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Called in Authority
Winter Quarter: Call in the New Testament
Unit 2: Jesus and Calls in His Ministry
Sunday school lesson for the week of Jan. 17, 2021
By Dr. D. Craig Rikard
Background Scripture: Mark 2: 2-12
“Which is easier: to say to this paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk?’” (Mark 2:9)
- To understand the reasons why Jesus was so popular, only to die with few at the cross.
- To understand Jesus’ statement: Your sins are forgiven.
- To more fully understand compassionate evangelism.
Writing Sunday school lessons is one of the more satisfying means of ministry for me. After writing for two years I’ve come to understand that the best way to study the lesson is to study the key words and phrases. I try to cover geographical places, the culture, the author and audience, the characters, and the intent. Hopefully this will offer the teacher a deeper well from which to create their lesson along with the teacher’s guidebook. God bless all of you with a meaningful New Year. Each lesson is immersed in prayer.
Who is Mark?
Mark was most likely a young, energetic man. Most believed he served Simon Peter as secretary. Mark’s Gospel was the first Gospel written. Matthew and Luke use almost the entirety of Mark in their Gospels. A couple of years ago I overheard a church member encouraging a new Christian to read the Gospel of John. Though well intended, it is not good advice. John is very mystical and spiritual. Mark is only 16 chapters and moves rapidly from one event to another, usually prefaced by the word “immediately.” Once a person knows Mark’s Gospel they know much of Matthew and Luke.
Mark records more miracles than Jesus’ teaching. Mark omits the nativity. As cited in other Sunday school lessons, the early Christians believed Jesus would return any day. However, close to 30 years have passed. The Church had received an oral tradition of Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection. But now, as the Church moved with power through Mesopotamia into Greek culture, a written account was needed.
Mark’s Gospel was accepted and blessed by the early Church. Mark was undoubtedly close to Simon Peter. Some call him a disciple of Peter. His Gospel contains accounts that would have been important to Peter. Also, Peter was an uneducated fisherman. For Peter to use a secretary was not out of the ordinary. Mark’s fingerprints were all over Peter’s Gospel. One of the clues he is writing Peter’s words in his Gospel was the use of “immediately.” Out of all the apostles, this term would most likely be applied to Peter. Peter was compulsive, daring, and devoted. As Mark moves from even to event, we can envision Peter’s active life. It is believed the Upper Room in the Gospels was owned by Mark’s family.
Does it make a difference who wrote a book? Why? Does the audience they are speaking to make a difference? Again, why? Do places make a difference? Why?
The crowded house
A large crowd had gathered at the house where Jesus sat teaching. Mark’s book contains a particular structure. The Gospel begins with miracles and ends with more teaching and abandonment. One of the very important dynamics in Mark’s structure is the response of the crowd. The Gospel begins with excited crowds almost overwhelming Jesus. However, a large number in the crowd did not come to hear Jesus preach. They had come for the show.
Jesus used miracles to help the suffering individual and to gather a crowd. Jesus then wanted to teach and preach. Jesus could see into the human heart and understood their inclination to race from miracle to miracle. Once they began following, he began to offer challenging truth. This shift led to the abandonment. When Jesus died on the cross, even the disciples ran and scattered. Peter was at the cross, but he stood at a distance. John was at the foot of the cross with Jesus’ mother and other women who followed Jesus. Where was the crowd? Most likely they returned to their homes and work, and waited for another Messiah. They expected a Messiah with power. Jesus displayed he had power. However, they expected a military leader to overthrow Rome. Jesus was not overthrowing Rome. He was overthrowing all evil with an indescribable love, grace, and moral authority.
A large crowd has packed a house in Capernaum where Jesus taught. Remember, Jesus made Capernaum his home during his ministry. They would have recognized Jesus and heard of his miracles. Jesus was definitely a person of interest. It was in Capernaum that Jesus met James, John, Peter, and Andrew. They were all fishermen. Capernaum was in northern Israel, near the northwestern shore of the sea. Approximately 1,500 lived in the fishing village. The crowd consisted of mostly working-class people. However, religious leaders were also present. The religious leaders followed Jesus regularly. They even followed him to a cornfield where Jesus and his disciples ate corn on the Sabbath. They were seated, the posture of teacher. They had not come to listen for truth. They had come to ensnare Jesus.
