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Mark 2:18-3:6 The Old and the New Print E-mail
Sunday, 29 July 2007

One of the important issues that the early Church faced was establishing a clear distinction between Judaism and Christianity.  As we considered a few weeks ago in our Sunday Night series on Church History, the Church struggled in separating itself from those who ‘believed’ in Christ and yet wanted to require obedience to the Law for salvation (see particularly Acts 15).  Paul is confronting this issue in the book of Galatians as well.  The difficulty is understanding how this ‘new’ religion of faith in Christ relates to the ‘old’ religion of Judaism.  What is the role of the Law for the life of Christians (a question that is still debated)?  How does the coming of Christ impact and change belief in Yahweh?  These were vital questions that the early Church was trying to answer.

Yet, what did Jesus have to say about all this?  Granted, answering this fully is beyond the scope of our sermon this morning, but we do need to consider the question in light of our text.  Notice what Jesus says in 2:21-22.  There is a necessary shift from old to new.  Jesus’ ministry has been all about proclaiming that the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.  The coming of the Kingdom, through the life and ministry of Christ, will radically change all of history.  The new will not fit into the mold of the old. 

Of course, Jesus does not do away with the Law or the Old Testament.  From His teaching and the other New Testament writers, we see a clear continuity between both testaments.  Yet, to fail to recognize the new is a grave error.  To attempt at making the new conform to the old is an error as well.  No, as much as there is continuity, there is also discontinuity.  For example, under both covenants, an atoning sacrifice for sin is required, thus, continuity.  Yet, under the new covenant, the sacrifice for sin has been made once for all at Calvary and does not require repeated sacrifices, thus, discontinuity.  The book of Hebrews helps us greatly in understanding this relationship between the old and the new covenant.

As for our text this morning, we have a situation where Jesus is confronting the old.  Of course it should be noted that part of what He is confronting is a misunderstanding and a misapplication of the old.  This confrontation will lead to more and more objections from the religious leaders of the day.  Jesus is consistently confronting the old with Himself, His very person and work.  Thus, this morning I want to consider three statements about Christ from our text that confront the old.

First, Jesus is the Bridegroom (2:18-20).

The first objection to Jesus’ ministry in our text deals with the issue of fasting.  Look at 2:18-20.  Although the Law did not require it, the Pharisee’s set aside two days for fasting every week.  It seems that John’s disciples had a similar practice.  This unidentified group of people could not understand why Jesus and His disciples did not have a regular practice of fasting.  In order to answer them, Jesus makes a comparison with a wedding celebration.  The wedding guests are not going to fast while the bridegroom is present with them, thus neither are Jesus’ disciples (the wedding guests) going to fast while He (the bridegroom) is with them.  In other words, the presence of Christ is a joyous occasion and one to be celebrated.  Of course there will come a day when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast.  Since Jesus is with them, the disciples do not need to fast, but the day will come when fasting will be necessary.

So, what can we learn about the new in these verses?  First, we see the place of Christ.  He is the bridegroom.  He is the center.  As we have said before, Yahweh has become a man, namely Jesus of Nazareth.  Thus, the new will be characterized by a focus on the person of Christ.  Second, at least one reason for fasting in the new covenant will be longing for the return of Christ.  The disciples are not fasting in the text because Christ is with them.  Yet, we now live in the days of fasting that Jesus mentions, for we are expectantly awaiting the return of Christ.  Thus, the followers of Christ will fast as they long for the return of the King.

Let me pause at this point and say some more about the discipline of fasting.  If I am honest, I must admit that fasting is not a form of worship that I talk about much or participate in much.  Yet, even though there is not extensive teaching on it in the New Testament, it is an appropriate form of worship for followers of Christ.  From this text, we see that fasting is part of our longing for the presence of Christ.  I challenge you to worship the Lord through fasting.  Set aside time to focus on your longing for the presence of Christ.

Second, Jesus is the Lord of the Sabbath (2:23-28).

The next two stories from the life of Christ deal with Jesus’ relationship to the Sabbath.  The Pharisees followed strict rules when it came to the Sabbath.  They followed the accepted code for keeping the Sabbath, which was laid out in a work called the Mishnah.  Jesus saw their practices as a misunderstanding of the Sabbath and sought to correct them.  In the first story, found in 2:23-28, the Pharisees accused Jesus disciples of breaking the Sabbath by picking heads of grain, which they apparently considered reaping, an unacceptable action on the Sabbath.  In defending His disciples, Jesus refers to the story of David and his men eating the bread of Presence found in 1 Samuel 21:1-6.  While David was fleeing from Saul, he goes to the priest at Nob and eats the bread that was considered holy bread.  Now, why does Jesus refer to this story in defense of His disciples’ action?  Let me answer with two possible reasons. 

