November 1, 2010 David Balzer

Mark 2:13-3:6: Something New and Fresh

When something NEW replaces something OLD, you can GUARANTEE there’s going to be tension.

 

Mark Latham’s the new kid on the block. The federal opposition leader. And he’s having a bit of a dream run. I’m not sure what the LATEST opinion polls are saying. But he’s CLOSE to being the preferred Prime Minister.

 

People think he’d do a better job than John Howard. Or at least they’d be prepared to give him a go.

 

And surprise, surprise. This week Peter Costello come up with a huge $19.2 billion spending spree. Trying to BRIBE families back into supporting the government.

 

Oh, and by the way. It’s also an election year! (OR perhaps I’m just being cynical!!)

 

It looks to me like Latham’s got the government running scared. There’s the risk of new replacing old. And some people aren’t too happy.

 

And when JESUS comes, a similar thing happens. NEW replacing OLD. He’s going to upset the apple cart. And people aren’t too pleased about it. Because when NEW rubs against OLD, there’s friction.

 

And Jesus doesn’t just come quietly. Slip in unannounced. He seems to go out of his way to show HOW different his new way is. He KEEPS PROVOKING A REACTION. And there’s TENSION. Because that’s what always happens when something NEW meets something OLD.

 

It’s like you’ve got your favourite old shirt. And it’s got a hole in it; you sew in a patch of new material. It’s going to shrink and tear the hole even bigger. Or putting NEW wine into OLD wineskins. The new wine ferments. The old skin’s got no give in it. And the whole thing EXPLODES. The old and the new don’t mix. And that’s what Jesus is saying in v21&22. Have a look at it.

(Mark 2:21-22 NIV)  “”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. {22} 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.””

 

2. The New Arrival

2a Sinners only need apply  (?) (13-17)

What Jesus is on about is “NEW”. And it’s going to cause tension. And you can SEE that tension in every section in the passage we’re going to look at today. Different issues. But always that SAME UNDERLYING TENSION. Have a look at the section starting at v13. Old and new clashing headlong. Jesus vs the Pharisees.

 

Jesus is walking along. He sees a tax collector called Levi sitting in his office. So Jesus says, “Follow me”. And v14. Levi does.

 

A bit later, he throws a party. All his mates are there. And so are Jesus and the disciples. But in verse 16, here’s the tension. Because the Pharisees don’t approve.

 

The Pharisees are ultra strict. The Pharisees not only KEEP the law, but they make up EXTRA LAWS to make sure they DON’T EVEN GET CLOSE to breaking a law. And most of all, the Pharisees look down their noses at NORMAL Jews. And tax collectors are the lowest of the low.

 

So Jesus is mixing with the wrong crowd. And of course the OLD way of doing things; the ACCEPTABLE way of doing things, is to make sure you’re being seen with the right people.

 

If you want to impress God, who you mix with is important. And that DOESN’T include tax-collectors and sinners!

 

But Jesus is on about something NEW. He hasn’t come to be seen with people who think they’re OK. They’re SELF-righteous. They’re just deceiving themselves.

 

He’s here for people who see themselves CLEARLY. Who understand that before God, they’re helpless. People exactly like Levi. This is DOCTOR Jesus. And that’s what he says verse 17. He hears them complaining and he says. “It’s not the HEALTHY who need a doctor, but the SICK. I haven’t come to call the RIGHTEOUS, but SINNERS.””

 

Someone like LEVI THE TAX-COLLECTOR doesn’t rate in the old Israel. But in the NEW Israel, he’s JUST what Jesus was looking for. The perfect credentials. ‘Cause in the NEW Israel, it’s a case of “sinners ONLY need apply”.

 

Which doesn’t go down too well with the OLD. With the Pharisees.

 

How do YOU see yourself? Respectable. Upstanding. Self-righteous? Doing just fine? Like the Pharisees?

 

Or someone who’s NOT perfect. Who needs Jesus’ help. Like Levi?

 

Because you know who Jesus would rather have as a friend ANY day? LEVI.

 

Are YOU willing to be a LEVI? Or are you still stuck back with the Pharisees. Refusing to recognise there’s anything wrong?

