Review and Reflect on Mark 14:12-26 – Jesus gives the Passover as the Lamb

As part of the celebration of the Passover, there was a special meal prepared and shared that told the story of how God acted to deliver Israel from Egypt. The day when everyone ate this meal had arrived, and in Mark 14:12-26, Jesus is going to share it with his followers.  In verses 13-15, Jesus tells his disciples where to go to prepare the meal. It doesn’t say whether Jesus made these preparations ahead of time or not, but it is meant for us to understand in the context of Jesus’ authority. Remember how in chapter 11 Jesus sent his disciples to get the colt and to say “the Lord needs it and will return it”? Well this is similar here. The owner of the house responded to Jesus’ authority and gave him use of the room. Verse 17 says that as evening came, Jesus joined them in the room for the meal. Jesus knew what Judas had done back in verse 10, and he tells all of the disciples that one will betray him. In verses 18-20, Jesus says, this one who will betray me is one of you, eating this meal, sharing life with me.

Judas has always been presented in a terrible light, but he was one of Jesus’ closest friends. He travelled with him and worked with him for roughly 3 years before he betrayed him. That is what makes his betrayal all the more tragic.  Jesus was betrayed by someone he loved deeply.  But even in this terrible betrayal, the plan of God was going to be accomplished, and would not be hindered. Then in verses 22-25, Jesus shares the Passover meal with his followers. We have read that Jesus’ message was that the Kingdom of God has come close enough to experience and that the promised Time is fulfilled. We have seen throughout this Gospel that Jesus continually teaches that the reason this is happening is because he is the King and he is fulfilling the promises. Jesus fulfills the promises of Kingship passed down from David. He fulfills the law passed down from Moses. He fulfills the sacrificial system and the Temple with its religious expressions. He has re-oriented all of the promises and worship of God’s people upon himself. And here in verses 22-25, he now re-orients the Passover toward and upon himself. He says the cup that all drink of now represents his blood. He says that the bread that is broken and is passed out to everyone now represents his body. God delivered Israel from Egypt by killing the firstborn. Now God is going to deliver humanity from slavery to sin and bondage to death through the death of his own son. In Egypt, those who killed the lamb and applied the blood were passed over by death. Jesus is now showing that those who apply his blood to their lives will also be passed over by eternal death. He is the lamb who brings deliverance to the people of God and he is the lamb who takes away the sins of the world. This is a primary reason why since the first days of the church, church gatherings all over the world and throughout history have participated in Communion, Eucharist, or the Lord’s Supper. We remember our Lamb who is also our King. He rules over the world and he died to take away our sins. He gives his church this meal to share to remember what he has done for us.

Review and Reflect on Mark 12:28-34 – Loving God and Loving People is the sum of what God requires of us.

Over the last chapter, Jesus has displayed his wisdom and authority over nearly every group among the influential leaders of Jerusalem. The Scribes, Pharisees, Elders, Priests, Pharisees, Herodians, and Sadducees all have tried to catch Jesus in his words and trap him, yet he eludes them. Their attempts to discredit him or have him arrested for something he says have failed. After seeing and hearing all of this, there is one from among these groups who comes to Jesus privately. He is struck by Jesus’ wisdom, and wants to talk to him further in Mark 12:28-34.

There was somewhere around 600 or more specific laws found in the Law that many of the Jews of Jesus’ day worked to follow. It was also commonly known that completely adhering to all of the law was nearly impossible, so in several places outside of the Scriptures there are discussions ranking the laws. A common way to debate this was to consider which laws were heavier and which were lighter. So, when Jesus is approached with this question, it wasn’t so out-of-the-ordinary. Most translations will translate verse 28 with the word “important” because that makes it easy to understand. But the phrase is more nuanced than this. A better way to understand it would be which command is “primary” or “foremost”. All the laws were important. The question is, “is there a law from which the whole law can be derived?” Which law must we be sure to uphold most of all? Which law is the weightiest? Which law sums up the others? This is what Jesus is being asked.

Jesus answers with a dual response. He says in verses 30 and 31 that Loving God and loving people is the sum of the Law. All of the laws or rules in the Law were given so that Israel would properly love God and properly love people. He gives his answer in such a way that we can’t view these as two separate laws, but as one law together. Like faith and works, like belief and practice, loving God and loving people cannot be separated biblically. This is why the message of the Gospel must be responded to with belief and repentance. It affects mind and body, thoughts and actions. You can’t love God without loving your neighbor and you won’t love your neighbor without loving God.

He begins with a passage from Deuteronomy 6. This passage is a foundational passage for understanding who God is, and Jesus points to this passage in response to the question about the greatest commandment. Jesus gives four ways in which we are to love God – with our heart, soul or life, mind or will, and strength. In other words, with everything we have, do, and are, we’re to love God. There is nothing that we possess or nothing that makes us who we are that we are not to love God with. If it’s connected or related to us in any manner, we are to love God with it.

Secondly, in verse 31 Jesus says we are to love our neighbor. This is from Leviticus 19:18 (but you all knew that already because of your familiarity with Leviticus). The context of that chapter includes paying employees in a timely manner, leaving parts of your field unharvested so the poor could come and glean, and avoiding slandering people. We understand these as ways to show love to other people. Leviticus 19:18 sums these up by saying, “love your neighbor as yourself.” You’ve heard of “do to others as you would have them do to you” as the Golden Rule and that is certainly an expression of loving others, but there is more to it. It’s not just doing things for people and treating them right, we are supposed to love them. This means, patience, forgiveness, generosity, and all sorts of things.

In verse 31, he says “there is no commandment greater than these”. All of the other 600 or more laws flow out of these two. The remainder of the Law describes the ways to love God and others. The remainder of the laws describes how the people of Israel were to love, but this dual law that Jesus gives describes who we are to love. Jesus takes something that was very complex and simplifies it. In many ways Jesus simplifies the 10 commandments of Exodus 20. The first 4 related to God and the final 6 related to people and Jesus summarizes them both under the singular command to love.

