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The Heart of Opposition

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The Heart of Opposition

Mark 2.1 – 3.6

Pastor Oesterwind

Review/Introduction:  Jesus preached, “Repent and believe in the Gospel” (1.15).  Those who obeyed this message became disciples of the great King.  Though they often misunderstood the implications of their trust, nonetheless, Jesus patiently and lovingly taught them with great authority. 

Discipleship is a process.  It begins with a call to repentance and belief; it deepens and flourishes into a relationship with the God who created us.  Discipleship is not us controlling God; it is God controlling us.  Our fourth sermon in our series on the Gospel of Mark explores the heart of those who refuse to follow Christ – the heart of opposition. 

As we studied Mark 1, did you pick up on the coming conflict?  The scribes and Pharisees witness many people flocking to Jesus.  They prefer the authoritative teaching of Christ over the traditional and learned analyses of the scribes.  The leper will go to the priest.  What will the priest think of the God Man who does more than declare a man healed; He actually has the authority to heal him! 

The conflict in chapter two culminates in a plot to destroy Jesus in the beginning of chapter three.  Religious leaders move from internal, mental reservations about Jesus toward open hostility and the plotting of murder. 

The five conflicts in our text this morning illustrate a great need for all of us.  The psalmist wrote, “Search me, O God, and know my heart” (Ps 139.23).  Proverbs 4.23 provides the antidote for hearts in opposition to Jesus Christ:  “Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life.”  Jesus said that “an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil” (Luke 6.45). 

Transition:  There are five characteristics of hearts in opposition to the Person and work of Jesus Christ.  All five should prompt each of us who belong to Christ to pray, “Search me, O God, and know my heart!”   First, we look at the…

Reasoning Heart (2.1-12)

Explanation:  The healing of the paralyzed man started a process of reasoning in the hearts of the scribes in this section.  They were offended by Jesus’ claim to forgive sins.  Read 2.1-12.

A paralyzed man is carried by four men who have faith that is undeterred by crowds and even a thick roof.  I tend to think it was the home in this context belonged to Simon Peter.  Many had gathered at the home.  Mark will speak of the gathering of crowds nearly 40 times before chapter 10.  While the crowds desire Jesus’ compassion and teaching, crowds in Mark do not repent and believe. 

·         Crowds are fickle and can turn on Jesus in a moment. 

·         Crowds are never a measure of success. 

·         Crowds often stay in the dark – hence the parabolic teaching of Jesus. 

·         The crowds gathered and Jesus preached the word to them (2.2).  Remember, it’s one thing to be a part of many who are gathered, it’s quite another thing to be a disciple.  Crowds stare; disciples commit.  The people gathered en masse and Jesus began teaching the word.  They stayed for His teaching just as they had flocked for His healing.

Roofs were flat in first century Israel.  They could be accessed by an exterior staircase.  The roof consisted of a thatch-work of poles and sticks.  The thatch was covered with mud and re-surfaced from time to time.  That’s why the roof needed to be broken through.  Often, families would spend time on the rooftop, enjoying the fresh breezes off the Sea of Galilee.  They would also use the roof as a place to eat and even pray, as Peter did at the house of Simon the Tanner in Joppa.

We expect Jesus to say to the paralyzed man after he is lowered, “Be quiet and come out of Him” or just simply walk over to the man and heal him with His compassionate touch.  We also expect that it will be the faith of the paralyzed man that heals him, but Jesus saw their faith.  All of them had faith.  The four friends evidenced faith by going through extraordinary measures.  The paralyzed man certainly had faith as evidenced by his quiet trust in the authority of Jesus.

Jesus forgave the sins of the paralyzed man; related to that is the healing of this man – occurring later in the passage.  The faith of the paralyzed man is great faith because he suffered from a greater ailment than that of paralysis.  He came with the burden of his sins (Lenski, 99).

Your sins are forgiven you means your sins have been dismissed; in the very depths of the sea (Micah 7.19), remembered no more (Isa 43.25), as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103).  Since Jesus forgives sin and only God can forgive sin, Jesus must be God!  When the forgiveness of sins is mentioned, the opposition comes from the scribes.  Scribes had authority but not the authority to forgive sins. 