 

Let’s think a little more generally. How do WE evaluate people? Do we use the measuring stick of the OLD way or the NEW way?

 

Are we only interested in people who’ve got it all together, … or in SICK people? Are we trying to build a church of people who are RESPECTABLE? Or people who know what they’re REALLY like?

 

We might SAY we’re interested in reaching everyone. But let’s be honest, it’d be a lot easier if SOME types of people didn’t come to church. WOULDN’T it?

 

DIFFICULT people, or SMELLY people, or TIME-CONSUMING people, or people with lots of PROBLEMS – people who just WEAR YOU OUT.

 

I’m not saying that people like that aren’t hard work, but they’re often the ones who KNOW THEY NEED HELP. And that’s the right attitude. The attitude Jesus is interested in.

 

It’s something GOOD people don’t do. Most of your neighbours “doing just fine, thank you very much”. Maybe they believe in God or maybe they don’t, but they’ll tell you they don’t NEED him. And for Jesus, that’s the OLD way. And he’s not interested in it.

 

We need to look at church, and at people, like JESUS looks at them. And not like the rest of the world looks at them. And to realise that church is about MENDING SICK PEOPLE, not building a successful, well-trained, impressive institution.

 

It’s not what OTHERS think that’s important. But how GOD sees people. It’s impressing GOD that’s the crucial thing.

 

So it’s NEW v. OLD. The old way. The Pharisees. See people one way. And the new way. Jesus. Looks at people differently.

 

2b. Feast or fast? (18-19)

Same again in the next story. Verse 18. New vs Old. The same tension. Jesus vs the Pharisees. And again Jesus is getting it wrong. FASTING. All the BEST people are doing it! Everyone! EXCEPT Jesus and his disciples. And so the question gets asked. WHY NOT? What sort of Jews ARE YOU?

 

Verse 19. Jesus answers that the new Israel is more about FEASTING than fasting. Fasting’s just trying to IMPRESS God. To get his attention. But who needs that anymore?. It’s not the time for FASTING. Jesus is HERE. It’s time to celebrate. Feasting, not fasting. Which you can see in v19

(Mark 2:19 NIV)  “Jesus says, “How can the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? They can’t, so long as they have him with them.”

 

What Jesus wants is a NEW ATTITUDE. Not just sticking to rules. Not just ritual fasting. They don’t get it. They should be CELEBRATING. Not walking around with long faces.

 

So again – new wine into old wineskins. And there’s tension.

 

2c. For enjoyment or protection?

More of the same. Verse 23. It’s the Sabbath. The Jewish day of rest. Which for the Pharisees means you don’t even lift a FINGER! Jesus and his disciples are walking through a field, picking some heads of grain and chewing them.  Just keeping hunger at bay.

 

But the PROBLEM IS it’s the Sabbath. And according to the Pharisee’s definition, they’re WORKING. And so the accusations start. Verse 24. Why are you picking grain on the Sabbath? It’s not the done thing. It’s unlawful. God’s not pleased.

 

Jesus answers them in v27. An answer that turns the old way of seeing things on its head. An answer that’s going to provoke a reaction. Check out v27 & 28.

(Mark 2:27-28 NIV)  “Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. {28} So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.””

 

For the Pharisees, keeping the Sabbath has gone WAY beyond what God intended for it. Their rule book was FULL of things you couldn’t do. Trying to PROTECT the Sabbath from people breaking it. Walking a certain distance, cooking, feeding animals, lifting things.

 

They had a rule. You could lift something so far… and no further. Otherwise that’s work.

 

Or when the sabbath actually STARTS. They had a rule about THAT too. The easy answer is Friday night at sunset. But WHEN does the sun actually set? How DARK does it have to be? And so they made up a rule. Hold a hair between your fingers at arms length. As it gets darker, it’s THE SABBATH when you can’t see the hair.

 

That’s the old way… a rule for everything.

 

But Jesus says, the Sabbath starts whenever it suits YOU. Dare I say it? That it’s not worth splitting hairs over! Because Sabbath was made for man, not the other way round. It’s meant for enjoyment, not for making rules.

