Sunday, January 28, 2007

The Deadly Disease of Legalism: Mark 3:1-6

The section of the Gospel of Mark stretching from 2:1 to 3:6 deals with five controversies that arose between Jesus and the religious authorities of His day. As we have examined each one, we have noticed that opposition has grown stronger each time. When Jesus claimed authority to forgive sins, the scribes responded with silent accusations. When Jesus was found to be associating openly with “sinners,” the Pharisees responded by questioning the disciples. When Jesus was not found to be fasting when the Pharisees and John’s disciples were fasting, they brought the interrogation directly to Him. When the disciples were seen nibbling wheat on the Sabbath, the questioning intensified. In this passage, we have another Sabbath controversy. While the flow of narrative here leads us to the assumption that it immediately after the previous one, Luke actually tells us that this occurred on another Sabbath. This time, when Jesus responds to a man in need on the Sabbath, the opposition reaches a pinnacle.

You may recall from last week’s message on the preceding passage that a whole host of regulations had been developed to protect the Sabbath. Since violation of the Sabbath was prescribed in Scripture as a capital offense, the religious experts and authorities wanted to insure that no one came close to violating it. Thirty-nine categories of work were expounded upon in the rabbinic writings stating precisely what could and could not be done on the Sabbath in nearly every imaginable scenario.

When it came to dealing with a person’s health, Sabbath laws had little to say about healing. After all, it was outside the realm of most people’s experience of “working.” We do know that it was permitted to assist with childbirth, since that can’t exactly be put off until tomorrow. And we know that it was permitted to save a person’s life which was in danger. A person with a sore throat could receive medicine, since a sore throat could have been a sign of some deadly illness. If a person was trapped beneath the rubble of a fallen structure, enough rubble could be moved to determine if the person was dead or alive. If alive, and in danger of death, they could be removed from the rubble. If it was determined that the person was dead, or that their life was not in danger, they were left lying until the Sabbath ended. If a person was injured, first aid could be given to prevent their condition from worsening, but not in such a way that their condition was actually improved. That would be considered working on the Sabbath. Specifically relevant to this episode is the passage from the Sabbath Mishnah which stated, “they may not straighten a deformed body or set a broken limb.”[1] All of the Sabbath regulations concerning healthcare are summed up in this statement from Misnah Yoma: “Whenever there is doubt about whether life is in danger, this overrides the Sabbath.”[2]

On this particular Sabbath day, when Jesus entered the synagogue (presumably at Capernaum), He was confronted by a deadly disease. Now, you may look at the man with the withered hand, and say, “What is so deadly about that?” Certainly it does not appear that his life is in danger. Luke 6:6 says that his right hand was withered. This would affect his ability to work in certain capacities. An early but questionable tradition says that he was a mason who had been injured on the job, and could not longer work. He had been reduced to begging.[3] Now, that tradition may or may not be true. The wording of the passage suggests to us that his condition was the result of an injury or an accident rather than a birth defect. The word used is used in other passages to indicate something that had dried up (5:29) or become stiff (9:18). But certainly we are not going to try to defend Jesus by saying that his condition was life threatening. Certainly he could wait until the next day to tend to this man. But I suggest to you that this man’s withered hand was not the deadly disease that Jesus intended to heal.

The most terminally ill people in the synagogue had no clue how critical their condition was. I suggest that the deadly disease Jesus was seeking to heal on that day was the deadly disease of legalism which infected the Pharisees. What is legalism? Millard Erickson gives a good definition of it: “Legalism is a slavish following of the law in the belief that one thereby earns merit.”[4] Now let me clarify: It is RIGHT, it is absolutely right, to seek to live your life in accordance with the law of God. But, it is WRONG, it is infinitely, and eternally, and dangerously WRONG to believe that by living according to that law that we are earning favor with God. And what makes the strain of legalism that infects the Pharisees so completely deadly is that, not only do they believe that their observance of God’s law earns them credit before God, but they expand God’s law to a nearly endless and impossible system of man-made regulations that they strive to uphold as a means of earning an acceptable state of righteousness before God. If you were to ask these people, “Why do believe that God will find you acceptable before Him?” they would answer, “Because of what I do. I do this, this, and this; I don’t do that, that, and the other thing.” And it is a lie. It is a dangerous, deadly lie that comes from hell, and leads to hell.

Now why, on this Sunday, January 28, 2007, with the Lord’s Table prepared before us, would I spend this time talking to you about the error of the Pharisees? It is because, beloved, I fear that this same illness infects many in our own day who call themselves Christians. My greatest fear is that one day I will stand before the Lord to give an account for my life and ministry, and discover that people who sat under my preaching and teaching week after week, walked away thinking that they are made right before God because of what they do or don’t do. So I want to carefully and lovingly remind us once again of those very important words that we studied in Philippians 3:9. Paul said there that his desire was to gain Christ, “and to be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith.” Righteousness before God is not earned by our striving to obey the Law. The righteousness that God accepts is an alien righteousness – it comes from outside of ourselves. It is the righteousness of Christ. How can I have the righteousness of Christ? God offers it to us freely by His grace, and it is imputed to us as we turn from sin and trust in Christ alone for our salvation. We receive it from God by faith. And all those who reject that righteousness and seek instead to earn favor with God by our doing and not doing are seeking a legalistic righteousness that they will never find, and which God will never accept. Our righteousness is but filthy rags before Him. Christ’s righteousness is what God accepts, and it is given to those who are found in Him.

Now I want to focus on three symptoms of this deadly disease that we see in this passage. As we look at this, I want you to ask yourself, am I infected?

I. Deadly Motivations are a symptom of Legalism (v2)

When Jesus entered the synagogue, He was being watched. The people knew that He had the power to heal, and they knew that He had healed on the Sabbath before. We saw that in Chapter 1. They were watching Him to see if He would heal the man with the withered hand.

Undoubtedly many people watched Jesus wherever He went; they wanted to see the power of God manifested in and through Him. Faced with this man who had the withered hand, I am certain that everyone was curious as to how Jesus would respond to His need. But the Pharisees were not interested in seeing the power of God – they were watching Him to see if He would heal on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse Him.

