Damariscotta Baptist Church
Tuesday, July 17, 2018
Growing personal relationships with God and community

08/24/14 Sermon - A Message From and About God

“A New Message, From and About God”

Mark 2: 13-22

 

Today’s Bible reading begins with the words, “Once again…” And once again I repeat myself in stating

 

‘Jesus came and turned everything the Jewish people understood about faith in God, upside-down.

 

Our Scripture starts with Jesus going out to the lake, again, to teach the large crowd who had gathered to hear him. Now I am going to speculate here a bit, but I want you to travel back with me,

to the beginning of the first century, and imagine what the crowd would have looked like.

What sort of people do you think are following Jesus?

Remember, He is known, by now, as the “Miracle Worker” and I suspect there are “the regulars”, those people who have been showing up every time Jesus does, because they know He is different and significant and they have been moved by His teachings.

There would have been those in the crowd who are there for the first time, hoping to see Jesus perform one of his spectacular healings. They have heard of Him from their friends and have come to check it out for themselves.

And in case you haven’t noticed, the Pharisees have been present, wherever Jesus happens to be.

Then of course you have the men that Jesus has asked to “Follow Him”, his disciples. In fact, we find Jesus inviting Levi, a tax collector, to follow him. And just like the fishermen that are following him, we read “Levi got up and followed him.” In my research of this passage I discovered some interesting facts, I thought I might share.

This guy Levi, who some commentators give the name Matthew, was sitting at a tax booth when Jesus saw him. Here are some pertinent points about tax collectors in the first century from Malina and Rohrbaught’s “Social – Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels”

 
 
 
There were two types of tax collectors,

-       the “chief tax collector, such as Zacchaeus and

-       their employees, such as the toll collectors as referred to in this passage.

The toll collectors were employed by chief tax collectors and were often persons without roots and unable to find other work.

A toll collector would be at a tax booth, and would work much like our toll collectors work on the Interstate. They collected levies on goods entering, leaving, or being transported across a district, or crossover points like bridges, gates or landings.

At any rate, Levi, as a toll-collector would not have been part of the “in-group” or “clean” member of society, according to the Pharisees.

Do you see a pattern going on here?

Last week we read how the Pharisees had a problem with Jesus forgiving the sins of just anyone at any time.

 
Why/ there were certain ceremonies that needed to be performed.
 

The paralytic had not performed one pre-described ritual necessary for his sins to be forgiven and yet Jesus so readily proclaimed him forgiven.

 

Now/ Jesus is not only calling the lowest of even the tax collectors to join his group, but then he goes ahead and has a meal with him and his friends.

 
The whole/ lot/of them,/ are unclean.
 

If Jesus is supposed to be from God, why is it He doesn’t follow the simplest of rules? Who does He think He is? I mean really?

 

Again, I am going to ask you to clear your mind of what we think of when we think of having dinner with someone and step back into time on what eating with others meant in the first century. Eating together was a powerful symbol. You see according to the Law, an Israelite who placed himself in contact with ritually unclean people, became unclean as well. This can be found in Leviticus 15:7 and Numbers 19:22.

Thus the conflict.
Justifiably so.

The Pharisees have been trained since they could read to follow the letter of the word, up to it’s dotted I’s and its crossed T’s.

They had been forced to memorize it until they were blue in the face.

And if they so much as slipped, the smallest fraction of an inch, there would be another Pharisee right next to them, who would call them on it.

That was their way of life.
So, I think we can give them a bit of slack here.
But not too much.
Think about it.

The Pharisees have been listening to Jesus teach. They are not stupid, in fact, they are brilliant, and they know that the words Jesus is using, the teachings He has presented, are remarkable. If they were pressed to be “honest” they would have said Jesus had a grasp on the Scriptures, like no one they have ever met. You will notice every time they try to trick Jesus up with questions, Jesus out wits them and wins the debate.

I think the Pharisees are not willing to have their way of life disturbed. They have been the King Pins of Religion for centuries and now this “uneducated” carpenter from Nazareth comes along and at the age of 30 or so, and starts showing them up.

Ego buster!

You see, along with being knowledgeable in the Scriptures the Pharisees have become “owners” of the Scriptures.

