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 8:14-21

Read Mark 8:14-21.

Jesus is pondering his interaction with the Pharisees and he uses it as a teachable moment for his disciples. In verse 15 he says to “beware of the leaven”. Some translations will say “beware of the yeast”. There is very little indication as to what Jesus is referring to other than a general warning about how the Pharisees and those loyal to the puppet King Herod are responding to Jesus’ Gospel. This is part of that ominous theme that something bad is going to happen if Jesus and his disciples keep doing what they are doing. But, the disciples are worried about their next meal because Peter thought John had the bread, and John thought Peter had it, and now they have nothing to eat. So Jesus starts talking about yeast and who knows what else, and the disciples think he is worried about what’s for lunch too. Jesus loses it.

In verse 17 he goes off: Why are you worried about lunch? Are you ignorant? Are your hearts hard? You have eyes but can’t see and ears but can’t hear? Don’t you remember!?! With the 5000 there were 12 baskets left over and with the 4000 there were 7 baskets left. And then he asks this question of them that just cuts to the heart. “Do you not yet understand?” They had seen him do so many things, yet they still weren’t sure what was going on. This is a question that surely challenged the first disciples and should challenge us today as well. If we look at the course of our lives, undoubtedly we can see the hand of God bringing us even to this point in our lives today. God’s sovereignty may not cancel our responsibility in our choices, but if we look at the choices we have made, good or bad, we can see God’s hand orchestrating our lives toward a purpose. We may not yet know that purpose, the reasons, or the destination, but one thing we cannot question: God loves and cares for us. In spite of our lack of understanding, our doubting and our continual turning away to lesser things, God is compassionate and has remained faithful to us.  He continues to lead us, to teach us, to call for us to follow him. And in spite of their incomprehension and their hard-heartedness, Jesus doesn’t abandon his disciples. He doesn’t deny them the opportunity to see a sign like he did the Pharisees. So he will once again demonstrates that the Time has been fulfilled and God’s Kingdom has come.

He doesn’t abandon us either, but continues to call us and lead us to himself. Through prosperity, through happiness, through loss, and through suffering the God who loves us continues to call us to himself in Jesus Christ.

2 Timothy 2:11-13 says,

11 The saying is trustworthy, for: If we have died with him, we will also  live with him; 12 if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us; 13 if we are faithless,  he remains faithful— for he cannot deny himself.

Review and Reflect on Mark 8:11-13

Begin by reading Mark 8:11-13.

Jesus is met by this group of religious leaders when he arrives at his destination. They want him to perform a sign for them. Moses did this with his staff and Elijah did this by calling down fire onto an altar. But Jesus will have none of it. He is not going to perform for these people who are simply looking for another way to reject and accuse him. Verse 11 says their motivation was to test him, it was a request made of Jesus out of their rejection, not out of faith. Their motivation is simply to discredit Jesus. If there are genuine obstacles keeping a person from believing in Jesus, he will remove them. This is not the case in this story. They were not seeking understanding, they were testing him. It is this attitude he refers to when he speaks of “This Generation”. If they cannot accept what they have already seen and heard, there is no point in any further demonstration of his authority. There is a difference between this Generation and the disciples though. The disciples are on the inside of the Kingdom of God and those of this Generation that Jesus refers to are on the outside. These people, like the Pharisees, see Jesus doing miracles and they hear him teaching, but they refuse to believe they are the work of God. The disciples believe what they see and hear, they just don’t comprehend it. It doesn’t fit into their way of looking at reality or their understanding of religious things. Jesus rejects that Generation which opposes him, but he remains patient with his disciples. They fail to rise to the occasion when they question how he will feed the 4000, but he doesn’t leave them. In verse 13 he leaves the Pharisees. They have responded with accusation not belief and with rejection rather than repentance. He gets into his boat and sails off.

Don’t allow what you face in this life to cause you to reject God. Often people have bad things happen to them so they blame God and push him away. They use their trials and suffering as a “test” for God’s goodness, concluding that since something terrible has happened, God must also be terrible. There are no easy answers to suffering and trial. But, if we reject God because of them, we are still left with no answers and we remain in our suffering. Jesus came and suffered in ways similar to how we suffer. He did this willingly to demonstrate his great compassion and love for us, and his desire to have us with him. He calls us to love him through our suffering. He gives us hope in the resurrection which is never more important thaninsuffering. Don’t fall into the trap of the Pharisees. We are invited to come in faith and when we do so, he never rejects us, he never leaves us.

