and it was the anchor for his early ministry.1 The passage, as written, is most naturally interpreted as happening in Jesus’ own house!2
The house-crowding response is in line with what all the Gospels show us about Jesus’ early ministry – the mobs were overwhelming, particularly when healing or feeding-miracles occurred. Like a modern-day celebrity who can’t even take a vacation without being hounded by paparazzi, mobs of people were following Jesus wherever he went. This is clearly the reason the religious and political leaders are interested in Jesus from the outset. His ability to draw a crowd was proven and potentially dangerous to the status quo. This is the first time we meet some of his religious opponents, in this case, “the teachers of the law”.
Growing up, I heard many sermons about the four men who brought the paralyzed friend to Jesus and lowered him through the roof. Generally these sermons missed the point because this part of the story is not the focal point of the passage. Rather it is the “memory device” used to isolate this story for recollection. Such details show that these stories were memorized and repeated long before they were written. The persistence of these men apparently reflects the persistence of the paralyzed man himself, who has insisted on seeing Jesus in order to be healed. His confidence in Jesus is so bold that no barrier – be it crowd or mud-and-thatch roof – will prevent him from getting to Jesus.
Throughout the gospels, Jesus is impressed with anyone who’s desperate enough to get to him: A woman who comes out and touches the hem of his garment;3 or a synagogue ruler who says, “Jesus, my daughter is dead.”4 Jesus recognizes the faith of the desperate.
Faith is often born of desperation: when we get to the place where we realize that “I have no other answer but God.” We shouldn’t despise this realization and we shouldn’t say, “I should have figured it out sooner.” Many, many people get to this place of desperation. This paralyzed man was no exception when he said, “I don’t care how, but get me to Jesus.” And his friends respond, “We’ll take you there.”
It is interesting that Jesus sees “their” faith. It is not only the paralyzed man’s faith, but the faith of his friends that is commended. Much of Western Christianity is hyper-individualized and resists the idea of a “community of faith.” But I think it is biblically impossible to speak of faith outside of a community of faith that believes before we do, nurtures us as we learn to believe, supports us as we believe and believes when we stumble in belief. God’s covenant with his “people” is a community covenant that does not downplay individual faith, but places God’s covenant with the community at the center of his dealings with human beings. All this underlines why it is vitally important for every Christian to be part of a believing community and not just a “lone ranger.”
In the Gospels, surprise is often found at the center of what is being communicated and Mark certainly surprises us when we read Jesus’ words to the paralyzed man: “Son, your sins are forgiven!” The forgiveness of sins seems to have nothing to do with this story. The paralyzed man came for the healing of his body. What does this mean?5 It’s no wonder that the teachers of the law are immediately awakened from their dozing by this little statement.
The crux of this story is the extension of Jesus’ Kingdom authority to that final and most profound area of human life – the forgiveness of sins. Sin is the basic human problem, the problem that occupies Genesis 1-11 and leads to the plan of God beginning with Abraham and continuing through the entire Bible. The Kingdom of God is an invasion of territory claimed by Satan but held by the power of sin. Salvation is the victory of God over sin and this victory is manifested first and foremost in forgiveness. The most basic of human needs is for the guilt we have before a holy God to be removed. Such an event is impossible in human power alone. We cannot forgive ourselves or do enough good to persuade God to forgive us. God forgives out of mercy and grace, prompted by the work of his Son in the incarnation, cross and resurrection. God may now forgive sinners because their penalty has been paid and his justice satisfied. The entire Old Testament pointed in this direction and Jesus now proclaims forgiveness as a free gift. This is the most important good news of the Gospel.
The scandal here, in this account, is for Jesus to proclaim forgiveness as the one doing the forgiving! If you’ve followed the story of the Gospel thus far, Jesus has expelled a demon,6 he’s healed a woman with a fever7 and he’s healed a leper.8 Many others have been healed as well. When they lower the paralyzed man everyone is expecting Jesus to say, “Your faith has made you whole. You’re healed.” However, Jesus says, “Your sins are forgiven.” I’m sure the room got very quiet.
The religious leaders were present and checking Jesus out, trying to understand what he was all about. They responded, “Wait one minute! Who is this guy, saying he can forgive sins?” But Jesus loves to answer questions with questions. So he replies, “Why are you thinking these things? Which of these things would be easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to tell the paralytic to stand up and walk’?”
These guys are asking the question in their mind and we’re told Jesus knew in his spirit what they were thinking in their hearts. This is unique and it is consistently testified in all four Gospels. This is not just reading moods or body language, but a manifestation of knowledge that only a divine person could have; the sort of searching knowledge of human thoughts and motives that allows God to know us as we are and to judge us with absolute integrity. It’s amazing the insight Jesus carries into each of us.
What Jesus did at this point was even more outrageous. To teach with authority was outrageous; to claim to forgive sins was taking it up a notch. The teachers of the law recognize this as blasphemy and they are exactly right. For Jesus to proclaim forgiveness, when he is only a man, would be blasphemy for “only God can forgive sins.” This probably seemed particularly scandalous when proclaimed to a man who was “cursed” with a disease and was not repenting in any visible way, but merely showing his confidence in Jesus to heal him. To these legalists, only proper sacrifice and acts of repentance held out any hope of forgiveness. To give forgiveness simply by a word was to act in the prerogative of God alone.
