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Weekly Word

Tuesday
Apr162019

Jesus Offers Himself as King

Mark 11:1-11.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on April 14, 2019.

Today we are celebrating Palm Sunday and so I will skip ahead in the Gospel of Mark to the passage that deals with the Sunday before the crucifixion of Jesus.  On this day, Jesus came into Jerusalem riding on a donkey’s colt.  What is he doing?  Jesus is offering himself to them as the Son of David for whom they had waited, and of whom the prophet Zechariah had prophesied in chapter 9:9.  It is not just because he is on a donkey’s colt, but also because of the powerful things Jesus had done before this.  Their constant question to him of whether or not he was the Messiah seems to receive a clear answer in his action here.  Yes, Jesus is offering himself to them as their king and it appears as if they are receiving him.

As we walk through this story today, I want us to take two images from this.  Here we have the lowly Jesus riding on a donkey’s colt.  On the other hand, Scripture gives the picture in the book of Revelation of the Mother of Prostitutes riding on a seven-headed beast.  Who will you choose to be king?  Jesus did not come to build a beastly system in order to crush the world under his authority.  Rather, he came as a humble man, a little lamb, offering citizenship in a coming kingdom to whosoever will.  He came to offer adoption into the family of God to whosoever will.  He came to offer his hand in marriage to whosoever will.  So, what will you choose?  Will you choose citizenship in a beastly kingdom ruled by harlots, adoption into a family of wickedness, marriage to the man of sin who will one day rule the world?  As for me and my house, we will choose the Lord Jesus!

The king asks us to help

This is an important picture of the character of God.  Though He has all power and doesn’t need us, He does want us to have a part in what He is doing.  Thus, Jesus gives his disciples some instructions to go get a certain donkey at a certain place.  Now, before we get into these specific instructions from the master, it would be good to recognize another aspect of his instructions or commands.

We have general instructions from Jesus that are to all who want to follow Him at all times.  We find them in the Word of God in commands like, “Love your enemies and do good to those that hate you.”  Matthew 5:44. It is interesting that in our modern society we are beginning to redefine love and hate to the point that something that is actually loving is declared as hatred.  For example, if these things about Jesus are true then no other religion on earth, or lack thereof, can save someone.  If I truly cared about a person, I would lovingly tell that they are following a false religion that cannot save them.  No, I wouldn’t ridicule them and abuse them in anyway, but I just might end up hurting their feelings by telling them the truth regardless of the fact that it was not my intent.  Yet, such is increasingly labeled as “hate-speech.”  Regardless of all that, if you are a believer in Jesus then you have received general instructions from Christ with which you are expected to wrestle with your context in order to obey.  We constantly ask ourselves and the Lord what it means in this specific situation.  Instead of listing all possible situations and legislating what the loving thing to do is, Christ expects us to grapple with these issues ourselves and with the help of the Holy Spirit.  This often leads to times of prayer and seeking God for specific direction.

Yet, there are times when we receive specific instructions from the Lord by the Holy Spirit.  Christ is not physically on the earth to give a specific word.  The disciples that day did not ask themselves, “Is this really the will of the master?”  They knew for sure because Jesus was right in front of them.  However, we take the general command into our prayer life and seek the specific instruction of the Lord for each context.  Sometimes he speaks to us by his Spirit and sometimes he lets us struggle to work it out.  Always, he is watching over us and helping us.

Now, our flesh can interfere in this process of receiving specific instruction from the Lord.  It can try to talk us out of doing what God is asking because it doesn’t make sense to us, or will make us look silly.  On the other hand, it can also dream up things in order to stroke the ego.  We must humbly and prayerfully consider what we believe God is telling us.  We should have godly Christians around us that we are comfortable sharing the things with which we are wrestling.  In the end, we should step out in faith and trust the directions of the Lord.  We are choosing in those moments to help him in the endeavor that he is doing.

So, Jesus was planning to enter Jerusalem in a spectacular way and he gave his disciples specific instructions.  However, those instructions did not explain everything.  Have you ever noticed this about God?  He tells us enough so that we can do what He wants, but He doesn’t tell us everything.  This is a hard thing for our flesh to take.  What if they think we are stealing the colt?  What if they call for the police and take us to jail?

The answer is that Jesus always has others who belong to him that we do not know.  This is worth remembering in life.  Though Jesus had 12 disciples, everything was not on their shoulders.  Jesus had other disciples that were wrestling with following his instructions too.  They didn’t travel around with him like the 12, but they were real disciples nonetheless.  We need to trust the small part that God has given us to do and know that it will be magnified by all the many small tasks of the other disciples around us.  Some will be people that we know, but most will be people we don’t.  The key point is that the Spirit of God is able to orchestrate these things as we simply learn to trust him.  May God help us to learn always to be ready to do the work that will show the world the truth of who God is.

