Mark Lesson Three: Jesus’ Authority is Challenged

Jesus' authority challenged

This summer we had a new carpet runner put in on our stairway. The original carpet had gotten dirty and threadbare. I was so excited to see the old carpet go out the door after the new carpet was installed! And then a funny thing happened – I looked at the area rug in the living room next to the stairway and suddenly that area rug looked old and worn out. Stains and dinginess I had never noticed before suddenly seemed prominent.

Isn’t that the way it is? A freshly painted room makes the carpet look old or new flooring makes accentuates the marks on the walls. New and old often don’t mix.

That’s the point of our passage this week:

Jesus is bringing something new and it can’t coexist with the old guard.

How do we know that Jesus is bringing something new? He tells us he is in the middle of our passage in verses 18-22. In fact, structurally we can tell that this is the climax of our passage because we have two stories before this passage that deal with forgiveness of sin and two stories after this passage that deal with the Sabbath.

So, the structure of the entire passage is drawing attention to these verses 18-22.

18 Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. And people came and said to him, “Why do John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” 19 And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. 20 The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day. 21 No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. If he does, the patch tears away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made. 22 And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins—and the wine is destroyed, and so are the skins. But new wine is for fresh wineskins.”

In response to the question about fasting, Jesus is pointing to himself as the bridegroom. He then gives two illustrations about cloth and wineskins that have the same point – new and old cannot exist together. It doesn’t work.

What’s new is the fact that the Bridegroom has arrived and brought the kingdom of God. Remember back in Chapter 1 when Jesus said, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand.” People were fasting because they were longing for the kingdom of God to arrive. Jesus tells us that it is no longer a time for fasting. It is now a time for rejoicing because the Bridegroom has arrived and he’s brought the kingdom of God. The old is done and the new has arrived.

New Authority

So what exactly is new about Jesus and what he’s bringing? We find that out in the rest of our passage. First, Jesus has the authority to forgive sin. We saw this clearly in verses 1-12.

And when he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. 2 And many were gathered together, so that there was no more room, not even at the door. And he was preaching the word to them. 3 And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. 4 And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him, and when they had made an opening, they let down the bed on which the paralytic lay. 5 And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” 6 Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, 7 “Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” 8 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? 9 Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’? 10 But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic— 11 “I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.” 12 And he rose and immediately picked up his bed and went out before them all, so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this!”

I wish I could have been a fly on the wall when the four men brought their friend to Jesus! They did all of this hard work to get him to Jesus. First, they had to get the guy up on the roof. Then they had to dig out part of the roof and carefully lower him down to Jesus.

And finally, he’s in front of Jesus, and Jesus says, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” I wonder if they were scratching their heads thinking, “What is going on? Did we make a mistake? I thought this was the guy who healed people?”

Of course, Jesus knew exactly what he was doing. He wanted people to know that he had the authority to forgive sin. Jesus knew that when he pronounced that the man’s sins were forgiven the religious leaders would immediately be on high alert. Why? Because he was saying something new, and it would have been blasphemy if it wasn’t true! Look at verse 7:

7 “Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?”

This isn’t a curious questioning, but an accusing kind of questioning. In response to their accusations, Jesus proves he has the authority to forgive sins by healing the paralyzed man.

In healing the man, Jesus also effectively answers their rhetorical questions. “Why does this man speak like this?” Jesus speaks like this because he really does have the authority to forgive sins. “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” Yes, that’s true – no one can forgive sins but God – and since this man, Jesus, has the authority to forgive sins he must be God.

When the Pharisees saw the clear evidence that Jesus had the authority to forgive sins they should have changed their opinion of Jesus and started following him. But they don’t. The people on the other hand are amazed and glorify God.

New Perspective

Not only does Jesus have the authority to forgive sin but he’s not doing it grudgingly. He is actively gathering together sinners whom he can forgive. That’s the point of verses 13-17. Jesus is eager to spend time with sinners. He even goes so far as to tell the Pharisees that he specifically came to call sinners.

If we’re Christians this should be the best news we’ve ever heard – that Jesus has the authority to forgive sin and that he came specifically to seek out sinners, like you and me. In fact, this truth should make us leap out of bed every morning as if we’ve just been spared a death sentence!

I don’t know about you but I don’t do that. Why don’t I do that? Because more often than not, I don’t realize that sin is my biggest problem. I walk around all day thinking I have bigger problems than sin. I think my biggest problem is how I’m going to get everything done that I need to do, or the argument I just had with my husband or my children, or that my life hasn’t really turned out the way I hoped it would.

