Friday, October 13, 2017

Limp Limbs and Hard Hearts

Pick One

What’s worse? A limp, lifeless limb or a rock hard heart?

Oh, I’m not asking because one is that much better than the other. Neither is exactly an all-expense paid trip to Sandals.

But which is the best of the worst? If someone forced you to pick, what would it be? A physical deformity or petrified ticker?

That’s the question on the table at a worship service one weekend in Capernaum (Mk 3:1-6). But before get there, let’s back up a bit in Mark’s bio of Jesus.

Setting the Scene

The time is the First Century. The place, Israel. Specifically, Capernaum, a little backwater fishing village on the north shore of Lake Galilee.

There’s a hot new Rabbi from just up the road in Nazareth named Jesus who’s all the buzz. His own cousin believes this relative is the One God has promised to send for centuries (Mk 1:2-3, 8). The Carpenter’s Son is packing them in wherever He goes (Mk 1:28, 32, 37, 45).

The Worst of the Worst

Jesus has started assembling a team. Let’s just say that His choices are, um, curious. Four crusty commercial fishermen (Mk 1:16-20) and a rat fink Roman tax collector (Mk 2:13-14).

And have you seen who else He’s hanging out with? These people are the worst of the worst! Nothing but losers, rejects, and outcasts (Mk 2:15-17).

Who Does He Think He Is?!?

Meanwhile, religious leaders are about to blow a gasket over Jesus. He doesn’t seem to give a flying flip about their complicated rules about obeying God.

He heals and forgives sin without their permission (Mk 2:6-12)! His crew has the unmitigated gall to break their bylaws by grabbing a snack on the Sabbath (Mk 2:23-28)! Who does He think He is…GOD?!?

The Gathering

We pick up the action as villagers gather for a time of worship. “Jesus went into the synagogue again” (v1). The word “synagogue” (Gr. συναγωγυ/sunagoge) is a compound Greek term that literally means a “bringing (Gr. -αγωγυ/-agoge) together (Gr. συν-/sun-).”

Just like “church” doesn’t mean the building but the people, it’s the same with synagogue. It’s the gathering or uniting of people. But the synagogue is WAY more than a group of people that gets together once a week. It’s the center of life in the village.

And it’s not exactly like you have another choice when it comes to worshiping God. Capernaum Community Church may not be a megachurch but it IS the only game in town. You don’t exactly do a lot of “synagogue shopping” in 30 AD.

A Second Sabbath at the Synagogue

This is the second time we see our Savior gathering with God’s people on the Sabbath. If you’ve been following the story in Mark’s story of Jesus, this is the same synagogue He attends back in the opening chapter (Mk 1:21-26).

People are still talking about what happened that day. As if His amazing message wasn’t enough, He performed a quickie exorcism right before everyone’s eye.

Catching Jesus’ Eye

At some point after He arrives the second time, somebody catches His eye. He “noticed a man with a deformed hand” (v1). Mark doesn’t mention his name. Neither do Matthew or Luke in their versions of the same story (Mt 12:9-14; Lk 6:6-11).

It makes you wonder if that’s how everybody in town knew him. The man with the deformed hand. Kinda like the crazy cat lady on the corner or the homeless guy at the exit ramp.

Too many times we slap a label on somebody instead of asking them for their name or if we can help. Labels not nearly as messy as getting to know someone.

An Atrophied Hand

Whatever the case, the dude clearly has a disability. According to Mark, his hand is “deformed” (v1). The author uses a word (Gr. ζηραινω/xeraino) which describes something that’s dried up, shriveled, or deprived of fluid.

More than one Bible expert says the grammar here tips us off that this isn’t a birth defect but the result of an injury or disease. If that’s the case, it’s’ easy to picture the man’s hand atrophied after lack of use.

It should come as no surprise that Dr. Luke makes a note in the chart that it’s the patient’s right hand (Lk 6:6).

The Real Cause

We never find out how it happened. Is it an injury? Was he attacked? Did he suffer a stroke? Is it a case of MS?

The big answer is that sin is the cause. Yup, that’s right. Sin. Our first parents first let the monster out of the cage into God’s perfect creation (Gen 3:1-9).

A Broken World…and We Broke It!

Whether we’re the victim of our own rebellion or someone else’s, we can trace it all back to sin. We live in a broken world.

Don’t believe me? Just click on your favorite 24-hour cable channel. Subway terrorist attacks. Nuclear threats. Mass killings. We live in a broken world, alright. And we’re the ones who broke it!

Here We Go Again

Meanwhile, back in the synagogue, we soon see that everyone there is NOT a fan of the Nazarene. “Since it was the Sabbath, Jesus’ enemies watched Him closely. If He healed the man’s hand, they planned to accuse Him of working on the Sabbath” (v2).

Here we go again. The religious police look to bust Jesus and His boys one more time. This is the fifth time in Mark’s Gospel they’ve tried taking down the Son of God. Gotta give the Pharisees credit for one thing. They are a persistent bunch.

Oh-for-Four

They hated it when Jesus not only forgives but heals the disabled dude (Mk 2:1-12). They lose their minds when He parties with sinners (Mk 2:13-17).

