Scriptures

Mark 2

Introduction

‘A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. They gathered in such large numbers that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them. Some men came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. 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. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’ Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, ‘Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?’ 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? Which is easier: to say to this paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’? But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.’ So, he said to the man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.’ 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

As a result of His teaching and miracles, Jesus’ popularity grew rapidly. So many wanted to hear Him that they filled the house in Capernaum where He was teaching and crowded around it. Just then, five men arrived, eager to see Jesus too. One of them was paralysed and the other four carried him on a stretcher.

It was impossible for them to get in through the door, so they climbed up on the roof, dug a hole in it and let the paralytic down through the opening they had created. You can imagine the commotion among the crowd in the house below.

When Jesus saw the faith, they had demonstrated, He told the lame man that his sins were forgiven. That was probably not what the man had expected, but it is every man’s greatest need. His disability may have been caused by some sin he was involved in during his life, we can’t be sure, but we do know that sin can have a devastating consequence in our lives.

Notice the lame man, those who brought him in and everyone else didn’t say a thing, it was only the teachers of the law who were present who thought Jesus had blasphemed because God alone can forgive sins. Jesus read their minds and asked,

‘which is easier to say, your sins are forgiven, or get up and walk?’

To prove His ability to forgive sins, something invisible and therefore impossible to verify, He healed the paralytic who then got up and walked. Jesus proved His power to conquer invisible, spiritual problems by overcoming a visible, physical problem. The crowd was dumbfounded. They had never seen anything to compare with Jesus.

Who will reach Jesus?

Consider the five men as they approached the house in which Jesus was teaching. They had come in order to see Him, but their way to Jesus was blocked by a big obstacle: the crowd. Many would have simply turned around and gone back home. Not these men.

They were determined, even desperate, in their desire to see Jesus. Their procedure, un-roofing the roof, was radical but it worked. Even today, those who want to come to Jesus frequently encounter barriers in their path. The only ones, who actually reach Him, are those who are absolutely determined and who refuse to allow anything to keep them from following Him.

How determined to be with Jesus are you?

‘Once again Jesus went out beside the lake. A large crowd came to him, and he began to teach them. As 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. While 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. When 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?’ On 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.’ Mark 2:13-17

Because Capernaum was the location of the tax office, where taxes, tolls and land duties were collected for both the Romans, who occupied Palestine, and the Herodians, who ruled Galilee. It hardly needs to be said, that those who were involved in the work of collecting money for either Romans or Herodians, were despised and hated by the general public, so that they had to find their friends among other ‘social outcasts’, who included prostitutes.

One of Jesus’ more surprising actions was calling Levi to be a disciple. Levi had been a tax collector. In that era, tax collectors were viewed as both thieves and traitors because they used dishonest tactics to raise funds for the hated Roman invaders. Adding a tax collector to His inner circle was hardly a move that could be expected to increase Jesus’ popularity!

The expression

‘many tax-collectors’

in verse 15, is also significant, because it reveals how lucrative the business of tax-collection was for both the Authorities and the Officials who served them! We have evidence of this in this chapter, when Mark records the call of Levi, later named Matthew, verses 13-17. After deserting his Tax Office at the call of Jesus, he called together ‘many tax collectors and sinners’ to a feast.

Notice, also, that, in verse 14, when Mark records that Levi left his Tax-office and ‘followed’ Jesus, the word ‘followed’ is in the imperfect tense, and means that he ‘kept following’ Jesus. It was a defining moment in is life.

Levi was not moved by a passing curiosity in this remarkable teacher. He made a commitment that day! I think that this ‘great feast’ was his way of marking his break with his past life, and used as an opportunity of introducing his friends to Jesus.

This calls to mind another incident that occurred about that time and in that region, when Andrew broke the news to his brother Simon (Peter) that he had found the Messiah. His response to Peter’s scepticism was

‘Come and see!’

