Sin and Forgiveness

Mark 2 Outline

  • Forgiveness precedes Repentance
  • Call before repentance
  • Celebration over Fasting
  • Provision over Prohibition


Forgiveness precedes repentance. Do you notice that? What a strange story. Jesus is “at home” which may be Peter’s home. There is some indication that he was living there during his ministry years. Either way, he is in a home and it is so packed with people seeking healing and hope that no one can get in. Four friends are carrying a fifth on a mat. He’s sick with something that apparently prevents him from standing or walking. Did he want to be there, or had he entirely given up any hope of getting better? We don’t know. Either would be understandable. What Mark does emphasize is the actions of the friends, not the paralytic. And Jesus, in response to the faith of the friends, pronounces forgiveness.

This is an interesting moment. Some in the crowd are very threatened by what Jesus says because they know all about how forgiveness is meted out, and it certainly does not include some rabbi simply saying, “Your sins are forgiven.” Blood must be shed. There must be sacrifice. The law is clear. (Hebrews 9:22) Well, actually, Hebrews references the law, but we don’t have that stated in the Old Testament. Sacrifices were not made to pay God for our sins. As we read in Psalm 50: 13 Do I eat the flesh of bulls, or drink the blood of goats? Blood was a symbol of sealing a covenant. That’s what Jesus says at the last supper, “28 for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. They rightly say, “Who but God alone can forgive sins?”

Jesus does not at that point claim to be God, or to be equal to God, but he does identify himself as the Son of Man, a reference to the messianic leader foretold in Daniel 7:13
“I kept looking in the night visions, And behold, with the clouds of heaven One like a Son of Man was coming, And He came up to the Ancient of Days And was presented before Him.” This image would not have been taken in a Trinitarian sense, as God or a part of God, but as a representative of and ambassador for God. The next verse from Daniel makes clearer the import of this title: “And to Him was given dominion, Glory and a kingdom, That all the peoples, nations and men of every language Might serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion Which will not pass away ; And His kingdom is one Which will not be destroyed. Clearly political power, after the example of David, but even then not what Jesus’ contemporaries would consider the authority to forgive sins.

So what’s he doing? How does he proclaim forgiveness of sins if no blood has been shed? How does Jesus offer this man forgiveness prior to the crucifixion if the crucifixion of Jesus is the means of our forgiveness? We don’t get any more satisfactory answers to these questions than the Pharisees got to theirs. Instead, we also hear Jesus say, “So that you will know the Son of Man has authority to forgive sins…” and he tells the paralyzed man to get up. Jesus manifests his authority over spiritual things by bringing about change in material things.

Mark assumes, I think, that some of us are slow learners, so we need the same message repeated in several different ways. Jesus travels on from Capernaum and encounters Levi sitting at his tax collecting booth by the sea. He is there at the center of commerce so that he can see how much people are earning and have a better chance of knowing whom to successfully oppress. He has betrayed his people, to say nothing of violating multiple laws of Moses meant to protect the poor (DEUT15:4; 24 & 27:19). We have no indication from the story that he has been reconsidering his life values or his career. He has not repented or confessed. He is a bold, audacious, public sinner.

And Jesus… Here he goes again. What Jesus does not seem to understand is that there is a proper order for people to receive forgiveness.

  1. They recognize God’s holiness
  2. They recognize that they are sinners
  3. They hear the good news of God’s love.
  4. They repent of their sin and commit to a new life following Jesus.
  5. They are forgiven and welcomed into the Body of Christ.

That’s how we have been told the system works. But apparently nobody told Jesus.

Jesus walks right up to Levi and says, “Follow me.” Jesus’ first encounter with Levi is to welcome him into the fellowship of followers, disciples. Jesus then enables him to serve the kingdom by providing hospitality. Then Levi repents, and commits to a new life which includes making amends to those he has violated. So how does it work?

  1. Jesus calls
  2. Jesus invites into ministry
  3. Levi experienced forgiveness and love.
  4. Repentance comes as a response.

Levi knew the law, and he knew that his life was inconsistent with it. He didn’t need someone correcting him, demanding he change his ways. He needed an experience of unconditional love, and that is exactly what Jesus offered him.

The Jews of Jesus’ day did not only have the Law of Moses. They had a whole tradition of interpretation for how they should live out those laws. It was not enough to be told “Honor the Sabbath day and keep it holy.” They had very religious people who had figured out systems of just how to do that.

Again, Jesus presses beyond what people thought they knew and understood to reveal new truth and new life in the ancient faith. “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath; 28 so the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.” Jesus says, “Don’t you understand that the Law exists to bless humanity and the earth. Any interpretation or application of the law, or its derivative, that brings about suffering or prevents blessing and healing and life, is a violation of God’s love for creation.”

Jesus also recognized that this is difficult to understand, and that some folks will never get it. Some will stay behind in the old way. Jesus says that new wine will need to be put into new wineskins. That is just the way of nature, there is no other option. “Things are going to be different now,” Jesus says. “We’re not going to be playing by those old rules any more. There is a new kid in town.”

What about us? Are there places we get hung up on old rules, laws or traditions? Jesus does not reject Law or Tradition. He honors them by bringing us back to their original intent, which is to lift us up from our brokenness and restore us to relationship with God. How often have we seen law and tradition used to beat people into submission, to handcuff the church and imprison it behind bars in the name of God? That is what the Pharisees were doing – trying to protect God’s reputation. Do we really think God needs to be defended by us? The One who made billions of galaxies and scattered them across a vast universe? Who designed life itself? Does that God need you or I to fend off the bullies? No, but God’s children do. God’s creation does. While we are paralyzed and while we are still sinners, God enlists us for service in the kingdom. It is through being blessed, called and commissioned that we come to experience and believe that we are forgiven. Salvation is a preexisting fact that we have only to come to experience, understand, and accept.

We were taught that faith worked this way:

  1. Believe the right things
  2. Behave the right way
  3. Belong to the “in group” of Jesus’ followers

Jesus actually practiced it in exactly the reverse order:

  1. Belong to Jesus – you already do, even before you realize it
  2. Behave as he blesses and leads you – live into the kingdom as you discover it
  3. Believe that you can be different – because God believes it

What would change if we began to live this way?

  • How would we think about categories like church membership?
  • How would we treat those we consider unrepentant sinners?
  • How would we serve people in need even if they show no hope of changing?

What if Jesus related to us the way we treat the people who have offended us? That would not be very good for us, would it? Thanks be to God that we are all loved so much that God came to be among us and make us whole, not waiting for us to get our act together first, and not counting our sins against us. Nothing can separate us from God’s love.

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