Series Theme: Short meditations through Marks Gospel
This Page: CHAPTER 2
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Notes: These meditations are particularly short for easy digestion. To go to a chapter use the table above. To go to a verse use the contents on the left of each page which has been simplified by showing only every third meditation. Please go to nearest number and scroll up or down.
33. Setting the Scene
Mk 2:1,2 A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum , the people heard that he had come home. So many gathered that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them.
Sometimes in Scripture it is easy to read verses as just bare information and miss the fact that they are part of something bigger. Here also is the danger of just focusing on a verse or two verse – we can so easily miss the context.
This set of circumstances occurs a few days after that previous noted by Mark. Jesus, you may remember, had been preaching all around Galilee to ensure to word about God's love was heard by as many as possible. But now he is back in Capernaum which clearly had become his home or the base from which he worked. Whether it is his home or he is in someone else's home is not clear but what is clear is that he has become even more famous and so even more people want to come and see and hear him. In a day when there was no technology and modern ‘media' it goes to show the power of word of mouth communication.
Now if this was all there was it would be enough to tell us much about Jesus and his ministry but in fact, it is merely the opening explanation for what is about to happen – this explains why what follows happened in the way it did. We need to learn to be a people who take in broad sweeps of Scripture as well as meditate on single verses. On their own, these two verses tell us of the amazing drawing power of Jesus that people came from far and wide to see him. They also tell us that Jesus didn't spend all his time out on the road preaching, but from time to time came home to recuperate and rest. But they also go on to tell us that even then he was inundated with people and, note, didn't send them away, but continued to minister to them. As long as they came he continued to minister. He was available to the people and available to be used by his Father, even when he must have been tired out. While there was a need there, while there was a hunger, he continued to minister, presumably receiving the grace from his Father to keep going.
Father, I am challenged by Jesus' example, by his ability to keep going, loving people and ministering to them, even when he must have been so tired. Let me learn more to be a receiver of you grace so that I too may be used more by you to bless others.
Mk 2:3,4 Some men came, bringing to him a paralytic, carried by four of them. Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus and, after digging through it, lowered the mat the paralyzed man was lying on.
Sometimes illustrations or examples in Scripture are so simple and straight forward that we almost miss them. In these two verses we possibly have one of the best illustrations in the Bible of simple determination or, if we like to call it by its other name – perseverance.
Consider what happened. There is a man who is paralysed and who obviously cannot move himself. Fortunately for him he has four friends, one or more of whom have almost certainly seen Jesus at work. This has convinced them that here, is a one-off chance to get their friend healed. They had seen Jesus do it for others, so what he can do for others, he can do for their friend! Of this they are absolutely sure. Is our lack of determination or lack of perseverance, I wonder, sometimes because we are simply not sure of Jesus?
It is not always so simple in our minds is it? For example I am a living example of this at this very moment. I have for a number of years been troubled with damaged knees. I was sure the Lord would heal me. One day fairly recently I happened to go to a healing seminar, largely to learn about how to better pray for the sick. There someone prayed for me and my knees were completely healed. Yes, they were, of that there was no doubt. For the next two days I was completely free of pain and had strong legs, and then on the third day while out walking, I fell in a pothole and twisted my right knee which buckled, pulled me down and twisted the left knee. Now – and this still continues a month later – I am in more pain than I was before.
Have I prayed again – yes! Have others prayed for me – yes! Have I sinned – not to my knowledge! Is this a ‘thorn in the flesh' – not to my knowledge, I don't get the revelation Paul got! So why has it happened? I haven't a clue! But one thing I do know and that is that God loves me and God's desire is for my good and so if it is a case of the enemy withstanding me so I have to wait ‘twenty one days' (see Dan 10:12,13) then so be it. Am I going to continue to pray for my healing? Yes! Am I going to continue to ask others to pray for my healing? Yes! Why? Because I am convinced that Jesus does still heal and that having healed me once, he will do it again! However long it takes, we're going to get there!
Mk 2:3,4 Some men came, bringing to him a paralytic, carried by four of them. Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus and, after digging through it, lowered the mat the paralyzed man was lying on.