So, the disciples go and find the colt that Jesus told them about and, sure enough, someone asks them what they think they are doing.  When they give the response that Jesus told them to give, the guys let them go.  Imagine that!  No problems.  Now why did Jesus want a donkey anyways?

The king doesn’t always do what we expect him to do

Jesus is often an enigma to us because we are so used to analyzing things with our fleshly minds and don’t fully comprehend the ways of God.  So, following him can often throw us some curve balls.  If you want to follow Jesus then you are going to be tested.  In fact, walking with Jesus tests everyone, even those that look like this Christianity is easy stuff.  The curve balls of life will test our ability to keep listening to Jesus.  On this day, Israel was being tested as a whole, but each individual person was being tested as well.  The crowds seem to be ready to accept Jesus as king.  Clearly the disciples have already accepted Jesus and are on board.  It is interesting that Mark doesn’t mention the Chief Priests, Scribes, and the Pharisees, as in the other gospels.  Most of them have made up their minds to reject Jesus and in fact have been plotting a way to execute him.

It might be helpful to analyze our response to Jesus with a logic grid.  On one axis we will mark their initial response to Jesus as Yes or No.  On the other axis we will mark their faith in Jesus at the end of their life as a Yes or No. 

Thus, we end up with 4 possible outcomes, YY, YN, NY, NN.  Those who quickly said yes to Jesus and stayed with him to the end would be those first disciples like James, John, Peter and Andrew, etc.  Judas would represent the one who said yes up front, but fell away from Jesus in the end.  The apostle Paul would represent the one who rejected Jesus at first, but then later had a change of heart and stuck with Jesus to the end.  Lastly, we have those who went to their grave, never having put their faith in Jesus at all.  What is the real difference between a YY person and a NY?  How about a YN and a NN?  We should quickly realize that it doesn’t really matter how quickly I responded to Jesus.  What really matters is where I am in the end.  In fact, there is a world of trials that happen between our initial acquaintance with Jesus and the end of our life.  Every day tests whether or not we will stay with Jesus.  The apostle Peter himself publicly denied the Lord for a time, but he was granted repentance and was restored.  Forget about what your score is along the way, and choose to follow Jesus today.

Faith is not about how perfect we look, but where we end up.  Today, if you hear his voice, don’t harden your heart, but rather say, “Speak, Lord.  Your servant is listening.”  Keep your eye upon the heavenly prize.  Keep your allegiance with Christ and trust that he will pull you through in the end, regardless of how many times you fail.  Go to war against those things within you that seek to pull you away from Jesus, and to give up in the end.

The crowds began to shout as they see what Jesus is doing.  They are ready for Jesus to raise up the fallen kingdom of David, which the prophets had promised.  They wanted the Kingdom of David, but it was too late for that.  When he gets to Jerusalem and goes to the temple it says this.  “So, when he had looked around at all things, as the hour was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.”  Jesus knew that he was going to get their late.  Why not wait until the next morning?  It is as if the “too late” here is a metaphor for the desires of the people.  He had done it on purpose.  Why?  He knew that he would ultimately be rejected by the people because he wasn’t going to do what they expected.  He really hadn’t come to late, but their hearts had given up on God and would not believe unless he jumped through all the hoops that they wanted him to jump through.  Sin was choking their hearts and blinding their eyes.  This is the same heart that is throughout the whole world today.  If there is room for God at all, we will allow him to come in and sweep our sin under the rug and bless us as if we had been righteous all along.  However, for an increasing number of people, there is no room for God in our world.  The attitude is this.  Just leave us alone and we will find Utopia ourselves.  To this attitude, believers who remain faithful to Christ represent a problem.  You may be following Christ today, but will you follow him to the end?  When people are losing their minds and thinking that sacrificing you will save humanity or mother earth, will you stick with him then?  I pray that, regardless of how many times you fall and scrape your knees spiritually, you will cling to Jesus and trust Him to pull you through.

Will you trust this king?  No, he doesn’t always make sense to us, but of all beings who have walked this planet, He is the only one who even comes close to looking like God.  Accept Him today and join the Kingdom of God.

Jesus as King audio

Tuesday
Apr092019

Jesus: The Lord of the Sabbath

Mark 2:23-28.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on April 7, 2019.

Historically, many Christians have developed an odd theology concerning what the Bible calls the Sabbath day.  The word Sabbath is a Hebrew word that means rest.  Under the Law of Moses, Israel was commanded not to work on the last day of the week, which for them was sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday.

Living in Israel, the first Christians found themselves continuing the Sabbath observance, mostly because it was their culture, yet also celebrating the first day of the week on which Jesus was resurrected.  They called it the Lord’s Day.  By A.D. 70, most Christians had been scattered out of Israel and many Gentiles in other countries had been converted.  They understood from the beginning that they were not under the Law and the necessity to cease work on the Sabbath.  Yet, in some ways Sunday came to replace the Sabbath of the Old Testament, even to the point of being called the Sabbath by many. 