They freak out when He feasts instead of fasts (Mk 2:18-22). They accuse His crew of working on God’s day off when they’re simply hitting a drive-thru (Mk 2:23-27).

For those scoring at home, they’re oh-for-four. Hmm, I wonder how this will turn out?

Our God-Given Day off

Notice a few interesting points Mark makes in this verse. First of all, it’s Sabbath Saturday, the God-given day off for rest and worship (Gen 2:2-3; Ex 20:8-11).

The Pharisees tried to help out the Almighty by closing what they see as loopholes in the holy law. They meticulously defined limits on what you could and could not do. How far you could walk. How hard you could work.

Setting the Trap

As a result, they “watched Him closely” (v2). Mark uses a Greek verb here (Gr. παρατηρεω/paratereo) meaning to observe with total focus and tunnel vision.

When used in a negative sense (as Mark clearly does here), it means to lie in wait or lurk. They’re setting a trap and just waiting to ambush their prey. Go ahead, Jesus. Perform a miracle. We dare you!

Locked and Loaded

What exactly are His enemies hoping to see? “If He healed the man’s hand…” (v2). Did you catch that? If. They clearly believe Jesus COULD heal. It was only a matter if He WOULD heal.

And if Jesus has the nerve to restore this guy’s atrophied hand, they’ll be all over Him like white on rice. The Pharisees are locked and loaded, just waiting “to accuse Him of working on the Sabbath” (v2).

The Devil You Say!

When we peek behind the word “accuse” (Gr. κατηγορεω/kategoreo), we see a legal term meaning to bring formal charges against someone. Again, they’re actually HOPING Jesus breaks their rules.

It just so happens to be the very same word the Apostle John hears over the heavenly loudspeaker describing Satan as “the accuser (Gr. κατηγορεω/kategoreo) of our brothers and sisters” (Rev 12:10).

Let’s just say anytime someone in the Bible compares you to the devil, you might want pump your brakes and take a long look in the mirror.

Enforcing God’s Rules

These Jewish leaders think it’s their job to enforce God’s rules. There’s just one little problem. His laws about working on the Sabbath have absolutely nothing to do with helping people and everything to do with glorifying God (Gen 2:1-3; Ex 20:8-11; 23:12; 34:21; 35:3; Lev 23:3; Dt 5:12-15).

As a matter of fact, Jesus has already dropped the mic on these knuckleheads about this once before (Mk 2:27-28). God created the Sabbath to serve us, not the other way around. He should know since His Heavenly Dad put Him in charge of the Sabbath.

A Sabbath Showdown

Clearly Christ is more than ready for another showdown with the Pharisees over what should go down on the Sabbath. He knows EXACTLY why they’re here and what they hope to do.

In his take on the same event, Dr. Luke points out, “Jesus knew their thoughts” (Lk 6:8). You do realize we can never pull a fast one on the Son of God, don’t you?

Can Everybody See?

The Lord invites the physically challenged guy to step forward in the synagogue. “Jesus said to the man with the deformed hand, ‘Come and stand in front of everyone’” (v3).

He wants everybody to see what’s about to go down. He doesn’t want anybody…including the Pharisees…ESPECIALLY the Pharisees…to miss one bit of what’s about to happen. Move on in, folks. Can everybody see?

Out from the Shadows

Put yourself in the man’s sandals for just a moment. Your shriveled hand is an embarrassment and shame. It limits everything you do. Jesus has to call you front and center because you’re hiding in the corner where no one could see you.

When God gets involved in our healing, there’s no longer any reason to be ashamed of our brokenness. Don’t hide. Let everyone see what Christ can do. Why? He specializes in turning our awful into awesome.

A Question for the Know-It-Alls

Just as He calls up the man with deformed hand, Christ calls out the religious know-it-alls. Before He does any healing, Jesus has a little question for them. “Then He turned to His critics and asked, ‘Does the law permit good deeds on the Sabbath, or is it a day for doing evil? Is this a day to save life or to destroy it?’” (v4).

Hey boys, since you’re such hot shots when it comes to God’s law, here’s a question for you. If you’re going to do something on the Sabbath, what would it be? Helping or hurting? Good or evil? And in doing so, our Savior flips the script.

Sins of Omission

Jesus not only turns the table on the Pharisees, He also makes a much bigger point. NOT doing what we know we should do is the same as doing what you shouldn’t do. In other words, not doing good IS doing evil. The sin of omission is the same as a sin of commission.

Stephen Short puts it this way in the International Bible Commentary. Jesus claims that refusing to heal the man would technically be a ‘work’ just as much as to curing him, and an evil one at that.

Fixing a Flat

Let me give you an example. Let’s say you’re on your way to church one Sunday morning. While you’re driving, you see a single mom broken down on the side of the road, struggling to change a flat tire.

Do you (a) put the hammer down and head to church because you shouldn’t be working on the Sabbath, or (b) pull over and help because it’s the loving thing to do? Hint: God won’t mind if you’re late to church.

Just in case the light bulb hasn’t come on yet, Jesus’ kid brother James puts it this way. “Remember, it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it” (James 4:17). See any loopholes about the Sabbath anywhere in there? Didn’t think so.

