Questioning God (Mark 2:1-3:6)
(One Lord: No One Like You)
May 27th, 2012
Sometimes, just a tiny adjustment to how you phrase a question completely changes the point of what you're asking. Let me give you an example. I might ask you, “Do you ever ask God questions?” But a very tiny adjustment to that question gives us this question: “Do you ever question God?” The former question is typically an expression of curiosity, of searching. But the latter question carries the sense of doubt, and maybe even defiance.
“Do you ever question God?”
This morning, we are going to look at five episodes from the Gospel of Mark, from the life of Jesus Christ; five episodes through which we can better understand what it means to question God; in fact, through which we can see the danger of questioning God.
II. The Passage: “Questioning in Their Hearts” (2:1-28)
Now before we look at these passages, let me point out that those who are asking the questions in these verses were considered to be the most righteous, the most religious, the godliest people in their society. These questioners were not perceived by those around them to be bitter skeptics; quite the opposite.
I point this out because I hope that we can see the ways in which we are like these questioners. Even if we consider ourselves to be religious or spiritual, we are not immune from questions, doubt, and resistance.
A. Failing to Grasp His Authority (2:1-12)
Look at the first episode here in Mark 2:1-12:
And when he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. 2 And many were gathered together, so that there was no more room, not even at the door. And he was preaching the word to them. 3 And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. 4 And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him, and when they had made an opening, they let down the bed on which the paralytic lay. 5 And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “My son, your sins are forgiven.” 6 Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, 7 “Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” 8 And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, “Why do you question these things in your hearts?
9 Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’?
10 But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic— 11 “I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.” 12 And he rose and immediately picked up his bed and went out before them all, so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this!”
So here we see that Jesus has returned to Capernaum, which we know from chapter one was his base of operations. And this takes place in either in His home or, as it can be translated here, in a home, maybe Peter’s house mentioned in the last chapter.
Now this is a great story about the loving commitment of these men and their perseverance to get their suffering friend to Jesus. How many people in your life would dig through a roof for you? I've always wondered if the first thing that got Jesus attention here were some pieces of mud and straw landing on His head.
But did you see the questioning here? In the midst of the crowd, we find some scribes who witness this whole exchange. The scribes were experts in the Old Testament, partly because, as their title implies, they were responsible for making copies of the Law so that it could be passed down.
So when Jesus, in response to this roof-destroying, hole-creating act of faith, when Jesus first tells the paralytic that his sins are forgiven, the scribes are immediately set off. In their own hearts they ask this question: “Who can forgive sins but God alone?”
Now, what we’re going to see with all of these episodes is the questions we find here come directly from a failure to grasp by faith something essential about the identity of Jesus.
For example, what we see in this passage is that these religious leaders failed to grasp Jesus’ authority. This is clear from Jesus’ response. He says, “OK, it is easy just to say your sins are forgiven, but let me confirm that truth by doing something that is not so easy.” And so He heals this man in order to demonstrate His authority, both to forgive and heal.
But even though everyone who sees this healing is genuinely amazed, we will go on to see that this display of power really had no affect on these men. Even though Jesus furnished proof of His authority, in their minds He has still committed the worst sin: He has blasphemed.
Listen, there are times when our faith also fails to grasp Jesus’ authority. And when that happens we can also begin to question God in our hearts. I might tell myself, “Well surely I have the right to be angry with this person who hurt me, don’t I?”. But didn’t Jesus authoritatively compare the danger of anger to the danger of murder in Matthew 5? I might tell myself, “Surely I should be able to assert my rights and get what’s mine, don’t I?” But didn’t Jesus authoritatively teach us to turn the other cheek? I might tell myself, “Well I’ve forgiven that person one too many times; enough is enough, isn’t it?” But didn’t Jesus authoritatively call us to forgive seventy-times seven; to forgive as we’ve been forgiven?
You see, when we listen to and follow the voices of the world, when we listen to that 'default' voice inside us, we are listening to other ‘authorities’ and thus questioning Christ’s authority. But Jesus is Lord, and one of the ways He expresses His love for us is by challenging our ideas; challenging what WE want to do; by authoritatively correcting us.
B. Failing to Grasp His Heart (2:13-17)
But look at the next scene in verses 13 through 17. We read...