This creates a theologically murky disconnect between what the New Testament is saying and what became the practice of many in the Church.  If we say Sunday has replaced Saturday as the New Sabbath, and true believers will not work on that day, then we are testifying that we are under a law that is similar to that of Israel.  Of course, it is impossible to find a verse in the New Testament that puts believers under such a charge.  In fact, we find quite the opposite.  We find verses which state that the day on which we worship and hold holy is not what is important.

In our passage today, we will see another complaint that the Pharisees had with the disciples of Jesus and how the answer that Jesus gives, teaches us the true meaning the Sabbath was intended to have under both covenants.

Another complaint against the disciples

Our passage opens by telling us that it is the Sabbath, which was a day that Israel would not be working.  Instead, they would go to the Synagogue and then stay at home while focusing upon the worship of God.  It seems most likely that Jesus and his disciples are on their way to the Synagogue, which explains why the Pharisees are there to see what the disciples are doing.

Before we get into the complaint of the Pharisees, we should recognize a pattern that can be seen in Mark 2 and many other places throughout Scripture.  We see the Pharisees complaining to the disciples about Jesus on one hand, and then we see them complaining to Jesus about his disciples on the other.  This is a ploy that the devil loves to employ.  It is really about trying to drive a wedge between Christ and his disciples.  It is safe to say that the weak link in this relationship is us.  This happens all the time in our society today.  May God help us to remain faithful to Christ in the midst of such manipulative questions, which surface in our culture and therefore in our own minds.  We can be assured that Christ will remain faithful to us and not refuse to stand with us, if we will not refuse to stand with him.

The Pharisees see the disciples breaking heads of grain off and eating them as they walk through a field.  They ask Jesus why his disciples are breaking the Sabbath law.  So, are the disciples actually breaking the Sabbath laws?  According to Scripture, we know that they were not stealing.  In their culture it was not considered stealing if a person walking through a field only used their hand to take some food.  It was a command from God that they take care of the poor in this way.  They would have needed to be reaping the field with scythes and packing off bundles for it to be theft.  The issue involves the meaning of the word “work.”  Israel was commanded not to work on the Sabbath.  Over the years, the rabbis had built up a whole tradition around this issue.  What constitutes work had developed a long, intricate, and even head-scratching list of rules.

Jesus knew that his disciples were not working and therefore breaking the Sabbath.  They were only guilty of breaking the rules that the rabbis had built up over the years.  By the way, this does not represent a great meal.  They clearly hadn’t had breakfast and were merely staving off hunger.  They went from feasting in the house of Levi to eating a pittance of small grains in a field.  Sometimes following Jesus doesn’t put a lot of food on the table, but always he will take care of you.

Jesus gives them an answer

Jesus defends his disciples and yet he does it in a way that teaches everyone involved the truth as to why the Pharisees are in error.  He is going to use an example from Scripture that conflicts with their view, and then give the logic behind the Sabbath.

Jesus reminds them of a passage in 1 Samuel 21.  David is one of King Saul’s generals at the time and realizes that Saul is wanting to kill him.  David and some of his men flee town and hide for three days until the dust settles.  He then goes to the tabernacle, which was in the town of Nob at the time.  It had been set up at Shiloh for over 300 years, but the Philistines had recently captured the Ark of the Covenant and destroyed the town where the tabernacle had been.  It is believed that the news of the defeat of Israel’s army had arrived soon enough for the priests to dismantle the tabernacle and remove it before the troops arrived at Shiloh.

In the story David asks the priest to give some bread to him and his men.  However, the priest explains that they only have the holy showbread, and only the priestly families could eat it.  By the way, the showbread refers to the 12 loaves that were made each week.  They would be placed on a table in the tabernacle and remain there until they were replaced a week later.  Once replaced this bread was considered still holy and not to be eaten by a non-priestly family.  It appears that the High Priest then enquires of the Lord and gets permission to let David and his men eat the bread as long as they are ceremonially clean, and they were.  Now, the thing that is amazing about this example is that it qualifies as a real breaking of the commands of the Law of Moses.  Second of all, it seems clear from the passage that God gave His permission for it.

Notice how Jesus sets up the story by saying, “Have you never read…?  Clearly these Pharisees had read the passage, but they hadn’t really taken to heart the ramifications of it.  In fact, their traditions that had been built up over the centuries stood in condemnation of David and this event.  Yet, God did not, who was the one who gave the Law in the first place.  If we are to develop opinions and traditions through our contemplations of the Bible, we must make sure that they account for all of the biblical data and not just some of it.  No matter how satisfying our ideas about Scripture are, they shouldn’t run into logical problems like this one.  If my teaching ends up condemning God Himself then there is something wrong with my teaching, not God.  I am the one who has not understood something critical in the issue.  Now, this doesn’t tell us why it was okay for David to eat the bread, but it does show us that there is something wrong with the way the Pharisees interpret the Law.

