Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Mark 2:1–12

Mark 2:1–12 (ESV): Jesus Heals a Paralytic


In this passage Jesus is at home in Capernaum, and when people find out that he’s there they essentially swarm the house, so he preaches the word to them. Four men come to the house bringing a paralytic friend of theirs on a bed, hoping for Jesus to heal him, but the crowd is so dense that they aren’t able to get the man in front of Jesus. So, in an act which has subsequently become very famous, they go up onto the roof of the house, remove the roof, and lower the man down to Jesus through the roof.

Instead of being angry about the new hole in his roof, Jesus commends their faith and tells the paralytic that his sins are forgiven. (That first part was a joke; one wouldn’t expect to read about Jesus getting angry with them for putting a hole in his roof.)

However, there are some Jewish scribes in the crowd around Jesus, and they’re not comfortable with Jesus telling the man that his sins are forgiven:

Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, “Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (verses 6–7 (ESV))
Jesus realizes this, though, and calls them out on it.

And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, “Why do you question these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’? … (verses 8–9 (ESV))
Whereupon Jesus tells the paralytic to get up, pick up his bed, and go home, which the man does—to the amazement of everyone present, who glorify God and say that they’ve never seen anything like this before.


This is another very famous passage, and one that I’m sure has been the source of innumerable sermons, so I doubt I’ll have anything original to say. Of course, when it comes to talking about the Bible, if one thinks one has discovered something new after 2,000 years one is probably either wrong or blaspheming, so I’m not worried about having nothing new to say…

My first thought when reading through this passage is always to wonder if the man was disappointed at Jesus’ initial response: he has come to be healed physically, and instead Jesus has pronounced him healed spiritually. And my response is to assume that no, he probably wasn’t disappointed. This man—and his friends—has come to Jesus in faith, knowing that Jesus can do what is impossible for them to do on their own, and Jesus has taken away the man’s sins. This is the Gospel! I’m especially of this opinion because of Jesus’ initial reaction: he praises the five men for their faith. They haven’t simply come to a healer, they have come to Jesus in faith. True, I’m guessing that that faith was at least in part faith that Jesus could and would heal the man physically, but based on Jesus’ praise of their faith I have to assume that it was more than that, too.

So no, I doubt the man was disappointed, although I have only my own assumptions to go on since the passage doesn’t address this question. Perhaps, if the rest of the story hadn’t played out as it did and he hadn’t been healed of his paralysis, there might have been times throughout the rest of the man’s life in which he would have had moments of disappointment; “I’m glad to be saved from my sins, but I wish Jesus had healed my body, too.” That would be human nature, and although a saved person wouldn’t (I don’t think) be thinking that all the time, I couldn’t blame the person for thinking it on occasion.

Of course this is just unimportant speculation; Jesus was very capable of healing a person’s physical infirmities and he did so here, too. Based on how the rest of the passage plays out it looks like the only reason Jesus doesn’t initially heal the man’s paralysis is that he wants to make this point to the scribes in the room. He had every intention of healing the man both spiritually and physically; he did it in this particular way to make his point to the scribes. (In what is, in my opinion, a rather dramatic way.)

Speaking of which, my initial reaction to the scribes’ reaction is that… yes, they’re absolutely correct. It’s true: Only God can forgive sins, and for anyone other than God to have told that man that his sins were forgiven it would have been blasphemy. I can’t forgive your sins, and neither can my pastor, and neither can anyone else; only God can. The key point that the scribes are obviously missing is that Jesus is God.

So Jesus proves this to the scribes by healing the man and sending him on his way. And I wonder to myself: When it says in verse 12 that they were all amazed, and glorified God saying that they’d never seen anything like that, did the “all” include the scribes? Were they convinced by this action that Jesus really is God?

