Category Archives: Sermons

An Angry Jesus Doing Good

The Text: Mark 3:1-12 – And He entered again into the synagogue; and there was a man there which had a withered hand.  And they watched Him, whether He would heal on the Sabbath Day; so that they might accuse Him.  And He says to the man which had the withered hand, “Stand forth.”  And He says to them, “Is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath, or to do evil?  To save a life, or to kill?”  But they held their peace.

And having looked round about on them with anger, being grieved for their hardness of hearts, He says to the man, “Stretch forth your hand.”  And he stretched it out: and his hand was restored whole as the other.

And the Pharisees went forth, and immediately took counsel with the Herodians against Him, how they might destroy Him.  But Jesus withdrew Himself with His disciples to the sea: and a great multitude from Galilee followed Him, and from Judea, and from Jerusalem, and from Idumaea, and from beyond Jordan, and a great multitude of those around Tyre and Sidon, when they had heard what great things He did, came to Him.

And He spoke to His disciples, so that a small ship should wait on Him because of the multitude, lest they should throng Him.  Because He had healed many; insomuch that they pressed on Him in order to touch Him, as many as had plagues.  And unclean spirits, when they saw Him, fell down before Him, and cried, saying “You are the Son of God.”  And He strictly charged them that they should not make Him known.

Introduction

The King who has been announcing His coming Kingdom has already conquered some of the knights of the Kingdom of Darkness.  But lately, as He’s trying to prepare people for His impending rule, a group of religious leaders—spokesmen for the way things are—have been growing bolder and bolder in opposing Him.  The King has been relatively patient with them, all things considered, but that ends today.

The Text, part 1 – Getting Jesus Angry (Mark 3:1-5).

When we consider Jesus and His personality, most often we think of His caring, kindness, and compassion.  We think of His helping the helpless, lifting the fallen, caring for the heartbroken.  We don’t usually think of Him staring down a group of people with anger in His eyes—but that is what Mark paints for us in this passage.

He entered again into the synagogue

We mentioned this several lessons ago, but Jesus made it a point to meet in the synagogue each Sabbath Day.  This serves as an example for us: make the time to meet together each week for worship to God.

There was a man there who had a withered hand.

Luke tells us that it was the man’s right hand that was withered (Luke 6:6).  The Greek indicates that he was not born this way, but that it was withered as the result of something else, either a disease or an injury (Vincent’s Word Studies, and Robertson’s Word Pictures).  The word “withered” means that his hand had shriveled up due to a lack of moisture and nutrients, and became completely unusable.

Think about the horrible situation this man must have been in.  In a time when most people did manual labor to support their family, this man couldn’t.  He couldn’t hold the plow, couldn’t hoe the ground, couldn’t hammer nails (you need a hand to hold the nail in place)—he couldn’t even sweep the floor.  Perhaps he had sons who could help with the work to support the family, but we don’t know that for certain.  It’s just as likely that this man was in dire straits, feeling like a failure because he wasn’t able to do what a man is expected to do—provide for his own.

They [the Pharisees] watched Him, whether He would heal on the Sabbath Day, so that they might accuse Him.

The Pharisees, the ones who have been stirring up trouble, trying to call Jesus into question on seemingly everything He does, sat in the synagogue—not to hear the word of God proclaimed, but because they were trying to find something that they could use against the preacher.  What a horrible attitude to have!

It seems that as irritated with Jesus as the Pharisees were, they knew that they had been beaten in trying to find things to use against Him earlier.  Otherwise, they would have already been satisfied with the evidence they had to accuse Him.  But this, they believed, was the prime opportunity—healing a man must be considered working; therefore it cannot be done on the Sabbath!

Now a quick question: why are you here?  What is it that you are focused on?  Is it on trying to criticize people: the prayer leaders, the song leader, or the preacher?  Or is your focus on worshiping God and trying to be right with Him?  Because the man leading the prayer is going to occasionally mis-speak or stumble over words.  The song leader will sometimes get the song too high or too low or get mixed up on the verses or words.  The preacher, too, will sometimes say the wrong book, chapter, or verse, or will get his words mixed up.  If being critical is what you’re here for, you will find something, because we aren’t perfect.  But by the same token, if you are here to worship God, and have your focus on Him, His will, and on how you can be a better Christian, then you will be blessed by the songs, prayers, and sermons on the Lord’s Day.

He says to the man which had the withered hand, “Stand forth.”

Jesus didn’t do this miracle in a corner, hidden away from everyone else.  He wanted the crowd to see what was about to happen.  Some people might say that this is a contradiction of Jesus’ command to do your alms in secret (Matthew 6:1-4).  But the purpose of Jesus doing this miracle was to cause people to believe in Him and listen to His message.  Whereas, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus instructed His disciples to help people for the sake of helping them, not because it made you look more spiritual, drawing praise from men.

So, He commands the man to stand up.

And He says to them

He’s now turned His attention, for a moment, from the man to the Pharisees, whom He knows are trying to be critical of Him and find something to accuse Him of.

“Is it lawful on the Sabbath Day to do good, or to do evil?”

Jesus isn’t asking them if it’s permissible to do anything on the Sabbath, but presenting to them two options.  All the Pharisees would agree that not everything is forbidden on the Sabbath Day, so that means some things are allowed.  The question to them is: What does the Law allow on the Sabbath—good deeds or evil deeds?  There was nothing they could do to get around this question.  Obviously, the Law never permitted evil to be done, so that wasn’t the answer.

At the same time, as Jesus asks this question, He’s laying some groundwork for what He’s about to do.  He could not perform a miracle, healing this man of his withered hand, except through the power of God.  And if Jesus heals the man, it shows that God approves of doing good on the Sabbath—in other words, it would prove Jesus right and undermine the foundation of the Pharisees’ thinking.

“Is it lawful on the Sabbath Day…to save a life or to kill?”

It was obvious to all that were there, especially when Jesus told the man to stand up, that He planned on healing this poor man.  Jesus began His question to the Pharisees with just a general “is it lawful to do good or to do evil?”  But now He takes His question to the extreme, “Is it lawful to save a life or to kill?”  Most rational people (even among the Pharisees) would admit that it was permissible to save a life (regardless of how much work it would take) on the Sabbath.  The man with the withered hand was a case that certainly fell between simply “doing good” and “saving a life.”  Thus, Jesus proved His point.

But it is also interesting that Jesus proposed to do good on the Sabbath, while the Pharisees were thinking evil, trying to take mental notes so that they could make accusations against Him later.  And after this incident, as we will see momentarily, they started making plans to kill Jesus that very Sabbath.

But they held their peace.

The answer to the question was so clear, so obvious, but they refused to answer because it would incriminate them, their motives, and their teachings.  Just like when Jesus asked them later about the baptism of John, they refused to give an answer because they would look bad either way.

Matthew records Jesus asking another question: “What man will there be among you, that will have one sheep, and if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath Day, will not lay hold of it and lift it out?  How much then is a man better than sheep?  Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath Days” (Matthew 12:11-12).  The Pharisees would absolutely save their sheep on the Sabbath, but they wanted to hold Jesus to a different standard than they were willing to hold themselves.

How often do we see this happen in families, in our jobs, and even in the church?  Look, let’s make this abundantly clear—we will all stand before the judgment seat of Christ and held to the STANDARD, and that is the Word of God.  If we are faithful to God’s word, then we will be saved, regardless of whether we match up with someone else’s standard or not.  It’s like the preacher who was told by a member, “I don’t have to visit, but you’ll be fired if you don’t.”  And Jesus has some words for people who are like that: “Do not judge [condemn], so that you will not be judged [condemned], for with what judgment you judge, you shall be judged” (Matthew 7:1-2).  When you start making demands of others, yet don’t follow them yourself, you are a hypocrite; and at the judgment, you will be judged by God in the same way that you have judged others.

And having looked around at them…

The word here is a form of periblepo, which means not just looking at them, but looking around at them, making sure he looked at every one of them.  And this word doesn’t just express the fact that He looked at them all, but that He looked at each one of them for Himself.  He looked at their faces, confirming what He already knew.  Some probably stubbornly looked at him without a word, while others probably glanced away or looked down so they didn’t have to meet His eyes.

…with anger

Picture the face of Jesus with the scowl, the angry fire in His eyes as He looks at each of these men who had their own disciples, but weren’t willing to answer a relatively simple and obvious question.  Mark tells us exactly what it was that made Jesus angry.

Being grieved because of their hardness of heart

People who were sincere and honestly wrong, Jesus and the apostles had patience with; but the Pharisees weren’t sincere, nor were they honestly wrong (as in simply mistaken).  They were intentionally stubborn, recognizing the truth of what Jesus said, but unwilling to admit it or live by it.  They were more interested in their position as leaders than they were in doing what was right.  They liked the power and weren’t about to give any of it up, even though they were about as ungodly as one can be.

This attitude of stubbornness angered our Lord and Savior then, and brethren, it still angers Him today.  There are members who have the attitude of criticism toward others.  There are members who stubbornly reject commands of Jesus because they simply don’t feel like following them (mostly attitude ones).  And if anyone dares point that out to them, watch out!  My friends, that is the hardness of heart that made Jesus angry—and you do not want the Judge of the world to be angry with you!

He says to the man, “Stretch forth your hand.”  And he stretched it out, and his hand was restored whole as the other.

After making His point to the Pharisees (and the other people in the room certainly caught it as well), Jesus went ahead and healed the man.  If, as many believe, this man’s hand was withered to the point that his arm was also affected, then Jesus asked him to do something that he hadn’t been able to do in some time, but the man, in faith, tried, and discovered that his hand had been completely healed!  What joy was on that man’s face and in his heart!  What amazement there was among the honest people in that synagogue!  But not everyone was happy…

The Text, part 2 – Getting Angry at Jesus (Mark 3:6)

Jesus got angry with the Pharisees because they were hard-hearted.  The Pharisees, in return, got angry with Jesus.  Why?  Because they couldn’t control His every move.  Because He dared to point out their traditions weren’t Scripture.  Because he wouldn’t cater to their self-centered whims.  And because people were happy with Jesus’ life and work—the Pharisees were losing some of their power over people.

And the Pharisees went forth and immediately took counsel with the Herodians against Him, how they might destroy Him.

Just how angry were the Pharisees?  They were so angry that they immediately contemplated murder.  They were so angry that Luke describes them as “filled with madness” (Luke 6:11), or perhaps more literally, “filled with insanity.”  They were so angry that they went to their political enemies, seeking to work together to destroy Jesus.  The Herodians were a sect of the Jews who were very enthusiastic supporters of the Roman government, specifically of the Herods who had ruled over them (for Rome) for the previous several decades.

But when you dislike someone and you’re trying to get rid of him, it doesn’t really matter to you how you do it, so long as you can actually get it done.

The Text, part 3 – Continuing to Work (Mark 3:7-12)

Even though Jesus knew what was on the minds of the Pharisees, He didn’t let that stop Him from doing the good that He came to do.  Even when we might be persecuted by Satan and his minions (yes, sometimes that even includes members of the church), we can’t let that stop us from doing the work of God—that’s what Satan wants!

But Jesus withdrew Himself with His disciples to the sea: and a great multitude from Galilee followed Him

The Pharisees went out, discussing how to get rid of Jesus.  Meanwhile, Jesus went out, continuing to work for God.  His fame had spread throughout all of Galilee (most of the events in Mark up to this point took place there), and so it’s no surprise that huge numbers came out to see Him and hear Him and ask for healing from Him.

And from Judea

This is the southern portion of the Promised Land, where Jesus had spent some time baptizing people (through His disciples) back in John 3-4.

And from Jerusalem

The people following Jesus were not just the smaller towns and villages of Judea, but some were from the capital city of Jerusalem itself!

And from Idumaea

Idumaea is the land of Edom, descendants of Esau.  About 150-200 years prior to this event, a Jew named John Hyrcanus took over and reigned as king over the Jews.  One of the things he did was force the Edomites to either submit to circumcision and become Jews or die.  So, while these weren’t pure-blooded Jews, they were related, and had been proselytized to Judaism.

And from beyond Jordan

The tribes of Reuben, Gad, and half of Manasseh took up residence on the eastern side of the Jordan River when they came to the Promised Land.  Even hundreds of years later, by the time Jesus arrived on the scene, there were still Israelites that lived there.

And those around Tyre and Sidon

These cities were to the north-west of the Sea of Galilee.  Tyre was destroyed in part by Nebuchadnezzar, and then the job was finished by Alexander the Great.  But there were still Jews that lived in that general area.

A great multitude

There was a great multitude from Galilee, and a great multitude from these other areas, which covers practically the entire area that God had promised to the Israelites in the Old Testament.  This was an enormous group of people coming to Jesus.

When they heard what great things He did, came to Him

They heard about the great works Jesus was doing, and they wanted to come to Him and see for themselves, and to receive some of the same healings.  To an extent, we can look to this as an evangelistic outreach—when we do things for other people, word spreads.

And He spoke to His disciples, so that a small ship should wait on Him, because of the multitude, lest they should thong Him.

There were so many people coming and crowding around Jesus that He needed a way of escape to keep from being thronged—Thayer says the word means pressed like a grape.  It wasn’t Jesus’ time to die, and being crushed to death by His followers didn’t exactly fit with the prophecies of the Old Testament.

Sometimes, we need to get away for a little while.  Sometimes we’ve got so much going on, so many people wanting part of our time, that we need to have a way to get away from it all, our own “small ship,” so to speak.  Because it we don’t, we could find ourselves crushed, and lose our ability to bear fruit for the Lord.

Because He had healed many; insomuch that they pressed on Him to touch Him, as many as had plagues.

Literally, they were rushing on Him, crowding Him, shoving at each other in an effort to get to Him and touch Him, in the hopes that by doing so, their sicknesses would be removed.  They had seen/heard others that were healed, and they wanted it too!

And unclean spirits, when they saw Him, fell down before Him

Matthew 12:15 says that Jesus healed everyone that came to Him, so Mark is probably talking about the demon-possessed people falling down before Jesus because of the demons inside them recognizing Him.  As James tells us, “the demons also believe, and tremble” (James 2:19).

And they cried, saying, “You are the Son of God.”

These demons must have known that they were about to be cast out, and so they tried to do what they could to hamper Jesus’ work.  If the crowd was close to crushing Jesus to begin with, how much more so do you think it would get if they caught wind that Jesus was not just a man sent by God, but was in fact very the Son of God?

And Jesus strictly charged them that they should not make Him known.

The way it is written in Mark makes it seem like He’s telling the demons not to make Jesus known, but He’s actually talking to the people, the great multitudes that came to Him, whom He healed.  We know this because of Matthew’s account—Jesus healed them all, which would include the demon-possessed people.  Therefore, those demons would have been cast into the abyss (Luke 8:31), and not had the opportunity to make Him known.  Also, in Matthew’s account, the demons aren’t mentioned, and Jesus “charged them [the people who were healed] that they should not make Him known.” (Matthew 12:15-16).

Jesus didn’t want the talk of the miracles to spread even further, because there was already a dangerously-sized crowd mobbing Him.  It was already to the point where everyone was primarily interested in the miracles—not in the message that Jesus had to speak.  Jesus didn’t want that trend to continue and perhaps grow even worse.

It would be, I would think, incredibly difficult to keep it to yourself if you’d been healed, though.  But like some other commands, Jesus still expects us to follow them, even if they are difficult.  That’s why He said the words “Be thou faithful unto death—[even if it means dying]—and I will give you a crown of life” (Revelation 2:10).

Application

Helping Others Get Back to Work

Jesus had compassion on a man whose physical ailment kept him from being able to work.  It was in His power to fix the problem, to help the man, and so He did.  If we have it within our power to help someone to be able to work, to support themselves and their family, then we ought to also have compassion on them enough to offer that help.  It could be something as simple as giving someone a ride to fill out an application, or making a phone call to a friend who might be looking to hire someone.  But take compassion on those who can’t work.

It’s Okay to be Angry

Jesus was angry, yet He didn’t sin.  His anger stemmed from the sinful attitude of the Pharisees—the religious leaders of the day.  They were continually looking for things to throw at Him—even though those things weren’t sinful.  It made Him angry when their hard-heartedness kept them from admitting the truth.  It made Him angry when they were looking for reasons to criticize Him instead of seeing that God approved of His actions and teachings through the miracles.

As a side note, Jesus also shows that there’s never a wrong time to do good for others.

Invitation

Jesus did a good deed in healing that man, but the greatest thing He ever did was dying on the cross, taking with Him the sins of all of God’s faithful followers.  That sacrifice is meant for me and for you, but only if we come to Jesus in faithful obedience, believing in Him, repenting of our sins, and being baptized.  Then we must continue to grow, staying true to Him, even during the difficult times.  When we mess up as one of God’s children, we come to Him in prayer, seeking forgiveness.  Won’t you come take hold of that precious gift of salvation today?

-Bradley Cobb

Correcting Hypocrites

The Text: Mark 2:23-28 – And it came to pass that he went through the grain fields on the Sabbath Day; and His disciples began to pluck the ears of grain as they went.  And the Pharisees said to Him, “Look!  Why do they do that which is not lawful [to do] on the Sabbath Day?”

And He said to them, “Haven’t you ever read what David did, when he had need, and was hungry—he and they that were with him?  How he went into the house of God in the days of Abiathar the high priest and ate the showbread, which is not lawful to eat except for the priests, and he also gave [some] to them who were with him?”  He said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.  Therefore the Son of man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”

Introduction

Even Mark’s Roman readers knew about the Jews and their Sabbath Day activities (or lack thereof).  It’s somewhat like Roman Catholicism today, in that there are certain aspects of that religion that are known throughout the whole world (priests, papacy, cathedrals, etc.).  Judaism was the same way, you couldn’t go anywhere in the Roman Empire where the people didn’t at least know about the Jews and some of their seemingly strange Sabbath customs.

