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  • Writer's pictureTim Hemingway

The Cleaner's Heart


"But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins." Mark 2:10

That evening’, Mark says, ‘after sunset the people brought all who were ill and demon possessed and Jesus healed many’.

So, Jesus worked late into the evening healing all who were ill or demon possessed - that was how we ended last time. And now it’s the morning after the night before. But it’s early. Look at what Mark says, verse 35, and I’d encourage you to open your bible and see for yourself. Verse 35, ‘very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed’.

No doubt Jesus was tired from the day before - he was a human being after all, not a super human being; he knew fatigue like we do.

He’d got finished late the night before and now the alarm clock’s gone off early - ‘Very early’, Mark says. It was still dark outside and that means it was still cold outside. Israel at night is cold, I’m led to believe. Judith might be able to confirm that later. But lets assume it was cold.

He doesn’t wake anybody up, he just leaves silently and heads out to a place of solitude - where there are no other people.

He was alone, cold, tired, and he was eager. We know he was eager because you don’t do all that intentional stuff that he did, without some significant motivation. I do not get out of bed to run at the moment because it is dark, and it is cold out there. And it is nice in my bed!

So what’s his motivation? What is the early alarm call, the darkness, the cold and the loneliness for?

The answer is: it’s serving fellowship. Jesus wants to have heart-to-heart fellowship with his Father. And he wants to meet him in a place and at a time when he won’t be distracted by the busy-ness of the day.

He knows the crowds will be looking for him no sooner than the sun is up. And he knows that the clamour for his attention and his time is going to be great. And he knows how much he needs to speak with his Father.

He could have stayed in bed - awake and prayerful - that’s true. But he probably knew, like we do, how the warm beds lulls you back to sleep and how the tinker of breakfast bowls means the household is whirring into action. And he knows all that will distract him and press in on him.

And it won’t do for Jesus. He will make sure he finds the time with his Father that he so badly needs.

His heart for fellowship with God is driving his will, here at the beginning of our passage.

He knows, probably, that, like us, he’s going to need his Father’s help to handle the day that stretches out in front of him. I say ‘probably’ because sometimes it’s hard to know where Jesus’ humanity ends and his divinity begins. But I sense a feeling in him that if he will do his Father’s will, he will need to pray.

At the very least then, Jesus sets us a pattern for life. The early rise, the cold, the darkness they’re just the means to the end. Some of us are morning people; some of us evening people - that’s not the issue. You can take his approach if you want, or not - that’s up to you.

But the need for quiet, uninterrupted fellowship with the Father in prayer day by day - that’s a pattern that we need in our lives. Mark shows us Jesus’ intentionality that we might follow in his steps.

And to the degree that we feel our need of God’s help, and to the degree that we learn not rely on ourselves, and to the degree that our hearts yearn for close fellowship with God, we will do what it takes to find that time and that place to meet him in prayer.

So that’s the first thing we encounter here - Jesus’ heart for fellowship with his Father even when it costs him sleep and comfort. That’s how he starts his day.

And look how his prayer-time influences his actions. Verse 36, Simon and the others come looking for him and announce that everyone else is looking for him too. To which Jesus says, ‘Let’s go somewhere else’. Which isn’t the only unexpected utterance of Jesus in our passage this morning. But can you hear the oddity?

‘The crowds are already looking for you, so come on! Lets go - what are you doing up this mountain anyway’, or wherever he was. And Jesus just says, ‘No, lets go somewhere else - let’s go to the nearby villages - so I can preach there also. That is why I have come’.

Jesus would have been a lousy campaign manager I think. He never seems to capitalise on the moment - not in a conventional way at least. It’s as if he says, ‘the whole town of Capernaum had me yesterday. I haven’t come to win a popularity contest - I’ve come to preach good news, and there are lots of others who need to hear it. Let’s go do my Father’s will Simon’.

So, Mark says, he ‘travelled throughout the region of Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons’ (v.39). He’s wanting as many to hear the good news, and witness the signs that confirm it, as possible. In other words, his heart that was drawn vertical to his Father at 5am is now reaping the fruit of that fellowship in horizontal expression to people. His heart is bending out from the Father in love for people.