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 3:1-6

Read Mark 3:1-6

The religious leaders like the Scribes and Pharisees were not interested in listening to Jesus, or even considering whether or not he may be a great teacher or possibly even more. They come to Jesus for one purpose, to oppose him. Their beliefs and lifestyle made no room for Jesus, so rather than deciding if they should change, they oppose him. Verse 2 says they watched…so they might accuse him. Their customs said that healing was work and except in cases of imminent death or childbirth, medical work needed to wait until the next day. But Jesus takes issue with this. The purpose of the Sabbath is rest and restoration, and denying this man this healing would be truly violating the Sabbath, even though it was considered keeping the Sabbath according to their customs of interpreting this law. He asks in verse 4, if it is lawful to do good or harm, to save life, or kill? They don’t answer him because he didn’t leave them a way out of the dilemma. Verse 5 tells us that Jesus responds to their silence with anger. Who wouldn’t be angry? These smug men sit there and do nothing while this other man suffers with a debilitating disfigurement. So, Jesus shows them how to truly observe the Sabbath and he heals this man’s arm. The point of Jesus doing the things he did on the Sabbath was to show how the Sabbath is kept. It isn’t for earning favor with God. It’s not kept to obtain righteousness. It’s kept to restore, to rest, to worship. The Pharisees didn’t get this. They thought that in keeping the Sabbath, they were God’s accepted and true people. They thought that God would bless them and give them favor for keeping the Sabbath. They didn’t understand that keeping the Sabbath was a blessing from God.

To show that the Pharisees haven’t property applied the Law or understood the purpose of the Sabbath, Jesus shows with his questioning that they would rather do harm than good. And then, to show this to an even greater degree, while Jesus heals on the Sabbath, look what the Pharisees do in verse 6: the Pharisees and Herodians plotted together. These are both political groups who struggled for influence over the populations. The Pharisees were the religious group that fought to preserve Jewish distinctiveness in an increasingly pagan culture. The Herodians were Jews who were loyal to Rome and supported Herod, the Roman puppet king over Israel. One group is intensely religious and the other intensely irreligious. Jesus provoked the religious and the irreligious. This movement Jesus has begun is now viewed as something that is subversive and threatening. There is great irony here because they would not permit Jesus to heal someone on the Sabbath, but they considered it fine to begin to organize Jesus’s death on the Sabbath. Jesus brings Healing on the Sabbath and it violates their customs, but they can plot to bring death and it’s acceptable. This echo’s back to verse 20 when Jesus spoke of the removal of the Bridegroom. He is going to be killed.

The way he teaches the Law and the message he proclaims of God’s Kingdom coming near are too controversial and subversive for these two groups. Typically they would never agree on anything, but their hatred for Jesus and desire to kill him unites them. They had determined to reject Jesus, not to follow him, and their rejection was leading them to murder. They failed to see that this was hardly the way the Law of the Sabbath was supposed to be followed. The Bible instructs us about the Sabbath in these passages because there was massive misunderstanding among the people and the Pharisees. Jesus teaches that the Sabbath should be observed as a blessing from God. God himself rested by looking at his work of creation and being satisfied and calling it good. He invites us to rest. The type of rest Jesus invites us to isn’t merely to make sure we take a day off work, although rest from work is something that should happen. Jesus invites us to rest in his work. Observing the rules and commands isn’t the way we obtain God’s favor, or blessing, or eternal salvation. We obtain God’s blessing and salvation by believing in Jesus and trusting in his faithfulness to God. The commands we are given are a blessing. They lead us into the best way to live our lives. They teach us about what life will be like in the resurrection.

Hebrews 4:9-10 says, “So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.”

God gave his Son for us, and it is in Jesus that we have God’s favor. Hebrews teaches us that this is the true Sabbath. God gives rest to weary sinners like me and you because he gives us his Son. Belief in this and repenting in life will unfold into a life of Gospel centered rest for us. How do you need to believe and repent today? Where have you been obeying God technically, but not actually? Are you loving God and people, or merely observing commands?

