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How to respond to gossip

We’re continuing to talk about gossip this morning. As I said last week gossip is a real problem in our relationships – whether family, friends, work or the church. Our focus today, however, is not on the one who gossips, but on the one who hears the gossip. It takes two to gossip and listening is just as crucial as the sharing, for gossip to take place.

We love to hear gossip, don’t we?

Proverbs 18:8 (also 26:22) says it this way, “The words of a whisperer are like delicious morsels.” The Contemporary English Version says, “There’s nothing so delicious as the taste of gossip!” Even if we might have qualms about dishing it out, we nevertheless love to consume it.

There are several reasons for this. We’re curious about the hidden lives of others. We also wonder if other people have weaknesses and problems like we do and, perhaps, take secret joy when their problems seem worse than ours. Also, as sociologists point out, sharing secrets is a means of social bonding. It makes you feel special if someone shares secrets with you; you’re on the in. And unfortunately, gossip can be a part of this bonding process.

So we like to hear gossip, but before we leave this “eating” metaphor behind – let me just say that when you consume gossip, what you’re actually doing is consuming the other person. In a church context those delicious morsels (Proverbs 18) are your brothers and sisters in the Lord, cut up and served in bite sized pieces.

In other words, receiving gossip is a form of cannibalism. As Paul says in Galatians 5:15, “if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.”

Instead of consuming we need to learn new ways of responding when gossip comes our way. So I want to share with you three things this morning that will get us started in the right direction.

1. Learn to recognize gossip

As we saw last week, there are three kinds of gossip:

  • Groundless speculation about the affairs of others.This is when we know just a bit of information, but then fill in the rest with our ignorant conjectures; usually assuming the worst about the person and what’s going on in their lives.
  • Revealing secrets & breaking confidences. Someone entrusts something to you, but you just can’t resist telling others.
  • Spreading negative information about others.Whether true or not, the sharing is done to tear down the person.

What I’m saying here is that we need to become attuned to gossip so that when you hear it a light goes on; you become aware of what’s happening. And you can respond appropriately.

And even just to ask the question is a good practice. After church last week several of us were talking and someone asked, “Hey wait, is this gossip?” That’s great! It shows that we’re trying to be careful and monitor what we say about others.

2. Don’t receive the gossip

That is, don’t let gossip shape your opinion and outlook toward others.

First of all, don’t receive it out of humilityIn humility we need to recognize that our ability to size up other people is quite limited. Only God knows their heart and all that is going on in their lives. And in humility we must make allowance for the fact that others who share with us get things wrong.

So accept that you don’t know the whole situation and neither does the person sharing. I have learned that there are always (at least) 2 sides to every story and the reality is usually much more complex than what’s being shared. Just because someone tells you something, doesn’t mean you really know what’s going on in someone else’s life.

Don’t receive it out of loveAs we saw last week love always hopes the best for others and thinks the best of others, not the worst. As I Corinthians 13:7 says, “love believes all things, hopes all things.” Also, love wants to build others up and is grieved when others are torn down. As I Corinthians 8:1 says, “love builds up.” And so our love for others keeps us from accepting secret dirt on them.

Don’t receive it and if you need to, talk to the person face to face: If you hear something negative either suspend judgment by accepting that you don’t really know what’s going on and so you don’t let it shape your opinion of the person. Or if it seems serious, check it out for yourself by going to the person or persons involved face to face, according to the principle laid out in Matthew 18:15. Only then can we come to conclusions on what’s going on in a situation.

We need to covenant with each other in this that we will not come to conclusions about each other based on gossip and mere appearances, but only after face to face contact. As Jesus says in John 7:24, “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.”

3. Help the gossiper to stop

Let’s just note first that it’s really easy to fall into gossip, and some people are not fully aware of what they’re doing; some are not being intentionally malicious even though what they are doing is very wrong. And we need to take all this into account in terms of how you respond. Some gossipers are intentional and malicious; perhaps most are not.

Remind them of humilityJust as you apply this to yourself, apply it to them. Remind them that they most likely don’t know the whole story. Ask, “How do you know that?” “Are you sure you know the whole story?” “Is that just your interpretation of what happened?”

Remind them of love: Encourage them to think the best and hope for the best of the person. Say, “That sounds serious, what should we do to help so and so?” Or say good things about the person which takes all the fun out of it and makes the gossiper uncomfortable. Or say, “This is a sensitive issue, I bet so and so wouldn’t want others to know about this.”

Send them to the person in question according to the principle of Matthew 18:15: Ask, “Have you talked to the person yet?” “Did you get permission to share that private information?” We have to work hard at breaking apart triangling, that is, going to a third party, instead of to the person in question. So we do this by sending the gossiper back to the person they’re talking about. Offer to go with them, if needed.

Tell them to stop: If there’s no response to previous efforts we will need to be a bit more firm, especially if it’s a pattern of behavior in their life. As Luke 17:3 teaches, “If your brother (or sister) sins, tell him (or her) to stop . . ..” Say it how you want, according to what fits with the situation, and your personality – as long as it is gentle and loving. But admonish them to stop. Say something like, “You really shouldn’t be saying things like that.” Or, “You need to stop before people get hurt.”

Finally remember –

It takes two to gossip

Proverbs 26:20 says, “For lack of wood the fire goes out, and where there is no whisperer, quarreling ceases.” Well, if gossip fuels strife, as this verse teaches, it’s listening ears that fuel gossip. And if we take away the fuel of listening, gossip will fade away. So my appeal is – let’s stop listening to gossip! Let’s be a gossip resistant church. Let’s be gossip resistant people.

May the Spirit help us in this. May the Spirit cause us to love our brothers and sisters in the Lord more than we love to hear gossip.

Gossip: Poisonous whisperings

I want to talk about gossip today. I want us to look at some scriptural teaching on this to remind us to avoid gossip; to stay clear of such poisonous whisperings. I think this is needed. Gossip is a real problem in our relationships – whether it be with our families, our friends, or our work situations. And yes, it’s often a problem even in the church.

First of all, let’s work at some definition –

What is gossip?

Here’s a good start. It’s inappropriate sharing about others who are not present. Often the information is revealing or sensational in nature and gets responses like, “Really?” or “Wow!”

For sure, not all sharing about someone who isn’t present is gossip. There are two key parts that make gossip, gossip. First, it’s secretive, in that you don’t want the person to know what you’re saying. In other words, you would never say it to their face. I believe that much of our gossip comes from not knowing how to deal with problems and conflict with each other. Instead of going to the person who has offended you, seeking peace and resolution of the issue, face to face – as Jesus teaches, you go to someone else and tell them all about it.

Second, usually it’s negative in that what you say is meant to tear the person down. It’s not done out of love for the person or with respect for the person, nor is it a part of a process of trying to help them.

Today I want us to look at –

Three kinds of gossip

1. Groundless speculation about the affairs of others. The word for this is found in two verses. In 1 Timothy 5:13 Paul says of young widows in the church in Ephesus – “they learn to be idlers, going about from house to house, and not only idlers, but also gossips (φλύαρος) and busybodies, saying what they should not.” In 3 John 10 John says of a renegade leader in a congregation, “So when I come, I will call attention to what he is doing, spreading malicious nonsense (φλυαρέω) about us.” (NIV)

The word means babbling, or nonsense. It has to do with talking out of ignorance. You may have a bit of information, but you have no idea what’s really going on in a situation, but that doesn’t stop you! You fill in the gaps with your ignorant conjectures, usually assuming the worst about the person. These are silly, negative, meddling speculations about other people’s business.

Here’s an example of this kind of gossip: Fred has been struggling financially, but he comes to church in a new car. So someone says to another church member, “Wow, he doesn’t make enough to drive a car like that! He must have been playing the lottery! Either that or he’s found a way to cheat the IRS!” Here we see a toxic combination of ignorance and a malicious spirit.

2. Revealing secrets & breaking confidences. Someone tells you something and expects you to keep it in confidence, but you’re just dying to tell someone! So you do and figure telling one more person isn’t that big a deal. But then that person think just like you did and so they tell just one other person and the pattern repeats itself on and on until everyone knows.

Proverbs 20:19 says, “A gossip reveals secrets; therefore do not associate with a babbler.” (NRSV). Proverbs 11:13 says, “A gossip goes about telling secrets, but one who is trustworthy in spirit keeps a confidence.” (NRSV).

With regard to Fred, an example of this might go, “Well, how strange is that, a new car! I just happen to know that last year he got a gift from the benevolence fund because he wasn’t able to pay his electric bill.” This is an obvious breaking of confidence; sharing what should be private.

3. Spreading negative information about others. The word for this shows up in two texts that list out various sins. Romans 1:29 speaks of “gossips” (ψιθυριστής – gossiper), and 2 Corinthians 12:20 talks of “gossip” (ψιθυρισμός – gossip). The word here means “to whisper” – in a negative sense; you’re telling tales about others and don’t want to be found out.

The content might be false information, in which case it would be secret slander or false rumor. Or it might be true negative information, but unnecessary to share. You share it to tear down and not with concern for the person’s well-being or reputation.

With regard to Fred, a false rumor could go like this, “Hey, did you hear that Fred used the benevolence fund money to help buy a new car! Can you believe that!” Here’s an example of true but unnecessary sharing, “Fred has always been poor, and his family was before him. It seems to run in the family.” This may be true, but it’s pointless to share, other than to make him look bad.

Poor Fred, the truth is that a friend loaned the car to him, while he’s getting his fixed. He’s actually doing better now financially than ever before. So you can see how he was unfairly picked apart and torn down by all this gossip. He really went through the shredder.

Now for many, gossip is an everyday thing; no big deal. But-

In Scripture gossip is deadly serious

Why is it so bad? It destroys the reputation and standing of another. If angry words are like murder, as Jesus teaches in Matthew 5:21, a kind of frontal verbal attack, then gossip is also like murder, but it’s like poison administered in secret.