And notice that, he thinks that their first need - their most abundantneed is to hear his message. Yes, there will be healings. Yes, there will be exorcisms. But they’re not the main thing - they serve the main thing. The main thing is God’s good news. We’ll see as we move through the rest of the passage why that is.

So, now in verse 40, Jesus encounters a man with leprosy. The nature of this particular skin disease isn’t certain. But what is certain is that it was regarded as causing significant impurity.

Leviticus 13 sets down rules for the Israelites in relation to defiling skin diseases. Verse 45 says, ‘Anyone with such a defiling skin disease must wear torn clothes, let their hair be unkempt, cover the lower part of their face and cry out, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ As long as they have the disease they remain unclean. They must live alone; they must live outside the camp’. Which for this man was probably a life sentence.

Was there any hope that he would ever be clean again? Or, would he be condemned to a life of lonely isolation for the remainder of his days on account of his condition?

It looked very bleak for him, which accounts for his outward, visible, demonstrable appeal to Jesus - begging him on his knees, Mark says. ‘If you are willing, you can make me clean’. He believes that Jesus has the power - the stories he’s heard are enough for him.

But there is a question mark isn’t there? The question is a question of willingness. ‘Jesus, if you are willing, you can do it - I’m confident of that. But are you willing?’. Jesus, Mark says, was ‘indignant’ at what he has said.

Your bible might say he was ‘full of compassion’ instead of ‘indignant’. Matthew and Luke opt for less blunt ways of putting it. But Mark means what he says.

Jesus is so willing to restore people, that to think there might be a question mark over it is to do him a disservice - is to doubt what need never be doubted.

It is why we can say with confidence, ‘whosoever will come to him (like this leprous man) he will in no way cast out!

If you are wavering about coming to Jesus with your sins and asking him to heal you and set you free from your defilement because you’re worried he might not want to set you free - let this morning be a green light to you. Jesus says ‘come, I am willing’. Look at verse 41, ‘“I am willing, he said. Be clean!” Immediately the leprosy left him and he was clean’.

Oh the heart of Jesus folks! Can you feel it this morning? Can you feel how he longs to liberate and heal and set free and cleanse and purify, everyone.

The leper almost shows us all that needs to be done - come believing that he can and he will, because he is full of love and compassion for the needy.

But don’t miss the detail in verse 41. We could miss it if we’re not alert. Mark says specifically that Jesus ‘reached out his hand and touched the man’.

This man had, in all likelihood, a contagious skin disease - that’s one consideration, but it’s not the main one. This man, because of his skin disease, was under Jewish law ‘unclean’. Which means that any thing or person who touched him would also be considered unclean.

At the moment Jesus touched this man he ran the risk of contracting his condition and he became, no doubt about it, ceremonially unclean. In the law of Moses to touch an unclean person, even unwittingly, was a sin for which a sin offering had to be made for atonement (Leviticus 5).

So, Jesus - wittingly, not unwittingly, wittingly - touches an unclean man here. Why? Why does he become unclean in the act of making clean? He didn’t need to - he could have healed him with a word - others recognised that. He did not need to touch this man!

Well, what else is he doing, except, visually communicating to us that his message of ‘repentance for the forgiveness of sins’ is going to find it’s foundation in this: ‘though he had no sin [he was clean], he became sin for us [unclean] in order that we might become the righteousness of God [clean]!’

That’s his trajectory! He’s heading cross-ward for our cleansing - because ‘cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree!

Mark says in verse 43, that Jesus sent the man away with a strong warning not to tell anybody about what had happened, but to go to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for cleansing.

Jesus has two aims, the first is to keep the crowds as small as possible because they prevented him from moving from one neighbourhood to another with his message of the forgiveness of sins. And we can see that that’s the case because Mark tells us in verse 45 that Jesus ‘could no longer enter a town openly’ because this man had not heeded his warning.

But the other aim is to provide a testimony to the priest that Jesus had done for this man what only God could do for him.