I tend to agree with the speculations of some scholars that the entire scenario was a set-up, and this afflicted man was their pawn. It is entirely possible that the Pharisees had sought out this man, who no doubt had been the object of scorn by them in the past, and placed him in the synagogue in order to entrap Jesus. Knowing that the compassion of Christ would be set in motion on seeing this pitiful man, they set it all in place in order to accuse Him. The word used here is the Greek word katagoreo. It is where we get our word category, and categorize. They were looking for a label they could hang on Jesus, a pigeon-hole they could cram Him in. If He healed the man, they could call Him a law-breaker, a Sabbath violator, an infidel and an enemy of the state. If they could publicly expose Him as a Sabbath-breaker, then they could discredit Him in the eyes of the people and lead Him to a death-sentence.

Here is one of the deadly dangers of legalism. It is not that the Pharisees lived immoral lives; they were morally upright in the eyes of most people who knew them. But in their morality, they sought to make themselves appear more righteous than everyone else, and when someone came along challenging them as Jesus did, they set out to find fault in Him. If you find yourself constantly condemning others, if you go to great lengths to find fault in others, ask yourself why? Is it so that you can make yourself look better than them? Do you label others, accuse them, categorize them according to some artificial standard so that you appear all the more righteous? Whenever I hear someone being critical of everyone else, I have to wonder if they are just trying to make themselves look better.

I was watching the late Steve Irwin, “Crocodile Hunter,” the other night, and they were wrestling with a huge crocodile. Steve warned his helper, “Watch out mate, if this one gets loose, you’ll never outrun him.” The other fellow said, “I don’t have to outrun the croc, I just have to outrun you.” That is the way a legalist approaches God – they don’t think they have to be perfect, just better than everybody else. And by making themselves appear better than everyone else, they think God will accept them. Listen, although you may be able to convince everyone else that you are better than they are, you will not convince God, for He sees you when no one else is looking, He hears you when no one else is listening, He knows the thoughts that no one else does. So, in your criticism of others, make sure that this deadly motivation is not at the core. Otherwise, you have become infected by the deadly disease of legalism.

II. A Deadly Condition is a symptom of legalism. (5)

As badly withered as this man’s hand might have been, a withered hand is much more preferable than a hard heart. The heart was understood in days of old to be the seat of mental discernment and spiritual insight. The word used here for hardness is a word that was used in the natural realm to describe the calcifying of minerals in the formation of stone. It was used as a medical tem to describe the substance that forms as a broken bone is mended back together.[5] But when this condition affects the heart, it is spiritually deadly. A hard heart is one that will not receive truth and refuses to understand spiritual realities.

The hardness of heart that affected the Pharisees is evident in that they were more committed to tradition than compassion. They were not interested in this man’s condition. They were unmoved by his suffering. A hard heart is indifferent toward the opportunity to do good. And this indifference is the enemy of righteous love and compassion. Whether or not the Pharisees could have really helped this man on that Sabbath day is doubtful, but he had been in that condition for a long time. Why had they not helped him in the past? Why did it have to come to this? So Jesus asks the probing question: Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save a life or to kill?” Obviously, it is never lawful to do harm or to kill, not on any day. And for Jesus, failure to do good was to contribute to the doing of harm. Thus for Him, the question was not whether it was permissible to heal this man on the Sabbath, but rather if it were even thinkable for Him not to. But if the Pharisees had said that it was lawful to do good on the Sabbath, then the entire framework of their man-made system would crumble beneath them. So they were silent, and remained indifferent in the face of suffering.

Contrast their watching (v2), and their silence (v4) with the attitudes and actions of Jesus. He looked around. This is a favorite expression of Mark almost always followed by an authoritative pronouncement. As He looked around, no indifference was seen in the eyes of Jesus. He was moved to compassion toward the suffering man. And He was moved to anger and grief over the hardness of heart in the Pharisees. Is it wrong to be angry? Not always, for sometimes anger is the only appropriate response. How else should we respond to sin? Anger toward sin is a righteous indignation, and it is always joined together with grief over someone’s spiritual condition. Jesus’ anger was toward their failure to respond to this man with righteous compassion. But He wasn’t just mad; He was heartbroken—grieved over the inner spiritual reality of their hard heart.

The Pharisees’ hard heart demonstrated they were far from God. However, a word of warning is in order here. Please don’t think that if you are a follower of Jesus that you are immune to the deadly condition of a hard heart. Two times in Mark’s gospel, these words are used to describe Jesus’ very own disciples. God forbid that we should find a hardness of heart in ourselves that is unmoved by suffering, that knows nothing of godly compassion toward those in need. Whenever you are faced with the opportunity to do good, to alleviate suffering, to come to the aid of the weak and defenseless, the question is never, “Can you do it?” The right question is how can you not do it? May it never be that we would tolerate in ourselves that which moves Christ to anger and to grief.

III. Deadly Reactions are a symptom of Legalism (v6)

The trap was set to see if Jesus would heal this man. Notice what Jesus does. With no thought of personal consequence, He takes a bold stand for what is right and calls the man to the center of attention: “Get up and come forward.” And He said to him, “Stretch out your hand.” This man’s faith in Christ overshadowed his fear of men, and stretched out his hand in obedience to the authoritative word of Christ and in so doing He was healed. Notice that Jesus healed this man with no touch of his hand, no employment of outside agencies, no application of pressure or medicine; just the power of His will and the word of His power. If this was a “work” being done on the Sabbath, it most certainly was one of “a very nonphysical variety.”[6] It was moreover a demonstration of His divine nature – here in there midst stood God Himself. How do the religious experts respond?

Oh how I wish that verses 6 through 10 were not here. I wish so much that the next words we read were the words of verse 11: When Jesus demonstrated His divine power in their midst, I wish “they would fall down before Him and shout, ‘You are the Son of God!’” But those words do not apply to the Pharisees. They apply to the demonic unclean spirits that Jesus encounters in the next passage. The response of the Pharisees demonstrates that they are in a worse spiritual condition than the forces of hell. They missed it altogether. Rather than falling at the feet of this incarnate Lord in worship, they went out and began to plot His murder.

Having sought unsuccessfully to form an unlikely alliance with the disciples of John the Baptist in 2:18, they turn now to another unlikely ally: the Herodians. Under normal circumstances, the Pharisees would hate the Herodians, and the feeling would be mutual. The Herodians stood for everything the Pharisees were against. They supported the Roman occupation of Israel, and the Idumean regime of Herods that governed the land as Caesar’s puppets. But Jesus is a common enemy because He threatens their religious and political authority. So they combine forces to conspire toward His destruction.