Who stood outside? Many needy and suffering individuals could not enter the home. In the text it appears that the crowd did not accommodate suffering people who could not enter. Consider the man on the pallet. He was paralyzed. Without help he could not be brought to Jesus. Again, no one in the crowd or house moved aside to allow a paralyzed man to be carried on a mat. In verse 3 it reads that the four men could not carry him into the house “because of the crowd.”
A large crowd is outside the church walls. They live in neighborhoods and communities. Can you identify the crowd of suffering, needy individuals outside your church? Outside your home? Do you believe our culture is far more interested in entertainment than experiences of truth? Can you name the reasons for your belief? Do you think people try to run to excitement and away from substance?
Jesus saw their faith
Jesus identifies faith with the actions of five men. Four carried the paralyzed man on a mat. We might think little faith is involved in simply carrying a man on a pallet. However, place yourself outside the home where Jesus taught. No one is gaining entrance. We would think some in the crowd would have compassion and help the men. Yet, they offered nothing. It would have been easy at this point to return home. Compassion empowers faith
! Their faith and compassion moved them to attempt a risky means of entering the house. They pulled the pallet atop the roof. Many of the roofs were made of straw and mud. There was an opening through the roof from inside the home. The opening allowed people to sit atop the house to pray, mediate, or simply escape the heat that collected within the house. Simon Peter was sitting on the roof at Joppa when the vision of the sheet occurred. There are many places in scripture where people sat, met, and rested on the roof. However, the text clearly states the men “dug through” the roof itself and made an opening. Imagine being in the house and watching straw begin to fall from the ceiling. There would be a small ray of light growing ever larger. Suddenly a man on a mat descended. Imagine the faces of those lowering him as the people in the house stared upward. They must have been thinking, “Will this make Jesus angry?” Will the people inside become angry? What about the crowd outside? They have been standing and waiting after being denied entrance. Would they be angry that someone went around them? Certainly, this was a risky act. Yet, real compassion refuses to accept no on behalf of the suffering. Compassion will seek a way.
The fifth man was the paralyzed man. He was unable to use his legs for escape. He was at the mercy of the crowd. Furthermore, he didn’t know what Jesus’ response would be. However, he and the other four had heard of Jesus and his miracles. They were there for a miracle, not teaching. Jesus was in the house teaching. Most likely he wasn’t performing miracles. Now a paralytic is lowered for a healing. Jesus will not deny him. He will be healed and taught.
Have you, or someone you know, been so full of compassion that you had to find a way to help? In this text the action reveals their faith. Do your actions reveal faith? When is the last time your love took a risky action?
Your sins are forgiven
These words of Jesus would have shocked the crowd. The religious leaders would call it blasphemy! Only God could forgive sins! The man did not ask for forgiveness. Did Jesus recognize the need for forgiveness in the man though the paralytic did not ask for forgiveness? Did Jesus offer forgiveness to launch into a teaching? Jesus did see into the hearts of people. He knew more about those around him than they knew of him. Jesus knew them better than they knew themselves. It seems as though the paralyzed man, the four who lowered him, and the hole in the roof would place all the emphasis on the man’s need for healing. Yet, Jesus sees his heart above everything else. In reality, all of us stand in need for forgiveness, for God knows us.
Was Jesus specifically addressing the Jewish belief in the Retribution Principle
? Remember, the O.T. principle teaches that the sinful are cursed with poor health and a lack of wealth. In contrast, the healthy are healthy and financially sound. Thus, forgiveness was often necessary for healing, and, healing was the expression of being forgiven. If all sin was punished through suffering, all of us would suffer. Jesus was going to reveal that the grace and love of God would not be forbidden to the poor and suffering.
Notice, Jesus said the man “was” forgiven. The text reads that seeing the faith of the man and his helpers led Jesus to claim the man was forgiven. It does not read that the man “was going to be forgiven.” Jesus revealed his care for the soul above everything. Can sin lead to illness? Certainly. If I am a glutton, I will suffer. If I willfully hurt others, eventually I will suffer loneliness. Suffering can be the result of our own sinful habits and choices, or, it can be the result of our abusing creation. If we continue poisoning the air and water, people will suffer. John Wesley claimed there were sins of ignorance, mistake, and willful acts of transgression. Sin is forgiven by God’s grace. We are to receive and appropriate it by living a loving, holy life as a witness to our gratitude. From my perspective it appears in Scripture and life that God rarely judges sin through suffering; at least, not directly. God created our human existence perfectly in Eden. When we act out of harmony with creation, our mate and others, and out of harmony with God, we suffer. We create toxins and expose ourselves to them. We breathe in the unclean air that we created. We drink the water we polluted. I can create suffering for myself if I am not paying attention and a car strikes me. I could extend this list. For the sake of time, I believe it is inappropriate for us to blame our suffering on God. The all-important truth is that without God we are hopelessly lost. Yet, God is with us through Christ, and God loves us!
