Sermon Prep in Mark – Part 4 Featuring BibleWorks

“In Jesus’ economy of things, sin, not suffering, is our biggest problem. So the Gospel, not healing, is our greatest need.”

I’m working on a series of sermons in Mark chapter 1. And as I mentioned some time ago, I will be using BibleWorks, the premium software for studying the biblical languages, and featuring BibleWorks in a series of posts blogging through my sermon preparation. The nice folks at BibleWorks provided me with a complimentary copy of the latest version of their software, for which I am very grateful. The new features in version 8 are not only helpful but a lot of fun to discover and work with. For more on BibleWorks and where to get it, click here.
Software for Biblical Exegesis and Research 

The fourth step I generally take in sermon preparation is to take what I’ve learned so far from diagramming the passage, noting the types of verbs, prepositions, participles, etc., and analyzing key and loaded words, and then try to arrange my observations in point form. As I said in my first post in this series, Leedy’s diagrams are very helpful in BibleWorks 8, saving a lot of time for busy pastors. But it is a good exercise still to take some time and at least study what Leedy has done to see if your own product is similar or different. This double-check often yields interesting insights all by itself. As I sit down to work out a possible outline of key points and observations, a well-understood diagram of the passage is invaluable. 

In Mark 2:1-12, I noticed that the passage lends itself to a flow of ideas: 

  1. Jesus came home (verse 1)
  2. word spread
  3. people gathered (verse 2)
  4. Jesus preached
  5. some people brought a paralytic man to Jesus (verse 3)
  6. Jesus reckoned the paralytic’s faith to him as righteousness (verse 5)
  7. other people criticized Jesus in their thoughts (verses 6-7)
  8. Jesus rebukes their lack of faith (verses 8-11)
  9. Jesus validates His Gospel with a miracle (verse 12)

It’s not too hard to put together a flow of ideas in point form like this. But it is not easy to then discern what the focus of a sermon on the passage should be. There is no substitute for prolonged and prayerful meditation on the passage at this stage.  Once could resort to commentaries here, and certainly end up with some really good material. But there does seem to be a contagious passion which God gives especially when the sermon one writes and then preaches is the result of his fresh, hard work. It’s become a matter of conviction for me that the Spirit of God who inspired all Scripture also illumines to prayerful students what He inspired and then gives “unction” to His preachers to serve the Body of Christ with all that He has inspired, illumined and anointed for the purpose of magnifying Jesus. Relying on the commentaries too quickly to discern what must be preached from a passage seems to lessen reliance on the Spirit of God. Don’t get me wrong: I LOVE good commentaries, and use them freely. But not until the Spirit has already begun to give me some clear direction into what the text means and how it should be preached. 

I’d been thinking and praying over this passage for a couple of days already when it dawned on me that these 12 verses seem to be dominated by the relationship between the Gospel, what Jesus taught, and the miracle, what Jesus did. Although the miracle is more prominent and flashy, in Mark’s narrative, there is no question that greater importance is weighted on Jesus’ teaching. What did Jesus do when people gathered to him? He taught them. What did He teach them? Probably the same thing He was teaching and preaching in chapter 1: 

  • “Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God,  15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.””  (Mar 1:14-15 ESV)
  • “21 And they went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath he entered the synagogue and was teaching.” (Mar 1:21 ESV)
  • “38 And he said to them, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.”  39 And he went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons.”  (Mar 1:38-39 ESV)

So then, the most important fact in this passage is that Jesus preached the Gospel, “the word” (verse 2). And judging by the way that Jesus forgives the paralytic’s sins before even mentioning healing for his paralysis, I’d say that in Jesus’ economy of things, sin is a bigger problem than suffering. Which means that the Gospel is more important than healing. 

Another connection between the Gospel and the paralytic’s suffering is seen in what motivated his friends to bring him to Jesus in the first place. Obviously they were among the people who “gathered” having heard that Jesus was in town. Why did they come to the house? Arguably so that Jesus might heal their friend. What confidence did they have, do you think, that He would do so? They couldn’t have had certainty; they probably had high hopes, but we can’t be sure of more than that. But there seems to be a deliberateness in the connection between verse 2 and 3: 

“And he was preaching the word to them. And they came, bringing to him a paralytic…” 

In fact, up until verse 5, every sentence starts with “And…”, giving the reader a sense of Mark’s purpose and a driving pace in the story leading to a climax—“And…and…and…and…and…!” Word spread that Jesus was back, people gathered, He preached, they carried the paralytic to Him, and Jesus forgave his sins. So there is a cause-and-effect, dominoe-like succession to the events Mark is writing about here. The paralytic’s friends went to such lengths to get him in front of Jesus because they believed the Gospel He was preaching. A quick check of the text will confirm this conclusion: Jesus forgives the man’s sins because He sees that he and his helpful friends have believed the Gospel. “And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’,” (verse 5). The forgiveness Jesus announces to this man is consistent with the teaching of the rest of Scripture: justification is by faith alone apart from works (Rom 3:28; 4:6, etc.). And faith is the believer’s response to the preaching of the Gospel (Rom 1:4-5, 16; Mar 1:14-15, etc.) So the logic of the passage leads to the conclusion that the paralytic’s suffering led him and his friends to seek out Jesus. Coming to Jesus, they heard Him preach the Gospel. Believing the Good News He preached, they confidently trusted that the paralytic’s greatest need was Jesus Himself. 

No doubt the once-paralyzed man remembered that day for the rest of his life: the day his sins were forgiven by Jesus. But, though I can’t prove it, I think it’s a reasonable inference from these verses in Mark 2:1-12, that this same man probably talked about the day he became paralyzed as the second greatest day of his life. Because it was his paralysis which motivated him to come to Jesus, where in the end he found a cure for not just the symptom of his biggest problem (his paralysis), but a cure for his biggest problem itself (his sin).