In the previous meditation I gave a personal testimony – possibly a somewhat unsatisfactory one you may think – but at least an honest one, and God looks for truth in us. Because I took up the space with that testimony I want now to do something unusual in these meditations and continue for a second time with these same verses and continue to think about determination or perseverance as I now call it. The two words aren't exactly the same. Determination is about achieving an end goal; perseverance is about pressing on in the process to achieve that goal.
The four friends of the paralysed man were utterly determined to get their friend healed by Jesus for they were convinced that Jesus could do it. However now, as so often, this involves a process. The process involves getting the man onto a stretcher, carrying him to the home where Jesus is, and getting him in before Jesus. It's that last bit where they came unstuck! They get to the house only to find that the crowd is so dense there is no way they are going to get through. It is at this point that so many of us give up. We have followed a process through several stages and now, suddenly, there is a blockage, a wall that defies us to go any further. We have followed a right path all along and it has taken us thus far, but now the path is utterly blocked and clearly there is no way ahead this way. So how do we proceed?
Well I'm not sure the men did it, but my advice is to ask the Lord for the way ahead. Hold onto your determination but reinforce it with God's wisdom, His knowledge of ‘how to'. Whatever you do, don't give up! These men found a way in through the roof. Today we might call that lateral thinking or even ‘thinking outside the box'. Whatever we call it, they pushed through to the end goal, of getting their friend before Jesus; the rest was then up to Jesus.
One of the most famous names in the Bible came about because a man refused to give up: “Let me go for it is daybreak. But Jacob replied, ‘I will not let you go unless you bless me'” (Gen 32:26). For wrestling with God and refusing to give up he was renamed ‘ Israel ' which means “he struggles with God”. That name, that reminder to persevere, occurs over 1800 times in the Bible! Got the message?
36. The Real Need
Mk 2:4,5 they made an opening in the roof above Jesus and, after digging through it, lowered the mat the paralyzed man was lying on. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, "Son, your sins are forgiven."
Sometimes Jesus says things that are completely unexpected. This is one of those times. The four friends know what is wrong with their friend – he is paralysed. That is quite obvious. He cannot move and he's probably been like that for a long while. The diagnosis is simple – he needs healing of this paralysis and so they are expecting simple words of command to be healed, like they had seen and heard many times before.
But what do they get? “Son, your sins are forgiven.” What? What have sins and forgiveness to do with this? It's healing we're looking for, not forgiveness. It's another of those challenges: do you think that Jesus knows best? Was this paralysis linked with sin? We don't know for we aren't told. Whatever is going on here? Sometimes we aren't told and we're just left to speculate! I can only assume that deep in this man was a sense of guilt. Was it linked with specific things that he had done? Or was it just suddenly being in Jesus' presence, he was aware of Jesus' holiness (like Peter – see Lk 5:8)? We don't know, for we aren't told, but I suspect that both answers could be true, for one thing I have learnt over many years of being a Christian and a good number being a Pastor, is that we all of us suffer a sense of guilt and it is that which keeps us from receiving God's love.
Yes, even with mature Christians I have observed it. Perhaps we have sinned and then we have confessed and said sorry but the enemy plays on it and challenges it and we wonder if that thing still remains between us and God. So, thus, we need reassuring again and again that we are loved and when God says He forgives us, He really does forgive us! Then there is a widespread sense that lurks deep down that we are not worthy of God's love. He is holy and perfect and we are not! Thus we feel guilty and we need God's continual reminder that we ARE forgiven by the completed work of Jesus on the Cross.
There are those who sound very spiritual and say, “Believe it, brother,” but I have to tell you that my experience tells me that even those people, when you get behind their façade, need reassuring. We all do, it's part of being tainted by sin and it is one of those things we need God's help with until the moment we leave this planet!
37. Missing the Point
Mk 2:6-8 Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, "Why does this fellow talk like that? He's blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?" Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, "Why are you thinking these things?
When we allow prejudice to reign – for whatever reason – we take on a form of blindness. This is illustrated in these three verses. Bear in mind the fact that Jesus has been ministering for some time all over Galilees, large crowds have been getting healed and it has all been happening in the open. Nothing has been done behind closed doors! So these ‘teachers of the law' must have known all about it, must of known al about the amazing healings that had been taking place, and must have already discussed among themselves the phenomenon that was Jesus of Nazareth at work!