“The man took up his mat and walked.”
The paralytic took up his mat and walked. He had been healed more deeply than he imagined.
Can you name sins that are committed “through ignorance” according to John Wesley? Through mistake? What do you think Wesley meant by willful sin? Have you recently blamed God for your suffering or the suffering of another? Why? Have we been guilty of asking God for healing and health without an examination of our own heart?
The religious leaders pounce upon Jesus as soon as he spoke of the forgiveness of sins. This was the moment for which they waited. They wanted Jesus to make a mistake, misspeak, and break Mosaic Law. It appears to them he has created one of the vilest of sins. Jesus has dared to do something that only God can do! How dare a man offer forgiveness of sin! However, Jesus was divine, and chose to reveal his divine nature. He could forgive sin and he did.
The narrative reveals that Jesus knew what the teachers of the Law were thinking. Again, we observe Jesus’ divine insight into the heart. He then uses a technique the rabbis used in teaching and debating. Jesus used it often. The technique is that of answering a question with a question.
Jesus asks, “Which is easier: to say to this paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk?’” Most of us would agree that few people, other than doctors, can heal the sick, especially a paralytic. Jesus was saying “If I can heal this paralytic, why is it you doubt my ability to forgive sins?” Now we arrive at the all-important purpose of Jesus. He says, “But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.
” With this statement Jesus was proclaiming “I am God!”
Forgiveness was needed for complete healing. The religious leaders most likely would not argue this point. There problem wasn’t connected to the offer for forgiveness. A man often needed forgiveness to be healed according to the Retribution Principle. They had a problem with the one who claimed to offer forgiveness. Only God could forgive! Now, this man, Jesus, is offering forgiveness!
Naturally this proclamation did not sit well with the religious leaders. They accused Jesus of blasphemy for claiming he could forgive sins. Blasphemy can be defined as the willful rejection of obvious truth
. It was also defined by the teachers of the Law as a man’s attempt to be equal to God. Jesus would have been guilty of the second definition in the eyes of the religious leaders. After all, Jesus claimed to be divine! It was who he was! There was no sin on Jesus’ part. As a matter of fact, it was the religious leaders who blasphemed. Jesus was the obvious truth of God and God’s loving nature. They rejected him. The leaders claimed to know who God is, what God desires, and what God commands. Yet, God incarnate stood before them in Jesus and they knew him not. John would write in his Gospel, “He came unto his own and his own did not receive him.”
Have our preconceived beliefs created blinders that do not allow us to see the larger picture, the brighter light of God? Do you think our culture ever thinks of the sin of blasphemy? What makes you believe as you do? Jesus used a chaotic, hectic, tense moment to share the truth of God. Have we allowed God to use us in the midst of such circumstances? Can you share how?
Everyone was amazed
Someone once defined wonder as involuntary praise. Amazement is also the expression of our unspoken praise. God has done something wonderful! God has done the remarkable! Praise be to God! Jesus’ words and the healing of the paralytic were the sign that the Kingdom of God has come! For the masses of people in the house and outside, the miracle was a note of resounding hope. Hope is the belief that God is with us, no matter the circumstances; hope is the belief that God will use our circumstances for good and for a witness that the Kingdom is here. Everyone needed and needs this blessed hope. The religious leaders rejected it. Those who accepted realized God wanted them as much as they wanted God. The narrative closes with the observation, “We have never seen anything like this!” Grace overwhelms and will continue to overwhelm!
Have you witnessed an action of God that overwhelmed you? Have you had an experience of involuntary praise? Do you have the blessed hope that God is with us, everywhere and at all times? Do you have hope and faith that God will use our experiences for the greater good?
O loving God, our hearts are so full of wonder and praise it is difficult to speak. Hear our hearts. Hear our cries from the depths of our soul: God is good! God is with us! Thank you for the gift of Jesus Christ. No matter what the new year might bring, we are comforted and full of hope, for you hold everything and everyone in your divine caring hands. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Dr. D. Craig Rikard is a South Georgia pastor. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.