Review and Reflect – Mark 2:17

Jesus comes saying, Pharisees and sinners alike need to repent. The religious need to stop trusting in their religion to make them right. The irreligious need to stop avoiding God and pushing him away. Jesus says to them, follow me. If I am to find myself in this story, I am either a Pharisee or a sinner. Sometimes I am both on the same day. Sometimes I trust in what I’ve done or intend on doing to obtain God’s blessing and favor. Sometimes I trust in my moral standards that I’ve put in place for myself. Other times, I’m a miserable failure who can’t seem to conquer any obstacle I face. There are times I push God away or avoid him because I know it would require me to be humble or selfless. But Jesus says, there is a better way. He says, “follow me.” The religious won’t earn their way to God and the irreligious won’t gain or accomplish anything in this life that will deeply satisfy them. Jesus calls us to himself. This is good news, this is Gospel. He doesn’t lay standards down for us to follow, he lays himself down for us to follow. Am I a Pharisee or a sinner? Whichever I am, I need to follow Jesus. As a Pharisee, we are trying to hide our flaws, our brokenness, and our sins. Jesus will uncover this and even with all of our deceitfulness and scars he loves us and offers us himself. We religious people are “those types of people” that we look down our noses at when Jesus goes to their house. We may be worse, because we don’t admit it that we are sick. Then others of us as sinners flaunt our sinfulness and embrace what comes naturally even though it is destructive to us. Jesus says “follow me” out of your sin and he offers us his love and himself. He is the physician for the terminally ill. He is savior for eternally lost. He calls us to recognize how creative we are at justifying ourselves and avoiding God. He calls us to repent of this and follow him. In verse 17, Jesus says he is calling the sinners. He isn’t calling them to a standard of living. He isn’t calling them to a religion. He isn’t even calling them to morality or righteousness. He is calling them to himself. He is calling us, in all of our pride and in all of our failures, to embrace him, to follow him, to trust in him.

Review and Reflect – Mark 2:13-17

Read Mark 2:13-17.

When the 12 apostles are selected, Levi is not among them. I think this is an important thing to emphasize to show that there were people following Jesus that were not apostles.The story of Levi is significant, not because he becomes an apostle, but because he is a tax-collector. In Chapter 1, we read that the appropriate response to Jesus is to believe and repent. When one hears the message of Jesus that the time is fulfilled and God’s Kingship has come near, the only appropriate response is repentance and belief. This means, that when one hears Jesus’ message, the only appropriate response is leaving your way of living and doing things and turning to his way of living. Here he calls this man to follow him and Levi responds in the way that Jesus says is appropriate, by repenting and believing. We know he responded this way because it says, “he rose and followed him.” He stopped doing his things his way and followed Jesus.

