Jesus Brings a Deeper, More Comprehensive Fix (Mark 1:40-45)

christcleansingHere we have what seems to be a familiar enough story. As Jesus was going through all Galilee preaching in the synagogues and healing people, a man approaches Jesus with a particular need. Up to this point, we might expect Jesus to say a word and heal the man. After all, Jesus has places to go and people to see. He just told his disciples that He couldn’t stay put long enough to meet the requests of everyone who had needs (Mark 1:35-39). But Jesus surprises us (you would think we might get more comfortable with this, even this early in the Gospel of Mark).

Jesus touches the man and he is healed. Actually, he is “made clean.” What vexed this man was he suffered from leprosy. Today, we can distinguish between leprosy and other skin abnormalities, but in Jesus day, any skin related issue – deterioration, discoloration, deformity, etc. – would be labeled leprosy. According to the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, “This disease in an especial manner rendered its victims unclean; even contact with a leper defiled whoever touched him, so while the cure of other diseases is called healing, that of leprosy is called cleansing.” According to Leviticus 13-14, anyone who suffered from the affliction was to be isolated and in effect quarantined in order to contain the spread of the disease. Likewise, if anyone came in contact with someone suffering in this way, they themselves became “unclean” – a term not necessarily denoting that they became leprous, but at least susceptible to it and thus needing to “purify” themselves to become clean. This man was not in that situation.

Most likely, he would have been living with the other “outcasts” – those who because of their unclean status were forced to live outside of the city walls. It was common for these people to dwell in caves with others in similar situations. If they had loved ones or deeply committed friends, they might have a visit occasionally with the visitor bringing some kind of food, often lowering it down into the cavern. This man had no basis for hope of escaping his stations whatsoever; at least not until Jesus shows up.

Imagine the obstacles he had to overcome to come to Jesus. Wading through crowds of people that Jesus tended to attract, venturing into the city’s perimeter, even daring to cross the six-foot perimeter he needed to maintain in order to approach this popular teacher and healer.

This man implores Jesus to heal him and make him clean. And Jesus is “moved with pity.” The phrase is translated from a single word in the Greek, its splanxna, and it means “the inward parts,’ specially the nobler entrails – the heart, lungs, liver, and kidneys,” and eventually would come to denote “seat of the affections.” Jesus sees this man and is moved in his inmost being.

Remember, Jesus can heal with a word; he has just done so in the verses preceding our passage here. But here it says that Jesus “touches him,” and he is cleansed. Why this peculiar detail? Is it just a demonstrable flourish for Jesus?

To a man who has spent perhaps his entire life being isolated away from others, not able to participate in the community life, always making sure he kept his distance (or rather, feeling the awkwardness and emotional devastation of watching others adamantly avoid him), this man didn’t just need physical healing from the leprosy – he needed a more comprehensive healing.

He needed one that covered his physical (cleansing from leprosy), his emotional (the touch from another person) as well as his social and even spiritual needs. Jesus goes on and doesn’t tell him to go on about his new life. Instead, Jesus directs him to present himself to the “priest” and make the acceptable offering for his cleansing to him (Mark 1:44; cf. Leviticus 14:2-32). Why bother with this at this point? Jesus had healed him. More to the point, Jesus is doing something so new and qualitatively different from the priests of his day – why bother sending the man there?

This was the accepted practice to be restored to the community at large. Jesus was telling him to go through the official, proper channels, not in order to become clean, but in order to be seen as clean. For Jesus, this is proof enough that the kingdom of God is at hand, and a new thing is being done in their midst. There’s no need for the man to go out and make a big show of what happened. Just go do what is necessary to be welcomed back into the life of the community. But the man can’t help himself. His deepest longings and wildest hopes have been met by this different kind of teacher, a different kind of healer than even he had dared possible.

How could he not tell everyone about it?

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The Very Natural Gospel

Jesus Healing Work – Restoring the World Back to Normal Again

In my reading and studying for our sermon series on the Gospel of Mark at Christ Presbyterian Church in Mansfield, (You can check it out for yourself if you want: The Way of Paradox: Following the Right-Side Up King in an Upside-Down World) I keep coming across great quotes and ways of expressing an unavoidable theme – that the miracles of Jesus are not the suspension of the natural order, but the reversal of the unnatural order back to what should be natural wholeness, health and restoration.