But Mark also continues to show the antagonism towards Jesus, building up the tension that would eventually lead to their murder of the Son of God.

The Text, part 1 – Accusing the Disciples on the Sabbath (Mark 2:23-24).

There’s a progression of sorts in the way Mark has presented these events in chapter two and the relationship with the scribes and Pharisees.  (1) The scribes think evil of Jesus, (2) the scribes and Pharisees question Jesus disciples about Jesus, (3) the Pharisee’s disciples ask Jesus about His disciples, and now (4) the Pharisees flat-out accuse Jesus’ disciples of breaking the law (and implicitly accuse Jesus of approving of law-breaking).

It happened that He went through the grain fields on the Sabbath Day, and His disciples, as they went, began to pluck the ears of grain.

Literally, the text says that Jesus went alongside the fields.  And as He walked beside these fields of grain, His disciples who were following Him were plucking some grain here and there (KJV says “corn,” though it’s more likely that wheat or barley is under consideration due to how Luke describes their actions in Luke 6:1, rubbing them in their hands).  Normally, this would have given nothing for the antagonists of Jesus to complain about, but today was different, because today was a Sabbath Day.  So, here come the Pharisees…

The Pharisees said to Him, “Look, why are they doing that which is not lawful [to do] on the Sabbath Day?”

First, it might be worth mentioning that the Pharisees seem to be following Jesus around, looking for things to complain about, jealous that people are following Him, and repulsed by His embracing tax collectors and sinners (this is spelled out for us in the beginning of chapter three).  There is nothing in this account to give the impression that the Pharisees were somehow innocent bystanders who just happened to see this, and then ran to Jesus with sincere concern about the spiritual welfare of His disciples.  Nothing of the sort!

The first thing they do is accuse Jesus of not paying attention.  You might ask where that comes from, and it’s them saying, “Behold!” or “Look!” implying that Jesus wasn’t paying attention to those who were following Him.

The second thing they do is accuse the disciples of breaking the Law of Moses.  The Jews had been sent into captivity in Babylon because of idolatry and violating the Sabbath.  The Pharisees were so determined to make sure they didn’t violate the Sabbath that they put up extra rules, and interpreted the laws so strictly that they wouldn’t even come close to breaking the Sabbath commandments.  In and of themselves, those extra rules weren’t bad.  But when the Pharisees started binding those rules on others, accusing them of violating God’s Law because they didn’t follow the man-made Pharisaical rules, it became sinful.

One of those extra rules was that plucking a single head of grain on the Sabbath meant you were violating God’s law by harvesting on the Sabbath.  If you took a single grain of wheat and rubbed it between your fingers to get the outer husk off, that meant you were threshing—thus violating the Sabbath.  One writer said that these Pharisees were so caught up in their rules that if Jesus’ disciples had walked through the field in the morning, when there was still dew on the grass, the Pharisees probably would have tried to accuse them of irrigating on the Sabbath! (Burton Coffman, notes on Mark 2:23).

The third thing they do is accuse Jesus of endorsing Law-breaking.  If Jesus says nothing to His disciples, then He consents to their actions.  And if that’s the case, then the Pharisees could discredit Him before the people.

The Text, part 2 – Answering the Objection (Mark 2:25-26).

The response from Jesus is certainly not what they expected, and is also one that seems to have confused many Christians as well.

He said to them, “Haven’t you ever read what David did, when he had need, and was hungry, he, and they that were with him?”

There’s a subtle jab at the Pharisees in the first part of Jesus’ response.  They are supposed to be the experts on the Law of Moses, and Jesus asks them, “Haven’t you ever read it?”  Subtly, He’s saying, “Are you sure you’ve read the Scriptures?”

This example of David is found in 1 Samuel 21.  The first parallel is that David and his men were hungry, and Jesus’ disciples were hungry.

How he went into the house of God

David went to the tabernacle (the temple was not yet built), but the same laws applied for the priests and the showbread in both places.

In the days of Abiathar the high priest

Some manuscripts don’t have the phrase “the high priest,” and I Samuel 21 shows Abiathar’s father, Ahimelech, was the priest at that time.  However, the phrase “in the days of” comes from a Greek word (epi) that can also mean “before,” so Jesus might have actually said “before Abiathar was high priest.”

And he ate the showbread, which is not lawful to eat, except for the priests, and gave it also to those who were with him?

Some have drawn the conclusion from this example that Jesus was agreeing with the Pharisees, that yes, His disciples were violating the Sabbath.  But that’s not a valid conclusion.

Jesus shows that these are similar situations—similar, but not exact.  What David did was eat the bread that the Scriptures said were only for the priests.  One writer said:

Lit., the loaves of proposition, i.e., the loaves which were set forth before the Lord. The Jews called them the loaves of the face, i.e., of the presence of God. The bread was made of the finest wheaten flour that had been passed through eleven sieves. There were twelve loaves, or cakes, according to the number of tribes, ranged in two piles of six each. Each cake was made of about five pints of wheat. They were anointed in the middle with oil, in the form of a cross. According to tradition, each cake was five hand-breadths broad and ten long, but turned up at either end, two hand-breadths on each side, to resemble in outline the ark of the covenant. The shewbread was prepared on Friday, unless that day happened to be a feast-day that required sabbatical rest; in which case it was prepared on Thursday afternoon. The renewal of the shewbread was the first of the priestly functions on the commencement of the Sabbath. The bread which was taken off was deposited on the golden table in the porch of the sanctuary, and distributed among the outgoing and incoming courses of priests (compare save for the priests). It was eaten during the Sabbath, and in the temple itself, but only by such priests as were Levitically pure. This old bread, removed on the Sabbath morning, was that which David ate. (Vincent’s Word Studies, notes on this verse).

When we read Matthew’s account, we find more detail than Mark gives.  Matthew (12:5-7) shows that Jesus added this:

Or haven’t you read in the Law, how that on the Sabbath Days, the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath, and are blameless?

That is, the priests are expected to work on the Sabbath, which (if we’re being legalistic like the Pharisees) is a violation of the Law of Moses.  But because they are doing the work of the temple, they are free from blame.

But I say to you, that in this place is one [who is] greater than the temple!

Thus, even if what the disciples did could technically be seen as a violation of the Law of Moses (and Jesus is not saying that they were violating it), the fact that they are in service of one greater than the temple renders them blameless from the Sabbath restrictions.

But if you had known what this means: “I will have mercy, and not sacrifice,” you wouldn’t have condemned the guiltless.

The priest in 1 Samuel 21 had mercy on David and his men, and offered them something that was supposed to be reserved for the priests.  But the point I want you to get from this is that Jesus said very clearly that His disciples had not broken the Law of Moses.  They had not broken it by principle, by precept, or by anything else.  The extra rules of the Pharisees were so strict and unbending that they completely missed the whole idea of mercy and of “thus saith the Lord”!

The Pharisees wouldn’t dare to condemn David for his actions which Jesus said were “not lawful.”  David goes and takes something that has been consecrated to God, something that has been set aside for only the priests, and eats it with his men—and the Pharisees wouldn’t dare condemn their hero for doing that.  Yet they would gladly condemn Jesus and His disciples for picking a few heads of grain out of a field.  Compare the two events, and if you had to pick one to deem sinful, it has to be David’s.  But not with the hypocritical Pharisees.

The Text, part 3 – Man’s Relationship to the Sabbath (Mark 2:27-28).

What could the Pharisees possibly say in response to this?  If they continued to insist on condemning Jesus’ disciples, they had no choice but to condemn David for his actions.  They were beaten.  But Jesus didn’t stop there.  He gave a concluding thought for them to chew on.

He said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.”

The entire basis of the Sabbath Day comes from the first week of creation.  God created the heavens and the earth, the sun, moon, and stars, the plants and animals, the atmosphere, and mankind too, all in six days.  Then, on the seventh day (the Sabbath), God rested (Genesis 1).  When the Law of Moses was given to the Israelites, they were told to remember the Sabbath Day, to keep it holy, because God created everything in six days and rested on the seventh (Exodus 20:11).  In fact, Jehovah Himself says, “In six days Jehovah made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day He rested, and was refreshed” (Exodus 31:17).

God didn’t rest because it was the Sabbath and He was forced to do it; He rested because He was done for the week, and wanted to be refreshed.

God gave the commandment regarding the Sabbath, not because the seventh day somehow needed mankind, but because man needs a time to rest and be refreshed.  We need a break.  The commandment to observe the Sabbath was for man’s benefit.  All of this goes together to show that the rules and regulations that the Pharisees added to the Law were completely destroying the spirit of what God intended the Sabbath to do.  God gave it as a required “day off,” whereas the Pharisees made it as a day where you could hardly do anything—turning it from a day of rest to a day of constant worry.

Therefore, the Son of man is Lord even of the Sabbath

It appears as though Jesus is referring to Himself here, though there are those who think that this is simply a reference to mankind in general.

The point, however, remains the same: Jesus is not a slave to the Sabbath, but is Master over it.  As we will see in the next study, Jesus makes it very clear that the Sabbath was never given to prevent people from doing good deeds to others.  He asks elsewhere whether it is permissible to get your ox out of the ditch (which is an awful lot of work) on the Sabbath.  Since this is the case, then Jesus’ disciples are also not slaves to the Sabbath.  Again, the Sabbath was a day to benefit man, not a day to restrain his every move.

But consider a little bit more that Jesus says He is Lord of the Sabbath.  Some people have taken this statement and assumed that Jesus means He can violate the Sabbath Laws all He wants because He’s God and isn’t bound by them.  Yet if Jesus really violated the Law of Moses, then He sinned, and His sacrifice was completely worthless to save us.  Jesus didn’t ever violate the Law of Moses, but lived perfectly, without sin.  Whatever the Scriptures said specifically regarding the Sabbath, Jesus obeyed.  He didn’t just keep the letter of the Law, but also the spirit of the Law.  That serves as an excellent example for us today.

Application

Don’t be a Pharisee!

We have things that we do, traditions, that are fine in and of themselves, but we can’t become like the Pharisees and condemn other Christians for not doing the same thing.  One example is Sunday evening services.  We have them, and it is a great opportunity to gather together for additional time to read and study God’s word, have fellowship with each other, be strengthened, and sing praises to the God of heaven.  But I know of some brethren who question a congregation’s faithfulness if they only meet once on Sunday.  I remember hearing, as I was growing up, someone insinuating that if you used “Song of the Church” (the songbook we have here) instead of “Sacred Selections for the Church,” you were headed into liberalism.  The person who said it meant well, wanting to make certain there was no way that we might end up singing some of the songs that were “questionable,” but to then seek to bind the choice of songbooks on others is ridiculous!  When I lived in Arkansas, a man who was visiting once told me that we were unscriptural because we didn’t end our services with the Lord’s Supper.

In short, if you can prove from the Bible that it is supposed to be a specific way, then show it, stand by it, and never forsake it.  If it is in the realm of choice, expediency, or opinion, then with grace we should permit others the same liberty that Christ gives us.  Jesus had strong words about the Pharisees in Matthew 23, and I don’t want anything like that to be said of me by our Lord.

God’s Commands are for Our Benefit

It is amazing how many people think that the laws of God are arbitrary, when in truth they actually benefit the ones obeying.  Beyond salvation, there are commands that actually make life much better here on earth.  There are commands about working hard, as though you were working for the Lord Himself—have you noticed that if you are a hard, diligent worker, you generally are able to keep your job?  There are commands about not being a gossip—have you noticed that relationships are better and there is more peace when there is no gossip?  There are commands about how to treat others—have you noticed that when you follow those commands, you have more friends, better friends, better relationships, better marriages?  Just like the Sabbath, we need to remember that those commands were given for our benefit—and remember that God knows best!

Invitation

God knows what is best for us here on this earth, but He also knows best when it comes to attaining that eternal home with Him.  We don’t have to go with any man-made doctrine, because God, in His wondrous mercy, gave us all we need to have eternal life and forgiveness of our sins.  His word, the Scriptures, lay it all out for us.  We must hear about Jesus, the one who was crucified and raised from the dead; we must believe that He is the Christ; we must repent of our sins; We must make that good confession of our belief; and we must be baptized into Him for the remission of sins.  Have you done that?

-Bradley Cobb

 

Who is A.B. Green?

One of our popular features here at The Cobb Six, that we haven’t done for a while, is “Restoration Moments.”  While this isn’t exactly the same, we thought you would enjoy getting to read about this Restoration Movement preacher, and see a sermon from his pen.

This was originally written in 1885.

ABGreen

BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH OF A. B. GREEN.

Almon Beach Green was born in Litchfield, Conn., January 12, 1808. His parents settled in Canfield, Ohio, in the fall of 1810, and after nine years moved to Norton, Summit County, Ohio. He was baptized by Elder O. Newcomb, December 28, 1828. He preached his first sermon April 5, 1832. In the spring of 1833 he received a letter from the church commending him as a faithful and accepted minister of the gospel; and September 10 of the same year started out to make the preaching of the gospel his life-work. He served as evangelist at large, often at his own charges, two thirds of his time for twenty-nine years, when he moved to Ravenna, and took charge of the church five years. Afterward he served the churches at Warren, Collamer, Bedford, Aurora, and Willoughby, closing his pastoral ministry at the last named place after eight years of faithful and efficient service. He is now, at the age of seventy-seven, on the retired list, residing in Cleveland, near his daughter and only living child, Mrs. R. Moffett.

In 1835 he married Mary Bennett, daughter of Henry Bennett, who shared lovingly with him the burdens and joys of a minister’s life, till March 21, 1869, when she fell asleep in Jesus. This was a severe blow to Mr. Green. Few women were better qualified in heart and hand to be a help-meet for a pioneer minister. Truly can we say, in the language of Solomon: “ Strength and honor were her clothing. She opened her mouth with wisdom, and her tongue was the law of kindness. She looked well to the ways of her household, and ate not the bread of idleness. She laid her hands to the spindle, and stretched out her hand to the poor.” Indeed, but for the faith and courage and diligence of this excellent woman, Mr. Green would many a time have despaired in his work.

In 1871 he married Mrs. Amanda M. Baldwin, widow of the late Henry Baldwin, of Solon, Ohio, who now shares his comfortable home, and ministers as a faithful wife.

  1. B. Green is not what the world calls an educated man. He says he was far more familiar with the howling of wolves and hooting of owls than with schools or school books. His only library when he began to preach was his pocket Bible and “Robbin’s History of all Religions and Ceremonies.” He was, however, a great student of the Bible. He can even now, at his advanced age, quote entire chapters without prompting. It was to him the one sword of the Spirit which could vanquish all opposers of its truth; and many an adversary has felt its keen edge when wielded by his hand. Six times in his ministry he has met successfully the champions of Universalism; five times the champions of sprinkling and infant baptism, and once an apostle of Mormonism. He is preeminently a preacher of the Word. Although unacquainted with classic lore, and untrained even in the things of common grammar, he has so learned the Scriptures, and is so skilled in interpreting Scripture by the Scriptures themselves, that his judgment as to the meaning of any passage may be safely set over against that of the recognized theologian. His style is plain, clear, logical, and full of force. He survives among the last of the grand men to whom the Disciples of Christ owe a lasting debt of gratitude for self-sacrificing devotion to the restoration of primitive Christianity. The sermon here presented is one of the olden time.

THE KINGDOM OF GOD AND THE CHANGES NECESSARY TO CITIZENSHIP.

A SERMON.

By Almon B. Green.

“Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood can not inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption. Behold I show you a mystery; we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed.”—I Corinthians 15:50-51.

The phrase, “The kingdom of God,” is sometimes used for the reign of God by Christ in the hearts and lives of his people in this world. Hence the language, “The kingdom of God is within you.” There was a time when it was said, “The kingdom of God is at hand,” so near that Jesus said, “There are some standing here that shall not taste of death until they have seen the kingdom of God come with power.” And so it was that Jesus, the promised King, ascended into heaven, and God, the Father, said to him, “Sit thou at my right hand until I make thine enemies thy footstool;” then turned and gave command, “Let all the angels of God worship him.” Possessing all power in heaven and in earth, angels and authorities being subject to him, he shall reign until the last enemy man has to encounter, Death, shall be destroyed. “Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father, and God shall be all in all.” Here we are introduced to the kingdom of God spoken of in the text. In his kingdom among men, he reigns in the hearts and lives of the sanctified in Christ Jesus. In the world to come he will reign over the glorified by Christ Jesus.

When we consider the heart of man, and his condition by sin, his character before God, and his bodily infirmities, we shall not wonder that the transition from this world to that of glory should call for several changes, to fit man for the enjoyment of eternal life in the world to come. There is a wide difference between man as he was, and as he is; but a still wider difference between man as he is, and as he is yet to be, if he ever enters the Paradise of God. Man as he was, knew no guilt, and was a stranger to remorse. In the image of God “he could stand and worship him in all the joy of perfect innocence.” But, oh, how different now! Carnal in his desires, the lusts of the flesh, the lusts of the eye, and the pride of life rule him in all his actions here. The language of his heart is, “What is the Almighty that we should serve him? and what profit should we have if we pray unto him?” It is a sad thought that sin is universal, and that nowhere upon this green earth is a sinless man to be found! An alien from God, in heart, in life, and separated from God by sin, he is without hope, and without God in the world. To prepare man for the life to come, four changes are essential:

  1. A change of heart.
  2. A change of state or relation to God.
  3.  A change of character.
  4. A change of his mortal to an immortal body.