An author named Tom Wright illustrates the nature of God’s commands by describing a road with guard rails and I have adapted his illustration here. Life with Christ is a life of love. Love is the name of the highway we are travelling. It has two lanes since we love God and love people, but it is one road. The Scriptures give us commands to shape that love and to direct it properly. These are the guard rails on the road. If we follow the guard rails we will go the right directions, but it’s a lot more fun to drive without hitting the rails all the time. Breaking the commands are like driving through the guard rail and you get banged up and damaged. They are there for our good, to teach us how to love God and others. But we aren’t meant to drive down the road bouncing off of the guard rails, we are meant to love God and others. As Jesus continues to renew us until eternity, we will be able to stay in the middle of the road all the more and enjoy our journey. The commands of Scripture aren’t to be avoided, but embraced, because they shape us and make us into the people God designed us to be.

At Shore Community Church, our mission statement is Loving God and Loving people simply, deeply, and authentically. This statement was formed largely as a result of what Jesus teaches here. Loving God and others cannot be separated. This is the goal and completion of our religion and our relationships. Whatever it is that we do as a church or as individual followers of Jesus must be related to this love for God and others.

At SCC, we are striving to love God and other people. There are three values that guide the way we do this – simplicity, depth, and authenticity. Christianity is difficult. It’s not easy. But it is simple. The Gospel is simple enough to explain to a child, yet deep enough to keep theologians busy for centuries. Jesus died for you and rose again to give you eternal life. It’s Simple. But this simple truth is so deep it will change everything about you. The more we know and obey God, the more we grow to love him. It’s Deep. However, none of us live perfectly before God, so there is no sense in pretending. Rather than being hypocrites, we are going to be authentic. Authenticity means humility. It means we know we need one another and we need God’s grace if we are to walk rightly before God.

Jesus sums all that God requires of us up in a few simple words: Love God and love people. In verse 32, the man Jesus was talking with responds to his answer and he says “well said”; “right on!” In verse 33, he says to love is better than offering sacrifice, which is significant since they are standing in the Temple where sacrifices are happening while they are talking. This is another way that Jesus is showing that everything God promises and commands is fulfilled in him. We love God by following Jesus, not by offering sacrifice. We love God and others, not by keeping a strict law code, but by living out the Gospel of Jesus’ death and resurrection in our lives every day. In verse 34, Jesus tells this other teacher, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.” This man understood that loving God and others was the sum of the Law. He even understood that love was the reason sacrifices had to be made for sin. What he didn’t understand was that Jesus was making that possible by living to fulfill the Law and bringing God’s Kingdom through his sacrificial death and bodily resurrection. He was close to the Kingdom, he only needed to take one more step and follow Jesus.

There are a lot of people who understand eternal life is only possible through what God has done in Jesus. They are not far from the Kingdom. What remains is that step of obedience in following Jesus. If you are following Jesus, this means that you love God and others. Any refusal to do so in our hearts or in our actions is rebellion and we need to repent of that. If you believe in Jesus, but you haven’t yet begun to follow him, you may not be far from the Kingdom. Decide today to follow him by not only believing, but responding to him by aligning your life with him, living for him.

Acknowledgements and Sources

Review and Reflect on Mark 10:1-12

Working through books of the Bible like this is a good thing. It helps us to understand broad passages of scripture and themes that run through scripture. Another thing it does is forces us to deal with some of the more difficult passages. Mark 10 brings us to one of those types of passages. Jesus talked about things that many people would rather not hear. But, if Jesus takes on a subject, it is certainly worthwhile for us to hear what he says about the matter. In Mark 10:1-12, Jesus teaches about divorce, but this passage is about more than divorce.

All of us are deficient in our relationships with other people. God designed us to live together, not isolated, and he designed us to love one another, not to look out for ourselves foremost. But, all of us eventually and inevitably will put ourselves first in some ways in our relationships with other people. One example of this fracture in our relational abilities has been divorce. Divorce has been a human problem across cultures and throughout history, and it’s no different in our day. Most studies will show that around %50 of marriages end in divorce. There’s a University of Connecticut sociology professor named Bradley Wright who published a book in 2010 called “Christians Are Hate-Filled Hypocrites…and Other Lies You’ve Been Told”. In this book, he deals with how research is conducted and how statistics about Christianity are interpreted. He challenges his readers to view statistics about Christianity with critical eyes. One thing he discusses is the statistics of divorce amongst Christians. He takes on the stat that 50% of Christian marriages end in divorce. He analyzes it from a different perspective because a lot of how you interpret that statistic depends on who you understand to be a Christian for the purposes of the study. About 6 out of 10 Christians who rarely or never go to church have marriages that end in divorce. About 4 out of 10 Christians who attend church regularly have marriages that end in divorce. That means that you are %50 more likely to get divorced if you are a married Christian who doesn’t attend church. But, again, statistics are only as valuable as their accuracy and their interpretation. One example is that studies like this often count two people who are divorcing one another and this changes statistics as well. What this does show, is that regular church attendance makes a large difference in our marriages. So,  be encouraged because statistically speaking, all you have to do is show up!

Divorce is symptomatic of the larger human problem of sin. If husbands and wives weren’t sinful people, divorce wouldn’t be a problem. One of my favorite principles about relationships is “sinners react sinfully when sinned against”. This means that when people are sinned against, our reactions are often sinful. This is something that leads to divorces, but it also leads to sibling rivalry and severed friendships. In examining Mark 10:1-12, our task isn’t to figure out how to avoid getting divorced. This isn’t a “5 steps to a successful marriage” passage. Our task is to understand what Jesus says about divorce and how, by teaching about divorce, he is calling us (married or not) to believe the Gospel and align our lives with it.