Remember Jesus question: “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save a life or to kill?” Jesus intended to do good and save life. But we see here that the very ones who were so caught up in Sabbath restrictions went out to violate this very principle by plotting harm and murder. In so doing, they reveal the deadliness of their condition – the deadly disease of legalism. Perhaps the life Jesus intended to save on that Sabbath day was theirs, but they would not have it. Their condition proceeded from bad to worse as they begin to formulate the plan to remove the bridegroom as Jesus said in 2:20. From this point on, the life and ministry of Jesus will take place under the looming shadow of Calvary’s cross.

Legalism is deadly! It kills! It’s going to kill Jesus, but it will also bring spiritual death to those Pharisees. Their very lives were in danger as Jesus entered the synagogue on that day. And faced with the opportunity for deliverance from their condition, what did they do? They rejected the cure and clung to their disease. Don’t you do that. Don’t let your pride, your traditions, your status, your position, your cherished opinion keep you separated from Christ for eternity. If God has shone the light of His truth on this dark secret of your heart today and you have found this deadly disease of legalism moving in you, flee to the cross for the cure and find life! You will never earn righteousness before Him by trusting in your works. You must embrace His cross, where the Savior died for your sins, and offers you forgiveness and eternal life, and the covering of His righteousness. This is our only hope. Have you truly received it? If not, then you are terminal. But the cure is offered to you freely if you will receive it.

[1] Cited in James R. Edwards, The Pillar New Testament Commentary: The Gospel According to Mark (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 99.

[2] Cited in R. T. France, The New International Greek Testament Commentary: The Gospel of Mark (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 149.

[3] D. Edmond Hiebert, The Gospel of Mark: An Expositional Commentary (Greenville, SC: Bob Jones University Press, 1994), 84.

[4] Millard Erickson, Christian Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1998), 990.

[5] Louis Barbieri, Moody Gospel Commentary: Mark (Chicago: Moody, 1995), 77.

[6] France, 151.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

C. S. Lewis Gets It! Why can't the rest of us?

In the newly released third volume of C. S. Lewis's letters, he has this to say about the church.

“For the church is not a human society of people united by their natural affinities but the Body of Christ in which all members however different (and He rejoices in their differences & by no means wishes to iron them out) must share a common life, complementing and helping and receiving one another precisely in their differences. . . .If people like you and me find much that we don’t naturally like in the public & corporate side of Christianity all the better for us: it will teach us humility and charity.” 12 July 1950, p. 68-69.

This is what I have been trying to say for several years, with very few denominational leaders willing to listen. This is what Immanuel Baptist Church in Greensboro has been trying to do for forty years, going against the tide all the way. I know that homogeneity "works", but our calling is not to do what works but what is right. C. S. Lewis gets it. IBC gets it. I get it. Billy Belk gets it. Mark Dever gets it. Anyone else out there get it?

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Living Under Lordship and Living Under Law - Mark 2:23-28

When I was a student in Bible College, I worked weekends in a Christian Bookstore. One day two teenage girls came in looking for a Bible. I was trying to help them find one that they could understand and might provide some study aids for them, but one of them spoke up: “Is it King James? It has to be King James!” I asked her why it had to be King James, and she said, “My pastor said I have to get the King James Version.” I chuckled and said, “What is your pastor’s name?” She told me, and I said, “Oh, I know him!” And she said, “Oh please don’t tell him you saw me wearing shorts.” I still scratch my head about the confusion this little girl lived in. She was bound up by the rules and regulations imposed on her, not by the Bible, but by her pastor. Yet, this young girl was willing to violate certain of these rules imposed upon her by her pastor, so long as the pastor didn’t know about it, yet to break other ones was unthinkable. Such is life when you live under law. You don’t have to spend time trying to decide what the right thing to do is in a situation – someone else has already decided it for you. You only have to decide whether or not you will abide by it.

Now there is an opposite extreme to this, and it is living under lawlessness. This person is a law unto himself. He does what he wants to do, when and how he wants to do it, and no one can tell him any different. It is obvious that we want to avoid both of these extremes, and the way to do that is to find ourselves living under Lordship. Living under the Lordship of Jesus Christ means that sometimes, the decision is not cut and dry, and has not been spelled out for me by someone else, so I have to talk it over with my Lord and allow Him to direct me as I consider His will, His Word, and His ways.

Living under the law, I don’t have to wrestle with issues. Chances are, someone has already spelled out a ruling about my situation, and I merely need to refer to the experts and allow them to tell me what to do. It is not always easy to do those things, but it is easy to not have to think about it, pray about it, or seek godly counsel about it. It becomes automatic. The law says this, so I do it. God gave Israel a law, but His law was given with the built-in understanding that those who would seek to abide by it would also be living under His lordship. Therefore, not every minuscule variation of circumstances and situations are spelled out in the Law. Some things are left for the individual to determine as he or she lives under God’s Lordship. But for many in Israel’s history, this task was too daunting. It would be much easier if someone would do the thinking for them and spell out how they should act, react, or choose in any given circumstance. Such was the case with the Sabbath.

The Jews had two things to distinguish them from everyone else in the world: circumcision and the Sabbath. As such, the Sabbath was promoted and defended not only with religious zeal but also with nationalistic fervor. To violate the Sabbath was to be an infidel and a traitor, and it was punishable by death. The Sabbath Commandment was the fourth and longest of the Ten Commandments. Exodus 20:8-11 says, “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of the LORD your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and made it holy.” The Sabbath was to be holy and set apart, a day to rest the body and to turn one’s thoughts above the daily concerns of this life and to focus one’s thoughts completely on the things of God.

There was to be “no work” done on the Sabbath, beginning at Sundown Friday until Sundown Saturday. Seven Old Testament passages dealt with the kinds of work to be avoided on the Sabbath: Exodus 16:22-30 – the gathering and preparing of food; Ex 34:21 – plowing and harvesting; Ex 35:2-3 – kindling a fire; Numbers 15:32-36 – gathering wood; Nehemiah 10:31 and 13:15-22 – buying and selling; Jeremiah 17:21-22 – carrying a load. Now, we would not consider that list of prohibitions burdensome, and would recognize that there are many things not covered by this list. Because the Pharisees, the scribes, and the religious experts of the day wanted to leave nothing to chance, they developed a complex list of regulations of what could and could not be done on the Sabbath. Even though their codified regulations exceeded the boundaries of Scripture, but were nonetheless considered binding upon the people of Israel.