I need to take action in my own life so that I’m reminding myself that my sin is my biggest problem. This week I took some action.

  • I tried not to minimize my sin, as I sometimes do, but to faced it head on.
  • I spent time meditating on the pain my sin has caused others in my life. That was helpful, but I also had to remind myself of the gospel, that Jesus died on the cross in my place to pay the penalty I deserved for my sin, because I was somewhat tempted to give into despair.
  • I also thought about Geoff Chang’s call to repentance on Sunday and I asked someone to forgive me.
  • Finally, I consciously reminded myself that I was under a death sentence but that I will no longer face death because Jesus sought me when I was a sinner and he has forgiven my sin.

Lord of the Sabbath

So, we just saw that Jesus brought a new kingdom in which he has the authority to forgive sin. But he also brought a new kingdom in which he is the Lord of the Sabbath. I wonder if you puzzled over that saying as I did this week. What does it mean that Jesus is Lord even of the Sabbath?

To answer that we have to understand the purpose of the Sabbath in the Old Testament. There was no concept of “weekend” in the Ancient Near East, so one of the ways God’s people were distinct from the nations around them was through Sabbath. Everyone else worked every day in order to survive, but the Israelites did not work one day of the week. The Sabbath was supposed to cause the people to depend on God when they weren’t working. When they refrained from work, it reminded them that it was God who provided for them. But it was also supposed to be a blessing for them. It was a blessing because God promised to provide abundantly for them even though they worked less than the nations around them.

By the time Jesus arrived, everything had gotten turned on its head. The Sabbath was all about rules and what exactly you could and couldn’t do on that day. There was lots of squabbling among the different religious sects. That’s why the Pharisees are upset when Jesus’ disciples do something as small as pluck heads of grain. Surely, Jesus and his disciples can’t really be righteous if they are doing that kind of work on the Sabbath.

But Jesus responds by setting everything straight. First, he provides an example David – who was the ultimate figure for the religious leaders. David is able to act in unique ways because of his authority as the anointed king of Israel. Second, Jesus reminds them that the Sabbath was meant to be a blessing in their lives when he says, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”

Finally, he says that he is Lord of the Sabbath. He is not like the religious leaders who are subject to the Sabbath. He has authority over the Sabbath. I was recently talking to someone who commented on “my religion.” I stopped them and said I don’t have a religion. I have a relationship with Jesus who forgave my sins. This is what it means that Jesus is Lord over the Sabbath. We don’t relate to God through a religion with a set of rules but through a person, Jesus Christ.

Jesus then goes on to prove that he has authority over the Sabbath by healing the man with the withered hand.

As a result, the religious leaders became even angrier, so angry in fact that they plot to destroy him. I’m sure you noticed throughout this passage how the religious leaders react as Jesus explains the new kingdom he is bringing. Question after question they ask him. All pointed and accusatory. The religious leaders are angry because Jesus is bringing something new and as Jesus told us in verse 22 – the new and old don’t mix. They want to hold onto their old ways. Old ways which kept them in control and in power.

What should the religious leaders have done instead? They should have recognized that Jesus was bringing something new and that he was bringing it with authority. The other gospel writers tell us that even John the Baptist was confused by what Jesus was doing and he had questions. But he didn’t challenge him, but instead sent his disciples to ask Jesus if Jesus was the one they had been waiting for – the Messiah? Jesus then proved that he was the one they had been waiting for by healing many people.

The religious leaders should have been like John the Baptist. It was OK for them to have questions when Jesus forgave a man’s sin. But when Jesus healed the man, they should have believed that he had the authority to forgive sin. It was o.k. for them to question when Jesus brought a new teaching about the Sabbath. But when Jesus healed a man on the Sabbath they should have given up their old ideas about the Sabbath and followed Jesus.

It’s the same with us. Jesus has brought a new kingdom. It’s a kingdom in which he has the authority to forgive sins and he is in charge of the kingdom. Some people don’t want something new. They want to stay in control – even if it means they have no forgiveness of their sin. But we want to be different, no matter how uncomfortable it is.

We want to be like Levi. Remember Levi’s response to Jesus? Levi recognized that he was a sinner and he followed Jesus. This is what we want to do. Recognize that we are sinners and that Jesus has the authority to forgive our sin.

Then we should follow him and let him be in charge of our lives.

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