Wednesday, January 26, 2011

When God Came Down

Reading Mark 1—2  
It is not unusual for us to think, “What would it be like if God came down and showed Himself to us?” Sometimes skeptics will scoff saying, “If there really is a god, why doesn't he just come down and prove himself to us?” He did! Isaiah longed for this day (Isaiah 64:1, 4), and he spoke of events that would precede its occurrence.
3A voice of one calling: “In the desert prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God. …5And the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all mankind together will see it. For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” (Isaiah 40:3, 5)
Mark's Gospel tells us what it was like when God came down. Quoting from verse 3 above, he tells us John the Baptist has come to prepare the way for the Lord. Of course, the Lord is Jesus. But notice that in the Isaiah text above the word “LORD” is all caps, meaning it was YHWH that was being prepared for. Right from the beginning, the Gospel of Mark informs us who has come in Jesus Christ: the God of Israel! What will it be like when God comes down in the flesh?
The next 47 verses come at us like the stars in Star Trek when the Enterprise kicks into warp drive. The word most often translated “immediately” is used once in every 3.5 verses on average. In the rest of the Gospel it averages only once in every 22. These verses present the “shock effect” of what it was like when God came down. What do we see?
First we see Jesus proclaiming the good news of God and calling men who were otherwise minding their own business to follow Him. He doesn't wait to call them; they don't wait to respond. How does He do this? He has authority over all men (John 17:2), so He can.
God has an authority unlike anyone had ever seen. He drives out demons, and they obey Him. Fever flees from His presence, He has authority over sickness and disease. During the day, during the night, it doesn't seem to matter.
Interestingly, His main focus is preaching. One might wonder why. If one has all this power, and can draw crowds and gain a following, why spend so much time and focus on preaching? He certainly wasn't being seeker sensitive (Mark 1:37-38). He was proclaiming the Gospel of God (Mark 1:14), which seems now to be “the gospel about Jesus Christ (Mark 1:1). Just as YHWH has always done, He reveals Himself in truth.
The pace continues coming at us. A leper comes up to Jesus. Stop! He is supposed to go to the priest, and the priest is to inform him whether or not he is clean. The priests could not actually do anything about leprosy other than diagnose. They offered no cure. But this guy knows he is unclean. He has already been diagnosed by the priest. So why go to Jesus? Somehow, this leper realized who Jesus was, for he said, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” (Mark 1:40) No one could do that. But Jesus did. And he was willing. So Jesus sent him to the priests who would confirm the healing power of Jesus. They would even be testifying to who Jesus is.
Then a paralytic is lowered through the roof. And Jesus tells the man, “your sins are forgiven.” (Mark 2:5) We aren't told what was going through the paralytic's mind at this point. Maybe he thought, “Good. I can't walk, but at least my sins are forgiven.” Or maybe he thought, “Do you think that is what I came for?” But we do know what the teachers of the law were thinking. “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Mark 2:6-7) Jesus poses a question:
9Which is easier: to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Get up, take your mat and walk'? 10But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins...." He said to the paralytic, 11"I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home."  12He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, "We have never seen anything like this!" (Mark 2:9-12)
It is a whole lot easier to say, “Your sins are forgiven.” Why? Because you can't confirm nor deny whether or not the person who said it actually had the authority to do so. This is an invisible action. So, Jesus is going to now say the much harder thing to say, “take your mat and go home.” (Not so hard to say, except when saying it to a paralytic, of course.) Now this is verifiable. Either the man will get up, or won't. This 6th scene of Jesus' ministry in Mark reminds me of the 6th day of creation when, after making the lifeless body of man that just lays there, God breathed into it and the man comes alive. This paralytic “got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all.”
Arriving at the 7th scene of Jesus' ministry, the pace suddenly slows (Mark 2:13-17). The word “immediately” is noticeably absent. Now he demonstrates His authority to forgive sins, call men, and restore sinners into fellowship with God. He sees Levi, a tax collector, sitting at his booth doing what tax collectors do: collect taxes. Levi is sinning away, and Jesus simply looks at him and says, “follow me.” And Levi does just that. Then we find Jesus sitting and dining with “tax collectors and sinners”. Many followed him.
How is it that all of this is happening? The bridegroom is with them. The bridegroom of Israel, YHWH (Isaiah 62:5), was now with them (Mark 2:19). What would it be like if God came down? As you read the Gospels you are discovering just that. Mark sets out to show us what he discovered as he encountered God in human flesh.

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