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“Accessibility, Authority, Audacity”

Feb.12/12 Mk.2:1-12


Authority can be intimidating. It can be nerve-wracking when you get pulled over by the police, for example, because they have authority to fine you, impound your vehicle, or arrest you. But in at least one instance, even such an authority as this had to ask for help.
    A Michigan state trooper pulled over a speeder one cold evening in January, and after getting the driver's license from him, went back to his vehicle to write the ticket, which amounted to more than one hundred dollars. After he finished and was leaving his car to give the ticket to the driver, the trooper absent-mindedly pushed the lock down and shut the door. Suddenly he realized that he was on the side of the highway in subfreezing weather and was locked out of his car. So the trooper did the only thing he could. He walked up to the driver and said, “Here's your ticket.This is your court date.You need to slow down. And could I please have a ride to the Patrol Station?”
    There are signs that our culture has a problem with authority. A couple of weeks ago, vandals defaced several buildings in Brussels; our local newspaper reported that “the anarchy symbol, a capital ‘A’ with a circle around it, could be found at three of the locations...” Anarchists rebel against the established order, the authorities in place that give stability and effective process to society.
    The so-called ‘Arab spring’ which has revolutionized government in several countries would be another example of citizens rising up against authority – in this case, entrenched and sometimes brutal dictatorships.
    How has this suspicion and resistance to authority come about? The classic empires - Egyptian dynasties, Greek and Roman Empires - gave way to the medieval feudal system. Everyone between serfs and nobility knew where they ‘ranked’ on the scale. Then came the Enlightenment; Descartes and successive philosophers questioned assumptions that would have inherently vested royalty with divine right to rule. The French Revolution championed ‘liberte, egalite, fraternite’ - and blue-blooded heads rolled. The American Revolution seemed to succeed in establishing a ‘classless’ democracy. But even the mighty American superpower depends upon certain ordering of authority that it requires to function. Lately the “Occupy” movement has questioned the rights of the top “1%” to possess and control so much. The protesters challenge property rights.
    Even in the home, this suspicion of authority and secret predisposition to rebelliousness has brought pain and dysfunction. In the excellent movie “Courageous”, four fathers recognize the need for them to assert their authority as dads and provide leadership for their family in a loving way - a way that strengthens rather than throttles their family.
    In today’s passage from Mark’s Gospel, we see Jesus asserting His authority in a way that liberates the helpless, and challenges opposing forces. His authority is rooted in something far more profound than just breeding or riches or tradition.


As we begin Mark 2, we find Jesus in Capernaum, having ‘come home’ as v1 puts it - probably to the house of Peter and Andrew. There, when people hear that He’s back, He gets swamped! V2, “So many gathered that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them.” Now let’s press ‘pause’ right there. People are crowding around, filling the house and spilling out into the street, jamming up the road; and Jesus “preached the word to them.” What’s it mean to our author Mark that He ‘preached the word’? And what were the people flocking around hoping to hear? Was their attitude, “Ho hum, here comes just another sermon!”?
    What’s YOUR attitude as you gather here today? Are you eagerly expectant that God’s going to show you something new and exciting, something that will shape your life, challenge your prejudices, help you think more along the lines of His Kingdom and eternal truth?
    Back to what’s in Mark’s mind – unlike the other synoptic gospel-writers Matthew and Luke, Mark doesn’t have long passages specifically of Jesus’ teaching prominent in his account. No “Sermon on the Mount” or Beatitudes or even a ‘special section’ of extended teaching parables (cf Luke 12-19). Mark’s more interested in telling an action-packed account of the events of Jesus’ life, His amazing miracles and His surprising crucifixion. We’ll have to wait until chapter 8, halfway through, before we hit the kernel of Jesus’ teaching: 8:31 after Peter’s confession of Him as the Christ, “He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things...” So from chapters 2 through 7 Mark builds this momentum, this wondering, what actually IS Jesus preaching when He ‘preaches the word’? And, on what basis is He preaching, what’s backing what He says? Is it just ‘because I say so’ (as our parents at times underlined their authority)?


