Last week we looked at the first of 4 parables in Mark chapter 4. It was the longest of the four and the most fundamental – our prerequisite course = Parables 101 – the Parable of the Soils. If you want to understand any of the parables of Jesus, you must first understand that one. Today we will look at all 4 parables in this chapter and how they relate to one another – with our emphasis being on the interpretation of the final 3 – a much more challenging task since Jesus does not give us His point-by-point interpretation of these.
Remember what is happening at this point in the ministry of Jesus in Galilee. He has demonstrated His authority as the Son of God – to teach with authority; to heal all types of physical diseases; to cast out demons and demonstrate His dominion over the kingdom of Satan; soon we are going to see that even the forces of nature – the wind and the sea obey Him. Yet while He is experiencing rapid growth in popularity among the people and multitudes are attracted to Him (some in faith but most in superficial curiosity), opposition is growing among the religious leaders. The unbelieving Jews could not understand how the OT promises regarding a coming King and Kingdom could be fulfilled by this humble son of a carpenter. His preaching regarding the kingdom did not connect with their expectations of an immediate physical kingdom with all of its pomp and impressive glory.
So we saw in 3:23 that Jesus began to teach them in parables – a method that was ideally suited for both revealing divine truth to those with spiritual insight and concealing truth from the blinded multitudes. I view our privilege today as similar to excited children coming downstairs on Christmas morning to open up the surprises contained in the variety of gift packages under the tree. We can pick up the packages and shake them and guess at their contents. But what joy there is as we open them up and have the full revelation of their contents. Sometimes you open a gift and you still can’t identify what it is – that can be a bit disconcerting …
Interesting paradox in the Galilean ministry of Jesus Christ – huge crowds were attracted to Jesus and His amazing healing miracles … but very few became committed disciples who understood and followed His message. How could this be? What if we commissioned fruit inspectors to look into the hearts of all the professing Christians throughout the many church services in our country this morning? What would they find regarding the genuineness and health of the fruit? Is there really spiritual life present? No root . . . No fruit; No fruit … No life
We live in the age of paparazzi … where the rich and famous cannot leave the sanctuary of their residence without being bombarded by the intrusive presence of people pressing upon them and taking snapshots of their every movement. We know very little of the pressures and the pitfalls that such attention and popularity create. Nobody was outside my home snapping my picture as I drove over this morning to preach.
When we study the short earthly ministry of Jesus, His rapid rise to popularity and fame is striking. Jesus had a mission that was targeted to reaching the masses; and yet that very mission created unique difficulties and challenges. Because the gospel message of repentance from sin and faith in Jesus Christ is a very personal message; it must be received personally; the new birth experience is not a widespread people movement but a one-on-one relationship with the living God. The pathway to discipleship involves an intimate fellowship and closeness with Jesus – it has nothing in common with a mob of people pressing to get close enough to Jesus for some type of isolated one-time magical touch that would solve their immediate needs.
Today we will study two incidents that are tied together by the common theme of Sabbath controversies. For us in the church age, the controversy surrounding the Fourth of the Ten Commandments is whether or not the OT regulations still apply. Are we still under obligation to remember the Sabbath day and to keep it holy? Many Christians would substitute the Lord’s Day, the first day of the week, for Saturday and view themselves under a similar obligation as the Jews. Certainly the establishment of the Sabbath as a day of rest traces its roots back to Creation when the Lord rested on the seventh day. So the general principle of there being value in working for six days but taking one day for refreshment and rejuvenation seems beneficial for mankind. But Moses made specific application of the rules surrounding Sabbath day observance to their relevance to the Jewish nation – Ex. 31:12-17.
