“I Am The Law”
To this point, we are seeing Jesus doing some pretty radical things. He has been amazing people with his authoritative teaching, his exorcism of demons, healing the physically ill – including lepers. His popularity was increasing by the minute. And, as we will see in this text, his opposition will increase as well. A couple of weeks ago I mentioned that questions regarding Jesus’ identity came from people. And, strangely, the demons seem to know precisely who he is. Jesus has told them to remain silent so that he can fulfill his mission. But we also know that this merely delays the inevitable. The more he is healing and teaching and demonstrating authority over demons, the more attention he will draw to himself.
Last week we saw the significance of the healing of a leper. To be a leper meant you were “walking death.” Doug drew out many of the similarities between this physical disease and our sin nature. And we saw the great faith of this man as he somehow understood that this Jesus was able to deal with this very serious and very deadly disease. As can be expected, the man’s healing prompted him to tell everybody of this miraculous event. This, of course, drew lots of attention toward Jesus so that he had to withdraw for a time.
In chapter two, Mark recounts the familiar story of the paralytic. Jesus returned to Capernaum. This fact did not remain a secret and so the people once again flocked to Jesus. So many people came that there was no room. Jesus was preaching the word, the text indicates. And then again something very significant happens. Because a group of guys had faith in what they knew of this Jesus, they carry a paralytic up to a roof and lower him down in the presence of Jesus. Not your everyday occurrence. We discussed this story a bit on Wednesday night in the Christianity Explored class. Matthew, who has been visiting us, reminded us that it would be a great risk to actually ruin somebody’s roof to lower their friend down. They believed that Jesus was able to help their friend – to the extent of causing damage to someone else’s property. Jesus’ response comes unexpected to us. He forgives the man’s sins. And the scribes began questioning in their hearts and thinking that Jesus is blaspheming. Jesus is God, however, and thus can read their thoughts and offers a bit of a lesson and then heals the man of his physical ailment which demonstrates that he has authority to forgive sins because he is God. Because of who Jesus is, any interaction or confrontation demands a response. He cannot be merely a great teacher, a prophet or a moral guy. His claims and actions require that you dismiss him altogether or you bow the knee to his lordship.
Jesus presses on in his mission in our text this morning. We are in Mark chapter 2 beginning with verse 13. We will be covering Mark 2.13-28 this morning in the sermon, “I am the Law.” Let’s read the text as we get underway.
We find our first point in verses 13-18. We see the Mission of Jesus. And this mission consists of teaching, seeking, and calling. In verse 13, Jesus returns to the Sea of Galilee while his popularity continues to increase. Because of the outrageous claims, authoritative teaching, healing and authority over demons, he has amassed quite a following. Jesus once again does not consider the healings and such to be the focus of his ministry. He uses these to authenticate who he is and then continues to teach them. Mark does not indicate here the content of what he was teaching. It could well have been further explanation of the events just prior regarding the forgiveness of sins. Mark has already informed us the overall message of his mission: Repent and believe the gospel from 1.14-15. It is this turning away from sin and faith in the good news of God that provides the forgiveness for sins.
It is no mere coincidence here that Jesus “passes by” a man at a tax booth. Commentators are a bit undecided of the identity of Levi. Some think that he is James, the son of Alphaeus – one of the disciples. But I think Mark’s account parallels Matthew’s telling of the story where Matthew indicates that it is actually the Lord Jesus calling him from the tax booth in Matthew 9.9. Jesus uses the now familiar words of “follow me” and Levi immediately gets up and follows after Jesus. And we have seen others respond to this call. Simon and Andrew, James and John both left their nets behind to follow Jesus after his invitation. The calling of Levi introduces some new elements however. Levi was a tax collector. As a tax collector, his job did not revolve around GST or PST. And whatever your thoughts about the fairness of these taxes, they wouldn’t necessarily be identified with robbery.
