MARK CHAPTER 2.
Healing the Palsied Man. Mark 2, 1-12.
The return to Capernaum: V. 1. And again He entered into Capernaum after some days; and it was noised that He was in the house. V. 2. And straightway many were gathered together, insomuch that there was no room to receive them, no, not so much as about the door; and He preached the Word unto them. Mark here omits a large part of the gospel-story which the other evangelists relate, in harmony with his purpose to stress the miracles of Jesus and set forth His divine power. Jesus had, in the mean time, completed His first journey through Galilee, and had also been to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. Some of Christ's most notable sermons, as the Sermon on the Mount, also belong into this interval. It was after some days, after quite a long while, that Jesus came again to Capernaum. As soon as He had arrived, however, this was heard; the rumor, the report of His having returned was spread. Soon the whole city knew that He was again at home. It was not long, either, before many people gathered, with the extraordinary incidents of some weeks or months ago still fresh in their memory. So eagerly they came flocking that not only was the house filled, but the space round about the door was crowded as well. Even there it was impossible to find any more room for additional visitors, much less on the inside. And He spoke unto them, not in a formal way, in a set speech, but in a more informal talk. It was the Word that He spoke, the Word of the Gospel, the Word of the Lord, that Word which alone is worthy of the name, just as at present the word "Bible," meaning "book," is used for the one and only book, whose contents place it in a class entirely by itself.
The palsied man: V. 3. And they come unto Him, bringing one sick of the palsy, which was borne of four. V. 4. And when they could not come nigh unto Him for the press, they uncovered the roof where He was; and when they had broken it up, they let down the bed wherein the sick of the palsy lay. V. 5. When Jesus saw their faith, He said unto the sick of the palsy, Son, thy sins be forgiven thee. While Jesus was in the house, and the conditions were such that hardly another person could be wedged in between the crowd, there came men that brought or carried a paralytic man. So severe was the sickness and so great the consequent weakness of the man that he could neither be led nor supported in an upright position. He was lying on a sofa or hammock-like couch, which was carried by four men. It was out of the question to approach Christ, to come anywhere near Him. The crowd effectually blocked the doorway. But these men were neither dismayed nor baffled. Taking their precious burden up the stairway, which, after the custom of the Jews, led from the ground on the side to the flat roof, they proceeded to uncover the roof above the spot where Jesus was standing, as nearly as they could estimate the location. Here they took off the tiles, making an opening large enough to permit the lowering of the bed with its occupant before the feet of Jesus. There must never be a lack of determination on the part of men that actually want to bring any matter to the attention of Jesus. Away can be found to make known your wants to Him, if there is the persistence of firm faith to show the way. Note: It was this that Jesus looked for as soon as the sick man was placed before Him, the faith of them all, the undoubting trust that He could and would help in this great trouble, since He was the Messiah, who had come to take away sin, with its guilt and with its curse. It should also be remembered: the intercessory groanings of the heart for the trouble of any friend or any person in the world have great power with Christ, when they flow from a heart full of faith in Him. So it proved in this case. For the first assurance of Jesus was that addressed to the sick man: Son, forgiven be thy sins. That was glorious, comforting news. For though the present sickness may not have been caused by any direct fault of the sufferer, yet it is true that sin has caused all the suffering in the world from the beginning. "For if we had remained without sin," as our church-book has it, "death could not have prevailed over us, much less any other affliction." That assurance alone, therefore, benefited the sufferer greatly, since it transmitted to him the continual forgiveness of all his sins through the merits of the Savior.