Without getting into a long discussion on the subject, it would seem that Christ has been the fulfillment of the law. Our worship does not focus around the temple and the sacrificial system. The veil in the temple was torn from the top to the bottom. The church is not an extension of Israel. The only one of the Ten Commandments not repeated in the NT as part of God’s abiding moral law would be the Fourth Commandment. Col. 2:16-17 speaks explicitly about maintaining our freedom in worshiping Christ as opposed to falling into legalistic practices of spiritual pride where we judge one another on the basis of external rules and regulations regarding worship practices. Now that the reality of Christ has arrived … don’t embrace the shadows and the types of OT times. The message of Hebrews would be along the same lines. (cf. Rom. 7:4; 10:4; 14:5; Gal. 4:10-11)
But having said all of that, I still see value in emphasizing worship and the gathering together of the saints on one special day each week just like the first century Christians did and just as we are commanded in Hebrews 10:25 not to forsake the regular assembling together – I just don’t view our Christian practices as obedience to the Sabbath regulations.
As we celebrate our nation’s hard fought freedom on this Fourth of July, I am reminded of the great freedom we have in the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. I took time this morning to review the message of the book of Galatians. Born Free . . . Live Free . . . Stay Free! Never surrender the liberty of our new life in Christ to the bondage of religious legalism. It was a good reminder of how we need to continue stand strong in the freedom we have in Christ and not allow any works-oriented false teachers to pervert the gospel of grace. We were brought into this precious relationship of sonship and heirship by the Holy Spirit and we must continue to live by the Spirit as well. Check your life out today and see whether it is characterized by the deeds of the flesh or the fruit of the Holy Spirit. I encourage you to work through the expositional outline of the Book of Galatians. You can also listen to the Born Free song on You Tube.
If you are someone who likes the status quo – who likes things to continue on as they always have – this message should be unsettling to you. If you like to live in the bubble of your own little comfort zone … if you have some legalistic tendencies based around religious traditions handed down from generation to generation, this message should raise your blood pressure. Certainly the scribes and Pharisees of Jesus’ day took offense at some of His surprising practices. These self righteous religious leaders were characterized by separatist prejudice and legalistic tradition.
James Edwards: Jesus is in a standing debate with Pharisaism, primarily over the issue of tradition. The essential difference is especially evident in Mark 7:1-23, in which Jesus accuses the Pharisees of overvaluing oral tradition and undervaluing the intent of the law itself. By Jesus’ day the original fervor and vitality of Pharisaism had calcified into a formalism at myriad points of practice and observance, in which conformity to legal prescriptions replaced the disposition of the heart, thus distorting the true intent of the law. Believing that Torah was prescriptive for all of life, the Pharisees wove an increasingly intricate web of regulations around it, whose purpose may have been to honor Torah,. But whose effect was a confining and even crushing burden on human existence.
Our passage today finds us in the middle of a series of incidents showing the increasing intensity of attacks against Jesus as He ministers in Capernaum – his home base of operations on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. The authority of Jesus continues to be demonstrated on a variety of fronts as He casts out demons, heals the sick, teaches with power, heals the outcast leper and then emphasizes the priority of the forgiveness of sins in the healing of the paralytic.
Life will never be the same in this new Messianic Age. There is certainly continuity in terms of the people of God in OT times being children of Abraham by faith just as under the New Covenant the only way to come to God is by repentance and faith. But with the incarnation of Jesus Christ and the introduction of the New Covenant we have progressed to a new understanding of what it means to be devoted to God in this Messianic Age. Certainly in contrast to the unsaved religious leaders of the establishment, the teaching and practices of Jesus were shocking.
This new section in Mark extends to 3:6 and continues the theme of highlighting the authority of Jesus while introducing the new dynamic of the mounting opposition on the part of the religious leaders. There are 5 separate incidents that Mark records – not necessarily in chronological order – that combine these ideas of authority and conflict. Today we will look at the first account. Mark’s readers were certainly facing opposition and persecution as well because of their identification as followers of Christ. Their courage would be fortified by seeing their Master not shrinking back from these confrontations but facing His enemies head on.
The significance of this first incident in 2:1-12 focuses on the forgiveness of sins = the greatest need for all of mankind. That is why the gospel message itself must always take precedence over any form of social humanitarian aid. Yes, people are hungry and need to be fed. Yes, people are hurting and need to be fixed. But most importantly, people are separated from God because of their sin and headed for an eternity of suffering in hell. What everyone needs as the highest priority is forgiveness of sins.