Why is it so bad? It causes strife and broken relationships in a group. Proverbs 26:20 says, “For lack of wood the fire goes out, and where there is no whisperer, quarreling ceases.” Conflicts go away! Proverbs 16:28 says, “a whisperer separates close friends.”

If we ask, how bad is it in God’s eyes? Well, in Romans 1:29 it’s in a list of sins that evidences a “debased mind . . .” along with homosexual practice, murder and hatred of God. It’s one of the practices that “deserves death” as a punishment from God (Romans 1:32).

 What should we do instead of gossip?

1. Instead of groundless speculation about the affairs of others – we should shut up and get a life. I don’t mean to sound harsh. But I do mean it. I say shut up, because we are to stop our silly, ignorant, critical speculations about other peoples’ business. I say get a life, because this kind of gossip is associated with idleness in I Timothy 5:13 (as we saw earlier). It often happens when you’ve got too much time on your hands.

The answer comes in I Thessalonians 4:11. Paul says, “aspire to live quietly (shut up), and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands (get a life).” Get enough positive things going in your own life so that you don’t need to sit around and try to analyze others.

2. Instead of breaking confidences – have integrity. If something is entrusted to you as a private matter, ask permission before you share it with others. This is a simple rule that we can all keep.

Jesus says in Matthew 5:37, “Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’” (NRSV). If you indicate you will keep a confidence, keep it. Be trustworthy (Proverbs 11:13). Keep your word.

3. Instead of spreading negative information about others – speak the truth in love. This is what Ephesians 4:15 tells us to do, “speak the truth in love.”

  • If what you share is false, learn to speak the truth about your neighbor.
  • If what you share is true but unnecessary, learn to speak in loving ways about your neighbor.

This last one, when the information is true, is probably where we struggle the most, so let’s look at this just a bit more. Only speak when there’s a redemptive purpose. Perhaps you are working through something that involves the negative behavior of another person and you need input on how to respond. Or you are involved in a process that is seeking to help the person.

Have regard for the person’s well-being and reputation. Ask, “How would I want them to speak about me if the roles were reversed?” Think about this before and while you’re sharing. This will help you to be fair to the person. The key is that you are not seeking to tear down the other person.

Let’s end by looking at –

The real issue: Your heart

Jesus says in Matthew 12:34-35, “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil.” We all have stored up in our hearts a treasure, whether good or evil. And when we speak it reveals what’s in our heart. If you’re struggling with gossip, you need a change of heart!

Do you have a negative spirit that assumes and thinks the worst of others? You need love in your heart so that you think the best of others. As I Corinthians 13:7 says, “Love . . . believes all things, hopes all things . . ..” Love assumes the best in others; it gives them the benefit of the doubt; it hopes for the best.

Do you have a critical spirit that picks apart and tears down others? You need love in your heart for others so that your words build them up. As Ephesians 4:29 says, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”

May God help each of us as we seek to overcome gossip in our lives. And may God work deep in our hearts to change us from the inside out.

Jesus’ new family. Mark 3:20-21; 31-35

The literary structure of Mark 3:20-21; 31-35

Jesus’ early Galilean ministry: Mark 1:16-3:35

Jesus’ new community take shape

We’re in a section in Mark that I am calling ‘Jesus’ new community takes shape.’ Jesus has chosen the leaders of his new community – the 12 apostles, and today we see who makes up the rest of this new community; which is the remnant of Israel.

We’re dealing with verses 20-21 out of order because these verses go with vs. 31-35. Mark is famous for putting one story in the middle of another. A kind of story sandwich, if you will. He does this because he wants the two stories to be read together, because they have something in common. In this case we see that it is not just the scribes from Jerusalem who reject Jesus – his family does as well.

Mark 3:20-21; 31-35

20Then he went home, and the crowd gathered again, so that they could not even eat.

So this verse starts just after Jesus has finished choosing the 12 apostles. When it says “he went home” (or into a house) it most likely means that he’s back in Capernaum, his home base and also it probably means that he’s in Peter and Andrew’s house again.

As always, the crowds gather around Jesus. In this instance there are so many people that “they could not even eat,” referring to Jesus and his disciples.

21And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, “He is out of his mind.”

His family back in Nazareth hears about the crowds and perhaps specifically that Jesus is not able to eat because of them and they decide that they need to do something.

What’s translated “family” here is literally “those of him.” It’s kind of a vague way of talking about his natural family. (That it is indeed is family is made clear in v. 31)

They come to “seize” him or take control of him. The word can have the sense of arresting or forcibly seizing someone. It sounds like they want to bring him back with them to Nazareth away from the crowds and the spotlight.

They do this because they think he’s out of his mind; he’s saying and doing things that they don’t understand and he’s so caught up in what he thinks is his mission from God, that he’s not eating.

Their charge that he’s out of his mind is not the same as the scribes’ charge that Jesus is demon possessed. But it’s at least analogous since demons were sometimes thought to cause insanity (John 10:20-21). As will become even more clear below – they don’t believe in him as the Son of God and anointed one at this point (See also John 7:3-5).

And so they decide to stage what we would call today a “family intervention.”  It’s unclear if their motivation is for Jesus’ own well-being or if they are primarily concerned about their family’s reputation. Maybe a bit of both. Certainly his actions reflected back on them for good or ill and family honor was a huge concern in that day.

What a painful rejection Jesus endures in our story. Can you imagine? You’re doing God’s will and your own family thinks you’re crazy. So when Jesus calls others to leave family behind or if their commitment to him causes their family to reject them just know that it happened to Jesus also.

Well our verse tells us that they set off for Capernaum. Then we skip down to v. 31.

31And his mother and his brothers came . . .

They arrive. That Joseph isn’t mentioned here suggests that he has already died. So Mary leads the delegation.

The word “brothers” can also mean more broadly “siblings.” In v. 35 Jesus mentions sisters and Jesus’ sisters may be in this group as well. Mark 6:3 – tells us that Jesus had four brothers – James, Joses, Judas and Simon – and more than one sister.

There’s no reason to think that the siblings here are anything other than Jesus’ actual step-brothers and sisters, that is – children of Joseph and Mary – born after Jesus. (Certainly actual brothers and sisters fits better the picture he paints below of his new family – Hurtado).

. . . and standing outside they sent to him and called him. 32And a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you.”

This is strange since usually one’s family is inside the house and others are outside, but we’ll see how it’s actually not that strange in a moment.

Now the crowd in vs. 20-21 is distinguished from Jesus’ disciples and they are disruptive to Jesus’ work. Here the crowd is sitting around him. Sitting at Jesus’ feet is the position of a disciple or student (2 Kings 4:38; Luke 8:35; 10:39; Acts 22:3). In other words, the crowd here is a group of disciples. In fact, this is where we meet the rest of Jesus’ new community, that is, beyond the 12 apostles. This is the remnant of Israel gathered around Jesus. (See also Mark 4:10, 34 for this group of disciples around him) (The 12 are to be “with him” 3:14, and these here are similarly “around him.”

There’s a strong contrast going on in these verses:

  • Jesus’ natural family is standing and they are outside (2x). Both of which point out spatially what is true spiritually – they’re not followers of Jesus. They’re not in a position of learning, but are on the outside looking in.
  • Jesus’ disciples are sitting and they are inside. They are the learners; they are the insiders.

And taking into account vs. 20-21:

  • Jesus’ natural family is described as “those from him.”
  • Jesus’ disciples here are described as “those around him.”

So the very way the story is told – the spatial language – (sitting, standing; outside, inside; from, around) points out the differences between the two groups in relation to commitment to Jesus and the kingdom of God.

33And he answered them, “Who are my mother and my brothers?”

This would have been quite shocking to ancient ears. And maybe we don’t even get this when we hear the story. Family was much more important than it is today and loyalty and great honor were required. But Jesus seems dismissive. But what he’s really doing is redefining family and prioritizing his relationships.

34And looking about at those who sat around him, “Here are my mother and my brothers!

His true family is made up of his disciples; those who are part of his new community of the kingdom of God; the remnant of Israel. And they have priority over his natural family.

What sets these people apart from others?

35Whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.”

 (See a similar idea in John 15:14)

Now everyone in the story – the scribes, Jesus’ family – they all think they’re doing God’s will. Jesus means, more specifically – doing God’s will according to his preaching and teachingThose sitting around him are listening to just this. And that’s what it means to be a disciple of Jesus – you learn his teaching and you put it into practice.

Notice the open ended language, “whoever.” His natural family, and all people are invited to be a part of his new community.

What Jesus teaches here raises a number of points. First we learn that the church is God’s family made up of believing Jews and Gentiles.

God is our Father. Jesus taught us to pray “our Father in heaven” – Matthew 6:9. And we are God’s children – Romans 8:14-17. And we are all brothers and sisters. In Matthew 23:8 he says, “you are all brothers” – which means brothers and sisters. And this language is used throughout the NT. And Jesus is our older brother, or the firstborn of the family – Hebrews 2:11; Romans 8:29. We are a family and this is how it’s set-up.

God’s family takes priority over our natural families. You’ve heard the saying ‘blood is thicker than water.’ This means family always has the highest priority and loyalty. Well, for Christians ‘water is thicker than blood.’ That is, the water of baptism by which we commit ourselves to Jesus takes precedence over our loyalty to our biological/legal family.

Now, don’t think this means you can ignore your family responsibilities. Jesus taught that apart from sexual immorality there is to be no divorce in Mark 10:2-12. So men can’t just dump wives they don’t like, which is a lot of what was happening. And he taught very strongly about caring for aging parents in Mark 7:6-13 (See also John 19:25-27)

It just means that if our family pressures us to do something other than what Jesus teaches, we always go with Jesus. Just as we see modeled here by Jesus. They wanted him to stop his mission. But Jesus said no.

Listen to what he has to say in Matthew 10:35-37 – “For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household.” That is because of commitment to Jesus. And then he goes on, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” Jesus and his family take priority.

