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( Mark 2 ) THE MINISTRY OF THE LORD
In the previous portion of the Gospel we have seen the perfect Servant; in this fresh division there passes before us the perfection of His service, the faith that profits by it, and the opposition that it raises. We are privileged to see that the Lord's ministry is marked by righteousness and grace - righteousness, that raises the question of sins (1-12), and grace that blesses sinners (13-17). Such a ministry at once arouses the opposition of men, for righteousness that raises the question of sins disturbs the conscience, and grace that blesses the sinner is offensive to religious pride.
(Vv. 1, 2). Already we have seen the Lord and His disciples at Capernaum. Now again he enters this favoured town and crowds assemble to whom the Lord preached the word. It looked, indeed, as if souls were eager to hear the truth, but, alas! a little later the Lord has to say, "Thou Capernaum which art exalted unto heaven, shall be brought down to hell, for if the mighty works which have been done in thee, had been done in Sodom it would have remained until this day. But, I say unto you it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment than for thee." It was at Capernaum the man was delivered from the unclean spirit; there Simon's wife's mother was healed; there it was that all the diseased were brought to Him in crowds, and were healed, and there the sick of the palsy received the forgiveness of his sins. Capernaum was, indeed, brought near to heaven, and the power and grace of heaven, but all in vain, as far as the mass were concerned. As in that day, so in this, mere crowds do not mean that souls are exercised or consciences are awakened. The advent of the Lord in their midst was but a nine days wonder in their eyes; but, before God, the lack of repentance in the presence of such a ministry left them in a more terrible plight.
(Vv. 3, 4). Nevertheless, where there was faith in Christ there the blessing was received. God's work is not done by mass movements, but by individual work in souls, and where there is faith there will be difficulties to overcome. The palsied man was in himself helpless, so was "borne of four"; but, even so "they could not come nigh unto Him for the press." But faith overcomes every obstacle.
(V. 5). The Lord recognises their faith, and, as ever in His dealings with us, looks beyond the mere outward need that may bring us to Himself and deals first with the root of the trouble. Beyond the disease of the palsied man, as of all disease, there is the question of sin that has brought disease and death into the world. It may be that the man, and those who brought him, were little exercised as to the sins, nevertheless they had faith in the Lord and at once the Lord responds to this faith and can begin to unfold the blessings of those that believe; thus, He can say "Thy sins be forgiven thee."
(Vv. 6, 7). The moment the Lord uses His power to forgive sins the opposition commences. Men did not object to demons being cast out and diseases being healed, and lepers being cleansed, for these things relieved man of bodily trials without necessarily disturbing his conscience. Directly He speaks of sins, the conscience is touched, and men begin to oppose. They say, "Who can forgive sins but God only?" Their argument was true in principle, for God alone can forgive sins: it was wrong in application, for they failed to see the glory of the Person who was present - God manifest in flesh.
(V. 8). The reasoners are left without excuse for the Lord proceeds to give evidence of the glory of His Person. He shows that they are in the presence of One from Whom no thoughts are hidden. They may have uttered no word, but all was known to the Searcher of hearts, Who can say, "Why reason ye these things in your hearts?" Is not the answer to their reasonings, as to all human reasonings, that where there is no sense of need there is no realization of the glory of the Person of Christ?
(Vv. 9-12). In grace the Lord speaks another word which manifests His divine power in a way that even nature can appreciate. Whether is it easier to say "Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Arise, and take up thy bed, and walk?" It has been truly said, "They were equally easy to God, alike impossible to man." In order that men "may know" that the Lord had power to forgive, He also said to the palsied man "Arise, and take up thy bed, and go thy way into thine house." This outward sign of power guaranteed the inward gift of grace. The people at once say, "We never saw it on this fashion."