Last week we saw the transition from the ministry of John the Baptist, the one heralding the arrival of the Messiah, to the launching of the public ministry of Jesus Christ. Today we are going to see that public ministry in operation. What did it look like? What did Jesus Christ come to do?
What is most striking in these opening chapters in Mark’s Gospel, is the manifest Authority of Jesus Christ. That authority is displayed in a variety of arenas and settings. But that authority is absolute; it is astonishing; it is amazing; it is unparalleled; it is like nothing that mankind has ever seen. His authority was seen first of all in His teaching; also in His ability to command evil spirits to obey Him; in His power to heal diseases; in His power over nature so that even the wind and the seas obeyed Him; in His authority over the Sabbath and over man-made regulations that had obscured God’s true intentions for His law; in His power even over death. What amazing and astonishing authority!
It is easy for us to get all caught up in the healing miracles of Jesus and how He had power to cast out evil spirits and even raise the dead. But we are going to see in today’s passage that those miracles were always of secondary importance. They were not the focus for Jesus. Despite some of the abuses of charlatan so-called faith healers today – they are not supposed to be our focus.
Perspective in this Gospel account is that of John Mark – the former deserter who was restored to faithful service
Constable:The Mark in view is the “John Mark” mentioned frequently in the New Testament (Acts 12:12, 25; 13:5, 13; 15:36-39; Col. 4:10; Phile. 24; 2 Tim. 4:11; 1 Pet. 5:13; et al.). He was evidently a relative of Barnabas, and he accompanied Barnabas and Paul on their first missionary journey, but left these apostles when they reached Perga. Mark became useful to Paul during Paul’s second Roman imprisonment, and was also with Peter when Peter was in Rome. Peter described him as his “son,” probably his protégé. . . Mark probably wrote this Gospel sometime between A.D. 63 and 70.
Church met in home of his mother – Acts 12; he was a cousin of Barnabas
Approach we will be taking is more of a rapid overview – that is how Mark writes his account; Significance of connective: “straightway” — moving us through the ministry of Jesus in rapid fire succession – one incident right after another in abbreviated form; not exegeting every nuance; not always getting the expanded accounts from the other synoptic gospels – but moving along at a very fast clip – does not include the extended teachings of Christ related in the other gospels; more event oriented
It is easy to get knocked off course in our spiritual life. That is what makes the journey of Pilgrim in Pilgrim’s Progress so vivid and dramatic. He encounters all sorts of dangers and temptations and distractions. Yet he finds the grace of God to be sufficient to enable him to continue on his way and reach his final destination.
Geldenhuys: Most exegetes regard this portion as a number of loose sayings of the Saviour, recorded here by Luke with no connection between them. Nevertheless it appears to us that there is a unity between the various pronouncements and that (although Luke does not expressly say so) they were uttered on one and the same occasion.
FOUR PERSPECTIVES ESSENTIAL FOR SPIRITUAL GROWTH (STAYING ON COURSE) AND GLORIFYING GOD
I. (:1-4) GUARD AGAINST SIN HARMING YOURSELF OR OTHERS –
DON’T ALLOW SIN TO KNOCK YOU OFF COURSE — YOU ARE YOUR BROTHER’S KEEPER!
A. (:1-2) Do No Harm – Don’t Cause Others to Sin – Be Alert for Spiritual Snares
not a direct quote but some association with Hippocratic Oath
“He said to His disciples, ‘It is inevitable that stumbling blocks come, but woe to him through whom they come! 2 It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea, than that he would cause one of these little ones to stumble.’”
Lenski: The Pharisees and the scribes were causing dangerous offense to the publicans and the sinners who were inclined to believe in Jesus and were already believing in him (15:1,2).
Geldenhuys: The Saviour here addresses His disciples expressly and warns them against the danger that their example, their words, their attitude or neglect of duty may do spiritual harm to others (especially the weaker ones in the circle of disciples – e.g. former “publicans” and outcast sinners who had turned to Him.) . . . the Saviour does not mean that those who have allowed themselves to be so influenced do not also bear their own measure of responsibility for falling into sin. Here He deals only with the responsibility resting upon all to live in such a manner that they do not lead others into sin.
