Text: Mark 2:1-3:6
Christianity is Christ. The Christian faith stands or falls on the person, the teaching and the achievements of Jesus Christ.
When reading the Bible ask, ‘What does this teach me about my Saviour? What this tell me about my relationship with him? What guidance does this give me in living a life that is pleasing to him?
This is precisely how I want us to look at this passage together.
1. Jesus has a habit of upsetting people
I don’t mean, of course, that he deliberately set out to be offensive or aggressive. Jesus didn’t invite conflict; but he didn’t avoid it either. He never minded being provocative or controversial. After all, he associated with all the wrong people, he presumed to criticise the establishment, he made himself out to be the Son of God. These things were bound to make him unpopular with those who didn’t want the boat rocked. Rising tide of antagonism = 2:7,16,18,3:6
We do well to bear this in mind today. We live in a consumer society. If those slippers you got for Christmas don’t fit, it’s easy enough to take them back and change them for something different. And we assume it’s the same in the Christian life. It’s all too easy to demand that your church serves the kind of religion that never upsets anyone that always makes you feel comfortable and cosy. If it doesn’t, you can always move on to one which does.
But it’s wrong of us to expect Christianity without conflict, and wrong of a church to try to provide it. It’s good for our services to be ‘user-friendly’, and for our outreach to be ‘seeker-sensitive’. But if we seek to avoid conflict at all costs, we blunt the Gospel, and it looses its cutting edge. The Christian message does challenge; it does rock the boat; it does knock us out of complacency. Perhaps this is what Jesus meant when he said ‘I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.’
Jesus has a habit of upsetting people. Please don’t expect it to be otherwise.
2. Jesus has the power both to heal and to forgive, 2:10-11
Do you believe this?
To those who doubt it, I would simply say that I don’t know of any passage or argument from Scripture that says that miracles cannot happen today. On the contrary, I can think of many that suggest that they can. See 16:20.
To those who believe it, note what happens in this chapter. It is perfectly clear that physical healing and divine forgiveness are connected, yet different. Physical healing is temporary – we must all die; forgiveness is permanent – it is the gateway to eternal life. Not all who seek physical healing are cured; everyone who comes to Christ sincerely asking for forgiveness will receive it. When Jesus heals someone it is a sign given to in the outward, observable realm of what he has the power to accomplish for in the inward, spiritual realm.
Forgiveness, then, is the main thing. ‘Poor souls are apt to think that all those whom they read or hear of to be gone to heaven, went thither because they were so good and so holy…Yet not one of them, not any one that is now in heaven (Jesus Christ alone excepted), did ever come thither any other way but by forgiveness of sins’ (John Owen).
3. Jesus is only interested in bad people, 2:17
The order of things in Jewish Society was as follows: at the top you had the elite: Pharisees, Teachers of the Law, Chief Priests, and Rulers of the Synagogue. Then in the middle you had ordinary people: shop-keepers, fishermen, carpenters, and so on. Towards the bottom you had poor people, women, creeping things, Ipswich Town supporters. Right at the bottom of the pile you had lepers, prostitutes, robbers, and, lowest of the low, tax collectors. Tax collectors were detested because they were extortioners. They put taxes as high as they could, and pocketed the profit themselves. They were also traitors. They were agents of the occupying Romans. And Jesus picks one of these people to be his disciple. And then where do we find him? Only at a party in Levi’s house. The house is full of rascals, thieves and ne’re-do-wells, the dregs of society.
‘Why is he associating with such scum?’ Jesus says, ‘They need me. What’s more, they know they need me. My call to discipleship isn’t for people who think they are good enough, because they wouldn’t listen anyway; I have come to help those who know they are bad.’
These are always the terms on which Jesus deals with people. As long as we cling to the dreadful delusion that we can get by on our own, that we can handle our lives without Jesus, that we are good enough already, there is little that he can do for us. But let anyone, be they a tax collector like Levi, a Pharisee like Paul, a nice person like you or a rotten person like the one you’re sitting next to, let anyone realise how far short they fall of God’s will for their lives, and they put themselves into a place where Jesus can help them. Nobody gets saved because they are good enough. In fact, the only qualification you need to come to Christ is to know that you’re not good enough.
‘Let not conscience make you linger/Nor of fitness fondly dream/All the fitness he requireth/Is to see your need of him.
Jesus is only interested in bad people. The good news is, we’re all plenty bad enough.
4. Jesus brings laughter into your soul, 2:18-22
Question about fasting.
I not saying that to be a Christian you’ve got to walk around with a permanent grin on your face. Christians are sometimes too pre-occupied with trying to prove that they can have just as much fun as normal people. It isn’t a question of fun, but of joy. And Jesus says, when I’m around, its not time for mourning, but time for celebration. It’s not a funeral, it’s a wedding. Now weddings were seriously happy occasions in those days. The festivities could last a whole week. When Jesus asks, ‘Do people fast at a wedding?’ v19, they would have replied, ‘Is the pope a Catholic?’
Do you find joy in knowing Jesus? I’m not asking, do you always feel happy? I’m asking if, even in times of trouble, you know you can turn to Jesus and find that he brightens even your darkest hour?
Do we find our Christian lives have become dull and humdrum? Do church services seem routine and lifeless? The answer lies in our relationship with Jesus. We can try all kinds of things to cheer ourselves up, to rejuvenate our worship. But if our hearts are not full of Christ then even the liveliest of worship servies will be a sham, a mere theatrical entertainment. But when Jesus is at home, when the bridegroom is with us, then his very presence gives us something to celebrate, and our lives will be irradiated by an indescribable joy. 1 Pet 1:8.
5. Jesus turns religion on its head, 2:23-3:6
Jesus had a constant battle with the Jewish leaders over the Sabbath. The religion of the Pharisees was bound up in the observance of detailed regulations. God’s law said, ‘You should rest on the Sabbath.’ Not satisifed with this general rule, Jewish tradition had added 39 specific examples of things you weren’t allowed to do on the Sabbath. One of these had to do with spitting. Another harvesting and griding corn. Jesus’ disciples were walking through the cornfields on the Sabbath day, plucking ears of corn – that’s harvesting. They were rolling them in their hands, in order to eat the kernels – that’s grinding. And healing – that’s not allowed either.
Jesus turns the whole thing on its head. ‘You think to recommend yourselves to God by trying to keep all these man-made rules and regulations, but it doesn’t work like that. We were not put on this earth to serve the Sabbath. God gave us the Sabbath to serve us and our needs: to give us an opportunity for rest. Man was not made for the good of the Sabbath; the Sabbath was made for the good of man.
It’s good to have principles. But principles needs to serve the needs of people. It’s good to have clear rules about certain things. But rules are not as important as relationships.
Here lies the difference between all of our man-made religions and the religion of Jesus. Every other religion gives us rules telling us what we must do for God, in order for God to accept us; the Christian faith tells us what God has done for us. Every other religion throws a set of swimming instructions to people who are drowning; Jesus is a life-saver.
Man-made religion is based on law; the Christian faith is based on love.
And what love! A love which is strong and is not afraid of controversy. A love which is for the whole person, bringing healing and forgiveness. A love that seeks out and rescues the desperate and the unlovely. A love which brings laughter and joy to your soul. A love that transforms dry religion into a living relationship with Jesus Christ, our Lord and our Saviour.