Here, the text states that the scribes reason in their hearts.  Reason isn’t the enemy here; relying upon deceptive reasoning is the enemy.  Only God can truly search and know our hearts.  Jesus knows what the scribes are thinking.  He knows what is in man (John 2.25).  I can look at you and think that you don’t like what I’m saying, but it may be that you just had a bit of bad egg in your omelet this morning J

But the scribes are thinking that only God can forgive sin and surely this Man (who is not God but worthless) is a blasphemer.  We can forgive people when they sin against us; only God can forgive sin an absolute sense.  Both Jesus and the scribes would agree on these points.  Where they disagree is whether or not Jesus could know that the sins of the paralyzed man are forgiven.  They believe that Jesus could not know this.  Jesus knows this.  He claims God’s prerogative for Himself.  For them, that is blasphemy. 

Just as Jesus knew the deep, personal sins of the paralytic, He knew the hearts of the scribes.  He perceived it in His spirit.  Is it easier to say “Your sins are forgiven you” or “Arise, take up your bed and walk”?  It would be easy to say both of them; it would be difficult to say them both effectively.  That is, to say them and make good on saying them.  Jesus speaks and supernatural change takes place – all on the hinge of faith or belief.  He said both and both came to pass!  The scribes have need of forgiveness just as the paralyzed man did.  The difference between them is that the paralyzed man was aware of his need; the scribes were not.

We must look well to our inner motives, for these are the vicious factors and not merely what they produce.[1]

Jesus tells these people that the Son of Man has power or authority on earth to forgive sins.  Then, He says to the paralyzed man, “Arise, take up your bed, and go to your house.”  You want proof that Jesus has the power to forgive sins and not just say it, just look at the command He issues to a paralyzed man.

  • Son of Man
    • GK = The Son of the Man (unique Man not just another human being)
    • The Son of Man not the Son of Men
    • The Word made flesh – joining human nature to divine nature
    • Lowly, suffering servant; great, powerful, and exalted God Man
    • Occurs 14 x in Mark; a favorite designation for Jesus of Himself
    • That the people believed the designation Son of Man had Messianic connotations may be seen clearly in John 12.34, “We have heard from the law that the Christ remains forever; and how can You say, ‘The Son of Man must be lifted up’?  Who is this Son of Man?’”  In other words they are saying, “We know the Christ of the OT, a Son of Man that lives forever, but how can He be lifted up?  Who is that Son of Man?” 

But “the Son of man” lifts this one man out from among all men as being one who bears this human nature in a way in which no other man bears it, who, while he is indeed true man, is more than man, is also υἱὸς τοῦ Θεοῦ τοῦ ζῶντος, “the Son of the living God.”[2]

The scribes are left with their thoughts while all the rest were amazed and glorified God.  They never witnessed anything like this.  They are not talking about the healing (cf. chapter 1); they are amazed at the authority Jesus has to forgive sins.

Application:  The paralyzed man arose, took up the bed, and went out in the presence or full view of them all!  Now every individual must decide what he or she is going to do.  Who can forgive sins but God alone?  Indeed, and He just has – God the Son forgave the sins of the paralyzed man; He can forgive you too.  Have you ever seen anything like this?!  Search me, O God, and know my heart!

Transition:  The first characteristic demonstrates that we should look well at our inner motivations and reasoning.  This is where the evil treasure is produced.  Second, there is the…

Self-righteous Heart (2.13-17)

Explanation:  Jesus’ call of Levi and His fellowship with tax collectors and sinners offended the self-righteous scribes and Pharisees.  Tax collectors were viewed as traitors because of their willingness to do such a loathsome job for Herod.  Tax collectors and sinners were commonly linked in one breath.  Most faithful Jews would have avoided Matthew; Jesus sought him out.

Simon and Andrew left their nets, James and John left their dad, and now Levi (Matthew) leaves his tax booth.  Jesus and His disciples sat together with Matthew and many tax collectors and sinners.  The scribes and Pharisees looked at this gathering as a violation of their desire to remain clean and uncontaminated by the tax collectors and sinners.  Jesus does not consider such contact as defiling or inappropriate.

Jesus is the physician; the tax collectors and sinners are those who are sick.  The Great Physician has what the sick need.  Irony and sarcasm play a part when Jesus says He did not come to call the righteous to repentance but sinners.  Of course, the scribes and Pharisees needed to repent and were certainly not right with God; however, they viewed themselves as righteous – self-righteous. 