One commentator writes, “In ancient Palestine, tax collectors were known for dishonesty and extortion. The Roman tax system was complex and varied, even in a small country like Palestine. Land and poll taxes were collected directly by the Romans, but taxes on transported goods were contracted out to local collectors, most of whom were ethnic Jews but probably not observant Jews, since Torah-conscious Jews could not be expected to transact business with Gentiles. Levi was one of these middlemen (or in the service of one) who made bids in advance to collect taxes in a given area. His own profit came from what he could mulct from his constituents, and a portion of his receipts stayed in his own pockets. The Roman system of taxation depended on graft and greed, and it attracted enterprising individuals who were not adverse to such means.” In addition, Levi (or Matthew) would have been employed by the Romans to collect taxes for them and would have been viewed as a traitor to the Jewish people.
It would be safe to say that if we were Jesus looking for people to believe the message of the gospel, we probably wouldn’t go immediately to a tax collector. We would probably look to the “seekers” of the day – trying to persuade those in the synagogue perhaps. Jesus goes to the truck drivers of the day – fishermen and tax collectors. They were the “rough around the edges” kind of folk that he goes after here. To me, this clearly communicates the power and authority of Jesus. Isn’t it true that as we share the gospel, we shy away a bit from the drug dealers, the motorcycle gangs, and those who we would not expect to be receptive of the gospel? One commentator concludes, “this incident exposes a persistent tendency among God’s people throughout history to exclude and to write off others we classify as irredeemable.”
I know that there are many here who have come to faith because somebody else was courageous and exercised great faith when they shared the gospel with you. You may not even have considered yourself a seeker. But when Jesus calls, you can’t help but respond. I know that I am so thankful to have had people that reached out to me when I was lost in the pursuit of the world and my own pleasure. Allow even this brief account of a tax collector embolden your witness to Christ. Romans 1.16 says, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”
Levi responds to the authoritative call of Jesus. Now think about what is at stake. With the previous call of the fishermen, could they not return to fishing if “things didn’t work out?” What about a tax collector that abandons his post? This appears as an “all or nothing” deal.
Look what happens next. Jesus goes to a party with more of these folks. He doesn’t just preach to them, he befriends them. Matthew hosts a party here and Jesus is there hanging out with them. In fact, this gathering has quite the dynamic. The text indicates that Jesus and his disciples were partying with “tax collectors and sinners.” Now this is intriguing! To be clear, some of those that were at the party were indeed criminals – namely the tax collectors. But, as James Edwards indicates, “many are simply laborers and commoners, who were too busy, too poor, or too ignorant to live up to the rules of the religious authorities. In our eyes, of course, listing common folks with thieves is like throwing jaywalkers into jail with hardened criminals, but it did not seem so to the Pharisees. Matthew 11:19 “The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.’” Luke 15:2 And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” In this context, a better understanding would be “outcasts.”
Jesus does not seem concerned with their perceptions. To “recline at the table” indicates that this was a formal meal. This event certainly elevated the concerns of the scribes of the Pharisees. They were quite proud of their separation with such “sinners.” So the Pharisees questioned the disciples. Not sure why they didn’t go right to Jesus here. But they didn’t. And he apparently heard them anyway. They ask the disciples, “why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
Now many people often associate the Pharisees with hypocrisy. In fact, sometimes people use the terms interchangeably. I think this is less an issue of being a hypocrite and more of being a hypercrite. The Pharisees, as I can see, were very zealous for the law. In fact, this may be more of missing the point of the law. And we will see this especially in the next two paragraphs. Looking back to the Old Testament, there are several instances where Israel is to separate from heathen nations and for a good reason. It is so the nation is not polluted by their religious beliefs and national practices that contradict what God had planned for the nation of Israel. The problem with the Pharisees is that they often manufactured their own interpretations and placed them on par with God’s authoritative law.