Rightly understood, believers have more in common with each other than with their unbelieving natural family members.

And all of what I’ve just said applies to our country as well – our extended natural family based on biology and law. If our government tells us to do something other than what Jesus teaches us – we go with Jesus. As Peter said in Acts 5:29, “We must obey God rather than men.” Rightly understood, American believers have more in common with believers in other countries – Congo, Iraq, Russia, Colombia or wherever – than we do with unbelieving Americans.

Our new family supports us as followers of Jesus. Jesus tells those that must leave family in order to follow him that they will gain a new family. “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands . . .” – Mark 10:29-30. We may have to leave our natural family but we gain the family of Jesus.

And Jesus warns his followers that our natural families can turn on us because of our commitment to him. “And brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death.” – Mark 13:11. Our believing family, however, is here to encourage us and help us as we seek to do God’s will in this world.

The rejection of the Jerusalem scribes. The leaders of old Israel. Mark 3:22-30

Jesus’ new community takes shape

The literary structure of Mark 3:22-30

Last week we saw how Jesus chose 12 apostles as leaders of his new community; a remnant of faithful Israel. Today we see how the leaders of old Israel decisively reject him. There’s a parting of the ways taking place here.

Next week we’ll see how Jesus’ family rejects him, although later they come to believe. So this part of Mark that talks about Jesus’ new community taking shape is also defined by rejection of Jesus by those who are not a part of this new community.

In our story today there’s a very serious exchange between Jesus and the scribes on the topic of casting out demons, the work of the Holy Spirit and what is sometimes called the unpardonable sin.

Mark 3:22-30

22And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem were saying, “He is possessed by Beelzebul,” and “by the prince of demons he casts out the demons.”

Jesus’ casting out of demons is emphasized in the gospel of Mark. Jesus’ authority over them is quite amazing. They’re afraid of him (e.g. 1:24). And he silences them and casts them out with a mere word.

Notice that there’s no debate that Jesus can cast out demons or heal people for that matter. Everyone agrees that he can. The debate now is about how he does this.

Scribes were the educated class of ancient societies, and given that Israel’s culture was governed by the Law of Moses, they were experts in the Law. These particular scribes came from Jerusalem, and so it looks like this is an official delegation sent to investigate Jesus on behalf of the leaders in Jerusalem. (We have already seen that some of the crowd around Jesus has come from Jerusalem – 3:8.)

The scribes come out against Jesus and begin to accuse him and try to discredit him before the crowds. They claimed that the reason Jesus is so amazingly successful at casting out demons is that he’s possessed by a demon, specifically “the prince of demons” – Beelzebul, which is another name for Satan. That’s why he can do what he does. [For this charge see also John 8:48, 52; 10:20] [Beelzebul is made up of two words: “Baal” – the name of a Canaanite god, which means “lord.” And “zebul” which most likely means “dwelling” or “house.”] [In 2 Kings 1:2 ff. Baal the god of Ekron, is called Baal-zebub, which seems to be an intentional change of his name by Israelites to mean – Lord of the flies or the filth.] [Note the house metaphors in this passage and how there appears to be a word pay in Matthew 10:25 between “master of the house” and Beelzebul.]

[The scribes make one charge not two. Mark summarizes their words in v. 30 by simply saying, “he has an unclean spirit.” See also Matthew 12:24; Luke 11:15.]

There’s a lesson here in the scribes’ response: Miracles don’t always convince people. We sometimes think, you know, if God would just do something miraculous people would believe. But miracles can be doubted and they can be interpreted differently. Jesus’ miracles did get peoples’ attention, but in the end they didn’t convince many people. Most of the crowds came to reject him.

Jesus’ first response to the scribes is to point out that their charge is absurd. It’s illogical.

23And he called them to him and said to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan?”

(The word “called” is the same as the one used when Jesus called the 12 apostles. So this sets up a contrast between these two sets of leaders.)

He called them to him because they were spreading slander about him and he’s confronting them and warning them. (France). This is a good example to us. When someone sins against you go to the person to deal with the issue. This is what Jesus teaches in Matthew 18:15. Don’t do what the scribes do – go and talk to everyone else. Go to the person or persons face to face.

It says that he spoke to them in parables. The word parable (Hebrew – Masal) has a broad meaning. We usually think of a story parable but it also includes things like proverbs, metaphors or riddles like we have in our passage. A parable is anything that compares two things to make a point.

That their charge is absurd is pointed out by his question: How can Satan cast our Satan The demons that Jesus defeats are Satan’s agents who are doing his will. It really would be like casting himself out! Satan wants to oppress, possess and destroy people. Why would he want to give freedom and release from himself? This doesn’t make sense.

He gives two illustrations –

24If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.

The comparison to a kingdom is apt because Satan is called here a “prince.” Jesus also uses the metaphor of a house, or since Satan is a prince, we could say a royal household. (This last example is likely a play on words with the name Beelzebul). And the point is, if there’s a civil war going on or if a household is fighting – these entities will fall apart.

He then applies this to Satan –

26And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but is coming to an end.

If Satan is in revolt against himself things really are falling apart. But that’s not the case. That Satan’s kingdom has not collapsed refutes their charge (Stein). This is shown by how many demons Jesus is casting out. Satan is alive and well.

Jesus gives us the correct assessment of what’s going on when he casts out demons in verse –

27But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. Then indeed he may plunder his house.

(Jesus continues with a house metaphor.) In this parable:

  • The strong man is Satan
  • The house is world. As Jesus says in John 12:31 Satan is “the ruler of this world.”
  • His goods are the people who are under his control – specifically here the demon possession.
  • To plunder is to set people free by casting out demons.
  • To bind is to overpower Satan so that he can do nothing about it. (There is no necessary reference to a one-time event when this happened. Jesus is just more powerful. And whenever he engages Satan or his representatives he wins.)

Jesus is this stronger one (Luke 11:22) who can enter Satan’s domain and set his captives free (Luke 13:16). All Satan and his demons can do is submit to Jesus. So this is what’s really going on. Jesus is assaulting Satan’s kingdom. He has come to establish the kingdom of God and he is doing so by the power of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 12:28: Luke 11:20), as our next verse will make clear.

Jesus’ other response to the scribes is that their charge is unforgiveable blasphemy.

28Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter . . .

The word “truly” is literally “amen” which means “confirmed” or “verified.” This way of talking is unique to Jesus. It’s similar to the Old Testament, “thus says the Lord.” And he uses it to say something really important.

Jesus is pretty broad here – “all sins” can be forgiven, and “whatever blasphemies.” Blasphemy means to slander, defame or speak against someone, in this case God. And blasphemy against God is a capital offense (Leviticus 24:13-16). But notice what Jesus says. All sins and blasphemies can be forgiven (with one exception, as we’ll see). There’s good news in this statement. What are the worst sins you can think of? What are the worst sins you have committed? Jesus tells us these can be forgiven. This speaks to the depths of God’s mercy and grace toward us.

There’s only one exception to Jesus’ statement –

. . . 29but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”

(See also on blasphemy of the Spirit – Luke 12:10; Matthew 12:32)

The scribes were not just slandering Jesus, which is forgivable (Matthew 12:32). They’re slandering, blaspheming or speaking against (Matthew 12:32) the Holy Spirit of God — since it’s the Spirit that empowers Jesus to do what he does. Notice the double emphasis – “never has forgiveness;” and “is guilty of an eternal sin.” The point is clear. It won’t be forgiven.

 How does one commit this sin? People sometimes fret or are afraid that they have done this or will do this. Well, Mark makes it clear –

30for they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.”

 You commit this sin if you say that what the Holy Spirit did through Jesus – casting out demons, miracles, healings – is the work of a demonic spirit.

Now the Spirit works through others, but never more powerfully and clearly than through Jesus. And I believe that Mark is showing us that this sin has to do specifically with the work of the Spirit through Jesus. As he says, they said that Jesus has an unclean spirit.

And this sin is committed by those who know better, in this case the scribes. It’s not made by someone who doesn’t really understand things. It’s not a stray thought that comes into your mind. It’s a position you that you take about the Spirit’s work through Jesus – that it’s of Satan.

To say this is to say that black is white and white is black. It’s like Isaiah 5:20 says, “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness.”

We see here that the honor of the Spirit, who is gentle, quiet and pure is zealously guarded by God.

Let me end by emphasizing the main point. Jesus has complete power and authority over Satan and his demons. He is the stronger one who overpowers Satan and there is nothing Satan or his demons can do about it.

Now, you don’t have to be demon possessed to need Jesus’ deliverance. Satan is the ruler of this world and we all have been or need to be set free to one degree or another. So in whatever way you need to be saved – Jesus can do it. Even Christians can give him a foothold in our lives when we walk in sin. Look to him! He will break you out of the strongman’s house. He will set you free! And he will receive you into his kingdom, the kingdom of God.

Jesus chooses 12 apostles: The leaders of new Israel. Mark 3:13-19

The literary structure of Mark 3:13-19

Jesus’ new community takes shape, further rejection. The structure of Mark 3:13-35

We’re in a new section of Mark today, which I’m calling “Jesus’ new community takes shape.” We are looking at the beginning of this section, Mark 3:19-20 where Jesus chooses 12 apostles as the leaders of new Israel.

Let’s jump into our passage for today, and as we go along I will point out five brief lessons for us in these verses.

Mark 3:13-20

13And he went up on the mountain and called to him those whom he desired, and they came to him.

 So Jesus has left the crowd that he ministered to in 3:7-12, as we saw last week, and has gotten away to a private place. In this case he’s up on a mountain.

In the Old Testament mountains are where some pretty important things happen. Remember, for instance, that God formed the 12 tribes of Israel into a nation, his people at Mt. Sinai – Exodus 19.

Now, Jesus has already called Simon-Peter, Andrew, James and John. (1:16-20). He has also called Levi the tax collector to follow him (2:14). And there were others who followed Jesus as disciples. Mark 2:15 talks about his disciples and says, “there were many who followed him.”