Application:  Righteousness is not measured by adherence to a moral code of ethics or ceremonial criteria; but rather, it is extended to all who see their desperate condition before God – all who repent and believe in the Gospel.  All of us are filthy and crooked; otherwise, what did Jesus come to do?  Search me, O God, and know my heart!

Transition:  Inner motivation and reasoning that is flawed and evil is also deceptive and self-righteous.  We believe that we are right with God when in fact we are far from Him.  Third, there is the…

Religious Heart (2.18-22)

Explanation:  The disciples of John and the Pharisees were mystified and offended by Jesus’ neglect of religious duties.  They seem to point out that religious people fast; so, why aren’t your disciples fasting?  Jesus points them to the joy of a wedding.  An occasion of feasting not fasting – the disciples of Jesus are experiencing a time similar to this.

Fasting was appropriate for the disciples of John.  They were still waiting for the ministry of Jesus to begin.  The Pharisees fast for the same reason.  Jesus’ disciples will fast when the bridegroom is taken from them.  They feast when the bridegroom is present; they fast when He is taken – the first allusion to what will happen to Jesus.  Those who repent and believe in the gospel have entered a time of feasting.

Jesus then uses two metaphors to really meet the heart of the opposition.  Old clothing is not repaired with new patches; new wine is not poured into old wineskins.  New cloth shrinks while an old cloak does not.  New patches that are sewn in place and washed will no longer fit.  The resulting tear will be made worse. 

A wineskin was a goatskin that was removed without slitting it.  Openings at the feet and tail were closed leaving the neck as well as the mouth.  Fresh skins are highly elastic and stretch.  They also did not have old rotting lining in them.  But when the skins become old, they stiffen and burst under pressure.  Putting new wine into these brittle skins would cause them to rupture and the wine would spill.  New wine must be put into new wineskins.  What do these two metaphors mean?

·         Jesus did not come to patch up the old or even pour the new into the old.

·         Fasting when the bridegroom is present and feasting when He is absent isn’t right.  Sewing new patches on old clothes or pouring new wine into old skins are incompatible thoughts. 

·         The patch tearing away shares the same root of the word in v. 20 describing the bridegroom being taken from them.

·         Jesus is not an attachment or addition to the status quo.  His authority and teaching are new; they surpass and fulfill the old - especially if the old is the way Judaism is practiced in His day – that was incompatible with His work.  It was religious but wrong.

·         Redemption and new life in Christ cannot be confined to the old, legalistic forms of Pharisaic Judaism. 

In the first, the new patch proved useless and the old was made worse; in the second parable the new was wholly lost and the old was ruined.  The first figure seems especially applicable to the mistake of John’s disciples while the second seems to picture ‘the utter impossibility of containing young Christianity as a mere ‘Reformed Sect’ within Judaism.’  Judaistic Christianity and its forms perished, but the freedom of the gospel, for which Paul contended, remained and developed as it found expression in new forms of life harmonious with its new nature.[3]

Application:  A relationship with Jesus Christ surpasses any religion or dutiful, religious activity out there.  Driven by religion, people fail to see how they can be truly satisfied.  They fail to see how life can be abundant and liberating.  The new life we have in Christ obliterates any man-made religious approach to God.  The old wineskins represent our old lives – religious but lost!  Search me, O God, and know my heart!

Transition:  Inner self-reasoning and self-heart searching produce evil treasure in the heart that we are too blind to see.  Our self-righteousness degenerates into the rotten skin of boastful religious duty.  Fourth, there is the…

Legalistic Heart (2.23-28)

Explanation:  The Pharisees are offended by Jesus’ violation of Sabbath regulations.  Those opposing Jesus differ on forgiveness, association with sinners, and now on Sabbath observance in the next two sections.

The disciples plucked the grain, hand-threshed it, and ate it.  The Pharisees consider that work on the Sabbath and confront Jesus about the disciples’ behavior.  Instead of correcting His disciples, however, He defends their behavior.  He doesn’t argue with them about what is work and what is not work.  He just points out their legalistic behavior, His own authority, and the purpose of the Sabbath.