In the days of Elisha, when Naaman came to the king of Israel to be healed of his leprosy, the king said this: ‘Am I God? Can I kill and bring back to life?’ And, indeed, when Naaman finally dipped seven times in the Jordan and was cleansed, it was not a man, but the God of Israel who he acknowledged as the one true God. The testimony to the Jerusalem priesthood is: ‘the man Jesus - he is God’.

It wasn’t long after Jesus arrived in Capernaum again than the crowds gathered in great number - chapter 2 now if you’re tracking. So great in fact, that Jesus was surrounded both inside the house and outside the door. Just like everywhere, his heart was drawn to the people, and he preached his message to them.

But now we’re going to see a gear shift in Jesus. Something we haven’t seen before. We’ve heard him calling on people to repent and receive the forgiveness for their sins. But now for the first time we’re going to encounter Jesus conferring the forgiveness of sins - not just preaching it.

And the gear shift is one that comes in conjunction with another new thing - faith. This is the first time the word ‘faith’ has appeared in Mark. It’s the first time Mark tells us Jesus encountered faith.

I think that’s significant. Faith and forgiveness appearing for the first time in Mark, and they appear side by side - that’s not a coincidence.

So what’s going on? Well, Mark says, ‘some men’ - I think more than four - brought to Jesus a friend of theirs who was paralysed. Four of the group carried this man on his mat.

Their aim seems obvious, they want Jesus to heal their friend of his affliction. But, by the time they arrived at the house Jesus was already mobbed. You can see that in verse 4.

I wonder what goes through your mind in that situation. I think I probably conclude we’ve missed our chance and return our friend home. But you get the sense that these friends really believe that this man’s only hope is Jesus. Without Jesus, their friend will be forever paralysed.

So, looking at their options and seeing the staircase to the roof on the outside of the house as they were in that part of the world, they look for a way in from above.

The roof is made of baked clay with wooden beams underneath - not an insurmountable obstacle to get to Jesus - but a tough one nonetheless.

And so, digging through the roof with their hands and whatever else was available, they make a hole and lower their friend on the mat right down in front of Jesus.

And Jesus calls this act ‘faith’. Mark says, ‘Jesus saw their faith’. That’s a piece of narration on Mark’s part, but Mark didn’t imagine it. God doesn’t allow authorship typos into his Scriptures. If Mark tells us ‘Jesus saw their faith’, it’s because God wants us to know that’s exactly how Jesus regarded their actions. Behind their actions, he saw faith.

So what is it about the actions of these people, that Jesus regards as faith? Well, these people have heard about Jesus - they know about him - probably from what they’ve heard. But knowledge by itself is not faith. If you know about Jesus only, that’s not faith.

They have more than just knowledge then. What more than knowledge do they have? They also agree in their minds that their knowledge about Jesus is true - he really can heal; he really can exorcise. But knowledge and approval of what they’ve heard is not faith either. Knowledge and approval doesn’t get them moving you see.

It’s knowledge, and approval and trust that get’s these people moving. They believe that the cost to themselves - the time, the energy, the emotional upheaval - which is all at risk - if Jesus turns out not be who they’ve heard he is, then they’ve wasted it; they’ve lost out - they believe that Jesus is worth more than the cost.

They trust in his ability and they trust in his willingness - his heart. They desire him. And that desire moves them to extraordinary lengths because they trust that he can mend their friend and that he is willingto mend him.

This is faith. Knowledge, approval and hearty trust are all key ingredients of faith. If any one of them is missing, there is no faith. And Jesus sees them all, right here in these people, and he declares it faith.

There are lots of people who have knowledge of Jesus and approve of that knowledge. They think Jesus is real and what he did is true, but they have not trusted.

In fact I was talking with a young man recently who sounded like he might be Christian. So I asked him, ‘are you a Christian’. He said honestly, ‘no’. He said, ‘I believe Jesus was a real man and I believe that he came to save people from their sins, but I don’t know if he died for me.’ And then he added, ‘but I hope I will’. And I’m praying for him - ‘Father, grant him hearty trust that Jesus able and willing to make him clean’.