So out of this larger group of disciples he selects some for a special role. And he chose them himself. He called them, just as God still calls people today to be leaders among his people. And, it says, “they came to him.”

14And he appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) . . .

If we ask, “Why 12 apostles?” The answer is that just as there were 12 tribes of Israel, so there are 12 apostles to show that Jesus is intentionally reconstituting Israel. He is creating a new Israel out of the old Israel; a faithful remnant. He is creating the new, messianic Israel. And so the 12 apostles represent the 12 tribes of this new Israel. And this happens on a mountain, just as in the Old Testament in Exodus 19, when Israel was originally formed.

We have already seen how the leaders of old Israel have opposed Jesus. And in fact, some have already schemed to try to kill him. And just after this story, we have a delegation of leaders from Jerusalem who come and condemn Jesus as being possessed by Satan. So Jesus is calling out and forming a remnant and these are the leaders of this new remnant.

Here’s our first lesson, We are a part of this renewed Israel, made up of believing Jews and also believing Gentiles; those who own Jesus as the anointed one and God’s Son, and who walk in his ways. This is who we are as the church. We are the renewed messianic Israel, spoken of by the prophets of old. We are God’s people.

As Peter says, echoing the language of Exodus 19 when Israel was formed at Mt. Sinai,“you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” – 1 Peter 2:9.

Here’s another lesson from this, Jesus fulfills the role of God in creating this new, faithful remnant. Just as it was God who chose and established the 12 tribes of Israel as his people; here Jesus is the one who chooses and establishes the new Israel. He is not one of the 12, but the one who established them. He takes on God’s role. This is just one more way that we see Jesus’ unique divine identity in the gospel.

So in these lessons we learn about who we are – we are renewed Israel, and we learn who Jesus is – he is the Lord of all.

So Jesus chooses these twelve –

. . . so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach 15and have authority to cast out demons.

 Here we learn a bit about what they are to do. First they are to “be with him.” They are to follow Jesus around, witnessing what he does and learning what he teaches.

And second, they are to perform certain tasks. The word apostle itself means “one sent with a task.” And the verb in the phrase “he might send them” comes from the same root word. Two tasks are highlighted. They are to preach/teach & cast out demons. 

Although it’s not mentioned here they also healed people just like Jesus did when he sent them out (Mark 6:13). And they also did many other things – from crowd control to helping Jesus distribute food when he miraculously fed the crowds.

Beyond this the apostles are chosen to officially represent Jesus. This is also a part of what the word apostle means, they are his authorized agents or representatives. They speak and act for him.

And it’s because of them that we have the Gospels; they preserved and passed on Jesus’ stories and teachings (Luke 1:2). And it’s because of them that what we have as the New Testament has authority. What is apostolic, or from the apostolic church, is what is authoritative, because they are his official representatives. Rightly understood this is the basis of New Testament scriptural authority.

And in light of Jesus’ upcoming death, which is even alluded to in our passage (v. 19), they are chosen to carry on the mission and lead God’s people after he is gone as we see in the book of Acts.

And finally, they will be rulers in the fullness of the kingdom. Jesus said this to them in Matthew 19:28, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

Here are a couple of lessons about how ministry works for leaders or anyone: We need to be with Jesus first; in relationship with him, learning from him – and then we can do the tasks he calls us to do. Without being in his presence, we will not able to do the tasks he gives us to do. What I’m saying is that the very way this is written shows the priority of being with Jesus first.

Also, Jesus empowers those he chooses. Here we see that he gave them specific tasks, and it says he gave them “authority to cast out demons.” He gave them of his authority/power, which we have been amazed by in the gospel of Mark thus far. When God calls you to do something, he will empower you as well. He will not leave you hanging.

Next we learn the names of the 12 –

16He appointed the twelve:

There are four lists of the apostles in the New Testament (Matthew 10:2-4, here in Mark, Luke 6:13-16 and Acts 1:13). In each list the names break down into three groups of four people (except Acts does not list Judas Iscariot). (For references to the 12 in Mark – here and in 4:10; 6:7; 9:35; 10:32; 11:11; 14:10, 17, 20, 43).

Let’s go through this briefly. The first is –

Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter)

In all the lists, Simon Peter is first. He’s the leader and spokesperson of the 12. Jesus here gives him the nickname “Peter” which means rock or stone. (For more on Peter as a rock see Matthew 16:17-19) (Up until this point Mark has called him Simon, but hereafter will only call him Peter.) (Peter was also known as “son of John” – John 1:47; Matthew 16:17.)

 Next are –

17James the son of Zebedee and John the brother of James (to whom he gave the name Boanerges, that is, Sons of Thunder)

 James and John are brothers, the sons of Zebedee. Jesus also gives them a nickname, although what “Sons of thunder” means isn’t clear. Some have noted that they come across as brash in several places (Mark 9:38; 10:35 ff; Luke 9:54). James is the only apostle whose death for Jesus is recorded in the New Testament (Acts 12:2).

These first three make up Jesus’ inner circle who accompany him when the other 9 do not. And they were leaders in the early church, although James died pretty early on.

And then we have –

18Andrew

He’s Peter’s brother. He was a part of the inner circle at least on one occasion (13:3). He is talked about more in John’s gospel (1:40-44; 6:8; 12:22)

Our passage goes on –

and Philip

He’s always the first name in the second group of four. He plays no further role in Mark, but is mentioned several times in John (1:43 ff; 6:5-7; 12:21-22; 14:8-9)

 and Bartholomew

He doesn’t show up again in Mark or anywhere else. Although some think he is the Nathanael mentioned in the gospel of John (1:43-49; 21:2).

 and Matthew

According to the Gospel of Matthew, this is the same person as Levi (Matthew 9:9), whom Jesus called from being a tax collector in Mark 2:14. (It’s unclear why Mark wouldn’t have made this connection explicit in his gospel.)

And since Levi is the son of Alphaeus, he may be the brother of James the son of Alphaeus, another member of the 12. This would mean that there are three sets of brothers among the 12 – a full half of the list.

and Thomas

His name means “the twin.” He’s not mentioned again in Mark, but is more prominent in the gospel of John (11:16; 14:5; 20:24-28; 21:2.)

Our passage goes on –

and James the son of Alphaeus

 He’s always first on the last group of four names. He doesn’t show up again anywhere. (Although he may be the same as James the younger – Mark 15:40). “Son of Alphaeus” differentiates him from James the son of Zebedee.

 and Thaddaeus

 On the lists in Luke and Acts his name is Judas, son of James. Judas would be his Jewish name and Thaddaeus his Greek name. This was not uncommon in that day. He shows up once in John’s gospel (14:22).

 and Simon the Cananaean

 Cananaean doesn’t mean Canaanite. It means “zealot.” (Luke 6:15; Acts 1:13). Perhaps he was formerly of the group who threatened violence to Jews who broke the Law. Or he was simply a very devoted Jew. Nothing more is known of him.

19and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

He’s the infamous one, who turned Jesus over to be crucified. He’s always listed last (except in Acts 1:13 where he isn’t listed). Iscariot probably means “from Kerioth” a town in Israel. This is probably where his family was originally from (This was also his father’s name – John 6:71; 13:2, 26).

Do you remember who replaced him? Acts 1:26 – Matthias.

A more interesting question is, “Why did Jesus choose him, knowing what he would do?” Apart from that it was predicted in Scripture.

Let me end with a lesson from this list of names. God uses ordinary people to do great things for his kingdom. All of them were common, everyday people, fishermen, a tax collector and the like. Some of them we know next to nothing about even though they are one of the 12. And they all had weaknesses and failures, for instance all deserted him. And we see numerous problems in Peter, James and Johns’ lives.

Well, this is good news for us, because we are ordinary people, and we are not well known by the world, and we have weaknesses and fail from time to time – so God can use you and me too. If he could use them, and he did to change the world, he can use us just as well to do great things for his kingdom.

Jesus is mobbed by even bigger crowds. Mark 3:7-12

The literary structure of Mark 3:7-12

We’re entering into a new section of Mark today, although it’s a short one. This passage is actually a counterpart to an earlier section we’ve already looked at in 1:35-45, where Jesus is mobbed by crowds. [These are the parallels: 1) Jesus went to desolate places – Jesus withdraws to a boat on the sea. 2) People searching, coming to him – a great crowd came to him. 3) The leper kneels to ask for healing – the crowds “fall upon” him for healing. 4) The leper seeks Jesus’ touch – the crowd seeks to touch Jesus. 5) There is geographical expansion in Jesus’ ministry around Galilee – and then throughout the region of Israel and beyond.]

And notice that these two stories about crowds and Jesus are on either side of the section on the five stories of conflict that we just finished.

A. Jesus is mobbed by crowds – Mark 1:35-45

B. Five stories of conflict – Mark 2-3:6

 A1. Jesus is mobbed by even bigger crowds – Mark 3:7-12

It was the attraction of crowds by Jesus in the first section which led to opposition from various Jewish leaders. Yet this opposition did nothing to stop even more people coming to him.

Alright, let’s go through our passage and see what God has for us today.

Mark 3:7-12

7Jesus withdrew with his disciples to the sea . . .

He withdrew to get away. This means he left the city of Capernaum to the more remote seashore along the Sea of Galilee in that region.

It’s possible that this is in response to the threat against his life in 3:6. (This is how Matthew takes it – 12:15). But it may also just be that he’s trying to get away from the conflict and the crowds. Jesus did this, or tried to, from time to time as we will see in Mark 6:31 where he said to his disciples, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.”

In this case his attempt to get away didn’t work so well, as v. 7 goes on to say –

. . . and a great crowd followed, from Galilee and Judea 8and Jerusalem and Idumea and from beyond the Jordan and from around Tyre and Sidon. When the great crowd heard all that he was doing, they came to him.

There are seven place designations in all. The crowd here is bigger than any before. Mark calls it a “great crowd.”