There are four lessons that we can learn from this passage:

First, divorce is a case study in human sinfulness. In verse 1, it says he was teaching the crowd which was his custom. And verse 2 says, the Pharisees came to test him. Their custom was to try to undermine Jesus’ authority and ministry. Jesus was not teaching about divorce, he was teaching what he had always been teaching: the time being fulfilled and the Kingdom of God coming near. But the Pharisees’ bring up a tricky and obscure aspect of the law as a ploy to try to undermine Jesus’ authority and make him mess up in front of the crowd. So, when they ask him about divorce, he simply says in verse 3 “What did Moses say?” In verse 4 they say, Moses said there were rules that had to be observed if divorce was going to happen. Then Jesus does what he did over and over in verse 5. He explains why the Law says what it says and in doing this, he also explains why the Law is deficient to cure our hearts of their sinfulness. He explains the background to the laws just like he did with the dietary laws in Mark 7. He says Moses allowed a concession to the best way of living in Marriage because of the people’s sinfulness, because of their hard hearts. The reason there was a law about divorce, or murder, coveting, and bearing false testimony or dozens of other laws, is because people could not live properly in relationship to one another. Nothing about that has changed. Even if divorce never happened, our ability to live properly in relationship with one another would still need help. All the laws were given because people had hard hearts. God gave the Law to Moses to teach people boundaries that they couldn’t find themselves because of their sinfulness.

Jesus teaches that there is a better way. The better way is that we would love one another. If people loved one another as God intends, there wouldn’t need to be laws about murder or theft. If spouses loved one another, humbled themselves, and placed the other first every day and in every way, there wouldn’t be any need to talk about divorce. Jesus says there was an intention in marriage from the outset when God first brought man and woman together, but ever since then it has been corrupted. Our hard and sinful hearts have wrecked our ability to live properly with one another. This is why we see adultery, prostitution, and multiple spouses, among other deviations from what God intended for marriage. I’m not even talking about what can be seen on TV or in the Movies; this is what we see in the Bible. In verse 6 and following, Jesus describes what God intended in the beginning, but with sin came corruption. It corrupts every aspect of our environment and our being, so of course it affects our marital relationship. But this is certainly not limited to divorce.

In verse 7 Jesus speaks to the separation that comes from parents when two people are married. There are countless marriages that one spouse or another hasn’t figured out how to keep his or her parents from meddling. In verse 8 Jesus speaks to the unity that marriage brings and yet there are countless marriages where people resemble roommates more than they resemble God’s intention. Rather than unity in marriage, there is competition in marriage. This is seen when each spouse has to have their own identity separate from the other. The desire for their own friends, hobbies, and places is something seen in many marriages that is opposed to God’s ideal for marriage where there should be oneness and unity.

The Pharisees’ highlight the problem of divorce, but divorce is often the end result of two people who cannot figure out how to place the other before themselves. And again, this isn’t only a problem in marriages and divorces, but in any relationship that any of us have. We have to learn from Jesus by following him, how to put others before ourselves. The Pharisees’ highlight the problem of divorce, but they don’t really care about it. This is a question about Jesus’ authority more than on divorce. They aren’t asking if divorce is a desirable situation, they ask if it is lawful. They expect Jesus to oppose Moses, but Jesus affirms what Moses taught and in the process he reveals the sinfulness in the hearts of those who attempt to discredit him.

Secondly, even in passages like this we need to remember that Jesus is more concerned with our hearts than our ability to uphold a moral standard outwardly. The Pharisees feel free to ask questions about divorce, because none of them were divorced. This was a way for them to declare their moral superiority over other people who had been divorced. But Jesus won’t let them get away with that. We’ve probably all seen this in the church or other Christians too. Because I don’t sin the way you do, does that put me on a higher moral plane before God? Jesus says absolutely not. The Pharisees lived impeccable lives and were nearly flawless morally. Yet, Jesus continually takes issue with them, because many of them didn’t love God from their hearts. If you’ve never gone through divorce, you should thank God for that. But you should also guard your heart against thinking yourself better than anyone who has. There absolutely are outward moral standards that we need to live according to. But, simply because we uphold a moral standard, doesn’t mean God has our hearts. Just because a couple isn’t divorced doesn’t mean that their marriage reflects God’s ideal for marriage. Jesus says the problems people have in marriage arise from hard hearts. Instead of desiring God’s best for our lives and the lives of others, our hearts are inclined to demanding our preferences and placing ourselves first. In a marriage, this often leads to divorce, but even if it doesn’t lead there, it leads us away from God’s ideal for our lives.

Having a hard heart has nothing to do with whether or not we are married. If we allow our lives to be directed by our own preferences and ambitions rather than being directed by God’s love for us and our love for him, we are leading ourselves to destruction. The Law was given to a sinful people who couldn’t figure out how to love God and one another more than they loved themselves. This is the human predicament in our sin. It doesn’t mean that we always love ourselves more, but everyone will at some point place themselves before others in some way. This problem can’t be fixed by trying harder or by disciplining ourselves. We need rescued. We need forgiven. We need restored. We need new hearts. This is why Jesus comes. He comes to give us life in him where we grow in the church learning how to love God and others more than we love ourselves. He comes so that one day we can live together with him forever in the Kingdom of God where we all place one another before ourselves. Can you imagine what that would be like? It will be heaven, because of course, it will be heaven! God designed us to live a certain way, and when we deviate from that way, we are opposing his plan.