Crickets

Jesus’ question to His enemies shuts them up and shuts them down. “But they wouldn’t answer Him” (v4). Crickets. Silence. Dead air. He’s exposed them in front of everybody on their home court. Awkward.

But this isn’t simply about winning an argument. The Son of God is furious over their total lack of compassion. “He looked at them angrily and was deeply saddened by their hard hearts” (v5).

There’s more than one medical problem in the room. There’s obviously the poor guy with the atrophied hand. But our Savior also sees their hard-boiled hearts…and He doesn’t exactly need an EKG to do so.

Scar Tissue

It should come as no surprise that Jesus diagnoses the Pharisee’s heart problem using medical lingo in the original language. “Hard” (Gr. πωρωσις/porosis) describes a callous, scar tissue, or any thick growth of tissue which results in insensitivity.

Robertson’s Word Pictures says the root word is actually a kind of marble. While marble may be great for countertops in your new kitchen, it’s the wrong thing when it comes to your heart.

Feeling Deeply about the Lack of Feeling

Jesus is both angry and brokenhearted at what He sees. On one hand, there’s the band with the shriveled hand. On the other, there’s the uncaring Pharisees and their rock hard hearts.

The Lord feels deeply about their total lack of feeling. His heart breaks anytime we show our lack of one. What a powerful reminder that He ALWAYS cares more than I do. Every. Single. Time.

Shattering God’s Heart

Our hard hearts shatter God’s own heart. Anytime scar tissue builds up and dulls our emotions, bad things happen. Let’s review.

Pharaoh had a rock for a heart and refused to release God’s people (Ex 4:21; 7:3, 14, 22; 8:15, 19, 32; 9:12, 34-35; 10:1, 20, 27; 11:10; 14:4, 6). Solomon instructs his kids, “Blessed is the one who fears the LORD always, but whoever hardens his heart falls into calamity” (Prov 28:13 ESV).

Not once but twice, the writer of Hebrews quotes the Psalms and tells us to not make the same mistake God’s people did in the desert. “Do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion” (Ps 78:32; Heb 3:8 15).

A Hard Time with Hard Hearts

When the Pharisees point out that Moses signed off on quickie divorce, Jesus says the Big Mo only handed down the command “as a concession to your hard hearts” (Mt 19:8; Mk 10:4). Even Jesus’ own crew continually had a hard time with hard hearts (Mk 6:52; 8:17).

A hard heart is spiritually fatal. God’s chosen people miss the Messiah because of the hardening of their hearts (Rom 11:25). Non-Jews are alienated from a relationship with God because they have “hardened their hearts against Him” (Eph 4:18).

Heart Guard

That explains why the wisest dude who ever lived made heart health his top priority. “Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life” (Prov 4:23).

While a limp limb is nothing to sneeze at, heart hardness has eternal implications. Even for religious pros. ESPECIALLY for religious pros! That’s why Jesus had His harshest words for those who should have known better.

Healing the Hand

Back inside the synagogue, Christ turns His attention to the disabled man. “‘Hold out your hand.’ So the man held out his hand, and it was restored!” (v5). Jesus wasn’t going to let this bunch of bullies stand in His way of bringing healing.
Imagine the scene. You have to think there are cheers and applause. Oohs and ahhs. Something tells me you couldn’t wipe the smile off the man’s face who finally has the use of his right hand again.

Putting a Contract out on Christ

But there’s one group of folks who don’t share in the celebration. “At once the Pharisees went away and met with the supporters of Herod to plot how to kill Jesus” (v6). Well THAT escalated quickly!

How stony are their hate-filled hearts? Hard enough to murder. While I’m certainly no expert on the Pharisees complicated rulebook, I’m pretty sure plotting a murder does NOT qualify as a good work on the Sabbath!

A Common Enemy

How badly do they want Jesus dead? So bad that they team up with their hated rivals. These supporters of Herod are a secular political party who are blindly devoted to their allegiance to King Herod Antipas and the Roman Empire.

The Herodians have placed patriotism above everything else. Including God. Especially God. Imagine deeply religious people aligning themselves with hardcore patriots against a common enemy. Sound familiar?

God’s Heart Transplant

But did you realize that God can heal a hard heart just like he can an atrophied hand?

God can not only heal atrophied limbs but hard hearts as well. That’s at the heart of the promise Yahweh makes through a prophet named Ezekiel. The divine cure is a supernatural heart transplant.

A New Heart and a New Spirit

“I will take away their stony, stubborn heart and give them a tender, responsive heart, so they will obey My decrees and regulations. They they will truly be My people, and I will be their God” (Ezek 11:19-20).

And not just a new heart. A new Spirit. The Holy Spirit. In other words, God Himself comes to live in each one of us.

“I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new Spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. And I will put My Spirit in you so that you will follow My decrees and be careful to obey My regulations” (Ezek 36:26-27).

A limp limb. A hard heart. I wouldn’t want to choose either one. But we have a Savior who can cure either one, even on the Sabbath.

©2017
Jay Jennings

Thursday, October 5, 2017

A Day off after Your Day off

Regular R&R

Ever feel like you need a day off after your day off?

You know what I’m talking about, don’t you? Something comes up on a day you hoped to kick back that suddenly kicks your butt. Maybe the boss calls you in when you planned to be out. Maybe there’s an unexpected emergency at home sucks the life out of you. Before you know what happened, you need a day off after your day off.