Sometimes we can be quite susceptible to the same things. In this particular case, have we not at times had the same attitude? Without getting a full understanding of a situation, do we often draw inaccurate conclusions? Would our minds wander if we saw one of our church members downtown talking to a drug dealer or a prostitute? We may naturally assume the worst only to find out that this person was handing over a Bible and sharing the gospel with him or her.
Jesus’ approach to ministry here is revolutionary and yet can be misunderstood. I love passages like this that stretch my thinking about gospel ministry. We know that from much of the Scriptures that Christians are not to act like those who follow the world and its desires. We are called to be a holy (or set apart) people for God. And yet we are told to make disciples of the nations. Jesus tells us to be in the world, but not of the world. What does that mean? I think Jesus shows us.
And this is one of the reasons that I wanted to look at a Gospel particularly for our next season of ministry together. We talked at the beginning of the season that we wanted to be about mission and mentoring. We want to be about making disciples – sharing our faith and helping one another grow in our faith. And we want to do this biblically and faithfully. Who better to look to than Jesus?
What do we see here when we look at Jesus? Right off the bat we see that it is messy. Gospel ministry involves us befriending those who are different from us, and yet more like us than we like to admit. It also may involve being misunderstood by “religious” people. Evangelism should be done in the local church. But it is not its primary function. The church, by definition, is not the building. It is the gathering of the saints. But we should also know that when we meet, we gather as believers and unbelievers. This has been true throughout all church history as we know by much of Paul’s writings and onward. This is why I will continue to share the good news of Jesus on Sunday mornings. I recognize that not all here have trusted in Jesus Christ. But most of the work of evangelism takes place when we depart from here. This should happen in Growth Groups, workplaces, neighborhoods, and dinner in your homes (as here).
There is a temptation to operate on two different extremes. There are some who become Christians and then proceed to keep the world at arm’s length so that they are not corrupted by “sinners.” This does not follow God’s mission. Somehow people seem to forget that someone shared the gospel with them and led them to Christ. And yet somehow we neglect to do the same.
The other extreme is that we engage the world with no parameters. There is little distinction between us and those who don’t know Jesus. Sometimes we can hide behind this too. I’ve been asked a number of times if I think it is right for believers to hang out at the bar. And this, of course, is all in the name of evangelism. Now I am still wading through all of the implications of the concept. But as I do, I think Jesus would have been there. But I also know what his intentions would be. You see, I used to do this as well. I used to go out with the guys after work and could justify it by telling people that I was trying to build relationships so they would hear the gospel. I often found the words strangely lacking at times. So was I acting the hypocrite?? I think so. If I was honest, I was probably more concerned with having a good time than I was for sharing Jesus with the gang.
So my answer to the question would be directed to the heart. If people are truly concerned for sharing the gospel in the bar, I will be the last one to try to stop you. However, this also requires discernment and accountability. It wouldn’t be wise for someone who struggles with alcohol abuse to be in the bar nor someone who has sexual struggles to minister to prostitutes. This makes sense, right? So as we move forward in our mission with the gospel, we need to continually assess our heart and motivation.
Jesus makes this remarkable statement in response to the questions: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” Because we know the source of the inquiry, we note the pointed nature of the response. He is indicating that the righteous are really the self-righteous; the Pharisees. They prided themselves in their strict adherence to the law and did not see their sin. James Brooks writes, “for Jesus to refuse to associate with sinners would have been as foolish as for a doctor not to associate with the sick.” And James Edwards, “The grace of God extends to and overcomes the worst forms of human depravity. Ironically, in one sense great sinners stand closer to God than those who think themselves righteous, for sinners are more aware of their need of the transforming grace of God. “Where sin increased, grace increased all the more” (Rom 5:20).
So I think the key to how we discern the line that we draw here is found in this text and one we looked at last week. Jesus had an encounter with the leper at the end of chapter 1. We learned quite a bit about leprosy and how risky it was for Jesus to interact with him. Jesus did not hesitate to make contact with the man. Did the man contaminate Jesus? Or Jesus the man? Do you get it? When Jesus sat down with the tax collectors and sinners, did they influence him to embrace worldliness? Or did he impact them with the gospel? Hebrews 4.15 tells us that Jesus was tempted in every way but did not sin.