At that stage, neither Matthew nor Andrew knew enough to say very much about Jesus, but they could bring people to personally meet Jesus!

It is interesting also to compare Mark’s account with that of Luke in Luke 5. Luke describes the meal to which these guests were invited, as a

‘Great feast’,

but his language used in describing them is different from that of Mark. He describes them as

‘a great company of tax-collectors’.

As a Greek, himself, i.e., a Gentile, Luke does not use the religious designation used by Mark, who was a Jew, who describes them as

‘sinners’.

I wonder if Luke realised that he, also, as a Gentile, would have been included among the ‘sinners’?

By the way, the difference in the use of the language used by Mark and Luke is an example of how divine inspiration worked. The Holy Spirit did not inspire Luke to use language that would have been foreign to his thinking.

Luke would never have described non-Jews as ‘sinners’ or ‘Gentile’, which was an even more offensive expression. Greeks would not use such a discriminative term. It is true that he does use the word ‘sinners’ in Luke 5:30 but he does so because he is recording accurately, something that had been said by the Scribes and Pharisees.

Furthermore, the use of Luke’s expression ‘a great feast’ and the number of guests who were invited, reveals that Matthew the tax collector and the ‘fourfold’ restoration he declared he would make, if he had ‘defrauded’ anyone!

Later, Levi held a banquet in Christ’s honour. He invited his friends: other tax collectors and sinners. The scribes and Pharisees were outraged because they thought it improper for a teacher of religion to eat with immoral people. When Jesus overheard their criticism, He asked,

‘Who needs a doctor, the sick or the well?’

His purpose, He said, was not to call righteous, but sinners. The Lord never hesitated to break society’s norms and customs. Jesus is basically saying the teachers of the Law, ‘I have no message for you! You guys think you are not sick and think you are already righteous’.

I wonder what they must have thought when Jesus said those words!

‘Now 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?’ Jesus answered, ‘How can the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? They cannot, so long as they have him with them. But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them, and on that day, they will fast. ‘No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. Otherwise, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse. And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins.’ Mark 2:18-22

Some of the Pharisees and disciples of John came to Jesus asking why He and His disciples didn’t fast like other religious people did. Jesus explained by illustration. He said that no one would fast at a time of celebration, such as a wedding. His own presence on the earth made it a joyous time of feasting because He was the bridegroom. Since fasting should fit the occasion, it was inappropriate in this situation.

He also explained that just as no one would put new wine in old bottles or a new patch on old jeans; it was equally out of place to put the newly revealed Gospel of Christ into the old traditional forms of the Jews. Fasting was just not the right thing to do when the Son of God Himself was present.

The new is in reference to Jesus’ teaching and the old is in reference to the Jewish system. Jesus is saying that fasting isn’t required under his new teaching but was under the Jewish system. John was practicing old system requirement. Acts 19:1-4.

Fasting was an accepted part of everyday life in Old Testament times. Bear in mind that Israel was not a political state, but a theocracy, that is a religious state in which the Law and will of God was preeminent.

The first reference to fasting is in the Book of Judges, Judges 20:26

‘Then all the Israelites, the whole army, went up to Bethel, and there they sat weeping before the LORD. They fasted that day until evening and presented burnt offerings and fellowship offerings to the LORD.’

The last in the Book of the prophet Zechariah and devout Jews fasted.

‘The fasts of the fourth, fifth, seventh and tenth months will become joyful and glad occasions and happy festivals for Judah. Therefore, love truth and peace.’ Zechariah 8:19

Most of the fasting was undertaken voluntarily and was not undertaken at the command of God but devout Jews undertook fasting for at least two reasons. Not for health reasons, but,

1. Because they believed it was a way of attracting the attention of God. If they fasted, they thought that God noticed them. And,

2. Because they thought that, if they fasted, He would be prepared do something about the situation that had caused them to fast.