Third, Jesus taught that divorce is opposing the plan of God. This isn’t intended to lay a guilt-trip or to make anyone feel bad. We have all opposed God’s plan in some way and at certain times. But anyone who has gone through or been around divorce knows that although sometimes it’s necessary, and sometimes it’s unavoidable, it’s still terrible. It still leaves scars. There are still repercussions. Even if it was the best thing for the long-term, it still brings problems. God’s plan for our lives is for our best and when we oppose it we see the chaos and the pain that is brought about. This is illustrated over and over again as people go through divorce. This is why it’s important to look at divorce as an example of what all of our sin does. Whether, we’ve been divorced, or we are greedy, or we are angry, or we are selfish, or we are lustful, there are consequences and chaos that comes from our sin. Sometimes we need to be reminded of this so our flirtation with sin or our tolerance for sin in our own lives will bring us to repentance. Jesus deals with sin. He does so because it is not just wrong, it’s harmful, it brings chaos, it is the opposite of loving God and loving one another.

Last of all, Jesus deals with sin…period. He doesn’t exclude divorce, but he also doesn’t highlight it as the worst sin.Jesus shows in this passage that divorce is wrong for many reasons, but that having a hard heart is worse than being divorced. All sin is harmful, destructive, and painful. Healing only comes in Jesus Christ. Forgiveness can only be found in Jesus. This applies to unmarried people, to people with horrible marriages, and even to people with great marriages. Our sin causes us to have problems with one another. It also causes us to have problems with God. Jesus doesn’t sit on his throne in heaven pointing his finger, he steps out of heaven and takes on human flesh. He places himself amongst sinful people who misunderstand and mistreat, and who reject him and kill him. But in his holy perfection, he loves them in the midst of it. Because of our King’s great compassion on his people, he allows the rebels who nailed him to the cross to be forgiven and set right and he allows us to become citizens of his Kingdom. He forgives us and he renews us and one day he will complete his work in us. He calls us today to believe in what he has done to deal with our sin, and to repent, to align our lives with his way of living. So, whether you need to repent of the ways you are living in your marriage in relationship to your spouse, or the ways you are sinning against your family, your friends, your neighbors, or even yourself, Jesus invites us to come to him and deal with our sin. He bore the punishment of our sin in his death. In his resurrection, he displays the promise of the life he is bringing us to eternally.

 

 

Acknowledgements and Sources.

Review and Reflect on Mark 7:14-23

Last week, we looked at the first part of this story, found in Mark 7:1-13, where Jesus teaches that true religion isn’t only about what you do, but why you do it.

Read the remainder of the story in Mark 7:14-23.

In verse 14, we see Jesus take this private debate out into the crowd and the scribes are no longer mentioned. Jesus is through debating them. Jesus explains the reasoning behind his teaching on the cleanliness laws. He begins to discuss the principle of being unclean or defiled which underlies the purity laws of Leviticus 11 and 17 and the scribal tradition. Jesus moves the focus from the “how” to include the “why” because the scribes were only concerned with the outward “how” not the inward “why”. He takes this far beyond the issue of ritual hand washing. His main point is that defilement comes from the inside not from the outside. Sin isn’t only an external problem, it resides deep within us. This is why true religion isn’t only concerned with the “what” but also the “why”; not just the action but the motivation.

In verse 17 after this, Jesus retreats privately with his disciples. He calls this teaching a “Parable”. This is different from other parables, yet it is still a story with a cloaked meaning. In typical fashion, in verse 18 the disciples don’t understand what in the world Jesus is talking about. Then in verses 18-19, he explains to them in the simplest terms possible, you can almost feel the sarcasm as he explains the digestive system. “When you eat, it goes into your stomach, not your heart”. Verse 19 goes on to say “it is expelled”, which is the polite way of translating what it literally means, “It goes down into the latrine”. This is how we can be confident that Jesus is frustrated and getting annoyed with his disciples, his words are bordering on being crass.

Then there is a parenthetical application of Jesus’ words. “In saying this, he declared all foods clean.” This is important, because soon after Jesus rises from the dead, the Gospel spreads to lots of non-Jewish people who like to eat pork chops and lobster. This allowed these people to become followers of Jesus without being bound to the books of the Law or the subsequent customs that had been set up in an effort to protect Judaism. It is also a significant comparison with Moses. Moses said certain things about dietary laws in the Book of Leviticus. Here in verse 19, Jesus is now saying new things about the diet of the people of God which supplants Moses’ words. How can he do this? Because he is fulfilling these laws. The Laws don’t make a person clean, Jesus does.

The Law couldn’t remove a person’s moral defilement and it couldn’t cleanse our sinful hearts. Only Jesus can do this. There is something similar to the chicken/egg controversy going on here, but we cannot practice true religion unless our hearts have been changed. Also, if our hearts have been changed, there will be outward and external evidence of this.

Remember, Jesus is greater than Moses. He doesn’t just proclaim the Law; he gave the Law to Moses. He doesn’t just repeat the Law, he fulfills it. Jesus points out that the deficiencies of these laws and customs is that they do not deal with the person’s heart. “Heart” is a term used metaphorically to refer to one’s essential personality. Biblically speaking, it doesn’t refer only to emotions, but also to spiritual and intellectual process: the will. In our day, we speak of the heart in more soft and emotional terms, it is the place that we feel deeply. But biblically speaking it communicates much more than this. It is a person’s individuality, what makes them who they are. This is our primary aspect of personhood that is affected by a relationship with God. Jesus points out that our hearts are not affected by what we eat or drink. Food is of nutritional significance, but not spiritual. Gluttony and drunkenness are spiritual problems manifested in the vehicles of food and alcohol, but the objects themselves have no effect on our hearts. It is sin in our hearts that cause them to be abused. Many things may be “vehicles” for our sinfulness without actually causing our sinfulness.  Jesus expands this with a list of different sins which reside in our hearts in verses 21-22.

The way this list reads would lead you to think that “evil thoughts” is one of the sins, but the list is actually different examples of evil thoughts or you might even read it is as “evil plans” which reside in our hearts. The list is extensive, but not exhaustive. In other words, we all will certainly find one or more of these things in our hearts, yet, to our great encouragement, more sins than these probably can be found in our hearts. We see a list like this, and we say “Who, then, can approach God saying ‘I am clean!'”? Only those who have been made clean in Jesus, forgiven by his blood payment of our penalty.