The Christian Church today has many different groups that hold to varying teachings that often are at odds with each other.  Sometimes none of the interpretations of a particular issue perfectly fit all of the biblical data.  In such cases, we should hold our interpretations lightly and not use them as a whip against our brothers and sisters in the Lord.

After using the example from Scripture to show the Pharisees that they didn’t completely understand the Law, Jesus gives them the logic behind why David could eat the bread and why his disciples were not even close to breaking the law.  He explains that the Sabbath day, or the day of rest, was given for the benefit of God’s people.  In fact, rest is a large part of the human condition.  If we do not rest 8 hours, plus or minus depending on our age, our bodies quickly begin to fail and shut down.  Yet, we also need rest on longer cycles.  Humans typically worked every day of the week during the days when Israel was coming out of Egypt.  God was promising Israel that if they would refrain from working on the 7th day and worship Him, then He would bless them so that they didn’t lack for doing it.  In fact, He often blessed them to the point they had more than if they worked all the time.  They were not born to honor a particular day for its sake.  The day was created for them so that they could have rest and enjoy their labor with God.  Yes, it was made into a command, due to our human nature.

For example, if I were to tell you that God was now promising to bless everyone who took a one-week staycation each year, would you do it?  Of course, He hasn’t told me this, but you can take my point.  It is easy to say God will bless you, but then as you approach the week, you look at your bank account and start to waffle in your faith.  There is nothing inherently sinful about working on Saturday.  However, once God makes it a command it becomes a moral issue of loyalty to Him. 

God wanted something better for Israel than working seven days a week.  The Sabbath taught them that they didn’t have to rely solely upon their own work.  They could trust God to bless their work to the point that they didn’t have to drive themselves physically, emotionally, and spiritually into the dirt in order to get ahead.

Now, Christians are not under the Law of Moses and the command not to work on Saturday.  However, we still need rest, and we still need to learn the lessons of the Sabbath from the Old Testament.  The answer is not to create a new, Christian Law which changes the day to Sunday, but to hear God’s heart for us.  He wants you to be blessed, but He doesn’t want you to kill yourself trying to be blessed.  He doesn’t want you deceiving yourself about the true source of your blessing.  That is a life that is anything but peaceful and filled with rest.  You can work hard, and yet take breaks at appropriate intervals because God is not a slave driver, but our flesh is.

The Pharisees had lost sight of the whole purpose of the Sabbath day.  Just like the purpose of the showbread and the prohibitions upon who could eat it, the prohibitions of the Sabbath were not intended to make things harder and worse for Israel.  These men were hungry and had nothing to eat in both cases.  God is not an uncaring legislator.  These laws were symbolic of spiritual truth and not inherently about a moral issue.  Thus, in times of difficulty, the symbol could be put aside for the sake of God’s people.  Yet, all of this misses the further point, that the disciples were merely picking heads of grain.  The Pharisees have lost the heart of God who was behind the law.

So how should Christians view the Sabbath Day?  The New Testament equivalent to the Old Testament Sabbath is not that it has now been moved to Sunday.  I know that historically this is what it seems like.  Christians should not take Sunday off and worship the Lord because they are commanded to do so.  We could meet on any day of the week that we want.  We could meet on multiple days.  It is just that over the years, Sunday became that day, and for many good reasons.  It is now a part of our culture and the easiest day to have Church gatherings.  We need rest and should take a day off, gather with other believers, and worship the Lord.  However, we should do it because it is good and healthy for us in every way, not because we believe we are staving off the anger of God.

Yet, the Old Testament Sabbath law was pointing to something greater than just a change of the day upon which we rest.  It was about believing in Jesus and resting from the work of trying to save ourselves, trying to measure up through our excellent law-keeping.  Technically, everyday for the Christian is the supposed to be the Sabbath Day because in Christ we have entered into that peaceful place, that rest, which God intends for us in Jesus.  Sure, we continue to work for God, but not in order to be saved and measure up.  We work for Him out of joy, not drudgery and fear of breaking a law.  God wants us to have a spiritual peace in our hearts.  Yet, He doesn’t want us to cast off all restraint and walk away from His Holy Spirit.

Are you resting in Jesus today, and every day?  Has He become your peace and joy?  This is what the Father desires for you.  He wants to bless you as you trust Him each day!

Lord of Sabbath Audio

Wednesday
Apr032019

A Time to Weep and a Time to Laugh

Mark 2:18-22.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on March 31, 2019.

The audio for this sermon will be up shortly.