Christ's defense against the scribes: V. 6. But there were certain of the scribes sitting there, and reasoning in their hearts, V. 7. Why doth this man thus speak blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God only!' V. 8. And immediately when Jesus perceived in His spirit that they so reasoned within themselves, He said unto them, Why reason ye these things in your hearts!' V. 9. Whether is it easier to say to the sick of the palsy, Thy sins be forgiven thee, or to say, Arise, and take up thy bed, and walk!' V. 10. But that ye may know that the Son of Man hath power on earth to forgive sins, (He saith to the sick of the palsy,) V. 11. I say unto thee, Arise, and take up thy bed, and go thy way into thine house. V. 12. And immediately he arose, took up the bed, and went forth before them all, insomuch that they were all amazed, and glorified God, saying, We never saw it on this fashion. The leaders of the Jews had watched developments in Galilee with apprehension for some time. The simple assurance of this new teacher did not meet with their approval, especially since He had not asked for their sanction. And so they had men watching Jesus all the time. In this case there was a large delegation of scribes present, Luke 5, 17. As soon as they heard the word out of the mouth of Jesus concerning forgiveness, their pharisaic suspicions were aroused, and their pharisaic condemnation followed. For fear of the multitude they dared not voice their sentiments, but in their heart they passed judgment unhesitatingly, condemning Jesus for a blasphemer. Their argument sounds reasonable: Who can forgive sins but God only? Every sin is, in the last analysis, a transgression of God's holy commandment and therefore against Him. From God, therefore, we ask forgiveness of our sins, Ps. 25, 18; 32, 5. But two points should be noted: Christ, as the Son of God, as His equal in all divine attributes, can and may forgive sins in His own power; and the announcement of forgiveness implies the redemption, and may now be made by any man. Though the objection was not spoken, yet Jesus, who searches mind and heart, Ps. 139, 2, knew their thoughts perfectly which they had concerning Him. And He replies to the challenge. He puts a question to them which is intended to show them the foolishness of their position: Which is the easier of the two, to heal the spiritual or the bodily infirmity? Matt. 9, 4. 5, to say: Thy sins be forgiven thee, or to say: Arise, and take up thy bed, and walk off? The scribes, according to their position, now should have said: The forgiving of sins is the easier, for that cannot be controlled, since its action was strictly in the spiritual plane. But Jesus does not wait for their answer. He wants to give them a practical, indubitable proof and demonstration of the power which He possesses in His position as Son of Man, in His office as the divine-human Messiah. He forgave the sins of the paralytic in His own power, by His own right and might. And He now, by a simple command, restored the sick man to perfect health and full strength, enabling him not only to get up from his couch with some unsteadiness, but to take up his couch before them all and to depart. It was such a wonderful manifestation that all those present, with the exception of the scribes, were astonished almost to stupefaction, and gave praise to God in the words: In this way we never saw it yet. This miracle and all it implied and presupposed was something new to them. I t argued for a power greater than any that they had ever come into contact with.
There is much comfort in these words to this day. The Son of God became man, and by His life, Passion, and death earned perfect forgiveness for the sins of all men. The debt is not simply canceled, but is paid through the merits of Christ. For that reason God no longer has a remembrance of our sins. And therefore the Son of Man may distribute the great treasure, which He has earned, among the children of men. What is more, God has, through Christ, given to men the power on earth to forgive sins. Christ has given to all His disciples, to the entire Christian Church on earth, the peculiar power to forgive the sins of the penitent sinners unto them. Thus we know where and how we may find forgiveness of sins. "Not in heaven, as the Pharisees here suppose…. Guard against that and say: God has placed forgiveness of sins into Holy Baptism, into the Lord's Supper, and into the Word; yea, He has given it into the mouth of every Christian; if he consoles thee and promises thee God's grace through the merit of Christ Jesus, thou shalt receive and believe it, in no other way but as though Christ with His own mouth had given thee the promise, as here to the paralytic." 5)
The Calling of Levi and the Dinner at His House. Mark 2, 13-22.
V. 13. And He went forth again by the seaside; and all the multitude resorted unto Him, and He taught them. V. 14. And as He passed by, He saw Levi, the son of Alphaeus, sitting at the receipt of custom, and said unto him, Follow Me. And he arose and followed Him. The encounter with the scribes in no way diminishes the zeal of the Lord for the proclamation of the Gospel and for the performance of all the duties of His office. The crowd willingly fell back as He came forth, and eagerly fell in behind Him as He took His way toward the sea. And again He did His work as the great Teacher of the New Testament. As He then, in the intervals of His teaching, was walking along the great road that led from Capernaum toward the northeast, He passed by the booth of a customs collector, or, as the people were commonly called in Palestine, a publican. Palestine had been a province of the Roman Empire since tile year 67 B. C. The Roman officers that had charge of the collection of taxes had this somewhat disagreeable task performed by others, who did it for a consideration. The lowest tax-collectors, especially those engaged in exacting duties and customs, were cordially hated by the people. Now Capernaum was situated on the main caravan road between the West and the East, between the Mediterranean Sea and the city of Damascus. Traffic on this road was very heavy, and the consequent income from tariff was large. For every animal in the caravan a tax had to be paid, and the duty on imports ranged from 2 1/2 to 12 1/2 percent. There was also the disagreeable feature that a mere declaration of values was not considered sufficient. The officers personally unpacked the goods and made their calculations accordingly. No wonder the publicans were not popular, being engaged in such a disagreeable work, and for the Romans, the oppressors of the country, at that. And yet, Jesus stops at the booth of this man Levi, the son of Alphaeus, and bids the publican in charge follow Him. It is more than probable that Levi was already acquainted with Jesus, that he at least knew of Him, having been present, perhaps, at some of His sermons. At any rate, it was an effectual call. The Lord, by His Word, so influenced the heart and mind of this man, that he willingly gave up his work and became a disciple of Christ. And from this day he bore the name Matthew, in accordance with a Jewish custom, by which individuals assumed anew name upon the occasion of some critical occurrence in their lives, like Peter and Paul.