For instance, it was prohibited for a person to journey more than 2,000 cubits from home on the Sabbath. That is approximately 3,000 feet or 1 kilometer. Anything heavier than a dried fig was considered a burden and could not be carried on the Sabbath. It was forbidden for a woman to look in a mirror on the Sabbath, lest she notice a grey hair and pluck it out. In all, there were 24 chapters of Sabbath regulations in the Mishnah. They enlarged and expanded upon the relatively simple Sabbath Law of the Bible, and formulated regulations concerning every imaginable scenario. However, in most cases, these regulations violated the central purpose of the Biblical Sabbath.

The intention of the Biblical Sabbath Law was to provide people a day of rest in order that the people might worship. However, nowhere in these Sabbath regulations was any thought given to the spiritual significance of the day or to the worthiness of God for our worship. The spiritual significance of the day was transformed into a complicated code of external and burdensome regulations. A person had to work harder to keep from breaking the Sabbath than they would if they committed one of the infractions specified in the minutia of these codes.

This was the world in which Jesus lived. It was a world full of people who were striving to live under law. But they were not striving to honor God by living under His holy and righteous Law. The Law of God had been fenced in by the man-made restrictions of the religious leaders of the day. And the people were not motivated by a pious fear of God, but of a dreadful fear of man – that they would be caught innocently performing some harmless action, and dragged before the rulers and sentenced to die the death of an infidel and a traitor. There were Pharisees, and scribes, and religious experts always watching who was doing what on the Sabbath – working hard to make sure no one was working. And on a particular Sabbath, Jesus and His disciples were nabbed.

Walking through the grainfield, the disciples began to pick the heads of grain. Luke says they were rubbing them together in their hands to get the husks off so they could eat it. Matthew says they were hungry. And from out of the blue, the piety police came out and said to Jesus, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” Now, according to the Old Testament Law, what they were doing was not illegal in itself. There were provisions in the Old Testament Law allowing a person to pluck grain from another’s field with their hands, but not to harvest it with a sickle. In fact, farmers were required under Old Testament Law to not harvest their crops all the way to the corners of the field for this very purpose. There is a built-in sense of compassion in the Law for human needs. But the issue here is not what they were doing, but when they were doing it. They were doing it on the Sabbath.

Clearly, what they were doing was not unbiblical, however it violated the rabbinic Sabbath laws. Those regulations stipulated that if a person plucked a head of grain, he was reaping. If a person rolls wheat to remove the husks, it is considered sifting. If he rubs the heads, it is regarded as threshing; if the wheat is tossed up into the air, it is winnowing.[1] So the infraction of the disciples was two-fold: in their plucking, they were reaping; and in their rubbing as Luke describes in his gospel, they were threshing. While it is true that harvesting was forbidden in the Old Testament on the Sabbath, I don’t believe any one using common sense would mistake plucking a few heads of grain by hand with harvesting. However, so narrowly and precisely had the Law been interpreted, these actions of the disciples were expressly forbidden in the eyes of the Pharisees.

Jesus did not debate the Pharisees over this issue. They asked why and He answered them. And I suggest to you today that His answer might be summarized in this way: Why do they do what they do on the Sabbath? Because they live under Lordship and not Law. And Jesus’ statement about life under Lordship involves three components: a passage, a principle, and a pronouncement. You have decisions to make in life which are not spelled out precisely in God’s Word. When you can turn to a specific chapter and verse that speaks directly to the issue you are facing, it is an easy choice. But all too often you can’t do this. But by examining the Lord’s passages, His principles, and His pronouncements, you can make godly decisions and live godly lives under Christ’s Lordship as well.

I. Living Under Lordship Requires a Knowledge of Passages (vv25-26)

The Pharisees came against Jesus with man-made religious regulations. Jesus countered them by pointing them to the Word of God. He says, “Have you never read …?” Why, of course they had read it. They were experts in the religion of Israel. But Jesus phrases the question in such a way to say, “If you know so much about the Bible, how can you even ask Me a question like this?” And the passage He points them to is from 1 Samuel 21, involving an episode in the life of David as he was fleeing from Saul. When David came to the Tabernacle at Nob, the priest allowed him to take the consecrated bread from the Tabernacle which was only to be eaten by the priests. This was specified in Lev 24:5-9. David was not a priest. He was not yet even rightfully coronated as the king. Yet, he was hungry and the priest gave him this consecrated bread, and nowhere do we read that David, his men, or the priest suffered any rebuke from God or any calamity of judgment because of it.

The point Jesus is making in the reference to this passage is that David’s need for food was more important than ritual observance. God would not have been honored if the priest had said, “Well, listen, I know your hungry, but all I have is this bread – it is a special holy-bread – and you have to be a priest to eat it, and well, since you aren’t a priest, sorry.” No, God’s laws were given to instill love, and mercy, and compassion in His people. God’s priests were to be His representatives before the people. To turn away a hungry person because he was not a priest would be the opposite of godly compassion. It would be to declare that God was more interested in external rituals than human life. But this is not so, and that is the point Jesus is making. God would not prefer that the disciples go hungry so as to not violate some man-made Sabbath regulation. They were hungry, like David. David ate food which was unlawful to eat, but the disciples ate food which was ordinarily lawful for them to eat. And the Sabbath ordinances of the Bible did not prohibit this, only those man-made regulations. For the Pharisees to accuse Jesus’ disciples of sin here would be to call David, the greatest King of Israel’s history, an infidel as well. And there was no way they were about to do that!

Now, as you wrestle with a decision which is not spelled out precisely for you in the Scriptures, you don’t need a religious authority to give you a rule to follow. If you live under Lordship, you turn to the passages of the Bible and say, “Were there ever any occasions where God’s people were dealing with something similar – maybe not the same, but similar – that I can learn from?” And if you have been a student of the Word then you are able to recall, “Oh yes, there was that time when Gideon, or Hezekiah, or Mephibosheth, or whoever, was doing that thing.” And you draw from that passage an illustration of how you might honor God with your decision as well. So living under Law requires having an expert to tell you what to do. Living under Lordship involves knowing the passages of Scripture and being able to recognize parallels between your situation and those of the people God blessed as they walked with Him. Then you may draw from those passages some instruction or guidance as you make your decision under the Lordship of Christ.

II. Living Under Lordship Requires an Understanding of the Principles (v27)

Jesus said to the Pharisees that the Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. It was God’s gift to man – not intended to put us in a straight-jacket of regulations, but to free us from daily concern and provide us rest from our labor and an opportunity for worship.[2] However, the regulations of the Pharisees were contrary to this principle, and in fact, distracted man from both rest and worship because of a fruitless obsession about what could and could not be lawfully done.