Wiersbe: It is a serious thing to sin against a fellow believer and tempt him or her to sin (Rom. 14:13; 1 Cor. 10:32; 1 John 2:10).
Ron Ritchie: In that culture, everyone knew of the various types of millstones that were used to crush grain. Smaller millstones were for home use, but when it came to harvest time, farmers used much larger millstones, up to four or five feet in diameter. The grain was placed on a base stone, and then the millstone (which had a hole in the middle as big as a man’s head) was lifted up to the stationary stone, which had a center peg as an axle, so that once the milestone was in place it could be turned around in a circle by a mule or camel until the grain was crushed into fine flour. As Jesus was saying this you can be sure he was warning his disciples about their future ministry, but at the same time he was looking at the lifestyle of the Pharisees. They were the very stumbling stones that he had in mind as he observed them trying to confuse and discourage the open-hearted tax-gatherers and sinners. The warning is very serious.
Darrell Bock: God’s concern for his children is seen in Jesus’ characterization of them as little ones. Caring for God’s children is baby-sitting: the responsibility is great because the children are precious in their parents’ sight. Children need attentive care. And teaching carries special responsibility (Jas 3:1). In fact, those who lead others into error are at risk before God. So Jesus issues a warning: a Mafia-style death is better for the one who leads others into apostasy. Jesus pictures an execution with a concrete block tied around the necks of the condemned as they are cast into the sea. A millstone was a large, heavy stone used at the top of a grinding mill. It was a millstone that crushed Abimelech’s head in Judges 9:53. The picture is of severe judgment. You are accountable, Jesus says, so watch yourselves. Be careful to avoid sin (Ps 141:8-10).
B. (:3a) Guard Yourselves Against Sin
“Be on your guard!”
Make sure that you are not creating a stumbling block for others;
Make sure that you are not falling into sin yourself – before you can rebuke others.
C. (:3b-4) Balance Necessary Rebuke of Sin with Unlimited Forgiveness (based on Repentance)
If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. 4 “And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.
Do we truly take “rebuking” as a command from the Lord? When have we fulfilled this responsibility? Don’t be put off by an expectation that our brother may not respond positively.
Geldenhuys: “call his attention to his wrong behaviour (and not slander him behind his back!).
Lenski: We cannot think that this is merely the same sin repeated again and again because it would then be farcical for the sinning brother to say, “I repent!”
[But even if that is the case, we are to assume the best of the professed repentance and grant forgiveness.]
II. (:5-6) EXERCISE FAITH FOR DRAMATIC RESULTS –
DON’T ALLOW WEAKNESS TO KNOCK YOU OFF COURSE (or become an excuse) — DON’T UNDERESTIMATE YOUR POTENTIAL!
A. Rather Than Pleading for Faith, Exercise Faith by Obeying
“The apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith!’
Geldenhuys: The foregoing pronouncements impressed the disciples profoundly with the severe demands made upon them, and they feel spontaneously that they will require supernatural grace and divine strength in order so to live that they may avoid offending others and always be prepared to forgive the repentant. So they ask the Saviour to give them greater faith – the faith that will make them spiritually stronger, and enable them to act as He has just commanded them to do.
Wiersbe: We might have expected the disciples to respond with the prayer, “Increase our love!” Certainly love is a key element in forgiveness, but faith is even more important. It takes living faith to obey these instructions and forgive others. Our obedience in forgiving others shows that we are trusting God to take care of the consequences, handle the possible misunderstandings, and work everything out for our good and His glory.
B. The Amount of Faith is not as Important as the Object of our Faith (right kind of faith)
“And the Lord said, ‘If you had faith like a mustard seed,’
Geldenhuys: a vigorous, living faith. The grain of mustard seed is exceedingly small, but it contains the germ of life which, when it germinates, shoots up irresistibly into a tree.
C. Faith Should Produce Dramatic Results
“you would say to this mulberry tree, Be uprooted and be planted in the sea; and it would obey you.’”