Did you realize that God’s looking out for you? Yup, the Creator of the universe has your back by building a day off into our week. He knows there’s nothing you and I need more than regular R&R. And by “R&R,” I do NOT mean “rules and regulations!” Instead, He gives us a day to get regular rest and set our undistracted focus on His incredible generosity.

Lazy Saturday

The last thing we need on our day off is a long list of laws. Make sure you do this. Be sure you don’t do that. The next thing you know, we’re paying more attention to rules and not relaxation. But that’s exactly what happens to Jesus and His posse while they were out enjoying a walk together one lazy Saturday (Mk 2:23-28).

Mark tells us how one moment they’re grabbing a snack, the next they’re under arrest by the fun police. The Pharisees bust out the religious rulebook (which they wrote, by the way) and start telling Him all the ways His boys are breaking the law. Suddenly, their day of rest becomes a day of rules. Next thing you know, they’re going to need a day off from the day off.

Saturday’s Alright for Fighting

When it’s all said and done, Jesus goes old school and sets the Pharisees straight on what the Sabbath is all about. Just to be sure they understand who they are dealing with, He drops the mic and tells them He should know since He’s God.

Maybe Elton John is on to something in his hit song “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting." It goes a little something like this. “Don’t give me none of your aggravation. We’ve had it with your discipline.” The Lord seems to live out the lyrics when pokes His finger in their legalistic chest.

Round Four with the Pharisees

If you’ve been following the story here in Mark 2, this is actually the fourth time the Pharisees have freaked out over the radical Rabbi/Carpenter from Nazareth. First, when four guys drop their disabled buddy through the roof, they grumble when He dares to not just restore the man’s mobility but forgive his sin (Mk 2:1-12).

They blow a second gasket when our Savior attends a shindig with a guest list of losers, rejects, and outcasts (Mk 2:13-17). The third time, the Pharisees get a little back up from the folks following John the Baptizer when Christ and His crew attend one party after another (Mk 2:18-22).

That sets the stage for round four. These religious bullies don’t like to lose. And because of that, they’re apparently tailing Jesus and the Twelve while their out on a stroll one Saturday. The Pharisees are looking for any reason to bust these boys. A broken tail light. Expired inspection sticker. Anything.

Working for the Weekend

Mark picks it up here. “One Sabbath as Jesus was walking through some grainfields, His disciples began breaking off heads of grain to eat” (v23). It’s the Sabbath. Did you catch that? In the Jewish world, the Sabbath happens every Saturday. The word (Gr. σαββατον/sabbaton) literally means a ceasing from work and a focus on worship of God and rest for His people.

Our Creator celebrated the very first Sabbath back on the very first Saturday. “On the seventh day God had finished His work of creation, so He rested from all His work. And God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy, because it was the day when He rested from all His work of creation” (Gen 2:2-3).

God had just made everything from nothing and did it in only six days. Not a bad week at work, don’t you think? But Yahweh certainly wasn’t just working for the weekend. He certainly didn’t need a day off. Remember, He’s all-powerful and never gets tired (Is 40:28). But He relaxed as an example for us to follow.

400 Years without a Day off

Fast forward the story a few thousand years and we find God’s people as Pharaoh’s primary labor force as slaves in Egypt. For 400-plus years, they didn’t get one single day off (Ex 1:8-14; 12:40). And we complain when we have to work through lunch. Please.

Everything changed when God used Moses to free His people and put Egypt in their rearview mirror. When the Israelites got to Mount Sinai, God made a point of including this weekly day off and party for His people in His Top Ten.

“Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. You have six days each week for your ordinary work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath day of rest dedicated to the LORD your God. On that day no one in your household may do any work.

“This includes you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, your livestock, and any foreigners living among you. For in six days the LORD made the heavens, the earth, the sea, and everything in them; but on the seventh day He rested. That is why the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and set it apart as holy” (Ex 20:8-11).

A Weekly Festival

Have you ever thought that God created the Sabbath as a weekly, 24-hour festival starting on sundown Friday and ending sundown Saturday? The followers of Jesus shifted the Sabbath celebration from Saturday to Sunday since that’s the day He came walking out of the cemetery. Pretty good reason to party, don’t you think?

In a letter to Jesus’ followers in Colossae, Paul makes a point of allowing each person to determine which day we should relax and rejoice in God. “So don’t let anyone condemn you for what you eat or drink, or for not celebrating certain holy days or new moon ceremonies or Sabbaths. For these rules are only shadows of the reality yet to come. And Christ Himself is that reality” (Col 2:16-17).

No Better Place

So bust your tail for six days. But make sure everybody gets some rest at the end of the week. And there’s no better way to truly relax than to set our undivided focus on God and His goodness. One of the tunes in the boxed set of the Bible’s greatest hits says just one day in God’s presence is better than a thousand anywhere else (Ps 84:10).

The Sabbath is a reminder that rest is a big part of God’s rhythm for us. The LORD makes a personal promise to Big Mo, “I will give you rest—everything will be fine for you” (Ex 33:14). King David sings about how our Good Shepherd rejuvenates us in green fields near peaceful streams (Ps 23:1-2).