The deeper reality of course is that it’s actually easier to heal the man’s paralysis than to forgive the man’s sins; both are impossible for humans—perhaps with modern medicine we can heal paralysis, or will be able to someday—but for Jesus, who can do both, it’s actually easier to heal the paralysis than to forgive the man’s sins. But when he claims that the man’s sins are forgiven, for the people sitting around him it is sort of an unprovable thing; how are they to know that the man’s sins are really forgiven? The natural assumption would be that Jesus really is a blasphemer, and that nothing has actually happened. But the healing of the man’s paralysis is indisputable; that can’t be argued. It proves that Jesus really does have power, and the people around Jesus recognize that the power being displayed is the power of God.

Incidentally, when Jesus’ first response is to tell the man that his sins are forgiven, I don’t think it means that the man’s paralysis is the result of some sin(s) that he has committed; in other words, I don’t think that he has been punished by God by being paralyzed. We definitely know from passages such as John 9 (ESV) or Luke 13:1–5 (ESV) that not all physical ailments or other problems in this life come as a result of punishment for sin, so technically this might be a punishment for the man’s sin or it might not be. But I don’t see anything in the passage that indicates that it is, and unless the Bible specifically attributes something to punishment for sin I never assume that it is. This man seems to have been paralyzed for the same reason that the man in John 9 was born blind: to demonstrate God’s power.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012


I don’t usually post anything here other than my own Bible readings, but there’s an interesting post on the Bible Gateway blog on meditation. (If you’re looking for additional blogs to subscribe to you could do worse than to add the Bible Gateway blog to your RSS reader. They have the occasional “what’s new on Bible Gateway” posts, which are expected, but most of their posts are on a wide variety of topics that Christians would be interested in, and are usually very interesting and well written.)

I find my own version of “meditating” on the Word is a bit more analytical. (Coming from someone who works as a consultant in the software development world, this probably isn’t too surprising. I’m an analyst at heart.) In fact the reason I continue to maintain this blog, though I am no biblical scholar, is that it helps me with my own personal devotions. I usually start out by reading the passage in question, and then I simply start writing a post with the synopsis and then my thoughts on it. (Yes, yes, I know, my “synopses” are way too long to really be called synopses; they sometimes verge on blow-by-blow descriptions, in which case one would be better off simply reading the passage itself rather than my “summary” of it.) Sometimes I will write out the entire synopsis first and then move on to write my thoughts, and sometimes I flip back and forth between the two, writing a summary of part of the passage, then putting my thoughts, then going on and doing the same for the next part of the passage.

Very often what I originally intend to write is not what ends up getting written. The process of working my way through the passage to write about it helps me to hone my thoughts on it, and the impression that I have upon “first reading” is not always the impression I have by the end. (I put “first reading” in quotes because I’ve always read the passage before—though it might have been a long time ago in some cases—but that means that I often come to a particular passage with some preconceived notions about what it’s about, and they don’t always hold up upon closer reading.)

Sometimes these changes are minor, sometimes major. One example I can think of is the last passage I wrote about before this post, and Jesus telling the man cleansed of a skin disease to show himself to the priests “for a proof to them.” I’d originally planned to write that of course Jesus was saying this because he was using this miracle as proof to the priests that He was the Son of God; by the time I’d finished writing the post, and thinking more about the fact that at that point Jesus was trying not to draw attention to himself for fear of harming his ministry, I’d come away from that opinion. Or, at the very least, I was no longer sure. Other cases (none of which occur to me now) have been more serious, and caused me to actually change my mind on certain things. Not “life or death things,” but if I have a misunderstanding of any part of the Bible I consider it to be serious.

Looking up related passages of Scripture is also very helpful when writing these posts, and, therefore, in helping my understanding of the Bible. I don’t always do this, but sometimes I do. It could be looking up Old Testament passages that are referred to in the New Testament, or it could be looking at how the different Gospels relate the same story, or it could be looking at different passages that discuss the same general topic. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8 (ESV)), and that means that looking at His thoughts on things at different points in the Bible is always helpful in gaining an understanding of His overall thoughts on that topic.