Despite the opposition of Jewish leaders, Jesus’ influence continues to grow throughout all Israel and beyond. People are hearing about what he’s doing and want to receive from him -just as they have heard others have received from him.

It’s interesting that the crowds even come from the areas connected to the leaders who oppose him. Idumea is where Herod the Great is from, whose family the Herodians support. And Judea and Jerusalem are the home base of the Pharisees and scribes.

9And he told his disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the crowd, lest they crush him . . .

Jesus takes action. He places a restriction on the crowd by getting into the boat. Verse 10 tells us why –

10for he had healed many, so that all who had diseases pressed around him to touch him.

The people in the crowd all wanted to touch him,  not just see him or have him say something to them to be healed. So this actually presents a danger to Jesus that he will be trampled by the eager, and in some cases – desperate people in the crowd.

Although no specific healings are recorded, it’s assumed that he healed people in the crowd here as well. (Matthew 12:15 says he healed “all.”)

The phrase, “pressed around” more literally can be translated “fell upon” him. It parallels the very similar word in our next verse – “fell down before” him.

11And whenever the unclean spirits saw him, they fell down before him . . .

  • So those who wanted healing fell upon Jesus to try to touch him to be healed.
  • And those who were demonized fell down before him, a position of humility.

and (they) cried out, “You are the Son of God.”

The demons are responding to Jesus’ authority and power. They kneel before him and say who he is. And what they say is correct. Jesus is the Son of God. This is what God called Jesus at his baptism in 1:11. And this is what Mark calls him in 1:1. Jesus is truly the Son of God and the Messiah or anointed one.

As we saw before, Mark tells us that the demons know who Jesus is (1:34). They’re from the spirit world and know these things.

12And he strictly ordered them not to make him known.

The demons know who he is, but others don’t yet understand this. And because demons aren’t the best witnesses and because Jesus wants to reveal himself in his own way and according to his own timing, he silences them. Just as he restricted the crowd, so he restricts the voices of the demons.

Again, no exorcisms are recorded, but it’s assumed that Jesus didn’t just silence them but also cast them out, as was his normal practice (e.g. Mark 1:25; 34).

Here are several things I would highlight for you from this brief passage:

1. Jesus’ amazing power and authority. This is the central theme of this whole part of Mark. In our story, Jesus can heal anyone. And he has complete power over demonic spirits. This teaches us that he has the power to save us whatever our need is; whatever our situation is. This is just who Jesus is.

2. By way of contrast, in this passage we learn what Jesus really wants. With regard to the crowds Jesus patiently ministered to their needs. But as John 2:24 says, “he did not entrust himself to them.” He knows that most of them are coming to him because they want something from him. This is very different than being a disciple, which involves confessing Jesus as God’s son and Messiah and sacrificing to follow him.

He also knows that the crowds are fickle. They like him now, but will eventually turn on him and yell for his crucifixion.

What Jesus really wants is not crowds. Crowds are not a mark of true success in the kingdom of God. What does Jesus want? Disciples who will give their lives for him. This is the mark of kingdom success. (See Luke 14:25-33; John 6:60-67)

With regard to the demons, they do correctly confess that Jesus is the “Son of God.” Yet this is meaningless because they do so, not out of allegiance to him, but from a position of disobedience. You can have right belief – and their confession is orthodox – but still be rejected by God. As James says, “even the demons believe that God is one – and shudder!” 1:19. What they believe is right, but it does them no good.

This is true for people as well. In Matthew 7:21 Jesus says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” These people correctly called Jesus “Lord.” They knew who he was. They even did miracles in his name. But they’re rejected (7:23) because they don’t do God’s will as Jesus teaches this.

What does Jesus want? Not just a correct confession of who he is, he wants disciples who will obey his teaching.

3. Jesus’ patient love on full display in this story. Jesus’ ministry was grueling. It was very demanding – endless crowds with endless needs. Yet still he patiently ministered to them.

His ministry to the crowds, healing and casting out demons brings to mind two passages from Isaiah, which Matthew notes in his gospel. In his version of this story in Mark, Matthew quotes Isaiah 42:1-3. I’ll just highlight one phrase from this passage. It says, “a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench.” (Matthew 12:20; Isaiah 42:3)

What a beautiful picture of Jesus caring for the weak and needy. The reed that is almost broken is not crushed. The wick that is barely burning is not extinguished. Jesus gently brings them healing and wholeness.

A second passage, Isaiah 53:4 is also quoted by Matthew. This comes from a different episode, but where Jesus is doing the same thing – healing and casting out demons. It notes that this ministry “was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: He took our illnesses and bore our diseases.’” Matthew 8:17; Isaiah 53:4. (It’s possible that Mark’s word for diseases alludes to Isaiah 53:4, more literally “afflictions.”)

Now we usually only apply this verse to Jesus’ death on the cross. But here Matthew shows us that Jesus bore human brokenness throughout his ministry – to bring healing. He takes on and bears their brokenness and gives them healing and wholeness.

Jesus’ labors during his ministry present a portrait to us of his love, which continues on today for each one of us. Just as he patiently ministered to and loved the crowds in his day, so he patiently ministers to and loves us in all of our brokenness and need and brings us his salvation.

A worship service to remember! Mark 3:1-6. Five stories of conflict

The literary structure of Mark 3:1-6

We’re back in Mark today, finishing up the section – five stories of conflict . Here is the handout that shows how these five stories are interconnected in various ways. I’ll just mention two:

  • All five have to do with Jesus facing opposition to his displays of authority, especially from Jewish leaders.
  • And in the very middle, in the parables of the new and the old, Jesus makes the point that with his coming things change. New wine is for new wineskins.

And the fourth story and ours today, the fifth one – both have to do with the new of Jesus’ teaching on the Sabbath. In both he claims the authority to define proper Sabbath observance, even if it goes against human traditions.

Our story today is quite interesting. It’s about a worship service that involves conflict, Jesus getting angry, a healing miracle and deadly scheming. Let’s work our way through this passage to see what’s going on and also to see what we can learn.

The story

1Again he entered the synagogue and a man was there with a withered hand.

It says “again” because it was a common pattern for Jesus to go to synagogues to share his message of the kingdom (1:21).

It isn’t clear what condition the man with the withered hand had. The word “withered” can also be translated deformed, shriveled or paralyzed. In any case, it was more than just a medical need. In the culture of that day, where most did manual labor, he would likely have been reduced to begging. Also there was a stigma attached, in that he would not have been allowed to worship at the temple in Jerusalem due to his deformity (Leviticus 21:18-20).

2And they watched Jesus, to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him.

The “they” are the Pharisees, carrying over from the previous story. In this previous story they have already argued with Jesus about proper Sabbath observance.

And surely they knew that Jesus has already cast out a demon on the Sabbath in the synagogue (1:21-28). And perhaps they knew that he healed Peter’s mother-in-law in Peter’s home on the Sabbath (1:29-31). So this must have seemed to them like a perfect trap! Here is Jesus on the Sabbath and also there’s a man with a withered hand. Of course Jesus will do something!

Now, the Pharisees’ were looking to “accuse him.”That is, to bring up official charges against Jesus. And this was a serious thing. As Exodus 31:14 – says, “You shall keep the Sabbath, because it is holy for you. Everyone who profanes it shall be put to death. Whoever does any work on it, that soul shall be cut off from among his people.” This is in the background as the Pharisees look for evidence against him.

Can I just say here – what a crazy worship service!! First of all, can you imagine going each week and wondering what in the world Jesus might do? Or secondly, being in this service watching as the leaders try to find grounds to kill the visiting speaker! That’s what’s going on here.

Now, the Sabbath was important to all Jews, including Jesus, who observed it. >But there wasn’t universal agreement among the different Jewish groups on the details of how to observe it. Just as we saw last time – the question is: What constitutes work on the Sabbath? And Scripture says very little about this.

The Pharisees believed that Jesus’ healing was work. And although they made allowances for medical treatment if the life of a person was in danger, this wasn’t the case here. In their view, Jesus could easily wait until the next day to heal this man. Their attitude is summed up by a synagogue ruler in Luke 13:14, who said, “There are six days in which work ought to be done. Come on those days and be healed, and not on the Sabbath day.”

3And he said to the man with the withered hand, “Come here.”

This poor guy must have known about the tension. I’m sure you could feel it in the room. And here he’s getting drawn into it. So his response to Jesus is an act of faith. He’s getting in the middle of things, both figuratively and also literally. I say literally, because the phrase “come here” can also be translated – “stand up in the middle.” This has to do with how synagogues were typically built at this time. There were rows of seats along the outside and people on mats as well, and the middle was open. So the man is being called to stand up in the middle of the room so all can see him.

4And he said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent.

First of all, Jesus is speaking to the Pharisees, not all who are present. For many there would be just common people, like the man with the withered hand.

Jesus is making a basic point: It’s lawful to do good and to save or the word can also be translated, restore life on the Sabbath. (The word “save” often means “to make whole” in a healing context – Mark 5:28, 34; 6:56; 10:52). (Jesus is disagreeing here with the oral law of the Pharisees, not Moses).

Jesus is saying we are to do good every; we are to love our neighbor every day, not just on certain days. He’s saying, it is in fact lawful, or in accord with Moses, to love your neighbor on the Sabbath. The love command is not suspended on the Sabbath. So Jesus has a different understanding of the Sabbath. It should be observed, and observed with mercy toward others.

But beyond this, for Jesus, the Sabbath is the perfect time to heal someone, since a part of what it’s all about is celebrating the goodness and wholeness of the original creation. And with Jesus, his healing on the Sabbath represents the in-breaking of the kingdom of God, or the new creation; the Sabbath rest of the eternal kingdom. This is to be a day of freedom and joy.

The negative part of Jesus’ question is directed at the Pharisees. He’s saying it’s not lawful to seek to harm and kill on the Sabbath. He knew what they were thinking (Luke 6:8), trying to accuse him of a capital crime. So Jesus draws out the contrast. He is doing good and restoring life on the Sabbath. They are scheming to harm and kill him on the Sabbath. He makes known their intentions. And this is why they’re silent.