Now, here Jesus is not citing a passage, but employing a principle. When we take the whole of Scripture as a unit, and compare its passages with one another, we are often able to deduce certain principles on proper attitudes and actions which are not otherwise spelled out with precision. Here Jesus does just this by comparing the teachings of the creation account with the teachings concerning the Sabbath in the Law and the examples of the Sabbath in the historical narratives. None of these passages contradict any of the others, but all fit together hand-in-hand. Therefore, Jesus employs a principle as if to say, “If you understand what God’s word teaches in its entirety, then you know that this is not unlawful on the Sabbath.”

Today is “Sanctity of Life Sunday.” Every year, we set aside this day to emphasize that God values human life and therefore we ought to strive to preserve life as best as we can. One of the areas where this is most critical in our own day is the issue of abortion. Now, someone will say, “Show me where in the Bible it says that it is a sin to have an abortion.” This person has gone to the concordance and looked under “A” and found no mention of abortion and has concluded therefore that it must be OK since the Bible doesn’t speak of it. Well, although there are no passages which deal directly with it, there is a principle we draw by comparing Scripture with Scripture. First, we know that Genesis 1:27 teaches that man is created in the image of God. Second, we know from Exodus 20:13 that the taking of human life is absolutely forbidden. Third, we know there are passages like Psalm 139 and Jeremiah 1:4-5 where God speaks of His knowledge of a person and His sovereign plan for that life while they are still in the womb. Fifth, we know that the Bible speaks of activity and awareness of the unborn, such as the case in Luke 1:40 with John the Baptist when he leapt for joy while still in his mother’s womb when Mary came to her pregnant with Jesus. Sixth, we know that the Law declared in Exodus 21:22-25 that a person who struck a pregnant woman so that she miscarried her unborn child was guilty of a crime punishable by death. And we could go on further with more passages, but already we see how from these separate passages, we can draw principles – that the unborn child is very human and already an image-bearer of God, and that the taking of an unborn life is murder in the eyes of God. And if we live under Lordship, then we are looking to draw principles from Scripture which will enable us to make well-informed, God-honoring decisions, as opposed to using “scriptural silence” as an excuse for the doing of whatsoever we desire in our flesh.

When you live under Law, and there are no Biblical propositions relating to your circumstances, you call in the expert and say, “Here is my situation. Can I do this, or should I not do that?” But, when you live under Lordship, you look at the passages, and from them you draw principles which guide you in your decision making.

III. Living Under Lordship Requires Submission to the Pronouncements (v28)

“The Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” This is the second time in Mark that Jesus has referred to Himself as the Son of Man. He will use this title to speak of Himself another dozen times. The title is a reference back to Daniel 7:13-14, which says, “I kept looking in the night visions, And behold, with the clouds of heaven One like a Son of Man was coming, And He came up to the Ancient of Days And was presented before Him. And to Him was given dominion, Glory and a kingdom, That all the peoples, nations and men of every language Might serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion Which will not pass away; And His kingdom is one Which will not be destroyed.” This Son of Man which Daniel prophesied was the One to whom all the authority of God would be given, the One whom all mankind should serve, the One who would reign forever and ever.

The Son of Man is Lord over all mankind. Therefore, since the Sabbath was made for man, He is Lord also over the Sabbath. Remember that this whole passage, beginning at about verse 14 of Chapter 1 and extending to the middle of Chapter 3 deals with the controversies over the authority of Jesus. Here He makes a very bold pronouncement of authority. He was not claiming the authority to violate the Sabbath Law, but rather the authority to interpret it rightly. Jesus’ statement here says to the Pharisees, “You do not tell Me how to observe the Sabbath, you answer to Me for how you observe it.” Or more generally, “It is not your job to tell Me how I should live – it is My job to tell you.” Now the Pharisees have two choices in response to this pronouncement: they can submit to it or they can try to ignore it. The Sabbath is not to be served, rather the Lord is to be served. And Jesus is saying that these disciples have done nothing wrong for they serve Him as their Lord, and He does not lead them to violate the ordinance of God, though the expectations of man may not be met.

Jesus Christ is Lord over all. That is not a debatable proposition. It is an authoritative pronouncement. We have the same two choices. We can submit to His Lordship or we can try to ignore it and go on living as we choose. Either way, we will answer to Him. When we are wrestling with a decision that isn’t spelled out precisely in the Scriptures, we must ask ourselves, “What has the Lord pronounced about my relationship to Him?” He has said that He is Lord. That means that we do not live life for the satisfaction of our desires, but rather to please Him. So the question becomes, “Which alternative demonstrates my commitment to live under the Lordship of Christ?” I will give an account to Christ for the deeds done and not done during my life. Do I want to stand before Him and say, “Lord, I tried my best to satisfy the demands placed on me by others, even though at times it led me to violate your Lordship over my life”? Or do we want to say, “Lord, it has been my chief end to walk in your Lordship even when it meant that the expectations of men were left unmet”?

Life is full of decisions that we all must make. Sometimes, we can turn to the Scriptures and say, “Here we go, chapter and verse, the Bible tells me exactly what I should do.” Should I fudge my tax returns so that I get a greater refund? No, we have the plain admonition to render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s.” We have a clear command to not bear false witness. Those are the easy ones. But the hard part is when there is no plain propositional statement. If we live under Law, we will go to the pastor, the priest, the rabbi, the expert, and say, “Tell me what to do!” If we live under Lordship, we know that we answer to God and not to man for our choices. We go to our Bibles and then to our knees. And we say, “Lord, I am not certain which way I should go here. But I see this passage that tells me how this great man or woman of God chose to honor You in a similar circumstance. I am able to put together several teachings and draw some principles that are consistent with the whole counsel of Your Word. And I am committed to honoring You as Lord over my life and all that is in my possession. Now guide me as I make this decision for You.” And you can be sure that He will honor your effort to live under His Lordship.

For someone here today that may mean making the most important of all life’s decisions – to put your faith and trust in Christ as your Savior. There can be no doubt about what God’s Word says in this regard: God so loved the world, He loved you so very much, that He gave His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, that whoever, you included, believes in Him would not perish, separated from God for eternity because of your sins, but that you would have eternal life. If you have never received Him as Savior and Lord, do that today. For others of you, you have done that, but you are facing a perplexing decision, and know not which way to choose. First, acknowledge His Lordship over your life. Renounce your own agenda, your own priorities, and the desires of your flesh and commit to do only that which is pleasing to Him. Then search out His Word. How has He led and blessed others in the pages of Scripture? What principles become clear as you compare passage with passage in the Bible? And as you do this, you can expect that He will guide you as you live under His Lordship.