 

There’s a story about a beautiful golf course. The members pride themselves on how healthy the grass is. How SMOOTH they’ve made the greens. The beautiful fairways. It’s made the centrefold of Golfer’s Monthly three times. And they’re so proud, it becomes SO IMPORTANT to them, they introduce a law. Before the ball can be hit, you have to move it from the fairway into the long grass on the side in the rough. Because the grass is too perfect on the fairway. Can’t be ruined by trying to hit GOLFBALLS!

 

But what they’d forgotten, was that the purpose of a golf course, is for THE ENJOYMENT OF THE GOLFERS. It’s NOT there to be protected. And the purpose of the Sabbath is for the enjoyment of man. Not to be protected.

 

2d. To heal or hurt?

Same point in the next story. And the same sort of tension. This time a living example. Jesus SHOWS how the Sabbath is for man’s good. Ch 3. It’s Sabbath again, and Jesus is in the synagogue. There’s a man there with a shrivelled hand; twisted, the fingers locked together. And again, there’s trouble brewing. People WATCHING; WAITING for Jesus to make a wrong move. One false step. So they can get him. Look at verse 2.

(Mark 3:2 NIV)  “Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely TO SEE IF HE WOULD HEAL HIM ON THE SABBATH.”

 

All eyes on Jesus. Who’s going to show them again, how the NEW is different from the OLD. The OLD was worried about KEEPING THE RULES of the SABBATH. But JESUS is on about HELPING PEOPLE. Verse 3.

(Mark 3:3-5 NIV)  “Jesus says to the man with the shriveled hand, “Stand up in front of everyone.” {4} Then Jesus asks them, “Which is LAWFUL ON THE SABBATH: TO DO GOOD OR TO DO EVIL, TO SAVE LIFE OR TO KILL?” But they remain silent. {5} He looks around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, says to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretches it out… and his hand’s completely restored.”

 

THIS is what the Sabbath is for. This is the WHOLE POINT. It’s for MAN. Not the other way round. It’s meant for enjoyment. Not to be protected with rules and regulations.

 

And it’s an attitude that makes Jesus MAD! How can people get it so WRONG? God gave the Sabbath as a wonderful gift, but these leaders are using it as a club to beat people over the head with.

 

But if Jesus is mad with THEM, then the feelings are MORE than mutual. The old guard means business. Verse 6

(Mark 3:6 NIV)  “Then the Pharisees go out and begin to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.”

 

These guys aren’t just a bit cranky! They’re mad enough to KILL. And as Mark tells the rest of his story, as the gospel unfolds, we see how the opposition keeps growing. Whenever Jesus does something great, there’s always a dark cloud. THE PHARISEES. The OLD way of doing things. Looking to kill Jesus. To silence the new voice.

 

3. How do you really please God?

Old ways, the new way. I guess we need to stop and think about what lies behind all the tension.

 

It all comes down to a question of “HOW DO YOU REALLY PLEASE GOD?” Because THAT’S where the friction lies. You meet an important person, you always want to make a GOOD IMPRESSION. And that’s what the Pharisees wanted to do with God. IMPRESS HIM.

 

Which is the essence of the difference.

 

“HOW DO YOU IMPRESS GOD?”

Do you impress God by MIXING WITH GOOD PEOPLE?

Do you impress God by FASTING?

Do you impress God by keeping the Sabbath special? SO SPECIAL that you won’t lift a finger to help anyone?

Do you impress God by killing anyone who steps out of line – who suggests that perhaps there’s a new way of doing things?

 

That’s the OLD WAY – the stuff the Pharisees somehow think makes a good impression with God. Show him how GOOD YOU ARE. BUT THEY’VE GOT IT WRONG. That’s NOT how you please God at all.

 

 

WHAT’S SO SCARY, is that they were THE RELIGIOUS PEOPLE OF THE DAY. The ones who were devout, and consistent, and regular. The same way people might describe many of us.

 

In all the EXTERNAL SIGNS, they looked like they were pleasing God. Impressive. But WRONG. It’s what happens whenever people take their eyes away from what GOD says, and replace it with man’s opinions.