“For everything, there is a season; a time for every purpose under heaven.”  This quote from Ecclesiastes 3:1 is the source of the title.  In life we generally understand what is happening socially around us.  Is it a happy time, or is it a sad time?  What is the circumstance or occasion and how does that affect my actions and words?  The answers to those questions often put a set of unspoken, social niceties upon us.

In our story today we have a situation where certain people are looking at the disciples of Jesus and wondering why they aren’t fasting.  Perhaps, it wasn’t on the order of a bride sobbing uncontrollably at her wedding, but it did stick out socially in the same way.  It was common for the strictest Pharisees to fast twice a week on Sunday and Wednesday.  Israel had been under the power of various world powers for centuries with only a few brief moments of hope.  So, these disciples of this new rabbi were under a lot of speculation.  Their lack of fasting stuck out like a sore thumb.

It is important to recognize that the Law of Moses only commanded fasting on one day of the year, the Day of Atonement.  Thus, this situation is not about observing the Law, but rather it is about establishing just who is more spiritual. Yet, true to form, Jesus answers this question by digging deeper beneath the surface and showing them the truth.  There is a time to weep and fast, but there is also a time to laugh and rejoice.  When a person finds Jesus, this is a celebration time which would cause all who understand it to rejoice as well.  Let’s look at our passage today.

Why don’t your disciples fast

This question that is presented to Jesus is interesting in light of the feast that Levi had thrown right before this.  The Pharisees first objected that Jesus ate with sinners and tax collectors, and now they are objecting to the fact that the disciples of Jesus aren’t fasting.  It is clear that they are only trying to find fault with Jesus and his disciples by nit-picking.  Yet, there are some other things to keep in mind as we approach this.

First, it is odd that the Pharisees come with the disciples of John the Baptist.  They were not natural friends.  In fact, they were quite the opposite.  John was very harsh on the Pharisees who watched him like a hawk for errors as well.  In Matthew 3 we have a scene where John is baptizing those who were repenting of their sins, and the Pharisees and Sadducees show up.  John tells them, “You brood of vipers!  Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?  Bear fruit in keeping with repentance.  And, do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham.  Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees.  Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”  Second, John had publicly vouched that Jesus was the Lamb of God who had come to take away the sins of the world.  He was the Messiah.  So, why are these guys together? 

It would appear that the Pharisees figured out a connection that they had with John’s disciples that was different then Jesus.  Therefore, they most likely went to John’s disciples in order to put a wedge between them and Jesus.  Now, on the surface this is a valid question and John’s disciples are probably asking it in a valid way.  However, the motivation of the Pharisees is illegitimate.  They are using fasting as a pretext to cut Jesus down.  Really, this is a matter of personal choice and preference.  There is nothing wrong with fasting twice a week, but there is something wrong with judging others who do not share your personal choices and preferences.  They were stepping out of bounds.  Let’s look at the response of Jesus.

In verses 19-20, Jesus uses the analogy of a wedding and its bridegroom.  This is important because this is the exact same metaphor that John the Baptist used about Jesus in John 3:28-30 when he was speaking with his disciples.  “You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’  The one who has the bride is the bridegroom.  The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice.  Therefore, this joy of mine is now complete.  He must increase, but I must decrease.”  John clearly understood who he was in relation to Jesus the Christ.  Thus, the use of this analogy would have great significance to John’s disciples and would go over the heads of the Pharisees.  Just like a bride waiting for her groom, Israel had been waiting for the Anointed One, the Messiah, the Christ, who would rescue them from their oppressors.  The Pharisees did not accept Jesus as the Messiah, but John the Baptist had gone on record that Jesus was the one for whom they had been waiting.  This declaration created an awkward transitional time.  Some of John’s disciples immediately began to follow Jesus, but others were zealous for John and stayed with him.  Even when John was imprisoned, some of these disciples kept clinging to him instead of turning to Christ.  I do not say that to put them down.  I believe God knew that John needed friends who believed in him to stick with him because he had some difficult things ahead of him.  It wasn’t until John was executed that these who held back were forced to make a choice.

Whether like the Pharisees, or like John’s disciples, we are all tested in times when God begins to take us to the next stage.  Those who are “early adopters” will jump on board quickly and the “loyal laggards” will wait until the writing is on the wall.  The key is always understanding just who you are following.  Are you following a person, or an institution, or the Spirit of God, especially Jesus?  Being an early adopter is neither better or worse than being a loyal laggard.  What is more important is jumping on board what God is doing, whether than what man is doing.

Of course, the key point that Jesus is making is that it is a strange bride who weeps when the bridegroom shows up.  In this case, the disciples of John had more to be ashamed of than the Pharisees.  The continued fasting while the Messiah was in Israel was itself a sign of a lack of spiritual sensitivity against the Pharisees and John’s disciples, and not the disciples of Jesus.  They were only doing what would be natural, rejoicing!

