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Weekly Word

Tuesday
Apr232019

Empty Promises

Mark 12:1-12.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on April 21, 2019.

Today is Easter Sunday and therefore we are going to look at another passage further ahead in Mark than we currently are in our exposition of this Gospel.  Next Sunday we will be back on course.

Easter, or Resurrection Sunday, celebrates the day that our Lord Jesus conquered sin and death.  It is easy to scoff at such things.  However, the amount of evidence regarding both his death (he did not merely swoon) and his resurrection is overwhelming (over 500 people testified to multiple accounts with many people at the same event).

We can hide behind the sophistication of modern man.  Yet, we still find ourselves in the same place as those in the first century or even two millennia before that.  We are still fallen people who are extremely broken inside and who need a savior.

Today we celebrate the reality that God has a plan to save us, and Jesus Christ is the man He has given to us to lead us to salvation.

The parable that we are going to look at this morning is one that Jesus told in the temple compound during the last week of his life.  This parable gives us a metaphor to help us understand just what was going on when Jesus was crucified and yet later raised from the dead.

Understanding the Parable

In verses 1-8, Jesus tells a parable that presses the issue of his coming execution.  The public is not aware that the leaders have decided to execute Jesus when they can, but Jesus does.  In this parable the metaphor has a biblical precedent from Isaiah 5.  There Isaiah tells a parable in which he states that Israel is the vineyard of God.  He even speaks of a tower for defense and a winepress.  This sets up an easy identification for the hearers, but also for us.

Let’s walk through the parable and identify each element.  First, we see that the man who owns the vineyard clearly represents God and, as we stated earlier, the vineyard represents Israel.  It would be better to use the phrase, the people of God, because this puts a better image in our mind.  It is not about a nation, but about a people who belong to God and are in relationship with Him.   The next element is the vinedressers, which are also translated as farmers or tenant farmers.  The Greek word that is used literally means worker of the earth and is where we get the name George.  The are the leaders of Israel who are supposed to ensure that the people of God are fruitful in their lives.  Technically, this means both the political and religious leaders, but it is told during his last week while he is in the temple.  So, it seems that the religious leaders are taking the brunt of the teaching- this is most likely due to the fact that the political leadership had long been separated from Israel with Herod (not from the tribe of Judah) receiving his position as king from Caesar.  I would quibble with the word tenant farmer, not because it ruins the parable, but because the emphasis is not on the fact that they are getting paid.  It is on the fact that their job is to oversee the vineyard and make sure it is fruitful for God.  They had taken their offices under the guise of performing the purposes of the Lord, and yet, too often these became empty promises that were not fulfilled.  They superficially performed the purposes of the Lord while all along serving their own interests.

Next, in our parable we see that the man sends servants at the appropriate time to get evidence of how fruitful the vineyard is.  These servants have been with the man and are the special or extra-ordinary teachers that God sent from time to time known as the prophets.  The leaders of Israel were also servants of God, but they represent those who spend their time in the vineyard all the time.  They are the day to day servants of God.  The prophets would come at special times with a special mission.  They would give direction and corrective instructions from the Lord so that Israel could be fruitful.  In light of the spiritual nature of the parable, the fruit that God is looking for is evidence that the people are growing in their trust of God and living according to His Word.  The very Scripture that the religious leaders took care to copy and memorize testified that the prophets were generally abused and often put to death by the political and religious leaders of Israel.  Thus, as God sent his prophets to help make Israel fruitful, they would abuse them and kill them.  Yet, later they would give lip-service to them.

This leads to the man deciding to send his beloved son.  Of course, this represents Jesus.  The parable presents it as a hopeful attempt to turn things around.  However, in many other places we are told that Jesus was sent knowing that he would be abused, executed, and excommunicated (i.e. thrown out of the vineyard).  Thus, the leaders would kill the Son and leave their promise to tend to the people of God for God’s purposes unfulfilled.

As the parable ends, we are left asking if it was really as bad as the parable shows.  Somewhere along the line, the leaders had lost sight that this nation belonged to God literally.  They existed for His purposes, not theirs.  They had edged God out by pushing Him high into the heavens, but using the system for their own ends.  When Jesus arrived on the scene, they could only see that Jesus would inflame the hopes of the people that He was Messiah.  Rome would then come in and quash it, while holding the religious leaders responsible for letting it happen.  They would lose their authority and that couldn’t happen in their minds.

Lest we seem too hard on the Israelite people, let’s use the parable as a set of glasses for our times.  If we look at our times religiously, we must confess that the leaders of the Church of Jesus have often fallen into the same mentality as those of Israel did.  We give lip service to God and His purposes, but we abuse and kill those prophetic voices that He sends from time to time.  O sure, there are real heretics that must be faced and rejected, but not everyone labeled a heretic throughout the Church’s history were so.  Our leaders have too often hijacked the people of God and their devotion to Him for their own ends and purposes. 

What if we look at our times nationally (the United States of America, or insert your nation here)?  Are not our leaders leading us in a way that serves their own purposes and do they not lack any care for what the God of heaven thinks?  Sure, there are anomalies, but the majority give God lip service at the best.  Was it not God who supernaturally enabled us to break free from the political tyranny of King George III.  Side note, it is interesting that George’s name has the root used in our parable.  He was King Vinedresser, but had come to think the vines were all for him and his pleasure.  The testimony of our forefathers is that we succeeded by God’s help, period.  Has not the Lord of America come looking, from time to time, for godly fruit by sending special, prophetic voices, only to be cast aside and ignored?  Are we not, as a society, killing the Word of God as we cast it aside and live for our own purposes?  Also, this begs the question.  Do you not know that your own life is itself a vineyard of which God has put you in charge in order that it be fruitful for His purposes?  His ways lead to life, but ours continually lead to ever more creative expressions of death.