Throughout this episode, Jesus is attempting to get them to listen to God and see what God is doing, even being provocative to do this. This is the only place in Mark where Jesus initiates a healing without being asked or approached. Jesus is attempting to get them to listen to God. But they spurn him. They remain in a position of hostility toward him and what he represents.

5And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart . . .

Jesus was angry. We see Jesus angry at various points in the gospels, usually at the religious leaders. But this is the only time that Jesus is said to be angry. (And interestingly, Matthew and Luke do not include this remark.) Jesus was also deeply grieved.

Why the emotions? Their hardness of heart. This language recalls Pharaoh who wouldn’t listen to God (Exodus 7-8), and also Israel who spurned the message of the prophets (Jeremiah 7:24).  Jesus was upset because they wouldn’t listen to God.

. . . and (he) said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored.

The man once more shows faith in Jesus. He does what Jesus says. He stretches out his hand, and he is healed.

6The Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.

Again, the Pharisees are seeking to harm and kill Jesus – on the Sabbath. They “went out and immediately held counsel . . ..”

They speak with the Herodians, apparently a political group that supported Herod Antipas in Galilee, the one who arrested John the Baptist and later killed him. These two groups were very different, but they had a common enemy – Jesus.

In the last phrase of our story, we find the first mention of Jesus being killed in the gospel. It’s been alluded to (they charged him with a capital offense in 2:7 and Jesus speaks of when he will be “taken away” from the disciples), but this is the first explicit reference to what’s to come.

Let’s end with –

Some questions

– that come out of this story that challenge us.

1. Are you living according to the new wine that Jesus teaches? In this case he’s teaching about the Sabbath. And he’s saying, the Sabbath is the perfect day to do good to those in need.

 As we saw in the story just before this, Sabbath practices should take into account caring for human need. And Jesus as Lord of the Sabbath has the authority to change whatever traditions get in the way of this. This certainly gives guidance to Jesus’ Jewish followers, and should be applied by any Gentile followers of Jesus who keep the Sabbath or Sunday as a holy day. This is a part of the new wine for new wineskins (Mark 2:22) that Jesus teaches.

2. Are you ever hardhearted? In this story it’s the Pharisees who won’t listen to what God is saying through Jesus. But in other stories it’s the disciples who are called hard-hearted (Mark 6:52; 8:17). They don’t receive what Jesus is trying to say to them.

So this is a danger for us as disciples as well. We can be hard hearted. Jesus always challenges our views on things – our deeply held beliefs, values and traditions. When he does do we stop listening because we don’t like what he’s saying? Or like the Pharisees do we get stubborn or even hostile? When there’s a conflict between Jesus and our views, will we go with Jesus or our cherished ideas?

I ask you this morning – where is God speaking to you? What issue is he dealing with in your life? I think we all know where God is pushing us to grow in our Christian lives. Are you listening?

3. Are you here with a need? Are you like the man with the withered hand? Maybe you have a withered soul; you are broken within.

Perhaps Jesus is calling to you to act in faith. The man stood up in the middle of everyone and then stretched out his hand. What might Jesus be calling you to do to act in faith?

Jesus is here with us in this worship service today, to do good and to save.  You know that right? And he can minister to your need. Come to him this morning. Do what he tells you, and see what will happen in your life. See what good thing he will do. See what salvation he will bring.

Renewed hope. Letter to the exiles. Jeremiah 29:1-7, 10-14

We’re still on break from our series in the Gospel of Mark and we’re back in Jeremiah today, in chapter 29, looking at a letter Jeremiah wrote to the Judean exiles. This is a very well-known passage of Scripture and I want us to see what it has to say to us today.

Last week in Jeremiah’s temple sermon, in chapter 7, we saw how he called the people to repentance so that they wouldn’t be taken away into exile in a foreign land. And he called them to lay aside their deception and false security – that just because the temple was in their midst, God wouldn’t judge them.

As we saw, Jeremiah had to speak some hard words to the people. In chapter 1:10, at his calling to be a prophet, God said that he is “to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow.” That is, he was to be a prophet who had much to say about judgment. But that wasn’t the entirety of his call. v. 10 also says that he’s called, “to build and to plant.” That is, he’s not just a prophet of doom. He’s also a prophet of hope for the future; for the remnant. And this is what we see in our passage today.

Let’s start with some –

Background

Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon has now come, as Jeremiah said he would, and deposed the Judean king Jeconiah (Jehoiachin), and set someone else in his place – Zedekiah. And he has taken away Jeconiah and his court along with a number of other important people from Jerusalem into exile in Babylon, 700 miles away. This took place in 597 BC. (2 Kings 24:10-17)

Jeremiah’s letter is written to this first wave of exiles not too long after they arrived. So this letter was sent somewhere between 11 and 14 years after his temple sermon.

The worst, however, is still to come with regard to Judah. At this time the city and temple are still standing. They will be destroyed and the rest of the people taken into exile in 587- some 8 or so years after this letter.

Jeremiah’s letter

– has this for an introduction:

1These are the words of the letter that Jeremiah the prophet sent from Jerusalem to the surviving elders of the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon. 2This was after King Jeconiah and the queen mother, the eunuchs, the officials of Judah and Jerusalem, the craftsmen, and the metal workers had departed from Jerusalem.

Verse 3 goes on to tell us that –

3The letter was sent by the hand of Elasah the son of Shaphan and Gemariah the son of Hilkiah, whom Zedekiah king of Judah sent to Babylon to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon.

Elasah was a part of a powerful family that was friendly to Jeremiah. And Gemariah was the son of Hilkiah, who may be the same Hilkiah who was Josiah’s high priest and a leader of the reform of Judah under that righteous king’s reign. So Jeremiah has some friends in powerful places. These two men were on a mission to Babylon, perhaps to bring tribute – and also then brought this letter along with them.

If before the false prophets were saying Judah would be just fine, now that some have been taken away into exile they are saying that they would only be there a short time. (Hananiah predicted it would only be two years – 28:11) It seems that some of these prophets among the exiles were even stirring up rebellion against Babylon.

Jeremiah has a lot to say about these false prophets in his letter, but we won’t get into that part. We’ll focus on what he has to say to the exiles themselves about their situation.

4Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon:

Although Nebuchadnezzar would have boasted of his great triumph, the Lord makes clear here that he is simply a pawn in God’s greater plan. God says, I have sent them into exile. Nebuchadnezzar is merely his instrument of judgment on Judah.

5Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. 6Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease.

In contrast to the false prophets, Jeremiah tells them to settle down for the long haul (29:28). They will be there a long time. So instead of rebelling and fighting against it – he’s saying, ‘start a new life in Babylon.’ They are to multiply even as Israel did while they were in the foreign land of Egypt. (Genesis 1:28) (Notice that the key words from the positive, hopeful part of his calling are mentioned here – “build” “plant.”)

Deuteronomy 20:5-8 excuses people from military service if they have just built a house or planted and vineyard or are newly married. That Jeremiah references these very situations communicates to the exiles that this isn’t the time to rebel and fight against Babylon.

This also shows that the exiles are not under God’s curse. Deuteronomy 28:30-32 speaks of these same activities – taking a wife, building a house and planting a vineyard, but in the context of judgment, these things are taken away. Here they are granted. The exiles are under God’s blessing despite all the judgment going on back in Judah with more to come (Also Jeremiah 24:4-7).

7But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.

This is very counter-intuitive. The Babylonians are their enemies and they are captives in the land of Babylon. And the Babylonians are about to destroy Jerusalem and the temple. Yet they are to seek Babylon’s welfare. The word “welfare” is shalom which means peace, well-being, wholeness; what’s best for them.

And they are to pray for them as well, for their welfare. Their destiny, at least for now, is tied up with Babylon’s and so this will also be a blessing for them.

Then we skip to v. 10 –

10For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place.

Jeremiah is saying to them you will not make it back to the promised land. And maybe not even your kids. But your grand kids will go back to Judah.

God’s promise here refers to Deuteronomy 30 where God states that if his people are sent into exile, and they repent, he will bring them back to the land. (And this is also stated in Jeremiah 24:4-7. And see 1 Kings 8:46-53).

11For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.

This is the really well-known verse in our passage.

God has not forsaken the exiles. He has not abandoned his people or his promises or his plans. Things are terrible now, but God has plans for their good, not their harm. They should not give up in despair, God has a future for them and so there’s hope. He will bring them back after 70 years.

12Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. 13You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. 14I will be found by you, declares the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.

This is an expanded paraphrase of Deuteronomy 4:29 where Moses talks about how if the people are sent into exile – and they pray, God will hear them. This verse says, “seek the Lord your God and you will find him, if you search after him with all your heart, and with all your soul.”

And v. 31 goes on to say, “For the Lord your God is a merciful God. He will not leave you or destroy you or forget the covenant with your fathers that he swore to them.”

God will hear their prayers of repentance and seeking and bring them home.

And then we have –

The rest of the story

As you know, the exiles eventually listened to Jeremiah and settled in. And after 70 years many began the process of returning to the land, as we see in the book of Ezra. They rebuilt the temple and Jerusalem and its walls as we see in the books of Ezra, Nehemiah and Haggai.

God brought them back and his plan for his people continued on.

Let me end by asking –

Do you have hope?

First of all, the hope that God gives to his people in this world? Did you know that the New Testament has the same understanding of our place in the world as the exiles here?

  • We are living in exile, God’s people, among the nations of the world. And we will live out our lives in these nations (James 1:1; 1 Peter 1:1, 17; 2:11; Hebrews 11:13). 1 Peter 2:11 says that we are “sojourners and exiles” among the nations.
  • And we are to pray for the peace and seek the peace of the country we live in: Canadians for Canada, Russians for Russia, Venezuelans for Venezuela, Americans for America, Iranians for Iran. Paul says in 1 Timothy 2:2 that we are to pray for “kings and all who are in high positions that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life.” This comes from Jeremiah 29. In their peace we will find our peace.
  • And God has plans for us – a future with hope. Jesus will return and gather us up to be with him in the kingdom of God, just as he promised to gather the Judean exiles and bring them home. Mark 13:27 says that when Jesus returns, “he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.” Jesus will gather us from the nations and bring us home.