Christianity is not an inner religion or an outer religion. It is both. There is no dualism; we are one person, body and soul. Those that practice Christianity only inwardly are prone to neglect dealing with the outward sins. Those that practice Christianity only outwardly are prone to be arrogant in their morality and judgmental, neglecting the sin which resides in the heart. We know both of these deficient practices of Christianity in a more proper term: hypocrisy. Christianity deals with the heart and the actions, neither to the exclusion of the other. Rather, the mature Christian will see how the two dance together. To truly cultivate a heart for God, our behavior must reflect the character of our King. And to truly live morally and properly, our hearts must be enamored by our King. When we read a list like this, we have to be careful not to allow our attention to drift to other people. The point of a list of attitudes and behaviors like this is to delineate specific areas where our hearts must be aligned to the way God intends for us to live. This list is not intended to be exhaustive, but to be a point of reflection and repentance for each of us personally.

Some might easily check off sins like theft or murder, but slander and pride are not so easily dismissed. There is an interrelationship among these as well. Coveting leads to theft. Sensuality leads to sexual immorality. So there is a progressive nature to our sin as well that must be curtailed before we reap what we sow. The inward sins lead to the outward sins. The Pharisees added customs to prevent from breaking the laws. But Jesus says, your preventative measure should have been dealing with the sin in your heart, not adding outward duties to your religion. In this passage, Jesus is dealing with people who are prone to practicing the outer aspects of religion yet neglecting the inner aspects, the matters of the heart. Jesus shows that whether we commit these sins or they remain in our hearts, they cause us to be unclean. In the Old Testament, being unclean meant you had to be separated. Separated from other people and from the tabernacle or Temple. The physical uncleanness was taken seriously because it pointed to the spiritual uncleanliness. The outward sinfulness points to the nature of our sinful hearts. Measures we would consider drastic were taken when a law was violated. Stoning was proscribed. People had to leave town because of their uncleanness. This was to teach that spiritual uncleanliness, which we also call sin, causes us separation. Separation from God and from other people. Sin is the opposite of holiness which is one of the essential characteristics of God. No sin resides in him, nor is there evil in his motivation or meditation. So when men and women, who have sin in our hearts approach God, because of his character, he must reject us as unclean and as those who have committed rebellion and treason. The only proper place for someone like this is death and hell.

A person who commits treason and rebellion against the King has no way of rescue. Such a person has earned his punishment…unless the King extends his grace. So in his infinite love and providence, God ordained a way to accept men and women, and yet exact the death penalty for their rebellious sin in order to protect his holiness. For God so loved the world, he gave his one and only Son, so that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.

Review and Reflect on Mark 7:1-13

Up to this point Jesus has appeared as a figure of powerful action rather than a teacher, and has been received with popularity. But at the beginning of chapter 7 controversy comes and it is met by even more controversial teaching. The religious leaders reenter the picture for the first time in a few chapters and they come back with a vengeance. Jesus doesn’t back down though, and his words only stoke the fire of their hatred. Jesus has just returned to town after some time away and the crowds of people immediately gather around him. Along with the crowds come the religious leaders who were known as Scribes and Pharisees. This next passage is about one of confrontations Jesus had with them.

Start by reading Mark 7:1-13.

Jesus’ teaching here puts him at odds with accepted religious norms. In the next passage, we will see him push the envelope even further. The Pharisees and the scribes from Jerusalem show up again to confront Jesus. Here again is the reminder that Jesus is making the wrong people angry and as his ministry and notoriety grows, so does the danger that he is going to have to face the consequences of his actions and words. The last time these scribes showed up they told Jesus he was demon-possessed, so we don’t really expect it to go much better this time. They take issue with Jesus over some of the customs of the day called Food laws or Dietary laws. Food laws were a major distinction between Jews and non-Jews. There were several things that separated the Jewish lifestyle from a pagan one and some of the major things were circumcision, Sabbath, and the food laws. Now, in the book of Leviticus there are many rules about how one might become ritually unclean and therefore not allowed in the Temple area, or potentially even in the camp or town. To these Laws, in Jesus’ day, the religious leaders had added other customs to make sure they wouldn’t even come close to breaking the laws. Hand washing was one of these customs that was not found in the Law. So, when the religious leaders see Jesus’ disciples eating without washing, they confront Jesus in verse 5, asking why he allows them to do this and why they do not follow tradition. His answer is a remarkable and gutsy one.

He quotes Isaiah 29:13 saying, “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; 7 in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men”. Then in verse 9, he applies Isaiah’s words to these Scribes and Pharisees saying they reject God’s commands to establish their own. With the Isaiah quotation he confronts their thinking in which they believe that by doing the right things God accepted them. In other words, Jesus is challenging the belief that God accepts us based on what we do or our ability to outwardly conduct ourselves in a way that earns God’s favor. Jesus is not advocating moral license or saying we can abandon all the rules of proper behavior. What he is getting at is that God doesn’t only look at what we do, but also our hearts.

Following Jesus isn’t only about what you do, but why you do it. Doing the right things for the wrong reasons is just as offensive in the sight of God as doing the wrong things. Some might then say, well then, shouldn’t we just enjoy doing the wrong things? That question stems from a misunderstanding or a denial of the destructive nature of our sinfulness. Passages like this one show us that God doesn’t allow people to skirt by on a technicality. You don’t technically obey God’s law, but not really. This is the attitude Jesus is confronting in these people.

