We’ve decided that through the end of August
we’re going to follow Jesus around the gospel of Mark.
Jesus seems pretty central to the whole Christian thing—
he’s the one, after all, who puts the “Christ” in Christian,
so it seems like a good idea
for us to follow him around,
and watch him, and listen to him,
and ask ourselves, “What would it look like for me to take this guy seriously?”
In the last two weeks,
we’ve seen Jesus burst onto to the scene
and begin announcing what he—what Jesus—considered to be the gospel.
Jesus has begun announcing that the kingdom of God has come near.
That the rule and reign of God has come close.
That realm where God is king— where things are as God wants them to be— that kingdom is arriving.
And in the gospel of Mark Jesus promptly begins
to trash evil and spread life wherever he goes.
That’s just what Jesus does in Mark’s story.
We said that if Mark were a movie it would be an action movie—
Jesus doesn’t do a ton of teaching or tell a lot of parables in Mark.
If you’re wanting parables,
Matthew and Luke have got you covered.
But if you’re wanting
a high-speed, break-neck trashing
of the kingdom of darkness by the kingdom of light
then you’ve come to the right place.
Mark is your kind of movie.
Last week Jesus trashing evil looked like
setting a man free from an evil spirit and setting a woman free from a fever (in Mark 1).
We’re skipping a short story of Jesus setting a man free from a skin disease (1.40-45)
and today we’re going to be Mark 2.
Let’s see what kind of darkness Jesus is banishing now:
(2.1-17) A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. They gathered in such large numbers that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them. Some men came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. 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. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”
Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?”
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? Which is easier: to say to this paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’? But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” 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!”
Once again Jesus went out beside the lake. A large crowd came to him, and he began to teach them. As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him.
While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
If you’re doing the sort of thing that Jesus is doing—
if wherever you’re going and whatever you’re doing
the wholeness and health and goodness of the world as it should be
is spilling into the world around you
then of course people are going to hear when you come home (v1).
Of course they’re going to gather “in such large numbers”
that there’s no room inside or even outside the house.
Life is found in that house.
And if there’s one thing
that the human race flock to,
that the human race is drawn to,
that the human race gravitates toward—
every single one of us is looking for life.
For more life. For better life. For lasting life.
That’s why we exercise, that’s why we play games, why we garden, why we hike,
why we shop, that’s why we cut out trans fats and preservatives and gluten
—we’re all looking for something that’s always-alluding us, that’s ever-evading us.
We catch glimpses of it throughout our life,
we hear echoes of it in our favorite songs,
we experience its passing presence in our favorite activities,
but we’re always looking for more of it.
All of us are looking for life.
For real and lasting life.
And we’ll still fight crowds—
we’ll go to the gym,
we’ll fill stadiums and theaters,
we’ll order what the infomercial is selling,
if we think that we might experience a little more life.
If we think we’ll hear finally hear “the word” (v2)
something that explains our lives and fills us with life—
“the word” we’ve all been waiting to hear our whole lives.
We can understand why people are crowding.
The life that everyone desperately wants is in that house.
Some men come (v3) bringing a paralyzed man with them
knowing that Jesus can make this man whole.
Jesus can give life to this man’s legs.
But they can’t get this man to Jesus.
And so what do they do?
There’s a good hour of sweaty work packed into verse 4: they climb on top of the house and they “make an opening in the roof” (they “unroof the roof” is how Mark writes it)
digging their way through the dried clay of the roof,
tearing through the reeds and layers of thorns that held the roof together,
until finally they’ve got a hole big enough to slip this man through.
Imagine you’re in the house—
you just thought a noisy animal had crawled onto the house
until you see a shaft of dusty light pierce the ceiling
and you’re suddenly covered in dust and dirt.
Imagine if you own the house—
“HEY! THAT’S MY ROOF!”
Most scholars think this house was a kind of home base for Jesus
because of the way verse 1 says that Jesus “had come home.”
This is maybe the house of a close friend of Jesus
or the house of a disciple or maybe even Jesus’ own house.
Whatever the case,
Jesus is going to be looking at that damaged roof for a while—
this is where he’s staying.
Maybe that’s at the front of his mind when he says,
“Son, your sins are forgiven.”
It could be that Jesus is forgiving everything broken and rebellious within this man—
from his violent temper and drinking problem to his despair and resentment.
Maybe. Or it could just be that Jesus is just saying,
“Don’t sweat the ceiling—that’ll fix.
I see all of your faith, and your sins are forgiven.”
Either way, there are theology majors in the house who don’t like what Jesus just said.
Not one bit.
They’re thinking to themselves (v6-7):
“He needs to be more careful with his language. That could very well be blasphemy.
I mean, the Temple in Jerusalem is the place you go to receive forgiveness of sins.
God is the only one who forgives sins.”
