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This chapter finds Jesus back again in Capernaum where he healed the man borne of four (Mark 2:1-12). Events related to the call of Matthew were given (Mark 2:13-17); questions regarding fasting were answered (Mark 2:18-22); and the Pharisees accused Jesus' disciples of breaking the sabbath (Mark 2:23-28). All of this is a continuation of the Galilean ministry.
After some days ...
In the house ...
An alternative reading is "at home," indicating that this was the place in Capernaum where Jesus usually lived. It has been surmised that this was the home belonging to Peter and Andrew (Mark 1:29). Jesus did not own a house. When in Bethany he frequently spent time in the home of Lazarus and his two sisters.
The evidence of eye-witness reporting surfaces in this, as at many other places in this gospel. If Mark, as thought by many, was writing the things he had frequently heard the apostle Peter teach, or if, as a young man, he had been present and actually had seen some of the things related it would explain the brilliant eye-witness references in this gospel.
And he spake the word unto them ...
The priority of importance which must be assigned to the "word" of the gospel is evident here as it was in Mark 1:38. Wonderful as were the miracles of Jesus, it was the life-giving word of God, and the delivery of it to mankind, which constituted the real purpose of his ministry.
THE HEALING OF THE MAN WHO WAS CARRIED BY FOUR MEN
Although Jesus had entered the city quietly, person-to-person communication quickly resulted in the appearance of a throng of people, overflowing the house and blocking the entrance to the residence.
Just what the exact nature of the man's disease may have been is not known; but the most unusual conduct of his four friends who took him, bed and all, to Jesus is an eloquent argument that his state was desperate. Seeing the vast crowd around the house and recognizing at a glance the impossibility of any normal entry into the place, most seekers wound have turned back, but not these four with their friend.
Could not come nigh unto him for the crowd ...
is another example of the kind of statement frequently found in the New Testament, in which extensive meaning and application beyond the context are evident. How many are there in every place who cannot come near the Lord because of the crowd? When one truly decides to seek and follow the Lord, he may very well rest assured that a vast crowd of his fellow mortals will be positioned squarely across the avenue of approach.
Uncovered the roof ... broken it up ...
Insatiable curiosity will never cease raising questions about this. How much damage to the roof? Whose house was it? How did the owner react to this substantial injury to his dwelling? Just what was "broken up" anyway? All such trifling inconsequentials are not even mentioned by the holy authors who stick to essential facts in their narratives. The great truth, the world-shattering fact, was that the Son of God was present in that house and that he wrought the most remarkable cure of the sufferer.
The bed whereon the sick ... lay ...
Actually, this is another of the inconsequentials; but it may be safely surmised that it was a portable type of bed which would have made it easier for the four to have carried the occupant to Jesus through the roof!
Their faith ...
refers to the faith of all five, there being no logical way to suppose that the four believers brought an unbeliever.
Son, thy sins are forgiven ...
This was not a part of the healing but an entirely different and far more wonderful blessing than the healing of the man's body. That forgiveness was here pronounced by Jesus Christ in the absence of the man's confessing any faith and without regard to his submission to any kind of ordinance of God was not a relaxation of the requirements binding upon all men today. Prior to the will of Jesus Christ being formalized and proclaimed to all the world, there were numerous instances, of which this is one, in which the Lord proclaimed forgiveness to men.
The declaration of Jesus had profound implications: (1) it was an assertion of his deity, the convictions of all ages sustaining the view that "only God" can forgive sins. (2) It was an indication that he had read the hearts of the five men before him, especially of the sufferer, and that he had determined the spiritual attitude of the man to have been fully consistent with the reward bestowed. (3) It proved that Jesus understood the man's greater need as forgiveness, and so that was given first.
Jesus read not only the hearts of the appellants for his mercy, but the hearts of the scribes and Pharisees as well.
He blasphemeth ...
The scribes were correct in believing that any ordinary man, thus speaking, would be guilty of blasphemy; but they were totally in error in their judgment of Jesus Christ as an ordinary man.
Who can forgive sins but one, even God? ...
They were also correct in their belief that men cannot forgive sins, the same being a prerogative of the Almighty God only. In this category, the convictions of the Pharisees were superior to ideas of many in all ages who have thought that certain men indeed have such power, a notion fully refuted by the events about to be unfolded in Mark's narrative.
Perceiving in his spirit ...
The omniscience of Jesus was indicated by his power of reading men's thoughts. Throughout the New Testament, there are many examples of Christ's supernatural knowledge of all that was in human hearts.