God still has a plan that cannot be thwarted

The parable does get rather dark and foreboding.  Jesus in verse 9 asks the question.  What will the owner of the vineyard do?  They are going to be removed and destroyed.  Ultimately, they will not succeed in their attempt to use God’s people for their own ends.  They will be removed and God’s purposes will continue unthwarted. 

The religious and political leaders would do exactly what this parable says.  They would reject Jesus, abuse him, execute him, and then excommunicate him.  This is why the book of Hebrews makes such a big deal about Jesus being crucified outside of the city gates.  This ancient sign of extreme banishment (extreme in that they also killed the person) was the ultimate rejection.  Hebrews 13:12-14 says, “Therefore, Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered outside the gate.  Therefore, let us go forth to Him, outside the camp, bearing His reproach.  For here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come.”  We are in danger of losing the eternal for the sake of holding on to the temporary at all times.  Is it not better to surrender that which you cannot keep in order to receive that which you cannot lose?  You can and should trust God.  His plan is not thwarted, and cannot be thwarted, whether by man or spiritual powers in the heavenlies.

Jesus would be rejected and killed, but this would not extinguish the fact that He is the key component to God’s plan.  In verses 10-11, Jesus reminds the leaders of Psalm 118:22-23.  There the psalmist uses the imagery of building the temple of God.  In such building projects, the stones would be fashioned at a remote quarry and then arrive at the building site with some mark explaining its place in the structure.  The builders are the leaders of God’s people who are supposed to have the skill and knowledge to take the stone and put it in the proper place.  The psalmist speaks of a stone that arrives, but the builders reject it and cast it aside.  However, the God of heaven overrules them and uses it as the most important stone of all, the key foundation stone.  These leaders were rejecting the most important part of God’s plan, and He would intervene so that Christ would indeed be what He was sent to be.

Though our parable is challenging the earthly human leaders, there is another layer to this whole thing.  We forget that Jesus is very aware of the evil, spiritual forces around him.  Just as many of his sayings slighted the religious leaders who overheard them, so too they also slight the spiritual powers in rebellion to God.  This parable is no different.  There were spiritual powers who had been put in charge of the nations after the Tower of Babel incident.  These powers had abused their delegated authority and twisted the peoples’ hearts with false religion that lifted the rebellious spiritual powers up as gods.  They too were complicit in the execution of the Son of God and therefore fall under the same judgment given here.  In fact, the spiritual component makes even more sense than the human.  The religious leaders never looked at Jesus as the Son of God who must be killed so that they can inherit those who belong to God.  However, this makes perfect sense of the spiritual powers.  They knew exactly who Jesus was and apparently believed that they could kill Jesus and seize mankind for themselves.

Nearly 40 years after the death of Jesus, after a time of his disciples warning the nation of Israel of the coming destruction and God’s plan of escape, the Roman legions destroyed the city and dismantled the temple stone by stone.  The people of God, who clung to Christ, went to the world with this rejected stone that had now become the chief stone, not just of Israel, but of the whole world.  If you wonder what in the world God is doing then I would put it this way.  He is offering anyone who will an opportunity to be a part of His people, and to participate in a kingdom that will come into existence at the Second Coming of Jesus.  He is not as enamored with our buildings, institutions, and plans, as much as we are.  He is more interested in you, that you are bearing the fruit of faith, the fruit of trusting His Word and living for Jesus in this dark world.

This brings us to the reality that the promises of God are counterbalanced with the promises of the world and those spiritual powers behind it.  This world promises us better things if we will cast Jesus aside and pursue pleasure, or wealth, or fame and accomplishment.  All of these things still leave you feeling empty in the end.  Why?  They do so because we were not created to be satisfied with temporary and material things.  We are trying to stuff small temporary things into an enormous eternal space that is as vast as the universe.  You cannot fill it with the temporary.  Only God can fill that space.  Only a relationship with Him can fulfill the promise of peace and joy.

Over time the philosophies of the world have turned away from God and religion, and towards man.  We must do it.  No God will do it for us.  These are the mantras of humanistic materialism.  Sadly, too many Christians practically do the same thing by pushing God as far up into the heavens as they can.  He doesn’t intervene.  He expects us to do it for ourselves.  Such philosophies have no real basis for upholding good values.  We can pretend that love is a good value, but if we have a philosophy that states humanity is an accident and there is no absolute truth, then why is love good?  Is life precious?  Without God, we only find the precious nature of life ground out of us on every side.  Hopelessness and despair continue to reign from shore to shore and we have no peace because we have rejected the Prince of Peace.

You may feel like God has not kept His promises to humanity, but remember.  He is the God of the resurrection.  Jesus did not back away from the last step to the cross out of fear and lack of faith in His Father.  He showed us that if we would live for God all the way through our death, without turning back, then He will exalt us in due time.  There is a day when the people of God from every generation will be resurrected in the same way that Jesus was, almost 2,000 years ago.  I hope that you have made the choice to be apart of that day because the promises of God will never fail!

God will keep His promises to us.  If you have waffled on trusting Christ then do it today.  If you have been partially trusting Christ, yet basically floating aimlessly, then choose to fully trust Him today.  If you have been trusting Jesus, then don’t let this world rob you of your victory.  Jesus overcame this world by His faith in the Father, and therefore, He is given a place above every other name.  Through Him, you too can overcome and take your place at His side as the Father brings a fulfillment to every word that He ever gave us.  Jesus rose up from the g rave because He is greater than death.  Those who trust Him cannot be destroyed by death, but only made stronger!

Empty Promises Audio

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.