Here’s one from the ESV Gospel Transformation Bible on Mark 7:31-8:26

“When Jesus heals people such as this deaf man, we tend to view these miracles in the Gospels as interruptions of the natural order. Yet given the promises of the Old Testament to restore the world to the way it was at the very beginning, miracles are not an interruption of the natural order but the restoration of the natural order. We are so used to a fallen world that sickness, disease, pain, and death seem natural. In fact, they are the interruption. Jesus’ supernatural miracles are a return to the truly natural.”

Tell me, is this how you read and understand the miracles in the Bible? If not, why not?

If this way of thinking is new to you, I’d love to know and hear what thoughts or questions you may have. Take 30 seconds, leave a comment and let’s talk about it.

Something Greater is Here (Mark 2:3-17)

Paralytic Man Lowered in the Midst of the Crowds Before Jesus

Jesus continues his public ministry and the crowds keep coming to him.  People are expecting him to do great and good works and they can’t get enough.  That’s what makes this episode about a man being lowered into the middle of a very crowded house so fascinating.  First, imagine you’re crowded into the home of Jesus along with everyone else, and suddenly you notice part of the roof collapsing.

Homes in Jesus’ day in Capernaum would have been constructed largely with some wooden beams and mud-patch work for the roof.  As this band of friends climbed up the roof and began to carve into the mud in order to lower their paralytic friend, they undoubtedly would have caused a commotion down below.  Mud pieces falling from the ceiling, maybe bits of straw or hay scattering around the room.  As their eyes were directed upwards, they notice several sets of eyes in a circle in the newly formed skylight, and then a man being lowered on a mat. You may think, “What never!” or “What boldness!” but the fact is that everybody notices and everyone is thinking something.

What do you think Jesus was thinking?  It was after all his home that just had the roof torn open so that a helpless man could get help.  Jesus tells us what he was thinking: while some were thinking “What nerve!” and others were thinking “What boldness!” Jesus was thinking “What faith!”  These men believed that if they could just get their paralyzed friend in front of Jesus, his life would be different.  He would be healed.  He wouldn’t need to be carried along by his friends anymore.  He could be restored to a healthy, vibrant life.  And they were right.  That is what happens when people meet Jesus.  With Jesus, life gets restored and things get set back to the way they are supposed to be.

So Jesus speaks to the paralytic man and says, ”Be healed?”  No!  He tells the man that his “sins are forgiven.”  What was Jesus doing here?  Jesus is meeting the man’s need in a way that neither the man, nor his friends, nor anyone else in the house expected – he is meeting his need for forgiveness of sin.  Tim Keller is helpful in understanding what is going on when he writes:

Jesus knows something the man doesn’t know—that he has a much bigger problem than his physical condition. Jesus is saying to him, “I understand your problems. I have seen your suffering. I’m going to get to that. But please realize that the main problem in a person’s life is never his suffering; it’s his sin.” If you find Jesus’s response offensive, please at least consider this: If someone says to you, “The main problem in your life is not what’s happened to you, not what people have done to you; your main problem is the way you’ve responded to that”—ironically, that’s empowering. Why? Because you can’t do very much about what’s happened to you or about what other people are doing—but you can do something about yourself. When the Bible talks about sin it is not just referring to the bad things we do. It’s not just lying or lust or whatever the case may be—it is ignoring God in the world he has made; it’s rebelling against him by living without reference to him. It’s saying, “I will decide exactly how I live my life.” And Jesus says that is our main problem. (Tim Keller, King’s Cross, 25-26)

Jesus isn’t denying that the man needs healing in a physical sense, but he is challenging everyone’s notion that Jesus is a really good guy, doing some really good things.  He’s more than that. New Testament scholar N.T. Wright links the authority Jesus claims for himself, with the authority promised to “one like a son of man,” in Daniel 7, where:

There, ‘one like a son of man’ is the representative of God’s true people. He is opposed by the forces of evil; but God vindicates him, rescues him, proves him to be in the right, and gives him authority. In Daniel, this authority enables him to dispense God’s judgment. Here, in a fascinating twist, he has authority to dispense God’s forgiveness. (N.T. Wright, Mark for Everyone, 17).

Jesus by forgiving the man’s sins is claiming to be the one promised by God to battle against the forces of evil that conspire against God and His people.  Jesus is saying that He’s one with the authority of God, and this demands a response.

Well this episode certainly provoked a response among the scribes, or religious professionals.  They got the message and were questioning whether Jesus had the authority to do what he was claiming to do.  If this man’s problem was a sin-problem, then his friends should have taken him through the proper channels.  Forgiveness is something only God can offer, and if that was what this man needed, he needed to be brought to the Temple in Jerusalem, in front of the credentialed priests; not a wandering preacher and healer in his home?