Why reason ... in your hearts ...
This passage gives an important witness of what is meant, actually, by "the heart" as used in the word of God, appearing here as the seat of reason and intelligence, and therefore making it mandatory to understand it as that which men now call "the mind" or "the brain."
It was doubtless with a view to this very action that Jesus forgave the man's sins a little earlier. The presence of the scribes was probably due to their having been sent from Jerusalem to monitor Christ's teaching and report back any violations of their religious rules. It should be remembered that at least a year previously Christ had healed a man on the sabbath; and, following lengthy discussions of it, the Pharisees had already made plans to murder him (John 5:18).
Significantly, Christ in this verse equated the power to forgive sins with the power to perform a miracle; and from the day Jesus said this, it has been true that the man who cannot do both can do neither. The Lord went even further, as the next verse relates.
Christ here acknowledged the partial truth mixed in with the reasonings of his opponents, that being the fact that only God has authority to forgive sins.
But that ye may know ...
Christ would perform a wonder that only God could perform, and then they would know that he had power to forgive sins. The deduction is justified that if one cannot perform such a miracle, then it is likewise true that he cannot forgive sins. True, one may SAY, "I absolve you"; but, since the power claimed in such an assertion is beyond the scope of human judgment to determine its truth or falsity, Christ here acknowledged the validity of the kind of test he proposed and to which he submitted.
Arise, take up thy bed, etc ...
By such a command, Christ challenged the scribes in this manner: Very well, you question whether I can forgive sins or not. Therefore, I command this palsied person to take up his bed and go home; if the power of God enables him to do it at my commandment, you will know that I and the Father are one; and that my power to command such a miracle proves also my power to forgive sins.
The miracle was wrought upon the Saviour's word of command. Typical of all Jesus' miracles, this one, like all the others, was complete, immediate, accomplished by a word, without incantations or agonizings, and without any long prayers, waving of hands, jerking of the head, or any thunderous blast from the pipe organ. It was totally and dramatically accomplished with utmost ease, in the presence of enemies, without prior staging, and with no props at all. Hail, blessed Jesus!
In view of all the circumstances, this miracle was wrought under test conditions, proving dramatically the power and godhead of Jesus.
We never saw it on this fashion ...
Such expressions used by Mark to record the audience reaction to Jesus' words and deeds are characteristic of the whole gospel.
EVENTS RELATED TO THE CALL OF MATTHEW
Instead of retiring to the desert, as he did earlier, Jesus here went to the shore of Galilee, an action requiring no great journey, for Capernaum was itself situated on the sea. Through use of a boat, Christ could maintain the proper distance between himself and the throng. (See under Mark 4:1.)
The call of Matthew is also reported in Matthew 9:9 and Luke 5:27. Both Mark and Luke refer to this apostle as Levi, Mark only indicating that he was the son of Alphaeus. Strangely, Mark also called James "the son of Alphaeus" (Mark 3:18), indicating that both Matthew and James were sons of fathers who were named Alphaeus. There is no hint in the New Testament that they were brothers.
And as he passed by ...
Many of Jesus' most wonderful deeds were accomplished in the impromptu manner suggested here. The Lord was alert to the eternal potential of every moment and every situation or circumstance. Christ regarded the present moment, the present human being in his presence, and the present circumstance in all of its vast potential for the future. Unlike the Levite who passed by on the other side of the road, oblivious to the plight of the man who had fallen among thieves, Jesus gave every man that he ever met the benefit of his most careful thought and consideration.
He saw Levi ... sitting at the place of toll ...
As a collector of taxes, probably upon the caravans between Egypt and Damascus F1 which passed through Capernaum, Matthew was called a publican. It may not be inferred necessarily that he was in the employ of the Romans, because the word "toll" here is distinguished from "tribute," the latter going to Rome, the toll to the native government. Thus, Matthew's employer might well have been Herod Antipas. The application of the term "publican"' to Matthew (Luke 5:27), however, as well as the presence of such persons at the banquet later given by Matthew, together with the footnote under Luke 3:12 (English Revised Version (1885)) defining "publicans" as "collectors or renters of Roman taxes," strongly indicates that Mark probably used "toll" in this verse in its broader, rather than in its limited and technical sense. From these considerations, the traditional view that Matthew was a renter or collector of Roman taxes is preferable.
Jesus' choice of Matthew was therefore a challenge to the snobbery and exclusiveness of the Pharisees. It was also a move toward the socially unacceptable, the poor, and the deprived. The divine genius of Jesus quickly recognized the scholarly student of the prophets who sat at the seat of custom in Capernaum and called him to the apostleship.
