No Ordinary Preacher
I want to make you aware of a danger we face when listening to a sermon from the Gospels. The danger is familiarity. We have heard these accounts before. We have covered this ground numerous times. Yet, we would be wise to ask: If the life and ministry of Jesus is so familiar, why do so many Christians hold differing views about who Jesus was and what He came to do?
The reason many of us differ in our understanding of Jesus, I suspect, is because our knowledge of Jesus has come from many sources. Our knowledge of Jesus has been shaped by our Sunday school days, it has been shaped by television, by art, and by the books we have read, it has been shaped by our family's understanding of Jesus, and it has been shaped by how our religious leaders have understood Jesus. Our knowledge of Jesus has come from many sources, but only One source is completely reliable: the Bible.
Something happened to me in the drive back from Florida that made me think about how prone we are to regarding, as truth, information from unreliable sources. As I was driving along I-95 in north Florida I pointed out to Allie, "Look at that beautiful bird!". Allie responded to me saying, "Good eye Bryn. That is a wood stork." And I said, "So that is like a regular stork, but with black trim." At that point Allie gave me a strange look, "What do you mean by 'regular stork'?", she asked. I then thought about what my frame of reference for a stork was. I wondered what I had seen that had made me think that a regular stork was plain white. Then it hit me, and I sheepishly replied to Allie that in all the Bugs Bunny cartoons, the stork is white.
This may be a funny example, but this is how many of us understand Jesus. Many people hold sincere beliefs about Jesus that have no basis in Scripture. My prayer is that as we examine the inspired work of the Gospel of Mark for the next few months, we will allow our erroneous views about Jesus to be stripped away.
We begin this sermon series in chapter 2, but let us first look to chapter 1 to give us our context. After being tempted by the devil in the wilderness, we read that Jesus began His ministry preaching. In chapter 1, verses 14 and 15, we read that "Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, saying, 'The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe the gospel.'"
A little further on, in verse 21, we read "and they went into Capernaum; and immediately on the Sabbath (Jesus) entered the synagogue and began to teach." And then, after casting out an unclean spirit(1:25, 26), after healing Peter's mother-in-law(1:31), and after healing many with diseases and demons(1:33), Jesus instructed His disciples in verse 38, "Let us go somewhere else to the towns nearby, in order that I may preach there also; for that is what I came out for."
We can clearly see then, that the primary task of Jesus earthly ministry was to preach a particular message. The point of Jesus' earthly ministry was not to be the local exorcist. The point of Jesus' ministry was not to be the travelling healer. The point of Jesus' ministry was not to win Galilee's 'Nice Guy of the Year Award'. The earthly ministry of Jesus was, first and foremost, a teaching ministry.
Yet, not wanting you to think Jesus was merely a good teacher, I titled this sermon, 'No Ordinary Preacher'. And He wasn't ordinary. Because, as we will soon see, Jesus not only delivers the message--He incarnates the message. Jesus is both the herald and the subject of the message. But let's not get too far ahead of ourselves. Let's take a look back to the content of Jesus' first recorded public statement in chapter 1, verse 15, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe the gospel."
What does Jesus mean when He says, "believe the gospel"? We understand "the gospel" to mean that Jesus, the Son of God, lived a perfect life, died in our place taking our punishment, and rose again from the dead. And all who repent of their sin, and all who trust in Christ for salvation, are forgiven their sins.
However, in Mark 1:15, when Jesus says "believe the gospel", His audience would not have understood "the gospel" in the way I just described to you. The Greek word for "gospel" simply means "good news". At that stage of Jesus' ministry, the good news was simply the dawning of God's kingdom. The gospel message Jesus is delivering is that the kingdom of God has drawn near.
Now if we read the rest of Mark's gospel through this lens--that the kingdom of God has drawn near--we will more easily understand what is going on. Why is Jesus casting out demons? Because He is demonstrating whose kingdom is now running the show. Why is Jesus healing diseases? Because He is demonstrating the power of God's kingdom. You see, the miracles are not the point. The miracles are the servant of the message, and the message is that God's kingdom has drawn near in the person of Jesus Christ.