If you and I had been there we might have simply wondered about this amazing miracle worker from Nazareth and that is all. However, we would not be Jews of that day, and especially those trained in the Scriptures that today we call the Old Testament. If we had been, we would have known the many Scriptures that pointed to a coming One, One promised by God, a deliverer from heaven – those are just some of the descriptions found in the Old Testament.
#So, if we had been such trained individuals and IF we had open hearts and minds, we might be open to wonder what else God would permit His Anointed One (or Christ) to do. Perhaps He might even delegate authority to this One to forgive people. After all John the Baptist came “preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” (Mk 1:4) In other words John came bringing as method of getting right with God which produced forgiveness of sins, so what was so different here?
The point that most of us miss is that the interpretation that these teachers of the law put on Jesus' words is particularly antagonistic and looks, at the minimum, at stopping Jesus' ministry, and at worst, killing him (for blasphemy was a capital offence under the Law). Yes, it was the truth – Jesus had come from heaven as the second person of the Trinity, God in the flesh – but that wasn't the only interpretation you could put on his words. The crucial point here was how open were these teachers to the possibilities about the Coming One and especially in the light of all Jesus was doing and saying? Answer: they weren't!
38. Unassailable Logic?
Mk 2:9-12 Which is easier: to say to the paralytic, `Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, `Get up, take your mat and walk'? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins . . . ." He said to the paralytic, "I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home." He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, "We have never seen anything like this!"
We finished the previous meditation with the conclusion that the teachers of the law who were sitting there criticising Jesus had closed minds and were not open to the possibilities of the Coming Messiah. Already they were hostile to him and obviously elt threatened by him – he did not come from their school!
OK, says Jesus, let's put this to the test. Any idiot can speak words about forgiveness which may have no meaning at all, but who can actually speak words of healing unless they are sent from heaven with the authority of heaven to do that and all that might be associated with that? Now it will not be a proof but it will be a powerful indicator of the power of God being with him! We noted previously how John the Baptist came preaching baptism of repentance which would bring forgiveness of sins. Now this wasn't an unusual way of speaking for the apostle Peter said exactly the same on the day of Pentecost and he was not claiming ot be God : “Peter replied, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.” (Acts 2:38 )
I repeat again, because so many sermons jump to this conclusion, that Jesus is not claiming to be God here but he is sowing seeds that will get those who do have open hearts to start wondering. This challenge, which is it easier to say, is paradoxical and doesn't lead to definite answers – which we would prefer – but it does lay down food for thought. Perhaps it does say, “Well if you think that God doesn't delegate His authority to forgive people their sins, so that there is a claim to divinity here, then watch this space and wonder.”
But perhaps it doesn't say that, perhaps it is actually far more open, perhaps it is not unassailable logic, because God doesn't deal in unassailable logic. If He did there would be no arguments with the modern crusading atheists. No, at the end of the day, although we might prefer it otherwise, it is all boiled down to a heart belief, faith that we have heard God. Lord, I believe. Thank you for confirmations.
39. Drawing Power
Mk 2:13-14 Once again Jesus went out beside the lake. A large crowd came to him, and he began to teach them. As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector's booth. "Follow me," Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him.
We concluded the previous short meditation with an assertion, that I am sure some of you did not like, that Jesus was not setting out unassailable logic but was providing food for thought that would feed and turn hungry, seeking, and open hearts. Some of us are uncomfortable with this but it is the truth: God does NOT set it all out in concrete. Even at Sinai, after having seen the pillar of fire and having heard the voice from the flashing fire on the mountainside, STILL the Israelites could be led astray within a matter of weeks to worship a golden calf! If Jesus himself was so clear cut, Thomas could not have picked up the title of ‘doubting', Judas would not have betrayed Jesus and Peter would not have denied him three times!
Now I say all this because of what follows. The simplicity of what happens almost breathtaking. Jesus passes by a tax collector's booth, pauses up for a moment, says something and the tax collector quietly packs away everything, says something to his assistant and then just leaves with Jesus. There is no indication that Jesus has had any prior conversation with this tax collector, but at a simple word of instruction the tax collector leaves his old life and follows Jesus. The key question that must surely rise in our minds is, what was it that gave confidence to this tax collector to follow Jesus and, perhaps, what did he see in the new life that made his old, predictable corrupt (probably) life no longer seem attractive.