The Bible says nothing about whether this means he left his profession. I think the text assumes he quit his job to follow Jesus, but it doesn’t spell it out because that’s not what is important. The fact that he began to follow Jesus had nothing to do with his job. A tax collector like Levi would have earned a comfortable income. It’s likely that his job was similar to what we might understand as a customs agent. If you were travelling through the area carrying goods, you had to stop and pay a tax on the goods. Levi was one of the guys you would have to pay in order to pass through with your goods. The problem with this system is that the collector determined the amount of the tax, so you’d better not catch him on a bad day! Also, these tax collectors worked for the Roman government. So they took money from their own people, the Jews, and gave it to the pagan oppressors. A lot of people didn’t like tax collectors and you couldn’t really blame them because some of them made a very comfortable living by demanding fees from their own countrymen. Yet, Jesus calls Levi, who is a tax collector, to follow him. After this, apparently Levi invites everyone over for lunch. This is what it means to follow Jesus. Levi invites him into his life, into his home. And not only Jesus, but all kinds of other people. He opens his home to his co-workers who are tax collectors and to lots of “sinners”. Verse 15 tells us that at this lunch there were other tax collectors and sinners. This must have been some lunch party!-Then just to clarify, verse 15 says, “for there were many who followed him.” Jesus is popular with the crowd of people who don’t follow the law according to the Pharisee’s standard. Jesus seems to have lots of followers that aren’t exactly religious people. Some of his followers aren’t very devoted to obeying the law. By being a tax collector, Levi and his co-workers would have interacted with people who were unclean so they would have been unclean. This doesn’t seem to bother Jesus because he goes home and eats with them. These sinners v 15 references may not have necessary been morally reprehensible people, but people who simply did not follow the law to the standard of the Pharisees, but it doesn’t rule out immoral people. Going to someone’s home and eating a meal with them, was an identification with them, not just a meal. Jesus is joining himself to them as much as they are joining themselves to Jesus. This type of thing was unheard of in Jesus’ day and even in our day people don’t quite know what to think of it. Religious teachers didn’t spend time with those types of people. In verse 16 we see the Pharisees reaction to Jesus. They didn’t go to the meal itself, but were likely in the crowd listening to Jesus teach. The Pharisees wouldn’t dare be seen in the house of an unclean tax-collector; that would get them too close to violating a purity law or something. They see Jesus head back to Levi’s house with these lawless people and they take issues with him. Now, it is unclear whether Jesus hears this questioning directly, or through his disciples. So his response is either to the Pharisees or his disciples, I tend to think they disciples relayed the questioning to Jesus and so he tells the disciples his response. Some of Jesus’ disciples didn’t go to the meal either so the Pharisees ask them, “What is he doing, eating with such people?” His disciples didn’t join the lunch because they didn’t want the Pharisees to give them any problems. Jesus doesn’t seem to be concerned with this. In verse 17 Jesus says, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Jesus is referring to the tax collectors and sinners that he is spending time with, calling them sick and sinners. These people weren’t necessarily outcasts and may have been quite successful. Sometimes we perceive Jesus as helping the sick and downcast like the leprous man. This is certainly an accurate picture of Jesus, but he comes not only to the social outcast, but also to the socially sophisticated and prosperous. The prosperous often reject Jesus’ message, but in this story, Levi embraces it. His reference to the sick and sinners is not an indictment on their manner of living, but their spiritual condition. In other words, these people aren’t sick because they hate God, they are sick because they find God as inaccessible, distant, and unrelated to daily life. People are spiritually sick when they have given up on the things of God and decided to pursue their own things apart from God. Such people usually wouldn’t deny the status of sinner conferred upon them. They are just done with religious things.This is the state of many people who I know, and I would guess, many people you know. Some people avoid religion because they are simply tired. Life wears them down. It becomes too much to put on a smile and pretend like nothing is wrong. Other people are tired of the packaging of religion. They feel like God is lost amid all the politics and organizational issues of the church. It’s difficult to pretend like you feel well when you are sick. Jesus knows this, and he goes to these people. For Levi to follow God the way the Pharisees said he had to would have been impossible for him. There were too many rules. He couldn’t figure out all of that and he would have just kept failing over and over. Religion was packaged in a way that made it easier to avoid than follow for Levi. Jesus sees this and he tells his disciples, I’m here for the sick and the sinners. I’m here for the people who are tired of trying to do the right thing and they can never seem to do it. Jesus says, I’m here for the people who are taking two steps forward and then three steps back. Levi’s response is crucial. He stopped trying to do things his way and he followed Jesus. He believed that in Jesus, God was accessible. He believed that God’s kingship had come close enough or even a tax-collecting sinner like him to experience. Levi repents and believes.

The Pharisees set up hundreds of customs to instruct every aspect of life. In doing this they thought they were righteous, but Jesus says, I didn’t come for them. They may have moral sophistication, they may do and say all the right things, but they don’t get it. Tax collectors and sinners like Levi were just trying to do what they could to make it through life and hope for the best. In my experience, this seems to be where most people are in our day. They aren’t horrible people, many are just tired of trying to figure it out, or wounded by people like the Pharisees. But Jesus comes saying, I am the better way. Follow me. For many people, the church has set up a barrier that must be overcome before they can even come to terms with who Jesus is. If we are going to reach people who do not know God, we have to be conscious of this. The church requires meetings and classes and events for “good Christians”. If you aren’t at church every time the doors are open, then you’re a big sinner. Because people can’t figure out how this will work in their lives, the just decide to avoid it. In avoiding the issues of the church, inadvertently, they avoid God and they live life their way. The only way to overcome this is for each of us to love these people individually and personally. This is difficult because it requires personal investment and it takes time, in fact often it takes a lifetime. This is the way that people will overcome so many of the perceived barriers the church has presented in our culture. This is the way that people will have the opportunity to hear Jesus call them to turn from their way of doing things and follow him.