1. A change of Heart.—By this I do not mean an exchange of one heart for another, for the Lord does not propose to annihilate any part of man, and create something else in the place of it; but to purify and cleanse that which is, and so prepare it for his service. The reason why the Lord begins with the heart is seen in the fact that the heart is the fountain of all our thoughts, words, and actions. The tongue, that world of iniquity, is moved by the heart to speak, as out of the abundance of heart the mouth speaketh. The whole history of man proves the language of the prophet true, “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked.” To change the evil heart of unbelief, to a heart of faith, a heart of hatred to a heart of love, is no small undertaking. It is the changing of an enemy to a friend. But how can it be done? It can be done only by proving to that enemy that you are his friend. Gain his confidence; let him see that your goodness should lead him to repentance. If you gain his confidence, you have gained his heart; if you gain his heart, you have gained his love; and like David and Jonathan your hearts are knit together in love. Hence Peter says of the Gentiles, “God purified their hearts by faith.” Again, the Lord says of the sons of Jacob, “I drew them with cords of a man, with bands of love.” Jesus came to give demonstration to the world that God is love, and that he “so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him might not perish but have everlasting life.”

This gospel of the Son of God has made mighty changes in the world. It is well named the “gospel of peace.” Take Paul, for an example of its power; take the three thousand mocking men on the day of Pentecost, and see them bowing in submission to Jesus as Lord of all. What has changed their hearts but faith in Him whom they had crucified in anger? This change of heart prepared them to change their state, or relative position toward God, which is essential to perfection of character.

2. A Change of State—is more than a change of mind, or of purpose. Man must be made to feel that he is not his, but belongs to another. This change of state, or relation to God, is illustrated by many figures. Jesus says, Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me. How differently the ox acts when turned into the field to roam, from his acts when the yoke is put upon his neck? In the one case he acts out his own will, in the other the will of his master. The word “yoke” is therefore evidently used by the Saviour as a symbol of government. The man of the world feels and acts out his own pleasure; but when he places himself under Christ as his teacher, takes His yoke or authority upon him, he feels that he belongs to another, and that his new relation calls for a new life. How to the point the language of Paul, “Know ye not that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey?”

This change of relation is taught by another figure, to Nicodemus. “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he can not enter the kingdom of God.” When Jesus comes claiming our attention as a leader, or teacher, he says take my yoke upon you and learn of me. When as a king, he speaks of his kingdom, he says, you must be born again to enter it. If men are spoken of as aliens from God, then the transaction is spoken of thus: “He hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son.”

If Jesus is called the vine and his disciples the branches, then the transaction is represented by another figure, “taken from the wild olive tree and grafted into the tame.” If Jesus is called the bridegroom and his church the bride, then we are said to be married to Christ.

These figures all refer, not to a change of heart, but to that which follows it,—a change of state, or of our relation to God. It is well expressed by an apostle of Christ (Gal. 3:26-27), “For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” This language is too plain to allow of a serious mistake as to the way this change of relation to God is effected. “Born again,” “grafted,” and “married to Christ” are all figures of speech, easily understood by their connection. So also, to “put on Christ,” as you would assume the character of another to act for him. Jesus expressed a deliverance from a state of sin to a saved state thus: “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.” It will be seen that salvation is not a feeling, not an emotion, but a condition. The Lord saved Israel out of Egypt; that is, he delivered them out of bondage into a state of freedom.

When a man’s heart is by faith purified from the love of sin, and he takes the yoke of Christ upon him to learn of Him who is meek and lowly in heart, he feels that he is a new creature; old things have passed away, and all things have become new. He has new desires, new aspirations, a new teacher, new society, new prospects, and a new home among the people of God. He realizes that though in the world, he is not of the world; that though once a child of the wicked one, he is now a child of God and an heir of eternal life. He now seeks not his own will, but the will of Him who has called him out of darkness into His marvelous light. ’Tis now the study of his life to please his Master, and to gain that character before God that will gain the plaudit, “Well done, good and faithful servant, enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.” As a change of heart was essential to lead us to take the yoke of Christ upon us, and thus change our relation to Him, so that change of state was necessary to aid us effectually to change our character before God. While of the world, we loved the character of the world, and studied to please the world. But entering the kingdom of God, we seek to imitate the redeemed and sanctified in Christ Jesus.

3.  A change of Character.—We must not mistake reputation for character. Reputation is what men think and say of us; but character is what we are in the eyes of Him who sees and knows the motives by which we are actuated. Jesus said of the scribes and pharisees, “Ye outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.” But men not only often deceive others, but deceive themselves also. Alas, how many preachers are deceiving themselves, thinking how well they take among the people, and that they have a talent to sway people as they please, and are accomplishing wonders in the world, who in the great day that shall reveal the secrets of all hearts will see themselves in another light. “Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” Then will those egotistical preachers see themselves in their true character. Even Paul was once in great danger of being overcome by this sin, and to save him the Lord gave him a thorn in the flesh, lest he should be exalted above measure, through the abundance of the revelations given to him.

“Be not deceived, God is not mocked,” is a caution worthy of being borne in mind by all. The world has to judge from outward appearances, while the Lord looks on the heart. Hence a good reputation among men can not be a safe passport to the judgment bar of God, who sees things as they are. And those self-righteous persons who plead for the letter of the gospel, but are actuated by selfish motives instead of the glory of God, will then see the difference between the letter and the spirit worshipers.

Hence the great question, What is character? The answer is easy, It is what we are before God.

It will be seen then that character is not made by a single act in life, but by our general conduct through life. David, the man after God’s own heart, was guilty of a great sin. But it was from a sudden impulse of the mind, and foreign to the general tenor of his life. His penitence was equal to his sin, and lasting as his life. The best of men have been overcome by temptation; hence the exhortation, “Watch and pray, lest ye enter into temptation.” Again, “Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.”

It is not the number of years we live that makes character, but faithfulness in our calling. “He that endures to the end shall be saved.” Paul beautifully expresses it of himself thus, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.”

What, then, is the course of life called for to gain that character before God that will be acceptable to Him? “He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God.” The moral man may glory in the thought that he is honest, and seeks to deal justly with his fellow-men; and that he has a heart to feel for, and show mercy to, an offender. But does he walk humbly with God? Does he seek to cooperate with God in saving men from sin and turning them to righteousness? Or does he stand aloof from religion and from all efforts with the people of God to reclaim the world from sin? He lives upon God’s footstool, breathes His air, and lives upon the bounties of His providence, but never gives God thanks for any of his mercies! He proves himself to be unthankful and unholy, and without natural affection. When a favor is conferred on him by another, he thanks him for his kindness, and teaches his children to say, “I thank you,” when a favor is shown them. But he is totally destitute of gratitude to God for his favors. Whatever may be his reputation among men, he must be set down as an alien from God in heart and life, and therefore without hope and without God in the world. The damaging sin of ingratitude rests upon his head, and he must answer for it at the bar of God.

“Who,” then, “shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? Or who shall stand in his holy place? He that hath clean hands and a pure heart, who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully. He shall receive the blessing from the Lord, and righteousness from the God of his salvation. This is the generation of them that seek him, that seek thy face, O Jacob” (Ps. 24).

4. The change from Mortality to Immortality.—This great and last change is essential to the perfection of the children of God. “Flesh and blood can not inherit the kingdom of God, neither doth corruption inherit incorruption.” Our bodies are represented as the tabernacles in which the soul resides in this world. But they are mortal, dying bodies, that we lay aside in death. In them we groan, desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven. Sin has not only defiled the heart and conscience, but it has brought upon us death and all our woe. “Dust thou art and unto dust shalt thou return,” was the stem decree of heaven when man sinned. The whole man, body, soul, and spirit, is defiled by sin; and the body, without change, would be no more fit for the bliss of heaven, than the unchanged heart and character would be. We need a heart and character and a body suited to the new state of being we enter into.

That state, the apostle Peter informs us, is “incorruptible and undefiled, and fades not away.” It is evident then that we must have new bodies, or else have our old bodies changed, to enjoy that new inheritance, the future home of the saints of God. God purposed to change and purify the old heart, and renovate the old character; and why not change the old body, for the new home? That this is what he purposes is evident from many passages of Scripture. Paul, to the Philippians, says, “Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body.” To this agrees the language of the apostle John, who says, “It does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he shall appear we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.” Even the Psalmist had a glimpse of it in his day, and said, “I shall be satisfied when I awake with thy likeness.” The Lord purposes to quicken into life our mortal bodies, and change them from flesh and blood to immortal, spiritual bodies. Here our bodies go to decay, and waste away in rottenness and corruption. But the promise is, “It is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.”

We are not justified in allowing philosophy to supplant our faith, by asking, How can God raise the dead and give life to our wasted bodies? From a human stand point this seems impossible. But why should it be thought a thing incredible that God should raise the dead? That the dust of the earth should be fashioned into a man of flesh, blood, and bones, is no less a mystery than that this corruptible body should be changed to incorruptibility. We are not called upon to comprehend, but to believe. Creation is a mystery, but we are compelled to believe the world was made; and it is no dishonor to a man to believe that in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. And then, what a comfort to poor, dying man to believe that though he die, yet shall he live again. With a heart full of joy he listens to the language of the apostle as he affirms,

“Behold, I show you a mystery; we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed. In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump; for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, “Death is swallowed up in victory.” Then, child of God, shout for joy and bury your fears, and sing, “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” Death, thou mighty conquering foe, Christ has robbed thee of thy sting! Grave, thou mighty vanquisher of mortals, Jesus leads thee captive in everlasting chains since He burst thy bars and triumphed o’er thy power! Then “thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Once we were enemies to God by wicked works, but now by his grace we have been changed in heart to love and revere him; we have been delivered from the power of darkness and translated into the kingdom of his dear Son, “in whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins.”

We have been brought under his discipline and trained in character for a home in heaven. But the flesh weighs us down and our partnership will be dissolved in death; but at last deliverance will come when the angel of the Mighty One shall have blown his last blast into the ear of time,—then shall we come forth equipped for the world of light, where sin and sorrow shall be felt and feared no more. Then God’s finishing touch shall have been given and man stand complete in his sight. Amen and amen.

Fasting and Not Fasting

The Text: Mark 2:18-22 – The disciples of John and of the Pharisees were fasting: and they came and said to Him, “Why are the disciples of John and of the Pharisees fasting, but Your disciples are not fasting?”

And Jesus said to them, “Can the sons of the bridechamber fast while the bridegroom is with them?  As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast.  But the days will come when the bridegroom shall be taken away from them, and then they shall fast in those days.

“Also, no one sews a piece of new cloth on an old garment: otherwise the new piece that filled it up takes away from the old, and the tear is made worse.

“And no one puts new wine into old wineskins: otherwise the new wine does burst the skins, and the wine is spilled, and the skins will be ruined: but new wine must be put into new skins.”

Introduction

One of the most neglected items of Christianity and religious devotion to God is fasting.  Think about it for a moment: Jesus fasted; Jesus taught about how to fast; the early church fasted; the apostle Paul fasted.  We have more examples of fasting in the New Testament than we do of meeting on the first day of the week, yet for many Christians, fasting is completely ignored.  Is this the way it should be?  Keep that question in your head as we look at this event in the life of Jesus.

The Text, part 1 – Question About Fasting (Mark 2:18)

Jesus is still sitting at Matthew’s house, eating with the tax collectors and sinners, when this incident takes place.

The disciples of John and of the Pharisees were fasting.

Fasting, according to the Bible, is giving up food for a certain period of time, and is always connected with one’s relationship to God.  Sometimes it was a portion of a day, other times it was a full day, sometimes it was a week or even more.  But the purpose of the fasting in the Bible wasn’t for weight-loss (though that isn’t a bad side-effect); it was for focusing your attention on God and showing your dedication to Him.  It’s connected with prayer, with worship, with mourning, with repentance, with rededication, and with “laying up treasures in heaven.”

The King James Version says “used to fast,” but literally, Mark says that the disciples of John and of the Pharisees were fasting.  That is, they were fasting at that moment.  The Pharisees fasted each Monday and Thursday, and bound that on their disciples, so this took place on one of those two days.  The disciples of John held fasting in high regard as well, especially since their teacher (John the Baptizer) had a diet (locusts and wild honey) that was almost continual fasting.

There were hypocritical fasters who twisted their faces up in pain, letting everyone know that they were fasting.  The Pharisees are probably the ones that Jesus was talking about when he said that during His Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:16).

In the Old Testament, there was only one day where fasting was commanded, and that was on the Day of Atonement, the day that Jews now call “Yom Kippur.”  God used the phrase “afflict your souls.”

And this shall be a statute forever to you: in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall afflict your souls, and do no work at all…for on that day the priest shall make an atonement for you, to cleanse you, that you might be clean from all your sins before the Lord.  It shall be a Sabbath of rest to you, and you shall afflict your souls, by a statute forever. (Leviticus 16:29-31).

The same thing is mentioned in Leviticus 23 and Numbers 29.

The first time that fasting is mentioned in the Bible outside of the Day of Atonement was in connection with mourning and worshiping God, seeking His guidance (Judges 20:25-28).  The Israelites fasted for a day when they were mourning over their sin (1 Samuel 7:6), the valiant men fasted for seven days when mourning the death of King Saul (1 Samuel 31:12-13), David fasted for seven days while praying for his infant son to live (2 Samuel 12:15-20), Ahab fasted after hearing Elijah’s prophecy against him (1 Kings 21:20-29), all of Israel fasted when they prayed to God for protection from their enemies (2 Chronicles 20:3-15).  Ezra proclaimed a fast for the people to follow (Ezra 8:21-23).  Nehemiah records that the Israelites fasted and re-dedicated themselves to Jehovah (Nehemiah 9:1-3).  But Isaiah also records that even in the Old Testament, some were doing it for wrong reasons:

[They said:] We have fasted, and You don’t see it!  We have afflicted our soul, and You take no knowledge!

[God replies:] Behold, in the day of your fast, you find pleasure, and exact all your labors.  Behold, you fast for strife and debate, and to smite with the fist of wickedness.  You shall not fast as you do today to make your voice heard on high.  Is it this kind of fast that I have chosen?  A day for a man to afflict his soul?  Is it to bow down his head like a bulrush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him?  Will you call this a fast and an acceptable day to Jehovah? (Isaiah 58:3-5).

Thus, we can see that fasting was not inherently righteous nor inherently wicked—it all depended on the attitude of the ones fasting.  So keep that in mind when we see the question that the disciples of John and the Pharisees asked Jesus.

They came to Him and said, “Why do the disciples of John and of the Pharisees fast, but Your disciples don’t fast?”

The disciples of John were, if they paid attention to John’s teachings, honest souls who were seeking to please God and prepare themselves for the coming Kingdom of God.  Thus, we shouldn’t assume they had any ill intentions when asking this question.  They were probably asking an honest question.  The disciples of the Pharisees were quite possibly in the same situation, being taught that they’re supposed to fast twice a week, but confused as to why Jesus—a clear religious leader who could work miracles—wasn’t making His disciples fast.

We should stop here for a moment and note that when you do things differently, people tend to notice.  “You don’t use instruments; why not?” or “Why don’t you have big fancy buildings?”  Don’t be ashamed, but use it as an opportunity to teach people something about the church of the Bible.

The Text, part 2 – Jesus’ Answer (Mark 2:19-20)

Jesus didn’t have anything against fasting, if done for the right purposes.  After all, Matthew tells us that He fasted for 40 days after His baptism when He went into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan (Matthew 4:1-2).  Later on, Jesus gave instructions for how His disciples were supposed to fast: not making a show of it (Matthew 6:16-18).  And in His answer that He gives on this occasion, He foretells that His disciples will fast—just not while He was on earth.

Can the sons of the bridechamber fast while the bridegroom is with them?

In ancient wedding ceremonies, a group of men would accompany the groom to the bride’s house and when the bride came out, they escorted the two of them back to the groom’s house.  This was followed by a celebratory feast that usually lasted seven days.  It was a time of joy and celebration.  It would have been inappropriate and rude to fast during such an event.

In fact, the words Jesus chose in His response show that beyond being rude, it isn’t possible for them to fast during such a time.  The word “Can” is actually the Greek word dunamai, which means power or ability.  Literally, then, Jesus’ response is: “Do the sons of the bridechamber have the ability to fast while the bridegroom is with them?”

The use of the bridegroom illustration might seem strange, but remember that John the Immerser had already described Jesus to his disciples as the bridegroom (John 1:28-30).  John’s disciples, therefore, should have caught the reference.

As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast.

Literally, Jesus says, “As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they do not have the ability to fast.”  They are to be celebrating, not fasting.  To fast would be an insult to the groom, the bride, and the family.

But the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken away from them.

Wedding celebrations do not last forever; there comes a time when they end.  Here, Jesus makes it clear that He’s not going to be on earth forever; there will come a time when He will not just be gone, but He will have been taken away.  This is a hint, a prophecy of His death, but also to His ascension, when He was taken away into the heavens (Acts 1).

Then they shall fast in those days.

The conclusion of Jesus’ initial answer to the disciples of John and of the Pharisees is that His disciples will fast, but that it would be inappropriate to fast while they’ve got Him with them.  The fasting of disciples of Jesus would take place after He ascended into heaven.

The Bible bears this out, showing that His disciples—Christians—did fast.

Now there were, at the church in Antioch, certain prophets and teachers; Barnabas, Simeon that was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen which had been brought up with Herod the Tetrarch, and Saul.  As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, “Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them.”  And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they send them away (Acts 13:1-3).

And when they [Paul and Barnabas] had ordained them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord on whom they believed (Acts 14:23).

Do not defraud one the other, except it be with consent for a time, that you may give yourselves to fasting and prayer…(1 Corinthians 7:5).

…do not receive the grace of God in vain…giving no offense in anything, that the ministry be not blamed: but in all things approving ourselves as the ministers of God, in much patience, in afflictions, in necessities, in distresses, in stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in watchings, in fastings… (2 Corinthians 6:1, 3-5).

