5When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”
6Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, 7“Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?”
15While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and “sinners” were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. 16When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the “sinners” and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?”
23One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. 24The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?”
Here in Mark 2 the Holy Spirit, as He does in Mark 3 (see here), utilizes triplets to emphasize a particular theme or idea. While this chapter evidences more than one use of this triplet structure, I’ve chosen to write about only triplet that appears in the above quoted verses. And in case you missed it, I’ll extract the phrases and show you what I’m talking about.
1. “…some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves…”
2. “…the teachers of the law who were Pharisees […] asked his disciples…”
3. “The Pharisees said to him…”
There is a progression here from what is thought by the Pharisees to what they verbalize; that is, a progression from “thinking to themselves” to asking His disciples,” until finally, they ask Jesus Himself.
What is of significance here?
The Law Vs. Grace: Who Can Forgive Sins but God Alone?
The first of these questions from the Pharisees is concerned with who can forgive sins. Jesus’ claim to forgive sins of the paralytic in 2:1-8 begins to form the center of this chapter, which immediately moves into Jesus’ calling of Levi/Matthew and His dinner with “many tax collectors and ‘sinners’,” closing with Jesus’ disciples plucking heads of grain on the Sabbath and eating them.
Now note what the Pharisees contest:
a. That Jesus can grant full pardon to a sinner.
b. That Jesus can fellowship with those He has forgiven.
c. That Jesus’ disciples are not bound by legalism but are under grace.
This legalism is poisonous and is not concerned with Christ but with tradition. It is carnal, not spiritual, seeking a righteousness that is not from God but from one’s own works. And, unfortunately, it is still around today. There are cults, like Jehovah’s Witnesses, who deny the Deity of Christ, His ability to fully pardon us of our sins, and His direct fellowship with those He has redeemed, but there are other more subtle versions of the legalistic heresy of the Pharisees which slide under the radar by disguising themselves as “Christian” (see, Catholicism). Yet, when the grace of God is made into something that merely enables an individual to persevere in righteous works until they reach heaven and are then accounted righteous before God, this is not Christianity. If our perseverance determines whether or not we “make it into heaven” or, to put it more bluntly, “if we are only as saved as we wanna be” (as I’ve heard a “pastor” once say), then Christ died in vain and we are our own savior. This is heresy.
And it will eventually rise to the surface, no matter how subtle or hidden it may be. Christ knows the hearts of all men, and He speaks up on our behalf against our accusers.
Over the years, I know that the Lord has drawn me away from Arminian theology precisely for this reason: It is a salvation-by-works gospel that is not the gospel that Christ or His apostles preached. And maybe that’s why this passage stood out to me as powerfully as it did. For if Christ is God, He can fully forgive us our sins. If He has fully forgiven us our sins, He has accepted us and He fellowships with us. If He has forgiven us, we are no longer under the law but under grace.
What is beautiful here is that we see our Lord both declaring us righteous and answering the accusations of our enemies. Our Heavenly Advocate silences the enemy of our souls along with the legalistic heretics that follow suit after him (that is, the enemy), and encourages us to fellowship with Him (that is, Christ), to feed upon His Word, to enjoy Him who is a friend of tax collectors and sinners – that is: He now continually calls us to enjoy Him as long as we have Him –
and He will not leave us nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5).
Anyone who tells you otherwise has good company with the accuser of the brethren and the unregenerate legalists of Mark 2.