So, I think we’ve been moving. Moving from Jesus’ heart for God at the beginning of the passage, to Jesus’ heart for the people, and now we’re starting to see the people’s heart for Jesus.

Jesus’ heart for the people creates the people’s heart for Jesus. This is how salvation works. It’s not that we loved him first, but that he loved us first, and his love for us creates in us our love for him. John says simply, ‘We love, because he first loved us’.

And then, Jesus says to the paralysed man, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven’. Now this is strange - is this not strange? I wonder if they thought, ‘that is not what we came for Jesus! What about the healing?’

But Jesus wants them and everyone else, and us too, to know that it’s upon faith that sins are forgiven. And specifically, it’s upon faith in himthat sins are forgiven.

Which is clearly the message that got across to the those teachers in the room because they put this all together and they know exactly what Jesus is saying.

He’s saying that the message that he’s been preaching terminates, not outside himself but on himself. When he was preaching about repentance for the forgiveness of sins, he meant he would be the one to forgive the sins.

But that’s blasphemy isn’t it? ‘Who can forgive sins but God alone?’ they thought (v.7). And faced with this Jesus, they did not believe! They did not believe that he was God, they believed that he was a blasphemer.

You can tell that they didn’t believe, not so much because of their conclusion, but because of what Mark tells us Jesus knew about them. In verse 8 he says, ‘Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts’.

They didn’t just think he was a blasphemer in their minds, they thought in their hearts.

You see, belief or unbelief is a heart issue, not predominantly a mind issue. They believed in their hearts that he was a blasphemer.

If Jesus had said to the man, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’ would they have called him a blasphemer? No, they wouldn’t. ‘But which is the harder thing to do’ Jesus asks.

Is it harder for Jesus to say ‘get up and walk’ to a paralysed man and he instantly get up and walk. Or, is it harder for Jesus to say to a man ‘your sins are forgiven’ and instantly his sins be forgiven? Jesus’ words produce what they command, so which is harder?

To mend the broken legs of a crippled man is magnitudes easier to perform than to mend the broken relationship between you and God because of your sin against him.

God is infinitely offended and nothing in all the world can put to rights the offence that has been committed. Save one thing - Jesus. Jesus can forgive your sins by becoming sin for you on the cross. Jesus can mend your relationship with God.

It is not a hard thing for Jesus to make that man walk, but it is an infinitely hard thing for him to purge his sins. Which is why it is suchgood news that Jesus is not blaspheming when he says, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven’, but is really telling the truth - that he really is God in the flesh who alone can forgive sins.

But, so that you may know that the Son of Man - who the prophet Daniel prophesied about - has authority on earth to forgive sins, I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home’. And the man got up and walked out in full view of them all! Which proves his authority to forgive sins, becauseno one in the room could even do the easier thing, never mind the hard one! Therefore, Jesus tells the truth about who he is.

Jesus has authority on earth to forgive sins folks! That is very good news for every person in this room - whether we like it or not. And we should like it - it’s the antidote to our most pressing need, namely our sins!

The message is: Jesus loves to do his Father’s will. His Father’s will is that ‘not one should perish of all those the Father has given to the Son’. And Jesus therefore loves people.

The Father has given Jesus all authority on earth to forgive sins and Jesus is saying ‘I am so so willing - whoever will come to me in faith; believing that I can, and will, cleanse them of their sins - that person willbe forgiven.

So what is the state of your heart? Are you offended by him like those teachers, or are you ‘amazed’ at him like the people of verse 12?

What’s the final response of the people? Mark says, ‘they praised God, saying, “we have never seen anything like this!”

The heart of Jesus for the Father, bending out horizontally in a heart for the people, producing in them a heart for him, and now finally producing in them a heart for God!

Mark says they ‘praised God’ because of Jesus. This is the gospel! The ultimate end of God’s forgiveness of sins in Jesus, is that those who are forgiven find their everlasting delight in him, and their hearts overflow in adoration, love and praise for him - forever!


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