An audio recording of this sermon is available.
Mark 2 v 1-17 “Come to Jesus”
There is an article on the BBC news website this week called “Coronavirus: The human cost of misinformation”, and in it are some sad stories about people who suffered drastic consequences as a result of acting on terrible health advice. A man called Brian is interviewed – he is in hospital in Florida and his wife is on a ventilator in a nearby ward. Brian says that he and his wife assumed the virus was just a hoax but then comments breathlessly “now I realise that coronavirus is definitely not fake.” The article has an even more sobering account of a couple who drank a bottle of fish tank cleaner believing that one of the ingredients would prevent them catching covid – the man died and his wife was hospitalised.
Not the cheeriest start to a sermon but a good illustration of the dangers of mucking about with your health. It is crazy to convince yourself that you are well if in truth you are desperately in need of medical help. And it is also crazy to drink poison hoping for it to cure your sickness. No, if you are sick, you need a doctor.In Mark 2 Doctor Jesus proves he has got what is needed to treat sick souls. Those who are ill with sin are invited to come to him for health. But there are some who have convinced themselves that they don’t need him, who don’t realise that they are poisoning themselves with their own solutions to the awful sickness of sin.
In verses 1+2 of chapter 2 the people of Capernaum do what every single human being desperately needs to; they drop whatever they are doing and they gather around Jesus. What do you most need to do with your life? More than any other single thing,you need to come to Jesus.Now that is true for you if you aren’t a Christian yet, but it is also true if you have been a Christian for years. In fact, during this lock-down, many Christians are testifying to the blessing it has been for them to more deliberately seek time of fellowship and communion with God in his word and through prayer, time that they have long neglected to their cost.Perhaps at the very start of this sermon those are the words you need to hear most today, if so then this afternoon drop everything, spend time with your Lord and then consider the pattern of your life and adjust it so what is most important gets the place of most importance!
What are we to expect when we come to Jesus? So far in Mark, Jesus has proclaimed the good news of God; that the kingdom of God has come near and so we are to repent and believe. He has called people to follow him at great disruption to their life. He has taught with authority in the synagogue so that people were amazed. Then in the middle of casting out demons and healing illnesses he has taken himself off to spend time with his father in prayer and when the disciples seek him out he says in 1v38; “Let us go somewhere else – to the nearby villages – so that I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” It is pretty clear that we come to Jesus primarily to listen to him speak words that will change our lives.
But as we go on through this passage we quickly realise that simply being part of the crowd gathered around Jesus is not the sufficient response he demands. There is a big contrast between the teachers of the law and the faithful friends in the first section and again between the Pharisees and Levi in the second. Yes, you need to come to Jesus, but actually you need to come to Jesus in faith.You can’t miss this when the roof bursts open and the paralysed man is lowered down in front of Jesus, v5 “When Jesus saw their faith he said to the paralysed man, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’”
What does it mean that Jesus “saw their faith”? This is a very helpful little phrase for people living in 2020 who so easily define faith wrongly. It is so needed for us in Riverside church who can do much damage to ourselves when we think of faith in the wrong way. Faith is not wishful thinking, nor is it a feeling or an energy.No, faith is trusting that Jesus has got what we need. Jesus doesn’t need laser eyes to be able to look deep into the souls of these men and detect faith there. No, he can simply look at the hole in the roof and the man lying in front of him and see that these men trust that Jesus has got what they need.Their faith is highly visible because it made them bring their need to Jesus. Talking to different people in Riverside this week it is apparent to me that we need to be clearer about this. So that we don’t confuse our emotions or lack of them for faith or lack of it.
Faith is the appropriate response to Jesus, going to him in our need.There are some faithful Christians amongst us who often get downhearted because although they are seeking to live with Christ as their Lord and Saviour (admitting their sin to God, seeking to serve one another in love, gathering together with God’s people regularly in the word and prayer), because they don’t feel as loving as they would like to feel when doing loving things, or they don’t feel as encouraged as they would want to feel when they are encouraging others, then somehow they begin to believe that their faith is not real. But faith isn’t a feeling (of course faith in Christ affects our feelings) ratherfaith is the appropriate action of running to Jesus for everything we need when we realise that we have nothing to offer.
These men on the roof had easy to spotfaith. Nothing would prevent them from getting their friend exactly where he needed to be. And Jesus has what the man needs. “Son, your sins are forgiven.”Some response!I used to think that the big issue in this account was people being confused by Doctor Jesus’ diagnosis of the man’s problem. Why is he talking about sin when he should be sorting out the man’s legs? But actually, no-one in the account sees that as the problem. They all would have accepted that the man was a sinner and that sin was the root cause for all illness and disease in the world.In fact the Pharisees and teachers of the law would have went further – they would have suspected that the man’s paralysis was God’s direct judgement on him or his father for their particular sin (a simplistic explanation that Jesus rejected later in his ministry).