If the only thing that separates the people of God from people who do not know God is technicalities, then something has been lost. Jesus is showing that there is something much more important than what is seen on the outside. There is something deeper than external behaviors that separate God’s people from the others. He has taught before, primarily in chapter 4 about what separates those in the Kingdom of God and those outside the Kingdom of God. Here he is back to this again, but this time in reaction to the religious leaders confronting him on the issue. They were saying in effect, we know we are God’s people because we are obeying the tradition which says we wash our hands. Jesus is saying, that’s not how you know you belong to God. He must have your heart as well.

In verses 10-13 he offers them an example of what he is talking about. Jesus says, you know that Moses says to honor your parents, but you have devised a way to manipulate God’s law for your own purposes through a custom called “Corban”. It means, “something offered or dedicated to God”. Though it’s not completely clear, it appears that it was possible for a son’s property to be declared “Corban” so that it technically became divine property and thus no longer accessible to the parents. But, somehow it still allowed the son to retain the benefits of the property while denying the benefits to his parents or relatives. This elevated the rule to keep vows over the rule to honor one’s parents. It has nothing to do with the purity customs they were debating, but illustrates how tradition was being misused to avoid honoring the Law. Jesus is showing that the purity laws were not to cause people to be excluded from God’s people, but to show them how to be included. The laws weren’t so anyone could gain leverage over another, yet these people are using them to manipulate people.

Jesus draws careful attention to their misuse when he says in verse 10 “Moses said…” and in verse 11 “but you say”. He is telling these leaders, they are claiming an authority over Moses. In doing this, Jesus says in verse 13 they are “making void” the Law. In other words, they rule the word of God unlawful. We see the evil in this; it’s obvious to us, even if it wasn’t obvious to them. But, If we aren’t careful we can be guilty of the same type of practice.

We like to elevate the spiritual things we are good at, and ignore the things we find difficult to practice. We can make all kinds of judgments about the way other people live, and all the while ignore the glaring deficiencies in our own lives. In our day, we use the same word Jesus did. It’s perhaps the most biblical part about our culture! We know a hypocrite when we see one. This is the only passage in Mark’s Gospel where Jesus uses this word. He uses it tons of times in Matthew, but since it is only used once in Mark, it needs to carry some serious weight. Jesus is going to great lengths to express his disgust with these people. Then, Jesus decides to take this little discussion to the crowd, and we will look at this in the next blog post.

 

Review and Reflect: Mark 3:7-19

Mark 3:7-19

In this passage, Jesus continues to teach, cast out demons, and heal. Great crowds of people have come to see what was happening and to benefit from what was happening. People were climbing over one another trying to get to Jesus. And after a while, it was time for Jesus to get away for a bit. Jesus leaves the crowds, and his followers go with him on a mountain. Among his followers, Jesus calls a handful of people close to him while he is on this mountain.

The fact that Jesus goes up on a mountain in verse 13 has tremendous symbolism. This is Exodus language. This is redemption and restoration language. It calls to mind how God met with Moses on the mountain in Exodus to instruct God’s people. This is the language of the prophets who speak of God’s rescue from Exile. It calls to mind the promises of God to return to mount Zion to rescue Israel. This isn’t a casual hiking excursion into the hills, Jesus is saying something by going “up on the mountain”.

Then, Jesus selects 12 men, not for merely functional reasons, but for theological reasons. There were 12 tribes in Israel. If Jesus didn’t want his 12 disciples to be identified with the 12 tribes, he would have chosen a different number. These 12 were all male. We know that there were many women who joined Jesus’ entourage, but possibly because of the social climate of the day women were not part of the closet disciples. More likely however, is that the 12 tribes were representative of 12 sons of Jacob (10 sons and 2 grandsons) so its natural to choose 12 men as representatives of “New Israel”. Jesus is showing that he is restoring Israel, but not in the ways the Pharisees and people like them thought.

Just like he has been teaching about a new Law, he is now beginning to teach about a new people of God. Israel had been waiting for God to rescue and restore them and Jesus is doing this, but not in the way people expected. He says the time is fulfilled and God’s Kingly authority has come, and he is showing how things are different. The Law is changing. The true people of God are different.

Verses 14 and 15 tell us what these 12 will do. First and foremost, they will be with him. This is the most important thing. More important that doing things for Jesus, is knowing Jesus, and this is seen from his first followers. We have to wait several chapters before Jesus sends out his 12 disciples. For the time being, they are simply to be with him. What a privilege! He gives these 12 authority to preach and cast out demons. They are going in his authority as an extension of his ministry. They will preach this good news of God’s Kingdom. But first, they will simply be with the Lord.

In doing this, Jesus begins to draw a distinction between the masses who are coming to him and the disciples who are following him. The masses of people may belong to national Israel, but unless they believe and repent, they are not the people of God. He is going to send his disciples to them so they hear the good news and have opportunity to believe and repent. The crowds are coming for the show and for the miracles. The crowds are coming to Jesus on their terms. But the disciples are different. They are following Jesus. They are with Jesus. Sure, they benefit and there is something great for them in doing this, but it’s different. They want to be part of the Kingdom, not just benefit from it. They want to know their king, not just see what he can do. They want to be loyal subjects to the King, not merely people who benefit from his authority. They have come to Jesus because he calls them by name. Coming from different backgrounds and circumstances, Jesus calls them to himself. And there is one he calls who will betray him. And again, we are given knowledge, that something terrible is going to happen.

The Bridegroom is going to be taken. The Pharisees are plotting his death. And a betrayer is among his closest followers. But he is the King. He is establishing God’s authority restoring Israel and giving a new law. Of course we know that his coming death is part of this great rescue plan as well. His Kingship will be established through resurrection. Restoration will be brought through not just a New Israel and a New Law, but through New Life. These are the benefits for those who are not only among the crowd, but who are the true disciples.This is the good news, this is the Gospel.

We are the new people of God. He gives us a new Law to love. And he promises new Life. The King gives his followers eternal life in the Kingdom. He can do this because he gave his life and took it up again by his superior authority. His followers, his disciples, can partake in this kingdom and in this resurrection because he invites us to do so.