Brethren, Jesus is still gone; we are still living in those days—the days in which Jesus said His followers would fast.  Jesus gave instructions on fasting:

Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, so that they might appear to men to fast.  Truly, I say to you, they have their reward.  But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face; so that you do not appear to me to fast, but to your Father which is in secret: and your Father, who sees in secret, shall reward you openly.  Lay not up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust corrupts, and where thieves do not break in and steal: for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also (Matthew 6:16-21).

Fasting with a purpose to focus on God is laying up treasure in heaven!

The Text, part 3 – Two Parables (Mark 2:21-22)

After showing by his first illustration that it would be inappropriate for His disciples to fast while He was there, Jesus gave two parables which illustrate the point from a different angle.

No one sews a piece of new clothing on an old garment: otherwise the new piece that filled it up takes away from the old, and the tear is made worse.

Jesus is bringing the new Kingdom of God.  He’s not bringing a reform of Judaism, not trying to add something new to the Old Testament.  He’s coming to fulfill the Law, bringing it to its conclusion.  You wouldn’t take a brand-new piece of fabric and sew it over a hole in some old clothes, because when you wash it, the new fabric is going to start to shrink, and it will rip the hole even larger.  You can’t mix the old and new fabrics.  Similarly, you can’t mix fasting and celebrating—they don’t go together.

Without coming out and saying it, Jesus was announcing the end of the Old Testament system, the end of the Law of Moses, which would be replaced by the New Testament.  He did this by “nailing [the Old Testament] to the cross” (Colossians 2:14).

No one puts new win in old wineskins: otherwise the new wine bursts the skins and the wine is spilled and the wineskins will be ruined.  But new wine must be put into new wineskins.

No one with any knowledge of wine and the leather pouches they stored them in would consider putting new wine in an old, stretched skin, because it would waste the wine and destroy the skin in the process.  Instead, it was to be put in a new skin pouch so that it could stretch and expand as the wine fermented.  This was a common process that most people were at least familiar with.

Jesus is teaching about a coming kingdom, and the illustration here is basically saying that you can’t force His teachings into the rites and rituals of the Old Testament (and especially of the traditions of the Pharisees) regarding fasting.

Some have suggested that the disciples of John and the Pharisees are to be viewed as the “old wineskins” and the “old garment” that were unable to accept the new teaching of Jesus; and that perhaps Jesus is teaching them they have to destroy their old ways of thinking before they can accept the new truth that He is bringing them.  Obviously some of John’s disciples could accept the teaching, for some of them became apostles, but Luke’s account adds these words of Jesus: “Also, no man having drunk old wine immediately desires the new, for he says ‘The old is better’” (Luke 5:39).  If this is seen as more of a general statement instead of a hard and fast rule, then this interpretation is something worth considering.

But overall, remember that the question Jesus is answering is about why His disciples don’t fast.  His answers show that He was pointing toward something New, and that trying to mix the old and the new would only end up with disaster.  It’s reminiscent of what Paul says in Galatians 5:4 about New Testament saints who were trying to mix their religion with Old Testament commands—they have “fallen from grace.”

Application

How should Christians Fast Today?

Probably the biggest questions people have regarding fasting are (1) should Christians do it, and (2) if they should, how should they do it?  Since fasting is often coupled with prayer, think about it.  We aren’t given the specifics for every single time we are to pray, and how long to pray, exactly what words to use, but that doesn’t change the fact that we know we’re supposed to do it.

Jesus gave commands on how to fast, which we read earlier, and He didn’t give commands that were irrelevant to His people—therefore, Jesus expects us to fast.  But the details about how long and when aren’t given specifically to us, and are therefore up to our own judgment.  I used to tell people that I fasted four times a day, only taking breaks for meals.  Maybe choose a day where you’re going to skip just a meal in order to spend time studying God’s word or spending a long time in prayer.  One congregation I know of fasts from Tuesday evening until Wednesday evening when they all come together to share a meal before Bible study.

Whatever you decide to do, however you decide to do it, make it a time to grow closer to God and show your dedication to Him.

Don’t Mix the Covenants!

The Old Testament was nailed to the cross, but there are a lot of people who want to drag parts of it down.  Some groups demand keeping the Sabbath (which was only ever given to the Jews).  Others say that Sunday is the “Christian Sabbath,” but when you realize that Sunday is the “first day of the week” and “Sabbath” is the Hebrew word for “seventh,” you’ve got problems—seventh is not the first, and vice versa.  We’ve got friends who insist that we have to stand with Israel because they’re God’s people.  No, Christians are God’s people, the Jews were rejected because they rejected Jesus.  If you want to say we should stand with Israel because they are our friends and allies, then that’s a different discussion (a political one), but in no way, shape, or form are the Jews still God’s people today unless they have become Christians.

Invitation

They can become Christians the same way that you can become a Christian.  There is just one gospel, the power of God to save souls, both Jews and Gentiles (Romans 1:16).  That gospel is the good news about Jesus Christ and His sacrifice on the cross on our behalf.  You believe that good news, let that belief cause you to repent and confess Him, and then be buried with Him in baptism for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38, Romans 6:3-5).  After so doing, live faithfully to the best of your ability and you will have a home awaiting you with God and Jesus forever!

Contradictions in the Bible?

Introduction

All Scripture is inspired by God (2 Timothy 3:16).  If God is as the Bible presents Him, as an all-knowing, infinite Being who cannot lie, then when we read the word of God, we should be able to find no contradictions, no mistakes in the Scriptures.

Atheists and others who want to tear down the credibility of the Bible will scour its pages looking for passages that seem to disagree with each other, and will proudly pronounce, “Here is a contradiction!”  And when they present these potential problems, they proclaim the Bible to be a fraud, uninspired, and worthless.  By doing so, they have actually overturned the faith of some, causing them to deny the Lord who bought them with His own blood.

It’s easy to understand an atheist or someone like him trying to take things out of context to try to show supposed contradictions in God’s word.  But there are times when an honest, sincere Christian will read passages of Scripture and honestly has a difficult time reconciling perhaps two different records of the same event which don’t seem to agree with each other, or worse yet, some which seem to completely oppose each other.

What is a Christian to do when faced with what looks like a contradiction in the Bible?

What is a Contradiction?

It’s extremely important that we understand what a contradiction is and what it is not.  When we grasp the true meaning of what a contradiction is, and what it is not, most of the so-called “contradictions” of the Bible disappear.

A contradiction only exists when two (or more) statements cannot both be true at the same time and in the same manner.  For example: (1) My only pets are two cats. (2) I own a dog.  These two statements are a contradiction, for if my only pets are cats, then I cannot own a dog.

The Manner

It is not a contradiction if two statements, which might seem contradictory, are true in a different manner.  For example: (1) I am a father. (2) I am a son.  These are referring to two different relationships, and so they are both true at the same time.  If I were to say (pointing to a man), “I am his son,” and then (pointing to the same man) say, “I am his father,” it would be a contradiction if it was speaking of only physical relationship, for both statements could not be true at the same time and in the same manner.  But I have heard of a man who converted his father to Christ.  So, in that instance, his dad could point to him and say, “I am his father, but I am his son in the faith.”

There are examples of Jesus using language that would seem contradictory until you understand that He is describing physical things in one place and spiritual things in another.  For example, Jesus says “He that lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 11:26), but then tells Peter, “Verily, verily I say to you, When you were young, you dressed yourself, and walked wherever you wanted; but when you are old, you will stretch forth your hands, and another will dress you, and carry you where you do not want to go.”  He spoke this signifying by what death [Peter] should glorify God (John 21:18-19).  Jesus said the faithful would never die spiritually, and that Peter would die physically.

The Time

It is not a contradiction if two statements, which might seem contradictory, are true at different times.  According to George DeHoff, some skeptics of the Bible use Genesis 1:31, “God saw everything that He had made, and, behold, it was very good,” and 6:6, “It repented the Lord that He had made man on the earth, and it grieved Him at His heart.”  They claim that these two statements are contradictory, but there are over a thousand years of history that have passed between the two statements.  Each of them was true when it was spoken, but after the fall of man and the continual thoughts of evil that gripped all of mankind—except for Noah—it was no longer “very good.”

For the one who believes in God, we must never just accept someone’s word on something being a contradiction without a thorough investigation.  We must remember some principles as well that, when put into practice, answer most—if not all—of the allegations of contradiction.

The Translation Issue

Some supposed contradictions are a result of the translation(s) one uses.  If you use the King James Version, Galatians 6:2 and 5 seem to be a contradiction: “Bear ye one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ,” vs. “For every man shall bear his own burden.”  Well which one is it?  Are we to bear one another’s burdens or are they supposed to bear their own burdens?  The answer is that there are two different Greek words translated “burden” in those passages.  One of them is personal responsibility, while the other one is struggles, trials, difficulties that come upon someone.

The same thing could be said for Galatians 1:1:6-7: “I marvel that you are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ into another gospel which is not another…”  Is it another gospel or is it not?  Again, the problem here is eliminated by knowing that there are two different words translated “another” in that passage.  Paul says, literally, “into a different gospel [one of a different type], which is not another [one of the same type].”

The solution when you come some apparent contradictions is to consult some other translations and see how they translated it.  It is possible that the contradiction is one created by the word choice of the translators, and not in the text itself.

The Audience Issue

Some people have alleged that the Bible contains contradictions because in answer to the same question, different responses are given.  For example, when the question “What must I do to be saved?” or one that means the same thing is asked, there are different answers given.  The people on the Day of Pentecost were told “repent and be baptized,” but the Philippian Jailor was told, “only believe” (no mention of repentance of baptism in their answer), and Saul of Tarsus was told, “Go into the city…” where Ananias told him, “arise and be baptized” (but there was no mention of belief or repentance.

The answer to this allegation and others like it is that there is a difference in the audience.  Each of the ones being spoken to were at different levels of understanding, and at different points in their journey towards salvation.  The Philippian jailor in Acts 16 was not willing to believe in Jesus Christ until after the earthquake that opened all the prison doors, yet none of the prisoners fled.  He realized that Paul and Silas were sent by the most powerful God, and he wanted to be right with them and with the Lord.  So the response that Paul gave him was the first thing he needed to do: believe.  They then taught him what he needed to believe (which, incidentally, included the urgency of baptism), and went from there.

The people on the Day of Pentecost already believed in God, and by the time they asked their question, “What shall we do?” they believed that Jesus was the Christ.  So Peter had no need to tell them to “believe,” since they were already at that point.  He gave them what they needed for where they were in their journey: repent and be baptized.

Saul of Tarsus believed in Jesus by the time Ananias got to him; and Saul had been fasting for three days and prayed—showing he had already repented.  So Ananias told him what he needed to do next: arise and be baptized, wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.  There was no need to tell Saul to believe or to repent, because those had already been done.

Some call it a contradiction, but it isn’t, because these statements were made to different people at different stages in their journey to salvation.

The Covenant Issue

Closely connected with the difference in audience is the statements made to people under different covenants.  The most famous one is the thief on the cross vs. the Jews on the day of Pentecost.  It is alleged that the example of the thief trumps (i.e., contradicts) the commands given on Pentecost.  But that ignores that the people lived under two totally different covenants.

The thief on the cross lived and died under the Old Testament.  Baptism was never a part of the Old Testament commands for salvation or forgiveness.  Baptism into Christ was something that was ordained by the Lord after His death, burial, and resurrection—that is, under the New Testament (see Mark 16:15-16, Matthew 28:19).  Since the thief on the cross never lived under the New Testament, he was never answerable to the command to “repent and be baptized…in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins.”  He, like David, Samuel, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and literally millions of other Jews before him, lived and died under the Old Testament, and were never under the command to be baptized into Christ.

As a side note, we can also add to this example that when Jesus was on earth, He could do whatever He wanted regarding the forgiveness of sins.  But since He has ascended, His written covenant is what we have to guide us.  And His written covenant—His will—says “repent and be baptized.”

The Author Issue

Some skeptics have claimed that since the Gospel writers place events in different orders, they can’t be inspired.  The problem here is one that arises from the author and the author’s purpose.  Only one of the gospel writers makes the claim that he was giving events in chronological order, and that is Luke, who wrote as a detailed historian (see Luke 1:3).  Matthew’s purpose was not to give a strictly chronological sequence of events, but to show that Jesus was the Messiah foretold in the Old Testament.  As such, he often groups similar events (miracles, parables) together.  We do the same thing today on occasion, telling people things we remember which remind us of other similar stories.  Then we might go on to some other things that took place between the stories, or even before.  In short, Matthew wasn’t concerned with strict chronology.  Mark was the same way, grouping some events together because there were similarities (see Mark 3:20-35, whereas they appear in Luke three chapters apart, and in different order).  John’s account was written to show the deity of Christ and to cause people to believe.

One of the examples of a supposed contradiction in chronology comes from the temptations of Jesus in the wilderness.  Matthew 4 records them in this order: (1) turn the stones to bread, (2) jump off the temple, (3) bow down and worship me.  Luke’s record switches the second and third ones.  It’s not a contradiction, for both writers agree the same things happened, and Matthew made no claim that he was giving everything in a strictly chronological order.

The Complementary Issue

Most of the alleged contradictions come from incidents where one writer gives details that others don’t.  One of the best illustrations of this is found in Jesus’ speaking to Peter about his impending denial of the Lord.

Matthew, Luke, and John all record Jesus saying, in essence, “Before the cock crows, you shall deny me thrice.”  But Mark 14:30 adds a detail, “Before the cock crows twice, you shall deny me thrice.”  And in case someone wondered if the inclusion of that word was a mistake, verse 72 repeats it.  It’s not a contradiction, for Mark just gives Jesus’ statement in a bit fuller detail than the other writers did.  Matthew, Luke, and John each gave a slightly more summarized version.

Another example of this kind of supposed contradiction is found in the number of women at the cross.  Matthew 27:56 mentions only three specific women, Mark mentions three, Luke mentions none specifically, and John mentions four.  John just goes into more detail than the other writers at this point.

The Same Words, Different Meanings Issue

Just like in English, there are Greek words that have different meanings, depending on how the writer or speaker was using them.  The word “spirit” is a prime example, for it can mean “breath,” “attitude,” “the Holy Spirit,” “the human spirit,” or even “wind.”

I read a debate (read it free HERE) between a preacher of the gospel and a Mormon (one of the “seventy”), and in order to cast doubt on the validity of the Bible, the Mormon said that Acts 9:7 and 22:9 showed that there were contradictions in the Bible.  In the first passage, Luke tells us “the men which journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice, but seeing no man.”  In the second passage, Paul (relating the same event) says, “they that were with me saw indeed the light, and were afraid, but they heard not the voice of Him that spoke with me.”

In this instance, it’s not the fault of the translators.  It’s not being said differently because of a different audience, a different covenant, or because the accounts are complementary to each other.  Luke uses the words “hearing (ἀκούω) a voice (φωνή),” and Paul uses the same words, “they heard (ἀκούω) not the voice (φωνή) of Him who spoke to me.”

The word φωνή “voice” can also be translated “sound,” and is indeed translated that way several times in the New Testament.  It is possible, then, that Luke meant that the men heard a sound when he used the word in Acts 9, but not necessarily the voice of Jesus.

In the same way, the word ἀκούω, “hearing,” can also carry the meaning of “understanding” or “comprehending,” like when Jesus says, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”  Jesus doesn’t mean just recognize that there is a sound, but to understand the words.  So it is legitimate to have Paul, in chapter 22, saying that the men didn’t understand the voice of Jesus.  Certainly they heard something, according to chapter nine, but that doesn’t mean they understood it.

There is an incident elsewhere in the Bible which sheds some light on this as well: John 12:20-29.  Some Greeks wanted to see Jesus, and Philip and Andrew went to Jesus to let Him know.  Then Jesus prayed a prayer which ended with the words, “Father, glorify thy name.”  Then there came a voice from heaven, saying “I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again.”  Then John says, “the people therefore, that stood by, and heard it, said that it thundered: others said an angel spoke to Him.”

These people “heard” (ἀκούω) the “voice” (φωνή) from heaven, but to some, it was a sound, a noise like thunder, and not an actual understandable voice.

So back to the supposed contradiction in Acts 9 and 22.  In chapter nine, Luke said they heard a sound, but in chapter twenty-two, Paul is saying that they didn’t understand the voice of Jesus.  Both Paul and Luke used the same words, but they had slightly different meanings when they used them.

Conclusion

There are many other places that atheists and others like them point to as contradictions in the Bible, and if there is interest in looking at these, showing how they can be easily explained, we will do more lessons like this in the future.

The main point to remember throughout all of this, however, is that the Bible is trustworthy.  If just one mistake, one contradiction was made in the original writings of the apostles and prophets, then the Bible isn’t inspired by God.  It’s that simple.  But my friends, there are no contradictions in the word of God.  Not one.  This book is given by the inspiration of God and is able to make us “perfect” (2 Timothy 3:16-17), because He has given us everything regarding “life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3).

He’s given us the answer to the most important question we could possibly ask: what must I do to be saved?  The Philippian jailor, one who was not a believer and who had not heard the gospel before, was told to “believe” and then the gospel was preached to him, which resulted in his being baptized that very night!  The people on the day of Pentecost believed the gospel, so when they asked “men and brethren, what shall we do?” the answer was “repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins.”

You have to believe in Jesus Christ, repent of your rebellion against God, acknowledge Jesus as the Christ, and submit to His command to be baptized in order to be forgiven of your sins.  We ask that you would please make the decision to do that today if you haven’t already.