This is precisely what we see in the account of Jesus healing the paralytic in Mark chapter 2.Beginning at verse 1, "1When He had come back to Capernaum several days afterward, it was heard that He was at home. 2And many were gathered together, so that there was no longer room, not even near the door; and He was speaking the word to them. 3And they came, bringing to Him a paralytic, carried by four men. 4Being unable to get to Him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above Him; and when they had dug an opening, they let down the pallet on which the paralytic was lying."
Now, when Mark says that "many were gathered together", he does not mean to tell us that 20 people showed up for a dinner party--he means to tell us that the house is completely packed. Mark describes how there was so many people in this house that "there was no longer any room"--"even near the door"(Mk.2:2), he tells us. What I picture here is not what you might find at a busy family dinner, but rather, what I used to endure on a daily basis on the Toronto subway.
Some of you here know what I am talking about. There would be mornings when I would be waiting at Eglinton station for the subway, it would arrive, I would be first in line, the doors would open, but I couldn't fit in--the car was completely full. This is the type of scene Mark describes at Jesus' home.
Mark describes how four men wanted to bring their paralyzed friend to Jesus for healing, but were prevented because of the size of the crowd(2:3,4). Being the resourceful men they were, the four men headed for the roof of this packed house and began to dig an opening to lower the man through on his pallet(2:4).
Bible commentators, I must warn you, take great pains to mention that the thatch and tile roofs of Palestine were much easier to disassemble and repair than the roofs that adorn our houses today. When they do that, however, they entirely miss the point: a hole in the roof is hardly the normal way to enter someone's house!
It is unlikely that they could have done this without seriously disrupting the meeting with clouds of dust, bits of straw, and clay falling on the guests below. Yet Jesus was not bothered by this interruption, He was impressed by it. He saw the "faith" of the men and He responded.
Looking at the paralytic, Jesus said, "My son, your sins are forgiven"(2:5). I am sure Jesus' response baffled the observers. Who said anything about sins! This man was a paralytic, not a thief or a murderer! This disabled man was lowered through the roof to be healed, not forgiven! And who was Jesus to forgive sins anyway? The scribes objected, asking themselves, "who can forgive, but God alone?"(2:6,7).
This was a very appropriate question. The scribes were right--only God can forgive sins. So what does this say about Jesus? Was He simply a preacher? No, preachers don't provide forgiveness. Was He simply a prophet? Again, no--prophets can't forgive sins.
Jesus understood that He was God, but He also knew how skeptical humans can be, and so He said, "10"In order that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins"-He said* to the paralytic, 11"I say to you, get up, pick up your pallet and go home." 12And he got up and immediately picked up the pallet and went out in the sight of everyone, so that they were all amazed and were glorifying God".
As I studied this passage, over and over again, I was struck by 2 points. The first point we take for granted, and the second point we tend to forget about. The first point of this passage is that Jesus is God. We saw, a chapter earlier, that even the demons recognized that Jesus was God. And as God, we see that Jesus has the authority to forgive sins. He has the authority to forgive my sins and your sins so long as we are willing to repent and trust in Him.
The second point of this passage is the one most Christians tend to forget about: Jesus wants us to care more about spiritual healing than about physical healing. Now I am not saying that Jesus doesn't care about your physical health for He clearly does. He healed the paralytic, He healed Peter's mother-in-law(1:31), He healed the leper(1:42), He healed many who came to Him with various diseases(1:34). Yet, we cannot escape the fact that when the paralytic came for healing, Jesus began by forgiving him of his sins.
I love the way Matthew's gospel describes the spiritual healing of the paralytic, "Son, be of good cheer, your sins are forgiven"(9:2). The man is not even physically healed yet, but Jesus states that the man's forgiveness is sufficient enough reason to "be of good cheer".
Spiritually healing means forgiveness, and forgiveness brings true joy. Confess your sins daily to God and may Christ whisper into your ear those sweet words of Scripture, "be of good cheer, your sins are forgiven". Amen.