He went out again beside the sea, and all the crowd was coming to him, and he was teaching them. 14 And as he passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him. 15 And as he reclined at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. 16 And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 17 And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Once again we see Jesus’ showing mercy to those on the fringes. In the last story it was a paralytic. Here it is Levi, a toll collector, who was most likely despised by the people because he both worked for the enemy,the Romans, AND charged people above what was required.
But in spite of this man’s social standing, Jesus calls Him to follow. And look at Levi’s response. He invites Jesus to come into His home. He wants to be with Jesus. And it appears Levi’s response to Jesus inspired some of his friends to come as well.
But once again, we also see the scribes here with their questions. Sure seems like these guys want to keep an eye on Jesus, doesn't it? Look at their question, “Why does He eat with tax collectors and sinners?” Or, we could it put this way, “Why does Jesus hang out with such trash?” You see, as those who supposedly kept the Law of Moses, the scribes and Pharisees had little tolerance for those who didn’t.
So again, their question here comes from criticism, not curiosity. The root issue is that they failed to grasp Jesus’ heart. They questioned because they couldn't understand that Jesus came for people just like this. As Jesus expressed it in verse 17, doctors don’t come to those who are well; they come to care for the sick. Jesus had a heart to heal sin-sick people. The scribes were only interested in judging them.
In the same way, when our faith fails to grasp Jesus’ heart, we often end up questioning God when it comes to the sin-sick people around us. We might also be tempted to ask, “How is anyone going to reach someone like that?”, or “Does that person really deserve my time?”, or “God, do you really expect me to go there, and say that?”
You see, when we forget that Jesus came to meet the real needs of others, we can quickly formulate clever questions and convenient answers that keep us away from loving people. When it comes to other people, we might ask, “Am I more prone to criticism or compassion?”
We need to remember Jesus’ heart, and let it His heart soften our hearts toward others.
C. Failing to Grasp His Revolution (2:18-22)
Look at the next episode here. Look at Mark 2:18-22:
Now John's disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. And people came and said to him, “Why do John's disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” 19 And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. 20 The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day. 21 No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. If he does, the patch tears away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made. 22 And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins—and the wine is destroyed, and so are the skins. But new wine is for fresh wineskins.”
Now we read here, in this translation, that “people” came to him. But in the original Greek, all it says is that “they came to him”. I think given the whole context here, and the flow of these episodes, the “they” here actually refers to the scribes or other similar leaders.
Apparently, the fact that Jesus was eating with sinners happened often enough for some to observe that Jesus and His followers did not fast. While fasting is a common sight in the Old Testament, many in Jesus’ time had made it a routine ritual, rather than a special time of humility before God.
And notice this: the questioners are becoming bolder. Here they actually voice their question to Jesus himself. Of course their question is meant to “expose” the fact that Jesus’ ministry is substandard in terms of real righteousness.
But if we look at Jesus’ response here, we realize that these leaders have failed to grasp Jesus’ revolution, that is, they don’t recognize the newness and the change He is bringing with His ministry.
They are stuck in an old world of rituals, while Jesus wants to point them to the revolutionary reality of God's presence in His own ministry. This is not a time for mourning, and thus fasting. It is a time for joy and celebration, just like at a wedding festival. The time will come for mourning, when this bridegroom, when Jesus, is violently taken from them. But for now, it is a time for joy.
As Jesus points out, what these men are trying to do is judge Jesus' ministry through the lens of their understanding of the Old Testament law. But this is like trying to sew a new patch on an old shirt or to put new wine in old wineskins. When the patch shrinks or the wine expands because of fermentation, everything will be ruined. These things just don’t go together.
Like these questioners, we often fail to grasp Jesus’ revolution. And because we do, we often question God about His revolutionary demands through Christ. “Why would you have me change this? This is what we’ve always done. This is what I’ve always done. This works!”
You see, we can often get stuck in our own routine, and begin to live under our law instead of God’s grace. We sometimes forget that God is always calling us forward; to grow and change; to step out in faith in obedience to the same amazing truths in new ways.
The danger is that we can confuse being consistent in our faith with being too comfortable in our faith. Our so-called 'discipline' can often leave us deaf to the Spirit of God.
We need to change in order to become like the One who always stays the same. And sometimes that means we can’t continue with our old ways, with our old way of doing things. God has so much more for us. There is new wine for a new wineskin.