The Son of God makes that rest a big part of His message to His followers. “Come to Me, all who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Mt 11:28). And just in case you think He’s only talking about some sort of pie-in-the-sky-sweet-by-and-by kinda thing, Jesus recognizes His team’s need for a retreat. “Let’s go off by ourselves to a quiet place and rest awhile” (Mk 6:31).

Hitting the Drive-Thru

Meanwhile back in the farm fields, Christ’s crew grabs a snack by plucking some grain. It’s the First Century version of hitting a drive-thru or stopping at a convenience store. God goes out of His way to give it His stamp of approval. “And when you enter your neighbor’s field of grain, you may pluck the heads of the grain with your hand, but you must not harvest it with a sickle” (Dt 23:25).

The next thing you know, the Lord and His team are hearing sirens and seeing blue lights. “But the Pharisees said to Jesus, ‘Look, why are they breaking the law by harvesting grain?’” (v24). Breaking the law?!? Harvesting grain?!? You have GOT to be kidding!  The boys are simply picking up something to nibble on where they’re on the road.

Granola on the Go

These religious rule makers have have transformed God’s gift of a day off into a legalist “no fly zone” for anything that resembles work. They’re most likely misapplying something Yahweh told Moses on the mountain. “You have six days each week for your ordinary work, but on the seventh day you must stop working, even during the seasons of plowing and harvest” (Ex 34:21).

It’s just one more example of how these hall monitors repeatedly use their twisted interpretation of the Sabbath as their favorite weapon when going after Jesus (Mt 12:2, 10; Mk 3:2-4; Lk 6:2, 6, 11; 13:14; 14:1-4; Jn 5:9, 16-18; 7:22-23; 9:16). They twist a God-given guardrail into a roadblock in our relationship with Him. This isn’t what our Heavenly Father has intended. He has nothing against grabbing some First Century granola while on the go.

When God’s Rules Aren’t Good Enough

You see, the Pharisees apparently thought God dropped the ball and forgot to provide the needed details to His Sabbath rules. His weren’t good enough so they had to help Him out. Glad somebody’s got His divine back.

But it’s so much worse than that. They’ve made the mistake of thinking their manmade rules and traditions are equal with God’s commands. Yeah, not so much. Jesus and the guys are NOT breaking God’s rules. They’re breaking YOUR rules! As a result, they’ve turned this glorious gift of rest, relaxation, and worship into 24 hours of concentrated command keeping.

After they’re done with the Sabbath, folks are going to need a day off after their day off.

Sarcasm, Son of God Style

Leave it to Jesus to deliver the perfect comeback. Let me give you a little tip. You may think you’re hot stuff but you’ll lose every single time you pick a verbal fight with Christ. Grab a good seat for what’s about to go down. The Pharisees are about to get a taste of the sarcasm, Son of God style. Elton’s right. Saturday’s alright for fighting.

“Jesus said to them, ‘Haven’t you ever read in the Scriptures what David did when he and his companions were hungry?’” (v25). If you’re like me, you may not catch the dig the first time. Our Savior builds His snarky response around the question “Haven’t you read in the Scriptures…?”

It’s His way of saying, “Hey, there’s this thing called Scripture and this guy called David. Maybe you’ve heard of them.” Of course they have! They’re Pharisees. It’s what they do. They have huge portions of the OT, we’re talking entire books, memorized! It’s actually one of His favorite ways to tweak these religious bullies (Mt 12:3, 5; 19:4; 21:16, 42; 22:31; Mk 12:10, 26; Lk 6:3).

Israel’s Most Wanted

Jesus reminds them of the story about David they already know (1Sam 21:1-6). The king-to-be and his loyal crew were on the lam. King Saul put them at the top spot of Israel’s Most Wanted. They rolled into a suburb of Jerusalem called Nob in desperate need of a meal.

I’m not gonna lie to you. This particular incident is, shall we say, messy. But then again, David’s life is loaded with lying, lust, adultery, murder, and all sorts of dysfunction. Despite his repeated failures, he had a rep as a man after God’s own heart (1Sam 13:14; Acts 13:22).

In the OT, Samuel tells the unvarnished truth of how David cooks up some cockamamy story about being on special assignment from King Saul. One of those, “If I told you, I would have to kill you” deals. David won’t have to. When the king finds out what happens, he orders the execution of 85 priests, their entire families, and all of their livestock (1Sam 14:18-19). I told you it was messy.

Losers, Rejects, and Knuckleheads

A couple of quick but very important points. First, Jesus believes the OT Scriptures are true and believes David is an historical person. Second, there’s only ONE Hero in the entire Bible. It’s Jesus. The entire story points to Him, predicts Him, promises Him, and makes prophecies about Him.

Every other person in both the Old and New Testaments is flawed and fallen. They are there to show us how God uses an endless parade of losers, rejects, and knuckleheads to accomplish His purpose. He picks horribly flawed and broken people because it’s all He has to work with. And that includes you and me!

The Sacred Loaves

Christ continues His impromptu Bible study with the Pharisees. “He went into the house of God (during the days when Abiathar was the high priest) and broke the law by eating the sacred loaves of bread that only the priests are allowed to eat. He also gave some to his companions” (v26).