While Jesus is busy letting these golden gems drop from His lips – whatever they are – He gets interrupted. The audacity of some people! Who would dare to interrupt such a famous rabbi in the middle of His sermon?! But bits of plaster and mud and branches are falling from the ceiling just in front of Jesus. (You can imagine people already crowded underneath squeezing and scrambling to get out of the way of the falling debris!) Then, through the patch of blue sky visible between the rough beams in the modest Palestinian cottage, you can see a pallet being lowered rather jerkily. It’s tied to four ropes: four friends of a paralyzed man are being lowered to the floor right in front of Jesus.
    V4, “They could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd” – they had a definite accessibility problem. But did they let that stop them? They must have really cared about their friend. Perhaps he was in a desperate state – perhaps his condition was terminal, and getting to this fantastic miracle-worker was his last chance. The paralytic’s friends showed DESPERATE FAITH. They weren’t dissuaded by the crowd. They were creative. They thought ‘outside the box’ – I admire these guys! Their motto was, “When God shuts one door, He opens – a hole in the roof!” So they climbed up the outside stairs - a tricky job when you’ve got a sick person on a stretcher. They poked and shoved and scrabbled and clawed their way through the hard rolled and dried mud, down through the lath, until they could see a way to get their need before the Master’s feet. Then they carefully lowered their friend - again, takes some co-ordination: wouldn’t do to tip him off! - they carefully lowered him down to the floor by Jesus.
    This man was literally ‘at the end of his rope’ - actually, four of them. What about you? When you have a need, are desperate to take it to Jesus, as these men were? Are you easily dissuaded when it seems your prayers ‘hit the ceiling’? Keep praying, keep tearing away at the roof – such desperate faith attracts God’s notice. V5 “Jesus saw their FAITH...”


They were in for a surprise. V5 continues, “When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, "Son, your sins are forgiven."” What?! How is that relevant? I can just imagine the 4 friends saying to themselves, “But that’s NOT what we brought him here for! Can’t you see he’s physically sick, paralyzed? If we’d wanted forgiveness, we would’ve taken him to the Temple, or at least a priest!”
    Be patient, lads; Jesus has a reason for His approach. On the one hand, it could be that moral matters were at the root of the man’s deteriorating condition. Robinson comments, “The sins had probably caused the paralysis.” Interesting how views have fluctuated on this over the centuries. In Jesus’ time, Jewish people often suspected people’s physical ailments were linked to actual sin; see John 9(1f) where, when the disciples are passing a man who is blind from birth, they just automatically ask, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Then in modernity, the last couple of centuries, science has made such progress in describing natural factors contributing to sickness that doctors pooh-poohed moral factors as possible causes. Now, with postmodernism, psychology, and scientists’ understanding of the complex relationships between hormones, the immune system, and total wellness, personal factors like stress and bitterness and jealousy and guilt are again being taken seriously as root factors that can’t just be ‘medicated’ away.
    Could the man’s paralysis be related to sin? I saw a young man in hospital recently whose left arm was immovable due to a snowmobile accident that shattered his helmet against a tree and left him unconscious throughout the night, extremities dangerously exposed to frostbite. Is there a slight chance sin could have been a contributing factor? Or, take Joni Eareckson Tada, famous Christian singer, artist, and author, whose diving accident left her a paraplegic when she jumped in and struck a rock. Could there not be an element of human responsibility at stake there? Was the man on the pallet bound-up in a cycle of blaming himself for his condition?
    On the other hand, Jesus likely had a wider audience in view: He saw a way to use this healing as a ‘teachable moment.’ He wanted to show people He was much more than just another miracle-worker (after all, Pharaoh’s magicians had been able to duplicate some of the wondrous signs Moses performed at the time of the Exodus). He wanted to draw back the curtain a bit more on His real identity.
    And He’s chosen the right audience. Vv6-7, “Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, "Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?"” Jesus’ words literally ‘sending away’ the man’s sins were shocking to these religious professionals. You see, as the NIV Stucy Bible notes, “In Jewish theology even the Messiah could not forgive sins...” For Jesus to have the audacity to talk as if HE HIMSELF had the authority or right or power to forgive sins was to claim a power (they thought) only GOD had. The gloves were off! Jesus’ simple words rattled the tower of their religious assumptions with the force of a hurricane. In their books, this classes as outright ‘blasphemy’ - what the lexicon describes as “impious and reproachful speech injurious to the divine majesty.” To these religious pro’s, Jesus’ statement was an affront to Holy God, and worthy of death. In fact 14:64 lists blasphemy as the charge that clinches the case in the Sanhedrin’s mind as to whether Jesus deserves the death penalty.
    So, Jesus is playing with high stakes here. Except the ‘ace up His sleeve’ is that in HIS case it’s NOT blasphemy – it’s the truth, because He really IS God. And He can prove it! V8, “Immediately Jesus knew in His spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and He said to them, ‘Why are you thinking these things?’” His next words go on to show He knew exactly what they were thinking.
    Don’t overlook this miraculous capacity of Jesus. Yes, in a minute He’s going to perform a physical healing, but in some ways this miracle of KNOWING PEOPLE’S THOUGHTS is even more impressive! “Who is this guy, a mind-reader?!” Yes; see Jesus’ insight into Nathaniel before He even met him, John 1:48; and the disciple John’s comment in Jn 2:24f, “But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all men. He did not need man’s testimony about man, for he knew what was in a man.” Peter boasting about following Jesus more than the others, and Jesus’ prediction about Peter’s denial, would be another example (Mk 14:29ff). Healing a paralytic is wonderful; but being able to read people’s thoughts – that’s absolutely EERY! There’s more than one miracle in this passage, don’t skip over it too quickly.
    V9, Jesus continues - “Which is easier: to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’?” One is about as easy as the other to SAY; but both are equally impossible for any mere human to DO. So Jesus sets the stage to demonstrate that He is no ordinary human – quite a different bird altogether from the religious vigilantes thinking dark thoughts in His direction. He’s about to show that He can do BOTH.
    V10, “But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins….” This is Jesus’ whole point – that they may know, that they may come to understand who He really is, His awesome power, His authority or right or ability to forgive sins - with its implications far greater than just an ability to heal. Miracles are not an ‘end in themselves’, they’re pointers to the larger truth of God’s omnipotence encapsuled in Jesus.
    At the core of our religious journey, our spiritual pilgrimage, is this issue of coming to grips with Christ’s authority. Am I willing to let God be God? Do I grasp how awesome and fearsome and to be revered is the Creator of the universe? Will I bow before Jesus the Son, whom the Father sent to be Saviour of the world? Can I trust Him enough to submit to His Lordship, whatever befalls me? Can I say with Job, “Though He slay me, yet will I hope in Him?” (Job 13:15) Can I release all that bitterness and complaining and resentment from not getting everything I ever wanted in life? In spite of all that’s ever disappointed me, can I acknowledge God has a right to do with me as He pleases, and I can trust Him to work it all out for good? Can I let Him ‘author’ and complete my life and faith, be my ultimate authority? (Heb 12:2)