Jesus does the unthinkable.  He doesn’t just claim this authority for himself, but he wields it.  He executes his authority and the result is the man who was once paralyzed, now picks up his mat and walks away.  Something greater than the Temple and someone greater than their priests is now here.

Mark tells us that “they were all amazed and glorified God” and said “We never say anything like this before!” (Mark 2:12).  That’s because no one and nothing like Jesus had ever been seen before. He is the long-awaited “one like a son of man” to oppose evil in all it’s forms, and do for God’s people what they could not do for themselves.

Jesus Brings a Deeper, More Comprehensive Fix (Mark 1:40-45)

Christ cleansing a leper by Jean-Marie Melchior Doze, 1864.

Here we have what seems to be a familiar enough story.  As Jesus was going through all Galilee preaching in the synagogues and healing people, a man approaches Jesus with a particular need.  Up to this point, we might expect Jesus to say a word and heal the man.  After all, Jesus has places to go and people to see.  He just told his disciples that He couldn’t stay put long enough to meet the requests of everyone who had needs (Mark 1:35-39). But Jesus surprises us (you would think we might get more comfortable with this, even this early in the Gospel of Mark).

Jesus touches the man and he is healed.  Actually, he is “made clean.”  What vexed this man was he suffered from leprosy.  Today, we can distinguish between leprosy and other skin abnormalities, but in Jesus day, any skin related issue – deterioration, discoloration, deformity, etc. – would be labeled leprosy. According to the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, “This disease in an especial manner rendered its victims unclean; even contact with a leper defiled whoever touched him, so while the cure of other diseases is called healing, that of leprosy is called cleansing.” According to Leviticus 13-14, anyone who suffered from the affliction was to be isolated and in effect quarantined in order to contain the spread of the disease.  Likewise, if anyone came in contact with someone suffering in this way, they themselves became “unclean” – a term not necessarily denoting that they became leprous, but at least susceptible to it and thus needing to “purify” themselves to become clean.  This man was not in that situation.

Most likely, he would have been living with the other “outcasts” – those who because of their unclean status were forced to live outside of the city walls.  It was common for these people to dwell in caves with others in similar situations.  If they had loved ones or deeply committed friends, they might have a visit occasionally with the visitor bringing some kind of food, often lowering it down into the cavern. This man had no basis for hope of escaping his stations whatsoever; at least not until Jesus shows up.

Imagine the obstacles he had to overcome to come to Jesus.  Wading through crowds of people that Jesus tended to attract, venturing into the city’s perimeter, even daring to cross the six foot perimeter he needed to maintain in order to approach this popular teacher and healer.

This man implores Jesus to heal him and make him clean. And Jesus is “moved with pity.”  The phrase is translated from a single word in the Greek, its splanxna, and it means “the inward parts,’ especially the nobler entrails – the heart, lungs, liver, and kidneys,” and eventually would come to denote “seat of the affections.”  Jesus sees this man and is moved in his inmost being.

Remember, Jesus can heal with a word; he has just done so in the verses preceding our passage here.  But here it says that Jesus “touches him,” and he is cleansed.  Why this peculiar detail?  Is it just a demonstrable flourish for Jesus?

To a man who has spent perhaps his entire life being isolated away from others, not able to participate in the community life, always making sure he kept his distance (or rather, feeling the awkwardness and emotional devastation of watching others adamantly avoid him), this man didn’t just need physical healing from the leprosy – he needed a more comprehensive healing.

He needed one that covered his physical (cleansing from leprosy), his emotional (the touch from another person) as well as his social and even spiritual needs.  Jesus goes on and doesn’t tell him to go on about his new life.  Instead, Jesus directs him to present himself to the “priest” and make the acceptable offering for his cleansing to him (Mark 1:44; cf. Leviticus 14:2-32).  Why bother with this at this point?  Jesus had healed him.  More to the point, Jesus is doing something so new and qualitatively different from the priests of his day – why bother sending the man there?

This was the accepted practice to be restored to the community at large.  Jesus was telling him to go through the official, proper channels, not in order to become clean, but in order to be seen as clean.  For Jesus, this is proof enough that the kingdom of God is at hand, and a new thing is being done in their midst.  There’s no need for the man to go out and make a big show of what happened.  Just go do what is necessary to be welcomed back into the life of the community.  But the man can’t help himself.  His deepest longings and wildest hopes have been met by this different kind of teacher, a different kind of healer, than even he had dared possible.

How could he not tell everyone bout it?