Yet, Jesus notes that this happy time will come to an end because he will be taken away from his disciples.  This is in reference somewhat to the crucifixion, but even more to his ascension into heaven to wait at the right hand of the Father.  During that time, the disciples had plenty of difficulty and persecution with many of them being imprisoned and killed.  Thus, fasting is appropriate for believers during this time leading up to the Second Coming of Christ.  Yet, we should be careful of turning it into a badge of honor, much like the Pharisees were doing.

Fasting always represented humbling yourself in repentance before God.  It was an outward show, which involved wearing sackcloth, tearing your clothes, putting ashes on your head, and refraining from food for a period of time.  As Christians we should fast from time to time, but we should be careful of promoting the outward over the top of the inward.  We should also be careful of hold other Christians in contempt for not fasting as often as we think they should.  Fasting is not the secret to the spiritual universe; Jesus is.  Until you desire Jesus more than this world, no amount of fasting will do you any spiritual good.

This whole scene, and the analogy Jesus gives, implies that the first coming of Christ was not the wedding.  It would more aptly be seen as a betrothal.  Jesus came to Israel and “popped the question.”  A remnant of Israel said yes.  However, that question has been opened up to the Gentiles who want to participate in this coming wedding.  The wedding of Christ to the People of God will happen at the Second Coming (note: I state this without any reference to the specific timing of all the events associated with it).  Jesus will return to rescue his bride and wed her, never to be separated again.  Meanwhile he has been preparing a place for his bride in the heavenly, new Jerusalem.

A deeper point is made

Jesus gives two more analogies, in verses 21 and 22, that takes this point deeper.  This is not just about who has the best teacher in town, and it is not about whether a person should fast or not.  God was doing something bigger than Moses leading the children of Israel out of the bondage of Egypt.  This was a historical moment, not only to Israel and not only to the world, but to the history of the whole cosmos (spiritual and material).

The next analogy that Jesus brings up is that of the old garment and the unshrunk cloth.  In both of these analogies there is something that is old and something that is new.  The old garment has developed tears and holes that need mending if it is intended to be used.  To mend the old garment, one should not used new material due to the fact that the new cloth will shrink much more than the old.  Thus, the cloth will pull at the stiches and ruin the patch job.  Now, our modern society may have trouble identifying with this concern, but the people of that day would understand exactly what Jesus is saying.  So, what is Jesus talking about?

The old garment represents the Jewish religion under the Law of Moses.  Over the years, due to the sin of its people, the institutions and the devotion of the people had developed tears and gaping holes.  Jesus is God’s man to fix things in Israel.  Thus, it could be thought that the Messiah would raise up new leaders who could serve as a patch to the old system.  Jesus makes it clear that he is creating new cloth that cannot be used to patch up the Old Covenant.  He had not come to fix the nation of Israel so that it could continue on in the same mode under the Law of Moses, and within the same institutions.  He was not preparing his disciples to fit into the garment of Israel under the Law.  We could take this further now, but let’s move to the other analogy.

This is the analogy of the old wineskins and the new wine.  It is stating the same thing.  The old wineskins represent the religious institutions and their operators.  The disciples of Jesus represent the new wine that God is producing.  When Moses led Israel out of Egypt to Mt. Sinai, they were the new wine of their day.  The Law of Moses was also a part of this new wine in that it represented the container that these people would be placed within.  It is the outward form of institutions and ritual of the people of God.  The spiritual fervor of the people (though not perfect) was focused on following God into this new thing.  Yet, the spiritual work of yesterday does its work much like wine in a wineskin.  The skin is stretched out and the wine reaches an equilibrium between its expanding and the resistance of the wineskin.  Eventually the wine is used up and an empty, dry, old wineskin is left behind.  In Jesus the God of Israel was making new wine, but he was also preparing to pour them into a new wineskin, the Church of Christ.  The new work of Christ could not be put into the institutions of the Old Covenant.  Instead of reinvigorating the old institutions of Israel, the new wine would have completely destroyed it.

Thus, Jesus had come to institute a new covenant with the people of God.  This new covenant would have better promises and new institutions.  By the way, it may be worth realizing that, when Jesus comes back to set up the earthly kingdom, he will be leading us into a new thing again.  The Church institutions of this earth will become the institutions of that age.  Christ will be making new wine and pouring it into new institutions.

On the night that Jesus was betrayed, he told his disciples that the cup they drank from represented the New Covenant in his blood.  Hebrews 8:6-13 tells us that when the prophet Jeremiah prophesied of a New Covenant (Jeremiah 31), it was proof that the Old Covenant had become obsolete and would pass away when the new one came.  This is exactly what took place historically.  This should not be a matter of pride or arrogance of the new over the old because we could not have had the new without the old, which was once new. 