I have a feeling that there is probably no satisfactory answer, satisfactory that is for those of us who like everything simple and straight forward. This has got to be a heart thing, a split second decision that means life will never be the same again. Yes, it is possible, if not probable, that this tax collector has seen and heard Jesus at work. He's probably heard Jesus teaching and probably didn't understand much of it, but perhaps one little thing stuck. Then probably he had seen the healings and that had left him wondering.
But he's a tax collector, disliked by his own people and possibly a bribe taker. Perhaps he's just caught sight of himself and doesn't like what he sees. Something, just grabs his heart and he goes. It's that simple. God does that; He grabs our hearts and we follow Him.
40. Loving Acceptance
Mk 2:15 While Jesus was having dinner at Levi's house, many tax collectors and "sinners" were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him
There is a similarity here between this story and that of Zacchaeus in Luke 19 but the names are quite specific and different and so we will assume they are different. This is a follow-on from the verses we considered previously about the calling of this tax collector.
I was once preaching in a church in the West of England when I was interrupted by a man in the congregation. It seemed natural to answer his question and then carry on. A little while latter I was interrupted again by the same man and again answered his query. At the end of the service a lady came up to me and commented on how I had accepted this man's interruptions as almost normal. I replied that it was more a matter of accepting the man for who he was, which of course was exactly what Jesus was doing with this tax collector and his friends.
We are so often fearful of people who are different from us or who behave in ways contrary to our behavior, but Jesus accepts each person exactly as they are. Jesus he wants them to change, to have something better than that which they have at the moment, but he knows that that will come as the result of the process of following him. It starts at the point of crisis when we surrender all and go and follow him, and it goes on until the day we die and go to be with him in heaven. There seem to be a number of them who have followed Jesus among this band but the change has hardly had time to take effect in them. When the Pharisees look on (see next meditation) they find it difficult to differentiate between them
So often we Christians expect non-Christians to behave like us immediately at the point having come to surrender, and yes there will be major changes taking place immediately but as has often been said, each one is a ‘work in progress' – and Jesus loves them just as they are. He knows some of the changes are going to take the rest of their lives and he loves them while they are still far from perfect. In fact he is also mingling, it seems, with those who haven't yet surrendered and he's loving and accepting them as they are, waiting patiently for ‘the penny to drop' for them. They are an open-hearted bunch and that is the most important thing for the moment. The big stuff will happen in God's time, so let's just love them while we're waiting for it to happen.
41. Rejection Based
Mk 2:16 When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the "sinners" and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: "Why does he eat with tax collectors and `sinners'?"
There are two ways you can view disreputable people. You can either look at them in disdain, and demean them in your thinking, or you can see them as potential candidates for the gloriously transforming work of Jesus. Don't think the question in our verse above is an objective question seeking information. It is a criticism. See who is making it.
First they are described as ‘teachers of the Law.' These are men whose role in life was to convey to the ordinary people the Law of Moses. They wanted people to adhere to the rules, rules given by God! But they were also Pharisees which means they were part of a conservative religious sect who sought to bring Israel back to its traditional religious roots. They didn't seem to be doing a very good job, for all the signs are that Israel were off the ball, many sick, many demon possessed and many spiritually hungry. These men did not seem to be feeding the real needs of the people.
And why might that be? Because they were known more for condemning people than blessing and building people. Their mentality was “You shall keep the Law” and if you didn't you were a guilty sinner. End of story! There is a measure in which they were right, but they stopped too early in their assessment of people. So they see Jesus now eating with those known to be questionable tax collectors and those who were from the disreputable side of society (sinners). There isn't any question about this assessment – they were right; these men were decidedly dubious and definitely disreputable. That much is correct but the key question that then follows, in Jesus' eyes at least, is how are you going to respond to them.
Now you can either publicly condemn them and probably establish them in their ghetto of sin with no change except a hardening of their attitude toward the religious fraternity, or you can love them, get alongside them, and tell them that God loves them and has something better for them.
Very often, I am convinced, those of us who appear as Pharisees, in this respect at least, do so because of weak faith and we are fearful of being shown up for what we are – so we attack the disreputable. That is not Jesus' way. We need to change!