To understand why this was such a big deal, we need to know a little bit about the rules God established for the Hebrew people when it comes to worship. It included placing one dozen loaves of fresh bread in His holy presence (Ex 25:30). That’s one for each of the twelve tribes of Israel.

Relationship over Rules

Every Sabbath, the priests would put out twelve hot and fresh loaves for the LORD. They were the only ones allowed to eat last week’s bread (Lev 24:5-9). When David asked for food, the high priest actually asked God if it was okay to give the future king the bread. Yahweh said “yes” (1Sam 22:10).

Why? According to John MacArthur, preserving David’s life trumped ceremonial rules about who could and could not eat the bread. In other words, God did not want His people worshiping a set of religious rules. He wanted the rules to be a means to deepen the relationship between He and His people. He didn’t want them to always have to take a day off after their day off.

A Blessing, Not a Burden

That’s exactly how our Savior explains it to the Pharisees. “Then Jesus said to them, ‘The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of the people, and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath’” (v27). God gives us a day off as a blessing, NOT a burden!

He wants us to enjoy a day of worshiping Him, NOT worshiping the Sabbath. Focus on the Giver, NOT His gift. It’s Jesus’ way of saying, “You legalistic knuckleheads just don’t get it. The Sabbath isn’t about what we CAN’T do. It’s all about we GET to do.”  

The Sabbath Is His Idea

Christ then takes it up a notch. WAY up. He tells these self-proclaimed religious experts, “So the Son of Man is Lord, even over the Sabbath!” (v28). Uh oh. Jesus pulls no punches. He claims to be God. He’s saying, “I should know. This whole Sabbath thing is My idea. That’s why I invented it and commanded it. Just like the rest of the universe I created. Because of that, I’m in charge of it.”

What’s the Pharisees’ response to Christ’s incredible claim? Crickets. Nothing but crickets. They’ve got nothing. Ironically they’ve been working overtime on the Sabbath trying to trap Jesus. At the end of the day, they’ve got nothing to show for it but egg on their face. Looks like they’re going to need a day off after their day off.

©2017
Jay Jennings

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Stop the Fast and Start the Feast!


A Crazy Night at Choir Practice

“We’re not here to have fun! We’re here to worship the Lord!”

Those words rocked my world. I didn’t know what was wrong with what was said, but I knew it just didn’t make sense. But it sure seemed to me that a lot folks believed fun and Jesus were mutually exclusive.

The scene is the choir room in a midwestern baptist church. The names have been changed to protect people I love and respect (and some I honestly can’t remember). My best guess is this happened in 1972. Slightly after the Jurassic Period and Lindbergh crossing the Atlantic.

When Practice Becomes a Party

It was the era of Watergate, but that break-in is a misdemeanor in my mind compared to the scandal I witnessed one night at youth choir practice. Okay, we were out of control. I admit that right up front. WAY more laughing than singing.

We had been so consistently rowdy that the church thought it was a good idea to bring in some parents to keep us in line. As we did everything we could to turn this practice into a party that night, one of these bouncers attempted to keep us in line.

“We’re not here to have fun! We’re here to worship the Lord!”

A No Fun Zone?

Wait! WHAT?!? While I had never exactly found church to be Six Flags over Jesus, nobody had ever announced it was a No Fun Zone. I got up and walked out. I wasn’t giving up on Jesus but if this is what church is about, I’m out. I had no plans of ever going back.

Over the years, God wooed me back by showing me how joy and celebration are a big part of worshipping the One who has saved me. Once I began to wrap my brain around all Jesus has done, it was time to get this party started!

The Fun Police

Jesus Himself had a similar experience. No, not at youth choir practice. It happened in the wake of a big shindig in Galilee. The religious fun police call Christ and His crew on the carpet for cavorting with the wrong crowd and enjoying themselves WAY too much (Mk 2:18-22). In their minds, He and His boys aren’t taking their faith seriously enough. Instead of feasting, they should be fasting.

“We’re not here to have fun! We’re here to worship the Lord!”

In his bio of Jesus, Mark tells us that our Savior and His followers have just been the guests of honor at a party over at Levi’s place (Mk 2:13-17). The host is a local tax collector who filled his home with all sorts of rejects, losers, and outcasts so they could meet this amazing Rabbi/Carpenter from Nazareth.

Inviting the Uninvited

A group of party crashers accuses the Lord of hanging out with the local scum. Jesus responds by telling them that they just don’t get it. Those folks are EXACTLY why He’s here. His mission is to invite those who know full well they’re uninvited.

At this point, the charges against Him move to not taking God seriously enough. “Once when John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting, some people came to Jesus and asked, ‘Why don’t Your disciples fast like John’s disciples and the Pharisees do?’” (v18).

Feast or Fast?

In other words, the fun police are out in full force. How dare you enjoy yourselves! Wipe that smile off your face. Religion is super serious and is no place for fun. If you REALLY understood what’s at stake, you’d wouldn’t be living it up. Stop feasting and start fasting.

Mark drops the Greek word for “fast” (Gr. νηστευω/nesteuo) six times in just three verses (v18-20). As a matter of fact, this is the ONLY place it shows up in his entire Gospel.