Their problem isn’t in Jesus diagnosing sin that needed to be dealt with, but rather in himclaiming to be the one with the solution. “Son, your sins are forgiven.”“Why is he talking like that? He is blaspheming. Only God can forgive sins.”The Pharisees have their theology right here, because all sin is directed straight into God’s face. When King David repented in Psalm 51 of his adultery and murder he said this to God in prayer; “Against you, you only have I sinned and done evil in your sight.”From start to finish, sin offends God and is a direct insult to His holiness. So only God can forgive sin. Which means that Jesus is either blaspheming here and so deserves to die or else he is right, he can forgive sins, and so standing in front of the crowd in that packed little house is God himself, who deserves to be worshipped.
If I were to tell my kids that I am a great ballet dancer they simply wouldn’t believe it (I can’t think why). But there would be a simple way to check whether I am telling the truth or not. (It wouldn’t be a pretty sight). However, when someone claims they can forgive sin, we have a problem. It is quite an easy thing to say isn’t it? Jesus knows this and he understands exactly what the teachers of the law are thinking. It is easy to say “your sins are forgiven” because there doesn’t seem to be any way to prove it true or false. On the other hand, saying, “Pick up your mat and walk” is difficult because there and then people can call your bluff. Unless the man actually picks up his mat and walks. Which this man does. Leaving the crowd amazed; praising God for they had never seen anything like it.
But notice the key thing this healing was supposed to show; it demonstrated that the Son of man (a title Jesus uses for himself a lot in Mark) has authority to forgive sins. This isn’t Jesus speaking like a dodgy door-door salesman saying “well if I can heal paralytics I can obviously forgive sins as well”, no the theology really matters. Sin causes disease and death. Jesus claims to be able to forgive sin and immediately drives away its consequences, simply by speaking.There is no more powerful way he could have evidenced his claim.
We can put our faith in Jesus. We can trust that he has what we need. What is so wonderful about this whole incident is that it shows us what matters most. If the paralysed man had gone away that day still paralysed but with his sins forgiven then he would have been lowered through the roof one of the poorest men on the planet and would have been raised back up one of the richest.Having his legs healed is actually a small incidental detail compared to having his soul healed, his relationship with God mended.
Every single Christian alive today has to continue to deal with the fallout, the consequences of sin on this world, on our lives, and in our own hearts. But, in coming to Jesus by faith, we have been forgiven. We are safe. We are whole. We have been cured. And one day, united with Jesus, we will live in a new creation where all of the consequences of sin will be gone forever. Young Isaac M said to John last week “Isn’t it great that the corona virus can’t get into heaven.” Hallelujah, we cannot wait!
So far in Mark we have been exhorted to worship Jesus, to listen to Jesus, to come to Jesus. But the truth of the matter is that unless you realise you are sick, you aren’t going to come to the doctor. Unless you see your need, you will not come to Jesus in faith.Verses 13-17 make this really clear and as we finish I hope verse 17 will ring in your ears all week; “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but those who are ill. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Levi, one of the despised tax collectors (hated because they cheated people and collaborated with the Roman enemy, excluded from worshipping in the synagogue) responds to Jesus’ call with the same immediacy and commitment as Simon, Andrew, James and John in chpt 1. He sees his need clearly and doesn’t delay at all.And his response of faith in Jesus Christ provokes the same concern for his friends as the guys had who brought the paralytic to Jesus (Mark 2 definitely shows us the desires Christians should have for their friends). He arranges a meal and invites loads of his mates to meet Jesus. These people would have known they were sick in God’s sight - “Tax collectors and sinners” is a pretty loaded title.
I love picturing this meal going on – the one who can forgive sins sitting with the people who know they have sins that need forgiven. The healer sitting with the diseased.But it is also quite a sad sight because of the people standing around the outside, keeping their distance from Jesus. The Pharisees and teachers of the law asking the disciples “why does he eat with sinners?” rather than breaking bread with Jesus.
In both of the accounts we have looked at today, the sinners are the ones that get closest to Jesus. The ex-paralysed man at his feet, and Levi and his band of cronies at the table. If only the Pharisees and the teachers of the law could have realised that they were invited too. If only they could have seen how ill they were with sin and realised that there was a doctor right in front of them. But the sad and sobering truth is, these are men who are poisoning themselves with the fish tank cleaner of self-righteousness. People who think they don’t need Jesus and his forgiveness because the virus of sin won’t get them.
Riverside church, who are we? We are sinners saved by grace. We are helpless patients made well by the great physician. But are there some amongst us keeping their distance from Jesus? Poisoning themselves with their own solution to sin? No matter how well your life is going, no matter how much energy is in your legs, if you haven’t come to Jesus in faith and received the forgiveness he offers to sinners then you are sick and you won’t get better by yourself. You are distant from Jesus now and when you die that distance will be fixed forever by hell. Come to Jesus in your need now, today, while you have time. Perhaps there are others amongst us who have already received that forgiveness but right now have forgotten just how blessed that makes them (and with lock-down grinding on there might be many like this).Christians are rich, safe, eternally secure. Fix your eyes on Jesus once more, come to him in faith knowing that he has exactly what you need for every single day of your life until you are taken to be with him.
And Let us all be Levi’s, following Jesus in faith and calling all of our friends and family and neighbours and contacts to come to Jesus as well. Amen.
Copyright information: The sermon texts are copyright and are available for personal use only. Sermon media provided by Newland Media. If you wish to use them in other ways, please contact us for permission.