At this point Jesus turns to them and asks,
“Why are you thinking these things? (v8)
That’s always a little disconcerting.
(“We didn’t say anything.”)
Whatever Jesus had originally meant about forgiving sins,
he’s wants to make a bigger point now.
“Which one is easier? (v9) To forgive this man’s sins or to heal this man’s legs?
I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.”
The Son of Man.
That’s Jesus’ favorite title for himself.
It’s the name of a mysterious heavenly sort of figure in the book of Daniel—
a figure who establishes the kingdom of God on the earth.
He wants them to know that he (the Son of Man) has authority to forgive sins.
And then he turns to the man:
“Get up, take your mat, and go home.”
And so (v12) the man “got up, took his mat,
and walked out in full view of them all.”
Everyone is absolutely amazed—
what kind of thing is this?
They’ve never seen anything like this.
We’re still early on in Mark’s gospel, but Mark is a master storyteller,
and we can see that he’s beginning to build tension about who Jesus is.
One of the primary ways that Mark builds this tension
is through by weaving questions through the story.
The crowd will ask questions,
the teachers of the law will ask questions,
his own disciples will ask questions,
and a lot of times the questions never get answered.
They just hang there.
We already saw this last week in chapter one, when the crowd asked:
(1.27) “What is this? A new teaching—and with authority! He even gives orders to impure spirits and they obey him.”
The crowd is baffled and asks, “What is this?”
Well, Mark’s already told us— the dimension of God is breaking into our dimension.
But let’s the question hang.
Today we read two more questions:
(2.7b) “Who can forgive sins but God alone?”
Another question that just hangs there—who CAN forgive sins but God alone?
Mark’s no dummy—he’s a really gifted storyteller.
He’s wanting us to wrestle with that question,
and wanting us to wrestle with who Jesus might be.
God alone can forgive sins
but Jesus can forgive sins too.
Then we also heard the religious leaders ask:
(2.16b) “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
Jesus isn’t hanging out with the right people.
He’s calling traitors to the nations—
tax-collectors, fellow Jews who had joined team Rome—
and he’s inviting them to follow him.
Worse than that, he’s eating with them.
And the absolute dirtiest, most sinful scum of the earth.
He’s opened his table to all the wrong kinds of people.
He’s not keeping himself pure.
He’s not keeping himself holy.
And people are asking questions about it.
What kind of person is Jesus, and how will Yahweh finally bless the nation of Israel if the people of God don’t rigorously stand for their “biblical principles”?
Jesus seems a little too lovey-dovey and not quite holy enough.
Why is he doing that?
A couple of chapters over (ch 4),
we read of a story of Jesus and his disciples
stuck on boat in the middle of raging storm.
Two questions just hang out there in that story.
The disciples ask:
(4.38) “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”
If you watch the story, you get an answer—Jesus does care.
He cares enough to rebuke the storm—
to say “that’s enough” to the raging sea.
And then that leads the disciples to ask another hanging question:
(4.41b) “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”
Who exactly is this guy?
It just hangs there.
In chapter six, Jesus goes to his hometown (Nazareth)
and the all the people who watched little Jesus grow up start asking questions:
(6.2-3) “Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing? Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.
If we listen carefully to Mark’s story,
the crowds are astonished,
the religious leaders are accusing,
the disciples are terrified,
the hometown gang is offended,
and they’re all expressing their emotion in the form of questions.
We began following Jesus around because
we thought we were going to get answers,
but we’re just getting more questions.
And the questions seem to primarily orbit
around the identity of Jesus.
The questions throughout Mark’s story are really one question:
Who is Jesus?
That’s what Mark is building toward with his entire story.
Who is Jesus?
In fact, Mark’s entire story builds to that climatic question
almost exactly halfway through the story in chapter eight.
And Jesus is the one who asks it.
(8.27-29a) Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, “Who do people say I am?”
They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.”
“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
And that question—this time from Jesus himself—just hangs there before us.
“Who do you say I am?”
The gospel of Mark divides pretty neatly in half.
In the first half—in the first eight chapters—
the disciples follow around the evil-trashing, life-spreading action hero Jesus
and are getting really excited about what this might mean.
You can hear it in Peter’s voice as he answers Jesus’ question:
“You’re the Messiah. You’re the anointed one. You’re the king.”
Jesus doesn’t say that Peter is right or that Peter is wrong.
Jesus just tells them to keep quiet
(“don’t tell anyone what they’re thinking about me”)
and keep learning who I am.
And from this point forward, the second half of Mark begins to unfold—
where we get eight chapters of Jesus preparing to die.
But at the center of Jesus’ gospel, it’s almost like Jesus is turning
to those who are following him (including us) and asking: “Who do you say I am?”
The story that Mark is telling seems arranged in such a way
that’s it’s asking us to answer to that question.