The Pharisees worked so hard at making sure that the law was not violated that they viewed what the disciples did as reaping, threshing, and winnowing grain.  They went to extremes in determining what was regarded as work.  Plucking is reaping, rubbing is threshing, and blowing away the chaff is winnowing!

The Pharisees had certainly read about David.  But they didn’t really apprehend the truth or principle in the passage located in 2 Samuel 21.  The disciples of Jesus are hungry and in need of food and so were David and his men.  David had a calling and position given him by God.  This led him to provide for his own.  Jesus had a calling and position as well; He would provide for His own.  David was the king who received God’s promise.  Jesus was the king promised.  Even though this is hidden from His hearers, Jesus is aware of His unique role and authority.  “There was thus a parallel between David and his followers and the Son of David and His disciples” (Hiebert, 81). 

The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.  The Sabbath was an institute established by God for the benefit of man.  The heart of legalism is not found in keeping the Sabbath, it is found in making what God ordained a blessing a burden.  The Sabbath was a gift from God to man for physical refreshment and for raising thoughts to higher priorities. 

Application:  The Son of Man is the Lord over the Sabbath.  He has authority over it, but is not abolishing it.  He also is not permitting His disciples to violate it.  He is setting aside the restrictive regulations of the Pharisees; they had perverted God’s intention regarding it.  Jesus, as Lord of the Sabbath, claimed equality with God the Father.  I wonder how often we make our lives cold, sour, dutiful, and religious when Jesus wants them to be boiling over with enthusiasm, tender toward His Word, grateful in obedience, and eager for a relationship!  Search me, O God, and know my heart!

Transition:  Reasoning hearts, self-righteous hearts, religious hearts, and legalistic hearts are not far from being obstinate hearts.  The fifth characteristic of a heart in opposition to the Person and work of Jesus Christ is one that it is hard.

Hardened Heart (3.1-6)

Explanation:  The Pharisees legalism grows into a bitter hatred.  They are so offended by Jesus that they plot [hardened plotting] to murder Him with the Herodians. 

The man had a useless hand with no ability to provide for himself by working.  The Pharisees watched Jesus closely, intently.  They were eager to catch Him healing on the Sabbath in order to accuse Him.  Jesus commanded the man with the withered hand to step forward.  He wouldn’t hide this healing from the Pharisees; it would be done in plain sight. 

Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?  Which of the alternatives were in harmony with the Sabbath?  Doing good and saving life?  Not doing good was in fact doing that which is evil or harmful.  That which is morally good cannot be morally evil because it is done on the Sabbath.

The Pharisees kept silent.  The fact that they did so shows that their Sabbath practices were perversions.  Jesus looked around at each of them searching for an answer from at least one of them.  Jesus was filled with indignation against evil.  He grieved at the hardness of their hearts; their insensitivity to sin.  It was a prolonged feeling of grief or distress.  They were not responding; all were not responding.


Jesus turned His gaze from the Pharisees to the man with the withered hand.  “Stretch out your hand” – the man promptly obeys and His hand is restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately plotted with the Herodians against Him, how they might destroy Him.  The Pharisees were willing to join together with the political supporters of Herod; they had little in common, but were willing to set aside differences against a common enemy. 

They desired to destroy Jesus, to kill Him.  Jesus healed on the Sabbath while the Pharisees plotted murder.  This is how it was to end. 

Application:  Our anger is usually filled with malice and vindictiveness – that’s why our anger is almost always sinful.  Jesus called it a hate that murders.  Anger must be directed against sin, but we direct it at people.  It is not unlike what the hardened Pharisees do, except their anger is directed at their only hope.  Search me, O God, and know my heart!

Conclusion:  It’s a small leap from a self-deceptive, self-reasoning heart to one that is hardened.  That is why we cannot search our own hearts.  We cannot know our hearts.  “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it? I, the Lord, search the heart, I test the mind, even to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his doings.” (Jer 17.9-10)  Search me, O God, and know my heart!

Hymn:  Cleanse Me (166)


[1] Lenski, R. C. H. (1961). The Interpretation of St. Mark's Gospel (103). Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House.

[2] Lenski, R. C. H. (1961). The Interpretation of St. Mark's Gospel (105). Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House.

[3] Hiebert, 79.

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