And he arose and followed him ...
Although no record of it exists, it would appear to be certain that this was not Matthew's first acquaintance with Jesus. Just as the first meetings with the four whose calling was recorded in Mark 1 is omitted, the beginning of acquaintance between Matthew and Jesus does not appear. "One can only conclude that Matthew had known at least something about Jesus earlier." F2
His house ...
This was the house of Matthew the publican, for he promptly made a feast to which Jesus' whole company of disciples was invited, as well as many of Matthew's friends from among the publicans and sinners of his associates. This feast was an unqualified outrage, as far as the religious hierarchy in Jerusalem was concerned. Of all classes of sinners, the despised collectors of the Roman taxes were the most odious; and here were Jesus and his disciples sitting down to eat with people like that! Having found the priests totally negative in their attitude toward himself, Christ, by such an action as this, moved to take his saving message of eternal life to all men, including the outcasts.
A feast of the size indicated here was probably held in the courtyard of the house, leaving passers-by an opportunity to observe all that was done. For a long while the Pharisees had opposed Jesus; and their cunning and craft were evident in their maneuvers here to open a wedge between the Lord and his disciples.
And when Jesus heard it ...
Christ, of course, knew all that was said or even thought by those in his presence; but this seems to indicate that Jesus' disciples immediately told him what the Pharisees had said, or that he perhaps overheard them. At any rate, he promptly answered the objection. See next verse.
Jesus' reply was undisguised irony. That assemblage in Matthew's house knew the Pharisees for what they were, proud, arrogant, unscrupulous, hypocritical, ruthless, and thoroughly wicked sons of the devil. Matthew himself was called of God to outline the character of those men in his gospel in order that all future generations would know WHAT KIND OF MEN engineered the chosen people's rejection of their Messiah.
They that are sick ...
Indeed, the Pharisees were the sickest people in Jerusalem; and the Lord's suggestion that "the whole" needed no physician must have been greeted with a gale of laughter. Self-righteousness received its justly deserved rebuke.
I came not to call the righteous, but sinners ...
Our Lord's mission was to redeem men from sin, and ever prerequisite to that redemption is the consciousness of the sinner that he needs it, that he is condemned, lost, out of fellowship with the Eternal, and utterly unable to merit anything other than the penalty of death due to sin, and that in Jesus Christ alone has man's sufficient sacrifice appeared. In him alone is the hope of cleansing, pardon, and eternal life. Alas, the Pharisees and their associates were never able to see it. Their sins were known to all except themselves; and they were too proud to learn from Jesus.
The Pharisees were up to their old tricks, trying to cause trouble for Jesus. Here. the strategy was designed to open a breach between the disciples of John the Baptist and those of Jesus.
Thy disciples fast not ...
This was equivalent to "You are not in style! John the Baptist's disciples and the Pharisees are fasting, so what about you?"
The Lord replied to their objection with a triple parable: (1) new cloth on old garment, (2) new wine-skins for new wine, and (3) drinkers of old wine care not for new wine. Only Luke gave the full parable (Luke 5:33-39).
In context, this was a devastating reply, John the Baptist had already identified Jesus Christ as the bridegroom, and this metaphor was appropriately used here as an appeal to John's disciples. Furthermore, the Pharisees relaxed the rules for themselves regarding fasts on the occasion of their attending weddings. With many weddings to attend, the Pharisees found little need to do any fasting at all, despite the fact that they were always preaching it. What a center shot this part of Jesus' reply achieved! It is as though he had said, "Look, you Pharisees, this is a wedding!"
The bridegroom ...
John the Baptist had declared, "He that hath the bride is the bridegroom" (John 3:29); and, from this, some have erroneously concluded that the bride, or church, was in existence when John spoke. The bride of God, or of Christ (he and the Father are one), is actually the true or spiritual Israel; and, when John spoke, the genuine Israel was being separated through his preaching from the secular Israel wherein it was until then commingled. That spiritual Israel (which in time would include the church) John had directed to follow Jesus Christ, hence, the statement that he had the bride.
This is a clear prediction of the Lord's suffering and death. We cannot agree with the assertion that in Mark "Jesus does not mention suffering until after (Peter's) confession." F3 It is true that the word "suffering" is not here in this verse, but the concept of both suffering and death is inherent in the Lord's concise prophecy that the bridegroom (himself) shall be taken away from them. If removal of the bridegroom from the bride by force (the bridegroom will not merely go away; he shall be "taken away") is not a prediction of the sufferings and death of Christ, to what can it refer?
