How to get clean
Mark’s gospel moves at a rapid pace, in which we see how various people respond to Jesus. Last week we saw the chaos ensue and crowds surround him, even after finding a quiet place to pray. Today’s passage is back to the chaos and crowds. We will see how three men on the outside of society came to Jesus and their different reactions. We also see the seed of tension, which continues to grow throughout the gospel.
I. Leaper (1:40-45)
The past year might have taught us a concept that has changed from the time that Jesus walked the earth. That is the distinction between clean and unclean. This category is used throughout the Bible, and one of the distinctions of clean/unclean is marks and spots on the skin called leprosy. Leviticus 13 explains when these marks are considered clean and when they are unclean. Leviticus 14 describes the process of purification to cleanse someone who had leprosy. Over the past year, we have learned about this concept with quarantine. The ‘unclean’ person is to be separated from the ‘clean’ person. Instead of two weeks or ten days, the person with leprosy would live isolated from the people for as long as they had the skin condition. In Mark chapter 1, a man with leprosy comes before Jesus pleading him, “If you will, you can make me clean.” We do not know this man’s name, or how long he has been classified unclean, yet he comes before Jesus and asks to be made clean.
Christ is moved with compassion. Some manuscripts say anger, maybe at his question, the sickness or other external people (cf. Mark 3:5). However, most manuscripts have the word ‘compassion or pity.’ Christ is going throughout Galilee preaching in Synagogues and he comes across many people with illnesses and demons. He casts them out, yet time and time again, more people are before him. Like a doctor who goes to work each day, the sick people keep on coming to him. Jesus stretches out his hand, and he touched the leper. Christ touches the, untouchable, unclean person. Christ reverses the effects of the fall. The Law can label a person as unclean and then have them purified to be clean, but it cannot make a man clean. Jesus heals the man, and he was made clean. We see Christ as powerful and mighty able to reverse the effects of the fall. Yet after being healed, Jesus gives the man strict instructions to show himself to the priests. Christ still points him back to the Law, that he might no longer be classified as unclean. However, this man’s response is one of disobedience. Jesus tells him not to tell everyone, and he leaves and tells everyone. He went out and began to talk freely about what Christ had done for him.
Christ’s ministry was flourishing. People were coming from everywhere, so much that Jesus couldn’t enter any town without being swarmed by people. People came to him. He was out in desolate places, literally ‘wilderness places.’ People came to him, from everywhere. In this short account, we see people coming to Jesus, not for his preaching but for his healing. The man with leprosy wanted to be made clean yet, we do not know if he ever followed Jesus. All we can note is that he sought physical healing but did not pursue Christ as Lord. The lesson for disciples is that this man died. Eventually, his clean flesh perished. If we come to Christ seeking only earthly comfort, we might face eternal discomfort.
II. Paraplegic (2:1-12)
Next, we see a man brought to Jesus. Unlike the leper who comes to Jesus asking to be made clean, this account is very different. He is back in Capernaum at his home, and the word spreads around he has returned. Just before leaving to pray, the crowds swarm his house. The image is people are overflowing from the house. The door is blocked. The crowds were coming, and Jesus is preaching the Word. As the house is filled (The fire chief would not approve) with people eager to hear the Word preached, a group of four men seek to bring their paralytic friend to Jesus. However, there was no way they would be able to push their way through the crowd. So they made their way into the house.
During the first century in the middle east, roof construction was quite simple. It consisted of three layers; the bottom was strong beams (most likely tree trunks) placed on the outer walls. The middle layer was reeds that ran in the opposite direction to the beams, and lastly was mud clay that was compacted on top of the reeds to keep the water away. Roof maintenance would include repatching and flattening the clay. Just as the song “Going on a bear hunt” goes, you can’t go under it… The only way they could get their friend to Jesus was to climb on top of the roof and pull the roof apart and lower their friend down to the ground in front of Jesus. They ‘un-roofed the roof.’
Jesus sees what they have done, and the passage explains that he didn’t see their ingenuity or hard work, but he sees their faith. The faith is not only of the paralytic but of the men who lowered him down. Jesus turns and says, “Child, your sins are forgiven.” The words might seem a bit strange at first. Here is a child in front of him on a mat lowered by the roof, and his response is, “your sins are forgiven.” Yet, as the rest of the account is explained, we see some of the Scribes’ disbelief. The Scribes were the first to hear the teaching and casting out of the unclean man before them in the Synagogue. However, some of them, now in their hearts, ask the question, “Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” No one has uttered any words in this narrative besides Jesus, yet some of the scribes accuse Jesus of breaking the third commandment. Jesus knows the hearts of men, and before they utter any words from their lips, Jesus responds to them, “why do you question these things in your hearts?” They are amazed at his preaching and his healing of the sick and demon-possessed. However, they still do not quite understand who he is.