This world is not our home. The place where we live, wherever it may be, is not our true country. We are just traveling through, sisters and brothers. Our hope as Christians is to come to “the city. . . whose designer and builder is God” – Hebrews 11:12. Our hope is “a better country, that is, a heavenly one” – Hebrews 11:16.

God does indeed have “plans for our welfare and not for evil, to give us a future and a hope.”  We will be with him in the kingdom of God, forever.

What about in your personal life as we dwell here on this earth? Maybe you’ve failed God and he has been disciplining you and things are hard – like with the exiles in our passage. Well, if you turn to him, just as with these exiles, God will have mercy on you too. And the promise in Jeremiah is the promise to us, God will hear you. God will not give up on you or abandon you. God has “plans for your welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”

Maybe you haven’t failed, but things are still hard. God allows this to train us and to accomplish his work in our lives, just as Jesus went through hard times. Don’t fret. God has not abandoned you. Rather God has plans for you; God has a purpose he is working in you. “Plans for your welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”

False security. The temple sermon. Jeremiah 7:1-15

I thought we’d take a break from our series in the gospel of Mark and have a bit of a change of pace.

The passage that caught my attention was Jeremiah the prophet’s Temple sermon in chapter 7:1-15. This is one of the most famous sermons in all the Bible, right up there with Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. And Jesus himself refers to it in Mark 11:17.

Jeremiah most likely preached this sermon around 608 BC (Jeremiah 26:1). So over 2,600 years ago. It’s an old one, but still has much to say.

Let’s begin with some –

Background

Northern Israel was taken away into exile by the Assyrians some 114 years before this sermon, and so only the Southern kingdom of Judah is left. And politically things around Judah are unstable. Assyria has now fallen and Babylon and Egypt are vying for power. And Judah is caught right smack in the middle.

And Judah has gone downhill spiritually. They’re not being faithful to the covenant with God, including the leaders, the priests and the prophets. And on top of this they are living in denial. They thought, “Look, things are bad, but God won’t judge us because the Temple is here. This is the place where God dwells; where heaven and earth are connected. And it bears the Lord’s name. Why would God let his name be dishonored? No, God will protect Judah and Jerusalem.”

And so they would continue in their sin, and also go through the motions of the temple services and think that things are just fine.

And the prophets, or shall I say false prophets, reinforced all this by saying things like, “God will do nothing, no disaster will come upon us” – Jeremiah 5:12, and “peace, peace,” everything’s fine – Jeremiah 6:14.

Now let’s look at our passage –

Jeremiah 7:1-15

1The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: 2“Stand in the gate of the Lord’s house, and proclaim there this word, and say, Hear the word of the Lord, all you men of Judah who enter these gates to worship the Lord.”

So this is God speaking through Jeremiah, not just Jeremiah’s opinions. God tells him to stand in a place where everyone can hear him, as the crowds gather to worship in the temple. The phrase, “all you men of Judah,” may indicate that this took place during an annual festival, when all Judah was expected to come. It would have been a huge crowd.

He starts his message with three key points and the first is repent.

3Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Amend your ways and your deeds

He is calling them to have a change of heart and mind that leads to a change in behavior. You’re doing one thing, which is wrong. And you stop that and begin to do something different, what is right. This is repentance.

And then Jeremiah gives his second point, which is a promise. Repent –

and I will let you dwell in this place.

This most likely means that God will let them continue to stay in the promised land. As we’ll see, exile is threatened at the end of this message  (v. 15).

Then Jeremiah gives his third point, which is a warning against deception.

4Do not trust in these deceptive words: ‘This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.’

Jeremiah is referring to their belief that they are safe as long as they have the temple of the Lord in their midst. And as long as they worship at the temple and go through the motions of the services, they’re fine.

Next, Jeremiah, just to make sure they get it, repeats his three key points. Again, first  repent, and here he goes into some detail.

5For if you truly amend your ways and your deeds . . .

What does this mean? He gives four examples:

if you truly execute justice one with another . . .

This has to do with treating others fairly; giving justice and doing what is right. Not taking advantage of, or using your power to get your way.

6if you do not oppress the sojourner, the fatherless, or the widow . . .

These all have to do with taking advantage of the socially weak – immigrants, orphans and widows. We see the mistreatment of immigrants playing out right before our eyes by our government in the separating of children from their parents. But of course, here Jeremiah is speaking to the people of God, not the nations or the world. The message here is to us. We must not oppress the immigrant, the orphan or the widow. We can’t participate in this.

or shed innocent blood in this place . . .

This refers to murder or even judicial murder where justice is warped in favor of the powerful and the innocent are executed.

and if you do not go after other gods to your own harm . . .

They thought they could worship Yahweh and other gods, as they had need.

So this is what it means for them to repent. They’re doing these things, yet calling themselves the people of God, thinking they are  fine.

Then there is, again a promise. Jeremiah is saying, if you amend your ways –

 7then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your fathers forever.

And also once again he gives a warning –

8Behold, you trust in deceptive words to no avail.

They think they will be safe because of the temple. As he says later, they put their trust in the temple (v. 14). Because of the temple, they will be fine. Even though they are unfaithful to God by worshiping other gods. Even though they are unjust in their relationships with others. Jeremiah is saying, this is deception.

He then begins along a new track. He makes the point that the temple has become a den of thieves. And we have another list of wrong-doing, which comes from the 10 commandments.

He asks,

9Will you steal? (the 8th commandment) murder? (the 6th commandment) commit adultery? (the 7th commandment) swear falsely? (the 9th commandment) make offerings to Baal, and go after other gods that you have not known? (the 1st commandment, and this surely assumes the 2nd commandment as well.)

Will you do all these things –

10and then come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, ‘We are delivered!’—only to go on doing all these abominations?

So they go through the temple services with no repentance, no remorse, no change from what he calls their “abominations.” And they think that simply going through the temple services will bring them salvation – “We are delivered.” You can see the hypocrisy  and false worship here. Their hearts and their worship do not line up.

11Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your eyes? Behold, I myself have seen it, declares the Lord.

A den of robbers is a place where criminals hide out to avoid being caught, and then go forth to do more crimes. And this is what the temple has become. They sin in all kinds of ways and then come to the temple and say, ‘we’re safe!’ And then they go out and continue to sin.

Jeremiah ends his message by warning them that this can’t continue. God’s judgment will come! And God is more than willing to destroy the temple as a part of this, even though it bears his name.

And he tells them, this wouldn’t be the first time.

12Go now to my place that was in Shiloh, where I made my name dwell at first, and see what I did to it because of the evil of my people Israel.

This is referring to what happened to the tabernacle that was established in Shiloh – only a few miles north of Jerusalem in the days of Eli and Samuel. God judged Eli and his house and a part of this was that the tabernacle there was destroyed by the Philistines (1 Samuel 4; Psalm 78:59-61).

13And now, because you have done all these things, declares the Lord, and when I spoke to you persistently you did not listen, and when I called you, you did not answer, 14therefore I will do to the house that is called by my name, and in which you trust, and to the place that I gave to you and to your fathers, as I did to Shiloh.

15And I will cast you out of my sight, as I cast out all your kinsmen, all the offspring of Ephraim.

In v. 15 God tells them that they will go into exile in Babylon, just as the Northern kingdom was taken away to Assyria before.

Notice the change of tone here. It sounds like judgment is inevitable. Perhaps this is to shock them; to wake them up from their deception. (Jeremiah says in chapter 26 that this sermon was given to lead them to repent and judgment was not certain – 26:4-6; 13.)

And then moving beyond our passage we have –

The rest of the story

Just after his sermon everyone surrounded him and said “You shall die!” (v. 8.) They said, “This man deserves the sentence of death, because he has prophesied against this city . . .” (v. 11.) But some began to speak up for him, and he barely escaped with his life – Jeremiah 26.

And then a little over 20 years later, came the fulfillment, the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple and the exile of the people – Jeremiah 52:13-14.

Well, what about you?

There are a number of things in this sermon that should challenge us. Do you have the kind of relationship with God that Jeremiah talks about? A right relationship with the Lord, so that there are no false gods – things like nationalism, wealth or power? So that you put your trust in these and look to them for protection? Or is God your God and you fully trust in him for all things?

 Do you have the kind of relationship with others that Jeremiah talks about? Not just that you don’t wrong them – by murder, theft, adultery, or lying. But that positively you treat them right. You show concern for the weak and powerless, using your power to lift them up.

What are your false securities? 

  • You may say, “I go to church, I must be fine.” The Judeans went to temple services. They thought they were fine. They weren’t. They were judged.
  • You may say, “I believe in God.” James tells us “demons believe” (1:19) but it does them no good, because “faith without works is dead” (1:17). Such is defective faith and can’t save.
  • You may say, “I’ve been baptized.” 1 Corinthians 10:1-5 tells that the Israelites were baptized in the Red Sea. “Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for the were overthrown in the wilderness” The did not receive the promises.
  • You may say, “I’ve had an encounter with God.” 1 Corinthians 10:1-5 tells us that the ancient Israelites had many experiences with God, but they were judged and did not enter into the blessings of God.
  • You may say, “I have Christian parents, I’ll be fine.” Ezekiel 18:10-13 teaches us that the child of a righteous parent who chooses to live in sin “shall not live. He has done all these abominations; he shall surely die; his blood shall be upon him.” For the soul that sins, dies, whether it is the parent or the child.
  • You may say, “I used to walk with God, he won’t judge me.” Ezekiel 18:24 says, “But when a righteous person turns away from his righteousness and does injustice and does the same abominations that the wicked person does, shall he live? None of the righteous deeds that he has done shall be remembered; for the treachery of which he is guilty and the sin he has committed, for them he shall die.”