The reception and dinner: V. 15. And it came to pass that, as Jesus sat at meat in his house, many publicans and sinners sat also together with Jesus and His disciples; for there were many, and they followed Him. V. 16. And when the scribes and Pharisees saw Him eat with publicans and sinners, they said unto His disciples, How is it that He eateth and drinketh with publicans and sinners? V. 17. When Jesus heard it, He saith unto them, They that are whole have no need of the 'physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. Matthew was duly elated and thankful to the Lord, as a newly converted person is apt to be. In his joy he caused an elaborate dinner to be prepared for the Lord and the disciples. Jesus willingly accepted the invitation, because it would afford Him welcome opportunity to come into contact with needy souls. While He was reclining at one of the tables, in the fashion of the Orient, many publicans and sinners crowded in and joined in the meal. They were Levi Matthew's former associates and friends, and he saw nothing strange or incongruous in their appearing at this time. But there were people that were highly indignant about this breach of Jewish custom and etiquette. For the tax collectors and the public sinners were for them in one class, they had been put out of the congregation, out of the synagog, usually for some minor transgression against Jewish tradition. And, being properly shocked, the scribes voiced their disapproval to the disciples, either during the progress of the dinner or when they saw the disciples leave the house. They could not understand how Jesus could possibly eat at the same table with publicans and sinners. But Jesus heard their disapproving remark. He knew that His action would be an offense to these self-righteous hypocrites. And so He reminded them of a proverb which was then in general use: There is no need for the strong to have a doctor, but for the sick. That is true on the spiritual plane as well as on the physical. He that 'is truly well and strong, he that is perfectly righteous and without sin, truly needs no physician, no help for his sins, since he is not conscious of them and cannot be on account of their absence. Such perfect persons are indeed unknown on this earth; but all the greater is the number of them that imagine themselves to be perfect. And believing themselves to be righteous (miserable delusion!), they want nothing of the Savior of sinners, they will not believe that His mission concerns them. And so Christ confines His work to the sinners, to those that feel the weakness, the sickness of their soul, the terrible affliction of sin. By His call into communion with Him and by His dealing with them through the means of grace He gives them the assistance they need, He imputes to them, He gives them, His own righteousness, and thus makes them well in time and in eternity.
A question of fasting: V. 18. And the disciples of John and of the Pharisees used to fast; and they come and say unto Him, Why do the disciples of John and of the Pharisees fast, but Thy disciples fast not? V. 19. And Jesus said unto them, Can the children of the bride chamber fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. V. 20. But the days will come when the bridegroom shall be taken away from them, and then shall they fast in those days. The disciples of John, after the rigorousness of their master, were inclined to be very severe in the mortification of their flesh. They may not have done so with the belief that they were meriting much in the sight of God, but the thought of the necessity of such practices was ever present with them. The Pharisees, on the other hand, made their boast of their fasting, Matt. 6, 16; 9, 14; Luke 18, 12. They took a great measure of pride in the fact that they were exceeding the commandment of God in this respect. In addition, they expected others to follow their lead. At this particular time they were fasting. And in carrying out the demands of their self-appointed sanctity, they were kept busy in straightening out the conduct of others instead of attending to their own affairs. They wanted Christ above all to regulate His piety by theirs. And, in doing so, they wanted to hold themselves up as models in order to shine before the people -with their holiness. In this case either the Pharisees, together with the disciples of John, or men that were acting as their representatives, came to Christ. They want to know why the custom of the Pharisees and John's disciples is not followed in the immediate neighborhood of Christ. They speak of the disciples of Christ, but their criticism is directed against Him. The explanation of the Lord is simple. He is the Bridegroom, in whose company the children of the bridechamber, the best man and his companions, are at the present time, so long as He is in the world. Now they were surely aware of the fact that fasting was commonly looked upon as a sign of bereavement, sorrow, and repentance. It surely would not be right and proper for the disciples, therefore, since they were in the midst of the joys of the marriage-feast, to assume doleful faces as though they had suffered a great and bitter bereavement. That time, indeed, was coming, when the Bridegroom would be taken out of their midst, then they would have reason for showing every manifestation of grief, John 16, 20.
