The song popularized by Louis Armstrong ‘What a Wonderful World’ is a beautiful song that celebrates nature: Trees of green, red roses too, they bloom for me and you; Skies of blue, clouds of white, bright blessed day and dark sacred nights. “And I think to myself, ‘What a wonderful world’”. I’m sure you have felt the same gazing over a beautiful sunrise or sunset.
It’s a song that also celebrates friendship, and above all it celebrates relationships: “Friends shake hands saying, ‘How do you do?’ What they are really saying is, ‘I love you.’” It’s a lovely song about the gifts of life: creation; friendship; falling in love. But as we saw from the pictures, there is something wrong with our world.
Mitch Markowitz conveys this in the film Good Morning Vietnam. While the song says one thing the pictures say another. As we are told ‘the roses bloom for me and for you’, we see a bomb going off. As we hear the words ‘the colours of the rainbow so pretty in the sky’, we see protesters being beaten. And, most poignant of all, the chorus of ‘I say to myself, what a wonderful world’ is accompanied by images of the little child’s sandal. That’s the world we live in.
The film’s artistry is very clever because it shows us that the world is not the place it ought to be. It should be a wonderful world, but all too often it is spoilt by people. The film is summed up by the Vietnamese girl with whom Robin Williams has fallen in love. She says that so many things do not happen the way you want them to. The Bible actually goes deeper than that. The Bible says that so many things don’t happen the way we want them to because people are not what they should be. Sin has infected our wonderful world leading to sickness, suffering, a breakdown in relationships with one another and separation from God. People are sick, indeed dying, says Jesus, and we so desperately need a doctor.
Last Sunday I needed a doctor. I had just preached at St Stephen’s Cathedral in Goli, which is in the remote north west of Uganda less than a kilometer from the Congolese border. The service was two hours long and very exuberant. In the heat of the tropics and wearing a jacket and clerical collar, I got rather dehydrated. I had been running a temperature for several days, lost my appetite and was unable to shift a cough getting worse. By lunchtime I was flat out, exhausted and apparently not looking good. Friends decided I needed a doctor. Fortunately there was one locally.
A Korean missionary surgeon called Dr Hwang had recently arrived in the district. Although he spoke little English, he diagnosed my symptoms. He put me on a rather basic saline drip, gave me Korean antibiotics and medication to reduce my temperature. He tied the saline bottle to my window frame and told me I could visit the toilet in three hours when the bag was changed. Saline bags in Uganda are solid not vacuum packed so there is an elevated risk of air bubbles entering the blood stream.
It was a unforgettable six hours spent praying and watching bubbles… The correlation between sickness, suffering and sin is not well understood. And to make matters worse, most people do not realize their spiritual condition is fatal also.
Please turn with me to Mark 2. Our verses this morning introduce us to Dr. Jesus. They reveal who he is, why he came and how he alone can make us well again. Before we realize how desperate we are, we need to understand God’s diagnosis of our condition and what he has done to provide a remedy in sending Dr Jesus. But before people will take Jesus diagnosis seriously, and entrust their lives into his hands, they need to be convinced of his credentials.
1. Who is Jesus?
“A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. They gathered in such large numbers that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them. Some men came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on.” (Mark 2:1-4)
Jesus was becoming very popular. Note the drastic lengths people will go to meet him. Jesus was in Capernaum. News of his arrival spread quickly. Life was very public. In the morning the door to the home was opened, anyone who wished might come in. A crowd soon filled this home to capacity. They jammed the area around the doorway, eager to hear Jesus.
By the time these four men arrived carrying their sick friend, they couldn’t get near the house. So they climbed onto the roof and started digging. The typical roof of a home in Israel was flat. It was a place of rest and quiet, and even sleep in Summer. The stairs were built on the outside of the house so access was easy. The roof consisted of flat beams laid across from wall to wall about three feet apart, a bit like the construction of an Elizabethan ceiling. The space between the beams was filled with brushwood packed tightly with mud, which dried to a kind of clay. It was therefore quite easy to dig out the filling between the beams. It didn’t damage the structure of the house and easily repaired. That’s how they dropped their friend right in front of Jesus.
The church may put people off but Jesus is the most popular person in history. But we can say much more than that. Notice how Jesus referred to himself. Verse 10. “But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins…” (Mark 2:10). By using the title “The Son of Man”, Jesus was claiming much more than simply the right to forgive and the power to heal.