And let’s not mince words, that’s what the Bible is: the thoughts (or the Word) of God. The better we understand it the better we understand Him. The better we understand Him the more we will worship Him—which is what we were created to do. So meditating on His Word is more than just a study in learning; it’s an act of communion with the One who made us and wants our fellowship.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Mark 1:40–45

Mark 1:40–45 (ESV): Jesus Cleanses a Leper


In the last passage Jesus was preaching and healing people with demons, and this passage continues this trend. I’ll just quote the beginning, to set the stage for the passage:

And a leper came to him, imploring him, and kneeling said to him, “If you will, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, “I will; be clean.” (verses 40–41 (ESV))
(The ESV footnote mentions that the term “leprosy” doesn’t necessarily mean that disease specifically; it was a general term used for several skin diseases.)

There’s something about Jesus’ response that I especially like; “I will; be clean.”

Anyway, the disease immediately leaves the man, and Jesus “sternly [charges]” him (verse 43 (ESV)) to:
  1. Say nothing to anyone
  2. Show himself to the priest to make the appropriate offering for the cleansing (see Leviticus 14:1–32 (ESV)), and “for a proof to them”
Of course the man follows neither of these instructions, and instead goes out telling everyone what Jesus has done for him, resulting in Jesus being unable to open enter towns and instead having to carry on his ministry in the wilderness. However, people are still “coming to him from every quarter” (verse 45 (ESV)), so his word is still getting to the people.


The actual healing/cleansing of this man with a skin disease isn’t so unusual when it comes to Jesus; throughout the Gospels Jesus heals many people, ridding them of demons or cleansing them of skin diseases or healing them of infirmities such as blindness.

It is interesting, though, that Jesus tells the man to go and see the priest and present the appropriate offering for his cleansing. The laws regarding offering sacrifices for uncleanness are about to be made obsolete by Jesus’ once for all offering, but at this point they are still in effect, and the man should be following them. Interestingly, however, the laws also state that Jesus shouldn’t be touching this man, or else he will be made unclean—in the Old Testament laws uncleanness can be spread more easily than the common cold—but Jesus goes ahead and touches him. Jesus is the Holy One of God, nothing can make him unclean.

But the other reason Jesus tells the man to go to the priest is “for a proof to them.” One reason for this might be to restore the man’s social position; suffering from a skin disease he would have been forced to live alone, outside of the community (Leviticus 13:45–46 (ESV)). Only once he is restored to being clean can he go back into the community, and so showing himself to the priest and offering the appropriate sacrifices would allow him back. It’s also possible that Jesus is using the healing of this man as “proof” to the religious leaders that Jesus is who he says that he is.

Another interesting thing about this passage is Jesus commanding the man not to tell anyone about this miracle. It is interesting firstly because it means that Jesus healed this man because he cared about him; he didn’t do it just to offer further proof of his divinity and to have his fame grow. (Which goes against the idea that he might have been sending the man to the priests in order to display his power to them.) But it’s interesting secondly because it means that Jesus wants to do something—go into towns and villages and preach—and is going to be prevented from doing so because of the actions of this man. The fact that Jesus is fully man and fully God is a mystery to us, and in passages like this we see that there are sometimes things Jesus doesn’t know, or doesn’t have control over, such as giving instructions to a man which aren’t followed, resulting in Jesus’ initial plan having to be changed. Probably the most dramatic example of this is Jesus’ prayer before his crucifixion, when he asks the Father, if it be possible, to take the cup from him. (See Matthew 26:36–46.) What we see in any instance where things don’t go as Jesus would have hoped, however, is that (of course) he handles the setback in a holy and blameless way: In the garden when the Father cannot remove the responsibility from Him, He goes to his death on the cross; in this instance, when He can’t enter the cities openly, He carries on his ministry in the wilderness.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Mark 1:35–39

Mark 1:35–39 (ESV): Jesus prays


The ESV title for this section is “Jesus Preaches in Galilee,” but to me that’s only a postscript to the main action in this passage. (Not that I claim to have the insight that the ESV translators/editors had, but still, it’s my blog.)

In the last passage Jesus had healed many people and driven out demons. This passage begins the next morning, where we find Jesus waking up very early in the morning to go to a private place and pray. Simon and some others go searching for Jesus because everyone is looking for him, and Jesus tells them that they are going to go to the nearby towns to preach, since that is why Jesus “came out” (verse 38 (ESV)).