-Bradley S. Cobb

The Replacement Apostle (Part 2)

Matthias in Tradition

Almost all the early writers who deal with the topic say that Matthias was one of the seventy men chosen by Jesus in Luke 10 to proclaim the coming of the Kingdom of God, and heal sicknesses.1 These men were “sent”2 by Jesus Christ with a mission very similar to the apostles in their “limited commission.”3  Some believe that it is this group of people that Paul was referencing when he said that Jesus appeared to all the apostles (after already mentioning “the twelve”) in 1 Corinthians 15:7.4

It is said by some that the selection of Matthias was a mistake, a “blunder” made by the apostles, and that the real heir to Judas’ spot was Saul of Tarsus.5 In the face of the biblical evidence, however, it’s impossible to take such a view seriously.  (1) Peter properly applied biblical prophecy to say Judas needed to be replaced.  (2) They prayed for the Lord to make the selection, and there is no indication that the Lord ignored the prayer.  (3) God approved of the choice, for Peter stood up “with the eleven” (which would include Matthias) as ones who were speaking in tongues by the power of God.6 (4) Paul never once classed himself as one of the twelve—in fact, he showed that he was not one of them in 1 Corinthians 15:1-8.

After Matthias disappears from the biblical stage, there are traditions that say he spent time evangelizing Ethiopia with Rufus and Alexander, the sons of Simon of Cyrene, who bore the cross of Jesus in Mark 15:21.7  A work entitled “The Acts of Andrew and Matthew” is, in a significant number of manuscripts, titled “The Acts of Andrew and Matthias.”8  Because of the similarity in their names, the traditions tend to overlap, with no real certainty about which apostle is supposed to be under consideration.9  In one version of this work, Matthias, Rufus, and Alexander all go to Ethiopia to a city of cannibals, where Matthias is captured, blinded, and thrown into prison before he is healed by God and rescued by Andrew.  After they were both captured and thrown back into prison, they caused a flood to come on the inhabitants of the city, and then as they walked out of the prison, the waters divided in front of them like the Red Sea.  Though many died in the flood, the apostles prayed and all those who died were raised up.  Afterwards, many were baptized.10

The Preaching of Thomas in India claims that Matthias was taken by Peter to Persia.11

The Martyrdom of Matthias12 says that he preached in Damascus, where the people rose up against him, fastened him to a bedstead of iron, and tried to burn him alive on it for 24 days straight, but like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, the flames didn’t harm him.  Thus, the people in Damascus began to follow Christ.  After some more time working among the people, he moved to Judea and there died.13

Though it is now lost to time, a heretical gospel account was written by someone who attached Matthias’ name to it.  Meanwhile, a second-century Gnostic sect falsely claimed that they got all of their doctrines from Matthias.  Some traditions say he worked in Jerusalem and died there,14 while others say he was martyred in Ethiopia,15 and still others believe he was martyred in Colchis.16

People have been tempted to identify Matthias as someone else in the biblical narrative.   At least one writer has suggested that Matthias is the same as Nathanael.17 Clement of Alexandria was of the opinion that Matthias was another name for Zacchaeus, the tax collector mentioned in Luke 19.18

-Bradley S. Cobb

1 Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, Book 1, chapter 12.

2 The Greek word for “sent” in Luke 10:1 is the verb form of “apostle.”  Thus, Jesus “apostled” these men, and they were, in a very real sense, apostles of Jesus Christ—just not counted among “the twelve.”

3 Compare the words of Jesus in Luke 10:1-16 with Matthew 10:1-16.

4 See the commentaries of Adam Clarke; Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown; Henrich Meyer; and John Wesley.  If this is the case, then it fits together with the requirement that the nominees for Judas’ vacant spot was to be one who had seen the risen Lord.

5 See David Smith’s article in James Hasting’s Dictionary of the Bible, “Matthias.”

6 See Acts 2:1-14.

7 See Budge, Contendings of the Apostles, Vol. 2, page 163-164.

8 Unfortunately, there is confusion on whether it is Matthias or Matthew that is under consideration in some of ancient Apocryphal Acts.  In the stories about the cannibals, some manuscripts say Matthew, while others say Matthias.  As such, many of the traditions about Matthias are also said to be traditions about Matthew, simply because no one knows for certain which one is under consideration.  See the section “Matthew, According to Tradition” in the chapter on that apostle for more details.

9 The Ethiopian traditions, which were translated by Budge in Contendings of the Apostles say that it was Matthias who went to the city of cannibals, which is what is described in “The Acts of Andrew and Matthew/Matthias.”

10 This version of the story is contained in Budge’s Contendings of the Apostles, Vol. 2, pages 267-288.  Pages 370-403 give a fuller version of the story, called The Preaching of Matthias.

11 See Budge, Contendings of the Apostles, Vol. 2, page 320.  This work appears to be a slightly enlarged edition of the Acts of Thomas, at least of the opening sequence.

12 The title for this work is rather ironic, considering that it records Matthias dying a natural death.

13 Budge, Contendings of the Apostles, Vol. 2, pages 289-294.

14 See the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, “Matthias.”

15 See Smith’s Bible Dictionary, “Matthias.”

16 See Richard Watson’s Biblical and Theological Dictionary.

17 See the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, “Matthias.”

18 This according to John Gill, in his notes on Acts 1:23.

Consorting with a Tax Collector

The Text: Mark 2:13-17 – He went forth again by the seaside; and all the multitudes came to Him, and He taught them.  And as He passed by, He saw Levi, the son of Alphaeus, sitting at the tax office, and said to him, “Follow me.”  And he arose and followed Him.

And it came to pass, that, as Jesus reclined [at the table] in his house, many tax collectors and sinners also sat together with Jesus and His disciples: for there were many, and they followed Him.

When the scribes and Pharisees saw him eat with tax collectors and sinners, they said to His disciples, “How is it that He eats and drinks with tax collectors and sinners?”

When Jesus heard it, He says to them, “They that are healthy have no need of the physician, but those who are sick [do]: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”

Introduction

The Pharisees taught that if you ate with a sinner, it was the same as eating with a Gentile—you were unclean.  They completely rejected an entire segment of society as those who had thrown away their chance to be right with God, and we’re worth rescuing.

In contrast, Jesus, the King, the Son of God, actively sought those kinds of people, inviting them to come back to God in repentance.  It should probably go without saying, but which of the two examples should we be following today: Jesus’ or the Pharisees?

The Text, part 1 – Teaching the Multitude (Mark 2:13)

After healing the paralyzed man in Capernaum, Jesus left the house and went to the Sea of Galillee, where the crowds followed Him.

He went forth by the seaside and the multitude came to Him

In my head, I always imagined a large lake, peaceful and uninhabited.  But Capernaum was a fishing village.  There would have been several boats on the lake, some on the shore, with people buying and selling, little booths set up here and there.  But there was still more room here than in the house, or even in the city itself, for the crowds that wanted to see Jesus.

And He taught them

It seems like Mark is trying to make a point to his readers by this statement.  Jesus had just healed a paralyzed man, and He had the crowd’s complete attention.  Now, He teaches them.  He’s not doing any more miracles right now, He’s telling them about God’s Empire, the Kingdom of Heaven.  He’s telling them to repent.  In short, He’s calling them to join His side—emphasizing the message is more important than the miracles.

The Text, part 2 – Calling Levi (Mark 2:14)

As He passed by

The way this is worded, it seems as though Jesus was teaching the people as He walked along the Sea of Galilee.  If this is the case, it would fit in well with Mark’s portrayal of Jesus as a Man of action, constantly moving and working.

He saw Levi, the son of Alphaeus, sitting at the tax office

Both here and in Luke’s account, this man is called “Levi.”  However, we know him by a different name: the apostle Matthew.  In Matthew 9:9, the Bible says:

And as Jesus passed forth from there, he saw a man, named Matthew, sitting at the tax office: and He says to him, “Follow me.”  And he arose and followed Him.

He’s also called the “son of Alphaeus,” which is significant, because in chapter three, we’re introduced to another man who is also called “the son of Alphaeus”—James, one of the twelve apostles.

Levi (we’ll call him Matthew from here on out) was sitting at the tax office, or “toll booth,” near the sea where the ships landed from the other side.  It is said that Herod taxed the things coming in and going out from that port.  It was a place of taxes for merchants who were bringing their things in from Damascus towards Jerusalem or to the port of Caesarea, where it could be taken almost anywhere.  It was a busy place, and a lot of money was brought in.

He…said to him, “follow me.”  And he arose and followed Him.

Here, Jesus uses a different word than the authoritative command “Come now” as He did with Simon, Andrew, James, and John (Mark 1:17).  To Matthew, a government employee, the King didn’t need to issue a command like that.  He showed His acceptance of Matthew by simply saying, “Follow me.”

Certainly, working at the edge of Capernaum, Matthew was a resident of the city.  As such, there is no doubt that he had heard about Jesus’ miracles, and perhaps even seen some of them himself.  It’s possible that he had family or friends that were healed.  So it is not as though some total stranger was asking him to leave his job and follow after him.  There was a basis, a reason for Matthew to get up and follow the King.

The Text, part 3 – Eating with Sinners (Mark 2:15-17)

After getting up and leaving the tax office, Matthew invited Jesus to his house for a feast (Luke 5:29).  That’s when the antagonism against Him reared its ugly head again.

It came to pass, as Jesus reclined in [Matthew’s] house, that many tax collectors and sinners sat also together with Jesus and His disciples.

Matthew must have had a decent-sized house for “many” tax collectors and sinners to sit at this great feast along with Jesus and His disciples (however many that was at this point).  But take special notice that Jesus was willing to spend time with sinners—and also note that these were children of God, people in a covenant relationship with God, who had gone astray.  But Jesus still spent time with them, and ate with them.  He didn’t endorse their actions, nor was He somehow guilty by association.  He spent time with them because…well, we’ll get to that in a moment.

There were many, and they followed Him

There were many tax collectors who followed Jesus, and many sinners that followed Jesus.  It’s possible that when Matthew left the tax office, others did as well, recognizing Jesus as the miracle-working teacher from God.  And also take notice that Jesus was now recognized as a religious figure—one who was willing to accept them.  They had, for so long, been shunned, neglected, and rejected by the Pharisees and scribes, made to feel like they could never have God’s love of forgiveness.  And now, here comes someone who has proven He was a man of God by miracles, and He’s preaching a message of “God loves you and wants you back; He wants you to repent.”  It’s no wonder they flocked to Him!

And when the Scribes and Pharisees saw Him eating with tax collectors and sinners…

These two groups were to be a constant thorn in Jesus’ side the rest of His time on earth.  The scribes, you’ll remember, were the ones mentally accusing Jesus of being a blasphemer in Mark 2:6-7.  Mark accurately portrays them as the bad guys.  And while he didn’t mention the Pharisees specifically in that incident (though Luke tells us they were involved), he does bring them up here.

If the scribes and Pharisees saw Jesus eating with the tax collectors and sinners, they were either (1) also at the feast with the tax collectors and sinners, or (2) they were outside and saw Jesus entering the house.  If you look at the Greek words, it’s hard to conclude that they were outside.  Jesus was in the house, and they saw (literally “saw with the eyes”) Jesus eating.  So when these two groups of people start complaining and questioning about why Jesus would eat with tax collectors and sinners, they’re being hypocrites, for they are at the feast as well.

They said to His disciples, “How is it that He eats and drinks with tax collectors and sinners?”

Mark is really driving this point home, repeating the phrase “tax collectors and sinners” thrice in two verses.  By this time, the readers would have caught on that Jesus’ Kingdom is different, and one that is greatly concerned with spiritual preparedness and moral goodness.  So when they see Jesus talk to a tax collector (no one likes tax collectors—unless you’re working for the government), and go to his house to spend time with more tax collectors and sinners, they might have been wondering what was going on as well.  If you’re trying to gather citizens for your Kingdom, Jesus, why would you choose tax collectors—the people no one likes?  And why, if your Kingdom is a moral, spiritual one, would you be spending time with those who aren’t moral or living in a spiritually pure way?

But remember what we saw last time, that the readers would have pictured the scribes as the bad guys because of their mental accusations against Jesus.  So they knew the scribes probably didn’t have honest motives in asking this question.

The scribes and Pharisees asked this question because these groups were outcasts, rejects from the religious Jews.  Some have said that tax collectors were rarely welcomed in the synagogue, being viewed as traitors because ultimately they worked for the Roman government, taking money from the Jews to give to Rome.  They viewed these sinners as people who had abandoned their right to be called children of God ever again because of their sin.  It’s because of this exact attitude that Jesus gave the three parables in Luke 15 (see especially verses 1-2), including the parable of the Prodigal Son.

These two groups thought of themselves as the real religious Jews, the only ones who were acceptable to God.  And if they wouldn’t eat with those groups, then Jesus couldn’t really be from God, otherwise He wouldn’t eat with them either.  It’s the idea of You don’t do things like us, therefore you must be wrong.  Their traditions had become more important to them that the word of God and love for their brethren.

So, as a result, they said to Jesus’ disciples—the ones who were inside Matthew’s house at the feast—Explain why He eats with tax collectors and sinners!

When Jesus heard it, He says to them, “They who are well do not need a physician, but those who are sick [do].”

In these words is wisdom, compassion, and condemnation.  The wisdom is seen in how Jesus answered them.  He didn’t say anything about the traditions that the scribes and Pharisees had elevated over God’s word.  He didn’t justify the sins of the sinners, nor did He deny that they were sinners; in fact, quite the opposite.  He admitted clearly that these people were indeed spiritually sick.  So, the way He answered showed wisdom by answering in a way that the scribes and Pharisees couldn’t speak against.

The compassion is seen in how Jesus describes Himself in relation to the tax collectors and sinners.  He is the doctor, the one who cares for sick people, and tries to heal them.  He recognizes the failings of these people with whom He is eating, their distance from God, their need for help, and His answer basically says, “I’m trying to help these people get well.”  Who could possibly have a problem with that?

The condemnation is seen in that the attitude of the scribes and Pharisees was one of “they aren’t worth saving.”  They, the religious leaders of the Jews, should have been the doctors, seeking to heal these sick sinners, bringing them back to spiritual health.  Instead, they viewed these spiritually sick people as spiritually dead and therefore ignored them.  But Jesus’ answer condemns their attitude.  Just like with the parable of the Prodigal Son, where the older brother (representing the Pharisees) knew what the younger brother (the tax collectors and sinners) had done, but did nothing to help; these scribes and Pharisees had done nothing to help these people recover from their sins.

It’s worth noting that the scribes and Pharisees thought they were well, spiritually, but they were among the sickest of all!  Jesus Himself said it in Matthew 23:13-33:

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!  For you shut up the Kingdom of Heaven against men: for you shall neither go in yourselves, nor do you permit those who are entering to go in.

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!  For you devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayer: therefore you shall receive the greater condemnation.

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!  For you traverse sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made one, you make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves.

Woe to you, you blind guides, which say “Whoever shall swear by the temple, it is nothing; but whoever shall swear by the gold of the temple, he is a debtor!”  And “Whoever shall swear by the altar, it is nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the altar, he is guilty!”  You fools and blind!  For which is greater: the gift, or the altar that sanctifies the gift?  Whoever therefore shall swear by the altar swears by it and by all things therein.  And whoever shall swear by the temple, swears by it and by Him who dwells in it.  And he that shall swear by heaven, swears by the throne of God and by Him who sits on it.

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!  For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cumin, but have omitted the weightier matters of the Law: judgment, mercy, and faith: these you ought to have done, not leaving the others undone.  You blind guides, who strain at a gnat and swallow a camel!

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!  For you make clean the outside of the cup and the platter, but inside they are full of extortion and excess.  You blind Pharisee! Cleanse first that which is inside the cup and platter, that the outside of them might be clean as well.

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!  For you are like whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness.  Even so, you outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!  Because you build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous, and say “If we would have been [living] in the days of our fathers, we wouldn’t have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets.”  Therefore you are witnesses to yourselves that you are the children of those who killed the prophets.  Then fill up the measure of your fathers.  You serpents, you generation of vipers!  How can you escape the damnation of hell?

The tax collectors and sinners were better off than the scribes and Pharisees.  They realized they were sick and needed a physician; the scribes and Pharisees were sick and had convinced themselves they weren’t.  Jesus ate with them, because they knew they needed help, and He knew He could help them.  There’s a world of difference in the people who are in willful rebellion to God and those who are trying to live right and struggling mightily.  Can you imagine a Christian acting like those Pharisees; a Christian who looks at a brother who has fallen away and says, “They ought to know better,” and does nothing to try to bring them back?

I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.

The tax collectors and sinners would have been paying attention to what Jesus was saying here, as He was like a guest of honor.  And in the answer that Jesus gives, He shows great diplomacy by not coming out and bluntly condemning the religious leaders.

Those who were truly righteous were already on God’s side, and thus on Jesus’ side.  The scribes and Pharisees may have thought Jesus was referring to them as the righteous, but their actions exposed them as anything but.  They accused Him of blasphemy; they questioned Him (with bad motives) about eating with tax collectors and sinners; they accused Him of endorsing Law-breaking; they actively looked for things to accuse Him of; they joined together with their own political enemies to try to destroy Him; and accused Him of being a minion of Satan himself!  And all of that takes place in Mark chapters 2 and 3!

But here’s the important part of the message: Jesus calls sinners to repentance.  He loves sinners, and ultimately He died for them, but He doesn’t want them to stay sinners.  He calls them to repent!  He still calls people to repent today.

Application

Who Are You Avoiding?

Jesus ate with the outcasts of society, spent time with God’s children who had fallen away and who were struggling.  I’ve seen it far too often that some Christians refuse to spend time with certain people because of their race, or their politics, or because they’re poor, or they’ve fallen away and “ought to know better.”  Are they any less important to God?  Folks, those are the kinds of people Jesus went to!  It’s the sinners that need us to bring them to Christ.  How can we stand before our Lord and say, “I’ve done everything I could for you,” when we avoid certain classes of people and stoutly refuse to take the soul-saving gospel to them?