 

You want to please God, don’t you? Ask yourself this question. What is it that you put your CONFIDENCE in?

 

Because according to Jesus, you DON’T impress God by MIXING WITH GOOD PEOPLE. By going to lots of bible studies, or even going to BIBLE COLLEGE. You don’t impress God by listening to lots of sermons, or belonging to the right organisations, or being on the right committees. Maybe you’ve been thinking you can impress God like that?

 

You CAN’T.    He’s not impressed by FASTING. Or keeping rules. Because ACTIONS BY THEMSELVES are worth NOTHING.

 

And above all, God’s favour can’t be BOUGHT. Or switched on and off like a tap. Some books teach you HOW to make God do what you want. Do this, this and this, and God will bring revival! Pray for this LONG, or in this LANGUAGE, and God will bless you. Use this TECHNIQUE, and God will make you rich. Do YOU try to impress God this way?

 

You don’t impress God by keeping the Sabbath special. Stopping Sunday trading doesn’t help. Legislating what we CAN and CAN’T do on Sunday isn’t what Jesus is on about. Sabbath is made for man. Always has been, always will be. Do YOU try to impress God this way?

 

So what should our attitude be to Sundays, … or fasting?

 

For some Christians these things are very important. For others, they’re not important at all.

 

Some Christians are very careful about what they do, or DON’T do, on Sundays. I read about a South African athlete – a Christian – who gave up his Olympic spot to a team-mate, because the final of his event was on a Sunday, and he wouldn’t race on a Sunday. Other Christians don’t see a problem.

 

Some Christians find that fasting is great for their spiritual lives. Others find it just makes them hungry.

 

So what should our attitude be?

 

It’s important to remember exactly what Jesus is SAYING about keeping the Sabbath, and about fasting. And what he’s NOT saying. He’s NOT saying that they’re wrong. Or Bad. It’s the WRONG ATTITUDE to these things which Jesus is condemning.

 

It’s the attitude of TRYING TO EARN CREDIT WITH GOD that Jesus is against. He doesn’t say NOT to observe the Sabbath. He doesn’t say NOT to FAST. But his NEW way is that these things are to happen from WITHIN THE CONTEXT OF A RELATIONSHIP. We may choose to do certain things BECAUSE God loves us, and because we want to HONOUR him. We AREN’T to do them to MAKE God love us.

 

It’s not the ACTION ITSELF that makes something right or wrong. It’s the attitude BEHIND the action.

 

And we’ve got to make sure we get the ATTITUDE right. THAT’S what Jesus is on about. THAT’S the new way. Because getting the attitude right is a matter of life and death.

 

My Grandma used to say to me, “I’m not a bad person”. And it’s true. By HER definition she wasn’t a bad person at all. She didn’t kill anyone, or cheat on her taxes. She was nice to people. A good hostess and a great cook. She didn’t swear, or get drunk, or steal. She died about five years ago. And the saddest thing, was that from what we could tell, she died thinking God was going to be impressed – that he’d be pleased – by all the good things she did. She spent her life trying to getting ready for God. Trying to build up an impressive list of credentials. Of receipts, and personal references, and good works. But it was all a waste, because none of it impressed God. She would have made a good Pharisee!

 

But she didn’t realise that God’s standard of what’s good enough, was FAR HIGHER than hers. NO-ONE’S good enough for God. Our attempts to please God are like trying to swim the Pacific Ocean. SOME might get further than OTHERS, but EVERYONE drowns in the end. Which was where the Pharisees went wrong.

 

The new Israel, the kingdom Jesus is on about,  it’s not for the self-righteous. It’s for people who RECOGNISE they’re sinful. Who recognise no-one can swim the Pacific Ocean. Jesus came to call those who know they’re sick. Those who know they need a doctor. Who know they’re sinners.

 

For Jesus, it’s not externals that matter. He’s interested in A CHANGE OF HEART. This is the new way Jesus has brought. Maybe that’s a new way for YOU. That YOU need to think through. That YOU need to accept.

 

The irony is, the ones who THOUGHT they were pleasing God, the ones who were passionate about making the right impression… they had no time at all for Jesus. Make sure that’s not how it is with you.

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