What is the mission of our Lord Jesus? This is a topic that has generated much discussion in our day. Beginning in the 1950s, the so-called “missional” movement began among the mainline liberal churches, arguing that the mission of Jesus was to establish God’s kingdom (by which they meant social transformation), and which was just as important as evangelism. Over the years, the emphasis on social justice began to outstrip the emphasis on evangelism. This philosophy infiltrated conservative evangelicalism in the early 1990s, and now there is a large debate over what the mission of Christ was, what the mission of the church is, and how social justice relates to both.
The evangelical missional church movement is fundamentally flawed. While it is generally right to see an inaugurated eschatology, it has thoroughly misapplied this, in part by confusing the roles of Israel and the church. It is not the church’s mission to eradicate poverty, redistribute wealth, advocate for the environment, or any such thing. Moreover, while our Lord did inaugurate God’s saving rule with His first advent, and while that rule obviously has implications and effects on every area of life and experience, the emphasis placed on societal and political concerns, and the placing of them on the same level of importance as evangelism, is badly mistaken.
So what is the mission of Jesus? Most broadly, it is to bring in the saving rule and reign of God in Himself upon the earth—a task that will not be completed until that final day in His second advent and millennial, then eternal, reign. Surely this reign will resurrect the whole earth, purify culture and human societies, and transform the way humans relate to each other, the world, and God Himself. But to equate this with human notions of “social” justice undermines the sovereign, transforming power required for this mission to reach its everlasting fulfillment! If that is the broadest understating of our Lord’s mission, what is its narrowest? To die and rise again for sinners that they might be His slave worshippers! For this is the foundation of everything else. It is the basis on which the broad mission rests.
In Mark 2:1-12, we will see our Lord’s focus on this narrow foundation and sense of mission, and its implications for us as His followers.
A. The Gathering Crowd (vv. 1-2)
Several days after His healing of the leprous man, our Lord has managed to return to Capernaum. Recall He has been on a several-month preaching tour of Galilee, for that—not healing and miracles, as important as those were on several levels—was our Lord’s top priority. Only if we hear the words of God will we understand who He is, who we are, and what He both promises to and requires of us! Of course, the crowds have heard the Lord is back home, and they once again mob Him. Being resourceful, our Lord uses this opportunity to preach (!) to them, and He doubtless does so with great authority, love, and clarity.
Finally, our Lord is able to do some of what He came to do. Perhaps some were saved hearing the gospel from God incarnate Himself. But all is not well. The Pharisees and scribes are there, watching, judging, waiting.
B. The Desperate Men (vv. 3-4)
As the crowd continues to build around the little house, a struggling group comes up the road. Four men, huffing and perspiring, lug a fifth man on a mattress towards the throng of people. They, too, have heard of Jesus and His ability to heal. But notably, they are not coming for themselves, but someone else. For the man they’re bringing, laying helpless on the mattress, is a paralytic who obviously cannot come himself. So these men have literally, physically carried him to Jesus out of love and desperation. The other-centered selflessness of these men is a stark contrast to the self-centered interest of the crowds: The men try to politely, then doubtless more exasperatedly, make their way through the sea of bodies to Jesus, but the people in the crowd won’t move. But their holy desperation knows no limit, and they will get their friend to Jesus no matter what it takes them. So somehow, they lug the man atop the roof and begin to claw their way through the clay and wood that made it up. Literally, they “unroofed the roof”!
Picture our Lord teaching the pure gospel to people who may or may not be there for the right reasons. The room is packed, stuffy. Suddenly bits of clay and dirt drop down from the ceiling, perhaps on our Lord’s cheek or hair. I wonder if He stopped teaching and looked up, blinking more dust and clay out of His eyes. Then, more, bogger pieces, clumps, clods, falling, perhaps hitting people on the arm. Perhaps yelps and shrieks are coming as people wonder what’s going on. Then, suddenly, four sweaty, tired, hopeful faces peer out from the large hole, eyes begging Jesus wordlessly to help.
Lots can be said about this section and its implications, but one huge principle stands out: Sometimes we have to bring people to Jesus—savingly or otherwise—who will not come themselves. Have we offered ourselves to the Lord for this aspect of His plan? Have we made ourselves available as dogged, desperate intercessors for the unsaved, and for the stubborn or hurting believers who need His power at work?