(Vv. 13-15). The proclamation of the forgiveness of sins has aroused the resentment of the Jewish leaders. This opposition is the first sign of the total rejection of Christ which involved the setting aside of the Jews. Hence it becomes the occasion of bringing to light, in the call of Levi, an intimation of the new dispensation about to be introduced by the Lord. Thus we read, "He went forth by the sea side." The sea in Scripture is often used to set forth nations, and therefore is suggestive of the great truth that the Lord was about to become the gathering centre of Christianity for believers from Jews and Gentiles. The word to Levi was, "Follow Me." Moreover, the fact that Levi was a publican, or taxgatherer, sets forth the great characteristic of Christianity in contrast to the law. No occupation was more degraded and scandalous in the eyes of a Jew, than that of a man who made his living by the extortion of tribute for the hated Roman. That the Lord should call such was great grace that lifts a man from the lowest place of degradation as a sinner into the highest place in the service of the Lord as an apostle. At once Levi responds to the call, and makes a feast in his house to which he invites many publicans and sinners to meet the Saviour of sinners.
(V. 16). Such a display of grace stirs up the opposition of those marked by the pride of intellect and the pride of religion. They were deeply offended by the grace that, passing them by, takes a sinner, far beneath them in moral degradation, and lifts him into a place far above them in blessing and power. These opposers do not approach Christ, as an exercised soul would have done, but they turn to the disciples, and, as the Serpent tried to shake the woman's confidence in God by asking what appeared to be a very simple question, so these men attempt to shake the confidence of the disciples in the Lord by asking what might appear to them a very reasonable question, "How is it that He eateth and drinketh with publicans and sinners?"
(V. 17). The Lord disposes of this question with a simple illustration, 'They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick." He then applies the illustration, by saying, "I came not to call the righteous, but sinners." They insinuated that the Lord was associating with sinners; His reply is that He was "calling" sinners out of their things to follow Him. Grace to the sinner does not mean indifference to his sins.
(V. 18). But the Pharisees grow more bold. They had sought to undermine confidence in the Lord by going to the disciples with questions about the Lord; now they will seek to find fault with the disciples by raising questions with the Lord about the disciples. "Why do the disciples of John and of the Pharisees fast, but thy disciples fast not?"
(Vv. 19, 22). Again the Lord uses an illustration to expose their folly. Would it be seemly to fast in the presence of the Bridegroom? In like manner would it be appropriate to fast in the presence of the One Who was dispensing blessing on every hand? The days were coming when Christ would be no longer present. Solemn consideration for these opposers of grace; then, indeed, fasting would be appropriate; not simply fasting from food, but from the pleasures of a world that has rejected Christ. As ever, the Lord does more than answer their question. He proves that their question exposes their utter incapacity to enter into the new ways of God in grace. The new character of grace displayed in life and walk and ways, could not be attached to the older order any more than a piece of new cloth could be attached to an old garment. Nor can the inner life, and power of this new life, be contained in the old vessels. New wine demands new vessels. The power and energy of the Holy Spirit cannot have anything to say to the flesh. The Lord was introducing that which was entirely new, set forth in figure by the "new cloth," the "new wine," and the "new bottles." When the new is brought in we cannot go back to the old. Alas! Christendom has attempted to do so by attaching the forms of Judaism to Christianity. The doctrines of grace have been acknowledged, while in practice the forms of the law have been adopted.
(Vv. 23-29). In the incident that took place on the Sabbath, we see a further intimation that the whole system, represented by the Sabbath, was about to be set aside. In raising the question of the Sabbath, the Pharisees profess great zeal for the outward observance of a day, while wholly indifferent to the fact that the Lord of the Sabbath, and His disciples were left to hunger. They assumed to be glorifying God at the very moment when they were rejecting His witness. The Lord exposes their unreality by recalling the history of David and his companions, who in the day of their rejection were left to hunger. In these circumstances, when God's anointed was rejected, and hunted, and hungered, the shewbread ceases to have its value in His sight, and therefore no sin was committed though David and his companions acted contrary to the letter of the law in eating of the shewbread. So with the Sabbath: it was for the blessing of men, and not for increasing the sufferings of hungry men. Moreover, "The Son of Man is Lord also of the sabbath," and therefore above the Sabbath that He instituted.
Thus in the course of the chapter we are permitted to see the righteousness that raises the question of sins; the grace that forgives sins and calls sinners, and the faith that obtains the blessing. Then we see the opposition that the natural heart, if left to itself, will ever raise against a ministry of righteousness and grace. Lastly, this position becomes the occasion of showing the change in the dispensation about to take place.
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Smith, Hamilton. "Commentary on Mark 2". "Smith's Writings". https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 22 / Ordinary 27