Jesus, if we properly understand him, is always leaving us no choice but to interpret his words and actions as either 1) insane, 2) calculatingly evil, 3) blasphemous or 4) consistent with the confession that Jesus is the Son of God. This is not something Christians have created and assigned to Jesus. It is essential to knowing how he understood and presented himself.9 From the very beginning, Jesus’ identity as divine was essential to everything the Christian message teaches and proclaims. Any version of Christianity that ignores this is a modern reworking.10
Not only that, but Jesus combines his authority to heal with his proclamation to forgive sins. These simple words of forgiveness are easy for anyone to utter, but who can demonstrate the integrity of such a claim by healing a paralyzed man on the spot? Jesus makes the religious leaders’ objection absurd because, with the same word that he heals, he also forgives sin. For Jesus, there is no limitation on his authority in any area of life. He can speak to sin, to disease, to demonic oppression, to guilt, to self-hatred – to anything that holds us in bondage – and set us free and make us whole. The meaning of salvation is always holistic in real Christianity. We look to Christ’s work to be applied in every area, according to God’s working through the Spirit and in history. Anyone who ministers in Jesus’ name is doing God’s work – no matter what area of human existence they are working in: social work, medical missions, evangelism, education, counseling. All include the authority of the Kingdom working out in human relationships and experience.
In this healing, as in others of Jesus, we observe something noteworthy: When Jesus healed, it was immediate, it was total. It wasn’t, “I was feeling a little pain in my back, and I’m feeling better today.” It wasn’t, “I’ve got a headache and it’s gone.” Rather we read of a person who is blind, and then can see; a person who he’s covered with leprosy and then the leprosy vanishes; and in this story, a man who is paralyzed for life and then gets up and walks. Jesus’ healings were breathtaking. Jesus leaves all amazed, flabbergasted, stupefied – “We have never seen anything like this!”
My prayer is that the churches you come in contact with might create a similar response in you: “That’s not like anything else we’ve seen. Their Jesus isn’t like any Jesus we’ve ever heard of!” Jesus Christ is like no other person. The authority with which he talked. The authority with which he healed. The authority by which he forgives sins. It’s all one and the same, it’s the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ. And I pray that if you’ve never acknowledged that authority, hold up the white flag and surrendered your life in faith, and say, “Lord I’m giving you everything, I’m giving up the war against you, and I’m going to put my life in your hands and live under your authority from now on.” If you’ve never done that, I hope that you do. I hope that you’ll do it today.
 Matthew 4:13 confirms that Jesus lived in Capernaum.
 This simply shows how different the gospel portrayal of Jesus is when compared to the “approved” version, which has Jesus as continually itinerant. There are many items that are glossed over in the telling of Jesus’ story. For example, the fact that Jesus was primarily financially supported by several women (Luke 8:1-3) is rarely discussed in most church circles. It could be argued that this story happened in Peter’s home because of its mention in Mark 1:29-31. But if the story is an independent unit, which is far more likely, then Jesus’ own home in Capernaum is the more natural reference.
 Mark 5:25-34.
 Mark 1:35-43.
 Some could jump to the conclusion that this passage teaches that sin causes sickness. Such a claim needs a comment. In the Bible, all aspects of our fallen condition are the result of our separation from God and the curse that results from it. In this sense, sin is the cause of sickness.# But in any sense that a particular sin causes a particular sickness, we must be very, very cautious. While there are some instances where such a conclusion is drawn#, this sort of cause and effect thinking is generally discouraged.# I do not believe Jesus is drawing such a conclusion. It is the case, however, that Jesus’ message of the Kingdom does teach that the end of separation between God and man is manifested in every area of human existence, including physical healing.
 Mark 1:21-28.
 Mark 1:29-31.
 Mark 1:40-45
 Note here how Jesus refers to himself as “Son of Man”. This self-titling by Jesus has caused endless scholarly speculation. Ezekiel, the prophet, used this same title# and, so, Jesus may have been referring to himself as the humble prophet. But I doubt this is the source of the title. Rather its use by the prophet Daniel in Daniel 7:13, as a reference to the end-time Messiah, is simply too obvious to ignore. No one would use such a title thoughtlessly. To use this title to refer to yourself, while at the same time claiming to forgive sins and heal a paralyzed man, is Jesus making the claim that he is, in fact, the one Daniel saw and predicted.
 Some critics assert that the closer we get to the original sources of Christianity, the further we will be from any sense that Jesus is a divine figure. The Jesus of primitive Christianity, these commentators assume, was a teacher and political figure who would be completely surprised at discovering he is worshiped, invoked as divine or equated with God. These same folk often say that the Gospel of Mark is largely free from any evidence that Jesus saw himself in these terms. Instead, they claim that Mark’s gospel portrays Jesus as a servant and prophet within Judaism. However, this particular passage demonstrates how wrong this sort of assumption really is and how Mark’s presentation of Jesus goes beyond the known categories of prophet and preacher to something unique and powerful. For a representative example of the critics, see:
Erhman, Bart. How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher From Galilee. HarperOne, 2014.
In contrast, the following books detail how the deity of Christ was believed from the earliest days of Christianity:
Bowman, Robert M. Jr. and Komoszewski, J. Ed. Putting Jesus in His Place: The Case for the Deity of Christ. Kregel, 2007.
Bird, Michael F. (and four additional authors). How God Became Jesus: The Real Origins of Belief in Jesus’ Divine Nature—A Response to Bart Ehrman. Zondervan, 2014.
Bauckham, Richard. Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2008.
Wright, N.T. The Resurrection of the Son of God. Fortress Press, 2003.
Some questions for you:
1. What questions or thoughts come from your mind from what you have just read? What stood out to you?
2. Would you be interested in a paper or Kindle version of the book when it is available? Please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org so that we can let you know when it is ready. This is an email to indicate interest only, I am not selling anything at this point, but I sure do appreciate the encouragement!
As usual, your thoughts and comments are welcome.