Specifically, νηστευω/nesteuo describes going without food for religious purposes. It literally means “no eating.” But the bigger idea is to stop doing any activity in order to set your focus on God. Fasting is a way to express deep sadness, either over failure to meet God’s perfect standard or to mourn the death of a loved one.

Fasting to Focus

We see all sorts of people in the Bible avoiding food as a means to repent, seek God, and hear from Him clearly. There’s fasting in the OT (Ex 34:28; 1Sam 7:6; 2Sam 1:12; 12:16-17; 1Ki 21:27; Ez 8:21-23; Neh 1:4; Est 4:16; Ps 35:13-14; 69:10; Dan 9:3-5; Joel 2:12; Joh 3:5-8) as well as the New (Mt 6:16-18; Lk 2:37; 18:12; Acts 13:2-3; 14:23).

Let’s face it. You don’t hear a lot of folks fasting in the 21st Century. Oh, there’s plenty of people who are more than happy to tell you about their dietary restrictions. No meat. No gluten. No lactose. No thanks! The sad truth is I’m way more likely to belly up to the buffet than skip lunch to hear from the Lord.

Jesus’ Weird Cousin

Meanwhile back in Mark 2, the author tips us off about a couple of different factions of folks are currently going without food. The first group is the followers of John the Baptizer. You may remember him from the opening of this particular Gospel (Mk 1:1-11).

He’s Jesus’ weird cousin who wears a lot of leather and eats a lot of bugs. God commands John to get the world ready for the arrival of the Messiah. Suddenly, he’s the hot new thing that everybody wants to see. But John leverages his popularity in order to point to the true Star of the show, the Lamb of God.

The Baptizer’s behind Bars

While they’re related, John and Jesus are VERY different. The Baptizer lives more like a somber monk than his fun loving cousin. John is known for fasting while the Lord has earned a rep as the life of the party (Mt 11:18-19; Lk 7:33-38).

Chances are John wouldn’t have been caught dead at Levi’s big blowout even if he was able to go. But he’s not available due to a previous engagement. You see, the Baptizer is behind bars (Mk 1:14). His followers would have every reason to fast and pray for their leader’s release from the slammer. Spoiler alert: he doesn’t (Mt 14:1-12; Mk 6:14-29).

Hangry?

Maybe John’s crew is freaking out because Jesus should be focused on getting their guy out of the joint rather than having fun at parties. If You REALLY cared about Your cousin,You’d stop feasting and stop fasting like the rest of us!!

Makes you wonder if John’s boys are just a wee bit hangry. That’s when you’re so hungry you get angry. It’s like the Snickers commercials. The ones where people aren’t themselves when they’re hungry. Munching on a candy bar transforms them from a grumpy Steve Buscemi or Roseanne Barr back into their kinder, gentler selves.

Chances are, you’ve fasted for a medical test or procedure. Ever noticed that’s EXACTLY when everybody around you is eating a cheeseburger? And why do they call it a “fast” when time seems to stand still? Whatever reason for their fast, John’s disciples are understandably cranky when Christ doesn’t seem to care.

Taking It up a Notch

But they’re not the only ones skipping meals at the moment. The Pharisees are also fasting at the time. Most of us immediately see them as the bad guys in the story of Jesus. But back in the day, these boys are the religious superstars of first century Judaism.

Nobody but nobody is as fanatical about keeping God’s rules than the Pharisees. How fanatical? They tithe from of their spice rack (Mt 23:23: Lk 11:42)! While God only commands one fast a year at Yom Kippur (Lev 16:29-31; 23:27), the Pharisees took it up a notch. To show everybody just how serious they are, they actually fast TWICE A WEEK (Lk 18:9-14)!

Image Management

You see, the Pharisees are ALL about image management. They want the world to see just how pious and holy they are. Their Facebook and Instagram feeds are nothing but prayer meetings, church services, and mission trips.

That’s fine but honestly God really doesn’t give a hot hoot about what we look like on the outside. He cares deeply about what’s going on inside our hearts. He’s NOT impressed with our phony fasting. Matter of fact, it REALLY ticks Him off.

Don’t believe me? Buckle your biblical seat belt and see what He tells the prophet Isaiah (Is 58:3-7). I’ll wait right here humming the Final Jeopardy music. Oh, you’re back. Any questions?

Jesus’ Forty-Day Fast

Don’t make the mistake of thinking Jesus always feasts and never fasts. The Gospel writers tell us He did it at least one time. And it was BIG time. We’re talking forty days…IN THE DESERT IN THE FACE OF THE DEVIL (Mk 1:12-13; Mt 4:2; Lk 4:2-4)!

And when He did, our Savior fasted it in private. He didn’t call a news conference or announce it on social media. He didn’t try to grab the spotlight so He could make a run at the top spot in the power rankings of the pious (Mt 6:16-18).

You can bet the farm that if this is a time for scripturally mandated fasting, Jesus would be fasting. But He’s not. And neither are His followers. It’s all about timing. There’s no doubt there are times to be serious. But never miss a moment to celebrate.

The Wedding Reception

As He so often does, the Lord flips the script on His critics and turns this into a teachable moment. In the process, He drops three mini-parables. Little stories with a big impact. One about a wedding reception. A second about patching holes in your clothes. A third about the best way to package your pinot noir.