The phrase “Son of Man” is never used of any other person, nor by anyone else in scripture except Jesus, of himself. The title comes from Daniel 7 and those listening would have understood immediately whom Jesus claimed to be. The prophet Daniel is given a vision of heaven which he describes in chapter 7.
“In my vision at night I looked and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into His presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshipped him. His dominion is an everlasting kingdom that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.” (Daniel 7:13-14)
There is no ambiguity in what Jesus meant when he referred to himself as the Son of Man. Who is Jesus? God’s eternal, anointed Son.
2. Why did Jesus come?
Mark included this story for a more significant reason, than to simply show that Jesus is popular. In chapter 2, Mark begins to catalogue the growing opposition to Jesus as the religious leaders realize who it was He claimed to be. How does Jesus describe his mission?
2.1 The Priority to Forgive
“When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” (Mark 2:5)
It was no accident that Jesus chose to say these words. There is nothing more important, nor profound, nor provocative that Jesus could have said. Jesus wasn’t a fool. He could see the man was paralyzed. He knew why his friends had brought him. He could sense their hope of a miracle. Jesus knew they knew He was their only hope.
But Jesus did not come primarily to repair broken bodies. That is not why Jesus came. Jesus knew this person’s deepest need, just as Jesus knows yours. He was not distracted by the presenting need. There was nothing superficial about Jesus diagnosis. There is nothing more important that Jesus can say to you and me than these same words, “Your sins our forgiven.” Do you know to your deepest core that your sins are forgiven? I didn’t say “hope”, but “know”. Know for sure your sins are forgiven, past, present and future?
On what basis can we know for sure? Isn’t that arrogant? No, because it has nothing to do with us. We can’t earn forgiveness and we certainly don’t deserve it. It has nothing to do with us but everything to do with Jesus. That is what grace means. God’s free undeserved, unmerited favour expressed in Jesus Christ. It is surely the greatest, most wonderful treasure in the whole world. A clean heart, a clear conscience, a sound mind. And it is ours as we confess our sins. The apostle John writes,
“If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:8-9)
This is a continuous present experience. There is nothing more liberating than to know that we are forgiven through faith in the work of Jesus on the cross in our place. Nothing. Nor is there anything more exciting or profound that we can share with someone else. The priority to forgive sin.
2.2 The Prerogative to Forgive
“Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?”
This was no casual utterance of Jesus. Jesus is intentionally provocative. He knew what he was saying and what effect it would have on those who heard him. Luke fills in some of the detail and tells us in Luke 5:17 that “Pharisees and teachers of the Law who had come from every village of Galilee and from Judea and Jerusalem were sitting there.” It was a set up, a trap. They wanted to snare Jesus. So Jesus therefore lays down the gauntlet. Openly and publicly. He knows what they are thinking. By what authority do you say “Your sins are forgiven”. Because only God can forgive sin.
The Jews knew that every sin, every injustice, was first and foremost against God and only secondly against another person. We have here not only the priority to forgive sin and the prerogative to forgive sin, but above all,
2.3 The Power to Forgive Sin
“Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, “Why are you thinking these things? Which is easier: to say to this paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’?” (Mark 2:8-9)
Authority is always in proportion to power. Every politician and every military tactician knows there is no authority without power. Knowing what these teachers were thinking and why they had come, Jesus set a trap of his own. He asked them a question. A simple question. Reread verse 9. They knew that both the right to forgive and the power to heal instantly and completely could only come from God.
But the one was impossible to test, the other easy. “So lets link the two” says Jesus. “Lets double the stakes” All or nothing. “I claim the authority to forgive sin. You deny it and its difficult to test, but if I also claim the power to heal, you can immediately detect whether my claim is true or false.” And if I can show my power to do the latter, you cannot deny my authority to do the former. Are you with me? The teachers were trapped, in public surrounded by believers, skeptics and spectators, the people present did not need to go to school to understand the logic and implications of Jesus question. Jesus not only asked them the question he also gave them the answer. Jesus is not only popular and provocative but he is powerful.
“But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” (Mark 2:10-11)
The priority to forgive; the prerogative to forgive and the power to forgive. Jesus healed this man first and foremost by assuring him that he was forgiven, and then out of compassion healed his body to prove it. Jesus deals with us as personally as He did with this person brought by his friends.