However, in verse ten, we see the first time Jesus explains who he is. We have seen Mark answer the question “who is Christ” (Mark 1:1), God the Father (Mark 1:11), and the unclean spirit (Mark 1:24). Jesus has been accused of blasphemy, and his response is that it is not blasphemy if it is true. The scribes speak of authority, and Jesus explains that he does have authority. He calls himself ‘the son of man.’ This title is Jesus’ title he calls himself. The term Son of Man appears 14 times in the Gospel of Mark. Jesus clearly explains that he does have the authority to forgive sins because he is the “Son of Man.” The term comes from Daniel 7:13-14.
13 “I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him.
14And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.
Daniel 7:13–14 (ESV)
Jesus explains that he has authority because he is the Son of Man. He has been given, as the son of Man, dominion and glory and a kingdom. That everyone would serve him. The passage in Daniel explains four things that the Son of Man has: dominion, glory, kingdom, people, and all that is eternal. The Scribes asked in their hearts, “why does this man speak like this? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” Jesus responds that he is the Son of Man, who is divine. You are amazed at the authority of the teaching and healings. Where does this authority come from? Which is easier; to heal a paralytic or to forgive sins? The answer is, they are both impossible for man! But not Jesus the Son of Man. We see this in their response because they are amazed and glorify God.
III. Tax Collector (2:13-17)
Jesus again is teaching the crowd, by the sea. The first man comes to Jesus, the second is brought to Jesus, and the third, Levi, is sitting there as Jesus passed by. This happened to the other disciples who were called by Jesus (Mark 1:16-20). Unlike the other nameless people, we know the name of Levi, the son of Alpheus. Levi is identified as Matthew (Matt 9:9), the author of the gospel that bears his name. The brief account shows the connection to the previous calling of Jesus’ disciples; he passed by, Jesus sees, Jesus says “Follow Me,” then the disciple(s) followed him. Whereas Mark emphasis Peter, Andrew, James, and John were leaving work and family, Mark now draws attention to the people that are surrounding Jesus. Levi is a tax collector, and even today, this is not a loved profession. We go and see tax accountants but do not get to meet the person who collects these funds. The IRS had a name in the first century, and it was Levi. Set up in a predominate place to collect taxes for the Roman Empire and a little (or big) commission on the side. Nobody loves the IRS, however during this time, it had an even worse name. The Tax Collectors were traitors. They had pledged allegiance to the Roman Empire.
Levi follows Jesus and throws a celebration at his house, and who would be friends to a tax collector, tax collectors, and sinners. Yet, just as we saw the reaction to the Scribes and with the paralytic, we now see the reaction from the Pharisees to the calling of Levi. The tension between Jesus and the Scribes and Pharisees will continue throughout the book, growing more and more. The Scribes knew the middle letter of the Torah, but the Pharisees knew all the Laws. There are 613 commandments in the Torah (248 positives and 365 negative ones). However, the Pharisees also had explanations of what those commands would entail. One of them was that you should not eat with, that they might remain faithful to the Law (or the expanded Law as they understood it). They were extremely cautious about who they would spend time around. What if you went into the house of someone who had not tithed, and you ate from their herbs that they did not tithe upon (Matt 23:23). They had thought through every aspect of the Law to ensure that they could keep all 613 commandments. Paul explains his life as a Pharisee that he has confidence under the Law. “as to righteousness under the law, blameless” (Phil 3:6). They ask a question, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” You see an important distinction that the Pharisees make, they are not tax collectors, and they are not sinners (Luke 18:11).
In all of these interactions, each person comes differently and leaves differently than they came, yet they knew of their need of Jesus. Maybe they did not understand their greatest need for Jesus, as their savior of their sins. Christ responds that the Pharisees do not see their need for him, yet others do. Tax Collectors and sinners know they are not righteous, as the tax collector prays in Luke 18:13, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” Many of us can come to Jesus in many ways. Some of us grew up in the church, others grew up and left, and now they are back. Some of us have never stepped over the threshold. However, no matter your relation to the church you can still leave thinking you don’t need Jesus or listen to him. RC Sproul wrote about the Pharisees saying, “they are the sickest of the sick, all the while thinking they did not need a physician.” They can go to church all their days and think they are ‘blameless under the law.’ You only go to the doctor’s office for medical reasons. You only see a dentist to check your teeth, chiropractor for your back. No one makes appointments to sit in a room waiting, then move to the examination room to wait, just to say hello to the doctor. The gospel’s sweet news is not how you come to Jesus but how you walk away after meeting him. As the great physician we come to Jesus not to cure our leprosy, we come to Christ who removes the flesh, indwelling sin. We come to the great physician who does not tell us to get up and walk, but our sins are forgiven. We come to Christ because we realize our need for him.
“God takes not pleasure in the death of sinners, but rather that they return and live. But men take such pleasure in sin that they will die before they will return. The Lord Jesus was content to be their physician, and has provided them a sufficient plaster of His blood: but if men make light of it, and will not apply it, what wonder if they perish after all?” Richard Baxter
 This is called an Illeism, which is when a person refers to themselves in the third person. This is very common for God to do this in the Old Testament, and here we see Jesus doing the same thing.