And I think the genius of the question—
the power of what Mark is doing by raising this central question—
is that how we answer this question about who we think Jesus is
also tells us a lot about who we think we are.
The way we answer Mark’s central question about Jesus
also tells us something central about us.
Who am I? Who are you?
When you’re introducing yourself to someone,
how do you describe yourself?
Most of the time we start with our name:
to the unique word that was given to us to help identify us in the world.
My unique word is “Brett.”
That’s how I introduce myself. And I was born into the Davis family—I’m a Davis.
That’s who I am.
We often think of ourselves in terms of where we’re from.
I was born in Georgia. I’m from the South.
So evidently I’m supposed to like country music, sweet tea, and the Duke of Hazard.
(None of which do I particularly care for.)
I’m a Southerner.
That’s who I am.
If I were to keep being asked, I might describe what I do for 40 hours each week—
I work at such-and-such place, do these things.
That’s who I am.
I’d probably start describing the people I’m in relationship with— I’m the husband of Joy, the son of Scotty and Kathy, the brother of Bradley, Brian, and Brittany—you get the point.
That’s who I am.
If someone were to keep pressing me on “who I am”
I’d probably start describing other things in my life.
I go to this school, I shop at these stores,
I wear those clothes, I have these piercings and those tattoos,
I use this that kind computer (with that particular fruit on it),
I watch that cable news network (and definitely not those others),
I vote for this political party, I pledge allegiance to this flag,
I’m passionate for this kind of social cause,
I have this kind of sexual orientation
—so this who I am.
Most of the time, we’re scraping together
the deepest sense of who we are
from the scattered pieces of our life.
But for the past two thousand years, the Church has said
that human beings were made to be more than just the sum of scraping—
we were made to be defined by something deeper than all that noise.
We were made to see the mysterious man from Nazareth
who forgives sins and heals the sick and never finds a person he hates,
and we (like Levi) are invited to follow him.
Following him raises all kinds of questions to be sure,
but at the heart of everything Jesus is asking:
“Who do you say I am?”
And when we answer who Jesus is,
we’re also answering who we are.
We can either say,
“Well, you’re just some legend”
or “You’re just some wise-but-outdated teacher”
or “I don’t care—I’m not even interested in the question”
and then shuffle through all of the chaos and noise and despair of our culture,
trying to find who we are and trying to find real and lasting life.
Or we can answer,
“I think you’re the king.”
“Like, I think Jesus might actually be the king.”
“I think he might just possibly really actually be the king.”
And he’ll probably want us to keep following him,
keep learning from him, keep watching him,
because we don’t quite know what that means yet.
But when we answer “I think you’re the king,”
we’re relieved of unbearable burden of trying define ourselves.
We can allow Jesus to define us.
He’s the king, and we are his.
Because our answer about Jesus
has given us our answer about us.
We’re not the king—
we’re not capable of ruling the world.
We’re not even capable of ruling our own lives.
We need that mysterious Son of Man to come and establish a new kind of kingdom.
And as we learn to live lives of confession before the king
we begin to experience the never-ending love of God—
to hear “My Son, My Daughter, your sins are forgiven.”
When we recognize that Jesus as king,
we also learn that we belong to him.
This table is the place where we come each week
to answer the question “Who do you say that I am?”
This is the place where we see most clearly who Jesus is.
That Jesus is the king who bears our sickness and our sins himself
and who gives his very own life to us.
Jesus is the one, who…
…on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.”
In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.”
This table is the place where we come to wearily and weakly confess,
“You are the king, and I am yours.”
“I need your forgiveness, I need your healing, I need your life.”
It’s the place where we recognize that WE are the ones who are sick
(not them and their issues and their sin and their news networks)—
when we come to this table and recognize that WE are the ones who are sick,
that’s when we can finally receive healing.
The only people that Jesus can heal
are those who are sick.
The only people that Jesus can forgive
are those who know their sin.
He’s not here for “the righteous.”
He’s not here for “those who don’t need him.”
And that’s what Jesus always does.
The Son of Man has authority (v10)—to do what?
To forgive sins.
That’s the way Jesus establishes the kingdom.
If you’re looking for a kingdom that looks like something different
than self-giving, radically forgiving, co-suffering love, you’re going to be waiting for a while.
That’s always what the kingdom looks like.
Jesus grants pardon to sinners, Jesus heals the world’s wounds,
and Jesus opens his heart and his table to all the wrong kinds of people.
He opens his table to us.
In just a minute you’ll be invited to come down this center aisle,
to receive a cracker, to dip it in the juice, and to return to your seats along the sides.
As we come today,
may we seek for life even when it means making a mess of the house,
may we recognize Jesus as king and find our deepest hope in our being his,
and may we open our hearts and our tables to those around us
who desperately need to see the kingdom of healing and love.