Next come more questions. We will now see a Message of Fulfillment. This time the question came from “people.” It seems as though it wasn’t the Pharisees for they were fasting. So they come to him and note that the disciples of Jesus were not fasting. As we move forward, the issue between the Pharisees and Jesus will become most apparent. It has to do largely with tradition and intent of law. James Edwards helps us see the issue. He writes, “throughout his ministry Jesus is in a standing debate with Pharisaism, primarily over the issue of tradition. The essential difference is especially evident in Mark 7:1–23, in which Jesus accuses the Pharisees of overvaluing oral tradition and undervaluing the intent of the law itself. By Jesus’ day the original fervor and vitality of Pharisaism had calcified into a formalism at myriad points of practice and observance, in which conformity to legal prescriptions replaced the disposition of the heart, thus distorting the true intent of the law. Believing that Torah was prescriptive for all of life, the Pharisees wove an increasingly intricate web of regulations around it, whose purpose may have been to honor Torah, but whose effect was a confining and even crushing burden on human existence.”
There was only one day out of the year that the Jews were expected to fast – the Day of Atonement. By the time of Jesus’ day, fasting was a sign of piety. It was also practiced for times of sorrow and lamentation. And so Jesus responds with a question regarding a wedding. Weddings in the time of Jesus were a bit different than they are today. They were a big party! Well, that may not be different. But a wedding celebration in a Jewish village would normally last seven days. Friends and guests had no responsibility but to enjoy the festivities. Edwards writes, “There was an abundance of food and wine, as well as song, dance, and fun both in the house and on the street. Even rabbis were expected to desist from Torah instruction and join the celebration with their students. “The guests of the bridegroom” pictures the gathering of the wedding party, waiting impatiently to eat. Any thought of fasting at such a moment is out of the question!”
With such a story, Jesus has announced once again that a new day has dawned. He identifies himself as the bridegroom. The Pharisees who were familiar with the Old Testament may have made the connection that Israel’s husband is God. Hosea 2:19-20, “And I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy. I will betroth you to me in faithfulness. And you shall know the Lord.” And then Jesus makes a passing reference to his fate by stating that the bridegroom will be taken away and then it will be more appropriate to fast.
With the coming of Jesus, he is making things new. He uses imagery of garments and wineskins to illustrate. The NET Bible tells us, Wineskins were bags made of skin or leather, used for storing wine in NT times. As the new wine fermented and expanded, it would stretch the new wineskins. Putting new (unfermented) wine in old wineskins, which had already been stretched, would result in the bursting of the wineskins. The presence and teaching of Jesus was something new and signaled the passing of the old. It could not be confined within the old religion of Judaism, but involved the inauguration of the kingdom of God.” James Edwards once again writes, “The question posed by the image of the wedding feast and the two atom-like parables is not whether 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.” Judaism is the old garment and the old wineskin. Christianity is the new garment, the new wineskin, and the new wine. The “old” is neither wrong or evil, but its time has passed.
And lastly, we have the Meaning of the Sabbath. Once again Jesus and his disciples fall under the scrutiny of the Pharisees. The disciples became hungry and plucked the heads of grain as they were walking on the Sabbath. That’s the issue. It is rightly noted that “western indifference toward Sabbath observance puts modern readers at a disadvantage of understanding the importance of Sabbath in Judaism.” We do know that one of the Ten Commandments is to 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 to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work. And so the Pharisees consider that plucking heads of grain must constitute as work and therefore are in violation of the commandment. Interestingly Jesus does not correct their misunderstanding on their actions. He could have merely quoted the law in Deuteronomy 23.25 which says, “If you go into your neighbor’s standing grain, you may pluck the ears with your hand, but you shall not put a sickle to your neighbor’s standing grain.” Rather, he wants to press in a little harder and make a more profound point.