42. Come for the sick
Mk 2:17 On hearing this, Jesus said to them, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners."
There is a sense where this verse very much applies to what was just happening and a sense where it applies very much more widely. The Pharisees have just complained that Jesus is mixing with sinners. “They,” says Jesus, “are just the people who need help.” I know we've said before but it bears repeating, but it is at this point when we gaze on ‘sinners' that we reveal whether we have the heart of Jesus or the heart of a Pharisee.
The Pharisee is content to leave the sinner as they are; they will criticize them and condemn them, but they will not do anything meaningful to reach them. They may preach against them and in any personal encounter tell them to repent, but that isn't reaching them; it is condemning them. The Pharisee wants it the easy way, a short, sharp burst of condemnatory preaching, but to actually reach these people in any meaningful way requires us, like Jesus, to sit down with them, listen to them, feel with them, and only then, when they open their hearts, can we share God's love to the way that they need.
Yes, there is a time for preaching to the crowds but when that happens in the New Testament – Peter or Paul apply what they are saying to their audience, so if it was a Jewish audience it referred to the past, to the Old Testament; if it was to a Gentile audience they found a point of contact.
These ‘sinners' that Jesus is mixing with are Jews but who have lost any link with their past. For them, all of their past history is irrelevant so there is no point in trying to approach them at that level; there is only one currency that they value (apart from a materialistic gathering of wealth) and that is love and acceptance – and that is what Jesus is giving them. That is what will open their hearts to God and that alone; everything else has become irrelevant in their godless and self-seeking lifestyle.
Yes, it is wrong but they know nothing else. Indeed, everything else has lost meaning. For the modern unbeliever, the Bible has lost its meaning and the church has lost its meaning – but they still desperately want to be loved and accepted, that is still the currency of value. Can we trade in that currency?
Mk 2:18 Now John's disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. Some people came and asked Jesus, "How is it that John's disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees are fasting, but yours are not?"
Religious people fast. I have strange experiences in this realm. Religious people fast to focus on God and many perhaps fast to persuade God. Sometimes when nothing else works, it seems that fasting alone does (see Mk 9:29 ) but perhaps the fasting element there simply urges serious prayer. The implication is that seriously religious people fast. John's disciples and the Pharisees all fasted, yet Jesus and his disciples were not, and that upset the religious people.
Years ago when I travelled abroad teaching, I used to fast for ten days. I had previously fasted for ten days and it had been an interesting experience and, without doubt, an experience that demanded reliance upon the Lord. Then one day, as I was about to prepare for a trip on my own leading a team abroad, (previously I had always been just part of a team), the Lord spoke very clearly and said, “You are not to fast for this trip.” I questioned what I had heard and went ahead and started fasting. Within three hours of having missed the first meal, I was rolling around the floor in agony. As I cried out to the Lord for help, back came His answer: “I told you not to fast. Get up and eat.” I did. What was interesting was the Lord blessed me on that next trip twice as much as He had done on any previous trip.
What I came to see was that the Lord loved me so much that He wanted to bless me anyway! I didn't need to persuade Him to! Yes, I am sure there are people with exactly the opposite testimony, who were told to fast by the Lord and it was an exercise in reliance upon Him, but therein is the key – when He told them to! This is the key to fasting or not, what does the Father want?
Jesus clearly revealed that He only did what the Father was doing or what the Father wanted (see Jn 5:17 ,19) Fasting is to be neither a thing that boosts spiritual pride, nor a means of twisting the Father's arm. When we become totally secure in His love, then we may fast – if He says. If we doubt the Father's love, fasting is not the way to remedy that.
As we observe these other disciples, we also ought to add, you don't fast just because you see other people fasting and they expect you to as well!
44. The Bridegroom
Mk 2:19, 20 Jesus answered, "How can the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? They cannot, so long as they have him with them. But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them, and on that day they will fast.
As Jesus refutes this religious call to fast, he brings before us a picture that needs thinking about. He speaks of a bridegroom and it makes no sense unless he is referring to himself. So why might Jesus refer to himself as a bridegroom and his disciples as guests at a wedding? Well in the book of Revelation we find a reference to the church being Christ's bride: “ For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear." (Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints.)” Rev 19:7,8). Now that is absolutely true – we, the church, are the ‘bride' of Christ – he has won us to himself by his love.