· Appendix: The student of the Word will recognize what appears prima facie to be a contradiction here. Jesus refers to Abiathar as the high priest, when in fact it was his father Ahimelech with whom David dealt in the Samuel passage. How do we who believe in the inspiration and infallibility of Scripture reckon with this apparent contradiction? There have been many attempts, however, I am most persuaded by the following explanation. Abiathar became the high priest associated with David. There are many more references to him than to his father in the Old Testament. It is far more likely that the average person would recognize and be able to locate a passage or a section about Abiathar than they would about Ahimelech. Bear in mind that the Scriptures had not yet been divided into chapters and verses. Though we often complain about the senseless divisions we often encounter, we ought to be thankful that someone took the time to give us these handy reference points for locating passages. Jesus (or Mark, or Peter) is not mistaken in saying, “Abiathar,” but rather is using a commonly employed way of locating a passage. The hearer might turn to a scroll and find a section about Abiathar and then could backtrack to the passage in question. He would undoubtedly discover that this took place before Abiathar was high priest, but he would have never found the passage otherwise. While there are several other plausible suggestions as to how to make sense of this apparent discrepancy, this one seems most satisfactory to me.

[1] Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1993), 512.

[2] Walter Wessel, “Mark” in Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984), 638.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Portraits of a New Era: Mark 2:18-22

We have before us today a text which presents a great temptation for you and for me. For me, the temptation is to ignore the context of the passage and preach a topical sermon on the subject of fasting which would be both helpful and interesting to you, but which would violate the central meaning of the text. Now, the temptation for you is to think that because I don’t do that, I must not be interested in fasting, and one look at my size and shape would confirm that in your minds. I want you to know that fasting is something I am interested in, and something I have done on occasion, but I think any effort on the part of any person to be legalistic about fasting, to demand it of others, or to think that fasting gives them an added degree of spirituality, violates the central meaning of this text which I will address today. In fact, the New Testament teaches very little about Christian fasting. While certain passages including this one, indicate that it is appropriate for Christians to fast, it is a matter of Christian freedom rather than religious obligation for the followers of Jesus.

The Old Testament Law only prescribed one day of fasting for the people. It was the Day of Atonement, described in Leviticus 16:29, the annual fall feast where the people fasted in repentance for their sins over the past year. However, over time, the scribes and religious leaders added to this at least four other annual fasts. Zechariah 8:19 makes mention of fasts in the fourth, fifth, seventh and tenth months. These fasts apparently began to be observed during the Babylonian captivity. According to the Rabbis, the fast of the fourth month commemorated Moses’ breaking of the original tablets of the Ten Commandments in Exodus 22. The fast of the fifth month was to memorialize the destruction of the Jerusalem temple. The fast in the seventh month commemorated the murder of Gedaliah in 2 Kings 25:25. He had been appointed governor over Judah by Nebuchadnezzar before Babylon completely decimated it. After two months in office, he was murdered by his own people. The fast of the seventh month commemorated the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 586 BC.[1] Another fast was added in accordance with Esther 9:31, which established the observance of Purim in commemoration of the courageous acts of Mordecai and Esther.[2] So, there was no longer just the one biblical fast day each year, now there were added five more, mostly because of rabbinic tradition rather than Biblical command. Additionally, the Pharisees developed the practice of fasting two days per week, Mondays and Thursdays, supposedly because Moses went up Mount Sinai for the second set of Law tablets on a Thursday and returned on Monday.[3]

Fasting was also observed by pious Jews during periods of personal loss, repentance, prayer, and sometimes in a misguided effort to earn God’s favor. John’s disciples may have been fasting because he had been imprisoned, or perhaps already killed by this point; or perhaps they were fasting in repentance as John had emphasized in his preaching, or even in an effort to emulate his ascetic lifestyle. Whatever their reason for fasting, it coincided at this time with one of the fasts of the Pharisees, for the text tells us that both groups were fasting. Meanwhile, what are Jesus and his disciples doing? They weren’t fasting, for we read in verses 14-17 that they were feasting with the tax-collectors and sinners. Undoubtedly, this caused some questions to arise in the hearts of John’s disciples. Here was the One to whom he had pointed them, but He was not performing acts of religious devotion the way they thought He should. And the Pharisees took advantage of the opportunity to create doubt in their minds as to the nature of who Jesus really was. And so they came to Jesus questioning Him about fasting. “Why do John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but Your disciples do not fast?”

Now, had these people really understood the Scriptures they would have realized that this was a senseless question. First of all, as we have already seen, only one day of fasting was required by the Law. Secondly, they would have understood the teaching of Isaiah 58:6-7 and Zechariah 7:1-10, which declared that God was far more interested in love for Him and for others than He was in their literal fasting from food.[4] But their question reveals a deeper issue than just fasting. At the root of this question is the issue of the relation of Jesus to the Law, the customs and traditions of Israel. And the answer that Jesus gives consists of three miniature parables, each one a portrait of the New Era that He had come to usher in. It is to those three portraits that we turn our attention now.

I. A Portrait of a New Relationship (vv18-20)

Jesus begins to answer the question by asking a question: While the bridegroom is with them, the attendants of the bridegroom cannot fast, can they? The spirit of fasting is mournful. No one mourns in the presence of the bridegroom. Well, almost no one. I was doing a wedding one time for a young couple, and just minutes before the groom and I entered the sanctuary, his grandmother barged into that backroom crying, and she grabbed this young man by the lapels of his tuxedo and said, “You don’t know how much I wish you weren’t doing this!” But that experience was unique. Most of the time, there is only joy. And Jesus says that is the way it should be.

In that day, a wedding was more than just an 18 minute ceremony. After a lengthy period of betrothal, the groom and his attendants would go to the bride’s family home and bring her and all their family and friends to the new home where bride and groom would spend their married life. There, they would begin a week of celebration. Jewish customs exempted those taking part in the festivities from observing religious rituals, including fasts. This was to be a time of uninterrupted merriment, of laughter, of singing and dancing and joyous celebrating.

In this portrait of the wedding celebration, Jesus is showing that His coming inaugurates an opportunity for a new relationship with God, and in this portrait, He paints a picture of His identity, His activity, and His destiny.