So Jesus (and, presumably, the disciples) go throughout Galilee, preaching in the synagogues and casting out demons.


For me, the main point I take away from this passage is this: when Jesus was here on earth, he prayed. And he didn’t just pray from time to time; we find Jesus praying a lot in the Gospels, and he often goes off to a solitary place, as he does in this passage, so that he can pray without being disturbed. (Sometimes he gets disturbed anyway, and he deals with that, but his intent is always to find a way of being able to devote himself to his prayer.)

If Jesus, who is God, spent so much time in prayer, and took prayer so seriously, then how can we, who are ordinary sinful humans, not consider prayer of utmost importance? Part of the problem, of course, is that of our sinful nature. We often don’t want to be in communion with God, because we feel the guilt of our sin when faced with Him. But, as we all know, that’s precisely when we should be going to Him in prayer.

In verse 38 Jesus says that preaching is why he “came out.” I’m not sure what is meant by that wording—“came out”—but it’s translated differently in different versions.

And he said to them, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.” (verse 38 (ESV))
Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” (verse 38 (NIV))
He said to them, “Let us go somewhere else to the towns nearby, so that I may preach there also; for that is what I came for.” (verse 38 (NASB))
The intent seems to simply be this is why Jesus came, full stop. The ESV wording, of came out, I’m not sure about, and my quick look in a couple of study bibles didn’t turn anything up. The ESV footnotes don’t have any detail about the wording either. So… I’m not going to worry about it.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Mark 1:29–34

Mark 1:29–34 (ESV): Jesus Heals Many


In the last passage Jesus had healed a man with an unclean spirit, and in this passage he goes on to heal numerous other people. It starts with him going to Simon and Andrew’s house, along with James and John—you may recall that these four men are the disciples Jesus has called so far—but at the house he finds that Simon’s mother-in-law is ill with a fever. So Jesus takes her by the hand and lifts her up, and the fever leaves her and she begins to serve them.

That evening the whole city gathers at the house, bringing “all who were sick or oppressed by demons” (verse 32 (ESV)). Jesus heals many of them—the passage specifically says “many,” rather than “all,” but I don’t know if that’s significant—and prevents the demons from speaking “because they knew him” (verse 34 (ESV)).


The passage specifically mentions that the people waited until sundown before bringing people to Jesus to be healed, and the ESV Study Bible indicates that this was because of the Sabbath rules.

There are a couple of interesting things about this passage. One is a point that I’d alluded to in a previous post: Jesus wouldn’t let the demons speak, because they knew him—but for a long time I wondered, why was that a bad thing? Wouldn’t it be good for the demons to go around spreading the word that the Messiah had arrived? Based on various commentaries and sermons and whatnot I now believe this is because of timing: God had a particular time set aside when Jesus was going to be sacrificed, and if his fame spread too quickly the religious leaders would have made their move sooner. God was not yet ready for Jesus to die, so he didn’t.

The other interesting thing in this passage—and I’m betting that numerous sermons have been preached on this, although I think we need to be careful not to push the point too far—is that when Jesus heals Simon’s mother-in-law she immediately begins to serve him and the disciples. Is there a lesson in this for us? A metaphor? When Jesus heals us of our sins, we are to serve Him? It may be valid to make this connection, although I wouldn’t think we should put a lot of weight on it.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Mark 1:21–28

Mark 1:21–28 (ESV): Jesus Heals a Man with an Unclean Spirit


This passage takes place on the Sabbath. Jesus enters the synagogue and teaches the people, who are astonished at this teaching because he seems to have authority—unlike the scribes. But while he is still teaching a man with an unclean spirit stands up and cries out at him:

“What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.” (verse 24 (ESV))
Rather than acknowledging that the unclean spirit is correct, and that he is indeed the Holy one of God—which, I’ll be honest, I had sort of expected him to do when I first read this passage—Jesus rebukes the spirit, and tells it to be silent and come out of the man. The spirit does so, with a final loud cry for good measure, and the people are amazed by all of this. Not only does this man teach with authority, he even has authority over demons—he tells one to come out, and it obeys him! So because of this Jesus’ fame spreads throughout the region.