However in the present illustration which is almost a parable, Jesus uses slightly different language to convey something else. There he calls his disciples (and us) his guests at a wedding. What happens at a wedding? It is a celebration, a time of great rejoicing. Surely as Jesus went about the countryside healing many, there would have been great celebrations and great rejoicing as those who had been sick and infirm were made well and whole. This time, while Jesus was still with them, doing all these wonderful things, was clearly to be a time of great rejoicing.
Now when you are fasting it is a serious discipline and much of the time you do not feel like rejoicing. Yes, there can be a break-through in prayer so that worship, adoration and rejoicing are released, but much of the time with fasting, it is an exercise of discipline, and rejoicing is not the natural thing to do. So, in the present season, Jesus says, fasting is not appropriate.
But that is not all, for Jesus knows what has to come at the end of it; Jesus knows that when he is arrested, tried, condemned and put to death, that will be a time for mourning for his disciples, not rejoicing. In other words in that phase, fasting will be appropriate. In fact it will probably be natural fasting because they will feel so sick and miserable about what has happened, they just won't want to eat. Most of the time, if we are living in the goodness of the life of the Spirit, flowing in God's goodness and reaping a harvest, fasting will not be appropriate. There will be times when the Father calls us to it though.
45. New versus Old
Mk 2:21-22 "No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. If he does, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse. And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, he pours new wine into new wineskins."
Jesus often used picture language to convey truths. Not everyone likes that sort of teaching because you have to think to make sense of it. Something a reader of the Bible has to learn is realise that there is a flow of thought in the writing. These two pictures flow on from the one about the bridegroom which, we said previously, were about celebrating versus serious religion. So now Jesus uses pictures of new and old things.
First there is patching an old garment with new cloth and then there is putting new wine into old wineskins. A point is made about the two old things. First the old garment has already been shrunk by washing and so there is no movement in it any longer, so if you used new material to patch it, when the garment was next washed, the new material would shrink which the old remains unchanged and so the new would pull apart from the old.
Then there is an old wineskin (used for holding wine) and there is new wine which is still slightly effervescent, so if you put the new into the old it will explode because there is no give in the old skins.
Following on the conflict with John's disciples and the Pharisees versus Jesus' disciples behaviour, it is clear that Jesus is saying that the ‘new religion' will not mix with the ‘old religion'. The new was flexible and effervescent, full of life and joy wherever Jesus went bringing a new freedom to people. The old followed the way of the Law and was heavy and serious and more concerned with holiness and keeping the rules than anything else. The old kept people as they were; the new changed people.
Now for the uncomfortable part, the applying it to ourselves. How often do we find that we have a mind set that is more concerned with rightness and keeping the rules than releasing the life and love of Jesus? Is Jesus flowing in the community of God's people that we call the church, are we seeing people's lives being transformed, is there a freedom being released in them? Or are we fixed in our ways, fearful of change – and so resisting Jesus?
46. Shutdown or Set Free
Mk 2:23-24 One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. The Pharisees said to him, "Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?"
This concept of legalistic opposition combined with the idea of the change from the old religion to the new, continues in Mark's mind (or Peter's if it is he dictating to Mark) and so now he comes up with yet another illustration of how Jesus and his disciples were under constant scrutiny by those religious groups that existed in Israel at that time.
The example is very simple. Jesus and his disciples are going somewhere on the Sabbath (their Saturday), a day which the Ten Commandments say should be respected and used to honour God. Unfortunately for them there are Pharisees in the neighbourhood. They were a conservative religious group who saw it their duty to uphold the Law. Unfortunately, again, they had taken the Law and split it down so they could administer it in every situation so when the Law said don't work on the Sabbath they started detailed just what was and what wasn't work.
The fact that they focused more on things you shouldn't do rather than things you could do, meant that in their minds, life was shut down on the Sabbath. In the minds of many people (then and now) this meant that the Sabbath had become a miserable day. Was it not possible to remember God AND enjoy the world on that day? Obviously not according to the Pharisees! When they see Jesus' disciples picking the ears of corn to stave off their hunger as they passed this field (a legitimate thing to do) they object that this is a form of work and breaking the Sabbath rules.