First, you don’t start skipping meals when you’re heading to the wedding reception. “Jesus replied, ‘Do wedding guests fast while celebrating with the groom? Of course not. They can’t fast while the groom is with them’” (v19). Christ tells His critics to forget the fast and start the feast!

God as the Groom

This is Jesus’ not-so-subtle way of saying He’s the One God has promised to send to save our eternal bacon. For a couple of thousand years, Old Testament prophets compare God to a “bridegroom rejoices over his bride” (Is 62:4, 5).

God tells a guy named Hosea that He’s totally committed to His chosen people like best hubby you could ever imagine. “I will make you My wife forever, showing you righteousness and justice, unfailing love and compassion. I will be faithful to you and make you Mine, and you will finally know Me as the LORD” (Hos 2:19-20).

Jesus wants them to know that now that the Groom has arrived, it’s time to get this party started! He clearly takes fun seriously. VERY seriously. Don’t believe me? His very first miracle was turning several barrels of water into fine wine in order to keep a wedding reception going (Jn 2:6-11).

The Heavenly Hootenanny

And once Christ makes His final comeback, He’s inviting all of His followers to the ultimate heavenly hootenanny. It should come as no surprise that it’s a wedding reception (Rev 19:6-9). That’s the Lord’s point to the party poopers. There’s a time and place for fasting. This is neither the time nor the place. Once God is in the house, stop the fast and start the feast.

Grieving the Son of God

Christ does admit there’s a day on the calendar when set aside for sadness. “But someday the groom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast” (v20). He’s dropping a VERY strong hint at what’s about to go down. His betrayal, arrest, torture, murder, and burial. When that happens, you can bet His boys will fast and mourn.

Since that has happened, shouldn’t WE still grieve that the Son of God is gone? Absolutely not! Since He came strolling out of the cemetery on Sunday, the mourning period for His death lasted for just three days!!

A Command So Nice He Says It Twice

The Apostle Paul tells Jesus’ followers in Rome not to be sad but celebrate. When we trust in what He has done for us, His life becomes our life. He lived the perfect life of obedience we should have lived. He died the bloody death for our sin we should have died. And He rose to a jaw dropping new life that we don’t deserve (Rom 6:4-5)!

So why do so many Christians walk around like they’re headed for their own crucifixion? Once again, our man Paul says stop being so stinking sad! “Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice!” (Phil 4:4). It’s a command so nice, he says it twice!! And don’t try to tell me the man from Tarsus doesn’t know hard times. Dude, he wrote that from prison!!

The Gospel is NOT an Upgrade

Back in Mark, Jesus moves from a mini-parable about the party to mini-parable about a patch. “Besides, who would patch old clothing with new cloth? For the new patch would shrink and rip away from the old cloth, leaving an even bigger tear than before” (v21).

He’s letting us know that the Gospel for knowing God isn’t simply fixing a couple of bugs with the way we did it before. I love how Mike Lee puts it. Jesus brings a new system that is NOT just a better version. It’s NOT simply an upgrade! In other words, trusting in Christ is NOT Old Testament 2.0.

Oh, you can be sure there’s plenty about the coming Messiah all throughout the Hebrew Bible. After all, He IS THE Hero of THE Story! The writers of the OT are continually dropping hints, clues, shadows, prophecies, and predictions of the One who is to come.  But once Jesus arrives, He blows out what came before by fulfilling God’s perfect standard for us (Mt 5:17).

Box Wine without the Box

Mini-parable number three is also about how the crusty old religious system can’t hope to contain the explosive power of God’s grace. This time Jesus uses the picture of packaging wine. Starting to see why He’s the life of the party? “And no one puts new win into old wineskins. For the wine would burst the wineskins, and the wine and the skins would both be lost. New wine calls for new wineskins” (v22).

In the First Century, people didn’t make wine in big barrels but put grape juice into smaller animal skins. Goat skins to be exact. Kinda like box wine without the box. Instead of the plastic bag, it’s a goat skin. Pretty sure you won’t find one of those on the shelf at your local Walmart.

Mentos and Diet Coke

As the juice fermented, the pressure would build and the hides would expand. Once it was stretched out, the skin would lose its elasticity. The wineskin is a one-and-done. You don’t rinse it out and reuse it again. You’re asking for a big mess. Better have the club soda and OxyClean handy.

In the same way, Jesus totally blows apart the old Jewish belief system. He opens the party up to anyone and everyone who places their trust in Him. He transforms God’s Kingdom into a whole lot more than a Hebrew house party. Even non-Jews are encouraged and welcome. Just try pouring THAT into an old wineskin. You probably ought to step back. And you thought dropping a Mento in a Diet Coke was cool!

We ARE Here to Have Fun!

One thing is for sure. Jesus takes fun very seriously. So much so that He commands it. Stop the fast! Start the feast! He invites us to the party and ensures that He’ll keep it going. His Gospel is no upgrade. Trying to cram His grace into the old system is only going to make you made and make a mess. 

The bottom line is we ARE here to have fun! And there’s not better way to do that than worshipping the Lord!

©2017
Jay Jennings
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