In fact, is it not clearly written on the wall?  The New Covenant is not so new anymore.  Over the centuries it has developed its own tears and gaping holes.  We can be tempted to try and fix everything in the flesh simply by calling what we do, the Spirit.  I encourage you to trust the Lord.  The answer is not to throw the Church and its institutions away, but neither is it to double down upon them as if they are the answer to salvation alone and the finished work of God forever.  I encourage you to trust the Lord and the words of him and his disciples over that of different men and institutions.  Jesus knows that we need a new garment.  So, we must do our best to be faithful with the institutions that he has given us.  Praise God that he has given us the Holy Spirit.  In Christ we can keep experiencing the new thing of God’s Spirit each and every day.  We can keep invigorated and renewed in him.  Yes, from time to time, the institutions of the Church grow hard and brittle, resistant to the work of the Holy Spirit.  It refuses to accept what God is doing.  Perhaps we should look at the history of the Church a bit differently.  Many people look back and see only failure, as one group splits from another and then another.  What if we saw it from the perspective of old wineskins?  Each time the institutions of the Church have grown hard and resistant to the Spirit, God has been faithful to provide new expressions and forms for those who belong to Him.  New institutions have cropped up only to become hard themselves.    No group can point to its beginning and declare that, because they were once new wine, they must still be new wine.  It doesn’t work that way.  Let’s be faithful Christians because our Lord is coming for a people who want him more than a certain religious form.

Tuesday
Mar262019

Is There a Doctor in the House?

Mark 2:13-17.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on March 24, 2019.

In one sense, our story today is about Jesus calling another Galilean to become one of his closest disciples, i.e. to be one of The Twelve.  However, the calling of this disciple causes a stir among the local scribes and Pharisees.  Let’s look into the passage.

Jesus calls Levi to follow him

The man that is called Levi here is also called Matthew in the Gospel according to Matthew.  Yes, these are one and the same.  The guy in our story will go on to write a record of The Gospel that has been read world-wide for 20 centuries.  Now we are told that Jesus was in the area speaking to the crowds.  They have become large enough that Jesus is using the seashore to preach to them.  In the course of this, Jesus walks by the tax office and sees a tax collector there named Levi.

Levi is an Israelite, but is collecting taxes for the Roman Government.  The way this was done was by contract bids.  Rome would give its contracts for an area to the person who promised to raise the most tax.  It was understood that the tax collector would pad this amount and that is how he would make his money.  Now, the taxes were already harsh, but they were made worse by the greedy countrymen who got rich off of the backs of their friends.  These men were seen as traitors and collaborators with Rome and thus despised as some of the worst of sinners in their society. 

This clearly does not make Levi appealing to God.  Yet, Christ sees past the greed and opportunism, and sees the person behind those actions, a person in bondage to fear and wealth.  Jesus is calling Levi away from all of that.

This is an important point because it is becoming more and more prevalent today to speak about sinners as if they really are noble people underneath the surface.  Jesus did not choose Levi because he saw a noble man who isn’t really as bad as everyone makes him out to be.  Rather, Jesus sees exactly who Levi is and in spite of that calls him to leave it behind and follow him, which we will get into here in a bit.  This is the same way that Christ comes to all of us.  In and of ourselves, we all fall short.  However, Jesus still calls us away from that failure and into himself.  He calls us to leave the old life behind and learn a new life from him.

So, what does Jesus mean exactly by the phrase, Follow me?  If we do a search in the Bible for this phrase, we will see that Jesus used this phrase with those who he was calling to eat, sleep, and live with him.  They would be his main students and also help him in the ministry.  It was a call to join the inner circle of Jesus.  Yet, later in these passages (after he had The Twelve) we see him using this phrase of all who want to be his disciples.  Mark 8:34-35 says, “Whoever desires to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.  For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.”  He also says in John 10:27, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.”  Thus, there is a metaphorical “following” of Jesus that goes beyond living with him.  The Apostles had to deal with this themselves after Jesus ascended into heaven.  They could not immediately follow him into heaven, but they could follow him by listening to the Holy Spirit whom Jesus sent to indwell them and fill them.  Similarly, today we who believe in the message about Christ chose to leave the old life behind and become students of Christ.  Christ is faithful to send the Holy Spirit into our lives and we are enabled to spiritually follow Him. 

I would also state that there is a way in which we literally follow Jesus.  When we listen to the Holy Spirit, who is one with Christ and the Father, in those moments of instruction, we are literally following Jesus because he is the one leading us.  Whether he warns us against those things that we want to do and instigates us towards those things that we don’t want to do, it is still Christ that we are following.  Thus, the believer needs to spend time each day in communion with Christ through the Holy Spirit by prayer, listening and obeying.

May we be the eyes of Jesus in this world, seeing those who are still trapped in their sin, and yet calling them to follow Jesus.  He is not ashamed to be associated with our past failures in sin.  However, he has come to lead us out of them and into the freedom that can only be obtained through him.