And then will they fast in that day ...
is not a reference to fasting as some formal ordinance that shall be bound on the church of all ages, but it is a reference to the sorrow (of which fasting was a sign) that would descend upon the apostles during his Passion and brief residence in the tomb.
Patching old clothes was a familiar thing to our Lord, suggesting his poverty that has made us rich. The force of this humble metaphor lies in the fact that: if a piece of new, unshrunk cloth is used to mend a hole in an old garment, then just as soon as the garment is washed, the new material will shrink, thus tearing out an even larger hole in the garment. The application of this means that Christ did not come to patch up Judaism with the new teachings of Christianity. His holy religion was not designed to mend old religions but was a gloriously new thing, bearing the same relationship to Judaism that a building has to the scaffolding that precedes it.
Skins of animals were used in those times for containing liquids; and, in the case of wine, if new, the process of fermentation increased the volume which was compensated for by the elasticity of the new skins. However, if new wine was put into old skins (hardened and no longer elastic), the fermentation process would burst them, resulting in the loss of both the wine and the wineskins.
The application of this has been understood to mean that Jesus' new teaching could not be put into John's disciples; but it seems preferable to make the forms, ceremonies, and ordinances of Judaism to be the old wineskins; and Jesus' new teachings could not be subordinated to and synchronized with such things as Jewish fasts. To understand this to mean that Jesus would not put his new teaching into John's disciples violates the fact that some of John's disciples became apostles of Christ (John 1:35). However, the majority seem not to have done so; and the reluctance of many of John's disciples to follow Jesus would appear to be the primary meaning of the third phase of this triple reply. "No man having drunk old wine desireth new; for he saith, The old is good" (Luke 5:89). Thus, if certain exceptions are noted, it may still be appropriate to understand the old wineskins as John's disciples.
THE CHARGE OF SABBATH-BREAKING
The Pharisees blew this incident up as a violation of the sabbath. It was, of course, a violation to thresh wheat on the sabbath; but the charge that Jesus' disciples' plucking a few ears of wheat, shelling them in their hands, and eating a bite as they passed along - the charge that made such actions threshing wheat on the sabbath was absolutely ridiculous. It would have been just as reasonable, if they had knocked off a little dew on the ground, as they walked along, to have charged them with irrigating land on the sabbath! It is crystal clear that Jesus' disciples did not in any sense whatever violate the sabbath laws of God; what they did violate was the silly Pharisaical rules which those hypocrites had imposed upon people INSTEAD of God's law.
One can only be distressed at the interpretations of this event which accept this charge of the Pharisees as valid. It was not valid. It was a false charge. God's sabbath law had not been violated at all; but the petty regulations legislated and imposed by the Pharisees had been flouted. Of course, IN THEIR VIEW, their human regulations were equated with God's law; but no Christian should fall into such an error as that. Christ said of this very incident that his disciples were "guiltless" (Matthew 12:7).
David did indeed do an unlawful thing, to which Christ referred; but why did Jesus cite such an example? Is this to be understood to mean: "Look, David sinned; therefore it is all right for us to sin"? No! Christ was not here seeking to justify his disciples on the basis that "everybody else" is doing it. The true purpose of David's conduct being brought in here was to show how unreasonable and partial the Pharisees were in their judgments. David's flagrant violation they approved; yet they would make what Jesus' disciples did sabbath-breaking!
The alternative reading (English Revised Version (1885)), "in the days of Abiathar" is correct, apparently because Abiathar was not high priest at the time referred to, but later when David was king. His father Ahimelech was high priest when David ate the showbread (1 Samuel 21:1-6). It could also be that Abiathar also bore the name Ahimelech, as the Bible gives many examples of persons called by two names.
Which it is not lawful to eat ...
Christ here clearly indicated David's actions as unlawful, the point being that a genuine violation in the case of David was openly approved by the Pharisees, while the inconsequential thing Jesus' disciples did was blown up into a charge of sabbath-breaking. Christ was not here seeking to justify his disciples' sabbath-breaking by the statement that "David did it also"; but he was pinpointing the unfairness and unjust judgments of the Pharisees.
Christ never meant, as some assert, that "human need takes precedence over God's law." Christ taught no such doctrine. His refusal to permit his own dire hunger to cause him to yield to the devil's temptations to change stones into bread (Matthew 4:1-4) refutes the conceit that human need justifies setting aside God's laws. Christ's true teaching here is that God's law justifies setting aside petty human regulations.