A. The Identity of Jesus

While it is certainly true that Jesus was using a situation from daily life to which everyone could relate, He was also reminding the disciples of John the Baptist of a statement John had made concerning Jesus. In John 3:28-29, John denied being the Christ, but said, “I have been sent ahead of Him. He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice. So this joy have mine has been made full.” In that statement, John told his hearers that Jesus had come to them as a bridegroom. In so doing, he was reminding them of a recurrent theme in the Old Testament. God had spoken through the prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Hosea declaring Himself to be a Husband and a Bridegroom to His people. John declared that the Bridegroom had come, and Jesus here picks up the imagery to say, “I am Him. I am that Bridegroom.” In making this declaration, He identified Himself as the God who had betrothed His people to Himself. No longer did the people need to view God as cosmic and distant, approachable only through external rituals. He is the bridegroom, and the celebration of marriage has begun. For centuries, people fasted in expectation of His coming. That time is now past, for He has come in the person of Christ. Now is not a time for fasting, but for feasting. And this brings us to…

B. The Activity of Jesus

Jesus says that the Bridegroom is with His attendants. These are the ones who are aiding Him in the planning of the celebration, and who will accompany Him to go and receive His bride. He and His disciples were carrying out this mission of gathering the bride for the wedding. Who is the bride? The bride is every person who turns to Christ in repentance of their sins and faith in Him. Paul will say later in Ephesians 5 that the bride is the church, and we will read later in the book of Revelation about the Marriage Supper of the Lamb where Christ and His people will be permanently united for eternity. But here, He and His attendants are going out to make their final preparations for the wedding and to gather the bride and bring her in for the party. That is what they were doing over at Levi’s house. They were handing out wedding invitations. Every person who hears the gospel call is receiving an invitation to the wedding – but not just as a guest, they are invited to be the bride—to be united with Christ for all eternity. Therefore, it is not a time for mourning, weeping, and fasting, but a time for celebrating.

Now, as wonderful as that wedding day will be, there is a delay between now and then. Jesus puts an interesting twist in the plot of this parable by including a picture of …

C. The Destiny of Jesus (v20)

The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day. This is a jarring surprise to those listening to the story. Never have they been to any wedding feast where the bridegroom was taken away. The guests leave, but not the groom. But He does not leave on His own, He is taken away. The word Jesus uses here is a Greek word that means “to lift up and carry away,” and implies a note of force or violent removal. The word is used in this parable in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, and is used nowhere else in the New Testament. However, when the Old Testament was translated into Greek two centuries before Christ’s birth, this is the word that the translators used for Isaiah 53:8--By oppression and judgment He was taken away; And as for His generation, who considered that He was cut off out of the land of the living for the transgression of my people, to whom the stroke was due? Here Jesus uses a word straight out of the vivid prophecy concerning His suffering and death on the cross. Here in the midst of the wedding celebration, the bridegroom would be seized and taken away, lifted up on a rugged cross to suffer a violent death and be cut off from His people. And it is then when His disciples will fast. This is a prophecy not a command. He is not saying we have to fast now, but that we will. We fast because He will no longer be physically present with us. Though He will send His Spirit to dwell within us, we will not be able to see Him with our eyes or touch Him with our hands again until we behold Him face to face in glory. And the longing for that moment ought to occasionally become so consuming in us that no earthly delight will satisfy us. And so we fast out of a desire to be with Him and to know Him and to behold Him in all His glory, like a bride longs for the groom who was seized away from her in the midst of the wedding.

And so with this parable of the Bridegroom, Jesus does more than just answer a question about fasting. He paints a portrait of a new relationship that is possible in this New Era of His Kingdom which has begun because He has come into the world. He follows this miniature parable with another one in v21, and with it, He paints …

II. A portrait of a new righteousness (v21)

We live in a disposable world today. If something breaks we throw it away and buy a new one. If a garment tears, we don’t usually patch it; we just discard it. But in Jesus’ day, that would be unthinkable. Garments were too expensive, and so most people wore things that were patched. And just as everyone understood what it meant to be a part of a wedding celebration, so everyone knew that there was a right way and a wrong way to patch a garment. And no one, Jesus says, puts a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. If a person were to do such a thing, once they washed the garment, the patch would shrink and tear away from the seems that held it to the garment, making a bigger tear than it was intended to cover up. Now, remember Jesus is not giving laundry instructions here. He has been asked a question about fasting, and a larger issue of where He and His followers stand in relation to Jewish customs and traditions. So this laundry lesson is really a miniature parable that answers that question, like the parable before it. Only this time, the parable is not a portrait of a new relationship, but of a new righteousness.

Do you remember what Adam and Eve did in the garden after they sinned? They began piecing together leaves to try to cover themselves up. Now, ever since that moment, in religions practiced all over the world, people have been trying to do the same thing. Knowing that they have sin in their lives, they have tried to piece together a patchwork garment of good things that will cover up all of their bad things. They stitch a patch of ritual performance together with a patch of financial contribution, and attach a patch of kind acts, and a patch of praying, fasting, or some other deed that they do to try to make themselves righteous in the eyes of God. But this patchwork approach to righteousness was not enough for Adam and Eve, and it hasn’t been enough for any of their descendants down through the ages.

The Pharisees approached fasting as they approached many other tasks – they thought doing it was earning them credit with God. That is why, in Matthew 6:16-18, Jesus took issue with the way they fasted. They put on a gloomy face so that people would take notice of them, and say, “Oh my! Look how spiritual they are! They are fasting!” And people were impressed. God, however, was not. God sees through our patchwork coverings. So when God confronted Adam and Eve, He gave them a more permanent solution. He took away their patchwork leaves and gave them a covering of skin. An animal was slain as a sacrifice for their sins, a substitutionary death, and they were covered with the skin of that animal. And in this act, God was pointing them forward to a day when a greater sacrifice of a greater substitute would take place.

Christ has not come to add a new patch to our old and worn out efforts to cover ourselves. He has come to give us a new righteousness. Jesus Christ did what you and I cannot do – He lived a completely perfect life and satisfied the demands of God’s holy standard. And then He died the death that we deserve for our sins. But He offers us a great exchange. If we will acknowledge our sinfulness, He points us to the cross, where those sins were punished in Christ, and gives us in exchange the very righteousness of Christ as a covering – a new skin to clothe us, not patched together by the futile efforts of our own deeds to cover ourselves, but a complete covering. This is the core of the gospel – the doctrine of justification. Justification involves three realities. When a person is in Christ, his or her sins are removed because of Christ’s death. He or she is pronounced not guilty before God. And then the very righteousness of Jesus Christ is imputed or transferred to him or her. So, because of justification, we who otherwise would stand before God covered in sins, stand instead covered by a righteousness that is not our own, but that was earned for us by Jesus Christ. This is what Paul was saying in Philippians 3:9 when he said that he desired to be found in Christ, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith. If we are saved, it is not because we have added the Jesus patch to our piecemeal covering, but because we have turned in our patchwork efforts in exchange for the righteousness of Jesus.

