Thursday, June 23, 2016

THE GREATER NEED

Pixabay (Public Domain)
Mark 2:1-12

Priorities. We all have to decide between the better and the best. When we were younger we could do a lot more than we can do now and probably in half the time it takes us today. But even back then we had to decide what was most important to us because we were taught to live by the adage which says: “first things first.” It was always a good idea to do the more important before the less important.

By the time we get to Mark 2, we discover that after Jesus left Capernaum and started to visit the other towns and villages in the region, He grew so popular that Mark says, “…Jesus could no longer enter town openly but stayed outside in lonely places. Yet the people still came to home from everywhere” (Mark 1:45). The drawing card, the thing that brought many people to Jesus was His ability to deal with their illnesses, and to cast out demons.

I wonder if this popularity as a healer ever created an occasion for Satan to try to tempt the Lord. I wonder if Satan ever whispered in Jesus’ ear. “You know, you obviously have this great power. And you’ll never run out of sick people. And, hey, I don’t mind if you shoo my guys out. We’ll just go somewhere else and then you can shoo us out again! It’ll make a great show and you’ll be famous. You can spend your whole life just putting on a show for people.”

But it seems that the Lord never forgot that the miracles were only the medium for the message, and though many came to be healed they also came to hear what He had to say. Mark says that when they heard Him speak they were amazed by what He said. They were also amazed by the authority with which He spoke—why wouldn’t He speak with an authority that no one else will ever be able to match because He was the author and originator of the message which He spoke?

But Jesus did often return to Capernaum, and this is where our story begins.

1 A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. 2 They gathered in such large numbers that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them. 3 Some men came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. 4 Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on. 5 When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”

6 Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, 7 “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?”

8 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? 9 Which is easier: to say to this paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’? 10 But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the man, 11 “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” 12 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!



Houses in Palestine were small, many only made up of one room. People spent most of their time outside and often only slept in the house. Those familiar with the time period when Jesus walked the earth say that the flooring in the houses was often just packed dirt or small chips of rock and the walls were made of sun-dried brick. Wood was very expensive and precious so it was most often used only for door frames and to provide beams for the roof.

The roofs were flat and the size of the room below was limited by the length of the beam. The beams stretched from one wall to the other and then were covered with a mixture of woven branches and clay, which was smoothed with a roller. They were sturdy enough for people to walk on but easy enough to break apart to do repairs.

So we can picture Jesus in this small house crowded with wall-to-wall people with others hanging around in the doorway and in whatever windows there might be. It would have been dark inside even if it was daylight outside. Mark says: “So many gathered that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them” (Mark 2:2).

I remember being in a small roughly built house in the hills of Colombia. There was no electricity so we had the meeting basically by the light of a few lanterns. We had a huge crowd that filled the house. Though there were no telephones or any other means of communication, word had traveled throughout the countryside that we were having a meeting in this particular home and thanks to a rather nasty event that had happened the night before to our vehicle, people walked in the dark for miles, mostly out of curiosity to find out what we were about. I remember sitting and listening as one of our Bible Institute students preached a fiery message about salvation.

So I can imagine this crowded dark house and Jesus preaching to the people who had gathered.

When room is limited it is “first come, first served.” And the five men who had arrived late found themselves without a way to get inside the house. And it would appear that no one was willing to give up their place so that they could get in even though one of them was on a stretcher and obviously in bad shape. Mark tells us that the fifth man was paralyzed. So the friends of the paralytic, not to be discouraged by the rudeness of the rest of their fellow citizens, climbed up on the roof. Sometimes people reading this  story make a big deal about the rudeness of these men in wrecking the house owner’s roof, but the roofs were constructed in such a way that they were easily taken apart and easily repaired. As long as they didn’t break a beam their actions wouldn’t have landed them in too much hot water.

Nevertheless, what a surprise to feel that first clump of straw mixed with clay falling on your head as these men created an opening in the roof! Straw dust is annoying! Then the brilliant sun coming through as people looked up to see what was happening! Then the amazement as the stretcher was lowered right in front of Jesus!

But there is a bigger surprise yet to come. We assume that these men brought their paralyzed friend to Jesus so that the Lord would heal him. But there is a much bigger issue here than might appear at first glance.

Here is one of, I think, only three recorded cases in the New Testament where sin is directly connected to sickness. One incident is found in John 5 where Jesus heals an invalid and then tells him, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you” (John 5:14).  A little later, in John 9, the disciples encounter a blind man and they ask: “‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’” Jesus’ answer may have stunned His audience. “‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned,’  said Jesus, ‘but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.’

But this story in Mark is the one where dealing with the sin precedes the dealing with the sickness. And this is unusual because the majority of the time Jesus has simply healed the sick—period. Just a few verses earlier in Mark, for example, Jesus healed a leper without any reference to the man’s sin.

Years ago when I was living in Toronto, a gal who attended Bible College in the city attended the same church I did. One Sunday she took me aside and told me that she had been getting anonymous notes in her mailbox at school. She suffered from a chronic illness of some kind and the notes instructed her to repent of her sins and then God would heal her. She was distraught because she had prayed and asked God to show her if there was some unconfessed sin in her life that might be causing her illness. She had examined her life. She had asked God to show her anything that needed dealing with and she was confident that there was nothing. But what really upset her was that someone ASSUMED that her illness was the result of sin even though they couldn’t name a sin she had committed.

Sometimes illness is the result of personal sin. But much of the time, it isn’t. Most of the time illness is simply the result of living in a sin-filled world and not the result of personal sin.

But in the case we have here in Mark, it seems that this paralyzed man was in the state he was in because of some personal sin. So Jesus dealt immediately with the sin before He dealt with the results of the sin. He dealt with the more important thing before He dealt with the secondary thing.

And He acted on the basis of the faith He saw in all of the men who had take the trouble to lower the paralytic down through the roof. “When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven'” (Mark 2:5).

I worked for an organization that is heavily involved in social justice issues, in providing emergency relief in time of disaster, in rehabilitation and reconstruction for those who can’t help themselves. But one of the key tenets of what they do is this: there must always be some kind of component attached to helping physically that is directed at helping spiritually. What good is it to help a man to better himself here in this life, which is temporary, and then allow him to die without an opportunity to know Christ as his personal Saviour and Lord and prepare himself for eternity?

Jesus cares about our physical, mental, and emotional well-being. And He graciously meets those needs as He did in the story we just read. But He knows that first things must come first—that our spiritual selves must be a priority, because in the end it is that self which will live on forever somewhere—either in hell or in heaven. And He really wants to welcome up into His heaven.

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