Donald Miller: genuine faith can accomplish what experience, reason, and probability would deny, if it is exercised within God’s will.
Merrill C. Tenney: Faith knows no impossibilities.
Lenski: Exactly this very thing the apostles would soon do over and over again, for at their word the kingdom would be transplanted, root, and branch, from Israel into the Gentile world in congregation after congregation – into territory in which no man would have thought the kingdom could grow and flourish; the Jews were sure that it could not. No charismatic faith was necessary for this, for the gospel was not spread through the world by anything but the ordinary faith of its bearers.
[cf. the nationalistic pride and exclusive attitude of Jonah which the Lord had to rebuke.]
III. (:7-10) HUMBLY OBEY AS SERVANTS THANKFUL FOR GOD’S GRACE –
DON’T ALLOW PRIDE TO KNOCK YOU OFF COURSE — DON’T REGARD YOUR SERVICE AS MERITORIOUS!
A. (:7-8) What Behavior is Appropriate for a Servant? Giving Priority to His Master’s Interests
“Which of you, having a slave plowing or tending sheep, will say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come immediately and sit down to eat’? 8 “But will he not say to him, ‘Prepare something for me to eat, and properly clothe yourself and serve me while I eat and drink; and afterward you may eat and drink’?
B. (:9) What Reward is Appropriate for a Servant? Not effusive thanksgiving but provision of basic needs
“He does not thank the slave because he did the things which were commanded, does he?
Next section will stress that the Lord is worthy of our praise and thanksgiving; we get things backwards if we are expecting the Lord to thank us; this is not to deny the legitimacy of the rewards which the Lord has promised for faithful service – but we act out of obedience; sense of responsibility to do what is pleasing to our Master
C. (:10) What Attitude is Appropriate for a Servant? Humble Obedience
“So you too, when you do all the things which are commanded you, say, ‘We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done.”‘
Geldenhuys: When believers have received the gift of a living faith and as a result are able to perform glorious things in His service, there is great danger that they may become self-satisfied and may think themselves entitled to special marks of honour. . .as if he were such a meritorious and indispensable person in His service.!
Donald Miller: The task of the Christian is to serve in obedience to his Master, and to do what is commanded with all the powers which he possesses. He can never say that he has done more than his duty, and think of himself as one who could be considered praiseworthy. It is his duty to give his entire service to the One to whom he belongs.
J. McNichol: “Unworthy slaves” not in the sense of being worthless, but as doing nothing to bring their master extra profit for which payment was to be expected.
Ron Ritchie: I remember hearing the story of a faithful missionary couple who came back to this country following many difficult years of ministry in Africa. As their ship docked in New York harbor they heard a band on the dock playing welcome music for a returning passenger. Hundreds of this passenger’s family and friends were gathered to greet their loved one. The missionary couple hoped to have someone from their mission board greet them, but by the time they came down the gangplank the band and the welcoming crowds had all gone their separate ways. All that was left to greet them were a few seagulls and the trash from the celebration that had been held earlier on the dock. Not knowing what to do next, they walked a few blocks, carrying their suitcases in silence. Finally, they found a rundown hotel and checked in for the evening. As they sat in the dimly lit room, the husband could not contain himself any longer. In anger and frustration he cried out to: “Honey, we worked so hard all these years. We have been faithful to our Lord, to our calling, to our mission board and to our people in Africa. You would have thought that someone from our board would have met us and welcomed us home, wouldn’t you?” After a moment of silence, his wife reminded him of their eternal hope: “But honey, we aren’t home yet!” she said.
Thomas Constable: Jesus told this parable to teach His disciples that warning sinning disciples and forgiving those who sinned and repented was only their duty. It was not something for which they should expect a reward from God. The Pharisees believed that their righteous deeds put God in their debt, as did many of the Jews. God will indeed reward faithful service (12:35-37, 42-48). However that is not because His servants have placed Him in their debt but because He graciously gives them more than what is just. The teaching in chapter 12 (vv. 35-37, 42-48) deals with the Master’s grace whereas the teaching here in chapter 17 (vv. 7-10) stresses the servant’s attitude.