Walter Wangerin wrote a fictional allegory entitled Ragman that tells this story beautifully. The story is told from the perspective of an onlooker who observes a tall and strong man walking through the city streets crying out, “Rags! New rags for old! I take your tired rags! Rags!” The Ragman comes upon a woman weeping, her tears being collected in an old handkerchief. The Ragman takes her handkerchief, and gives her in exchange a bright and clean linen cloth. And the onlooker notices that the woman is no longer crying, but now the Ragman walked away, blotting His own tears with her handkerchief. He watches as the Ragman goes to a girl whose head was wrapped in a blood-soaked bandage. The Ragman took that bandage off of her head, and placed on her a new yellow bonnet. Gone are her wounds, but as the Ragman wrapped his own head with her bandage, his head began to flow with his own blood. Next, the Ragman came to a man with one arm, and the Ragman exchanged jackets with him. When the man put on the new jacket, he found that he had a new arm, but the Ragman walked away, with only one arm. And the onlooker watches as the Ragman makes his way to the city landfill, and climbed upon a garbage heap there. He lays himself down, cushioning his bleeding head with the handkerchief and the jacket, and there the Ragman died. The onlooker was so caught up in what had been done that he could not leave the scene. He fell asleep there, overcome with emotion, but he happened to wake up three days later in time to see the Ragman come to life again, completely restored, bearing only the scar from the wound where his head had bled. And the onlooker says, “I lowered my head and trembling for all that I had seen, I myself walked up to the Ragman. I told him my name with shame, for I was a sorry figure next to him. Then I took off all my clothes in that place and I said to him with dear yearning in my voice, ‘Dress me.’ He dressed me! My Lord! He put new rags on me, and I am a wonder beside him. The Ragman, The Ragman, The Christ.”[5]

This is what Jesus has done for us! He does not want us to use Him to patch up our old garments, but rather to lay those old garments down at His feet and take up the new and complete righteous covering that He offers us by His grace. This is a brand new righteousness that Christ has come to offer us which we could not earn by all the fasting, praying, or works we could ever attempt to do on our own.

But there is one final portrait that Christ paints for us in this passage.

III. A Portrait of A New Receptacle (v22)

No one puts new wine, that has yet to ferment, into an old wineskin. In Jesus’ day, an animal would be skinned, and that skin would be kept in tact, partly tanned, and then stitched into a container which would be soft and pliable. As the wine fermented, the skin would expand as gases were emitted in the fermentation process. But after repeated usage, the skin would become dry and brittle, and it would lose its elasticity. Once it reached that point, it could not be used anymore because the new wine would expand as it fermented, and the skin would burst, ruining both the wine and the skin. Now remember, Jesus is not giving a lesson in wine-making. He is answering a question about religious customs and traditions like fasting.

The point Jesus is making here is that the new life He has come to give us won’t fit in old forms of religion. His followers would become indwelt with His Spirit. Did you know that when you gave your life to Jesus, He moved in. He took up residence in your life in the person of the Holy Spirit. If you are a follower of Christ, you have become a receptacle for the very presence of God. Now, if you expect God to take up residence in your old sinful life, that life that is stretched out to the max from much religious striving, you are sorely mistaken. He won’t fit! He must take up residence in a new vessel – and that is the promise of the gospel. Not just that He comes to fill your old stuff up, but that He has come to make you brand new. In Christ, you become a brand new vessel, a new receptacle fit for His habitation. And as the fermentation of Christlikeness takes place, you expand and grow in holiness as He permeates every fiber of your being. What does 2 Corinthians 5:17 say? Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. He won’t fit into the old sins and old systems of life. He makes all things new as He comes to take up residence in us.

Jesus Christ has come to usher in a New Era of life in His Kingdom. It is a life of new relationship – that of a bride and her groom; it is a life of new righteousness – not a patchwork covering of our own deeds, but the complete righteous perfection of Jesus Himself imputed to us by grace through faith; it is a life of a new receptacle – new wine filling and expanding a brand new wineskin.

Listen to how James Edwards sums up the teaching of this passage: “The question … is not whether the disciples will, like sewing a new patch on an old garment or refilling an old container, make room for Jesus in their already full agendas and lives. The question is whether they will forsake business as usual and join the wedding celebration; whether they will become entirely new receptacles for the expanding fermentation of Jesus and the gospel in their lives.”[6]

That’s it. That’s what it is all about. Perhaps today you recognize that you have been trying to approach God with your own works, or with traditions and customs that you have inherited from generations past. And Christ says to you today, “it will never do.” Lay it all down at His cross and become brand new in Him. Enter into the joy of wedded bliss to Christ as He clothes you with His righteousness and fills you with His Presence. Turn from sin and self, and call upon Christ as Lord and Savior, surrendering yourself to Him and allow Him to do this work of grace in your life if you never have before. And if you have, do not think that you have got this licked. Remember that Paul warned the Galatians that they were being bewitched into thinking that they could begin this new life by grace and then perfect it by works. No it is all of grace. Whether we fast, or pray, or do some religious deed, we must always remember that we are not accepted before God because of these things. Someone put it well who said that the Christian life is not spelled D-O, but D-O-N-E. We are not accepted because of what we do, and we do not become more acceptable by the doing of more things. We are accepted because of Jesus and what He has done for us. And we rest in that, knowing that His grace is sufficient, and all that we DO, we do because of the gratitude and joy that fills our soul in response to what He has DONE for us.

[1] William L. Lane, The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Gospel of Mark (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974), 108.

[2] R. T. France, The New International Greek Testament Commentary: The Gospel of Mark (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 138.

[3] Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1993), 455.

[4] William Hendriksen, Exposition of the Gospel According to Mark, 100. Cited in Louis Barbieri, Moody Gospel Commentary: Mark (Chicago: Moody, 1995), 69.

[5] Walter Wangering, “Ragman,” in Calvin Miller, The Book of Jesus (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996), 85-87.

[6] James R. Edwards, The Pillar New Testament Commentary: The Gospel According to Mark (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 92.