Two parables to emphasize His meaning: V. 21. No man also seweth a piece of new cloth on an old garment; else the new piece that filled it up taketh away from the old, and the rent is made worse. V. 22. And no man putteth new wine into old bottles; else the new wine doth burst the bottles, and the wine is spilled, and the bottles will be marred; but new wine must be put into new bottles. Here a matter of common experience is applied to the case in hand. To sew a patch of new cloth upon an old garment is not only incongruous, but usually aggravates the trouble and causes a further tear at the seam; And to put new wine, grape juice that is in the process of fermentation, into old wine-skins; may easily become disastrous, since the skin is no longer strong enough to withstand the process going on inside. The old, dead orthodoxy of the Pharisees, their righteousness of works, did not fit with the doctrine of Jesus of the free mercy of God in and through Christ Jesus. He that trusts in his works and then intends to patch this up with a few scraps of the Gospel, he that wants to cover up some vice with Christ's merit, will soon find out that his is a poor comfort. In his heart he is still adhering to the old religion of works, which will drag him down to perdition. And the new wine of the Gospel of the forgiveness of sins for Christ's sake does not suit the hearts that are still bound up in self-righteousness. If the sweet Gospel of God's grace is preached to proud, self-righteous hearts, it will surely be wasted, for they cannot and will not accept and believe it, and it is a mystery to them how other people can take delight in that old Gospel of free grace. But where the hearts have been renewed, made entirely new by the power of the Word, there the Gospel will find the reception which it ought to have, there the hearts accept the glorious news of their redemption and are prepared for life eternal.
The Lord of the Sabbath. Mark 2, 23-28.
V. 23. And it came to pass that He went through the corn-fields on the Sabbath day; and His disciples began, as they went, to pluck the ears of corn. V. 24. And the Pharisees said unto Him, Behold, why do they on the Sabbath-day that which is not lawful? V. 25. And He said unto them, Have ye never read what David did when he had need, and was an hungred, he, and they that were with him, V. 26. how he went into the house of God in the days of Abiathar, the high priest, and did eat the showbread, which is not lawful to eat but for the priests, and gave also to them which were with him? V. 27. And He said unto them, The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath; V.28. therefore the Son of Man is Lord also of the Sabbath. The Pharisees did not abate their jealous, hawk-like watch over Jesus and His disciples for one minute. And the Lord, on His part, in no way attempted to escape from them. The lessons which He wished to convey to them would be brought out all the sooner with their vigilant presence ever near. Jesus and His disciples, on a Sabbath, were taking a walk through the fields of grain, which were just about ready for harvest. There were in those days simple, rough footpaths that have existed in Palestine since time immemorial. "If a landowner wished to raise grain in a field through which one of these paths ran, he plowed up to the very edge of the narrow path and put in his seed." 6) It was along one of these paths that the little company of Jesus was strolling, they were making their way slowly. And where the grain had encroached upon the path, the disciples, being hungry, pulled up the stalks. This they continued, as they went, and then rubbed the ears between the hands to extract the kernels, which they ate. Here the Pharisees complained to the Lord about the disciples, although their accusation implied a criticism of the Master for permitting the pulling of the stalks, which they identified with reaping, and the rubbing of the ears, which they identified with threshing. But Jesus defended His disciples by referring the Pharisees to the example of David, who, in a similar situation, when he and his men were in need, did not hesitate to take the showbread out of the hands of Abiathar, the high priest, and to distribute the cakes among his men, 1 Sam. 21, 6. Ordinarily, only the priests were permitted to eat this bread, Lev. 24, 8. 9, but in a case of necessity, above all, love is the fulfillment of the Law, and no one ever thought of censuring David for his action. Note: Either Ahimelech bore the additional name Abiathar, or father and son officiated together at Nobe, in this manner that David received the showbread from Ahimelech with the distinct sanction of Abiathar. The conclusion which Jesus draws from this story is brief and to the point: The Sabbath is given to man, and not man to the Sabbath. The Sabbath, as God intended it for the Jews, was to serve them as a day of rest, but His intention never had been to make them slaves of its observance and to bind them with fetters that would render life unpleasant for them. The Sabbath is thus only a means to an end. And so far as the whole question is concerned, this truth stands for all times. Jesus, as the Son of Man, as the divine-human Lord of all, has the right to abrogate the Old Testament Sabbath if He so chooses. The old injunctions concerning sacrifices, new moons, Sabbaths, etc., were in force till He came. But the body itself is of Christ, Col. 2, 16, 17. The Third Commandment enjoins only so much upon the Christians that they gladly hear and learn the Word of God. He that does this much keeps the Third Commandment in the sense of the New Testament and need not be worried by the Sabbath fanatics of these latter days. 7)
Summary. Jesus heals a paralytic, calls the publican Levi to be His disciple, gives a short discourse concerning tasting and the difference between the old and the new dispensation, and declares Himself to be the Lord of the Sabbath.