I don’t have a specific source for this, but when it says that Jesus taught “as one who had authority, and not as the scribes” (verse 22 (ESV)), this isn’t just a slam on the scribes; it’s really a reflection of the scribes’ entire manner of teaching. They wouldn’t (or couldn’t?) simply open up the Scriptures and tell the people what those Scriptures meant; instead they would be passing on the traditions of other Jewish scholars who had come before. “When Isaiah says such and such, this tradition says that what he meant was this, while this other tradition says that what he meant was that” type of a thing. But Jesus has no need to cite anyone else, nor does he need to temper his opinions with those of others; Jesus knows what the Scriptures mean—he wrote them, after all!—so he can simply say to the people, “When Isaiah says such and such this is what it means…”

I’m not saying that it’s wrong for modern-day preachers to cite the teachings of others, and temper their own opinions with the opinions of others. In fact there are some passages of the Bible that are very contentious and/or confusing, and I think it’s not only acceptable but proper for a preacher to call these types of controversies out to people. But that’s because there are some things that we, as humans, don’t yet understand. Jesus, on the other hand, though he was fully human was also fully God, and didn’t have the same limitations in preaching that we have. It doesn’t matter how confusing or how contentious any piece of Scripture is, Jesus knows what it means and knows how it should apply to each of us. This is, of course, obvious to us, but it wouldn’t have been as obvious to the people in the synagogue in this story.

I mentioned above something that I’d wondered when I first read this passage (why Jesus didn’t acknowledge that the unclean spirit was correct about him being the Holy One of God), but there’s another aspect that I still wonder about. Check out the relevant passage:

But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying out with a loud voice, came out of him. (verses 25–26 (ESV))
It’s a minor point, perhaps, but Jesus tells the spirit to be silent, but the spirit cries out with a loud voice as it’s coming out of the man. How was the spirit able to cry out after being commanded by the Son of God to be silent? This might be an area where understanding the Greek might help; maybe when Jesus says “be silent” it doesn’t mean “noiseless” but just “don’t speak,” so crying out isn’t part of that. I have a feeling that if Jesus were to tell me to be silent I wouldn’t be able to conjure up the ability to make a single peep…

But of course that’s not the point of this passage, the point of this passage is Jesus’ authority. He teaches the Scriptures with authority—he is, if you’ll pardon the pun, the author of those Scriptures, so he has the right and the ability to teach them authoritatively—and even has the authority to command a demon to leave a man, leaving the demon no ability to argue or disobey.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Mark 1:16–20

Mark 1:16–20 (ESV): Jesus Calls the First Disciples


In this passage Jesus passes the Sea of Galilee where he sees Simon and Andrew—brothers—who are fishing. He tells them to follow him and he will make them “fishers of men” (verse 17 (ESV)), so they leave their jobs and follow him to be his disciples. He then comes across James and John, also fishermen (and brothers), and calls them as well. They leave behind their father and his servants and also follow Jesus.


This is a pretty short passage, and one about which I have little to say. (I’m 90% sure that’s proper grammar, and 95% sure it’s awkwardly worded.) The only thing I note is that when Jesus calls his disciples he purposely does not call them from the religious elite; Jesus doesn’t choose Pharisees or rabbis to be his disciples, but ordinary Jewish laypeople. That doesn’t mean that all of the disciples were poor—we note here that James and John’s family business included servants, which means that they were probably doing pretty well—but it does mean that they weren’t religious leaders. I’m sure that the religious leaders of the time would have assumed that a Messiah would include them as his disciples, rather than laypeople.

That’s not to say that Jesus couldn’t have changed the hearts of the religious leaders too, if he’d wanted to; we immediately think of Paul, who was a Pharisee and went on to write a good portion of the New Testament. I’d argue that Paul’s thorough understanding of the old covenant made him uniquely able to understand the new covenant even better. But for the men Jesus chose to be his closest disciples, he wanted laypeople, not religious leaders.