Don’t trust in any of these deceptive words. Nothing can take the place of a right relationship with God; a relationship of faith and obedience.

Finally, sin will destroy you! If we turn and repent it will not. Our God is gracious and full of mercy and we find grace through our Lord, Jesus. But if you continue in known, willful sin – it will kill you.

  • James 1:15-16, talking about temptation says, “Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers and sisters.
  • 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 – “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”
  • Galatians 6:7-8 – “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.”

Just as Jeremiah said, so the New Testament teaches and so I put before you – “do not be deceived!” The message today is – sin will kill you.

Jesus defends plucking grain on the Sabbath. Mark 2:23-28. Five stories of conflict

The literary structure of Mark 2:23-28

Five conflict stories handout

We’re continuing to work our way through the five stories of conflict in Mark 2-3:6. And today we come to the fourth story, where Jesus defends plucking grain on the Sabbath. Our story begins in Mark 2:23, if you would like to turn in your Bibles.

Let me say, first of all – this text is difficult. It has generated many different interpretations.

And also, this topic is controversial. Should Christians keep the Sabbath? Is Sunday the new Sabbath? My own view is that in Acts 15 the Jerusalem council ruled that Jewish Christians would continue to observe the Law – which would include keeping the Sabbath, but that Gentile Christians are not required to keep the Law of Moses (The apostolic decree). Although, of course, you can choose to keep the Sabbath or another day as set apart to God if you like.

Let’s look at story –

Mark 2:23-28

And we begin with the accusation of the Pharisees

23One Sabbath he was going through the grainfields, and as they made their way, his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. 24And the Pharisees were saying to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?”

The concern here is not that the disciples are stealing. They’re gleaning, which is allowed in the Law (Deuteronomy 23:25). The concern is about what constitutes work on the Sabbath.

Keeping the Sabbath, as you know, is the fourth of the ten commandments. Exodus 20:10 says in part – “on the Sabbath you shall not do any work.” The problem is that the Old Testament is a bit vague on what all the word “work” covers. (But see Exodus 16:22-30 – no gathering manna; Numbers 15:32-36 – no gathering wood; Exodus 35:3 – no kindling a fire; Nehemiah 10:31, 13:15-22, Amos 8:5 – no trading; and Jeremiah 17:19-27 – no carrying loads).

One text that is more specific, Exodus 34:21 forbids plowing or harvesting. But are the disciples really harvesting? They’re picking a few heads of grain, rubbing them in their hands and then eating the good part (Luke 6:1). The Law is concerned with going out into the field with a sickle as a part of your yearly work load.

The Pharisees here do specifically define this as a forbidden Sabbath practice. This is their interpretation of Exodus 34:21. But not everyone at this time accepted the Pharisaic view on things on any number of topics and Jesus is clearly one of them. (As we will see in Mark 7 he rejects the traditions of the Elders.)

That the disciples are plucking grain on the Sabbath shows that Jesus has taught them that this is acceptable on the Sabbath. Which is why, as we will see, he goes on to defend them. And I would just note that a later Rabbinic tradition held that plucking grain on the Sabbath was fine, as long as no tool was used – which is the case here. (b. Shabbat 128a – “And one may pick them with his hand and eat, as long as he does not pick them with a vessel. And one may crush and remove the seeds with his hand and eat them, as long as he does not crush a lot with a vessel”; Yong-Eui Yang) (No tools could be used in gleaning).

So this is not about whether to keep the Sabbath or whether it can be broken. Both sides agree that it’s to be kept. [Although many commentators come to this story with an inbuilt assumption that Jesus and the disciples had no problem breaking Sabbath law, this is surely wrong. From the point of view of the text of Mark what we know so far is that Jesus is concerned about keeping the Law. Note his instructions to the leper. And to break the Sabbath was punishable by death. Why would the disciples knowingly do this when they still are not clear that Jesus is even the Messiah? This comes later in chapter 8. And why would the Pharisees later need to seek to trap Jesus to accuse him if this was a clear cut case of breaking Sabbath? They would already have him. And why wouldn’t they have been arrested or why wouldn’t this be a part of the charges against Jesus in Mark 14, warranting his death? No, this story is like its parallel in Mark 3:1-6. It’s a question about how to observe the Sabbath, not about the freedom to break the Sabbath, for whatever reason.] [We will look at Mark 7 later and see that Jesus does not set aside the Mosaic food laws for his Jewish followers.]

The debate is about who has the authority to declare what is proper Sabbath observance?

Jesus begins his response by referring to an interesting story from 1 Samuel 21:1-6

25And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did, when he was in need and was hungry, he and those who were with him: 26how he entered the house of God, in the time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those who were with him?”

Now, Abiathar wasn’t the high priest at this time. His father Ahimelech was, although he was almost certainly there when this happened. But Abiathar is the better known of the two, later being David’s high priest. So he’s used as a point of reference here.

There are some analogies here, from Jesus’ point of view, between David’s situation and what’s going on in Mark 2:

  • David’s a type of the Messiah and Jesus, is the fulfillment, the Anointed one
  • David’s men compare to Jesus’ disciples
  • David’s a king in waiting yet to be revealed, as is Jesus
  • David and his men are hungry. Jesus’ disciples are hungry
  • And David and his men do something unlawful. The disciples do something the Pharisees say is unlawful

But there’s a key difference. Although what happened in 1 Samuel 21 may well have taken place on the Sabbath (this is when the bread would be available to eat – Leviticus 24:8-9; and according to some later Rabbinic traditions) Jesus doesn’t focus on this. Jesus focuses on how it was unlawful for them to eat the bread of the presence, which was only for priests (Leviticus 24:9).

Another difference highlight’s Jesus’ critique of the Pharisees here. In this story an actual violation of the Law is permitted both by the high priest and Scripture, in the sense that it doesn’t condemn David. But the Pharisees condemn what is not a violation or at least what is a disputed violation based on their view. Whereas Scripture here is flexible, given human need; the Pharisees are super strict.

But I think the key reason Jesus refers to this story is to emphasize two crucial themes:

1. David and his men’s need. Jesus says in v. 25, “David was in need and was hungry, he and those who were with him.” Now, there’s no indication that they were starving, but they were in need of food. [1 Samuel doesn’t actually mention anyone with David and some commentators think that there weren’t. This was a part of David’s fabrication. Jesus, however, takes this part of David’s statement as true.] This shows that the Law has a humanitarian bent to it that takes into account human well-being.

And 2. David’s authority in this matter. Jesus’ reading of 1 Samuel 21 accentuates this. As he says in v. 26, David “ate the bread of the Presence . . . and also gave it to those who were with him.” David was able to do this because of who he was. And David is a type of the Messiah. The unspoken implication is that the Messiah, his son, will also have similar great authority with regard to the Law.

Both of these points set up what Jesus has to say about the Sabbath.

The Sabbath was made for human well-being. This takes up the first point.

 27And he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.

The point of Sabbath observance is to bless humanity. It’s a gift of God for rest from the normal routines of work.

I like the NLT of this verse, “The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of people, and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath.” The rules of the Pharisees, although well intentioned, make Sabbath observance a burden (Matthew 23:4) which is the opposite of rest.

Jesus teaches here that the Sabbath should have a humanitarian bent to it. It shouldn’t cause human need, but should allow the meeting of basic human needs – here simple hunger. (In Matthew 12:7 the quote of Hosea 6:6 stands in for this saying on the Sabbath.)

And then finally, Jesus speaks of his authority to declare proper Sabbath observance. This takes up the second point of the 1 Samuel story about David’s authority. (This is the core argument. Notice that Luke 6 leaves out the humanitarian argument.)

28So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.”

In 1 Samuel 21 David was lord over the law on the bread of the presence. “So” the Son of Man (Daniel 7:13-14), that person who will rule and judge the nations on the final day alongside God, whom Jesus connects to himself as the Messiah, David’s son — so the Son of Man is Lord not just of a onetime exception to a matter of minor cultic law – he is Lord even of the Sabbath, as important as it is.

To say it another way, if David, the prototype of the Messiah can authorize a breaking of the Law, surely Jesus, his son, the Messiah and Son of Man can rule in a mere dispute over interpretation of the Law on proper Sabbath observance. (Sigal; Davies and Allison). And he rules that plucking grain on the Sabbath is proper.

What about us?

What should we take from this? It’s a fairly complicated discussion about a topic – plucking grain on the Sabbath, that most likely none of us has ever even thought to raise.

Well, we are reminded of Jesus’ true identity and thus his great authority. This is a constant theme in this part of Mark.

In the Old Testament the Sabbath is God’s. For instance, Leviticus 19:3 says, “You shall keep my Sabbaths: I am Yahweh, your God.” The Sabbath is God’s, but here Jesus is the Lord of the Sabbath. It is his. Once again, Jesus takes on the role of God. This is who Jesus, our Savior is.

Keeping Sabbath should take into account caring for human need. This certainly give guidance to Jesus’ Jewish followers, and should be applied to any Gentiles who keep the Sabbath or Sunday as a holy day. This is a part of the new wine for new wine-skins (Mark 2:22). Whatever guidelines you might use – don’t create human need, but rather place human need and caring for it at the center.

Finally, Jesus is our teacher in all things. He has authority over every part of our lives, not just on this topic. As he says in Matthew 23:10 – “You have one teacher, the Messiah.” And as he says in Mark 8:34, “follow me.” We are to follow his example.

So, if you want to know God’s will on any matter – look to what Jesus has taught and modeled for us in the Scriptures. See how this interacts with what the Old Testament taught. And then see how the rest of the New Testament helps us to understand Jesus. And that’s how you know God’s will.

And if you do this and then someone accuses you of not doing God’s will, as with the disciples in this story, you have the confidence to know that Jesus will defend you with his full authority, just as he does in this story.