He points them back to the time of David. If you were to handpick a hero for them to identify with, you pick David. Jesus reminds them of the time where David entered the house of God and ate the bread that he was not permitted to eat. Why? He was hungry. You know what he is saying to them? You missed the point. The Pharisees were so stuck on the letter of the law that they missed its intent. And without going into great controversy… How many days did God create the earth in? Right, six days. What did God do on the seventh day? He rested. Did God need to rest? Rather, he was trying to provide the basis for Sabbath and example for us. Exodus 23:12 “Six days you shall do your work, but on the seventh day you shall rest; that your ox and your donkey may have rest, and the son of your servant woman, and the alien, may be refreshed.” Deuteronomy 5:14 “but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter or your male servant or your female servant, or your ox or your donkey or any of your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates, that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you.”
We were created with a dependency on rest. God has hard-wired us to need to shut down. This is why we sleep at night. God doesn’t need to sleep. But we do. Every night when we go to bed, it should serve as a reminder that we are completely dependent on God. And then he establishes a Sabbath so that we can take opportunity to rest from our labors. And the Pharisees miss the point. They were too busy trying to burden people with the letter of the law, that they paid no attention to its intent. We will continue to see this.
Jesus points out this great truth: “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.” Did you catch that authoritative statement? He again identifies his authority and equal with God. If God instituted the Sabbath, the Son of Man is God.
David Garland writes, “God intended the Sabbath to be a "gracious gift," a release from the necessity of seven-day toil, so that anyone who interprets the Law as to make the Sabbath a burden, or to inhibit the free course of God's mercy, merely reveals his own ignorance of God and His purposes.”
I don’t know about you but I am truly benefitting from the study already. This Gospel has forced me to think process the mission of Jesus – who he declared himself to be, the focus of ministry, how he interacted with people, and the example he set for his followers. Jesus is pretty radical and yet commits no sin. He is purposed for the glory of God.
As we attempt to learn from Jesus, we need to realize some things. This will cost us. Regarding our first point, I am convinced that we are called to go out and share the gospel. It’s well and good to bring our friends to church but the emphasis still falls on the going out and making disciples. We will be intentionally looking for ways that Squamish Baptist Church can impact our communities with the Gospel. It does not advance the mission if we are focused solely on our own pursuit of holiness. And that is important. But as we go out, we need to realize that the Gospel will not always be accepted by those we share it with. In fact, Scripture suggests that most will reject it. It is a narrow gate and a narrow path.
We also need to realize that as we engage “sinners” in their domain, it may draw the ire of religious nitpickers. It is probably less of an issue here than in other places. Like we recently discussed in the Journey class, as brothers and sisters in Christ we begin by trusting one another. Make every effort to guard your hearts. We need to maintain our accountability to God and one another. So we need to watch our lives and our doctrine closely. We need to always be aware of temptation. The world will always seek to draw us away from Christ.
Secondly, the wedding has been inaugurated with the first coming of Jesus and we anticipate its consummation when he returns. This should bring great joy to the Christian. This is cause for rejoicing. Now schedules do not allow for us to have a fellowship lunch week so we’ll make the most of the hour that we have together this afternoon to fellowship and to revel together in the Lord Jesus Christ!
Lastly, the Sabbath has implications for us. A couple of weeks ago I made some remarks about corporate worship attendance. I hope that the message came across that we don’t strive for perfect attendance or that somehow this may earn favor with God. As I look at the wedding feast and see the party as the guests and friends of the bridegroom thrive on being together and with the Lord, it is my hope that we long to do something similar on a regular basis. And that to come here on a Sunday morning is not a duty but a joy. We gather as those who will spend eternity together in the presence of Almighty God if we have trusted in Jesus for salvation. That is a joyous thought! So, for me, this is a joyous time and I couldn’t fathom not joining together in exalting this great God!