IV. (:11-19) GLORIFY GOD BY GIVING THANKS FOR THE HEALING YOU HAVE EXPERIENCED BY GRACE THROUGH FAITH – THE HEART OF THE GOSPEL –
DON’T ALLOW INGRATITUDE TO KNOCK YOU OFF COURSE — DON’T NEGLECT TO GIVE THANKS ALWAYS!
[Most commentators would not associate this paragraph with the preceding section but treat it independently.]
Walter Liefeld: Not only is this narrative peculiar to Luke, but it also stresses several characteristically Lukan themes. Jerusalem is the goal of Jesus’ journey (cf. 9:51; 13:33); Jesus has mercy on social outcasts; he conforms to Jewish norms by requiring that the lepers go for the required priestly declaration of health (cf. Lev. 14); faith and healing should bring praise to God (cf. 18:43; Acts 3:8-9); and the grace of God extends beyond Judaism, with Samaritans receiving special attention (cf. 10:25-37).
A. (:11-13) Jesus is the Source of Undeserved Mercy
While He was on the way to Jerusalem, He was passing between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As He entered a village, ten leprous men who stood at a distance met Him; 13 and they raised their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”
R. Chestnut: Some things you ought to know about leprosy:
1. Leprosy is a repulsive disease.
a. Gross to look at (open ulcers are not pretty).
b. The smell is repulsive.
c. In Scripture when people are healed of leprosy it is often called “a cleansing” rather than “a
2. Leprosy is a contagious disease.
a. Mildly contagious, but contagious nevertheless.
b. In Bible times people with leprosy had to live apart from others; OT law declared them
ritually unclean; had to announce their coming by shouting “UNCLEAN!”
c. Illust. A leper felt unimaginable feelings of alienation and loneliness. Leprosy was the AIDS
of the first century. If you’ve ever seen the lepers in the movie BEN HUR then you have a
sense of how terrible this disease was.
3. Leprosy is an incurable disease.
a. Until 50 years ago there was not even a treatment for it!
b. To become a leper was to lose all hope of living a normal, happy life.
B. (:14a) Jesus Commands Our Simple Obedience
When He saw them, He said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.”
C. (:14b) Jesus Accomplishes Our Complete Healing
And as they were going, they were cleansed.
D. (:15-18) Jesus Deserves Our Abundant Thanksgiving and Directs Our Worship to Glorify God
“Now one of them, when he saw that he had been healed, turned back, glorifying God with a loud voice, 16 and he fell on his face at His feet, giving thanks to Him. And he was a Samaritan. 17 Then Jesus answered and said, “Were there not ten cleansed? But the nine – where are they? 18 “Was no one found who returned to give glory to God, except this foreigner?”
Morgan: Christ values gratitude and misses it when it is not expressed.
John A Martin: The nation accepted the things that Jesus could do (such as heal them and feed them), but it did not want to accept Him as Messiah. However, those outside the nation (such as this Samaritan leper – a person doubly repulsive to the Jews) were responding.
Lenski: Majorities impress us too much. What would you have done if you had stood alone against nine? Majorities can go wrong as easily as an individual may go wrong. The decisive thing is the right, the true, and not the numbers. Luther stood against the world of his day; he stood with and for the truth. It is still true that God and one make a majority.
Thomas Constable: The incident teaches that people whom Jesus delivers and who believe on Him have a moral obligation to express their gratitude to Him for what He has done for them. It also illustrates the fact that the Jews were happy to receive the benefits of Jesus’ ministry without thanking Him or connecting His goodness with God. The chiastic structure of Jesus’ three questions (vv. 17-18) is another indication that the focus of attention is on the ingratitude of the nine healed lepers.
E. (:19) Jesus Responds to Genuine Faith
“And He said to him, “Stand up and go; your faith has made you well.”
- Antidote for Sin = Watchfulness, Rebuke and Forgiveness
- Antidote for Weakness = Faith leading to Spiritual Life and Power
- Antidote for Pride = Humility and Servant-like attitude
- Antidote for Ingratitude = Thankfulness
Stay on Course!