Robinson comments, “Knowing full well that He had exercised the prerogative of God in forgiving the man’s sins, He proceeds to justify His claim by healing the man.” The proof is in the pudding. Having set up His teaching point, Jesus brings the lesson home. Vv10b-12, “He said to the paralytic, "I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home." He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, "We have never seen anything like this!"”
    Note the close parallel between word and work in vv11-12: “Get up, take your mat, and go home” // “He got up, took his mat, and walked out in full view of them all.” Jesus speaks - it happens. Perhaps an echo of the Lord Yahweh, God of being, who merely spoke the universe into existence. This wonderful sign leaves people amazed.
    So Jesus proves undebatably to His critics that, as He puts it, “the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” By the way I like the subtle way his referring to Himself in the third person (‘the Son of Man’) is both humble AND dodges a charge of having made a direct first-person claim to deity. It’s ‘a claim to be the Messiah in terms that could not be easily attacked.’
    The Good News is that supreme authority rests in One who calls Himself “the Son of Man” – such a humble way for the unique incarnate God-Man to refer to Himself. His power is harnessed to benefit you. Though He had the power to heal and restore the paralyzed to full functionality, your Redeemer submitted His greatness to your most desperate need - the forgiveness of your sins. So He went to the cross to pay your penalty. He doesn’t abuse His authority: He uses it to strengthen you.


The captain on the bridge of a large naval vessel saw a light ahead on a collision course. He signaled, “Alter your course ten degrees south.” The reply came back, “Alter your course ten degrees north.”
    The captain then signaled, “Alter your course ten degrees south. I am a captain.” The reply: “Alter your course 10 degrees north. I am a seaman third-class.”
    The furious captain signaled, “Alter your course ten degrees south. I am a battleship.” The reply: “Alter your course ten degrees north. I am a lighthouse.”
    Are we prepared to adjust OUR course to a higher authority? Let’s pray.