Where’s Your Spirituality?

As we saw, the Pharisees had an outward show of spirituality, doing the right things outwardly, but inside they were horridly wicked.  Just because we follow the New Testament pattern in worship and insist on baptism being immersion in water does not mean that we are truly spiritual.  Our spirituality needs to be inward first, a heart yearning to obey God, a heart which aches over sins, a heart that desperately wants to be right with the Lord.  When we have this mind, it exhibits itself in the outward acts of obedience and worship.  Many people warm a pew and go through the outward motions, but inside they are repulsive to God.  Are you one of the ones Paul talked about when he said, “There is now no condemnation to them who are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the spirit”?

Invitation

Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith (2 Corinthians 13:5).  Today, take an honest look at your soul’s condition.  You know far better than I do what you’ve done, what your attitude has been.  Jesus came to call sinners to repentance.  Those who truly believe in Jesus will do just that—repent.  When you repent, you will acknowledge Him as the Christ, the Son of God, and submit to His command to be immersed for the forgiveness of your sins.

But just like some of the people from our lesson today, you might find yourself fallen away, gone back into sin.  I want you to know—Jesus Himself wants you to know—that God loves you, and He wants you to come back home to Him.  Simply go to Him in prayer, confess your sins, and ask for forgiveness.

He is calling you now.  Won’t you come to Him?

Un-Paralyzing the Paralytic

The Text: Mark 2:1-12 – Again, He entered Capernaum after some days; and it was reported that He was in the house.  And immediately, many were gathered together, insomuch that there was no room to receive them, no not even at the door: and He preached the Word to them. 

And they came to Him, carrying a paralytic, who was lifted up by four men.  And when they could not come near to Him because of the multitude, they uncovered the roof where He was: and when they had broken it up, they let down the bed on which the paralytic was laying.

When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, “Child, your sins are forgiven you.”

But there were certain of the scribes sitting there, reasoning in their hearts, ‘Why does this man thus speak blasphemies?  Who can forgive sins but God only?’

And immediately, when Jesus perceived in His spirit that they reasoned this way within themselves, He said to them, “Why do you reason these things in your hearts?  Which is easier to say to the paralyzed man: ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say ‘Arise, take up your bed and walk’?  But so that you may know that the Son of man has power on earth to forgive sins,” (He says to the paralyzed man) “I say to you, ‘Arise, and take up your bed, and go your way into your house.’”

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 such.”

Introduction

Jesus has already been revealed in Mark’s Gospel Account to be a King—a different kind of King.  He’s a King with great power, with great authority, and with compassion.  But He’s also a King whose Kingdom had not yet been established.  Remember that He was preaching to the people that “The Kingdom of God [or, God’s Empire] was at hand” (Mark 1:15).  His mission—and the mission of His herald, John the immerser—was to prepare people for the coming of His Kingdom.  But this Kingdom, Mark’s readers could tell, was not like other Kingdoms.

The Text, part 1 – The Crowd Rushes In (Mark 2:1-2)

It’s been some days since Jesus healed the leper who “blazed abroad” the news about Jesus’ amazing healing powers.  And people from all over Galilee, Judea, and Jerusalem (Luke 5:17) have come to find Him, to hear Him, and to witness His power for themselves.

Again, He enters into Capernaum after days.

Jesus’ first several miracles in Mark’s Gospel Account were done in Capernaum, beginning with the casting out of the demon in the synagogue, then the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law, and then healing “many that were sick of various diseases” and casting out “many demons” (Mark 1:21-34).  After making a preaching and healing tour in Galilee (1:39-45), Jesus is now coming back to Capernaum, to Simon and Andrew’s house, which served as a kind of headquarters for Him while He was in Galilee.

We’re not told how long this preaching tour lasted.  Mark literally says “He entered Capernaum after days.”  Most translations insert a qualifier, like “some days” (KJV), “a few days” (MLV, NIV), “many days” (Living Oracles), or “several days” (NASB), but Mark just says “after days.”

And it was reported that He was in the house

With Jesus preaching and healing all over Galilee, and the news that He had cleansed a man of leprosy, Jesus’ fame was growing even more (see 1:28).  So it is no surprise that when someone found out that Jesus was in Simon and Andrew’s house (the only house mentioned in the book thus far), word spread—and quickly.

Immediately, many were gathered together, insomuch that there was no room to receive them, no not even at the door.

Can you imagine the excitement that there must have been in order to pack the house that tight?  We don’t know how big Simon and Andrew’s house was, but even if it was the largest house in Capernaum, it still didn’t have room for everyone that wanted to come in and hear Jesus.

Mark says that there were so many people in the house, there was no room to receive them, not even at the door.  Elsewhere, this word is translated “contain” (John 21:25, 2:6).  In other words, the house was overflowing with people, people were outside the door, wanting to get in, but unable to.  Most likely, we’re talking hundreds of people inside and around the house—could your house stand up to this?

And He preached the Word to them.

Amidst the fame and hubbub, in a house overly crowded with people (which probably made things quite warm), Jesus didn’t lose sight of His mission, which was to “preach the Word” to them.  That is, Jesus preached the “kingdom of God is at hand” “repent, ye, and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:14-15).  You know that there had to be people in there who were thinking, I’m wantin’ to see some healin’, Jesus.  People who weren’t interested really in the message, but in the spectacle itself.  But it’s like Jesus said several verses earlier, “Let’s go into the next towns so that I may preach there also, for into this I came forth” (Mark 1:38).

The Text, part 2 – The Paralytic is Carried In (Mark 2:3-4)

The crowds were gathered around, and everyone wanted in to see Jesus.  But some were willing to go further than others to accomplish their goals.

They came to Him, carrying a paralytic, lifted up by four men.

What we’ve got here are five men—four of them working together, carrying the fifth one on his bed.

In the East [including Palestine] bedsteads were practically unknown.  An Oriental (that is, middle-eastern) bed is a thin mattress of pallet, just large enough for a man to lie upon; and those generally used by the poor today are made of sheepskin with the wool on it.  Such a bed could easily be carried by four men, if each took hold of a corner. (McGarvey, Fourfold Gospel).

The KJV and ASV both say that the man was “sick of the palsy.”  The word “palsy” is a shortened form of the word “paralysis.”  Every possibility, it seems, has been suggested for this man.  Some suggest that he was incapacitated on one side because of a massive stroke; others that he was gripped with mental anguish over something he had done in his past, which literally paralyzed him (Barclay); still others suggest that he was a quadriplegic.  What we know for certain is that he was bedridden, unable to move freely on his own.  Paralysis had no cure.

If Mark’s readers thought healing leprosy was impressive, they’re about to be even more impressed.  At least with leprosy, you can still talk and breathe with relative ease, and can walk around where you need to go.  With some forms of paralysis (possibly including that which the man was enduring), breathing is a chore and talking is next to impossible.

And when they couldn’t come near to Him because of the multitude…

The KJV says “because of the press,” but the word is the same as is translated “multitude” throughout the New Testament.  The crowd of people was so thick that there was no way of going through the front door and into the house where Jesus was speaking.

They uncovered the roof where he was: and when they had broken it up, they let down the bed in which the paralyzed man lay.

Let’s backtrack a moment here.  In order for them to “uncover” the roof and break it up, they first had to get to the roof, which isn’t exactly a quick and easy task.  Many books say that these men probably used a set of stairs that were on the outside of the house, leading to the roof.  The problem with that, is that such staircases are “almost unknown” in Palestine.  Most houses had their front door, which led to a “porch” area, and it is there that the stairs to the roof could be located.  But, of course, there was no room to get in at the door.  That leaves really only two choices: (1) either these men found a way of climbing to the roof and jointly hoisted the man up, or (2) they went inside a neighbor’s front door, up the narrow stairs onto their roof (if you’ve ever tried to carry something heavy upstairs, you know that isn’t easy), and then climbed over the ledge between the two houses (houses built side by side are common in that area).  However they got up there, it wasn’t easy, but they thought it was worth it to bring their friend to Jesus.

Getting on the roof was part one.  Now, they had to get through the roof so they could get their friend to Jesus.  According to the historians, the roofs in that area were built with wooden beams a few feet apart, then brush was laid across it very tightly, then mud, then mortar, then it was covered with earth and grass.  Luke adds the detail that they broke through the “tiling” (5:19) which is the Greek word Keramos, where we get our word ceramic.  So these men broke through the ceramic/clay layer, the mortar, the mud, and the brush, making a hole in the roof large enough that they could let their friend down, bed and all, in the room next to Jesus.

The Text, part 3 – The Sins are Carried Away (Mark 2:5-11)

Mark first records the actions of the men, but now he changes to Jesus’ point of view.

Jesus saw their faith.

What wonderful words are contained here!  What glorious evidence that the doctrine of “faith only” (that is, belief only) saves is false!  Faith is not something that is felt.  Faith is not merely belief.  Faith is something you can see!  Thus, it isn’t really faith if there are no works to go along with it!  For “faith without works is dead, being alone” (James 2:20).

If we were to put this in the words of Hebrews 11, we might say “By faith, four men lifted up their paralyzed friend, letting him down to Jesus, trusting that the Lord could heal him.”

But let us not neglect to recognize that this paralyzed man also had faith, otherwise he could have refused to be carried and jostled around in his weakened condition.  The faith that Jesus saw, then, was the faith of the five—not just of the four.

Jesus…said to the paralyzed man, “Child, your sins are forgiven you.”

The compassionate King certainly realized what was happening, for breaking up the roof would not have been a noiseless task.  So slowly but surely, He sees the hole appear and get bigger, and then sees a bed—more like a thick rug—being lowered down beside Him.  Jesus was impressed by their faith.  Then He looks down at the man laying helpless on the ground, and says “Son [literally, Child], your sins are forgiven you.”

Why exactly did Jesus announce “Your sins are forgiven you,” instead of just healing the man like He did with everyone else?  Here’s some possibilities suggested by different writers:

  1. The man’s sins were the cause of his paralysis. Perhaps through a life of constant sin (perhaps drunkenness), he had somehow injured himself or caused himself nerve damage which led to his paralysis. This is pure conjecture, but it is mentioned frequently by writers as a possibility (some even say it is the “likely” answer).
  2. The man had bought into the idea that sickness and disease were caused by sin, and he therefore thought of himself as a wretched sinner, regardless of whether Jesus healed him or not. This, like the previous one, is also conjecture, though we do have several biblical passages which show that this idea was prevalent (throughout the book of Job, and also John 9:1-2). If this is the case, it would be as though Jesus was saying, “Don’t fear, child.  God forgives you,” thus easing the man’s troubled mind.
  3. The one that, personally, I think is most likely is that Jesus said this because there were religious leaders present (Luke 5), and He was now making a little bit more known about Himself and His mission. As will become obvious momentarily, Jesus’ claim to forgiving sins was the same as proclaiming that He was God. He had a point to make, and in doing so, Jesus was showing His authority—still following the idea of the King proving that He had power to overthrow the Kingdom of Darkness.

But there were certain of the scribes sitting there.

It’s most likely that the majority of the crowd was standing while the “privileged” religious leaders got to sit (probably in the front, closest to Jesus).  Luke adds that the Pharisees from Judea and Jerusalem were there as well.

Scribes…reasoning in their hearts, “Why does this man speak these blasphemies?  Who can forgive sins but God only?”

Something interesting here is that the scribes reasoned in their heart that sins could only be forgiven (literally, “sent away”) by the God.  The word “the” appears in the original, just like in 1:1.  In other words, there is only one God that can take away sin.  Mark is reminding his readers that their pagan worship system is false.  After all, most of the religious ceremonies to the Greek and Roman gods dealt with appeasing the various so-called deities, hoping to keep them happy so as to avoid their wrath.  They never really dealt with the idea of cleansing from sin.

But the scribes (and Pharisees), after hearing Jesus pronounce this man’s sins forgiven (literally, “sent away”) weren’t thinking about Roman gods at all.  They began to murmur and think to themselves that Jesus was blaspheming God, by pretending to be able to forgive sins, when only the God—Jehovah—had that capability.  In short, their thoughts were that Jesus was blaspheming by claiming He possessed God’s power.  What they didn’t realize is that since Jesus is God, He therefore has the power to forgive sins.

The word “can” is actually the word translated “power” in many instances.  Their question, literally translated, is: “Who has power to send away sins except only the God?”

Now, for a moment, place yourself in the shoes (sandals) or Mark’s readers.  You’ve read about Jesus, seen His authority, His healings, His compassion, and perhaps you’re withholding judgment.  But now these scribes show up and start mentally bad-mouthing Him.  Probably without even realizing it, you start to defend Jesus.  That’s wrong, scribes, Jesus has that power because He’s Son of the God.  After all, that’s the very first thing you read in this book.  And the main character in the narrative has done nothing but good, but now He is being mischaracterized and accused of evil.  Almost every unbiased reader, whether reading it as a story or reading it looking for the truth, now pictures the scribes as some of the bad guys, and sympathizes with Jesus.

Immediately, when Jesus perceived in His spirit that they so reasoned within themselves, He said to them, “Why do you reason these things in your hearts?”

Jesus could read their minds.  It wasn’t that He looked at their faces and could read their expressions, deducing from them what they were thinking.  Mark says that they thought this, and then immediately Jesus perceived what they were thinking.  This mind-reading is often overlooked when people read this passage, because it is overshadowed by the healing of a paralytic and the proof that Jesus truly forgave the man’s sins—but it is still there!  Only God can know the thoughts of men; and since Jesus knows the thoughts of men, He is God!  This point almost certainly was not missed by Mark’s readers.  He has power over sickness, demons, injuries, and can read minds too?

He said…“Which is easier to say to the paralyzed man: “Your sins are forgiven you;” or to say “Arise, and take up your bed and walk”?

This was a pointed question, and one that gave great evidence as to the nature of Jesus.  The obvious answer, though the scribes considered it blasphemy, was that it was easier to say “Your sins are forgiven you.”  This is because there was no tangible, visible way of proving it one way or the other.  You can’t see sins being carried away from your soul.

The harder statement, of course, is to tell the man to “Arise, and take up your bed and walk.” Because without miraculous power, given by God Himself, those words would do no good.  You would be exposed as a fraud and a charlatan.  Words alone cannot heal a paralyzed man.

He said… “But so that you may know that the Son of man has power on earth to forgive sins,” (He now says to the paralyzed man) “I say to you, ‘Arise, and take up your bed and go your way into your house.”

Jesus forms His argument in this way:

  1. It’s easier to say “Your sins are forgiven you,” because you can’t see it take place.
  2. It’s harder to say “Arise, take up your bed and walk,” because that would require the power of God.
  3. I am saying both—and if the man gets up and walks, it shows that I possess the power of God, and thus have proven that I have the power to forgive sins.

The sub-point to this is, “and you are actually the ones blaspheming, not me.”

The last verse of Mark’s Gospel Account explains the point here, “They went forth and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs [miracles] following” (Mark 16:20).  Miracles were given as confirmation of the message that was spoken.  If Jesus was truly blaspheming God, then He would have no miraculous abilities.  If He was, however, able to heal the paralyzed man, then that proved He was not a blasphemer at all.

One other thing that is interesting is that Jesus calls Himself “the Son of man” for the first time (at least in Mark and Luke’s accounts) here.  For Mark’s readers, this is their introduction to the dual nature of Jesus, as Deity in human flesh.  This is a vital element for them (and us) to understand, because without Jesus being the “Son of man,” He couldn’t have endured the temptation (James 1:13, Hebrews 2:16-18) or died on the cross if He had not come to this earth as a human.

The Text, part 4 – The Bed is Carried Out (Mark 2:12)

Immediately he [the paralytic] arose, took up the bed, and went out in front of them all.

There’s no telling how long this man was paralyzed; no telling how long he’d been bed-ridden.  In all likelihood, the man’s leg muscles had deteriorated greatly, and his joints had no strength at all when he was brought to the Lord.  This miracle was more than just a “you’ve now got the ability to move again,” it was a miraculous re-strengthening of the muscles and joints, this man didn’t have to go through physical therapy to learn how to walk again, either.  The healing was instantaneous and complete, just like the others Jesus had healed.

He was carried in by friends, his sins were carried away by Jesus, and now he—with new strength—carries his own bed out.  Luke adds that as he was walking out with his bed, he was “glorifying God” (Luke 5:25).  The joy this man must have felt was incredible.  We’re told what the reaction of the crowd in the house was (they were amazed), but for a moment, instead of looking at that man with his this mattress, instead of looking at the crowd, look up to the hole in the ceiling and imagine the smiles and tears of joy that almost certainly on the four faces that looked in from above.  Their faith had been rewarded, and they no doubt joined in with the others in glorifying God for this wonderful show of mercy.

Insomuch that they were all amazed

Capernaum wasn’t a huge city, so most of the people probably knew (or at the very least, knew of) the paralyzed man.  So there was no denying that this was a miracle.  Even those who weren’t from the area could probably tell just by looking at the man that he had serious medical problems.  They were all amazed, as were Mark’s readers, by what had just taken place.  Paralysis was supposed to be incurable.

They…glorified God

Even though the scribes and Pharisees might not have accepted the consequences of what they just saw (that Jesus is indeed Deity), they could not deny that a powerful miracle had been performed in their presence.  As such, they, along with everyone else there, glorified God.  You might think it strange, but try to remember that there had been no miracles performed for hundreds of years.  It had been over 400 years since the last inspired prophet of God had walked the earth.  It’s not like these people had seen miracles their whole life—this was something completely new to them, and they gave God the glory for having done it and allowing them to see it.

Saying, “We never saw such!”