 

If we look back in history, it tends to repeat itself. Wasn’t this a similar problem for Martin Luther and the Catholic Church? The Catholic Church was acting like it owned faith. If you weren’t able to do what the priest said and give to the church what was “required” in the form of “the sale of indulgences”, you were out of luck and missed grace. You see, the Catholic Church had established a system for getting rid of the punishments you were to receive in Purgatory by selling indulgences. The money raised was to refurbish the Basilica of St. Peter in Rome. Martin Luther had been studying the New Testament, specifically the book of Romans, and had come to understand that grace was “free”,

a gift from God

to all who asked for it.

Forgiveness and grace had been paid for by the crucifixion of Jesus, and God offered His grace to everyone, not just those who could afford it.

Martin actually came up with “95 Thesis”, a series of statements that presented a logical argument against the sale of indulgences.

The rest is history, the beginning of the Protestant Church.

 
Now back to the Pharisees.

Have you noticed, that every time they have a problem with what Jesus does, rather than talking to Jesus about it, they approach his disciples.

In verse 16 it says, “They asked His disciples, “Why does He eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners’”.

And did you notice, we don’t get to hear what the disciples say, instead we are told what Jesus has to say, upon hearing the question. Jesus, basically says He has come to heal the sick, not the healthy, or the sinners are the ones who need him, not the righteous.

 
I would beg to differ on that one.

It seems to me both groups are in need of Jesus’ mercy and grace.

It is just that one group is more open to receiving God’s grace and mercy than the other.

You see, the Pharisee’s had made assumptions of what God would be like. They had spent so much time learning how to do things correctly they had forgotten the purpose for doing their rituals in the first place.

Faith in God for the Pharisee had become a set of “rights and wrongs” and not a position of the heart.

They had forgotten how even David, had done things that were not ritually correct and yet God described him “as being a man after God’s own heart”.

That is the key point, one’s faith should not be more important than one’s relationship with God.

I think God saw what was happening to the Jewish religion and chose the time and place necessary for Him to send His son Jesus, down to earth and shake things up a bit, or maybe a lot.

 

As a side note, I think God did the same thing with Martin Luther, John Wesley and John Calvin. Men whom God used to alter the

mis-use of faith in their generation.

It’s clear, in this instance, the Pharisees are confused. Whether they are asking the question because they really don’t understand or they are asking the question to disqualify Jesus as being from God,

is not the point.
The point is,

Levi and the sinners Jesus was eating with made no assumptions. They desired a relationship with Jesus, and Jesus did the same. They chose to live by faith, not assumptions and by doing so, they learned to trust in Jesus and in God.

The Pharisees, on the other hand, had too much to lose if they decided to follow Jesus and so they remained His adversary and thus His executor.

As we continue to read in today’s Scripture, more questions are asked of Jesus. As a teacher myself, I am encouraged so many questions are being asked. Remember, Jesus is claiming to be the Son of God, actually God Incarnate, and with that being said, the people around Him are honestly confused.

Because what Jesus says and some of  Jesus’ actions don’t match what they have been taught up to now.

And if Martin Luther did anything, I think he taught us how to ask the questions, that come to us, of our religious teachers when what the religious leaders are saying and what we experience in life, don’t match.

And in today’s Scripture we have people asking Jesus, why is it that John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees are fasting but Jesus’ disciples are not fasting.

Excellent question!

When we read back in chapter 1, verse 15, Jesus said, “The time has come, the kingdom of God is near, REPENT, and believe the good news!”

Up until now, any religious person who was asked to “repent”, was required to fast as a sign of their repentance. And yet, Jesus’ disciples were not required to fast.

 
 
 

I get the picture of two children, where one is having to do the self-sacrificing and the other isn’t. So the one who is expected to sacrifice asks their parent, “How come I have to fast? I am being asked not to eat, wear sackcloth and spend time in prayer and supplication and my brother here gets to eat, drink and be merry? Not Fair!”

Again, here we have Jesus, turning tradition upside-down.

If you remember the other words in verse 15, Jesus not only said, “repent” He also said, the Kingdom of God is near. If you think about it, the Kingdom of God, is different from what is happening on earth. Jesus tries to explain.

Fasting was established as a response to mourning. You do something that separates you from God and that is not good, so you mourn that separation, and fast.

But God was with His disciples. God was in the flesh, Jesus. This meant those who followed Him were not “separated” from God, they were eating, drinking, walking and talking with God. This was not a time for fasting, that would come after Jesus’ crucifixion, when He would separate himself and go back to heaven. For now, this was a time to have a banquet.