C. The Forgiving Savior (v. 5)
Having lowered their friend down at the feet of Jesus through this giant hole in Peter’s roof, our Lord looks at the man with great compassion. Note the text says our Lord saw the faith of the men—likely including the paralyzed man (or he wouldn’t have been forgiven), but with the emphasis placed on the four friends. This was an act of faith—desperate, committed, determined, maybe even a bit crazy. But it believed Jesus, believed what He could do, and went for it. I am sure our Lord was pleased by this immensely, maybe even chuckling a bit to Himself in wonder and delight.
Here is where our Lord’s vantage point differs from ours: We would assume the man’s greatest need was healing. Doubtless that is why his friends lugged him all the way there. And certainly our Lord had compassion on that and met that need with joy. But Jesus saw a deeper, more important need: that of the man’s heart. Is this not the same with us? We see the need in front of us—financial, relational, marital, emotional, whatever—as paramount. And that is not to say it isn’t important, or that the Lord is indifferent, or that He does not intend to address it. But it is to say our Lord has a different priority than we do. The proper orientation of the heart to God and His holiness is of prime importance to Jesus, even more than the very obvious and blatant example of physical need this man experienced.
This narrative shows us forgiveness is the most important need we have. Without that, we are alienated from a holy God, destined for eternal conscious wrath, cannot fulfill His purposes for our lives, do not know His fullness of blessing, and cannot glorify Him. What good is walking if you walk all the way to Hell? Surely our Lord, the holy God and sovereign Judge of all humanity who takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked is more concerned with us knowing His loving grace and blessing on a resurrected earth for all eternity than if we have the ability to walk for the few years we spend on this cursed earth. This may seem jarring, but it is biblical. We need to renew our minds and adopt this proper perspective of our Lord.
Forgiveness, of course, is only received upon saving faith. It is not just “out there,” automatic, or unconditional. If we will not trust Christ, we will not have forgiveness, though He offers it freely to the whole world. Moreover, forgiveness is necessary—how shall we enter heaven to spend eternity with the blindingly holy God if even one sin is not utterly dismissed? But the good news is at the instant of saving faith all our sins—past, present, and future—are completely, fully, and perfectly forgiven by God. They are literally “driven away” or “dismissed.” This is not antinomianism, for saving faith will persevere in love and obedience as both evidence of justification and means to final salvation. But neither of these can happen without a perfect, infallible, eternal, unshakeable, free foundation of perfect forgiveness of sin based on the work and person of Christ, the sole instrument of reception being faith in Christ alone. Only then is God completely for us. Only then can we know His power in sanctification and perseverance. Only then is our home in heaven secure.
D. The Questioning Critics (vv. 6-12)
Recall that the leadership from Jerusalem is here, watching, with eyes narrowing, to trap the Lord. When He pronounces the man forgiven, they are furious. “Reasoning” carries the idea of giving arguments, dialoguing, disputing. Here of course it is negative. They are giving themselves reasons why Jesus is wrong to declare forgiveness to this man—but they are doing so quietly, in the depths of their hearts. But Jesus knows what they’re saying! By His omniscient divine spirit, He replies to the arguments they make in the hiddenness of their hearts.
Surely, to say “you are forgiven” is easier, because we can’t see that happen. But to say “be healed” is the harder, because we’ll immediately know if the “healer” is legitimate! So to show them He can do the “easier” thing, Jesus does the “harder”—He tells this paraplegic man to immediately get up.
And he does.
Picture this fully paralyzed man with life flooding his limbs, climbing off the mattress in full strength and vitality! He walks away carrying the mattress that took four people to carry him! The crowd is dumbfounded, amazed, astounded. This is sovereign, holy, decisive, authoritative, ruling power. What weight and stillness and awe must have rested upon that room! Surely some of them now grapple with His right over them, His power and authority to forgive sin even as He has the right to instantly dismiss sickness.
Have you felt His power in this way? Have you seen His power over a circumstance point you to His right over you as Savior and Lord, to use that same power to dismiss your rebellion? May we look to Him afresh as our Savior from sin and Satan, and only then as our Healer, Deliverer, and Savior from all the curses and fallenness of this earth!