These people were amazed, glorified God, saying “We’ve never seen anything like this!”  And yet it still wasn’t enough to cause them to repent (Matthew 11:23-24).  The rich man in torment tried to convince Abraham to send Lazarus back, because “if one went to them from the dead, [my brothers] would repent,” but the answer was “If they will not hear Moses and the prophets [that is, the inspired message of God], neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead” (Luke 16:30-31).  For a while, the citizens of Capernaum were excited and entertained by the miracles; and so long as the miracles were being done, they were interested in following Jesus.  But it seems that they ended up wanting more entertainment and less doctrine—and they received the condemnation of Jesus for it.  There’s a lesson in that for us, no doubt.

Application

Don’t Lose Sight of Your Mission

Amidst the hustle and bustle of life’s busy ways, we often get distracted to the point that we forget what we’re here for.  We simply think about the here and now, the things we’ve got to do, what’s for dinner, where we’re going next week, etc.  And we let the cares and troubles of our lives distract us from our mission of teaching the gospel.  We don’t have near the stress that Jesus did—yet He kept His sights on the mission.  We’re told to “look unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who, for the prize that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2).

Preach the Word

Jesus taught with authority, because He preached the Word.  He wasn’t teaching for doctrine the commandments of men, He preached the Word.  I spoke with an old preacher who retired from local work years ago about a congregation he’s familiar with.  He said that he’s never heard anything unsound out of the new preacher they’ve got there, but that those sermons could be preached—word for word—in pretty much any denominational building across the United States.  When Jesus preached the Word, it included preaching repentance (Mark 1:15).  When Jesus preached the Word, it included preaching obedience (Matthew 7:21—Not all the say to me “Lord, Lord,” shall enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but he who does the will of my Father which is in heaven. Luke 6:46 – Why do you call me “Lord, Lord,” and do not the things that I say?).  When Jesus preached the Word, it included preaching the Kingdom of God—the church to which saved people are added (Mark 1:14-15, Acts 2:47, Colossians 1:13).

What Lengths are You Willing to go to?

These four men carried a man on his bed however far it was from his place of residence to Simon and Andrew’s house.  When they realized there was no way of getting in the house normally, they didn’t turn back.  They looked for another way to get him to Jesus.  Whether they scaled the side of the house or climbed up stairs, they still worked hard to get this man there.  Then they tore up the roof and let him down in front of Jesus.  In short, they went through an awful lot of work in the hopes of getting their friend saved from his paralysis.  Jesus took note of their great show of faith.

How much faith do we show in trying to bring others to Jesus?  Do we give up at the first obstacle?  Do we try to find ways of bringing people to Jesus Christ?  How far are you willing to go—what lengths are you willing to go to in order to bring a soul to the saving blood of the Savior?  Let these men and their faith be an example to all of us!

Invitation

Do you really have faith?  Faith in Jesus comes from hearing the message about Him (Romans 10:17), and is an absolute requirement if you want to please God (Hebrews 11:6).  But faith must be alive and working, leading you to repentance while acknowledging Jesus as the Son of God, and causing you to submit to Jesus in faithful obedience through being immersed into His death (Romans 6:1-5).  Faith—true saving faith—will make you want to “walk in the light,” and “be faithful.”  Won’t you come?

-Bradley S. Cobb

Cleansing a Leper

(Note: An apology is in order for my falling behind in posting these sermons from the book of Mark as I had said I would do each Friday.  We’ve been quite busy, and this is one of those things that slipped through the cracks.  I am sorry.)

Text: Mark 1:40-45 – There came a leper to Him, begging Him, and kneeling down to Him, and saying to Him, “If You desire it, You can make me clean.”

And Jesus, moved with compassion, put forth His hand, and touched him, and says to him, “I desire.  Be cleansed.”  And as soon as He had spoken, immediately the leprosy departed from him, and he was cleansed.  And He strictly charged him, and immediately sent him away, and says to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone: but go your way, show yourself to the high priest, and offer for your cleansing those things which Moses commanded, for a testimony to them.”

But he went out and began to proclaim it much, and to spread abroad the incident, insomuch that Jesus could no longer openly enter the city, but was outside in deserted places: and they came to Him from every quarter.

Introduction

The King of kings, Jesus of Nazareth, has come into the territory of Satan, proclaiming freedom from slavery to sin.  He is gathering people to His side, preparing them for when His kingdom comes.  With some, as portrayed by Mark, Jesus called them by His word, “Come after me” (1:17).  With others, Jesus proved His point from the Scriptures (1:21-22).  Still others were taught about His power by seeing Him cast out demons or healing the sick (1:27-28, 32-39).

Maybe Mark’s readers were impressed by the healing of sicknesses.  Maybe they were even somewhat impressed by the casting out of demons (though some of them may have been like some skeptics today who claim that demons weren’t real, but were instead just different diseases or mental illnesses).  But doctors had healed diseases before, and people could fake being possessed by a demon.  So perhaps Mark’s readers are still skeptical.  But the next thing healed by Jesus was supposedly incurable, and no one would dare fake it.

The Text, part 1 – The Leper’s Confession (Mark 1:40)

Jesus had come down from the mountain after giving His “Sermon on the Mount” (Matthew 8:1), and had entered into a city (Luke 5:12) when something happened that would have made most people back up in fear.

There came a leper to Him

So many questions could be asked here.  What was a leper doing in the city?  What was the reaction of the disciples and the multitudes that were with Jesus?

Leprosy was not something to be taken lightly.  The Hebrew word for leprosy means “a smiting,” and was viewed as a punishment from God Himself.  Let me read what has been said about this incurable disease:

This disease “begins with specks on the eyelids and on the palms, gradually spreading over the body, bleaching the hair white wherever they appear, crusting the affected parts with white scales, and causing terrible sores and swellings. From the skin the disease eats inward to the bones, rotting the whole body piecemeal.” “In Christ’s day no leper could live in a walled town, though he might in an open village. But wherever he was, he was required to have his outer garment rent as a sign of deep grief, to go bareheaded, and to cover his beard with his mantle, as if in lamentation at his own virtual death. He had further to warn passers-by to keep away from him, by calling out, ‘Unclean! unclean!’ nor could he speak to any one, or receive or return a salutation, since in the East this involves an embrace.” (Easton’s Bible Dictionary)

Leprosy, beginning with little pain, goes on in its sluggish but sure course, until it mutilates the body, deforms the features, turns the voice into a croak, and makes the patient a hopeless wreck. … An animal poison in the blood ferments … affects the skin … destroying the sensation of the nerves. The tuberculated form is the common one, inflaming the skin, distorting the face and joints, causing the hair of the head or eyebrows to fall off or else turn white, and encrusting the person with ulcerous tubercles with livid patches of surface between. The anesthetic elephantiasis begins in the forehead with shining white patches which burst; bone by bone drops off; the skin is mummy-like; the lips hang down exposing the teeth and gums. Tuberculated patients live (on the average) for only ten years more; anesthetic for 20. (Fausset’s Bible Dictionary)

During Jesus’ day, there were leper colonies all over the place (not just in Palestine).  Mark’s readers might have cringed when they saw the word “leper,” because it was a disease that was horrifying, could be contagious, and one for which there is no cure.

All of that, yet this leper—this man who was most likely reduced to begging just to feed himself and perhaps a family—apparently followed Jesus into the city, and bravely presented himself before Him.  He wasn’t someone who was just starting to show signs of leprosy, either.  Luke says he was “full of leprosy” (Luke 5:12).  That is, this man had the distorted joints, the deformed face, the white hair (quite possibly in patches, the rest of it having fallen out).

Begging Him, and kneeling down to Him

This leper didn’t just come to Jesus and wait for the Lord to notice him and say something.  He came to Jesus, falling down to his knees in front of Him, and begged Him, pleaded with Jesus for mercy and help.  Matthew says that this man “worshiped Him”; Luke says that this man fell on his face before Jesus; and both record that this man called Jesus “Lord” (Matthew 8:1-4, Luke 5:12-16).

It’s not stated in the text, but knowing what leprosy is, and knowing the fear people had of being contaminated by it, you can just picture the multitudes backing up in fear, forming a large circle around Jesus and this man.  The man probably had the bleached-white hair and the torn garments visible as he’s on his knees, face down to the ground, begging Jesus for help.  The people around may have even tried to say to Jesus, “My Lord, quickly, you must move, this man is a leper!”

Saying to Him, “If You will, You can make me clean.”

Mark’s readers, given what they knew about leprosy, might have laughed at this poor leper.  “You poor, ignorant man.  There’s no cure for leprosy!”  But this man had hope.  He had heard about—or maybe even seen—the power that Jesus had exhibited over demons and diseases.  As a result, this man had hope that Jesus could cure even him.  But more than hope, this man had confidence.  He could come to Jesus with, “I’ve got leprosy, is there anything you can do for me?”  He could have asked, “Lord, is there any way you can make my leprosy better?”  But when he came to Jesus, he didn’t ask if it was possible, or if Jesus could help in some small way; he made a declaration: “If You want to, You can make me clean.”

The word “will” or “wilt” (KJV) means to wish for something, to desire something, to want something to take place.  By saying this, the leper confessed his belief in the power of Jesus.  He had full confidence in the ability of Jesus to heal him, and he also knew that he was at the mercy of Jesus—“if You want, You can make me clean.”

This is reminiscent of the Jews on the day of Pentecost.  They didn’t come out and say the words, “I believe Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God,” but they confessed their belief in Him by the words, “What shall we do?” (Acts 2:37).

The Text, part 2 – Jesus’ Compassion (Mark 1:41)

Instead of backing away or rebuking the man for putting the multitude in danger of contracting leprosy, Jesus was “moved with compassion.”

Jesus, moved with compassion…

Mark is displaying the love, the compassion of Jesus with these words.  This great and powerful King, who has overthrown demons and is being followed by huge crowds, doesn’t have the massive ego-trip that kings (like certain Caesars of the day) often do.  He takes the time to look at the man, to listen to the man, and has genuine concern for the man.  The powerful King, Son of the God, whose mission is to bring about His Kingdom and overthrow the powers of darkness, is also a King of compassion who cares about people—not for what He can get out of them, but because He loves them.

It’s worth noting that Mark is the only one who mentions that Jesus was moved with compassion.

Jesus…put forth His hand and touched Him

“Oh no!”  You can just picture the looks on the disciples’ faces when they saw Jesus reach out to touch the leper.  It had been ingrained in their heads for a long time that you stay as far away from lepers as possible—NEVER touch them.  And Mark’s readers probably thought the same thing—“He’s not really going to touch that leper, is He?”

But Jesus did.  Jesus had power over leprosy, and wasn’t afraid.

Jesus…says to him, “I want to.  Be cleansed.”

Imagine someone coming up to you, begging for something that you have within your power to do.  “I need food to feed my family,” or “I’m broken down and need a ride.”  Do you look at them and say, “I don’t want to help you”?  Can you imagine Jesus looking at this man, who is begging for help, and saying, “Nah, I don’t really want to help you”?  Of course not!  When you truly have compassion on someone, you want to help them, and you will help them if it is within your power to do so.

Jesus reaches out and touches the man, and expresses His compassion with the words “I want to [that is, I want to heal you]. Be cleansed.”

The Text, part 3 – The Leper’s Cleansing (Mark 1:42)

Right now, Mark’s readers, who understand that this gospel is supposed to be a true story, are hooked.  Sicknesses and diseases are one thing; but healing leprosy?  That’s something worth noticing.

As soon as He had spoken, immediately the leprosy departed from him and he was cleansed.

Just like with Simon’s mother-in-law, there was no “recovery period,” or “It looks like it’s starting to get better” with this healing.  The healing was instantaneous.  Oh, to have been able to see that.  If the gospels were written today, we’d have put much more detail about how it looked, and the changes that took place on this man.  Did his hair go back to its original color?  His face looking completely different after the touch than it did when he bowed to the ground in front of Jesus?  The scales on his skin—did they fall to the ground or just disappear?  His joints miraculously changed?

Regardless of how it looked, and how the instant transformation took place, the fact remains that the man was healed—completely healed.  The crowd saw it, and the man knew it.  Put yourself in his place, in agony because of the leprosy, an outcast, bowing down at Jesus’ feet, and you feel His touch as He says the words “Be cleansed.”  You look at your hands and see that they are…normal.  You start to stand and realize that your joints—your knees, ankles, elbows, hips—aren’t bulging and deformed anymore.  You are able to stand fully upright for the first time in ages.  Tears almost certainly flowed from this man’s eyes as he looked upon Jesus, the compassionate King.

Now, take a moment to think about the thankfulness that people who are truly in need will have when you show the love of Christ to them and help them in their time of need.

The Text, part 4 – Jesus’ Charge (Mark 1:43-44)

And He strictly charged him, and immediately sent him away,

It’s interesting that Mark uses this word “strictly” to describe how Jesus spoke to the man, because it seems to be in contrast with the compassion shown in the previous verse.  He looked on this leper with compassion, desired to heal him, and then touched him.  But now there’s a difference in attitude; Jesus is being stern with the man.  Why?  Because even though the man had the best of intentions, he had broken the Law of Moses in coming to Jesus in the city.

And the leper in whom the plague is, his clothes shall be rent, and his head bare, and he shall put a covering upon his upper lip, and shall cry, “Unclean, unclean.” All the days wherein the plague shall be in him he shall be defiled; he is unclean: he shall dwell alone; outside the camp shall his habitation be. (Leviticus 13:45-46).

McGarvey put it this way:

The language used indicates that Jesus sternly forbade the man to tell what had been done. The man’s conduct, present and future, shows that he needed severe speech. In his uncontrollable eagerness to be healed he had overstepped his privileges, for he was not legally permitted to thus enter cities and draw near to people (Numbers 5:2-3); he was to keep at a distance from them, and covering his mouth, was to cry, “Tame, tame—unclean, unclean” (Leviticus 13:45-46, Luke 17:12-13). The man evinced a like recklessness in disregarding the command of Jesus.

The rest of what Jesus says to this man shows that the stern talking-to was in regards to his following God’s law.

and said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go your way, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing the things which Moses commanded, for a testimony to them.”

This command of Jesus not to broadcast the miracle has caused some confusion.  After all, didn’t Jesus want people to know who He was?  Wasn’t He performing a lot of miracles?  Why should He tell this man to keep the miracle secret?  Different suggestions have been given, including:

  1. It may have been better for the man not to mention his cure due to potential religious persecution (as in John 9:34). (McGarvey)
  2. The Lord was trying to suppress excitement, and prevent the crowds that gathered around Him from being too large, hindering His work (which is what ended up happening in verse 45). (McGarvey)
  3. “For the miracle to be properly attested, it was necessary that the appropriate gifts should be offered under Moses’ commandment, and that the priests should certify it. Until this was accomplished, the man should hold his peace; lest, if a rumor of these things went before him, the priests at Jerusalem, out of envy, out of a desire to depreciate what the Lord had done, might deny that the man had ever been a leper, or else that he was now truly cleansed” (Burton Coffman).

While each of these are reasonable, and carry with it some truth, it seems that the most logical explanation—especially given the stern and strict way that Jesus delivered the order to the man—is that He was telling this man to follow the Law of God, as opposed to breaking it like he had done moments earlier.  In other words, in doing this, it’s Jesus saying to the leper, “Repent and sin no more.”

From this, we need to understand that just because Jesus is a compassionate King, that doesn’t mean He’s a King who allows His subjects to ignore the law.  Jesus sternly charged this man to do what the Law required.  Compassion—that is, the mercy of Jesus does not eliminate obedience.

The Text, part 5 – The Leper’s Cheerfulness (Mark 1:45)

But he went out and began to publish it much, and to blaze abroad the matter.

It’s been said of this leper that:

[He] was so elated that he could scarcely refrain from publishing his cure, and he must also have thought that this was what Jesus really wanted—that in commanding him not to publish it he did not mean what he said (McGarvey, Fourfold Gospel).

Instead of doing what Jesus sternly commanded him to do, this leper told everyone he could find (hopefully on his way to Jerusalem to at least obey the second part of the command).  His words spread like a wildfire—which on one hand shows just how grateful this man was to be cleansed, but on the other hand showed a blatant disregard for the commands of Jesus.

As a result…

Jesus could no more openly enter the city, but was outside in deserted places: and they came to Him from every quarter.

You might think, “That’s great; more people are flocking to this new King!”  But that is completely opposed to Jesus’ mission and methods.  Up to this point, He spread His message in the synagogues, proclaiming the Kingdom of God, and showing the truth of it from Scriptures.  Now, however, He couldn’t go into the city without a mob of people around Him.  Forget a peaceful, contemplative audience in the synagogue; Jesus was being mobbed by people—most of them either wanting some kind of healing or wanting to see what He would do next.  The disobedience of the leper hindered the cause of Christ, turning Him into a spectacle.

The excitement cause by such an entry was injurious in several ways: 1. It gave such an emphasis to the miracles of Jesus as to make them overshadow his teaching. 2. It threatened to arouse the jealousy of the government. 3. It rendered the people incapable of calm thought. … Disobedience, no matter how well-meaning, always hinders the work of Christ (McGarvey)

The people who came to Him from “every quarter” included scribes and Pharisees from Judea and Jerusalem, according to Luke’s account.  It is as a result of the leper’s disobedience that the religious leaders in Jerusalem took special notice of the works of Jesus, and that’s when the antagonism towards the King began—because someone disobeyed.

Application

Jesus was a Man of Compassion—We Must be as Well.

It was a heart-rending scene for Jesus when He saw the poor leper fall down at His feet, begging to be healed.  Jesus knew He had the power, the ability to help this man in his struggles, and so He helped.  Reaching out and touching this outcast of society, Jesus helped him.  And Mark tells us in no uncertain terms that it was because Jesus had compassion on him.  Jesus reached out to the outcasts, the overlooked, the scorned, and He did it with compassion.