First, as Jesus will allude to in verse 27, it is alright for man’s needs to be met on the Sabbath.  Jesus’ disciples needed food just like David and his men.  Second, since Jesus refers to Himself as being lord even of the Sabbath in verse 28, Jesus seems to be using this story to show that someone greater than David has arrived.  In other words, if it was permissible for David and his men to eat the bread because of who David was (and who he was to become), then surely Christ’s disciples can do the same since Christ is lord of the Sabbath and Lord of all.  Thus, Jesus is making a bold statement here with His reference to David and His claim to be lord of the Sabbath.  He is confronting their understanding and application of the Sabbath, which leads to our third statement about Christ.

Third, Jesus is the true interpreter of the Law (3:1-6).

In the second story, Jesus heals a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath, another action that they were apparently going to use to accuse Jesus of breaking the Sabbath.  Yet, once again, Christ knew what they were thinking and asked them a question: Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?  As Jesus does often, He puts forward a question that they cannot answer.  If they admit that it is lawful to save life on the Sabbath, then Jesus will be justified in healing the man.  If they say the opposite, then all will condemn them for such an answer.  Thus, they can only remain silent as Jesus heals the man and begin their plans for seeking to destroy Him. 

In this story, Jesus again points out their misunderstanding of the Sabbath.  How can they have rules that make it unlawful to heal someone?  How can they be more concerned abut keeping their traditions than they are about the restoration of the man’s hand.  With their rules and traditions they have lost the spirit of the Law and misapplied the regulations concerning the Sabbath.  Jesus is not afraid to correct such errors.  Not only did the Pharisees not recognize the coming of the new in Christ, they did not even recognize the true intent and proper application of the old.  Christ is correcting both of these errors through His actions and teaching here.

When we put these stories together, along with the stories from last week beginning in chapter 2, it seems that Mark is emphasizing the authority of Christ and the coming of the new.  Jesus can and does forgive sins and call sinners.  Jesus is the bridegroom and the focus of true worship.  Jesus is lord of the Sabbath.  As we have noted before, Mark is teaching us about Christ, who He is and what He did.  At the same time, he is teaching us about what it means to truly follow our Savior.  So then, how does this passage instruct us in our pursuit of Christ?

First, we need to recognize Christ as the center of our worship.  The Bridegroom has come.  He has lived a perfect life in our place.  He was willing to suffer under the wrath that we deserved.  What was shadowed in the sacrificial system of the old covenant, He fulfilled by offering Himself at Calvary.  The new covenant was established with His blood (see Mark 14:22-25).  Not only has He come, but the Bridegroom has promised to return.  He has told us that He will come again.  He has assured us that all of those who eat His flesh and drink His blood in faith, will one day sup with Him in the Kingdom. 

Thus, the focus of our worship is none other than Jesus of Nazareth.  Our songs are His.  Our giving is to Him.  Our prayers are offered in the authority of His name.  Our fasting is a longing for His presence.  All praise and honor and glory are due to Him.  The Pharisees missed it because they did not recognize the very God they professed to worship.  They missed it because they did not believe in Christ.  May God grant us grace to avoid such an error.

Second, we need to worship Christ in the way that He directs us in His Word.  One of the reasons the Pharisees misunderstood Christ is that they misunderstood the Law and its proper application.  They were great at going through the motions.  They could quote the Law with the best of them.  They were zealous.  Yet, their passion was misdirected.  They had elevated rules and traditions over the very Word of God.  They had missed the point.  The Law was given to regulate (guard) their relationship with Yahweh until the coming of the Messiah (see Galatians 3:29ff).  Yet, they were so concerned with the regulations that they lost the relationship that they were meant to guard. 

Unfortunately, the Pharisees were not the last to struggle with such errors.  We have our own versions of the Mishnah that we have elevated above the Word of God.  We are often more concerned with our traditions than we are with the good of others, namely the salvation of their souls.  Christ has come and by His death and resurrection has established a new covenant with His people.  We cannot afford to misunderstand and misapply the new covenant like the Pharisees did with the old.  May we bow the knee to Christ, allowing His Word to direct us in our following hard after Him.  Amen.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Wednesday, 08 August 2007 )

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