Jesus claims the absolute and complete authority to forgive you your sins. To give you peace with God. To bring you into a personal, relationship with himself. That is why we rightly worship him. Remember how Daniel describes Jesus:
“He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshipped him. His dominion is an everlasting kingdom that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.” (Daniel 7:14)
We had three questions this morning and we have answered two: Who is Jesus? Answer : The Anointed Son of Man. Why did Jesus come? Answer : To rescue sinners and forgive your sin. Our final question is this:
3. How Should I Respond?
“As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him. While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples.” (Mark 2:14-15)
Let the enormity of that sentence sink in. Jesus spends time with sinners. He goes to their homes. He eats with them.
He wants to meet their friends. This is shocking. A Holy God came to earth not to destroy sinners but to rescue them. That is why the role of the church is not to make people feel guilty – that is the work of the Holy Spirit. Jesus says,
‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners’ (Mark 2:17).
Jesus is only interested in people who know they are sick. He is not interested in people who think they are healthy spiritually. So, the qualification for coming to Jesus is not, ‘Are you good enough?’ but, ‘Are you bad enough?’ ‘Are you desperate enough to know you need rescuing’ What did Jesus say to Levi? “Follow me” (2:14) The word “follow” means “to walk the same road” Notice three things about this sentence.
3.1 It is an Imperative Call
Jesus takes the initiative. The word “follow” reflects Jesus initiative and is in the imperative mode. Jesus was issuing a command. Jesus was not saying, “Would you like to follow me” This was no invitation. It was a summons from the King to be obeyed. Levi stood up immediately and followed Jesus.
3.2 It is an Irrevocable Call
Not only is the verb in the imperative, it is also in the present tense. That means Jesus was commanding not only the beginning of an action but also its continuation. Jesus was saying “Start following me, and continue following me for the rest of your life.” This calls into doubt the superficial appeals sometimes made by evangelists, when people are invited to make a decision for Christ. Jesus was not calling Levi to make a decision to come forward at the end of the service, but to begin a lifelong relationship as Jesus disciple.
To walk the same road with Jesus means the road of self sacrifice, the road of separation, of altruism, of suffering, of holiness but it is also the road home. Of all the disciples Levi probably gave up the most to follow Jesus. Peter and Andrew, James and John could always go back to fishing. There were always fish to catch. But Levi burnt his boats completely. As he got up from his tax collector’s booth, and turned his back on his career, in that one moment of time, he put himself out of a job forever. He could never go back to being a tax collector.
The Romans wouldn’t give him a second chance. And the Jews would never employ a quisling. Levi was a man who staked everything on following Jesus. He had made a quick mental calculation and decided that the little retirement villa by the sea at Joppa and the cash stowed away did not compare with being called by Jesus. The old Levi was living to die. The new Levi, aptly re-named Matthew, meaning “gift of the Lord”, was now dying to live. The call of Jesus brought him to his senses and he never looked back. And that is what happens to us when we hear Jesus call. An imperative call. An irrevocable call.
3.3 It is an Irresistible Call
Jesus didn’t just say “Follow me”. What he actually said was “Follow with me”. Matthew was not being called simply to become a follower. Jesus was welcoming Matthew to be his companion and co-worker.
It was to be a side by side walk down the same road. At last someone accepted him for who he was. To know that God loves us so much that he sent Jesus to rescue us to serve with him is surely irresistible. Such love. An imperative call, an irrevocable call, an irresistible call.
Maybe you are thinking, “That’s OK for Matthew but not for me. I’ve blown it once too often. God’s grace won’t reach that far…Then remember the other disciple, Peter. Remember that he denied Jesus, not once, not twice, but three times. But after the resurrection of Jesus, the angel says, “Go… tell his disciples, especially Peter that he will go ahead of you to Galilee” (Mark 16:7). “Be sure and tell Peter he’s not left out…”
Not many second chances in the world today… ask the boy bullied at school… the 55 year old made redundant… the mother of three who got dumped for a “pretty little thing”… The elderly relative made to feel a liability. The message of the world is ruthless and unforgiving. Jesus has a simple answer… “Be sure to tell Peter he gets another go.” The next time Peter sees Jesus on the Galilee shore he cannot wait and dives in and swims ashore to be first back.
It was also enough to cause this Galilean fisherman to take the gospel of the second chance to Rome where they eventually killed him. If you’ve ever wondered what would make a man ask to be crucified upside down, maybe now you know. Louis Armstrong was right. “What a wonderful world” But how much more wonderful is our Saviour, Jesus Christ.