D. Failing to Grasp His Priorities (2:23-28)
In Mark 2:23-28 we find yet another episode. Let’s take a look:
One Sabbath he was going through the grainfields, and as they made their way, his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. 24 And the Pharisees were saying to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” 25 And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did, when he was in need and was hungry, he and those who were with him: 26 how he entered the house of God, in the time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those who were with him?” 27 And he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. 28 So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.”
Once again, we find another story in which Jesus is confronted by the religious leaders, and again, as in the last two episodes, the issue revolves around food. This time, Jesus’ disciples are accused of working on the Sabbath by doing, in the eyes of the Pharisees, what amounts to reaping.
But Jesus answers them, not by necessarily disagreeing with them, but by helping them understand what they had failed to grasp: Jesus’ priorities. To illustrate His priorities Jesus takes them back to a story about David eating holy bread from the tabernacle.
If David, out of hunger, could give this sacred bread to his hungry soldiers, then Jesus, the Messiah, can allow his men to take this food for their hunger, even if it’s the Sabbath. Why? Because the Sabbath was made for people, for the good of people, and not the other way around.
You see, Jesus’ first priority is God’s glory. But His second priority is our good. For those who belong to Him, God, through Christ, does all things for our good. Through their grid, the Pharisees couldn’t always see this.
Can you see this? When we don’t we often end up questioning the legitimacy of God’s ways. “Why, why should I have to wait for the right job, or the right person, or the right answer? Why should I follow God’s path when it doesn’t seem to get me where I want to go; when I continue to stay in this place of shame or pain or uncertainty?”
What we are questioning in times like this is the explicit truth that God loves us. We quietly question whether or not God really has our best interest in mind, and then we try to take control in order to ensure that we get what we think is best.
Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath, and He originally gave the Sabbath for our good. If belong to Christ through faith, do you believe that He has your good in mind in every situation you face even when things get tough? Remember, Jesus went to the cross to prove that’s true.
IV. Conclusion: The Danger of a Harder Heart (3:1-6)
Because these men failed to grasp, in faith, the authority of Jesus, the heart of Jesus, the revolution of Jesus, and the priorities of Jesus, they questioned Jesus: “Who does He think He is? Why is doing that? Why is He not doing what we’re doing?”
Like the scribes and Pharisees mentioned here, you and I are witnesses of what Jesus is doing and saying. We can read it right here in God’s word. And we can be reminded of God’s word, through the Spirit, in those moments of decision, those moments of temptation.
But how are we responding? Brothers and sisters, my encouragement to you and to myself this morning is this: be aware of ways you may be questioning God’s word and God’s ways. This is so important, especially in light of what we read in 3:1-6. Look at what it tells us…
3:1 Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there with a withered hand. 2 And they watched Jesus, to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him. 3 And he said to the man with the withered hand, “Come here.” 4 And he said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. 5 And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. 6 The Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.
Do you see the questioning here? Surprisingly, the question here comes from Jesus. The religious leaders are silent. But why? He’s asking a pretty simply question. And we know from sources outside the Bible that the scribes and Pharisees did allow for saving a life on the Sabbath. So why are they silent? Because by this time, their hearts are hard
Listen, the issue is not whether or not all of us question God. The issue is do we question God all the time. When the pattern of one’s life become defined by regularly questioning God, questioning His wisdom, questioning His motives (as we see here), then God’s word warns us that such a path leads directly to a hardened heart.
And when our heart is hard like this, we do what the Pharisees do here: we try to create a world without Jesus. Sure we may have some version of Christ that we’ve formed according to our own desires, but an understanding of the real Jesus has been pushed out of our heart and mind. And if that happens, I believe we confirm that we never really knew Christ at all.
How will you respond to these pictures of Christ this morning? May God keep us from being like the scribes and Pharisees in these stories. May He instead make us like the paralytic who can now enjoy freedom, like Levi the sinner who is now forgiven and welcomed, like the wedding guests who are experiencing the joy of the bridegroom, like the disciples who are well fed because of Jesus, and like the man with the withered hand, who has been restored and made whole because of Christ.
Let’s bring God our questions to God, but let’s not question God. He is all-wise, and all-good, and Jesus is the proof of the fact that He loves us and always does what is best for those who will come to Him in faith.
other sermons in this series