They have successfully shut down life and convey a God who is picky and miserable, a far cry from the wonderful Creator who has provided this incredible world purely for our enjoyment. Therein is freedom, the freedom of Christ – to be able to use and enjoy this world, even on the Sabbath, and to be able to give glory to God for its wonder and for His love – on any and every day. God shouldn't be remembered just on one day a week. That was a law for protecting a sinful world that so easily gets caught up in fearful money-generation, forgetting the glory of the One who is our provider. No, may we, the new people of God, remember His goodness and love and provision, every day of the week and may we give thanks. Are you shut down or set free?
47. Embarrassing Example
Mk 2:25-26 He answered, "Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions."
Jesus, as so often, refers his detractors to the Old Testament. He has just been scolded by the Pharisees for letting his disciples pick ears of corn on the Sabbath and so now he directs them to a passage which, for them, must have been highly embarrassing.
David had been on the run from Saul and was low on provisions and so when he came to the tabernacle he asked for help and took the bread that was there offered before the Lord as a reminder of the Lord's daily provision. As such it was holy bread and not to be touched except by the priest – yet David took it and ate it, and he was God's man!
It was clearly there in the divine records and was taught as part of the Old Testament canon. Thus it should be part of the record that the Pharisees are upholding. They now have a problem for it clearly contradicts the rules that they have laid down. Jesus is thus not only showing a way through the Law but he is also showing up the fallacies of the Pharisee's thinking.
Now Jesus is going on to speak about the right use of the Sabbath and what it is for, but we might pause and wonder if perhaps sometimes we are rather like the Pharisees and take convenient parts of the Scriptures and take and use them for our own purpose, which is to show up others in a bad light.
The point that was at issue here was that the Pharisees had taken it upon themselves to take and expand the Law and apply it in ways that the Lord had never meant. I think Christians tend to do this in two wrong way. The first wrong way is to prise verses out of context and apply them for the purpose we have in mind and thus, sometimes at least distort the original meaning. The second wrong way is that we interpret verses (and there are a lot of verses that need interpreting) in an ungodly way, i.e. we don't properly represent God by our interpretation and make Him to be something other than the rest of Scripture reveals. The whole of the sermon genre that delights in hell and makes God out to be harsh and unloving for the sake of holiness is an example of this. Beware these things.
48. Nothing beyond Jesus
Mk 2:27-28 Then he said to them, "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath."
There are two things in these two verses that are so profound that I believe we miss them most of the time. The first is this issue of “The Sabbath was made for man”. The trouble was that the Pharisees had taken the law about the Sabbath and rammed it down people's throats and in an expanded version so that that day was almost a trial. It might have made them feel pious that they were doing something that was clearly in line with the Law, as they saw it, but for many people it was a pain! The evangelical Christian world in the UK forty years ago was like that and still is in some quarters.
To get to grips with this, let's ask a question? Why did God make this world and us with the ability to enjoy this world in the most amazing ways, if it wasn't to bless us? Let's ask another one. Why did God give Israel the Law if it wasn't a) to restrain sin and b) show them how to be restored to God when they got it wrong and c) to show them an alternative way of living to the rest of the sinful world so that they could enjoy this world even more?
So why the Sabbath? To bless the people, to stop them getting made slaves to materialistic work and effort and to have time to reflect upon the Lord, and on His Creation and on His wondrous deeds of making Israel who they were. It's all about enjoying the day, not feeling enslaved by it.
But on to the second thing: “ the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” Jesus, being the Son of God, is not constrained by anything on this world that runs contrary to His Father's perfect will. He is the Lord of this world and therefore he is constrained by only two things: first His Father's perfect will which he himself reflects all the time and, second, his own character which is epitomized by love and wisdom (which John expressed as grace and truth – Jn 1:14).
So, whenever Jesus was confronted by any situation, his eye was on his Father and his heart sought to express the Father's love for mankind with the perfect wisdom that only he has. Jesus goes behind the surface things (including the Law) and knows what is the truth and what is exactly right about any and every situation and is free to live within that knowledge. He is the Lord! Hallelujah!