Have you responded to this invitation in belief and repentance? Have you yielded your whole life to Jesus our Messiah and King? Is there any part of your heart or life that you are withholding? Believe in what he has done. Believe that it is good for everything in your life. And repent to align your will with his, your plan with his, your life with his.

Review and Reflect – Mark 2:23-28

Read Mark 2:23-28.

The Law allowed for people to eat grain from a field as they were walking by it or through it. Anyone who wanted could grab a few handfuls of grain to eat, but they weren’t permitted to harvest without permission. So what Jesus’s disciples are doing isn’t illegal, it was perfectly fine. The problem is that they are doing this on the Sabbath. Harvesting on the Sabbath wasn’t allowed, but the disciples aren’t harvesting, they are eating, which was permitted on the Sabbath. It’s quite possible they were cutting through the field to avoid walking too far and violating the Sabbath customs that way and while they were cutting through the field they ate. Jesus is presented as someone who faithfully upholds the Law, not as someone who forsakes it. In upholding it, he fulfills the Law, and he opposes the way in which the religious leaders like the Pharisees used and manipulated the Law for their own purposes. We’ve seen this in expressions of the church in our day as well. Some groups say if you don’t act like this or do these things or refrain from doing these other things, then you can’t possibly be someone who knows Jesus.

This is similar to what the Pharisees were doing. They thought if you didn’t follow their standards, then you were living the way in which God intended his people to live. Since they were plucking grain out of the field, the Pharisees take issue with Jesus believing him to have violated the Sabbath. The story has the feeling of the police officer who pulls you over for going 2 miles over the speed limit downhill. It creates such a frustration in you that you can’t believe these guys. I mean really, you think that because we were eating, we were violating God’s command to observe the Sabbath day?

In verse 24 the Pharisees don’t say why what they are doing is unlawful, they simply declare it. And Jesus doesn’t even bother to argue with them. He simply asks what they think of a story from 1 Samuel 21 were David eats bread that only priests were allowed to eat. David was fleeing Saul and came to the place where the tabernacle was set up. He needed provisions and there was no food available. So he made the priest give him bread for him and his men even though the bread was the sacrificial bread on the altar.

Jesus does two things here. First, he challenged the Pharisees from a place in the Bible where technically, one might say David violated the Law. But it was a matter of life and death for David and his men, so the Law was suspended. Also David was able to suspend custom because he was King. The second thing Jesus does here in verse 25 is compare himself with David. Jesus is able to suspend custom because he is King, just like David. Jesus was the one who gave the Law, and he had authority over the Sabbath because he had invented and instituted the Sabbath.

Then, in verse 27, Jesus confronts the Pharisees in the way they are observing the Sabbath. He says, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” In other words, God commanded rest on the Sabbath because Man needed it. The Sabbath was instituted to keep an orderly society and preserve health. Along with the Sabbath, there were rules about your servants and animals not working either. There were also Sabbath laws that applied to debt and to land. Crop rotation was a Sabbath Law from Leviticus. These Sabbath rules were given to help God’s people, not to restrict them. The Pharisees had lost this at some point in their zeal. Israel is known to have practiced the weekly Sabbath, but the rules related to debt forgiveness and an application of the Sabbath called the year of Jubilee from Leviticus 25 were never observed.

The Sabbath was a good thing. But, the Pharisees had become so concerned with making sure no one violated the Sabbath, they themselves had forgotten to observe its purpose. They were not resting. They were not worshipping. There is an important point we learn about the Sabbath from this passage: When the negative overwhelms the positive in the Sabbath, something important has been lost. 

Jesus understands this and sets the Pharisees straight. He says in verse 28 the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath. This is the first use of “Lord” by Mark. It refers to authority. Jesus’ authority is superior to the Pharisees, and even to the law of the Sabbath because he is Lord. Rather than debate with the Pharisees as to what activities you can and cannot do on the Sabbath, Jesus calls their attention to the purpose of the Sabbath and to his own authority over it.

This is important for us to understand when we read any of the commands of Scripture. Jesus gives us the commands of his word for our good. Not to restrict us or to withhold good things from us. We read, forgive one another, serve one another, be kind to one another because this is a way teaching us what the eternal kind of life looks like. The commands he gives in the Bible can be summed up in the great command: Love God and Love People. It’s not a matter of earning God’s favor by obeying, it’s a matter of Loving God in the manner in which he shows us in his commands. This is what it looks like to live out the Gospel.

Jesus instructs us about anger, lust, and greed to show us qualities that should not be present in the lives of those who follow him. Jesus gives commands to follow that do not have loopholes. You either follow them or you don’t, you can’t “technically” love God and people, either you do or you don’t.

The commands of scripture are like guard rails on a road (thanks to N.T. Wright for this illustration). They help to keep you going the right direction, but it’s better to use your steering wheel. They will keep you out of the ditch, but you’re gonna get banged up if you keep bouncing off of them. Jesus’ commands are for our good. They are boundaries to keep our hearts in check and devoted to him. The Pharisees didn’t understand this about the Sabbath. If we love God and people we will obey the commands of Scripture. Following the commands is legalism. Obeying the commands as a means to following Jesus is the way the Gospel works. It’s difficult to not confuse the two. We will spend our lives sorting it out. But the commands are for our good and to define the boundaries of a Gospel driven life. Focusing on the commands causes us to miss the point. We are to focus on Jesus. We don’t worship the commands, we worship Him. The commands are the guard rails, but we drive on the road called Loving God and loving people. The Pharisees and other groups lost this somewhere as their zeal drove them to define acceptable behaviors on the Sabbath.

The worst tragedy is that they were too concerned for other people’s morality and not concerned enough for the darkness of their own hearts, a darkness that caused them to miss their Messiah. We should guard our hearts in such a way that we don’t fall into similar tragedy.