If you think about this second reason, you will see that if a man that his thought fasting had influenced God to act, it was very easy for him to imagine that he, personally, was someone special!

The reality, although, through the centuries, the Jew, especially after the Babylonian Captivity, introduced fasts for a whole range of reasons, but only one fast was specifically commanded by God, and that was the fast associated with the Day of Atonement. the most important and solemn Day in their religious Year.

‘This is to be a lasting ordinance for you: On the tenth day of the seventh month you must deny yourselves’. Leviticus 16:29

In this passage the expression, ‘deny yourselves’ or ‘afflict your souls’ is the expression for fasting, and this was the only fast that the Jews observed faithfully every year.

When we examine the New Testament, it surprises some people to find that the Lord only mentioned fasting twice.

‘When you fast, do not look sombre as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.’ Matthew 6:16-18

‘Now 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?’ Jesus answered, ‘How can the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? They cannot, so long as they have him with them. But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them, and on that day they will fast. ‘No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. Otherwise, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse. And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins.’ Mark 2:18-22

Notice that both passages above, record Jesus’ response to the practice of that time. But also, notice, although about 16 times He says,

‘it was said by those of old time…. but I say to you’

Jesus doesn’t use these words because this kind of fasting about which He was speaking wasn’t covered by the Mosaic Law, but because it was something that the people had taken on themselves in the old law.

‘Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord, and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” So, after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.’ Acts 13:1-3

In the Book of Acts, chapter 13, Luke records that the church in Antioch sent Barnabas and Paul on the First Missionary Journey, with prayer and fasting, and in the next chapter, they fasted in connection with the appointment of Elders in the congregations that they established during that journey.

Please note that the whole church didn’t fast, it was only those mentioned in Acts 13:1

‘Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen and Saul.’

In l Corinthians 7:1-5

‘Now for the matters you wrote about: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” But since sexual immorality is occurring, each man should have sexual relations with his own wife, and each woman with her own husband. The husband should fulfil his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife. Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.’

Notice Paul mentions sexual fasting but neither here nor anywhere else, does he impose it as a command.

‘In beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger.’ 2 Corinthians 6:5

‘I have laboured and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.’ 2 Corinthians 11:27

In 2 Corinthians 6:5, and 2 Corinthians 11:27, he refers to what he suffered for the sake of the Gospel, and speaks of times when he went without food. But this wasn’t because he was ‘fasting’, but because he had no food to eat!

The answer to the question, should a Christian Fast? is, therefore, ‘yes! If they want too!’ but remember that fasting, like ‘bodily exercise’ may do a little good, but

‘godliness is profitable for all things!’ 1 Timothy 4:8

‘One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grain fields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. The Pharisees said to him, ‘Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?’ He answered, ‘Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? In 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.’ Then he said to them, ‘The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So, the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.’ Mark 2:23-28

The more popular Jesus became, the more outspoken His opponents’ attacks. Jesus and His disciples provided easy targets for their critics, because they refused to follow the religious traditions of their age. Jewish tradition regarding the Sabbath day prohibited all activity, including plucking grain to eat, but Jesus and His followers ignored these cherished doctrines.

When the Jewish officials criticized the disciples, Jesus defended their actions by noting His opponents’ inconsistency, they justified David when he broke God’s law, Leviticus 24:5-9 and 1 Samuel 21 but they condemned Jesus when He merely violated men’s traditions.

Then He explained that God had intended for the Sabbath command to provide relief for man, not be an additional burden. Finally, Jesus proclaimed His authority over the Sabbath saying that He Himself was Lord of the Sabbath. If Jesus created the Sabbath, surely, He knew what activities violated it.

The Sabbath was supposed to be a day of blessings and relaxation, free from work but the Jews had turned into a bunch of rules which consisted of dos and don’ts, and with over 613 laws, they always found a way around them.

Back To Mark 1

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DAILY BIBLE VERSE

"Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us."

Hebrews 12:1

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