The analogy Jesus used was that of a wedding. He is the bridegroom and His church, us, is His bride. The bridegroom was in the house, time to party. The Jewish people knew how to party and rejoice. Weddings were feasts!

Jesus continues his analogy with the contrasts of mixing the old with the new. For Jesus’ disciples fasting while Jesus was with them would have been like sewing a new piece of fabric on an old garment, or like putting new wine into an old wine skin.

Analogies that may have made sense in the first century, but in 21st century America, they are not so clear. When we have a tear in a garment, we throw it away and buy a new one, and we store our wine in bottles.

However, I do think we may still have difficulty understanding the concept of grace.

Just like the Pharisees, grace often times does not come easily to us. Humans still find it easier to measure how well we are doing and how we stand with God.

The concept that “anyone” no matter what they have done, is loved by God,

 
offered grace,
and their sins are forgiven,
is still difficult to grasp.
That the things we do
or don’t do, are covered
and it is the direction of our heart that God is looking at.

And since we cannot see the direction of one’s heart, we rely on the actions to tell us where the heart is. We have this “understood” law that helps us regulate whether or not we and our fellow Christians are “saved” or not.

Let me share some of these so called, “requirements”

-       We avoid lying, stealing and murder

-       We try to avoid vulgar language

-       We avoid sexual sin

-       We don’t miss church

-       We help others

I think you get the picture and may have other “do’s and don’ts” to add to the list.

Now, don’t get me wrong, these are good behavior patterns, and part of the way we should desire to live when we have fellowship with God. But notice I said, “part of the way”.

Fellowship with God is NOT based on the law, or on what we “do”.

It is based on God’s faithfulness to his word of grace.
I am going to repeat that because it is important,

Fellowship with God is based on God’s faithfulness to His word of grace.

From the Old Testament, where it is written in Deuteronomy 4:31, “For the LORD, your God is a merciful God; he will not abandon or destroy you or forget the covenant with your forefathers, which he confirmed to them by oath.”

To Malachi 3:6, where God says, “I the LORD do not change, So you, O descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed.” We are told that

God will not do anything against what He has stated.

His word and himself are one.
 

John 1:1 “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.”

 
Many of us have John 3:16 memorized,

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.”

 

I think John 3:17 is just as important to memorize and certainly as important to comprehend.

It reads, “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.”

I have a quote from Paul Harvey written on the inside of my Bible that reads, “We as Christians are not in the judgment business, we’re in the salvation business. We’re supposed to lead people to the cross, not nail them to it!”

 

The Pharisees were known for doing just that, nailing people to the cross. It was because they saw the Law as being what was important, rather than the person, even the person of Jesus Christ.

 

Which brings us back to the central message of Jesus’ ministry – Jesus was bringing a new message from God, about God.

Right now I want you to ask yourself this question
“Do I truly understand God’s grace?”
God’s grace for myself? God’s grace for others?

When we are truly honest with ourselves, we know that despite constant trying, we still sin. Where does that leave us?

Well, we can either try harder not to sin, ……
bad answer / sounds like a Pharisee to me,/ OR

we can turn it over to God and trust Him to forgive us and make us righteous because of what He has done, not because of what we have done.

That is a definition of faith.
And true faith, gives us rest.

It transforms godly living from a duty, in order to prove our righteousness, to a way of taking part of being in relationship with Jesus. Something like the disciples being in the presence of Jesus and not having to fast, but being allowed to relax and enjoy His presence. And how many of us here today, couldn’t use a good rest?

 
Let’s pray,
 
Dear God,

Our lives our full of having to perform. We are required to be something and do something everywhere we go. Whether we are at home, performing the tasks of mother, father, grandmother, grandfather, husband, wife, or child. Or at work, performing the tasks of being a good employee or boss. There are expectations we have from others and from ourselves. We want to thank you, that your Son Jesus came to demonstrate the new covenant with you. The covenant that states that faith in you is based on what you have done for us, not what we will do for you. Help each of us to trust in your Word, which is faithful, does not change and desires that each of us come into relationship with you. Then when we do, help us to understand the new message, the message of resting in you. And help us to pass this grace on – to everyone we meet.

In Jesus’ name , Amen.