Review and Reflect on Mark 1:40-45

Read Mark 1:40-45.

Leprosy is a horrible skin disease that had no cure in biblical times, and, in fact, a cure for it was only developed around the 1940’s and 50’s. It wasn’t until 1981 that the World Health Organization was actually able to recommend a series of drugs to cure the disease and it still takes 6 months to a year to be cured. For 1000’s of years and in some places still today, leprosy is a destructive disease, causing disfigurement. Lepers were often placed in colonies, or settlements together, and their disease was often viewed as punishment for their sin or the sin of an ancestor. A leprous person was thought to be cursed, unclean, and frankly, under the judgment of God. In many places people who are leprous are quarantined and not allowed to come into contact with other people. You can even read about this treatment of people with this type of disease in the book of Leviticus in the Bible. The reason this person was considered unclean is that leprosy is infectious, so isolating a person with leprosy kept it from spreading. A person coming in contact with leprosy may not exhibit symptoms for months or even years, but it was able to be spread.

This man who Jesus encounters on this particular day is living out in the country, by himself. Often people like him would sit beside busy roads and beg because they were unable to do any type of work to earn a living. Mark 1:28 says Jesus’ ”fame spread everywhere throughout all the surrounding region of Galilee,” and this is the reason why this leprous man who sat by the road begging recognizes Jesus. Even out in the country and even to a leper who had little to no human contact, Jesus’ reputation had come. He sees Jesus coming down the road and he approaches him on his knees begging. It doesn’t take much of an imagination to picture this sad sight of a disease infested lonely man begging for Jesus to heal him. The law required him to wear clothes that were torn and baggy and have his hair disheveled. But, instead of calling out “unclean, unclean” like the law requires, he comes to Jesus begging to be made clean. Verse 41 says that Jesus was moved with pity, or compassion. Then Jesus does the one thing you must never do when you see a leper, he touches him. To touch a leper was to make one unclean for 7 days and you had to go through a cleansing ritual with the priest. But something happens, instead of Jesus becoming unclean, this leprous man becomes clean. This is not a case of something unclean defiling what was clean. This is the case of something clean making something unclean clean. This didn’t happen. There’s no law for how to deal with this in Leviticus because it never happened. But when Jesus touches this man, he is made clean.

According to Leviticus, the priest doesn’t actually make a leprous person clean, he would only confirm that he had been cleansed so he could come back into the town and there wouldn’t be concern about anyone getting infected. But Jesus is greater than the priest, he can actually heal and cleanse. This is the first instance in Mark’s Gospel of Jesus interacting with a legal issue. There isn’t a law for this kind of thing because Jesus is supplanting the Law. The Law didn’t make people clean, it only verified that they were clean or unclean. They would be declared clean if they were clean. But Jesus cleanses this man of this illness that had made him unclean. Jesus didn’t just make this man ceremonially clean, he actually cleansed him.

After doing this, verses 43-44 say he sternly charged him and sent him away at once and told him to say nothing to anyone. Jesus tells this man to be quiet. The wording here is displaying an attitude in Jesus that is very serious to the point of anger. The words “Sternly Charged” have the connotation of yelling or scolding. It even can be used to describe “animal fury”. Jesus isn’t just giving this guy some advice. It’s like he heals this guy and then grabs him by his shirt and says, “now, let me tell you something, don’t tell anyone about this, and go see the priest and offer your sacrifices”. You see, if people realized that there was a man out there who could actually make people clean, this would do away with the whole sacrificial system. This would put a lot of priests out of a job. Again the priest could only verify that you were clean and then administrate the appropriate sacrifices. This didn’t help someone who had leprosy or other diseases for which there were no cure because they had to be healed before they could be clean. But this man doesn’t see Jesus as someone who just declared him unclean because of his disease that he couldn’t control like the priest. This man sees Jesus as someone who can remove his shame, who can heal him, and can set him right before God and before humanity. He sees Jesus as much greater than a priest, so Jesus tells him to shut up about it and to observe what the Law required anyway.

He references Moses in verse 44. Moses commanded an elaborate cleansing process involving sacrifices and shaving one’s head and it took 8 days to perform. You can read about it in Leviticus 14 if you are feel particularly inquisitive today. An interesting thing about the Levitical requirements though. It required sacrificing two male lambs and one ewe lamb. But if a person was poor, he could sacrifice two doves or two pigeons instead. There was even mercy in what we often perceive was a harsh system. The system wasn’t harsh, it just couldn’t cleanse someone from leprosy. This guy wasn’t to shirk the Law, but to follow it and in the process of doing it, not say how it came about that he was healed from this incurable disease. But unlike the demons that Jesus commands, verse 45 says he talked freely and “spread the news” or spread the word about his healing.

God sends his Son to us to accomplish something that we could not do ourselves, nor could the Law accomplish it. We stand before God as people who have messed up. We’ve offended other people at one point or another, and certainly we have offended God. But what can we do about it? What can be done about our sin? We have no way to get rid of it, to make ourselves clean, or to atone for it. But Jesus comes; he stretches out his hands to us, and touches us. When he does this, our sin is taken away.

God doesn’t step into history to confirm our sinfulness, we can figure that out on our own, we have guilt and conscience that make us keenly away of our inadequacy and our sin. God steps into history and humanity in Jesus the Messiah so that he can touch a sinful and unclean people and make us pure as snow. When he does this, we no longer have to live outside of the camp, out in the country all alone, but we are welcomed into his presence. Because of Jesus, he eradicates our sin and the death that awaited us and gives us eternal and abundant life forever with him. This eternal-kind-of-life begins the moment you cry out to Jesus, heal me, forgive me, like this leper does. He is willing, don’t hold back any part of your life, but ask him to come and cleanse you, to come and make you whole.