Such interpretations of this as that advocated by Dummelow and many others should be rejected. He said:
Christ laid down the principle that even divine law itself, so far as it is purely ceremonial, is subservient to human needs, and can be broken without sin for adequate cause. F4
As McGarvey expressed it:
If Christians may violate law when its observance would involve hardship or suffering, then there is an end to suffering for the name of Christ, and an end, even, of self-denial. F5
The fact of the Pharisees' approval of David's unlawful conduct, while at the same time pressing their silly little charge against the disciples, is evident in the fact that, if they had not approved it, they could have said, "Ah! So David was a sinner, and so are you!" That they did not so reply shows that they approved David's violation; thus their hypocrisy was open for all to see.
"Human needs take precedence over ritual law" F6 could be applied only to very few things in the Christian faith, because Christianity is not a ritual religion. Only two ceremonial ordinances distinguish the faith of Christ, namely, the Lord's Supper and baptism. To the extent that marriage and church attendance might be considered in any degree "ritual" or "ceremonial," these also would be excluded from any such deduction based on Jesus' teachings here. Moreover, the deduction cited above is not a logical derivation from New Testament teaching concerning this incident; but it is due to a failure to take account of Matthew's more complete narrative of it, that writer quoting Jesus as denying all guilt of his apostles. Expositors who ignore Matthew 12:7, set aside the Lord's statement of the apostles' innocence, accept the crooked charge of the Pharisees that they broke the sabbath, and then make our Lord's alleged approval of it the basis of a deduction that men may set aside God's laws whenever they fancy their "human needs" are in any manner denied by holy law - such expositors do violence to the word of God. To accept such "interpretations" would justify every divorce ever granted. It is clear that some who hold such views have not considered the logical consequences of such interpretations.
Sabbath made for man, not man for sabbath ...
is a reference to the sabbath: (1) as God made it, and (2) as the Pharisees made it. God indeed had made it for man; and quite early in the history of the sabbath law a man decided that his "human needs" took precedence over it, picking up sticks on the sabbath. Did God approve of such conduct? He commanded Israel to stone the man to death. Christ was one with the Father, and it cannot be argued that Jesus was here critical of the way God made the sabbath for man. On the other hand, the Pharisees, by their unbelievable multiplication of little frills and furbelows regarding sabbath-keeping, and their extrapolation of the basic God-given laws concerning it to include an entire dictionary of "do's" and "don't's" God never heard of, and then by their construing their own doodlings in that regard as on an equality with the law of God and as even more sacred than God's law - that was making man for the sabbath!
The Son of man is lord even of the sabbath ...
"Son of man" as used in Psa. 8 is merely a synonym for man; but that should not be allowed to contravene Jesus' use of the words in a unique sense as applicable only to himself. In Christ's usage of this title it refers to one who has the power to forgive sins (Mark 2:10), hence to himself as God. Jesus meant everything by this title that he meant by "Son of God," the evident reason for his preference for "Son of man" deriving from its freedom of the secular connotations (in the Jewish mind) of "Son of God." The latter title they identified with "Messiah," the re-establishment of Solomon's throne, and the lifting of the yoke of Roman tyranny.
McMillan is correct in pointing out that if "Son of man" in this passage is reduced to mean any man, or all men, it would make Jesus say that "Man is greater than any religious institution and that religious laws were made for the benefit of his own self-expression!" F7 This view, of course, must be rejected.
For fuller discussion of the title "Son of man," see Commentary on John, p. 54.
Lord of the sabbath ...
Wholly apart from the fact that no violation of God's sabbath law had happened, there was the additional truth that Jesus' disciples were exempted from God's true sabbath laws, due to their being in the service of Jesus Christ. Matthew's record emphasizes this. The Pharisees themselves "profaned the sabbath and were guiltless"; because the sabbath law did not apply to servants of the temple, who every sabbath day continually did things which in any other service would have been sabbath-violations. After pointing this out, Jesus said that "One greater than the temple is here," the same being a reference to himself. Therefore, the apostles in his service were even more entitled to exemption from the true sabbath restrictions than were the Pharisees who served in their temple, inasmuch as Christ was the greater temple (Matthew 12:5,6).
Furthermore, Jesus' lordship over the sabbath derived from his oneness and equality with God. He was in the process of abolishing the sabbath institution altogether. He would nail it to his cross, abolishing it totally and completely; and his words here were a prophecy of that very thing.
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.