Challenged to Follow


This post is part of a series on the Gospel of Mark based on classes I am teaching.

In chapter 1 we are introduced to Jesus and the start of His earthly ministry. One of the themes in this part of the narrative is that Jesus is growing in popularity.

So the news about him spread quickly throughout all the region around Galilee. … so that Jesus was no longer able to enter any town openly but stayed outside in remote places. Still they kept coming to him from everywhere. (Mark 1:28, 45 NET)

The people are amazed at His authoritative teaching and His authority over the demons and diseases so they are coming out to Him so that they can be made well. However Jesus does not stay in any one place to long and enjoy His “rock-star” status. He continues to move from village to village focusing on His primary mission which is to proclaim the good news (1:14-15, 38).

Chapter 2 picks up where chapter 1 left off noting the popularity of Jesus and His focus on preaching:

Now after some days, when he returned to Capernaum, the news spread that he was at home. So many gathered that there was no longer any room, not even by the door, and he preached the word to them. (Mark 2:1-2 NET)

People keep coming to Jesus – even going to remote areas and “invading” His home.

However, Jesus is not popular with everyone. The events that Mark chose to share with his readers in chapter 2 and into chapter 3 are arranged so that the reader picks up on the mounting tension that is occurring in Jesus’ ministry.

Each event challenges the reader with a question about how they view life

The table below breaks up the narrative (2:1-3:6) into 5 different events. In each of the events Jesus’ behaviors conflict with the world view held by the Pharisees and scribes. In each event they respond to Jesus’ actions with questions and accusations. Each of these events also leave the reader with a question that forces them to deal with Jesus and his claims. It is these questions that challenge the world view of everyone that reads the gospel asking them to change (repent) how they see the world and follow Jesus.

Event Accusation Accusation Made Apologetic Response Question posed to reader
Faith that accepts no obstacles (2:1-12) Blasphemer! Only God can forgive sins in heart Question Who can forgive sins?
You are who you eat with? (2:13-17) Why do you eat with sinners and tax collectors? to disciples Proverb Who is righteous and without need of a Savior?
Something New this way comes (2:18-22) Why don’t you fast? to Jesus Parable What is pure religion? Do your motives and actions reflect that?
Legalism and Love (2:23-28) Why do you break the Sabbath? to Jesus Scripture Do people matter more than looking good & being religious?
Legalism and Love revisited (3:1-6) Why do you break the Sabbath? in heart Question When is it OK not to do good?

In the first event the Pharisees ask a reasonable question pondering what they just heard in their heart. Who is this person who just claimed to forgive sins? They know their OT and understand rightly that only God can forgive sins.

I, I am the one who blots out your rebellious deeds for my sake; your sins I do not remember. – God  (Isaiah 43:25 NET)

Knowing the conflict in their hearts Jesus tells them – so that you may know that I have authority to forgive sins I will heal the paralytic. Jesus confirms His claim with the miraculous healing in accordance with the OT test for prophets.

Now if you say to yourselves, ‘How can we tell that a message is not from the Lord?’— whenever a prophet speaks in my name and the prediction is not fulfilled, then I have not spoken it; the prophet has presumed to speak it, so you need not fear him. (Deuteronomy 18:21-22 NET)

Things go down hill after this. Rather than respond to the healing as an affirmation that Jesus is sent by God as the Messiah who can forgive sins the Pharisees dig in their heals. In the second event the Pharisees come to the disciples to voice their complaint, this time it is about who Jesus dines with. In the two events that follow that the Pharisees confront Jesus directly with their accusations, first about fasting and then about keeping the Sabbath. This allows the reader to feel the building tension that boils over into the last event.

 They watched Jesus closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they could accuse him. …

In the last event the Pharisees have rejected all that Jesus has been trying to teach them. They have been challenged by the questions that each event has presented to them but have stubbornly refused to accept the truth. Instead of accepting the challenges to their world view, repenting, and believing what was confirmed before their eyes they harden their hearts and seek to destroy Jesus (3:5-6). They will ultimately accuse Jesus of being in league with Satan (Beelzebul).

The experts in the law who came down from Jerusalem said, “He is possessed by Beelzebul,” and, “By the ruler of demons he casts out demons. (Mark 3:22 NET)

Mark arranges the events to form a literary device that pulls the reader into the mounting tension. A clear take-away is that the Gospel does not advance without:

  • Struggle and Resistance to the message.
  • Challenging the world view of the unsaved.
  • Hardwork, Love, and Steadfastness of those who have the gospel.

These passages not only show mounting tension, they form a Markan sandwich.

  • (A) Jesus has authority to forgive sins – confirmed with a healing (2:1-12).
    • (B) Jesus has come for people – the sinners who need Him (2:13-17).
      • (C) The New is greater than the Old (2:18-22)
    • (B) The Sabbath is for people (2:23-28).
  • (A) Jesus has authority over the Sabbath – confirmed with a healing (3:1-6).

Mark uses the literary device of the “sandwich technique” to make another set of points:

  • Jesus has authority over SIN and the SABBATH (the sign of the Mosaic Covenant (Exodus 31:13))
  • The kingdom Jesus brings is new and cannot be combined with the old.

Jesus is challenging the views of those around Him so that they can have the Faith to Follow.

What do you think?

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