It might be interesting to see the results if we did an anonymous polling of everyone we know, asking if they would describe us as “compassionate.”  How would they answer if that question was asked about you?  Do you show compassion on those who are in need?  Or do you deem them not worthy of your time?  It doesn’t have to be something massively huge like leprosy; it could be as simple as a kind word or a meal.  Jesus let people know He cared.  We should be the same way.

Compassion does not Eliminate Obedience.

The leper came to Jesus in anguish and pain, in submission and with faith, a man in need of healing.  After receiving mercy from Jesus, though, the man was expected to obey the law of God.  It’s like Jesus was saying, “I’m healing you because I have mercy on you, even though you were disobeying the Law of God.  But now that I’ve healed you, it’s time for you to show your appreciation by being obedient.”  So many people preach the grace of God and resolutely deny—even ridicule the very idea—that obedience is necessary.  “That’s salvation by works!” they cry.  My friends, God’s grace and mercy are amazing things, but they only come to those who are willing to obey Him.  Matthew 7:21 – not all that say to Me “Lord, Lord” shall enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but he who does the will of My Father which is in heaven.”  Or Hebrews 5:9 – Jesus Christ is the author of eternal salvation to all those who obey Him.”  Christians—those who have received the mercy and compassion of Jesus Christ to cleanse them from sin—are told “faith without works is dead” (James 2).

Disobedience Hinders the Cause of Christ.

Because the former leper disobeyed, Jesus was unable to do His work the way He had planned.  Surely the leper didn’t mean to cause problems and didn’t have ill-motives when he happily told others about his healing.  However, his disobedience ended up making the work of the Lord more difficult, and led to His enemies—the scribes and Pharisees—coming to watch Him; and thus began the antagonistic relationship they had with our Lord.  The same thing can happen to us, when we disobey God today, even without ill intentions, we can do harm to the cause of Christ.  One weekday afternoon, as we were driving down the interstate, we were passed by a car going at least 80 mph, and on the back of their car, it was advertised “Follow me to the ______ church of Christ.”  An honest-hearted person who was looking for a church would quite possibly have said, “Well, we won’t be going there” because they obviously have no respect for the law.

People watch you, and how you act reflects on the church and therefore on Jesus as well.

Leprosy is like Sin.

  • Like leprosy, sin has a small beginning, but then it spreads over the entire man.
  • Its cure is beyond the reach of human skill or natural remedies.
  • It is painful, loathsome, degrading, and fatal.
  • It separates its victim from the pure and drives him into association with the impure.
  • It is a foe to religious privileges.
  • It can be remedied by God. (anonymous)

Invitation

Sin, like leprosy, is a curse.  But unlike leprosy, there is a cure for sin which is available for all people, if they would simply come to Jesus, the compassionate King, who came to this earth and lived a life among sinful, fallen humanity.  In His compassion and love, He showed us how to live, pointed the way to the Father, and died so that we could be cleansed from our sins.

All He asks of you is that you believe in Him, repent of your sinful life, acknowledge Him as the Savior, and be baptized into His death so that you may rise to walk in newness of life.  If we to make the parallel with the story of the leper, it’s come to Jesus in humble submissiveness, bowing down at His feet through obedience to His command to be baptized.  It’s at that point that Jesus touches us and makes us whole, free from sin.  Afterwards, Jesus expects us to follow God’s law, or to put it another way, “walk in the light” or “be faithful.”

Won’t you come and accept the compassionate Savior today?

 

Healing, Casting, and Praying

Sermon 5: Healing, Casting, and Praying

Text: Mark 1:29-39 – And immediately, when they had come out of the synagogue, they entered into the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John.  But Simon’s wife’s mother lay sick with a fever, and immediately they tell Him about her.  And He came and took her by the hand, and lifted her up; and immediately the fever left her, and she ministered to them.

And at evening, when the sun set, they brought to Him all that were diseased, and them that were possessed with demons.  And all the city was gathered together at the door.  And He healed many that were sick of various diseases, and cast out many demons; and did not permit the demons to speak, because they knew Him.

And in the morning, rising up a great while before day, He went out and departed into a solitary place, and there [He] prayed.

And Simon and they that were with Him followed after Him.  And when they had found Him, they said to Him, “All are seeking for You.”  And He said to them, “Let’s go into the next towns, that I may preach there also: for into this [work] I have come.”

And He preached in their synagogues throughout all Galilee, and cast out demons.

Introduction

Mark spends a good deal of time in the first part of his gospel account showing that Jesus is powerful and has authority.  He’s shown Jesus’ authority over His disciples, His authority in religion, and His authority over a single demon.  Mark’s original readers might have been thinking, “What does this matter to me?  After all, we’re not Jews, nor are we Jesus’ disciples, nor are we possessed by a demon.”  They might have even thought that Jesus’ victory over a single demon was alright, but it wasn’t as though He had to face a bunch of them.  But what comes next would overrule these objections.

The Text, part 1 – Authority over a Fever (Mark 1:29-31)

(29) Immediately, when they had come out of the synagogue, they entered into the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John.

It is the Sabbath day, and Jesus, having exhibited His power over the kingdom of darkness, has planned to spend the rest of the day in the company of His four new disciples.  Simon and Andrew lived in the same house, not far from the synagogue (a Sabbath-Day’s Journey was around a half-mile), and invited Jesus (as well as James and John) to come there.  This is a show of hospitality and friendship that is severely lacking in the lives of many Christians and congregations.

(30a) But Simon’s wife’s mother lay sick with a fever

Mark doesn’t give some of the details that Matthew and Luke do (they weren’t necessary to bring up for his readers).  But Matthew literally says she was “cast [or thrown] down with a fever,” meaning that it isn’t just that she’s laying down on her bed asleep while running a temperature (Matthew 8:14).  The fever has made her bed-ridden.  Luke says she was held by a “great fever” (Luke 4:38), which means it was a high temperature, and the fever wasn’t breaking.  But again, Mark doesn’t give these details, and if you look at the progression of healings going into chapter two, you’ll see why.

(30b) and immediately they tell Him [Jesus] about her.

Some people have scoffed at this part, saying, “Why didn’t they go tell a doctor?”  That’s an easy thing to say when we aren’t given details such as: how long had she had the fever?  Was it days?  Did it just hit her that morning while Simon and Andrew were at the synagogue?  And who’s to say that, if it had been a few days, they hadn’t called a doctor?  All of those questions and the objection are irrelevant to the discussion at hand.  The fact is, Simon’s mother-in-law was sick with a fever at this point, and they came and told Jesus.

But why would they tell Jesus about it?  Because Jesus had just shown amazing miraculous power in casting out a demon—certainly it’s worth a shot to bring it to His attention.  We can better understand their confidence in telling Jesus about this when we remember that they’d already traveled some with Jesus and seen other miracles (John 1-4).

But the lesson we can learn from this is that when you’ve got problems, sickness, or anything else that you need help with, you go to the one with the power.  Take your requests to God who has the power to answer them.

(31a) And He came and took her by the hand, and lifted her up; and immediately the fever left her.

Jesus showed compassion on her, and also showed His power over sickness.  There was no long, drawn-out recovery period.  There wasn’t a “I think the fever is going down” period where they could all start to rest easily because she was starting to get well.  It was immediately gone.  Jesus took her by the hand, and poof!  The fever was completely removed—as though it had never been there in the first place.

(31b) and she ministered to them.

Simon’s mother-in-law had been tired, and the great fever would have normally left her quite exhausted and unable to do much as she was getting better.  But when Jesus healed her, she was well, whole, and felt like working.  She got up and began to serve them.  Most likely, this included preparing food, perhaps even washing their feet.  Meanwhile, you can imagine the awe in the eyes of Simon’s wife, and of the disciples, at this instantaneous healing.

The Text, part 2 – Authority over Diseases and Demons (Mark 1:32-34)

Lest one of Mark’s readers should shrug and say, “It’s only a fever, no big deal,” Mark shows Jesus taking on—and showing power over—progressively bigger illnesses.

(32-33) At evening, when the sun set, they brought to Him all that were diseased, and them that were possessed with demons.  And all the city was gathered at the door.

These people had seen (or heard from those who had seen) Jesus casting out a demon in the synagogue on the Sabbath.  Immediately, then, they went back to their houses and told their families and their friends about what wonderful things God had done through Jesus of Nazareth.  They couldn’t wait to spread the word and share their wonder and amazement with others.

Jesus, the King, who has come to announce that His Kingdom is near, now has an evangelistic army to help Him in Capernaum.  He’s still doing His work, but these people are making it a lot easier for His message to be spread.

So, at nightfall, when the Sabbath is concluded, Jesus is in Simon and Andrew’s house, conversing with them and James and John, when crowds gather around the house, standing by the door, all coming to Him for help.  They, being good Jews, waited until the Sabbath was over before doing what some might consider “work” by bringing their sick to Jesus and possibly walking more than the half-mile that constituted a “Sabbath Day’s journey.”

The ones brought to Jesus were suffering from diseases, that is, they were badly sick (the Greek word means “bad” or “miserable” or even sometimes “evil.”  The sicknesses under consideration were not minor things—people weren’t bringing their kids to Jesus saying, “Heal his runny nose.”  These were significant illnesses, usually long-term medical problems.

(34a) And He healed many that were sick of various diseases.

Mark is answering the potential challenge from his readers by progressing from Jesus healing a fever to healing multiple people of serious significant illnesses.  And lest the readers think that Jesus’ victory over a demon was a fluke, here come even more of Satan’s minions to face Him.

(34b) He…cast out many demons.

Several knights of the Kingdom of Darkness were brought to Jesus.  They had taken over people’s lives, tormenting them, hurting them.  As we’ll see later in the book of Mark, it appears that being demon-possessed was such a horrible experience that some people tried to kill themselves to escape it.  But the King, Jesus, was coming to set them free, to overthrow the powers of darkness.  It didn’t matter if it was one demon-possessed man or a whole crowd of them; Jesus stood unafraid and ready to take them all on.

Before we move on from this point, it would probably be a good time to point out that demon-possession was a first-century phenomenon, and that it does not still take place today.  Zechariah 13:2 says:

“It shall come to pass in that day,” says Jehovah of Hosts, “that I will cut off the names of the idols out of the land, and they shall no more be remembered; and also I will cause the prophets and the unclean spirit to pass out of the land.”

If you look at the context, you will discover when “that day” which Jehovah mentions took place.  The verse immediately before it says:

In that day there shall be a fountain opened to the house of David and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem for sin and uncleanness.

Go back five verses from there (Zechariah 12:10-11a) and we see what this “day” (it’s actually a period of time, like we say “back in my day…”) means.

I will pour out on the house of David, and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall look upon Me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for Him, as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn.  In that day, there shall be a great mourning in Jerusalem…

So, in the context of the death of Jesus and the time in which forgiveness of sins would be offered to the Jews, Jehovah would cause the evil spirit (demons) to pass from the land.  If we were to keep reading in Zechariah, we would see, just eight verses after that statement by Jehovah, these words:

Behold, the day of Jehovah comes, and your spoil shall be divided in the midst of you.  For I will gather all nations against Jerusalem to battle; and the city shall be taken, and the houses rifled, and the women ravished; and half of the city shall go forth into captivity, and the residue of the people shall not be cut off from the city (Zechariah 14:1-2).

Sometime between the death of Jesus on the cross and the time in which God brought the nations to destroy Jerusalem (AD 70), demonic activity would cease.  But when Mark was writing, demons were still active, so his readers were at least familiar with the concept.

(34c) He…did not permit them to speak, because they knew Him.

Like we discussed in the last lesson, Jesus didn’t want the demons to speak because it wasn’t time for Him to be revealed as the Son of God, nor did He want the testimony of demons—which would have been counter-productive.

The Text, part 3 – Praying and Jesus’ Purpose (Mark 1:35-39)

If you were to ask someone “Why did Jesus come to earth?” you’re likely to get a lot of different responses.  One answer, though, that you probably won’t get is what Jesus Himself said in this next passage.

(35) And in the morning, rising up a great while before day, He went out, and departed into a solitary place, and there He prayed.

After a busy night of healing the sick, and casting out demons, Jesus most certainly would have been tired.  However, early in the morning, a great while before the sun rose, Jesus got up and left Simon and Andrew’s house so He could go somewhere to be alone and pray.  To Mark’s readers, this shows the King is not doing this work for the attention—He needs time to Himself to spend in prayer.

This goes along with what Jesus said in Matthew 6:6 – But you, when you pray, enter into your closet, and when you have shut the door, pray to your Father which is in secret; and your Father which sees in secret shall reward your openly.  In other words, there is benefit to be had from (1) praying, and (2) doing it in a place where you’re alone with God.

Jesus—God Himself in the flesh—thought it was important to find a time when He could be alone to pray.  I’m convinced that prayer is one of the most under-utilized blessings that Christians have!  If prayer was important to our Savior, shouldn’t prayer be important to us as well?

(36-37) Simon and they that were with him searched for Him. And when they had found Him, they said to Him, “All are seeking for You.”

It seems as though Jesus left the house without waking anyone, but when morning came, the people all returned to Simon’s house, wanting to find Jesus.  Were they bringing more people to be healed?  Or was it (if we want to give them the highest possible motives) that they wanted to know more about the Kingdom of God, and to hear what this messenger of heaven had to tell them?  The text doesn’t say.  What we do know is that the people were anxious to spend more time with Jesus.

The King’s mission in spreading the word about the imminent arrival of His Kingdom is working.  Instead of it being exclusively Him finding people to tell about the Kingdom, now people are trying to find Him, presumably with an open mind to what He has to say.

(38) He said to them, “Let’s go into the next towns, so that I may preach there also: for into this [work] have I come.”

The King’s mission in traveling around was not to heal the sick—it was to prepare people for the coming of His Kingdom.  His mission wasn’t to cast out demons—it was to prepare people for the coming of His Kingdom.  Make no mistake, healing the sick and casting out demons helped to convince people of His message, but those things were not the purpose of His mission.

Instead, Jesus Himself said plainly that He needed to go elsewhere and preach [the gospel of the Kingdom of God], because it is “therefore” [literally “into this”] that He had come.  We can take a cue from our Lord here, realizing that helping others is a good thing, but it is not the purpose of our mission here on earth.  Our purpose is to bring people to the King, Jesus the Christ; aiding others in their misfortunes is something we can do that can help to accomplish that goal.  Never lose sight of the ultimate goal—bringing people to the Kingdom of God.

(39) He preached in their synagogues throughout all Galilee, and cast out demons.

With this short sentence, Mark shows his readers that the King continued His work proclaiming the overthrow of the Kingdom of Darkness and defeating some of Satan’s minions along the way to prove His point.  It’s such a short sentence, but don’t for a moment think that means it is insignificant.  The people met in the synagogues on the Sabbath, once a week, and so this one sentence takes up potentially months of Jesus’ life.  What would you give to be able to have seen Jesus in action?  To be able to spend just one day with Him in person?  To see Him cast out demons?  Many people got to see it, and it is all condensed into the sentence, “He preached in their synagogues throughout all Galilee, and cast out demons.”

Application

Spend Time with Your Brethren Outside the Worship Assembly.

Jesus didn’t limit His interaction with God’s faithful children to the weekly assembly.  Simon and Andrew didn’t either, nor did James and John.  Instead, they spent time together outside of the worship building.  They went into each other’s homes, ate together, spent time together.  The early church did the same thing, “continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and eating their bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and singleness of heart” (Acts 2:46).

The church grows stronger when it spends more time together.

Peter was Never a Pope!

I’m sure you noticed it in the text: Peter was married!  Mark 1:30 (and it’s mentioned in Matthew 8 and Luke 4 as well) says Peter’s wife’s mother.  The Catholic Church makes the claim that Peter was the first pope, and that no priest, or Bishop, or Archbishop, or Cardinal, or Pope can be married.  In truth, the doctrine that the “clergy” (priests, bishops, etc…) can’t be married came about hundreds of years after Peter was dead and gone.  The doctrine was made official Catholic Church policy, and they acted as though it had always been the case, thus saying Peter wasn’t married either.  This is one of those verses that many Catholics haven’t ever heard of.

When You’re Able to Serve Others, Do It!

Look at Peter’s mother-in-law.  She’s been sick with a horrible fever that has made her unable to get up and do anything.  She’s weak and tired.  Then comes Jesus who heals her—and her healing is absolutely 100% instantaneous and complete.  Now, everyone in the room would probably have had no problem if she had spent the rest of the day sitting and resting after the ordeal she’d been through.  But she was able to work, so she got to work.  The lesson we can take from her example is that if we are able to serve others, we should be serving others.  Whether that’s your family, your employer, your church family, your friends, or whoever, we need to spend time in service to others.

Don’t Enslave Yourself to Sin!

Citizens of the Kingdom of Darkness are really nothing more than slaves, being controlled by sin.  Demons were controlling some of these people, and that’s horribly sad, but being controlled by sin is even sadder, because you’ve chosen your enslavement.  Jesus calls you to freedom from sin, and He’s cleared the path to make it easy for you.

Invitation

Jesus cleared the way to lead you to freedom through His death on the cross, His burial, and His resurrection from the dead.  All you have to do is take that path.

Know ye not that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into His death?  Therefore we are buried with Him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.  For if we have been planted together in the likeness of His death, we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection: Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that from here forward we should not serve sin.  For he that is dead is freed from sin (Romans 6:3-7).

God be thanked that you were the servants of sin, but you have obeyed from the heard that form of doctrine that was delivered to you.  Being then made free from sin, you became the servants of righteousness (Romans 6:17-18).

Be set free from the powers of sin by accepting Jesus Christ as the Son of God, making the choice to follow His path, acknowledging Him as the Savior, and being buried with Him in baptism so that you can be made free from sin.

Jesus the King pleads with you, and so do we.

-Bradley S. Cobb