Jesus eats with sinners

Levi was clearly excited to be noticed by the famous teacher, Jesus, and to be called to follow him.  It seems that he is ready to leave everything behind immediately.  He then throws a party that can only be characterized as a retirement party, or going away party.  He invites all his friends and associates who all turn out to be, no shocker here, other tax collectors and sinners.  No one else wanted anything to do with him.  It is in this context that the question is posed to the disciples of Jesus.  Why does Jesus eat with these sinners and tax collectors?  Before we look at the answer, let’s look at the background for why this question is being asked in the first place.

The name of the Pharisee as a group came from a Hebrew word that means to make distinct, to distinguish, and to separate.  We could call them separatists, but that has a political connotation.  It would be best to think of them as the Puritans of their day.  Society had been becoming more and more sinful as people more and more ignored the law.  The Law of Moses emphasized purity throughout its statutes.  Thus, the response of these religious leaders who wanted to show their zeal for God was to dissociate from sinners.  This was even more important for religious leaders.

To analyze this further, let’s remember the situation with the leper in chapter one.  The Law stated many and various situations which would make a person unclean.  This term refers to a ceremonial distinction and is not a statement of sinfulness.  The law did not require a person to always be ceremonially clean.  It only required being ceremonially clean if you were to enter into sacred space, typically to perform a legal ritual.  You could be declared unclean if you buried one of your family members, or had sexual relations with your spouse.  These were not sin by the standard of the Law, but situations that required a purification ritual to be completed before the person could participate in a sacrifice or festival in the temple.  The Pharisees had taken this concept beyond what the Law required or intended.  They were supposed to be the “holy men” of their day and their response was to wall themselves off from anything and anyone who could affect their clean status.  No self-respecting rabbi of their day would have been caught dead at a feast of sinners and tax-collectors.  It would be like seeing someone swimming in the sewer pond.  You can’t get anymore filthy.  These guys are truly shocked.  These are not the actions of a holy man, at least according to their group, who were the experts on holiness and cleanliness.

Now, it is interesting that the question is posed to the disciples of Jesus first.  It is not clear if this is happening at the event or later, but the disciples bear the brunt of the question.  The question itself seems to have a tone of derision to it.  It is not, Why does Jesus eat with sinners, but How is it that he eats with sinners…  They are implying that the disciples have chosen poorly in the teacher that they are following and there can really be no defense.  And, of course, the disciples have no answer.

This technique is employed all the time today.  How is it that you follow a 2,000 year old religion created by people who thought the world was flat?  Of course, such a question is wrong on both counts.  They didn’t exactly think the world was flat, and they did not create a religion.  Another question that one often gets is this.  How can you follow a God who tells you not to murder, but then he murders countless numbers?  Clearly such people have trouble sticking to clear definition of terms and distinguishing between murdering the innocent and executing criminals.  Israel itself was required to execute capital punishment upon certain sins.  It is not hypocrisy to make a distinction between murder and legal execution.  It is proper definition. 

In these cases, it is best not to be bullied into a rash response.  It is Jesus who has the answers and it is to him that we must turn.  The words of Christ are filled with clarity on these issues, if we are willing to study and hear those who Christ has gifted to teach on these matters.  This is nothing more than an attempt to shame you into distancing yourself from Christ and his Apostles.

What is the answer that Jesus gives?  Jesus uses the analogy of a doctor.  No one in their right mind would berate a doctor for having a bunch of sick people in his clinic.  We might berate the doctor for not fixing any of their problems, but never for their presence in the clinic.  Do you tend to find a lot of healthy people in a hospital?  Of course not.  Notice the simplicity of this answer.  It cuts through all the accretion of intellectual crud and gets to the heart of the issue.  Now Jesus had proven his ability to heal people physically, but there is no indication that these people are physically in need of healing.  Look at the next thing Jesus says.  “I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.”  These men did not need physical healing, but they did need a spiritual healing from the wound of sin in their lives.  A wound that none of these religious men were willing to lift a finger to heal.  Jesus was not at Matthew’s house because he was greedy and wanted to enjoy Matthew’s food and riches.  He was not hoping to get some more rich disciples from among his friends.  In short, Jesus is there not to sin, but to teach these sinners the way out of their sin.

Could it be that in our desire to be clean of sin, we so insulate ourselves from sinners that we are no longer a threat to the devil’s hold upon them?  I believe this story underlines such a conclusion.  Yes, we must abstain from all appearance of evil, but many people see evil in things that are not evil.  Abstaining from all appearance of evil is not about the eyes of people around us, but the eyes of our Father in heaven.  Our lives cannot be controlled by what others say of us morally, but by what our Lord Jesus calls us to do.  We are called to help those who are sick with sin, whether they know it or not.  The only way that we can do that is to be open to interacting with them when we cross their path, and for the reasons of Christ, not our flesh.

Is There a Doctor Audio